Infomotions, Inc.Winner Take All / Evans, Larry, -1925



Author: Evans, Larry, -1925
Title: Winner Take All
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): cecille; perry; holliday; devereau; dunham; felicity; perry blair; blue jeans; blair; jeans; hamilton; champion; winner take; superintendent
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Identifier: etext18829
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Title: Winner Take All


Author: Larry Evans



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WINNER TAKE ALL

by

LARRY EVANS

Author of
Then I'll Come Back to You, Once to Every Man, Etc.







[Frontispiece: That, after all, was as much as anyone could ask.]




Grosset & Dunlap
Publishers ------ New York
Copyright, 1920, by
The H. K. Fly Company
Copyright, 1920, by
The Metropolitan Magazine Company




  TO

  GEORGE C. TYLER

  Some of these pages you have criticised,
  some of them you have praised; and
  all of them beg leave to recall herewith
  the Author's esteem and affection.




CONTENTS


CHAPTER

    I.  IS LUCK A LADY?
   II.  RIDE HIM, COWBOY!
  III.  LITTLE-TWEED-SUIT
   IV.  ALL ELSE IS HERESY
    V.  CHAMPION! CHAMPION!
   VI.  FELICITY CROSSES BROADWAY
  VII.  AS WILLOWS BUD IN SPRING
 VIII.  MY LAD
   IX.  DUNHAM TALKS BUSINESS
    X.  CECILLE PLAYS THE GAME
   XI.  POTS AND PANS!
  XII.  WINNER TAKE ALL
 XIII.  BLUE FOR A BOY




ILLUSTRATIONS

   That, after all, was as much as anyone could ask . . _Frontispiece_

   He tore at them, mad with rage.

   Lucky interference.

   "Come on, now--'fess up?"




WINNER TAKE ALL


CHAPTER I

IS LUCK A LADY?

By easy stages Blue Jeans had arrived at the water tanks.

That had not pleased him much, though the water which fell in a musical
drip from the stack nearest the rails into what impressed one as a
sensible, frugal tub, until it, too, filled and overflowed and betrayed
its trivial nature, was sweet on his tongue and grateful to his mare.

Arriving anywhere by easy stages had never appealed to him.  Swift and
sudden, that was the better way.  Rather would he have whirled into
Reservoir with zest and some commotion.  But Girl o' Mine was in no
shape for that.  She drooped.  Events which had jostled him roughly in
the last few weeks had dealt with her unkindly as well.  There had been
many weary miles and not much grain.

And yet his poverty had not been a thing of easy stages.  It had seemed
both swift and sudden, and he liked it none the better for that.  But
he would not enter Reservoir with ostentation.  He'd ride in without
enthusiasm, and thus call no attention to the pass to which he'd come.

Nor was he in a hurry to get there, either.  The town, a quarter of a
mile across the track, squat and squalid in the dust, held nothing for
his mood.

Reservoir was a poor town, anyway.

And Life was a poor thing, too.

He'd tried for hours and hours to think of one fair promise which it
still held for him--just one!--tried hard!  And couldn't!

Blue Jeans was twenty-two.

And Luck had trifled with him over-long.

One brief month earlier he had been a man of ambition, a man of
promise.  He'd even found his Dream.  An Easterner had helped him to
that foolishness; an -ologist from a university who expected to find
prehistoric bones and relics entombed under the hills.

Cornered by that Easterner, who liked his face, and not having been
handy enough as a liar to get out of it neatly, Blue Jeans had admitted
under cross-examination that he was familiar with the country.

Was he doing anything at present?

No-o-o.  But he was looking around.

Could he pack?

Yes.

Was he accustomed to horses?

He hoped so.

Could he cook?

Ye-s-s, some.  Not good for delicate folks.

Well, then, he was the very man for the position.

And Blue Jeans hadn't been able to think offhand of an objection; not
one which he wanted to voice.  He couldn't admit outright that the
prospect was dismaying to his young pride.  That he was afraid of the
ridicule which certainly it would bring down upon him.

"I'm a cowpuncher, not a grave-robber," was the way it rose to his
mind.  But that wouldn't serve.  It sounded neither dignified nor
convincing.

Then if that was settled, what remuneration would he expect per month?

He had been of astonishing though dense persistence, that professor.
Blue Jeans had pounced upon the query with sensations of deliverance.

"Wel-l-l," and he named a figure which struck him as outrageous.

But it hadn't staggered the professor; it hadn't even made him
hesitate.  The professor's expenses in the field were already
guaranteed, back home, by men who could afford it.

"Then it's settled," he had said.

And Blue Jeans, who forgot immediately that he had been dragged,
struggling, into this bargain and began to view it as a deal of his own
shrewd consummation, had scorned himself for two whole hours for not
having made it twice as outrageous at least.

Thus had it started.

By night he had figured out how great the sum he had mentioned would
be, multiplied by six.  The professor planned to be out that long.  By
morning he had spent some money, quite a little money, in anticipation
of it.  But that was not cause for worry; prosperity was shining in his
eyes.  He was going to be a man of substance.  And he would save, for
the Dream was bright.  And then the professor spoiled it all by
mistaking a mule for a horse.

The mule had not kicked him hard.  If that had been the case, Blue
Jeans might have found it in his heart to be sorry for him.  A less
frail man would have suffered less.  As it was he spent his sympathy on
himself.  And when directly the professor sent for him and intimated
that owing to the unavoidable postponement of the trip he was again out
of employment, he had not lingered to listen.

"Of course, if you care to hang about," the professor had suggested,
"until I can travel once more--"

He had not even found it in his heart to be polite.

"Hanging about is just what ails me," finished it.  "The devil, he
finds mischief for my idle hands to do.  You can wait till you're able,
but I'm going to travel _now_!"

And he made good his word without further loss of time, first paying
painfully the sums which he had spent in fond anticipation, and
enduring with a grin the ridicule which was double, because he had made
no trip at all.

Last of all, before departing he went around to the stable and fed the
mule some sugar.

He had found a new job hard to locate.  And the Dream had lost
definition and grown dim and distant.  It was late for looking around.
The outfits all were full.  If he could have cooked--but he couldn't.
Not for a bunch of plain-spoken cowmen.  Not without risking bodily
harm.  He'd told almost the truth about that.  And then he landed with
the Dee & Zee.

At any other time the Dee & Zee could not have hired him.  He had heard
things.  But he had lost at last his desire to pick and choose.  And he
began to think, after he had started work there, that folks had been
mistaken.  He liked the place, and it seemed permanent.  He even went
back to the Dream and refurbished it a bit.  And then he learned that
the superintendent didn't like him.  The superintendent, it appeared,
could never bring himself to care much for any man whose scruples were
too flourishing.  That's what Blue Jeans had heard and almost begun to
disbelieve.  Everybody had heard it except the Dee & Zee syndicate
owners themselves.  But that did him small good.  He doubted no longer,
however.  He quit.  He resigned by request.

But when he thought to collect the little pay due him, he experienced
difficulty.  He made a desperate effort and crowded the issue
perilously.  When, however, in the face of superior numbers and their
eagerness for him to insist, he realized that he would be in no
condition to enjoy the money, even if he did succeed in collecting it,
he did the thing of indubitable valor.  He gave it up gracefully.  A
coward would have been ashamed to back down, and thus got himself
thoroughly killed.  He laughed.  And moved his right hand further from
his holster.

But this time he had waxed stubborn; he had refused to let his Dream
grow dim.

And the Box-A people--three weeks later they could have used him.  And
would have.  He knew it.  A man had been badly hurt; so badly that he
would never know anything any more.  They could have used him, only the
superintendent had just passed that way and outstripped him.  They were
too busy, therefore, with sober work, too harmonious among themselves,
to risk a firebrand.

"A firebrand?  Him!"

He had tried to laugh again, but he knew that his laughter was hollow.
It is hard to be blithe and all but broke.  Nor had he pled this latter
state to urge himself upon them.  Anybody could draw that conclusion
now, if he wanted to, just from the look of his clothes.

He'd tried Claiborne--town.  Little jobs they had offered him
there--menial!  And that had made him rebellious.

Thus by well-defined stages, and hugging now his Dream, to the
stud-poker game.

All that he possessed he'd sold and put it on this venture; all but his
saddle and bridle and gun, and Girl o' Mine.  He played stud-poker
well; better than most men he knew; and that was no empty conceit,
either.  He just did.  Some men's judgment was quicker, surer than
others, that was all.

And he had played well last night.  But he could not overcome with
nerve what he had lacked in capital.  Five cards and many dollars oft
will beat a better hand.  But his dollars had been few.  So had he
tested again a time-tried truth, and proved it.  A man should not
gamble at all; that is, not when he needs to win.  For then he was sure
to lose.  That was why they called luck a lady.

Clink your money in your pocket and not care whether you won or lost,
and she'd fair swarm upon you.  She wouldn't _let_ you be!  Nothing was
too good for you--you were a king!  Two deuces and a lazy smile would
bluff a brace of aces.

But just you let her guess that your straits were desperate.  Just you
let her guess that your last dollar was on the table!  You couldn't
catch a pair back to back in forty-seven years.  She'd quit you flat!

That was why they called luck a lady.  Just like a woman!

And he had lost less composedly than they had suspected from his face
and comment.  He had gone, then, still early, to bed to escape their
torment.  It was not often that they had found him so completely at
their mercy, and they made the most of it.

And he'd risen and ridden out at dawn toward Reservoir.  Reservoir
would offer nothing; but it was on the road he meant to travel, and
water was to be had there.  He rode early because he did not choose
that any of his pitiless opponents of the night before should surmise
that the torn, worn jeans and old cracked boots and shirt with a rent
in the elbow was not merely his working garb, worn informally because
he had not wanted to waste time in changing and slicking up, but the
only garb he owned.

If they had believed his decent outfit to be rolled in the blanket
behind his saddle, let them.  He'd not disillusion them.  Then they'd
not come around, embarrassing him and themselves as well, with awkward
offers of a loan.

He rode at daybreak, and in the splendor of that desert dawn forgot for
a time to be desolate.  Girl o' Mine stepped smartly in the early cool.
He had paid for her breakfast before he tried at poker.  He forgot
himself, and presently he raised a light-hearted carol to the shuffle,
shuffle, shuffle of her hoofs.

  "Daughters of Pleasure, one and all,
    Of form and feature delicate,
  Of bodies slim and bosoms small,
    With feet and fingers white and straight,
  Your eyes are bright, your grace is great,
    To hold your lover's heart in thrall;
  Use your red lips before too late,
    Love ere love flies beyond recall."


He didn't know where he had learned that.  Nor did he know that it was
the lay of another vagabond, a dreamer light-hearted in adversity.  But
it was good--some folks might question its morality--but it was
good--good philosophy.  Swift and sudden, that was the better way.  And
sad, too, a little.

He sang it again and again.

But the sun rose higher and the sand grew hot.  And the gorgeous sky
was gorgeous no longer, but a glimmer of savage heat.

Little by little Girl o' Mine's head drooped.  Dust settled white upon
her, and she became streaked with sweat.  And little by little the song
was stilled.

He remembered then, abruptly.  He was disconsolate.  He had no call to
sing.  He had been a dreamer, too--but that was ages and ages ago, and
long, long gone for him.  He was only the vagabond.

He'd been nearly broke?  Well, he was all broke now.  And better that
way!  Half way was no good.  It was better to be an out-and-out than a
neither-one-nor-the-other.  He had had some large plans, until the
professor had started the run against him.  He'd had a Vision, a vision
of prosperity and himself a settled man.  And maybe some day--some day,
when he'd proved himself--when he'd found Her--

He wouldn't even tell himself how disappointed he was.

Noon came and they tarried a while.  There was no hurry; they weren't
going anywhere,--not anywhere in particular.  Presently they started on
again.  And through the glare of afternoon they passed along the
horizon, a despondent scarecrow upon a dejected horse.




CHAPTER II

RIDE HIM, COWBOY!

So to the tanks; but here at least was a little luck.  The tub was full
and over-flowing; he would not have to cause the agent to swear by
swinging round the nozzle and wasting of his water.  And something
besides sagebrush and sand to look at, too.  For upon the tracks stood
a train; a train packed very full with men whose faces showed white at
the windows,--indoor men, Eastern men,--and a private car at the end of
the string.

All men!  Well, that would be the special train, come through from the
other coast; the prize-fight special,--and the last section, at that.
There was no man up the tracks with a red flag to guard against a
pile-up.  And they also looked bored; they must have been standing
there quite a while.  And hot.  So, you see, his plight was not so bad!
He didn't have to breathe that air and sit in a slippery red-plush
seat.  Not much!

He went to the drip, serenely careless of the thousand eyes upon him;
he drank and clicked to Girl o' Mine, his mare.  She pricked up her
ears and approached a step or two; she tossed her head and whinnied;
she was afraid of the drip and spatter of the overflow.

He drank again.

"See," he said, "it'll not hurt you.  Plain water--that's all--awful
plain!  Sure, you're unstrung--but that's nothing.  So am I.  We both
been under a strain.  But I'm not asking you to do anything I'll not do
myself.  See, I'm drinking it--just plain water!  There--what'd I tell
you?  See!"

The mare had edged nearer, eagerly, while he talked.  She was very
thirsty, though fearful.  And at length his voice reassured her; she
thrust her velvet nostrils into the tub.

Then he seated himself upon a foundation timber of the tank and rolled
a cigarette.  His toilet could wait.  He wasn't going to ride into
Reservoir and advertise his straits,--not to a lot of half-breeds and
Mexicans and worse.  He could wait; years and years of time were before
him.  For, vindictively, he wasn't going to provide a spectacle for
those eyes at the windows to watch either; eyes hungry to look upon
anything--anything--if only it wasn't empty desert.  Not even the
spectacle of a scarecrow making himself neat and clean,--not him!  Let
'em suffer and be bored.  He was bored himself!

He smoked and meditated, and presently a shadow fell athwart his lap.
Another horseman was arriving, and he was creating not mild interest
but a veritable stir at the windows.  For he was different,
oh-so-different!  He drew the eye with his magnificence.  His chaps
were new and so was his shirt and his hat had cost thirty dollars.  And
Blue Jeans could almost hear them exclaiming as they crowded to the
panes.

This was the real thing!  You bet!  No fringy-panted scarecrow upon a
horse too good for him--stolen probably at that.  Well, I guess not!
This was a bit of the real West--the old West.  Look at them spurs.
Silver--solid!  A regular cowboy!

And the newcomer had been quick to sense this too.  He was on his way
out from Reservoir, traveling north.  Of course he would be traveling
north--the Dee & Zee lay in that quarter--and this magnificence was the
Dee & Zee superintendent.  More than that, his horse was fresh up from
the stable, and the stable hands were not accustomed to sending a horse
out thirsty into the desert, but he did not now pause to consider this.
He felt the eye of that whole train upon him, its approval, its
admiration, and his importance grew.  He couldn't help it; he played up
to his audience.  Some men invariably will, with the eye of the world
upon them.  They're made that way.

Just for an instant the sight of that familiar figure, quiet there
before him, had given him an unpleasant start.  The little matter of
unpaid back wages had crowded to mind and simultaneously a realization
that in numbers he was no longer superior, and therefore not equal in
other essentials.  Just for an instant--and then the fact of the train
reassured him.  Blue Jeans, hardy though he undoubtedly was and in
desperate need of cash, would scarcely venture force so publicly.  It
would look to be nothing but rankest hold-up and robbery.  And when
Blue Jeans, having out-thought him and arrived already at the same
depressing conclusion, let his regret show in his face, the
superintendent swelled some more.  It appeared quite safe.

"Back that horse away from that bucket," he directed.  It was the voice
of authority commanding the urchin on the curb; of seasoned seniority
chiding the heedlessness of the stripling of twenty-two.

"Can't you see that my beast wants water?" Blue Jeans was deeply
offended.  Such opulence in anyone at such a moment would have seemed a
needless taunt; that chance had selected the superintendent to flaunt
it was surplusage of insult.  Yet he could not even resent the
superintendent's gesture, wide-flung and arrogant to all beholders.
Again the superintendent looked to have the right of it.  He clicked to
Girl o' Mine and she came to him, out of the way, like an obedient
puppy.

And then began the performance for the benefit of the car windows, and
which the car windows enjoyed.  This picturesque son of the real West,
this colorful figure in new chaps and new shirt and thirty dollar hat,
tried to ride his horse up to the tub.  And the horse would not go.  In
the first place the horse was not thirsty; in the second place, like
Girl o' Mine, he was exceedingly afraid.  Yet in the beginning, when
the Dee & Zee superintendent scratched him with the solid silver spurs
by way of comforting him, he merely rose on his hind legs, but no
nearer the tank.

At any other time the superintendent, who was not an unusual fool,
would have done the wiser thing; he would have dismounted and led his
animal.  But now, even though he might have bested his own vanity in
spite of the car windows, Blue Jeans would not permit it.  Blue Jeans
had been quick to see where this might lead and spoke with malicious
calculation.

"I thought your horse wanted water?" he drawled, as the superintendent
paused to consider his course.  "Pshaw!  He ain't so plumb crazy for
it!"

That settled it.  It grew instantly furious and cruel.  The
superintendent no longer merely scratched with the rowels; he drove
them home.  And the roan horse plunged and bucked and staggered.

It was hot and the sawing bit raised quickly a white slaver.  The roan
wasn't a bad horse at heart; he was frightened at something he couldn't
understand.  He tried to break and run.  But at his bad heart the
superintendent wasn't even a man, and no damned bronco was going to
have his way with him.  He rounded him back and sent him full at that
tinkling, dreadful drip once more.  So the roan fought on, till tumult
rose within the cars.

This was real!  This was regular!  One wiser than the rest--one who
thought himself schooled in the vernacular, because he had once
witnessed a Frontier Week celebration at Cheyenne--seized upon this
opportunity to air his vocabulary.

The sashes had been left closed to exclude sand and cinders.  He tugged
one open now and sent forth his voice.

"Hi yi yi-i-p," he shouted.  "Ride him, cowboy!"

And the superintendent rode him!  Rode him till the slaver turned red
and the spurs were a torture to the raw torn flanks.  Rode him till his
eyes rolled white and crazed.  For the superintendent had gone mad too,
mad with vain rage.  He laid his rope across the roan's dripping
withers; it did not help; it was inadequate.  With staring eyes he cast
about for a more efficient weapon.  Then he drew his gun from its
holster.

"You won't, eh, you--?" he panted, foaming a little himself.  "You
won't, eh?  Try that!  Maybe that'll persuade you!"  And holding the
long blue sixshooter by its barrel, he struck the roan heavily with the
butt just behind the eyes.  Immediately the roan stood stock-still and
slowly closed his eyes.  A less strong-hearted horse would have sunk to
the ground.  But the superintendent was blind now to the pass to which
he had brought his mount.

"Maybe that'll persuade you!  Maybe that--"  He mouthed the words
thickly and would have struck again.

But just then Blue Jeans struck him.

Blue Jeans took his gun away from him.  How weak is that poor word!
Took?  It would not have been so simple a recital had not the weapon
been reversed in the superintendent's hand for the hazing of the roan.
The train would have been treated otherwise to a bit of the real West
indeed, for the superintendent was beyond all sane thought or
discretion.  Blue Jeans took his gun away from him.  As the
superintendent would have thrust it into his face to fire he struck the
out-stretched wrist with the edge of his stiffened hand, and it fell to
the ground.

Then Blue Jeans took the superintendent from the saddle.

And now the train rocked and roared.  This was not novelty, but it was
good.  This was what they had come West to see, but better--better!
Better fifty times over than the tame affair which the world's
championship heavy-weight bout at Denver had turned out to be.  This
was a fight.  You said it--a fight!

The superintendent fought with wasteful fury; Blue Jeans with a cold
hatred of his cruelty--a cold and bitter hatred of his opulence.  The
superintendent struck him once with a wild, wide swing.  Once--only
once.  For he hugged to the superintendent after that and those wild
swings went past.  And he jabbed!  And jabbed!  And jabbed!

After a while the foeman would have clinched, but Blue Jeans prevented
that.  That would not do; the superintendent was heavy and he was
slight.  So from a position always before his own face his fists
battered the other man's features blank.  And he tore that new shirt,
and trampled on the thirty dollar hat; and the chaps grew old and dingy
from constant falling and rising.

Later the superintendent rose less readily; later still he did not rise
at all.  Then Blue Jeans watered his horse for him and led it where he
lay.  With a heave he tossed the once pretty puncher into the
saddle,--he was pretty no longer.  He returned his gun.  But he broke
that weapon and extracted the shells before he gave it back.

"There it is," he told the beaten man, and instantly a light leaped to
the half-closed eyes.

Blue Jeans read it.

"Oh, it ain't loaded.  See!"  And he flung afar the handful of
cartridges.

"It ain't loaded, and don't you load it, either.  Don't you try to load
it, till you're out of sight.  Don't you even think to try to load it.
If you do--if you do--"

He went back to his seat on the timber.

And the train rocked no more.  It became instead loquacious.

"Didn't I tell you?" it demanded.  "Didn't I say so, the minute I
spotted that moving-picture scenery!  You didn't think real cowboys
dolled up like that, did you?  You did?  My Gawd!  But that other
bird--look at him!  Sure--smoking his cigarette as if nothing had
happened.  Bet he rolls 'em with one hand!  Bet he rolls 'em with one
hand, going at a gallop!  And dressed for business all the while!
Gentlemen, you're looking at a cowboy!"

And the wise one--the one who had been in Cheyenne during Frontier
Week--capped it all, nonchalantly.  He'd never hoped to have such a
happy chance to display his vocabulary.

"One bad hombre," he declared.  "One bad hombre!"

Oh, but they were loquacious!  They forgot the heat and delay; they
would have risen to a man and gone out to him who sat, back toward
them, on the timber base of the tank, only they were afraid that the
train might pull out without them.  So they had to be content with
watching him while they continued to tell each other what good offhand
judges of human nature they were.

Not so, however, in the private car at the end of the row of coaches.
No noise had come from its occupants during even the worst, or the
best, of it.  First tense attention and then when it was over and the
superintendent had ridden away, three pairs of eyes which, turned upon
each other, were startled, questioning.

One of the men was tall and fat, and prosperous to the casual eye, as
he most surely must have been offensive to the fastidious.  One of them
was short and fat, with pointed ears that made him look quite
fox-faced.  And the other was a reporter.  From his appearance one
would have said I hope, and truly, that only pursuit of his calling
could have brought him in such company.

These three, then, sat for a time and looked eloquently at each other.
They were not loquacious about it, not verbally; and finally the tall
fat one heaved himself from his seat.

"I've got a hunch," he declared, "and God never forgives a man who
doesn't ride one."  Certainly he was a strange person to be mentioning
God so complacently.

"Pull the bell cord if that fool engineer tries to start without me."
And he left the car.

So presently another shadow fell athwart Blue Jeans' lap.  He did not
bother to raise his head this time, however; he was nursing a bruised
hand and craved solitude.  The fat man stood and looked down at him
until he realized that the other was likely never to look up, unless he
did something besides impose his plainly unwelcome presence upon him.
Therefore he cleared his throat--"hm-m-m."

"Don't hm-m-m me," snarled Blue Jeans promptly.  "And get out of my
light."

In his own way the huge man was a genius, for surely nothing else could
have accomplished it.

"Warm, isn't it?" he commented; and at that inanity Blue Jeans raised
his head.

The huge man had his first fair view of the other's fine hard youth;
and while he observed the self-possessed eyes and long nose,
acquisitive and courageous, Blue Jeans devoted the interval to a
counter-scrutiny.  He scanned the newcomer from head to foot, silk hose
and hair-line suit and expensive panama.  The rings upon those pudgy
fingers held longest his wandering eye, the blue-white fortune in the
burnt-orange cravat.  But all this seemed to kindle no approval.

"Prosperous!" he muttered bitterly.  "Prosperous!  And yet I don't hate
you like I did that superintendent.  Just as much maybe, but not just
the same. . . .  Go away!"

But the huge man smiled and stood his ground until finally Blue Jeans
slanted his head at him, wickedly, and fell to talking again.

"I could pluck that stone from out your tie _that_ easy!"  And his
voice held no assurance that he would not act upon his words.  "Just as
easy!  Yes, and I could beat you over the head with my gun--oh, sure
I've got one!--just like he beat that roan horse, and strip your
pockets and be clean away before one of those"--he nodded over his
shoulder at the train--"could think to call for help.  And thinking to
call for help would come quicker to them than thinking to help without
calling.  And Girl o' Mine would carry me clear in five minutes."

He paused remorselessly, as if to let this sink in, but out of the
silence, "I don't scare easily," the huge man said.

"Pshaw!  I'm not telling you to try to scare you," Blue Jeans scoffed.
"I'm telling myself how simple it could be--and wondering why I don't
do it!"

"I can tell you that," answered the Easterner.  "Because you're honest."

But that was not subtle, and he realized the flattery had been
ill-chosen, even before Blue Jeans flared, which was almost
instantaneously.

"Don't you tell me I'm honest!  Don't you dare even hint I am!  It's
honesty brought me here."

The huge man laughed gently.  He'd made one mistake; few could accuse
him of repeating in stupidity.  He took accurate stock of the symptoms;
set his sights upon what he surmised must be the bull's-eye of Blue
Jeans' discontent; waited a nicely balanced moment, and fired.

"How," he inquired in a tone both mild and unsensational, "how would
you like to earn two hundred dollars?"

But the shot did not take effect as he had expected it to.  Instead of
snapping back Blue Jeans' curly head sank a little lower.  Though his
inward start at the query had been great his outward display of emotion
was scarcely visible.  For perceiving that this was a deliberate
attempt to arouse his interest, he dissembled it and exhibited no
interest at all.

"I balk at murder," he replied with careful indifference and no flicker
of jocularity.  "And it would have to be that, to earn that much money.
Two hundred dollars is a fortune; so's one; so's fifty.  But I'm kind
of particular that way--though the offer is liberal--it is so!  I admit
that, but I--"

He would have gone on rambling had not the other stopped him.

"Sure, it's a nice bunch of coin."  And then, daring to be facetious
himself, though adhering still to his admirable and just-formed plan of
not disclosing too much at once:

"You'd not have to kill him, you know.  Half of what you did to your
friend on the roan horse would be plenty and to spare."

"He was no friend of mine," Blue Jeans corrected coldly.  "We'd just
barely begun to get acquainted."

"Lucky for him!" Indeed, despite his personality, the huge man had a
lively wit.

"A life-long friendship would have proved fatal!"

It made Blue Jeans' eyes twinkle though it warmed them not at all.  He
didn't like the fat man and he wasn't going to try.  But when the
latter showed no readiness to go back to the important topic which he
had himself introduced, he found anxiety overcoming his resolution to
remain unconcerned.

"You were speaking intimately of two hundred dollars," he drew it back
tentatively.

And then the huge man knew that it was best to be precise.

"For eighteen minutes' work," he explained.  "Six rounds with young
Condit, at Estabrook, on the tenth."

"Me!"  Blue Jeans blurted his surprise, it was so far from the sort of
proposition he had been prepared to hear.  In spite of his habiliments
the Easterner was no new type to him, and he had been ready to dismiss
him and his project, whenever it should develop, with a satisfying
frankness which could not have been admitted here.  But this tripped
him,--stripped him momentarily of his self-possession.

"Me!" he deprecated.  "Pshaw!  I'm no box-fighter!  I don't box!"

"Sure you don't," the huge man agreed, eagerly and instantly.  "That's
what I saw as I watched you from the window, arguing with your fr--your
acquaintance.  The whole world is full of box-fighters who box.  You'll
look years and years, however, before you'll find one who will fight."

Blue Jeans had learned to make his decisions quickly, and to abide
later by their results without complaint.  Swift and sudden, that was
the better way.  But here was no step to be taken ill-considered.  He
wasn't sick of cowpunching; he hadn't had half enough of it; he'd never
have enough.  But he was sick of punching other men's cattle.  And he'd
been maturing lately, getting full-grown ideas into his head.  There
wasn't any future for him, or for any man, hellin' around the country.
But if a man was to settle down,--that was the Dream!

And he knew the place,--back of Big Thumb Butte.  Good pasture; not too
big, but enough for any bunch he was ever likely to own.  Some fence;
some buildings; both in a sad state but reclaimable by a handy man.
And water!  The finest water in all the country, and it never failed.
And cheap!  Cheap if one kept one's mind on relative values and off
one's own financial troubles; cheap if one didn't pause to recollect
that six bits, at the moment, would have been a prohibitive price.

He'd got his eye on that place lately; that's why he had tried so hard
with the Dee & Zee; that's why he had been over-anxious at poker.  He'd
even figured how, by being saving and eating nothing to speak of and
drinking nothing at all, he could save up half the price in about
twenty years.  But he'd be old in twenty years, past forty, and
tottering and toothless without doubt.  Unless Opportunity--_was_ this
Opportunity?

He didn't like that game--not much--not at all!  But, then, he didn't
know much about it; he could judge only by externals, by the clique who
made it their profession.  And he'd liked none of them any better than
he did this huge Easterner standing before him, waiting for an answer.

But if this was Opportunity--he didn't have to mix--he could herd by
himself, as he had at the Dee & Zee.  And it was the best water in the
county, and somebody, pretty soon, was going to see the possibilities
in that valley and snap it up.  And then where'd he be?  He wanted to
become a solid citizen; he wanted to amount to something _now_.

He raised a chill, gray-green eye.

"You can say on," he gave leave calmly.

But the huge man drew a slip of cardboard from his pocket instead, and
wrote upon it.  It seemed to be one of a stock for such emergencies,
for it bore no engraving.

"If you'll carry this to Harry Larrabie, he'll understand.  He'll give
you what you need and send you against Condit Saturday night.  Short
notice for you, I know, but you look to be in shape."  He glanced at
the lean length.

"One hundred and twenty-eight?"

"Thirty-two," said Blue Jeans, and somehow resentfully.

"Fine--fine!  Well?"

Blue Jeans had learned to make decisions with suddenness.  He gave this
one, however, a full five seconds' consideration.  Then he reached out
and possessed himself of the card.

"Scratch Blake and send bearer against Condit Saturday.  If he looks as
good to you as he has to me, keep him busy.  Some day I may have
employment for him myself."

It was signed with the single letter D.

"There are no strings to it, after Condit?" Blue Jeans asked finally.

"None--if you want to quit.  None."

"Then what is there in it for you?"

Blue Jeans had been schooled to be skeptical concerning any act masking
as purely philanthropic.  But the huge man wisely disclaimed such
motives.

"Maybe you won't want to quit,--not right away."  He had taken accurate
account of the symptoms.  Everybody wanted money, but this man's
desire, he discerned, though great, was curbed and disciplined.  It was
not feverish, as if ambitious merely of a few days of debauch in town.
It was controlled, and fixed and steady.

"You'll find other two hundreds waiting," said he.

"That's your gamble?"

"That's my gamble."

Again the card.

"There's no sum mentioned here."

Keenly the huge man's regard played over him.  A scarecrow without
question,--poverty had had shabby sport with him,--but honest.  You
couldn't mistake it.  The large man's flattery had been ill-chosen, yet
well-founded.  He drew two one hundred dollar bills from a folder and
handed them to Blue Jeans.

"That'll let you buy some clothes, too," he said, and largely.  And
this largeness was his second bad mistake.

Blue Jeans had risen, and as they stood side by side, one thing was now
strangely emphasized.  Travel-soiled as he was, and tattered and marked
with signs of conflict, Blue Jeans was the cleaner of the two, the more
wholesome, and immaculate.  For what _he_ was stood out upon the huge
man in every fold of flesh.

And Blue Jeans was at no pains to hide his distaste.  He was no
prude--no sissy--but somewhere every man had to draw the line.  And
every man should draw it before the state of his soul did such things
to lips and eyes.  Therefore, and because of the other's condescending
largeness, his reply was cold.

"I'd better," he said, without thanks.  "When a man goes into a
doubtful business he'd ought at least to dress respectable.  He owes it
to himself to look his best."

The level dislike in the other's tone disconcerted the huge man not at
all.  He was wise enough to drop it there.  But it set him thinking as
he retraced his way to the private car.

The fox-faced man and the reporter who was monosyllabic were waiting
for his return.

"How much?"  This from Fox-face, avidly.  He had seen money change
hands.

"Two hundred.  He was stony!"

"He did look hungry."  This from the reporter, ruminatingly.

"I sent him on to Larrabie."

"Bet you a hundred that Larrabie never sees him!"

"I'll take that," said the reporter.

But Fox-face, perceiving better ones, changed the terms of his
proffered wager.

"Bet you a hundred you never hear from him, even if he does meet
Condit."  He hurled this at the huge man, disdaining the reporter.
"Bet you you've not heard from him in three years--in five!"

"There's too many sure things in this world," opined the huge man, calm
under Fox-face's challenge with something like contempt, "to bother
with a gamble."  He squinted a moment in thought.

"But when we pull into Shell you'd better wire Larrabie to be discreet.
If he wants to know who D. is, better advise Larrabie to call me
'Denver'--'Denver' Smith will do.  Just a disinterested party."

And at that Fox-face was instantly, visibly consumed with curiosity.
The reporter looked almost as though he understood.

"He might not approve of me," he chose to be downright, and enlighten
Fox-face at the same time.  "He doesn't now, as it is."  And then he
laughed softly, as if at himself.

"It's funny, too.  I suppose he's like all of them, drunk every pay-day
while his money holds out, and a familiar face at every brothel.  And
yet from the way he looked at me--"  He shook his head, not in anger
but amiable meditation.  "It's funny," he repeated, and let it go at
that.

So it remained a conundrum to Fox-face.  The reporter, however, was now
sure that he had understood.  He was sorry that he had not gone out to
speak to Blue Jeans himself.  And now the fat man was speaking again.

"He'll go to Estabrook, and he'll earn his two hundred.  No room for
doubt.  But beyond that--" he shook his head.  He could talk frankly to
the reporter, for he never talked for publication.

"He looked honest--but it was a bad hunch, I'm afraid.  I'm not so
certain but what he would prove to be too honest, for any practical
purpose, if he ever did come through."

"You've seen the last of him," stated Fox-face omnisciently.

But they hadn't.  Blue Jeans was invisible for a while, then he
reappeared, and the water from the tank overflow had done much for man
and beast.  He looked almost neat, and very shining and clean.  And the
huge man, the reporter observed, must have been mistaken about the
brothels.  Blue Jeans was no prude--no sissy--but a man had to draw the
line somewhere.  Wherefore his lips did not puff and sag, his eyeballs
were not mottled.

His neckerchief had been newly knotted, with a flourish; his
discouraged boots wiped free of dust.  And the mare, Girl o' Mine, had
also found refreshment.  She drooped no longer; she even arched her
neck and buck-jumped a little, when he put his weight in the stirrup.

"You, too," he chided her, though gravely, for he was not pleased, not
happy in the course to which he had committed himself.  "You, too," he
chided.  "Oh, you brazen huzzy!  There's nothing like it--nothing in
all the world like ready cash to make a female frivolous!"

He turned her across the tracks.

"We'll not linger long in Reservoir," he spoke again aloud, and the
mare threw back one ear to listen.  "Just long enough to eat and sleep,
and then we'll start overland to Estabrook.  That's sensible!  That's
better than squandering money on a railroad ticket."

Certainly the prospect to which he was bound irked his pride; hurt him
definitely in his self-respect.  But with this frugal reflection his
spirits rose a little.  He'd not have to be like them; he'd not mix
with that clique; he'd herd alone.  And save his money!  That was it.
There was the Dream again!

His spirits rose.  With the whole train watching him he rode from sight
without even putting up a hand in farewell to those at the private car
windows.  And at that, without realizing it, Fox-face--for that--began
hating him.

Once across the tracks Blue Jeans clicked to Girl o' Mine.  She swung
to a canter.

"Trip along, honey," he bade her, his serenity almost restored.  "Trip
along, and watch your step.  Remember you're bearing a capitalist!"




CHAPTER III

LITTLE-TWEED-SUIT

Little-Tweed-Suit was being bothered by a toad--a toad-person with a
prominent thick watch chain and a loose smirk.  She had been bothered
by him ever since dinner--dinner at night at the Cactus House, which
was inclined to be Eastern and effete in its apings--but his
persecutions there had been confined to lurking, contrived meetings,
and long glances which touched her noisomely.

Once she had swept the hotel office with a desperate glance, trying to
select a face to which she might appeal.  There wasn't one.  Estabrook
was filling with its usual week-end scum; crafty faces, hard faces,
faces shallowly good-natured, and therefore doubly treacherous.  Even
the pimply clerk at the desk, discerning her unescorted state, had
changed subtly in voice and manner.

"Alone?"

"Yes, alone."

"Lonesome?"

She had not answered him.  But here on the railway platform, where she
had fled to catch the East-bound, nine o'clock express, and where the
toad unhurriedly had followed her; here where she had thought to fear
him less she found she feared him more.

To know herself that such a thing had looked upon her as he had looked
was loathsome; to have others see him accost her and leer over their
interpretations of the insult seemed more than she could bear.  And the
platform and hot, foul waiting-room, common to both men and women, were
both as conspicuous as the hotel had been; both peopled with the same
side-long glances.

So she had fled again from the lighted portion of the platform this
time to the darker, far more dangerous end, which was out of the puddle
of illumination.  And now he was coming toward her less unhurriedly,
his canine teeth showing wolfishly through a grin.  This last move of
hers he believed he understood; he even valued it.  A little coquetry
lent zest to the game.  And she _had_ led him a pretty chase--but
now . . . he was very sure of himself . . .

How Little-Tweed-Suit--a girl like Tweed-Suit--came there upon the
station platform of Estabrook is a long story; and it is not entirely
hers or ours.  Therefore only the briefest part, for this tale's sake,
shall be set down here.

It concerns a white house on a hill, and a man who failed so bleakly
that few could remember, even directly after his funeral, how shining
his successes had been.  For his brilliance could not be saved in ink
or perpetuated with paint or brush.  To be sure, his friends after his
death now and then found themselves recalling something particularly
keen, something analytical and searching as a probe, which he had
voiced on this occasion or that.

"I remember how Manners used to say," they would begin; and then quote
as accurately as it were possible.  But directly, when they discovered
how happily these epigrams were received by those who had not heard
them, they acquired a singular habit; they began to leave out Manners'
name and appropriate the applause to themselves.  Thus they robbed the
dead man safely, nor found the practice ghoulish.  One or two thereby
even acquired permanent fame as an after-dinner wit.

Even his enemies, implacable, political enemies, who had done the most
to destroy him, more than the temperament which he himself believed to
be a blight, were a little more honest than that.  They had fought him
according to their own rules, which debarred nothing, with every foul
trick they knew.  If there was a weak spot in a man's record, go after
it; if he had been a weakling, temporarily a fool, seek it out.  There
were human bloodhounds always sniffing to come upon such a scent.  Hunt
it down; find the woman.

As a matter of fact, there had not been a woman, after all.  That had
been a mistake.  A bad mistake, for it had killed his wife.  But a
lucky mistake for them!  For it had delivered into their hands the
secret of an actual and even more vulnerable place to attack.

Before his wife's death he had been proud enough to hide it, and fight
it out when the struggle was on, within the four walls of his home.
But afterward he seemed to cease to care.

Shameless!  That was the pass to which they said he had come, in the
very worthy, very tight-traditioned and not very large town in which
the white house stood.  And the day he rose drunk in Assembly, white,
haggard drunk, they read his doom aloud.  Dead politically the papers
said.  Fools!  Dead in hopes they should have written; dead in his
debonair heart; dead sick of fighting a losing fight.  And dying.

This last, the sudden death of his body, however, took them by
surprise.  They had not been observant.  Yet on that bright day when
quite as many of his political enemies as friends rode behind him, the
latter were rather quick and proud to notice this.  In suitably hushed
voices they remarked that it proved their broad-mindedness as a
community.

But whenever anything particularly crooked was being crammed through
thereafter at the State Capitol, his name was sure to come up.

"It's a good thing Charlie isn't here," they'd chuckle.  "We couldn't
fool him this easy; he'd spot it; he'd tear us to pieces with his
tongue."

His enemies were more honest; they remembered and appreciated him as an
antagonist.

The others, save for the epigrammatic quotations already mentioned,
were more immediately concerned with his daughter.  She had been proud
of her father--proud!  She had never belittled him with hidden pity,
not even on that night when she surprised him, all in evening black and
white, immaculate and wasted, before a mirror which hung over the
buffet in the dining-room.  He was holding a goblet in an uplifted
hand, the skin cruelly taut, though he neither swayed nor stammered.

"Your damnation, my friend," she heard him say.  "Your deep damnation."

And he drank it to his reflection.

The friends were immediately concerned with the daughter.  And her
pride!  They didn't say so, not aloud, but they thought to see it break
now.  And the day that Ostermoor--Young Ostermoor was his title, though
his given name was Howard Davenport--broke his never announced and
merely tacitly accepted engagement to her they knew great joy.  But she
robbed them of half their triumph.  In public she never dropped her
chin.  And only Ostermoor and she knew the shame of that private
conversation by which they were unplighted.

"You must see my predicament."  So spoke Ostermoor.  "I'm dependent on
the old man.  If he cuts me off, and he says he will if--"

Even callow young Ostermoor, hair slick and scented, a thick-limbed,
small-town Brummel confident in his best-clothes smartness, had not had
quite the courage to tell her to her uplifted, flushed face what his
father had shouted:--That he'd have no blood of his crossed with hers;
that it was dangerous blood--tainted--wild.

"He says," he finished lamely instead, "it's better to wait."

Yet how easily she read his lameness, and estimated his father's words.
Dangerous blood--tainted?  Ostermoor had feared her tongue; the women
in his household talked shrilly and long upon far less provocation.
But she only sat and seemed to smile.

"I see," was all she said.

And while she smiled, her cheeks hot, his eyes had crept over her.  Her
slenderness was rounded, her slimness soft and full.  A girl, it came
upon him, for whom a man's arms might still yearn in spite of himself.

"This--this needn't mean any real break between us," he hoped, with
what he intended as a worldly careless air.  He'd never have dared that
a week earlier; he had always been too conscious until that moment of a
certain unapproachability, a transcendent daintiness, audacious and the
reverse from fragile, which nevertheless had kept him at arms' length.
But with his father's words in his ears--dangerous!--tainted!--he
managed it easily.

"Of course we couldn't arrange it here in town, where we're known--"

"Arrange what?"

"Well, I thought maybe--"  Her calmness, hers by right of breeding,
lamed him again and angered him to coarse effrontery.

"I don't suppose there's many in town now who'd care to take a chance--"

"A chance on what?"

"Well, on marrying you.  This is a pretty conservative community.  But
I thought if we could find a place quietly, not too far away, where
we--"

She rang a bell and summoned a butler who was also cook, and coachman
too.

"Show Mr. Ostermoor out," she directed, calm still.  But the terms of
that order were only out of regard for the extreme age of the servitor.
He would attempt to obey her she knew; had he been younger she would
have directed that Mr. Ostermoor be thrown out.

A week later the estate was settled up.  Naturally Ostermoor's father,
who was president of the local bank, knew that there wasn't going to be
any estate, yet the total of her father's paper must have staggered
him.  I hope so.  And when she was proved to be practically penniless,
immediately they all felt that they had evened their score with her.
For what?  Oh, for driving so sweet and cool along a dusty,
maple-shaded main street, as pleasant and courteous to ordinary
tradespeople as she was to better folk.

Then, in a surprisingly short while, whenever somebody happened to
mention her and wonder where she had gone, they found that they had
already started to forget her.

"Somewhere West.  I did hear the name of the place.  But I can't
remember it."

They were above reproach,--in their geography.  She had gone somewhere
west, and sometimes I am not sure that there isn't a heartache in the
reason for her going.

Romance was in her hungry heart; such romance as the Sunday-groomed
youths who frequented the house on the hill might never satisfy.  She'd
read books, all sorts of books, but one of the plains she loved.  In it
a somewhat saturnine horseman, a son of the sage-brush, unlettered but
tutored much by life, had wooed and won a prim little schoolmistress
from the East.  Whether she went with the hope of emulation in her
heart or not none can venture to say.  Maybe it was in search of
manhood, a different kind of man.

Anyhow, she went.  And found a school to teach.  And disillusionment.
She could not teach school; she knew more than her scholars, yet not so
much more of what they needed to be taught.  It was not always clear in
her mind whether it had been the Delaware or the Rappahannock which
furnished Washington's transportation problem.  And two and two didn't
always make four; not if she didn't keep her mind terribly
concentrated, when she wanted to dream.

The children loved her; they cried, unaccountably to their parents,
when she had to leave.  But the parents were ruthless about it; they
weren't paying school taxes to support a slip of a girl who couldn't
hammer the three essential R's into their undoubtedly gifted
offsprings' heads, even though her hair was high-piled and tawny-red,
and her skin like cream; even though there were violet lights in her
singularly eager eyes.

When one less practical than the rest tried to point out that she had a
bearing different from theirs; "genteel" he called it, yet without
offense to the most humble, and that she "talked good, too," and in a
less nasal way, they rode him down.  Their progeny was yet a long step
from a drawing-room they averred, or the need to know how to enter one.

She lost her position.  In Estabrook, loath to acknowledge herself
disappointed, she found another, and lost that.  But she considered
this scarcely a mishap, for she couldn't have lived upon what it paid
anyway.  Moreover she was becoming rapidly afraid of this country; it
was bigger and she was littler than she had supposed.  And no dashing
horsemen had ridden up to her schoolhouse door and handed her nosegays
and assured her that her eyes were the same shade of blue.  She'd
pricked that bubble!  Most of them chewed tobacco with no delicate
regard for outward appearances.

With her money running perilously low she had taken stock of her
wardrobe and found it already shabby, and decided to go back East while
there was still time.  She'd try New York.  Her pride would not
handicap her there any more than it had here, for no one would know
her.  She'd find something to do in New York; of course she would.
She'd have to!

Then the toad-person had laid unclean eyes upon her in the dining-room
of the Cactus House, and contrived meetings where their bodies must
brush close in passing.  And followed her to the station.  And she was
biting her lip now to keep from being silly and screaming; trying to
plan in panic the scathing things which she must say.

It was dark there.  The toad could not see her face and thus learn that
her eyes were dilated.  The East-bound roared in as he came up.  She
tried to run--it was her train--and couldn't.  The toad put a hand upon
her.  And then Blue Jeans--blue serge now--dropped off the steps of the
smoker in the shadow close behind her, and became instantly absorbed in
the tableau.

Blue Jeans had whipped Condit.  Indeed, he had considered it an unfair
thing.  Why, Condit was only a boy--not more than twenty-one or
twenty-two at the most--a baby!--no bigger than himself.  Not half so
big as the superintendent!  And he could not fight well, either.  He
danced a lot, and feinted, and made a great show of annihilation, but
he couldn't really fight.  Blue Jeans had been sorry for him a little;
not much, because he'd ought to be in some other business if he
couldn't take care of himself.  But he'd dropped so still, the first
time Blue Jeans hit him.  So huddled like!

"Have I killed him?" he asked Larrabie, remorsefully, after it had
happened.

Condit had folded up like a sick accordion.

"Have I killed him?"

"Hell, no!"  And Larrabie had stared curiously while neither of them
heard the applause.

Before an hour passed Larrabie wired the huge man who had an office in
New York, an office lined with books.  The books were never used; the
office saw strange usage.

"A bear-cat," Larrabie wired.  "What shall I do with him?"

And an answer had come back:

"Keep him under cover.  Work him a little.  Will send Devereau when the
time is right."

So Blue Jeans had suddenly found his Dream in the process of coming
true.  For he had done, not happy at heart, just what the huge man had
said he would do; he had decided to accumulate other and just as easy
two hundreds.

"I'll herd by myself," was the way he argued himself to this decision.
"I'm no lily, but I'll not soil myself worse with this bunch."

And Larrabie had kept him under cover, and worked him twice, until
another telegram had finally come, advising them that Devereau was on
his way West,--that the "time was right."  But Larrabie had been
perplexed again on this occasion by Blue Jeans' lack of enthusiasm.  He
reread the telegram aloud and emphasized the other's great luck.

"There's not a man that wouldn't give up a big slice to get him for a
manager," he said.  "He's in right, too.  He's the ace!"

"Huh!" remarked Blue Jeans.  Indeed, Blue Jeans baffled him.

And when Devereau arrived in Estabrook on a train twenty minutes late,
Blue Jeans was not there to keep the appointment which Larrabie, duly
aware of the Easterner's importance, had arranged.

"Devereau'll be taking you East, likely," he had surmised.  So waiting
not an instant past the hour when he was scheduled to arrive, Blue
Jeans had gone, stricken with homesickness at the thought of leaving
her, to see Girl o' Mine.  It took him twenty miles down the line, but
he'd made the appointment with her before he knew Devereau was coming,
anyhow, and he'd keep it.  Therefore Devereau--but you've guessed it.
Devereau is Fox-face of the private car.  Devereau is the toad.

It was dark at the end of the platform.  He could not see that her eyes
were dilated.  He laid his hand upon her.  She couldn't run; her legs
felt frozen and useless.

"No hurry, dearie," said Devereau.  "Let's talk this over.  Maybe
you'll be glad you missed your train."

But Blue Jeans, who had landed lightly on the gravel, saw what Devereau
had missed.  He saw that Tweed-Suit was afraid--that she was numbed
with fear.  His single back-hand thrust sent Devereau spinning under a
truck.

"Your train?"

"Yes."

"Give me your bag."

She obeyed him.  They had told her that the train did not wait very
long.  His hand found her arm, a different touch than Devereau's.

"Now run," he ordered.

They found most of the vestibules already closed; then one far down
still open.  So they made it, though he had to toss the bag and fairly
lift her on.  And it was done so swiftly that it was a full half minute
before she caught her breath.

"Oh, thank you!" she exclaimed then.

The porter was fussing with her bag, and her fervor overwhelmed him.
But her next words were a shock.

"I--I want to get off," she blurted.

The porter shook his head; he had expected better from her, but all
women were riddles.

"We's rolling now, ma'am," he answered.  "No stop for two hundred
miles."

That night Cecille Manners--Tweed-Suit will no longer serve--lay in her
berth and watched the stars reel by.  She had misjudged the west and
come away too soon; she knew that now.  She put her hand upon her arm.
No, that wasn't the way it had felt; it had been strong, infallible.
And though he had turned quickly away, after putting her aboard; though
she had no way of guessing that he had gone back to find Devereau, she
was filled just the same with what remained, for a long time at least,
a happy certainty.  She'd see him again sometime.  She had to!

But Devereau had known better than to linger near the baggage truck.
So after he had looked beneath it and upon it and all around it and
found nobody, Blue Jeans turned and watched the red tail-light of the
train disappear.

Who shall say where fancy first was bred?  Not you--or I--nor even Blue
Jeans.  For he had not even seen her yet, not with seeing eyes.  Here
was yet no chapter of his Dream.

"A decent girl!" was what he muttered.  "A decent girl--I'd swear it!"

And he looked again, eagerly, beneath the truck.

An hour later when Blue Jeans heard a man asking for Perry Blair in the
Cactus House, he stepped up.  He didn't care for his looks, which was
no novelty so far in this venture.

"I'm Perry Blair," he said.

"I'm Devereau."

And later, over a contract:

"This mentions mighty little money," said Perry, "and that little
bashful and meek."

Perry's manner did not even approximate the respect which Devereau felt
was his due.

"You'll be well taken care of," he stated curtly.

But Perry's answer, like one he had made the huge man, made Devereau
pause and think.

"No doubt at all," said he.  "I'll be seeing to that myself."

And they didn't know, not till a long time afterward, that they had met
only a little while before.  It had been dark at the platform's end.
Perry had caught nothing save a canine grin.




CHAPTER IV

ALL ELSE IS HERESY

There are certain people, good people to whom orthodox precepts and
preachments are more than the constant evidence of their own eyes, who
will find displeasure in this story.  For they are accustomed to a
formula in all such tales and are not likely to abide a departure from
it.

By it they have come to know immediately, whenever a woman with
instincts of doubtful propriety is introduced early in the action, just
what to expect.  Her doom has struck.  The frightful end which will be
hers is only a deferred matter still in the hands of her historian: The
dark river, a rushing car over an embankment to swift oblivion, a
living agony of remorse,--the rewards it will be noted bear a distinct
resemblance each to the other.  For the wages of sin have long been
classified, tabulated and fixed, a minimum of mercy, a maximum of
disaster.  All else is heresy.

They have been told this so many times that they not only believe it,
just as Cecille Manners once believed, utterly, fervidly, but they
derive therefrom an ardent satisfaction.  This might seem strange, but
it is stranger far that they never look about them, just for a moment,
at life itself--just for a moment, just long enough to wonder.  But
they do not.  They believe in and expect the worst, demand it indeed.
And so this story will not please them--no.  Not at all in so far as it
chronicles the life of Felicity Brown.

But the other half, the half which has been wondering for quite a
while, just as Cecille came to wonder, may read it and approve.

[Illustration: He tore at them, mad with rage.]

Once it was considered adequate to combat wickedness with fear, but
methods change.  It has come to seem wiser, if less orthodox, to urge
that heaven is fair instead of insisting first that hell is so foul.
And so perhaps it would be well for a change to bear less heavily upon
the wages of sin, and extol, just a little, the wages of virture.  For
too constant insistence upon an evil thing is sure to breed doubt in
the mind of one who is in the habit of thinking at all.  It did in
Cecille's.  If it be so true, so inevitable, so frightful, surely it
should be self-evident now and then, instead of a mere matter of
report.  And beautiful generalization, never anything but vague,
becomes noticeable after a time, questionable.  The things of glory in
this world are not so tediously many that they will not bear once or
twice the telling.  Why not refuse, for once, to blink the facts, even
though they may not be suitably sordid?  Why not go into detail, once
in a while, if the prospect is as fair as they would have one fancy?

This story does, I hope.  It would be honester that way.

      *      *      *      *      *      *

It is not easy to account for the intimacy which existed between those
two girls.  It is doubtful if either of them could have done much to
account for it.  Pressed for an explanation, Felicity Brown, it is
true, might have essayed an answer of sorts.  "Oh, Cele's kind of a
nut," she might have declared, "but she's a good scout," or something
equally unsatisfactory.  But Cecille, unless urged, quite likely
wouldn't have made any answer at all.  Then, "I don't know," she would
have murmured.  And in the face of such gravity her inquisitor must
surely have sought a different topic.

Yet the intimacy was a fact,--one of those odd facts which life
persists in producing.  They had shared an apartment (that is a nice
compliment, that phrase, applied to their sitting-room, bedroom and
bath) for almost a year, continuing in a state of amiability possible
only between two people so widely separated in ideals and hopes that
there could never be a clash.  There had never been much companionship,
however.  Now and then they ate one meal together, an early dinner for
Cecille and a late breakfast for Felicity, at six o'clock in the
evening.  For Cecille's working day was over before Felicity's began.
But there had been no intimacy of the spirit.  And yet each knew the
soul of the other as well as though it had been a meal sack which could
be turned inside out, exposing every seam to scrutiny.

Felicity Brown belonged to the Midnight Roof Club's famous Aero Octet.
That is, of course, a needless bit of information, presumptuous even to
the initiate, for everybody knows her, almost everybody.  She was the
third from the left, the one in new-grass green, with balloons pendant
from the scalloped corners of her short, stiff-wired skirt--black
balloons like huge dull pearls.  The one with the smile.  Yes, I know
that the others smiled, too, constantly, provocatively; but sometimes
the set of their lips was likely to seem anything but the curl of
mirth.  But not Felicity's.

It never lost its challenge.  And her dancing was like that, tireless,
serenely abandoned, the essence of knowing grace.  Half-pagan,
half-divine, Denby, the young cover artist, badly smitten, once put it
with striking unoriginality.  And with exceeding inaccuracy, too.  For
there are all too many who will insist that the pagan portion rather
over-balanced the rest.  But her sheer vitality was amazing.

An unobserving person, still seeking the key to their intimacy, could
easily blunder upon the old bromide and repeat that a pretty woman
invariably prefers a plain one for a foil.  But he would have to be a
very blind fool indeed.  For Felicity Brown's beauty, perfect enough
under the spot of the Midnight Club's miniature stage, became a less
flawless thing in contrast with Cecille.  Perhaps that sounds
far-fetched.  Perhaps, having seen Felicity for yourself, you are
inclined to smile and shrug.  Nevertheless it is so.

Not one of a million Denbys would ever have called Cecille half-pagan
or divine in any degree.  He wouldn't have noticed her, even, unless
his attention had been pointedly called that way.  And if another,
contemplating her with an eye not greedy of the flesh alone, had
finally hit upon the word poignant to describe the hungry youth of her,
the odd little tilt of her head, the soft and eager promise in swelling
line of hip and breast, Denby himself most certainly would have
murmured absently:

"Poignant.  Yes--yes, poignant.  Quite so--quite so!"

And yawned.

For she did not challenge instantly, as did Felicity.  A man might look
at her a long time before her perfection smote him.  It usually
happened that way; it happened exactly like that to Perry Blair.  He
looked at her many, many times before he saw with seeing eyes and
realized how shyly precious and flagrantly bold girlhood like hers
could be.

Her smile was not as ready as that of the girl who danced.  And it had
become a little strained, a little edged, before the end.  But it never
lost its freshness.  It was always as shining as fine rain at dawn.
And the inquiry in her eyes was not part calculation.  They were more
wistful, less expectant maybe.  But they were steady.  And gray as a
November sea.

Once, remarking the incongruity of their names, Cecille repeated her
own with a shade of scorn and provoked from her companion one of the
few personalities in which she ever indulged.

"Cecille Manners!" she drawled.  "Cecille Manners--gown-fitter's
assistant!  With a name like that I should be in a Broadway chorus."

It happened late one evening.  Cecille was half undressed for bed.  And
Felicity, busy at the mirror, turned an instant to follow with a
dispassionate eye the slight, knickered figure crossing the room.

"With a figure like that, you mean," she amended.  "It's plain stingy
to keep it under cover.  Think of the thousands who are panting to pass
over three-fifty per, just to sit out front and give it the up and
down!"

Nor did the girl at the mirror see the raw flush which her cool comment
brought to Cecille's face, nor would she have understood it had she
seen.  That one's privacy, one's physical fastidiousness, could be
affronted by mere words, would have astounded her.  Fastidiousness
carried that far--fastidiousness of any sort--was incomprehensible to
Felicity.  But she found the topic momentarily of interest.

"It is kind of stagy," she pursued it.  "Your own?"

"Naturally."

Cecille's crispness was lost upon her.  They could never have
quarreled.  And Cecille had found a dressing-gown and hugged it tight
around her knees.

"Oh, not necessarily," Felicity said, abstractedly judicious.  "Take me
for instance.  I tried out four or five before I was inspired with the
one I'm wearing now.  And a couple of them woulda knocked you dead,
take it from me.  But the Vere de Vere stuff is bla now.  Too phony.
There's no class to that kind of a monicker any more.  And, believe me,
you can't afford to overlook any bets, nowadays; you got to have class
in everything.  Something simple--something demure, that's what they
want.  You got to be a lady."

And perhaps that is the best explanation, after all, of Felicity's
cultivation of the other girl.  One cannot of oneself acquire breeding,
but it is possible to study technique.  And I think Cecille's reason
for sticking to Felicity to the very end is clear too.  Once, before
things happened, she was one of those people who believed in the
inevitable dark river, or swift oblivion, or an agony of remorse.
Believed pathetically.

I think Felicity Brown served her as a fearsome revelation of life
stripped to its rawest essentials,--a demonstration of shattering
truths which she would never have believed had she not stood by,
looking on.  It held her as a snake's eye holds a bird, fascinated, in
deadly peril.

But they got on together.  And as an economic arrangement it left
nothing to be desired.  Cecille sewed well and was paid twenty-two
fifty a week.  For her appearance in the Aero Octet Felicity received,
at the beginning, forty-five.  This may astonish some.  It shouldn't.

"I don't pay my girls much."  So Fiegenspann, the proprietor of the
Roof Club, bluntly advised her, after she had passed his scrutiny and
been pronounced unusual enough even for the Aero Octet.  "I don't have
to.  Because the opporchoonities here are big--very big.  And I like my
girls to be sociable.  It makes business."

Felicity knew then that she had finally found the right man--the right
market.  She appreciated his frankness and reciprocated.

"I get you," she said, "and forty-five it is.  And I'm sociable, or I
can be, if sufficiently persuaded.  Only let's be clear about that
point right now, at the start.  You can send Opporchoonity's card in
whenever he calls and I'll be pleased to meet him.  But he mustn't
crawl up to the curb in any Decrepid Four--understand?  He's got to be
hitting on twelve."

Fiegenspann understood.  He nodded his heavy head.  He began to see,
then and there, that Felicity Brown was going to add another page to
the Roof Club's history.  He even essayed a compliment.

"My clientele is of all the world," he said.  "And you--you look
expensif."

"I am," said Felicity.  "No pikers need apply."

And with that business conference between Felicity and Fiegenspann
began the revelation which during the months that followed Cecille
watched in a kind of stricken suspense that must, it seems, have been
childish anticipation in the beginning of the pitiless blast which
would complete the other's sure destruction.

Since the day when freakish chance had thrown them together she had had
no illusions concerning Felicity's ultimate destiny.  It had surprised
her not that Felicity was traveling the road, but that she had not long
since arrived.  She had not learned then how coolly Felicity herself
had selected that destiny and taken it in hand.  She had not surmised
with what dispassionate judgment she had husbanded her resources, once
the route was chosen.

And she wouldn't believe the evidence of her own eyes and ears, at
first.  It never happened this way--it couldn't!  Such things were the
black fruit of one reckless moment; of nameless impulses; of bitter
betrayal.  Someone had written something like that.  One more
unfortunate, rashly importunate--that was it.  She couldn't remember
the rest.  And then her suspense, which was half fearsome expectancy,
was overwhelmed by a thought which really frightened her.

If all that they had taught her wasn't so; if all that she had accepted
so blindly wasn't the literal truth, inexorable for every individual
(life was a too bitterly personal thing for her to concern herself with
a doctrine which, accurate in the main, could be shrugged aside when it
failed in isolated cases) then all the rest, all that she had clung to
just as blindly, could be a lie.  And if it was--if it was--

The thought struck at all she knew, all she had, her creed and code and
hope of to-morrow.

Felicity when she burst in with the news that she had landed
Fiegenspann did a wild can-can up and down the room.  She danced as no
one else ever saw her dance, in a surrender to exultation that was
wanton savagery.  But her mood passed quickly.  The next moment, like
an implacable campaigner, she was summing up the excellences of her
latest step.

"Now you watch me!" she said.  "Now you watch my dust!"

It was cold-blooded; it was as passionless as chess.  And it was about
then that Cecille began to draw nearer and nearer in spirit, like a
bird hypnotized by a snake.  The simile is hectic, I know.  But it was
like that.

She tried to hold aloof.  She used to wonder why she had not packed her
bag that night and got out.  She used to shiver when she remembered
Felicity's dance.  One couldn't touch pitch and not be denied.  There
were, it seemed, an overwhelming number of such proverbs, and most of
them forbidding.

But she stayed on.  More than that, she found herself after a time
stammering a question concerning each new cavalier as he appeared.  And
each time Felicity's answer was unbelievably unconcerned and laconic.

"Nothing doing," she'd say.  "He's hard boiled."

Familiarity breeds complacency oftener than contempt.  But it was
neither the one nor the other which forced Cecille to ask, over and
over again.  Once Felicity surprised in her eyes the light that
invariably accompanied the question.

"You're a queer kid," she added that time, after the usual answer.  "I
sure don't get you."

Later she thought she had solved it.

"Don't you worry, Cele," she reassured her.  "When the fall comes
you'll hear the crash.  I'll slip you the returns a little ahead of
time so that you can get out from under."

"It--it wasn't that," protested Cecille quickly.

She wondered why she didn't pack up and get out.

But she was still there another night when Felicity finally came home
again with every lithe line of her body pulsing triumph.  She was even
sitting up, which was unusual.  An unusual occurrence accounted for it.

In the beginning Felicity had tried to share with the other girl those
prospects who, for one reason or another, were of no importance.

"Come on along," she often urged.  "These guys mean nothing in my young
life except a dinner.  And you needn't worry.  Believe me, you'll be
shown the same respect as if you were out with your maiden aunt.  They
know I'm refined and won't stand for anything else.  And it'll do you
good."

Cecille did go, once.  So far as her escort was concerned she found
that Felicity had spoken the truth.  He was innocuous.  He was, indeed,
quite entirely unaware of her presence most of the evening.  That did
not displease her.  She found him little stupider than a swain of the
same age might have been in her own home town, even though his name did
appear in heavy block type in the Social Register.  But she went only
once.  She made a mistake.  She had that day helped to costume a sister
of one of the men.  She happened now to mention that sister's
prettiness.

The man looked her in the eye, coldly, for a prolonged moment.

"Let's leave my sister out of it," he said at length deliberately.

And Cecille's cheeks were still pale from his tone when they arrived
back at the apartment.

"That was a bad crack you made," Felicity told her then.

"I--I didn't know."

"They don't like to discuss their own womenfolks with girls like us."

"Oh!"

The exclamation was little more than a whisper.

"But no harm done," airily.  "He has to depend on the old man for his
bank-roll.  I just thought I'd tip you off."

She didn't go again.  She stopped wanting to go anywhere, even to the
movies, for quite a while.  And then, just at eleven one night, while
Felicity was before the mirror preparing to go to work and wondering
where Cecille could be, the latter came quietly in.  Felicity hardly
marked her entrance until she dropped suddenly into a chair and began
to laugh.  It was the laugh which made Felicity turn so sharply.  She
had had experience with that shrill note in women's voices and knew
what it could mean.  Such breakdowns were ugly to handle.

She flung sharply round.

"What's tickling you?" she barked harshly.  "Shoot!  Let's have it.
Cut that, now!"

It stayed the slighter girl's hysteria.

"I've been--I've been to a dance," she gurgled.

Felicity gave her no foolish respite.

"Well, I don't get it," she rapped on.  "Maybe I'm English.  Where's
the joke?"

"A--a dance over at the Central Palace, given for Worthy Working
Girls--"

"That's funnier!  But go ahead.  Snap into it!  Don't let it
drag--don't let it drag--"

It seemed a potent cure.

"I went because I saw in the paper that Mrs. Schuyler Driggs was going
to be among the patronesses to receive."

The hysterical giggle was gone from Cecille's voice.  She shut tight
her teeth and raised her chin.  Felicity felt that it was safe now to
remain silent.  And she was right, partly right.  She only failed to
realize that Cecille was all too calm.

"I'm sorry, Felicity," the latter apologized meekly.  "But I couldn't
help it.  I thought I'd laugh and cry and scream, right on the street,
before I could get here.  But I held on.  Shall I finish?"

"Mrs. Schuyler Driggs has just made her entrance--"

"Yes.  She was in the shop this morning."  The recital seemed simple
and orderly now.  "I helped to fit her.  I usually do.  She's never
very cordial, but this morning she was--oh, she was a beast!  She
nagged and nagged and nagged, until I got nervous.  I couldn't help it.
I got worse and worse, until I stuck a pin into her.  Not just a
scratch."  The gurgle threatened.  "But deep--deep!"

"If you go off again," promised Felicity, "I'll dump that pitcher of
water over you."

"I won't.  I stuck the pin into her, and she--she grunted.  And then--I
never saw anyone grow so furious.  She turned purple.  I'm not sure
that she didn't strike at me.

"'You did that on purpose,' she grated at me.  Grated, that's the only
word that describes it.  'You fool!  You damned clumsy little fool!'"

Felicity waited until it was evident that she would have to speak.

"Well?" she asked then in a voice grown hard.  "What did _you_ say?
What was the snappy come-back?"

"I couldn't think of anything to say, not just then--"

"Folks like you usually can't," said Felicity drily.  "They think of a
knock-out a half an hour too late.  But not me.  Language comes easy to
me in a spot like that, language that I can't use regular without
getting pinched, and I'm generous with it."

"I was a little more than a half hour late in having my say," Cecille
admitted.  "But I had it.  I saw the announcement of the dance in the
afternoon paper and her name, and I decided to go.  I don't know why;
that is, I didn't--not until she recognized me.  Then I knew!  She was
shaking hands with me and telling me to have a good time.  She was just
passing me on to the next in line, when she blinked at me, like
that--she's fat--and stopped me.

"'Haven't I seen you somewhere before, my dear?' she asked.  'You seem
somehow very familiar.'

"Then I knew why I'd come.  And I let her have it!

"'You have,' I was just as throaty as she was.  'And I should
be,'--meaning familiar.  'At ten-thirty o'clock this morning when I
stuck a pin into you, fitting that gown you have on, you cursed me.  If
I remember accurately you called me a damned clumsy little fool.'"

"--seven--eight--nine--ten!" chanted Felicity joyously.  "And _out_!
What did she do?"

And then, quite without any warning at all, came the break.  It was
like the shattering of brittle glass.

Cecille rocked to crazy mirth.

"She had them put me out!" she shouted.  "She called the matron and had
her put me out!  She said the language I'd used before her was
positively vicious.  She said I'd--contaminate--those--worthy--working
girls!"

And it took Felicity almost three-quarters of an hour to bring her
round.  In one brief interval of calm she managed to slip to the
telephone and call a taxi.  The rest of the time she spent on her knees
beside the girl in the chair crooning softly.  And she never knew that
most of the words she set to her soothing, extemporaneous tune would
have contaminated anybody, most of all Mrs. Schuyler Driggs herself.

At eleven-thirty, when Cecille was crying comfortably, she rose.  And
seeing that her work was well done, she became brisk.

"I'll get a bawling out from Fiegenspann," she said, and ran to a
window.  "Thank God, that taxi's here.  And now you'd better get to
bed.  Maybe hereafter you'll know better than to mix it with somebody
outa your class.  You oughta known in the first place that perfect
ladies have got it all over girls like us, before we start.  They've
got everything fixed, the judges and the referee, before you step into
the ring."

She ran out--and flashed back.

"Don't get me wrong, Cele."  For one reason or another she hurried it.
"I ain't got time to explain just what I meant to say, but there's one
thing I didn't mean.  Don't get me wrong.  If you ain't a lady, then
I'm the Prince of Wales."

That was the second time Cecille heard it.

"A girl like us."

After a time her sobs subsided until they were no more than long,
unsteady breaths.  But she stayed at the window, staring down into the
street.  Once she dug the knuckles of one fist into her eyes and
wistfully shook her head.

"I wonder," she whispered.  "I wonder."




CHAPTER V

CHAMPION!  CHAMPION!

Perry Blair, champion lightweight of the world, stood on the corner of
Broadway and Forty-fourth Street, deep in contemplation of a quaint
phase of our present-day democracy.

It was a fertile spot for such moralizing, albeit somewhat exposed for
one attempting philosophy in a fall-weight overcoat.  For nowhere in
all this world could one hope to come upon a crowd better schooled in
the rules of hero-worship, American-style, than this eleventh-hour mob
which was pouring like tide-rips from side-street theaters into the
city's main thoroughfare.

Much has been written, of a distinctly pathetic flavor, concerning the
case of a king without a throne.  From days immemorial such hapless
figures have been somehow invested by historians with a melancholy
glamour; and yet this appears to be true only of those royal
individuals who came by their thrones in the easiest way--that of
inheritance.  The kings of high endeavor who have won to the pinnacle
by force of their own stoutness of heart--in other words the popular
idols of a fickle public, who have scarce begun to get acquainted with
the dizzy uncertainty of their pedestals before the pedestal be rudely
removed from beneath them--rarely find the world inclined to melancholy
interest in their plight.  Ridicule is the commonest manifestation of
any interest whatsoever, ridicule and an unfathomable contempt.

For some time Perry Blair had been finding this hard to understand.
The adulation had been so overwhelming at first, so whole-hearted and
seeming sincere one brief year before.  Why, even six months back he
could not have stood there thus, a tenth as long, before the copper
name-shield of the Claridge, without collecting about him a fawning,
favor-hunting throng so dense, so tenacious, and troublesome to traffic
that it would have brought the officer from his place beside the
surface-car tracks, caustic-tongued, to investigate and disperse it.
Nor would that officer have ordered them to move on, six months before,
once he had discovered what monarch it was who held informal court
there.  He would have paused for a bluff joke or two himself, a knowing
word of importance, before returning to loose his indignation upon some
luckless wight of a family man, self-conscious and clumsy in what is
known as a tin lizzie.

They had hailed him so noisily, so elatedly, press and public alike.
That the latter had fawned and flattered should have warned him what to
expect, later on, but it did not.  The greater wonder is that it did
not go to his head a little.  It seemed it couldn't help but do that.

It had been so sudden.  Mediocrity one day, and obscurity.
Mediocrity--and then world's champion, and the fierce white light which
beats upon a throne!  Of course there had been some to sneer.  Here and
there one had arisen to point out that Fanchette, the man whom he had
whipped in one round, had been but a shell of a man, champion in name
only, for a long, long time.  They said the victory proved nothing.
They said that Perry Blair had just been lucky, that was all; lucky in
being selected as the one least calculated to damage Fanchette after a
whole year in which the latter had steadfastly refused to fight.  Lucky
in having that fox, Devereau, for a manager, cunning enough to decoy
Fanchette into the ring.

But in the main they swarmed to his standard.  The king was dead.  And
he had lingered tediously, at that.

The newspapers welcomed Perry avidly.  Fanchette as a subject for copy
had long been profitless as a sucked orange.  Here again was the
novelty of newness and a personality of exceeding richness and color.
Or at least so ran report.  No crack men had been sent out to cover the
affair.  That such an astounding thing as the rise of a new champion
threatened had been foreseen by few.  In the East Perry Blair had been
little known and reckoned a third-rater.  But those who had been West
to see the bout which ended so suddenly brought back fragments which
put a nice edge upon the imaginations of the sporting editors.  And
immediately, when in reality there was no need, had begun the
well-known process of gilding the lily.

They featured his out-of-doors life; the romance of the country boy
again.  They dwelt upon his modesty, his extreme reticence, his
hardihood and rigid habit of clean living.  They twanged all the
strings that had ever sounded before in honor of other champions.  And
Broadway--that certain ring which can give you off-hand the exact
poundage of Nelson when he met Gans, or the fastest time in which the
Futurity has ever been run, or the name of the latest female whose
intimate measurements have just been declared by one of a half dozen
greatest living artists to be a reproach to the Venus de Milo, all
without wrinkling its forehead in thought--that portion of Broadway, to
use its own expression, ate it up.

And yet when Perry Blair came East an odd thing happened.  When he came
East and they found that every word which they had read with such
approval was the literal truth, and not just the industry of an astute
press-agent, they were nonplused.  Even suspicious, I believe.  And
outraged in the end.

It must have been a shock to them to find in Perry Blair a sportsman,
when they had expected a dead game sport.  They had been waiting to lay
at his feet (at a price) the spoils due a conqueror, spoils neither
savory nor shining, but those which other champions had demanded and
relished, until they waked to find themselves champion no more.  And
when Blair ignored these things they distrusted him.

From the outset his reticence, which had been lauded, nettled them.  By
some obscure process of reasoning it convicted him of conceit, a mean
and stingy conceit, unpardonable even among those to whom self-esteem
was as natural as the drawing of breath.  Eternal poseurs themselves,
they adjudged his modesty a pose, yet somehow could not forgive it.
And his decency bred hatred in a few.

The growth of antagonism was too slow, too intricate, to be retraced
here.  It is effect and not cause with which we are concerned.  And one
instance alone will serve to show, how finally was wrecked that
popularity which had been so swiftly created.  One interview between
Perry and Devereau explains it well.

The reply which Perry Blair made to the invitation sent him several
months after his arrival in Manhattan, by Pig-iron Dunham, is still
verbal currency upon the Tenderloin.  Conversational small change, to
be sure, but still in circulation.

Dunham had bidden him to one of his famous little dinners.  Infamous?
Well, it's all in the point of view.  Some of them have been spoken of
warmly by those who have attended, though guardedly.

Perry Blair was more outspoken.

"Tell Dunham," he directed the messenger who had brought the invitation
quite privately, "tell Dunham that if it had to be one or the other I'd
chose to dine decently with a four-footed hog, in a trough."

The messenger, one of many who believed that Pig-iron Dunham, having
amassed millions in the industry which had given him his name, was a
philanthropist in spending it so liberally, thought to have heard
wrong.  So Perry repeated again for him the message with something
added for emphasis.  This time he believed his ears and bore it as
nearly intact as possible to Dunham.  And when, hours later it came
word for word to Devereau, the latter turned pale.  For many days he
had been hearing rumors disturbing to his ideas of managerial
authority, but had laid them to jealousy.  He believed them now.  He
sought out Blair.

"Listen!"  He plunged strongly in.  He thought he knew when to tread
softly, when to brow-beat.  "Listen, kid!  You've pulled a boner.
A'course I shoulda wised you up earlier about Dunham but I thought you
were on.  I thought everybody was.  But you can't treat Pig-iron this
way.  Why--why--why he--he's--"

What he had wanted to say was that Dunham, Benevolent Patron of the
Street, was not accustomed to having his favors rebuffed so crudely,
but he couldn't quite manage it.  So he fell back upon earnest
repetition.

"You can't treat him like this!"

"Can't?" asked Perry Blair.  "I just have."

Devereau didn't like that tone.  He was just discovering a lot of
things about his light-weight champion which he didn't like.  But he
kept his temper.  He was famed for that.  Famed for his oily smoothness
under provocation.

"Sure!  Your mistake--and my fault.  But it ain't too late to square
it," he said.  "You just send over word that you'll be pleased to death
to be at his dinner, and it'll still be all right.  I'll square it.
And don't you worry.  You won't be bored.  Pig-iron's dinners
are--now--well--"  He closed an obscene lid.  "A good time will be had
by all!  And Pig-iron will be pleased to have you there.  Pig-iron, he
likes to entertain the latest celebrities."

Blair's voice made him start.

"He can't entertain me," said Perry.  "Not a little bit."

And suddenly with that Devereau was suave no longer.  He leaped up and
thumped upon a desk.  He slitted his pale eyes.

"Say, what d'yuh think you are?" he raved.  "Talking to me like that!"

Blair did not attempt to shout him down, and yet he made himself heard.

"Not Pig-iron Dunham's man," he answered.  "Nor yet yours.  Are you
thinking to tell me how I shall talk?"

Devereau could not have told why his rage was so red.  Why he hated the
other so swiftly.  But he mastered his voice.  He had seen something
like this coming, not so unpleasant, however, or so difficult to
handle.  He had imagined when the time came they would talk it over,
amicably, like good business men.  But that was out of the question
now.  It had always been out of the question, but he'd realized that
tardily.  But they'd have it out.  There could be no better time.

"No?" he drawled.  "No?"  Sarcasm lent his words a sing-song quality.

"No?  Not Dunham's man?  Not mine?  Well-well!  Ha-ha!"

And then, savagely:

"So that's it!  It's true, heh?  They been trying to tell me so for
weeks, all up and down the line, and I been telling 'em they'd got you
wrong.  The swelled head, is it?  But pardon me, Mr. Blair.  Who am I
to speak thus to the world's champion?  Delusions of grandeur, I should
say.  Pardon my coarseness!"  Sudden laughter split wide his lips.

"Champion!" he bawled.  "World's champion!  Oh, my Gawd!"

Perry sat silent and watched him.  Little by little he recognized that
this was not acting.  This was real.  He waited and watched.

"So you been followin' the papers, Mr. Blair," chanted Devereau.
Having struck this vein of satire and found it rich he followed it up.
"Full of lovely reading these days, now aren't they?"

That was not so; not as it was meant.  Perry had found the columns
devoted to himself singularly flat and devoid of interest.  There was
only one item, in fact, which never failed.  Only one which he always
read, the daily quotation on livestock.  But he kept quiet.  His eyes
alone were attentive.

"So you've been reading the papers!"  Mincingly Devereau went back and
picked it up.  "Well-well!  Ha-ha!"  But hard after came again that
half-blind, half-incoherent rage.

"Listen, now, you!  You listen!  Listen, and I'll give you an interview
that's never been put on any press."

And he gave it to him, briefly, coldly.  He repeated substantially what
the carpers had said at the time Perry won the title.

"Champion?" he said.  "Sure--because I made you champion.  Because
Fanchette wouldn't a'stepped into the ring with Jimmy Montague, or
Jigger Holliday; no, nor even old Kid Fall.  I know, believe me I know,
because I tried him with all of 'em.  Not for the purse that was
offered.  He wasn't looking to commit suicide at bargain prices.

"But you?  He'd take a chance on you.  Sure he would.  Who the hell was
Perry Blair, anyway?  He knew that Montague'd cut him to pieces.
Holliday'd have tore off his lid.  So I swung him to you.

"And why?  Because I thought you'd listen to reason.  Oh, you don't
believe it.  Ask Dunham.  Are you still such a hick that you don't know
he was behind that match?  Why, he's behind 'em all--nine tenths of
'em.  His bankroll is."

"Whose right hand was it put Fanchette but?" asked Perry mildly.

"Pah!" slurred Devereau.  "Pah!  I coulda done it myself."

But Blair's quietness fooled him.

"I'm not saying that it wasn't convincing."  He thought it time to
placate.  "It was neat.  I've gave you credit.  Sure!  You looked
great.  You looked like a world-beater, in there against Fanchette.
But that's just what I'm trying to get at.  Oh, Dunham and I talked it
over before anybody in this burg knew you were alive.  That's what I'm
trying to get at.  You been crabbin' your own act; you been making it
hard for yourself.  You gotta play it up now.  You gotta work different.

"Nowadays a champ has just two outs.  He's got to be a glad hand
artist, or a bruiser.  That covers it.  He's either got to be so
popular that they don't care much who he fights, so long as he's a good
showman, or he's got to take them all on as they come.  All the hard
ones, and the harder the better, till one of 'em puts him to sleep."

Devereau's voice acquired a whine, the plaintive note of a man whose
sincere best efforts have gone unappreciated.

"And I had it all figured out.  I been doing all the headwork for you.
I figured how we'd sidestep Montague and Holliday--all the tough
birds--just as long as we could stall 'em off.  And pick up a nice
piece of change.  Your share'd be enough so's you'd not need to worry.
And we'd made a great start.  They were dead sick of Fanchette.  The
papers were wild for somebody new.  And they put you over better'n we
could have done it ourselves.

"But you gotta work different.  They liked you at first.  They ain't so
dead sure they give a damn about you now.  You gotta be a good boy.
More of a mixer.  The crowd has been waitin' a long time for you to
loosen up and slip 'em a piece of news that can be cashed.  And they're
getting sulky.  A'course that's my fault too.  I admit it.  But it
couldn't be helped.  There wasn't much you coulda tipped 'em off to,
but you shoulda stalled 'em along.  You should have promised 'em
something when the time was right.  But it's right now, now that you're
matched with Hughie.  You can tell 'em just how to get aboard.  It's
time, before some of 'em get good and sore, and begin to holler for you
to meet Montague."

"I can whip Montague," said Perry.  "Holliday I'm not so sure of.  But
Montague I can whip, the best day he ever stood in shoes."

It maddened Devereau again.  Just when he was beginning to congratulate
himself that his work was good.

"You can't lick him," he choked.  "You couldn't lick him even if he was
handcuffed and shackled to a ball and chain."  He tossed aloft his arms.

"Champion!  You, champion!  Oh, my Gawd!"

He strode across the room.  But he came back swiftly to the boy who had
not moved in his chair.

"Get this now!" he barked.  He was done with talk.  Done with argument.

"Get this, because when I'm finished this time, I'm through.  I've got
my coin in this thing and so has Dunham.  And we're going to drag down
what we put in with a little something for interest.  We're going to
get ours, and then you can fight Montague and be damned--or Holliday.
You can go throw your nice new title into the gutter as soon as you
please, for all of me, and try being first prize sucker of the world
for a change.  But first I get mine.  How I hate a fool!"

"You're fighting Hughie Gay a week from Saturday.  All right.  Hughie's
a set-up.  I saw to that.  You can pick 'em yourself hereafter.  But
right now your orders is to let Hughie stay the distance.  A week from
Saturday.  Is that clear?  Have you got that--sure?"

Blair sat silent.  It is strange how silence will fool a man like
Devereau.  He made one last try for peace.

"And if you behave; if you're a good boy maybe we're going to forget we
had this little misunderstanding.  There's others besides Hughie just
as soft.  But if you're dead set on finding out who is boss; if you
want to know whether you're Dunham's man or not, why just cross them
orders.  Pig-iron's got ten thousand on that fight--ten thousand that
you don't win by a knock-out, if you win at all.  And if you cost him
that ten--Well, just dump it, if you want to see!"

"I fight on the level," said Perry, "or I don't fight at all."

"Then you don't fight at all," said Devereau.

Blair held him a long time with an eye that was chill.  His voice was
quieter than before, if that were possible.

"I have sat here and taken talk from you, you vermin, that I'd take
from no man, because I could figure no other way.  They know,
downstairs, that you are up here with me.  If I kill you they will hang
me, and I do not choose to hang for one like you.  If I laid a finger
on you, that would be assault, and you and your friends would swear me
into jail.  That would be high card for you.  It would fill your hand.
So I must sit here idle.  But some day, maybe, I'm going to come upon
you with no circumstances to hinder.  And if I do I'm going to change
you.  You do not please me, as you are.  Some day I hope to alter you
so that you will be a curio, even to your own best friends. . . .  Get
out!"

The chill eye had frightened Devereau.  It heartened him to hear that
he was safe.

"We'll put you out on the street," he snarled.  "You'll be standing on
a corner, wondering what it's all about!"

"Get out!"

Devereau got.




CHAPTER VI

FELICITY CROSSES BROADWAY

And Perry Blair _had_ wanted to see.  He hadn't listened to reason.  He
hadn't been a good boy.  His bout with Gay was a repetition of that
with Fanchette, the former title-holder.  A brief half minute of
boxing, a feint--and Gay on the canvas for the count of ten.

He had wanted to see.  He had been consumed with desire to see.  And it
had happened quickly.

The victory failed to raise a second wave of adulation, even a ripple,
in fact.  Instead it was received oddly with scarcely any comment at
all.  Even the papers had but little to say, and that little
noncommittal.  For there were rumors.  Devereau and Pig-iron Dunham had
done some preliminary work in anticipation of the worst.  And after the
worst had come to be they went to work in earnest.

It was Devereau, Blair's own manager--ex-manager, the day after the Gay
bout--who gave out the interview announcing the severance of business
relations with the champion.  There were reasons, he said, but he was
not explicit.  He left them veiled at first, purposely obscure.

What was the use of discussing it?  Blair was a fluke champion anyway.
Everybody knew that.  Chance had made him, chance which had been
luckless for Jimmy Montague.  Montague, he said, had been selected as
the logical man to meet Fanchette, the man whose record entitled him to
the choice, long before any word of the proposed match had been given
to the public.  But Fanchette, after his prolonged inactivity, had
demurred at meeting, immediately, so formidable an opponent.  So they
had selected Blair, merely as a work-out for the title-holder.  And the
unforeseen had happened.  Fanchette had proved to be through.
Anyone--anyone could have whipped him.

But what about Gay?  That was the natural question and they asked it.
Blair had disposed of him, also in the first round.

But to that Devereau made no answer, no verbal answer, at least.  He
did not point out that Hughie was a set-up, a second-rater.  No,
indeed.  He shrugged his shoulders--shrugged them almost audibly.

"I had nothing to do with it," he said.  "Absolutely.  Ask Blair about
it.  I've quit him."

Pig-iron Dunham, who paid the bills, and Devereau who was cunning, did
just what the latter had promised they would do.  In a few short months
they put Perry Blair, light-weight champion of the world, out on the
sidewalk.

It can't be done?  It is done every day, in politics.  It needs only a
practiced hand.

For a day or two following Devereau's unsatisfactory laconism nothing
developed.  And then a bombshell exploded.  Hughie Gay made a
statement.  He took oath, solemn oath (and cheap, too, for it cost
Dunham but two hundred dollars), that he had sold out.  Blair had
realized that he was no champion; he had feared even him, Gay.  So
before the fight Blair had paid him well to throw it.  And he had done
so.

Thus, you see, they learned logically why Devereau had quit Perry.
Devereau was square.  Sure!  This proved it.  You said it!  They
understood perfectly those eloquent shoulder shrugs now.  And they
raised a righteous clamor.  Perry Blair denied the charge, and offered
to meet Gay again, anywhere, for any charity.  And they replied, with
equal logic, that every reputable club in the country should bar him
thenceforth.

In a short interview, not as unsatisfactory as Devereau's, Pig-iron
Dunham broke a rule and talked for publication.

"It is the sort of thing which has given a bad name to a clean and
manly sport in this state," he said.  "I sincerely trust, however, that
all true lovers of the squared circle will put the blame where it
belongs."

And in the meantime his paid mouthpieces parroted everywhere the words
in which they had been drilled.  He has no punch at all, they said; he
can't hit.  He has no science, they said; he is slow as a freight.  He
has not the fighter's heart.  He's yellow--yellow!  And that word stuck.

The clique which had rated his reticence stingy was eager to believe.
They needed no persuading.  So no throngs gathered round him any more.
Those who had fawned passed by on the far side of the street, lest
crudely he recall past accommodations.  And, passing, they smiled.  And
the public, that public to which a world's champion was something
picturesque at which to crane the neck, if they recognized him at all
now, had to concentrate to remember what it was that they had read
lately about him.  Crooked?  That was bad.  Not clever enough to get
away with it?  That was worse.  Yellow?  Well, that was unpardonable in
any man.  And they hardly hid their contempt.

After a few fruitless attempts Perry gave up trying to find a new
manager and sought bouts for himself.  He found them, but on such terms
that they were always impossible.  He challenged Jimmy Montague, which
was a bad tactical error, but he had been just a little panicky at
first.  He challenged Montague who was being hailed as the logical
title-holder, and in so doing seemed tacitly to admit that he realized
the claim was good.

Montague ignored him.

He challenged Holliday, and he was afraid of Holliday, too.  And
Holliday made game of him noisily.

"What'll it get me to fight you?" he wanted to know.  "If I stub me toe
and fall down, somebody'll raise a yelp that you bought me off.  Not
me!  Us girls has got to be careful.  Besides, I'm looking for a battle
with the real champ."

It can't be done?  Oh, they did it.

The night that Cecille Manners had hysterics and Felicity was hurrying
because she knew that Fiegenspann would "bawl her out" if she was very
late, Perry Blair had been standing from eleven o'clock until a quarter
to twelve on the corner of Broadway and Forty-fourth Street, too proud
to turn the collar of his light coat up against the winter cold, too
broke to buy a heavy one.  He'd almost decided to hunt a job, anything
that would bring enough to take him back home.  The Dream?  Girl o'
Mine?  It hurt his throat to think of these,--made him blink his eyes.

So they had undermined him.

He was standing on a corner wondering what it was all about.  But in
that last three-quarters of an hour he had achieved something at least,
a terse sentence that must, it seems, epitomize the sentiments of every
idol who ever shared his predicament, every king who ever lacked a
throne.

He nodded his head over it, and voiced it pensively.

"It's a great world," he muttered, "if you don't weaken."

Then he saw that she would very likely be killed if someone didn't do
something about it besides shout.  He weighed the chances, in an
infinitesimal fraction of a second, and decided they were such that any
good gambler could scarcely ignore.  So he bunched his muscles and
sprang.

Felicity's taxi had met a traffic tie-up at Forty-seventh Street which
made further direct advance impossible.  In obedience to her plain
request for haste the driver had tried it to the west, found that way
cut off, and so detoured to the east.  When, however, he wriggled up to
Broadway on Forty-fourth Street he had met with no better luck.

Here was a din of horns, of racing motors, of harried traffic police.
But not much chance of progress.  So Felicity paid him and stepped off
the running-board into the thick of it to have a try on foot at the
very moment when the nearest officer thought to have it cleared.

He raised an arm and roared, bull-voiced:

"Come on there, now!"

And promptly the drivers of the two cars which had been at the heart of
the snarl, like key logs in a jam, both heckled, both in the wrong and
filled with unsaid things, trod harshly upon their accelerators.
Wire-wheeled sedan and lemon-tinted limousine, up-town bound and
cross-town bound, they leaped simultaneously forward, as Felicity
stepped between.

Bystanders screamed so efficiently that their shrill tumult drowned the
wail of overtaxed brakedrums.  But that would have helped Felicity
little.  Nor could the brakes, for that matter.  The lunging start had
been too strong, the space too short to stop in.

Perry Blair, about whom those who screamed had heard something
unpleasant--oh, yes, yellow!--lanced down the narrowing aisle between
radiator and fenders.  He struck Felicity like a vicious tackler yet
did not go down, but leaped again.  As the cars crunched together they
slithered through the crowd, across the walk, against a wall, into a
heap.  And the fall hurt Perry a little, even accustomed as he was to
the taking of blows yieldingly.  He was slow to rise.  The girl was
quickly up.

"Last down!" she gasped, but her exclamation was somewhat pallid like
her wit.  "Hold 'em, Yale!"

Then, while she still faltered, uncertain, shaken, the occupant of the
lemon-tinted limousine came swiftly to her.  He was a great hulk of a
man, yet light on his feet with that nimbleness which seems often
astonishing in huge people.

"Let me put you in my car, Miss Brown," he begged, "and set you safely
across.  Not badly bruised, I trust?"

She gave him a flash of a glance and gasped again, but this time
inaudibly.  His ease with her name did not surprise her.  He'd seen her
often enough to know that.  But this, she realized, was the first time
that she had really been impressed upon him.  Not too steadily,
therefore, that she might need assistance, she let him help her back
across the sidewalk, to the car, and thus away.  Pig-iron Dunham?  Of
course.  Knowing Felicity there is small cause to wonder that she went
without even remembering to thank her rescuer.

He was getting up now, the target of few eyes.  Most of those who
lingered at all were staring after Dunham, Felicity and the lemon
limousine.  And Perry was congratulating himself, even while with an
odd, detached expression he watched them go, that he had damaged but
little his clothing, when a hand fell on his sleeve.

Perry turned to find a reporter, Hamilton by name, peering at him
quizzically.

"Forgot to thank you, did she?" he laughed.  "Oh, well, better come
along over to the Roof with me and watch her caper, and give her
another chance."

Perry didn't know whether he liked Hamilton or not, but he didn't
instinctively distrust him.

"Who is she?" he asked.

"You really don't know?"

"I don't know many girls in this town."

"Hm-m-m," said Hamilton.  "Thought everybody knew her.  Felicity Brown.
Aero Octet."  And he repeated his invitation.

"She'll want to thank you for preventing damage to life or limb."  He
couldn't have said exactly what made him voice the rest, unless it was
the way the boy's eyes had followed her.

"And believe me, damage to life or limb, it would have been an equal
catastrophe to Felicity.  Come on along."

Perry hung back.

"Don't you know," he hesitated, "that you can lose your reputation just
from being seen talking to me?"

Hamilton laughed again.  He saw, however, that Perry's mind was not
upon what he was saying.  And who shall say when fancy first was bred?
Not you--or I--or even Hamilton.  But the latter might have hazarded a
shrewd guess.  And a man, it would seem, has a little excuse for
falling in love with a girl with Felicity's looks, whose life he just
has saved.

"Come along," urged Hamilton.  "I want to hear about that mess.  I've
been six months in Mexico."  But he eyed the boy with deeper curiosity
as they crossed Broadway.

"Who was the man?"

Perry spoke just once to ask that question, before they left the
white-lit street for the elevator.

"Dunham."

Yet somehow Hamilton was sure that the other had known all along.  And
the quizzical eyes became malicious.  If the boy was falling in love
with Felicity he anticipated with glee unholy complications.  Dunham's
alacrity at the scene of the accident no man could underestimate.
Pig-iron Dunham didn't, indiscriminately, beg young ladies to let the
limousine bear them across Broadway in safety, or anywhere else, for
that matter.

And yet, some hours later, when he had left Perry Blair waiting for
Felicity at the mouth of the alley which ran back to the Roof's stage
door, Hamilton found himself with little relish for the complications
which he had so wisely foreseen.  Perry's story of the trouble with
Devereau and Dunham he had had in full, and believed.  He had wanted to
do something and realized that there was not much which he could do.

And now this.  It was funny--but it wasn't so damned funny either.
Why, the kid was just--well, just a kid.  And Felicity had been sweet
to him.  Very sweet and simple, in spite of his own none too well
curbed sarcasm.  Under Dunham's eye--because she knew that Dunham's eye
was always upon her--she had sat long at their table, a slim thing in
new-grass green, so prettily grateful that she suggested pink sashes
and dimity.  And Felicity wasn't a pink-sash-and-dimity girl.  Hamilton
knew that.  But did Perry Blair?  Just a kid!  Dammitt!  But nobody,
not even a kid, had any right monkeying with Broadway, or Felicity, if
he couldn't take care of himself.

Yet Hamilton, after he had said good-night, lingered a while.  And
again--immediately--something which he had anticipated came to pass.

The lemon limousine was waiting at the curb.  And Dunham stepped out of
it, again with his preposterous nimbleness, when Felicity appeared.  He
stood holding wide the door.  But the girl gave him only a nice little
nod.  She slipped her hand happily into the crook of Perry's arm.

Hamilton had a glimpse of Pig-iron Dunham's face.

"Hooked!" he exclaimed.  "Hooked!"

But he had a good look at Perry Blair's too, as the pair passed.

"Dammitt!" he snapped.  "Dammitt!"  And yet folks wondered why a chap
who knocked around this city hunting news sometimes drank more than was
good for him.




CHAPTER VII

AS WILLOWS BUD IN SPRING

Cecille was still up, staring out of the window, when Felicity and
Perry Blair came in that night.  Perry stayed but a moment, only long
enough to promise that he would come again.  Then he was gone.  And
Felicity was standing before the other girl, every line of her pulsing
triumph.

"Not him!" Cecille cried.  She could not have understood the triumph
better had Felicity explained with a torrent of words.

"Oh, not him!" with quick, unthinking horror.  "He--he's only a boy."

"Who?" demanded Felicity blankly.

"Mr--Mr. Blair."

Felicity's laugh was staccato.

"Him?  Good Lord, no.  Dunham!"  She fairly sang it.  "Dunham.
Pig-iron Dunham.  I knew if I waited I'd cop.  Now watch me.  Watch my
dust!"

Cecille wondered why she didn't pack her bag and get out.  But she
didn't.  She stayed.  And later, a little timidly, she inquired about
Blair.

"Perry Blair?"  Felicity with a racing tongue had been describing how
Dunham led her away from the near-accident.

"Perry?  Oh, he's a prize-fighter.  Light-weight champion, or he was
for a minute or so.  He wouldn't play the game when he had his chance,
I guess, so Dunham and the bunch broke him.  Something like that.  I
never did hear the inside stuff.  But they say he was a bust
anyway--just a morning-glory--and didn't know his luck.  But do I?  Did
I play the game to-night?  Did I pass up Pig-iron and his limousine to
come home in a flat-wheeled trolley with my hero, who's already made
him sore once?  Oh, didn't I though!  I guess I'm crazy!"

Cecille recoiled a little from that.

A prize-fighter.  A bruiser.  A plug-ugly.  But--but--why, that wasn't
possible.  And if your idea of such a one is what Cecille's once was,
neither will he fill your eye.

Just a kid.  Hamilton had hit it off aptly at that.  Level-eyed and
diffident of tongue, with only a hint of his hidden bodily perfection
lurking in breadth of shoulder and slenderness of waist.

A prize-fighter!  Cecille fell asleep wondering how soon he would come
again.  As to whether he would come at all she was never for a moment
in doubt.  Once she had watched his eyes follow Felicity across the
room she _knew_.  But she hadn't felt sorry for him as Hamilton had.
She felt sorry for herself and bitter against Perry.  For the time she
hated him.

Nor did she have to wonder long.  Perry came the next night and
escorted Felicity to the Roof.  And the next.  And next.  Then Felicity
realized that it would not be good policy to make Dunham sulk.  Indeed
she knew her luck.  Indeed she played the game.  The third evening she
left Perry at home with Cecille.

[Illustration: Lucky interference.]

And for six whole weeks Broadway nudged and watched it.  Broadway
watched Perry Blair's courtship of Felicity and Dunham's, if you can
call the latter's unhurried pursuit that.  Dunham was complacent and
patient, Felicity's tactics were not new to him and he did not mind
being made conspicuous.  And Perry Blair never knew they nudged; never
knew they laughed.  There is some satisfaction in that.  But it is far
finer, I think, to be sure that Broadway never guessed at all of the
other courtship which went steadily forward in the same interval,
elementally, naturally as willows bud in spring.  Perry himself was
unaware of it.  Cecille too--for a while.

For Felicity left him oftener and oftener to the other girl.  And
almost immediately a common need for the companionship of the other was
born in both of them.  Upon the boy's part it must have been the urge
to carry on his courtship, even vicariously.  Lonesomeness was the way
Cecille explained it to herself until with the passage of a little time
she could no longer tell herself that lie and believe it.  And that
marked the beginning of a long bad period for her.

She ceased soon to hate him when he spoke of Felicity.  Whenever he
observed haltingly, as he did over and over again, that it was no place
for a girl like her (Fiegenspann's) and that she should be gotten out
before it was too late, she learned to agree with him mechanically.
Instead of hating his blindness, as persistently as she dared she swung
the conversation more and more to other things.

From the beginning she found it hard to make him talk about himself.
That instantly set him apart from all other men in her experience.  For
they had talked of little else.  And yet, when finally she had it from
him, she found his ambition anything but vague.

"I like animals," he told her on one such occasion, "and the--the
country.  I guess that's what I am, a country boy.  I sure would like
to own a ranch."

He'd not pressed her so eagerly for her hopes.  Scarcely.  His
singleness of interest at least was wholly masculine.  But that didn't
deter her.  She found herself giving them to him just the same, just as
eagerly.

"A ranch!" she seized hungrily upon that word.  "A home!  A white house
on a hill with light green shutters.  The house, of course, not the
hill."  She went further.

"And a white and blue kitchen."  Her haste to tell him was bubbling.
"With aluminum pots and pans.  Dozens!  A whole set!"

And, somehow subdued:

"They're very expensive."

Broadway never knew anything about that courtship.  But Felicity used
to wake up, now and then, and hear the other girl crying softly in the
night.

It was a long bad period for Cecille.  At first the birth of this
wholly new thing within her baffled her own power to reason.  She
watched its mushroom growth with fascination, just a little aghast.
But when, all in a kind of cataclysmic flash, she thought to recognize
it for what it was, she shrank away as if from a malignant fungus.

From the first evening one thing had intrigued her.  Her discovery that
the sensation of pervading cleanliness which she always had from him
was not a result of the careful clothes he wore but something more
essential made her remember how the Sunday-groomed louts of other days,
reeking with cheap toilet water and hair oil, had filled her with dull
loathing.  She had never attempted an analysis of that distaste.  Now
trying to analyze its opposite, in the case of Perry Blair, she arrived
at a disquieting certainty.  She found she could no more be near him,
no more glance at him, without being conscious of him physically, than
she could strike her head against a wall and not be hurt.

She realized more.  She realized how keenly she liked being near him.
She realized how often, and for how long, she had been making little
opportunities to stand close, so that her shoulder brushed his.  How
often she had contrived a fleeting contact of their hands.  And yet if
anybody had tried to tell her that this was the blooming of a perfect
thing to be cherished all her days she would have suffered unutterably
that she had been found out.  As it was she suffered sufficiently.  She
cried too often into her pillow.  But she wasn't yet wholly debased in
her own eyes.  That came directly, inevitably.

One Saturday afternoon, urged more enthusiastically by him than she had
ever been urged before, she accompanied him to a gymnasium far uptown.

"I'm keeping in shape, you see," he told her without his usual
diffidence.  "I don't know quite why.  Everybody says I'm through, but
sometimes I think something may turn up.  Enough to bring me a little
stake anyhow.  And, anyway, it pays me a little.  I'm working out with
Jack English.  He's a welter; he's getting ready for a go with Levitt.
I've told you a lot about this business, but you can't judge much just
from talk.  I--I'd like to have you come up and watch me box."

There it was, of a sudden.  There was his shyness again, so lamely come
upon him that it colored his face.  And the halting boyishness of the
request had warmed Cecille's face too; warmed her through and through.
She knew an impulse to hug his head to her breast, a very mature and
motherly impulse.

He had told her much of this business; so much that she hardly recoiled
from it at all.  A welter--yes, she understood that.  Between a
light-weight and a middle.

But she hesitated so long that he thought he had guessed her objection
and hastened to reassure her.

"There won't be anybody there," he said.  "Nobody.  Just English and
his trainer and me.  You needn't be afraid--"

"I'm not," she stopped him.  "It's not--that."

So she went.




CHAPTER VIII

MY LAD

She found herself an hour later in a huge light room, with a floor like
a dance hall and much strange paraphernalia against the walls.  Little
of it she was able to identify, though she took it all in with alert
and eager eyes.  This was the chiefest part of his life, so she must
not even seem to slight it.  The Indian clubs and dumb-bells--but they
were easy.  And the roped-off square at one end.  That was the ring.

She found herself alone for a while, and was thrilled and excited and
very happy.  And then a quiet man who was, she guessed correctly,
English's trainer came briskly toward her.

"You needn't be afraid."  So Perry had assured her.

Surely not if this man's bearing was any criterion.  He brought her a
chair.

"Thank you."  Her voice sounded small in that high-ceiled room.  He
only bowed in reply and went quietly away.

And then the next time she looked up it was to find Perry standing
there beside her--a different Perry--a pagan Perry, stripped of all
save trunks and shoes, yet unconscious of his nakedness.

"I'm not afraid," she'd told him.  "It's not that."

Now she knew why she had hesitated about coming.  And she was sorry,
and breathlessly glad.

A pagan Perry, and one more beautiful than she otherwise could ever
have dreamed.  And yet, after the first startled glance, while she
still dropped her head and put palms to her cheeks to hide a furious
color, his lack of self-consciousness dismayed her, until it occurred
to her that these were his working clothes--casual, ordinary.  And with
that a queer thought, seemingly unrelated, flashed through her head.
She remembered that women almost never went to prize-fights--it was a
man's sport--and she was jealously glad over that.

It shamed her.  But she looked again.  And again.  And sudden rebellion
at that shame led her to a wholly spontaneous, wholly unconsidered act.
Perry was deep in abstraction.  She knew what he was brooding over.
That made her rebellious, too.  Suddenly she reached out and laid her
hand upon his bare shoulder.

He looked around and smiled.

"Hard?"  He believed he understood the expression he had surprised in
her eyes.

"I'm in pretty good shape.  I'm pretty hard."

She made only a muffled attempt at reply.  She found it, without
speaking, hard enough to breathe.

Hard?  Yes.  Unexpectedly undeniable, like a billiard ball.  Nor could
she very well stammer that it was the smoothness of his skin which had
stunned her.  She dropped her head again.  She could not have kept it
up after that and kept her eyelids open.

When she finally lifted it Perry was already in the ring and English
vaulting the ropes.  English was as unclothed as the other, yet she
found immediately that she could look at him without any disturbing
mixture of ecstasy and guilt.  And even critically, too.  He was thick,
bulky.  He did not make one catch one's breath.  And brown.  And
Perry's whiteness!  She took her lower lip between her teeth.

"Time!" the trainer called.

She cried sharply aloud.

The sound came unsummoned, in spite of herself.

Why, they had just been standing there together--just talking--just
laughing--just boys!  But with that signal they had exploded into
action.  No other word could hope to convey that sudden burst of motion.

They touched gloves!  She followed that.  English tried to hit him!
She followed that.  And then thud! thud! thud!  She could not beat as
swiftly with one fist the palm of her other hand as Perry's glove
struck thrice the welter's face.

Thud! thud! thud!  And skip and shuffle--thud!  And a straining,
desperate embrace.

"Oh, he's so much bigger," she heard herself wailing.  "He's _so_ much
bigger!"

And the trainer, remembering through it all her presence:

"Watch it!  Watch it!  Watch--that--left--hand!"

She saw then that it was Perry's short, jabbing, stiff left forearm
which perplexed the heavier man.  She saw the latter set himself to
swing, and take it in the face, and go off balance.  And set and take
it again.  And she didn't cry out any more.  She leaned forward, so
tensely set herself in every muscle that she found she was tired when
the trainer stopped it.

"Time!"

The trainer she learned then was not pleased.  He snarled at Jack
English.  But English only grinned.

"Slow!" he said.  "Slow!  Oh, boy!  So'd you look slow trying to pace
the Empire State Express."

And there was more.  Faster, faster and faster.  And cruder!  He could
never tell her again that this was merely sport.  And English _was_
bigger and his size did count.  At the last he seemed barely to snap
his right gloved hand forward, and Perry staggered back.

"Time!"

She thanked God, out loud, for that.

Perry stood for a while, his back toward her, sagging against the
ropes.  And English, one hand on his shoulder, was talking to him.

"Is he hurt?" she weakly asked the trainer.

He gave her a fleet glance.

"Some.  Not bad."  And louder to the other two:

"That's plenty."

A second later Perry nodded across the room to her and went to dress.
But Jack English slid through the ropes and approached.  There was some
blood on his lip, and he wiped it away.  She marveled at so little sign
of conflict.  He came straight to her, glistening with sweat.  The
trainer threw him a robe, which he wrapped about him to his very chin.
She thought the welter-weight was bashful, too.  And Irish--that
without a doubt from his bright eyes.

"Your lad?" he asked.

"My--my what?"

She'd hardly been ready for the abrupt question.  It confused her.

"Your steady?"  This time he nodded toward the door through which Perry
had disappeared.

Jack English was almost thirty--an old man for the prize-ring--and had
a family.  Under his bright regard Cecille stammered, and stammered a
lie.

"Yes," she said, not steadily, and very softly indeed.  "Yes, my--my
lad."

English nodded sagely.

"Been worried about him lately, I suppose?  Bothered by what folks are
saying?"

"I--I haven't heard much," she said, and this was all the truth.

"Don't you!" he advised her.  "Don't you listen.  And don't you
believe, either."

Still that bright regard.  And thereupon Cecille realized that she had
been troubled deeply by one thing which she had heard.  Felicity had
passed it on to her.

"They say he cheated," she voiced it, wide-eyed.  "That he has
a--yellow streak."

"So's a Bengal tiger."  Such succinctness was reassuring.  "A whole lot
of 'em.  And a man like him don't cheat.  You'd oughta know that."
Laconic, but good to listen to.  And again:

"Don't you worry.  I never saw a man so fast--so quick!  That's why I'm
using him.  And some day--some day when he's in earnest--he's going to
find out that he can hit.  And they?  They've said words that they'll
choke then to swallow."

"I hope so."  Her voice was meek and small.

"I know so," said English.  "Don't you worry.  You've picked a game
guy.  He can take punishment.  You stick!"

"I--I mean to."  Her voice was smaller still.

She wanted to cry.

And that night when they were riding home together upon a bus-top she
tried an experiment.  How long they had been riding thus she did not
know, but all in a breath she was conscious of the contact of his knee.
That was what she had been avoiding--trying to make herself avoid--ever
since she'd grown aware of her impulse to stay always close.  But now
she tried an experiment.  She contemplated the contact contentedly for
a time.  Then drew away.

Perry had been thinking of Felicity.

"Crowding you?" he asked.

She shook her head.  And a minute later she let her knee move back
against him.  Proved!  Instantly the tiny pulse had picked up its
throbbing in her throat.  Yet she let the contact endure.  Defiant, she
rode all the way home that way.

But the inevitable reaction came.  Revulsion might be the more accurate
word applied to Cecille.  That night she had stripped off one stocking
in preparation for bed; she had sat longer than she could have told,
broodingly studying her bare knee.

"No smoother than he," she murmured at last.

The sound of her own voice smote her, the thing that she had said.

As her head flung up she encountered in a mirror her own reflection.
She stared, transfixed, at her image; her moist, curling mouth, her
dusky cheeks and eyelids drooping down.  Then she closed her eyelids
tight to shut it out.  She groped and found the light and snapped it
off.  And she lay hours upon her face, her hair fanwise on her pillow,
sick and debased.

She laid it to the pitch that she had touched.  You _had_ to be
defiled.  But she didn't blame Felicity.  She wasn't that kind of a
coward.  It must be the slow poison of her frank creed.  She'd fight
it.  Game?  She'd be game.  But this time she refused to wonder why she
didn't pack her bag and get out.  She couldn't.  She knew she couldn't
go.  She wondered why she couldn't cry.

Thus she found a private little hell in what should have been pure
glory.

But she fought.  After she had admitted to herself that she loved him,
she crouched from it like something in a corner.  Love?  That wasn't
love!  And yet Felicity in all her passionless calculation had never
once--

It baffled her, bowed her down.  It was too snarled now.  She'd never
make it out.  But she wouldn't go again to the gymnasium.  No!  But
what of that?  She had only to close her eyes to see.  She fought it.

It was a very hot though private little hell.




CHAPTER IX

DUNHAM TALKS BUSINESS

And presently Perry learned why he had been keeping in shape.
Something did turn up.  It happened in this wise:

Felicity had been very canny; she'd made each trump card tell.  And
with Perry Blair waved always in his face, Dunham had grown ugly.

"You know I'm crazy about you," he complained.  "Give that four-flusher
the gate."

"A million Johns have told me that," Felicity answered.  "Talk
business."

But Dunham had refused to talk business.  He was ugly about it.  And
then he thought to see a way around.  He sent for Perry Blair, and
Perry came.  That surprised Dunham.  He had expected in the end to have
to go to Blair.  He did not know how Felicity, unwittingly, had helped
him.

For Felicity, unable not to enjoy a little the boy's inarticulate
devotion, had indulged herself.  With artistry that would have called
down from Hamilton even hotter sarcasm, she had let Perry glimpse her
soul; not the cheap and tawdry thing which unsympathetic persons were
likely to think it, but her real one, a little saddened, a little
forlorn!

"I wish I could get away from all this," she'd said, with appropriate
wistfulness.  "I'm dead sick of it--sick of it all.  I wish I could go
away--somewhere--anywhere where things are clean.  Where there are
trees and growing grass--"

It was a very good speech.  She knew it must be because she had heard a
high-priced leading lady utter it in a three-dollar-and-a-half Broadway
success.

And it proved effective uttered by Felicity.  For it fooled Perry.
Fooled him badly just when he had begun to speculate a little
concerning her soul himself.  Perry believed her.  But then it is easy
for any woman to fool any man.  Twice as easy when he wants so badly to
be fooled.

Perry cursed his lack of ready money.  And then Dunham sent for him.
And he went, hiding his eagerness.

They held the conversation in Dunham's book-lined office.  The books
were never used; the office saw strange usage.  And the conference was
short.

"Ready to be a good boy?" Dunham asked.

Perry rose to leave.

"Sit down," said Dunham.  "That was intended as a joke.  My mistake."

But it angered him; angered him almost as much as it did to look upon
the boy's unsquandered youth.

"I've got something for you at last," he offered.  "If you care to take
it."

"I'll listen," said Perry.

So Dunham drew readily upon invention.

"We've talked it over," he said.  "Devereau and I and some of the other
boys.  And we've decided that there's nothing in it for any of us as
the situation now stands.  The title's too obscured.  You claim it.  So
does Montague.  So we've decided to offer you a match with--"

"I've challenged Montague," Perry interrupted.  "He paid no attention
to it."

"Not Montague," Dunham corrected silkily.  "Holliday."

And instantly Perry knew what Dunham hoped to do.

"Why not Montague?" he asked.

"Why not Holliday?" countered Dunham, his voice silkier still.

And Perry couldn't very well say because Montague was a boxer first and
a fighter afterward.  He couldn't say because he knew they considered
Holliday, young, wicked, punishing, even more certain to whip him.  He
hesitated.

"But you're going to whip Holliday," Dunham went on tentatively, as if
sure of what was in the other's mind.

Perry watched him.

"We're going to see to that.  It'll be a twenty-round fight to a
decision.  Somewhere in the South.  But you'll stop Holliday in the
eighth round."

"I fight fair," said Perry, "or I don't fight at all."

"Don't get excited."  Dunham was laughing at him a little, not
pleasantly.  "You'll be no party to anything--ah--iniquitous.  Beat him
before that if you're able.  But it'll come in the eighth, don't doubt
that.  I'm just telling you beforehand so that you'll lose no sleep in
case you're afraid of Holliday."  That was a thrust.  "I'm telling you
so you needn't kill yourself training to get ready, though you don't
look over-fed."  That was another.  Yet Perry felt that he had balanced
them both when he looked the huge man's jelly-bulk up and down.

"Holliday's going to be champion some day," Dunham went unconcernedly
on.  "He's bound to be, whether we want him or not.  But Montague comes
first.  Montague's been a good boy.  We merely require your agreement
to meet him should you dispose of Holliday, that is all.  And since
that is assured--"  He waved a fat hand.  "Personally I believe that
Montague is very much better than you are--no offense intended--and
against him you can take care of yourself."

Rapidly Perry cast it up.  They were that confident of Holliday's
superiority!  And they didn't care whether he suspected their game or
not; they weren't even bothering to work carefully.  He could take it
or leave it.  He'd have to.  That rank!  That coarse!  It was an easy
sum.  Two and two made four.

"Whatever agreement is fixed between you and Holliday is no affair of
mine," he decided at last.  "When?"

"A month--five weeks."

"How much?"

Dunham pondered.

"Twenty thousand.  We'll give you five for your share."

They were that cool!

"Not me."

"A twenty-thousand-dollar purse seems reasonable," ruminated Dunham.
"It may not be a popular match.  And Holliday'll come high."

"That's your affair.  I'll fight one way."

Dunham lifted an eyebrow.

"Well?"

"Winner take all."

"But you're certain to win!  The fight'll be fixed!"

Perry sensed then how greatly the gross man wanted to laugh.  Not
bother to train?  That old one!  Did Dunham really think he was taking
him at his word?  Why, his mind in all the days to come would be
riveted on just one thing--that eighth round.  He wanted to laugh, too,
bitterly.  Did they think he was that innocent!

"That's your affair," he repeated.  "I fight winner take all."

There are some who insist that Pig-iron Dunham was not without a
virtue.  His next words seem to prove it.

"Better take your five thousand," he suggested good-naturedly.  "It's
better than nothing.  Holliday could double-cross us."

That cool!

"Winner take all," droned Perry.

"Winner take all!" Dunham snapped.

And that afternoon they signed articles, Hamilton acting for Blair.

The same night Perry told Felicity what he had done.

"So I--I'll either have twenty thousand dollars in a month or so," he
made bad work of it, "or I'll know that I'm never likely to have it.
If you--if you'll wait . . .  I'm glad you like the country.  I've
always wanted a ranch."

Felicity was needlessly callous, either because it made her despise
herself a little for the part she had played, or because she was just
Felicity.  Surely she was more brutal than she need have been.

For she sat, chin propped upon one hand, and stared derisively into the
boy's self-conscious eyes.

"You poor hick!" she said deliberately.  "You poor cross-roads hick!
Twenty thousand dollars?  Why, that's chicken-feed compared with my
price."

In one way it was merciful.  It was quickly over.  Perry's
self-consciousness passed.  Calm as she had been impudent he surveyed
her.  Once his lip twitched; he half-opened his mouth as if to speak,
and then thought better of it.  He'd talk to no woman like that.  He
left her without a word.

And she sat biting her lip a little while, till Dunham came to the
table.

"Honey--" he began.

"Don't honey me!"  The words lashed back at him.  "I'm sick of
honeying.  Talk cash!"

And Dunham was sick of temporizing.

He talked.

So when Cecille came in the next day, Saturday, at noon, and found
Felicity with her bag packed, few words were necessary.  She knew the
moment had come.




CHAPTER X

CECILLE PLAYS THE GAME

Cecille had tried often to imagine what that moment was going to be like.

More than once she had dreaded that it would find her cheaply dramatic;
that nervous sentiment would surprise her and break her down.  Now she
met it, unconcerned, without the slightest sense of shock.  She had never
doubted that Felicity would be anything but matter-of-fact and jaunty,
right up to the end.  Now it was the other girl who displayed unexpected
feeling.

For Cecille had learned that morning that Perry was leaving at midnight
for the South.  With Felicity gone she realized how little chance there
was of his ever returning again to frequent the apartment.  And nothing
else in the world much mattered.  She was too deep sunk in misery even to
try to dissemble her apathy.  But Felicity had not forgotten a single
night when she had waked to hear the other girl crying; she missed
nothing of her present dejection.

"Well, I'm off!"  This without even turning from the mirror.

Cecille failed to answer.  She crossed the room and dropped heavily into
a chair.

"We're catching the three-thirty this afternoon for the West."

Again silence for a while, and then a dry, strained question.

"Aren't you afraid?"

She'd made up her mind to ask at least that question.  She had admitted
to herself that she had to ask it.  And her tone made Felicity wheel.

"Of what?" Felicity demanded, a little blank.

Cecille laughed.  It was a woeful, croaking attempt at flippancy.

"Oh, the old line of stuff!"  She had never before employed Felicity's
brand of slang.  It came unpleasantly from her tongue.  "The wages of sin
and all that sort of thing."

That brought Felicity across the room until she stood, hands bracketed on
hips, above her.

"Don't you worry about me, Cele," she said slowly.  "Don't you nor any
one else spend any pennies buying extras, expecting to strike news of my
violent and untimely end.  Safety First; that's my maiden name.  I let
Dunham drive thirty-five when he's sober.  When he isn't, I walk.  And
I'm going to be that careful about deep water that I'll bathe always
under a shower.  Don't you worry about me."  She paused soberly.

"It's you," she stated, "I'm worried about."

It was Felicity who displayed feeling at the end.

She stood quite a while staring down at the other girl's bright hair.
Then with an air of definite purpose she drew up a chair for herself.

"I don't get you," she mused.  "You're a queer kid.

". . . From the country?"

"I suppose so," Cecille admitted.  "I didn't use to think so.  I used to
think we were quite--"

"That'll do," cut in Felicity.  "I get it from that much description.

". . . Raised strict?"

"I guess so--pretty strict."

"Rigid church people?"

"Yes."

A little time of silence.

"Gee, that's tough!"

And Felicity's gravity at last had caught at the other girl's attention.
Slowly she looked up.

"Why?" she asked dully.

Felicity sat and studied her--pondered her.  Felicity's face was harder
than Cecille had ever seen it before, and infinitely more tender.

"I hate to leave you," she said.  "I wouldn't mind so much if I could
_get_ you.  If I could once get it through my nut what you're waiting
for--what you expect there's going to be in it for you--it wouldn't be so
hard.  But I can't."

"I don't know what you mean."  She had caught Cecille's interest now.

"Neither do I," she admitted.  "Not exactly.  That's why I'm talking.
That's what I'm trying to get at."  Her voice became half-absent-minded,
ruminative, as though she were thinking aloud.

"They caught me young, too," she murmured.  "Oh, that was a long time
ago.  Not measured in years, measured in time.  There's a difference.

"A mission-school got hold of me.  Good women, not brainless velvet pets
from the younger set, looking for a new sensation.  Good women, sincere
women that wanted to help.  Well, I was sincere, too.  I wanted to be
helped.  I told 'em so; but I also told 'em I doubted if they could do
much.

"I'd begun to get wise to one thing that early.  I was seventeen, but I'd
begun to see that all you got in this world was what you helped yourself
to.  But I was willing to try; I'd try anything once.  If learning things
out of a book would do it; if studying how to shoot the right language in
the right spot and how to live sweet and pretty, inside and out, was
going to get me what I wanted, well and good.  Also, soft!  There
couldn't be any easier way, several well-known draymas to the contrary.
So I gave 'em a chance.

"'Show me,' I said.  And I stuck it out two years."

She stared at the ceiling, her eyes sardonic with reminiscence.

"Two years.  Get that.  Not two days, nor two weeks, nor two months.  Two
_years_.  And did I see myself at the end of that time any nearer what I
was after?  I hadn't slacked, mind you.  I'd worked!  Everything they'd
ever spilled I'd sopped up like a sponge.  And did it finally bring me a
chance?  Sure it did, believe you me.  A whiskey drummer with false
teeth!"

Here she laughed, a slurring note or two.

"That cured me, I guess.  I did stay a little longer, but I knew!  I knew
I was through.  I stayed another week, and then I went to the mat.

"'Show me,' I said again.  That was what I wanted, a show-down.  And did
they?  Could they?  Bah!  They talked!  They told me I was making
wonderful progress.

"'Sure,' I admitted.  'I'm on my way.  I see that.'  But what I wanted
'em to slip me was a little info as to where was I going.

"Well, they talked.  What did I hope for?  What did I want?  What did I
expect to get out of it?  And I told 'em.  Well, that was a pretty large
order for a girl of my station.  My station didn't figure, I told 'em;
we'd leave that out of it.  And I told 'em so plainly that they neglected
to refer to that any more.

"But they took another tack instead.  The things that I'd mentioned were
mere material things!  Like that--scornful--as if they weren't worth
mentioning at all.  'Merely material!'  And there was a better world to
live in--oh, my, yes--the world of the spirit.

"'Do you live in it?' I asked.  'Do you?'  They wore sealskin coats, when
it wasn't mink or chinchilla.  They were driving downtown every day in
their own closed cars to urge me to be content with the things of the
spirit.  And when I realized that--No, I wasn't sore.  I was just hep,
that's all.

"'I'll try Broadway,' I said then.  'If there's nothing, after all, in
this climb-though-the-rocks-be-rugged stuff, no great harm done.  I'm
still young.  But why waste more valuable time?  I'll try Broadway,' I
said.  'I'll have a whirl at the primrose path.'

"They didn't believe me at first.  They thought I was just bluffing, just
talking because I was discouraged.  So they talked themselves some
more--a whole lot more.  Beautiful words--but they didn't mean anything.
Not to me.

"Did any of 'em say: 'Sure, I understand.  You're young and pretty, and
it's natural you should crave such things.  Here's my last year's coat
and a perfectly miserable old last year's model car'?  Did they?  Don't
make me laugh!  Not that they woulda missed them.  Nothing like that!

"And if they'd only come out flat in the beginning and admitted: 'Sure,
it's a fight--we know that--a finish fight between women like you and
women like us,' I could have liked 'em for it.  If they'd said: 'We want
these things, so do you, and only men can buy 'em--take 'em if you can,'
that woulda been all right with me.  But did they?  You know the answer.
They were telling _me_ not to rough it, while _they_ all the while, every
chance they got, were hitting in the clinches!  They were chirping to me,
'Oh, see how lovely the things of the spirit are,' while they were
hanging with a death grip to everything material that they could get
their hands on.  I'd been honest with them--sincere.  And with me they
had been as hypocritical as hell!

"But when finally I made 'em see that I was on, and that I was in
earnest, it sobered them.  They quit then that line of chatter.  They
were battling now, and they pulled another one.  Sure, just what you
called it a minute ago.  The old line of stuff.  They pulled that.  They
tried to scare me.  Me!  But I wouldn't scare, not for a cent.  I was
already scared half crazy--scared of matrimony with a drummer with false
teeth.

"'Hell!'  That was what they threatened me with.  'Hell,' they tried to
warn me.  "'How do you know?' I came back at 'em.  'How do you know?
Maybe there's been slander here.  Maybe it's not so hot.  Maybe it's only
semitropical!'  And they couldn't beat that.  They couldn't even tie it.
But they went right on trying.

"'The wages of sin,'--they began.  But I beat 'em to that punch.

"'They're damned fine wages,' I said.  The cuss-word slipped out.  I was
always sorry about that.  I always aimed to be awful respectful.
'They're damned fine wages!  A car to ride around in,--sure, merely
material just like yours, but better than a strap in the subway with all
the men sitting down.  And clothes--not shoddy rags.  Clothes!  Silk
things, with lace on 'em, and rosebuds.  And a place to live in with
trees in the lobby and a tub level with the bath-room floor, and a
chaise-something-or-other.'  Oh, I'd been reading!  I hadn't been
studying for nothing.  I knew!

"'I want to live in a world where things smell better,' I said.  'I'm
dead tired of a world that stinks!'

"Well, they kept a'trying.  I'll say that for 'em.  Game--you bet.  I
don't believe they overlooked much either.  'The gutter,' they said.
'I'm in it now,' I came back.  'Your self-respect,' they said.  'Nobody
else respects me,' I trumped that, 'or even cares that I'm alive.'  And
then I went after 'em strong.  'But give me the car,' I said, 'and the
apartment and the clothes, and see.  Why, I'll have 'em walking the
length of every hotel dining-room in town, just to be recognized by me!'
'The men,' they said.  'Sure,' I agreed, 'the men.  Isn't that what
counts?  Don't try to tell me that this isn't a man's world.  I know!
And won't they?'

"That stopped 'em for a minute.  They didn't want to answer.  They
thought an awful lot of the truth at times, for folks that'd lie to
themselves all day long.  'Won't they?'  I wouldn't quit it.  I made 'em
come through.

"'Perhaps,' they admitted then.  Alas, that was the way of the world.
But it was wrong!

"'Sure,' I agreed again.  'Sure.  You're telling me no news.  But if the
whole world's wrong, who am I to stand out?  Who am I?' I wanted to know.
'Let's make it unanimous.'

"'The wages of sin,' they tried it again.  They'd expected to put me down
for the count with that one, and they hated to see it go to waste.

"'Can you show me something just as good?' I asked.  'Half as good?  A
tenth as good?  I want to be straight.  I'd rather be straight.  Here's a
proposition.  You folks have got more than you can ever spend on
yourselves.  Pool a little of it--ten of you--and give me a job that you
don't figure sinful.  I'm willing to work.  I've proved that to you.
Guarantee me something a tenth as good as the wages I've mentioned, at
the end of ten years--I'll not be thirty then; I'll take a chance on
still being able to enjoy 'em--guarantee me that and I'll scrub floors
for you in the meantime.'

"And then they pulled the prize crack of them all.  I hadn't heard it
before.  It was a new one on me.

"'Virtue,' they said, 'virtue is its own reward.'

"Honest, I laughed.  I couldn't help it.  I didn't want them to see that
I was wise to them.  I didn't even want to hurt their feelings.  It was
pretty serious to them, this step that I was taking.  But I couldn't help
it.  I laughed.  And then I got mad.

"'Virtue is its own reward?  Is it?' I asked.  'Is it?  Go out there and
stand on Fifth Avenue,' I said, 'and watch 'em roll by.  Your daughter!
And yours!  And yours!  Ten thousand of 'em, no younger than I am, no
prettier, and no more moral right now.  Go out and watch them roll by and
then try to tell me that.  Violets and silver fox!  Is virtue their only
reward?'

"Well, they'd not meant it the same way, in my case.  I kept getting 'em
wrong, they said.  They'd meant it in the abstract, applied to me.  'But
what about the wages of sin, in my case?'  Had they been abstract there?
'Death--the gutter.'  That was concrete, wasn't it?  It sounded like
bedrock to me.  Then they wanted to explain.  I wouldn't let 'em.

"'If you had been on the level I could have respected you,' I said.  'If
you had told me, sure this is a selfish world and we are of it, I'd have
liked you fine.  I'm strong for a rascal, if he's an honest rascal.  But
I hate a hypocrite.'

"I'd got 'em between me and the ropes where I wanted 'em, at last.

"'I've wasted two whole years,' I shot it over from the shoulder.  'Two
whole years, trying to compete with them'--I nodded toward the
Avenue--'according to their own rules.  And you've been coaching me, when
all the while you knew I was licked, that way, before I started.  Now let
_them_ compete with _me_, according to _my_ rules, for a change.  Let
them run to their dressmakers and order their gowns a little lower and
their skirts a little higher and lie to themselves and say they must keep
in style, when they know they've got to keep their men and don't care how
they do it.  Let _them_ try it--damn 'em!'

"I shouldn't have cussed.  But I couldn't help it.  I was bitter.  If
they'd only been frank and man-to-man about it.  The toughest birds in
the world stand in the middle of the ring and shake hands before they try
to murder each other.  If they'd just said, 'This is no pretty game, this
is a finish fight,' I'd have loved 'em for it.  I guess women can't be
frank and man-to-man.

"One set of rewards for me--and one for them!  Abstract for me--and
concrete for them!  Two sets of rules!  It's time some authority drafted
a new set, to cover both ends of this deal.  But in the meantime--'I
don't want to play that way,' I said.  'I'd rather fight!'"

Abruptly she stopped.

"And I've been fighting ever since," she spoke in a less urgent fashion.
"And I'm going to keep on fighting--right up to the end.  But you--is
that the kind of stuff they slipped you too, Cele?"

Cecille had been listening without a sound, her eyes clinging to
Felicity's face, which was twisted, somewhat awry.

"Is that what they slipped you too?"

Cecille licked her lips.  They were dry.

"I--I guess so."

"And that suits you?  You think that's fair and square?"

"I don't know," Cecille whispered dully.  "I don't know."

"Then it's time you found out," Felicity flung at her fiercely.  "I had
to.  It was put up to me just as cold.  I didn't want to, any more than
you do.  They aren't my rules; they're theirs!  But I had to decide.  And
it's time you figured it out."

Again Cecille touched her lip with the tip of her tongue.

"I've been trying to," she faltered.  "But I--it don't seem to me as
though I want as much as you do.  I'd be content with oh-so-little.  With
a home, and a--and a man from whom I didn't shrink when he touched me
and--and--"  She could go no further.  That was too vivid, too intimate.

It was Felicity who displayed her feelings at the end.  And already she
was beginning to scorn herself for having paraded them.

"Oh-so-little!" she mocked.  She did not mean to be derisive.  "Just
that!  Just a home--just a man--a real man--content!"

"Would you be?" Cecille asked the question unaware of the other's irony.

"Say, who do you think I am," she asked, "to try to dictate terms like
that to life?  _What_ do you think I am?  A champion?  Because that's
what you're talking now.  The whole purse--or nothing!  I _know_ my
limits.  I'm going to be glad to get a fair percentage split for my
share.  A home!  A man!  Content!  I get you at last, Cecille.  It's you
who'd better come to.  For whether you know it or not, you're talking
winner--take--all!"

She rose then.  She shrugged her arms and stretched them high above her
head, and all visible emotion slipped from her like a discarded garment.

"And that's _that_!" she stated easily.  She went back to the mirror and
adjusted her veil.  Then came a brief and awkward moment.

"Well, I guess I'll be going," she said.  "The rent's paid a month in
advance.  Don't let that Shylock landlord gyp you."

"I won't," said Cecille.

"Well, I guess I'll be going."  She picked up her bag.  They did not kiss
each other.

"Well--so-long."

"I--I wish you--" Cecille checked herself.  She had been about to say I
wish you happiness.  She meant that, yet clumsily she changed it.

"I wish you luck."

At that Felicity paused.

"Does this hat look all right?"

Cecille nodded.  And then she was gone.

      *      *      *      *      *      *

So Felicity passes.  No dark river.  No swift oblivion.  No agony of
remorse.  Those who may feel that her history is incomplete, that they
have been robbed of their full meed of vindictive satisfaction, I must
refer back to an earlier paragraph.  And to those who may say, Here is a
dangerous departure from the formula for such tales, there is only one
honest retort.  Felicity isn't a figment of fancy.  Felicity's from the
life.

      *      *      *      *      *      *

Cecille sat quiet after Felicity had gone, until darkness crept into the
room.  She rose then, mechanically, and prepared and ate some supper.
Later Perry Blair came and she found that pressing as her own problem
seemed she could still think first of him.  She would not tell him now of
Felicity's dereliction.  He needed a single mind to face his coming
struggle.  He would learn of it soon enough.

Later still they went out and walked, till he had only time enough left
in which to catch his train.  Both of them were silent.  Neither felt any
inclination to talk.  But Cecille's brain had been as uncannily busy as
that of one who lies awake throughout a white and sleepless night.  And
she had believed this bodiless activity to be the process of sound
reasoning; she had found some security in the conclusions she had formed.

But when they turned back toward the apartment the whole brilliant
structure proved treacherous.  It toppled.  She was back where she had
started, cornered, driven now for time.  She couldn't stand it.  He would
go--and he'd never come back.  Never!  What was there in it for her?
What was she waiting for?

Play the game?  Fight?  She knew she wasn't clever like Felicity, but she
conceived what she thought was a desperate expedient, nor realized that
it was pitifully transparent.  There was no elevator in their building.
Perry had a habit of striking matches to light the darker portions of the
stairs, though that was silly.  She'd told him; she knew every step of
the way.  But to-night when he struck the first one, she raced ahead.
When it flickered and suddenly went out, she crumpled.  At her cry, which
brought him swiftly, he found her a little heap upon the stair.  Her
ankle was doubled beneath her.

"I've twisted it," she said.

She wasn't clever, like Felicity, and yet how simple it was!

He picked her up.  He carried her like no weight at all.  And she lay
very close against him, her head on his crooked elbow, her arms about his
neck.  They had left a light burning in the box of a sitting-room.  And
as he entered there Perry Blair, looking down at her delicately parted
lips and faintly fatigue-penciled eyes, breathed deeply once, and smiled.

He'd been quickly skeptical; he was certain now.  No one who had just
twisted an ankle was content and serene as that.

And that was when Perry Blair first saw Cecille Manners--first saw her
with seeing eyes.  He looked down at her and in that instant learned how
infinitely precious and flagrantly bold girlhood like hers could be.

He carried her to a couch.  She lay quiet, her eyes still closed.  But
when, after a glance at his watch, he would have tried to ascertain the
extent of the damage, which he knew was no damage at all, she sprang
erect, and flamed at him, and struck his hands aside.

"No!" she gasped.  "No!"

And then she put her hands upon her face.

"I didn't twist it."  Her very voice was dreary.  "I just couldn't face
it, that was all.  I thought maybe, if you carried me upstairs--if once
you felt me in your arms--ugh!"  She made a sound, a gesture as of
nausea.  And yet, after a moment, with surprising steadiness:

"Had you just as soon go now?  I wish--I wish you'd go."

He gave her her wish so quietly that when she looked again she was
surprised not to see him still there.  In the lower hall he stopped a
moment and stood with his head on one side as a man stands who listens.
He made as if to climb the stairs again, and shook his head.  Holliday
came first, and he'd have to hurry.

In the box of a sitting-room above Cecille sat and also listened.  But
she made no move as if to follow.  She just half stretched her arms
toward the stairway when finally she knew that he was gone.

"Oh!" she cried then.  "Oh, dear.  Oh, dear.  Oh, God!"




CHAPTER XI

POTS AND PANS!

The rest tells more quickly by far.

A raised, roped platform--two lithe bodies--a pavilion of white faces.
Not the first round, nor the second, nor the seventh.  The intermission
which followed it rather, and a crowd grown strangely silent.

Perry Blair went back to his seat at the clang of the bell.  Jack English
was in his corner, and Hamilton, for he had been unwilling to trust
anyone else.  And lying back under their hurried, efficient ministrations
he looked out upon the banks of faces.

They were tense; it was easy to see that, just as it was easy to sense
that theirs was no ordinary tension.  And he understood what it meant.
Word had seeped from tier to tier, spread like a drop of ink in a glass
of water, until it had colored the entire mass.  Only a very select few
were "in the know" of what that eighth round had been planned to develop,
yet they somehow had leavened the whole audience with anticipation, by an
indefinite word or two.

"The eighth," they were whispering among themselves.  "Watch this now;
here's where something happens!"

They had hooted Perry as he entered the ring; saluted him with catcalls
and a few out-and-out hisses.  He'd wondered then if any other champion
had ever been saluted in just that fashion before; he'd tried to smile.
He wasn't trying any more.

But Holliday was.  Across in his corner Holliday was nodding to his
handlers and grinning widely, just as he had grinned all through the
fight so far.  And so far it had been a mild battle, a showy thing of
pretty footwork and flashy boxing.  But it hadn't been harmful to either
of them.  Holliday, it appeared, had been quite content to let it go
along that way from round to round, though it was the style of fighting
best suited to his opponent.  And he had proved himself faster at it,
cleverer, than Perry had expected.

Yet it was not Holliday's cleverness, but his bounding, surging strength
which compelled his thoughts.  Strength like that, which tossed him like
a chip in the clinches, was no new thing to him.  He'd often been handled
that way, with the same ease, by men heavier than himself,--by Jack
English, for example.  And Holliday was heavier; he knew that he had
given away pounds in the weighing in; that there had been crookedness at
the scales, but he hadn't tried to prove it.  Yet Holliday was stronger
even than Jack English, unbelievably stronger.  And Perry knew now that
he was about to test that strength to the uttermost.  Holliday had romped
with the roughness of a great puppy; now it was going to be different.
It was going to be the destruction-rush of a young bull.

English too felt what was coming, just as he did; just as did the whole
quiet house.  English wasn't trying hard to hide his anxiety.

"He's strong," he was saying.  "Boy, he's strong!  Keep away from
him--keep away from him all you can.  For if he ever backs you into a
corner he's going to knock you dead!"

Perry nodded.  He meant to, if he could.  He was going to try to keep
away.  And on the other side of the ring Holliday was talking easily out
of the corner of his mouth.

"This guy's no set-up," he was saying.  "He's faster than a fool.  But
kin he hit--that's what I'm wondering.  Kin he hit?  An' that's what I'm
going to find out."

And then the bell, and the whole house leaning forward.

They came slowly from their corners, Holliday bull-necked, compact, a
grinning menace, Perry lighter, whiter, sober.  The first minute of that
round was a repetition of all those that had gone before; lightning
feints, nimble dancing steps, the cautious trickery of antagonists
feeling each other out.

And yet the house, contrary to custom, did not grow impatient of such
tactics and call loudly for more damaging effort.  It waited.  A minute
and a half passed--two minutes--and they were going faster--faster.  And
then Holliday, grinning into Perry's face, winked broadly and swung
wildly with his right.  Perry stepped easily inside the blow and put his
left to the other's face.  It was a light blow, Perry knew that.  There
was no snap, no sting in it.  But immediately Holliday winced as though
it had hurt him and for the first time gave ground.

He followed Holliday up.  This was the round in which Holliday was to
quit, the round upon which Perry had had his mind riveted for weeks.  He
wondered--had Dunham after all been on the level with his promised
crookedness?  He followed Holliday up, carefully.  And again a wild right
swing, a light step inside, a light left to the face.  And then Holliday,
holding him with disturbing ease in a clinch, pressed his mouth close to
Perry's ear.

"Shoot it over, now," he muttered.  "Shoot it--don't pull it.  It mustn't
look too raw.  I'm going to open up--start it from the floor!"

They clung in the clinch.  The referee tore at them, raving at them to
break.  He pried them apart at last and passed between them to make the
breaking cleaner.  And as he did so, Holliday dropped his guard.

"Shoot it!" he hissed.

Perry wondered--but he knew better!  He therefore merely made as if to
set himself for the punch.  He drove his right hand to the other's chin.
But in that same instant as he took the blow Holliday lashed back at him,
ferociously.  Had Perry swung with all he had; had he been going with his
punch; had he even been set firmly upon his feet to deliver it,
Holliday's treacherous hook would have dropped him for the count.

As it was, though he had gone limply back, it spun him round and hurled
him down.  But it did not hurt him much.  Lying half-raised on one hand,
waiting out the count, he was thinking how like an explosion the roar
from the audience had been.  How moblike and blood-hungry.  How the crowd
hated him!

And Holliday was laughing down at him, leering.  Double-crossed?  Did
Holliday think he was that credulous?  But he had tested Holliday's
strength and feared it more than ever.  When finally he had to rise he
dodged the other with a swift, sideways wriggle.  The bell sounded almost
immediately.

English was less worried than before, which was queer.

"That's the stuff," he praised.  "Keep away and let him wear himself out.
Let him beat himself."

But Perry questioned whether he was going to be able to keep away, and
there was another angle to it, too.

"He'll be sure now that I can't hurt him," he thought.  And that was
exactly what Holliday at that moment was telling his seconds.

"Yu' got that, didn't you?" he demanded, again from the corner of his
mouth.  "Flush on the chin I took it.  And it never made me blink.  Hit?
He couldn't dent cream cheese.  If I'd ever a'ripped one into him like
that I'd a'torn away half his lid.  Watch this, now--watch this, because
it's going to be good!"

And it was from his viewpoint and from the viewpoint of the partisan
spectators.  At the bell's call Holliday rushed across the ring, guard
wide, gloves flailing.  It was a spectacular rush, but Perry eluded him
easily and slipped agilely away.  Holliday whirled and blundered after
him.  Perry ducked under his swinging arms and danced again into the
open.  And then Holliday staged it, the scene which was going to be good.

Abruptly he ceased to pursue.  He stopped and stood flat-footed in the
middle of the ring, hands hanging idle at his hips, scowling after his
opponent.

"Hey, you!" he bellowed, so loudly that his voice reached the rafters.
"Wat t'ell do yu' think this is--puss-in-the-corner?  Cut out the
marathon, and come on and fight."

Indeed it was good; it was one of those dearly desired comedy moments
which Holliday knew would grow epic in the re-telling.  Holliday was a
good showman.  There were more cat-calls, more jeers, and cries of,
"Yellow--yellow!"

And then Holliday went after him--and the house went mad.  He blundered
no longer in his pursuit, no longer played to the crowd.  Like a blast of
vengeance he struck Perry, enveloped him, smothered him in a fury of
blows.

Perry tried to get away and couldn't get away.  From the center of the
ring to the ropes he was battered, staggering.  He went down, and
struggled up.  And went down again.

He made no attempt to strike back, nor would that have availed him much.
Holliday had tested his strength and was contemptuous of it.  Holliday
was boring in and in with crushing blows that tore past glove and guard.

The house was now a screaming, tossing bedlam, the ring a welter.  He
heard English barking at him.  Cover up!  He was covered up.  Blam!  He
dropped and rolled away and came again erect.  And blam!  He _was_
covered up, as much as any man could cover.  And then a glove sank into
the pit of his stomach and doubled him over, sickened him, racked him
with white-hot pain.

He got away again.  Fight?  They were shouting at him to fight.  Did they
think he wasn't fighting?  He was fighting with brain and heart and body
to live this wild storm through.  Again Holliday got him in a corner.
Holliday's bull-strength was not believable.  Again he got him just above
the belt.  And he couldn't help it this time--this time he had to do it.
He dropped a little his guard.  And then it happened.  It struck him
then.  The roof came down!

[Illustration: "Come on, now--'fess up?"]

As he lay head on the arm curled under him he knew it must have been the
roof.  By nothing else could he have been so smitten.  The roof must have
fallen, though the faces around him were still tossing and swaying,
though the referee stood counting above him, though there was no
wreckage.  And the clarity of his mind astonished and pleased him.  A
brick roof--sure!  A brick roof!  That was unusual, very unusual.  But it
had to be that.  It was a brick without a doubt which had struck him.

He knew the house was roaring--was sure of it--and yet he couldn't hear
them at all.  And that was strange, because he could hear the referee; he
could hear Jack English.  Jack was pleading--good old Jack!--begging him
to get up.  Apparently Jack didn't know that the roof had come down and
stopped the fight.  But the referee?  Would he toll on endlessly before
he noticed it?  He should know; he'd been close at hand when it happened.
He felt a warm emotion, a sense of comradeship, for the referee.  He'd
surely been square; he'd made Holliday break clean.  He felt an impulse
to joke with the referee, to banter him, and bid him count a million if
he wanted to.

And then another thought.  How easily he was thinking!  With what
precision!  Yellow!  They might think him yellow, even if the roof had
fallen, if he didn't get up.  They might think--At that he rolled over
and discovered that there were miles of bodiless space between his head
and his feet.  It made the latter hard to handle, but he managed it
doggedly.  He climbed to his knees and wavered erect.  And on the stroke
of ten Holliday smashed him down again.

Yellow?  Well, he'd get right up this time.  He started to; he even
staggered after Holliday who now appeared to be the one who wouldn't
stand and fight, when he felt English dragging him back.  Even English
was against him.  Holding his arms!  Bound he'd lose!  He lashed out at
English; and then, like a distant echo, he remembered the sound of a bell.

He let them put him upon his stool and stretch him out.  Let them work
over him frantically.  The brick from the roof apparently had cut above
one eye, almost to the bone.  But English was fixing it--good old
English!  He shouldn't have lost his temper and swung on English like
that.  English was propping the lid open and sticking it so with adhesive.

And then there was the bell.  How light his legs felt, and his arms!  And
he'd doubted that the adhesive would do much; with the first savage slash
Holliday tore it away and the lid hung closed again.  But he could see
from the other eye even though that seemed but a puffy mass.  There was a
slit from which he could look out upon an insane, tumultuous world.

So he complimented himself upon his cunning.  They thought Holliday had
blinded him; had closed both his eyes so that he could not see at all,
did they?  Well, he could!  Oh, he was foolin' 'em.  Champion!

Once he'd looked that word up in a dictionary, just after he whipped
Fanchette; looked it up a little sheepishly, though he was alone at the
time.  Champion:--One who by beating all rivals has obtained an
acknowledged supremacy.  Then Devereau and Dunham were right.  According
to that he wasn't a champion.  Nobody acknowledged him.  But he'd teach
'em a better definition.  A champion was someone who could go right on
fighting when everybody was cheering for the other guy.  A champion was
somebody who could fool 'em that easy!--that complete!  You bet!  Who
could fight and think at the same time, that clearly!--that
logically!--like he was doing.

But he fell down often.  Yet that didn't prevent this reasoning things
out.  And he didn't wait now for the count, either.  He'd get right up
each time, he'd decided, so that they could not call him yellow.  They
hated him so.  But he knew the answer to that, too, at last.  And that
gave him something to laugh at, the way Holliday had grinned.  Honesty
was the best policy!  He fair rocked with glee--and got up again!

Now English had him by the arm.  He wouldn't hit English--English meant
well if he wasn't a champion.  He'd follow English docilely and sit down
as he was ordered.  He must have missed the bell again.

But English's crying, his whimpering, bothered him.  It was a sniffling,
wild-beast whine.  That's the way a wolf or a tiger would sound, outside
the circle of a fire's glow, unable to help its kitten or cub.  But it
annoyed him just the same--took his mind off important things.  And what
had English to cry over anyway?  The roof hadn't fallen on him.

There was something about that that he hadn't yet got quite straight in
his mind.  If he could--if he could--A brick roof didn't sound right.  If
he could just force his brain a little further.  It was urgent--he could
fight better--it had a direct bearing on the fight.  But there was that
damned bell again.  It interrupted him; broke in upon his train of
reasoning.  But he'd get up and fight some more.  That was what they'd
paid their money to see.  He'd fight and try to think it out at the same
time.

He rose and coughed, sick at his stomach--and sat suddenly down.  But
Holliday'd not hit him so hard that time, it seemed.  Just pushed him
maybe.  That was the game--let him wear himself out!  He got up again.
Then he noticed another thing.  The crowd had been screaming, "Kill him!
Kill him!" for hours and hours.  Now each time that Holliday struck him
they groaned.  Well, maybe it was time for him to hit Holliday; maybe
that was what was the matter.  He'd try to accommodate 'em.  He pushed
the referee aside and swung.  But his glove met nothing.  The floor came
up and hit him in the face, that was all.  Funny floor!  Funny roof!  No
place to hold a prizefight.  And where was Holliday, anyway?  Holliday'd
been playing for his good eye, till that was practically closed, too, and
he couldn't see distinctly, couldn't see much of anything.  He'd grope
for him--he did it--and got up again!

They were shouting something else now.  Could not suit 'em.  "Take him
out--take him out!"  Who, him?  He cursed at them, nor knew that he
merely gibbered from frightful lips.  They'd not rob _him_ that way of
his title!  Then he saw Hamilton pick up a towel and start to toss it
into the ring.  Lucky he was near him!  He grabbed that towel and flung
it away--and fell down heavily--and got up again!

He wanted to curse Hamilton, too, but didn't have the time.  He seemed to
be hurtling to one side of the ring and then the other, yet effortlessly,
as lightly as thistle-down.  Couldn't stop for anything--Holliday
insisted on fighting right along.  He couldn't remember it was so long
since he had laid a glove on Holliday.

And then again a lull.  What was it?  The end of a round, or the
beginning of one?  He'd better not sit down, or Devereau and Dunham would
tell 'em he was yellow, and they'd believe.  End of a round, apparently.
English was crying over him again, whimpering helplessly.  He wished
they'd dispense entirely with the bell.  Just fight right along--could
keep your mind on things that way; he was awful sick--just noticed that!

And then he heard Hamilton trying to square himself for what he'd tried
to do with the towel.

"He's out, I tell you!" Hamilton was saying.  "He's out standing on his
feet!"

So he was even fooling his own seconds!  Out standing on his feet?  Why,
he'd been out for rounds and rounds!  He didn't quite know how many.  But
that didn't make any difference--but then Hamilton didn't know much about
the boxing game--he was just a sports writer!

"What round is it?" he asked.  "Sixteenth!"  Liars!  Or maybe they were
joking.  Anyway, he knew better.  The tenth or eleventh, perhaps, but
never the sixteenth.

Was that the bell?  No, he'd just kicked the water-pail?  Shouldn't have
a tin pail in the ring, not even a new one.  Ought to be a wooden bucket.
Well, they could just tell him when the bell did ring, and give him a
little shove in Holliday's direction, if they would.  That was it--all
right--and the roof came down!

He found a way to remedy that; he'd hold it up.  Hang onto Holliday's
arms, that was it.  They were awful sticky, yet slippery, but he'd try.
And getting up was a slower business now in spite of himself.  But if
they couldn't see that he'd taken quite a bit of punishment and had a
right to be a little dizzy, let 'em sit and sulk.  They weren't shouting
any more, that was certain; they weren't even groaning happily when
Holliday hit him.  And damn that roof!  Or was it the floor?  It
certainly had been _under_ the chin that time.  Got to get up--and it
didn't seem possible--didn't seem as if he could.  Was that English
holding him?  Round was over?  "Pardon me.  Didn't hear the bell.  They'd
ought to have a siren!"

And so back to his riddle.  It wasn't a brick roof--ah, there was the key
to the whole puzzling problem.  Let him once solve that--you just let him
get clear on that point--and see!

The bell!  Holliday certainly was polite.  He'd come all the way across
the ring in one leap to meet him.  Saved him staggering miles and miles
toward the other corner.  And thud!  The roof--but it wasn't a thud.  It
was a crash--a tinny clangor.  Shouldn't have a tin pail--might have cut
himself.  He got up, and promptly ran into something and sat down again.
It was easier to think, however, in that position.  Tin!  Tin!  A tin
roof?  That sounded more like it.  Only it wasn't tin; it was--it was--

"Got it!" he shouted--he thought he shouted, while men thought he was
coughing blood.  "Got it!  Got it!  Solved!"

And now that he knew the answer he could put his mind on this fight.

What round?  The eighteenth?  They'd lost count probably, but anyway it
had gone far enough.  He'd finish it now.  He had hardly hit Holliday at
all; he'd hit him now.  Where was he?  He groped, and then he found him;
found him by the simple process of noting from which quarter Holliday's
last blow came.  Right there in front of him, standing there and
measuring him and driving it into his unprotected face.

It must look queer to the crowd, him not keeping his guard up or
anything.  They'd think he was letting Holliday knock him out.  He'd
better get it over with; he was consumed with eagerness, anyhow, to tell
Hamilton and English the joke about the roof, the joke which was on
himself.

So he swayed with the next blow and rocked lightly back.  He'd sit down
no more.  He swayed with the next one, but this time he snapped forward,
glove and arm and shoulder.  This time, on the rebound, he put all he had
into it; and that after all was what a champion really was: A guy who had
something always left to call on, a guy who could shoot it all, when the
crisis came.

And even Holliday must have been unwary and fooled and thought he was out
standing up.  For this time he did not miss.  Nor did the floor rise.
Nor Holliday.  Tough on Holliday.  Solved!

He allowed the referee to hold aloft his hand; good referee,--square.  He
fell out of the ring--clumsy!--and passed down miles and miles of aisle
between pale faces.  What were _they_ goggling at?  Of course he was a
little cut up and bruised; what did they expect?   He'd taken some
punishment.  They'd say now, he supposed, that he had no skill.

But they drew back and looked away, or dropped their eyes; they acted
almost shamed.  Well, some of them had been mistaken; they'd called him
yellow.  He wanted to stop and tell 'em it was not so, but he couldn't
spare the time just now.  He had to hurry to his dressing-room and tell
Hamilton and English the joke,--this joke at his own expense.

English had an idea apparently that he was helping him, holding him up.
Well, he wasn't.  He'd bet it was fourteen feet from his neck to his
ankles.  But the joke--had they closed the door?  Then listen!

"The roof!  I thought it was the roof that fell on me!  Can you beat
that?  First a brick roof--then a tin one--"  He thought it was laughter
which doubled him up.

"And do you know what it really was?"  He gave them ample time but
received no answer.  So he shouted it aloud; he thought he shouted:

"Not the roof at all!  Not brick--not even tin!  Pots and pans!  Pots and
pans!  Aluminum!  Dozens!  A whole set of 'em!"

He thought it was laughter which doubled him up; then found he was
deathly sick.  Was this the floor he was lying upon, or a table?  Because
if it was the floor he'd have to get up; he didn't know whether he could
make it again or not but he'd be a game guy and try.  They were holding
him?  All right, let it go at that.  Holliday'd not got up either.  He
could see Holliday just as plain--just as clear!--unconscious on the
canvas.  Then the fight must be over--he was glad of that . . .

He came to crying weakly.




CHAPTER XII

WINNER TAKE ALL

His first conscious thought was of his great need to go to her quickly,
yet he waited several days to give his marked face time to heal, Hamilton
and Jack English waiting with him.  And at length, on the way north, he
shyly opened his heart to them; he told them of his plan.  Because he was
urgent about it, and more than a little panicky, they promised they would
see him through with it; when they parted at Grand Central it was to be
for only an hour or two.

"You'll not fail me?" he asked anxiously.

Hamilton made game of him, a little.

"We'll be there," he answered.  "Where's your nerve, man?  We'll be there
with our hair in a braid."

"We'll be there," echoed English soberly.  "We'll be in your corner."

He very nearly missed her; and yet afterward she always insisted that she
was sure he would come, even in that last minute while she stood looking
about to be certain that she had overlooked nothing in the apartment
which she could no longer have afforded to keep even had she wanted to.
Therefore her start at his appearance upon the threshold did not equal
his surprise at the sight of her dressed for traveling, her belongings
already packed.

For it fairly demoralized him.  Like every good tactician he had coped
with as many details as could be handled in advance, but against this
moment his preparation had been none too thorough.  Desperately, once or
twice, he had tried to drill himself for it, practicing a line or two
which he hoped he could remember.

"I'm not her kind; I'm different from what she is," he had told himself,
"and I will tell her that.  But I'll tell her, too, that I'll not _stay_
different any longer than it can be helped.  I am no dunce; I'll learn to
be her kind."

But, slipping away too happily into thoughts of how different she was
from everyone else in the whole world, beyond that he had not found it
easy to go.  None too steadily he had decided to rely upon inspiration.
And now at the sight of her in a scant blue suit and tiny hat, bag in
hand before him, every last syllable of his rehearsals basely failed him.

He looked from her inquiring eyes to the stripped room.  She believed she
understood that survey.

"Felicity's gone," she said in a voice that he hardly recognized as her
own.  "She went with Dunham, the afternoon of the day you left for the
South.  I did not tell you then because--"

It seemed too obvious, so she left it unsaid.

At that he reddened and was a little ashamed and humbler than ever at
heart.  But he'd not thought of Felicity for weeks; he'd never thought of
her like this.

"Oh," was all he could manage.  "Oh.  And you--?"

She thought she understood his blankness.

"I was just going myself."

"Where?"  He was suddenly afraid that it was too late for his plan,--that
it had always been too late.

"I don't know," she answered.  "Home, maybe--where I used to live.  It
doesn't much matter--anywhere."

Her eyes had not once left his face.  And now he saw that they were as
changed as her voice.  He would have said, had they been other than hers,
that they were bitter; no, not bitter; sardonic and mocking.  Temporarily
like Felicity's.  And she must be very tired, judging from her voice,
even more tired and wan than she looked.

The phrases which he had rehearsed deserted him treacherously.

"Then--then, why not come with me?" he labored over it.  "I've a
drawing-room on the Lake Shore on the five o'clock.  I knew about
Felicity; that wasn't why I came back.  I came because I thought maybe we
could go out--you and I--and look around together."

He knew it was a poor thing of weak words and not what his inarticulate
heart would have uttered.  Yet he was not prepared for her reception of
it.

She laughed up into his face, a hard little, crisp little laugh.

"Why not?" she said.  "Why not?"

And when he took her in his arms and kissed her it was not as he had
dreamed it would be.  Her body was slack, her lips not merely passive but
cold against his own.  His heart heavy for reasons which he could not
name, he set her quickly free.

"I'll be back for you, then, at three," he said.  "Will you be ready?"

As casually, it came to him, just as calmly he might have discussed his
plan with any man.

"At three," she repeated.  "I'll be ready."

He left her, not as happy as when he had sped up the stairs; left her
demoralized now.  In the interlude before his return she sat motionless,
her mind a tumult of doubt.

She too had dreamed what that embrace would be; she had wanted always to
be near him, yet she had just shrunk from it.

"Who am I to dictate such terms to life?" Felicity had demanded.

"And who was she," in all that long month Cecille had been asking of
herself, "who was _she_?  And what was she waiting for?"

Even a percentage of happiness, Felicity had preached, would be less
unendurable than no happiness--ever--at all; and she had at last
convinced herself that this was so.  Yet now she shook with doubt.  Was
this dead thing the actuality which at any price she had hoped to save?

Once she was very close to flight; more than once, more childishly than
she knew, she wished that she would die.

But she kept to her promise and waited; she was ready and went with him
at three, though after he had put her in the taxi and climbed in beside
her, she found it difficult to breathe.  She could not have forced words
from her throat had she wanted to, and he was as silent as she.  For at
the end of hours he had hit upon an explanation of this mood of hers, her
trouble, and it was troubling him deeply, too.  Two or three times,
watching her still face and quiet hands, it had been upon the tip of his
tongue to tell her that after all they could still abandon his plan.

He had not offered to kiss her again, nor even reached for her hand, and
she had been grateful for this, almost hysterically grateful as she
recalled the little opportunities which she had once contrived for just
such contacts.  And the taxi was not merely stifling; it was like a trap.
The seat was far too narrow.  Even though she huddled into her corner the
six inches of clear space which separated them was all too brief.

So they rode south, both unhappier with every turn of the wheels, till
suddenly he saw her hands tighten into fists, and her lips begin to move.

"I can't," was what he made of that whisper.  "Oh, ask him to
stop--please--please!"

He did not question her; her face was enough.  The cab pulled up to the
curb.  She flung open the door and started to get out.  But she could not
go like this--not without a word--not without some explanation--even if
she had to brave his rage.

"I can't," she told him.  The voice was tired, but not beaten--no.  "I
thought I could, because I loved you oh--so--much.  But I can't.  I know
it now; I've known it all along."

But he didn't seem angry; he seemed only gentle and sorry.  And his voice
sounded sorry, and kind.

"I think I knew it, too," he was saying, slowly; "knew it was wrong, all
the while.  But I didn't realize how wrong till I saw it was making you
sad.  At first it seemed to me that this would be the finer way, quiet
and soon over, no fuss nor any crowd.  I have seen weddings that were
ribald and not sacred, and I wanted ours to be none of that.  Just you
and I and the minister, with Hamilton and English standing by; and then
just you and I going away together, leaving no wise winking, no meaning
whispers behind.  And that _was_ right,--but only half right; I have been
selfish with you.  It is a sober step for a girl like you; she wants her
folks at such a time.  We will wait now for your people."

She had paused to wait for his answer--his anger--with one foot upon the
running board, one foot on the curb.  But slowly, as his voice went
gravely on and on, she turned and faced him and listened, incredulous.
The words were distinct enough; they drummed at her ears, but they did
not penetrate, not even after he had finished, until she stared about her
and saw how far they'd come.  They were far south of Grand Central and
Forty-second Street.  Then it went reeling through her.

He would have stepped out, but she pushed him back and followed him
inside.

"Where were we going?" she gasped.  But she knew--she knew!  She wanted
to laugh, and wanted to cry, and didn't know which to do.

"We have to get a license, you know," he told her soberly.

She decided then to cry, not much, just a little.  But she made him smile.

"We've lost a lot of time," she sniffed brokenly.  "You'd better tell him
to hurry."

The driver had been disappointed; he had expected more of her.  But then
you couldn't never tell about them dames with real class.  But he was
deferential; he had recognized his fare.

"Where to, Mr. Blair?" he opened the door at that moment to ask.  "We
gotta step on 'er, if you still want to make it."

Perry ordered him to step on 'er.

Then the miracle came to pass.  She found the worn seat yards too wide,
the mean interior cathedral.

And Hamilton and Jack English did not fail them.  They were waiting.
They were "in his corner" as they had promised to be.  They accompanied
the bride and groom to the station.  And while Hamilton was shaking hands
with her husband, Jack English found opportunity for a word with his wife.

"Didn't I tell you?" he asked.  "Didn't I say you'd picked a game guy?"

She was dewy of lip, star-eyed.

"You told me," she said.

He studied her with peculiar intentness.

"This game will never hold him," he at last went on.  "He'll want to take
you far, so his fight has just begun.  You believe in him.  You'll be
proud of him, some day."

She dropped her eyes; she was too honest with herself not to admit that
she had wondered about that, often hoped and therefore feared she might
not be.

"I mean to," she answered, her voice not large.  "And I'm proud enough,
right now."

But not until hours after did she realize how proud.  Hours later as she
sat in their drawing-room on the Lake Shore Limited and watched her
husband, just outside the open door, talking with a senator and a
prominent divine, her tiny disloyalty punished her a little.  How hard
and clear cut his profile was--his nose was rather large!  And how
man-sure, and boyishly diffident.  She'd be secure, her whole life
through--and she hated men who boasted.  She suffered some for her
snobbish wonder; but she was conscious of a new, great joy.

"My lad!" she tried it aloud.  "My lad!"

She laid her fingers to her throat.  A pulse throbbed there.

How eager they seemed for his company; how interested!  And there was no
patronage in their manner; rather they sought to establish equality; they
sought to be approved.  This game would not hold him--and their chance
was equal to any.  They were both young, very young--though she was
extremely mature for twenty years!  Maybe--she didn't lean exactly toward
the ministry--but perhaps a senator--

Her eyes grew misty and veiled; she was lost to all but her dreams.

And then the train stopped and she heard the senator talking, his voice
very loud with no din of motion to drown it.

"I snapped my right over"--it punctured her blissful gossamer of
fancy--"I snapped my right over--and _he_ made no more trouble for
anyone, in _that_ town."

She heard her husband answer, but could not make out the words.  But
apparently the prominent divine had been champing on the bit; the
senator, she thought, must have interrupted him.

"--a bully, the town bully, and an extremely powerful man.  But that did
not deter me.  I was outraged, you see--righteously indignant.  So I
hooked with my left--I believe, sir, that that is the correct term--"

The absurd, fat things!  She heard her husband assuring him that it was.
Her husband!

So later he returned to a very bright-eyed wife.  He dropped into a seat
and she was happier still at the happiness in his eyes.  For a time he
was quiet; then suddenly he slanted his head at her.  He began to tell
her about the pots and pans.

"Some battle!" he drawled at the finish of it.  "Champion--winner take
all!"

Nor had he been able to keep down a little note of pride.  It was quite
as if, still humbly, in his own plains' talk, he had assured her, "Your
husband is no dub."

And so she started that soon to become better acquainted with him.  He
was no braggart with others; to his own wife he would boast a little.
Husbands were likely to, she realized--she loved him more.

And the words had started a thought in her own head.  She had lost that
phrase of Felicity's, and searched for it, and was glad to find it again.

"Some battle," she echoed softly.  "Some battle--winner take all."

Then she rose and went to him.

"Perry, lad," she murmured, "I'm not sure but what there are _two_
champions, right here in this very car!"




CHAPTER XIII

BLUE FOR A BOY

"But would she have been happy?"  A critic whose sex is indicated by
her usage of the pronoun _she_ instead of _they_ once raised the
question.

"Why not?" I asked unguardedly.

Obviously such stupidity as my counter-question evinced was worthy of
some pity.

"Why, she was an--ah--superior sort of a girl; breeding, you know, and
all that, or so I have gathered, while he--"

But I stayed no longer to listen.  What was the use?  There was not
merely a little of snobbishness in her.  I did not even insist that
"she" might have been, or add that it was really true.  But I went West
promptly to see.

Perry Blair had scarcely guessed at the possibilities of that valley.
There were five dozen, or five hundred white-faced Herefords under
fence; or five thousand.  I forget which, for I was not curious
concerning these.

But having cornered her at last I put the question bluntly.

"What about that career?" I wanted to know.  "There's a crying need
just now for good senators--plain statesmanship handled neatly."

She colored a little.

"Wel-l-l," she was going to slide out of it if she could, "Perry's
awfully busy right now, it's so hard to get trustworthy men.  And--and
then, anyhow, I'm not so sure I'd care to have him enter politics, as
they are at present--even if--"

"Don't blame you," I concluded.  "Wise decision.  But what about the
ministry--how about that?"

Here, however, she would have rallied and protested hotly that she had
never been keen about the ministry--not at all!--when an occurrence
just outside the open door saved her the need.

Perry Blair--Blue Jeans, with no rent in his shirt and a nonsensically
expensive hat--had been driving a nail into the wall.  The nail had
dodged and he had struck his thumb, and was commenting upon it plainly,
though with no great heat, aloud.

And she grew pinker still.

"You are a hypocrite," I complained with scorn.  "You should blush!"
And dropped the matter there.

But I was less concerned with the question of their happiness.  And
that evening, when a puncher brought a pasteboard box in the mail and
all innocently they opened it before me, I became very sure.

For the box held a pair of those inadequate articles of apparel known,
I believe, as bootees, designed and executed in knitted silk for an
expected new arrival.  And they forgot me, forgot that this expectation
was supposed to be a secret, in exclaiming over the mystery of who had
found them out.

Then she came upon the card.  There was no name or address; just one
line:

"Winner take all!" it read.

Yes--Felicity.

After a long period of grave silence which had come upon them:

"See!" she exclaimed softly.  "Pink!  A girl!  Haven't I been telling
you so, all along?"

"How does that signify?"  Quickly he took up the challenge.  Clearly
here was a matter which had seen much discussion.

"Pink for a girl, and blue for a boy," she explained with conscious
superiority.

But she couldn't continue to tease him.  His face had become long.

"Perhaps not, dear," she murmured.  And then, with a little air:

"Anyway, they'll be very useful, I'm sure.  They are exceedingly fine
and dainty, and it is not easy to get things good enough, away out
here."

But there he put his foot down.  _She_ had not been very keen about
politics!  Or the ministry!  Indeed!

"Pink for a girl?" he asked.  "That's straight?"

"That's straight."

"Then he'll not wear them, ever.  No son of mine shall be made a sissy
of, while he's still too helpless to prevent."

But there they started and grew red at my presence which they had
forgotten, for I had to laugh.

Happy?  I didn't answer the amateur critic, but I don't mind saying so
here.  And somehow I feel that I should know.

I'm Hamilton.




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