since reprisals were not barred by their understanding, he began then
and there to ponder the same. One way or another, that day's
humiliation must be balanced; else he might never again hold up his
head in the company of gentlemen of spirit.
But how to compass this desire, frankly puzzled him. It were cowardly
to contemplate knockin' the block off'n P. Sybarite; the disparity of
their statures forebade; moreover, George entertained a vexatious
suspicion that P. Sybarite's explanation on his recent downfall had
not been altogether disingenuous; he didn't quite believe it had been
due solely to his own clumsiness and an adventitious foot.
"That sort of thing don't never _happen_," George assured himself
privately. "I was outclassed, all right, all right. What I wanna know
is: where'd he couple up with the ring-wisdom?"
Repeated if covert glances at his companion supplied no clue; P.
Sybarite's face remained as uncommunicative as well-to-do relations by
marriage; his shadowy, pale and wistful smile denoted, if anything,
only an almost childlike pleasure in anticipation of the evening's
Suddenly it was borne in upon the shipping clerk that in the probable
arrangement of the proposed party he would be expected to dance
attendance upon Miss Violet Prim, leaving P. Sybarite free to devote
himself to Miss Lessing. Whereupon George scowled darkly.
"P.S.'s got his nerve with him," he protested privately, "to cop out
the one pippin in the house all for his lonely. It's a wonder he
wouldn't slip her a chanct to enjoy herself with summon' her own
"Not," he admitted ruefully, "that I'd find it healthy to pull any
rough stuff with Vi lookin' on. I don't even like to think of myself
lampin' any other skirt while Violet's got _her_ wicks trimmed and
Then he made an end to envy for the time being, and turned his
attention to more pressing concerns; but though he pondered with all
his might and main, it seemed impossible to excogitate any way to
square his account with P. Sybarite. And when, at Thirty-eighth
Street, the latter made an excuse to part with George, instead of
going home in his company, the shipping clerk was too thoroughly
disgusted to question the subterfuge. He was, indeed, a bit relieved;
the temporary dissociation promised just so much more time for
Turning west, he was presently prompted by that arch-comedian Destiny
(disguised as Thirst) to drop into Clancey's for a shell of beer.
Now in Clancey's George found a crumpled copy of the _Evening Journal_
almost afloat on the high-tide of the dregs-drenched bar. Rescuing the
sheet, he smoothed it out, examined (grinning) its daily meed of
comics, read every word on the "Sports Page," ploughed through the
weekly vaudeville charts, scanned the advertisements, and at length
reviewed the news columns with a listless eye.
It may have been the stimulation of his drink, but it was probably
nothing more nor less than jealousy that sparked his sluggish
imagination as he contemplated a two-column reproduction in coarse
half-tone of a photograph entitled "Marian Blessington." Slowly the
light dawned upon mental darkness; slowly his grin broadened and
became fixed - even as his great scheme for the confusion and
confounding of P. Sybarite took shape and matured.
He left Clancey's presently, stepping high, with a mind elate;
foretasting victory; convinced that he harboured within him the
makings of a devil of a fellow, all the essential qualifications of
(not to put _too_ fine a point upon it) a regular wag....
THE GLOVE COUNTER
With a feeling of some guilt, becoming in one who stoops to unworthy
artifice, P. Sybarite walked slowly on up Broadway a little way, then
doubled on his trail, going softly until a swift and stealthy survey
westward from the corner of Thirty-eighth Street assured him that
George was not skulking thereabouts to spy upon him. Then mending his
pace, he held briskly on toward the shopping district.
From afar the clock recently restored to its coign high above unlovely
Greeley Square warned him that his hour was fleeting: in twenty
minutes it would be six o'clock; at six, sharp, Blessington's would
close its doors. Distressed, he scurried on, crossed Thirty-fourth
Street, aimed himself courageously for the wide entrance of the
department store, battled manfully through the retreating army of
feminine shoppers - and gained the glove counter with a good fifteen
minutes to spare.
And there he halted, confused and blushing in recognition of
circumstances as unpropitious as unforeseen.
These consisted in three girls behind the counter and one customer
before it; the latter commanding the attention and services of a fair
young woman with a pleasant manner; while of the two disengaged
saleswomen, one bold, disdainful brunette was preoccupied with her
back hair and prepared mutinously to ignore anything remotely
resembling a belated customer whose demands might busy her beyond the
closing hour, and the other had a merry eye and a receptive smile for
the hesitant little man with the funny clothes and the quaint pink
face of embarrassment. In most abject consternation, P. Sybarite
turned and fled.
Weathering the end of the glove counter and shaping a course through
the aisle that paralleled it, he found himself in a channel of
horrors, threatened on one side by a display of most intimate
lingerie, belaced and beribboned distractingly, on the other by a long
rank of slender and gracious (if stolid) feminine limbs, one and all
neatly amputated above their bended knees and bedight in silken
hosiery to shame the rainbow; while to right and left, behind these
impudent revelations, lurked sirens with shameless eyes and mouths of
A cold sweat damped the forehead of P. Sybarite. Inconsistently, his
face flamed. He stared fixedly dead ahead and tore through that aisle
like a delicate-minded jack-rabbit. He thought giggles were audible in
his wake; and ere he could escape found his way barred by Authority
and Dignity in one wonderfully frock-coated person.
"You were looking for something?" demanded this menace incarnate, in
an awful voice accompanied by a terrible gesture.
P. Sybarite brought up standing, his nose six inches from and his eyes
held in fascination to the imitation pearl scarf-pin in the beautiful
cravat affected by his interlocutor.
"Gloves - !" he gasped guiltily.
"This way, if you please."
With this, Dignity and Authority clamped an inexorable hand about his
upper arm, swung him round, and piloted him gently but ruthlessly back
the way he had come, back to the glove counter, where he was planted
directly in front of the dashing, dark saleslady with absorbing back
hair and the manner of remote hauteur.
"Miss Brady, this gentleman wants to see some gloves."
The eyes of Miss Brady flashed ominously; as plain as print, they
said: "Does, does he? Well, leave him to _me_!"
Aloud, she murmured from an incalculable distance: "Oh, ve-ry well!"
A moment later, looking over the customer's head, she added icily:
The floor-walker retired, leaving P. Sybarite a free agent but none
the less haunted by a feeling that a suspicious eye was being kept on
the small of his back. He stammered something quite inarticulate.
The brune goddess shaped ironic lips:
"Chauffeurs', I presoom?"
A measure of self-possession - akin to the deadly coolness of the
cornered rat - returned to the badgered little man.
"No," he said evenly - "ladies', if you please."
Scornfully Miss Brady impaled the back of her head with a lead pencil.
"Other end of the counter, please," she announced. "I don't handle
"I'm sure of that," returned P. Sybarite meekly; left her standing;
and presented himself for the inspection of the fair young woman with
the pleasant manner, who was now free of her late customer.
She recognised him with surprise, but none the less with a friendly
"Why, Mr. Sybarite - !"
In his hearing, her voice was rarest music. He gulped; stammered "Miss
Lessing!" and was stricken dumb by perception of his effrontery.
"Can I do anything for you?"
He breathed in panic: "Gloves - "
"For a lady, Mr. Sybarite?"
He nodded as expressively as any automaton.
"I - I don't know."
"For day or evening wear?"
He wagged a dismal head: "I don't know."
Amusement touched her eyes and lips so charmingly that he thought of
the sea at dawn, rimpled by the morning breeze, gay with the laughter
of young sunlight.
"Surely you must!" she insisted.
"No," he contended in stubborn melancholy.
"Oh, I see. You wish to make a present - ?"
"I - ah - suppose so," he admitted under pressure - "yes."
"Evening gloves are always acceptable. Does she go often to the
"I - don't know."
The least suspicion of perplexed frown knitted the eyebrows of Miss
"Well ... is she old or young?"
"I - ah - couldn't say."
"Mr. Sybarite!" said the young woman with decision.
He fixed an apprehensive gaze to hers - which inclined to disapproval,
if with reservations.
"Yes, Miss Lessing?"
"Do you really want to buy gloves?"
"Then what under the sun _do_ you want?"
He noticed suddenly that, however impatient her tone, her eyes were
still kindly. Eyes of luminous hazel brown they were, wide open and
clear beneath dark and delicate brows; eyes that assorted oddly with
her hair of pale, dull gold, rendering her prettiness both individual
Somehow he found himself more at ease.
"Please," he begged humbly, "show me some gloves - any kind - it doesn't
matter - and pretend you believe I want to buy 'em. I don't really.
I - I only want - ah - word with you before you go home."
If this were impertinence, the girl elected quickly not to resent it.
She turned to the shelves behind her, took down a box or two, and
opened them for his inspection.
"These are very nice," she suggested quietly.
"I think so, too." He grinned uneasily. "What I want to say is - will
you be my guest at the theatre to-night?"
"I'm afraid I don't understand you," she said, replacing the gloves.
"With Miss Prim and George Bross," he amended hastily. "Somebody - a
friend - sent me a box for 'Kismet.' I thought - possibly - you might
care to go. It - it would give me great pleasure."
Miss Lessing held up another pair of gloves.
"These are three-fifty-nine," she said absently. "Why did you come
here to ask me?"
"I - I was afraid you might make some other engagement for the
He couldn't have served his cause more handsomely than by uttering
just that transparent evasion. In a thought she understood: at their
boarding-house he could have found no ready opportunity to ask her
save in the presence of others; and he was desperately afraid of a
After all, he had reason to be: they were only table acquaintances of
a few weeks' standing. It was most presumptuous of him to dream that
she would accept....
On the other hand, he was (she considered gravely) a decent, manly
little body, and had shown her more civility and deference than all
the rest of the boarding-house and shop people put together. And she
rather liked him and was reluctant to hurt his feelings; for she knew
instinctively he was very sensitive.
Her eyes and lips softened winningly.
"It's so good of you to think of me," she said.
"You mean - you - you will come?" he cried, transported.
"I shall be very glad."
"That's - that's awf'ly kind of you," he said huskily. "Now, do please
find some way to get rid of me."
Smiling quietly, the girl recovered the glove boxes.
"I'm afraid we haven't what you want in stock," she said in a voice
not loud but clear enough to carry to the ears of her inquisitive
co-labourers. "We're expecting a fresh shipment in next week - if you
could stop in then...."
"Thank you very much," said P. Sybarite with uncalled-for emotion.
He backed away awkwardly, spoiled the effect altogether by lifting his
hat, wheeled and broke for the doors....
A LIKELY STORY
From the squalour, the heat, dirt and turmoil of Eighth Avenue, P.
Sybarite turned west on Thirty-eighth Street to seek his
This establishment - between which and the Cave of the Smell his
existence alternated with the monotony of a pendulum - was situated
midway on the block on the north side of the street. It boasted a
front yard fenced off from the sidewalk with a rusty railing: a plot
of arid earth scantily tufted with grass, suggesting that stage of
baldness which finally precedes complete nudity. Behind this, the
moat-like area was spanned to the front door by a ragged stoop of
brownstone. The four-story facade was of brick whose pristine coat of
fair white paint had aged to a dry and flaking crust, lending the
house an appearance distinctly eczematous.
The sun of April, declining, threw down the street a slant of kindly
light to mitigate its homeliness. In this ethereal evanescence the
house Romance took the air upon the stoop.
George Bross was eighty-five per-centum of the house Romance. The
remainder was Miss Violet Prim. Mr. Bross sat a step or two below Miss
Prim, his knees adjacent to his chin, his face, upturned to his
charmer, wreathed in a fond and fatuous smile. From her higher plane,
she smiled in like wise down upon him. She seemed in the eyes of her
lover unusually fair - and was: Saturday was her day for seeming
unusually fair; by the following Thursday there would begin to be a
barely perceptible shadow round the roots of her golden hair....
She was a spirited and abundant creature, hopelessly healthy beneath
the coat of paint, powder and peroxide with which she armoured herself
against the battle of Life. Normally good-looking in ordinary
daylight, she was a radiant beauty across footlights. Her eyes were
bright even at such times as belladonna lacked in them; her nose
pretty and pert; her mouth, open for laughter (as it usually was),
disclosed twin rows of sound, white, home-made teeth. Her active young
person was modelled on generous lines and, as a rule, clothed in a
manner which, if inexpensive, detracted nothing from her conspicuous
sightliness. She was fond of adorning her pretty, sturdy shoulders, as
well as her fetching and shapely, if plump, ankles, with
semi-transparent things - and she was quite as fond of having them
P. Sybarite, approaching the gate, delicately averted his eyes....
At that moment, George was announcing in an undertone: "Here's the
"You are certainly one observin' young gent," remarked Miss Prim in
accents of envious admiration.
Ignoring the challenge, Bross pondered hastily. "Think I better spring
it on him now?" he enquired in doubt.
"My Gawd, no!" protested the lady in alarm. "I'd spoil the plant,
sure. I'd _love_ to watch you feed it to him, but Heaven knows I'd
never be able to hold in without bustin'."
"You think he'll swallow it, all right?"
"That simp?" cried Miss Prim in open derision. "Why, he'll eat it
P. Sybarite walked into the front yard, and the chorus lady began to
crow with delight, welcoming him with wild wavings of a pretty,
"Well, _look_ who's here! 'Tis old George W. Postscript - as I live!
Hitherwards, little one: I wouldst speech myself to thee."
Smiling, P. Sybarite approached the pair. He liked Miss Prim for her
unaffected high spirits, and because he was never in the least ill at
ease with her.
"Well?" he asked pleasantly, blinking up at the lady from the foot of
the steps. "What is thy will, O Breaker of Hearts?"
"That'll be about all for yours," announced Violet reprovingly. "You
hadn't oughta carry on like that - at your age, too! Not that _I_
mind - I rather like it; but what'd your family say if they knew you
was stuck on an actress?"
"'Love blows as the wind blows,'" P. Sybarite quoted gently. "How
shall I hide the fact of my infatuation? If my family cast me off, so
"I told you, behave! Next thing you know, George will be bitin' the
fence.... What's all this about you givin' a box party at the
"It's a fact," affirmed P. Sybarite. "Only I had counted on the
pleasure of inviting you myself," he added with a patient glance at
"Never mind about that," interposed the lady. "I'm just as tickled to
death, and I love you a lot more'n I do George, anyway. So _that's_
all right. Only I was afraid for a while he was connin' me."
"You feel better now?"
Violet placed a theatrical hand above her heart. "Such a relief!" she
declared intensely - "you'll never know!" Then she jumped up and
wheeled about to the door with petticoats professionally a-swirl.
"Well, if I'm goin' to do a stagger in society to-night, it's me to go
doll myself up to the nines. So long!"
"Hold on!" George cried in alarm. "You ain't goin' to go dec - decol - low
neck and all that? Cut it, kid: me and P.S. ain't got no dress soots,
"Don't fret," returned Violet from the doorway. "I know how to pretty
myself for my comp'ny, all right. Besides, you'll be at the back of
the box and nobody'll know you exist. Me and Molly Leasing'll get all
the yearnin' stares."
She disappeared by way of the vestibule. George shook a head heavy
"Class to that kid, all right," he observed. "Some stepper, take it
from me. Anyway, I'm glad it's a box: then I can hide under a chair. I
ain't got nothin' to go in but these hand-me-downs."
"You'll be all right," said P. Sybarite hastily.
"Well, I won't feel lonely if you don't dress up like a horse. What
are you going to wear, anyway?"
"A shave, a clean collar, and what I stand in. They're all I have."
"Then you got nothin' on me. What's your rush?" - as P. Sybarite would
have passed on. "Wait a shake. I wanna talk to you. Sit down and have
There was a hint of serious intention in the manner of the shipping
clerk to induce P. Sybarite, after the hesitation of an instant, to
accede to his request. Squatting down upon the steps, he accepted a
cigarette, lighted it, inhaled deeply.
"I dunno how to break it to you," Bross faltered dubiously. "You
better brace yourself to lean up against the biggest disappointment
P. Sybarite regarded him with sharp distrust. "You interest me
strangely, George.... But perhaps you're no more addled than usual.
Consider me gently prepared against the worst - and get it off your
"Well," said George regretfully, "I just wanna put you next to the
facts before you ask her. Miss Lessing ain't goin' to go with us
P. Sybarite looked startled and grieved.
"No?" he exclaimed.
George wagged his head mournfully. "It's a shame. I know you counted
on it, but I guess you'll have to get summonelse."
"I'm afraid I don't understand. How do you know Miss Lessing won't go?
Did she tell you so?"
"Not what you might call exactly, but she won't all right," George
returned with confidence. "There ain't one chance in a hundred I'm in
"In wrong? How?"
"About her bein' who she is."
P. Sybarite subjected the open, naÃ¯f countenance of the shipping clerk
to a prolonged and doubting scrutiny.
"No, I ain't crazy in the head, neither," George asseverated with some
heat. "I suspicioned somethin' was queer about that girl right along,
but now I _know_ it."
"Ah, it ain't nothin' against her! You don't have to scorch your
collar. _She's_ all right. Only - she 's in bad. I don't s'pose you
seen the evenin' paper?"
"Well, I picked up the _Joinal_ down to Clancey's - this is it." With
an effective flourish, George drew the sheet from his coat pocket and
unfolded its still damp and pungent pages. "And soon's I seen that,"
he added, indicating a smudged halftone, "I begun to wise up to that
little girl. It's sure some shame about her, all right, all right."
Taking the paper, P. Sybarite examined with perplexity a portrait
labelled "Marian Blessington." Whatever its original aspect, the
coarse mesh of the reproducing process had blurred it to a vague
presentment of the head and shoulders of almost any young woman with
fair hair and regular features: only a certain, almost indefinable
individuality in the pose of the head remotely suggested Molly
In a further endeavour to fathom his meaning, the little bookkeeper
conned carefully the legend attached to the putative likeness:
only daughter of the late Nathaniel Blessington, millionaire
founder of the great Blessington chain of department stores.
Although much sought after on account of the immense property into
control of which she is to come on her twenty-fifth birthday, Miss
Blessington contrived to escape matrimonial entanglement until last
January, when Brian Shaynon, her guardian and executor of the
Blessington estate, gave out the announcement of her engagement to
his son, Bayard Shaynon. This engagement was whispered to be
distasteful to the young woman, who is noted for her independent
and spirited nature; and it is now persistently being rumoured that
she had demonstrated her disapproval by disappearing mysteriously
from the knowledge of her guardian. It is said that nothing has
been known of her whereabouts since about the 1st of March, when
she left her home in the Shaynon mansion on Fifth Avenue,
ostensibly for a shopping tour. This was flatly contradicted this
morning by Brian Shaynon, who in an interview with a reporter for
the EVENING JOURNAL declared that his ward sailed for Europe
February 28th on the _Mauretania_, and has since been in constant
communication with her betrothed and his family. He also denied
having employed detectives to locate his ward. The sailing list of
the _Mauretania_ fails to give the name of Miss Blessington on the
date named by Mr. Shaynon.
Refolding the paper, P. Sybarite returned it without comment.
"Well?" George demanded anxiously.
"Ain't you hep yet?" George betrayed some little exasperation in
addition to his disappointment.
"Hep?" P. Sybarite iterated wonderingly.
"Hep's the word," George affirmed: "John W. Hep, of the well-known
family of that name - very closely related to the Jeremiah Wises. Yunno
who I mean, don't you?"
"Sorry," said P. Sybarite sadly: "I'm not even distinctly connected
with either family."
"You mean you don't make me?"
"God forestalled me there," protested P. Sybarite piously.
Impatiently brushing aside this incoherent observation, George slapped
the folded paper resoundingly in the palm of his hand.
"Then this here don't mean nothin' to you?"
"To me - nothing, as you say."
"You ain't dropped to the resemblance between Molly Lessing and Marian
"Between Miss Lessing and _that_ portrait?" asked P. Sybarite
"Why, they're dead ringers for each other. Any one what can't see
"But I'm _not_ blind."
"Well, then you gotta admit they look alike as twins - "
"But I've known twins who didn't look alike," said P.S.
"Ah, nix on the stallin'!" George insisted, on the verge of losing his
temper. "Molly Lessing's the spit-'n'-image of Marian Blessington - and
you know it. What's more - look at their names? _Molly_ for _Mary_ - you
make that? _Mary_ and _Marian's_ near enough alike, ain't they? And
what's _Lessing_ but _Blessington_ docked goin' and comin'?"
"Wait a second. If I understand you, George, you're trying to imply
that Miss Lessing is identical with Marian Blessington."
"You said somethin' then, all right."
"Simply because of the similarity of two syllables in their surnames
and a fancied resemblance of Miss Lessing to this so-called portrait?"
"Now you're gettin' warm, P.S."
P.S. laughed quietly: "George, I've been doing you a grave injustice.
George opened his eyes and emitted a resentful "_Huh?_"
"For years I've believed you were merely stupid," P.S. explained
patiently. "Now you develop a famous, if fatuous, gift of imagination.
I'm sorry. I apologise twice."
"Imag'nation hell!" Mr. Bross exploded. "Where's your own? It's
plain's daylight what I say is so. When did Miss Lessing come here?
Five weeks ago, to a day - March foist, or close onto it - just when the
_Joinal_ says she did her disappearin' stunt. How you goin' to get
"You forget that the _Journal_ simply reports a rumour. It doesn't
claim it's true. In fact, the story is contradicted by the very person