The Fascinating Stranger and Other Stories/The One-Hundred-Dollar Bill
THE ONE-HUNDRED-DOLLAR BILL
THE new one-hundred-dollar bill, clean and green, freshening the heart with the colour of springtime, slid over the glass of the teller’s counter and passed under his grille to a fat hand, dingy on the knuckles, but brightened by a flawed diamond. This interesting hand was a part of one of those men who seem to have too much fattened muscle for their clothes: his shoulders distended his overcoat; his calves strained the sprightly checked cloth, a little soiled, of his trousers; his short neck bulged above the glossy collar. His hat, round and black as a pot, and appropriately small, he wore slightly obliqued; while under its curled brim his small eyes twinkled surreptitiously between those upper and nether puffs of flesh that mark the too faithful practitioner of unhallowed gaieties. Such was the first individual owner of the new one-hundred-dollar bill, and he at once did what might have been expected of him.
Moving away from the teller’s grille, he made a cylindrical packet of bills smaller in value—“ones” and “fives”—then placed round them, as a wrapper, the beautiful one-hundred-dollar bill, snapped a rubber band over it; and the desired inference was plain: a roll all of hundred-dollar bills, inside as well as outside. Something more was plain, too: obviously the man’s small head had a sportive plan in it, for the twinkle between his eye-puffs hinted of liquor in the offing and lively women impressed by a show of masterly riches. Here, in brief, was a man who meant to make a night of it; who would feast, dazzle, compel deference, and be loved. For money gives power, and power is loved; no doubt he would be loved. He was happy, and went out of the bank believing that money is made for joy.
So little should we be certain of our happiness in this world: the splendid one-hundred-dollar bill was taken from him untimely, before nightfall that very evening. At the corner of two busy streets he parted with it to the law, though in a mood of excruciating reluctance and only after a cold-blooded threatening on the part of the lawyer. This latter walked away thoughtfully, with the one-hundred-dollar bill, now not quite so clean, in his pocket.
Collinson was the lawyer’s name, and in years he was only twenty-eight, but already had the slightly harried appearance that marks the young husband who begins to suspect that the better part of his life has been his bachelorhood. His dark, ready-made clothes, his twice-soled shoes and his hair, which was too long for a neat and businesslike aspect, were symptoms of necessary economy; but he did not wear the eager look of a man who saves to “get on for himself”: Collinson’s look was that of an employed man who only deepens his rut with his pacing of it.
An employed man he was, indeed; a lawyer without much hope of ever seeing his name on the door or on the letters of the firm that employed him, and his most important work was the collection of small debts. This one-hundred-dollar bill now in his pocket was such a collection, small to the firm and the client, though of a noble size to himself and the long-pursued debtor from whom he had just collected it.
The banks were closed; so was the office, for it was six o’clock, and Collinson was on his way home when by chance he encountered the debtor: there was nothing to do but to keep the bill over night. This was no hardship, however, as he had a faint pleasure in the unfamiliar experience of walking home with such a thing in his pocket; and he felt a little important by proxy when he thought of it.
Upon the city the November evening had come down dark and moist, holding the smoke nearer the ground and enveloping the buildings in a soiling black mist. Lighted windows and street lamps appeared and disappeared in the altering thicknesses of fog, but at intervals, as Collinson walked on northward, he passed a small shop, or a cluster of shops, where the light was close to him and bright, and at one of these oases of illumination he lingered a moment, with a thought to buy a toy in the window for his three-year-old little girl. The toy was a gaily coloured acrobatic monkey that willingly climbed up and down a string, and he knew that the “baby,” as he and his wife still called their child, would scream with delight at the sight of it. He hesitated, staring into the window rather longingly, and wondering if he ought to make such a purchase. He had twelve dollars of his own in his pocket, but the toy was marked “35 cents” and he decided he could not afford it. So he sighed and went on, turning presently into a darker street.
Here the air was like that of a busy freight-yard, thick with coal-dust and at times almost unbreathable so that Collinson was glad to get out of it even though the exchange was for the early-evening smells of the cheap apartment house where he lived.
His own “kitchenette” was contributing its share, he found, the baby was crying over some inward perplexity not to be explained; and his wife, pretty and a little frowzy, was as usual, and as he had expected. That is to say, he found her irritated by cooking, bored by the baby, and puzzled by the dull life she led. Other women, it appeared, had happy and luxurious homes, and, during the malnutritious dinner she had prepared, she mentioned many such women by name, laying particular stress upon the achievements of their husbands. Why should she (“alone,” as she put it) lead the life she did in one room and a kitchenette, without even being able to afford to go to the movies more than once or twice a month? Mrs. Theodore Thompson’s husband had bought a perfectly beautiful little sedan automobile; he gave his wife everything she wanted. Mrs. Will Gregory had merely mentioned that her old Hudson seal coat was wearing a little, and her husband had instantly said, “What’ll a new one come to, girlie? Four or five hundred? Run and get it!” Why were other women’s husbands like that—and why, oh, why! was hers like this? An eavesdropper might well have deduced from Mrs. Collinson’s harangue that her husband owned somewhere a storehouse containing all the good things she wanted and that he withheld them from her out of his perverse wilfulness. Moreover, he did not greatly help his case by protesting that the gratification of her desires was beyond his powers.
“My goodness!” he said. “You talk as if I had sedans and sealskin coats and theatre tickets on me! Well, I haven’t; that’s all!”
“Then go out and get ’em!” she said fiercely. “Go out and get ’em!”
“What with?” he inquired. “I have twelve dollars in my pocket, and a balance of seventeen dollars at the bank; that’s twenty-nine. I get twenty-five from the office day after to-morrow—Saturday; that makes fifty-four; but we have to pay forty-five for rent on Monday; so that’ll leave us nine dollars. Shall I buy you a sedan and a sealskin coat on Tuesday out of the nine?”
Mrs. Collinson began to weep a little. “The old, old story!” she said. “Six long, long years it’s been going on now! I ask you how much you’ve got, and you say, ‘Nine dollars,’ or ‘Seven dollars,’ or ‘Four dollars’; and once it was sixty-five cents! Sixty-five cents; that’s what we have to live on! Sixty-five cents!”
“Oh, hush!” he said wearily.
“Hadn’t you better hush a little yourself?” she retorted. “You come home with twelve dollars in your pocket and tell your wife to hush! That’s nice! Why can’t you do what decent men do?”
“Why, give their wives something to live for. What do you give me, I’d like to know! Look at the clothes I wear, please!”
“Well, it’s your own fault,” he muttered.
“What did you say? Did you say it’s my fault I wear clothes any woman I know wouldn’t be seen in?”
“Yes, I did. If you hadn’t made me get you that platinum ring——”
“What!” she cried, and flourished her hand at him across the table. “Look at it! It’s platinum, yes; but look at the stone in it, about the size of a pin-head, so’t I’m ashamed to wear it when any of my friends see me! A hundred and sixteen dollars is what this magnificent ring cost you, and how long did I have to beg before I got even that little out of you? And it’s the best thing I own and the only thing I ever did get out of you!”
“Oh, Lordy!” he moaned.
“I wish you’d seen Charlie Loomis looking at this ring to-day,” she said, with a desolate laugh. “He happened to notice it, and I saw him keep glancing at it, and I wish you’d seen Charlie Loomis’s expression!”
Collinson’s own expression became noticeable upon her introduction of this name; he stared at her gravely until he completed the mastication of one of the indigestibles she had set before him; then he put down his fork and said:
“So you saw Charlie Loomis again to-day. Where?”
“Oh, my!” she sighed. “Have we got to go over all that again?”
“Over all what?”
“Over all the fuss you made the last time I mentioned Charlie’s name. I thought we settled it you were going to be a little more sensible about him.”
“Yes,” Collinson returned. “I was going to be more sensible about him, because you were going to be more sensible about him. Wasn’t that the agreement?”
She gave him a hard glance, tossed her head so that the curls of her bobbed hair fluttered prettily, and with satiric mimicry repeated his question: “‘Agreement! Wasn’t that the agreement?’ Oh, my, but you do make me tired, talking about ‘agreements’! As if it was a crime my going to a vaudeville matinée with a man kind enough to notice that my husband never takes me anywhere!”
“Did you go to a vaudeville with him to-day?”
“No, I didn’t!” she said. “I was talking about the time when you made such a fuss. I didn’t go anywhere with him to-day.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” Collinson said. “I wouldn’t have stood for it.”
“Oh, you wouldn’t?” she cried, and added a shrill laugh as further comment. “You ‘wouldn’t have stood for it!’ How very, very dreadful!”
“Never mind,” he returned doggedly. “We went over all that the last time, and you understand me: I’ll have no more foolishness about Charlie Loomis.”
“How nice of you! He’s a friend of yours; you go with him yourself; but your wife mustn’t even look at him just because he happens to be the one man that amuses her a little. That’s fine!”
“Never mind,” Collinson said again. “You say you saw him to-day. I want to know where.”
“Suppose I don’t choose to tell you.”
“You’d better tell me, I think.”
“Do you? I’ve got to answer for every minute of my day, do I?”
“I want to know where you saw Charlie Loomis.”
She tossed her curls again, and laughed. “Isn’t it funny!” she said. “Just because I like a man, he’s the one person I can’t have anything to do with! Just because he’s kind and jolly and amusing and I like his jokes and his thoughtfulness toward a woman, when he’s with her, I’m not to be allowed to see him at all! But my husband—oh, that’s entirely different! He can go out with Charlie whenever he likes and have a good time, while I stay home and wash the dishes! Oh, it’s a lovely life!”
“Where did you see him to-day?”
Instead of answering his question, she looked at him plaintively, and allowed tears to shine along her lower eyelids. “Why do you treat me like this?” she asked in a feeble voice. “Why can’t I have a man friend if I want to? I do like Charlie Loomis. I do like him——”
“Yes! That’s what I noticed!”
“Well, but what’s the good of always insulting me about him? He has time on his hands of afternoons, and so have I. Our janitor’s wife is crazy about the baby and just adores to have me leave her in their flat—the longer the better. Why shouldn’t I go to a matinée or a picture-show sometimes with Charlie? Why should I just have to sit around instead of going out and having a nice time when he wants me to?”
“I want to know where you saw him to-day!”
Mrs. Collinson jumped up. “You make me sick!” she said, and began to clear away the dishes.
“I want to know where——”
“Oh, hush up!” she cried. “He came here to leave a note for you.”
“Oh,” said her husband. “I beg your pardon. That’s different.”
“How sweet of you!”
“Where’s the note, please?”
She took it from her pocket and tossed it to him. “So long as it’s a note for you it’s all right, of course!” she said. “I wonder what you’d do if he’d written one to me!”
“Never mind,” said Collinson, and read the note.
Dear Collie: Dave and Smithie and Old Bill and Sammy Hoag and maybe Steinie and Sol are coming over to the shack about eight-thirt. Home-brew and the old pastime. You know! Don’t fail.—Charlie.
“You’ve read this, of course,” Collinson said. “The envelope wasn’t sealed.”
“I have not,” his wife returned, covering the prevarication with a cold dignity. “I’m not in the habit of reading other peoples’s correspondence, thank you! I suppose you think I do so because you’d never hesitate to read any note I get; but I don’t do everything you do, you see!”
“Well, you can read it now,” he said, and gave her the note.
Her eyes swept the writing briefly, and she made a sound of wonderment, as if amazed to find herself so true a prophet. “And the words weren’t more than out of mouth! You can go and have a grand party right in his flat, while your wife stays home and gets the baby to bed and washes the dishes!”
“I’m not going.”
“Oh, no!” she said mockingly. “I suppose not! I see you missing one of Charlie’s stag-parties!”
“I’ll miss this one.”
But it was not to Mrs. Collinson’s purpose that he should miss the party; she wished him to be as intimate as possible with the debonair Charlie Loomis; and so, after carrying some dishes into the kitchenette in meditative silence, she reappeared with a changed manner. She went to her husband, gave him a shy little pat on the shoulder and laughed good-naturedly. “Of course you’ll go,” she said. “I do think you’re silly about my never going out with him when it would give me a little innocent pleasure and when you’re not home to take me, yourself; but I wasn’t really in such terrible earnest, all I said. You work hard the whole time, honey, and the only pleasure you ever do have, it’s when you get a chance to go to one of these little penny-ante stag-parties. You haven’t been to one for ever so long, and you never stay after twelve; it’s really all right with me. I want you to go.”
“Oh, no,” said Collinson. “It’s only penny-ante, but I couldn’t afford to lose anything at all.”
“But you never do. You always win a little.”
“I know,” he said. “I’ve figured out I’m about sixteen dollars ahead at penny-ante on the whole year. I cleaned up seven dollars and sixty cents at Charlie’s last party; but of course my luck might change, and we couldn’t afford it.”
“If you did lose, it’d only be a few cents,” she said. “What’s the difference, if it gives you a little fun? You’ll work all the better if you go out and enjoy yourself once in a while.”
“Well, if you really look at it that way, I’ll go.”
“That’s right, dear,” she said, smiling. “Better put on a fresh collar and your other suit, hadn’t you?”
“I suppose so,” he assented, and began to make the changes she suggested. He went about them in a leisurely way, played with the baby at intervals, while Mrs. Collinson sang cheerfully over her work; and when he had completed his toilet, it was time for him to go. She came in from the kitchenette, kissed him, and then looked up into his eyes, letting him see a fond and brightly amiable expression.
“There, honey,” she said. “Run along and have a nice time. Then maybe you’ll be a little more sensible about some of my little pleasures.”
He held the one-hundred-dollar bill, folded, in his hand, meaning to leave it with her, but as she spoke a sudden recurrence of suspicion made him forget his purpose. “Look here,” he said. “I’m not making any bargain with you. You talk as if you thought I was going to let you run around to vaudevilles with Charlie because you let me go to this party. Is that your idea?”
It was, indeed, precisely Mrs. Collinson’s idea, and she was instantly angered enough to admit it in her retort. “Oh, aren’t you mean!” she cried. “I might know better than to look for any fairness in a man like you!”
“Oh, hush up!” she said. “Shame on you! Go on to your party!” With that she put both hands upon his breast, and pushed him toward the door.
“I won’t go. I’ll stay here.”
“You will, too, go!” she cried shrewishly. “I don’t want to look at you around here all evening. It’d make me sick to look at a man without an ounce of fairness in his whole mean little body!”
“All right,” said Collinson, violently, “I will go!”
“Yes! Get out of my sight!”
And he did, taking the one-hundred-dollar bill with him to the penny-ante poker party.
The gay Mr. Charlie Loomis called his apartment “the shack” in jocular depreciation of its beauty and luxury, but he regarded it as a perfect thing, and in one way it was; for it was perfectly in the family likeness of a thousand such “shacks.” It had a ceiling with false beams, walls of green burlap spotted with coloured “coaching prints,” brown shelves supporting pewter plates and mugs, “mission” chairs, a leather couch with violent cushions, silver-framed photographs of lady-friends and officer-friends, a drop-light of pink-shot imitation alabaster, a papier-mâché skull tobacco-jar among moving-picture magazines on the round card-table; and, of course, the final Charlie Loomis touch—a Japanese man-servant.
The master of all this was one of those neat, stoutish young men with fat, round heads, sleek, fair hair, immaculate, pale complexions and infirm little pink mouths—in fact, he was of the type that may suggest to the student of resemblances a fastidious and excessively clean white pig with transparent ears. Nevertheless, Charlie Loomis was of a free-handed habit in some matters, being particularly indulgent to pretty women and their children. He spoke of the latter as “the kiddies,” of course, and liked to call their mothers “kiddo,” or “girlie.” One of his greatest pleasures was to tell a woman that she was “the dearest, bravest little girlie in the world.” Naturally he was a welcome guest in many households, and would often bring a really magnificent toy to the child of some friend whose wife he was courting. Moreover, at thirty-three, he had already done well enough in business to take things easily, and he liked to give these little card-parties, not for gain, but for pastime. He was cautious and disliked high stakes in a game of chance.
That is to say, he disliked the possibility of losing enough money to annoy him, though of course he set forth his principles as resting upon a more gallant and unselfish basis. “I don’t consider it hospitality to have any man go out o’ my shack sore,” he was wont to say. “Myself, I’m a bachelor and got no obligations; I’ll shoot any man that can afford it for anything he wants to. Trouble is, you never can tell when a man can’t afford it, or what harm his losin’ might mean to the little girlie at home and the kiddies. No, boys, penny-ante and ten-cent limit is the highest we go in this ole shack. Penny-ante and a few steins of the ole home-brew that hasn’t got a divorce in a barrel of it!”
Penny-ante and the ole home-brew had been in festal operation for half an hour when the morose Collinson arrived this evening. Mr. Loomis and his guests sat about the round table under the alabaster drop-light; their coats were off; cigars were worn at the deliberative poker angle; colourful chips and cards glistened on the cloth; one of the players wore a green shade over his eyes; and all in all, here was a little poker party for a lithograph. To complete the picture, several of the players continued to concentrate upon their closely held cards, and paid no attention to the newcomer or to their host’s lively greeting of him.
“Ole Collie, b’gosh!” Mr. Loomis shouted, humorously affecting the bucolic. “Here’s your vacant cheer; stack all stuck out for you ’n’ ever’thin’! Set daown, neighbour, an’ Smithie’ll deal you in, next hand. What made you so late? Helpin’ the little girlie at home get the kiddy to bed? That’s a great kiddy of yours, Collie. I got a little Christmas gift for her I’m goin’ to bring around some day soon. Yes, sir, that’s a great little kiddy Collie’s got over at his place, boys.”
Collinson took the chair that had been left for him, counted his chips, and then as the playing of a “hand” still preoccupied three of the company, he picked up a silver dollar that lay upon the table near him. “What’s this?” he asked. “A side bet? Or did somebody just leave it here for me?”
“Yes; for you to look at,” Mr. Loomis explained. “It’s Smithie’s.”
“What’s wrong with it?”
“Nothin’. Smithie was just showin’ it to us. Look at it.”
Collinson turned the coin over and saw a tiny inscription that had been lined into the silver with a point of steel. “‘Luck,’” he read;—“‘Luck hurry back to me!’” Then he spoke to the owner of this marked dollar. “I suppose you put that on there, Smithie, to help make sure of getting our money to-night.”
But Smithie shook his head, which was a large, gaunt head, as it happened—a head fronted with a sallow face shaped much like a coffin, but inconsistently genial in expression. “No,” he said. “It just came in over my counter this afternoon, and I noticed it when I was checkin’ up the day’s cash. Funny, ain’t it: ‘Luck hurry back to me!’”
“Who do you suppose marked that on it?” Collinson said thoughtfully.
“Golly!” his host exclaimed. “It won’t do you much good to wonder about that!”
Collinson frowned, continuing to stare at the marked dollar. “I guess not, but really I should like to know.”
“I would, too,” Smithie said. “I been thinkin’ about it. Might ’a’ been somebody in Seattle or somebody in Ipswich, Mass., or New Orleans or St. Paul. How you goin’ to tell? Might ’a’ been a woman; might ’a’ been a man. The way I guess it out, this poor boob, whoever he was, well, prob’ly he’d had good times for a while, and maybe carried this dollar for a kind of pocket piece, the way some people do, you know. Then he got in trouble—or she did, whichever it was—and got flat broke and had to spend this last dollar he had—for something to eat, most likely. Well, he thought a while before he spent it, and the way I guess it out, he said to himself, he said, ‘Well,’ he said, ‘most of the good luck I’ve enjoyed lately,’ he said, ‘it’s been while I had this dollar on me. I got to kiss ’em good-bye now, good luck and good dollar together; but maybe I’ll get ’em both back some day, so I’ll just mark the wish on the dollar, like this: Luck hurry back to me! That’ll help some, maybe, and anyhow I’ll know my luck dollar if I ever do get it back.’ That’s the way I guess it out, anyhow. It’s funny how some people like to believe luck depends on some little thing like that.”
“Yes, it is,” Collinson assented, still brooding over the coin.
The philosophic Smithie extended his arm across the table, collecting the cards to deal them, for the “hand” was finished. “Yes, sir, it’s funny,” he repeated. “Nobody knows exactly what luck is, but the way I guess it out, it lays in a man’s believin’ he’s in luck, and some little object like this makes him kind of concentrate his mind on thinkin’ he’s goin’ to be lucky, because of course you often know you’re goin’ to win, and then you do win. You don’t win when you want to win, or when you need to; you win when you believe you’ll win. I don’t know who was the dummy that said, ‘Money’s the root of all evil’; but I guess he didn’t have too much sense! I suppose if some man killed some other man for a dollar, the poor fish that said that would let the man out and send the dollar to the chair. No, sir; money’s just as good as it is bad; and it’ll come your way if you feel it will; so you take this marked dollar o’ mine——”
But here this garrulous and discursive guest was interrupted by immoderate protests from several of his colleagues. “Cut it out!” “My Lord!” “Do something!” “Smithie! Are you ever goin’ to deal?”
“I’m goin’ to shuffle first,” he responded, suiting the action to the word, though with deliberation, and at the same time continuing his discourse. “It’s a mighty interesting thing, a piece o’ money. You take this dollar, now: Who’s it belonged to? Where’s it been? What different kind o’ funny things has it been spent for sometimes? What funny kind of secrets do you suppose it could ’a’ heard if it had ears? Good people have had it and bad people have had it: why, a dollar could tell more about the human race—why, it could tell all about it!”
“I guess it couldn’t tell all about the way you’re dealin’ these cards,” said the man with the green shade. “You’re mixin’ things all up.”
“I’ll straighten ’em all out then,” said Smithie cheerfully. “I knew of a twenty-dollar bill once; a pickpocket prob’ly threw it in the gutter to keep from havin’ it found on him when they searched him, but anyway a woman I knew found it and sent it to her young sister out in Michigan to take some music lessons with, and the sister was so excited she took this bill out of the letter and kissed it. That’s where they thought she got the germ she died of a couple o’ weeks later, and the undertaker got the twenty-dollar bill, and got robbed of it the same night. Nobody knows where it went then. They say, ‘Money talks.’ Golly! If it could talk, what couldn’t it tell? Nobody’d be safe. I got this dollar now, but who’s it goin’ to belong to next, and what’ll he do with it? And then after that! Why for years and years and years it’ll go on from one pocket to another, in a millionaire’s house one day, in some burglar’s flat the next, maybe, and in one person’s hand money’ll do good, likely, and in another’s it’ll do harm. We all want money; but some say it’s a bad thing, like that dummy I was talkin’ about. Lordy! Goodness or badness, I’ll take all anybody——”
He was interrupted again, and with increased vehemence. Collinson, who sat next to him, complied with the demand to “ante up,” then placed the dollar near his little cylinders of chips, and looked at his cards. They proved unencouraging, and he turned to his neighbour. “I’d sort of like to have that marked dollar, Smithie,” he said. “I’ll give you a paper dollar and a nickel for it.”
But Smithie laughed, shook his head, and slid the coin over toward his own chips. “No, sir. I’m goin’ to keep it—awhile, anyway.”
“So you do think it’ll bring you luck, after all!”
“No. But I’ll hold onto it for this evening, anyhow.”
“Not if we clean you out, you won’t,” said Charlie Loomis. “You know the rules o’ the ole shack: only cash goes in this game; no I. O. U. stuff ever went here or ever will. Tell you what I’ll do, though, before you lose it: I’ll give you a dollar and a quarter for your ole silver dollar, Smithie.”
“Oh, you want it, too, do you? I guess I can spot what sort of luck you want it for, Charlie.”
“Well, Mr. Bones, what sort of luck do I want it for?”
“You win, Smithie,” one of the other players said. “We all know what sort o’ luck ole Charlie wants your dollar for—he wants it for luck with the dames.”
“Well, I might,” Charlie admitted, not displeased. “I haven’t been so lucky that way lately—not so dog-gone lucky!”
All of his guests, except one, laughed at this; but Collinson frowned, still staring at the marked dollar. For a reason he could not have put into words just then, it began to seem almost vitally important to him to own this coin if he could, and to prevent Charlie Loomis from getting possession of it. The jibe, “He wants it for luck with the dames,” rankled in Collinson’s mind: somehow it seemed to refer to his wife.
“I’ll tell you what I’ll do, Smithie,” he said. “I’ll bet two dollars against that dollar of yours that I hold a higher hand next deal than you do.”
“Here! Here!” Charlie remonstrated. “Shack rules! Ten-cent limit.”
“That’s only for the game,” Collinson said, turning upon his host with a sudden sharpness. “This is an outside bet between Smithie and me. Will you do it, Smithie? Where’s your sporting spirit?”
So liberal a proposal at once roused the spirit to which it appealed. “Well, I might, if some o’ the others’ll come in too, and make it really worth my while.”
“I’m in,” the host responded with prompt inconsistency; and others of the party, it appeared, were desirous of owning the talisman. They laughed and said it was “crazy stuff,” yet they all “came in,” and, for the first time in the history of this “shack,” what Mr. Loomis called “real money” was seen upon the table as a stake. It was won, and the silver dollar with it, by the largest and oldest of the gamesters, a fat man with a walrus moustache that inevitably made him known in this circle as “Old Bill.” He smiled condescendingly, and would have put the dollar in his pocket with the “real money,” but Mr. Loomis protested.
“Here! What you doin’?” he shouted, catching Old Bill by the arm. “Put that dollar back on the table.”
“What for? Why, we’re goin’ to play for it again. Here’s two dollars against it I beat you on the next hand.”
“No,” said Old Bill calmly. “It’s worth more than two dollars to me. It’s worth five.”
“Well, five then,” his host returned. “I want that dollar!”
“So do I,” said Collinson. “I’ll put in five dollars if you do.”
“Anybody else in?” Old Bill inquired, dropping the coin on the table; and all of the others again “came in.” Old Bill won again; but once more Charlie Loomis prevented him from putting the silver dollar in his pocket.
“Come on now!” Mr. Loomis exclaimed. “Anybody else but me in on this for five dollars next time?”
“I am,” said Collinson, swallowing with a dry throat; and he set forth all that remained to him of his twelve dollars. In return he received a pair of deuces, and the jubilant Charlie won.
He was vainglorious in his triumph. “Didn’t that little luck piece just keep on tryin’ to find the right man?” he cried, and read the inscription loudly. “‘Luck hurry back to me!’ Righto! You’re home where you belong, girlie! Now we’ll settle down to our reg’lar little game again.”
“Oh, no,” said Old Bill. “You wouldn’t let me keep it. Put it out there and play for it again.”
“I won’t. She’s mine now.”
“I want my luck piece back myself,” said Smithie. “Put it out and play for it. You made Old Bill.”
“I won’t do it.”
“Yes, you will,” Collinson said, and he spoke without geniality. “You put it out there.”
“Oh, yes, I will,” Mr. Loomis returned mockingly. “I will for ten dollars.”
“Not I,” said Old Bill. “Five is foolish enough.” And Smithie agreed with him. “Nor me!”
“All right, then. If you’re afraid of ten, I keep it. I thought the ten’d scare you.”
“Put that dollar on the table,” Collinson said. “I’ll put ten against it.”
There was a little commotion among these mild gamesters; and someone said, “You’re crazy, Collie. What do you want to do that for?”
“I don’t care,” said Collinson. “That dollar’s already cost me enough, and I’m going after it.”
“Well, you see, I want it, too,” Charlie Loomis retorted cheerfully; and he appealed to the others. “I’m not askin’ him to put up ten against it, am I?”
“Maybe not,” Old Bill assented. “But how long is this thing goin’ to keep on? It’s already balled our game all up, and if we keep on foolin’ with these side bets, why, what’s the use?”
“My goodness!” the host exclaimed. “I’m not pushin’ this thing, am I? I don’t want to risk my good old luck piece, do I? It’s Collie that’s crazy to go on, ain’t it?” He laughed. “He hasn’t showed his money yet, though, I notice, and this ole shack is run on strickly cash principles. I don’t believe he’s got ten dollars more on him!”
“Oh, yes, I have.”
“Let’s see it then.”
Collinson’s nostrils distended a little; but he said nothing, fumbled in his pocket, and then tossed the one-hundred-dollar bill, rather crumpled, upon the table.
“Great heavens!” shouted Old Bill. “Call the doctor: I’m all of a swoon!”
“Look at what’s spilled over our nice clean table!” another said, in an awed voice. “Did you claim he didn’t have ten on him, Charlie?”
“Well, it’s nice to look at,” Smithie observed. “But I’m with Old Bill. How long are you two goin’ to keep this thing goin’? If Collie wins the luck piece, I suppose Charlie’ll bet him fifteen against it, and then——”
“No, I won’t,” Charlie interrupted. “Ten’s the limit.”
“Goin’ to keep on bettin’ ten against it all night?”
“No,” said Charlie. “I tell you what I’ll do with you, Collinson; we both of us seem kind o’ set on this luck piece, and you’re already out some on it. I’ll give you a square chance at it and at catchin’ even. It’s twenty minutes after nine. I’ll keep on these side bets with you till ten o’clock, but when my clock hits ten, we’re through, and the one that’s got it then keeps it, and no more foolin’. You want to do that, or quit now? I’m game either way.”
“Go ahead and deal,” said Collinson. “Whichever one of us has it at ten o’clock, it’s his, and we quit.”
But when the little clock on Charlie’s green-painted mantel shelf struck ten, the luck piece was Charlie’s and with it an overwhelming lien on the one-hundred-dollar bill. He put both in his pocket; “Remember this ain’t my fault; it was you that insisted,” he said, and handed Collinson four five-dollar bills as change.
Old Bill, platonically interested, discovered that his cigar was sparkless, applied a match, and casually set forth his opinion. “Well, I guess that was about as poor a way of spendin’ eighty dollars as I ever saw, but it all goes to show there’s truth in the old motto that anything at all can happen in any poker game! That was a mighty nice hundred-dollar bill you had on you, Collie; but it’s like what Smithie said: a piece o’ money goes hoppin’ around from one person to another—it don’t care!—and yours has gone and hopped to Charlie. The question is, Who’s it goin’ to hop to next?” He paused to laugh, glanced over the cards that had been dealt him, and concluded: “My guess is ’t some good-lookin’ woman’ll prob’ly get a pretty fair chunk o’ that hundred-dollar bill out o’ Charlie. Well, let’s settle down to the ole army game.”
They settled down to it, and by twelve o’clock (the invariable closing hour of these pastimes in the old shack) Collinson had lost four dollars and thirty cents more. He was commiserated by his fellow gamesters as they put on their coats and overcoats, preparing to leave the hot little room. They shook their heads, laughed ruefully in sympathy, and told him he oughtn’t to carry hundred-dollar bills upon his person when he went out among friends. Old Bill made what is sometimes called an unfortunate remark.
“Don’t worry about Collie,” he said jocosely. “That hundred-dollar bill prob’ly belonged to some rich client of his.”
“What!” Collinson said, staring.
“Never mind, Collie; I wasn’t in earnest,” the joker explained. “Of course I didn’t mean it.”
“Well, you oughtn’t to say it,” Collinson protested. “People say a thing like that about a man in a joking way, but other people hear it sometimes and don’t know he’s joking, and a story gets started.”
“My goodness, but you’re serious!” Old Bill exclaimed. “You look like you had a misery in your chest, as the rubes say; and I don’t blame you! Get on out in the fresh night air and you’ll feel better.”
He was mistaken, however; the night air failed to improve Collinson’s spirits as he walked home alone through the dark and chilly streets. There was indeed a misery in his chest, where stirred a sensation vaguely nauseating; his hands were tremulous and his knees infirm as he walked. In his mind was a confusion of pictures and sounds, echoes from Charlie Loomis’s shack: he could not clear his mind’s eye of the one-hundred-dollar bill; and its likeness, as it lay crumpled on the green cloth under the drop-light, haunted and hurt him as a face in a coffin haunts and hurts the new mourner. Bits of Smithie’s discursiveness resounded in his mind’s ear, keeping him from thinking. “In one person’s hands money’ll do good likely, and in another’s it’ll do harm.”—“The dummy that said, ‘Money’s the root of all evil!’”
It seemed to Collinson then that money was the root of all evil and the root of all good, the root and branch of all life, indeed. With money, his wife would have been amiable, not needing gay bachelors to take her to vaudevilles. Her need of money was the true foundation of the jealousy that had sent him out morose and reckless to-night; of the jealousy that had made it seem, when he gambled with Charlie Loomis for the luck dollar, as though they really gambled for luck with her.
It still seemed to him that they had gambled for luck with her: Charlie had wanted the talisman, as Smithie said, in order to believe in his luck—his luck with women—and therefore actually be lucky with them; and Charlie had won. But as Collinson plodded homeward in the chilly midnight, his shoulders sagging and his head drooping, he began to wonder how he could have risked money that belonged to another man. What on earth had made him do what he had done? Was it the mood his wife had set him in as he went out that evening? No; he had gone out feeling like that often enough, and nothing had happened.
Something had brought this trouble on him, he thought; for it appeared to Collinson that he had been an automaton, having nothing to do with his own actions. He must bear the responsibility for them; but he had not willed them. If the one-hundred-dollar bill had not happened to be in his pocket—— That was it! And at the thought he mumbled desolately to himself: “I’d been all right if it hadn’t been for that.” If the one-hundred-dollar bill had not happened to be in his pocket, he’d have been “all right.” The one-hundred-dollar bill had done this to him. And Smithie’s romancing again came back to him: “In one person’s hands money’ll do good, likely; in another’s it’ll do harm.” It was the money that did harm or good, not the person; and the money in his hands had done this harm to himself.
He had to deliver a hundred dollars at the office in the morning, somehow, for he dared not take the risk of the client’s meeting the debtor. There was a balance of seventeen dollars in his bank, and he could pawn his watch for twenty-five, as he knew well enough, by experience. That would leave fifty-eight dollars to be paid, and there was only one way to get it. His wife would have to let him pawn her ring. She’d have to!
Without any difficulty he could guess what she would say and do when he told her of his necessity: and he knew that never in her life would she forego the advantage over him she would gain from it. He knew, too, what stipulations she would make, and he had to face the fact that he was in no position to reject them. The one-hundred-dollar bill had cost him the last vestiges of mastery in his own house; and Charlie Loomis had really won not only the bill and the luck, but the privilege of taking Collinson’s wife to vaudevilles. But it all came back to the same conclusion: the one-hundred-dollar bill had done it to him. “What kind of a thing is this life?” Collinson mumbled to himself, finding matters wholly perplexing in a world made into tragedy at the caprice of a little oblong slip of paper.
Then, as he went on his way to wake his wife and face her with the soothing proposal to pawn her ring early the next morning, something happened to Collinson. Of itself the thing that happened was nothing, but he was aware of his folly as if it stood upon a mountain top against the sun—and so he gathered knowledge of himself and a little of the wisdom that is called better than happiness.
His way was now the same as upon the latter stretch of his walk home from the office that evening. The smoke fog had cleared, and the air was clean with a night wind that moved briskly from the west; in all the long street there was only one window lighted, but it was sharply outlined now, and fell as a bright rhomboid upon the pavement before Collinson. When he came to it he paused at the hint of an inward impulse he did not think to trace; and, frowning, he perceived that this was the same shop window that had detained him on his homeward way, when he had thought of buying a toy for the baby.
The toy was still there in the bright window; the gay little acrobatic monkey that would climb up or down a red string as the string slacked or straightened; but Collinson’s eye fixed itself upon the card marked with the price: “35 cents.”
He stared and stared. “Thirty-five cents!” he said to himself. “Thirty-five cents!”
Then suddenly he burst into loud and prolonged laughter.
The sound was startling in the quiet night, and roused the interest of a meditative policeman who stood in the darkened doorway of the next shop. He stepped out, not unfriendly.
“What you havin’ such a good time over, this hour o’ the night?” he inquired. “What’s all the joke?”
Collinson pointed to the window. “It’s that monkey on the string,” he said. “Something about it struck me as mighty funny!”
So, with a better spirit, he turned away, still laughing, and went home to face his wife.