The Luck of the Irish/Chapter 3
AFTER a few blocks he let down his stride to an amble and began his favorite pastime—building castles. And always there was a garden, a wife, and a couple of kids. For why should he build castles but for these? He looked up at the spangled canopy of the night. He saw two little brown shoes step lightly from star to star, one-two-three, and they were gone. His school-teacher; there was the girl for you; no nonsense about her, always on the job. Where did she go on her vacations? And what had really restrained him from going up into the street just once for a peek at her? Perhaps it was the fear that his fatal beauty would have blasted her where she stood. Oh, well; perhaps the Lord had made the majority of human beings homely so that some real work could be done. Handsome-Is was always crawling under the job, watching the clock, and beating it five minutes before closing hour.
His thought veered suddenly into another channel. The picture of the young woman in flight returned.
Poor, silly little butterflies, didn't they have any sense? Wasn't there anybody to look after them and warn them of the pitfalls? Or were most of them alone in the world? William cogitated seriously. He was tolerably familiar with the street scenes at night. He knew the breed, too, of the man with whom he had just clashed. Fine manners, sympathy, patience, money, and good looks, and hearts as black as ink-pots; and the silly little fools thought they saw the golden knight. Most of these children came in from the country and the small cities, to become great actresses, musicians, painters. William wondered how many of them were able to live at all. It always seemed that when they were loneliest, old Cow-Hoof came around the corner to cheer them up.
"And they fall for guys like that," he murmured. He couldn't understand. "They wouldn't look at me through a telescope, not if I had diamonds on both hands. It's looks, that's what gets 'em; looks, soft-soap. They run into every kind of danger with blinders on. They ain't any of 'em bad, just curious and lonesome. Aw, hell!"
William never dwelt long upon any subject, especially if it were distasteful. He began to chuckle. Perhaps this was the fatal hour, according to that clairvoyant. A few nights since he and some of the engine-house boys off duty had paid a visit to a near-by clairvoyant for the lark of it. The signs of his horoscope had been portentous (at fifty cents); there would be some money (they never said how much, being conservative), and the influence of the planets Venus and Mars would soon be felt. Well, he had the money all right; he was now ready for both Venus and Mars. Mars was all right; he had been born under that planet, no doubt, been scrapping as far back as he could remember. Any clairvoyant with a true eye for business could get away with that line of talk after one glance at his topknot. But this Venus stuff was to laugh; pure bunk. And, my, my! the poor simps who went to clairvoyants and believed in 'em. Ye-ah!
As he entered his room, murmuring something about "the new-mown hay for his," he sniffed the boiled cabbage. He smacked his lips over the recollection of his dinner. Nobody could cook corned beef and cabbage like Ma Hanlon.
I've often wondered if Bayard, or Quixote, or Roland ate New England dinners on Thursdays. William generally did.
At four o'clock the following afternoon William Grogan signed his name to certain documents and thereupon became a legal member of the firm of Burns, Dolan & Co.
"And now, partner, what's on the program?" asked Burns, as he and William sat down before their beer in the little saloon where Burns usually ate his lunches.
"Well," said William, after some deliberation, "I'm going to take a vacation."
"Sure. What are you going to do—go fishing?"
"Nope. I'm going around the world, Mr. Burns."
"Huh? What are you giving me?"
"Surest thing you know. You see, it's like this. I've got to go to get the idea out of my coco. My whole soul's been longing for steamboats and trains and the likes since I was a kid. Got to go. If I take the trip while I'm young I'll get all there is in it. This talk about doing these things when you've retired from business is all bull con. You know it just as well as I do. I expect to be gone six months. When I come back I'll be on the job for keeps. Now shoot."
"Son, you've knocked the breath out of me. You hiking around the globe, seeing the sights, living in hotels and ships, and coming back with your grip covered with labels! Well, that's Irish enough for anybody. You're the doctor, Bill. I've taken care of Mrs. Dolan's money for six years; I guess I can take care of yours for six months. You're a sly ruffian, though. You wait until you're in the firm before you shoot this stuff. All right; go as far as you like. Business is good. And when you come back, get married. It takes a woman to keep the dollars from running wild. How much are you going to take with you?"
"Three thousand. That 'll leave about five roosting in the bank. I want to ride the elephants; and, believe me, they'll be the highest I can find."
"Well, here's luck. But if you come back with any of that refined stuff, I'll force you out of the shop."
There followed a mild orgy in the shops of the haberdasher, the tailor, and the shoemaker; and while William's taste ran strongly to colors, he accepted the advice of the outfitters and battened down the hatches over his desires. He had never dreamed that there was so much fun in the world.
Long before the day of sailing his face became familiar to the clerks in Cook's. His questions ate up all their handy folders and circulars. The day before the departure he came in, bubbling with a fresh set of questions. He had forgotten all about "renting" an elephant. What were current prices for pachyderms by the mile? While the clerk was explaining to him that the Bombay office would have to take charge of that, William heard a woman's voice at his elbow. He turned. He never forgot faces. After a moment's digging, he recognized the young woman as the one to whom he had spoken that memorable night at the movie. He became interested at once.
She was pretty, but her face was pale and drawn, and there were dark shadows under her eyes.
"What is the next sailing to Naples?"
"The Ajax sails to-morrow at two. It's a trip around the world. Perhaps I can find you a berth on that." The clerk investigated. Presently he informed her: "We can put you in 247 with two old ladies. The lounge. That's the best we can do prior to Saturday. Second-class is all gone."
"A trip around the world," she mused. "How much would that be and how long the trip?"
The clerk named both price and time.
"Very well; I'll take that."
"To-morrow, between two and three; steamship Ajax, tour of the world, San Francisco in February," droned the clerk.
The young woman pushed a flat packet of bills across the counter. These bills had the appearance of having dwelt in idleness for long. William saw her thrust the ticket into her hand-bag. What amazed him was that she did not give the ticket a single scrutiny. She slipped the hand-bag over her arm and departed.
"Well, what do you know about that?" said William to the world at large.
"Queer case," volunteered the clerk who had served the young woman. "All over in fifteen minutes by the clock. It generally takes a woman six months to decide when she wants to go somewhere. She starts for Naples and goes around the world!"
"What's her name?" asked William.
"Jones, the eternal Jones; and I had an idea that it was going to be Jones. A hundred thousand Joneses come in here during the year, and only about ten per cent. are Joneses. She looked to me to be running away from something or some one. A queer lot come in here. Well, it's all in a day's work. Pretty, too. Wager these bills came out of the bottom of a trunk." The clerk strode off toward the cashier's grille.
"Say," said William to his own clerk, "that young woman reminds me of some one."
"Me. It took me only twelve minutes to say 'Good-by, Dolly Gray, I must leave you'. Huh?"
The clerk laughed.
"So I saddle the elephant in Bombay? Ye-ah. And say, have you got me labeled with the queer ones?"
"No, Mr. Grogan." The clerk laughed again. "You're the real thing; and I wish I were in your shoes. Everybody perks up when you drop in."
William pocketed his folder on Burma and departed. He found that he could not put completely from his mind the thought of the young woman. Her face haunted him persistently. Was she running away from her husband? Was there a Handsome-Is in the background somewhere? Like as not. William, it has already been remarked, retained few illusions; and he generally drew upon hard facts when in doubt. He never picked up a newspaper these benighted times that something of this sort wasn't going on. Wives were eternally running away from husbands, who didn't always bother to pursue them. The causes were as thick as the sparrows in the Park. Mismated; the devil did a good job there, was William's opinion. The hullabaloo of a Fifth Avenue wedding, money and caste, they generally came to this, flight and scandal. Not that he was particularly prejudiced against the rich; but they set a mighty bad example for the poor, who were more or less imitative, like the apes.
Wednesday came. William got up before dawn so as to be thoroughly awake when the day began. He had a lot of things to do. First and foremost, he had to pass away the time. He was for all the world like you and I were those bygone Christmases and Fourth-of-Julys; we never had any candy or fireworks left for the afternoon and evening. He bubbled with life. He had health and wealth and youth. And if the devil had come along just then and offered mere beauty in exchange for a tithe of health or wealth or youth, William would have seized him by the scruff of his neck and flung him into the alley.
I sha'n't attempt to chronicle all the happy, foolish things he did that marvelous morning. Among other things he visited the shop and bade good-by to every one. The little bookkeeper sniveled openly. She never expected to see William Grogan again. If he wasn't eaten by sharks, he would fall into the hands of cannibals. Burns poohhooed this idea; all Bill had to do was to keep his eye on his cash. There were worse sharks out of water than in it.
At one o'clock William went aboard. He saw his steamer trunk and grips safely stowed away in his cabin, which he was to share with two others as yet unknown. The little card at the left of the door read:
Mr. Henrik Clausen.
He hoped that they were neither professional gamblers nor whisky merchants; outside of that he didn't care what they were.
He went on deck again and began to explore. By two o'clock he had been everywhere except in the stoke-hole, and he was saving that against some rainy day. He was unobtrusive; and the busy officers he quizzed understood that his interest was purely legitimate, though somewhat inopportune. There was something of the eager boy in William, despite his cynical outlook. The great steel cañon, which went down to the very keel of the ship, fascinated him more than anything else. The chief engineer was Irish; so William told him the history of his life and clung to him as long as he could.
It is a fine thing to go on a voyage of discovery, for the true pleasures of life are not to be found in recurrences. And to William, what marvelous discoveries were on the threshold, waiting to be unfolded before his eyes! Strange seas, strange lands, strange peoples; and, above all, there was that elephant with the silk-and-spangle cupola or thingumy on his back. There was, as you may readily believe, no corner in his thoughts given over to a longing to see the Roman Forum, or the Greek Parthenon, or Michelangelo, or Rafael, or Tiziano. I may as well confess right here and now and have done with it: William never went into ecstasies over the wonders of antiquity.
The living things, the quick, not the dead, stirred his interest. It is true that the pyramids stunned him; but this was due to his appreciation of the tremendous labor involved in piling those granite blocks one upon the other without the aid of steam-hoists.
At length he went down into the huge shed where everything was bustle and seeming confusion. Bale after bale and trunk after trunk sailed skyward, to disappear mysteriously into the bowels of the ship. People were hurrying to and fro, and there was much kissing and hand-shaking.
William suddenly awoke to the dismal fact that he was dreadfully alone. In all his busy years this thought had never before come home to him so keenly. There was not a soul in all the wide world who really cared what became of him, where he went, what he did, or how he died. Burns was all right, and so were the boys over at the engine-house, but they lacked something. He had no regret in leaving them; he would have no real joy in returning to them. He eyed with envy the noisy, excited groups of the happy family (see Cook's folders). These groups were made up of pilgrims coming down from small cities, country towns, farms, West and Middle West. They were making the trip in dozens and double-dozens; and shortly they would build little glass-topped walls around themselves, and woe betide the trespasser, especially if he happened to be a red-headed, lonesome guy named William Grogan.
He fell back upon his innate philosophy. All his life he had been jogging along on his own. Why worry over this bunch of male and female fossils? He was here to see the world; and if he made any friendships these would be by-products purely. After all, old Mother Hanlon would be glad to see him back. And wouldn't the rest of the bunch sit up and take notice when he began to gab-fest! "When I was in Hong-Kong I licked four chinks one night." Think of starting the fire in that offhand manner!
All at once he remembered why he had gone down into the shed and taken his place by the gang-plank. He wanted to see if that girl came on board alone. He hoped she would. She looked too nice to be mixed up in anything shady. Funny thing, he mused, how you could spot a woman who was off-color. You couldn't give your reasons; there wasn't any way of explaining it; you just knew, that was all. This girl didn't look the part, and that was all there was to it.
She came into view at length. He sighed relievedly. There was no one with her. Lonesome kind like himself. She walked confidently to the gang-plank, looking neither right nor left. Her face was lighted by subdued eagerness; there was neither anxiety in her eyes nor dissatisfaction on her lips. William dropped in behind her, rather automatically.
A well-dressed man, a fat suit-case in each hand, crowded past him rudely. William stretched out a detaining hand, none the less powerful because the nails shone pinkly.
"Say, bo, why the unseemly haste?"
"Beg pardon!" mumbled the offender, none too politely, as he wrenched himself loose and went on.
"Well, if that guy's with us," thought William, "how we're going to love each other by the time we get to Bombay! For a nickel. …"
M-m-m-m! boomed the whistle. William ducked instinctively, and hurried on board.
"Nothing the matter with the old lady's lungs. That was some toot! Well, I guess this is good-by to little New York. See you later!"
As the ship drew out into the river he stood in the waist, watching the men close the hatches. He chanced to look up toward the promenade-deck. A young woman was in the act of crossing from starboard to port. The first thing that came into his range of vision was a pair of twinkling tan shoes. This range of vision, be it noted, was identical to that he had from his cellar window. His heart gave a great bound. His school-teacher was on board!