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A short story by Wardon Allan Curtis

The Adventure Of William Hicks

Title:     The Adventure Of William Hicks
Author: Wardon Allan Curtis [More Titles by Curtis]

Young William Hicks was a native of the village of Bensonville, in the southern part of Illinois. Having, at the age of twenty, graduated at the head of a class of six in the village school, his father thought to reward him for his diligence in study by a short trip to the city of Chicago, which metropolis William had never beheld. Addressing him in a discourse which, while not long, abounded in valuable advice, Mr. Hicks presented his son with a sum of money sufficient for a stay of a week, provided it were not expended imprudently.

One evening, William was walking along Wabash Avenue, feeling somewhat lonely as he soberly reflected that not one in all that vast multitude cared anything about him, when he heard himself accosted in a most cheery manner, and looking up, beheld a beautiful lady smiling at him. It was plain that she belonged to the upper classes. A hat of very large proportions, ornamented with a great ostrich plume, shaded a head of lovely yellow hair. She was clothed all in rustling purple silk and sparkled with jewelry. Her cheeks and lips glowed with a carmine quite unknown among the fair but pale damosels of Bensonville, which is situated in a low alluvial location, surrounded by flat plains, the whole being somewhat damp and malarial. William had never imagined eyes so wide open and glistening.

"My name is Willy, to be sure. But you have the advantage of me, for ashamed as I am to say it, I cannot quite recall you. You are not the lady who came to Bensonville and stayed at the Campbellite minister's?"

"Oh, how are all the dear folks in Bensonville? But, say, Will, don't you want to come along with me awhile and talk it all over?"

"I should be honored to do so, if you will lead the way. I confess I am lonely to-night, and I always enjoy talking over old times."

At this juncture, a sudden look of alarm spread over the lady's beauteous face and a lumbering minion of the law stepped before her.

"Up to your old tricks, eh?" he growled. "Didn't I tell you that the next time I caught you tackling a man, I'd run you in? Run you in it is. Come on, now."

"Oh, oh," panted the lady, and great tears welled into her adorable eyes. At that moment, there was a crash in the street, as a poor Italian exile had his push cart overturned by the sudden and unexpected backing of a cab. The policeman turned to look and, like a frightened gazelle, the lady bounded away, closely followed by young William.

"Is there nothing I can do? Cannot I complain to the judge for you, or address a communication to some paper describing and condemning this conduct?"

"Is he coming? Is he coming?" asked the lady, piteously.

"No. But if he were, I would strike him, big as he is. Cannot a former visitor in Bensonville greet one of its citizens without interference from the police?"

Hereupon the lady, who seemed to be giving little heed to what William was saying, beyond the information that the policeman was not in pursuit, gave a gay little laugh of relief, which caused William's eyes to light in pitying sympathy.

"Now that we are away from him, what do you say to a friendly game of cards somewhere, to pass away the evening, which hangs heavy on my hands and doubtless does on yours?"

"I have never played cards," said William, "for while there is nothing intrinsically wrong in them, they are the vehicle of much that is injurious, and at the very least, they cause one to fritter away valuable time in profitless amusement."

"Oh, la! you are wrong there," said the lady, with a little silvery laugh. "They are not a profitless amusement. Why, a man has to keep his brains in good trim when he plays cards, and whist is just as good a mental exercise as geometry and algebra, or any other study where the mind is engaged upon various problems. You see I stand up for cards, for I teach whist myself and I assure you that many of the leading ladies of this city spend their time in little else than whist, which they would not do if cards were what you say. Before you pass your opinion, why not let me show you some of the fine points, and then you will have something to base your judgment upon."

William, quite impressed by the elegance and social standing of the lady, as well as influenced by her beauty, despite her evident seniority of ten or fifteen years, assented, and the lady continued:

"I would invite you to my own apartments, but they are so far away, and as we are now in front of the Hotel Dieppe, let us go up and engage a room for a few hours and I will teach you a few little interesting tricks with which you can amuse the people of Bensonville, and even obtain some profit, if you wish to. What do you say?"

William averring that he would be pleased to receive the proffered instruction, she led the way up a flight of stairs and paused in the doorway of the hotel office, for the Hotel Dieppe was a hostelry of no great pretentions and occupied the upper stories of a building, the lower floors of which were devoted to a furniture emporium. Behind the counter stood a low-browed clerk with a large diamond in his shirt front, who scrutinized them keenly.

"You get the room," said the lady, coyly. "I'm bashful and don't like to go in there where are all those smoking men. You may take it in my name if you wish,--Madeleine Montmorency."

"Number 15," said the clerk, and in a space William found himself in a dark room, alone with the lady, and heard the door close behind them and the key turn in the lock.

"We are locked in!" exclaimed Miss Montmorency.

"What's that?" said a deep voice in the darkness.

Miss Montmorency screamed, and screamed again as William turned on the light and they beheld a man lying in bed!

William was stepping hastily to her side to shield her vision from this improper spectacle, when he paused as if frozen to the floor. The man was now sitting up in bed and he had a red flannel night gown, one eye, AND TWO NOSES!

"What the devil are you doing here?" exclaimed the monster in the red flannel nightgown.

"That I will gladly tell you, for I would not have you believe that we wantonly intruded upon your slumbers." And thereupon William related that he was a citizen of Bensonville who had met a former visitor there and they had come here to talk over mutual acquaintances and improve their minds by discreet discourse. "But, sir," he said, in concluding, "pardon my natural curiosity concerning yourself. Who are you and why are you?"

"If I had the printed copies of my life here, I would gladly sell you one, but I left them all behind. My name is Walker Sheldrup. I am registered from Springfield, Mass., but I am from Dubuque, Iowa. I was born in Sedalia, Mo., where my father was a prominent citizen. It was he who led the company of men who, with five ox teams, hauled the courthouse away from Georgetown and laid the foundations of Sedalia's greatness. Had he lived, Sedalia would not have tried in vain to swipe the capital from Jefferson City. As a youth I was distinguished--but I'll cut all that out. Your presence here and the door being locked behind you only too surely warns me that we have no time to lose. They have taken you for the snake-eating lady and the rubber-skinned boy, who ran away when I did and who were to meet me here in Chicago. If you will turn your heads away so I can dress, I will continue. You have heard of prenatal influences. Shortly before I was born, my mother made nine pumpkin pies and set them to cool on a stone wall beneath the shade of a large elm. As luck would have it, a menagerie passed by and an elephant grabbed those pies one after another and ate them. The sight of that enormous pachyderm gobbling my mother's cherished handiwork, completely upset her. I was born with two noses like the two tusks of the beast. At the same time, like the trunk, they are movable. My two noses are as mobile and useful as two fingers and if you have a quarter with you, I will gladly perform some curious feats. My noses being so near together, ordinarily, I join them with flesh-colored wax. I then seem to have but one nose, although a very large one. I thus escape the annoying attention of the multitude, which is very disagreeable to a proud man of good family, like me. Young man, do you ever drink? In Dubuque, they got me drunk so I didn't know what I was about and I signed a contract with a dime museum company for twenty-five dollars a week. Take warning from my fate. Never drink, never drink."

"I can well imagine your sufferings at being a spectacle for a ribald crowd," said William. "To a man of refined sensibilities, it must be excruciating, and it was an outrage to entrap you into such a contract."

"I ought to have had seventy-five and could have got fifty. So I ran away. Well, now, how are we going to get out of here? Can you climb over the transom, young man?"

As he said these words, the door flew open and in rushed some villainous looking men, who gagged, handcuffed, and shackled Miss Montmorency, William, and the two-nosed man.

"We have the legal right to do this," said the leader, displaying the badge of the Jinkins private detective agency. "Advices from Dubuque set us at work. We early located Sheldrup at this hotel, and when the clerk saw the rubber-skinned boy and the snake-eating lady come in, he suspicioned who they was at once and by a great stroke, put 'em in with old two-nose. Do you think we are going to put you through for breach of contract and for swiping that money out of the till on the claim it was due you on salary? Nit. Cost too much, take too much time, and you git sent to jail instead of being back in the museum helping draw crowds. We are in for saving time and trouble for you, us, and your employer. To-night you ride out of here for Dubuque, covered up with hay, in the corner of the car carrying the new trick horse for the museum. Save your fare and all complications. Now, boys, we want to work this on the quiet, so we will just leave 'em all here until the streets are deserted and there won't be anybody around to notice us gitting 'em into the hack."

"Hadn't one of us better stay?" asked a subordinate.

"How can people gagged, their ankles shackled, their hands handcuffed behind 'em, git out? Why, I'll just leave the handcuff keys here on the table and tantalize 'em."

Tears welled in the soft, beauteous orbs of Miss Montmorency and William's eyes spoke keen distress, but Mr. Sheldrup's eyes gleamed triumphantly above the cloth tied about the lower part of his face. Hardly had the steps of the detectives died away on the stair, when a little click was heard behind Miss Montmorency and her handcuffs fell to the floor. There stood Mr. Sheldrup, politely bowing, with the key held between his two noses. She seized it and in a twinkling, the bonds of all had been removed and, forcing the door, they started away. At the street entrance stood the policeman who had insulted Miss Montmorency!

"Oh, he's waiting for me, and I'll get six months. He knew where I'd go. I haven't any money," and tears not only filled the wondrous optics of poor Miss Montmorency, but flowed down her cheeks.

"Six months, your grandmother. I'll not go back on you. Young man, follow me into the office and when I am fairly in front of the clerk, give me a shove," and the two-nosed man, with a grip in each hand, walked up to the clerk and began to rebuke him for his ungentlemanly and unprincipled conduct.

"You white-livered son of a sea-cook, you double-dyed, concentrated essence of a skunk," and at that moment young William pushed him and the two-nosed gentleman lurched forward, and bending his head to avoid contact with the clerk's face, it rested against the latter's bosom for a moment. Departing immediately, at the foot of the stairs the two-nosed gentleman said to the policeman:

"Officer, please let this lady pass. For various reasons, I desire it enough to spare this stud, which will look well upon the best policeman on the force."

"All right," said the policeman. "Go along for all of me, Bet Higgins," and he courteously accepted the diamond.

"My stage name," said Miss Montmorency, in answer to an inquiring look from William. "The name I sign to articles in the Sunday papers."

"Now of course they are watching all the depots," said the two-nosed gentleman. "Before they located me here they did that, and as they have also been looking for the snake-eating lady and the rubber-skinned boy, our late captors have not had time to notify them that we have been captured. It is useless to try to escape that way, then; it is too far to walk out, or go by street car, and as it is a fair, moonlight night with a soft breeze, I am for getting a boat and sailing out."

After some search, they found a small sail boat. Miss Montmorency had decided to flee from the wicked city with the two-nosed gentleman. She had heard such delightful reports of Michigan. The owner of the boat not being there and there being no probability that they would ever return it, the two-nosed gentleman wrote a check on a Dubuque bank for one hundred and seventy-five dollars, and Miss Montmorency an order on the school board for a like amount, and these they pinned up where the boatman could find them.

"It will be quite like a fairy tale when the good boatman comes in the morning and finds this large sum left him by those to whom his little craft has been of such inestimable service," said William, and then for fear the boatman might not find the check and the order, in two other places he pinned up cards giving the whereabouts of the remuneration for the boat and some statement concerning the circumstances of its requisition. On the back of one of the cards had been penciled his name and city address, and though he had erased the black of this inscription, the impression yet remained distinctly legible. This erasure was not due to any desire to conceal his identity or lodgings, but because he had thought at first that he could not get all the information on one side of the card. Having seen his friends go slipping out on the deep, he turned pensively homeward, somewhat heavy of heart, for when one faces perils with another, fast friendships are quickly welded.

In the morning, young William was arrested and lodged in jail and a corrupt and venal judge laughed with contempt at his plea. After three long days in jail, came Mr. Hicks, senior, who compounded with the boat owner for two hundred and fifty dollars, the boat being, as the owner swore, of Spanish cedar with nickel-plated trimmings.

* * * * *

"That is always the way when a person of good heart befriends another," said Mr. Middleton.

"Alas, too often," said the emir of the tribe of Al-Yam. "But I am pleased to say that when once across the lake, the two-nosed gentleman married Miss Montmorency, who whatever she might be, did not lack certainly womanly qualities and had been the sport of an unkind world. Having something to live for, the two-nosed gentleman signed with a Detroit dime museum company at seventy-five dollars a week. His two noses were not the most remarkable thing about him, for in course of time hearing of young William's misadventure, he sent him a sum equivalent to all the episode had cost him, together with a handsome diamond stud, which he had with great deftness and cleverness taken from the officious policeman, as he visited the dime museum with two ladies while spending his vacation in Detroit. And this beautiful ornament William delighted to wear, not merely because of its intrinsic worth, which was considerable, but through regard for its thoughtful and considerate donor."

"The two-nosed man did truly show himself a man of gratitude, and I am glad to hear of such an instance. Yet from what you said of him in the beginning of the tale, I should not have expected it of him. How often is one deceived by appearances and how hard it is to trust to them."

"Even the wisest is unable to distinguish an enemy wearing the guise of a friend, but we may bring to our assistance the aid of forces more powerful than our poor little human intelligence. Let me present you with a talisman which will ever warn you when any one plots against you."


"How? You must wait until some one plots against you and the talisman will answer that question. Its ways of warning will be as manifold as the plots villains may conceive. Here is the talisman, an Egyptian scarabaeus of pure gold. So cunningly fashioned is it that not nature itself made ever a bug more perfect in the outward seeming."

[The end]
Wardon Allan Curtis's short story: Adventure Of William Hicks