A Full House
A Full House
Author of "Royalty in disguise," "Pro Patria"
"MR. HARRINGTON shivered.
People usually did when Professor Herschel W. Giddens turned upon them the full battery of his brain, which, beneath a number eight-and-a-quarter, neat bowler hat, topped a wizened body of five feet four.
Not that, from an intellectual angle, he was a bravo, a peripatetic swashbuckler who crushed his antagonists with his knowledge, like a very juggernaut of brilliancy and learning and withering, merciless logic. For, while he argued didactically, even brutally, about the subjects he knew, he was a good listener when it came to those with which he was unfamiliar. He respected the other fellows’ specialties and, by the same token, expected a similar courtesy for his own pet domain: psychology; the practical, applied, constructive end of it.
It was there that Mr. Jerome Harrington had made his mistake.
Had he been satisfied with holding forth about galena ore, the percentage of carbon in the Kootenai coal outcroppings, the reason why the Hood River spitzenburg apples were superior to the Wenatchee jonathans and inferior to the Alberta skookums, or any other of the many details connected with the Northwestern development in which he was a prime factor, Professor Giddens would have listened attentively, his head a little to one side like an intelligent coot, his thin lips lifting sympathetically at the corners, his bright, shrewd eyes glistening underneath bushy, white brows, his pertinacious brain registering and dovetailing the facts as he heard them.
But Mr. Harrington had been rash enough to challenge the other’s statements when, over the excellent cigars of the Seattle Civic Club, their conversation had turned to certain aspects of modern civilization and the influence of the science of psychology thereon.
“It was us rough pioneers made this great and glorious Northwest. We just kept on going because your effete Eastern civilization sort of hobbled our hind feet.” Mr. Harrington had stated, sublimely oblivious of the fact that his personal pioneering had commenced with his popping across the Washington State line three yards west of a deputy sheriff’s spluttering six-gun, squatting on somebody else’s undeveloped real estate with a rifle in the crook of his elbow, and selling firewater to the guileless Siwash. “Yes, sir! There wouldn’t be nothing at all this side of the Divide, if it wasn’t for the number forty-eight chest measures of guys like myself.”
“Yes, yes, yes,” the professor had replied in his carefully punctuated voice, looking, for all his white hair and wrinkled face, like a precocious child. “Of course, civilization needs brawn—to mulch the ground, so to speak.”
“Mulch?” The agricultural allusion had touched Mr. Harrington on the raw. “What——”
“I said—mulch!” repeated the other, nowise intimidated. “Like dung, you know.”
“Dung. Right. But the day of it is past. We know that it is there, that we can use it when we need it.”
“Men like myself, scientifically educated and trained. To-day brawn is the slave of brain.”
Mr. Harrington had snickered. He had poked a stumpy thumb at the professor’s thin chest.
“Say, little man,” he had exclaimed, “I don’t mean to be personal, but——”
“I get you—to quote the regrettable, though expressive slang of my freshmen. I weigh ninety-eight pounds. I suffer from anæmia, pyorrhea, chronic rheumatism, sinus trouble, varicose veins, and soft corns. But,” he had said it unblushingly, yet unboastingly, “I have a mind, and I have made a thorough study of the turns and twists of other people’s minds.”
“D’you mean to say you back up that precious mind of yours against——”
“Anybody. Anything. A thousand years ago, I would have been trampled upon, would have gone under. To-day, I, the man of brain, am the king of the man of brawn. For I am an expert at psychology.”
Mr. Harrington had stuck out his large, pink chin that passed directly into the strong, full neck.
“Sure, little man,” he had said soothingly, as he might to a child. “You want to save your face, as my Chinese cook calls it. But let’s talk sense. There’s you—and say, I couldn’t improve on the description you give o’ yourself—and here’s me, two hundred and fifteen pounds of meat stripped to the buff. Muscle, strength, guts—that’s me! And that’s how I made my way. I guess brains are O. K. in their place, but they’re no darned good when you’re up against the raw thing. Now, between you and me and the lamp-post, I cleaned up a cool half million out o’ that gold mine up the Elk River, and I wouldn’t have found that mine if I hadn’t been able to outwalk and outwork the rest o’ the bunch that was headed in the same direction when Ben Williams comes down here with the news o’ the pay streak. Why, you poor, dried-up little Boston shrimp, if you’d been up here in the early days, you wouldn’t have developed as much as a patch of secondhand peanuts.”
“I am speaking of actual conditions, not of what they were twenty years ago.”
“Say! Ain’t that mine up the Elk an actual condition? Look at the money I have in the bank. Why, I could buy and sell you a dozen times over.”
“All very interesting, but not germane to the subject,” said the professor.
“Not—what was that word?”
“I mean that your observations are jejune in the extreme. They are flaccid and adynamic.”
“Don’t you understand plain English? All right. I shall put it more simply.”
He did. And—we repeat—Mr. Harrington shivered.
HE spoke of it, a few minutes later, to a small but select gathering of leading citizens who were supporting the club bar, financially as well as physically.
“Ding-dong his ding-donged little, warty, rusty hide!” he said. “He——”
“Who’s he?” asked Charlie Baxter, the lumber king from Port Angeles way.
“That there measly professor of psycho somethin’ who’s been lecturing up at Seattle University for the last three months.”
“What’s he gone and done to you, Jerome?”
“Nothin’ much.” Mr. Harrington was heavily ironic. “Just stepped on my face and bit me in the chest—that’s all. Yes, sir. Treated me as if I was a dirty-nosed, pap-fed brat of a schoolboy. Told me I——” He choked into his whisky glass.
“What?” demanded Clyde Humphreys, his partner and brother-in-law.
“He told me I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about!”
“Surely he didn’t use those words?” smiled Clyde Humphreys.
“He did, too. ‘You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about!’ Them were his exact words. There he sat, like an ——’”edition of a giant, with a contemptuous sneer wrinkling that little knobby, chilblained button of a nose of his, and he sez to me: ‘You don’t know what the
“Never mind, Jerome,” Charlie Baxter cut in soothingly, “he’s going back to Boston the end of the week.”
“Who told you?”
“He did himself. Said he had learned all he wanted to about the Northwest——”
“All he wanted to!” Mr. Harrington’s wrath surged up again. “All he wanted to—in half a year!”
“From a psychological angle, he added, and he said, speaking from that same angle, that it wasn’t so different from the East after all.”
A minatory glitter came into Mr. Harrington’s pale-blue eyes. “Say,” he inquired, “did he say anything about brain bein’ better than brawn?”
“He sure did. He allowed that a fellow who’s familiar with psychology——”
“Meaning himself,” cut in Clyde Humphreys.
“Sure. That such a fellow doesn’t need anything else. Got my goat good and plenty, he did.”
“Mine, too!” from Mr. Harrington.
“And mine!” Clyde Humphreys commented. “Well—let’s forget him. He’s off to Harvard end of the week. I was at the C. P. R. office when he got his ticket.”
“Why don’t he take the U. P.?” demanded Mr. Harrington to whom, by this time, the professor’s most harmless action was suspicious. “Roundabout way of going to Boston—over the C. P.”
“He’s going to break his journey at Nelson and go up the Elk River for a week or two. Just to get a bit of mountain air, he says.”
“Up the Elk?” Mr. Harrington mused. Then, suddenly, he laughed.
“Brothers!” he said, raising two fingers and a thumb and giving the high sign of a certain lodge which is powerful in social and business circles from Nome to Cheyenne. “I got a idea!"
And to the barkeeper:
“Set ’em up, Jim!”
An hour later, he returned to the library where the professor was still sitting, peacefully absorbed in the pale, innocuous mazes of the “Esoteric Review.”
“Professor,” he asked, leaning above the other, “I hear you’re going up the Elk.”
“Taking a guide?”
“Darned lonely up there.”
“That’s all right. All I need is a map, a compass and——”
“That great, grinding brain of yours, eh?” Mr. Harrington curled his lips in a lopsided smile. “Mebbe you’re right. But tell me, d’you know anything about cooking?”
“I have a certain rudimentary knowledge, enough for my own modest needs.”
“Well, take my tip and go down to the Alaska Grill and ask the chef to give you a few private lessons. Take my tip, little man!”
And Mr. Harrington departed with a crude, untrimmed guffaw which the other, his knowledge of psychology forsaking him for once, blamed on the rich potency of the club’s famous special reserve bourbon.
TEN days later, Professor Giddens was well on his way up the Elk.
It was evening, and far on the edge of the ragged horizon a flush of gold and scarlet was fading into twilight, while above Goat Peak the oncoming night was beginning to spread stealthy fingers of purple and black that trickled down to the valley where the Elk lay like a glittering, yellow ribbon across the sooty smudge of the underbrush.
There was no sound except the occasional call of a wild bird that came out of the nowhere with a whirring of brown wings then vanished into an eddy of cloud, and the dim stir of brittle, fox-red leaves, blown about on the lap of some vagabond wind, chill with the snow of the upper range; and Professor Herschel W. Giddens slung his blanket roll and his knapsack with its compact, scientifically condensed food supply from his back.
He sat down with a sigh of tired satisfaction.
His feet were sore, his shoulders stiff and galled through the rubbing of the knapsack straps, his eyes smarted with the wind that had blown all day; but he was happy and contented.
For he liked the great, gray loneliness of the hills. It swept his mind with the sucking strength of a vacuum cleaner, dusting each last, tiny, cobwebby corner and ironing out the wrinkles in his brain against the coming Harvard semester, when once more he would take up written and spoken cudgels against Professor Elmer T. Blakeslee, his colleague, his best friend, and his chief opponent in matters psychological, and bear down upon him with all his invincible logic in which the truths stood one behind the other, neatly marshaled and irreproachably labeled.
He whistled a long-forgotten song of his student days, those far-away days when, the which was hard to believe, he had been less interested in philosophic psychology than in that distinctly psychological game, called draw poker.
But it sounded just a little out of place, here, in the immense, majestic, breath-clogging silence of the mountains, and so he broke off the slangy melody, stretched out his pipestem legs, and lit a mild cigar.
Presently he would prepare his simple supper; a couple of bouillon cubes dissolved in water, with which he had filled his canteen down at the river earlier in the day, heated over his collapsible sterno outfit, a few dry biscuits, and a bar of chocolate, studded nourishingly and engagingly with the humble peanut.
Then he would roll himself in his blankets and doze off, with the twinkling, yellow stars above him, and the clean scent of the pines in his nostrils. And an early start to-morrow morning—back to Nelson, thence to Boston, to his Alma Mater and the chair of applied psychology—
“Hullo, little man!” a sudden voice boomed out of the trooping, blotched shadows in back of him where a narrow trail, sole memento of some dead and forgotten prospector, twisted up through the gnarled pines and toward a sweep of ragged, fantastic basalt peaks.
Professor Giddens turned, startled, just a little nervous to hear a human voice here in the clogging silence of the hills, and he felt distinctly relieved when he saw that the speaker was Mr. Jerome Harrington, accompanied by his brother-in-law, Charlie Baxter, and Clyde Humphreys.
They were dressed in serviceable Mackinaws and elk-skin boots, rifles in their hands, packs across their shoulders, like men out for a long, rough hike; and the professor was really glad to see them after his first start of surprise had passed. For, when all was said and done and in spite of his occasional squabbles with them and other members of the Seattle Civic Club when the talk had turned on the everlasting comparison between the mutuals merits and demerits of homo sapiens Atlanticus and homo sapiens Pacificus, he had become fond of the West, and he said so now, adding with hospitable intent:
“I am about to prepare my modest evening repast,” opening his knapsack and bringing out biscuits and chocolate bars and bouillon cubes. “If you gentlemen would care to join me——”
“We’ll join you all right, all right,” cut in Mr. Harrington in a basso voice whose timbre was slightly tainted by a plug of Macdonald’s chewing tobacco. “Ain’t that so, fellows?” to his two companions, who inclined their heads. Then, again to the Bostonian:
“By the way, little man, did you take my tip?”
“Sure. About getting a few lessons in swell cooking before you hit the trail!”
He grinned like the cat that has stolen the cream, his friends joined noisily in his merriment, and the professor, too, smiled, though rather in a puzzled way, since he had no idea what the joke was about.
But, looking up, he read something in the other’s chilly, pale-blue eyes which made him feel uncomfortable, which even made him feel afraid.
And instantaneously—for he was just that type of man—his pugnacity rose and bristled.
“Why should I?” he demanded, sticking out his wrinkled old chin like a miniature prize fighter.
“Oh, gee! Why should you?” mimicked Mr. Harrington, and he burst into Gargantuan cachinnations.
THE professor reflected for a moment; then, from his meager store of slang which he owed to undergraduate repartee overheard in campus or hall, he chose what he considered the most appropriate rejoinder:
“What’s the joke, you big, fat slob? Go on. Come through.”
Mr. Harrington turned an angry red. “As fresh as ever, ain’t you, you dried-up little pimple on the face of humanity?” he asked thickly. “But,” musing, then returning to his first proposition. “I wish you had taken my tip and had asked that Frenchy chef back in Seattle to give you a few lessons in high-class hash slinging. For you’re going to need it, see?”
“’Cause you’re going to cook for us!”
“For us—meaning me myself and them two able-bodied citizens with me. And may the Lord have mercy on your soul if you burn the flapjacks or don’t fry the bacon crisp enough!”
A steely gleam came into the professor’s myopic eyes.
“I believe this jest has gone far enough,” he said, “and——”
“Aw—shut your trap! This ain’t a jest. It’s the sober, sad truth. For today it’s me who’s going to do the talking!”
He laughed again, then demanded, apropos of nothing in particular:
“Say, little man, how you feeling about brain and brawn? How you feeling about East and West? How you feeling about psy-cho something?”
The professor raised his bushy eyebrows.
“I have had no occasion so far to alter my opinion in the slightest degree,” he replied.
“You haven’t, have you? Well, you will in about two shakes of a lamb’s tail. You see, little man, our first lesson in brain and brawn, East and West, and psy-cho-hickamadoodle is for you to get busy right smart and fix us up a whole lot of supper. Hey there, Clyde! Open that pack of yours and take out the raw materials. And now,” taking the professor by the neck and shaking him as a terrier shakes a rat, “attend to me!”
The professor twisted and strained and struggled—which did not help him at all.
“This is outrageous!” he cried in his piping, high-pitched voice. “I demand an explanation!”
“Don’t understand yet?” guffawed Mr. Harrington. “All right!”
And, quoting the professor’s words of ten days earlier with more or less fidelity, he said, “I shall put it more simply. You’re going to find out in your own shriveled-up person if it’s us guys with the forty-eight chest measure that are needed by civilization to—what did you allow civilization needs us for?”
“To mulch the ground of progress!” cried the professor obstinately, still struggling in the other’s iron grip.
“Sure. That was the word. And didn’t you say a few kind words about us being dung?”
“I did—and I repeat it!”
“Good enough. And didn’t you let drop something about the gink who’s an expert at psy-cho-maggugin——”
“Yes. And I uphold what I said! Most decidedly so!”
“Sure you do. Well, we’ll settle that little argument right now. You see, you’re going to be our maid of all work—mine and Charlie’s and Clyde’s—and I tell you Clyde’s mighty fussy. You’re going to fry and boil, make coffee and wash up, clean our pipes and lace our boots, and generally try and make yourself more useful than you’re ornamental. You’re going to find out how much you can do with your brain alone when you’re up against nature in the raw.”
“Meaning yourself by—nature in the raw?” demanded the professor.
“You got me. And don’t you harbor any foolish or rash thoughts, my lad, for we're going to watch you all right, all right. Why, you miserable, wrinkled-up ball of secondhand sausage meat, if that brain of yours is half as great as you say it is—and personally I think you’re a liar—you ought to be able to give us the slip in no time!”
“To be sure,” said the professor, in quite a matter-of-fact voice. “I can, and I shall!”
“You won’t!” roared the other. “We aren’t going to take any chances. At night, when we turn in, we’re going to hog tie you. And during the day, well”—he chuckled disagreeably and patted his rifle—“we got our little persuaders all cocked and primed. We aren’t going to kill you, and I hope it won’t be necessary to cripple you for life. But if ever you attempt to skip we’re going to pump you so full o’ holes that people behind you’ll complain of the draft. I give you fair warning, and I just go you a little bet—let’s say”—with a grandiose gesture—“twenty thousand dollars!”
“What is the bet?” inquired the professor gently.
“That with all your brain and all that there darned psy-cho-rot of yours, you aren’t going to get away from us until you go down on your bended knees and confess the error of your ways—that you aren’t going to get away from us until we give the word!” and he released the professor.
The latter smiled. “I’ll take that bet,” he said simply, and Mr. Harrington and his two friends looked at him and at each other open-mouthed, doubting that they had heard aright.
“And what’s more,” said Charlie Baxter later on to Clyde Humphreys, while the professor, under the meticulous and blasphemous supervision of Mr. Harrington, was learning how to make coffee which, to quote the latter gentleman, had some guts to it and didn’t taste like hog wash, “what’s more, I don’t think the little runt is bluffing. He means to win that bet. I see it in his eye!”
During the next few days Professor Herschel W. Giddens worked as, physically, he had never worked before.
Between spreading and airing the blankets, gathering firewood, drawing fish and feathered game, washing, cleaning up, oiling boots, and cooking for three husky men whose appetites were in keeping with their bodily dimensions, he had hardly enough time to call his soul his own.
He made no attempt to run away. And it would have been useless.
For Mr. Harrington had been in grim earnest. All day the professor was watched by one, or two, or the whole three, while at night he was neatly trussed up.
Mr. Harrington bullied and abused and dragooned him; but the professor, through it all, kept his philosophic equanimity and his faintly ironic ease of manner.
He neither complained nor begged. He rarely spoke. He just attended to his manifold duties—and thought.
Too, he smiled, a maddening, slightly supercilious, entirely self-centered and self-satisfied smile—even when Mr. Harrington baited him on the subject of their old misunderstanding, or when, with a great deal of picturesque profanity, he voiced the hope that the other wouldn’t welsh when it came to settling the bet.
THUS two days passed, three, and still the professor slaved until his hands were blistered and scratched and cut, his back strained, and all the muscles in his body sore and stiff.
Of course, his three jailers missed the delights of their club and, to make up for it a little, they played draw poker every afternoon, putting the professor between them so that they could watch him during the play; and Giddens rather enjoyed it.
For, as mentioned above, he had been an expert at the great American game during his student years and, even now, every once in a while, he sat down to a modest little penny ante with some of his colleagues and their wives.
It was on the fifth day of his captivity that, looking at Mr. Harrington’s hand and seeing him exercise very poor judgment in drawing to his cards, he broke into curt, withering, saturnine laughter.
Mr. Harrington dropped the cards and glared at him.
“Say,” he demanded, “with all your other wonderful achievements, d’you perhaps imagine that you can give me a lesson in poker, too?”
“I shouldn’t wonder at all,” came the mild reply.
“Some more psy-cho-bunk, I guess?”
“Exactly. Poker is not a logical game. It is a psychological game. That’s why I am so good at it,” he wound up, yawning a little.
Mr. Harrington swallowed. “Look-a-here, you little runt,” he demanded thickly, “got any money with you?”
“All right. Buy some chips. Charlie is banker. I’m going to trim you and trim you good, you darned little sucker!”
And so the three-handed game changed into a foursome.
All afternoon they shuffled and dealt and drew, and the professor won steadily from the very first.
It would be doing him an injustice to say that it was luck. It was simply that he could play the game. Perhaps he was right; perhaps poker is a psychological game; or, on the other hand, there may exist a distinct genius for poker, not registered by Lombroso, as there exists genius for music and writing.
At all events, Professor Herschel was one of those exceptional men who can split a pair of aces and draw to a flush, and never change a muscle. His wrinkled old face, when he picked up his cards, showed less emotion than a Chinese cemetery on a rainy day in late autumn; and his voice, when he asked for cards, was as void of human emotion as an ossified bagpipe played by a Presbyterian Highland Scot in a dry county. His strategy was worthy of General Foch. It was never twice alike; and when, once in a while, the others abandoned a pot to him without calling his hand and, afterward, with the spirit and voices of early Christian martyrs inquired what he had, he could lie like a stockbroker with a Levantine mother.
He centered his attacks on Mr. Harrington’s steadily diminishing pile, and added insult to injury by insisting on being paid in cash for the three or four piles of chips he sold to him.
“Don’t trust me, eh?” demanded Mr. Harrington, grieved, just as, having lost another pot to the professor, the latter mentioned gently that there were five dollars more coming to him.
“Don’t trust me?” he repeated, opening his sadly depleted wallet; and then, quite suddenly, he rose, spluttered, and roared like an angry bull. His curses came thick and fast.
Clyde Humphreys pulled him by the sleeve. “Sit down, Jerome, and behave,” he said. “Don’t be a bad loser!”
“Bad loser—hell! I don’t mind losing money in a straight game, but——” and he stammered forth that, two seconds earlier, he had discarded the queen of spades, and that:
“Look! The runt won that last on a full house—three queens and a pair of dooces! And—look! Darn it all—look!” He pointed at the professor’s cards which lay face up: “The queen of hearts, the queen of diamonds, and the queen of spades! And he himself dealt the cards! You—you miserable, ornery little cheat! You—you——”
He choked, became incoherent. He took the professor by the neck, shook him, then sent him sprawling into the thick undergrowth that surrounded the camp. “Get out and keep away!” he shouted. “We don’t want anything to do with people who cheat at cards!”
He picked up his rifle.
The professor ran down the trail toward the Elk River as fast as his thin legs would let him.
Six days afterward, a telegram dated from Boston was delivered into the hands of Mr. Harrington at the Seattle Civic Club. It read as follows:
Kindly deposit bet wagered to my account Boston National Bank. Take off amount of last pot. Giddens.
And be it said, in justice to Mr. Harrington, that he laughed and paid—and telephoned to the nearest bookstore for whatever tomes on applied psychology by Professor Herschel W. Giddens they kept in stock.