The Prince and Betty by P.G. Wodehouse
Chapter XXI. Changes in the Staff
Three days had elapsed since the battle which had opened the campaign, and there had been no further movement on the part of the enemy. Smith was puzzled. A strange quiet seemed to be brooding over the other camp. He could not believe that a single defeat had crushed the foe, but it was hard to think of any other explanation.
It was Pugsy Maloney who, on the fourth morning, brought to the office the inner history of the truce. His version was brief and unadorned, as was the way with his narratives. Such things as first causes and piquant details he avoided, as tending to prolong the telling excessively, thus keeping him from the perusal of his cowboy stories. He gave the thing out merely as an item of general interest, a bubble on the surface of the life of a great city. He did not know how nearly interested were his employers in any matter touching that gang which is known as the Three Points.
Pugsy said: "Dere's been fuss'n going on down where I live. Dude Dawson's mad at Spider Reilly, and now de Table Hills is layin' for de T'ree Points, to soak it to 'em. Dat's right."
He then retired to his outer fastness, yielding further details jerkily and with the distrait air of one whose mind is elsewhere.
Skilfully extracted and pieced together, these details formed themselves into the following typical narrative of East Side life.
There were four really important gangs in New York at this time. There were other less important institutions besides, but these were little more than mere friendly gatherings of old boyhood chums for purposes of mutual companionship. They might grow into formidable organizations in time, but for the moment the amount of ice which good judges declared them to cut was but small. They would "stick up" an occasional wayfarer for his "cush," and they carried "canisters" and sometimes fired them off, but these things do not signify the cutting of ice. In matters political there were only four gangs which counted, the East Side, the Groome Street, the Three Points and the Table Hill. Greatest of these, by virtue of their numbers, were the East Side and the Groome Street, the latter presided over at the time of this story by Mr. Bat Jarvis. These two were colossal, and, though they might fight each other, were immune from attack at the hands of the rest.
But between the other gangs, and especially between the Table Hill and the Three Points, which were much of a size, warfare raged as frequently as among the Republics of South America. There had always been bad blood between the Table Hill and the Three Points. Little events, trifling in themselves, had always occurred to shatter friendly relations just when there seemed a chance of their being formed. Thus, just as the Table Hillites were beginning to forgive the Three Points for shooting the redoubtable Paul Horgan down at Coney Island, a Three Pointer injudiciously wiped out a Table Hillite near Canal Street. He pleaded self-defense, and in any case it was probably mere thoughtlessness, but nevertheless the Table Hillites were ruffled.
That had been a month or so back. During that month things had been simmering down, and peace was just preparing to brood when there occurred the incident alluded to by Pugsy, the regrettable falling out between Dude Dawson and Spider Reilly.
To be as brief as possible, Dude Dawson had gone to spend a happy evening at a dancing saloon named Shamrock Hall, near Groome Street. Now, Shamrock Hall belonged to a Mr. Maginnis, a friend of Bat Jarvis, and was under the direct protection of that celebrity. It was, therefore, sacred ground, and Mr. Dawson visited it in a purely private and peaceful capacity. The last thing he intended was to spoil the harmony of the evening.
Alas for the best intentions! Two-stepping clumsily round the room--for he was a poor, though enthusiastic, dancer--Dude Dawson collided with and upset a certain Reddy Davis and his partner. Reddy Davis was a member of the Three Points, and his temper was the temper of a red-headed man. He "slugged" Mr. Dawson. Mr. Dawson, more skilful at the fray than at the dance, joined battle willingly, and they were absorbed in a stirring combat, when an interruption occurred. In the far corner of the room, surrounded by admiring friends, sat Spider Reilly, monarch of the Three Points. He had noticed that there was a slight disturbance at the other side of the hall, but had given it little attention till the dancing ceasing suddenly and the floor emptying itself of its crowd, he had a plain view of Mr. Dawson and Mr. Davis squaring up at each other for the second round.
We must assume that Mr. Reilly was not thinking of what he did, for his action was contrary to all rules of gang etiquette. In the street it would have been perfectly legitimate, even praiseworthy, but in a dance-hall under the protection of a neutral power it was unpardonable.
What he did was to produce his revolver, and shoot the unsuspecting Mr. Dawson in the leg. Having done which, he left hurriedly, fearing the wrath of Bat Jarvis.
Mr. Dawson, meanwhile, was attended to and helped home. Willing informants gave him the name of his aggressor, and before morning the Table Hill camp was in a ferment. Shooting broke out in three places, though there were no casualties.
When the day dawned there existed between the two gangs a state of war more bitter than any in their record, for this time it was chieftain who had assaulted chieftain, Royal blood had been spilt.
Such was the explanation of the lull in the campaign against Peaceful Moments. The new war had taken the mind of Spider Reilly and his warriors off the paper and its affairs for the moment, much as the unexpected appearance of a mad bull would make a man forget that he had come out snipe-shooting.
At present there had been no pitched battle. As was usual between the gangs, war had broken out in a somewhat tentative fashion at first. There had been skirmishes by the wayside, but nothing more. The two armies were sparring for an opening.
* * * * *
Smith was distinctly relieved at the respite, for necessitating careful thought. This was the defection of Kid Brady.
The Kid's easy defeat of Cyclone Dick Fisher had naturally created a sensation in sporting circles. He had become famous in a night. It was not with surprise, therefore, that Smith received from his fighting editor the information that he had been matched against one Eddie Wood, whose fame outshone even that of the late Cyclone.
The Kid, a white man to the core, exhibited quite a feudal loyalty to the paper which had raised him from the ruck and placed him on the road to eminence.
"Say the word," he said, "and I'll call it off. If you feel you need me around here, Mr. Smith, say so, and I'll side-step Eddie."
"Comrade Brady," said Smith with enthusiasm, "I have had occasion before to call you sport. I do so again. But I'm not going to stand in your way. If you eliminate this Comrade Wood, they will have to give you a chance against Jimmy Garvin, won't they?"
"I guess that's right," said the Kid. "Eddie stayed nineteen rounds against Jimmy, and, if I can put him away, it gets me clear into line with Jim, and he'll have to meet me."
"Then go in and win, Comrade Brady. We shall miss you. It will be as if a ray of sunshine had been removed from the office. But you mustn't throw a chance away."
"I'll train at White Plains," said the Kid, "so I'll be pretty near in case I'm wanted."
"Oh, we shall be all right," said Smith, "and if you win, we'll bring out a special number. Good luck, Comrade Brady, and many thanks for your help."
* * * * *
John, when he arrived at the office and learned the news, was for relying on their own unaided efforts.
"And, anyway," he said, "I don't see who else there is to help us. You could tell the police, I suppose," he went on doubtfully.
Smith shook his head.
"The New York policeman, Comrade John, is, like all great men, somewhat peculiar. If you go to a New York policeman and exhibit a black eye, he is more likely to express admiration for the handiwork of the citizen responsible for the same than sympathy. No; since coming to this city I have developed a habit of taking care of myself, or employing private help. I do not want allies who will merely shake their heads at Comrade Reilly and his merry men, however sternly. I want someone who, if necessary, will soak it to them good."
"Sure," said John. "But who is there now the Kid's gone?"
"Who else but Comrade Jarvis?" said Smith.
"Jarvis? Bat Jarvis?"
"The same. I fancy that we shall find, on enquiry, that we are ace high with him. At any rate, there is no harm in sounding him. It is true that he may have forgotten, or it may be that it is to Comrade Brown alone that he is--"
"Who's Brown?" asked John.
"Our late stenographer," explained Smith. "A Miss Brown. She entertained Comrade Jarvis' cat, if you remember. I wonder what has become of her. She has sent in three more corking efforts on the subject of Broster Street, but she gives no address. I wish I knew where she was. I'd have liked for you to meet her."