The Prince and Betty by P.G. Wodehouse
Chapter XXIII. The Retirement of Smith
The first member of the staff of Peaceful Moments to arrive at the office on the following morning was Master Maloney. This sounds like the beginning of a "Plod and Punctuality," or "How Great Fortunes have been Made" story, but, as a matter of fact, Master Maloney, like Mr. Bat Jarvis, was no early bird. Larks who rose in his neighborhood, rose alone. He did not get up with them. He was supposed to be at the office at nine o'clock. It was a point of honor with him, a sort of daily declaration of independence, never to put in an appearance before nine-thirty. On this particular morning he was punctual to the minute, or half an hour late, whichever way you choose to look at it.
He had only whistled a few bars of "My Little Irish Rose," and had barely got into the first page of his story of life on the prairie, when Kid Brady appeared. The Kid had come to pay a farewell visit. He had not yet begun training, and he was making the best of the short time before such comforts should be forbidden by smoking a big black cigar. Master Maloney eyed him admiringly. The Kid, unknown to that gentleman himself, was Pugsy's ideal. He came from the Plains, and had, indeed, once actually been a cowboy; he was a coming champion; and he could smoke big black cigars. There was no trace of his official well-what-is-it-now? air about Pugsy as he laid down his book and prepared to converse.
"Say, Mr. Smith around anywhere, Pugsy?" asked the Kid.
"Naw, Mr. Brady. He ain't came yet," replied Master Maloney respectfully.
"Late, ain't he?"
"Sure! He generally blows in before I do."
"Wonder what's keepin' him?"
As he spoke, John appeared. "Hello, Kid," he said. "Come to say good-by?"
"Yep," said the Kid. "Seen Mr. Smith around anywhere, Mr. Maude?"
"Hasn't he come yet? I guess he'll be here soon. Hello, who's this?"
A small boy was standing at the door, holding a note.
"Mr. Maude?" he said. "Cop at Jefferson Market give me dis fer you."
"What!" He took the letter, and gave the boy a dime. "Why, it's from Smith. Great Scott!"
It was apparent that the Kid was politely endeavoring to veil his curiosity. Master Maloney had no such delicacy.
"What's in de letter, boss?" he enquired.
"The letter," said John slowly, "is from Mr. Smith. And it says that he was sentenced this morning to thirty days on the Island for resisting the police."
"He's de guy!" admitted Master Maloney approvingly.
"What's that?" said the Kid. "Mr. Smith been slugging cops! What's he been doin' that for?"
"I must go and find out at once. It beats me."
It did not take John long to reach Jefferson Market, and by the judicious expenditure of a few dollars he was enabled to obtain an interview with Smith in a back room.
The editor of Peaceful Moments was seated on a bench, looking remarkably disheveled. There was a bruise on his forehead, just where the hair began. He was, however, cheerful.
"Ah, John," he said. "You got my note all right, then?" John looked at him, concerned.
"What on earth does it all mean?"
Smith heaved a regretful sigh.
"I fear," he said, "I have made precisely the blamed fool of myself that Comrade Parker hoped I would."
"I may be misjudging him, but I seem to see the hand of Comrade Parker in this. We had a raid at my house last night, John. We were pulled."
"What on earth--?"
"Somebody--if it was not Comrade Parker it was some other citizen dripping with public spirit--tipped the police off that certain sports were running a pool-room in the house where I live."
On his departure from the News, Smith, from motives of economy, had moved from his hotel in Washington Square and taken a furnished room on Fourteenth Street.
"There actually was a pool-room there," he went on, "so possibly I am wronging Comrade Parker in thinking that this was a scheme of his for getting me out of the way. At any rate, somebody gave the tip, and at about three o'clock this morning I was aroused from a dreamless slumber by quite a considerable hammering at my door. There, standing on the mat, were two policemen. Very cordially the honest fellows invited me to go with them. A conveyance, it seemed, waited in the street without. I disclaimed all connection with the bad gambling persons below, but they replied that they were cleaning up the house, and, if I wished to make any remarks, I had better make them to the magistrate. This seemed reasonable. I said I would put on some clothes and come along. They demurred. They said they couldn't wait about while I put on clothes. I pointed out that sky-blue pajamas with old-rose frogs were not the costume in which the editor of a great New York weekly paper should be seen abroad in one of the world's greatest cities, but they assured me--more by their manner than their words--that my misgivings were groundless, so I yielded. These men, I told myself, have lived longer in New York than I. They know what is done, and what is not done. I will bow to their views. So I was starting to go with them like a lamb, when one of them gave me a shove in the ribs with his night stick. And it was here that I fancy I may have committed a slight error of policy."
He smiled dreamily for a moment, then went on.
"I admit that the old Berserk blood of the Smiths boiled at that juncture. I picked up a sleep-producer from the floor, as Comrade Brady would say, and handed it to the big-stick merchant. He went down like a sack of coal over the bookcase, and at that moment I rather fancy the other gentleman must have got busy with his club. At any rate, somebody suddenly loosed off some fifty thousand dollars' worth of fireworks, and the next thing I knew was that the curtain had risen for the next act on me, discovered sitting in a prison cell, with an out-size in lumps on my forehead."
He sighed again.
"What Peaceful Moments really needs," he said, "is a sitz-redacteur. A sitz-redacteur, John, is a gentleman employed by German newspapers with a taste for lese-majeste to go to prison whenever required in place of the real editor. The real editor hints in his bright and snappy editorial, for instance, that the Kaiser's mustache gives him bad dreams. The police force swoops down in a body on the office of the journal, and are met by the sitz-redacteur, who goes with them cheerfully, allowing the editor to remain and sketch out plans for his next week's article on the Crown Prince. We need a sitz-redacteur on Peaceful Moments almost as much as a fighting editor. Not now, of course. This has finished the thing. You'll have to close down the paper now."
"Close it down!" cried John. "You bet I won't."
"My dear old son," said Smith seriously, "what earthly reason have you for going on with it? You only came in to help me, and I am no more. I am gone like some beautiful flower that withers in the night. Where's the sense of getting yourself beaten up then? Quit!"
John shook his head.
"I wouldn't quit now if you paid me."
A policeman appeared at the door.
"Say, pal," he remarked to John, "you'll have to be fading away soon, I guess. Give you three minutes more. Say it quick."
He retired. Smith looked at John.
"You won't quit?" he said.
"You're an all-wool sport, John," he said. "I don't suppose you know how to spell quit. Well, then, if you are determined to stand by the ship like Comrade Casabianca, I'll tell you an idea that came to me in the watches of the night. If ever you want to get ideas, John, you spend a night in one of these cells. They flock to you. I suppose I did more profound thinking last night than I've ever done in my life. Well, here's the idea. Act on it or not, as you please. I was thinking over the whole business from soup to nuts, and it struck me that the queerest part of it all is that whoever owns these Broster Street tenements should care a Canadian dime whether we find out who he is or not."
"Well, there's the publicity," began John.
"Tush!" said Smith. "And possibly bah! Do you suppose that the sort of man who runs Broster Street is likely to care a darn about publicity? What does it matter to him if the papers soak it to him for about two days? He knows they'll drop him and go on to something else on the third, and he knows he's broken no law. No, there's something more in this business than that. Don't think that this bright boy wants to hush us up simply because he is a sensitive plant who can't bear to think that people should be cross with him. He has got some private reason for wanting to lie low."
"Well, but what difference--?"
"Comrade, I'll tell you. It makes this difference: that the rents are almost certainly collected by some confidential person belonging to his own crowd, not by an ordinary collector. In other words, the collector knows the name of the man he's collecting for. But for this little misfortune of mine, I was going to suggest that we waylay that collector, administer the Third Degree, and ask him who his boss is."
John uttered an exclamation.
"You're right! I'll do it."
"You think you can? Alone?"
"Sure! Don't you worry. I'll--"
The door opened and the policeman reappeared.
"Time's up. Slide, sonny."
John said good-by to Smith, and went out. He had a last glimpse of his late editor, a sad smile on his face, telling the policeman what was apparently a humorous story. Complete good will seemed to exist between them. John consoled himself as he went away with the reflection that Smith's was a temperament that would probably find a bright side even to a thirty-days' visit to Blackwell's Island.
He walked thoughtfully back to the office. There was something lonely, and yet wonderfully exhilarating, in the realization that he was now alone and in sole charge of the campaign. It braced him. For the first time in several weeks he felt positively light-hearted.