Thorne Smith.

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

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whither I am about to wend my way it is my hope that
there will be no spirit tubs in which the shades that dwell
in that place will be forced to immerse their spirit bodies.
However, convention is strong and I can only with the
greatest difficulty imagine a British ghost having anything
like a contented time of it if he should happen to be de-
prived of his morning tub."

During the course of this speech, which left the bellboy
in a perplexed frame of mind, I had taken the occasion to
arise and prepare myself for my undertaker.

"It's going to be in the Cathedral Pines," whispered the
boy gleefully to me as we picked our way through the
woods a few minutes later.

"Is it?" I said unenthusiastically, falling into a hidden
brook. "It is a name that conveys a certain morbid sig-
nificance to my mind at this moment."

"Aw, he might not actually kill you," put in the boy


"Little boy," says I, **don't you think you m^^ht make
a man's last moments on earth a trifle less ghastly if you
should choose to discuss topics more remote to the business
at hand?"

Of course I received no answer to this.

*'But if he does," continued this budding young mate-
rialist, "might I have that navy jumper you're wearmg?
My girl has been after me to get her one."

"Certainly," I replied, "certainly, little bellboy, and per-
haps you might like the funny trousers, also?"

"Sure," said he, "sure I would. You're all right, mister."

"Thank you, little bellboy, for those kind words, the first
I've heard for many days. But perhaps you will refrain
from undressing me until after the funeral services? I
should hate to make my deparature in my underwear."

"Certainly," said the bellboy, "I'll get 'em after it's all

"This, then, must indeed be a pleasant day for you?'*
I suggested as we crawled up a bank made unnecessarily
slippery by pine needles.

"Aw, I ain't never seen a dool before," said the bell-
boy. "It will be different."

"The eternal quest of youth," said I to myself, and aloud,
"Yes, won't it? Quite. The difference between ham and
eggs and easing the way for daisies."

By this time we had reached the spot from which I was
to take my sudden departure from the land of the Blue
Jacket's Manual. My foeman was prancing briskly around
in the early morning sunlight. Apparently a duel to him
was the same as a Bronx cocktail had at one time been to
me, something to toss off with a smile of anticipation of
more to come. A cow was thrusting her head through some
nearby trees. I felt like kissing her farewell. She fol-
lowed our movements with dreamy imaginings. In my
mind, which always becomes dazed in the presence of dan-
ger and tailor bills, I wondered if she had been out in the
woods all night. The songs of the birds hurt me. I was


too soon to lose them. Even the smell of the pine-touched
morning air annoyed me. I liked it too much.

"Good morning," I said to my adversary, hoping to make
friends with him at that late date. "Have you had your

"No, suh," he replied, haughtily, "I shall get that latuh."

"Let's go back and get it novvr," I suggested.

"You will not be hungry long," he answered, busying
himself with the guns. When I had last seen those guns
they had been large. Now they looked tremendous. A
new bellboy approached and handed me one. Then fol-
lowed a joint conversation between the bellboys, who were
playing the enviable role of seconds, and the principals.
One bellboy wanted to start (or better, end) the thing by
saying: "One for the money, two for the show, three to
get ready and four to go."

I objected to this on the grounds of childhood memories
the ritual evoked and also because I disliked the word "go"
as being a little too pertinent to the situation.

At last we made him memorize the simple imperatives,
"Ready! Aim! Fire!" These also jarred on my nerves,
but I felt that I could stand them. It was also decided that
each man should have one and only one shot. This was
also my suggestion. My adversary accepted merely because
as he declared, "I never need more than one, suh."

I replied to this by saying that that was one more than I

We took our positions at forty-five paces apart. I had been
forced to fight desperately for the extra five paces. The
seconds took up their positions and I stood regarding my
sponsor in spirit land. He was not a bad looking chap.
For the first time the realization that by some off chance I
might be responsible for letting daylight into his anatomy
occurred to me. It was most unpleasant. However, he
looked so fearless and assured that I felt how little I had
to worry about on that score.

"All right," he snapped out to the bell-boy.


"Get ready," said the bellboy.

"Wait," I shouted. "Wait!"

"What's the matter?" demanded the man.

"I can't lift my arm," I cried.

"What?'* said the man.

"I can't lift my arm," I repeated. "I can't do it. We'll
have to shoot lying down."

"If you don't raise your arm, right now I'll shoot you
down on the spot," gritted the man.

I raised my arm.

"Get ready !'* started the boy once more.

1 lowered my gun.

"Bellboy," I said, "you're not saying it right. You
musn't say *Get ready;* you must say merely *Ready.* Am
I not right, sir ?" I continued, addressing my foe.

"Yes," he said, shortly.

*Why say it at all?" I suggested, hoping he might be

"He must say it,** breathed the man.

"See," I said turning to the bellboy. "What did I tell
you? You've gotta say it, only say it right.'*

"Get ready!" cried the bellboy.

I lowered my gun once more.

"That bellboy is simply impossible," I said. "I've never
had such service in my life. If this keeps up I'm going to
call the whole blamed duel ofE."

The man was furious. I thought he was going to slay
me without further conversation on the subject.

"Bellboy," he cried, at last getting control of himself.
"For Gawd sake, say it right!"

Once more we braced ourselves.

"Get ready!" stammered the bewildered boy, losing all
presence of mind at this great moment.

"What did I tell you?" I said disgustedly. "What did I
tell you? He can't say it. He's spoiled the duel for me.
Absolutely ruined it."


"You say it," cried the man to the other bellboy; "and
if you don't say it right I'll shoot you down."

"Ready!" said the other bellboy proudly. "Aim!"

"Half a moment," I interrupted politely.

"Well, what is it now?" demanded the man.

"Not until after the funeral," I said to the bellboy. "Re-

"Sure, sir," he replied, and in the next breath, "Ready!"

We raised our guns.

"Aim!" he shouted.

"Promise?" I cried.

"Sure," said he.

"I'll run you a race?" I called out in desperation to my
foe, but there was no stopping the murderous progress of
that boy's words.

"Fire!" he called out in a relieved voice.

There was one sharp report. A bullet hurried by my left
€ar. Both bellboys were disappearing at great speed through
the trees. I turned around and noticed that the cow was
sinking slowly to the ground, bow first.

"Fair mark, shoot," said my foe, baring his chest to me.

"Look what you done," I replied, in my excitement for-
getting to shoot him. "Look what you done," I continued.
"You've gone and killed that cow."

"Shoot!" cried the man.

Forgetting completely about him I hurried over and
gazed down into the large, suffering eyes of the innocent
bystander. She was in great pain and dying slowly, as I
might have been had the bullet found its mark. Poor cow.
I could not stand to hear it breathing. Suddenly I thought
of the gun hanging forgotten in my hand. With this gun
I hastened the departing life of the animal. It was my only
shot and it did the work.

"Now," I said briefly, turning to the man. **We'd both
better run like hell."

Together we fled through the woods after the intrepid

"^V*. "^^^

" * BELL BOY, you're NOT SAYING IT RIGHT* ** — Page Bq

'"' 'aniA^^(f'

'mr. fogerty is a papa, he has seven babies, all i>0G8 " — Page 96


"Aren't you going to shoot me?" gasped my unsuccessful

"No," I managed to get out as we dashed along. "I've
spent my bullet on something more deserving."

"But you ought to shoot me," replied the man with con-

"Just the same," I answered, "I ain't agoing to do it."

We ran steadily and swiftly for a great time. At last
we halted by a sort of subconscious mutual consent.

"What do you reckon the farmer would do to us if he
caught us?" panted the man.

"He'd arrest us and make us pay and at the present high
cost of living I guess we'd never stop paying," I replied
with conviction.

"I didn't mean to kill the cow," said the man musing
over my words.

"Thanks for the compliment," I replied shortly.

He looked at me and smiled. How I had prayed to see
that smile on his face during the past 24 hours. Now it no
longer mattered.

"You're a funny person," he said to me at last. "I've
never met any one like you before."

"You almost lost the opportunity," I reminded him.

"Funny," he continued. "Rather help a dying cow than
kill your man."

"The cow was easier to hit," I replied. "And she needed
a lift."

He swallowed hard and looked down at the ground.

"I reckon," he said. "I reckon I was wrong about it all
and I want to ap — "

"Have you had breakfast?" I interrupted.

"No," he replied.

"Well, come on, let's have it," said I. And together we
set off through the woods.

Dec. 22nd. — The pine woods down here are gradually
getting to my head. After the affair of the duel, I imme-


diately sought the comfort and the solitude of the trees in
order to allow my ruined nerves an opportunity to spring
back to normal. While sitting in the sun-splashed tran-
quillity of a dense undergrowth, numerous poetic thoughts
flashed through my mind. So as my frequently-referred-to-
posterity may have the benefit of these great thoughts I
have entered them, for the sake of permanency, into this,
my diary. The first poem is entitled:

The Enigma.

Whither does the plumber wend?
He hath a water pipe to mend.
Yet, whyfore doth the plumber sit
And never seem to think of itf

Admittedly this is an outpouring of the soul which would
be very difficult to connect with a pine forest, yet it is in
such a spot that fancy took me unawares. The second poem
is more reasonable, but no less beautiful. It is called :

To A Bird.

/ never heard

A more absurd
Arrangement than a mocking bird.
Why Does he always scream and shout itf
Something should be done about it.

This last poem, of course, has more depth and philosophy
than the first one, and also possesses the great virtue of
being constructive. And one must be constructive, mustn't
one? — if only for the sake of being, as it were, constructive.

The third poem has an element of tragedy and bitterness
of life. One can see at a glance that it came from a man'
who has suffered pitifully in this world. I read it to a bell-
boy the other night and the poor, emotional slob could hardly
restrain his feelings. No one knows better than I what it


means to feel deeply, particularly over my own poetry, and
so, of course, I readily sympathized with him. As a matter
of fact, there is something in it that gets you. I call it simply:


Amelia Jane at twelve- fifteen
Arose and sought her limousine.
And fell upon her fickle head—-'
I hope to God Amelia^s dead.

This, too, is an expression of profound knowledge and
intercourse with life as it is and not as we would wish it.

Unfortunately for the enrichment of literature, the con-
ception of further gems of poesy was rudely interrupted by
a loud and sudden bang somewhere very close to my wood-
land nook, and all the shot propelled by all the powder be-
longing to all the Du Fonts in Delaware came tearing along
in my direction. Quantities of dead leaves were ripped o£E
the trees around me and numerous birds flew away uttering
loud cries of protest in which I joined with fervor.

Presently there was one who appeared to me through
the bushes. He was wearing a strange arrangement of
hunting tweeds and was maintaining with no little difficulty
and facial contortions a monocle in his starboard lamp.

"Oh, I say," says he, "you carnt sit here, old chap. This
is a game preserve, ye know."

In as calm a voice as possible I assured him that I had
lost all desire to remain longer in that vicinity.

"Hang it all," he continued, breaking out into a loud
and unusual sounding laugh, "I bally nearly plugged you,
ye know." Merriment overcame him.

"Yes," says I, inanely, "yes, indeed. Didn't you just.
Bally nearly plugged me. Funny, what? Ha! Ha!"

He wiped his eyes on a silk handkerchief and began search-
ing around in the bushes.

"I say, old dog," says he, waxing intimate on the ground


of nearly having killed me, "you didn't see any birds drop
around here, did you?"

"May I ask you a question in return ?'* I asked him in
my politest voice.

"Surely, old—"

"Make it hound this time," I suggested.

He blinked at me a moment v^hile digesting the sugges-
tion. At last he smiled his silly smile.

"Surely, old hound," says he, "surely. What's your
question ?"

"Why don't you go back to England ?" said I, shortly, as
I disappeared into the bushes.

"Harf a minute," I heard him crying after me, "Harf a
minute," but I did not wait for further words with him.
I have been too frequently shot at in the past few days.

Dec. 23rd. — I received this morning the following cryp-
tic telegram:

"Mr. Fogerty is a father again seven times. Signed,


To this startling communication I sent immediately the
following reply:

"Congratulate Mr. Fogerty for me. Take all necessary
steps to see that Mrs. Fogerty is well provided for at
my expense. Signed, Biltmore."

Although I was in no wise obligated to that depraved
dog, I could not permit myself to see his family suffer,
which they certainly would if he had anything to do with
it. Later in the evening I received this letter from my wop
shipmate Tony:

"Dear Bilta: That dog you call Meester Fogerty ess
a papa. He has seven babies, all dogs. All the day he
act strange. He walks unhappily up and down before the


barracks S-ii. He no eat. He no sleep. He no go away.
He justa walk, walk, walk, all the day. I bring heem
food. He looks at it. Too sad. Kicks it over. At about
seven bells a sailor comes outta the barracks and calls to
Meester Fogerty. They enter. I follow. Fogerty is led
up to the heat pipes were lays a mama dog with seven babies.
Meester Fogerty looks at them. He looks at me. He is
proud. He has much pride and growls deep in hees throat
and bites Murphy the jimmy-legs. Then he stalk outta
the room and is seen no more. He is heard of later in the
near-by village. He has placed himself at the head of a
large body of dogs. They bully around the town and will
not come home. Meester Fogerty he celebrates. Your dog
is not nice. Tony."

Thus wrote the poor Italian, describing as well as pos-
sible an episode that is becoming only too frequent in Mr.
Fogerty's life. If the government should send allotments
to all of Mr. Fogerty's families, a special department would
have to be created in order to carry on the business. How-
ever, I cannot help but be pleased at Mr. Fogerty having
been a father so near home. I am afraid he will be insuffer-
able for many days.

Dec. 24th. — In this hotel it is very difficult to distinguish
the difference between a sun porch and a parlor. They
sort of run into one another. But there is a difference.
In the sun porch one is supposed to look convalescent,
whereas in the parlor or lounges one is supposed to look
dyspeptic. I have found this out, for in the latter place
numerous large, brocaded dowagers foregather after meals
and battle valiantly with this dread enemy of mankind.
That they suffer greatly is apparent from the bitter way
in which they regard all those whose cheerful faces show
they are not its victims. They would love to use tooth-
picks, I know, but they are paying so much for their rooms
that they can't bear to lower their batting average.


I walked around the lake this morning and fell in it.
It's a nice lake to walk around, but not a nice one to fall
into. One disturbs too many sleeping turtles recumbent
on the rocks.

Most all of the visitors at this place come to the lake to
talk business. I have been able to pick up no end of in-
formation regarding stocks and bonds, cloaks and suits and
buttons and buttonholes. This is well. The good gentle-
men show such a rugged Indifference to the beauties of na-
ture. This, I suppose, Is progress. Soon we shall have
stock tickers established at proper Intervals along our most
picturesque walks and rustic settings in order to allow any
business man who might chance by an opportunity to pur-
chase the fruits of the earth at which he refuses to look.
Yet people tell us that we all want something more In life
than this. We do. We want something more than seventy-
five cents, which is more than I have in my pocket. And
when we get it we find that it has gotten us. Making
money Is, on occasions, perhaps, excusable, but talking about
it is at all times criminal. Hence no more of this trite philos-
ophy. The reason I'm so cracked on the subject of money
is that I have so little of it. In fact, I gave my last quarter
to the porter who struggled in with my suitcase upon ar-
riving. Since then I've been trying to get a little vicari-
ous enjoyment by watching the bell-hops steal a drag be-
hind the water cooler. I've been without fags for so long
that the nicotine is wearing off my fingers. Yesterday I
borrowed a smoke from one of these said boys on the pre-
text of having left my cigarette case in my room. I nursed
the butt till midnight. It looks as if mother has done
me in. She's equally as bad as numerous paymasters I have
met who have been attacked by the yellow-slip fever.

Dec. 25th. — ^To-day, while walking, I came upon a kit-
ten leaping alone in the road miles from habitation. I
approached the small creature and considered it in all its
touseled aspects. It was not the offspring of a wild cat.


This was apparent. Consequently I kne^v that it would
eventually perish in the woods. So I took this cat in my
arms and proceeded in search of a refuge for it. After
traversing a great distance I came to the home of a farmer,
and, going up to the farmer, I addressed him in a polite

"Farmer," I said, "I have here with me a homeless cat.
Will you take it in?"

And the farmer said, "We already have some cats."

So I left the farmer, and after traversing a great distance,
I came upon the house of another farmer, and, going up to
the hired girl of the farmer's wife, I said:

"Hired girl of the farmer's wife, I have here with me a
homeless cat. Will you take it in ?"

And the maiden replied, "We have some cats."

So I left that place and continued many leagues on my
way until I came to the dwelling of a third farmer, where
in the yard was a maiden throwing water over the body of
a dog possessed of fleas, and, going up to the maiden, I said :

"Maiden throwing water over the body of a dog possessed
of fleas, I have here with me a homeless cat. Will you
take it in?"

And the maid replied, "Sire, we have some cats."

So I quitted the spot and continued on my way a great
distance until I came to the gates of a rich dealer in stocks,
whereat there was a woman either blowing or washing the
nose of a large brass lion, and, approaching the woman, I

"Woman ministering to the needs of a large brass lion, I
have here with me a homeless cat. Will you take it in?"

And the woman answered, "We have some cats."

And I spoke again and said, "Woman cleansing the body
of a lion wrought in brass, do cats only grow in the plural
in this place?"

And the woman answered, "It seems so."

So I departed from that place and walked a long time
on my way until I came to a great hospital, wherein there


dwelt a host of wounded soldiers from over the water, and
here there was a Red Cross nurse, and to this nurse I went
up and said:

"Red Cross nurse, I have here with me a homeless cat.
Will you take it in ?'*

And the Red Cross nurse smiled and took the cat and I

When it was later in the day I passed this great hospital
for wounded soldiers and I saw a soldier with one leg and
with this soldier was a small cat with which the soldier
seemed greatly pleased.

So I rejoiced in my heart that there was a place in the
scheme of things for a small cat, and left the spot highly
edified and feeling not a little boy-scoutish.

I have just learned that today is Christmas. This is a
nice thing to know, although I hardly see what use I am
going to make of the information. I might sing a couple
of carols to my waitress with a certain degree of safety in-
asmuch as the good woman is evidently deaf.

Dec. 26th. — ^At last I have met her, the girl in the rid-
ing breeches, the girl who observed me in all my glory
sitting on the edge of a window sill. But this time she w^as
not clad in riding breeches, but in full-dress, full of va-
cancies, that is, in which she looked equally attractive. It
came about in this manner. Her father fell asleep. That
explains it. He fell asleep before the fire in the main lobby
directly after having strained the strength of his pearl
shirt studs by the amount of food he had somehow man-
aged to cram under them. The orchestra, at some distance,
was playing a particularly jazzy shiver and this naturally
brought my attention to the gleaming young lady sitting
beside the snoring old man.

As I was looking at her I noticed a strange thing. The
left shoulder of the young lady gave a slight but ever so
eloquent hitch. This intriguing movement was then re-
peated by the right shoulder, bare and polished beneath


^ J >


^^^/y^^^ ^^'^



'the left shoulder of the young lady gave a slight, but ever so



the bright glow of the lights. With much less grace, but
with equally as much expression, I proceeded to do a little
hitching of my own shoulders. Thus, in all solemnity, we
sat hitching at one another until at last I nodded my head
in the direction of the ball room. Still without smiling, the
young lady arose and departed quietly to the place where
the music was, and I followed her. Silently she took my
arm and with profound gravity we embarked upon a sea
of jazz, from which we presently emerged still in a condi-
tion of mute but mutual enjoyment.

Without a word I led her to a secluded, palm-clustered re-
cess in one of the numerous sun parlors, where together we
sat in silence and gazed upon the gaudy visage of a moth-
eaten moon. She dropped her fan. I picked it up.

"Thank you," say she.

"Don't mention it," says I.

She dropped her handkerchief, and this, too, I retrieved.

"Oh, thank you very much," says she.

"You're cordially welcome, I'm sure," says I.

Then she laughed. She laughed like a Bacardi cocktail
tastes. Pleasantly. Something one cannot get enough of.
One never does until one gets too much. When she had
finished, we spoke. We spoke plenty. We told each other
our right names, where we lived, the books we liked, the
plays we had seen, what we thought of the hotel, the people,
the scenery and the food. We spoke of the summer time and
declared we like it best, although she held out for skating.
We spoke of other hotels and other places and other people.
In fact, we spoke very much in the same manner as all
young people speak and always have spoken from the time
that the first couple met in the first hotel. Then we be-
came silent, which was dangerous, so she took me to her
father, to whom I was properly introduced, as if that made
any difference. To my pleasant salutation he replied grum-

"Knew it all the time. Knew it all the time. Wasn't
asleep. Go away."


And we went. The upshot of it all is that I must rise
at an early hour tomorrow morning and go riding with this
fair party. I didn't lie much about it. All I said was
that I could ride. I can't, but I might have gone so far as
to say that I had been brought up in the saddle. I regard
the morrow with suspicion and skepticism. I have never
been on a horse, have stayed as far away from them as

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Online LibraryThorne SmithOut o' luck; Biltmore Oswald very much at sea → online text (page 6 of 7)