Richard Harding Davis.

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Hefty Burke was once clubbed by a policeman named McCluire, who
excused the clubbing to his Honor by swearing that Hefty had been
drunk and disorderly, which was not true. Hefty got away from the
Island by swimming the East River, and swore to get even with the
policeman. This story tells how he got even.

Mr. Carstairs was an artist who had made his first great success by
painting figures and landscapes in Brittany. He had a studio at
Fifty-eighth Street and Sixth Avenue, and was engaged on an historical
subject in which there were three figures. One was a knight in full
armor, and the other was a Moor, and the third was the figure of a
woman. The suit of armor had been purchased by Mr. Carstairs in Paris,
and was believed to have been worn by a brave nobleman, one of whose
extravagant descendants had sold everything belonging to his family in
order to get money with which to play baccarat. Carstairs was at the
sale and paid a large price for the suit of armor which the Marquis de
Neuville had worn, and set it up in a corner of his studio. It was in
eight or a dozen pieces, and quite heavy, but was wonderfully carved
and inlaid with silver, and there were dents on it that showed where a
Saracen's scimetar had been dulled and many a brave knight's spear had
struck. Mr. Carstairs had paid so much for it that he thought he ought
to make a better use of it, if possible, than simply to keep it dusted
and show it off to his friends. So he began this historical picture,
and engaged Hefty Burke to pose as the knight and wear the armor.
Hefty's features were not exactly the sort of features you would
imagine a Marquis de Neuville would have; but as his visor was down in
the picture, it did not make much material difference; and as his
figure was superb, he answered very well. Hefty drove an ice-wagon
during business hours, and, as a personal favor to Mr. Carstairs,
agreed to pose for him, for a consideration, two afternoons of each
week, and to sleep in the studio at night, for it was filled with
valuable things.

The armor was a never-ending source of amazement and bewilderment to
Hefty. He could not understand why a man would wear such a suit, and
especially when he went out to fight. It was the last thing in the
world he would individually have selected in which to make war.

"Ef I was goin' to scrap wid anybody," he said to Mr. Carstairs, "I'd
as lief tie meself up wid dumb-bells as take to carry all this stuff
on me. A man wid a baseball bat and swimmin' tights on could dance
all around youse and knock spots out of one of these things. The other
lad wouldn't be in it. Why, before he could lift his legs or get his
hands up you cud hit him on his helmet, and he wouldn't know what
killed him. They must hev sat down to fight in them days."

Mr. Carstairs painted on in silence and smiled grimly.

"I'd like to have seen a go with the parties fixed out in a pair of
these things," continued Hefty. "I'd bet on the lad that got in the
first whack. He wouldn't have to do nothing but shove the other one
over on his back and fall on him. Why, I guess this weighs half a ton
if it weighs an ounce!"

For all his contempt, Hefty had a secret admiration for the ancient
marquis who had worn this suit, and had been strong enough to carry
its weight and demolish his enemies besides. The marks on the armor
interested him greatly, and he was very much impressed one day when he
found what he declared to be blood-stains on the lining of the helmet.

"I guess the old feller that wore this was a sport, eh?" he said,
proudly, shaking the pieces on his arms until they rattled. "I guess
he done 'em up pretty well for all these handicaps. I'll bet when he
got to falling around on 'em and butting 'em with this fire helmet he
made 'em purty tired. Don't youse think so?"

Young Carstairs said he didn't doubt it for a moment.

The Small Hours Social Club was to give a prize masquerade ball at the
Palace Garden on New Year's Night, and Hefty had decided to go. Every
gentleman dancer was to get a white silk badge with a gold tassel, and
every committeeman received a blue badge with "Committee" written across
it in brass letters. It cost three dollars to be a committeeman, but only
one dollar "for self and lady." There were three prizes. One of a
silver water-pitcher for the "handsomest-costumed lady dancer," an
accordion for the "best-dressed gent," and a cake for the most
original idea in costume, whether worn by "gent or lady." Hefty, as
well as many others, made up his mind to get the accordion, if it cost
him as much as seven dollars, which was half of his week's wages. It
wasn't the prize he wanted so much, but he thought of the impression
it would make on Miss Casey, whose father was the well-known janitor
of that name. They had been engaged for some time, but the engagement
hung fire, and Hefty thought that a becoming and appropriate costume
might hasten matters a little. He was undecided as to whether he
should go as an Indian or as a courtier of the time of Charles II.
Auchmuty Stein, of the Bowery, who supplies costumes and wigs at
reasonable rates, was of the opinion that a neat sailor suit of light
blue silk and decorated with white anchors was about the "brettiest
thing in the shop, and sheap at fife dollars;" but Hefty said he
never saw a sailor in silk yet, and he didn't think they ever wore it.
He couldn't see how they could keep the tar and salt-water from
ruining it.

The Charles II. court suit was very handsome, and consisted of red
cotton tights, blue velveteen doublet, and a blue cloak lined with
pale pink silk. A yellow wig went with this, and a jewelled sword
which would not come out of the scabbard. It could be had for seven
dollars a night. Hefty was still in doubt about it and was much
perplexed. Auchmuty Stein told him Charlie Macklin, the Third Avenue
ticket-chopper, was after the same suit, and that he had better take
it while he could get it. But Hefty said he'd think about it. The next
day was his day for posing, and as he stood arrayed in the Marquis de
Neuville's suit of mail he chanced to see himself in one of the long
mirrors, and was for the first time so struck with the ferocity of his
appearance that he determined to see if old man Stein had not a suit
of imitation armor, which would not be so heavy and would look as
well. But the more Hefty thought of it, the more he believed that only
the real suit would do. Its associations, its blood-stains, and the
real silver tracings haunted him, and he half decided to ask Mr.
Carstairs to lend it to him.

But then he remembered overhearing Carstairs tell a brother-artist
that he had paid two thousand francs for it, and, though he did not
know how much a franc might be, two thousand of anything was too much
to wear around at a masquerade ball. But the thing haunted him. He was
sure if Miss Casey saw him in that suit she would never look at
Charlie Macklin again.

"They wouldn't be in the same town with me," said Hefty. "And I'd get
two of the prizes, sure."

He was in great perplexity, when good luck or bad luck settled it for
him.

"Burke," said Mr. Carstairs, "Mrs. Carstairs and I are going out of
town for New Year's Day, and will be gone until Sunday. Take a turn
through the rooms each night, will you? as well as the studio, and see
that everything is all right." That clinched the matter for Hefty. He
determined to go as far as the Palace Garden as the Marquis de
Neuville, and say nothing whatever to Mr. Carstairs about it.

Stuff McGovern, who drove a night-hawk and who was a particular
admirer of Hefty's, even though as a cabman he was in a higher social
scale than the driver of an ice-cart, agreed to carry Hefty and his
half-ton of armor to the Garden, and call for him when the ball was
over.

"Holee smoke!" gasped Mr. McGovern, as Hefty stumbled heavily across
the pavement with an overcoat over his armor and his helmet under his
arm. "Do you expect to do much dancing in that sheet-iron?"

"It's the looks of the thing I'm gambling on," said Hefty. "I look
like a locomoteeve when I get this stovepipe on me head."

Hefty put on his helmet in the cab and pulled down the visor, and when
he alighted the crowd around the door was too greatly awed to jeer,
but stood silent with breathless admiration. He had great difficulty
in mounting the somewhat steep flight of stairs which led to the
dancing-room, and considered gloomily that in the event of a fire he
would have a very small chance of getting out alive. He made so much
noise coming up that the committeemen thought some one was rolling
some one else down the stairs, and came out to see the fight. They
observed Hefty's approach with whispered awe and amazement.

"Wot are you?" asked the man at the door. "Youse needn't give your
real name," he explained, politely. "But you've got to give something
if youse are trying for a prize, see?"

"I'm the Black Knight," said Hefty in a hoarse voice, "the Marquis de
Newveal; and when it comes to scrappin' wid der perlice, I'm de best
in der business."

This last statement was entirely impromptu, and inspired by the
presence of Policeman McCluire, who, with several others, had been
detailed to keep order. McCluire took this challenge calmly, and
looked down and smiled at Hefty's feet.

"He looks like a stove on two legs," he said to the crowd. The crowd,
as a matter of policy, laughed.

"You'll look like a fool standing on his head in a snow-bank if you
talk impudent to me," said Hefty, epigrammatically, from behind the
barrier of his iron mask. What might have happened next did not
happen, because at that moment the music sounded for the grand march,
and Hefty and the policeman were swept apart by the crowd of Indians,
Mexicans, courtiers, negro minstrels, and clowns. Hefty stamped across
the waxed floor about as lightly as a safe could do it if a safe could
walk. He found Miss Casey after the march and disclosed his identity.
She promised not to tell, and was plainly delighted and flattered at
being seen with the distinct sensation of the ball. "Say, Hefty," she
said, "they just ain't in it with you. You'll take the two prizes
sure. How do I look?"

"Out o' sight," said Hefty. "Never saw you lookin' better."

"That's good," said Miss Casey, simply, and with a sigh of
satisfaction.

Hefty was undoubtedly a great success. The men came around him and
pawed him, and felt the dents in the armor, and tried the weight of it
by holding up one of his arms, and handled him generally as though he
were a freak in a museum. "Let 'em alone," said Hefty to Miss Casey,
"I'm not sayin' a word. Let the judges get on to the sensation I'm
a-makin,' and I'll walk off with the prizes. The crowd is wid me
sure."

At midnight the judges pounded on a table for order, and announced
that after much debate they gave the first prize to Miss Lizzie
Cannon, of Hester Street, for "having the most handsomest costume on
the floor, that of Columbia." The fact that Mr. "Buck" Masters, who
was one of the judges, and who was engaged to Miss Cannon, had said
that he would pound things out of the other judges if they gave the
prize elsewhere was not known, but the decision met with as general
satisfaction as could well be expected.

"The second prize," said the judges, "goes to the gent calling himself
the Black Knight - him in the iron leggings - and the other prize for
the most original costume goes to him, too." Half the crowd cheered at
this, and only one man hissed. Hefty, filled with joy and with the
anticipation of the elegance the ice-pitcher would lend to his flat
when he married Miss Casey, and how conveniently he could fill it,
turned on this gentleman and told him that only geese hissed.

The gentleman, who had spent much time on his costume, and who had
been assured by each judge on each occasion that evening when he had
treated him to beer that he would get the prize, told Hefty to go lie
down. It has never been explained just what horrible insult lies back
of this advice, but it is a very dangerous thing to tell a gentleman
to do. Hefty lifted one foot heavily and bore down on the disappointed
masker like an ironclad in a heavy sea. But before he could reach him
Policeman McCluire, mindful of the insult put upon him by this
stranger, sprang between them and said: "Here, now, no scrapping here;
get out of this," and shoved Hefty back with his hand. Hefty uttered a
mighty howl of wrath and long-cherished anger, and lurched forward,
but before he could reach his old-time enemy three policemen had him
around the arms and by the leg, and he was as effectually stopped as
though he had been chained to the floor.

"Let go o' me," said Hefty, wildly. "You're smotherin' me. Give me a
fair chance at him."

But they would not give him any sort of a chance. They rushed him down
the steep stairs, and while McCluire ran ahead two more pushed back
the crowd that had surged uncertainly forward to the rescue. If Hefty
had declared his identity the police would have had a very sad time of
it; but that he must not get Mr. Carstairs's two-thousand-franc suit
into trouble was all that filled Hefty's mind, and all that he wanted
was to escape. Three policemen walked with him down the street. They
said they knew where he lived, and that they were only going to take
him home. They said this because they were afraid the crowd would
interfere if it imagined Hefty was being led to the precinct
station-house.

But Hefty knew where he was going as soon as he turned the next corner
and was started off in the direction of the station-house. There was
still quite a small crowd at his heels, and Stuff McGovern was
driving along at the side anxious to help, but fearful to do anything,
as Hefty had told him not to let any one know who his fare had been
and that his incognito must be preserved.

The blood rushed to Hefty's head like hot liquor. To be arrested for
nothing, and by that thing McCluire, and to have the noble
coat-of-mail of the Marquis de Neuville locked up in a dirty cell and
probably ruined, and to lose his position with Carstairs, who had
always treated him so well, it was terrible! It could not be! He
looked through his visor; to the right and to the left a policeman
walked on each side of him with his hand on his iron sleeve, and
McCluire marched proudly before. The dim lamps of McGovern's
night-hawk shone at the side of the procession and showed the crowd
trailing on behind. Suddenly Hefty threw up his visor "Stuff," he
cried, "are youse with me?"

He did not wait for any answer, but swung back his two iron arms and
then brought them forward with a sweep on to the back of the necks of
the two policemen. They went down and forward as if a lamp-post had
fallen on them, but were up again in a second. But before they could
rise Hefty set his teeth, and with a gurgle of joy butted his iron
helmet into McCluire's back and sent him flying forward into a
snow-bank. Then he threw himself on him and buried him under three
hundred pounds of iron and flesh and blood, and beat him with his
mailed hand over the head and choked the snow and ice down into his
throat and nostrils.

"You'll club me again, will you?" he cried. "You'll send me to the
Island?" The two policemen were pounding him with their night-sticks
as effectually as though they were rapping on a door-step; and the
crowd, seeing this, fell on them from behind, led by Stuff McGovern
with his whip, and rolled them in the snow and tried to tear off their
coat-tails, which means money out of the policeman's own pocket for
repairs, and hurts more than broken ribs, as the Police Benefit
Society pays for them.

"Now then, boys, get me into a cab," cried Hefty. They lifted him in
and obligingly blew out the lights so that the police could not see
its number, and Stuff drove Hefty proudly home. "I guess I'm even with
that cop now," said Hefty as he stood at the door of the studio
building perspiring and happy; "but if them cops ever find out who the
Black Knight was, I'll go away for six months on the Island. I guess,"
he added, thoughtfully, "I'll have to give them two prizes up."




OUTSIDE THE PRISON


It was about ten o'clock on the night before Christmas, and very cold.
Christmas Eve is a very-much-occupied evening everywhere, in a
newspaper office especially so, and all of the twenty and odd
reporters were out that night on assignments, and Conway and Bronson
were the only two remaining in the local room. They were the very best
of friends, in the office and out of it; but as the city editor had
given Conway the Christmas-eve story to write instead of Bronson, the
latter was jealous, and their relations were strained. I use the word
"story" in the newspaper sense, where everything written for the paper
is a story, whether it is an obituary, or a reading notice, or a
dramatic criticism, or a descriptive account of the crowded streets
and the lighted shop-windows of a Christmas Eve. Conway had finished
his story quite half an hour before, and should have sent it out to be
mutilated by the blue pencil of a copy editor; but as the city editor
had twice appeared at the door of the local room, as though looking
for some one to send out on another assignment, both Conway and
Bronson kept on steadily writing against time, to keep him off until
some one else came in. Conway had written his concluding paragraph a
dozen times, and Bronson had conscientiously polished and repolished a
three-line "personal" he was writing, concerning a gentleman unknown
to fame, and who would remain unknown to fame until that paragraph
appeared in print.

The city editor blocked the door for the third time, and looked at
Bronson with a faint smile of sceptical appreciation.

"Is that very important?" he asked.

Bronson said, "Not very," doubtfully, as though he did not think his
opinion should be trusted on such a matter, and eyed the paragraph
with critical interest. Conway rushed his pencil over his paper, with
the tip of his tongue showing between his teeth, and became suddenly
absorbed.

"Well, then, if you are not _very_ busy," said the city editor, "I
wish you would go down to Moyamensing. They release that bank-robber
Quinn to-night, and it ought to make a good story. He was sentenced
for six years, I think, but he has been commuted for good conduct and
bad health. There was a preliminary story about it in the paper this
morning, and you can get all the facts from that. It's Christmas Eve,
and all that sort of thing, and you ought to be able to make something
of it."

There are certain stories written for a Philadelphia newspaper that
circle into print with the regularity of the seasons. There is the
"First Sunday in the Park," for example, which comes on the first warm
Sunday in the spring, and which is made up of a talk with a park
policeman who guesses at the number of people who have passed through
the gates that day, and announcements of the re-painting of the
boat-houses and the near approach of the open-air concerts. You end
this story with an allusion to the presence in the park of the
"wan-faced children of the tenement," and the worthy workingmen (if it
is a one-cent paper which the workingmen are likely to read), and tell
how they worshipped nature in the open air, instead of saying that in
place of going properly to church, they sat around in their
shirt-sleeves and scattered egg-shells and empty beer bottles and
greasy Sunday newspapers over the green grass for which the worthy men
who do not work pay taxes. Then there is the "Hottest Sunday in the
Park," which comes up a month later, when you increase the park
policeman's former guess by fifteen thousand, and give it a news value
by adding a list of the small boys drowned in bathing.

The "First Haul of Shad" in the Delaware is another reliable story, as
is also the first ice fit for skating in the park; and then there is
always the Thanksgiving story, when you ask the theatrical managers
what they have to be thankful for, and have them tell you, "For the
best season that this theatre has ever known, sir," and offer you a
pass for two; and there is the New Year's story when you interview
the local celebrities as to what they most want for the new year, and
turn their commonplace replies into something clever. There is also a
story on Christmas Day, and the one Conway had just written on the
street scenes of Christmas Eve. After you have written one of these
stories two or three times, you find it just as easy to write it in
the office as anywhere else. One gentleman of my acquaintance did this
most unsuccessfully. He wrote his Christmas-day story with the aid of
a directory and the file of a last year's paper. From the year-old
file he obtained the names of all the charitable institutions which
made a practice of giving their charges presents and Christmas trees,
and from the directory he drew the names of their presidents and
boards of directors; but as he was unfortunately lacking in religious
knowledge and a sense of humor, he included all the Jewish
institutions on the list, and they wrote to the paper and rather
objected to being represented as decorating Christmas trees, or in any
way celebrating that particular day. But of all stale, flat, and
unprofitable stories, this releasing of prisoners from Moyamensing was
the worst. It seemed to Bronson that they were always releasing
prisoners; he wondered how they possibly left themselves enough to
make a county prison worth while. And the city editor for some reason
always chose him to go down and see them come out. As they were
released at midnight, and never did anything of moment when they were
released but to immediately cross over to the nearest saloon with all
their disreputable friends who had gathered to meet them, it was
trying to one whose regard for the truth was at first unshaken, and
whose imagination at the last became exhausted. So, when Bronson heard
he had to release another prisoner in pathetic descriptive prose, he
lost heart and patience, and rebelled.

"Andy," he said, sadly and impressively, "if I have written that story
once, I have written it twenty times. I have described Moyamensing
with the moonlight falling on its walls; I have described it with the
walls shining in the rain; I have described it covered with the pure
white snow that falls on the just as well as on the criminal; and I
have made the bloodhounds in the jail-yard howl dismally - and there
are no bloodhounds, as you very well know; and I have made released
convicts declare their intention to lead a better and a purer life,
when they only said, 'If youse put anything in the paper about me,
I'll lay for you;' and I have made them fall on the necks of their
weeping wives, when they only asked, 'Did you bring me some tobacco?
I'm sick for a pipe;' and I will not write any more about it; and if I
do, I will do it here in the office, and that is all there is to it."

"Oh yes, I think you will," said the city editor, easily.

"Let some one else do it," Bronson pleaded - "some one who hasn't done
the thing to death, who will get a new point of view - " Conway, who
had stopped writing, and had been grinning at Bronson over the city
editor's back, grew suddenly grave and absorbed, and began to write
again with feverish industry. "Conway, now, he's great at that sort of
thing. He's - "

The city editor laid a clipping from the morning paper on the desk,
and took a roll of bills from his pocket.

"There's the preliminary story," he said. "Conway wrote it, and it
moved several good people to stop at the business office on their way
down-town and leave something for the released convict's Christmas
dinner. The story is a very good story, and impressed them," he went
on, counting out the bills as he spoke, "to the extent of fifty five
dollars. You take that and give it to him, and tell him to forget the
past, and keep to the narrow road, and leave jointed jimmies alone.
That money will give you an excuse for talking to him, and he may say
something grateful to the paper, and comment on its enterprise. Come,
now, get up. I've spoiled you two boys. You've been sulking all the
evening because Conway got that story, and now you are sulking because
you have got a better one. Think of it - getting out of prison after
four years, and on Christmas Eve! It's a beautiful story just as it
is. But," he added, grimly, "you'll try to improve on it, and grow
maudlin. I believe sometimes you'd turn a red light on the dying
gladiator."

The conscientiously industrious Conway, now that his fear of being
sent out again was at rest, laughed at this with conciliatory mirth,


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Online LibraryRichard Harding DavisVan Bibber and Others → online text (page 9 of 12)