BY ARTHUR TRAIN
THE worst little devils in the world are the little devils in the lawyer's office. They sit in the outer hall chewing gum, kicking the rungs off the chairs, jeering at the stenographers, letting the frantic telephone take care of itself, and insulting clients, until the maddened employer descends in his wrath—and the next morning another ad appears in the columns of "The Law Journal *:
Wanted: Bright American boy to answer telephone, etc. Wages, four dollars. Apply between nine and ten o'clock. 7138 Broadway Towers.
That was how Bat came to us—looking like the front page of a comic supplement. He was fourteen, fiercely freckled, looked stunted on account of his clothes, smelt of cigarettes, and had the irresistible smile of an embarrassed angel.
Through "Zaza," as he called the Titian haired stenographer, were learned fragmentary details of his family history otherwise uncommunicated. His father had been a motorman until he had been killed by a fire engine, and his mother had been an actress who had gone "on the blink" and was now "a janitor" He had one sister, swore horribly, went to night school, and knew the batting average of every member of the National and American Leagues. He was wholly a wonder, that Bat! The four offices—Rynders". Fink's, Hallowell's, and mine—opened into a central space where Bat—so called from his ears—sat "at the focus of our convergency," answering the telephone, taking orders, giving information, and directing affairs from eight a. m. until six.
And all the time while he was manipulating the telephone with one hand Bat would be looking up calls, addressing envelops, putting backs on legal documents, interviewing book agents and insurance men, receiving clients, and ragging the stenographer.
WE used to leave our doors open and hug ourselves with joy to hear him when he fancied himself undiscovered.
"Say, Zaza!" Bat would fling over his shoulder between times, as a relief to the bullied operator. "They got an ad out for auburn mops up to Weber's. Why don't you try? You'd look fine back of the footlights—way back!"
"Fresh!" from the dignified Swazey.
"I heard those 'rats,' like what you wear, come from China off dead folks an' carry disease—better look out!" Bat would continue undaunted.
"You're a disgusting little thing!" snappishly.
"Aw, say, keep yer temper!" Bat would grin. "If yer don't, that pie-faced yap over in the bucketshop won't take yer to the theayter no more!"
But, unfortunately for Bat, the "pie face" was informed of these remarks, and a terrific noonday affair came off in the alley hack of the Exchange, from which Bat emerged with a missing tooth and a swollen eye.
"I could a licked the mut, if I could a reached his face; but he was too blame tall!" he confided to the elevator man Nevers, his particular, intimate friend.
But Zaza was overcome by contrition, and in amends offered to kiss Bat on her way out of the office that evening. He feinted, however, and ducked safely to cover.
"You women!" was all he deigned to remark on this occasion.
He was a continuous masticator of gum, and we constantly found it in crystallized globules under the seats of our chairs and along the table edges. But never did a boy work like Bat! He was down sorting out the avalanche of mail at eight-twenty-five, drawing checks, and filing letters—and doubtless reading our private correspondence. By nine the telephone would begin its perennial and uninterrupted rattle, and his day had really begun. At noon he left the office for his hour's "rest," loaded with packages, letters, messages to deliver, bank checks to deposit, and with commissions of all sorts to execute. One wondered if he ever got a chance to eat and what he paid for it.
Gradually he lengthened out a bit, and his clothes adjusted themselves better to the smallness of his person; but his fury of energy continued like the fire of the prophets.
He kept track of the cases made the daily entries in the office diaries, and answered the court calendars. For the first time in our lives we lawyers slept easily; for we knew that if by any chance anyone of us should kept from the office Bat would never let a default be taken or other legal accident guardian angel for the small
"Look here, you Bat!" said Hallowell to him one day in March. "Don't you ever take any exercise—play, I mean?"
"Play!" answered Bat solemnly. "I ain't got time to play. What would become of the office?"
But we all of us, at one time or another, caught him studying catalogues of sporting goods and the baseball columns of the Sunday supplements. A couple of weeks later he brought a humpy ball to the office and left it with a disreputable lookingin the towel closet. From that time on he would would come in at the close of the lunch hour with bis cheeks aglow and his eyes ablaze.
RYNDERS was a big man with yellowish white hair, who did a corporation business and lived with his mother and sisters at Yonkers. He didn't come down on Saturdays, but played golf at the Pocantico Club course; while Fink was a short, fat little chap who looked as if he had stolen a small globe and was trying to carry it away under his waistcoat. He was baldish, rather a swell, and liked the Fifth-ave. windows of the Union Club, and for these reasons there were those who hinted that he led a double existence. Hallowell was six feet three, with bronzed cheeks, black eyes, and curly brown hair. Each had a good sized practice that required Bat's constant attention, and he assumed a well deserved air of proprietorship over all.
"You can't go to lunch with Mr. Seabury," he'd say to Hallowell; "you've promised to go with Mr. Johnson."
"That's so!" Hallowell would exclaim. "What am I doing tonight, Bat?"
"You're going to the theayter with Mr. Buckridge—don't you mind how I bought the tickets off that speculator?"
"Oh, say, Mr. Rynders, don't forget to buy that basket of grapes for your sister on the way home."
Also he would lie—for the office—in a way to convince the most doubtful of Thomases, and so consummately that the recording angel must, I believe, on those occasions have unhesitatingly taken the position that Morals did not enter into Art. If by any chance clients asked our whereabouts, we were never, by any possibility, off on a vacation. Not at all! We had merely "stepped out for a minute" and would "be right back," or he could get us if necessary—and "please leave your 'phone number." If we were out of town but within call, Bat would pretend that we were in court, make a memorandum of what the client wanted, and either attend to it himself or telephone us for orders.
And as Bat stayed with us and increased in wisdom and in stature (he was at the rapidly growing age), his profanity became less colorful and his manners and habits akin to being civilized. By April he was as fast on the machine as Swazey, and even more accurate; for his fingers raced over the keys until they rattled like a continuous volley of small arms. Only his spelling and chirographv were weak—but, then, it is an age of mechanics, and which of us can write?
THERE was a hectic pressure on all of us during March, and our tempers suffered in consequence. Even Swazev, usually a monument of placidity, showed the effects of overwork and complained of her health. So Bat was taken off the 'phone (ostensibly) and given a machine of his own and turned into a regular stenographer. But the helpless amœba that was employed to fill his place at the wire proved so utterly and disastrously incompetent that Bat moved his typewriter over to the switchbox, borrowed a telephone girl's fillet, and became stenographer and telephone operator as well. I confess that I did notice that the imp was getting pale and that the freckles stood out more prominently than when he came; but I had a big case on and no time to think of anything else—and maybe it wasn't work, anyway, but just the spring.
For the spring was coming, and as it came something worked a change in Bat. Do you know that soft, dreamy breeze that wafts off the river and steals through your windows, usually tight closed against the clamor of the curb brokers? Do you know that frayed sparrow that comes and sits on your window ledge and waits for some one? Do you know that lightness that steals over your heart of a morning when you seat yourself at your desk amid the smell of dusty lawbooks? Well, there comes a time when the breeze and the sparrow and the leap of the heart unite to tell you that something is happening to old Mother Earth—and at the same time something happened to Bat. He grew gaunt and silent, and his eyes had a distant pensive look that would have convinced you, if you hadn't known that he was only fourteen, that he was in love.
Then one day Hallowell called Bat, and the imp didn't answer; for he didn't hear his master's voice, and the crewman found him glued to a paper describing a baseball game at Atlanta, Georgia.
"So that's what's the matter with you!" laughed Hallowell with a gleam in his black eyes. "I feel the same way, old man. When's the first game at the Polo Grounds?"
"Two weeks from tomorrow," answered Bat. "Say. Mr. Hallowell, I want to get off early that Saturday, if you don't mind. It begins at one-thirty, and I've bought a reserved seat."
"Sure thing!" replied Hallowell, laying his hand on the imp's shoulder.
For the next two weeks Bat lived in a dream, and his talk was an incoherent delirium about Josh Devore, Wagner, and others who were neither members of the judiciary nor authors of legal textbooks. He spent every minute of his spare time in devouring the base-ball columns and explaining the mysteries of the game to Swazey.
"Mehbe I'll take you to one sometime," he even volunteered condescendingly. "I think mebbe you could get onto most of the points. Honest, Zaza, you're not such a lemon, after all!"
"Thanks!" answered the lemon, in high dudgeon, "When I go to a place of public amusement it'll be with a man, not a babe in arms!"
But Bat was too excited to mind even so deadly an insult, and he went at his work with a frenzy that otherwise must surely have landed him in a lunatic asylum. Saturday was coming! It was only three days off! He must finish up all his work so that he would have nothing on his mind the day of the great game!
AND then suddenly the towers began to fall about him. Rynders developed a touch of rheumatism and Stayed at home, and Hallowell was called to Portland to a directors' meeting. On Friday afternoon a case came in that required the immediate drawing of papers, and Fink and I stayed down in the office until eleven p. m. with both Swazey and Bat hammering away for dear life at the machines. Then Fink gathered up the papers and told Bat that he was going to Albany, and to be on the wire at the office all the next morning until twelve, in case he had forgotten something. As for me, 1 had nothing on, and so I took a spin in the motor up the Hudson. None of us gave a thought to the imp or recalled that it was the day of the great opening game at the Polo grounds between Pittsburgh and the Giants.
All that night Bat lay broad awake beside his little sister in an eight by ten room opening on an airshaft, with his brain in a whirl, hearing the click of the machine, and trying to remember all the things that Rynders, Hallowell. Fink, and I might have forgotten. Near morning he stole up to the roof and cooled his hot, freckled face in the night breeze. In the graying dawn the electric signs seemed like old friends,—the Dutchwoman beating the boy with her stick regularly every fifteen seconds, the winking blue and red pickle sign, the rotating wheel of fire which the handwriting on the wall said was "A good tire"; but, as he watched, they stopped and faded one by one. And down beyond that tangle of tracks he knew lay the soft green sward on which a few hours later, to the thundering applause of thousands of onlookers, his champions would meet their bitterest foes in the greatest struggle of the year. He'd not miss that, at any rate! Not that!
As the east yellowed, tiny wisps of cloud hung over the horizon line, no bigger than commas. Then Bat saw that they were commas, with tails,—comma-dashes, quotes, and colons, like when Mr. Rynders dictated, "On reading and filing the annexed affidavit of A. B. (comma), verified the blank day of blank (comma), and on motion of C. D. (comma), it is hereby (comma, dash, new paragraph, caps) ordered, and then follow the order in Wiggins versus Bates." But these commas had a curious way of swinging around, up, and down, all over the sky, till by and by the sun pushed up behind the gastanks across the Harlem and all his punctuation chased itself away.
At breakfast he could eat nothing, although his "Mah" thought she had never seen him look so fine, with those bright red cheeks, and on the elevated there were queer little cold spots in the back of his head. But nothing mattered; for he was lost in the front page of the sporting editions, and learned with a red surge of his blood that the Giants' batting order was as he had hoped, with Devore at the top, Devlin on deck, and Mit Fremsy in the hold. Bat did not remember leaving the train or going up in the elevator to the office, where for a wonder Swazey was there before him.
"Fine day for the game!" he stuttered, looking over the pile of envelops. "Gee! It'll be great!"
"I'm going," said Swazey in rather a superior manner. "Mr, McElroy is goin' to take me! We're goin' to lunch first at Barracca's."
There were sixteen letters in the mail that Bat answered himself,—formal letters that he signed and then initialed; but every time he struck the keys it sent the letter spinning through his head, and when the 'phone rang the voices scratched his brain in a weird way that frightened him.
"Say, Zaza, this wire's got the jimjams!" he gasped. "It sorts of picks threads right out of my head."
"Jimjams, yourself, lu-uny!" answered the Swazey without looking up from her rat-a-tat-tat-tat.
BUT the telephone never stopped with its anxious inquiries for Mr. Fink, Mr. Rynders, and Mr. Hallowell. Everybody was angry because they were out of town on this particular day, and Bat found himself in a reek of perspiration trying to explain how they had just stepped out for a minute—and please to leave the message and he would ring them up when they came in. Then at eleven-thirty Fink was on the wire.
"That you, Bat? Look here, this is deuced important, see? I forgot to file my notice of appeal in Scott versus Binks—that twenty thousand-dollar action for damages, and this is the last day. Get that? Last day! You can get the form out of Abbott's Practice, and the dates out of the office register. You'll put that through for me now?"
"Sure thing!" answered Rat with a spring of the pulse. "You can trust me!"
He had never filed a notice of appeal, and he assumed that it was one of those things that have to be handed in at the County Clerk's office. He looked at the office clock. It was twenty-five minutes to twelve, the hour of closing on Saturday. He could reach the clerk's office in about seven minutes from Wall Street. He had a clear eighteen minutes—but first he had to dig out of the filing case the big envelop containing the papers and look up the record in the huge dusty hooks. He staggered a little under their weight: but he found the place and somehow—no one but the angels above will really know how—copied out of the forms a notice of appeal, filled it in, put a back on it, and grabbed his hat.
"Please. Miss Swazey just wait till I get back! I'll run all the way!" he asked faintly, and Zaza, who had closed her machine and was adjusting her hat before a triangular fragment of mirror, with her mouth sprayed with hairpins, nodded acquiescence.
"If you'll hustle," she mumbled: for she knew the Bat's points as well as anybody, and had a woman's heart under the epidermis of an odalisk.
It was just seven minutes to twelve when a small boy in man's clothes shot out of the entrance to the building and turned on the run into Nassau-st. The cold spots had come back and were melting into one another on the crown of his head, and there was a strange trembling in his stomach; but he pushed on, although the sidewalks were blurred, and for some unknown reason he kept knocking into people. Old Beecher, the entry clerk, had just closed the wire grating in front of his desk with a clash and turned to take off his office coat when Bat entered breathless, waving a paper.
"Please!" he begged. "I ain't too late! It ain't twelve yet—honest it ain't!"
"It's past twelve—look at the clock!" growled the aged clerk over his spectacles.
"Oh, Mr. Beecher!" cried Bat. "Please! The clock's a minute fast! Honest it is! I—ran—"
The stifling air of the cavernous courthouse seemed suddenly to swallow him, the room turned dizzy, and he clutched at the wire grating of Mr. Beecher's desk to keep from falling.
"The kid's done up," thought the old man, as he opened the grill and reaching out took the paper from Bat's tightly clasped fingers.
"Here, Sonny! Come in and sit down!"
BAT rested for awhile on a bench in front of the City Hall, with the sparrows swarming about him and the white clouds floating over the Tribune Building, and then he felt his way down Nassau-st. back to the office. The telephone was ringing and—treason unutterable!—Swazey had gone, leaving the place deserted. Bat sank into his chair by the switchbox.
"Yep?" he muttered.
"I want to speak to Mr. Hallowell!" said a rasping voice.
"I—er—he's just stepped out," lied Bat for his friend.
"Wben'll he be back?" sharply.
"I don't know exactly—any minute, mebbe!" whispered the boy. "Who is it, please?"
"Mr. W. J. Thorne of Pittsburgh," answered the voice. "I've an important matter I must see him about. I'll come right around to the office."
The telephone clicked. It was too late to correct the mistake! The man was coming! And up on the Polo Grounds he knew that already the crowds were pouring in through the gates, and the white uniforms of the players were dotting the held. It was five minutes to one. He hadn't a moment to lose! Some one might even steal his seat on the grandstand—and he was so little! There was still a chance to duck before the man should arrive. He half started from his seat; but his eye caught the open door of Hallowell's room, and he clenched his teeth.
"No!" be groaned. "I'll see part of the game, anyhow!" But the tears welled hotly to his eyes.
Then the office door opened and Mr. Thorne of Pittsburgh came in.
"Say," he said abruptly,—he was a man with sharp cut features and a bulldog chin,—"I'm onto this 'just-stepped-out-a-minute' game. My best bet is that your boss is Out playing golf or up at the Polo Grounds. Well, I ain't takin' any chances. This is a big ease—the biggest Hallowell ever got a 'look-in' on. If he's gone for the day, I'll just stay right here and dictate the story to you till it lasts. You can take dictation, can't you? Well, get your pencil!"
W. J. Thorne threw off his coat and lit a large, gilt banded cigar with luxurious deliberation. He had been to college with Tom Hallowell, and knew his predilections on Saturday afternoons. But Bat was staring motionless at him. Lose the game! Devore was probably selecting his bat even at that moment and strolling out to the plate amid the roars of the fans. He could see the uncoiling body of the lanky Pittsburgh pitcher, the flash of the ball, the calm smile of derision on Devore's face, and hear the triumphant wail of McGinnis the umpire:
A dry hiccup came from Bat's throat, and he half reeled in his chair. It couldn't be! Oh, it couldn't be that he must sit there with this man while the bleachers were rocked by cheers! He opened his mouth to explain that—don't you see—he had—
"Well?" inquired Thorne, tossing his burnt match smoking into the waste basket. "Are you ready? Now first I'll state the case in full. The Empire Phosphate & Guano Company had a bond issue of four millions—"
A hard lump swelled in Bat's throat, until his head and neck had no longer any feeling in them. With parched throat and smarting eyes, the shouts of the crowd echoing in his ears, and an icy hand pressing on his brain, Bat sat while Mr. Thorne dictated on and on. Two o'clock came swiftly, then three—four—the game must, be over! Four-thirty—and still Bat wrote mechanically, an automatic boy, a boy of wood, whose soul had Bed. At last the man rose.
"Well, that'll hold you for awhile, I guess. Too bad to take your afternoon. Here's a dollar for you. Tell Haltowell I was dead sorry to miss him; but this will give him all the facts he needs to bring suit. Goodnight."
BAT sat motionless, pencil in hand, head drooping, after Thorne had gone. The game was over—played without him! There was a drumming in his heart like a big bird, and sweat on his hands. The chairs jerked this way and that, and the electric lights first sank and then rose again.
Guess I'm goin' to be sick!" he gasped. "Wish Swazey was here—or somebody!"
Then with half blinded eyes, his brain awhirl, he groped for the transmitter.
"Hello, Central! Say, who won the game? The Giants—"
The telephone crashed to the floor as Bat Hallowell stopped and leaned forward, his fell forward in a faint. The slender golden eyes cord had almost broken. So the scrubwoman found him five minutes later, his arms outstretched, his white, freckly face lying sidewise among the letters on the office table.
CONFOUND it!" snapped Rynders at ten o'clock Monday Morning after Miss Swazey had vainly endeavored for a space to manipulate the telephone. "Where do you suppose Bat can be? This office will go to the dogs in about half an hour more."
"Where does he live?" asked Hallowell.
"Why, I don't know," answered Swazey, "I never asked him. I don't think anybody ever did."
"Nice fix we're in, eh?" growled Fink. "This telephone will simply drive me crazy! No one seems to know even how to stop it from buzzing. Can we get another boy in—temporarily?"
"Huh!" snorted Rynders. "Lot of good that would do! Do you remember the fun we had before Bat came?
Just then the Swazey managed accidentally to connect up the plugs in a proper manner.
"Mr. Hallowell, it's for you."
He took the receiver from her awkward fingers. "Yes," he answered, "this is Mr, Hallowell." His face paled under its coat tan. "Yes, we have such an office boy. Brain fever, you say! Since Saturday night! Wanted you to tell us not to worry! My God!"
He threw down the instrument and his lip quivered. "Boys," he groaned, "the imp's at the Presbyterian with brain fever! They didn't even know who he was till last night. Good Lord! And it's all our fault! The scrubbers found him here in a dead faint late Saturday afternoon. I think he was going to the game, wasn't he? Something must have happened. Anyhow, I'm off to the hospital. Are any of you fellows with me?"
"I for one, said Rynders.
"Me too," echoed Fink with a drop of his heart as he thought of his Albany message.
AN hour later the three lawyers were ushered into a ward where a small white figure lay mumbling on an iron cot. The nurse laid her hand gently on the flushed forehead where the freckles stood out like buttons.
"These gentlemen have come to see you. Don't you know them?" she asked soothingly.
But the Bat did not hear—he was listening to the roar of the grandstand and the shouting of the bleachers.
"Soak it, Josh!" he muttered. "The Pittsburgher's no good! Hurrah! Run—run! Look! He's fumbled it! Go on! Go on! You can get there by twelve o'clock! They don't close until twelve! Go on to second! Slide! Safe, I tell you! Where's Mr. Hallowell? He's just gone out for a minute! I can't stay here, sir! Honest, I can't! I've got an important engagement at the Polo Grounds! Please don't keep me!" He struggled in the entangling bed clothes.
"Let me go! Let me go! You don't understand. Mr. Hallowell promised! Oh, there's Devlin! Good old Devlin! Isn't it Devlin? I can't see! Where am I? Why, it's old Swabbie the scrubwoman! Hello! Swabbie, old girl! I can't see the field! Say, old man, what's the matter? Have they called the game on account of darkness? It is so dark! I can't see the home plate—but I can hear 'em yell!"
"Listen, Bat!" whispered Hallowell with the tears sliding down his cheeks. "Listen, my boy! This is how they won the last game." He drew a paper from his pocket, "I thought you might want to know.
"'With the score two to one against them, the Giants began the ninth with McGraw at the bat. The Pittsburgher was sending cannonlike balls over the plate, which he apparently curved at will out of reach. But Josh stepped forward to meet the third ball and sent it screaming over right field for a three-bagger. The crowd howled itself hoarse, and Tiny Tim Doolan rushed his six feet three to the plate and grinned at Devore. The first ball pitched he pounded between short and second for a single. Devore loped in from third, and during the throw home Doolan trotted down to second. McCarthy took his orders and bunted. Two runs, one out, and now Dolan was on third! And then Devlin—how the crowd howled!—Jim Devlin strode to the plate. He let two balls go; but the third he lined out across the turf just out of reach of the Pittsburgh Johnny on third, and Dolan came home. The Giants had won!"
Hallowell stopped and leaned forward, his eyes fixed tenderly on Bat's face.
"Mr. Hallowell!" cried the imp suddenly. "Why it's you! I thought I was down at the office. No, I thought I was at the game. What are we all doing up here?"
The big crewman laid his brown hand on Bat's cheek. "That's all right, old fellow. You've got to stay here for a few days. And then you can go and see every blooming game for a month! Only just lie still for a bit and don't worry. We'll be in to see you every little while."
"But the office!" sighed Bat.
The nurse smiled. "He has talked of nothing but the office," she said, "ever since Saturday night."
"The office is all right,"chirruped Rynders.
"S-sure, the office is f-f-fine!" blubbered Fink.
Bat closed his eyes and sank back dreamily with a smile of content. "Then I'll go to sleep." he whispered.
OUT in the corridor the three men looked one another in the eyes and deep down into one another's hearts.
"We're a bunch of infernal brutes!" growled Rynders. "Dumping everything on that kid!"
"Have to give him a big raise—what?" asked Fink, who blamed himself for the whole thing.
"Raise!" echoed Hallowell with solemn earnestness. "When he's able that boy's going to Harvard!"
Just then the Junior House happened along. "That little chap in there—an office boy of yours?" he asked genially.
"No—we're the office boys," answered Rynders. "He's the firm!"