The Prince and Betty by P.G. Wodehouse
Chapter XIII. Betty Makes a Friend
Betty had appealed to Master Maloney's esthetic sense of beauty directly she appeared before him. It was with regret, therefore, rather than with the usual calm triumph of the office boy, that he informed her that the editor was not in. Also, seeing that she was evidently perturbed by the information, he had gone out of his way to suggest that she lay her business, whatever it might be, before Mr. Renshaw's temporary successor.
Smith received her with Old-World courtesy.
"Will you sit down?" he said. "Not to wait for Comrade Renshaw, of course. He will not be back for another three months. Perhaps I can help you. I am acting editor. The work is not light," he added gratuitously. "Sometimes the cry goes round New York, 'Can Smith get through it all? Will his strength support his unquenchable spirit?' But I stagger on. I do not repine. What was it that you wished to see Comrade Renshaw about?"
He swung his monocle lightly by its cord. For the first time since she had entered the office Betty was rather glad that Mr. Renshaw was away. Conscious of her defects as a stenographer she had been looking forward somewhat apprehensively to the interview with her prospective employer. But this long, solemn youth put her at her ease. His manner suggested in some indefinable way that the whole thing was a sort of round game.
"I came about the typewriting," she said.
Smith looked at her with interest.
"Are you the nominee?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"Do you come from Mrs. Oakley?"
"Then all is well. The decks have been cleared against your coming. Consider yourself engaged as our official typist. By the way, can you type?"
Betty laughed. This was certainly not the awkward interview she had been picturing in her mind.
"Yes," she said, "but I'm afraid I'm not very good at it."
"Never mind," said Smith. "I'm not very good at editing. Yet here I am. I foresee that we shall make an ideal team. Together, we will toil early and late till we whoop up this domestic journal into a shining model of what a domestic journal should be. What that is, at present, I do not exactly know. Excursion trains will be run from the Middle West to see this domestic journal. Visitors from Oshkosh will do it before going on to Grant's tomb. What exactly is your name?"
Betty hesitated. Yes, perhaps it would be better. "Brown," she said.
"Mine is Smith. The smiling child in the outer office is Pugsy Maloney, one of our most prominent citizens. Homely in appearance, perhaps, but one of us. You will get to like Comrade Maloney. And now, to touch on a painful subject--work. Would you care to start in now, or have you any other engagements? Perhaps you wish to see the sights of this beautiful little city before beginning? You would prefer to start in now? Excellent. You could not have come at a more suitable time, for I was on the very point of sallying out to purchase about twenty-five cents' worth of lunch. We editors, Comrade Brown, find that our tissues need constant restoration, such is the strenuous nature of our duties. You will find one or two letters on that table. Good-by, then, for the present."
He picked up his hat, smoothed it carefully and with a courtly inclination of his head, left the room.
Betty sat down, and began to think. So she was really earning her own living! It was a stimulating thought. She felt a little bewildered. She had imagined something so different. Mrs. Oakley had certainly said that Peaceful Moments was a small paper, but despite that, her imagination had conjured up visions of bustle and activity, and a peremptory, overdriven editor, snapping out words of command. Smith, with his careful speech and general air of calm detachment from the noisy side of life, created an atmosphere of restfulness. If this was a sample of life in the office, she thought, the paper had been well named. She felt soothed and almost happy.
Interesting and exciting things, New York things, began to happen at once. To her, meditating, there entered Pugsy Maloney, the guardian of the gate of this shrine of Peace, a nonchalant youth of about fifteen, with a freckled, mask-like face, the expression of which never varied, bearing in his arms a cat. The cat was struggling violently, but he appeared quite unconscious of it. Its existence did not seem to occur to him.
"Say!" said Pugsy.
Betty was fond of cats.
"Oh, don't hurt her!" she cried anxiously.
Master Maloney eyed the cat as if he were seeing it for the first time.
"I wasn't hoitin' her," he said, without emotion. "Dere was two fresh kids in the street sickin' a dawg on to her. And I comes up and says, 'G'wan! What do youse t'ink youse doin', fussin' de poor dumb animal?' An' one of de guys, he says, 'G'wan! Who do youse t'ink youse is?' An' I says, 'I'm de guy what's goin' to swat youse on de coco, smarty, if youse don't quit fussin' de poor dumb animal.' So wit' dat he makes a break at swattin' me one, but I swats him one, an' I swats de odder feller one, an' den I swats dem bote some more, an' I gits de kitty, an' I brings her in here, cos I t'inks maybe youse'll look after her. I can't be boddered myself. Cats is foolishness."
And, having finished this Homeric narrative, Master Maloney fixed an expressionless eye on the ceiling, and was silent.
"How splendid of you, Pugsy!" cried Betty. "She might have been killed, poor thing."
"She had it pretty fierce," admitted Master Maloney, gazing dispassionately at the rescued animal, which had escaped from his clutch and taken up a strong position on an upper shelf of the bookcase.
"Will you go out and get her some milk, Pugsy? She's probably starving. Here's a quarter. Will you keep the change?"
"Sure thing," assented Master Maloney.
He strolled slowly out, while Betty, mounting a chair, proceeded to chirrup and snap her fingers in the effort to establish the foundations of an entente cordiale with the cat.
By the time Pugsy returned, carrying a five-cent bottle of milk, the animal had vacated the shelf, and was sitting on the table, polishing her face. The milk having been poured into the lid of a tobacco tin, in lieu of a saucer, she suspended her operations and adjourned for refreshments, Pugsy, having no immediate duties on hand, concentrated himself on the cat.
"Say!" he said.
"Dat kitty. Pipe de leather collar she's wearin'."
Betty had noticed earlier in the proceedings that a narrow leather collar encircled the animal's neck.
"Guess I know where dat kitty belongs. Dey all has dose collars. I guess she's one of Bat Jarvis's kitties. He's got twenty-t'ree of dem, and dey all has dose collars."
"Who is he?"
Pugsy looked at her incredulously.
"Say! Ain't youse never heard of Bat Jarvis? He's--he's Bat Jarvis."
"Do you know him?"
"Sure, I knows him."
"Does he live near here?"
"Sure, he lives near here."
"Then I think the best thing for you to do is to run round and tell him that I am taking care of his cat, and that he had better come and fetch it. I must be getting on with my work, or I shall never finish it."
She settled down to type the letters Smith had indicated. She attacked her task cautiously. She was one of those typists who are at their best when they do not have to hurry.
She was putting the finishing touches to the last of the batch, when there was a shuffling of feet in the outer room, followed by a knock on the door. The next moment there entered a short, burly young man, around whom there hung, like an aroma, an indescribable air of toughness, partly due, perhaps, to the fact that he wore his hair in a well-oiled fringe almost down to his eyebrows, thus presenting the appearance of having no forehead at all. His eyes were small and set close together. His mouth was wide, his jaw prominent. Not, in short, the sort of man you would have picked out on sight as a model citizen. He blinked furtively, as his eyes met Betty's, and looked round the room. His face lighted up as he saw the cat.
"Say!" he said, stepping forward, and touching the cat's collar. "Ma'am, mine!"
"Are you Mr. Jarvis?" asked Betty.
The visitor nodded, not without a touch of complacency, as of a monarch abandoning his incognito.
For Mr. Jarvis was a celebrity.
By profession he was a dealer in animals, birds, and snakes. He had a fancier's shop on Groome Street, in the heart of the Bowery. This was on the ground floor. His living abode was in the upper story of that house, and it was there that he kept the twenty-three cats whose necks were adorned with leather collars.
But it was not the fact that he possessed twenty-three cats with leather collars that had made Mr. Jarvis a celebrity. A man may win a local reputation, if only for eccentricity, by such means. Mr. Jarvis' reputation was far from being purely local. Broadway knew him, and the Tenderloin. Tammany Hall knew him. Long Island City knew him. For Bat Jarvis was the leader of the famous Groome Street Gang, the largest and most influential of the four big gangs of the East Side.
To Betty, so little does the world often know of its greatest men, he was merely a decidedly repellent-looking young man in unbecoming clothes. But his evident affection for the cat gave her a feeling of fellowship toward him. She beamed upon him, and Mr. Jarvis, who was wont to face the glare of rivals without flinching, avoided her eye and shuffled with embarrassment.
"I'm so glad she's safe!" said Betty. "There were two boys teasing her in the street. I've been giving her some milk."
Mr. Jarvis nodded, with his eyes on the floor.
There was a pause. Then he looked up, and, fixing his gaze some three feet above her head, spoke.
"Say!" he said, and paused again. Betty waited expectantly.
He relaxed into silence again, apparently thinking.
"Say!" he said. "Ma'am, obliged. Fond of de kit. I am."
"She's a dear," said Betty, tickling the cat under the ear.
"Ma'am," went on Mr. Jarvis, pursuing his theme, "obliged. Sha'n't fergit it. Any time you're in bad, glad to be of service. Bat Jarvis. Groome Street. Anybody'll show youse where I live."
He paused, and shuffled his feet; then, tucking the cat more firmly under his arm, left the room. Betty heard him shuffling downstairs.
He had hardly gone, when the door opened again, and Smith came in.
"So you have had company while I was away?" he said. "Who was the grandee with the cat? An old childhood's friend? Was he trying to sell the animal to us?"
"That was Mr. Bat Jarvis," said Betty.
Smith looked interested.
"Bat! What was he doing here?"
Betty related the story of the cat. Smith nodded thoughtfully.
"Well," he said, "I don't know that Comrade Jarvis is precisely the sort of friend I would go out of my way to select. Still, you never know what might happen. He might come in useful. And now, let us concentrate ourselves tensely on this very entertaining little journal of ours, and see if we cannot stagger humanity with it."