In This Corner— Charity !
TOMMY ARMOUR dived from the springboard at the top of the diving platform. His body, brown to the waist, arched upon the summer sky in transitory silhouette, sundered the bright lake water with only a puddle of foam to mark the place of entrance.
He came up grinning with pleasure at the perfection of the dive, shaking the water from his blonde hair, and returned to the dock with easy strokes.
Cornelia Bancroft, who had just stopped her roadster at the shore end of the dock, leaned forward gazing at him, an enigmatic look in her dark eyes. It was only when she watched Tommy that her glance held that baffled look, a curious mixture of resentment, irritation and affection.
She climbed from the car and began to walk out upon the dock. At the sound of her heels on the planks, Tommy turned, lifted his arm in greeting, and called:
“Wasn’t that a beauty?”
“Fair.” said Cornelia.
He stretched his 170 pounds of bone and muscle, admiring his arms, shining in the sunlight. He smiled, patting the water from his smooth strong body, and said:
“Just rounding into shape.”
Cornelia sighed wearily. There was a reason for the look in her eyes. She was so tired of Tommy’s athleticism. What
if he had been intercollegiate light-heavyweight champion boxer and a crack half-back? What if he played a superlative game of tennis, polo like a centaur, and was consistently under eighty on the golf links? There were other things in the world besides games and physical perfection. The trouble was, Tommy had never been compelled to think of them. The idolized son of Martin Armour, he would some day inherit his father’s millions. Then he could go on preening his muscles until—Cornelia sighed again. Tommy never considered the “until.” She was silly, she thought, to bother about it. But something she didn’t understand very well, perhaps didn’t want to understand, kept protesting. Every once in a while the feeling became so strong that it had to come out verbally, usually in a bitter attack directed against the things Tommy adored. He would listen, his blue eyes wide with astonishment. Gradually that baffled, hurt look came into them. He would walk away in silence. Then Cornelia would be sorry.
TOMMY, ignoring her, lay on his back, eyes closed, savoring the warm sun on his skin. He was beautiful. There was no other word for him. His body had the perfect symmetry the Greeks worshipped. Women were mad about him. Well, thank heaven, he had no weaknesses in
that direction. And men liked him, a good sign. Everyone liked him. He was the most popular young man in the whole of Lake Patchin’s exclusive and wealthy summer colony. The children adored him, and strove to emulate his athletic skill ... It was all splendid, of course; but some day Tommy must realize he had grown up. There were other things, important . . . There was marriage.
“If you’d only be sensible, Tommy.”
“I am. You know, Neal, if we can persuade Vance Linton to take some time off from his holy bond house, with him to ride number two we ought to clean up this year. We’d have a good chance to be picked for the playoffs.”
“Playing off what?” asked Cornelia vaguely.
“Polo, my dear, polo. The horse, the rider, the mallet, the little white ball.”
“Oh,” said Cornelia. A gust of anger shook her. She started to speak, thought better of it, and shrugged her shoulders.
“Where were you yesterday?” Tommy asked suddenly. “Yesterday? I was in town arranging for the Children’s Hospital benefit. I’m chairman this year. I wanted to see you about it. That’s why I came down here. We’re to have a series of boxing bouts for the big climax.”
“Hear! Hear!” cried Tommy. “Charity goes berserker.
Punch-drunk pugs pull big purses for clamoring kids.” “The bouts will be.” continued Cornelia, taking a slip of paper from her pocket, “Red Harper vs. Tony Angeletto, 126 pounds, four rounds; Babe Hoffacker vs. Sailor Madden, 135 pounds, four rounds; Abe Rosen vs. Sammy Herman, 150 pounds, four rounds; Joe Brant vs. Tommy Armour, 170 pounds, six rounds.”
“Oh, come now,” said Tommy. “What do you have against poor old Joe Brant?”
“Bouts to start at eight-thirty, Saturday evening, July 21st. That gives you nine days to get into condition, Tommy.”
“I could take on Braddock tonight,” said Tommy. “Seriously, Neal, it’s a swell idea.
“I think so, too,” Cornelia said complacently. “But you must be able to make it an interesting bout, Tommy. They tell me this Joe Brant is expected to be champion lightheavyweight some day.”
“Stop kidding,” said Tommy. “Who’s Ixtxing him? You ought to get a boy like Vincent Spargo.”
“I’m not kidding,” Cornelia said. “It’s all arranged. I arranged it with Mr. Hoffner, his manager.”
“Why, you are to box him !”
Tommy sat erect and glared at her unbelievingly.
“But, great Scott, Neal. He’s a professional.’’
She stared at Jiim innocently.
“Are you afraid of him, Tommy?”
“No, that’s got nothing to do with it.”
His voice deepened with sudden irritation. He got up and walked over to her, gazing at her with suspicion.
“I thought it would please you, Tommy. You know how fond you are of athletics. Aren’t you?”
“Well, then . . . Of course, Mr. Hoffner said in case—in case you backed out he’d supply another boxer.”
“I’m sorry, Tommy. I suppose I misunderstood. I’ll go and wire him at once. Only I’ve told everyone you were going to box. They’re so excited.”
“Oh, you did, did you,” muttered Tommy darkly.
“I never imagined . . . But it will be all right. You can hurt your hand, or something. You might be called away on business ...”
“Shut up,” Tommy said rudely. “Give me a chance to say Something. Of course I’ll box him.”
“That’s nice of you, Tommy.”
Cornelia climbed into the roadster and prodded the starter. Her face expressed grave appreciation, but she started the car with a jerk that spun the rear wheels. She had to get out of sight before the laughter aroused by Tommy’s angered and dismayed face overcame her.
Tommy stared after the departing car. Rage, perplexity, alarm and anxiety swept across his mind. What was behind all this? Box six rounds with a tough pug like Joe Brant? She’s crazy, he thought despairingly; she’s plain cuckoo. Why, he’ll tear me apart. Something’s got to be done about this, and right away.
HpOMMY’S first move was to try and get in touch with Spider McCarthy, who had been in charge of the boxing team at college. He spent $18 on long distance telephone calls, and finally located McCarthy at a boys’ camp seventy miles away. «
“Listen, Spider, I’ve got to see you. I’ll be over in two hours.”
He travelled the seventy miles in an hour and thirty minutes. Spider McCarthy, a little lean man with a hard, tanned face and gentle eyes, sat on the porch of the council house.
“Hello, Tommy,” he said. “What’s on your mind?” “I’ve been framed,” Tommy shouted dramatically, and told Spider the story.
“So,” he concluded, “you’ve got nine days to get me into trim. I’ve got to go through with this. I’ve got to make a decent showing.”
McCarthy shook his head
“I’ve seen this boy, Brant,” he said. “He’s bad medicine. Y'ou’re a fool to let yourself in for this.”
“I know,” said Tommy. “But I’m helpless. I can’t lie down before that crowd, before Neal. I’d never hear the end of it.”
“We’ll do the best we can,” Spider said. “You’d better stay here. I can’t leave. I’m athletic instructor. You’ll do better here. But nine days! And there ain’t any miracles happening any more.”
The next six days were the most strenuous of Tommy’s strenuous life. Only the fact that he kept himself in such perfect condition enabled him to get through them. On Wednesday morning, at the conclusion of four rounds of a furious workout, Spider striped off his gloves and stood frowning at the tall, perspiring figure.
“It’s no go,” he said abruptly. “It can’t be done. Tommy. Your eye’s out and your timing is all off.”
“I know it,” said Tommy.
“Amateur bouts are one thing, but when you get in the ring with a boy like this Brant you can’t get away with it.” “Well,” said Tommy. “1 guess I can take a lacing as well as anybody.”
“It’s not that,” McCarthy said. “You’re liable to get hurt.
It isn’t as if you were going on doing this sort of thing. It’s all rot. I’ll tell you what I’d do . .
He told Tommy, who shook his head violently at first; then he began to grin; in a few minutes they were laughing uproariously together. They shook hands and Tommy got into his ca ', heading back to Lake Patchin. He whistled as he drove; occasionally he sang, loudly and off key. Oh, boy.
The biter bit; hoist by her own petard. The sun shone gloriously.
All the hills were indolent with summer heat. There was a clean warm smell of grass and trees and things bursting with the full abundance of summer. Tommy’s humor expanded to the perfection of the day. “This is going to be good,” he thought, "good. Oh, what a beautiful idea to put over on Cornelia.”
He arrived at Lake Patchin in time to see a large white motor bus disgorging a curious collection of passengers. A fat man, resplendent in plus-fours and a derby, very much at ease, talked in a loud voice, a continuous booming of disconnected phrases.
Behind him were six figures huddled together in embarrassed silence. Apart from this group a tall rangy young fellow, with a sullen, flat face, apparently unaware of the excitement about him, stared fixedly at the men and women who had gathered around the newcomers.
Tommy stopped his car some distance away and inspected the group. Evidently these were the fighters for the benefit bouts. The fat man must be Mr. Hoffner, the promoter, “in person and very much so,” thought Tommy. The lone figure was undoubtedly Joe Brant. Tommy looked him over carefully. A tough customer. Pale blue eyes, hard cruel eyes, stared unblinkingly from under the projecting forehead, thickened by unfelt punches. His nose was flat, widespread across the broken bridge; his mouth was a harsh, contemptuous streak above the jutting chin. Tough, with only a cunning animal intelligence under the round skull. Tommy was respectfully aware of the wide shoulders under his tight-fitting coat; his long, slim legs, heavy forearms, and powerful driving muscles of his back. A real fighting man; dangerous, relentless, without a spark of compassion to stay the aroused fury of his blood.
Tommy drew a deep breath and turned away. It was a fortunate thing he had gone to see Spider McCarthy. He imagined himself in the ring opposite Joe Brant, and a tingle of cold fear shivered down his backbone. As it was ... He smiled, strode away whistling.
ON THE morning before the bouts, Cornelia arose early.
There were a hundred things to do, but she could not fasten her attention upon them. From the window of her room she could see in the hollow behind the first tee of the golf course the raw unpainted stands and the ring. Carpenters were already at work finishing the last odd jobs.
The sight of the ring brought to a focus the vague uncertainty that had troubled Cornelia for the last few days. Suddenly she knew what lurked in her mind, shapeless and heavy, perplexing her, worrying. She saw the cruel, harsh face of Joe Brant, impassive and sullen. It was the memory of his face that had been bothering her. It gave her a feeling of uneasiness about the whole affair.
And then she had scarcely seen Tommy since his return to Lake Patchin. Several times she had passed him. He had called “hello” and waved, but for the rest he had been mysteriously absent.
All at once she wanted to see him. to talk to him. The desire was in some way related to the memory of Joe Brant’s face. She dressed hurriedly, went out to the garage, got into her car and headed for the Lake. Poised on the diving board, she recognized Tommy.
At her call, Tommy came over.
“You’re out early,” he said.
“I’ve a million things to do.”
Now that she was with him. it was difficult to say what she had been thinking. He looked so alive, vital, glowing with physical well-being. As always, she felt irritated, and wondered why it should be so. She knew how she loathed indolent, flabby men. She would hate Tommy to be soft, a little plump from easy living, confinement, indulgence. “It must lx? because I hate extremes,” she thought.
“Well.” said Tommy, “tonight is when Mr. Joe Brant gets his.”
Cornelia started angrily. The cheerful statement destroyed the emotion gathering in her. Immediately all her old resentment came to the surface. She forgot the fear Joe Brant’s face had aroused in her, forgot the premonitions and worries she had felt ever since the bouts had been arranged.
“Do you think so?’’ she said. “I should say tonight is when Mr. Thomas J. Armour gets his.”
“Not a chance,” said Tommy grinning.
“I’ll bet he whips you,” cried Cornelia wildly.
“Money talks,” said Tommy.
“Anything you say.”
“Five hundred even,” Tommy said.
She jerked the car into gear and roared away. Tommy sat down on a piling of the dock and laughed until his sides ached. It was a dirty trick, he thought, but she had it coming to her.
CORNELIA drove furiously along the Lake road.
Something had to be done; something definite, final. It was entirely too absurd. She wasn’t going to let him fritter away his future this way. He might whip this Joe Brant even if Brant was a professional and that would be the last straw. Her whole plan would be ruined. Tommy would go on being muscular and ridiculous—and she’d never be able to marry him. “But he’s never asked you to marry him,” said a small voice, speaking unpleasantly truthful facts within her. “Oh,” answered Cornelia violently, “does that matter?” The small voice became silent. Cornelia continued to rage and take comers on two wheels. “I’ll fix it,” she thought, “I’ll take all the conceit out of him. When I get through with you, Mr. Tommy Armour, you’ll be glad to marry me. You’ll never want to be a champion athlete. Still,” she concluded magnanimously, “you can play golf sometimes; on
Sunday mornings. I don’t like to do this, dear, but it’s for your own good.”
She whirled across a cut-off and presently saw the golf links and the club house, still deserted. No, someone wras jogging slowly along one of the fairways. She pulled up just as the solitary figure, running easily, turned toward the building'where the fighters were quartered. Was it? Yes, it was !
“Mr. Brant,” she called. “Mr. Brant!”
The running figure, paused in the midst of a stride, took two or three uncertain half-steps, stopped and came toward her.
“You callin’ me, lady?”
“Heavens, what a face.” thought Cornelia, and stared fascinated at the queer lump of what had been an ear.
“Yes," said Cornelia. “I wanted . . . That is . . . I’ve something to ask you.”
Without looking at Brant, she said: “Would you like to make some money?”
“Would I? Just try me, lady.”
“Well—well,” she stammered.
“Any little job, like beatin’ up a friend.” said Joe and laughed raucously at his jest. Cornelia shuddered.
“That’s it,” she said. “Only—only not beat up. I mean not hurt, really hurt. Just taught a lesson.”
“Me!” said Joe. “I can teach ’em. They don’t never forget the lessons I teach ’em. Boy, when I teach ’em they stay teached.”
“It's this way,” Cornelia said desperately. "Tommy— Mr. Armour, who boxes you tonight. He thinks he’s a great athlete. I want you to give him a lesson. Show him what a real athlete is.”
“Sure,” said Joe. “That’s easy.”
“I’ll pay you—”
“My regular charge,” said Joe, “is five hundred dollars a lesson.”
“Five hundred dollars?” cried Cornelia.
“Sure. I always get paid that. Spot cash.”
“All right,” said Cornelia helplessly.
“Money in advance.”
“I’ll send you a cheque.”
“Nothin’ doing. Cash, I said.”
“Satisfaction guaranteed,” said Joe.
“Only don’t hurt him.”
“Sure,” said Joe. “I understand.”
“I’ll send you the money this morning.”
“Okay,” said Joe, and winked.
LADIES AND gentlemen, the next and final bout will be * between Joe Brant, coming light-heavyweight champeen of the worl’, weight 172, on my left.” Mr. Hoffner waved a hand resplendent with a fine sparkling diamond toward a comer, where Brant arose and shook his gloved hands in the conventional greeting. There was a ripple of applause from the packed stands. The booming voice of Hoffner continued : “And Mr. Tommy Armour, ex-intercollegiate light-heavyweight champeen, weight 170, who you all know.”
Tommy stood up. There was a crash of clapping and a few voices calling excitedly. Mr. Hoffner waved for silence.
“This boxing exhibition will be for six rounds to a decision. It is,” he bellowed in rhetorical intoxication, "a fitting climax to the fights—bouts, you have just witnessed. I may say now it has been a pleasure for me and my boys to come here and take part in this evening, from which the little ones will receive kind treatment to make them grow up into strong men and women.”
There was polite applause and a few cries of “Hear! Hear!’ “No heart can withstand the appeal of sick kiddies,” said Mr. Hoffner, “and we are glad to be able to give our all in the name of Charity. I may say, now ...”
Recollecting himself he added:
“The bout will now proceed.”
Seated directly under the ring, Cornelia felt her heart begin to pound. Her mind was filled with the memory of rushing savage pale figures in the preceding matches, the sharp thud of leather on flesh. She was dismayed and alarmed. These were the first boxing bouts she had ever seen and they startled her. The fighters seemed horribly brutal. Their flat impassive faces frightened her. She was unaware that the fights were cleverly staged, the blows adroitly pulled and the boxers really having a grand time. But they had put on three fast shows sufficiently real to arouse the crowd.
She knew the evening was a success. Never had so many people attended the annual Lake Patchin benefit. But there was no pleasure in the knowledge. She looked at Joe Brant Continued on page 41 In This Corner—Charity !
and was afraid. He stood tall and strong, his body shone whitely beside Tommy’s tanned figure. She half arose to call out, but the impulse was shattered by the sharp clang of the bell.
Joe worked in quickly, his shoulders hunched, hands close to his sides. He liked to fight close, ripping in short hooks under the heart. Tommy was an amateur boxer. He stood erect and sparred. Jab, and slide away. His left flecked Brant off balance, but his right, badly timed, swept past Joe’s head. Cornelia leaned forward, watching the circling figures. The next time Tommy was short with his left. Joe put his chin on Tommy’s shoulder and the bent arms stabbed in and out. Tommy gasped and dropped his guard. A circling hook cracked upon his cheek bone. He grasped desperately at the white chest. The referee broke them. Joe grinned and spat. Tommy retreated, striving to overcome a sudden feeling of panic. No one had ever hit him that hard before. He stared into Joe’s eyes. There was no friendliness in them, only a cold unwavering blankness. Tommy jabbed and clinched. He whispered in Joe’s ear:
“Hey, hey, pull ’em a bit.”
“What’s a’ matter?” hissed Joe. “You yellow?” The bell rang.
Tommy walked to his corner. Something had gone wrong. He was being doublecrossed. Why, the fellow was sore. He was going to make a fight of it. Even the sixteenounce gloves scarcely lessened the hurt of those body punches. Tommy glanced down. A red splotch spread across his ribs. And this was a boxing exhibition for charity. He’d pull off his gloves and tell them where to go. His desperate glance fell on Cornelia’s upturned face.
Its expression startled him. He didn’t understand what her glance meant, it was such a curious combination of fear, confusion, dismay, apology. She raised her hands and gestured mutely. What was she trying to say? Suddenly, from nowhere the thought came: “She wants to see me get
walloped. She thinks I’m yellow because of what I said when she told me about the fight. I’ll show her. I’ll show him.”
His angry glance added to Cornelia’s remorse. The bell rang. She put her hands over her eyes. The fight came to her in sounds. She could shut out the sight, but she couldn’t stop her ears. Raucous gasps came up from the crowd as the pace grew swifter. Cries from the women tore at her selfcontrol. The feet of the boxers pounded a crazy rhythm on the padded ring. She could follow the action through the sound—sharp thump as a foot spumed the ring in a furious lunge; a confused pattering and scuffing penetrated by the dull impact of gloved hands; silence, a sudden resumption of those trampling feet. A yelp of excitement behind her. A voice calling “Oh-h-h-h” in wailing diminuendo. Something smacked like a heavy whip and there was a slithering sound terminated by a crash. Emptiness, a rising, shout, husky, uneasy, following a long silence where a harsh voice said plainly, “four—five—six—” Then a cheer and
hands clapping. Someone yelled, “Atta boy, Tommy.” Brazen clang of the bell . . .
She opened her eyes.
Directly above her, Tommy's head was tilted back over the ropes. A stream of blood ran out of his mouth and nose, across his cheek, and dripped upon the canvas. His eyes were closed and his chest and sides heaved spasmodically as he fought for breath. His face looked pale and drawn and old. The sight made Cornelia feel faint. Tommy’s seconds were working frantically. They sponged his face and rubbed his trembling legs. The referee came over and said:
“Are you all right, Tommy?”
“Sure,” said Tommy, “just a little nose bleed.”
“I think it might be wiser to stop ...” “What for? I’m all right. I just walked
into one. Brant didn't think it would land. It was my fault." Cornelia called "Tommy," but he didn't hear her.
HE WAS STILL groggy when the round began. He went out to last the three minutes and try to recover some strength. He jabbed and clinched, jabbed and clinched, hanging on grimly, striving to throttle those murderous body punches. The round went on and on. It became timeless and unendurable. Joe tried frantically to break loose from those clinging arms, to get set. Tommy’s clinching angered him. He felt foolish and wanted to show the crowd just how good he could be. Besides, it was an insult to let an amateur tie him up that way. He pushed and heaved and swore softly. Tommy held on; he held Joe’s arms, he wiggled and stuck close to that pale strong body and listened for the bell. He listened until the intensity of his desire emptied the world of all other sound. He waited through ages for the brass tongue of the bell It came . . .
He sighed and walked steadily to his corner. His head was clear, and strength was coming back into his weary muscles. The minute refreshed him immensely. He felt more confident of being able to last the three remaining rounds. If he could keep Brant away.
He jabbed and stepped back. Joe shook his head angrily. Jab again, backing around the ring before that shuffling intent figure Then Tommy slipped, recovered, leaped back and found himself cornered against the ropes. He saw Joe grinning, and bent forward, arms crossed to protect his battered sides. Those heavy fists beat upon his arms until they were numb. His hands dropped and solid punches smashed his body. The strength ran out of his legs and he sank down on his knees. The referee pushed Joe back.
“This had better stop,” he said.
“Count,” mumbled Tommy.
“You’ll be hurt, Tommy.”
“One,” said the referee. “Two—three—” Tommy leaned back, balanced against the lower rope. His bleeding mouth was set in a harsh line across his face; his blue eyes watched Joe. Inside him nothing remained but a cold fury. He had forgotten Cornelia, the charity bouts, the crowd, the night, his aching body. He gathered himself on the edge of annihilation and summoned his defeated clay to one last prodigy of effort. He was justifying the years of worship he had given to his god of sport. At the count of nine he sprang. Joe backed away, grinning. They stood face to face and slugged. Neither attempted to protect himself. The action was too fast to follow. Cornelia began to sob. The aristocratic community of Lake Patchin stood up and howled. Blood spurted from the mouths of the fighters. Their gloves were sodden with sweat and blood. Red spatters of blood flecked their chests. Suddenly Joe stepped back. Tommy, surprised, leaped forward. Joe’s right caught him in the midst of the leap. His legs seemed to curl, he fell heavily and lay still. Joe wiped his bloody face and stared at the prostrate figure.
“Gee,” he said.
Then he turned and saw Cornelia, heedless of the wreckage of her gown, crawling under the ropes. Hoffner was bawling at him, but Joe shoved the fat distorted face away and sprang out of the ring.
Tommy was unconscious only a few seconds. He opened his eyes and saw Cornelia bending over him. Her face was covered with blood and tears. She was mopping the cuts on his face with her scarf and talking and weeping at the same time.
He saw her, but dimly, as some stray, irritating shadow concealing matters of vital importance. Something had happened; someone had done . . . How could he concentrate with his head swelling and throbbing and all the racket going on about him? Somebody had done something ... It came clear in a flash . . . Double-crossed ! Doublecrossed and licked by a pug.
“Look out, look out,” he said and heaved his sore body erect on tottering legs. “Tommy, don’t—”
“Sit still, man!”
“Easy, take it easy.”
The shadows were falling from across his eyes. He saw individual faces, lights, figures. “Get out of my way!”
“Tommy, Tommy, please.”
“Listen, Tom, be reasonable.”
“Get oui of my way.”
His legs had stopped trembling. His mind was clear. His head ached intolerably; his whole body ached. But the cold fury surged in him and the throb seemed to diminish. He leaped from the ring, evading the friendly, interfering hands.
“Let me alone,” he said. “I’m all right. Don’t anyone dare to follow me.”
They gazed at him in awed amazement as he strode across the grass toward the building where the boxers were quartered. They were so bound in wonder and mystification that no one saw Cornelia running to the same objective by a more circuitous route.
TOE BRANT dressed frantically, intent J upon getting away from Lake Patchin as quickly as he could. He jerked on his clothes, cursing, partly in expiring rage and partly in gathering fear. The rage faded rapidly; the fear increased, interfered with his efforts to find his shoes, to get them on, to tie the laces. A panic took possession of his dull mind. What a mess he’d got into. Beating up the son of a multi-millionaire; double-crossing him for a measly $500. Maybe he’d hurt him. He wasn’t tough and hard-muscled like a regular fighter; accustomed to taking punishment. Maybe he killed him. A cold shuddering passed over his body and the goose flesh appeared over his bare arms. Why, they’d hang him. With all that money and drag against him, he wouldn’t have a chance. He leaped up, pulled on a shirt and tucked it into his trousers, without attempting the buttons. Jamming his hat on his head, he snapped the lock of his suitcase, and struggled into his coat.
The door of the room crashed back.
Joe’s mouth fell open, his eyes glazed in terror.
In the doorway a grim, half-naked figure confronted him in silence. Joe, stricken with fear, watched it with the fascinated glance of a rabbit spellbound before a rattlesnake. The figure advanced a deliberate, slow step and Joe fell back, his arms pinioned helplessly in the half-on coat.
“Put up your hands.”
Joe moaned; struggled to lift his arms, j They wouldn’t budge; his coat held him like a straight-jacket. He shut his eyes, fearing to see the muzzle of the avenging revolver. “Don’t shoot; oh, say, mister—”
The mumbled words ended in a crack as a fist landed beautifully on the button. He went down, completely out.
Tommy looked at the motionless form. “Shoot,” he thought in amazement. “Shoot? What did he expect? Oh, sure. ‘Put up your hands.’ He thought I had a gun. Well, that was a break. He might have given me another beating.”
He bent over Joe and drew a wallet out of his coat. Inside was a little packet of bills. He counted them slowly.
“Tommy. What are you doing?”
He jerked around and saw Cornelia in the doorway.
“Collecting for charity,” he said grimly. “But—but ...”
“He double-crossed me.”
“Oh.” Cornelia’s voice dwindled away. “What I can’t understand, though.” mused Tommy, “is how he got a thousand dollars. I paid him five one-hundred-dollar bills. To let me win the fight, if you care to know. Here are five more. Of course, they might be his.”
“They are his,” said Cornelia. “I gave them to him.”
“Oh,” said Tommy. “ You did. And why should you give Mr. Joe Brant five hundred dollars?”
Cornelia tried to speak. A rush of miseryclosed her throat; tears came into her eyes. “He—he did a job for me.”
Tommy stared at her in bewilderment. A •lick suspicion burst in his mind. He raised s hand and touched lightly his aching face. “I’ll say he did,” said Tommy.
He stood holding the two packets of bills, one in either hand. Finally he said :
“He earned your money,” put it back in the wallet and placed the wallet carefully in the pocket of Joe’s coat. There was a clatter of feet on the stairs and Mr. Hoffner burst into the room. His hands went above his head, he babbled, he explained, apologized. “Throw some water on him,” said Tommy. He went out and walked back toward the clubhouse. It took all his will power to walk steadily, but inside of him something gay and reckless began, like a song, like a sudden realization. At his heels a white figure fluttered like some ghostly shadow. He said without turning his head :
“Are you following me?”
“Yes. Tommy,” said the shadow.
He tramped on, the song was a march, he wanted to whistle but it was too painful.
“Are you going to keep on following me?”
“To wash your face, and bandage your eye, and bathe your head—and put you to bed.”
“Is that all?”
“And marry you.”
“I thought there was a catch in it somewhere.”
“Well, it’s all right by me—only—only” —his knees began to tremble; the night was whirling—“you’d better give me a hand.”
The shadow threw both arms about him, and they went, staggering a little, across the dark smooth grass.
“What a night for charity!” Tommy said weakly.