LORD BYRON’S LIMP
WE CALLED him "Lord Byron" because of his pose. Also, his physical appearance was Byronic, with a sweep of dark hair across his high white forehead—and a limp. His name, however, was McFarland—Robert McFarland. McFarland was a reporter on the Standard. And that was one of the reasons we disliked him—the paper he worked for; then there was his aloof and ludicrous pose, and finally he made a gesture toward a girl whom the gods, with a nice sense of proportion, had created for young Shepard. On all three counts we despised McFarland.
And when I speak of “we” I mean the world that knew him, the newspaper men; but the one to whom this hatred became an obsession was “Hat” Hatton.
Hatton and I had a room together in a house that cringed back from a street which long ago had been reputable. I would like to forget that street, the house, the room; but cannot. Nor can I forget “Hat” Hatton, or young Shepard, who bunked in with us more than half the time, or “Lord Byron” and the thing that happened in the darkness before dawn of a spring morning.
Hatton, Shepard, and McFarland—each with peculiar characteristics is worth mentioning in turn; but first there was that room. On the front of the dilapidated house, second floor, it had a large rectangular window that, opened out upon the red tin roof of a porch. Inside, despite this window, the gloom was palpable. None of us could account for the gloom. It would take a student of shadows to figure it out. But this I know— only an architect whose mind had toppled from the sublime could have devised that discolored marble mantelpiece and stuck a crooked gas jet into the wall at an angle that would cast across our bed the misshapen shadow of a man. And I know that sitting bolt upright in bed we could gaze down upon any object lying on the couch by the window.. . .
DROSPERITY being transitory among reporters, * here they would come when there was no place else to sleep. They dubbed it The Cave; and as many as four have slept in the double bed and two on the couch. When we drifted in between midnight and dawn they would be waiting downstairs on the porch, the intermittent glow of their cigarettes forming ruby sparks in the darkness. After we had piled into the house, Hatton would fix the front door, leaving it unlatched for stragglers. With one exception, he never failed to do this. But on that night he carefully locked the door.
Now Hatton was a fighting man with a comical streak through his nature. He had shoulders and a smile. And sometimes he employed the one, and sometimes the other. When he smiled you remembered him by the gap between his front teeth. And when he used his shoulders you were sure never to forget him. People feared Hatton for his shoulders and liked him for his smile.
He covered police for the Times-Star; and on occasions none too rare, when he came home at dawn, slightly unsteady after a night at Monahan’s this was in the last spring of vintage—he was in no humor to have fun poked at him. But at that hour, of course, there were sparrows. And thus arose his sobriquet, “Hat.” No doubt there are sparrows in every side street, lots of them, chirping in the gray dawn when no one should be
so cheerful. “Ridiculing a fellow and all that,” Hatton would explain. “Can’t stand sparrows, too damn
chirpy......” And uncertain of his footing, he would
amble to the middle of the street, glare up at the offending birds, take careful aim at a flock in a tree, and let fly at them with his hat. Slow and tedious process— going home at dawn with “Hat” Hatton!
ON THE other hand, young Shepard, on these morning journeys homeward, would remonstrate softly: “Sparrows all right. No use hurting sparrows. Like to hear them sing.” They sang to him of Agatha. Shepard had loved her as far back as the record goes. It was written in their birth certificates.
I never saw Agatha, but at midnight I’ve been lulled to sleep by the music of Shepard’s rhapsodies. There was no doubt in his mind she was the most divine of earthly creatures. White coral was her throat, and like the desert stars her eyes were large and luminous. Et cetera... .Even Dick Wetheral, a connoisseur and collector of women, admitted that Agatha was “an eyefull.” “Pretty little thing, dark, and fiery, with a chin that tilts up. If Shep gets her—if—well, she’ll pilot him out of the fog.”
Agatha, it seems, was not wholly unaccustomed to mentally befogged men. Her father, a professor of something, had been asked to resign from some university or other for being too radical. He spent his time writing unpublishable books. As Wetheral phrased it, “Agatha’s pater pulls a blank for the family to live on and Agatha fills the hiatus.”
“Stenographer?” I asked unimaginatively.
“No. Works in a book shop. Attends to the ordering and things. Sits up in a gallery with her ankles crossed and her black eyes smouldering. She’ll make a good pilot for Shep. You know what I mean—steer his bark out of the fog with a cool hand....”
THE fog in which he moved was peculiar to Shepard.
Lost in a fog-bank he seemed unable to get anyw’here. You would have to know him to understand this, for he had brains of a sort, brains that are all too rare; yet he lacked common sense. Perhaps “visionary” is the word, and consequently Shepard was a hopeless failure as a reporter.
Also, he had another weakness, for which we liked him tremendously; but for the life of me I cannot say why the old Times-Star kept him on the pay roll. If given an assignment and left to his own devices, he would bring back a romance, build it up climax on climax and end with a denouement that was like the breathless descent in a parachute—with its surprisingly gentle landing. Shep was a fictionist. It was innate, he could not help it. Just a youngster; yet all of us were confident that some day allowing for wind and tide and a skilful pilot he would be a little more than a passable writer. Agatha would make a man of the boy and a celebrity of the man.
Even “Hat” Hatton, the least emotional of us all, felt this: “I like to think cf those two—Agatha and Shep—wandering through life as if it were a gardenmaking it a garden. Good Lord! For the sordid lot of us it’s grub, grub, grub in the corn and cabbage patches
That was all well and good enough for the future, but
getting down to Shepard’s masterful weakness one bumps against a hard fact: Gambling. That was his weakness-gambling. Nothing to extenuate the crude truth unless one flies off on a celestial tangent and argues from the fairly broad generality that the Creator, Himself, is a gambler—for men’s souls at that. If it were not true there would be no such thing as free will. But that is another story, for Shep gambled in the ordinary way, and the motive was the only thing that saved it from being wholly reprehensible.
I HOPE the motive will save him in your eyes. He was pitting pennies against happiness, trying to win the latter, risking the few dollars left over from his pay each week with the perennially pathetic hope that some night he would win enough to finance a honeymoon.
He knew himself pretty well, knew he was not constitutionally able to save penny by penny, dollar by dollar. He was not created to» accomplish so splendid a thing, could not for the life of him be penurious; and so every Monday—the Times-Star paid us on Mondays—after midnight when the paper had gone to press Shepard could be found in the back -room of AÍ Monahan’s. Al’s was wedged in between the ponderous Times-Star building and King’s restaurant, and there Shepard lost consistently.
He never won. I remember the day he received a bonus for a story in the Sunday paper. “Agatha is twenty-two years old tc-day and it’s the twenty-second of April,” he told Hatton and me. “To-night I’m going to put twenty-two dollars on the twenty-two.” He couldn’t lose. He laughed infectiously. They were going to the Garden of the Gods on their wedding trip.
THAT night we watched the wheel spin around. A man back of us tried to edge his way in, but Hatton wouldn’t give an inch. We leaned over the table, and there in the back room of Al’s with the shaded green light pouring its rays down upon the heads of waiters, chauffeurs, pressmen, and idlers—a mass of male humanity—the small ivory ball rattled and jumped. The wheel spun more and more slowly. Then it stopped with a click, and the ball rested on the number eight.
I looked at Shepard. He smiled faintly—an appealing youngster with finely chiseled features and a brush of scrubby hair. t
Later that night Hatton said, “It’s a damned shame. All he needs is a little money, just a few hundred. You’d think he’d win once in a while—the law of averages and all that.”
But he never did. It wasn’t written that he was to get Agatha that way. Hopeless.
“But he’s going to get her,” insisted Hatton with bis heavy shoulders hunched. “Shep is going to marry Agatha.” That is all he said; but I felt certain something else was in his mind, that he was thinking, grimly, aboilt “Lord Byron.”
Two nights later we saw McFarland at King’s. He was at a table by himself, drinking a pint of ale. He sat alone, for that was part of his pose—aloofness; he sat alone and people were looking at him—particujarly women. Out of a soft rolled collar arose his neck like a chiseled column capped by his head carefully placed a little to one side. As we watched him, our dislike all too patent, he took a pencil from his pocket and began to write on the back of an envelope.
“Scribbling, ‘Eany„ meany, miney, mo!’ ” grinned Hat Hatton, showing the gap between his front teeth. “That kind of thing goes with some people! And get that rapt expression!”
I STUDIED McFarland’s profile: deep cut features, A high white forehead crossed by that sweep of dark hair. Nothing weak about the nose or chin, but around the mouth the muscles seemed drawn. It was this to which Hatton referred. I’ve seen the same thing since in the faces of other men—a curious set expression of the lips and something hard in the eyes, almost defiant. I understand now what it means. I didn’t then.
“Another thing”—Hatton couíd not keep off the subject—“he doesn’t always limp. It’s nothing but a part of his damned pose. I’ve seen him start out on his assignments, saw him leave the Standard yesterday, and he wasn’t limping any more than you or I. But wait until he gets up from the table, just wait, with people watching him......”
Hatton’s shoulders were throwing a shadow on the
white damask as he leaned across the table glaring at McFarland. His dislike was slowly changing into some thing more dynamic—hate. “Think of women falling for that kind of thing!, Intelligent women—Agatha!” “All becase Shep hasn’t a few hundred,” I put in. “Uhm. But McFarland isn’t going to get her.”
We continued to discuss kirn until Hatton made a noise in his throat and became suddenly silent. Lord Byron had risen from his chair and was leaning on the table, attracting attention by his unusual height and pallor; or else, more particularly Ithink, by the defiant look in his eyes and the tense expression around his mouth. No denying that the women in the restaurant were gazing at him. I saw two of them whisper to each other. sThen, with all eyes upon him, he moved slowly between the tables toward the door—limping perceptibly, not too much, not overdoing it in the least; but perceptibly.
TWO weeks later I saw Lord Byron standing at the curb gazing across at a book shop. This was the shop in which Agatha worked, and the conclusion was irresistible: McFarland was waiting for her.
At the far corner I paused. People were'leaving the stores, trickling out; the street became crowded with homeward-bound employees, men and women and girls, an endless procession of girls. My view of the book shop was blocked by a noisy, colorful, highly perfumed crowd, and I cannot say whether or not the employees of the little'book shop had come out on the street; but I saw McFarland suddenly step down from the pavement, take a few steps into the street, then stand there gazing across. After a moment, quite unexpectedly, he turned and moved away rather more rapidly than was his wont.
“That’s strange,” I thought to myself; and that night I told Hatton: “McFarland is really in love with Shep’s girl. If he had, met her____That might have been dif-
ferent. But just watching her come out of the store.. ” Hatton said nothing. But the next day young Shepard came to me. “Hat says McFarland was waiting for Agatha yesterday.”
“I don’t think he waited, Shep. He was there, but turned away just as the employees were coming out of the store.”
Shepard pondered this. “Hatton says I should do something drastic, even if I have to use a club!” He grinned, but not very happily. “I’m not much of
fighter, you know, but I’d do it if I thought....”
I waited, but he did not finish his sentence.
That night the three of us were at our typewriters. Our desks faced the rectangular opening—a huge wellon three sides of which were the reportorial, editorial, and art rooms. On the fourth side were the library and “morgue.” Up from the basement came a deep-throated rumble that caused the old building to vibrate. The paper had gone to press.
Hatton cleared away the fag ends of City Press bulletins and turned to young Shepard. “Well.... did you clout him?” Hatton showed the gap between his front teeth good-naturedly.
“No,” said Shepard solemnly.
Hatton became thoughtful, slowly rolling a cigarette, then: “There comes a time in the life of every man when he should double up his fist. If you don’t do it, Shep, I’m going to do it for you. The next time you see McFarland hit him, and hit him hard. Do the talking afterwards. Tell him to keep away from Agatha, and if he doesn’t, hit him again. Doesn’t matter whether you get the worst of it or not, that isn’t the thing. Also, tell Agatha why you did it, and that you’re going to repeat the dose every time she sees him.... ” This was Hat Hatton of the shoulders talking. He was giving the best advice he knew. He liked Shepard, wanted to fight for him; but that would humiliate the youngster, so he was trying to get him to fight for himself. He sat there, shoulders hunched.
THAT Wednesday Agatha telephoned to the office.
I saw Shepard when he got the message, saw his face, he tried to grin; but I heard him falter: “Mahoney’s given me theater tickets for tonight.... I’ve got theatre tickets for tonight — ” Ever since he had been on the Times-Star he had taken Agatha each Wednesday night to the theater or to hear some music. She had told him not to come that evening.
Shepard sat at the telephone a long while after hanging up the receiver, then got his hat and disappeared.
I had the dog watch. After midnight there was time
to think and I pondered this small drama that was being enacted not outside but within the shadow of the press that spent its energies divulging the comedies and tragedies of the world. I asked myself was it to be a comedy or tragedy? or like most of life a mixture of the two? The fumes of printers’ ink seemed to work their way into my brain, producing an inebriety of profitless thought. One can get curious ideas and hallucinations in a newspaper shop. The eyes stare down upon the littered floor where discarded copy and torn proofs with heel marks upon them form a kind of mad cubistic picture, while up from the very foundation of the building comes the deep-throated rumble of the presses, tones and undertones, assailing the ear and beating a rhythm into the brain... .What was Shepard doing with his night off? If he had taken Hatton’s advice, what had been the outcome?
I GOT to thinking about McFarland and Agatha, visualized them: Agatha with her white coral throat and smouldering dark eyes looking up at him, laughing, as they slowly walked along; McFarland limping slightly, not too much, not overdoing it, but perceptibly limping. It wasn’t difficult to imagine a girl being attracted by Lord Byron. But take the thing a year frcm now when his pose had worn her patience threadbare. That was
the thing to contemplate......
I tried to size up the two men, McFarland and Shepard. Both were in love with her, I was sure of this; but there are degrees of love. McFarland was a mountebank—I put it to myself in that way: this Lord Byron is a mountebank and, it follows, his love is charlatanic; while Shepard is just a youngster, a curious kind of youngster of whom a woman could make something if she had the vision to see the thing that was clear to all of us —if she could see it and would take the smallest pains to bring it out. But a wrong turn now, at this time in his life, that was the danger, a wrong turn now and in a year or so Shepard would be like the rest of us, laboring, as Hatton had put it, in the corn and cabbage patches. Between moments that night I seemed to see something fine being lost to the world, something inside young Shepard going to pieces or else becomirg coarse, which was worse.
Dick Wetheral and Hatton dropped in for a moment shortly after two o’clock. Both asked if I had seen Shep. and all of us surmised as to where he had gone and what he had found in the way of solace. “Drinking some place,” was Hatton’s guess. Wetheral was sponsor for the statement that McFarland had seen Agatha twice this week, Sunday afternoon and again tonight. He summed up succinctly: “McFarland wants Agatha, and he’ll get her.”
Hatton heard this. His head was buried in an early edition. He did not look up, said nothing; but I saw his shoulders.
It was some time after they had left that I heard a
noise. Far off it sounded.
The presses had stopped suddenly, leaving heavy silence; and the shadowy old building with its odd corners and waste places had the feeling of emptiness. The door leading to the editorial room was locked, the reportorial room deserted, floor littered, lights out. Then from whence came that click, clicking noise? It was familiar enough in a newspaper shop; but at this hour, a ghostly sound as if some tormented reporter of a bygone day had broken his bonds to finish some unfinished story. I entered the morgue, black as the catacombs. From beyond came a gleam of light.
In the library I found young Shepard. All night he had been writing, and when he pulled a sheet from the typewriter and glanced up to see me standing in the doorway, he grinned wearily—j u s t a youngster, you know, seemingly ashamed of the thing he could do best.
“Fiction?” I asked.
“Not exactly. Just an idea. I got it from a news story.” He showed me the clipping: Curious thing. Doctors had seared a woman’s back, burned blisters on it, to distract her thought from some hideous thing that had happened. “Trying to save her mind,” Shepard explained. “Pitting one kind of suffering against another.
Sort of an idea; but I wasn’t using physical pain, nothing physical—merely the conscience: a man wilfully searing his conscience
......Just an idea—a man
searing his conscience to distract his mind from some other kind of pain.”
“What other kind of pain?” I asked.
“I don’t know exactly—anguish, something he’s suffering.” He ended abruptly, looked up, studied my face. “There’s nothing personal, you know.”
“You have an idea there, Shep. A man wilfully searing his conscience—rather a terrible idea.”
“There’s no personal application,” he insisted. He was silent for a time, seemingly revolving something in his mind. Presently he said slowly, .thoughtfully, as if he were the first man who ever made the admission. “I don’t know anything about women.”
I tried not to smile at this. “You mean Agatha?” “Yes....I want to ask you something, something about women.”
“You mean Agatha?” I asked again.
He nodded his head. “Last Monday... .Would a girl send for a man, and when he got there say nothing about it, and when he left, if she had never done it before, hold to him, and perhaps cry a little, if she was never to see him again? Would it mean that—that she was never going to pee him again?”
“I don’t know, Shep. But if it does mean she is never going to see you again, what are you going to do, Shep? Just let it go at that?”
“I’m going to write.”
It took me a long moment before I could say, “I understand.”
“No, you don't understand,” said Shepard quietly. “You think I should follow Hatton’s advice.”
“I think you ought to work things out in your own way. Hatton is Hatton.”
He echoed this. “Hatton is Hatton. Perhaps Hatton was right, but I couldn’t do it. I went over there this afternoon, just after Agatha ’phoned. I went up to the Standard office. I was going to try to do what Hatton had told me to do—hit McFarland, hit him hard. But I didn’t even speak to him.” Shepard gathered up the sheets of typewritten manuscript scattered over the floor; he fumbled them. “Do you know,” said he, “I like McFarland. I don’t know why, but I like Mc-
• And somehow, I don’t know why, but I liked Shepard for saying that. Intuitive youngster!
This was Wednesday night. Then came Saturday, the night I want particularly to tell about.
TT STARTED at Al Monahan’s. Escaping from the
* shadows of the Times-Star rotunda, we used to plunge down five steps from the sidewalk and enter Al’s through swinging doors. On the left were three high-backed stalls; next to these, a long redwood bar with mirrors reflecting pyramids of sparkling glasses and rows of bottles filled with colorful liquids—amber, violet, red and green. Beyond was a dingy room which, after closing hours, was shut off by sliding doors. A rear exit led to an alley. This was Monahan’s—Al, himself, in ample white apron polishing glasses and shaking up drinks with hands as large as hams. It is gone now, of course, and its ghost would hardly recognize the place— a lunch room where food is dispensed by slot machines.
An “automat”! Good Lord!
Some of the old timers had dropped in that night and, as always, were bewailing the good days before the City Press and schools of journalism robbed reporting of its genius and spontaneity. We were sitting in the stalls near the door, the smoke was thick, the night warm, and
A1 with his usual disregard of the fitness of things had served us hot chowder—free of course—instead of crackers and cheese. Some one had related the oft told tale about the Chicago reporter who backed a moving van up to the Marshall Field’s residence and by means of an ingenious hoax got hold of the family portraits and took them to his paper to be photographed; some one else divulged the fact that the San Francisco fire had been covered from Evanston by two enterprising reporters who syndicated their stuff throughout the United States and Europe. A grizzly Washington correspondent who had been on a newspaper with George Ade became reminiscent .... All old stuff.
HAT HATTON plucked me by'the sleeve. He had been listening, not saying a word, his shoulders hunched moodily. When I glanced around, however, the gap was showing between his front teeth. I knew something was up, felt that at dawn he would be throwing his hat at the sparrows, and catching the contagion of his humor, followed him half way down the redwood bar. But he waved Al aside and told me in a voice hardly audible:
“Tonight we’re going to pull the funniest newspaper stunt on record—the kind they’ll be rehashing twenty years from now.” .Those were very nearly his exact words: “Funniest newspaper stunt on record,”— funniest!
Hatton continued in low tones: “Did you see him when he entered?” “Who?” I asked.
“His Lordship. He’s present and among us—Lord Byron of the Standard. He slipped by just a few minutes ago. He’s there in the back room drinking free soup ' and a glass of ale. Look at Ids pockets, look cautiously!”
There was nothing particularly startling about McFarland being at Al’s. I had seen him here before, not often, but occasionally. He had no moire money than the rest of us, so why shouldn’t he be drinking free soup? “What’s up? Where’s the stunt?” “He’s hiding them tonight,” said Hatton impressively. “Does that give you a thrill?”
It did not give me a thrill, for the simple reason that I hadn’t any idea what Hat Hatton was talking about. “Come on o u t s i d e.” He beckoned. the swinging doors and the
And I followed through the swinging doors and up the five steps to the pavement.
Hatton drew me into the shadows of the Times-Star rotunda. “Lord Byron’s hiding them,” he repeated. “Have you read the Standard during the past two weeks?” It was a useless question and Hatton did not wait for a reply. He explained that the Standard had hit upon a novel advertising scheme. On the past two Saturday nights several hundred small envelopes had been hidden in the park. Each envelope contained a slip entitling the holder to a prize. The cash prizes aggregated five hundred dollars in amounts from fifty cents to fifty dollars; the remaining slips were orders for fifteen hundred dollars’ worth of merchandise—everything from teething rings to tombstones.
I began to get an inkling of what was in Hatton’s mind. “The point is the money.”
“The point is, Lord Byron is hiding these envelopes tonight. I saw them sticking out of his pockets. His pockets are bulging.”
“I see. You want to waylay him.”
“No. Follow him, that’s all. Follow him to the park. Every time he sticks an envelope under a bush or in a tree we’ll creep up and take it.... ”
The door of Al’s swung open, emitting a yellow flare of
Continued on page 39
Continued from page 24
light. Both of us strained our eyes. “Nobody,” grunted Hatton and continued to explain. “We’ll get the envelopes as fast as McFarland hides them. Then we’ll distribute them around the Times-Star, from office boys to pressmen, —give ’em to the reporters, artists, compositors—who will turn them into the Standard and collect the cash and merchandise on Monday morning. You get it now, don’t you? Listen! The Standard is on the press announcing in its Sunday edition that it will publish the names and addresses of those who find the slips. The Standard will print the list. And every name will be followed by the same address: ‘The TimesStar:’ Say, can you beat it!”
T BEGAN to laugh. But Hat Hatton 1 stopped me. “He might hear you. He might come out. Listen! That isn’t all......” .
“Just a minute,” I broke in. The
Standard won’t print the list.”
“The Standard will have to; and, further, think of the story the TimesStar will carry. Remember, this is the third time the Standard has worked this scheme, and last Sunday morning a wild mob almost wrecked the park. It cost the Standard only a few hundred to jump up its circulation and advertise all the merchandise in its columns. The merchants gave the suspenders, razor blad:->, Mother Hubbards and all that. But it cost the city several thousand to repair the damage to shrubbery and grass. Yet the city said nothing. Why? You know why. And the Times-Star will take that angle. An expose. An outrage being perpetrated on the tax-payers!” I couldn’t see the gap between Hatton’s front teeth, but I could feel him shaking with mirth.
“That’s one side of it: The Standard hides the money, the Times-Star finds it and exposes the outrage being perpetrated on the tax-payers. But the money itself....” He took hold of my arm, “Here’s the real laugh. Remember Lord Byron is hiding these envelopes. Remember that. He’s hiding the money and young Shepard is going to get married on it. Lord Byron tonight is hiding a complete trousseau and wedding trip for his rival, young Shepard....”
Yes, if things had gone as Hat Hatton planned, it would have been I daresay an amusing stunt.
He was still whispering plans when the door of Monahan’s again swung wide and a tall figure appeared in the yellow light. Lord Byron ascended the five steps and walked slowly to the curb. I could feel the mirth depart from Hatton. He whispered an expletive then: “If he takes a taxi we’re lost!”
It will be remembered, this was Saturday night, and the Times-Star paid on Monday. That was why we were eating free soup at Al’s and our only hope was that Lord Byron was also penniless.
He looked up and down the empty street. Midnight. A deserted part of the city. Turning he walked slowly away and fortunately did not glance behind him. At the corner he boarded a street car which, after a hard sprint, we caught half way up the block.
I HAD never shadowed a man. It affects the nerves. The mind slinks, the eye becomes furtive, and involun-
tarily one glances around to see that no one else is following. Oddly enough a feeling of guilt stamps itself into the conscience. On the back platform, where we stood with hats pulled over our eyes it came to me that man was not made to crouch in the shadows; biologically, he was constructed to walk upright.
We could see McFarland inside the car, one leg crossed over the other. The car was all but empty and its few occupants are still photographed on my brain. I remember them to this day, can see them now, framed by the car door. A bearded peddler with a pack on the seat beside him was sleeping at the far end, toes turned in, hand resting against the window that looked out upon the hazy, animated form of the motorman; a girl and a young man were leaning over some kind of a puzzle, laughing; another girl sat alone, drooping slightly, looking across at McFarland. What a contrast! Her hair was red and gave a tinge of red to her temple and the lobe of her ear. Her lips were parted; and she struck me as being carnal to the ends of her tapering finger-tips. Lord Byron, dark and brooding, sat directly opposite, a hard unyielding expression in his eyes. He seemed to be looking through and beyond all carnal things. His column-like neck arose imposingly from his soft rolled collar and the muscles tugged at the corners of his lips in an effort to draw them down.
We jolted along through the night.
Hatton nudged me. “We’ll get off just ahead of him.”
When McFarland signaled the conductor, we got down on the step. Hatton alighted midway the block, almost lost his footing, then disppeared down the street. As Lord Byron reached the door, I jumped from the car and made direct for the park.
Presently he passed, walking slowly, stiffly erect, hardly limping at all. He was on the path in the dim, diffused rays of the electric lights. Following on the turf at a distance of thirty or forty feet I had the feeling of a panther stalking its prey. The night was moonless.
Presently Lord Byron reached into his bulging pocket, extracted a small envelope and stuck it into the fork of a slender dogwood. Within a few seconds I arrived át the spot and took the envelope. The hunt had started. The second envelope he dropped into a bush, and a thorn scratched my wrist as I reached for the bit of white paper.
Now he had left the path. Somewhere there in the black shadows he doubled toward me. Sensations raced up my spine. But as he came slowly along a thought almost caused me to laugh aloud: Suppose he should mistake me for a part of the tree I was hiding behind and put an envelope in my pocket or stick it behind my ear! In fact he passed close enough to do this, then disappeared entirely, engulfed by the darkness. There was neither sight nor sound of him, and I began to realize that following a man through the gloom, the streaky blackness of a park was neither pleasant nor profitable. The darkness seemed monstrous.
MY SENSES must have been unnaturally sharpened, for I never before had* been so conscious of the strong odor of the earth, the clinging, rasping feel of wet foliage, the innumerable
noises that combined to form the tense silence of the night. I wondered what had happened to Hatton, why he had not picked up the trail. Perhaps he had conceived the misguided idea of turning the joke on me, perhaps he was back at Monahan’s. I visualized him at Al’s describing to an amused circle the thing that was being enacted among the shrubbery and dank boulders of the park—Lord Byron stalking through the night hiding little envelopes, followed by me, picking them out of the bushes. If I could find McFarland, I would help him hide the blessed envelopes.. .But when I saw a shadow deeper than the rest moving jerkily ahead, the instinct of caution returned. I crept forward and found several envelopes in a pile of rocks.
Not a ray penetrated these depths of the park. I had been led into a miniature jungle. Getting on my hands and knees, feeling my way, straining my eyes to pierce the black intricacies of the bushes, I became obsessed by the fear that something was going to pounce down upon me. And it did. A solid object sent broken lances of light through my brain. Leather thongs seemed to be closing around my throat. I got my fingers into a man’s hair, got the other hand into his collar, then into.his throat, and as we rolled over into a bush our faces came together. It was Hat Hatton ......
Both of us were mad. We gave a final dig at each other’s throats, then separated and sat there shaking with suppressed mirth.
“How many you got?” he whispered.
“Eight or nine.”
“Hell,” breathed Hatton.
“How many you?” I mumbled expectantly.
When we v'ere on our feet he made understandable gestures, indicating that I was to keep to one side and he to the other. This plan worked poorly enough.
F'ORTUNATELY McFarland continF ued to move from tree to shrub with slow, halting gait.. But even so, continually we lost sight of him during the two hours that followed , while time and again we lost sight of each other. In fact it was not a matter of sight at all, for only occasionally a ray from some distant arclight penetrated this part of the park and revealed Lord Byron’s pallid face. The sound of his footsteps alone guided us—the methodical noise of his limp among the underbrush; and even this noise was lost for long reaches of time. Nevertheless our pockets were beginning to bulge when, innocently, I mistook McFarland for Hatton and walking up behind him gave him a shove to indicate he was to keep to his owm side.
The retribution for this blunder was swift and decisive. McFarland landed a blow on my chest that sent me sprawling into a thickly planted rock garden. I tried to leap up, but fell and only a miracle of agility saved me from a piledriving blow that I’m sure, had it landed, would have cracked my ribs. His heavy labored bieathing followed until I reached an open space, across which I sprinted in world record time.
When I paused for breath on the opposite side of the open space, surprisingly enough Hatton was there. “I got enough.” was all I was able to articulate.
“Do you think he recognized you?” asked Hatton.
It was impossible to suppose that a man who had clouted me, knocked me into the middle of a rock pile, chased me around trees, had not seen my face.
“Recognized me!......Come on or he’ll
beat us to the house. You can count on it, he’ll follow us.”
Hatton said nothing. But the game we had been playing among the grotesque shadows had affected his nerves as much as it had mine—for a different reason and in a different way. Later I was convinced of this.
FROM the window of a homeward bound car we saw a clock. For more than two hours we had kept our senses keyed up to an extraordinary pitch and it was now nearing three o’clock as we made our way down the side street to the house in which we had a rocm. The house cringed back in the yard. On the porch could be seen the intermittent glow of a cigarette. Someone was
on the porch, smoking. Both of us stopped in our tracks.
“He couldn’t have beaten us here!” “If it’s McFarland,” said Hatton, “leave him to me. If it’s Shepard, don’t tell him a thing, not a word. We’ll open the envelopes in the bathroom.”
It was Shepard.
We entered the hall, illy lit, dark and odorous. Half way up the steps Hatton turned back, and I heard him fumbling with the latch. He locked the front door for the first time since we had been in this house, and without explanation ascended the stairs and went direct to the bathroom.
When young Shepard was in bed, I joined Hatton. He was sitting on the edge of the bathtub. Not an envelope had he opened, not one. Without glancing up he grumbled. “I ran to-night. That’s why I was on the other side of that open space as soon as you were. Iran.”
“Well, I ran too.”
His voice was thick. Something that I did not understand was worrying him. Presently, however, when we had emptied our pockets into the wash-basin, making a pile of white small envelopes, he grinned: “Shepard’s trousseau and honeymoon!”
There were eighty-seven envelopes. We counted them. The first I recall distinctly contained an order for a necktie. “Not bad,” said Hatton. “Not half bad. We’ll get Shep a royal purple four-in-hand with a touch of green, for his wedding.” The next slip called for a pair of silk stockings. “Shep can give ’em to Agatha—after they’re married.” Following were three slips calling for subscriptions to the Standard. Hatton threw them on the floor. Then came orders for aluminum kitchen utensils, a box of handkerchiefs, more subscriptions. Presently a pair of shoes showed up. This was encouraging and we began to tear open envelopes with real interest. Four more neckties! “Good Lord!” A bottle of hair tonic, two petticoats, a set of Bulwer Lytton, and a lady’s hat came along in about the order named. Also I recall orders for pajamas, an electric iron, a pair of trousers and six umbrellas.. “But where are the cash prizes?”
“It’s a fake.” Hatton paused in the midst of tearing an envelope. “A fake like everything connected with the Standard.” His indignation became righteous. “We’ll expose ’em! Fake!”
In fact we had opened forty-odd envelopes before coming across a slip that called for money. The first was for one dollar, and when we had opened all eightyseven the cash prizes aggregated only nine dollars and fifty cents.
“They’ll never get to the Garden of the Gods on that,” I suggested.
Hatton sat down on the edge of the bathtub. Both of us were silent. Presently I asked, “Why did you lock the door tonight? Dick Wetheral is sure to drift in later.”
“He’ll have to stay out,” said Hatton. “But you weren’t locking the door against Wetheral, you were locking it against McFarland.” I studied Hatton sitting there, shoulders hunched, chin in his hand,
“If he comes here tonight,” said Hatton, “it’s going to be the end of both of us.” The noisy gas jet threw a distorted shadow of his shoulders against the wall, the light deepened the lines in his face— a curious study. Something misshapen and shadowy was going on inside his head, of this I was sure, for I knew his brain almost as well as I knew his shoulders and his smile. A combination of the two, his brain worked methodically, forged ahead like his shoulders with streaks of rare brilliancy, like his smile. Not a quick, facile brain: but one that seldom failed to arrive at a solid conclusion. After a long silence he said:
“T SHOULDN’T have gone out there 1 to-night. It was playing too close. Have you ever known me to run before? Have you? Well, out there to-night when he bowled you over I started for him, then turned and ran. Not from fear, but something worse—hate. That Byronic pose of his, that limp, and more than all that supercilious expression in his eyes, around his mouth. That’s why I ran—part of it. I’m going to tell you the rest, but understand I never hated a man like this hypocritical mounte-
bank. Here’s the rest—the thing that stopped me, made me turn and run. Listen! I covered a story out there, before your time, out there in the park right where we were; three men, two of them killed the third, dragged his body from that rock garden to the lake. I remembered it just as I started for McFarland. I wanted to get my fingers in his throat, my fist against that perpetual sneer, wanted to pound it off his face with a rock. Then I remembered, saw that other murder, turned and ran. But if he comes here tonight, follows us, persists in coming in, I want you to clear out. I don’t want you mixed up in it. I don’t want anybody around......”
It was after three when we got imbed.
I can’t tell you the exact hour. Neither of us had a watch. But the moon was up, throwing a thin greenish light on the red tin roof outside the window. Young Shepard was asleep on the inside of the bed, next to the wall. Hatton was in the middle.
Nor can I say what time we awakened. The moonlight was still on the roof, a pallid light turning the red to deep maroon. I could see a small sector of the roof from where I lay, could hear Shepard breathing regularly, still asleep. But Hatton was not breathing at all, seemed to be holding his breath, listening.
There was not a sound, and I cannot say what awakened me. I opened my eyes and lay there as motionless as Hatton with an inexplainable feeling that I was watching a sector back in Picardy. The tension was similar.
Then I heard some one down on the porch, rattling the front door. Hatton remained motionless. Silence. Next a halting footstep. No mistaking that limp—Lord Byron was down there. He stalked around the porch and back to the front door, rattled the knob again, and went down the front steps......
Suddenly I jumped. Something had struck the wall above my head and spattered down on the bed. It took a moment to figure it out—a clod of earth had been thrown through the window.
Hatton had not moved.
A voice came from outside. “Open the door.” McFarland called again: “Hatton, let me in.” Then he called to
“Don’t answer,” said Hatton.
Young Shepard rose up against the wall. Hatton pulled him back to the pillow. McFarland^called: “Hatton.. Shepard....” ■ 1
“I’ll close the window and lock it,” whispered Shepard. His voice quavered, and yet we had told him nothing. But Shepard was intuitive as a woman. He must have felt something radiating from Hatton. Even I could feel it. I knew the thing that was passing through his mind. He had run from McFarland out there in the park. He, Hatton, had run once to-night. He wouldn’t run again. That was certain. He had done all that to his nature was possible. Now he was calm as the lightuponthered roof. Too calm, too steady, too motionless, as if his mind having passed through all preliminary thought had reached an unalterable decision. He was merely waiting for the moment to act.
T THOUGHT of several absurdities— A of winding a sheet around Hatton, pinning him down, calling on young Shepard to help hold him—when the time came. But I knew he could throw both of us aside as easily as sticks of kindling wood. I knew his shoulders and the immutabilty of his mind.
Young Shepard moved restlessly. Then the oppressive silence was broken by a curious noise like an oath, like a groan down on the porch and this was followed by heavy labored breathing, clearly audible. Then came the thing that shattered Hatton’s nerve.
It came suddenly and without warning —a clatter on top the tin roof.
Hatton sat bolt upright in bed. “Look!” His voice was unlike any voice I had heard before. “For the love of God, look!”
I couldn’t. I was pinned down. Hatton’s hand was planted on my chest pressing down. I squirmed, and with an effort sat up in bed, and saw the thing Hatton was staring at. A man’s leg with a shoe on it, bare at the knee, ending at the thigh, was lying on top of the tin roof—nothing else, just an artificial leg lying on the roof in the moonlight.
As we stared, over the edge of the gut-
ter appeared a sweep of dark hair, a high white forehead, Lord Byron’s deepchiseled face. Robbed of all color, it hung there, seemingly decapitated, looking round.
This illusion lasted a moment, then McFarland’s shoulders appeared and laboriously he rolled over and got up on one knee....
I sank back on the pillow. Shepard had disappeared from thq bed, and I got an indefinite impression of him crawling underneath and out the door. Hatton remained bolt upright, transfixed.
I COULD see McFarland now—part of him framed by the window above the couch. With gyrations he made his way toward the window. And when he reached the window he came in. The room was black, the moonlight was back of him. Carefully he laid something on the couch, hopped to the mantel and held to the mantel, struck a match and lighted the gas. His shadow was across our bed.
When he turned, he gazed at Hatton. Hatton’s face had taken to itself the pallor of the moonlight. “What’s the matter?” asked McFarland.
“Your leg....” Hatton tried to say something else, but merely swallowed.
“What’s the matter with my leg?”
McFarland asked grimly.
“Your leg,” repeated Hatton. “It’s on the couch. You’re over there —by the mantel.”
Lord Byron made no reply. Getting back to the couch he sat down, breathing heavily. Presently he asked, “Where’s Shepard? Here to-night?”
Neither Hatton nor I answered. McFarland said wearily in a monotone: “They sent me out there to the park to hide envelopes tonight. Sent me... .1 hobbled all over the park. Had a fight out there....”
I moved on my pillow. He did not know how close he was to the person he had clouted, did not know we had followed him.
McFarland continued in his monotone. “Sent me.... ” He damned the business department of the Standard, damned the business department of all newspapers. What were they good for? Wasn’t for the business department newspapers would be half decent.... “I got to thinking out there—out there in the park; got to thinking all they could do with this money, the good they could do, the good ƒ could do with it... ” He fumbled in his pocket, and pulled out a sheaf of small white envelopes. “I stole these,” he said. His voice was not so weary now, but there was an odd break in it. “I stole these.” He did not try to ameliorate the fact, merely repeated it two or three times. “I stole these. I don't know how much is in them—two or three hundred dollars’ worth of slips. You fellows get them cashed. Fix it up somehow.” He studied the handful of little envelopes he had stolen, tore one partly open, then dropped them all in a pile on the couch. “Young Shepard’s been wanting to get married for a year or more. Get these cashed and fix it up somehow...”
He raised himself on one leg, balanced for a moment, lit a cigarette, sat down again, leaned over and began to fumble with something.
SLOWLY along my spine into my brain crept a sensation that took the form of an idea. But the idea was not original. I had heard it before. Something about a man searing his conscience to distract his thoughts. I sat up in bed beside Hatton, both of us gaping at Lord Byron who was fumbling with the straps of that artificial leg.
“McFarland.... Mac.... ” I blurted out. “You’re in love with her yourself, with Agatha—you, yourself.”
He did not raise his head, continued to work with the straps. When he straightened he was a whole man again. He had fastened the thing on and gotten his trousers over it. He stood up and looked at us squarely, but the thing he said was hardly audible—as if he were saying it to himself: “If I loved her, I wouldn’t want to marry her.”
I’ll have to let some one else figure out what he meant by that. To me it seemed—and still seems—a paradox. “If I loved her, I wouldn’t want to marry her.” McFarland did not explain. He was Lord Byron again, slipped into the pose as if it was a cloak to hide his real self—that was the remarkable thing— even quoted a line as if he, himself, had written it: Something about man’s love is of his life a thing apart.... “She loves young Shepard,” he added. “Everybody does. ‘It’s woman’s whole existence
And slowly across theroom Lord Byron moved, limping only slightly; not overdoing it, not in the least, just enough; his column-like neck arising out of his soft collar, the sweep of dark hair across his high white forejhead.
We heard him slowly descending the steps. Hatton got out of bed, started for the door, wheeled around and stood in the middle of the room looking at me. “Did you see it?”
“Of course I saw it.”
“Not his leg.” Hatton’s mind was working like his shoulders—driving irresistibly toward the vital point. “That expression, that thing in his face, in his eyes, around his mouth. Do you know what it is? Do you? It’s suffering! Think of covering it with a pose, hiding it from^the world, holding off sympathy
Shepard had put his head in at the door and Hatton took his measure. “Come on in. I want to say something, Shep. A man’s gotten out of your way—a man, and that means something. It takes something to make a man. Whenever you see one you’ll know it has taken something extraordinary to make him what he is. Sometimes it takes a worhan. Agatha is going to do it for you. In
McFarland’s case......well, I guess it
wasn’t a woman but a whole lot of women and men, and children too—it must have been a whole world war....”
Hatton paused. All of us listened. From outside there came a sound that thrilled us, a halting footstep on the sidewalk—Lord Byron’s limp....
And since that time I’ve never known Hat Hatton to throw his hat at the sparrows, but I’ve heard him maintain that every creature sings about the best song it can. And as for young Shepard.... If I should tell you his penname I’m sure you would agree that out of the fog of that yesteryear he has been piloted right skilfully.