Pelham Grenville Wodehouse
W HAT'S HAPPENED SO FAR — Sally ”” Nicholas, engaged to Gerald Foster, playwright, falls heir to a fortune on her twentyfirst birthday■ Abroad, she meets an English youth named Lancelot (Ginger) Kemp and his cousin Bruce Carmyle, who follow her back to New York when she returns to see Gerald's play get its first run at Detroit, Mich. Sally is so disgusted with the inefficient manner in which the show is being managed she buys it out and makes her brother Fillmore manager. She finds Ginger hiding at' her boarding-house, broke, and gets him a job as an assistant to Fillmore. Meanwhile, Bruce Carmyle enlists Fillmore’s partnership in a gigantic revue, much to Sally’s alarm. Ginger returns to town, casually mentions to Sally that he met an old schoolmate in Chicago, named Foster, who was married just before he left the Windy City. Foster being none other than Sally’s fiance, the playwright. Sally suddenly leaves for England, and Ginger receives letters from her at rare intervals.
SALLY’S emotions, as she sat in her apartment on the morning of her return to New York, resembled somewhat those of a swimmer who, after wavering on a raw morning at the brink of a chill pool, nerves himself to the plunge. She was aching, but she knew that she had done well. If she wanted happiness, she must fight for it, and for all these months she had been shirking the fight. She had done with wavering on the brink, and here she was, in midstream, ready for whatever might befall. It hurt, this coming to grips. She had expected it to hurt. But Mt was a pain that stimulated, not a dull melancholy that smothered. She felt alive and defiant.
She had finished unpacking and tidying up. The next move was certainly to go and see Ginger. She had suddenly become aware that she wanted very badly to see Ginger. His stolid friendliness would be a support and a prop. She wished now that she had sent him a cable, so that he could have met her at the dock. It had been rather terrible at the dock. The echoing customs sheds had sapped her valor and she had felt alone and forlorn.
She looked at her watch, and was surprised to find how early it was. She could catch him at the office and make him take her out to lunch. She put on her hat and went out.
The restless hand of Change, always active in New Yorkhad not spared the outer office of the Fillmore Nicholas Theatrical Enterprises, Ltd., in the months of her absence. She was greeted on her arrival by an entirely new and original stripling in the place of the one with whom at her last visit she had established such cordial relations. Like his predecessor, he was generously pimpled, but there the resemblance stopped. He was a grim boy, and his manner was stern and suspicious. He peered narrowly at Sally for a moment, as if he had caught her in the act of purloining the office blotting paper, then with no little acerbity desired her to state her business.
“I want Mr. Kemp.” said Sally.
The office boy scratched his cheek dourly with a ruler. Noonewoüldhave guessed, so austere was his aspect, that a moment before her entrance he had been trying to balance it on his chin, juggling the while with a pair of paper weights. For, impervious as he seemed to human weaknesses, it was this lad’s ambition one day to go into vaude-
“What name?” he said coldly.
“Nicholas,” said Sally. “I am Mr. Nicholas’s sister.’,
ON A previous occasion when she had made this announcement, disastrous results had ensued, but today it went well. It seemed to hit the office boy like a bullet. He started convulsively, opening his mouth, and dropping the ruler. In the interval of stooping and recovering it he was able to pull himself together. He had not been curious about Sally’s name. What he had wished was to have the name of the person for whom she was asking repeated. He now perceived that he had had a bit of luck. A wearing period of disappointment in the matter of keeping the paper weights circulating while balancing the ruler had left him peevish, and it had been his intention to work off his ill humor on the young visitor. The discovery that it was the boss’s sister'who was taking up his time suggested the advisability of a radical change of tactics. He had stffoped with a frown; he returned to the perpendicular with a smile that was positively winning. It was like the sun suddenly bursting through a London fog.
“Will you take a seat, lady?” he said with polished courtesy, even unbending so far as to reach out and dust one with the sleeve of his coat. He added that the morning was a fine one. •
'“Thank you,” said Sally. “Will you tell him I’m here?” “Mr. Nicholas is out, Miss,” said the office boy with gentlemanly regret, “He’s back in New York buthe’sout.” “I don’t want Mr. Nicholas. I want Mr. Kemp.” “Mr. Kemp?”
“Yes, Mr. Kemp.”
Don t know of anyone of that name around here,” he said apologetically.
“But surely...” Sally broke off suddenly. A grim foreboding had come to her. “How long have you been here?” she asked.
All day, ma’am,” said the office boy with the manner of a Casabianca.
“I mean how long have you been employed here?” “Just over a month, miss.”
“Hasn’t Mr. Kemp been in the office all that time?” “Name’s new to me, lady. Does he look like anything? I meantersay what’s he look like?”
The truth shone oddly on Sally. She blamed herself for ever having gone away, and told herself that she might have known what would happen. Left to his own resources, the unhappy Ginger had once more made a hash of it. And this hash must have been a more notable and outstanding hash than any of his previous efforts, for surely Fillmore would not lightly have dismissed one who had come to him under her special protection.
“Where is Mr. Nicholas?” she asked. It seemed to her that Fillmore was the only possible source of information. “Did you say he was out?”
“Really out, miss,” said the office boy with engaging candor. “He went off to White Plains in his automobile half an hour ago.”
“White Plains? What for?”
'T'HE pimpled stripling had now given himself up whole-*• heartedly to social chitchat. Usually he liked his time to himself and resented the intrusion of the outer world, for he who has chosen jugglery for his walk in life must neglect no opportunity of practising, but so favorable was the impression which Sally had made on his plastic mind that he was delighted to converse with her as long as she wished.
“I guess what’s happened is, he’s gone up to take a look at Bugs Butler,” he said.
“Whose butler?” said Sally, mystified.
The office boy smiled a tolerant smile.
Though an admirer of the sex, he was aware that women were seldom hep to the really important things in life. He did not blame them. That was the way they were constructed, and one simply had to accept it.
“Bugs Butler is training up at White plains, miss.”
“Who is Bugs Butler?”
Something of his former bleakness of aspect returned to the office boy. Sally’s question had opened up a subject on which he felt deeply.
“Ah!” he replied, losing his air of respectful deference, as he approached the topic. “Who is he!
That’s what they’re all saying, all the wise guys. Who has Bugs Butler ever licked?”
“I don’t know,” said Sally, for he had fixed her with a penetrating gaze and seemed to be pausing for a reply.
“Nor nobody else,” said the stripling vehemently. “A lot of stiffs out on the coast, that’s all. Ginks nobody has ever heard of, except Cyclone Mullins, and it took that false alarm fifteen rounds to get a referee’s decision over him. The boss would go and give him a chance against the champ, but I could have told him that the legitimate contender was K-leg Binns. K-leg put Cyclone Mullins out in the fifth. Well,” said the office boy in the overwrought tone of one chafing at human folly, “if anybody thinks Bugs Butler can last six rounds with Lew Lucas,
I’ve two bucks right here in my vest pocket that says' i ain’t so.”
Sally began to see daylight. “Oh, Bugs—Mr. Butlei isoned the boxers in this fight that my brother is interest-
“That's right. He’s going up against the lightweight champ. Lew Lucas is the lightweight champ. He’s a bird!” “Yes?” said Sally. This youth had a way of looking at her with his head cocked on one side as though he-expeeted her to say something.
“Yes, sir!” said the stripling with emphasis. “Lew I is a hot sketch. He used to live on the next street he added as clinching evidence of his hero’s pro* seen his old mother as close as I am to you. Say, a hundred times. Is any stiff of a Bugs Butler gói a feller like that?”
“It doesn’t seem likely.”
“You spoke it!” said the lad crisply, striking unsu. fully at a fly which had settled on the blotting pad. There was a pause. Sally started to rise.
“And there’s another thing,” said the office boy, loth to close the subject. “Can Bugs Butler make a hundred and thirty-five ringside without being weak?”
“It sounds awfully difficult.”
“They say he’s clever.” The expert laughed satirically. “Well, what’s that going to get him? The poor fish can’t punch a hole in a nut sundae.”
“You don’t seem to like Mr. Butler.”
“Oh, I’ve nothing against him,” said the office boy magnanimously. “I’m only saying he’s no license to be mixing it with Lew Lucas.”
Sally got up. Absorbing as this chat on current form was, more important matters claimed her attention.
“How shall I find my brother when I get to White Plains?” she asked.
“Oh, somebody’ll show you the way to the training camp. If you hurry, there’s a train you can make now.” “Thank you very much.”
He opened the door for her with an Old World politeness which disuse had rendered a little rusty; then, with the air of getting back to business after a pleasant butfrivolous interlude, he took up the paper weights once more and placed the ruler with nice care on his up-turned chin......
FMLLMQRE heaved U a sigh of relief, and began to sidle from the room. It was a large room, half barn, half gymnasium. Athletic appliances of various kinds hung on the walls and in the middle there was a wide roped-off space, around which á small crowd had distributed itself with an air of expectancy. This is a commercial age, and the days when a prominent pugilist’s training activities used to be hidden from the public gaze are over. To-day, if the public can lay its hands on fifty cents, it may come and gaze its fill. This afternoon, plutocrats to the number of about forty had assembled, though not all of these, to the regret of Mr. Lester Burrowes, the manager of the eminent Bugs Butler, had parted with solid coin. Many of those present were newspaper representatives and on the free list—writers who would polish up Mr. Butler’s somewhat crude prognostications as to what he proposed to do to Mr. Lew Lucas and would report him as saying: “I am in really superb condition and feel little apprehension of the issue,” and artists who would depict him in a state of semi-nudity with feet several sizes too large for any man.
The reason for Fillmore’s relief was that Mr. Burrowes, who was a great talker and had buttonholed him a quarter of an hour ago, had at last had his attention
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straightened himself with a jerk and stood staring at her blankly and incredulously, his face slowly crimsoning....
TT WAS the energetic Mr. Burrowes •*broke the spell, “Come on, come on,” he said impatiently. “Li’l speed there, Reddy.”
Ginger Kemp started like a sleep-walker awakened; then, recovering himself, slowly began to pull on the gloves. Embarrassment was stamped on his agreeable features. His face matched his hair.
Sally plucked at the little manager’s elbow. He turned irritably, but beamed in a distrait sort of manner when he perceived the source of the interruption.
“Who—him?” he said in answer to Sally’s whispered question. “He’s just one of Bugs’s sparring partners.”
Mr. Burrowes, fussy now that the time had come for action, interrupted her. ‘You’ll excuse me, miss, but I have to hold the watch. We mustn’t waste any
Sally drew back. She felt like an infidel who intrudes upon the celebration of strange rites. This was Man’s hour, and women must keep in the. background. She had the sensation of being very small and yet very much in the way, like a puppy who has wandered into a church. The novelty and solemnity of the scene awed
She looked at Ginger, who with averted gaze was fiddling with his gloves in the opposite corner of the ring. He was as iar removed from communication as if he had been in another world. She continued to stare, wide-eyed, and Ginger, shuffling his feet self-consciously, plucked at his gloves.
Mr. Butler, meanwhile, having doffed his bathrobe, stretched himself and with leisurely nonchalance put on a second pair of gloves, was filling in the time with a little shadow boxing. He moved rhythmically to and fro now ducking his head, now striking out with his muffled hands, and a sickening realization of the man’s animal power swept over Sally and turned her cold. Swathed in his bathrobe, Bugs Butler had conveyed an atmosphere of dangerousness; in the boxing tights which showed up every rippling muscle, he was horrible and sinister, a machine built for destruction, a human panther.
So he appeared to Sally, but a stout and bulbous-eyed man standing at her side was not equally impressed. Obviously one of the wise guys of whom her friend, the sporting office boy, had spoken, he was frankly dissatisfied with the exhibition.
“Shadow boxing!” he observed in a caviling spirit to his companion. “Yes, he can do that all right, just like I can foxtrot if I ain’t got a partner to get in the way. But one good wallop, and then watch him.”
His friend, also plainly a guy of established wisdom, assented with a curt nod. “Ah!” he agreed.
“Lew Lucas,” said the first wise guy.
“Just because he beats up a few poor mutts of sparring partners,” said the first wise guy, disparagingly, “he thinks he’s some one.”
“Ah!” said the second wise guy.
As far as Sally could interpret these remarks, the full meaning of which was shrouded from her, they seemed to be reassuring. For a comforting moment she ceased to regard Ginger as a martyr waiting to be devoured by a lion. Mr. Butler, she gathered, was not so formidable as he appeared. But her relief was not to be long-lived.
“Of course he’ll eat this red-headed gink,” went on the first wise guy. “That’s the thing he does best, killing his sparring partners. But Lew Lucas—”
Sally was not interested in Lew Lucas. That numbing fear had come back to her. Even these cognoscenti little as they esteemed Mr. Butler, had plainly no doubts as to what he would do to Ginger. She tried to tear herself away, but something stronger than her own will kept her standing where she was, holding onto the rope and staring forlornly into the ring.
“Ready, Bugs,?” asked Mr. Burrowes.
The coming champion nodded carelessly-
“Go to it,” said Mr. Burrowes.
Ginger ceased to pluck at his gloves I and advanced into the ring.
( t F ALL the learned professions, pugilism is the one in which the trained expert is most sharply divided from the mere dabbler. In other fields the amateur may occasionally hope to compete successfully with the man who has made a business of what is to him but a sport, but at boxing never, and the whole demeanor of Bugs Butler showed that , he had laid this truth to heart. It would be too little to say that his bearing was confident; he comported himself with the care-free jauntiness of an infant about to demolish a Noah’s Ark with a tack hammer. Cyclone Mullinses might withstand him for fifteen rounds where they yielded to a K-leg Binns in the fifth, but, when it came to beating up a sparring partner and an amateur at that, Bugs Butler knew his potentialities. He was there forty ways, and he did not attempt to conceal it.
Crouching, as was bis wont, he uncoiled himself like a striking rattlesnake and flicked Ginger slightly over his guard. Then he returned to his crouch and circled sinuously about the ring with the amiable intention of showing the crowd, payers and deadheads alike, what real footwork was. If there was one thing on which Bugs Butler prided himself,' it was his footwork.
The adverb “lightly” is a relative term, and the blow which had just painted a dull patch on Ginger’s cheekbone affected those present in different degrees. Ginger himself appeared stolidly callous. Sally shuddered to the core of her being and had to hold more tightly to the rope to support herself. The two wise guys mocked openly. To the wise guys, expert connoisseurs of swat, the thing had appeared richly farcical. They seemed to consider the blow, administered to a third party and not to themselves, hardly worth calling a blow at all. Two more, landing as quickly and neatly as the first, left them equally cold.
“Call that punching?” said the first wise guy.
“Ah!” said the second wise guy.
But Mr. Butler, if he heard this criticism—and it is probably that he did, for the wise ones had been restrained by no delicacy of feeling from raising their voices —was in no way discommoded by it. Bugs Butler knew what he was about. Bright eyes were watching him, and he meant to give them a treat. The girls like smooth work. Any roughneck could sail into a guy and knock the daylights out of him, but how few could be clever and flashy and scientific? Few, few indeed, thought Mr. Butler as he slid in and led once more.
Something solid smote Mr. Butler’s nose, rocking him onto his heels and inducing an unpleasant smarting sensation about the eyes. He backed away and regarded Ginger with astonishment, almost with pain. Until this moment he had scarcely considered him as an active participant in the scene at all, and he felt strongly that this sort of thing was bad form. It was not being done by sparring partners.
A juster man might have reflected that he himself was to-blame. He had undeniably been careless. In the very act of leading he had allowed his eyes to flicker sideways to see how Sally was taking this exhibition of science, and he had paid the penalty. Nevertheless he was piqued. He shimmered about the ring, thinking it over. And the more he thought it over, the less did he approve of his young assistant’s conduct. Hard thoughts toward Ginger began to float in his mind.
GINGER too was thinking hard thoughts. He had not had an easy time since he had come to the training camp, but never till to-day had he experienced any resentment toward his employer. Until this afternoon Bugs Butler had pounded him honestly and without malice, and he had gone through it as the other sparring partners did, phlegmatically taking it as part of the day’s work. But this afternoon there had been a difference. Those careless flicks had been an insult, a deliberate offence. The man was trying to make a fool of him, playing to the gallery and the thought of who was in that gallery inflamed Ginger past thought of consequences.
No one, not even Mr. Butler, was more
keenly alive than he to the fact that in a serious conflict with a man who to-morrow night might be light-weight champion of the world, he stood no chance whatever but he did.not intend to be made an exhibition of in front of Sally without doing something to hold his end up. He propped to go down with his flag flying, and in pursuance of this object be dug Mr. Butler heavily in the lower ribs with his right, causing that expert to clinch and the two wise guys to utter sharp barking sounds expressive of derision.
“Say what the hell d’ya think you re getting at?”, demanded the aggrieved pugilist in a heated whisper in Ginger s ear as they fell into the embrace. Wnass the idea?”
Ginger maintained a pink silence. His jaw was set, and the temper which nature had bestowed upon him to go with ms hair had reached white heat. He dodged a vicious right which whizzed up at_ ms chin out of the breaking clinch and rushed. A left hook shook him, but was too hign to do more. There was rough work in the far corner, and suddenly, with startling abruptness, Bugs Butler, bothered by the ropes at his back and trying to sidestep, ran into a swing and fell.
“Time!” shouted the scandalized Mr.
Burrowes, utterly aghast at this frightful misadventure. In the whole course of his professional experience be could recall no such devastating occurrence.
The audience was no less startled. There was audible gasping. The newspaper men looked at each other with a wild surmise and conjured up pleasant pictures of their sporting editors receiving this sensational item of news_ later on over the telephone. The two wise guy?> continuing to pursue Mr. Butler with their dislike, emitted loud and raucous laughs, and one of them, forming his_ hands into a megaphone, urged the fallen warrior to go away and get a rep. As for Sally, she was conscious of a suddenly, fierce, cave-womanly rush of happiness which swept away completely thfe sickening qualms of the last few minutes. Her teeth were clenched and her eyes blazed with joyous excitement. She looked at Ginger yearningly, longing to forget a gentle upbringing and shout congratulation to him. She was proud of him. And mingled with the pnde was a curious feeling that was almost fear.
ON THE rare occasions on which he had been knocked down in the past it had been Bugs Butler’s canny practice to pause for a while and rest before rising to continue the argument but now he was up almost before he had touched the boards.
“Time?” he snarled, casting a malevolent side glance at his manager. “Like hell, it’s time!”
And in a whirlwind of flying gloves he flung himself upon Ginger, driving him across the ring, while Mr. Burrowes, watch in hand, stared with dropping jaw.
And nothing could be more manifest than that Bugs Butler was trying. His whole fighting soul was in his efforts to corner Ginger and destroy him. The battle was raging across the ring and down the ring and up the ring and back again; yet always Ginger, like a stormdriven ship, contrived somehow to weather the tempest. Out of the flurry of swinging arms he emerged time after time bruised, bleeding but fighting hard.
For Bugs Butler’s fury was defeating its object. Had he remained his cool and scientific self, he could have demolished Ginger and cut through his defence in a matter of seconds. But he had lapsed back into the methods of his unskilled novitiate. He swung and missed, swung and missed again, struck, but found no vital spot. And now there was blood on his face too. In some wild melee the sacred fount had been tapped, and his teeth gleamed through a crimson mist.
And then suddenly the end came, as swiftly and unexpectedly as the thing had begun. His wild swings had tired Bugs Butler, and with fatigue prudence returned to him. His feet began once more their subtle weaving in and out. Twice his left hand flickered home. A quick feint, a short, jolting stab, and Ginger’s guard was down and he was swaying in the middle of the ring, his hands hanging and his knees aquiver.
Bugs Butler measured his distance, and Sally shut her eyes.
To be continued