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A short story by Stephen Leacock

Afternoon Adventures At My Club

Title:     Afternoon Adventures At My Club
Author: Stephen Leacock [More Titles by Leacock]

1.--The Anecdotes of Dr. So and So

That is not really his name. I merely call him that from his manner of talking.

His specialty is telling me short anecdotes of his professional life from day to day.

They are told with wonderful dash and power, except for one slight omission, which is, that you never know what the doctor is talking about. Beyond this, his little stories are of unsurpassed interest--but let me illustrate.

. . . . . . .

He came into the semi-silence room of the club the other day and sat down beside me.

"Have something or other?" he said.

"No, thanks," I answered.

"Smoke anything?" he asked.

"No, thanks."

The doctor turned to me. He evidently wanted to talk.

"I've been having a rather peculiar experience," he said. "Man came to me the other day--three or four weeks ago--and said, 'Doctor, I feel out of sorts. I believe I've got so and so.' 'Ah,' I said, taking a look at him, 'been eating so and so, eh?' 'Yes,' he said. 'Very good,' I said, 'take so and so.'

"Well, off the fellow went--I thought nothing of it--simply wrote such and such in my note-book, such and such a date, symptoms such and such--prescribed such and such, and so forth, you understand?"

"Oh, yes, perfectly, doctor," I answered.

"Very good. Three days later--a ring at the bell in the evening--my servant came to the surgery. 'Mr. So and So is here. Very anxious to see you.' 'All right!' I went down. There he was, with every symptom of so and so written all over him--every symptom of it--this and this and this--"

"Awful symptoms, doctor," I said, shaking my head.

"Are they not?" he said, quite unaware that he hadn't named any. "There he was with every symptom, heart so and so, eyes so and so, pulse this--I looked at him right in the eye and I said--'Do you want me to tell you the truth?' 'Yes,' he said. 'Very good,' I answered, 'I will. You've got so and so.' He fell back as if shot. 'So and so!' he repeated, dazed. I went to the sideboard and poured him out a drink of such and such. 'Drink this,' I said. He drank it. 'Now,' I said, 'listen to what I say: You've got so and so. There's only one chance,' I said, 'you must limit your eating and drinking to such and such, you must sleep such and such, avoid every form of such and such--I'll give you a cordial, so many drops every so long, but mind you, unless you do so and so, it won't help you.' 'All right, very good.' Fellow promised. Off he went."

The doctor paused a minute and then resumed:

"Would you believe it--two nights later, I saw the fellow--after the theatre, in a restaurant--whole party of people--big plate of so and so in front of him--quart bottle of so and so on ice--such and such and so forth. I stepped over to him--tapped him on the shoulder: 'See here,' I said, 'if you won't obey my instructions, you can't expect me to treat you.' I walked out of the place."

"And what happened to him?" I asked.

"Died," said the doctor, in a satisfied tone. "Died. I've just been filling in the certificate: So and so, aged such and such, died of so and so!"

"An awful disease," I murmured.

2.--The Shattered Health of Mr. Podge

"How are you, Podge?" I said, as I sat down in a leather armchair beside him.

I only meant "How-do-you-do?" but he rolled his big eyes sideways at me in his flabby face (it was easier than moving his face) and he answered:

"I'm not as well to-day as I was yesterday afternoon. Last week I was feeling pretty good part of the time, but yesterday about four o'clock the air turned humid, and I don't feel so well."

"Have a cigarette?" I said.

"No, thanks; I find they affect the bronchial toobes."

"Whose?" I asked.

"Mine," he answered.

"Oh, yes," I said, and I lighted one. "So you find the weather trying," I continued cheerfully.

"Yes, it's too humid. It's up to a saturation of sixty-six. I'm all right till it passes sixty-four. Yesterday afternoon it was only about sixty-one, and I felt fine. But after that it went up. I guess it must be a contraction of the epidermis pressing on some of the sebaceous glands, don't you?"

"I'm sure it is," I said. "But why don't you just sleep it off till it's over?"

"I don't like to sleep too much," he answered. "I'm afraid of it developing into hypersomnia. There are cases where it's been known to grow into a sort of lethargy that pretty well stops all brain action altogether--"

"That would be too bad," I murmured. "What do you do to prevent it?"

"I generally drink from half to three-quarters of a cup of black coffee, or nearly black, every morning at from eleven to five minutes past, so as to keep off hypersomnia. It's the best thing, the doctor says."

"Aren't you afraid," I said, "of its keeping you awake?"

"I am," answered Podge, and a spasm passed over his big yellow face. "I'm always afraid of insomnia. That's the worst thing of all. The other night I went to bed about half-past ten, or twenty-five minutes after,--I forget which,--and I simply couldn't sleep. I couldn't. I read a magazine story, and I still couldn't; and I read another, and still I couldn't sleep. It scared me bad."

"Oh, pshaw," I said; "I don't think sleep matters as long as one eats properly and has a good appetite."

He shook his head very dubiously. "I ate a plate of soup at lunch," he said, "and I feel it still."

"You FEEL it!"

"Yes," repeated Podge, rolling his eyes sideways in a pathetic fashion that he had, "I still feel it. I oughtn't to have eaten it. It was some sort of a bean soup, and of course it was full of nitrogen. I oughtn't to touch nitrogen," he added, shaking his head.

"Not take any nitrogen?" I repeated.

"No, the doctor--both doctors--have told me that. I can eat starches, and albumens, all right, but I have to keep right away from all carbons and nitrogens. I've been dieting that way for two years, except that now and again I take a little glucose or phosphates."

"That must be a nice change," I said, cheerfully.

"It is," he answered in a grateful sort of tone.

There was a pause. I looked at his big twitching face, and listened to the heavy wheezing of his breath, and I felt sorry for him.

"See here, Podge," I said, "I want to give you some good advice."

"About what?"

"About your health."

"Yes, yes, do," he said. Advice about his health was right in his line. He lived on it.

"Well, then, cut out all this fool business of diet and drugs and nitrogen. Don't bother about anything of the sort. Forget it. Eat everything you want to, just when you want it. Drink all you like. Smoke all you can--and you'll feel a new man in a week."

"Say, do you think so!" he panted, his eyes filled with a new light.

"I know it," I answered. And as I left him I shook hands with a warm feeling about my heart of being a benefactor to the human race.

Next day, sure enough, Podge's usual chair at the club was empty.

"Out getting some decent exercise," I thought. "Thank Heaven!"

Nor did he come the next day, nor the next, nor for a week.

"Leading a rational life at last," I thought. "Out in the open getting a little air and sunlight, instead of sitting here howling about his stomach."

The day after that I saw Dr. Slyder in black clothes glide into the club in that peculiar manner of his, like an amateur undertaker.

"Hullo, Slyder," I called to him, "you look as solemn as if you had been to a funeral."

"I have," he said very quietly, and then added, "poor Podge!"

"What about him?" I asked with sudden apprehension.

"Why, he died on Tuesday," answered the doctor. "Hadn't you heard? Strangest case I've known in years. Came home suddenly one day, pitched all his medicines down the kitchen sink, ordered a couple of cases of champagne and two hundred havanas, and had his housekeeper cook a dinner like a Roman banquet! After being under treatment for two years! Lived, you know, on the narrowest margin conceivable. I told him and Silk told him--we all told him--his only chance was to keep away from every form of nitrogenous ultra-stimulants. I said to him often, 'Podge, if you touch heavy carbonized food, you're lost.'"

"Dear me," I thought to myself, "there ARE such things after all!"

"It was a marvel," continued Slyder, "that we kept him alive at all. And, of course"--here the doctor paused to ring the bell to order two Manhattan cocktails--"as soon as he touched alcohol he was done."

So that was the end of the valetudinarianism of Mr. Podge.

I have always considered that I killed him.

But anyway, he was a nuisance at the club.

3.--The Amazing Travels of Mr. Yarner

There was no fault to be found with Mr. Yarner till he made his trip around the world.

It was that, I think, which disturbed his brain and unfitted him for membership in the club.

"Well," he would say, as he sat ponderously down with the air of a man opening an interesting conversation, "I was just figuring it out that eleven months ago to-day I was in Pekin."

"That's odd," I said, "I was just reckoning that eleven days ago I was in Poughkeepsie."

"They don't call it Pekin over there," he said. "It's sounded Pei-Chang."

"I know," I said, "it's the same way with Poughkeepsie, they pronounce it P'Keepsie."

"The Chinese," he went on musingly, "are a strange people."

"So are the people in P'Keepsie," I added, "awfully strange."

That kind of retort would sometimes stop him, but not always. He was especially dangerous if he was found with a newspaper in his hand; because that meant that some item of foreign intelligence had gone to his brain.

Not that I should have objected to Yarner describing his travels. Any man who has bought a ticket round the world and paid for it, is entitled to that.

But it was his manner of discussion that I considered unpermissible.

Last week, for example, in an unguarded moment I fell a victim. I had been guilty of the imprudence--I forget in what connection--of speaking of lions. I realized at once that I had done wrong--lions, giraffes, elephants, rickshaws and natives of all brands, are topics to avoid in talking with a traveller.

"Speaking of lions," began Yarner.

He was right, of course; I HAD spoken of lions.

"--I shall never forget," he went on (of course, I knew he never would), "a rather bad scrape I got into in the up-country of Uganda. Imagine yourself in a wild, rolling country covered here and there with kwas along the sides of the nullahs."

I did so.

"Well," continued Yarner, "we were sitting in our tent one hot night--too hot to sleep--when all at once we heard, not ten feet in front of us, the most terrific roar that ever came from the throat of a lion."

As he said this Yarner paused to take a gulp of bubbling whiskey and soda and looked at me so ferociously that I actually shivered.

Then quite suddenly his manner cooled down in the strangest way, and his voice changed to a commonplace tone as he said,--

"Perhaps I ought to explain that we hadn't come up to the up-country looking for big game. In fact, we had been down in the down country with no idea of going higher than Mombasa. Indeed, our going even to Mombasa itself was more or less an afterthought. Our first plan was to strike across from Aden to Singapore. But our second plan was to strike direct from Colombo to Karuchi--"

"And what was your THIRD plan?" I asked.

"Our third plan," said Yarner deliberately, feeling that the talk was now getting really interesting, "let me see, our third plan was to cut across from Socotra to Tananarivo."

"Oh, yes," I said.

"However, all that was changed, and changed under the strangest circumstances. We were sitting, Gallon and I, on the piazza of the Galle Face Hotel in Colombo--you know the Galle Face?"

"No, I do not," I said very positively.

"Very good. Well, I was sitting on the piazza watching a snake charmer who was seated, with a boa, immediately in front of me.

"Poor Gallon was actually within two feet of the hideous reptile. All of a sudden the beast whirled itself into a coil, its eyes fastened with hideous malignity on poor Gallon, and with its head erect it emitted the most awful hiss I have heard proceed from the mouth of any living snake."

Here Yarner paused and took a long, hissing drink of whiskey and soda: and then as the malignity died out of his face--

"I should explain," he went on, very quietly, "that Gallon was not one of our original party. We had come down to Colombo from Mongolia, going by the Pekin Hankow and the Nippon Yushen Keisha."

"That, I suppose, is the best way?" I said.

"Yes. And oddly enough but for the accident of Gallon joining us, we should have gone by the Amoy, Cochin, Singapore route, which was our first plan. In fact, but for Gallon we should hardly have got through China at all. The Boxer insurrection had taken place only fourteen years before our visit, so you can imagine the awful state of the country.

"Our meeting with Gallon was thus absolutely providential. Looking back on it, I think it perhaps saved our lives. We were in Mongolia (this, you understand, was before we reached China), and had spent the night at a small Yak about four versts from Kharbin, when all of a sudden, just outside the miserable hut that we were in, we heard a perfect fusillade of shots followed immediately afterwards by one of the most blood-curdling and terrifying screams I have ever imagined--"

"Oh, yes," I said, "and that was how you met Gallon. Well, I must be off."

And as I happened at that very moment to be rescued by an incoming friend, who took but little interest in lions, and even less in Yarner, I have still to learn why the lion howled so when it met Yarner. But surely the lion had reason enough.

4.--The Spiritual Outlook of Mr. Doomer

One generally saw old Mr. Doomer looking gloomily out of the windows of the library of the club. If not there, he was to be found staring sadly into the embers of a dying fire in a deserted sitting-room.

His gloom always appeared out of place as he was one of the richest of the members.

But the cause of it,--as I came to know,--was that he was perpetually concerned with thinking about the next world. In fact he spent his whole time brooding over it.

I discovered this accidentally by happening to speak to him of the recent death of Podge, one of our fellow members.

"Very sad," I said, "Podge's death."

"Ah," returned Mr. Doomer, "very shocking. He was quite unprepared to die."

"Do you think so?" I said, "I'm awfully sorry to hear it."

"Quite unprepared," he answered. "I had reason to know it as one of his executors,--everything is confusion,--nothing signed,--no proper power of attorney,--codicils drawn up in blank and never witnessed,--in short, sir, no sense apparently of the nearness of his death and of his duty to be prepared.

"I suppose," I said, "poor Podge didn't realise that he was going to die."

"Ah, that's just it," resumed Mr. Doomer with something like sternness, "a man OUGHT to realise it. Every man ought to feel that at any moment,--one can't tell when,--day or night,--he may be called upon to meet his,"--Mr. Doomer paused here as if seeking a phrase--"to meet his Financial Obligations, face to face. At any time, sir, he may be hurried before the Judge,--or rather his estate may be,--before the Judge of the probate court. It is a solemn thought, sir. And yet when I come here I see about me men laughing, talking, and playing billiards, as if there would never be a day when their estate would pass into the hands of their administrators and an account must be given of every cent."

"But after all," I said, trying to fall in with his mood, "death and dissolution must come to all of us."

"That's just it," he said solemnly. "They've dissolved the tobacco people, and they've dissolved the oil people and you can't tell whose turn it may be next."

Mr. Doomer was silent a moment and then resumed, speaking in a tone of humility that was almost reverential.

"And yet there is a certain preparedness for death, a certain fitness to die that we ought all to aim at. Any man can at least think solemnly of the Inheritance Tax, and reflect whether by a contract inter vivos drawn in blank he may not obtain redemption; any man if he thinks death is near may at least divest himself of his purely speculative securities and trust himself entirely to those gold bearing bonds of the great industrial corporations whose value will not readily diminish or pass away." Mr. Doomer was speaking with something like religious rapture.

"And yet what does one see?" he continued. "Men affected with fatal illness and men stricken in years occupied still with idle talk and amusements instead of reading the financial newspapers,--and at the last carried away with scarcely time perhaps to send for their brokers when it is already too late."

"It is very sad," I said.

"Very," he repeated, "and saddest of all, perhaps, is the sense of the irrevocability of death and the changes that must come after it."

We were silent a moment.

"You think of these things a great deal, Mr. Doomer?" I said.

"I do," he answered. "It may be that it is something in my temperament, I suppose one would call it a sort of spiritual mindedness. But I think of it all constantly. Often as I stand here beside the window and see these cars go by"--he indicated a passing street car--"I cannot but realise that the time will come when I am no longer a managing director and wonder whether they will keep on trying to hold the dividend down by improving the rolling stock or will declare profits to inflate the securities. These mysteries beyond the grave fascinate me, sir. Death is a mysterious thing. Who for example will take my seat on the Exchange? What will happen to my majority control of the power company? I shudder to think of the changes that may happen after death in the assessment of my real estate."

"Yes," I said, "it is all beyond our control, isn't it?"

"Quite," answered Mr. Doomer; "especially of late years one feels that, all said and done, we are in the hands of a Higher Power, and that the State Legislature is after all supreme. It gives one a sense of smallness. It makes one feel that in these days of drastic legislation with all one's efforts the individual is lost and absorbed in the controlling power of the state legislature. Consider the words that are used in the text of the Income Tax Case, Folio Two, or the text of the Trans-Missouri Freight Decision, and think of the revelation they contain."

I left Mr. Doomer still standing beside the window, musing on the vanity of life and on things, such as the future control of freight rates, that lay beyond the grave.

I noticed as I left him how broken and aged he had come to look. It seemed as if the chafings of the spirit were wearing the body that harboured it.

It was about a month later that I learned of Mr. Doomer's death.

Dr. Slyder told me of it in the club one afternoon, over two cocktails in the sitting-room.

"A beautiful bedside," he said, "one of the most edifying that I have ever attended. I knew that Doomer was failing and of course the time came when I had to tell him.

"'Mr. Doomer,' I said, 'all that I, all that any medical can do for you is done; you are going to die. I have to warn you that it is time for other ministrations than mine.'

"'Very good,' he said faintly but firmly, 'send for my broker.'

"They sent out and fetched Jarvis,--you know him I think,--most sympathetic man and yet most business-like--he does all the firm's business with the dying,--and we two sat beside Doomer holding him up while he signed stock transfers and blank certificates.

"Once he paused and turned his eyes on Jarvis. 'Read me from the text of the State Inheritance Tax Statute,' he said. Jarvis took the book and read aloud very quietly and simply the part at the beginning--'Whenever and wheresoever it shall appear,' down to the words, 'shall be no longer a subject of judgment or appeal but shall remain in perpetual possession.'

"Doomer listened with his eyes closed. The reading seemed to bring him great comfort. When Jarvis ended he said with a sign, 'That covers it. I'll put my faith in that.' After that he was silent a moment and then said: 'I wish I had already crossed the river. Oh, to have already crossed the river and be safe on the other side.' We knew what he meant. He had always planned to move over to New Jersey. The inheritance tax is so much more liberal.

"Presently it was all done.

"'There,' I said, 'it is finished now.'

"'No,' he answered, 'there is still one thing. Doctor, you've been very good to me. I should like to pay your account now without it being a charge on the estate. I will pay it as'--he paused for a moment and a fit of coughing seized him, but by an effort of will he found the power to say--'cash.'

"I took the account from my pocket (I had it with me, fearing the worst), and we laid his cheque-book before him on the bed. Jarvis thinking him too faint to write tried to guide his hand as he filled in the sum. But he shook his head.

"'The room is getting dim,' he said. 'I can see nothing but the figures.'

"'Never mind,' said Jarvis,--much moved, 'that's enough.'

"'Is it four hundred and thirty?' he asked faintly.

"'Yes,' I said, and I could feel the tears rising in my eyes, 'and fifty cents.'

"After signing the cheque his mind wandered for a moment and he fell to talking, with his eyes closed, of the new federal banking law, and of the prospect of the reserve associations being able to maintain an adequate gold supply.

"Just at the last he rallied.

"'I want,' he said in quite a firm voice, 'to do something for both of you before I die.'

"'Yes, yes,' we said.

"'You are both interested, are you not,' he murmured, 'in City Traction?'

"'Yes, yes,' we said. We knew of course that he was the managing director.

"He looked at us faintly and tried to speak.

"'Give him a cordial,' said Jarvis. But he found his voice.

"'The value of that stock,' he said, 'is going to take a sudden--'

"His voice grew faint.

"'Yes, yes,' I whispered, bending over him (there were tears in both our eyes), 'tell me is it going up, or going down?'

"'It is going'--he murmured,--then his eyes closed--'it is going--'

"'Yes, yes,' I said, 'which?'

"'It is going'--he repeated feebly and then, quite suddenly he fell back on the pillows and his soul passed. And we never knew which way it was going. It was very sad. Later on, of course, after he was dead, we knew, as everybody knew, that it went down."

5.--The Reminiscences of Mr. Apricot

"Rather a cold day, isn't it?" I said as I entered the club.

The man I addressed popped his head out from behind a newspaper and I saw it was old Mr. Apricot. So I was sorry that I had spoken.

"Not so cold as the winter of 1866," he said, beaming with benevolence.

He had an egg-shaped head, bald, with some white hair fluffed about the sides of it. He had a pink face with large blue eyes, behind his spectacles, benevolent to the verge of imbecility.

"Was that a cold winter?" I asked.

"Bitter cold," he said. "I have never told you, have I, of my early experiences in life?"

"I think I have heard you mention them," I murmured, but he had already placed a detaining hand on my sleeve. "Sit down," he said. Then he continued: "Yes, it was a cold winter. I was going to say that it was the coldest I have ever experienced, but that might be an exaggeration. But it was certainly colder than any winter that YOU have ever seen, or that we ever have now, or are likely to have. In fact the winters NOW are a mere nothing,"--here Mr. Apricot looked toward the club window where the driven snow was beating in eddies against the panes,--"simply nothing. One doesn't feel them at all,"--here he turned his eyes towards the glowing fire that flamed in the open fireplace. "But when I was a boy things were very different. I have probably never mentioned to you, have I, the circumstances of my early life?"

He had, many times. But he had turned upon me the full beam of his benevolent spectacles and I was too weak to interrupt.

"My father," went on Mr. Apricot, settling back in his chair and speaking with a far-away look in his eyes, "had settled on the banks of the Wabash River--"

"Oh, yes, I know it well," I interjected.

"Not as it was THEN," said Mr. Apricot very quickly. "At present as you, or any other thoughtless tourist sees it, it appears a broad river pouring its vast flood in all directions. At the time I speak of it was a mere stream scarcely more than a few feet in circumference. The life we led there was one of rugged isolation and of sturdy self-reliance and effort such as it is, of course, quite impossible for YOU, or any other member of this club to understand,--I may give you some idea of what I mean when I say that at that time there was no town nearer to Pittsburgh than Chicago, or to St. Paul than Minneapolis--"

"Impossible!" I said.

Mr. Apricot seemed not to notice the interruption.

"There was no place nearer to Springfield than St. Louis," he went on in a peculiar singsong voice, "and there was nothing nearer to Denver than San Francisco, nor to New Orleans than Rio Janeiro--"

He seemed as if he would go on indefinitely.

"You were speaking of your father?" I interrupted.

"My father," said Mr. Apricot, "had settled on the banks, both banks, of the Wabash. He was like so many other men of his time, a disbanded soldier, a veteran--"

"Of the Mexican War or of the Civil War?" I asked.

"Exactly," answered Mr. Apricot, hardly heeding the question,--"of the Mexican Civil War."

"Was he under Lincoln?" I asked.

"OVER Lincoln," corrected Mr. Apricot gravely. And he added,--"It is always strange to me the way in which the present generation regards Abraham Lincoln. To us, of course, at the time of which I speak, Lincoln was simply one of ourselves."

"In 1866?" I asked.

"This was 1856," said Mr. Apricot. "He came often to my father's cabin, sitting down with us to our humble meal of potatoes and whiskey (we lived with a simplicity which of course you could not possibly understand), and would spend the evening talking with my father over the interpretation of the Constitution of the United States. We children used to stand beside them listening open-mouthed beside the fire in our plain leather night-gowns. I shall never forget how I was thrilled when I first heard Lincoln lay down his famous theory of the territorial jurisdiction of Congress as affected by the Supreme Court decision of 1857. I was only nine years old at the time, but it thrilled me!"

"Is it possible!" I exclaimed, "how ever could you understand it?"

"Ah! my friend," said Mr. Apricot, almost sadly, "in THOSE days the youth of the United States were EDUCATED in the real sense of the word. We children followed the decisions of the Supreme Court with breathless interest. Our books were few but they were GOOD. We had nothing to read but the law reports, the agriculture reports, the weather bulletins and the almanacs. But we read them carefully from cover to cover. How few boys have the industry to do so now, and yet how many of our greatest men were educated on practically nothing else except the law reports and the almanacs. Franklin, Jefferson, Jackson, Johnson,"--Mr. Apricot had relapsed into his sing-song voice, and his eye had a sort of misty perplexity in it as he went on,--"Harrison, Thomson, Peterson, Emerson--"

I thought it better to stop him.

"But you were speaking," I said, "of the winter of eighteen fifty-six."

"Of eighteen forty-six," corrected Mr. Apricot. "I shall never forget it. How distinctly I remember,--I was only a boy then, in fact a mere lad,--fighting my way to school. The snow lay in some places as deep as ten feet"-- Mr. Apricot paused--"and in others twenty. But we made our way to school in spite of it. No boys of to-day,--nor, for the matter of that, even men such as you,--would think of attempting it. But we were keen, anxious to learn. Our school was our delight. Our teacher was our friend. Our books were our companions. We gladly trudged five miles to school every morning and seven miles back at night, did chores till midnight, studied algebra by candlelight"--here Mr. Apricot's voice had fallen into its characteristic sing-song, and his eyes were vacant--"rose before daylight, dressed by lamplight, fed the hogs by lantern-light, fetched the cows by twilight--"

I thought it best to stop him.

"But you did eventually get off the farm, did you not?" I asked.

"Yes," he answered, "my opportunity presently came to me as it came in those days to any boy of industry and intelligence who knocked at the door of fortune till it opened. I shall never forget how my first chance in life came to me. A man, an entire stranger, struck no doubt with the fact that I looked industrious and willing, offered me a dollar to drive a load of tan bark to the nearest market--"

"Where was that?" I asked.

"Minneapolis, seven hundred miles. But I did it. I shall never forget my feelings when I found myself in Minneapolis with one dollar in my pocket and with the world all before me."

"What did you do?" I said.

"First," said Mr. Apricot, "I laid out seventy-five cents for a suit of clothes (things were cheap in those days); for fifty cents I bought an overcoat, for twenty-five I got a hat, for ten cents a pair of boots, and with the rest of my money I took a room for a month with a Swedish family, paid a month's board with a German family, arranged to have my washing done by an Irish family, and--"

"But surely, Mr. Apricot--" I began.

But at this point the young man who is generally in attendance on old Mr. Apricot when he comes to the club, appeared on the scene.

"I am afraid," he said to me aside as Mr. Apricot was gathering up his newspapers and his belongings, "that my uncle has been rather boring you with his reminiscences."

"Not at all," I said, "he's been telling me all about his early life in his father's cabin on the Wabash--"

"I was afraid so," said the young man. "Too bad. You see he wasn't really there at all."

"Not there!" I said.

"No. He only fancies that he was. He was brought up in New York, and has never been west of Philadelphia. In fact he has been very well to do all his life. But he found that it counted against him: it hurt him in politics. So he got into the way of talking about the Middle West and early days there, and sometimes he forgets that he wasn't there."

"I see," I said.

Meantime Mr. Apricot was ready.

"Good-bye, good-bye," he said very cheerily,--"A delightful chat. We must have another talk over old times soon. I must tell you about my first trip over the Plains at the time when I was surveying the line of the Union Pacific. You who travel nowadays in your Pullman coaches and observation cars can have no idea--"

"Come along, uncle," said the young man.

6.--The Last Man out of Europe

He came into the club and shook hands with me as if he hadn't seen me for a year. In reality I had seen him only eleven months ago, and hadn't thought of him since.

"How are you, Parkins?" I said in a guarded tone, for I saw at once that there was something special in his manner.

"Have a cig?" he said as he sat down on the edge of an arm-chair, dangling his little boot.

Any young man who calls a cigarette a "cig" I despise. "No, thanks," I said.

"Try one," he went on, "they're Hungarian. They're some I managed to bring through with me out of the war zone."

As he said "war zone," his face twisted up into a sort of scowl of self-importance.

I looked at Parkins more closely and I noticed that he had on some sort of foolish little coat, short in the back, and the kind of bow-tie that they wear in the Hungarian bands of the Sixth Avenue restaurants.

Then I knew what the trouble was. He was the last man out of Europe, that is to say, the latest last man. There had been about fourteen others in the club that same afternoon. In fact they were sitting all over it in Italian suits and Viennese overcoats, striking German matches on the soles of Dutch boots. These were the "war zone" men and they had just got out "in the clothes they stood up in." Naturally they hated to change.

So I knew all that this young man, Parkins, was going to say, and all about his adventures before he began.

"Yes," he said, "we were caught right in the war zone. By Jove, I never want to go through again what I went through."

With that, he sank back into the chair in the pose of a man musing in silence over the recollection of days of horror.

I let him muse. In fact I determined to let him muse till he burst before I would ask him what he had been through. I knew it, anyway.

Presently he decided to go on talking.

"We were at Izzl," he said, "in the Carpathians, Loo Jones and I. We'd just made a walking tour from Izzl to Fryzzl and back again."

"Why did you come back?" I asked.

"Back where?"

"Back to Izzl," I explained, "after you'd once got to Fryzzl. It seems unnecessary, but, never mind, go on."

"That was in July," he continued. "There wasn't a sign of war, not a sign. We heard that Russia was beginning to mobilize," (at this word be blew a puff from his cigarette and then repeated "beginning to mobilize") "but we thought nothing of it."

"Of course not," I said.

"Then we heard that Hungary was calling out the Honveds, but we still thought nothing of it."

"Certainly not," I said.

"And then we heard--"

"Yes, I know," I said, "you heard that Italy was calling out the Trombonari, and that Germany was calling in all the Landesgeschutzshaft."

He looked at me.

"How did you know that?" he said.

"We heard it over here," I answered.

"Well," he went on, "next thing we knew we heard that the Russians were at Fryzzl."

"Great Heavens!" I exclaimed.

"Yes, at Fryzzl, not a hundred miles away. The very place we'd been at only two weeks before."

"Think of it!" I said. "If you'd been where you were two weeks after you were there, or if the Russians had been a hundred miles away from where they were, or even if Fryzzl had been a hundred miles nearer to Izzl--"

We both shuddered.

"It was a close call," said Parkins. "However, I said to Loo Jones, 'Loo, it's time to clear out.' And then, I tell you, our trouble began. First of all we couldn't get any money. We went to the bank at Izzl and tried to get them to give us American dollars for Hungarian paper money; we had nothing else."

"And wouldn't they?"

"Absolutely refused. They said they hadn't any."

"By George," I exclaimed. "Isn't war dreadful? What on earth did you do?"

"Took a chance," said Parkins. "Went across to the railway station to buy our tickets with the Hungarian money."

"Did you get them?" I said.

"Yes," assented Parkins. "They said they'd sell us tickets. But they questioned us mighty closely; asked where we wanted to go to, what class we meant to travel by, how much luggage we had to register and so on. I tell you the fellow looked at us mighty closely."

"Were you in those clothes?" I asked.

"Yes," said Parkins, "but I guess he suspected we weren't Hungarians. You see, we couldn't either of us speak Hungarian. In fact we spoke nothing but English."

"That would give him a clue," I said.

"However," he went on, "he was civil enough in a way. We asked when was the next train to the sea coast, and he said there wasn't any."

"No trains?" I repeated.

"Not to the coast. The man said the reason was because there wasn't any railway to the coast. But he offered to sell us tickets to Vienna. We asked when the train would go and he said there wouldn't be one for two hours. So there we were waiting on that wretched little platform,--no place to sit down, no shade, unless one went into the waiting room itself,--for two mortal hours. And even then the train was an hour and a half late!"

"An hour and a half late!" I repeated.

"Yep!" said Parkins, "that's what things were like over there. So when we got on board the train we asked a man when it was due to get to Vienna, and he said he hadn't the faintest idea!"

"Good heavens!"

"Not the faintest idea. He told us to ask the conductor or one of the porters. No, sir, I'll never forget that journey through to Vienna,--nine mortal hours! Nothing to eat, not a bite, except just in the middle of the day when they managed to hitch on a dining-car for a while. And they warned everybody that the dining-car was only on for an hour and a half. Commandeered, I guess after that," added Parkins, puffing his cigarette.

"Well," he continued, "we got to Vienna at last. I'll never forget the scene there, station full of people, trains coming and going, men, even women, buying tickets, big piles of luggage being shoved on trucks. It gave one a great idea of the reality of things."

"It must have," I said.

"Poor old Loo Jones was getting pretty well used up with it all. However, we determined to see it through somehow."

"What did you do next?"

"Tried again to get money: couldn't--they changed our Hungarian paper into Italian gold, but they refused to give us American money."

"Hoarding it?" I hinted.

"Exactly," said Parkins, "hoarding it all for the war. Well anyhow we got on a train for Italy and there our troubles began all over again:--train stopped at the frontier,--officials (fellows in Italian uniforms) went all through it, opening hand baggage--"

"Not hand baggage!" I gasped.

"Yes, sir, even the hand baggage. Opened it all, or a lot of it anyway, and scribbled chalk marks over it. Yes, and worse than that,--I saw them take two fellows and sling them clear off the train,--they slung them right out on to the platform."

"What for?" I asked.

"Heaven knows," said Parkins,--"they said they had no tickets. In war time you know, when they're mobilizing, they won't let a soul ride on a train without a ticket."

"Infernal tyranny," I murmured.

"Isn't it? However, we got to Genoa at last, only to find that not a single one of our trunks had come with us!"

"Confiscated?" I asked.

"I don't know," said Parkins, "the head baggage man (he wears a uniform, you know, in Italy just like a soldier) said it was because we'd forgotten to check them in Vienna. However there we were waiting for twenty-four hours with nothing but our valises."

"Right at the station?" I asked.

"No, at a hotel. We got the trunks later. They telegraphed to Vienna for them and managed to get them through somehow,--in a baggage car, I believe."

"And after that, I suppose, you had no more trouble."

"Trouble," said Parkins, "I should say we had. Couldn't get a steamer! They said there was none sailing out of Genoa for New York for three days! All cancelled, I guess, or else rigged up as cruisers."

"What on earth did you do?"

"Stuck it out as best we could: stayed right there in the hotel. Poor old Jones was pretty well collapsed! Couldn't do anything but sleep and eat, and sit on the piazza of the hotel."

"But you got your steamer at last?" I asked.

"Yes," he admitted, "we got it. But I never want to go through another voyage like that again, no sir!"

"What was wrong with it?" I asked, "bad weather?"

"No, calm, but a peculiar calm, glassy, with little ripples on the water,--uncanny sort of feeling."

"What was wrong with the voyage?"

"Oh, just the feeling of it,--everything under strict rule you know--no lights anywhere except just the electric lights,--smoking-room closed tight at eleven o'clock,--decks all washed down every night--officers up on the bridge all day looking out over the sea,--no, sir, I want no more of it. Poor old Loo Jones, I guess he's quite used up: he can't speak of it at all: just sits and broods, in fact I doubt..."

At this moment Parkins's conversation was interrupted by the entry of two newcomers into the room. One of them had on a little Hungarian suit like the one Parkins wore, and was talking loudly as they came in.

"Yes," he was saying, "we were caught there fair and square right in the war zone. We were at Izzl in the Carpathians, poor old Parkins and I--"

We looked round.

It was Loo Jones, describing his escape from Europe.

7.--The War Mania of Mr. Jinks and Mr. Blinks

They were sitting face to face at a lunch table at the club so near to me that I couldn't avoid hearing what they said. In any case they are both stout men with gurgling voices which carry.

"What Kitchener ought to do,"--Jinks was saying in a loud voice.

So I knew at once that he had the prevailing hallucination. He thought he was commanding armies in Europe.

After which I watched him show with three bits of bread and two olives and a dessert knife the way in which the German army could be destroyed.

Blinks looked at Jinks' diagram with a stern impassive face, modelled on the Sunday supplement photogravures of Lord Kitchener.

"Your flank would be too much exposed," he said, pointing to Jinks' bread. He spoke with the hard taciturnity of a Joffre.

"My reserves cover it," said Jinks, moving two pepper pots to the support of the bread.

"Mind you," Jinks went on, "I don't say Kitchener WILL do this: I say this is what he OUGHT to do: it's exactly the tactics of Kuropatkin outside of Mukden and it's precisely the same turning movement that Grant used before Richmond."

Blinks nodded gravely. Anybody who has seen the Grand Duke Nicholoevitch quietly accepting the advice of General Ruski under heavy artillery fire, will realize Blinks' manner to a nicety.

And, oddly enough, neither of them, I am certain, has ever had any larger ideas about the history of the Civil War than what can be got from reading Uncle Tom's Cabin and seeing Gillette play Secret Service. But this is part of the mania. Jinks and Blinks had suddenly developed the hallucination that they knew the history of all wars by a sort of instinct.

They rose soon after that, dusted off their waistcoats with their napkins and waddled heavily towards the door. I could hear them as they went talking eagerly of the need of keeping the troops in hard training. They were almost brutal in their severity. As they passed out of the door,--one at a time to avoid crowding,--they were still talking about it. Jinks was saying that our whole generation is overfed and soft. If he had his way he would take every man in the United States up to forty- seven years of age (Jinks is forty-eight) and train him to a shadow. Blinks went further. He said they should be trained hard up to fifty. He is fifty-one.

After that I used to notice Jinks and Blinks always together in the club, and always carrying on the European War.

I never knew which side they were on. They seemed to be on both. One day they commanded huge armies of Russians, and there was one week when Blinks and Jinks at the head of vast levies of Cossacks threatened to overrun the whole of Western Europe. It was dreadful to watch them burning churches and monasteries and to see Jinks throw whole convents full of white robed nuns into the flames like so much waste paper.

For a time I feared they would obliterate civilization itself. Then suddenly Blinks decided that Jinks' Cossacks were no good, not properly trained. He converted himself on the spot into a Prussian Field Marshal, declared himself organised to a pitch of organisation of which Jinks could form no idea, and swept Jinks' army off the earth, without using any men at all, by sheer organisation.

In this way they moved to and fro all winter over the map of Europe, carrying death and destruction everywhere and revelling in it.

But I think I liked best the wild excitement of their naval battles.

Jinks generally fancied himself a submarine and Blinks acted the part of a first-class battleship. Jinks would pop his periscope out of the water, take a look at Blinks merely for the fraction of a second, and then, like a flash, would dive under water again and start firing his torpedoes. He explained that he carried six.

But he was never quick enough for Blinks. One glimpse of his periscope miles and miles away was enough. Blinks landed him a contact shell in the side, sunk him with all hands, and then lined his yards with men and cheered. I have known Blinks sink Jinks at two miles, six miles--and once--in the club billiard room just after the battle of the Falkland Islands,--he got him fair and square at ten nautical miles.

Jinks of course claimed that he was not sunk. He had dived. He was two hundred feet under water quietly smiling at Blinks through his periscope. In fact the number of things that Jinks has learned to do through his periscope passes imagination.

Whenever I see him looking across at Blinks with his eyes half closed and with a baffling, quizzical expression in them, I know that he is looking at him through his periscope. Now is the time for Blinks to watch out. If he relaxes his vigilance for a moment he'll be torpedoed as he sits, and sent flying, whiskey and soda and all, through the roof of the club, while Jinks dives into the basement.

Indeed it has come about of late, I don't know just how, that Jinks has more or less got command of the sea. A sort of tacit understanding has been reached that Blinks, whichever army he happens at the moment to command, is invincible on land. But Jinks, whether as a submarine or a battleship, controls the sea. No doubt this grew up in the natural evolution of their conversation. It makes things easier for both. Jinks even asks Blinks how many men there are in an army division, and what a sotnia of Cossacks is and what the Army Service Corps means. And Jinks in return has become a recognized expert in torpedoes and has taken to wearing a blue serge suit and referring to Lord Beresford as Charley.

But what I noticed chiefly about the war mania of Jinks and Blinks was their splendid indifference to slaughter. They had gone into the war with a grim resolution to fight it out to a finish. If Blinks thought to terrify Jinks by threatening to burn London, he little knew his man. "All right," said Jinks, taking a fresh light for his cigar, "burn it! By doing so, you destroy, let us say, two million of my women and children? Very good. Am I injured by that? No. You merely stimulate me to recruiting."

There was something awful in the grimness of the struggle as carried on by Blinks and Jinks.

The rights of neutrals and non-combatants, Red Cross nurses, and regimental clergymen they laughed to scorn. As for moving-picture men and newspaper correspondents, Jinks and Blinks hanged them on every tree in Belgium and Poland.

With combatants in this frame of mind the war I suppose might have lasted forever.

But it came to an end accidentally,--fortuitously, as all great wars are apt to. And by accident also, I happened to see the end of it.

It was late one evening. Jinks and Blinks were coming down the steps of the club, and as they came they were speaking with some vehemence on their favourite topic.

"I tell you," Jinks was saying, "war is a great thing. We needed it, Blinks. We were all getting too soft, too scared of suffering and pain. We wilt at a bayonet charge, we shudder at the thought of wounds. Bah!" he continued, "what does it matter if a few hundred thousands of human beings are cut to pieces. We need to get back again to the old Viking standard, the old pagan ideas of suffering--"

And as he spoke he got it.

The steps of the club were slippery with the evening's rain,--not so slippery as the frozen lakes of East Prussia or the hills where Jinks and Blinks had been campaigning all winter, but slippery enough for a stout man whose nation has neglected his training. As Jinks waved his stick in the air to illustrate the glory of a bayonet charge, he slipped and fell sideways on the stone steps. His shin bone smacked against the edge of the stone in a way that was pretty well up to the old Viking standard of such things. Blinks with the shock of the collision fell also,--backwards on the top step, his head striking first. He lay, to all appearance, as dead as the most insignificant casualty in Servia.

I watched the waiters carrying them into the club, with that new field ambulance attitude towards pain which is getting so popular. They had evidently acquired precisely the old pagan attitude that Blinks and Jinks desired.

And the evening after that I saw Blinks and Jinks, both more or less bandaged, sitting in a corner of the club beneath a rubber tree, making peace.

Jinks was moving out of Montenegro and Blinks was foregoing all claims to Polish Prussia; Jinks was offering Alsace-Lorraine to Blinks, and Blinks in a fit of chivalrous enthusiasm was refusing to take it. They were disbanding troops, blowing up fortresses, sinking their warships and offering indemnities which they both refused to take. Then as they talked, Jinks leaned forward and said something to Blinks in a low voice,--a final proposal of terms evidently.

Blinks nodded, and Jinks turned and beckoned to a waiter, with the words,--

"One Scotch whiskey and soda, and one stein of Wurtemburger Bier--"

And when I heard this, I knew that the war was over.

8.--The Ground Floor

I hadn't seen Ellesworth since our college days, twenty years before, at the time when he used to borrow two dollars and a half from the professor of Public Finance to tide him over the week end.

Then quite suddenly he turned up at the club one day and had afternoon tea with me.

His big clean shaven face had lost nothing of its impressiveness, and his spectacles had the same glittering magnetism as in the days when he used to get the college bursar to accept his note of hand for his fees.

And he was still talking European politics just as he used to in the days of our earlier acquaintance.

"Mark my words," he said across the little tea-table, with one of the most piercing glances I have ever seen, "the whole Balkan situation was only a beginning. We are on the eve of a great pan-Slavonic upheaval." And then he added, in a very quiet, casual tone: "By the way, could you let me have twenty-five dollars till to-morrow?"

"A pan-Slavonic movement!" I ejaculated. "Do you really think it possible? No, I couldn't."

"You must remember," Ellesworth went on, "Russia means to reach out and take all she can get;" and he added, "how about fifteen till Friday?"

"She may reach for it," I said, "but I doubt if she'll get anything. I'm sorry. I haven't got it."

"You're forgetting the Bulgarian element," he continued, his animation just as eager as before. "The Slavs never forget what they owe to one another."

Here Ellesworth drank a sip of tea and then said quietly, "Could you make it ten till Saturday at twelve?"

I looked at him more closely. I noticed now his frayed cuffs and the dinginess of his over-brushed clothes. Not even the magnetism of his spectacles could conceal it. Perhaps I had been forgetting something, whether the Bulgarian element or not.

I compromised at ten dollars till Saturday.

"The Slav," said Ellesworth, as he pocketed the money, "is peculiar. He never forgets."

"What are you doing now?" I asked him. "Are you still in insurance?" I had a vague recollection of him as employed in that business.

"No," he answered. "I gave it up. I didn't like the outlook. It was too narrow. The atmosphere cramped me. I want," he said, "a bigger horizon."

"Quite so," I answered quietly. I had known men before who had lost their jobs. It is generally the cramping of the atmosphere that does it. Some of them can use up a tremendous lot of horizon.

"At present," Ellesworth went on, "I am in finance. I'm promoting companies."

"Oh, yes," I said. I had seen companies promoted before.

"Just now," continued Ellesworth, "I'm working on a thing that I think will be rather a big thing. I shouldn't want it talked about outside, but it's a matter of taking hold of the cod fisheries of the Grand Banks,--practically amalgamating them--and perhaps combining with them the entire herring output, and the whole of the sardine catch of the Mediterranean. If it goes through," he added, "I shall be in a position to let you in on the ground floor."

I knew the ground floor of old. I have already many friends sitting on it; and others who have fallen through it into the basement.

I said, "thank you," and he left me.

"That was Ellesworth, wasn't it?" said a friend of mine who was near me. "Poor devil. I knew him slightly,--always full of some new and wild idea of making money. He was talking to me the other day of the possibility of cornering all the huckleberry crop and making refined sugar. Isn't it amazing what fool ideas fellows like him are always putting up to business men?"

We both laughed.

After that I didn't see Ellesworth for some weeks.

Then I met him in the club again. How he paid his fees there I do not know.

This time he was seated among a litter of foreign newspapers with a cup of tea and a ten-cent package of cigarettes beside him.

"Have one of these cigarettes," he said. "I get them specially. They are milder than what we have in the club here."

They certainly were.

"Note what I say," Ellesworth went on. "The French Republic is going to gain from now on a stability that it never had." He seemed greatly excited about it. But his voice changed to a quiet tone as he added, "Could you, without inconvenience, let me have five dollars?"

So I knew that the cod-fish and the sardines were still unamalgamated.

"What about the fisheries thing?" I asked. "Did it go through?"

"The fisheries? No, I gave it up. I refused to go forward with it. The New York people concerned were too shy, too timid to tackle it. I finally had to put it to them very straight that they must either stop shilly-shallying and declare themselves, or the whole business was off."

"Did they declare themselves?" I questioned.

"They did," said Ellesworth, "but I don't regret it. I'm working now on a much bigger thing,--something with greater possibilities in it. When the right moment comes I'll let you in on the ground floor."

I thanked him and we parted.

The next time I saw Ellesworth he told me at once that he regarded Albania as unable to stand by itself. So I gave him five dollars on the spot and left him.

A few days after that he called me up on the telephone to tell me that the whole of Asia Minor would have to be redistributed. The redistribution cost me five dollars more.

Then I met him on the street, and he said that Persia was disintegrating, and took from me a dollar and a half.

When I passed him next in the street he was very busy amalgamating Chinese tramways. It appeared that there was a ground floor in China, but I kept off it.

Each time I saw Ellesworth he looked a little shabbier than the last. Then one day he called me up on the telephone, and made an appointment.

His manner when I joined him was full of importance.

"I want you at once," he said in a commanding tone, "to write me your cheque for a hundred dollars."

"What's the matter?" I asked.

"I am now able," said Ellesworth, "to put you in on the ground floor of one of the biggest things in years."

"Thanks," I said, "the ground floor is no place for me."

"Don't misunderstand me," said Ellesworth. "This is a big thing. It's an idea I've been working on for some time,--making refined sugar from the huckleberry crop. It's a certainty. I can get you shares now at five dollars. They'll go to five hundred when we put them on the market,--and I can run you in for a block of stock for promotion services as well. All you have to do is to give me right now a hundred dollars,--cash or your cheque,--and I can arrange the whole thing for you."

I smiled.

"My dear Ellesworth," I said, "I hope you won't mind if I give you a little bit of good advice. Why not drop all this idea of quick money? There's nothing in it. The business world has grown too shrewd for it. Take an ordinary decent job and stick to it. Let me use my influence," I added, "to try and get you into something with a steady salary, and with your brains you're bound to get on in time."

Ellesworth looked pained. A "steady job" sounded to him like a "ground floor" to me.

After that I saw nothing of him for weeks. But I didn't forget him. I looked about and secured for him a job as a canvassing agent for a book firm at a salary of five dollars a week, and a commission of one-tenth of one per cent.

I was waiting to tell him of his good luck, when I chanced to see him at the club again.

But he looked transformed.

He had on a long frock coat that reached nearly to his knees. He was leading a little procession of very heavy men in morning coats, upstairs towards the private luncheon rooms. They moved like a funeral, puffing as they went. I had seen company directors before and I knew what they were at sight.

"It's a small club and rather inconvenient," Ellesworth was saying, "and the horizon of some of its members rather narrow," here he nodded to me as he passed,--"but I can give you a fairly decent lunch."

I watched them as they disappeared upstairs.

"That's Ellesworth, isn't it?" said a man near me. It was the same man who had asked about him before.

"Yes," I answered.

"Giving a lunch to his directors, I suppose," said my friend; "lucky dog."

"His directors?" I asked.

"Yes, hadn't you heard? He's just cleaned up half a million or more,--some new scheme for making refined sugar out of huckleberries. Isn't it amazing what shrewd ideas these big business men get hold of? They say they're unloading the stock at five hundred dollars. It only cost them about five to organize. If only one could get on to one of these things early enough, eh?"

I assented sadly.

And the next time I am offered a chance on the ground floor I am going to take it, even if it's only the barley floor of a brewery.

It appears that there is such a place after all.

9.--The Hallucination of Mr. Butt

It is the hallucination of Mr. Butt's life that he lives to do good. At whatever cost of time or trouble to himself, he does it. Whether people appear to desire it or not, he insists on helping them along.

His time, his company and his advice are at the service not only of those who seek them but of those who, in the mere appearances of things, are not asking for them.

You may see the beaming face of Mr. Butt appear at the door of all those of his friends who are stricken with the minor troubles of life. Whenever Mr. Butt learns that any of his friends are moving house, buying furniture, selling furniture, looking for a maid, dismissing a maid, seeking a chauffeur, suing a plumber or buying a piano,--he is at their side in a moment.

So when I met him one night in the cloak room of the club putting on his raincoat and his galoshes with a peculiar beaming look on his face, I knew that he was up to some sort of benevolence.

"Come upstairs," I said, "and play billiards." I saw from his general appearance that it was a perfectly safe offer.

"My dear fellow," said Mr. Butt, "I only wish I could. I wish I had the time. I am sure it would cheer you up immensely if I could. But I'm just going out."

"Where are you off to?" I asked, for I knew he wanted me to say it.

"I'm going out to see the Everleigh-Joneses,--you know them? no?--just come to the city, you know, moving into their new house, out on Seldom Avenue."

"But," I said, "that's away out in the suburbs, is it not, a mile or so beyond the car tracks?"

"Something like that," answered Mr. Butt.

"And it's going on for ten o'clock and it's starting to rain--"

"Pooh, pooh," said Mr. Butt, cheerfully, adjusting his galoshes. "I never mind the rain,--does one good. As to their house. I've not been there yet but I can easily find it. I've a very simple system for finding a house at night by merely knocking at the doors in the neighborhood till I get it."

"Isn't it rather late to go there?" I protested.

"My dear fellow," said Mr. Butt warmly, "I don't mind that a bit. The way I look at it is, here are these two young people, only married a few weeks, just moving into their new house, everything probably upside down, no one there but themselves, no one to cheer them up,"--he was wriggling into his raincoat as he spoke and working himself into a frenzy of benevolence,--"good gracious, I only learned at dinner time that they had come to town, or I'd have been out there days ago,--days ago--"

And with that Mr. Butt went bursting forth into the rain, his face shining with good will under the street lamps.

The next day I saw him again at the club at lunch time.

"Well," I asked, "did you find the Joneses?"

"I did," said Mr. Butt, "and by George I was glad that I'd gone--quite a lot of trouble to find the house (though I didn't mind that; I expected it)--had to knock at twenty houses at least to get it,--very dark and wet out there, --no street lights yet,--however I simply pounded at the doors until some one showed a light--at every house I called out the same things, 'Do you know where the Everleigh Joneses live?' They didn't. 'All right,' I said, 'go back to bed. Don't bother to come down.'

"But I got to the right spot at last. I found the house all dark. Jones put his head out of an upper window. 'Hullo,' I called out; 'it's Butt.' 'I'm awfully sorry,' he said, 'we've gone to bed.' 'My dear boy,' I called back, 'don't apologize at all. Throw me down the key and I'll wait while you dress. I don't mind a bit.'

"Just think of it," continued Mr. Butt, "those two poor souls going to bed at half past ten, through sheer dullness! By George, I was glad I'd come. 'Now then,' I said to myself, 'let's cheer them up a little, let's make things a little brighter here.'

"Well, down they came and we sat there on furniture cases and things and had a chat. Mrs. Jones wanted to make me some coffee. 'My dear girl,' I said (I knew them both when they were children) 'I absolutely refuse. Let ME make it.' They protested. I insisted. I went at it,--kitchen all upset--had to open at least twenty tins to get the coffee. However, I made it at last. 'Now,' I said, 'drink it.' They said they had some an hour or so ago. 'Nonsense,' I said, 'drink it.' Well, we sat and chatted away till midnight. They were dull at first and I had to do all the talking. But I set myself to it. I can talk, you know, when I try. Presently about midnight they seemed to brighten up a little. Jones looked at his watch. 'By Jove,' he said, in an animated way, 'it's after midnight.' I think he was pleased at the way the evening was going; after that we chatted away more comfortably. Every little while Jones would say, 'By Jove, it's half past twelve,' or 'it's one o'clock,' and so on.

"I took care, of course, not to stay too late. But when I left them I promised that I'd come back to-day to help straighten things up. They protested, but I insisted."

That same day Mr. Butt went out to the suburbs and put the Joneses' furniture to rights.

"I worked all afternoon," he told me afterwards,--"hard at it with my coat off--got the pictures up first--they'd been trying to put them up by themselves in the morning. I had to take down every one of them--not a single one right,--'Down they come,' I said, and went at it with a will."

A few days later Mr. Butt gave me a further report. "Yes," he said, "the furniture is all unpacked and straightened out but I don't like it. There's a lot of it I don't quite like. I half feel like advising Jones to sell it and get some more. But I don't want to do that till I'm quite certain about it."

After that Mr. Butt seemed much occupied and I didn't see him at the club for some time.

"How about the Everleigh-Joneses?" I asked. "Are they comfortable in their new house?"

Mr. Butt shook his head. "It won't do," he said. "I was afraid of it from the first. I'm moving Jones in nearer to town. I've been out all morning looking for an apartment; when I get the right one I shall move him. I like an apartment far better than a house."

So the Joneses in due course of time were moved. After that Mr. Butt was very busy selecting a piano, and advising them on wall paper and woodwork.

They were hardly settled in their new home when fresh trouble came to them.

"Have you heard about Everleigh-Jones?" said Mr. Butt one day with an anxious face.

"No," I answered.

"He's ill--some sort of fever--poor chap--been ill three days, and they never told me or sent for me--just like their grit--meant to fight it out alone. I'm going out there at once."

From day to day I had reports from Mr. Butt of the progress of Jones's illness.

"I sit with him every day," he said. "Poor chap,--he was very bad yesterday for a while,--mind wandered--quite delirious--I could hear him from the next room--seemed to think some one was hunting him--'Is that damn old fool gone,' I heard him say.

"I went in and soothed him. 'There is no one here, my dear boy,' I said, 'no one, only Butt.' He turned over and groaned. Mrs. Jones begged me to leave him. 'You look quite used up,' she said. 'Go out into the open air.' 'My dear Mrs. Jones,' I said, 'what DOES it matter about me?'"

Eventually, thanks no doubt to Mr. Butt's assiduous care, Everleigh-Jones got well.

"Yes," said Mr. Butt to me a few weeks later, "Jones is all right again now, but his illness has been a long hard pull. I haven't had an evening to myself since it began. But I'm paid, sir, now, more than paid for anything I've done,--the gratitude of those two people--it's unbelievable --you ought to see it. Why do you know that dear little woman is so worried for fear that my strength has been overtaxed that she wants me to take a complete rest and go on a long trip somewhere--suggested first that I should go south. 'My dear Mrs. Jones,' I said laughing, 'that's the ONE place I will not go. Heat is the one thing I CAN'T stand.' She wasn't nonplussed for a moment. 'Then go north,' she said. 'Go up to Canada, or better still go to Labrador,'--and in a minute that kind little woman was hunting up railway maps to see how far north I could get by rail. 'After that,' she said, 'you can go on snowshoes.' She's found that there's a steamer to Ungava every spring and she wants me to run up there on one steamer and come back on the next."

"It must be very gratifying," I said.

"Oh, it is, it is," said Mr. Butt warmly. "It's well worth anything I do. It more than repays me. I'm alone in the world and my friends are all I have. I can't tell you how it goes to my heart when I think of all my friends, here in the club and in the town, always glad to see me, always protesting against my little kindnesses and yet never quite satisfied about anything unless they can get my advice and hear what I have to say.

"Take Jones for instance," he continued--"do you know, really now as a fact,--the hall porter assures me of it,--every time Everleigh-Jones enters the club here the first thing he does is to sing out, 'Is Mr. Butt in the club?' It warms me to think of it." Mr. Butt paused, one would have said there were tears in his eyes. But if so the kindly beam of his spectacles shone through them like the sun through April rain. He left me and passed into the cloak room.

He had just left the hall when a stranger entered, a narrow, meek man with a hunted face. He came in with a furtive step and looked about him apprehensively.

"Is Mr. Butt in the club?" he whispered to the hall porter.

"Yes, sir, he's just gone into the cloak room, sir, shall I--"

But the man had turned and made a dive for the front door and had vanished.

"Who is that?" I asked.

"That's a new member, sir, Mr. Everleigh-Jones," said the hall porter.

[The end]
Stephen Leacock's short story: Afternoon Adventures At My Club