Thorne Smith.

Out o' luck; Biltmore Oswald very much at sea online

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Jack was leading the woman out of the room. She ap-
parently had forgotten that we had been made for each
other and that she could never let me go."

"Yes, Jack," she whispered timidly, forgetting to wiggle.

At the door Jack turned his huge figure around and
pointed a threatening finger at me as I cowered behind an
orange colored lamp.

"I'm coming back to git you," said Jack as he vanished.
Perhaps he did. I don't know. It took me three blocks
before I caught up with Polly and when I did she threat-
ened to give me over to the police for flirting with her.
Think of it! Such words from my future wife. Flirt
with her. One might as well have flirted with a python.
I followed her in distracted silence. Words were of no
avail. She dismissed me bitterly.

"Kissing your neck in a restaurant," she snapped. "Go
out and find another sweetie to take pity on you — ^you — ^you
bean pole."

Bean pole were the words she used. Now, don't I have
the damdest luck? I've lost my permanent sweetie. She
called me a bean pole.


Dec. 17th. — No word from Polly. I have sunk to the
level of my dog. I am distracted, a broken reed, a crip-
pled bean pole. There is no health in me. I w^ill seek
the solitudes with Fogerty and his cooties. A P. O. ap-
proaches. I fly. Bean pole! The bitterness of it.

Dec. 1 8th. — For once Fortune smiled on me. The v^^hole
crowd of us standing by having been granted furloughs,
and not one of the men refused to accept. Mother insists
on sending me for a good rest to some swell hotel in Lake-
wood. Later she is going to bring father, grandfather and
Polly down with her to join me. In the meantime I ex-
pect to wander quietly around an expensive, gold-plated
hotel and behave myself. I don't know that I enjoy the
prospects, but anyway it will be a change from shipboard
and camp life. Probably I shall adventure with an adven-
turess, or air with an heiress. Who can tell? I can't, but
at least I can hope.

Dec. 19th. — ^The most extraordinary thing happened to
me today ; before breakfast at that. It's bad enough, I find,
to have extraordinary things happen to me after luncheon
or even later in the evening, but to start the day with a
localized but hardly self-contained riot is almost too much
of a vulgar display of the fate that seems to brood over my
pure young life.

This is one of those gold-tipped, twin-six hotels at which
I am stopping — ^very much in the nature of a bad watch —
in which one must spend practically one's entire life and sev-
eral fortunes in order to be able to find one's ways around
the halls with any small degree of success. Like many of
those foxy little tricks in arithmetic which used to keep me
out of God's pure sunshine in the days of my rapidly receding
youth, the corridors of this cut glass seat of dyspepsia di-
vide and multiply into infinity.

Morning found me without much difficulty in bed, and,
remembering my mother's advice to take a bath whenever
I could get it, I sprang from my hop and proceeded, with


full equipment and a bathrobe, to wander down the laby-
rinthian passages in a hazy, but hopeful frame of mind, in
search of some receptacle in which I could immerse my
body and thus gain that cleanliness which we are given to
believe obtains for us a certain large amount of godliness.
The fruits of my labors were a bewildered mind and a pair
of weary legs. "Upstairs, downstairs, in my lady's cham-
ber," as the sweet jingle goes, had I been, and still had
succeeded in finding nothing remotely resembling a bath-
room. Presently coming around a turn in the vast hall
about two miles off I faintly made out the figure of a bell-
boy bearing down in his jaunty bellboyish manner in my
direction. Consequently I seated myself on a pair of stairs
and patiently waited the ten minutes it required for this
brave spirit to wend his way from the point at which I
had first sighted him to my languid presence.

"O, intrepid traveler of endless spaces," says I, giving my
bathrobe a dramatic hitch, "save me from a life of solitary
wandering around these trackless wastes and lead me to
the nearest bathroom before these my whiskers impede my
progress and my weary limbs grow feeble in decay."

Of course no bellboy likes to be addressed in this man-
ner before breakfast and I cannot find it in me to blame
the bellboy, but nevertheless he came to and asked me in
eloquent Canarsie English what was the nature of my busi-

"Take me, if you still love God and hate the devil, to
the nearest bathroom by the shortest route with the mini-
mum of delay," that's what I told him.

"Sure," says he, with assurance, and together we set o£E
on our pilgrimage.

After a quarter of an hour devoted to diligent search I
began to lose the confidence this youth had hitherto inspired
in me.

"It seems,** I said, "that I am a little less lonely than
before I met you, but am still in the same unbathed con-
dition and although I feel sure I would grow to like you


better the more I know you, I still believe it would be
much pleasanter to do our walking out in the bracing fresh
mr. This, of course, is a mere suggestion which conveys at
the same time a strong but perfectly friendly suspicion of
your ability to find anything in the nature of a bathroom."

"I've only been here three months, boss," replies the bell-
boy in answer to my mild remark, "and I haven't gotten
quite settled down to this dump myself."

I stopped the bellboy and shook his hand.

"I have been unjust," I replied. "I have been guilty of
gross injustice. No man who has not taken a course in
navigation and dwelt in these sacred precincts for at least
four score years and ten could ever hope to have anything
other than the vaguest knowledge of his whereabouts. To-
gether we are lost. Together we must find our way out.
If worst comes to worst and we must starve, let us face our
5ad and respective fates like men."

Thus encouraging the young man, we proceeded to grope
our way along the gallery until after interminable travel-
ing we came upon a very old man sitting in the darkness on
a trunk. Probably a victim of the halls, thought I to my-
self. Some unfortunate person who like myself in his early
youth set out from his bed to find a bathroom in this ac-
cursed hotel.

"Old man," I said, "if it needs must be that we share
our fate with you, be so kind as to share your trunk with
us upon which we can die together at some closely future
date. When our parched bones are at last found it is my
earnest hope that the finders in decency will erect a monu-
ment to commemorate the valor, daring and fortitude of the
three unhappy individuals who in the recklessness of their
youth once considered it possible to take a bath in a public
hotel — not that I know of any private ones," I added after
due deliberation.

"It's a bath youVe after wanting?" questioned the old
man in a melancholy voice.

"Almost after wanting," I replied, nodding my head hope-


"Why, it's a bathroom door you're blinking at way down
yonder at the end of the hall," says he greatly surprised.

For a long time I gazed at the door for which I had
searched so courageously.

"It's too far," I replied at last.

"It's not at all," answered the man.

"Then why don't you bathe there?" I asked.

"Oh, I can't bathe there," replied the man, "I'm the

"Well," I said, after having considered the proposition
in all its unappealing aspects, "if this young man will bell-
boy me on one side and if you will porter me on the other
perhaps together we might stagger far enough to be able
to crawl the remaining distance."

"Come along," said the old man, "we'll take you there,"
and the two of them began leading me down the hall. We
had not proceeded far on our way before we met a young
lady in riding breeches and the rest of the stuff that goes
with it. She was a pretty young lady to whom my heart
went out, but seeing me thus under guard she evidently
thought that I was either very sick or else dangerously in-
sane. As a matter of fact I looked both.

At the door of the bathroom I shook hands with both of
my rescuers, urging them not to forget me if they saw me
no more and begging the old man to guide from his vast
experience the young man to some point of safety. With
friendly words they left me and I bathed myself much in
the same manner as other human animals who are forced
to confine their ablutions to so small a space as a tub.

Arising later from this with my eyes full of soap and
my heart full of confidence, greatly refreshed from the be-
nign influences of lots of cold water, I collected my razor,
toilet water, tooth brush and other well advertised and
familiar implements of culture and once again launched my-
self into the perilous mazes of the passageways, this time
in the direction of my room. The return trip was surpris-
ingly short and successful. Even with my eyes still dim


with soap I was able to recognize my door at once, and It
was with a sigh of profound relief that I entered my room
and began to arrange my shaving things tastefully upon my
dresser, humming the while a bit of a cheerful song.

"Oh Gawd," I heard someone breathe back of me.

Ah, thought I, the maid. I failed to notice her because
of the soap, no doubt.

"It's all right," I answered without troubling to turn
around, "you may return at some later time. I shall soon
be dressed."

"What ?" went on this voice, this time taking on a quality
of horror. "What — ^what — ^what — "

Even then I failed to turn around. My attention was
arrested by a silver-backed mirror which I was weighing
absent-mindedly in my hand. In doing this I became
vaguely aware of the fact that I had never in the entire
course of my misspent daj^ possessed such a thing as a sil-
ver-backed mirror. Still I failed to connect this fact in
any way with the voice behind me. All men after bathing
as a rule are cheerfully preoccupied with petty details and
I was no exception. At that moment all I cared much
about doing was to put on one sock and to continue to hum
my little song. However, the unexpected presence of the
mirror was a fact to be considered. I raised the mirror
and gazed into it. In doing this I was enabled to catch
over my shoulder the reflection of my bed and also the
reflection of someone in my bed. This someone was a
woman. This was apparent. It had long hair and the
nose, which was all that I could see, had cold cream on it,
an unmistakable sign.

My preoccupation left me immediately. I became un-
nerved. Panic took possessic«i of me. I turned around as
if on a spring.

"Where did you come from?" I gasped.

"From the South," said a startled voice from the bed.

For a moment I pondered over the answer. I had appar-
ently surprised the truth out of her.


"Well, I wish you had stayed there," I replied bitterly.
"Aren't there any other beds save mine between here and
the South?"

"This is my bed," came the voice defiantly from beneath
the blankets, "and if you don't leave this room instantly I
shall begin to scream."

I looked around the room. She was apparently right.
It did not appear to be my room. Whether it was her room
or not I wasn't certain. I wasn't interested. I was con-
vinced it wasn't my room. That was enough. With
nerveless fingers I began gathering up the toilet articles I
had so tastefully arranged on the dresser.

"A terrible mistake," I muttered thickly. "You must
permit me to apologize. I must apologize. I shall never
be through apologizing."

"If you're not through apologizing and out of this room
in ten seconds I shall begin to scream," said the bed.

"I hurry, I flee, I depart," I whispered reaching for the
door knob.

"Stop!" commanded the bed tragically.

"What is it?" I replied with an equal amount of trag-
edy in my voice.

"If you open that door one inch I shall scream," contin-
ued the bed.

"Your scream seems to go both ways," I remarked over
my shoulder.

"Open the door and I scream," came the voice.

"But, madam," I expostulated, "I'm not Houdini. I
can't under the force of the most pressing circumstances
possibly worm myself through the keyhole."

This time the voice spoke more clearly, more rapidly;
there was fear in it — positive terror.

"My husband," it said, "will be here at any moment.
He always comes up for a moment after breakfast. He
is probably walking down the hall at this instant. He will
not believe me and he will kill you. You must get under


the bed. Quick, quick, under the bed! For God's sake,
under the bed ! There will be a tragedy."

"It will be more than a tragedy," I managed to gasp.
*'It will be a total loss."

"The bed, the bed, under it!" she urged.

"Does he, too, come from the South?" I asked,

"Yes," she answered, "from the South."

"Probably believes in the 'unwritten law,* " I muttered,
beginning in the anguish of my soul to prance around the

"I hear his step!" she cried. "Avoid a murder and get
under that bed."

My presence of mind left me. I had seen too many Key-
stone comedies, however, to permit myself to get under the

"Cleanliness is not next to godliness," I remember think-
ing at that terrible moment, "it is next to madness."

An idea seized me. I remembered a friend of mine who
in a similar position had escaped detection by sitting on the
ledge of the window sill.

"Pull the shade down after me!" I cried, opening the
window and climbing through.

The shade and the window came down with a snap, I
heard a door open, a heavy tread in the room behind me,
and I found myself sitting in God's bright sunlight gazing
down on the main thoroughfare of the town and one of
the most popular of the hotel's many sun porches.

Already I was attracting attention. Several embattled
dowagers were gazing up at me. They had not yet come
to the believing stage. With bejeweled hands they rubbed
their eyes. It was horrible. One of my slippers fell heav-
ily through the New York Times held above the nose of a
fat old man of unmistakably conservative leanings. He
spluttered and glared up at me. I did my best even at that
moment to smile a polite smile of apology down upon the
old gentleman. Several people had stopped on the street
and were pointing up at me. An automobile party came


p'' III



to a dead stop and traffic began to pile up behind it. Sev-
eral people ran out on the porch with their morning pa-
pers grasped in their hands, and through the bright, sweet
air of this day rode In upon this scene the girl I had en-
countered in the hall. She stopped in the driveway and
looked up. Her eyes met mine and she smiled. For a mo-
ment all was forgotten, even Polly. I smiled back in my
imbecile way. The voices in the room behind me were
growing louder and more excited.

I cannot go on. I am far too unnerved to write Into
my diary the subsequent events which took place on this
ghastly day. It is too horrible to dwell on. I must have rest.
I shall take it.

(Later). — I realized that my position was not an en-
viable one. To sit in one's pajamas on the extreme edge
of a window sill, particularly if the window happens to be
closed behind one, is not a position likely to arouse the envy
of the average beholder. Some bird might enjoy it, but
very few men. When I say I was not happy on my lofty
pinnacle I am saying it merely because I have no adequate
way of expressing how extremely unhappy I was. At any
moment I feared I would follow my slipper down upon the
billowy paunch of the convalescent stand-patter below me.
If I did I felt sure that I would rebound into eternity,
probably ending my wretched days on the chilly obscurity
of some isolated star. I do not know whether it was be-
cause of my unusual appearance before the general public
of that quiet town or because of the hour that the High
School suddenly disgorged its brood. The result was the
same. Several hundred youths piled out into the street be-
low me and proceeded to hoot and jeer at me with all the
detached cruelty of a savage race. The old gentleman was
shaking his fist at me. Rage rendered him inarticulate,
and I remember thinking at the time that it would be a
blessing to humanity if it could be arranged always to keep
him angry. The girl on the horse was still regarding me
with amused eyes. Presently the horse itself raised its head


and gazed up at me. I seemed to detect an expression of
annoyance in his patient countenance. This is not right,
he was evidently thinking to himself. If men take to con-
ducting themselves in this strange manner what is a horse
to expect? If this practice grows popular it will be ex-
tremely difficult for a horse to distinguish men from wild

I felt sorry for the horse. In spite of the insecurity of
my position I took a chance and waved down to the old
gentleman. This gesture of good will succeeded in in-
creasing his rage to the bursting point. I followed my
friendly wave with an ingratiating smile. The good man
choked and hurried off to the bar. The orchestra, finding
itself bereft of an audience, had abandoned its music and
followed the entire personnel of the establishment to the
porch. One man, as if fearing I was not already sufficiently
conspicuous, pointed to me with the long bow of his fiddle.
From all sides came the excited twittering of women, the
disturbed voices of men and the delighted cries of boys.
Behind me, in the room, the angry exclamations of the
husband mingled themselves with the pleading tones of
the wife. Suddenly the window went up with a bang and
with great speed I disappeared before the astounding eyes
of the assembled throng as a powerful arm seized me around
my middle and deposited me without further ceremony upon
the floor. In a position such as I found myself it was well-
nigh impossible to draw upon one's dignity. This man
was saying unpleasant things to me and about me. I
hardly understood what they were. The events of the morn-
ing had so beclouded my faculties that a numbing lassitude
had overcome my brain. A man can stand only so much
desperation, after which he finds his spirit plunged into a
profound indifference. It was because of this strange mental
condition that I found myself tracing the pattern in the
rug with absorbed interest while this wild man fumed and
raged above my bowed head and called upon every god
south of the Mason-Dixon line to bear him witness that he


intended to have my blood. His wife seemed to be so dis-
tracted that she was unable to decide whether to get under
the bed or in it. For some minutes a cold object had been
annoying my shrinking flesh. I had been brushing this ob-
ject away petulantly objecting to the interruption in my
intriguing pursuit of tracing the rug*s intricate diagrams.
Presently I looked up in annoyance, and discovered that
the object I had so carelessly been brushing aside was
nothing less than a well-developed 48 Colt revolver. This
discovery in no way served to bring back my good spirits;
neither did it make the room any more comfortable. I im-
mediately lost all interest in the rug. A revolver has a
way of holding the eye. This one held mine. In fact, it
claimed my entire attention.

"What do you mean by coming into my wife's room?"
grated the man.

"I only wanted to take a bath,** I answered in a dull
voice, addressing myself directly to the gun.

"What?'* he howled. "You wanted to take a bath in my
wife's room?'*

"Not particularly in your wife's room,** I replied, "but
in any room. Just a bath, that was all I wanted.*'

"Liar!'* shouted the man. "Home breaker.'*

"Sir,** I said, and this time with feeling, "I have never
been in a less homelike place.'*

"How long has this been going on?" he demanded, mak-
ing little, cold rings on my neck with the gun.

"For years and years,'* I muttered in a low voice.

"O, no, oh, no,** came the agonized voice of the wife who
had at length decided to get behind the trunk. "My God ;
don't say that !'*

"Ha!'* cried the husband, in triumph. "He admits it. He
confesses. I am dishonored."

"Is that the only gun you have?" I asked suddenly.

"No,** he said, "there is still another.'*

"Then why do you all the time keep showing it to me?**
I continued. "I believe you."


"You are in love with my wife," said the man, as if
reading the lines from a book, "and one of us must die."

"Sir," I replied, completely forgetting my chivalry, "not
only am I not in love with your wife, but I don't even fancy

"Shoot him, James," came an indignant voice from the
trunk. "He's insulting me."

"That sounds love-like, doesn't it?" said I, bitterly, to

"Lies! Lies! Lies!" cried James. "You love her."

"I don't."

"You do."


"This is ridiculous,**

"It is."

"It must be settled."

He hurried over to the bureau and returned with an-
other gun.

"This is the way we shall settle it," he said, displaying
the gun in all its splendor. "A duel."

"You mean shooting at each other?" I gasped.

"To the end," he replied.

"I won't do it," I replied with finality.

"Then I'll shoot you down like a dog in cold blood,"
he answered.

"Don't talk that way," I cried, "about blood and shoot-
ing down and all that. I don't like it."

He cocked one of the guns.

"Do you agree?" he said.

It seemed to me that the end of the gun was already

"How about a game of ping-pong?" I suggested des-
perately. "They have a dandy table here."

"Have you any friends in the hotel?" he asked, stepping
back and leveling the gun. The trunk seemed to be having
a convulsion.


"Don't do it!" I cried. "Don't do it. I don't want to
be shot!"

"Then do you agree to a duel?" he said, lowering the

"Sure," said I, greatly relieved, "let's have a flock of

"Very well, then," he said, "we shall arrange it now.
You have no friends. Neither have I. We must use two
of the bellboys as seconds. I shall talk with them and ar-
range everything. To-morrow at daybreak you shall be
called. Good day, suh."

At the door I stopped.

"Say," said I entreatingly, "won't you cut out all this
Kentucky Colonel stuff and be reasonable?"

"It is arranged," said he, closing the door.

Half way down the liall I turned back, remembering I
had left my shaving things.

"What!" he cried, when I had knocked and the door
was opened to me. "Back again? Have you no shame?
Shall I shoot you now?"

"No, don't shoot me now," I said, in a tired voice, "shoot
me to-morrow. Just reach me out my shaving things now so
that I can be all pretty."

Somehow I got back to my room. Every door along
the long halls presented itself to me as a possible duel. I
stood outside my own room for fully fifteen minutes nerv-
ing myself to take the chance. At last I closed my eyes
and entered. I was safe. All the day I stayed in my room.
A bellboy brought me my meals, my slipper and a request
from the management please not to sit on the window sill
any more. Evidently they think that I was doing it through
preference. And to-morrow I die. Well, thank God, at
any rate I had my bath. There is probably some comfort
in this but I have not as yet been able to find it.

Dec. 2ist (After the duel). — I don't at all object to
duels ; in fact, I rather fancy them — when they are all over.
Here I sit, a man who has both shot and been shot at; a


man who has stood gallantly on the field of honor In order
to defend his sacred rights to take a bath; a man who has
proved his courage and magnanimity in a moment of great
danger, and yet here I am, healthy and unscratched and
sharing a dark secret with the man who only this morning
was thirsting for my blood.

For the sake of posterity, personal or otherwise, I shall
proceed to relate a few of the high lights of this singular

At five o'clock a bellboy presented himself before me
and said in a solemn voice:

"It is time, sir."

**Time for what?" says I.

"For the dool, sir," says he. "Will you have a bath, sir ?"

"Little bellboy," says I, turning over on my side, "if you
love Charlie Chaplin and ever hope to sit in the bleachers
at a world series again, don't, don't for the love of all you
hold sacred in your bellboy's soul mention bath to me. I
have taken my last bath in this world. To that spot

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Online LibraryThorne SmithOut o' luck; Biltmore Oswald very much at sea → online text (page 5 of 7)