Silent Sam and Other Stories of Our Day/The Two Mickeys

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THE TWO MICKEYS

 

 

THE TWO MICKEYS


LITTLE "Mickey" leaning over the edge of the theater gallery, said disgustedly: "Aw, dink it!" The hero, on the stage below—having just returned from a long sea voyage that had left no marks on either his complexion or his new sailor suit—had gathered in the heroine with both arms and cried "My-y-y wi-i-ife!" in a voice that ran an arpeggio of emotion. She had lifted a fond smile to him and replied shrilly " My-y-y husband!" Then he pressed her cheek against a clean shave; and Mickey said again: "A-aw dink it!"

His father leaned forward in the seat beside him, to ask: "Uh? What 'd yuh say?"

"Dhey ain't doin' not'in," Mickey whined. "Dhey 's all jus' talkin' to dheyselves."

The elder "Mickey"—who was still "Mickey" to his friends, although he should, long since, have been "Mike"—sat back to allow himself an abdominal chuckle. His son's posture was not one that he could take without having his laughter choked in his waist. He was as plump as a bartender. In fact, he had been a bartender until he married—rather late in life—a hard-working widow, proprietor of a delicatessen shop; and now he sliced bologna sausage and Swiss cheese with all the vacuous good-nature that goes, professionally, with beer.

He smiled a somewhat fuddled smile at little Mickey's shoulders, breathed heavily, and let his pouched eyes settle again on the pair of lovers before the footlights far below him. He did not hear what they were saying. He was occupied with thoughts of pride in his boy's precocity.

The heroine continued to talk to her "dear Robert" in a voice of affection that continued to make little Mickey squirm. He was not only impatient; he was not merely disgusted; he was beginning to despair. Since the rising of the curtain, there had been nothing but this "muggin'" going on. A blind wife had begun it, in a sickening high falsetto, her arms around her husband's neck. Then the comic Irishman and the inn-keeper's daughter had taken it up. Now another pair were at it. There had not been so much as the hint of a murder or a robbery to bear out the promises of the bloody posters on the avenue billboards. And Mickey—watching with eyes that were as big and round in his pale face as two holes in a triangle of his mother's Swiss cheese—kept complaining to himself: "Aw, dhis 's rotten! Aw, say, dhis 's rotten!"

Behind him the gallery rose in tier on tier of intent faces—faces strangely white in the reflected glare of the footlights—faces that protruded out of the darkness, bodiless, unblinking, like the faces of a nightmare. But from tier to tier an uneasy shuffling of hidden movements replied to Mickey's impatience. To all the "gods" this sentimentality was "dead slow"; they wished what Mickey wished—to see "somethin' doin'."

Mickey abandoned himself to his disappointment, and fell back in his seat. "I wisht we had n't 'a' come."

His father nodded. The loving wife on the stage was a fiction that had been largely discredited for him by his marital experience. "'S all hot air, that," he said. "They just does it to make out the show."

"D' yuh t'ink dhey 'd give us back the price?"

Mr. Flynn shook his head. "Keep yer shirt on. This 's on'y the first act."

"Aw, gee! I wisht we had n't 'a' come."

To little Mickey, as to most of the others in that gallery, Saturday night at the "show" was the reward of a week of self-denial; and to Mickey it was more, for he expected to be well punished by his mother when he should come slinking home at midnight to meet her angry 'Now whayr 've yeh been?" He had no hope that his father would be able to protect him; it had been tacitly understood between them that for the sake of family peace Mrs. Flynn should not be told how the elder Mickey had joined in the truancy. But Mickey had hoped to go to bed with a dazzled soul in his smarting body; and now he foresaw that he would have no sweetly shudderful remembrance of murder and crime to ease his aches.

He slid down dejectedly on his back-bone. "Dhis 's slower 'n church!"

It was a remark that appealed to his father—for personal reasons. He wheezed and shook appreciatively. "Don't yuh like goin' to church?"

"Naw."

"Why don't yuh?"

"Why don't you?"

Mr. Flynn evaded the question. "Yer mother wants yuh to go."

"She wants you to go, too."

"I ust to go when I was your age."

The boy looked up at him with the sharpness of a self-sufficient little animal. "Did yuh like it?"

Some one behind them said: "Shut up, will yuh? Youse ain't the show." And Mr. Flynn coughed apologetically, glad of the interruption.

He had been vaguely aware, of late, that Mrs. Flynn was setting his son against him; and although she had been welcome to the care of the boy as long as he was an infant, now that he was growing old enough to take a side in the family quarrels, Mr. Flynn began naturally to feel a jealous interest in him. It was for this reason that they were at the theater together. And the elder Mickey smiled to find that in their dislike of church-going—as in their common contempt of feminine affection as it was misrepresented on the stage—he and his son were not divided. Mrs. Flynn, he assured himself, would not be able to make a mother's "Willie" of that boy; he had too much of his father in him.

Little Mickey had dropped his elbows to his knees again and craned his neck. A man with a villain's black mustache was attempting to interfere between the sailor and his wife. The two men raised their voices in a sudden quarrel; and then the sailor, clenching an indignant fist, swung an upper-cut on the villain's chin and felled him. Immediately Mickey crowed and cackled. "'D yuh see him jab 'm?" he cried to his father. "Gee! Did n't he hand him a beaut!"

His father grinned, rubbing the reddish bristle on his unshaven chin. She wouldn't be able to make a mother's "Willie" of that boy.

Then the comic Irishman developed unexpected powers as a hypnotist—not only hypnotizing, a whole man in an instant, but paralyzing an arm or a leg by merely drawing his fingers down the limb and waving a hand over it. Little Mickey tittered—giggled—shook—and screamed with laughter. The villain took another excruciating punch in the eye. A half-dozen plots of love and secret marriage, robbery and pursuit, tangled, themselves inextricably together, with every knot a tableau. And when the curtain fell on the end of the act, the villain had sworn thrice, horribly, to have revenge; the captain of the gang had undertaken a dangerous robbery; the sailor's young wife was pursued by the villain because he had learned of a secret will by which she was made the heiress of the old miser's fortune; and the comic Irishman had shown a promising ability to be always in the wrong place at the right moment to frustrate villainy and rescue virtue.

Mickey gazed unseeingly at the curtain, gloating over the recollection of it all. His father had gone downstairs to get a "drink"; and this fact added, in an obscure way, to Mickey's enjoyment. It was a part of the daring truancy of the evening; for he knew how his mother fought his father's love of a frequent glass. He smiled at the curtain.

The smile faded as he became aware that the curtain was not the one that he had seen there before. It was a tame pastoral—a Sunday-school prize volume compared to the penny-horrible in paint that had been hanging there.

"Dhey was a bull-fight on d' odder one—d' ol' one," he explained to his father, who had returned; refreshed. "An' dhe bull was jus' givin' it to 'em—an' dhey was bleedin' blood." His voice went husky with the thought of much gore.

"Was they?" His father turned a blearily sympathetic eye on the place where the masterpiece had hung.

"It was did by a convic'. An' he was in fer life. An' dhey pardoned 'm—fer doin' it!"

His father nodded, drawing a package of candy from his pocket. Mickey took it awkwardly, without thanks. "'D yuh get yer drink?" he asked, to be "sociable."

"Sure! Havin' a good time?"

Mickey, sucking on a candy, winked archly. "Uh-huh!"

His father grinned. There was no need of words. They understood each other.

When the curtain rose again, it rose on the promised robbery, on low lights and tremulous violins, on an air vibrating with mystery and crime; and little Mickey forgot his father. He leaned out over the edge of the gallery, tingling with an indescribable sensation of joyful apprehension that moved in his lower insides. The captain was picking locks. He had found the miser's strong box. He was forcing it. He was emptying it on the table—with a noisy jingling of stage money. He was looking for the secret will. When he held up a yellowed paper hanging from a huge red seal, Mickey recognized it; he had seen stage wills before. He breathed as if on tiptoe; and his father's restraining hand, on his coat tail, hushed the very beating of his heart.

It was then that the robber awoke to the danger of his situation. The door! The door behind him! It was opening! He was discovered. "Help! Help!" He threw himself on the miser. The old man struggled and choked. And Mickey strangled the gallery railing with a relentless clutch. A gurgle, a sob— What? He had killed him! He 'd be caught! "Ssss-sh!"

Some one—some one—was coming. It was the robber's blind wife. "Thank God, she 's blind!" Mickey caught a long breath, and the robber escaped noiselessly through the open door, just as the blind woman stumbled on the body of the dead miser and screamed an alarm. The innocent sailor rushed in to her cry. He was seized by the police (who had apparently been in the next room). "Arrest that man for murder!" "I am in-no-cent!" Then the robber captain's deep bass boomed out from the background: "And my evidence will prrrove it!"

When the captain, posing for Liberty enlightening the Upper Bay, uttered those generous words, Mickey brought his dirty little palms together with a smack that led the gallery. A whirlwind of applause beat upon the curtain, and—when the curtain rose again—upon the actors bowing before the storm. Mickey's shrill pipe of happiness topped it all. When the uproar dwindled down to an excited interchange of appreciations, his treble kept the key-note. "Gee! Was n't it great? 'D yuh see 'm grab d' ol' guy be dhe pipe? Say, wy didn't he lift dhe box, 'stead o' monkeyin' roun' dhere till dhey got in on 'em, eh? Gee, dhough, was n't it great?"

His father had been watching Mickey rather than the play; but he simulated a smiling interest and answered: "Sure! That was somethin' like, eh?"

A boy of Mickey's acquaintance—the son of Schurz, the butcher—leaned in from the aisle to say: "Yer mother 's out huntin' fer yuh, Mickey. You 'll get it!" And Mickey's face fell half-way to an expression of unhappiness before it lifted to upper glee again. He turned to his father, full of the self-sacrifice of the robber captain's climax. "Dhat 's all right," he cheered his parent. "If she finds out 't you was here, I 'll tell her I took yuh."

"She won't find out nothin'! Never mind her. Havin' a good time?"

Mickey chortled. "Say! D' yuh guess dhe cap'n 's goin' to confest?"

They discussed the question, sharing the candies, drawn to each other by the guilt of their conspiracy and forgetful of the nemesis that was preparing for them.

For the remainder of the evening, Mr. Flynn, between his frequent visits to the founts of comfort, sat in a blinking state of bliss, as happy as his dreams; and little Mickey also moved in another and a fairer world—a world of robber dens, of marvelous disguises, of treachery thwarted, and "the minions of the lawr" evaded and abused. It did not matter that the villain was trying to betray an outlaw who lived by robbery and escaped capture by committing murders. The outlaw had a kind heart and always addressed to the gallery sentiments that were emphatically noble. When the company filed before the curtain, Mickey hissed that villain with a venomousness that irritated even his sympathetic neighbors. "Say, kid," a man leaned over to him, "turn it off, can't yuh? Are yuh tryin' to spit a tooth?"

"'S all right," his father protested thickly. "Lell 'm 'lone." And Mickey hissed till his mouth ached.

He feasted his eyes on the mystery of the robber's cave in the woods, where the trees were painted in tints of misty blue most beautiful. He shivered in the gloom of their underground retreat in Paris, where never a door was opened except with an appalling rattle of locks and chains. He looked on the furniture in the secret office of the chief of police, and his hair stirred on his head when he recognized the fearless captain, disguised as a gendarme, entering that lion's den. There was a struggle between the mighty outlaw and the five gendarmes who tried vainly to handcuff him. There was another when he escaped from his dungeon with a revolver and a pocket file, having first shot his guards with a blank cartridge and so startled Mickey with the explosion that he bit his tongue. Finally, there was the captain's revenge upon the villain, who had betrayed him. "'T is midnight," he hissed. "And … vengeance … is … MINE!!!" Those were the last words he spoke to Mickey, for he had been shot exactly in the heart, as was obvious from the red on his shirt bosom. He died with his face upturned to Mickey, and the curtain fell.

Mickey did not move until some one butted him in the side with an impatient knee. He was shoved along with his father in the crowd; he floated down the stairs to the chill air of the streets, still half stupid. There he stood, staring at the gutter, until his father said: "C' malon'. Goil 'ome? Uh?"

Mickey looked up at the man—and accepted his responsibility. He took his father's sleeve. "Yuh 'd better get a gait on, pop," he said. "She 'll give it to yuh, if yuh don't."

They would have made a moving illustration for a temperance tract. Little Mickey trotted along, thin and eager-eyed, beside his father, who rolled in a fat stagger, mumbling to himself. They made a picture of the unhappy child of poverty leading home a brutal parent to his wretched hovel. But the parent in the riotous turmoil of his mind, was talking to Mickey as a boon companion, proud of his boy and tenderly affectionate. And Mickey, in his excited imagination, was the robber captain, leading his blind wife by the hand, his pockets full of the miser's gold, narrowly watching the policeman at a street corner, and ready, on the instant of interference, to throw himself on that minion of the law and throttle him to death. Happily, the streets were dark; the villain did not leap out from any doorway to intercept him with a file of gendarmes; and Mickey saw with relief, the light at the door of his underground retreat shiningly awaiting him—and saw no spy watching to betray his hiding-place to the chief of police.

He stopped. "Go on ahead dhere," he ordered. "I 'll folly in a jiffy." He added: "Don't tell 'm 't yuh seen me."

Mr. Flynn nodded with a ponderous sagacity, patted Mickey on the shoulder, and went on alone. As soon as he had disappeared, unchallenged, in the door of the delicatessen shop, Mickey turned back, crouching in the shadows, and proceeded to throw all the sleuths off his trail by doubling around the block.

His elaborate precautions carried him, untracked, as far as the front of Schurz's butcher shop. But there the whole sidewalk lay in a blaze of light; and Mickey hid behind the wooden Indian of a tobacconist's shop, next door, planning a detour. It was indeed a dangerous pass. When he heard Schurz's door-latch click as a customer came out, he was quick to see that he might be discovered in a suspicious posture of guilt; and he decided to carry off the situation with a bold front. He disguised himself, quickly and effectually, by pulling his cap down to his eyes and clasping his hands behind him. Then he stepped out from his hiding-place—and swaggered into the arms of his mother.

"Mickey!" she screamed, and caught him by the arm.

He looked at her, bewildered. "Gee!" he said, surprised to find himself suddenly in another world and subject to maternal authority.

She shook him. "Yeh little imp, yeh! 'T was at the theayter yeh was, was yeh? Did n't I tell yeh—"

He did not listen to what it was that she had told him. He knew that young "Shirty" Schurz must have betrayed him. If "Shirty" had not betrayed Mr. Flynn, too, it must be because the traitorous villain had failed to see that Mickey was not alone in the gallery. He hunched up his shoulders against his mother's wrath, and planned to be avenged on "Shirty."

She hustled him along with her, scolding plaintively. "Have yeh no consarn at all fer yer poor mother—worryin' me soul out about yeh—thinkin' yeh 'd been run down be the cayrs er drownded in the river? Are yeh goin' to grow up no better than yer fahther? An' me thinkin' I 'd bring y' up dacint to be a comfourt to me." He remained sulkily silent. "Whayr 'd yeh get money fer the theayter?" she demanded in another tone. "Have yeh been play in' the craps again?"

"Naw, I ain't. I ain't been doin' not'in'."

"Whayr 'd yeh come by it, thin?"

"Some one give 't to me."

She released him, to hitch her shawl about her shoulders. "That 's a lie fer yeh, Mickey. Yer father 'll hide yeh fer that."

She was a small, determined woman, harshly just as a judge, but as an executioner soft-hearted; and in her management of her little household she had always made her big husband execute her judgments on Mickey with a leather strap. "I won't," Flynn had said once. "Do yer own lickin'. D' yuh want to make the boy hate me? I b'lieve yuh do." She replied: "Yeh 'll do yer dooty as a f hther, er yeh 'll march out o' here now. Yer a dang poor husband—an' I 've stood fer that. But yeh 'll tend to Mickey, er I 'll have yeh hulkin' round here no longer. Take the strop!" And with the air of a Lady Macbeth, she had forced him to lift the figurative dagger.

Little Mickey had no fear of his father this night, but he pretended that he had. He allowed himself to be almost dragged to the shop door, and as soon as he was inside he bolted past Mrs. Flynn's sister—who had been tending the counter while Mrs. Flynn was away—and ran to hide himself in the little room in which he slept.

It was at the very back of the small suite of rooms in which the Flynns lived; and it was as dark as the robber captain's dungeon cell. But Mickey was not afraid of the dark; there had been no fond nursery nonsense in his education. He shut his door and took off all his outer clothing except his knickerbockers. Then he clambered into bed and waited for whatever wrath there was to come.

Of the interview between Mr. and Mrs. Flynn he heard only the muffled shrill voice of the wife interrogating silences. He lay on his back, his legs and arms spread wide—ready to resist any attempt to turn him over and expose his vulnerable rear—wondering, dully, whether his mother would succeed in extorting a confession from his partner in crime. He himself was prepared to endure all the mythical tortures of the "t'ird degree" rather than speak a word that might betray his faithful confederate. At the same time, he saw himself, on the very edge of his doom, saved from paying the final penalty of his silence by the magnanimous interference of his father. "I am in-no-cent!" he would cry. And his father, rushing into the room, would shout: "And my evidence will prrrove it!"

He stiffened at the sound of approaching footsteps, bracing himself from his heels to his elbows. Mrs. Flynn threw open the door. She had a light in one hand and the strap in the other. He saw that she had been crying. He shut his eyes, instinctively hardening his heart.

"Mickey now," she pleaded, "tell me how yeh come be the money. Tell me the truth, an' I 'll not lick yeh. Tell me, child."

He answered stubbornly: "Some one give 't to me."

"Who was it?"

"Some one."

"That ain't the truth, Mickey."

"'T is so."

"Why w'u'd any one be givin' yeh money? Did y' arn it someway mebbe?"

"Naw. Dhey jus' give 't to me."

She put down her lamp. "Get up! Get up out o' that," she said with a hard sob. "I 'll have no boy o' mine a liar if I have to kill 'm fer it."

It would have been better for Mickey if he had obeyed her; for in the obstinate struggle that ensued, Mrs. Flynn lost her temper; and when Mickey, at last, came out of bed to the floor—still spread like a crab and struggling—she beat him in a nervous frenzy, beside herself with anger, flaying him mercilessly. He did not utter a sound. He did not even cry out "I am in-no-cent!" And when she suddenly dropped the strap, in a physical horror of what she had done, and ran from the room sobbing hysterically, little Mickey relaxed with the groan of innocence that has been deserted in distress by the hero who was to have rushed to its rescue.

He was not subtle. He was not sentimental. He had merely boyish ideals of conduct. But no one could fail in these without disgrace; and his father had failed. In that bitter moment the boy who had hissed the villain and applauded the hero saw his father as a coward, a "sneaker." His mother's broken sobs pleaded against any resentment of her cruelty. She, too, had been betrayed; and in the dumb-thoughted way of a boy his admiration and his love went out to her with the first burst of tears that shook him.

He crawled back into bed and wrapped himself as well as be could in the coverlet. An hour later, when his mother came in to look at him, he was throttling a damp pillow in his dreams, with a faintly mumbled "'S midnight—an' vengesmine!"

She did not know that this triumph was her own. She did not know that the elder Mickey had taken the first irrevocable step toward losing his son; that, thereafter, the boy was to be more and more her defense against her husband's good-natured but skulking shiftlessness and—as time went on—against the world that fought her down with poverty. She had learned only that the two Mickeys had been at the theater together and she stood looking down at him through the meager tears of an emotion that was very near despair. She touched him on the shoulder, with a weary gentleness. "Lay off yer clothes, Mickey," she said. "Yeh can't sleep so."

Something in his swollen eyes, as he opened them sleepily, reminded her of his father. She shook her head. "The two o' them," she said. "The two Mickeys!… Ah, child, have I put nothin' of mesilf into yeh? Nothin' at all?"