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Title: Seven Million Dollars Author: Sinclair Lewis * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1800641.html Language: English Date first posted: July 2018 Most recent update: July 2018 This eBook was produced by: Ramesh Chakrapani Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg Australia Licence which may be viewed online.
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There was unrest in Austria, arrest in Germany, and in Japan a plaintive desire to do good to all of Asia. Jugoslavia, Siam, and Bolivia were trying to remember the address of the League of Nations, that June in 1933. The most respectable bootleggers in Maine were worried about Repeal, and in the Golden West every worker was striking except the makers of buggy whips, and there were no makers of buggy whips. In all the world, there was peace only in Scandinavia, Marie Byrd Land, and the heart of Cordwood McGash.
Cordwood was christened—except that he probably never was christened—Sylvester Goodwillie McGash, in the State of Vermont. As a true Yankee, when he went West he tried every known indigenous trade except being Governor, and he even thought about that, one night after acquiring much popularity and applause by singing "Bill the Sailor" in O'Toole's sample room. But the next morning his landlady had words with him regarding the rent and the discovery of his shoes and a deceased pickerel left hanging on the chandelier downstairs, and so he went still farther west that morning—by freight.
He was variously a sewing-machine salesman, a carpenter, capper in a medicine show, a gold-prospector, a hard-rock man, a dry-goods clerk, a newspaper editor and, for one happy month—which he somewhat hastily terminated by the back window as the police came in the front door—the voice of the Zoroastrian Seeress's favorite Control, Big Chief Wampum. He was always merry, occasionally drunk, and he was a celebrated wrestler. But he was not the lanky Yankee of tradition. He was a small man, curly-headed, bright-eyed, and he bounced around a good deal, and to his friends he lent money without remembering it.
Not till he was twenty-nine did he settle down, as time-keeper and store keeper in a lumber camp twenty miles north of the village of Jackrabbit Creek. He liked the combination of warm office, frozen drifts among the pines, and evenings in the bunkhouse, where he jigged in competition with Nova Scotian Bluenose lumberjacks. He studied book-keeping and trees. After two years, he started a general store in Jackrabbit Creek. He dealt in everything from muskrats to threshing machines. He lent money and wrote insurance. He speculated in land.
Jackrabbit Creek is on the line between northern forest and fuelless prairie, and McGash began to sell cordwood by the trainload to the prairie farms, then to the Twin Cities and Chicago whence his invariable nickname, Cordwood. He bought and leased forty thousand acres of land before he was done. When the trees had been—no doubt disgracefully—slashed down, and he could not sell the cutover land for even five dollars an acre, it looked as though Cordwood's fortune of $60,000 would go in taxes.
Then they dug up iron.
His poor domain of sand and brushwood was discovered to be as rich in surface iron ore, to be mined with scoopshovel and railroad car, as the Mesaba Range itself, and every inch of the deposit near Jackrabbit was on Cordwood's land alone. The steel companies bought him out, handsomely.
So it happened that at the age of fifty-five, a bachelor because he had always loved all the ladies too generously to pick on any one of them, this little man with the hard hands of a workman, this cheerful dancer in saloons, this busy speculator to whom business was not money but a game, found himself with $7,000,000 to his credit, no job any longer, and no notion whatever as to how he could use all that incalculable pile. And it found him the one rich man in Jackrabbit Creek, with its twelve hundred inhabitants, of whom no man aside from Cordwood McGash could afford two simultaneous pairs of suspenders. It found him a millionaire sitting tilted back in a cane-seated chair in front of the Sunset Trail Hotel, piping to Manny Ilgenfritz, the grocer, "Say, devertellyuh about the time I was prospectin' in Colorado—"
For years, Cordwood had roomed with the Widow Tinkerbun, and he didn't see how he could hurt her feelings by leaving her, now that he was suddenly rich.
Sister Tinkerbun had no suites in her boarding house. (Neither did the Sunset Trail Hotel, for that matter, nor the National House, where the tin-can tourists stayed.) So Cordwood solemnly engaged the row of six unconnected bedrooms—all exactly alike and equally uncomfortable—on both sides of the upper hall, and by sitting and smoking in them in turn, he felt that he was doing his duty by his wealth. He also brought home to Sister Tinkerbun and the boarding house table such delicacies as caviar, especially imported from Minneapolis, ten pounds of peanut brittle, and an enormous tub of mackerel, very spoiled.
He bought, from Cohen and Cabot, five suits of ready-made clothes, in checks, plaids, and orange stripes, with six pairs of shoes and seventeen neckties. It is true that he went on wearing the familiar flapping grey oversized suit in which Jackrabbit had known him for five years and the same comfortable old shoes and Stetson, but he did once in a while venture on the reddest of his new ties.
Yet even with such Fifth Avenue display, he did not feel that he was getting his money's worth.
Seven million dollars to spend. That, brooded the once-happy speculator, was a task.
He gave every child in town a bag of candy. Mostly, they got sick, and for days he was unpopular with every one in town except the doctor.
He built a vast, $500,000 Community Hall, and was atrociously bored by having to sit on the platform at the dedication ceremonies and listen to the local congressman and three varieties of bishops.
He sent the local music genius, Les Hoggins, to Paris, to study the violin. And Les really was a genius, Jackrabbit Creek was certain, because while most musicians can play only one or two instruments, Les was master of the fiddle, the piano, the parlor organ, the mouth organ, the saxophone, the comet, the banjo-linitar, and the snare-drum, and he could even, during idle moments between giving shaves and haircuts at Oley Tengbom's Elite Barber Shop, make very interesting melody on a comb. But even out of this flight into the higher arts Cordwood got little satisfaction, because for months he received no word from Les except picture postcards, usually depicting the Eiffel Tower.
Not but that Cordwood had plenty of generous advice about spending his seven million. From the Twin Cities and even from Chicago, by train, motor, and plane, came genial gentlemen who loved to give away cigars and who were willing to let Cordwood in on annuities, Brazilian gold mines, Long Island real estate, and—latest and most refined and intellectual racket of all—Little Magazines which were going to revolutionize both Capitalism and Poetry. But to these missionaries of good will Cordwood was curt, with a snarling curtness which surprised the friendly citizenry of Jackrabbit Creek. They who remembered him listening to an impoverished farmer and paying up his mortgage were astonished to see him, armed with an ice-water pitcher from the Sunset Trail Hotel lobby, chase a New York bond-salesman from Main Street clear out to the Mile Bridge.
These alien experts did not understand Cordwood. They told him how to make money. And what he wanted to do was to get rid of his money—and to get some fun out of doing it. And to get rid, painlessly, of $7,000,000 is not easy for a man whose idea of a perfect dinner, these fifty and more years, has been pork and beans, pickles, lemon murang pie, and cuppacoffee.
He thought of travel, and probably if he had had an energetic wife, he would have gone out to view the Taj Mahal, and the lark, oyster, and kidney pie at the Cheshire Cheese. But he had been credibly informed that in New York you had to bathe every day, which certainly meant pneumonia; that in London you met nothing but lords, who addressed you, "Hy sye, old chappie;" and that in Paris they spoke a funny language and danced in the street.
One satisfactory thing he did do. He bought the Sunset Trail Hotel, so that he would not feel guilty of loafing about it all day long in this time of depressing freedom, when it was his civic duty, as the possessor or the possessed, of $7,000,000 to be free whether he liked it or not.
Cordwood McGash, gently scratching, was sitting in front of the Sunset Trail Hotel with Manny Ilgenfritz, the grocer, and Oley Tengboom, the barber, that comfortable afternoon of June, 1933. They were all smoking ten-cent cigars—as presented by Mr. Cordwood McGash. It was an amiable scene, though not exhilarating. Doc Berklund's English setter, Dick, slept in the dust in the middle of the street. Two flivvers were parked across the way in front of Cohen & Cabot's, and Cordwood, Manny, and Oley argued as to their owners. An hour later, they were rather stirred at seeing a complete stranger, in an eight-cylinder 1933 model Paracelsus with an Iowa license, stop for gas at the filling station, but that Thracian ship and the foreign faces passed on and there was nothing much to see in Jackrabbit Creek...not even for a man who could write his check for $7,000,000.
"Well, nice day," said Mr. Ilgenfritz.
"Yump, nice day," said Mr. Tengbom.
"Pretty warm—even for this time of year," said Mr. McGash.
Presently there were events of interest. Up Main Street drove another flivver, containing—as the three men confidentially explained to one another—Mart Klaupschnagel from south of town. Repeal had not come yet, and they knew, and firmly stated, that he was in town for the regular every-ten-day pint. They watched him go into Doc Berklund's office, come out hiding small papers in his hand, enter the Bendelari Drug Store, reappear with an oblong package on which he gazed with pious fervor.
"Old Lady Klaupschnagel'll get her ears beat off tonight. Mart certainly can handle the dames when he's full of bug-juice," said Manny Ilgenfritz, enviously.
Then, unannounced by either Gabriel's trumpet or an A.P. flash, the crack of doom happened to Cordwood McGash and to the respectable hamlet of Jackrabbit Creek.
From the front entrance of the Sunset Trail Hotel came a youngish gentleman in such garments as were known to Jackrabbit only in advertisements: a belted jacket and plus fours the color of dried grass, a cap to match, rimless eye-glasses on a black silk cord, a blue pullover with canary-yellow buttons, black and blue checked stockings, and low shoes of white buckskin and golden-yellow uppers. The apparition removed its cap to rub its head, and it was to be seen that he had a sound, dependable baldness that suggested ledgers and adding-machines and a bank account.
"By golly, if it ain't another of those philanthropists come to let me in on a chance to make forty per cent," snarled Cordwood, rage ruffling his calm like a squall on a mountain lake.
"Naw—forgot to tell you about him—dunno how I forgot," said Oley, the barber. "That's Percy Willoughby. Born here. Fine family. His dad was perfessor in the school here—they left town before you boys ever come—twenty-five years ago—guess Perce is about forty. Oh, no, he's a real financier. Been working in a bank in Milwaukee—cashier or president or something. Driving out to Seattle, and just stopped over a day to see the old town...Hey, Perce!"
Mr. Percy Willoughby sauntered over. His smile was benign, yet it hinted of a mystic knowledge of bills of exchange. His voice was a silver bell.
"Hello, Oley—want to shave a bum like me?"
"Sure. But say, Perce, here's a couple gennelmen you never knew as a kid—Manny llgenfritz and Syl McGash—Cordwood McGash."
Mr. Willoughby became swiftly grave; he became reverent; he caroled, "Mr. McGash, I've heard of your magnificent success. It's an honor to all of Jackrabbit."
But even as they shook hands, Cordwood raid doubtfully, "You don't handle insurance?"
"Or any real estate that'll pay forty per cent?"
"Be glad to know of any that would pay a sure five!"
"Sit down!" begged Cordwood, with incredulous relief. "Say, just passing through like you are, come have supper with me at Sister Tinkerbun's tonight—six sharp."
"Delighted," said Mr. Percy Willoughby, in the manner of one man of the world recognizing another—two English public schoolmen meeting in the mountain fastnesses of Kipling...two Chicago bankers meeting in Athens.
Afta persuading the Widow Tinkerbun that he wasn't really criticizing her catering, after getting her to dry her tears and shut up and listen, Cordwood arranged for his exotic guest, Mr. Willoughby, a really sumptuous supper: cream of tomato soup, chicken fricassee with dumplings, German fried potatoes, canned com, and apple pie a la mode. Cordwood was rather silent throughout the repast itself, listening sharply, his pale-blue eyes steady, to Mr. Willoughby's entertainment of Mrs. Tinkerbun and the four other boarders.
Percy—enough of this Willoughby, this mistering! Is Percy not to be our friend, our very deus ex machina as he became to Cordwood? Percy talked very well and listened fairly well. Of Milwaukee banking he discoursed and all the strange, enchanted ways of country dubs on the North Shore of Chicago. He explained all the fallacies of the La Follette family and of Franklin Roosevelt. He had been everywhere and done everything. He had graduated at Beloit. He had met Samuel Insull and warned him of the danger of public utilities. He had given Miss Katharine Cornell considerable praise—along with some valuable adverse criticism—for her playing in "The Barretts of Wimpole Street." He had told Al Smith how to fill up the Empire State Building. He had practically played polo at Del Monte—he would have played except that he had wrenched his ankle. He had even been in Europe—none of your ordinary four-week tours, but six entire weeks, exclusive of steamer passage, covering England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Scandinavia, Holland, Belgium, and Luxemburg—which Cordwood had always supposed to be either a city, a prime minister, or a drink, but which proved to be a country.
But it was not Percy's educated and frequent words which convinced Cordwood of his virtue as a man of the world, but his garments.
For, though he was motoring and presumably not carrying a trunk, Percy had for the fiesta at Sister Tinkerbun's changed from his tweeds to a natty double-breasted blue suit with a white stripe faint as a maiden's dream, a button-on stiff linen collar, an Old Etonian tie, black shoes, and cream-colored spats.
"That's class!" reflected Cordwood. "But I wonder why he wears the gaiters. Maybe he catches cold easy in the ankles."
Supper done, Cordwood invited Percy to smoke with him in his suite, and a wink hinted that, safe from the piety of Widow Tinkerbun, there might be something stronger than a cigar with which to joy themselves. He wished that he could really utilize the splendor of his six-room suite, but unless he sat in one bedroom and Percy in another, he could see no way, and that would not be very convenient for conversation. They sat in his principal bedroom. Cord on the bed and Percy in the slightly lopsided 1901 Morris chair. (The room also contained a golden oak bureau, a pine kitchen table covered with pansy-embroidered brocade, and a depiction of a stag at bay.)
Cordwood poured out two bolts of forty-rod corn, and hinted, "Well, I suppose you're going to have another big job, bank cashier or something, in Seattle."
Percy coughed, looked at the glass of corn in hurt surprise that it could do such a thing to him, then laughed with a gallant show of frankness.
"I have no idea, Mr. McGash. Pure spec. Look here. The hometown boys like to believe that I've been at least vice-president in Milwaukee. I wasn't. I was private secretary and date-fixer and general cook and bottle-washer to the president. And I was let out. No fault of mine—they were cutting expenses—I'm a good secretary. I can run anything from a conference of directors to a charity bazaar or a trip to China. But I'm no coming Andy Mellon!"
Cordwood liked that. If he had a guide and counsellor like Percy—! The $7,000,000 that he had swallowed churned yeastily within him.
"Hm. Suppose—if you got another secretary job, what would you expect?"
"Eleven thousand five hundred dollars a year."
Now if Percy had said $3,000, Cordwood would have dismissed him as not really touched with the magic gold of Milwaukee, New York, and Paris. If it had been $20,000, he would have rejected such excess.
"Suh-uh-spose you were to kind of stay around here for a while and kind of steer me a little," he said, with what he felt to be tremendous craftiness.
Little fish, struggle no longer!
On his third day as secretary to Mr. Cordwood McGash, Percy suggested, "Look, sir. I've been thinking: You're not really comfortable here. Why not take the McMullen Mansion!"
"Too big! Couldn't face furnishing it."
"I'll furnish it for you. Did the Big Chief's flat, in Milwaukee."
"Couldn't desert Mrs. Tinkerbun. She depends—"
"Take her along as housekeeper. And we'll get a good cook and two maids and a chauffeur."
"Three hired girls? Besides Sister Tinkerbun?"
"Then you can have parties every night. Private bar. Play cards. Open house for all your friends. And have the chaps you knew in the lumber country come stay with you—weeks at a time if you feel like it."
"That wouldn't be so bad," mused the victim of freedom and of Sister Tinkerbun's geologic mattresses. He felt like a child who has just been asked whether he could conveniently try some ice cream.
The McMullen Mansion was the largest house in town. It had been built by the owner of lumber mills, now gone with the passing of lumbering, and it had been deserted for ten years. It had sixteen rooms, which made it, far Jackrabbit Creek, rather larger than Windsor Castle.
Cordwood rented it. He wanted to buy it, but Percy said, laughing merrily, "Try it first. Who knows? Year from now, we may be on the Riviera!" And such was Percy's power, already, that Cordwood snarled only a little as he retorted, "Yes, and we may be in hell!"
Percy led him then to Minneapolis for furniture, but before they sneaked away, Mrs. Maybelle Benner firmly entered the scene.
Now among all the dignitaries of Jackrabbit Creek, including even Mr. Scallion, the banker, the Reverend Mr. Mitch, and the fortuitously important Cordwood, none was more significant than Mrs. Benner. She was, at forty, widow of the redoubtable Henry Simkins Benner, editor of The Star and Tidings. She was principal of the Junior High School, town librarian, president and chairman of the program committee of the Sorosis Club, and past Grand Matron of the Order of the Eastern Star. She represented Music, Literature, Scholarship, and Respectability and what made her most esteemed of all, she had a family income of twelve hundred dollars a year. She came from Hartford, Connecticut, and it was frequently stated in Jackrabbit that she was related to all the aristocracy of Hartford and Farmington.
Mrs. Maybelle Benner's lips were a little thin, but she had perfect teeth and behind the glare of her eyeglasses her eyes were cheerful.
Cordwood McGash regarded her as a combination of Queen Mary and a lady baseball player. He admired her as he admired the North Pole or the international credit system, reverently but platonically.
Mrs. Benner firmly called upon him at Mrs. Tinkerbun's and observed, "Mr. McGash—" Only twenty-six persons in Jackrabbit called him anything but "Cordwood," and the other twenty-five were infants under two years of age. "Mr. McGash, I feel it my duty as a fellow citizen to warn you that this Willoughby fellow is going to lead you into ways of recklessness—not that, I imagine, you need much leading. He is taking you to Minneapolis with all its dens of vice and pool rooms. You will return carrying a cane, and maybe a silk hat."
Then all the manhood of Jackrabbit's best wrestler and horseshoe pitcher arose within him. "Ma'am, Perce is my friend, as I hope you are, too, and I don't never let nobody jump on none of my friends, never!"
He looked at her coldly, and for the first time Maybelle seemed to discover that he was something more than a case history. She actually blushed a little, and her voice was considerably softer as she murmured, "Well, I just wanted to warn you. You know we all look up to you as our leader here."
For hours Cordwood went around swelling at the totally new notion that he was the leader of the community. And now that it had been suggested to him, by golly, he would come back with a cane and a silk hat!
But in Minneapolis Percy Willoughby wouldn't let him. He also forbade spats, a monocle, and a stock. "I," said Percy, "can wear all the agony I want to. I'm nothing but a secretary. But you're a man of property and you've got to look conservative—and then you won't have to worry about being conservative." Between spasms of buying furniture for the McMullen Mansion, he led Cordwood to a tailor and had made for him four suits of soft greys and browns and blues.
"Me with seven millions, and neither Maybelle or Perce will let me wear anything really nice and swell," lamented Cordwood.
But Cordwood admitted that Percy made over the McMullen house into the pleasantest house he had ever seen. He particularly liked the private bar and the electric range, though he continued to be jumpy in his bathroom, which had a pink marble tub with gilded taps, black marble floors and walls, a gilt ceiling, and an enormous full length mirror, which caused Cordwood to blush and itch every time be saw the immodest spectacle of himself with a bath towel.
And the bills came to $30,000.
One of the smaller downstairs rooms Percy had made into an office for himself. It was so much simpler than the rest of the house that Cordwood liked to hang out there, though be felt guilty about it—a bum like himself interrupting a business man like Percy Willoughby. While Percy was out interviewing bootleggers one day just after the house was furnished, Cordwood sat in the office admiringly leafing through the bills for the house. And among them he found a letter far Percy stating that Messrs. Wombat were pleased to send Percy herewith their check for his commission of ten per cent on his purchases for S. G. McGash, Esq.
It wasn't that he had been cheated of about $3,000 that sickened Cordwood. It was that he would have to fire Percy and again be an orphan in the horrible forest of seven million, even now minus only thirty or forty thousand. He sat a long while, close to weeping.
Percy marched in, whistling softly, looked once at Cordwood and the bills before him, and said cheerily, "I've rounded up ten cases of Bourbon that's pretty nearly drinkable, at a hundred a case—shall I pay him the thousand? Oh, that reminds me, I owe you about three thousand dollars, Chief."
"Yes, I stuck all these furniture people and decorators a commission of ten per cent—with the agreement, though, that they weren't to raise the price. My graft has about all come in now, and of course I've always intended to hand it back to you."
"Bless you, my boy!" said Cordwood. "You keep it! I'm glad you stung ''em, the pirates! But it's all yours. You made it."
Now that he saw that Percy was almost fantastically honest, Cordwood's heart was again a little singing bird.
He began to live. There were magnificent parties at the mansion. Till four in the morning, lumbermen in black and red checked shirts could be heard, with that dolorousness which is the fine flavor of ecstasy, assuring the world that "We shall meet but we shall missum, there will be one vacant chair," or demanding, "And w'en I die, don' bury me tall, jus' pickle my bones in al-co-HOL." The mansion would probably have had a bad name and even Cordwood—or rather, even $6,900,000—would have been boycotted by all the pious of Jackrabbit except that, without even asking Cordwood about it, Percy invited both the Sorosis Club and the Ladies' Musical Guild to meet at the mansion, and for these meetings he provided tea and cocoa and such sandwiches as Jackrabbit had never seen—with anchovy paste, with chutney, with ginger, with salmon and lobster.
And Percy bullied Cordwood into addressing the Men's Bible Class at the Rev. Mr. Mitch's church on "The Principles of Success." Percy also wrote the speech, in which Cordwood was made to say that he attributed all his success to frugality, to having, singularly, had a mother, and to having attended Sunday School back in Vermont. It concluded, "I am proud to say, I have a university degree. Most of you didn't know that, did you? Well, I have—but it came from the University of Hard Knocks!"
No one could believe that so good and pious a man ever served hard licker, so that Cordwood both had the baba au rhum and ate it, till the gods in conclave muttered, "What? There is a happy mortal? Wait, we'll do something about that!"
All that winter of 1933-34, Cordwood had only one real woe—in the embarrassing matter of the chauffeurs. With Percy's consent, even encouragement, he had bought a sixteen cylinder limousine, along with a smaller sedan, and a neat $4,000 "job" for Percy's private use. Cordwood longed for the most beautiful possession he had noted in Minneapolis: a uniformed chauffeur, and the Percy who had forbidden him spats generously approved Cordwood's having a chauffeur.
The first one was a frosty Britisher who had, he admitted, driven for the Best Families. On the first night of his servitude, he was offended by Cordwood's jovially nicknaming him "Limey." The second night, at Manny Ilgenfritz's, the chauffeur was horrified by having his employer stand out on the porch and bellow to the midnight quiet of Jackrabbit, "Hey Limey, old socks, come on in and sit in on this poker game. We need another hand."
The Britisher took the nine o'clock train next morning.
His successor was different. On his second night, when he was driving Cordwood and Percy back from a stylish and unalcoholic evening at the residence of Mr. Scallion, the banker, this successor seemed to have difficulty in starting the car; there was a scent about the streets as though too much alcohol had been poured into the radiator, and when Cordwood hinted that he drive more slowly, the driver turned and said affectionately, "Sure, Cordy, if you and Perce want to go like a hay wagon, it's all right by me. Rall friends together, heh?"
And he took the next morning's nine o'clock train, and after that Cordwood solemnly sat up in front and drove his own limousine, frequently with Percy in the back.
But by spring Cordwood was too used to his fine house and fine communal drunks to be excited by them, and he still had $6,880,000. He wanted to do something entirely new, and he dared not ask Percy for suggestions. Percy might yank him off to a New York apartment, or a cutely villa at Coney Island—which spot Cordwood assumed to be, along with Atlantic City and Newport, the most resplendent but starchily correct of all summer resorts.
Then Les Doggins, whom Cordwood had sent to Paris, theoretically to study the violin, began to write extensive letters, instead of mere post cards. It is true that the fifth letter gave a hint that something besides affection for Cordwood inspired him, that he wanted to put over the message that it would be a good idea for Cordwood to double his allowance. But his first four effusions positively glowed, and warmed Cordwood's imagination by their descriptions of Paris. It seemed that all portions of Paris—though it was true, explained Les, that he himself was practising eighteen hours a day and rarely saw them personally—were jammed with beautiful cafes, where champagne cost two cents a glass, where ravishingly beautiful maidens, called cocottes, yearned for a chance to talk to True Americans like Cordwood, and where celebrated English explorers and lords and business magnates were flattered to tears when addressed by a man like Cordwood and filled with longing to tell him even better stories than he had ever heard in a lumber camp.
"Why don't you come over, with some of your buddies? I'll show you the town," suggested Les Doggins.
Cordwood meditated that he'd kinda like to do that. But he also meditated that he couldn't desert Jackrabbit, when all his friends depended on him for a good time.
Then, like Keats conceiving "The Eve of St. Agnes," he had his one sudden, sun-smitten stroke of genius.
Why not go to Paris and take the whole town with him?
That was something no other millionaire had ever thought of!
He was afraid at first to risk his one dear jewel of imagination to the acid of Percy Willoughby, often and firmly though he assured himself, "That's my business, I'm not asking Perce's permission. Who does he think he is? Maybelle Benner or somebody?"
It took him four days to raise the courage and tell his inspiration to Percy; his plan to hire private trains, hire an entire steamer, and take as many of the inhabitants of Jackrabbit as could get away to Paris, Rome, and London.
Percy listened patiently, and patiently he reasoned, "Yes, it sounds like a great shindig, Chief, but I'm afraid it would be impossible—so many people—"
"I know, I know, Perce. And of course there'd be the handling of an awful lot of money every day, and I couldn't ask you to take all that responsibility. I thought you might stay here, and I'd hire a kind of treasurer—"
"Yes." Into Percy's eyes came a cloudy dream of poetry. "Yes, there would have to be a lot of ready cash. I'd better go along. I don't quite trust anybody else. Yes. Shall we start in June?"
As easy as that.
When he went out, all innocence and glee, to inform his fellow townsmen what he was going to do for them, Cordwood was bewildered to find that they weren't as excited about suddenly picking up and going to Paris as he was. He was a wanderer, chickless and childless, even if not Percyless, while they had familiar homes, wives, children, jobs. They liked to be able to find their slippers or the bathroom in the dark. He had to argue with them, to persuade them that they really would like it. But he was not altogether without craft.
He explained to Mrs. Maybelle Benner that they would all enjoy the treasures of Art and Architecture for which Paris was, and justly, so celebrated; he warmly pictured the entire expedition, particularly himself, as spending all its Parisian afternoons and evenings in following professors about and being lectured at about painters and the Helmet of Navarre. (He remembered that there had been some Frog named Navarre—quite a long while ago, he believed—and that he had had a helmet, for some fool reason or other.) Maybelle Benner seemed very much pleased about Navarre and his helmet.
Then Cordwood convinced Oley Tengbom, Manny Ilgenfritz, Sime Bendelari, and Milt Cohen that they would spend all their afternoons and evenings, under the inspiriting guidance of Les Doggins, in lapping up strange and peculiarly excellent sorts of licker—arrack and akivit and vodka.
To Mr. Scallion, the banker, and Mr. Mitch he hinted that his dearest desire was to make a serious study of the financial, religious, and educational systems of France—if there were any such systems in so barbarous a land.
Now there were but few persons in Jackrabbit who had ever been abroad. Oh, of course there were three or four hundred who had been born in Europe, and lived there from five to thirty years, but they were merely foreigners, and didn't count as people who could go over and understand Europe. The real Americans, the people who had some right to travel and investigate, began to ponder gravely on Cordwood's offer, and after a week he held a mass-meeting to which every inhabitant of Jackrabbit was invited.
Cordwood ruggedly gave the invitation to his proprietary crusade, but it was Percy Willoughby who, with elegance, anecdotes, a dinner jacket, and tasteful references to the American Eagle, the Pilgrim Fathers, and Lafayette, really outlined the plan. Special trains. Chartered steamer. Sightseeing in New York. Respectable hotels in Paris—i.e., those in which all servants spoke American. To go in summer, when the children would be out of school—the children, God bless them, whose little prattling voices were the sweetest music this side o' Paradise. (It is probable that Percy forgot that, as far as was known, neither he nor Cordwood had any children to prattle.) Experts to be brought from the Twin Cities to care for the town and all necessary business while the citizenry were away. The noble Mr. McGash to pay all expenses, including tips—no one need spend a cent except for such presents as he might care to bring home. Office now established downstairs, under the expert guidance of Miss Minnie Berklund, and all who wished to take the trip please hurry and register with her, first come to get best accommodations on trains and steamer, and he wished to thank them one and all and to express—
He was interrupted by Ben Pilshaw of the feed store, who wanted them to give three cheers for good ole Cordwood McGash. They did, even the Reverend Mr. Mitch.
Some were sick, some could not leave their posts, as doctors or powerhouse engineers or post-office employees or railroaders, some were afraid, some plain did not want to go, but out of the 1231 permanent inhabitants of Jackrabbit Creek. 887 persons did actually register for this gaudy chance of a lifetime, and accompany Cordwood—and Perce—on the European spree.
As commandant and general fixer of the town while the inhabitants were away, Percy brought in a man for whom, he admitted, he had an almost prayerful respect; one Colonel Blight, who had been a soldier, a policeman, a banker, a stock broker, and the city manager of Septemia, Ohio. Cordwood was vaguely astonished that a colonel could look so much like a colonel as Colonel Blight did. He had it all—the broad shoulders and slim waist, the white hair and small white mustache, the port complexion, the hearty voice, the ability, and extreme willingness, to tell what he had said to Pershing and Lady Astor. After the good colonel, came an entire corps of persons skilled to guard property, extinguish fires, answer mail, forward mail.
They were needed even before the caravan took the golden road to Samarkand. Now that they had committed themselves to helping Cordwood spend his money, most of the citizenry felt that he was thereby obligated to heal all their troubles, spiritual and temporal, so that they might start off blithely. He was expected to pay up all mortgage interest for at least two years ahead—and most of the mortgagees thought it would be all right if he paid off the mortgages entirely and, if he wanted to, he could burn the documents up and forget them. Three persons wanted to have slight operations—to be arranged and paid for by Cordwood—and sixteen wanted their teeth put in shape, and they spoke to Cordwood, sadly or angrily, as though he might just as well admit that it was he who had done dirt to their teeth in the first place. One lady wanted to know if he would mind, personally, escorting her seven grandchildren to an aunt's, in Waco, Texas—which, she said brightly smiling, would make her ever so much more free on the junket—and one wanted him to telephone over to Paris to arrange for her taking a complete course in voice culture during the three weeks there.
Percy and Colonel Blight and their aides perspiringly did their best to handle these details for Cordwood but, curiously, most of the suppliants wanted to see Cordwood himself. They complained that Perce and the colonel viciously denied such reasonable complaints as sending to the poor farm at Tallahassee, Florida, for poor Aunt Ethelberta, so that (though the dear old thing had never seen Jackrabbit Creek) she might go along on the tour. "Now, Mr Willoughby, that's so thoughtless of you! It would give Aunty so much pleasure."
Cordwood was learning, as Percy had long since learned, that when any one says to you, "Oh, do that—it would give her so much pleasure," then that is something most vigorously not to do.
It was surprising how much of the current $6,870,000 Cordwood was going to get rid of. He had, before inviting the town, neglected to learn how much it would cost to charter a de luxe liner. It would cost, he found, about $25,000 a day, six days to the crossing and landing included, for a steamer like Dipsomania, aside from tips, drinks, and the entertainers whom he was determined to hire in New York. Four hundred thousand dollars might see the ocean part of the journey, both ways, paid for, but Perce reminded him that he must not be optimistic.
And so Cordwood signed checks, and signed, and signed, and from 7 a.m. till after midnight daily he listened to neighbors who wanted him to settle their brother-in-laws' debts or their wives' tempers or their digestions before the sailing—and Cordwood had considerably less fun out of being a millionaire and a public benefactor than he had ever had in his life.
But things got settled. Perce was a pattern of energy and precision. Colonel Blight a master of diplomacy and executiveness, and Cordwood too much of a kind-hearted damned fool to believe it even when he knew he was miserable, and two weeks before sailing, practically every one of the crusaders seemed satisfied.
And just then Trouble personified staggered down from the hills.
A year before, Mr. Bat Badger, lumberjack and teamster, had been incomparably the highest-ranking Town Drunk in Jackrabbit Creek. In a lively, unmalicious way, he had gone fishing in the courthouse fountain, chased the night policeman with an unloaded revolver and, during a particularly durable hangover, tried to lead the singing in Mr. Mitch's church, with the misconception that the congregation were caroling "Little Brown Gal" instead of "The Little Brown Church in the Wildwood." Cordwood had raised—that is, had contributed—a handsome purse to assist his friend Bat Badger to get out of town, quick, and go live with his farmer son-in-law.
Now Bat was suddenly returned—you needed no newspaper to learn of it—and he was announcing to gratified throngs in the town's one saloon that he was delighted to join Cordwood's party and show the Frogs and Dagoes what a real two-fisted He-American could do in the way of serious drinking. He had always wanted to go to sea, he explained, and he was planning to bunk with the captain of the liner. Sure he could, if he wanted to, couldn't he? Wasn't he 'nole friend of Cordwood's and didn't Cordwood own the boat? Let any high-toned captain try to get fresh with him! And now would all the boys join him in lil drink, to be charged to his friend Cordwood?
The bartender wearily requested Bat to go out and soak his head or, preferably, go climb a tree. Bat was hurt. He was shocked. He threw at the bartender a glass which broke the mirror. He awoke in an alley, muttering in a youthful, plaintive way, "Well I'll be dog-gone!" and arose to waver, slantwise, toward his friend Cordwood, to tell him of this cruel misunderstanding.
Already, Maybelle Benner, Mr. Scallion, and Mr. Mitch had come, as one man, to Cordwood's office, and squealed, "If that horrible scoundrel Badger goes on this tour, neither we nor any other respectable person in town will go!"
Cordwood looked weary. There had been a time when he had shared a blanket and a pint with Bat Badger. Percy warbled, "It's all arranged, Mrs. Benner. Of course Mr. Badger is not to go. Mr. McGash and I were conferring about that, just as you came in."
The reformers marched beamingly out, in time to meet Bat Badger on the steps.
"You bad man, you get right out of town! And you're not going to Europe with us!" rejoiced Mrs. Benner.
"Three jackasses, all in a row. 'Tain't true. Jus' 'nother mirage! Visyums like this hard on pore lone prospector!" said Mr. Badger.
He entered the office, after some difficulty in finding on which side of the door post the door was. Cordwood hailed him with dubious heartiness.
"Well, well, if it ain't old Bat! Well, well—well!"
Mr. Badger fumblingly sank into a chair. He said not a word. He merely shook his wicked old head—his greasy cap and sunset nose and brushwood-scattered chin—shook it slowly and rebukingly, and wagged a knowing but smeary forefinger.
"Come up to the house and have a drink, old fella!" said Cordwood, hollowly.
Mr. Badger went on shaking his head and his forefinger in saddened disillusion, looking at this viper he had now thrust forth from his bosom.
"How's your daughter and your son-in-law? Folks all fine?" croaked Cordwood.
Then Mr. Badger gloomily gave voice: "Phar'see!"
"Who's a Pharisee?"
"Who's Phar'see? You're Phar'see!"
"Me? A Pharisee!"
"Yes, you! Whaz Good Book say? Proggle Son comes home. Whaz he get? Gets fatted leg of lamb. I'm Proggle Son. What do I get? Get Maybelle Benner! Phar'see. Quit drinking, that's what you done. Snooty to old friend Bat. Pore old Bat Badger!"
And Mr. Badger shook his palsied head again, gently weeping.
"No, no, Bat! That's a dog-gone lie. I'm just as good a drinker as I ever was. Come on up home. I'll prove it. I'm no Pharisee. I'm a good drinking man."
He got Bat into the back of the limousine, where Bat lighted the butt of a cigar and looked loftily out at the canaille, winking at the girls, white Cordwood meekly drove in front. At the mansion, Bat suddenly exhibited the most offensive trick in all his amiably contrary career. He wouldn't, no, no matter how much his host begged him, he wouldn't take a single drink of Cordwood's excellent whisky. This was as unexpected as Hitler's refusing an Imperial crown, and the not unresourceful Cordwood was helpless. In the style of a small boy running to his mother with a hurt finger, Cordwood thought of telephoning for Percy, for good old Colonel Blight. But he felt too helpless, under the spell of Bat, who was slumped in a leather armchair accusingly shaking his head and muttering, "Phar'see! Never drink Pharisee's licker. Not if I starve!"
"Look, old man! I'll show you how much of a Pharisee I am! Lookit, the way I drink!" Cordwood poured out half a tumblerful of rye and tossed it off. "See? Now come on! Drink up! And I got a swell new story for you. Mrs. Benner? Why, she hates me like rat poison. Come on now, drink up!"
"Oh, come on! I—uh—I been too busy lately to do much drinking, but with an old buddy like you—Look, I'm taking another!"
So it was that Percy returned, with Colonel Blight, to find Cordwood completely passed out, while Bat still sat soberly croaking at the near-corpse, "Phar'see! Benners! All Phar'sees!"
Percy and the colonel gently led Bat outside. Expertly frisking him, the colonel found that Bat had not carried his prejudice against the false wine cups of the Pharisee too far. He removed two bottles of rye and one of gin from Bat's outer coat pockets, a bottle of Scotch from his inside pocket, and eight Corona Coronas and three miniature bottles of cordials from his vest. Colonel Blight murmured something then to Percy, and Percy laughed.
When Cordwood struggled into an agonized wakefulness, in his own bed, with Percy beside him ready with the aspirin and wet towel, he groaned, "Not a Pharisee! Where's Bat?"
"Sir, I took the liberty of—I think Mr. Badger will be quite happy; probably much happier than in Paris. I have arranged with young Mr. Knute Tieplowitz to take Mr. Badger on a somewhat extensive tour—in fact, to San Diego. I ventured to entrust Knute with enough money to keep Mr. Badger quite drunk and happy the entire way. They have been gone now for some hours. I do not think Mr. Badger will change his mind. Tieplowitz is a charming companion, and he will be glad to sing duets with Mr. Badger, but also he was boxing champion in the Agricultural College."
"Say, couldn't you grab the whole six million or whatever there is left now, and take this whole business over? I guess I could still get a job clerking."
"Well, not the whole of it," said Percy, with a curious meditativeness.
Such was the innocence of Mr. Cordwood McGash that he was astonished when the reporters began to drop into town—from Duluth, from St. Paul and Minneapolis, the nearest A. P. and U. P. correspondents and even one roving reporter from Chicago. They found it odd and a little unbelievable that a millionaire should want to take a whole town to Europe, and with pleasant cynicism they wanted to know—not necessarily for publication—just what he was really up to. They found it odder that apparently he really wasn't hunting publicity and that he should be astonished, and considerably pleased, at having his picture in the papers. They were a cheerful party. Cordwood put them all up at the mansion, and kept a bartender on duty all night, and probably not since the arrival of Wilson in Paris had quite such a flock of adulatory stories burned the wires.
Cordwood was a Modest Man of Millions, A Mystery Millionaire, a Rival to Death Valley Scotty. And after a certain night during which Cordwood had enthusiastically led them in the rendition of "Frankie and Johnny"—standing on the huge limestone mantelpiece, to which willing journalistic hands had helped him—it was also communicated that in his youth he had longed to study music, that he had gone forth into the world only to help his family, all orphans, that in music he was the equal of the late Secretary Woodin, and that his purpose in taking his neighbors to Europe was to enable them to listen to the best music.
That same night the local Jackrabbit reporter asked about Cordwood's willingness to become governor of the state.
Well, that would be all right, thought Cordwood.
The Duluth reporter—and quite seriously, because by now Cordwood really had very good Scotch—asked about his going on to the presidency.
No, Cordwood didn't think he was fitted for that. And he understood that in Washington you had to wear a dress suit every evening.
Here he tiptoed to the hall door, looked about cautiously, made sure that his secretary was not in sight, motioned the reporters to gather close, and croaked, "Gotta dresh shuit. Perce gomme dresh shuit. Minn'ap'lus. Don't like it!"
Neither did they, they all assured him, and at last he felt happy again; felt that it was a fine thing to have so many millions and so many friends.
Especially was it comforting to have so loyal a supporter as Percy Willoughby. For the actual journey it would be necessary to carry some tens of thousands of dollars in cash. Cordwood had begged Percy to take charge of this. Percy had hesitated—after all, he put it, how could Mr. McGash know that he would not pocket most of it? When Cordwood had got over being shocked by the hint that a friend of his could do such a thing, Percy reluctantly took the enormous pile of new bills and slipped them into his bureau drawer. But, he insisted, he would give the Chief an accounting of every penny he spent...give it to him just as soon as the crusade was over.
Naturally, to the authentic inhabitants of Jackrabbit, Cordwood had added a few dozen old friends from the lumber camps, and 911 adventurers finally filled the two-section special train for the journey to New York and the R. M. S. Dipsomania.
Practically all the three hundred odd people who were left behind, with hundreds of farmers from the neighborhood, jammed the station and alt the railroad yards. No departure of a troop train ever saw more weeping, more blanching of cheeks, more piling of suit-cases upon Gladstone bags, nor half so much of screaming, "Oh, I've lost my baby's go-cart" and "That's nothing! We've lost our baby!" A hundred times a minute, people screamed, "Now be sure and write!" and, "Don't take any wooden money!" and, "Bring me back one of them French chorus girls!" Veteran conductors of the G.N.P.R.R. grew hoarse and helpless as they begged. "All aboard, please! All aboard!" A strange swarthy man with a peanut roaster did enormous business. For some reason almost every one except Percy Willoughby seemed to feel that peanuts were exactly the thing to ward off the perils of the journey. On the roof of the station, Colonel Blight suddenly appeared, and in a voice which would have routed a considerable enemy he bellowed, "Come on, now, everybody, three cheers and a tiger for good old Cordwood McGash!"
They massed on the platform and beyond. But through the bee-swarm of hysterical exiles cleaved first a bugle note, then a rank of men in uniforms of plumed brass helmets, red tunics with gilded Sam Brown belts, yellow breeches with green stripes, cavalry boots—the Jackrabbit Creek Band and bugle Corps, playing "Happy Days Are Here Again." They marched gravely the length of the platform, back again, then into the first section of the train.
Percy, standing beside Cordwood, protested, "You're not taking the band along—to Europe?"
"Sure!" beamed Cordwood.
"I didn't—I didn't know—"
"No, it's a little surprise for you and all the folks. I guess the band'll show the folks in New York and Paris—Hope I can fix it so we can have a parade up Fifth Avenue—the whole bunch of us marching behind the band!"
Percy sighed. Then, as his fingers touched a bundle of hundred dollar bills in his pocket, he brightened.
It was Cordwood who was a little sad as the two sections of the train did actually get into motion and he looked at the outskirts of Jackrabbit, at the well-beloved loafing places—the gasoline tanks, the stock pens, the lumber yard, the wholesale grocery warehouse, the beaten earth before tarpaper shacks, where year on year he had squatted in the dust with Old Timers and told tall lies and passed pints of corn from lip to lip. Would he ever see them again? Paris might be prettier, but he bet himself that it wouldn't have any kindlier a glow to it than this rusty-red wheat elevator in the prairie sunshine.
Percy, in a drawing-room decorated with check-books, portable typewriters, and bottles of champagne, was in charge of the second section of the train; Cordwood in charge of the first. And into Cordwood's car he had somewhat guiltily sneaked his best friends and drinking-companions: Emmanuel Ilgenfritz and his family, Oley Tengbom and what Jackrabbit suspected to be somebody else's family, Doc Berklund, Sime Bendelari. He would have liked the Minervan radiance of Maybelle Benner, but he felt that she would not really understand, in the matter of Scotch.
Cordwood had assigned to himself an upper berth, explaining to Percy that he didn't want any one to feel slighted. In Drawing Room A, he had put his housekeeper, Sister Tinkerbun, and one of his three "hired girls." All the way to New York there was quivering scandal about this, and the only question was whether Cordwood was criminally carrying on with Sister Tinkerbun, who was nine years his senior, or the hired girl, who was twenty-two years his junior. Whichever it might be, the entire caravan felt with a not unpleasing horror that already, with their own host, they were beginning to sniff the wickedness of Paris.
In Drawing Room B were Sime Bendelari, apothecarian bachelor and man-about-village, and the reporter from Duluth.
It seemed that on one particularly white night at the mansion, Cordwood had invited the Duluth reporter to go along. Cordwood didn't remember the invitation, but he had learned many years before that on the morning after, it was better not to inquire too curiously into what he might have said after midnight. Anyway, the Duluth reporter was a lovely fellow, and it was a good thing to have a contact man for the press. He did not know, and he never afterward learned, that the young gentleman from Duluth had been fired by wire, after ignoring four commands from his paper to come home.
This Drawing Room B was Cordwood's refuge all the way to New York. He was very happy there. He lost $116.50 at poker, and he was often allowed to sing. He was the gladder of the refuge when, within an hour after the train had left Jackrabbit, he learned the real characters of little Irving Berklund and of Magnolia Ilgenfritz, the hell-child.
No one knows the nature of the Little Ones until he has seen them relieving the tedium of a train journey. After he has seen them thus, he realizes that Calvin was absolutely right: that infant damnation is not only just but highly agreeable. Cordwood had beheld Irving and Magnolia as normal children, who were prettily grateful for bags of candy and who had no disagreeable traits whatever, except perhaps yelping a good deal, throwing stones at windshields, and secreting dead kittens in one's overcoat pockets. But the magic of travel was upon them now, and it revealed the Little Ones as complete demons. They chased each other through the aisle. They had a game of tag in which the goals were the shrinking knees of the older passengers. Irving brought from the observation car a ponderous brass ash-tray, and with this Magnolia and he played catch, while the adults, their faces furrowed with agony, crouched in their seats, and the cowardly Cordwood, though he admitted that he was responsible for these horrors, fled into Drawing Room B and demanded a drink.
At St. Paul and Minneapolis, there were hundreds of spectators, with reporters ranging from the financial editors, who desired to know Cordwood's views on the Latvian bond situation, to the religious editors, who demanded of the frightened Rev. Mr. Mitch whether it was true that he was going to hold services in Notre Dame de Paris. But it was in Chicago that Cordwood really got into the news.
The trains were met by eighteen reporters, nineteen press-camera and movie-camera and sound-picture men, and more than a thousand laymen. Percy had, at Cordwood's insistence, rather sulkily telegraphed ahead to get police permission for a parade up State Street, during the six hours when the Jackrabbitites were to study the economics, ethnology, art treasures, and bars of Chicago. Gleefully the drum major whirled and caught his stick, at the head of the procession. Gleefully the troubadours of Jackrabbit whammed the drum and tootled the fife and blared on the comet, as they crashed into such novelties as "The Washington Post" and "There'll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight." Gleefully Cordwood and a hundred other male stalwarts trudged at the rear, waving large pennants painted with pink wild roses and the valiant words, "Jackrabbit Creek. Biggest Small Town in U. S. A."
And gleefully the simple citizenry of Chicago received them.
The Chicagoans filled the sidewalks, snickering. Small boys by the hundred stalked beside the parade or followed it, imitating the marchers. Press photographers snapped it at each corner. And, starting nowhere in particular, rising along each block, increasing to a thunder-storm, rose the derisive cheer, "Hurray for the Jackrabbits!"
Cordwood was enchanted—for three blocks. He wished that his friend Percy had not, poor fellow, had to remain at the train; that Percy might have seen this rare, lovely tribute to true American democracy. He began then to wonder if the small boys marching beside them weren't, as they stuck out their little bellies and arched their arms and waggled their heads, just a little making mock of the procession. A quick, nauseating suspicion swamped him. He stared, then he glared at the crowds on the sidewalk.
"My God, they're not cheering us—they're kidding us! They think we're goats!" he trembled.
All the dreadful twenty blocks up State Street and back to the station, he marched sturdily, shoulders back, not once looking at the jeerers. But at the station he called the band-leader to him and said softly, "Pete, I'm sorrier 'n the dickens, but these big-town hellions think we're just hicks. They think we're funny. We won't have no more parades, nowhere, and no more band music. You boys just put up your instruments and enjoy yourselves, rest of the trip."
Pete Klopot—by vocation a paper-hanger but spiritually a brother of Mozart—snapped, "Hey? What's that? You mean we ain't to march up Fifth Avenue, like you promised, and not in Paris, France?"
"Nope. No can do." Cordwood's lips were unwontedly thinned.
"Then by God—you've cheated us! You'll pay our fares back to Jackrabbit, and you'll pay for our time—''
"I certainly will! Here, you, Red Cap. Bring me Mr. Percy Willoughby from section two of my train, with his check book."
Pete Klopot capitulated with speed. He consented to go take a look at Paris, and so did the rest of the band. But it was altogether a sad business. Throughout the journey, from hotel rooms and from behind lifeboats late at night, on deck, you could hear the wailing of the unwanted xylophone and the moaning of unappreciated drums.
Cordwood was so embarrassed, so hurt by the guffaws of Chicago at his brave pilgrimage, that on the way to New York, he deserted the manly joys of Drawing Room B for whole moments at a time, and sat in the next car with Maybelle Benner, sagely collaborating with her in a deep study of Ohio and Upper New York State. They noticed and recorded that there were many factories along the way. They agreed that the apple trees were apple trees and that many of the denizens of Jackrabbit would not have known that the apple trees were apple trees but as to themselves, coming as they did from Vermont and Connecticut, they could tell at the briefest glance that apple trees, at least in season, bore apples. And together, fellow highbrows, they persuaded the others to turn the radio—Cordwood had had one installed in each car—from Hot Cha Cha to Walter Damrosch.
Cordwood noticed that Maybelle had so china-smooth a complexion that it made his own cheeks feel like a heap of sawdust. He felt exhilarated when Maybelle breathed. "I didn't know you had such a taste for classical music, Mr. McGash." He was even fortified to face the reporters and cameras in New York. For several minutes, on the June day of their metropolitan arrival, there was no other news. No one had been purging any European country. Douglas and America's sweetheart were neither being reconciled nor disreconciled. The N.R.A. was neither very Bolshevik nor taken over by Morgan. "Anthony Adverse" had slackened to a sale of less than ten thousand a day. The baseball teams were plain ornery. But the press associations had sent on sufficiently colored pictures of Cordwood and his private circus in Chicago to make him news, and he was going to be news, whether he liked it or not.
He was ringed with reporters who, with the silky reverence which has led many a more sophisticated man into the folly of saying something he really thought, besought him to enlighten them about the drought. Gertrude Stein, rainbow trout, the future of China, and whether, when he got there, he would let Paris go on acting that way, or take it over and run it like Jackrabbit Creek.
So it came to pass that, when he had seen merely the headlines in the evening paper, Cordwood fled to the R.M.S. Dipsomania, and hid there, though they were not to sail for three more days. He was so irritated that he hoofed the absent banker Scallion out of the Royal Suite, and irascibly took it for himself.
Percy and he had admitted that in New York they would have to do some fancy planning to content every one with their accommodations on the Dipsomania, since for over nine hundred pilgrims, there were only seven hundred and eighty first-class beds, and some hundred and twenty-one would have to be content with tourist-third. (That was according to official figures, though actually, before they left New York, the number was lessened by eleven, who went to Harlem and were not found till three days after the sailing.) Cordwood had modestly planned to be one of the third-class, along with the young people, but now he irritably tore the Scallion card from the dainty violet door of the Royal Suite, put his own card up, entered, threw his hat on the grand piano and his shoes on a Neo-Gothic desk, and rang for a drink.
He had settled into calmness the next evening and was sitting on the boat deck watching the skyscrapers against an apple-green sky, feeling that perhaps, after all, he really would enjoy Paris, when Maybelle Benner came up to him, her heels a pleasant tapping on the deck boards, drew over a deck chair, patted his hand, and intelligently said, "There! I know!"
"But," snarled Cordwood, "they made me say I was going to rent some dog-gone street they call the Champs Elysees"—he made it rhyme with damps pleases, "and grow potatoes on it. Those newspapers! And they made me ask whether Napoleon was a fruit or a drink. And one of 'em had a phony photograph of me—my head pasted onto a fake business, so it looked like I was riding in a chariot at the head of the band!"
"I know, Mr. McGash, but now it's all forgotten. New York wouldn't remember it for more than two days if Bishop Cannon were arrested for bootlegging—"
"Has he been? Hurray!"
"No, no, no! I just mean that as an example."
"How'd you find me, Maybelle? Good of you to take the trouble."
"I made Mr. Willoughby tell me...Cordwood."
"How? That's a tight-mouthed lad—"
"Oh, I just told him I'd go to the newspapers and say he'd been arrested for embezzling the funds of the tour."
"He hasn't been, has he?" sighed Cordwood.
"No, not yet," sighed Maybelle.
Like Mr. Swinburne, then, they were full of the sunset and sad, if at all, with the fullness of joy. Cordwood dared to touch the fleecy end of her scarf, but she did not know it. He sighed. She sighed. They sighed together—then sat up and giggled.
"Listen to us two old things getting homesick. My! I know we'll love Paris, but what do you bet we're just as pleased as can be when we get back to Jackrabbit! My! that's a sweet town! Do you remember how nice the box-elders are in the courthouse square?"
"And I haven't seen one show-window slicker or tastier dressed than Cohen & Cabot's!''
"And the creek isn't awfully big but my! such big cottonwood trees." And she sighed, and he.
Then, briskly, "Mr. McGash—Cordwood—I do think you ought to seize your opportunities and all, and I'm hungry, and what say we slip off somewhere ashore and have dinner?"
"An elegant idea, Maybelle."
They inquired of a taxi-driver as to a really good place to dine. He looked at them sharply, and decided on a chop-suey joint. Cordwood handed him five dollars and, with an appearance of shocked awe, the taxi-driver instantly took them to Park Avenue.
Cordwood was, as Maybelle flouncingly was not, rather awed by the quantities of chromium and murals by Mexican communists in the place, but the head-waiter, who had once been a poor boy himself, was so sympathetic and kind that almost without a struggle Cordwood was able to make a sensible and satisfying and wholesome twenty-five dollar order, ending with strawberries from Labrador. For any good restaurant can have strawberries out of season, say in January, but this establishment, the Chameau d'Or, had devised a ravishing new feature—it imported viands from places where it was almost impossible to grow them: Southdown mutton from vacant lots in the Bronx, salmon from the Amazon, and moose-meat from Kansas.
The wine-waiter handed Cordwood the vast sacred volume.
"Just a minute. I'll look it over," fretted Cordwood.
"Look," he pleaded with Maybelle. "I know you never drink a drop, but it's our one night in New York—"
"I have drunk a half-bottle of claret every night since the day Prohibition began—and ended. Friends sent it to me from California, in candied-fruit boxes. The fact that I don't care for gasoline and ginger ale or for your friend, Mr. Bat Badger, does not keep me from following the example of most of the saints," said Maybelle, with complete calmness.
Cordwood was too dazed to speak. There was something he ought to say, something that you always said at crises when you were traveling, but he couldn't in this dizzy moment of revelation remember whether it was, "Well, well, it's a pretty small world after all," or, "Travel certainly does broaden a fellow."
"There's Chambertin. I've heard that's quite a nice wine," suggested Maybelle.
Since to him it tasted rather sour and without any authority in it, Cordwood wasn't sure whether it was really quite a nice wine or not—till he saw how much it cost.
Meantime he had been confiding to Maybelle that, as a child in Vermont, he had wanted to be president and to reform politics, and that he had thought vigorously about being a poet. None of this was true, but after beginning the second bottle of Chambertin, he believed that it was, and he noted that Maybelle listened to the pathetic tale of what a misunderstood boy he had been, with notably more interest in the subject than Oley Tengbom had ever shown. "My!" she said, frequently and eloquently.
He was in disgrace only once—when he said that the artichokes tasted like solidified whisk-brooms.
In the Royal Suite of the Dipsomania that night, Cordwood reflected, "Golly, Maybelle's the finest lady I ever met. So cultured and everything. And elegant ankles. But I'd never dare even shake hands with her. Golly, how she'd bawl me out if I ever dared stroke her shoulder."
The pilgrims had lived in scattered houses in Jackrabbit; they had been together for but two days on the train. It was only when they were inescapably at sea that they had a chance to examine and hate one another. They divided swiftly and sharply into four groups: they who were not going to let anything interfere with drinking and quartettes; they who had read a book but still liked a drink; they who were so determined to hogtie Culture and bring it back that they frowned on all dissipation; they who liked neither Culture nor Booze nor anything else in particular and who seemed to have come along only for the pleasure of concentrated disapproval of everything. And none in any of these four could endure the others. Grievously enough, husbands and wives frequently were divided as to groups, and few spectacles in history have been so savagely dramatic as the sight of eleven members of the W.C.T.U. looking down from the promenade deck at their husbands boisterously shooting craps on a forward hatchway, while relays of stewards galloped up with clinking trays...and then, most anti-social of all, the stewards laid down the trays and joined the game!
Cordwood and Percy grew gray as they panted about the boat trying to make everybody love everybody else.
In Jackrabbit, variations of wealth had not been so irritatingly evident. But jammed together on shipboard, the women without a single evening frock hated and gabbled about the women with one evening frock, and the women with one evening frock abominated and rebuked the women with a whole wardrobe; and as to Mrs. Scallion, who had a diamond bracelet and let you know it, the entire feminine party became violently socialistic. They were jealous of people who had better staterooms, and people who had the handsomest stewards, and people who had got ahead of them in drawing the best detective stories out of the library. In fact, the whole joyous journey to enchantment was just one orgy of sitting and hating.
They had all forgotten that on the train Cordwood had taken an upper berth, and now they were very bitter about his occupancy of the Royal Suite. "Well! I do think he might have made some effort to look after his guests before he took care of his own selfish desires," said lady to lovely lady.
What made it worse was that the selfish millionaire and—could you beat it!—his housekeeper, Sister Tinkerbun, and that stuck-up New England school-teacher, Maybelle Benner, all sat at the captain's table, had exclusive access to the conversation of that stalwart and romantic four-striper. Like most first voyagers, they believed that there was something especially exhilarating about all stories told by sea-captains, and the entire nine hundred of them felt that if there were any justice in the world, they would be sitting beside the skipper. They glared upon his table and gloomily imagined that they were missing a hair-curling tale of shipwreck, at the very least, when actually the good captain was saying:
"I'll tell you, as I look at it, and after a good many years of experience, bicarbonate of soda is about the best remedy there is for gas on the stomach."
Cordwood himself had been mildly surprised and pleased at being invited to the captain's table. It did not occur to him that he had any superior rights on the boat. And when he was furthermore invited to a cocktail party in the captain's cabin, when he learned that J. Pierpont Morgan, and John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and Edsel Ford and even Gene Tunney had sat right there in that same chair, Cordwood wiggled with the embarrassment of being honored beyond his merit.
The captain's cabin was a refuge to him from the rest of the boat, where he could not go ten feet without one of his guest's seizing his sleeve to complain—to complain about the food, the fog, Mrs. Benner's eastern accent, smoking in the dining-salon, poker in Mr. Cabot's cabin, kissing on the boat deck, and the Polish question.
He had entirely given up walking on the promenade deck since Magnolia Ilgenfritz and Irving Berklund had recruited all the children aboard into a gang who happily, all day long, hurled shuffle-board discs at one another, and turned on the fire-hoses, and tried to crawl into ventilators. When Cordwood wasn't escaping the children, he was escaping either infuriated guests, who wanted him to throw the children overboard, or the children's parents, who sniffed that apparently there were some people who were just so cranky and so selfish that they didn't want the kiddies to have any fun at all.
Percy and he kept on desperately getting up entertainments—horse races, swimming pool cocktail parties, movies, concerts, and always dances, which to Cordwood were the major catastrophes of the trip, because his poor old feet did hurt so in his dancing slippers, and because he was expected to dance with every woman over and above twelve years of age and, as there were over two hundred of them aboard and his capacity was about three dances an evening, he was always quailing before the brightly smiling rebuke of some almost unknown female who shook a coy finger at him and gurgled, "Well! Of course you wouldn't ask poor me to dance!"
"Sometimes I almost wish I hadn't never got up this trip," reflected Cordwood. "Maybe it'd of been more fun to collect stamps."
It was fortunate that they were met at Cherbourg by practically the entire French staffs of the American Express Company and Thomas Cook & Sons—as Cordwood understood it, indeed one of the fabulous sons himself was there, surrounded by his staff and gazing at the battlefield through quite a long telescope. For warlike was the scene, and heart-rending. Their baggage was heaped on the low counters of the customs house like the piled dead on a battlefield. Aged females, never hitherto outside America, were shrieking at the cynicism with which black-bearded douaniers held up their respectable woolen union suits. Sporty youths were arguing that half a dozen cartons of cigarettes didn't mean a thing, not between friendly nations. Portly merchants, who not an hour before had been jeering, "No dog-gone foreigner can faze John R. Stipple!" were now bounding through the customs house wailing, "My God! I can't find the black suit case! And it's got my razor and my Sunday pants in it!" And the facteurs stood stolidly with their several piles of luggage. They knew. By and by these howling barbarians, who for reasons perfectly incomprehensible and probably improper had come clear across the ocean, would find their bags and get on the train and blessedly get the hell out of there and leave the place to quiet.
They did and, with the sound of a man who has just escaped being run over, Cordwood looked out of his train window, and was considerably amazed to find that most of France consisted of fields and trees and roads, all in colors that would have been considered quite normal even in Jackrabbit Creek.
There was less confusion in Paris than might have been expected. Percy and the express company and the son had engaged a fleet of buses; whole floors had been taken in three hotels within one block on the Rue Saint Honore; and aside from the loss of Magnolia Ilgenfritz, who was later found playing steamship with the children of the Portuguese consul, in the Parc Monceau, the disconsolate culture-hunters were safely housed. In one of the hotels Percy established an office, staffed from an American tourist agency, to arrange for the party whatever diversion they might prefer—buses to Fontainebleau, guides to the Night Life of Montmartre, lists of the best onion soups at Les Halles, addresses of dressmakers guaranteed to furnish Augustabernard fashions at S. Klein prices.
So Cordwood sighed and at last prepared to be happy. And at that moment Mrs. Berklund nipped at him, in the manner of a dog snapping up a fly, and demanded, "I hate to bother you, but they just won't give the slightest bit of help in the tourist office, and I must find out the address of my second cousin that's studying art, or maybe it's music, here in Paris, from Iowa, Mary Daedal Smith her name is—"
Then Cordwood blew up.
"Listen! I've brought you all here. I've arranged for autos to take you anywhere you want to go. I've had a Baedeker Guide and a Gideon Bible and the latest number of 'Screen Scrapings' put in every single dern bedroom. And now I quit being nurse maid. I'm going to enjoy myself a little, now!"
Mrs. Berklund gasped. She panted, "I have never been so insulted in all my—when I just asked a civil question!" She marched away. And Cordwood, intending to dash after her and apologize, heard a gentle snicker behind him, and turned to view Maybelle Benner.
"I don't know what came over me! I've never talked to nobody like that before!" he lamented.
"I thought you were very sound on the subject. I've been waiting to see when you'd show maybe about half as much sense as it takes to mow a lawn," said Maybelle. "Come to the Louvre with me—just the two of us—tomorrow morning."
"I don't know what a Louvre is—it sounds like some kind of a cat-disease our Twinkie has got the loove but whatever it is, I'll go."
"Do you happen to know that Mr. Willoughby is getting a commission on all the rooms here?"
"Rats! Don't believe a word—uh—what makes you think so?"
"I heard him talking to the manager."
"You mean to say, Maybelle, that you've been sneaking and snooping and following after that poor young fella?"
"Certainly not. I didn't follow him one bit. I just sort of made it my business to be around where he was."
"Oh, Well. Thunder. I don't suppose he'll graft more 'n a few hundred. He deserves it. 'T'adn't been for him, I'd be dead by now."
"Very well...Here in the lobby, ten-thirty tomorrow morning."
"Betcha. And then again, it kind of sounds like a musical instrument—he played 'Old Black Joe' on his loove."
His first evening in Pans Cordwood spent with Lester Doggins, whom he had sent there to study the violin.
Cordwood had been embarrassed by the fear that Les would show up in a black beard and a wine-colored velvet jacket—which he had learned from a veracious movie was the required uniform of all artists in Paris. He was relieved to see that Les was smooth-shaven, wearing the same gray suit in which he had left Jackrabbit, and whooping with unrefined Jackrabbitan heartiness; relieved equally when Les—frequently emitting, "Well, by jiminy! it's grand to see you again!" led him not to a questionable den of art and the vices but to a sound, wholesome American saloon, called "Eddie's Chicago Bar." It was filled with American agents for sewing machines, automobiles, and machine guns; it was adorned with rye highballs, portraits of Coolidge and Harding, genuine hot dogs, college youths on vacation, cigarette advertisements, and all the other native American works of art for which Cordwood was already homesick. He sighed with happiness, and joined Les in an old-fashioned.
"Where'll we go to dinner?" hinted Les.
"You name it. Take you to the best joint in this man's town."
Les sighed with happiness and joined him in a second old-fashioned.
This was at 6:30 p.m.
At 7:30 Cordwood delicately noted that Les looked rather shabby. Les wept and said, yes, he had worked like a dog, he had saved every nickle he could, but what with the enormous cost of music lessons and resin—
At 8:30 Cordwood also wept, and pressed—after some difficulty in writing it—a check for a thousand dollars into Les's hand.
Les said he was unworthy of it, but he would try to show his appreciation by becoming one of the best dog-gone radio fiddlers in America and then, rather quickly drying his tears, suggested, "Hadn't we better go feed now?"
"You bet. But let's have an old-fashioned first."
At 9:30 things seemed to Cordwood a little confused. He would have sworn that a newspaper correspondent, a canned-cornbeef salesman, and two congressmen who were successfully investigating the Evils of Drink in Europe had been at the table with them, but they seemed, though he looked all over for them, to have gone away.
At 4:30 a.m. he awoke, abed in his room at the hotel, completely undressed except perhaps for his hat and shoes and socks. He stared around the room. There was, apparently, no Les, no newspaperman, no canned-beef salesman, not even a congressman in sight, nor anything reminiscent of a party except a large wrapping-paper sign on which was written, apparently with lipstick, "Thanks for the Shetland pony—Les and Lily."
Never in his life to the present date—March 10, 1935—has Cord wood learned anything more about Lily or the Shetland pony.
By a judicious regimen of bromides, ice water—the one English phrase which the night floor-waiter completely understood—and walking two hours before breakfast, Cordwood was in reasonably good shape when Maybelle joined him, for what he now realized would be a nerve-wrenching attack on the Louvre.
She led him rapidly past a bewildering World's Fair of sculpture, of mosaics, of enamels, to the Grande Galerie, and he flinched as he guessed that he was expected to enjoy the paintings of Carpaccio, Bugiardini, Mantegna, Cosimo. He peered at them cautiously. Nobody was going to catch him saying the wrong thing. Then he was shocked. He actually liked them! They weren't as slick as magazine covers maybe or as the silken ankles which, for unknown reasons, advertise motor-car bodies, but they were—oh—homelike, these kind-faced madonnas and saints in gold and scarlet robes—just such old boys, really, as he had known and yarned with in Iumber camps and workshops and farmhouses.
He had a second's dreadful suspicion. Maybe, since he actually liked them, they weren't the real goods, and Maybelle had led him in here as a practical joke, to that he'd show his ignorance. But no, she too—he cautiously sneaked in a look over his shoulder—seemed to appreciate 'em. Gosh! Suppose he, Cordwood McGash of Jackrabbit Creek, really was all okay on this good taste and highbrow stuff. Wouldn't that knock Perce's eye out, if he ever learned it! Wouldn't Reverend Mitch have a fit if that happened to be true. Gee!
In half an hour Maybelle said, as though she were forgiving him for something, "Well, shall we go on to another room?"
"Heh? Oh. Oh, no, let's see some more of these."
And it was she, not Cordwood, who finally shifted tired feet and rubbed smarting eyes, and squeaked in a small exhausted voice, "Let's go now and come back another day. I do love these Old Masters—well, I guess I do—but an hour and a half, that's all I can stand at a time."
"Heh? Oh—oh, all right. Let's come back this afternoon."
He could not understand it but it seemed to him that Maybelle Benner was looking at him with an admiration she had never exhibited before.
In the Tuileries he hesitated, "Lookit—uh—we may never be in Paris again and—uh—take a chance for once and come sit with me at one of these sidewalk cafes. You know. Interesting to watch the crowds and—"
"Well, uh," she said intelligently.
She seemed to like the small marble-topped tables, the blue siphons, the early July sun through the striped yellow awnings. She sighed, not unhappily, and she almost made Cordwood blush by boldly taking off her eye-glasses, when suddenly her naked eyes seemed quite human.
To the waiter she murmured, "Coffee."
Cordwood ventured, "Say I'd kind of—got a little indigestion this morning and—"
"Oh, have your brandy and soda." She sounded a little weary. "You'll have it sooner or later, anyway, so you might as well indulge your carnal tastes openly."
"You bet your life I'm going to indulge my carnal tastes! Waiter!"
"Brandy and soda, and make it carnal!"
"Yessir, carnal brandysoda—three star carnal, sir?"
"You would be an atrocious person to try to handle. You'd be so meek and so conscious of your general plumb low-down worthlessness nine-tenths of the time, and then just when some one had your feet all nicely planted on the straight and narrow, you'd jump off it and go scooting off through the sagebrush, snickering. I don't know what I'm going to do with you!"
He could hear it—no doubt about it, no illusion at all—he could hear his own voice saying, with a ghastly hollow mirth, "Well, you might marry me." But he didn't quite say it, though he knew that he was probably doing a dirty trick in failing to do what was so clearly expected. He choked it down. He stopped his mouth with revivifying brandy and soda and when he had done coughing, he said hastily:
"Didn't know if I'd like those old pictures or not but, by golly, they're kind of interesting. Don't suppose the French Government would sell some of 'em, do you? Be nice to take 'em back to Jackrabbit. That would cer'nly make Blizzard Junction jealous!"
"Yes. I should think they'd be about as willing to sell them as to sell Napoleon's tomb."
"Oh, now, rats, Maybelle, you're kidding me. They'd never sell Napoleon's tomb...Or would they? That would be something to have in Jackrabbit!"
As they trudged back to the hotel, he felt that the trusting companionship in which they had sat down at the cafe had somehow been frosted over.
The second time that Les Doggins took him out, he almost fulfilled Cordwood's first panic fears about artiness. Les had not, in two days, grown a spade beard, but he had put his Jackrabbit Creek suit back into the mothballs—Cordwood felt suspicious about that, somehow—and he appeared in a ballooning belted suit of corduroys, a blue flannel shirt with an orange tie of crinkly raw silk, and a vast and flapping black hat. And he took Cordwood not to a dependable place like Eddie's Bar, where you could meet catsup-salesmen and congressmen, but to a dismal stone-floored cellar on the Left Bank.
"Now I'll show you a real, genuine French place, tonight, and if Madame Mogador likes you, you'll be right in with the real inner set. And incidentally, what food! Ah!"
Les kissed his finger tips. Cordwood restrained himself from homicide, not yet having looked up in Baedeker the French laws on the subject.
Madame Mogador's establishment was indeed French, except for perhaps one hundred per cent of its patrons. It had a magpie in a cage, menus written in what looked like indelible pencil that had been exposed to the rain, damp napkins, and a poster of the P.L.M. railway, advocating a journey to Roman ruins which pleasingly resembled a partly consumed cheese. Madame Mogador herself had a wig and she had not shaved that morning. She sat at a cashier's desk that was reminiscent of a pulpit and she nodded, but coldly, to Les Doggin's perfervid "B'soir, M'dame."
"We're great friends, the Madame and me. I tell you, Cordwood, there's folks from the Right Bank, dukes and cabinet ministers and American bankers and everybody, that've been coming here for years, trying to get chummy with her, but she don't care who you are—she's just as likely to take in some little painter you never heard of as she is the Prince of Wales," said Les.
"I see." Cordwood did not sound his usual sunny, Maymorning, wildrose self. "I've heard about folks like her. I heard in New York that if you can get one of these fancy Wop hair-dressers to okay you, that just fixes you up socially for life. Wouldn't it be hell—wouldn't it just about ruin my sojourn in Paris, if the Madame didn't like me! Say! I know now—she looks like the cook I had once on my ranch."
"Who was she?"
"She? Hell! He was a he. But he didn't have as good a moustache as the Madame. Well say, my boy, d' you think your influence with the Madame is strong enough to get that waiter to quit picking his teeth and come take an order?"
But, Cordwood admitted, the ministrone Mogador was really good—as good as any canned soup he had ever opened.
They wound up at the Ecrevisse Internationale, where exiled white Russians sang negro spirituals, and Alabama negroes sang Cossack folk-songs, very depressing and beautiful, and Les Doggins who, for a Jackrabbit Creek boy, seemed to know a lot of Parisian girls, brought any number of monkey-chattering young females to the table and signified that they were broad-minded and would be willing to have Cordwood buy for them, if he was nice about it. But Cordwood himself, since he was again going to the Louvre with Maybelle next morning, stuck to Italian vermouth.
He went home at eleven.
It was on the next night, after he had gone to a motion-picture (American) with the Tengboms and Mrs. Tinkerbun, when he was respectably retiring at midnight, that Les clamored at his bedroom door, leapt in, bolted the door, and gasped, "My God, you've got to hide me!"
In slippers, cotton undershirt, and trousers with suspenders wreathed about his middle. Cordwood was in no costume nor mood to play melodrama with this Bohemian figure with blue shirt, orange tie, desperately waving hat, and disordered hair. He growled, "What the—"
"I've killed a man!"
"Just now! I was crossing the Luxembourg Gardens when a man came up to me, a perfect stranger, he was an Italian count, and he said—"
"How juh know he was an Italian count?"
"Oh, how? Oh, I knew. He was drunk."
"This count, or you?"
"He was. I was perfectly sober."
"You're not now."
"I know it. I had a drink. Would you stay sober if you'd just killed a man?"
"Not if he was an Italian count, I wouldn't. I'd be drinking myself. But there, boy. I'll watch out for you. What really happened?"
"He come up—came up to me, and he said, 'All Americans are sons of inferior animals—'"
("Not all," muttered Cordwood, thinking of his caravan, but it was not loud enough to interrupt Les's agony.)
"—and I said to him, 'You take that back,' and he sneered at me, and I hit him, and he fell and cracked his skull open on a bench—oh, will I ever forget that sight?—and I sneaked away, and you've got to hide me from the police!"
Sobbing, Les fell upon the bed, and slipped instantly into a happy dreamless sleep, smiling with such sweet boyishness that his mother would have remembered his babyhood and crooned above his slumbers. Cordwood remembered nothing of the kind. He remembered only the time when Les had with scholarly patience punched holes in a dozen costly muskmelons in Cordwood's general store, and poured kerosene into them.
Still and all, the chump had obviously done something careless. Not that it seemed to the Cordwood who had lived in gold-rush camps and oil boom-towns important to have killed a count, especially a count who didn't owe you any recoverable money, but Europeans were, he reflected, pernickety about things like that. So he turned in, most uncomfortably, on the settee in his salon, and slid off it all night long. Les was gone, in the morning, and when Cordwood got him on the telephone at the Cafe Pourquoi—Les had explained that he used the cafe merely as a handy address, as there was no telephone at his violin instructor's—Les grumbled rather sourly, "Heard nothing about it. Guess it'll be all right."
Cordwood had reason to think of Les that evening, for he had invited the young genius to a dinner which he was giving at the Hotel Splendide et de la Siberie, the entire nine hundred pilgrims; he had assumed that Les would spring with joy at seeing all his old neighbors. But Les did not spring to the extent of showing up at the dinner.
The affair proceeded magnificently through green turtle soup, with sherry and invocation by the Reverend Mr. Mitch, soie Marguery, with Brauneberger Hasenlaufer and thanks to our host by Mr. Scallion, caneton presse, with Moulin a vent and apt remarks, also humor, by Professor Thrig of the Jackrabbit schools, through roast and salad and sweet. At eleven-thirty it was really getting down to the speeches, with a patriotic address by Judge Stubber, to the effect that however wicked Paris might be, we in America could be proud of the fact that New York and Chicago were just as wicked any day or night, when the assistant manager wriggled up to Cordwood and whispered, "Surr, there is a man outside, he says he is a friend of you, he must see you—a Monsieur Doughgins."
"——," stated Cordwood, but he went.
Les Doggins was crouched on the edge of a chair in the anteroom, still in the blue shirt and orange tie, and with a really promising sign of the black beard. He sprang up. He hissed—no matter if there weren't any s's in the words, he contrived to hiss them just the same; "You've got to help me. You've got to hide me from the police. I've killed a man—an Italian count. I fought a duel with him—"
"In the Luxembourg Gardens?"
"How did you know? Have the police been here—"
"Les! Do you know what's the trouble with you? Somebody's bought you some liquor." Wearily then, to the assistant manager: "Take this man up to a bedroom. Remove anything that's easily busted. Leave a pitcher of ice water and some aspirin—yes, and I think a good hymn book, if you've got one handy—and then lock him up, and don't let him out till eight tomorrow morning, and send me the bill."
And the next night, precisely at midnight again, when Cordwood was going to bed happy in the thought that his bedroom and salon doors were bolted and safe against all Les Dogginses whatever, he was terrified at seeing a ghost on the ledge outside his window, and to have Les part the drapes and tumble in, mumbling, "Gotta hide me from the police. I just killed—"
"An Italian count in Luxembourg Gardens?"
With hurt dignity, with wide and senatorial gestures, Les remonstrated, "It was not! It was a Spanish duke. In Blizzard Junction. Killed him. Duel!"
Cordwood, as he unlocked the door, was brief.
"Doggins, who's your music teacher?"
Les smiled cunningly. "You can't fool me. I haven't got any! I'm studying to be a sculptor now!"
"When d' you quit the violin?"
"Months ago. Aley-aley, aleeeee-hoooooi Old Cordwood, the pore ole soak. Come have a drink!"
"Doggins, I've got a nice secretary. Percy Willoughby is his name. Tomorrow morning, just before you kill your first count, Percy will call on you with your ticket to America—third-class—and help you pack and take you to the boat train."
"And supposin' I won't go, you old double-faced, lumber stealin', claim-jumpin' pirate? What'll happen then? Aley-aley-hoooooo!"
"Oh, nothing. You'll just starve here in Paris, after my thousand is gone. Your allowance stopped promptly at midnight, tonight. But I might have Perce find out how many creditors you have, and tip 'em off that you're in funds just now."
Then for once, perhaps for the first time in his life, Les Doggins ceased looking calf-like and, much fortified within, became ferocious. He picked up a chair; he swung it aloft, shrieking, "All right! Good! I don't want your dirty money, that you stole. But meanwhile, I'm going to have a little fun with you!"
It did not occur to Cordwood to be afraid of this drunk, thirty years his junior. He had known when lumberjacks had given up stamping the faces of their opponents with spiked hoots, as being too effeminate a gesture, and had taken to gouging out eyes. He moved catwise. But he didn't like it. The furniture would get a good deal broken up and that wasn't really nice. The hotel manager might not care for it. He reached behind him for a heavy pottery bowl on a console. Les screamed in pure imbecile rage and came on, swinging the chair.
The door opened and Maybelle Benner, in a quilted lavender dressing-gown and an awful black rubber cap on her nose, marched in, took one look, and snapped, "Lester O'Ginnis Doggins! You put that chair down, right away!"
Les drooped; the chair drooped; Les turned humbly toward Mrs. Benner.
"To think I taught you for two years in Sunday School—and a nasty little boy you were, too, and you always gambled your penny away, instead of putting it in the collection. And to this day you don't know your Golden Texts! Hey? What book of the Bible does 'Hadad died also. And the dukes of Edom were: duke Timnah, duke Aliah, duke Jetheth,' come from? Hey?"
"I forget," whimpered Les.
"You would! And I still owe you one for putting turpentine in my kitten's milk, and I have half a mind to warm your jacket right here and now but—you get out of here, quick, and don't you dare come back!"
"Yessum," moaned Les Doggins, and fled, never again to adorn these pages.
As Cordwood was about to take the most daring chance of his life and embrace Maybelle, dressing-gown and nose-mask and all, they realized that Les had left the door open and that gathered outside were a score of the weightiest citizens of Jackrabbit Creek. The choir-soprano voice of Mrs. Mitch lilted, "And him in his shirt-sleeves, too! No wonder Mr. Doggins couldn't stand such goin's-on—sensitive poet-soul like him!"
The nine-hundred-odd pilgrims had worked faithfully at enjoying themselves, but they hadn't been successful. They had done their duty by all of the thirty seven churches worth seeing. They had faithfully chipped pieces of stone out of the palace at Fontainebleau to take home as souvenirs. They had eaten snails and Breton tripe when they wanted buckwheats and hash. And now they were forlorn and given to audible wonder as to why the dickens anybody who had a nice home with his own pet rocking chair would ever leave it.
The scandal of discovering Cordwood and Mrs. Benner in such intimacy brought their rebellion to the barricades. Mr. Mitch and Mr. Scallion and Mrs. Berklund assembled some eighty of the really significant pilgrims in secret conclave in the dining-room of the Hotel Minauderie. Few meetings since the granting of the Magna Carta have been more filled with indignation and whereases. Mr. Scallion, as chairman, was in magnificent form. He was as gentle as though he were back home, refusing a loan on a quarter-section. He had a voice, did Mr. Scallion. It rang like the ice beneath December skates upon Jackrabbit Slew, it moaned like the wind in the cottonwoods, it blared like the Jackrabbit Band, as he read the demands of the steering committee:
"Whereas we, the undersigned, had not got any desire to come to Europe till we were so invited to do so by Mr. S. G. McGash. Esq., and whereas said McGash, unmindful of his duties as an American citizen and paying no attention to the rest of us, has been bumming around Paris all the time with Mrs. Maybelle Benner and we all wish to go on record right here and now as being opposed to her being reappointed to her job as principal of the Junior High—
"Therefore we demand of the said Mr McGash, Esq., that he not keep us penned and imprisoned here in Paris but since it was his idea in the first place anyway that we should go abroad and he talked a lot about us enjoying ourselves like we liked, that he accede to our demands as follows, viz:
"Mr Scallion to go to England and to be provided with letters to American ambassador and to Governor of Bank of England, with several Lords, etc., to study financial conditions, etc., etc., also suite in high-class hotel. With Mrs. Scallion and Mervyn.
"Rev. and Mrs. Mitch and family to investigate missions in Turkey, India, China, Japan.
"Mr. Cohen & Mr. Cabot to investigate questionable morals in Monte Carlo.
"Dr. Berklund to take two-year course in surgery, psychoanalysis, German skiing in Vienna—P.S. he is willing to pay fifty dollars ($50.00) per month toward salary of substitute doc to hold his practise during said period, rest of salary to be met by said McGash.
"Miss Benicia Axelbrod is willing to remain in Paris, to study as beautician, but requires flat, hired girl, and letters of introduction, otherwise willing to get along on two hundred fifty ($250.00) a month during said term of study."
There were only seventy-four other demands, because one of the council, Mrs. Pandora Gittle, wailed, "All I want to do is to go home to Jackrabbit—quick. I just know I left the light on in the cellar!"
They appointed a delegation of three to call on Cordwood and quietly make him see the light, but just as the meeting was adjourning, Cordwood walked in on it, swiftly, followed by Percy Willoughby. He knew all about it. Sister Tinkerbun had been listening to the whole affair from the service door of the dining-room and she had run sputtering to Cordwood.
Cordwood banged a table with a noise surprising from so small a hand, and announced, "I hear you folks have decided to go off on your own. Fine! I'd planned to take you to London and Italy and a lot of places. But as you've all took over charge of this circus, I won't have to bother. By tomorrow noon, your steamer tickets will all be ready—call at my travel office for them.
"We sail on the Dolorous day after tomorrow. She's a one-class ship, and we won't be able to give single gents and ladies no cabins to themselves, also by golly, you buy your own booze. Them as doesn't claim tickets by six tomorrow afternoon pays their own way back to Jackrabbit."
The rebels were too dazed to realize much save that from the dining-room door Maybelle Benner was pouring upon Cordwood an admiration that was a bit embarrassing, and that she even gave to Percy Willoughby such an amiable glance as she might have given to a dish of waffles on a winter morning, and that arm in arm with her was the Sister Tinkerbun whom once they had looked upon as a pot-walloper and a yes-woman.
The voyage of the S.S. Dolorous was not very inspiriting. She was a strictly business-like vessel, an old-fashioned craft, which attended only to getting people across the ocean, and provided neither gilded ballrooms, swimming-pools, private baths, red tissue-paper gala caps, nor in any other manner tried to emulate Atlantic City or Yom Kippur. The disconsolate pilgrims (only seventeen had angrily remained behind in Paris, on their own) had all evening long the spectacle of Cordwood, Percy, Maybelle, Sister Tinkerbun, Manny Ilgenfritz, Oley Tengbom, and Sime Bendelari being jocular around a large smoking-room table weedy with glasses, but as for themselves, they could dance to a phonograph—or not dance to a phonograph. Worst of all, the now disgraced Cordwood seemed much happier than he had coming over on the Dipsomania.
But on the third day out, Cordwood's cheerfulness vanished with a great and terrible vanishment.
He received—collect—from Jackrabbit, from Sheriff Pimbury, a radiogram. "Whole town Jackrabbit burning up doubt if we can save anything except memorial fountain." He had scarcely finished groaning over the message when he had a second: "Looks like Colonel Blight and gang got away with all cash in bank vaults county treasury postoffice before fire started stop probably set fire stop wire instructions Bert Pimbury."
The third was: "Rescued marble top table seven cocktail shakers lawn-mower bronze statue seems be heathen goddess from your home what want done with these."
Before he dared tell his once friendly neighbors that they had lost all their goods, Cordwood worked for hours with Percy. He would have spent about a million dollars, out of his seven, before he got his lambs all home. They estimated that it would take about three million to rebuild the town and get it started.
"By golly, that still leaves me three million, and even this traveling didn't pan out so good, I don't see any way of getting rid of the rest," sighed Cordwood. Then he brightened, in memory of 1929: "Except maybe by getting the very best advice from the soundest kind of brokers and bankers and investing in absolutely safe securities on their advice."
When the news of the conflagration was made known to the ship, Mr. Scallion tried to jump overboard. Mrs. Ben Pilshaw, wife of the hay and feed store, went about moaning, "My lovely new overstuffed davenport!" Irving Berklund wailed, "My radio—just when I thought I'd gotten Kalamazoo." But whatever their griefs individually, they joined as one man in blaming Cordwood. Except for him, they would never have left their homes unguarded. Within an hour, there was among all of them a confused but passionate feeling that Cordwood had slipped over to America, probably by aeroplane, and started the fire himself. Indignation meetings were held in every stateroom, in the smoking-room, even in the bathrooms where miserable bather called to bather from his tub.
Percy gathered them all into the dining-room after dinner, and Cordwood announced that he would, if possible, make it good to all of them.
They jabbered at him. You bet he'd make it good to them or they'd—. When they stopped for a second to try to think just what they would do, if he failed them. Maybelle Benner shot up and addressed the meeting, uninvited by either party in this war:
"I call it real good of Mr. McGash. And just kindly remember that he's under no necessity of doing a single thing. And if he does rebuild for you, out of the goodness of his heart, you'll have new houses, and clean ones, which is more than a lot of you had when we started off! Now I advise you to all quiet right down and go make lists of what you think you've lost, or are going to say you've lost, and bring 'em to Mr. Willoughby, and maybe he'll get Mr. McGash to allow them."
"I don't think I like that woman, Mrs. Benner, any more," whispered Mrs. Berklund to Mrs. Mitch.
With considerable speed they scattered to their several cabins and began frantically to scribble lists on very, very large sheets of paper; and to gallop toward Cordwood's cabin with the lists, to get in first.
They must have had exceptional memories—perhaps due to the superior air and water of Jackrabbit County. Among two hundred other items, old Mrs. Peasewick recalled and described in detail sixteen patchwork quilts, a noble antique clock perfect in every way except that since the second battle of Bull Run, no one had been able to make it go, twelve hem-stitched towels none of which had been used for more than a generation, and a library of nineteen books, including five by Harold Bell Wright. The stocks-in-trade of the various stores and small factories made an impressive showing. Sime Bendelari—though privately he was food of Cordwood, or at least of Cordwood's poker and liquor—estimated a stock which would have made a handsome showing in a chain of twenty urban drug-stores, and Cohen & Cabot claimed a loss of such imperial, such fabulous wares as would have set up a New York—even a Chicago—department store.
Cordwood received all these claims with scarcely a whimper. He muttered only, "I never noticed any fifty-dollar pajamas in Cohen & Cabot's!" He would have paid every claim, but Percy and Maybelle were firm. They clamored about things like insurance, inventories, appraisers. They kept him up all one night, jabbing at him, till he agreed to set up a court composed of Percy, Mr. Scallion—a crank of the first water but an honest crank—and Judge Kilgore to pass on the claims and to pay what seemed just, receiving from each claimant a receipt and a promise to pay back whatever the experts should later pronounce to have been an excess.
Night and day, till they landed, this court sat wearily at its foul task, arguing with indignant suitors who explained that in a two-thousand dollar house they had cunningly concealed a grand piano, $10,000 in bills, and a couple of tiaras from the smuggled Russian court-jewels. The court allowed Cordwood to come around, now and then, and he sat back looking drab and shabby and insignificant in his supposedly new wardrobe. Not again did he tell happy stories of homicide in lumbercamps to lively parties in the smoking-room.
The judges paid out nearly three million, of which, they estimated, Cordwood might get back half a million...Some day. That, felt Cordwood lugubriously, still left him rather too rich—three million he still had on his books.
The night before they landed, Percy came to him with a glorious suggestion. Cordwood should stay in New York—if he went back to Jackrabbit with the clamorous refugees, they would badger him to death. He, the good Percy, would conduct them back, Cordwood would better give him a little personal check, say five hundred thousand or so, and with this Percy would meet all their first needs, in cash...being careful always, he explained, to get legal receipts from them.
"Fine! I never did get to see New York. I'll stay couple of weeks or so. Five hundred thousand—that be enough?" said Cordwood gratefully. "Maybe I can get Mrs. Benner to stay—with Sister Tinkerbun for chaperon."
Maybelle and Mrs. Tinkerbun were graciously willing to stay, after he had spoken with hoarse eloquence of night clubs and the wonders of Grant's tomb, and the three of them saw off at the station the now more nearly forgiving nine hundred.
They really had a very good time, in New York. They drank non-alcoholic cocktails in Rockefeller Center. They viewed Roy Chapman Andrews and Will Beebe at the Natural History Museum.
But they were not altogether dissipated. Came a night when Maybelle demanded: "Cordwood, dear."
"Yes," said Cordwood.
"I want a check for $500,000."
Now that was very nearly a blow. Maybelle had been the only person in America who hadn't tried to touch him. It made him feel lonely. Then hastily, she said:
"Oh, no, no, no! Not for myself! To rebuild the Community House in Jackrabbit! We mustn't let that lovely thing go!" she maintained earnestly.
"I see!" said Cordwood, happily signing.
Next morning, as Maybelle and Sister Tinkerbun were getting permanent waves—and where they ever learned that there were such things as permanent waves this chronicler has been unable to discover—Cordwood thought it might be well to drop in and see his New York lawyers. They greeted him, he thought, with some coldness. The head of the firm, Mr. Guidelpop, making a brave show with his eye-glasses, demanded, "Mr. McGash, I am, if I may say so, a bit worried about your investments. They seem to me, if I may say so, to be diminishing at a dangerous rate. Now this two million dollars that your agent, Colonel Blight, withdrew—"
"Blight? Two million?"
"Why yes—on your power of attorney."
"Could I see that there power of attorney?"
It was forged.
And so it came to pass that Cordwood McGash, a simple and quite decent fellow who had recently been worrying about the spending of his exorbitant fortune, walked out on the street penniless. He had supposed that he would like it, but in truth, when he thought of again batching it, in a tarpaper shack, with greasy tin dishes, he wasn't entirely happy.
Then—to the alarm of the traffic cop at Thirty-fourth and Fifth Avenue—he stopped on the corner and laughed. Idiot! Of course! What foolishness! Didn't good old Percy Willoughby have $500,000 of his? So, happily, he came into his hotel, to find a telegram from Mr. Scallion:
"Do you know where Willoughby is? Seems to have disappeared. Got off train at Newark and has not been seen since."
Now Cordwood had been the joy of the hotel. He had always tipped the bell boys a dollar each and the slightest smile from the elevator starter had been good for a five. They were all a little hurt this morning when, after receiving his telegram, he strode to the elevator without tipping anybody on the way.
But, in the elevator, he laughed again.
"Well, anyway," he chuckled, "there is no chance that Maybelle will marry me. I dunno that it'll be so bad to be batching it again. Beans are pretty damn good when you cook 'em right."
He opened the door to his suite. Maybelle was sitting there.
"Five hundred thousand dollars, at five per cent is twenty-five thousand dollars a year—and that is more than anybody deserves to have in the world," she said. "You see, the Community House that I was thinking about is our Community House in Paris."
"I see," said Cordwood. "But isn't it necessary to get a marriage license and a steamer ticket?"
Maybelle laughed. "I have them all ready," she said.
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