The Luck of the Irish/Chapter 2
ALL the years of unremitting toil came back to him in panoramic fragments. He had always managed to clothe and feed himself, with a little left over for amusements. At half past six in the morning, summer and winter and spring, he was up and off for the day's work (with that cheerful and optimistic spirit which has been at once millstones and eagle wings to the Irish). … A fortune! Was he really awake? Wait a moment. He stared at the slate-colored doves that were sailing over and about the church spires near by, at the broad silver highway by which the great ships went down to the sea, at the blue mists of morning still hanging against the Jersey heights. Up from the street, deep down below, came the dull thunder of the Elevated. There was not the least doubt of it; he was wide awake; he could see and he could hear. Twenty-eight thousand seven hundred and fifty-six dollars and thirty-one cents!
"Say, would you just as soon say that all over again—slow?" he asked in a voice which he knew was his, because he could feel it coming out of his throat; beyond that it was wholly unrecognizable.
Mr. Bell laughed happily as he reached for William's hat and placed it upon the dazed young man's knees. He was thoroughly enjoying this scene; he wasn't a bad man at heart; he was only a lawyer. When he put the magical slip of paper into William's trembling hand his joy was complete. He had imagination; he knew what was going on in William's head.
"Don't pinch me, I might wake up. … And thirty-one cents!"
"What are you going to do with it?" asked Mr. Bell, curiously.
William suddenly recalled Mr. Burns's warning relative to lawyers.
"Well, I don't know," he said, doubtfully. "I suppose I'm liable to raise hell with this thirty-one cents. The Great White Way, huh? Why, I can make the Subway blasts sound like bursting paper bags. Nix on the glow-worm, Lena! This dough is going to be old-age stuff, believe me. No over-the-hills for William Grogan. Every dollar is worth exactly one hundred and four cents. I've got eight hundred in the bank, and I know."
"That's the proper spirit. If you want any help regarding investments, come to me," said Mr. Bell. He was having a fine time; he felt that glowing satisfaction which is always warming up the hearts of good fairies.
"What's this cost me?"
"Nothing. All the fees have been paid."
"From the dollar-sign, then, to and including the thirty-one cents is mine?"
"Absolutely. And I wish you good luck with it. At four per cent. it will yield you something like eleven hundred the year."
"Some little old world!" William admitted as he fingered the check, turned it about and stared at it with ever-increasing wonder. "And yesterday I was wondering how I could hit the high places at Coney without going broke for the rest of the week!" He laughed weakly.
"Have a cigar?"
It was the first perfecto William had ever stuck between his teeth. His extravagance in this direction consisted of "three for a quarter" every Sunday.
He went down the elevator expecting every moment to "roll out of bed." He became obsessed with the idea that he was sleep-walking. He pinched himself literally and thumped his chest, which seemed filled with champagne bubbles. Oh, he was awake; and he was standing under the far-off end of a rainbow and the pot of gold lay at his feet! Out in the street he walked on silver flagstones, and the air he breathed was evaporated wine and honey. He was rich; no more worry, no more drain-pipes, bath-tubs, kitchen sinks. No more pothering over sums on the back of his pay-envelope, Saturday nights: so much for board and extra meals at noon, so much for washing, so much to lay away in the bank; no more that vain endeavor to stretch a short, limp five-dollar note over seven long days—spending-money. He was rich.
A wild desire seized him to go forth and spend some of this fortune, just to prove to himself that it was true. But he buttoned his coat tightly over the check and hurried for the Subway. William was patently Irish, but there must have been a strain of Scotch blood in him somewhere.
"Well?" inquired Burns, as William burst into the office an hour later. "Was it a breach-of-promise suit?"
"Ye-ah. But we settled it out of court, and here's the alimony." William flourished the check. "Say, I renig. That uncle of mine was no crab; he was pure goldfish."
"Well, I'm dinged! Nearly thirty thousand, huh? Fine work, son, fine work. And now I'm going to tell you the secret. I knew all about it. The lawyers were here pumping me, and you bet I told 'em you were a little angel. I didn't say anything, because I wanted you to get all the fun out of it. And now what are you going to do with it?"
"I was thinking maybe I could buy an interest in the firm here."
Burns scrubbed his chin. "It's a thriving shop, Bill. I wouldn't think of selling any of my interest."
"I know it's a good business. That's why I wanted to get inside," said William, regretfully.
"Say, wait a minute. Mrs. Dolan has a twenty-thousand-dollar interest. It pays her between six and seven per cent. Last winter she talked a good deal about wanting to pull out and go back to her folks in Ohio. Suppose I make a stab and see if she's of the same idea now? You come up to the house to-night and I'll let you know how matters stand. I'd like to have a young hustler about." Burns reached for his hat. "I'll take you over to the Corn Exchange and identify you."
"The Lincoln 'll do that. I got eight hundred up there."
"Keep it there and let 'er grow. Whenever you get a few dollars you don't feel like spending, slap 'em into the Lincoln. That 'll be the real rainy-day cash, son. When a man has two bank accounts he's got two good crutches."
"You're the doctor."
"Come along. If we can bring Mrs. Dolan around, you can buy out her interest, and I'll put you over the contract work. With your increased salary and your income you'll have something like four thousand a year."
"Me and John D., huh? Honest, Mr. Burns, my head feels like my foot was asleep."
"I understand. But you're awake." Burns slapped William soundly on the back. "Feel that? Come on. Better keep a couple of hundred in your pocket when you leave the bank. Bad luck to draw against an account the minute you open it."
So, with two hundred and fifty-six dollars and thirty-one cents in his pocket, William, upon being left to his own devices, wandered over into Broadway and took an up-town car. He got off at Forty-second Street, which he knew to be the city axis—that is, if you had money.
What should he do by way of celebrating this momentous event? It certainly had to be celebrated. A glass of beer and a cigar? He laughed. He could see William Grogan, his elbow crooked on the polished bar of yonder great hotel, drinking beer and confiding to the blasé bartender that he had just deposited a fortune in the Corn Exchange and was aching to find some congenial soul to help him to spend it. He laughed, blew a kiss toward the hotel, and went on.
Nevertheless, he celebrated. A few doors south from the hotel he ran afoul a pipe-shop. He had always wanted a real meerschaum pipe; a lump of clay as big as your fist, with flowing mermaids emerging at various angles. The pipe was worth seven dollars in money and not a picayune in utility. Human teeth weren't grown that could stand the drag of that pipe. I know; I have seen it. I suppose it was not the pipe really; the fun lay in the fact that something he had always coveted and could not afford was now his for the mere physical effort of paying out the money. I believe the feel of that pipe in his pocket convinced him as much as anything that he was truly awake.
Pipe in pocket and peace in heart, he stepped forth into the sunshine again. Well, here was little old Broadway, famed in story-books and theater magazines and Sunday newspapers, the home of provincial millionaires and chorus-girls, Fort Lobster and Fort Champagne and Fort Tip. William had the native New-Yorker's tolerant contempt for the thoroughfare. He called it the "collar on the beer," the rat-trap for "boobs" and "hicks" and "come-ons," the coal-chute for papa's money. No doubt his prejudice had been sown and nurtured by the Sunday newspapers. Dutifully each Sunday they recorded the Broadway exploits of this torn-fool or that. The Great White Way: waste, extravagance, wild-oats, cold-blood and old-blood and lack-mercy. On the other hand, he admired the physical beauty of it; at night he knew it had no counterpart in all the wide world.
"Some old highway," he murmured, aloud, "but it 'll never dig a nickel out of my jeans."
He wandered on, peering into this window and that, full of lively interest in everything he saw. By and by he summoned a carpet. It carried his spirit in one direction, while his feet led him in another, toward his destiny. Without realizing it, he turned off Broadway and crossed over to Fifth Avenue. Here the fashionable curio-shops attracted him. There were art-galleries, too, and windows full of strange-looking carpets and rugs. Presently he paused before a window which had an art-gallery air, but wasn't. Printers' ink instead of oil ruled. There were great ships going down to sea, tropical isles, the Nile country, India, China, Japan; Arabs, camels, elephants, rickshaws, and bewildering temples. He looked up at the sign overhead.
"Well, what do you know about that?" he murmured. "Little ol' Thomas Cook and Willie Grogan! Well, say!"
But he did not move on. With one hand propping an elbow and the other hand stroking his chin, he continued to stare at the brilliant lithographs and strange coins and paper money. Suddenly he knew what it was he wanted. He drew out his bank-book and eyed the deposit: $28,500.
He chuckled and stepped into the office of Thos. Cook & Son, who are agents for Bagdad carpets. A dozen persons were scattered about, interviewing clerks. There was one idle clerk, and boldly William approached him. He hadn't the least idea where he was going, but he knew he was going somewhere, that he was going to tie himself up in such a manner as to prevent caution from overcoming this marvelously likable impulse. All his life he had held himself on the leash, and now bang! went the leather. He swallowed two or three times; his throat was still dry from the fever he had acquired at the law offices of Hargreave, Bell & Davis. The clerk smiled reassuringly.
"Anything I can do for you, sir?"
"I want to take a trip around the world," said William. The words went down-hill rapidly, due to his inability to project them in a level tone.
If the clerk had turned upon him scornfully with a "Beat it, bo, while the beating's good!" William would have faded from the scene like one of those double-exposures which still mystified him at the movies. But the clerk continued to smile, and said, affably, "This is the right place for that."
Eventually, William decided upon the ship Ajax. The boat left harbor on August 15th for a six months' cruise of the world, landing at San Francisco some time along in February. The fare included all travel on land and water. It offered the tail-end of summer in Italy and the fall and winter in the Orient.
"That's the dope for me," declared William, calming himself. "But say, I haven't got the cash with me. How'll I fix it?"
"Make a deposit of one hundred," said the clerk, still smiling. William certainly did not look like a tour of the world, but this clerk had seen many a celluloid collar, and they were deceiving things.
The joy of taking a roll of money out of your pocket, money that was absolutely and wholly yours, money that did not legally belong to creditors, honest money! To pay out one hundred dollars for the first time in your life! To consummate a bargain that was to carry you to the far ends of the world, just by the mere wave of your hand! Rainbows were real, after all.
As the clerk accepted the notes, William observed the difference between his own and the other's finger-nails. He was thunderstruck! Certainly he could not go traveling with finger-nails like these. True, he scrubbed them twice a day, but the grime had penetrated beyond the reach of ordinary soap and water and bristles. He put the receipt for his deposit in his wallet, and departed, chin out, chest high. He had done it; no side-stepping now; he had to go or forfeit his hundred, and that he would never do, not if he had to be wheeled in an invalid's chair to the pier. And yesterday he'd been wondering if he could afford to go to Coney for the Sunday! Wasn't he the gay little bird!
But his fingers began to worry him seriously. Something must be done. Hitherto he had held in contempt manicured fingers; but Uncle Michael's legacy had switched his outlook on to the main trunk, among the thunderbolts.
There were manicurists in all the hotel barber-shops, so he resolutely directed his steps to a famed Broadway caravansary and sought the basement. In a corridor off the barber-shop he saw a row of little tables and at each table sat a pretty girl. He could see that most of them knew it; and all of them were chewing gum. That was nothing. So far as William knew, all women chewed gum. He was not above a cud himself once in a while. He entered the corridor and sat down at a table, assuming a nonchalance he did not feel, for on general principles William laid his course in wide circles where women were concerned. He was less bashful than suspicious. However, being a New-Yorker born, nothing less than the inside of a church could abash him. The girl laid aside her magazine and eyed him haughtily.
"Here's a real job," he said, spreading out his formidable hands.
The girl noted his fine eyes, and the ice around her lips crackled a little. She took a hand and studied it with frank doubtfulness. Then she looked at the clock. It was quarter past eleven. "I don't know," she said. "I'm off at five."
"Some job, huh? Well, I never came into these wax-works before."
"Thought not. I've a friend who might do it in less time."
"What's her name and address?"
"It's a he-friend. He works out at Bronx; manicures the elephants in the spring."
"Zowie! Some smoke to that one, believe me! What league are you pitching for? The truth is, duchess, I'm a journeyman plumber by birth, and an uncle of mine has just left me a million silver washers. I'm about to enter the gay life, and I want to do it with pink nails."
"Going to the funeral?" It was all in a day's work: Isobel de Montclair for the swells and fresh guys and Nellie Casey for the stevedores.
"Nope. The funeral has went. Now, laying aside the hook, can you do the job with these hams, Virginia style?"
"If it was anybody but you, Aloysius, I might say nay. But you'll have to buy me a new set of tools."
The girl stuck her gum under the marble top of the little table and fell to work. It was a job, but she knew her business. William gave her half a dollar, the first sizable tip he had ever laid down. The girl looked at the coin, then up at William, puzzled. The red hair, the freckles, and the celluloid collar did not dovetail with such prodigality.
"On the level, have you been left some money?"
"Honest as the day is long. Not enough to buy lobsters every night, but enough for my uses. And some day, according to the magazine there, I'm coming back from a long voyage and marry you."
"On your way, Aloysius! I don't look like a girl who would marry for money, do I?"
"If I wasn't afraid the dye 'd leak through this bean of mine, I'd go and have it dyed purple. Say, what's all this noise about red hair, anyhow?"
"Don't ask me. Personally I ain't got anything against it. But I never saw a man with red hair that wasn't always looking for trouble and finding it."
"It's tough to be Irish."
"Irish? Why, I wouldn't have believed it! Well, good luck, and keep away from the bright lights."
"The same to you, only more so;" and William left the shop.
"Hey, Nellie, who's the chrysanthemum?"
"Was that Reginald?"
The object of these kindly attentions held up the half-dollar.
"Did he forget his change?"
"What's his home town—Troy?"
"Aw, you girls make me weary! You can't tell a real man from a tailor's dummy, take it from me, free of charge." Nellie took her gum from under the table. "He may have red hair, but he beats Mike the baggage-man for shoulders."
"Mebbe that's what he is, a trunk-hop."
The manageress in charge intervened. "You girls lay off that kidding."
From then on it became a series of sudden chuckles with William. These broke out as he walked the streets, as he ate his beefsteak lunch, as he idled an hour at a movie, as, later, he took the tube. Out of a perfectly sober countenance they rumbled, stirred into life, now at the sight of his hands, now at the feel of the crisp receipt in his inside pocket. For all that he chuckled over them, his hands were a source of real embarrassment. He was afraid to put them in his pockets, to touch the evening papers, to hang on the Subway strap. He was also certain that everybody noticed the discrepancy between his nails and his general outfit.
"A celluloid collar and ten pink nails! What do you know about that, Isobel? If I went over to the engine-house to-night, the boys 'd drop dead."
Of course he told his landlady all about his marvelous windfall, that he was going on a trip around the world, and all that. She cackled over him like a hen that discovers a pheasant in her brood.
"Willie Grogan, an' you stand there tellin' th' likes o' that t' me!"
"Nix, mother, I'm giving it to you straight. Look at this!" He showed her his bank-book. The Widow Hanlon gasped when she saw those noble five figures.
"God bless me, it's true! 'Tis glad I am for your luck, boy. My, an' you'll be wearin' dress-suits an' patent-lither an' passin' your ol' friends on th' street. Well, you were always a good boy. You'll not be leavin'?"
"Not on your tin-type! This 'll be my hangout for a long time to come. But, gee! I sure forgot about the dress-suit stuff. I'll see to that to-morrow. Anyhow, this rubber collar is headed for the ash-can. I never thought, with this topknot of mine, that I might set fire to it—eh, mother? And mum's the word to the rest of the bunch. I'm hungry and don't want to answer questions. Whadjuh got for supper?"
"Corn' beef an' cabbige."
"Lead me to it!"
The whole house reeked with the odor of boiled cabbage; but William was used to it. He knew that he was never going to play the snob; he was going through life simple and unchanged by his good fortune; he was never going to forget the old order of things, the plain, homely food, the plain, homely people who shared it with him. I'll wager he found more relish in his corned beef and cabbage that night than ever Lucullus found in his nightingales' tongues.
After supper he went to the home of his employer. Mrs. Dolan was ready to sell; the transfer could be made on the morrow. This news delighted William. But he did not tell Burns about his visit to Cook's. He thought it wiser to say nothing until after the transfer was drawn up and signed. Somewhere around eleven he started for home afoot. His boarding-house was only a mile away, and walking was always good on summer nights.
Along his route on one of the streets which cut Broadway, there was a restaurant famed for its quiet and remoteness from the town's glitter. William knew something about it. He had passed it dozens of times. Other men's wives and other wives' husbands patronized this restaurant, so it was said.
William was perhaps within ten feet of the restaurant when he paused. Through the painted screened windows came the strange surging melodies of a Magyar rhapsody. William loved music; even the thin pinkapank of the hurdy-gurdies held charm for him. As he listened to this wild gipsy music it seemed as though his senses had been gathered up and swept into the gipsy hills themselves, through the forests on the forewings of a storm, to be caught by the tempest itself and swirled, buffeted, smothered, finally to be let down gently into the succeeding calm; all as elusive as the shadows which tumble over the pebbled floor of a brook.
"Gee! but that was great!" he murmured, leaning against the lamp-post. He hoped there might be more of it.
Suddenly the upper door opened and a young woman came hurriedly down the steps. The moment she reached the sidewalk she started off at a brisk run. Her hat obscured her features. William got a whiff of lavender as she whisked by. Had hubby turned up? he wondered, cynically.
As a rule William always walked on. He never meddled with an affair he knew nothing about, being a New-Yorker. To-night, however, he was in a mischievous mood. He'd see what the game was.
A man in evening dress came out, looked east and west, and ran down to the sidewalk. He did not pursue the young woman, for the very reason that William stood in his way.
"Nothing doing, bo," he said, quietly. "When a young lady hits into the bleachers like that, she's off for the home-plate."
"Who the devil are you? Get out of my way."
"Beat it. I don't like your accent. Handsome-Is."
"Will you stand aside? Or, is this a hold-up?"
"Ye-ah, it's a kind of a hold-up. But what are you doing off your beat? What's the matter with old Forty-second Street stuff? Ain't they young enough?"
"Why, damn your impudence. …"
"Sir Hurlbert, unsay them cruel woids." Suddenly the banter left William's voice. "Listen to me. That young girl was running away from you; I don't need any inside information to get that. It's a hunch. Now, there's just two things on the card. Either you sashay back to your bucket of suds or you take the flat of my lily-white on your kazoozle. Are you wise?"
Had the stranger spoken gruffly that the young woman under discussion was his wife, William would have side-stepped the issue and gone on. But the hesitance, the indecision, were enough to convince William that this was an old story.
The man shrugged, turned abruptly, and re-entered the restaurant.
"A good hunch," said William, eying the door speculatively. "Well, Bill, let's waltz."
And waltz he did. Not that he was afraid, but these upper Broadway swells had a way of convincing the police that the hoi polloi (which included William) were eternally in the wrong, no matter what the argument might be, and he appreciated the weakness of his case. The girl had disappeared, and it was up to him to follow her example.
His "Haw-haw!" suddenly broke the silence in the deserted street. A seven-dollar meerschaum and a trip around the world!
"And ten pink nails, Isobel! The luck of the Irish."