The wit and humor of ame.., p.2

The Wit and Humor of America, Volume VII. (of X.), page 2

 part  #VII. (of X.) of  The Wit and Humor of America Series

 

The Wit and Humor of America, Volume VII. (of X.)
 


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  "And you mistook me for Presidio?" asked Carrington, with the manner ofone flattered.

  "For a second, and seeing only your side face. Of course, I saw mymistake when you turned and spoke to me. Presidio is considered thebest-looking crook we've ever had."

  "Now, that's nice! Where did you say he's gone?"

  "I don't know."

  Carrington found that out for himself. He first interrupted his voyageby a stop of some weeks in Japan. Later, at the Oriental Hotel inManila, the day of his arrival there, he saw a man observing him withsmiling interest, a kind of smile and interest which prompted Carringtonto smile in return. He was bored because the only officer he knew in thePhilippines was absent from Manila on an expedition to the interior; andthe man who smiled looked as if he might scatter the blues if he werepermitted to try. The stranger approached with a bright, frank look, andsaid, "Don't you remember me, Mr. Carrington?"

  "No-o."

  "I was head waiter at the St. Dunstan."

  "Oh, were you? Well, your face has a familiar look, somehow."

  "Excuse my speaking to you, but I guess your last trip was what inducedme to come out here."

  "That's odd."

  "It is sort of funny. I'd saved a good deal--I'm the saving sort--andthe tenner you gave me that night--you remember, the night of _the_dinner--happened to fetch my pile up to exactly five hundred. SoI says to myself that here was my chance to make a break forfreedom--independence, you understand."

  "We're the very deuce for independence down our way."

  "Yes, indeed, sir. I was awfully sorry to hear about the trouble you gotin at college; but, if you don't mind my saying so now, you boys weregoing it a little that night."

  "Going it? What night? There were several."

  "The red-fire night. You tipped me ten for that dinner."

  "Did I? I hope you have it yet, Mr.--"

  "James Wilkins, sir. Did you see Mr. Thorpe and Mr. Culver as you passedthrough San Francisco?"

  "I did. How did you happen to know that I knew them?"

  "I remember that they were chums of yours at college. We heard lots ofcollege gossip at St. Dunstan's. I called on them in San Francisco, andMr. Thorpe got me half-fare rates here. I've opened a restaurant here,and am doing a good business. Some of the officers who knew me at theSt. Dunstan kind of made my place fashionable. Lieutenant Sommers, ofthe cavalry, won't dine anywhere else."

  "Sommers? I expected to find him here."

  "He's just gone out with an expedition. He told me that you'd be along,and that I was to see that you didn't starve. I've named my place theSt. Dunstan, and I'd like you to call there--I remember your favoritedishes."

  "That's very decent of you."

  Mr. Wilkins looked frequently toward the entrance, with seeming anxiety."I wish the proprietor of this place would come in," he said at last."Lieutenant Sommers left me a check on this house for a hundred--Mr.Sommers roomed here, and left his money with the office. I need the cashto pay a carpenter who has built an addition for me. Kind of funny to beworth not a cent less than five thousand gold, in stock and good will,and be pushed for a hundred cash."

  "If you've Mr. Sommers' check, I'll let you have the money--for St.Dunstan's sake."

  "If you could? Of course, you know the lieutenant's signature?"

  "As well as my own. Quite right. Here you are. Where is yourrestaurant?"

  "You cross the Lunette, turn toward the bay--ask anybody. Hope to seeyou soon. Good day."

  Some officers called on Carrington, as they had been told to do by theabsent Sommers. When introductions were over, one of them handed a paperto Carrington, saying gravely: "Sommers told me to give this to you. Itwas published in San Francisco the day after you left, and reached herewhile you were in Japan."

  What Carrington saw was a San Francisco newspaper story of his encounterwith the Palace Hotel detective, an account of his famous dinner at theSt. Dunstan, some selections of his other college pranks, allusion tothe fact that he was a classmate of two San Franciscans, Messrs. Thorpeand Culver, the whole illustrated with pictures of Carrington andPresidio--the latter taken from the rogues' gallery. "Very pretty, verypretty, indeed," murmured Carrington, his eyes lingering with thoughtfulpause on the picture of Presidio. "Could we not celebrate my fame insome place of refreshment--the St. Dunstan, for instance?"

  They knew of no St. Dunstan's.

  "I foreboded it," sighed Carrington. He narrated his recent experiencewith one James Wilkins, "who, I now opine, is Mr. Presidio. It's notworth troubling the police about, but I'd give a pretty penny to see Mr.Presidio again. Not to reprove him for the error of his ways, but todiscover the resemblance which has led to this winsome newspaper story."

  The next day one of the officers told Carrington that he had learnedthat Presidio and his wife, known to the police by a number of names,had taken ship the afternoon before.

  "I see," remarked Carrington. "He needed exactly my tip to move to newfields. He worked me from the article in the paper, which he had seenand I had not. Clever Presidio!"

  * * * * *

  When Tommy, the hall-boy, on the night of Mr. Holt's first Tenderloinassignment, went to inform the police, Carrington, looking about theapartment to discover the extent of his loss, found on a table a lettersuperinscribed, "Before sending for the police, read this." He read:

  "Dear Mr. Carrington: Since we met in Manila I have been to about everycountry on top of the earth where a white man's show could be worked.It's been up and down, and down and up, the last turn being down. InIndia I got some sleight-of-hand tricks which are new to this country;but here we land, wife and me, broke. Nothing but our apparatus, whichwe can't eat; and not able to use it, because we are shy on dressclothes demanded by the houses where I could get engagements. In thatcondition I happened to see you on the street, and thought to try atouch; and would, but you might be sore over the little fun we had inManila. I heard in South Africa that you wouldn't let the army officersstart the police after me; and wife says that was as square a deal asshe ever heard of, and to try a touch. But I says we will make a forcedloan, and repay out of our salaries. We hocked our apparatus to get me asuit of clothes which looked something like those you wear, and the restwas easy: finding out Tommy's name and then conning him. I've taken someclothes and jewelry, to make a front at the booking office, and somecash. You should empty your pockets of loose cash: I found some in allyour clothes. Give me and wife a chance, and we will live straight afterthis, and remit on instalment. You can get me pinched easy, for we'll beplaying the continuous circuit in a week; but wife says you won'tsqueal, and I'll take chances. Yours, sincerely as always, Presidio."

  So Carrington told the superintendent to drop the matter.

  The Great Courvatals, Monsieur and Madame, showed their new tricks tothe booking agent and secured a forty weeks' engagement at a salarywhich only Presidio's confidence could have asked.

  Presidio liked New York, and exploited it in as many directions aspossible. With his new fashionable clothing and his handsome face, hewas admitted to resorts of a character his boldest dreams had neverbefore penetrated. He especially liked the fine restaurants. None sojocund, so frank and free as Presidio in ordering the best at the bestplaces. Mrs. Presidio did not accompany him; she was enjoying the morepoignant pleasure of shopping, with a responsible theater manager as herreference! At a restaurant one midday, as Presidio was leisurelybreakfasting, he became aware that he was the object of furtiveobservation by a young lady, seated with an elderly companion at a tablesomewhat removed. Furtive doings were in his line, and he made a closestudy of the party, never turning more than a scant half-face to do so.The manner of the young lady was puzzling. None so keen as Presidio inreading expression, but hers he could not understand. That she was nottrying to flirt with him he decided promptly and definitively; yet herlooks were intended to attract his attention, and to do so secretly. Theelderly companion, when the couple was leaving the restaurant, sto
ppedin the vestibule to allow an attendant to adjust her wrap, and Presidioseized that chance to pass close to the young lady, moving as slowly ashe dared without seeming to be concerned in her actions. Her head wasaverted, but Presidio distinctly heard her breathe, rather than whisper,"Pass by the house to-morrow afternoon."

  * * * * *

  Presidio pondered. He was supposed to know where her house was; he wasunwelcome to some one there; he was mistaken for some oneelse--Carrington!

  When he told his wife about it she was in a fever of romanticexcitement. Bruising knocks in the world, close approaches to the shadesof the prison house, hardships which would have banished romance from anature less robustly romantic, had for Mrs. Presidio but more glowinglysuffused with the tints of romance all life--but her own! "Mr.Carrington has done us right, Willie," she declared; "once in Manila,when we simply _had_ to get to Hong Kong; and here, where we wouldn'thave had no show on earth if he hadn't lent you the clothes and cash forthe start. There's something doing here, Willie; and I'm all lit up withexcitement."

  Presidio, who, of course, had followed the young lady to learn where shelived, passed the house the next day, the sedatest looking man on thesedate block. Presently a maid came from the house, gave him a beckoningnod, and hurried on round the corner. There she slipped him a note,saying as she walked on, "I was to give you this, Mr. Carrington."

  Presidio took the note to his wife, and she declared for opening it. Itwas sealed, and addressed to another person; but to let such aninformality as opening another's letters stand in the way of knowingwhat was going on around them would have been foreign to the nature ofPresidio activities. This was the note:

  "Dear Porter: Your letters to papa will not be answered. I heard him say so to mamma, yesterday. He is angry that you wrote to him on the very day I returned from Europe. He will send me back there if you try to see me, as you say you will, but dear, even at that cost I must see you once more. I have never forgotten, never ceased to love; but there is no hope! A companion accompanies me always, the one you saw in the restaurant; but the maid who will hand you this is trustworthy, and will bring me any message you give to her. If you can arrange for a moment's meeting it will give me something to cherish in my memory through the remainder of my sad and hopeless life. Only for a moment, dear.

  "Caroline."

  Mrs. Presidio wept. Here was romance sadder, and therefore better, thanany she had ever read; better, even, than that in the one-act dramaswhich followed their turns on the stage. "Have you ever studied hiswriting?" she asked her husband; and, promptly divining her plan, hereplied, "I made a few copies of his signature on the Manila hotelregister. You never know what will turn up." After a pause, he addedeagerly, "Better yet!--there was some of his writing in the overcoat Iborrowed from his rooms."

  "Write to her; make an appointment, and have him on hand to keep it."

  Here was work right in Presidio's line; his professional pride wasfired, and he wrote with grave application:

  "Darling Caroline: Thank you, sweetheart, for words which have kept me from suicide. Love of my life, I can not live until we meet! But only for a moment? Nay, for ever and ever!"

  "That's beautiful!" declared Mrs. Presidio, looking over Willie'sshoulder. He continued:

  "I shall hand this to your maid; but you must not meet me there; it would be too dangerous. Leave your house one-half hour after receiving this, and go around the corner where you will see a lady, a relative of mine, who will drive with you to a safe tryst. Trust her, and heaven speed the hour! With undying love. Porter."

  This was all written in a good imitation of Carrington's rather unusualhandwriting, and approved by Mrs. Presidio; who, however, thought thereshould be some reference to the young lady's home as a beetled tower,and to her father as several things which Presidio feared might not beesteemed polite in the social plane they were operating in. He passedthe house the next day, and the maid soon appeared. He learned from herthat her mistress's companion was not at home; and then, hopeful becauseof this opportune absence, hurried off, leaving Mrs. Presidio round thecorner in a carriage. He went to a club where, he had ascertained,Carrington usually was at that hour, and sent in the card of "M.Courvatal," on which he wrote, "Presidio." Carrington came out to him atonce. "My dear Mr. Presidio, this is so kind of you," he said, regardinghis caller with interest. "We've not met since Manila. I hope Mrs.Presidio is well, and that your professional engagements prosper. I wentto see you perform last night, and was delighted."

  "Thank you," the caller said, much pleased with this reception. "I'll besending the balance of my little debt to you as soon as the wife has herdressmaking bills settled."

  "Pray do not incommode the wife. The amount you have already sent was apleasant--surprise. Can I be of any service to you to-day?"

  "Well, it's like this, Mr. Carrington: I have an appointment for youthis afternoon."

  "For me?"

  "With Miss Caroline Curtis."

  "What do you mean?"

  "Don't be offended, sir. Come with me, and see what you'll see. If I tryany game, pitch into me, that's all."

  The man's manner was now so earnest that Carrington, without a word,started with him. In the club entrance Presidio whispered, "Follow;don't walk with me. There's not much chance that any one here willrecognize me, but if I was pinched on any old score you'd better not bein my company." He went ahead, and Carrington followed. They had walkeddown Fifth Avenue several blocks when Mr. Francis Holt cut in betweenthem, and shadowed Presidio with elaborate caution. Carrington saw this,and mused. "I think I know that young man who has so plainly got friendPresidio under observation. Surely, it's Holt, a year or two after me.What can he--Hello, I say!"

  Holt saw the intention of Presidio to turn off the avenue toward alittle church round the corner, and advancing suddenly, laid a stronghand on Presidio's shoulder, saying, "Come quietly with me, and I'llmake no fuss; but if you don't, I'll call a policeman."

  Carrington overtook them. Holt was excited, wild-eyed, disheveled, andseemed not to have slept for a week. Presidio coolly awaited events.

  "Hello, Holt!" exclaimed Carrington. "How are you, old chap? Haven'tseen you for years."

  "Good heavens, this is lucky!" cried Holt. "Carrington, since the nightyour rooms were plundered I've been on the track of this villain. I wasbound to explain the mystery of that night; determined to prove that Icould unravel a plot, detect a crime! Do you understand? This is thefellow who rifled your room. Robbed you!"

  "Yes, I know, old fellow," Carrington replied soothingly, for he sawthat Holt was half hysterical from excitement. "He's always robbing me,this chap is. It's a habit with him. I've come rather to like it. Walkalong with us, and I'll tell you all about it."

  They turned the corner and walked down the side street, but only Holttalked: of his sleepless nights and tireless days solving his firstcrime case. A carriage drove up to the curb and Mrs. Presidio steppedout. At a wink from Presidio Carrington stepped in.

  "Betty," said Presidio to his wife, "shake hands with an old friend ofmine and of Mr. Carrington's. I want you to know him. Mr. Holt, shakehands with Madame Courvatal, my wife."

  "Why, Mr. Holt, glad to meet you personally!" exclaimed Betty. "This isthe gent, Willie, I've told you about: comes to the show every nightjust before our turn, and goes out as soon as we are off."

  "Glad you like the turn so much," Presidio said, smiling oddly. Holt,with his hand to his brow was gasping. The carriage door opened andCarrington's head emerged: "Oh, Holt, come here."

  Holt, with a painfully dazed expression, went to the carriage. "Mydear," Carrington said to some one inside who was struggling to hide,"this is Mr. Francis Holt; one of my oldest and dearest friends. He'sthe discreetest fellow I know and will arrange the whole matter in aminute. You must, darling! Fate has offered us a chance for life'shappiness, and as I say--Holt, like a good fellow, go
into the parsonageand explain who I am, and who Miss Caroline Curtis is. Your people knowall the Curtises, and we're going to get married, and--don't protest,darling!--like a good chap, Holt, go and--for God's sake, man, don'tstare like that! You know us, and can vouch for us. Tell the parson thatthe Curtises and Carringtons are always marrying each other. Holt! willyou move?"

  An hour later a little banquet was served in the private dining-room ofa hotel, and Mrs. Carrington was explaining, between tears and laughter,how good, kind Madame Courvatal had told her that everything was readyfor a wedding, and that she would be a cruel woman, indeed, not to makesuch a loving lover happy; and she couldn't make up her mind to say yes,and it was hard to say no--just after receiving Porter's despairingnote.

  "My note, dear?" asked Carrington, but Presidio coughed so loudly shedid not hear her husband's question. Holt drank to the bride and groomseveral times before he began soberly to believe he was not in a dream.Mr. and Mrs. Presidio beamed broadly, and declared that life withoutromance was no kind of a life for honest folk to live.

  "Holt!" exclaimed Carrington, when the train carriage was announced,"you've been a brick about all this. I don't know how to show myappreciation."

  "I'll tell you how," suggested Presidio. "Let Mr. Holt be the one totell Mr. Curtis. He deserves the privilege of informing the governor."

 
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