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THE RATHSKELLER AND THE ROSE

 

Miss Posie Carrington had earned her suc- cess. She began life handicapped by the family name of "Boggs," in the small town known as Cranberry Corners. At the age of eighteen she had acquired the name of "Carrington" and a position in the chorus of a metropolitan burlesque company. Thence upward she had ascended by the legitimate and delectable steps of "broiler," member of the famous "Dickey-bird" octette, in the successful musical comedy, "Fudge and Fellows," leader of the potato- bug dance in "Fol-de-Rol," and at length to the part of the maid "'Toinette" in "The King's Bath-Robe," which captured the critics and gave her her chance. And when we come to consider Miss Carrington she is in the heydey of flattery, fame and fizz; and that astute manager, Herr Timothy Goldstein, has her signature to iron-clad papers that she will star the coming season in Dyde Rich's new play, "Paresis by Gaslight."

 

Promptly there came to Herr Timothy a capable twentieth-century young character actor by the name of Highsmith, who besought engagement as "Sol Haytosser," the comic and chief male character part in "Paresis by Gaslight."

 

"My boy," said Goldstein, "take the part if you can get it. Miss Carrington won't listen to any of my suggestions. She has turned down half a dozen of the best imitators of the rural dub in the city. She declares she won't set a foot on the stage un- less 'Haytosser' is the best that can be raked up -- She was raised in a village, you know, and when a Broadway orchid sticks a straw in his hair and tries to call himself a clover blossom she's on, all right. I asked her, in a sarcastic vein, if she thought Den- man Thompson would make any kind of a show in the part. 'Oh, no,' says she. 'I don't want him or John Drew or Jim Corbett or any of these swell actors that don't know a turnip from a turnstile. I want the real article.' So, my boy, if you want to play I 'Sol Haytosser' you will have to convince Miss Carrington. Luck be with you."

 

Highsmith took the train the next day for Cran- berry Corners. He remained in that forsaken and inanimate village three days. He found the Boggs family and corkscrewed their history unto the third and fourth generation. He amassed the facts and the local color of Cranberry Corners. The village had not grown as rapidly as had Miss Carrington. The actor estimated that it had suffered as few actual changes since the departure of its solitary follower of Thespis as had a stage upon which "four years is supposed to have elapsed." He absorbed Cran- berry Corners and returned to the city of chameleon changes.

 

It was in the rathskeller that Highsmith made the hit of his histrionic career. There is no need to name the place; there is but one rathskeller where you could hope to find Miss Posie Carrington after a performance of "The King's Bath-Robe."



 

There was a jolly small party at one of the tables that drew many eyes. Miss Carrington, petite, mar- vellous, bubbling, electric, fame-drunken, shall be named first. Herr Goldstein follows, sonorous, curly- haired, heavy, a trifle anxious, as some bear that had caught, somehow, a butterfly in his claws. Next, a man condemned to a newspaper, sad, courted, armed, analyzing for press agent's dross every sen- tence that was poured over him, eating his a la New- burg in the silence of greatness. To conclude, a youth with parted hair, a name that is ochre to red journals and gold on the back of a supper check. These sat at a table while the musicians played, while waiters moved in the mazy performance of their duties with their backs toward all who desired their service, and all was bizarre and merry because it was nine feet below the level of the sidewalk.

 

At 11.45 a being entered the rathskeller. The first violin perceptibly flatted a C that should have been natural; the clarionet blew a bubble instead of a grace note; Miss Carrington giggled and the youth with parted hair swallowed an olive seed.

 

Exquisitely and irreproachably rural was the new entry. A lank, disconcerted, hesitating young man it was, flaxen-haired, gaping of mouth, awkward, stricken to misery by the lights and company. His clothing was butternut, with bright blue tie, showing four inches of bony wrist and white-socked ankle. He upset a chair, sat in another one, curled a foot around a table leg and cringed at the approach of a waiter.

 

"You may fetch me a glass of lager beer," he said, in response to the discreet questioning of the servitor.

 

The eyes of the rathskeller were upon him. He was as fresh as a collard and as ingenuous as a hay rake. He let his eye rove about the place as one who re- gards, big-eyed, hogs in the potato patch. His gaze rested at length upon Miss Carrington. He rose and went to her table with a lateral, shining smile and a blush of pleased trepidation.

 

"How're ye, Miss Posie?" he said in accents not to be doubted. "Don't ye remember me - Bill Sum- mers - the Summerses that lived back of the black- smith shop? I reckon I've growed up some since ye left Cranberry Corners.

 

"'Liza Perry 'lowed I might see ye in the city while I was here. You know 'Liza married Benny Stanfield, and she says --"

 

"Ah, say! " interrupted Miss Carrington, brightly, "Lize Perry is never married - what! Oh, the freckles of her!"

 

"Married in June," grinned the gossip, "and livin' in the old Tatum Place. Ham Riley perfessed reli- gion; old Mrs. Blithers sold her place to Cap'n Spooner; the youngest Waters girl run away with a music teacher; the court-house burned up last March; your uncle Wiley was elected constable; Matilda Hos- kins died from runnin' a needle in her hand, and Tom Beedle is courtin' Sallie Lathrop - they say he don't miss a night but what he's settin' on their porch."

 

"The wall-eyed thing!" exclaimed Miss Carring- ton, with asperity. "Why, Tom Beedle once -- say, you folks, excuse me a while -- this is an old friend of mine -- Mr. -- what was it? Yes, Mr. Summers -- Mr. Goldstein, Mr. Ricketts, Mr. -- Oh, what's yours? 'Johnny''ll do -- come on over here and tell me some more." She swept him to an isolated table in a corner. Herr Goldstein shrugged his fat shoulders and beck- oned to the waiter. The newspaper man brightened a little and mentioned absinthe. The youth with parted hair was plunged into melancholy. The guests of the rathskeller laughed, clinked glasses and enjoyed the comedy that Posie Carrington was treat- ing them to after her regular performance. A few cynical ones whispered "press agent"' and smiled wisely.

 

Posie Carrington laid her dimpled and desirable chin upon her hands, and forgot her audience -- a faculty that had won her laurels for her.

 

"I don't seem to recollect any Bill Summers," she said, thoughtfully gazing straight into the innocent blue eyes of the rustic young man. "But I know the Summerses, all right. I guess there ain't many changes in the old town. You see any of my folks lately?"

 

And then Highsmith played his trump. The part of "Sol Haytosser" called for pathos as well as comedy. Miss Carrington should see that he could do that as well.

 

"Miss Posie," said "Bill Summers,"" I was up to your folkeses house jist two or three days ago. No, there ain't many changes to speak of. The lilac bush by the kitchen window is over a foot higher, and the elm in the front yard died and had to be cut down. And yet it don't seem the same place that it used to be."

 

"How's ma?" asked Miss Carrington.

 

"She was settin' by the front door, crocheting a lamp-mat when I saw her last," said "Bill." "She's older'n she was, Miss Posie. But everything in the house looked jest the same. Your ma asked me to set down. 'Don't touch that willow rocker, William," says she. 'It ain't been moved since Posie left; and that's the apron she was hemmin', layin' over the arm of it, jist as she flung it. I'm in hopes,' she goes on, that Posie'll finish runnin' out that hem some day.'"

 

Miss Carrington beckoned peremptorily to a waiter.

 

"A pint of extra dry," she ordered, briefly; "and give the check to Goldstein."

 

"The sun was shinin' in the door," went on the chronicler from Cranberry, "and your ma was settin' right in it. I asked her if she hadn't better move back a little. 'William,' says she, 'when I get sot down and lookin' down the road, I can't bear to move. Never a day,' says she, 'but what I set here every minute that I can spare and watch over them palin's for Posie. She went away down that road in the night, for we seen her little shoe tracks in the dust, and somethin' tells me she'll come back that way ag'in when she's weary of the world and begins to think about her old mother."

 

"When I was comin' away," concluded "Bill," "I pulled this off'n the bush by the front steps. I thought maybe I might see you in the city, and I knowed you'd like somethin' from the old home."

 

He took from his coat pocket a rose - a drooping, yellow, velvet, odorous rose, that hung its bead in the foul atmosphere of that tainted rathskeller like a virgin bowing before the hot breath of the lions in a Roman arena.

 

Miss Carrington's penetrating but musical laugh rose above the orcbestra's rendering of "Bluebells."

 

"Oh, say!" she cried, with glee, "ain't those poky places the limit? I just know that two hours at Cranberry Corners would give me the horrors now. Well, I'm awful glad to have seen you, Mr. Summers. Guess I'll bustle around to the hotel now and get my beauty sleep."

 

She thrust the yellow rose into the bosom of her wonderful, dainty, silken garments, stood up and nodded imperiously at Herr Goldstein.

 

Her three companions and "Bill Summers" at- tended her to her cab. When her flounces and streamers were all safely tucked inside she dazzled them with au revoirs from her shining eyes and teeth.

 

"Come around to the hotel and see me, Bill, before you leave the city," she called as the glittering cab rolled away.

 

Highsmith, still in his make-up, went with Herr Goldstein to a cafe booth.

 

"Bright idea, eh? " asked the smiling actor. "Ought to land 'Sol Haytosser ' for me, don't you think? The little lady never once tumbled."

 

"I didn't bear your conversation," said Goldstein, but your make-up and acting was 0. K. Here's to your success. You'd better call on Miss Carrington early to-morrow and strike her for the part. I don't see how she can keep from being satisfied with your exhibition of ability."

 

At 11.45 A. M. on the next day Highsmith, hand- some, dressed in the latest mode, confident, with a fuchsia in his button-bole, sent up his card to Miss Carrington in her select apartment hotel.

 

He was shown up and received by the actress's French maid.

 

"I am sorree," said Mlle. Hortense, "but I am to say this to all. It is with great regret. Mees Car- rington have cancelled all engagements on the stage and have returned to live in that how you call that town? Cranberry Cornaire!"

 

THE CLARION CALL

 

Half of this story can be found in the records of the Police Department; the other half belong behind the business counter of a newspaper office.

 

One afternoon two weeks after Millionaire Nor- cross was found in his apartment murdered by a bur- glar, the murderer, while strolling serenely down Broadway ran plump against Detective Barney Woods.

 

"Is that you, Johnny Kernan?" asked Woods, who had been near-sighted in public for five years.

 

"No less," cried Kernan, heartily. "If it isn't Barney Woods, late and early of old Saint Jo! You'll have to show me! What are you doing East? Do the green-goods circulars get out that far?" said Woods.

 

"I've been in New York some years, I'm on the city detective force."

 

"Well, well!" said Kernan, breathing smiling joy and patting the detective's arm.

 

"Come into Muller's," said Woods, "and let's hunt a quiet table. I'd like to talk to you awhile."

 

It lacked a few minutes to the hour of four. The tides of trade were not yet loosed, and they found a quiet corner of the cafe. Kernan, well dressed Slightly swaggering, self-confident, seated himself op- posite the little detective, with his pale, sandy mus- tache, squinting eyes and ready-made cheviot suit.

 

"What business are you in now?" asked Woods. "You know you left Saint Jo a year before I did."

 

"I'm selling shares in a copper mine," said Ker- nan. "I may establish an office here. Well, well! and so old Barney is a New York detective. You always had a turn that way. You were on the po- lice in Saint Jo after I left there, weren't you?"

 

"Six months," said Woods. "And now there's one more question, Johnny. I've followed your record pretty close ever since you did that hotel job in Sara- toga, and I never knew you to use your gun before. Why did you kill Norcross?"

 

Kernan stared for a few moments with concen- trated attention at the slice of lemon in his high-ball; and then be looked at the detective with a sudden, crooked, brilliant smile.

 

"How did you guess it, Barney? " he asked, ad- miringly. "I swear I thought the job was as clean and as smooth as a peeled onion. Did I leave a string hanging out anywhere? "

 

Woods laid upon the table a small gold pencil in- tended for a watch-charm.

 

"It's the one I gave you the last Christmas we were in Saint Jo. I've got your shaving mug yet. I found this under a corner of the rug in Norcross's room. I warn you to be careful what you say. I've got it put on to you, Johnny. We were old friends once, but I must do my duty. You'll have to go to the chair for Norcross." Kernan laughed.

 

"My luck stays with me," said be. "Who'd have thought old Barney was on my trail!" He slipped one hand inside his coat. In an instant Woods had a revolver against his side.

 

"Put it away," said Kernan, wrinkling his nose. "I'm only investigating. Aha! It takes nine tailors to make a man, but one can do a man up. There's a hole in that vest pocket. I took that pencil off my chain and slipped it in there in case of a scrap. Put up your gun, Barney, and I'll tell you why I had to shoot Norcross. The old fool started down the hall after me, popping at the buttons on the back of my coat with a peevish little .22 and I had to stop him. The old lady was a darling. She just lay in bed and saw her $12,000 diamond necklace go with- out a chirp, while she begged like a panhandler to have back a little thin gold ring with a garnet worth about $3. 1 guess she married old Norcross for his money, all right. Don't they hang on to the little trinkets from the Man Who Lost Out, though? There were six rings, two brooches and a chatelaine watch. Fifteen thousand would cover the lot."

 

"I warned you not to talk," said Woods.

 

"Oh, that's all right," said Kernan. "The stuff is in my suit case at the hotel. And now I'll tell you why I'm talking. Because it's safe. I'm talking to a man I know. You owe me a thousand dollars, Bar- ney Woods, and even if you wanted to arrest me your hand wouldn't make the move."

 

"I haven't forgotten," said Woods. "You counted out twenty fifties without a word. I'll pay it back some day. That thousand saved me and -- well, they were piling my furniture out on the sidewalk when I got back to the house."

 

"And so," continued Kernan, "you being Barney Woods, born as true as steel, and bound to play a white man's game, can't lift a finger to arrest the man you're indebted to. Oh, I have to study men as well as Yale locks and window fastenings in my business. Now, keep quiet while I ring for the waiter. I've had a thirst for a year or two that wor- ries me a little. If I'm ever caught the lucky sleuth will have to divide honors with old boy Booze. But I never drink during business hours. After a job I can crook elbows with my old friend Barney with a clear conscience. What are you taking?"

 

The waiter came with the little decanters and the siphon and left them alone again.

 

"You've called the turn," said Woods, as he rolled the little gold pencil about with a thoughtful fore- finger. I've got to pass you up. I can't lay a hand on you. If I'd a-paid that money back -- but I didn't, and that settles it. It's a bad break I'm making, Johnny, but I can't dodge it. You helped me once, and it calls for the same."

 

"I knew it," said Kernan, raising his glass, with a flushed smile of self-appreciation. "I can judge men. Here's to Barney, for -- 'he's a jolly good fellow.' "

 

"I don't believe," went on Woods quietly, as if be were thinking aloud, "that if accounts had been square between you and me, all the money in all the banks in New York could have bought you out of my hands to-night."

 

"I know it couldn't," said Kernan. "That's why I knew I was safe with you."

 

"Most people," continued the detective, "look side- ways at my business. They don't class it among the fine arts and the professions. But I've always taken a kind of fool pride in it. And here is where I go 'busted.' I guess I'm a man first and a detective afterward. I've got to let you go, and then I've got to resign from the force. I guess I can drive an ex- press wagon. Your thousand dollars is further off than ever, Johnny."

 

"Oh, you're welcome to it," said Kernan, with a lordly air. "I'd be willing to call the debt off, but I know you wouldn't have it It was a lucky day for me when you borrowed it. And now, let's drop the subject. I'm off to the West on a morning train. I know a place out there where I can negotiate the Norcross sparks. Drink up, Barney, and forget your troubles. We'll have a jolly time while the police are knocking their heads together over the case. I've got one of my Sahara thirsts on to-night. But I'm in the bands -- the unofficial bands -- of my old friend Barney, and I won't even dream of a cop."

 

And then, as Kernan's ready finger kept the but- ton and the waiter working, his weak point -- a tre- mendous vanity and arrogant egotism, began to show itself. He recounted story after story of his suc- cessful plunderings, ingenious plots and infamous transgressions until Woods, with all his familiarity with evil-doers, felt growing within him a cold ab- horrence toward the utterly vicious man who had once been his benefactor.

 

"I'm disposed of, of course," said Woods, at length. "But I advise you to keep under cover for a spell. The newspapers may take up this Norcross affair. There has been an epidemic of burglaries and manslaughter in town this summer."

 

The word sent Kernan into a high glow of sullen and vindictive rage.

 

"To hell with the newspapers," he growled. "What do they spell but brag and blow and boodle in box-car letters? Suppose they do take up a case what does it amount to? The police are easy enough to fool; but what do the newspapers do? They send a lot of pin-head reporters around to the scene; and they make for the nearest saloon and have beer while they take photos of the bartender's oldest daughter in evening dress, to print as the fiancee of the young man in the tenth story, who thought he heard a noise below on the night of the murder. That's about as near as the newspapers ever come to running down Mr. Burglar."

 

"Well, I don't know," said Woods, reflecting. "Some of the papers have done good work in that line. There's the Morning Mars, for instance. It warmed up two or three trails, and got the man after the police had let 'em get cold."

 

"I'll show you," said Tiernan, rising, and expand- ing his chest. "I'll show you what I think of news- papers in general, and your Morning Mars in par- ticular."

 

Three feet from their table was the telephone booth. Kernan went inside and sat at the instrument, leaving the door open. He found a number in the book, took down the receiver and made his demand upon Central. Woods sat still, looking at the sneer- ing, cold, vigilant face waiting close to the trans- mitter, and listened to the words that came from the thin, truculent lips curved into a contemptuous smile.

 

"That the Morning Mars? . . . I want to speak to the managing editor . . . Why, tell him it's some one who wants to talk to him about the Norcross murder.

 

"You the editor? . . . All right. . . . I am the man who killed old Norcross . . . Wait! Hold the wire; I'm not the usual crank . . . oh, there isn't the slightest danger. I've just been dis- cussing it with a detective friend of mine. I killed the old man at 2:30 A. M. two weeks ago to- morrow. . . . Have a drink with you? Now, hadn't you better leave that kind of talk to your funny man? Can't you tell whether a man's guying you or whether you're being offered the biggest scoop your dull dishrag of a paper ever had? . . . Well, that's so; it's a bobtail scoop -- but you can hardly expect me to 'phone in my name and address.

 

. . . Why? Oh, because I beard you make a specialty of solving mysterious crimes that stump the police. . . . No, that's not all. I want to tell you that your rotten, lying, penny sheet is of no more use in tracking an intelligent murderer or highway- man than a blind poodle would be. . . . What? . . . Oh, no, this isn't a rival newspaper office; you're getting it straight. I did the Norcross job, and I've got the jewels in my suit case at -- 'the name of the hotel could not be learned' -- you recog- nize that phrase, don't you? I thought so. You've used it often enough. Kind of rattles you, doesn't it, to have the mysterious villain call up your great, big, all-powerful organ of right and justice and good government and tell you what a helpless old gas-bag you are? . . . Cut that out; you're not that big a fool -- no, you don't think I'm a fraud. I can tell it by your voice. . . . Now, listen, and I'll give you a pointer that will prove it to you. Of course you've had this murder case worked over by your staff of bright young blockheads. Half of the second but- ton on old Mrs. Norcross's nightgown is broken off. I saw it when I took the garnet ring off her finger. I thought it was a ruby. . . . -- Stop that! it won't work."

 

Kernan turned to Woods with a diabolic smile.

 

"I've got him going. He believes me now. He didn't quite cover the transmitter with his hand when he told somebody to call up Central on another 'phone and get our number. I'll give him just one more dig, and then we'll make a 'get-away.'

 

"Hello! . . . Yes. I'm here yet. You didn't think -- I'd run from such a little subsidized, turn- coat rag of a newspaper, did you? . . . Have me inside of forty-eight hours? Say, will you quit being funny? Now, you let grown men alone and at- tend to your business of hunting up divorce cases and street-car accidents and printing the filth and scandal that you make your living by. Good-by, old boy -- sorry I haven't time to call on you. I'd feel perfectly safe in your sanctum asinorum. Tra-la!"

 

"He's as mad as a cat that's lost a mouse," said Kernan, hanging up the receiver and coming out.

 

"And now, Barney, my boy, we'll go to a show and enjoy ourselves until a reasonable bedtime. Four hours' sleep for me, and then the west-bound."

 

The two dined in a Broadway restaurant. Kernan was pleased with himself. He spent money like a prince of fiction. And then a weird and gorgeous musical comedy engaged their attention. Afterward there was a late supper in a grillroom, with champagne, and Kernan at the height of his com- placency.

 

Half-past three in the morning found them in a corner of an all-night cafe, Kernan still boasting in a vapid and rambling way, Woods thinking moodily over the end that had come to his usefulness as an upholder of the law.

 

But, as he pondered, his eye brightened with a speculative light.

 

"I wonder if it's possible," be said to himself, "I won-der if it's pos-si-ble!

 

And then outside the cafe the comparative stillness of the early morning was punctured by faint, uncer- tain cries that seemed mere fireflies of sound, some growing louder, some fainter, waxing and waning amid the rumble of milk wagons and infrequent cars. Shrill cries they were when near -- well-known cries that conveyed many meanings to the ears of those of the slumbering millions of the great city who waked to hear them. Cries that bore upon their significant, small volume the weight of a world's woe and laugh- ter and delight and stress. To some, cowering be- neath the protection of a night's ephemeral cover, they brought news of the hideous, bright day; to others, wrapped in happy sleep, they announced a morning that would dawn blacker than sable night. To many of the rich they brought a besom to sweep away what had been theirs while the stars shone; to the poor they brought -- another day.

 

All over the city the cries were starting up, keen and sonorous, heralding the chances that the slip- ping of one cogwheel in the machinery of time had made; apportioning to the sleepers while they lay at the mercy of fate, the vengeance, profit, grief, reward and doom that the new figure in the calen- dar had brought them. Shrill and yet plaintive were the cries, as if the young voices grieved that so much evil and so little good was in their irresponsible hands. Thus echoed in the streets of the helpless city the transmission of the latest decrees of the gods, the cries of the newsboys -- the Clarion Call of the Press.

 

Woods flipped a dime to the waiter, and said: "Get me a Morning Mars."

 

When the paper came he glanced at its first page, and then tore a leaf out of his memorandum book and began to write on it with the little old pencil.

 

"What's the news?"' yawned Kernan.

 

Woods flipped over to him the piece of writing:

 

"The New York Morning Mars:

 

"Please pay to the order of John Kernan the one thousand dollars reward coming to me for his arrest and conviction.

 

"BARNARD WOODS."

 

"I kind of thought they would do that," said Woods, "when you were jollying them so hard. Now, Johnny, you'll come to the police station with me."

 


Date: 2016-04-22; view: 1735


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