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More Than Somewhat
by Damon Runyon
Copyright 1937 Damon Runyon
This edition published by Reading Essentials.
All Rights Reserved.
"Only a rank sucker will think of taking two peeks at Dave the Dude's doll … for Dave thinks more than somewhat of his dolls."
selects these stories by
and writes the Introduction
INTRODUCTION by E. C. BENTLEY1. BREACH OF PROMISE2. ROMANCE IN THE ROARING FORTIES3. DREAM STREET ROSE4. THE OLD DOLL'S HOUSE5. BLOOD PRESSURE6. THE BLOODHOUNDS OF BROADWAY7. TOBIAS THE TERRIBLE8. THE SNATCHING OF BOOKIE BOB9. THE LILY OF ST. PIERRE10. HOLD 'EM, YALE!11. EARTHQUAKE12. "GENTLEMEN, THE KING!"13. A NICE PRICE14. BROADWAY FINANCIER15. THE BRAIN GOES HOME
Before Damon Runyon began writing his stories of the bandits of Broadway, he had made himself a national reputation in America as a newspaper-man; a descriptive reporter who could deal with any event in the day's doings, from a horserace at Miami to an electrocution at Ossining, in a manner that put him in a class by himself. In particular, he wrote of sporting matters with a style and a fund of expert knowledge that were enjoyed from ocean to ocean. But this was not, by its nature, the sort of work that endures. He broke into literature, quite suddenly, with a hilarious short story of the gangsters and crooks infesting a certain section of Broadway, the main artery of New York's life—the Hardened Artery, as Walter Winchell has called it. He followed it up with many others of the same sort; all of them, in fact, told by the same imaginary narrator, and told in a tone and a language that make up one of the richest contributions to comic literature in our time.
So, at least, I think; and I have not yet met any critical reader of Runyon's tales who does not think so too.
I have made this selection of Damon Runyon's stories with the idea of showing as many aspects as possible of his narrative genius, ranging as they do from the most uproarious farce to such sadness as goes to the depths of the heart. The note of pathos is not often touched, it is true: when it is, it gains force from the contrast with its setting of quaint, unemotional, unconscious cynicism. If, after reading The Lily of St. Pierre in this book you do not agree with that judgment, then—as Runyon's narrator would say—you must be such a guy as will never be moved by anything short of an earthquake.
In the little world inhabited by Runyon's people every male human being is a guy, every female a doll. There are in that world other names for dolls, it is true, such as broads, or pancakes, or tomatoes; but the narrator prefers not to use such terms, which he claims are not respectful. Do not ask me if there really is such a world. I only know that it is a world, and a very lively world, at that. But it is certainly founded on fact, if you like things founded on fact. We have been hearing of guys like Dave the Dude, and Benny South Street, and Germany Schwartz, and Franky Ferocious (whose square monicker is Ferroccio), and Milk Ear Willie, and Izzy Cheesecake, for many years past; ever since gangsters and racketeers began to be news; also of dolls like Rosa Midnight, and Miss Cleghorn, the Arabian Acrobatic dancer, and Miss Muriel O'Neill, who works in the Half Moon night club, and the doll named Silk, who associates so much more with guys than she does with other dolls that she finally gets so she thinks like a guy, and has a guy's slant on things in general. We have heard of them all before; but Damon Runyon puts life into them as no other writer has done yet, and I do not expect any other in the future to make crime, and violence, and dissipation, and predatory worthlessness, together with occasional off-hand decency where you would least expect it, as keenly interesting and as frantically funny as Damon Runyon does.
You cannot help liking his guys and dolls. I do not mean that they—the guys, anyway—would be nice to know, or even safe. In fact, if it is left to me, I will as soon go in bathing with a school of sharks, or maybe sooner. (I am sorry, but I find it impossible not to drift into Runyonese when writing of the creatures of his brain.) I do not mean that they are unselfish, good-hearted, high-minded guys and dolls. I do not mean that you will shed tears when Angie the Ox gets cooled off by Lance McGowan, or when Joey Perhaps gets what is coming to him from Ollie Ortega, which is a short knife in the throat, or when The Brain gets carved up quite some, and finally hauls off and dies. I merely mean that they have a reckless, courageous vitality that makes you like hearing about them; that is, if you are an ordinary human being, such as has always liked hearing about desperados. As a certain newspaper guy in one of the Runyon stories puts it, many legitimate guys are much interested in the doings of tough guys, and consider them very romantic. I do not see anything against this, so long as you also consider them very indefensible, and are strongly in favour of discouraging them in a severely practical manner.
But what you will probably like without reserve is the endless comedy that Damon Runyon extracts from their dangerous and disreputable way of life, and the wonderful style in which he gives it expression.
Just as I, an Englishman, cannot say how far the New York underworld he shows you corresponds to the real thing, so I do not know if the talk of these guys and dolls is the sort of conversation you will actually hear in the section between Times Square and Columbus Circle. But those who ought to know give both them and their speech a high character for trueness to life. Heywood Broun, for instance, who lives quite near at hand, declares that he recognizes Runyon's characters as actual people, and that their talk is put down almost literally.
That "almost" is, no doubt, quite necessary. Damon Runyon, an artist in words, must have worked up his raw material with loving care; and in all likelihood he has made some contribution of his own. For Runyon, be it said, has long been among the recognized personal influences in the development of current American slang. In the days when he was known mainly as a sports-writer with a vast public, he was included in a short list of such influences by W. J. Funk, the New York publisher; and so high an authority as Henry Mencken, in his work on The American Language, has approved of that inclusion. It is doubtful if the ineffable felicity of so many passages in these stories could have been achieved by any merely phonographic method.
Nevertheless, the style of them is exclusively a conversational style. They are all talk; the talk of the guy who is telling them, or of other guys as reported by him. For English readers, I suppose, the most curious thing about that guy's talk will be his resolute avoidance of the past tense; the remarkable things he does with the historic present. The same thing is known in our own vulgar tongue, of course; but it is incidental, and apt to take a debased form—for example, "So I says to him, 'Did you hear what I said?'" In Runyonese this would be, "So I say to him, 'Do you hear what I say?'" Runyon's guy will say, "About three weeks ago, Big Nig is down taking the waters in Hot Springs, and anything else there may be to take in Hot Springs." He will not say, "When I heard Bugs Lonigan say this, I wished I had never been born"; he will say, "When I hear Bugs Lonigan say this, I wish I am never born." There is a sort of ungrammatical purity about it, an almost religious exactitude, that to me, at least, has the strongest appeal. In all the Runyon stories, as published in America, I have found only one single instance of a verb in the past tense. It occurs in one of those included in this book; and you may try to find it, if—as Runyon's guy might say—you figure there is any percentage in doing so. And, as that same guy might go on to say, I will lay plenty of 6 to 5 that it is nothing but a misprint; but I do not think it is the proper caper for me to improve on Runyon's prose, so I leave it.
I do not know what the history of this dread of the past tense may be. Possibly it is quite a long history. From the literature of the cattle industry in the West—I mean the serious literature—it is to be seen that the cowboy of half a century ago, when West was West indeed, had a dialect all his own, in which the past tense did not figure. For instance, Alfred Henry Lewis's old cattleman, calling on his memories of long ago, says:
The most ornery party I ever knows is Curly Ben. This yere Ben is killed, final, by old Captain Moon, when Curly is playin' kyards. He's jest dealin', when Moon comes Injunin' up from the r'ar, an' drills Curly through the head with a ·45 Colt's. Which the queer part is this: Curly, as I states—an' he never knows what hits him, an' is as dead as Santa Anna in a moment—is dealin' the kyards. He's got the deck in his hands. An' yet, when the public picks Curly off the floor, he's pulled his two guns, an' has got one cocked.
A psychological curiosity which would have fitted very nicely into Runyon's account of the cooling off of various guys.
Very interesting, to my mind, is the personality of the guy who tells these stories. He does not give himself a name at any time, but it will do no harm to call him X. In some ways X is a strange guy to be mobbed up with such characters as he tells about. He is a nervous guy, for one thing; and even more remarkable, in the circumstances, than his nervousness, is his passion for respectability. He is "greatly opposed to guys who violate the law," as he insists again and again; and he can think of a million things he will rather do than be seen in the company of such guys. But as he is, on his own showing, practically never in any other kind of society, he must spend a harassing time. The truth is, X is very far from being one of the high shots, but is simply known to one and all as a guy who is just around. In fact, they figure him as harmless as a bag of marsh-mallows. Just the same, X is well known to every wrong gee on Broadway; and if one of them sees him and gives him a huge hello, what can X do? It would be very unsafe indeed if X tried playing the chill for such a guy. There are the professional assassins, like Ropes McGonnigle. There are the casual and temperamental killers, like Rusty Charley, the genial but uncertain-tempered guy in whose presence even such citizens as Nick the Greek or Joey Uptown become silent and nervous. There are the dangerous criminals, like Big Jule, who is wanted for robbery and burglary in a dozen different States, and who claims that he will catch cold if he goes out of doors without the holsters under his arms. There are various guys who are known to have cooled other guys off from time to time, and who are regarded consequently as rather suspicious characters. There are the git-em-up guys like Dancing Dan; and the guys who open safes for a living, like Big Butch; and the guys who are on the snatch (which it is very illiterate to call kidnapping), like Spanish John; and the guys who ride the tubs—that is to say, who live by cheating at cards on the Atlantic liners—like Little Manuel; and the guys who specialize in telling the tale, like the Lemon Drop Kid. There is also Pussy McGuire, who does very well at stealing valuable dogs and cats.
Besides these, there are of course the influential citizens who are interested in wet merchandise; for the Runyon stories reach back into the days of Prohibition, and if they "date" at all, I suppose it will be because of that—though I am never sure that the importing dodge is so very dead, at that, considering what the taxation is on legal liquor. Naturally, guys who are interested in wet merchandise do not count seriously as illegal characters; but then many of them are also interested in artichokes, and extortion, and gambling joints, and other hot propositions. All such guys as these know X well, and seem to have a liking for his company; and X will often make himself useful to such guys by taking a message, for instance, to some citizen that it would be a good idea if he left town, and stayed away, instead of bringing beer into another guy's territory. In fact, if you come right down to it, the chances are that the nearest X ever comes to having a job of any kind is being more or less on the pay-roll of guys like Dave the Dude; which is not such a bum connection, at that, as Dave the Dude handles nothing but genuine champagne and Scotch, wishing no part of that trade in cut goods which brings in plenty of scratch to other importers who are not so particular.
The one and only guy in X's circle of acquaintance who is strictly legit is Judge Henry G. Blake. Of course, Judge Blake is not a judge, and never has been a judge, but he is called Judge because he looks like a judge, and talks slow, and puts in many long words. Judge Blake is very good at poker; and at pool he is just naturally a curly wolf; so he makes a living by building up suckers into playing against him for real money at these games.
Much as X is opposed to law-breaking, he is not bigoted about it. When he happens to hear of a promising job of burglary, with a little blackmail as a chaser, he remembers Harry the Horse, and throws it his way; for he knows that Harry the Horse is feeling the economic depression keenly, because if nobody is making any money, there is nobody for him to rob. Furthermore, Harry the Horse is never a bargain at any time, and is such a guy as you would much rather stand good with than have sored up at you for any reason.
Another curious feature of X's passion for legality is that it does not make him at all fond of policemen. In fact, the way X figures it, there are far too many coppers in this world. He believes, naturally, in being courteous to them at all times, but he does not care for them, even when they are fairly good guys, such as the copper who has the tears come into his eyes when he tells about the poor people who have all their lifetime savings in Israel Ib's busted jug.
Another way in which X seems to be a somewhat inconsistent guy is in his attitude towards liquor. To hear him tell it, he is by no means a rumpot, and indeed very seldom indulges in fermented beverages in any form. Yet from the derogatory things X says about the liquor in Good Time Charley's little speak, and in various other deadfalls, it is clear that he knows more than somewhat about the subject. Furthermore, at least two of X's adventures happen when he certainly has his pots on, rye whisky being the raw material in both cases; and he knows what it is like to have such a noggin the morning after that he does not feel much more than a hop ahead of the undertaker. So if X's putting himself away as an abstemious guy is not a lie, it will do until a lie comes along; and the chances are he is not the only guy in the same position, at that.
Whatever the truth may be about X as regards wine, his reactions to woman and song are fairly clear. X is a good, even an exacting, judge of dolls, and many of his remarks on the subject are well worth bearing in mind. He is by no means blind to the possibilities of romance as between young guys and dolls; he knows that the right conditions, such as the moon shining on the river, and what not, may be a dead cold set-up for love. But X is not such a guy as will get a high blood pressure over any doll; he has never been in love, and barring a bad break, never expects to be in love, to say nothing of being married. Most of the guys in his circle are bachelors, and the rest wish they were, but at the same time many of them take a great practical interest in dolls, including The Brain, who maintains four separate establishments, and guesses that love costs him about as much dough as any guy that ever lives. But The Brain can easily afford this, being the biggest guy in gambling operations in the East.
On the other hand, X is an enthusiast about song. If there is one thing he loves to do more than anything else, it is to sing in quartet, taking the baritone part. He likes to sing in quartet in Good Time Charley's little joint, because Good Time Charley sings a nice bass, and there are seldom any customers there until after the other places are closed; so that it is fairly quiet in there until about 5 a.m. Though you can never be quite sure, at that, because things may happen such as when Jack O'Hearts looks in unexpectedly, and outs with the old equalizer and shoots the right ear off Louie the Lug, who is singing a very fair tenor in the quartet, and then chases Louie out the back door and gets another crack at him which finishes him. Of course this breaks up the quartet, and nobody is happy, not even Jack O'Hearts, who complains that the light in Charley's dump is no good, as he ought to get Louie the first shot, and it is very sloppy work.
Another taste which X has strongly developed is horse-race betting; a taste which he shares with practically every guy mentioned in these stories. In fact, the only guy I can think of at the moment who do not back horses are two guys who happen to be bookmakers. Some of X's friends, like Hot Horse Herbie, are such guys as never think of anything else in this world but betting on horses; but those who are mainly interested in crime, and so cannot be considered as serious horse-players, mostly devote a good deal of the proceeds to this form of amusement. Playing the horses is a necessary part of X's life. He despises football, and he cannot imagine why anybody takes an interest in such a thing as lawn tennis; baseball means nothing to him, and as for pugilism, X will not give you a bad two-bit piece to see a fight anywhere, because half the time the result is arranged beforehand, and X does not believe in encouraging dishonesty. His thoughts, and the thoughts of most of his acquaintance, are apt to express themselves in terms of betting; as for instance when the monkey steals the baby and carries it off to the roof of a house, and seems disposed to heave the baby into the street, and Big Nig, the crap shooter, is around among the hysterical crowd offering to lay 7 to 5 against the baby, which, X observes, is not a bad price, at that.
The most renowned short-story-teller of New York life in the past was O. Henry, whose work has long been the delight of a multitude of readers in this country. The question of a comparison between O. Henry and Damon Runyon is therefore bound to arise; and it can be easily answered. The two have hardly anything in common, apart from the faculty of invention. To begin with, O. Henry wrote of the New York life of thirty to forty years ago, which is a long time in the history of that metropolis. Also, while he knew its rich and its poor, its clerks and its shopgirls, its politicians and its sportsmen and its loafers, there is no sign—despite one or two romantic efforts of the Jimmy Valentine sort—that he had much acquaintance with the habitual criminal class. Again, if he had known it as it was in his day, he would have known a class very different from the one to which most of Runyon's characters belong, children as they are of a new age of crime, equipped with all the technical resources of the twentieth century; freed at the same time, by the advance of a brutish materialism, from the last rags of scruple and compassion; and to a great extent financed as crime never was financed before, first, by the enormous profits of a generally tolerated, not to say welcomed, smuggling trade, and then by the even easier money from organized extortion on a grand scale. O. Henry did not live to see national Prohibition, and never heard of racketeering.
His style and method, too, were wholly different from Damon Runyon's. All of the Runyon stories, as I have said, are told with the mouth and in the distinctive speech of one of the characters, who is a very real person indeed. O. Henry seldom resorted to this way of story-telling; and when he did—as in The Gentle Grafter—both the imaginary narrator and his talk were obviously not intended to be like life; they were meant merely for the producing of burlesque effect.
One English reader of these stories made the remark—so I am told—that a glossary would help you to understand them. I do not suppose he really meant this: if he did, I cannot imagine a more abject confession of dullness. Let us take it that he was paying an indirect compliment to the freshness and pungency of this variety of American speech. The truth is, X is particularly easy to understand. It is the greatest of the many merits of his style. Even if a term or a phrase is unfamiliar, the context tells you instantly what it means. It may be news to you that to cool a guy off means to kill him; or that a doll taking a run-out powder on her husband means her deserting him; or that playing the duck for a guy means trying to avoid him: but if when you read these things in a Runyon story you do not understand what they mean, then you must be such a guy as will never understand much of anything in this world.
I can recall several cases of glossaries attached to English editions of American stories; and they always struck me as fussy and even, in a vague way, offensive, implying that the kind of slang in question was an unintelligible lingo of barbarians. One of the most famous of modern American novels was gravely introduced to English readers with a glossary, from which one could learn, with surprise, that a getaway meant an escape, or that junk meant rubbish. I have no idea of insulting readers by providing them with a glossary to help them to tear out the hidden significance of the statement, for example, that Israel Ib has a large snozzle and is as homely as a mud fence, but is well known to be a coming guy in the banking dodge. The only terms I can think of that are not self-explanatory refer to sums of money: it is, from time to time, important to remember that a thousand dollars are a grand, or a G; a hundred dollars, a yard, or a C; ten dollars, a sawbuck; five dollars, a finnif, a fin, or a pound note; two dollars, a deuce; one dollar, a buck, or a bob.
Speaking generally, all this affectation about American speech being an alien thing is tiresome and many years out of date. Every office-boy uses the terms he has picked up from the Hollywood films; and our more sophisticated slang-users of both sexes have a much larger vocabulary drawn from American books. In fact, we produce little slang of our own to-day: what we have that is English is of old standing. Our borrowing in this way is, I suppose, one of the results of the enormous impression made on us (whether we like it or not) by the vigour, the vivacity, the originality, the self-sufficiency, the drama and melodrama of American life. And it is because we are under that impression that I believe English readers will welcome and enjoy these stories by Damon Runyon.
E. C. BENTLEY.
One day a certain party by the name of Judge Goldfobber, who is a lawyer by trade, sends word to me that he wishes me to call on him at his office in lower Broadway, and while ordinarily I do not care for any part of lawyers, it happens that Judge Goldfobber is a friend of mine, so I go to see him.
Of course Judge Goldfobber is not a judge, and never is a judge, and he is 100 to 1 in my line against ever being a judge, but he is called Judge because it pleases him, and everybody always wishes to please Judge Goldfobber, as he is one of the surest-footed lawyers in this town, and beats more tough beefs for different citizens than seems possible. He is a wonderful hand for keeping citizens from getting into the sneezer, and better than Houdini when it comes to getting them out of the sneezer after they are in.
Personally, I never have any use for the professional services of Judge Goldfobber, as I am a law-abiding citizen at all times, and am greatly opposed to guys who violate the law, but I know the Judge from around and about for many years. I know him from around and about the night clubs, and other deadfalls, for Judge Goldfobber is such a guy as loves to mingle with the public in these spots, as he picks up much law business there, and sometimes a nice doll.
Well, when I call on Judge Goldfobber, he takes me into his private office and wishes to know if I can think of a couple of deserving guys who are out of employment, and who will like a job of work, and if so, Judge Goldfobber says, he can offer them a first-class position.
"Of course," Judge Goldfobber says, "it is not steady employment, and in fact it is nothing but piece-work, but the parties must be extremely reliable parties, who can be depended on in a pinch. This is out-of-town work that requires tact, and," he says, "some nerve."
Well, I am about to tell Judge Goldfobber that I am no employment agent, and go on about my business, because I can tell from the way he says the parties must be parties who can be depended on in a pinch, that a pinch is apt to come up on the job any minute, and I do not care to steer any friends of mine against a pinch.
But as I get up to go, I look out of Judge Goldfobber's window, and I can see Brooklyn in the distance beyond the river, and seeing Brooklyn I get to thinking of certain parties over there that I figure must be suffering terribly from the unemployment situation. I get to thinking of Harry the Horse, and Spanish John and Little Isadore, and the reason I figure they must be suffering from the unemployment situation is because if nobody is working and making any money, there is nobody for them to rob, and if there is nobody for them to rob, Harry the Horse and Spanish John and Little Isadore are just naturally bound to be feeling the depression keenly.
Anyway, I finally mention the names of these parties to Judge Goldfobber, and furthermore I speak well of their reliability in a pinch, and of their nerve, although I cannot conscientiously recommend their tact, and Judge Goldfobber is greatly delighted, as he often hears of Harry the Horse, and Spanish John and Little Isadore.
He asks me for their addresses, but of course nobody knows exactly where Harry the Horse and Spanish John and Little Isadore live, because they do not live anywhere in particular. However, I tell him about a certain spot in Clinton Street where he may be able to get track of them, and then I leave Judge Goldfobber for fear he may wish me to take word to these parties, and if there is anybody in this whole world I will not care to take word to, or to have any truck with in any manner, shape, or form, it is Harry the Horse, and Spanish John and Little Isadore.
Well, I do not hear anything more of the matter for several weeks, but one evening when I am in Mindy's restaurant on Broadway enjoying a little cold borscht, which is a most refreshing matter in hot weather such as is going on at the time, who bobs up but Harry the Horse, and Spanish John and Little Isadore, and I am so surprised to see them that some of my cold borscht goes down the wrong way, and I almost choke to death.
However, they seem quite friendly, and in fact Harry the Horse pounds me on the back to keep me from choking, and while he pounds so hard that he almost caves in my spine, I consider it a most courteous action, and when I am able to talk again, I say to him as follows:
"Well, Harry," I say, "it is a privilege and a pleasure to see you again, and I hope and trust you will all join me in some cold borscht, which you will find very nice, indeed."
"No," Harry says, "we do not care for any cold borscht. We are looking for Judge Goldfobber. Do you see Judge Goldfobber round and about lately?"
Well, the idea of Harry the Horse and Spanish John and Little Isadore looking for Judge Goldfobber sounds somewhat alarming to me, and I figure maybe the job Judge Goldfobber gives them turns out bad and they wish to take Judge Goldfobber apart, but the next minute Harry says to me like this:
"By the way," he says, "we wish to thank you for the job of work you throw our way. Maybe some day we will be able to do as much for you. It is a most interesting job," Harry says, "and while you are snuffing your cold borscht I will give you the details, so you will understand why we wish to see Judge Goldfobber."
It turns out [Harry the Horse says] that the job is not for Judge Goldfobber personally, but for a client of his, and who is this client but Mr. Jabez Tuesday, the rich millionaire, who owns the Tuesday string of one-arm joints where many citizens go for food and wait on themselves. Judge Goldfobber comes to see us in Brooklyn in person, and sends me to see Mr. Jabez Tuesday with a letter of introduction, so Mr. Jabez Tuesday can explain what he wishes me to do, because Judge Goldfobber is too smart a guy to be explaining such matters to me himself.
In fact, for all I know maybe Judge Goldfobber is not aware of what Mr. Jabez Tuesday wishes me to do, although I am willing to lay a little 6 to 5 that Judge Goldfobber does not think Mr. Jabez Tuesday wishes to hire me as a cashier in any of his one-arm joints.
Anyway, I go to see Mr. Tuesday at a Fifth Avenue hotel where he makes his home, and where he has a very swell layout of rooms, and I am by no means impressed with Mr. Tuesday, as he hems and haws quite a bit before he tells me the nature of the employment he has in mind for me. He is a little guy, somewhat dried out, with a bald head, and a small mouser on his upper lip, and he wears specs, and seems somewhat nervous.
Well, it takes him some time to get down to cases, and tell me what is eating him, and what he wishes to do, and then it all sounds very simple, indeed, and in fact it sounds so simple that I think Mr. Jabez Tuesday is a little daffy when he tells me he will give me ten G's for the job.
What Mr. Tuesday wishes me to do is to get some letters that he personally writes to a doll by the name of Miss Amelia Bodkin, who lives in a house just outside Tarrytown, because it seems that Mr. Tuesday makes certain cracks in these letters that he is now sorry for, such as speaking of love and marriage and one thing and another to Miss Amelia Bodkin, and he is afraid she is going to sue him for breach of promise.
"Such an idea will be very embarrassing to me," Mr. Jabez Tuesday says, "as I am about to marry a party who is a member of one of the most high-toned families in this country. It is true," Mr. Tuesday says, "that the Scarwater family does not have as much money now as formerly, but there is no doubt about its being very, very high-toned, and my fiancée, Miss Valerie Scarwater, is one of the high-tonedest of them all. In fact," he says, "she is so high-toned that the chances are she will be very huffy about anybody suing me for breach of promise, and cancel everything."
Well, I ask Mr. Tuesday what a breach of promise is, and he explains to me that it is when somebody promises to do something and fails to do this something, although of course we have a different name for a proposition of this nature in Brooklyn, and deal with it accordingly.
"This is a very easy job for a person of your standing," Mr. Tuesday says. "Miss Amelia Bodkin lives all alone in her house the other side of Tarrytown, except for a couple of servants, and they are old and harmless. Now the idea is," he says, "you are not to go to her house as if you are looking for the letters, but as if you are after something else, such as her silverware, which is quite antique, and very valuable.
"She keeps the letters in a big inlaid box in her room," Mr. Tuesday says, "and if you just pick up this box and carry it away along with the silverware, no one will ever suspect that you are after the letters, but that you take the box thinking it contains valuables. You bring the letters to me and get your ten G's," Mr. Tuesday says, "and," he says, "you can keep the silverware, too. Be sure you get a Paul Revere teapot with the silverware," he says. "It is worth plenty."
"Well," I say to Mr. Tuesday, "every guy knows his own business best, and I do not wish to knock myself out of a nice soft job, but," I say, "it seems to me the simplest way of carrying on this transaction is to buy the letters off this doll, and be done with it. Personally," I say, "I do not believe there is a doll in the world who is not willing to sell a whole post-office full of letters for ten G's, especially in these times, and throw in a set of Shakespeare with them."
"No, no," Mr. Tuesday says. "Such a course will not do with Miss Amelia Bodkin at all. You see," he says, "Miss Bodkin and I are very, very friendly for a matter of maybe fifteen or sixteen years. In fact, we are very friendly, indeed. She does not have any idea at this time that I wish to break off this friendship with her. Now," he says, "if I try to buy the letters from her, she may become suspicious. The idea," Mr. Tuesday says, "is for me to get the letters first, and then explain to her about breaking off the friendship, and make suitable arrangements with her afterwards.
"Do not get Miss Amelia Bodkin wrong," Mr. Tuesday says. "She is an excellent person, but," he says, "you know the saying, 'Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.' And maybe Miss Amelia Bodkin may figure I am scorning her if she finds out I am going to marry Miss Valerie Scarwater, and furthermore," he says, "if she still has the letters she may fall into the hands of unscrupulous lawyers, and demand a very large sum, indeed. But," Mr. Tuesday says, "this does not worry me half as much as the idea that Miss Valerie Scarwater may learn about the letters and get a wrong impression of my friendship with Miss Amelia Bodkin."
Well, I round up Spanish John and Little Isadore the next afternoon, and I find Little Isadore playing klob with a guy by the name of Educated Edmund, who is called Educated Edmund because he once goes to Erasmus High School and is considered a very fine scholar, indeed, so I invite Educated Edmund, to go along with us. The idea is, I know Educated Edmund makes a fair living playing klob with Little Isadore, and I figure as long as I am depriving Educated Edmund of a living for awhile, it is only courteous to toss something else his way. Furthermore, I figure as long as letters are involved in this proposition it may be a good thing to have Educated Edmund handy in case any reading becomes necessary, because Spanish John and Little Isadore do not read at all, and I read only large print.
We borrow a car off a friend of mine in Clinton Street, and with me driving we start for Tarrytown, which is a spot up the Hudson River, and it is a very enjoyable ride for one and all on account of the scenery. It is the first time Educated Edmund and Spanish John and Little Isadore ever see the scenery along the Hudson although they all reside on the banks of this beautiful river for several years at Ossining. Personally, I am never in Ossining, although once I make Auburn, and once Comstock, but the scenery in these localities is nothing to speak of.
We hit Tarrytown about dark, and follow the main drag through this burg, as Mr. Tuesday tells me, until finally we come to the spot I am looking for, which is a little white cottage on a slope of ground above the river, not far off the highway. This little white cottage has quite a piece of ground around it, and a low stone wall, with a driveway from the highway to the house, and when I spot the gate to the driveway I make a quick turn, and what happens but I run the car slap-dab into a stone gatepost, and the car folds up like an accordion.
You see, the idea is we are figuring to make this a fast stick-up job without any foolishness about it, maybe leaving any parties we come across tied up good and tight while we make a getaway, as I am greatly opposed to house-breaking, or sneak jobs, as I do not consider them dignified. Furthermore, they take too much time, so I am going to run the car right up to the front door when this stone post gets in my way.
The next thing I know, I open my eyes to find myself in a strange bed, and also in a strange bedroom, and while I wake up in many a strange bed in my time, I never wake up in such a strange bedroom as this. It is all very soft and dainty, and the only jarring note in my surroundings is Spanish John sitting beside the bed looking at me.
Naturally I wish to know what is what, and Spanish John says I am knocked snoring in the collision with the gatepost, although none of the others are hurt, and that while I am stretched in the driveway with the blood running out of a bad gash in my noggin, who pops out of the house but a doll and an old guy who seems to be a butler, or some such, and the doll insists on them lugging me into the house, and placing me in this bedroom.
Then she washes the blood off of me, Spanish John says, and wraps my head up and personally goes to Tarrytown to get a croaker to see if my wounds are fatal, or what, while Educated Edmund and Little Isadore are trying to patch up the car. So, Spanish John says, he is sitting there to watch me until she comes back, although of course I know what he is really sitting there for is to get first search at me in case I do not recover.
Well, while I am thinking all this over, and wondering what is to be done, in pops a doll of maybe forty odd, who is built from the ground up, but who has a nice, kind-looking pan, with a large smile, and behind her is a guy I can see at once is a croaker, especially as he is packing a little black bag, and has a grey goatee. I never see a nicer-looking doll if you care for middling-old dolls, although personally I like them young, and when she sees me with my eyes open, she speaks as follows:
"Oh," she says, "I am glad you are not dead, you poor chap. But," she says, "here is Doctor Diffingwell, and he will see how badly you are injured. My name is Miss Amelia Bodkin, and this is my house, and this is my own bedroom, and I am very, very sorry you are hurt."
Well, naturally I consider this a most embarrassing situation, because here I am out to clip Miss Amelia Bodkin of her letters and her silverware, including her Paul Revere teapot, and there she is taking care of me in first-class style, and saying she is sorry for me.
But there seems to be nothing for me to say at this time, so I hold still while the croaker looks me over and after he peeks at my noggin, and gives me a good feel up and down, he states as follows:
"This is a very bad cut," he says. "I will have to stitch it up, and then he must be very quiet for a few days, otherwise," he says, "complications may set in. It is best to move him to a hospital at once."
But Miss Amelia Bodkin will not listen to such an idea as moving me to a hospital. Miss Amelia Bodkin says I must rest right where I am, and she will take care of me, because she says I am injured on her premises by her gatepost, and it is only fair that she does something for me. In fact, from the way Miss Amelia Bodkin takes on about me being moved, I figure maybe it is the old sex appeal, although afterwards I find out it is only because she is lonesome, and nursing me will give her something to do.
Well, naturally I am not opposing her idea, because the way I look at it, I will be able to handle the situation about the letters, and also the silverware, very nicely as an inside job, so I try to act even worse off than I am, although of course anybody who knows about the time I carry eight slugs in my body from Broadway and Fiftieth Street to Brooklyn will laugh very heartily at the idea of a cut on the noggin keeping me in bed.
After the croaker gets through sewing me up, and goes away, I tell Spanish John to take Educated Edmund and Little Isadore and go on back to New York, but to keep in touch with me by telephone, so I can tell them when to come back, and then I go to sleep, because I seem to be very tired. When I wake up later in the night, I seem to have a fever, and am really somewhat sick, and Miss Amelia Bodkin is sitting beside my bed swabbing my noggin with a cool cloth, which feels very pleasant, indeed.
I am better in the morning, and am able to knock over a little breakfast which she brings to me on a tray, and I am commencing to see where being an invalid is not so bad, at that, especially when there are no coppers at your bedside every time you open your eyes asking who does it to you.
I can see Miss Amelia Bodkin gets quite a bang out of having somebody to take care of, although of course if she knows who she is taking care of at this time, the chances are she will be running up the road calling for the gendarmes. It is not until after breakfast that I can get her to go and grab herself a little sleep, and while she is away sleeping the old guy who seems to be the butler is in and out of my room every now and then to see how I am getting along.
He is a gabby old guy, and pretty soon he is telling me all about Miss Amelia Bodkin, and what he tells me is that she is the old-time sweetheart of a guy in New York who is at the head of a big business, and very rich, and of course I know this guy is Mr. Jabez Tuesday, although the old guy who seems to be the butler never mentions his name.
"They are together many years," he says to me. "He is very poor when they meet, and she has a little money, and establishes him in business, and by her management of this business, and of him, she makes it a very large business, indeed. I know, because I am with them almost from the start," the old guy says. "She is very smart in business, and also very kind, and nice, if anybody asks you.
"Now," the old guy says, "I am never able to figure out why they do not get married, because there is no doubt she loves him, and he loves her, but Miss Amelia Bodkin once tells me that it is because they are too poor at the start, and too busy later on to think of such things as getting married, and so they drift along the way they are, until all of a sudden he is rich. Then," the old guy says, "I can see he is getting away from her, although she never sees it herself, and I am not surprised when a few years ago he convinces her it is best for her to retire from active work, and move out to this spot.
"He comes out here fairly often at first," the old guy says, "but gradually he stretches the time between his visits, and now we do not see him once in a coon's age. Well," the old guy says, "it is just such a case as often comes up in life. In fact, I personally know of some others. But Miss Amelia Bodkin still thinks he loves her, and that only business keeps him away so much, so you can see she either is not as smart as she looks, or is kidding herself. Well," the old guy says, "I will now bring you a little orange-juice, although I do not mind saying you do not look to me like a guy who drinks orange-juice as a steady proposition."
Now I am taking many a gander around the bedroom to see if I can case the box of letters that Mr. Jabez Tuesday speaks of, but there is no box such as he describes in sight. Then in the evening, when Miss Amelia Bodkin is in the room, and I seem to be dozing, she pulls out a drawer in the bureau, and hauls out a big inlaid box, and sits down at a table under a reading-lamp, and opens this box and begins reading some old letters. And as she sits there reading those letters, with me watching her through my eyelashes, sometimes she smiles, but once I see little tears rolling down her cheeks.
All of a sudden she looks at me, and catches me with my eyes wide open, and I can see her face turn red, and then she laughs, and speaks to me, as follows:
"Old love letters," she says, tapping the box. "From my old sweetheart," she says. "I read some of them every night of my life. Am I not foolish and sentimental to do such a thing?"
Well, I tell Miss Amelia Bodkin she is sentimental all right, but I do not tell her just how foolish she is to be letting me in on where she plants these letters, although of course I am greatly pleased to have this information. I tell Miss Amelia Bodkin that personally I never write a love letter, and never get a love letter, and in fact, while I hear of these propositions, I never even see a love letter before, and this is all as true as you are a foot high. Then Miss Amelia Bodkin laughs a little, and says to me as follows:
"Why," she says, "you are a very unusual chap, indeed, not to know what a love letter is like. Why," she says, "I think I will read you a few of the most wonderful love letters in this world. It will do no harm," she says, "because you do not know the writer, and you must lie there and think of me, not old and ugly, as you see me now, but as young, and maybe a little bit pretty."
So Miss Amelia Bodkin opens a letter and reads it to me, and her voice is soft and low as she reads, but she scarcely ever looks at the letter as she is reading, so I can see she knows it pretty much by heart. Furthermore, I can see that she thinks this letter is quite a masterpiece, but while I am no judge of love letters, because this is the first one I ever hear, I wish to say I consider it nothing but great nonsense.