“Who Laughs Last”
By Margaret Cameron in Harper’s Monthly
EARLIER in the day, when the accidental overturning of an inkwell in King’s office had resulted in a liberal bespattering of Oakley’s trousers, King had insisted that his own tailor should repair the damage.
“Fiddlesticks!” he had replied to his friend’s arguments in favor of the hotel valet. “My man’s absolutely reliable. He’ll get your things back to you on time, he won’t rot the cloth with acids—and he won’t rob you, which is more than can be said of any hotel tailor that I ever heard of. “James”—to a boy—“telephone to— oh, what’s-his-name! You know; my tailor—and tell him to send to The Caravansary to-night, at half after six, for Mr. Oakley’s trousers. He is to take out these spots—tell him the stains are ink—and return them— When do you want them, Ned? Any time to-morrow will do, James,”
So it was that when Oakley reached his hotel that evening, somewhat later than he had anticipated, he found the tailor’s boy awaiting his arrival. He handed the damaged garment from behind a narrowly opened door to the messenger, and serenely went about dressing.
He was in good spirits. Not only was the business that had brought
him to New York moving smoothly, but he thought he detected evidences of an undercurrent favorable to his plans. For one thing, Mr. Haslett’s letter asking him to meet Mrs. Haslett at Jersey City that night and take her across town to the Grand Central Station, while unimportant in itself, was not insignificant, for Warren ITaslett was not a man to incur any obligation, however slight, unless he had definite plans for discharging it, and this was not the first time he had indicated a friendly confidence in Ned Oakley, although, as their social acquaintance was slight, he had never before asked service of so personal a nature.
It was well known that Mr. Haslett was ever on the alert to find energetic and able young men for his business, and rumors had recently reached Oakley that there was soon to be a vacancy in the New York office—one which he felt himself qualified to fill ; hence it was not strange that his head should be full of speculations as to a possible connection between these facts and the increasing favor shown him by the older man. He was smiling tenderly at the vision, back of all these hopes and plans, of Alice’s face when he should tell her—if he should
tell her—that they were to live in New York, when the telephone bell rang.
“Baltimore wants you,” said the operator, and a moment later a man’s voice inquired: “That you, Oakley? This is Warren Haslett. Did you get my letter to-day?”
“Yes. I ought to have wired you that i did.”
“Oh, that’s all right. I didn’t expect it. But for some reason I felt a little uneasy, and thought I’d call you up to make sure. You can go conveniently, I hope?”
“Oh, perfectly ! Delighted.”
“I feared you might have an engagement for dinner or for the evening.”
“No; I’m entirely free to-night. Even if I were not, I should have been glad to change my plans so that I might be of service to Mrs. Haslett.” “Thank you. It’s all right, then?” “Yes. I shall start for Jersey City in a few minutes.”
“Ah, that’s good. How’s the weather?”
“Rainy, and growing colder.”
“Is it? That’s bad! Mrs. Haslett has not been entirely well recently If her train should happen to be late—”
“Be perfectly sure that I shall be there, whatever the hour.”
“Ah, thank you, Oakley. Don’t let her get chilled. Good night.”
“I’ll look after her, sir—and thanks for the opportunity. Good night.” Still smiling, Oakley went to his suit case, which he had not fully unpacked. Contrary to his custom and against Alice’s advice, he had brought no trunk, as this was to be purely a business trip, and a hurried one at that; and because she had failed to give him everything he had needed on a previous journey, he had humorously insisted upon doing his own packing this time.
He ran his fingers down at one end of his suit case and turned the contents back, without discovering the trousers he sought. Similar tactics brought no better result at the other end. Somewhat hurriedly, his smile fading, he pulled up what lay
in the middle, disarranging smooth layers of shirts and underwear. No trousers. He stared in perplexity. He knew they had been there, for he had packed them himself. He distinctly remembered also that he had not unpacked them, thinking that, lying as they did at the bottom of the suit case they would keep their creases and be in good condition when he should need them.
Then it occurred to him that possibly the chambermaid, in an excess of zeal, had taken them out and hung them in the wardrobe. He flung open the doors, to be confronted by rows of empty hooks, save where his pajamas drooped in the centre. Springing back to the suit case, he dug into its contents, tossing shirts, socks, collars, and underwear recklessly in all directions, until he reached the clean leather bottom.
He rang for the chambermaid, and when she tapped at his door, furiously demanded through a crack, “Where are my trousers?”
“Beg pardon, sir?”
“I say where are my trousers! What have you done with them?”
“I, sir? No, sir. I ain’t seen no trousers, sir.”
“Well, I certainly had an extra pair here, and they’re gone. Now—” “Perhaps the valet would know.” “That’s right ! Perhaps he would. Send him here, will you? Quick, please.”
As the woman scurried down the hall Oakley slammed the door and returned to the wardrobe, to find the pajamas still hanging solitary and limp. Helplessly surveying the room, his glance fell on the long drawers of the dresser, and within thirty seconds every drawer in the room, large and small, had been jerked open, disclosing emptiness.
Taking down the telephone receiver, he urged, as the operator responded: “Say ! can’t you hurry up that valet a little? I’m in a dev—I’m in a very great hurry . . . Yes, of course
I sent for him! . . . Yes, please.”
Once more he opened the wardrobe, this time briskly shaking the meek pajamas, to make sure the er-
rant trousers were not hiding behind their folds; once more he found disappointment waiting in every drawer. He looked behind the door in the bath room and under the bed, and was engaged in dragging the divan away from the wall, when the valet rapped “Did you bring my trousers?” demanded Oakley, opening the door a crack.
“Trousers? No, sir. Did you send them down?”
“Holy Moses! No! I didn’t send them down ! But somebody took them,
and I want them—want them quick, too ! Understand ?”
“Yes, sir, but—when did you send them, sir?”
“I didn’t send them, I tell you! I left them there in my suit case, and they’re gone.”
“Yes, sir. Perhaps the chambermaid—”
“Now, look here; I’ve had about enough of this ! I don’t know who took them, and I don’t care. I know there was a pair of trousers in that suit case, and they’re not in the room now. I want them. Great Scott !
I’ve got to have them ! I’m to meet a lady at 7.53 in Jersey City, and I’ve no time to lose. Now, you hustle!” “Yes, sir. I’ll ask the chambermaid—”
“I asked the chambermaid ! Do you mean to say you didn’t—”
“No, sir, I never take a gentleman’s things, sir, unless they’re left for me. You’re sure they’re not in the room?”
“Well, if they are, I can’t find them. Come in and see if you can.” He flung the door open with one hand and reached for the telephone with the other. “Give me the desk, and hurry up,” he said. “That the desk? Well, there’s a pair of trousers missing from room 637. The valet says he hasn’t seen them, and the chambermaid says she hasn’t seen them. Now, is there anybody else in this hotel who— What? . . No, he’s here
now, hunting for them, but they’re not here. . . She says not. . .
That’s all very well, but I can’t wait for any deliberate official investigations. I want those trousers and I want them now ! . . All right.
Come up, if you want to, but hustle ! I’ve got to catch a train.”
He crossed the room to where his watch lay on the dresser and glanced at it. “You’ve got exactly twenty minutes in which to produce the trousers and get me out of this hotel,” he announced. “I’ve got to take the 7.25 boat from Twenty-third Street -—understand?—and things’ll break if I miss it.”
“Would it be possible, sir, if you’re in a hurry, to wear another pair?” “That’s it! I haven’t any other pair !” Then, seeing the man’s amazed glance, he added, “I mean—of course, I have another pair, but I sent them out, about half an hour ago, to a tailor.”
“Yes, sir. Would it be possible for us to send to the tailor—”
“Why, of course ! Send a boy, and tell him I’ll pay for speed.”
“Yes, sir. Where shall we send, sir?”
An expression of utter blankness settled upon Oakley’s face.
“Good Lord ! I—don’t—know !”
“You don’t know the address? But the name, sir?” anxiously persisted the valet.
“I don’t know that either. My friend King recommended him. He’s his tailor. He telephoned—”
“Yes, sir; but your friend? Mr. King? We can telephone him—”
“I don’t know where King lives. He’s in one of those up-town apartment houses, and his name’s not in the telephone book. I heard him say so to-day. Isn’t that the very devil !” One of the clerks arrived at that moment, and the situation was explained to him afresh. He was polite, even deferential, to Oakley, and searchingly questioned the valet, the chambermaid, and Boots.
“Of course I’m sure I brought them,” blazed Oakley, in response to a diplomatic suggestion. “What do you take me for? Haven’t I told you I packed them myself? I left them in that—By George !”
In that instant he had remembered the mystifying postscript of a letter he had received from Alice that morning. Failing to gràsp its meaning at once, he had dismissed it from his mind, intending to study it out when the claims of business were less pressing. Now he went to his coat and got the letter.
“Doubtless by this time you have discovered that it is your treat,” he read. “I wear a five and three-quarters glove, you know, and I like them long. I have been told that trousers can be kept in fairly good condition without pressing if one places them carefully between the mattresses every night. Tt is to laugh!’ Ha, ha!”
He stared at the words, incredulously rereading them, and Alice’s dancing eyes and mischievous mouth mocked him from every space. It will be remembered that he had insisted upon packing that suit case himself.
The clerk protested that he was very sorry ; he would do his best to find the missing garments ; the affair was most unfortunate and incomprehensible ; such a thing had never happened before in the history of the hotel. “Never mind. I guess I’ve found
the solution. It’s on me, all right.” Oakley laughed rather sheepishly. “I thought I packed them—but I didn’t. Another case of ‘You never can tell.’ Now, see here. I’m in a deuce of a hole. Help me out, will you? I’m pledged to meet a lady ín Jersey City at 7.53. I’ve got to meet her, that’s all there is about it ! And I must have a pair of trousers in ten minutes. Now, what can you do?”
Really, the clerk and the valet didn’t know. They recognized that the situation was awkward, and while they were in no sense responsible for it, they would cheerfully do anything in their power to be of service.
“Thank you. That’s very nice— but it isn’t trousers,” said Oakley. “How far is it to the nearest clothier’s? Can’t you send—”
“No use. Every shop is closed at this hour.”
“Borrow a pair for me.” “Impossible, sir!”
“Nothing’s impossible! Man alive, I can’t go this way! There must be somebody in this hotel who has extra trousers about. Borrow some. Steal them, if you must, but get them !” “Couldn’t we send some one else to meet the lady? It could be explained that you are ill, or—”
“No it couldn’t, for I telephoned the lady’s husband, not half an hour ago, that I would certainly meet her. Important matters—business affairs, understand?—hang on my keeping this appointment. Can’t you see that it’s serious? Do something!”
The little clerk looked up at Oakley, towering above him, and shrugged his shoulders.
“If you were of an average size, it might be possible, but—”
“Well, I’m not of an average size. I’m six feet two and weigh two hundred and forty-seven. There’s a man down at the end of this corridor who’s as big as I am. Go and get—” “Impossible ! Quite impossible !” “Well, do something!”
The clerk and the valet departed, and Oakley charged about the room, raging and impotent. Even had he been willing to lie, a plea of sudden illness would have been an obvious
artifice from a man of his invariable health, and he felt that to confess the truth—the idiotic, humiliating truth— to Warren Haslett would be deliberately to brand himself as an irresponsible fool and to lose a great part of the confidence he had won. For his own part, he could take his medicine ; when a man makes an ass of himself, he deserves to eat husks, but Alice— The tender vision-face of his wife grew wistful as his air-castles tottered over their shaking foundations, and he savagely struck his fist against a window-casing.
Then he sat on the edge of the bed, regarded his trouserless legs, and gave way to peals of sardonic laughter. After which he fell again walking the floor, muttering execrations upon his own carelessness.
The valet rapped sharply and entered, a pair of dark trousers over his arm.
“I know they’re too small, sir,” he admitted, as Oakley seized them hopefully and held them up in derisive despair, “but they’re all I can get. They belong to the clerk. We thought
perhaps—would you be willing to try them on, sir?”
Oakley struggled into the garments, which not only refused to reach his waist, blit rose to a point midway between his knee and his ankle at the bottom.
“Is that the best you can do?” he demanded.
“The very best, sir. I have some trousers down in the pre&sing-room, and while it would be as much as my position is worth to let you havé .any of them I—I went to see, sir. Blit, it was no use. The gentlemen all seem to be small. These are the best I could get.”
Oakley was looking fixedly on his long ulster, hanging on the rack, and fantastic schemes were forming in his brain. After all, it would be only to cross town in a cab, and perhaps to spend a few minutes in the waiting rooms at the stations.
“You’re sure these belong to the clerk?” he questioned. “I don’t want to get you into trouble.”
“Yes, sir. He said if these were of any use to you, sir, you were welcome to them.”
“Is it still raining?”
“Good. Go and get some pins. Get plenty of them. Safety pins, if possible. Hustle ! There’s no time to lose now.”
With his knife Oakley cut off the legs of the clerk’s trousers well above the knee, and when the valet returned he found his patron completely dressed in the coat and waistcoat of his business suit and the nether garments of his pajamas.
“Here we are,” said Oakley, pulling on one of the severed cheviot legs. “Just you pin that good and tight where it ought to go to look right from the bottom, will you? That’s all right. Long enough? Got it fastened firmly? Good! Now the other one . . . So! Now give me that
ulster. Button it down the back there as far as you can. You might pin it, so it won’t flap apart. I sha’n’t want
to walk much. . . There ! That
covers perfectly, doesn’t it?”
Standing in the long, heavy stormcoat, closely buttoned, only a few inches of the trousers bottoms showing below it, there was nothing in his appearance to suggest that his attire was not wholly conventional.
“Yes, sir. That’ll be all right if you’re very careful.”
“Oh, I’ll be careful ! Don’t you worry about that !” He handed the man a generous tip. “Tell the clerk I’ll see him later, and have a cab ready for me by the time I get downstairs, will you ?”
He looked at his watch and found he had three minutes to spare.
“Hah! Tt is to laugh!”’ he remarked triumphantly smiling back at Alice, as the cab started for the Twenty-third Street Ferry.
Mrs. Haslett’s train was on time, and Oakley was glad to find that, although he had met her only twice, he recognized her immediately. She came toward him, erect, alert, srniling, and protesting that it was an imposition to bring any one across the river on such a night, to which he naturally responded that he found it only a pleasure. She added that she would have forbidden Mr. Haslett to make the arrangement, if—aside from the pleasure of being met and cared for—she had not wished to renew and extend her acquaintance with Mr. Oakley, of whom she had recently heard her husband speak so often and so pleasantly. Remembering Mr. Haslett’s confidence in his wife’s judgment of men, Oakley hitched his ulster closer about his knees and mentally congratulated ^himself that he had not let this chance escape him, while Alice’s face smiled •approval from the background of his thoughts.
From this auspicous beginning the conversation proceeded delightfully, his own ease and pleasure in it convincing Oakley that he was making the good impression he desired.^. Mrs. Haslett’s information and interests were wide, her preceptions keen, and she had the tact born of extensive social experience. He knew that she was skilfully drawing him out, and he
knew also that he was giving her his excellent best in response. Nevertheless, he was entirely unprepared for the next move in the game.
When they had almost reached the New York side he glanced at his watch between phrases, and parenthetically assured her that they had ample time to get across town before the departure of her train for Stamford.
“I hope meeting me has not disarranged your plans ?” she tentatively inquired.
“On the contrary, it gave the evening a purpose which it had otherwise lacked.”
“But—of course you have dined?”
“Really?” Her face brightened. “Then I have less hesitation about exercising the privilege conferred by white hair and asking you to take me somewhere to dinner. Will you?”
“Why—of course—I shall be delighted,” stammered he, instinctively wrapping closer the enfolding skirts of the ulster, “but—your train?”
, “Well, that’s part of it—though a small part. Perhaps Mr. Haslett’s told you I am on my way to Boston, where I must be to-morrow ; but because I couldn’t leave Baltimore until late this afternoon, and didn’t care to spend the night in New York, I decided to go on to my sister’s in Stamford, taking an early train from there in the morning. On the way up it occurred to me that if I cared to stay in New York this evening, I might simplify matters somewhat by taking the midnight train, which would give me a fair night’s, sleep, and enable me to reach Boston early in the morning. I resolved not to suggest this, however, unless we got on well. I’m a very selfish old person, and I like to be entertained. But if you have other plans”—her quick glance read his face, which he was unable entirely to control—“you must not let me interfere with them in the least.”
A faint gleam of hope was instantly extinguished.
“No. Oh no,” he said, trying to force cordiality into his tone, while his mind seethed in an effort to arrive
at a quick solution. “I have no other plans at all. I told Mr. Haslett that my evening was entirely free. It’s very good of you to give me this opportunity. It’s a great pleasure, I assure you—and an honor. Of course” —another gleam of hope—“you will let me take you first to a hotel.”
“Oh, that won’t be necessary,” she replied. “I suggest that we drive to the Grand Central, engage my berth, leave my bag, telegraph to my sister, and then go directly to dinner. Why not?”
“But—I fear you may be overtired. Mr. Haslett telephoned that you had not been well, and—” Her light
laugh interrupted him.
“Did he? How like Warren! I had two days of headache last week, and in consequence he’ll insist upon coddling me for a month. I am perfectly well, and really quite eager for our gay little adventure. Let’s lose no time.”
At that moment, to effect Mr. Haslett’s adherence to her original purpose, Oakley would cheerfully have been accounted the dullest of bores, but perception had come too late. Vaulting ambition had o’erleaped itself, and he had now no choice but to satisfy the lady’s appetite for more of his agreeable society. He could never afterward remember what they talked about on the way across town, but by the time they reached the Grand Central Station his resolution was taken. Confession and explanation were out of the question with this woman, back of whose gracious and kindly manner one perceived always a certain stateliness of bearing, no more to be ignored than it was to be deliberately affronted. Having shouldered the undertaking, he must carry it on, leaving its outcome on the knees of the gods, who had thus far included him in the protection extended to children, drunkards, and fools.
Arrived at the station, Mrs. Haslett remained in the cab, while he sent her telegram, engaged her berth, and left her bag to be called for, pocketing the check. He looked over the great waiting room with some vague idea of assaulting any big man he
might see and demanding his trousers or his life, but a monotonous average in the size of the men left the thought still embryonic.
When the cab was again on its way, he said:
“Since we are neither of us in gala attire, I have told the man to drive to a rather out-of-the-way restaurant that I know, where the cooking is excellent and the rooms quiet. I hope you’ll not find it stupid.”
“I shall find it delightful,” she graciously declared.
Oakley bade the cabman wait and was given the customary carriage check. In the restaurant, he chose a corner table, and himself took the corner chair, where he attempted for the first time a feat that he had often seen women perform. Seating himself in his ulster, he unfastened all but the two lower buttons, and, with the waiter’s help, wriggled out of the shoulders, keeping the skirts about his legs the while. When the man would have taken the coat away, he objected, and then, unable entirely to ignore the surprise in Mrs. Haslett’s glance, he added, rather lamely:
“With your permission, I’ll keep this about me, Mrs. Haslett. Don’t you find it chilly here? I seem to be shivering.”
Which, in a sense, was true. He was shivering. His companion, however, was alarmed lest he had taken a cold, and solicitously insisted upon his drinking a cocktail, to ward off possible evil effects from exposure to the rain. With the ulster firmly wrapped about his legs, and the tablecloth pulled over it as an additional screen, Oakley, in his corner, felt reasonably safe for the moment, and so began what proved to be a long and a merry and a memorable dinner.
They constantly discovered fresh points of common interest, and again Oakley congratulated himself that he had not permitted appearances to frighten him out of attempting the seemingly impossible. Over the coffee they grew confidential. She told him of the boy she had lost, and he showed her the two pictures of Alice which he always carried, and touched lightly
upon his desire to bring his wife back to New York, where her girlhood had been spent.
Mrs. Haslett talked of her husband, of his contemplated gradual retirement from active business, and of his search for men in whose hands he could eventually safely place his affairs. Finally she spoke frankly of Oakley himself, and of Mr. Haslett’s interest in him.
“He tells me,” she said, “that you have three of the four qualifications which he thinks essential for a successful business man. You have imagination, which stands for originality, and resource, and initiative; you have dignity—perhaps poise is the better word; and you are absolutely truthful. If you prove also to have good judgment, there is no reason why your future should not be very bright.”
Oakley flushed slightly as he replied, “I can’t tell you how highly I value Mr. Haslett’s good opinion.”
“Well, you have it. This is very direct, but I think it sometimes helps to know these things. He particularly admires your truthfulness. He told me recently that he had seen you in some embarrassing crisis, where the average man would have sought refuge at least in evasion, and that, to his delight, you were absolutely frank and open. We believe—he and I— that in the end truth must always prevail, and I thought you might like to know that yours had not been fruitless.”
“Thank you. I don’t like to lie,” said he, simply.
The talk drifted on to other things, but Oakley’s spirit was jubilant, and the radiance had returned to the hovering vision of his wife. There was a moment of embarrassment, to be sure, when the bill was presented and he absently felt for the bill-book in his hip pocket, but his false motion was not noticed. He wriggled back into his ulster without attracting particular attention, and followed Mrs. Haslett to the door, devoutly thankful that his last ordeal was over and that ahead there lay only the plainest of sailing.
Looking out from the glassed vestibule, they discovered that it had turned colder, and that the rain, freezing as it fell, had made of the streets and sidewalks smooth sheets of ice. The porter had gone a few steps down the street, where he stood chatting with a policeman and watching the reharnessing of a horse that had fallen.
“If you’ll wait here a moment,” said Oakley, “I’ll get the cab and return to help you down.”
He failed at first to attract the porter’s attention, and had carefully descended the icy steps before the man saw him and hastened forward to get the carriage check. As Oakley turned to go back, a careless, hurrying messenger boy jostled him. Oakley slipped, staggered, flung out a foot in a vain effort to retain his balance, and went down heavily. The boy, instinctively seizing the only thing within reach, which happened to be the flying skirt of the long ulster, slid on a foot or two, plunging, and also fell, peeling the coat up over Oakley’s unprotected legs as the husk is torn from an ear of corn, the detaining buttons yielding to superior force. A brilliant electric sign lighted the scene perfectly, and as Oakley sat up and dragged the coat again over his blue and white pajamas, he was conscious of but one thing—that was the frozen horror in Mrs. Haslett’s face as she watched him from the vestibule. The next instant the policeman twisted a hand in his collar and jerked him roughly to his feet.
“You’re a nice one, you are!” exclaimed that functionary, severely. “Making an exhibition of yourself in the public streets! You come along with me.”
“Don’t overstep your authority, officer,” suggested Oakley, brushing himself off and twitching his clothes into place. “I’m not liable to arrest.”
“Y’ain’t? Huh! Don’t you try any funny business with me. I saw ye !”
“Since when has it been a crime for a man to lose his balance?”
“That’s all right. Disorderly con-
duct for yours ! I tell ye I sawe ye ! You come along without any back talk, now.” Then, as his glance caught Mrs. Haslett, he added, “That woman with you?”
“No,” said Oakley.
“H’mph! You were calling a cab. I'll be bound there’s a pair of ye !” Keeping his hold on his prisoner, he imperatively beckoned to Mrs. Haslett, who reluctantly approached, assisted by the porter. She was very pale, and the kindly glow was gone from her eyes, leaving them cold and steely.
Oakley’s mind was working rapidly, and he covertly extracted a roll of bills from his pocket and kept them in his hand, althought, as he watched the policeman, he decided not to attempt that sort of thing with him. The man was obviously a powerful and unreasoning machine that nothing short of political influence could stop in mid-career.
“Do you know this man?” demanded the officer of Mrs. Haslett.
“I’ve already told you that the lady is not with me,” glibly interposed Oakley before she could reply. “I never saw her before.”
“That’ll do from you,” said the policeman. “He was calling your carriage, wasn’t he?”
“Certainly I was.” Again Oakley took up the narrative. “Now, just listen a minute. I was standing in the vestibule when this lady came out of the restaurant, and from my being there—and perhaps from my long coat—I suppose she took me to be the porter, who was yonder, talking to you. At any rate, she handed me her carriage check, and I brought it down and gave it to the porter here, as any man would have done in the circumstances. That’s all there is to it. I repeat, I do not know the lady.
I never saw her before, and I’m very sorry to be the cause of even a moment of embarrassment to her.” Stealing a glance at her, he was convinced that his ready lying had destroyed whatever might have remained of her regard for him after the revelations of his tumble ; and yet,
he must at any cost prevent her being drawn further into this dilemma.
“H’m! You’re a smooth one!” commented the skeptical policeman, who had been watching Mrs. Haslett’s face. “Did they come together?” he asked the porter.
As yet uncertain of the denomination of a bill slipped into his fingers while the policeman studied Mrs. Haslett, the porter merely said he didn’t remember.
At that moment their cab drove up, and the officer turned to the driver.
“Cabby,” said he, “ye brought these two here together, didn’t ye?”
With the hand farthest from the policeman Oakley displayed a tendollar bill, crushed it, dropped it, and set his foot on it.
“No, sir,” intelligently replied the cabman. “I brought the lady alone. I got her at Twenty-third Street, drove her to the Grand Central, and then here. She told me to wait.”
“Ye didn’t bring the man? No nonsense, now !”
“Naw !” The cabman eyed Óakley disdainfully. “I never seen him before.”
“H’m !” said the policeman. “All right. There’s something queer about this—but you can go.” He nodded to Mrs. Haslett. “I guess you’re all right. You just made a mistake in your man.”
“Yes,” she said. “Evidently I made a mistake in my man. I’m sorry.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” affably rejoined the policeman. “He’s a smooth one, and if you hadn’t, we might not have caught him.”
“That’s true, too. Perhaps it’s just as well. Good night, officer.”
The driver got down from his box to help her into the cab, and before remounted he stooped to pick up something from the sidewalk where Oakley had stood.
On the way to the station-house the prisoner’s reflections were of the gloomiest, and presently the one ray of comfort remaining to him—the consciousness that Mrs. Haslett was on her way, uninvolved and unhindered—was swallowed by the black re-
collection that he had in his. pocket the check, without which she would have great difficulty in getting her bag. And she would have little time to spare. He started up, saw the answering movement of the policeman guarding the open end of the patrol wagon, and settled back hopelessly. He had messed things.
“Name?” indifferently asked the desk-sergeant at the station.
“John Williams.” The sergeant glanced at him keenly, but wrote the name.
“Great States Hotel.”
“He’s no pants on,” said the policeman who had brought him in.
“What !” The sergeant looked up incredulously.
“Now, here !” said Oakley, stepping back to afford a full view of his coated figure. “I look all right, don’t I ?”
“You certainly do.” The sergeant’s tone warmed with the appreciation he always gave to physical perfection.
“But his pants ain’t real,” continued his subordinate. “They’re only shams. They don’t go much above his knees, Doyle says. He sent him in.
“Well, what of it?” bodly demanded Oakley. “If a man wears a— what you call a ‘dicky,’ and it gets ripped off him in an accident, you don’t arrest him for not wearing a shirt, do you?”
“But pants is different,” urged the policeman.
“No, they’re not. They just seem different. You say yourself I look all right.”
“Have you had an accident?” asked the sergeant, whose black-lashed, blue eyes were beginning to twinkle, although he in no way relaxed the official severity of his manner.
“Accident? No! What I’ve had is no accident ! It’s been a regular landslide ! And for the love of Heaven, get this over and let me go, or there’ll be one more calamity ! I’ll put up anything you like. There’s my money, there’s my watch and chain, there’s
a scarf pin that’s valuable, though perhaps it doesn’t look it. Take them all as security and give me an hour’s freedom. Then I’ll come back and you can do anything you like with me. You’ll do that, won’t you?”
“Is John Williams your name?”
“No, of course it isn’t. I’ll tell you what my name is, if you like—-but I’d rather you wouldn't write it down there,” he added, glancing at the book.
“Never mind,” said the sergeant. “Go on. Tell your story—and tell it straight.”
So Oakley told his story, and he told it straight, suppressing only Mrs. Haslett’s name. Moreover, he told it to two Irishmen. It may be added that during the narration official gravity and decorum suffered somewhat.
“There you have it,” he finished. “Now take my security and let me go long enough to get that poor woman her bag and start her for Boston. Send me under guard if you like, only give me that much time. Will you?”
“I’ll do better than that,” declared the sergeant. “D’ye think I’ve been here so long I don’t know an honest man when I see him? Take your stuff, sir. I’ll not detain ye. While I’m whistlin’ for a cab for ye, Casey here’ll take ye upstairs and give ye a pair o’ my pants, lest ye fall again, sir. We’re about of a size, I think.”
Oakley impulsively pulled a bill from the roll already in his hand, and then slowly returned it. A moment later he handed his open cigar case to the sergeant.
“Thank ye, sir, I don’t mind if I do. ’Tis a good one, by the smell. Ye can return the pants at yer leisure, sir. Sure, that’s all right. ’Tis a pleasure, sir!”
Fortunately the drive to the Grand Central Station was not long, and the horse was not only sure-footed and well shod, but fast.
Mrs. Haslett, whose progress had been much slower, was standing at the parcel counter, her watch in her hand, anxiously aruging with the boy in charge.
“I repeat, I haven’t the check,” she
said, with some asperity. “The man who has it is—isn’t here, and will not be here, and my train is about to go. Here is the key, and if you’ll just let me come in there a moment, I’ll identify the bag, unlock it, and prove my claim. I simply must have—”
“I beg your pardon, Mrs. Haslett,” interrupted Oakley’s deep voice at her elbow. “I’m afraid I have caused you great annoyance. Here’s the check.”
He handed it to the boy, and looked gravely into her startled eyes.
“I’m afraid you can never forgive me,” he continued, “but I’d like to claim the privilege of any prisoner at the bar, and state my case—if you will listen.”
“Very well,” said she, coldly. “I will listen, but you must be quick.”
He gave the bag to a passing porter, and as they walked out to the gates he told the story rapidly and well, omitting no illuminating detail and dwelling on none. He made no plea of good intention, but let the facts speak for themselves, and as he talked
he watched her face. Presently little wrinkles appeared at the corners of her eyes, then irresponsible chuckles broke forth, and in the end she was wiping away tears of laughter.
“This closes the statement of the defence,” he concluded. “Now I plead guilty and throw myself upon the mercy of the court.”
“Well, I dare say the court ought to be very severe,” she responded, still laughing, “but—you remember I told you that I was eager for adventure, and you certainly supplied it generously! I haven’t been so entertained in years! You’ve placed me under an obligation that -I can never hope to discharge myself, so I see no way out of it except to ask Mr. Haslett to do something very nice for you and that charming wife of yours. Good night.”
Oakley stood uncovered as long as she was in sight, and then went slowly out to his cab. Alice’s radiant, triumphant face glowed at him from its dusky corners.
“Well, little girl,” said he, aloud, “after all, ‘it is to laugh !’ ”
An Accomplished Chairman
Sir William Van Horne, chairman of the Canadian Pacific, began his business career selling oranges on the Illinois Contrai.
After that he sold books on the Alton. Yet he is one of the most accomplished of the big men of Canada.
He is a connoisseur on art and all things that pertaifa to it. He is himself a painter of rare a'bility, , ajxd he has fitted up in his house at Montreal a studio Where he may be found at work on colors when he is not too busy in “ the world of affairs.”
He has also the most complete collection' of orchids in the country. Six months ago he heard, through his South American agent, of a new variety that grew in the forests of La Plata. He has at present two botanists after that orchid. When he gets it he will be happy for a month.