The Battle of Long Island
THE BATTLE OF LONG ISLAND
By Ring W. Lardner
ILLUSTRATED BY MAY WILSON PRESTON
ALONG the first week in May they was a couple hot days, and Katie—that's my little sister-in-law—can't stand the heat. Or the cold, or the medium. Anyway, when it's hot she always says: "I'm simply stifling." And when it's cold: "I'm simply frozen." And when it ain't neither one: "I wished the weather would do one thing another." I don't s'pose she knows what she's saying when she says any one of them things, but she's one of these here gals that can't bear to see a conversation die out and thinks it's her place to come through with a wise crack whenever they's a vacuum.
So during this hot spell her and my wife and I was still stopping at the Baldwin, where we'd been at most of the time since we come to the Big Town, and we was having dinner with a bird named Gene Buck that knowed New York like a book, only he hadn't never read a book, and Katie made the remark that she was simply stifling.
"If you think this is hot," says our friend, "just wait till the summer comes. The Old Town certainly steams up in the Old Summer Time."
So Kate asked him how people could stand it.
"They don't," he says. "All the ones that's got a piece of change ducks out somewheres where they can get the air."
"Where do they go?" Katie asked him.
"Well," he says, "the most of my pals goes to Newport or Maine or up in the Adirondacks. But of course them places is out of most people's reach. If I was you folks I'd go over on Long Island somewheres and either take a cottage or live in one of them good hotels."
"Where, for instance?" says my Mrs.
"Well," he said, "some people takes cottages, but the rents is something fierce, and besides, the desirable ones is probably all eat up by this time. But they's plenty good hotels where you get good service and swell meals and meet good people; they won't take in no riffraff. And they give you a pretty fair rate if they know you're going to make a stay."
So Ella asked him if they was any special one he could recommend.
"Let's think a minute," he says.
"Let's not strain ourselfs," I said.
"Don't get cute!" said the Mrs. "We want to get some real information and Mr. Buck can give it to us."
"How much would you be willing to pay?" said Buck.
It was Ella's turn to make a wise crack.
"Not no more than we have to," she says.
"I and my sister has got about eight thousand dollars per annum between us," said Katie, "though a thousand of it has got to go this year to a man that cheated us up on Riverside Drive.
"It was about a lease. But papa left us pretty well off; over a hundred and fifty thousand dollars."
"Don't be so secret with Mr. Buck," I says. "We've knew him pretty near a week now. Tell him about them four-dollar stockings you bought over on Fifth Avenue and the first time you put them on they got as many runs as George Sisler."
"Well," said Buck, "I don't think you'd have no trouble getting comfortable rooms in a good hotel on seven thousand dollars. If I was you I'd try the Hotel Decker. It's owned by a man named Decker."
"Why don't he call it the Griffith?" I say.
"It's located at Tracy Estates," says Buck. "That's one of the garden spots of Long Island. It's great big place, right to the minute, and the give you everything of the best. And they've three good golf courses within a mile of the hotel."
The gals told him they didn't play no golf.
"You don't know what you've missed," he says.
"Well," I said, "I played a game once myself and missed a whole lot."
"Do they have dances?" asked Kate.
"Plenty of them," says Buck, "and the guests is the nicest people you'd want to meet. Besides all that, their meals is included in the rates, and they certainly set a nasty table."
"I think it sounds grand," said the Mrs. "How do you get there?"
"Go over to the Pennsylvania Station," says Buck, "and take the Long Island Railroad to Jamaica. Then you change to the Haverton branch. It don't only take a half hour altogether."
"Let's go over to-morrow morning and see can we get rooms," said Katie.
So Ella asked how that suited me.
"Go just as early as you want to," I says. "I got a date to run down to the Aquarium and see the rest of the fish."
"You won't make no mistake stopping at the Decker," says Buck.
So the gals thanked him and I paid the check so as he would have more to spend when he joined his pals up to Newport.
WELL, when Ella and Kate come back the next afternoon, I could see without them telling me that it was all settled. They was both grinning like they always do when they've pulled something nutty.
"It's a good thing we met Mr. Buck," said the Mrs., "or we mightn't never of heard of this place. It's simply wonderful. A double room with a bath for you and I and a room with a bath for Katie. The meals is throwed in, and we can have it all summer."
"How much?" I asked her.
"Two hundred a week," she said. "But you must remember that's for all three of us and we get our meals free."
"And I s'pose they also furnish knobs for the bedroom doors," says I.
"We was awful lucky," said the wife. "These was the last two rooms they had, and they wouldn't of had those if the lady that had engaged them canceled her reservation."
"I wished I'd met her when I was single," I says.
"So do I," says Ella.
"But listen," I said. "Do you know what two hundred a week amounts to? It amounts to over ten thousand a year, and our income is seven thousand."
"Yes," says Katie, "but we aren't only going to be there twenty weeks, and that's only four thousand."
"Yes," I said, "and that leaves us three thousand for the other thirty-two weeks, to pay for board and room and clothes and show tickets and a permanent wave every other day."
"You forget," said Kate, "that we still got our principal, which we can spend some of it and not miss it."
'And you also forget," said the Mrs., "that the money belongs to Sis and I, not you."
"I've got a sweet chance of forgetting that," I said. "It's hammered into me three times a day. I hear about it pretty near as often as I hear that one of you's lost their new silk bag."
"Well, anyway," says Ella, "it's all fixed up and we leave out there early to-morrow morning, so you'll have do your packing to-night."
I'M NOT liable to celebrate the anniversary of the next day's trip. Besides the trunks, the gals had a suitcase and a grip apiece and I had a suitcase. So that give me five pieces of baggage to wrestle, because of course the gals had to carry their parasol in one hand and their wrist watch in the other. A redcap helped load us on over to the station, but oh you change at Jamaica! And when we got to Tracy Gates we seen that the hotel wasn't only a couple blocks away, so the ladies said we might as well walk and save cab fare.
I don't know how I covered them two blocks, but I do know that when I reeled into the Decker my hands and legs was was paralyzed and Ella had to do the registering.
Was you ever out there? Well, I s'pose it's what you might call a family hotel, and a good many of the guests belongs to the cay-nine family. A few of the couples that can't afford dogs has got children, and you're always tripping over one or the other. They's a dining room for the grown-ups and another one for the kids, w'ile the dogs and their nurses eats in the grillroom à la carte. One part of the joint is bachelor quarters. It's located right next to the dogs' dormitories, and they's a good deal of rivalry between the dogs and the souses to see who can make the most noise nights. They's also a ballroom and a couple card rooms and a kind of a summer parlor where the folks sets round in the evening and listen to a three-piece orchestra that don't know they's been any music wrote since Poets and Peasants. The men get up about eight o'clock and go down to New York to Business. They don't never go to work. About nine the women begins limping downstairs and either goes to call on their dogs or take them for a walk in the front yard. This is a great big yard with a whole lot of benches strewed round it, but you can't set on them in the daytime because the women or the nurses uses them for a place to read to the dogs or kids, and in the evenings you would have to share them with the waitresses, which you have already had enough of them during the day.
When the women has prepared themselfs for the long day's grind with a four-course breakfast, they set round on the front porch and discuss the big questions of the hour, like for instance the last trunk murder or whether an Airedale is more loving than a Golden Bantam. Once in a w'ile one of them cracks that it looks like they was bound to be a panic pretty soon and a big drop in prices, and so forth. This shows they're broad-minded and are giving a good deal of thought to up-to-date topics. Every so often one of them'll say: "The present situation can't keep up." The hell it can't!
By one o'clock their appetites is whetted so keen from brain exercise that they make a bum out of a plate of soup and an order of Long Island duckling, which they figure is caught fresh every day, and they wind up with salad and apple pie à la mode and a stein of coffee. Then they totter up to their rooms to sleep it off before Dear gets home from Business.
Saturday nights everybody puts on their evening clothes like something was going to happen. But it don't. Sunday mornings the husbands and bachelors gets up earlier than usual to go to their real business, which is golf. The women-folks are in full possession of the hotel till Sunday night supper and wives and husbands don't see one another all day long, but it don't seem as long as if they did. Most of them's approaching their golden-wedding jubilee and haven't nothing more to say to each other that you could call a novelty. The husband may make the remark, Sunday night, that he would of broke one hundred and twenty in the afternoon round if the caddy hadn't of handed him a spoon when he asked for a nut pick, and the wife'll probably reply that she's got to go in Town some day soon and see a chiropodist. The rest of the Sabbath evening is spent in bridge or listening to the latest song hit from The Bohemian Girl.
The hotel's got all the modern conveniences like artificial light and a stopper in the bathtubs. They even got a barber and a valet, but you can't get a shave w'ile he's pressing your clothes, so it's pretty near impossible for a man to look their best at the same time.
Well, the second day we was there I bought me a deck of cards and got so good at solitary that pretty soon I could play fifty games between breakfast and lunch and a hundred from then till suppertime. During the first week Ella and Kate got on friendly terms with over a half a dozen people—the head waiter, our waitress, some of the clerks and the manager and the two telephone gals. It wasn't from lack of trying that they didn't meet even more people. Every day one or the other of them would try and swap a little small talk with one of the other squatters, but it generally always wound up as a short monologue.
Ella said to me one day, she says: "I don't know if we can stick it out here or not. Every hotel I was ever at before, it was easy enough to make a lot of friends, but you could stick a bottle of cream alongside one of these people and it'd stay sweet a week. Unless they looked at it. I'm sick of talking to you and Sis and the hired help, and Kate's so lonesome that she cries herself to sleep nights."
Well, if I'd of only had sense enough to insist on staying we'd of probably packed up and took the next train to Town. But instead of that I said: "What's to prevent us from going back to New York?"
"Don't be silly!" says the Mrs. "We come out here to spend the summer and here is where we're going to spend the summer."
"All right," I says, "and by September I'll be all set to write a book on one-handed card games."
"You'd think," says Ella, "that some of these women was titled royalties the way they snap at you when you try and be friends with them. But they's only one in the bunch that's got any handle to her name; that's Lady Perkins."
I asked her which one was that.
"You know," says Ella. "I pointed her out to you in the dining room. She's a nice-looking woman, about thirty-five, that sets near our table and walks with a cane."
"If she eats like some of the rest of them," I says, "she's lucky they don't have to w'eel her."
"She's English," says Ella. "They just come over and her husband's in Texas on some business and left her here. She's the one that's got that dog."
"That dog!" I said. "You might just as well tell me she's the one that don't play the mouth organ. They've all got a dog."
She's got two," said the wife. "But the one I meant is that big German police dog that I'm scared to death of him. Haven't you saw her out walking with him and the little chow?"
"Yes," I said, "if that's what it is. I always wondered what the boys in the Army was talking about when they said they eat chow."
"They probably meant chowchow," says the Mrs. "They wouldn't of had these kind of chows, because in the first place, who would eat a dog, and besides these kind costs too much."
"Well," I says, "I'm not interested in the price of chows, but if you want to get acquainted with Lady Perkins, why I can probably fix it for you."
"Yes, you'll fix it!" said Ella. "I'm beginning to think that if we'd of put you in storage for the summer the folks round here wouldn't shy away from us like we was leopards that had broke out of a pesthouse. I wished you would try and dress up once in a w'ile and not always look like you was just going to do the chores. Then maybe I and Sis might get somewheres."
WELL, of course when I told her I could probably fix it up with Lady Perkins, I didn't mean nothing. But it wasn't only the next morning when I started making good. I was up and dressed and downstairs about half past eight, and as the gals wasn't ready for their breakfast yet I went out on the porch and set down. They wasn't nobody else there, but pretty soon I seen Lady Perk come up the path with her two whelps. When she got to the porch steps their nurse popped out of the servants' quarters and took them round to the grill-room for their breakfast. I s'pose the big one ordered sauerkraut and kalter Aufschnitt, w'ile the chow had tea and eggs fo yung. Anyway, the Perkins dame come up on the porch and flopped into the chair next to mine.
In a few minutes Ed Wurz, the manager of the hotel, showed, with a bag of golf instruments and a trick suit. He spotted me and asked me if I didn't want to go along with him and play.
"No," I said. "I only played once in my life."
"That don't make no difference," he says. "I'm a bum myself. I just play shinny, you might say."
"Well," I says, "I can't anyway, on account of my dogs. They been giving me a lot of trouble."
Of course I was referring to my feet, but he hadn't no sooner than went on his way when Lady Perkins swung round on me and says: "I didn't know you had dogs. Where do you keep them?"
At first I was going to tell her "In my shoes," but I thought I might as well enjoy myself, so I said: "They're in the dog hospital over to Haverton."
"What ails them?" she asked me.
Well, I didn't know nothing about cay-nine diseases outside of hydrophobia, which don't come till August, so I had to make one up.
"They got blanny," I told her.
"Blanny!" she says. "I never heard of it before."
"No," I said. "It hasn't only been discovered in this country just this year. It got carried up here from Peru some way another."
"Oh, it's contagious, then!" says Lady Perkins.
"Worse than measles or lockjaw," says I. "You take a dog that's been in the same house with a dog that's got blanny, and it's a miracle if they don't all get it."
She asked me if I'd had my dogs in the hotel.
"Only one day," I says, "the first day we come, about a week ago. As soon as I seen what was the matter with them, I took them over to Haverton in a sanitary truck."
"Was they mingling with the other dogs here?" she says.
"Just that one day," I said.
"Heavens!" said Lady Perkins. "And what's the symptoms?"
"Well," I said, "first you'll notice that they keep their tongue stuck out a lot and they're hungry a good deal of the time, and finally they show up with a rash."
"Then what happens?" she says.
"Well," said I, "unless they get the best of treatment, they kind of dismember."
Then she asked me how long it took for the symptoms to show after a dog had been exposed. I told her any time between a week and four months.
"My dogs has been awful hungry lately," she says, "and they most always keeps their tongue stuck out. But they haven't no rash."
"You're all right, then," I says. "If you give them treatments before the rash shows up, they's no danger."
"What's the treatment?" she asked me.
"You rub the back of their neck with some kind of dope," I told her. "I forget what it is, but if you say the word, I can get you a bottle of it when I go over to the hospital this afternoon."
"I'd be ever so much obliged," she says, "and I hope you'll find your dear ones a whole lot better."
"Dear ones is right," I said. "They cost a pile of jack, and the bird I bought them off of told me I should ought to get them insured, but I didn't. So if anything happens to them now, I'm just that much out."
Next she asked me what kind of dogs they was.
"Well," I said, "you might maybe never of heard of them, as they don't breed them nowheres only way down in Dakota. They call them yaphounds—I don't know why; maybe on account of the noise they make. But they're certainly a grand-looking dog and they bring a big price."
She set there a w'ile longer and then got up and went inside, probably to the nursery to look for signs of rash.
Of course I didn't tell the Mrs. and Kate nothing about this incidence. They wouldn't of believed it if I had of, and besides, it would be a knock-out if things broke right and Lady Perkins come up and spoke to me w'ile they was present, which is just what happened.
During the afternoon I strolled over to the drug store and got me an empty pint bottle. I took it up in the room and filled it with water and shaving soap. Then I laid low till evening, so as Perk would think I had went to Haverton.
I and Ella and Kate breezed in the dining room kind of late and we hadn't no more than ordered when I seen the Lady get up and start out. She had to pass right past us, and when I looked at her and smiled she stopped.
"Well," she said, "how's your dogs?"
I got up from the table.
"A whole lot better, thank you," says I, and then I done the honors. "Lady Perkins," I said, "meet the wife and sister-in-law."
The two gals staggered from their chairs, both popeyed. Lady Perkins bowed to them and told them to set down. If she hadn't the floor would of bounced up and hit them in the chin.
"I got a bottle for you," I said. "I left it upstairs and I'll fetch it down after supper."
"I'll be in the red card room," says Perk, and away she went.
I wished you could of see the two gals. They couldn't talk for a minute, for the first time in their life. They just set there with their mouth open like a baby blackbird. Then they both broke out with a rash of questions that come so fast I couldn't understand none of them, but the general idear was, What the hell!
"They's no mystery about it," I said. "Lady Perkins was setting out on the porch this morning and you two was late getting down to breakfast, so I took a walk, and when I come back she noticed that I kind of limped and asked me what ailed my feet. I told her they always swoll up in warm weather and she said she was troubled the same way and did I know any medicine that shrank them. So I told her I had a preparation and would bring her a bottle of it."
"But," says Kate, "I can't understands woman like she speaking to a man she don't know."
"She's been eying me all week," I said. "I guess she didn't have the nerve to break the ice up to this morning; then she go desperate."
"She must of," said Ella.
"I wished," said Kate, "that when you introduce me to people you'd give then my name."
"I'm sorry," I said, "but I couldn't recall it for a minute, though your face is familiar."
"But listen," says the wife. "What ails your dogs is a corn. You haven't got no swelled feet and you haven't got no medicine for them."
"Well," I says, "what I give her won't hurt her. It's just a bottle of soap and water that I mixed up, and pretty near everybody uses that once in a w'ile without no bad after effects."
Now, the whole three of us had been eating pretty good ever since we'd came to the Decker. After living à la carte at Big Town prices for six months, the American plan was sweet patootie. But this night the gals not only skrimped themselfs but they was in such a hurry for me to get through that my molars didn't hardly have time to identify what all was scampering past them. Ella finally got so nervous that I had to take off the feed bag without dipping my bill into the stewed rhubarb.
"Lady Perkins will get tired waiting for you," she says. "And besides, she won't want us horning in there and interrupting them after their game's started."
"Us!" said I. "How many do you think it's going to take to carry this bottle?"
"You don't mean to say we can't go with you!" said Kate.
"You certainly can't," I says. "I and the nobility won't have our little romance knocked for a gool by a couple of country gals that can't get on speaking terms with nobody but the chambermaid."
"But they'll be other people there," says Kate. "She can't play cards alone."
"Who told you she was going to play cards?" I says. "She picked the red card room because we ain't liable to be interrupted there. As for playing cards alone, what else have I done all week? But when I get there she won't have to play solitary. It'll be two-handed hearts; where if you was to crowd in, it couldn't be nothing but rummy."
Well, they finally dragged me from the table, and the gals took a seat in the lobby w'ile I went upstairs after the medicine. But I hadn't no sooner than got a hold of the bottle when Ella come in the room.
"Listen," she says. "They's a catch in this somewheres. You needn't to try and tell me that a woman like Lady Perkins is trying to start a flirtation with a yahoo. Let's hear what really come off."
"I already told you," I said. "The woman's nuts over me and you should ought to be the last one to find fault with her judgment."
Ella didn't speak for a w'ile. Then she says: "Well, if you're going to forget your marriage vows and flirt with an old hag like she, I guess two can play at that little game. They's several men round this hotel that I like their looks and all as they need is a little encouragement."
"More than a little, I guess," says I, "or else they'd of already been satisfied with what you and Kate has give them. They can't neither one of you pretend that you been fighting on the defense all week, and the reason you haven't copped nobody is because this place is a hotel, not a home for the blind."
I wrapped a piece of newspaper round the bottle and started for the door. But all of a sudden I heard snuffles and stopped.
"Look here," I said. "I been kidding you. They's no need for you to get sore and turn on the tear ducks. I'll tell you how this thing happened if you think you can see a joke."
So I give her the truth, and afterwards I says: "They'll be plenty of time for you and Kate to get acquainted with the dame, but I don't want you tagging in there with me to-night. She'd think we was too cordial. To-morrow morning, if you can manage to get up, we'll all three of us go out on the porch and lay for her when she brings the whelps back from their hike. She's sure to stop and inquire about my kennel. And don't forget, w'ile she's talking, that we got a couple of yaphounds that's suffering from blanny, and if she asks any questions let me do the answering, as I can think a lot quicker. You better tell Kate the secret, too, before she messes everything up, according to custom."
Then I and the Mrs. come downstairs and her and Katie went out to listen to the music w'ile I beat it to the red card room. I give Perkie the bottle of rash poison and she thanked me and said she would have the dogs' governess slap some of it onto them in the morning. She was playing bridge w'ist with another gal and two dudes. To look at their faces they wasn't playing for just pins. I had sense enough to not talk, but I stood there watching them a few minutes. Between hands Perk introduced me to the rest of the party. She had to ask my name first. The other skirt at the table was a Mrs. Snell and one of the dudes was a Doctor Platt. I didn't get the name of Lady Perkins' partner.
"Mr. Finch," says Perk, "is also a dog fancier. But his dogs is sick with a disease called blanny and he's got them over to the dog hospital at Haverton."
"What kind of dogs?" asked Platt.
"I never heard of the breed before," says Perk. "They're yaphounds."
"They raise them in South Dakota," I says.
Platt give me a funny look and said: "I been in South Dakota several times and I never heard of a yaphound neither; or I never heard of a disease named blanny."
"I s'pose not," says I. "You ain't the only old-fashion doctor that left themself go to seed when they got out of school. I bet you won't admit they's such a thing as appendicitis."
Well, this got a laugh from Lady Perkins and the other dude, but it didn't go very big with Doc or Mrs. Snell. W'ile Doc was trying to figure out a come-back I said I must go and look after my womenfolks. So I told the party I was glad to of met them and walked out.
I found Ella and Katie in the summer parlor, and they wasn't alone. A nice-looking young fella named Codd was setting alongside of them, and after we was introduced Ella leaned over and w'ispered to me that he was Bob Codd, the famous aviator. It come out that he had invented some new kind of an areoplane and had came to demonstrate it to the Williams Company. The company—Palmer Williams and his brother, you know—they've got their flying field a couple miles from the hotel. Well, a guy with nerve enough to go up in one of them things certainly ain't going to hesitate about speaking to a strange gal when he likes their looks. So this Codd baby had give himself an introduction to my Mrs. and Kate, and I guess they hadn't sprained an ankle running away from him.
Of course Ella wanted to know how I'd came out with Lady Perkins. I told her that we hadn't had much chance to talk because she was in a bridge game with three other people, but I'd met them and they'd all seemed to fall for me strong. Ella wanted to know who they was and I told her their names, all but the one I didn't get. She squealed when I mentioned Mrs. Snell.
"Did you hear that, Sis?" she says to Kate. "Tom's met Mrs. Snell. That's the woman, you know, that wears them funny clothes and has the two dogs."
"You're describing every woman in the hotel," I said.
"But this is the Mrs. Snell," said the wife. "Her husband's the sugar man and she's the daughter of George Henkel, the banker. They say she's a wonderful bridge player and don't never play only for great big stakes. I'm wild to meet her."
"Yes," I said, "if they's one person you should ought to meet, it's a wonderful bridge player that plays for great big stakes, especially when our expenses is making a burn out of our income and you don't know a grand slam from no dice."
"I don't expect to gamble with her," says Ella. "But she's just the kind of people we want to know."
Well, the four of us set there and talked about this and that, and Codd said he hadn't had time to get his machine put together yet, but when he had her fixed and tested her a few times he would take me up for a ride.
"You got the wrong number," I says. "I don't feel flighty."
"Oh, I'd just love it!" said Kate.
"Well," says Codd, "you ain't barred. But I don't want to have no passengers along till I'm sure she's working O. K."
When I and Ella was upstairs she said that Codd had told them he expected to sell his invention to the Williamses for a cold million. And he had took a big fancy to Kate.
"Well," I said, "they say that the reckless aviators makes the best ones, so if him and Kate gets married he'll be better than ever. He won't give a damn after that."
"You're always saying something nasty about Sis," said the Mrs.; "but I know you just talk to hear yourself talk. If I thought you meant it I'd walk out on you."
"I'd hate to lose you," I says, "but if you took her along I wouldn't write it down as a total loss."
THE following morning I and the two gals was down on the porch bright and early and in a few minutes, sure enough, along come Lady Perkins, bringing the menagerie back from the parade. She turned them over to their nurse and joined us. She said that Martha, the nurse, had used the rash poison and it had made a kind of a lather on the dogs' necks and she didn't know whether to wash it off or not, but it had dried up in the sun. She asked me how many times a day the dope should ought to be put on, and I told her before every meal and at bedtime.
"But," I says, "it's best to not take the dogs right out in the sun where the lather'll dry. The blanny germ can't live in that kind of lather, so the longer it stays moist, why, so much the better."
Then she asked me was I going to Haverton to see my pets that day and I said yes, and she said she hoped I'd find them much improved. Then Ella cut in and said she understood that Lady Perkins was very fond of bridge.
"Yes, I am," says Perk. "Do you people play?"
"No, we don't," says Ella, "but we'd like to learn."
"It takes a long w'ile to learn to play good," said Perk. "But I do wished they was another real player in the hotel so as we wouldn't have to take Doctor Platt in. He knows the game, but he don't know enough to keep still. I don't mind people talking w'ile the cards is being dealt, but once the hands is picked up they ought to be absolute silence. Last night I lost about three hundred and seventy dollars just because he talked at the wrong time."
"Three hundred and seventy dollars!" said Kate. "My, you must play for big stakes!"
"Yes, we do," says Lady Perkins; "and when a person is playing for sums like that it ain't no time to trifle, especially when you're playing against an expert like Mrs. Snell."
"The game must be awfully exciting," said Ella. "I wished we could watch it sometime."
"I guess it wouldn't hurt nothing," says Perkie; "not if you kept still. Maybe you'd bring me luck."
"Was you going to play to-night?" asked Kate.
"No," says the Lady. "They's going to be a little dance here to-night and Mr. Snell 's dance mad, so he insists on borrowing his wife for the occasion. Doctor Platt likes to dance too."
"We're all wild about it," says Kate. "Is this an invitation affair?"
"Oh, no," says Perk. "It's for the guests of the hotel."
Then she said good-by to us and went in the dining room. The rest of our conversation all day was about the dance and what should we wear, and how nice and democratic Lady Perkins was, and to hear her talk you wouldn't never know she had a title. I s'pose the gals thought she ought to stop every three or four steps and declare herself.
I made the announcement about noon that I wasn't going to partake in the grand ball. My corn was the alibi. But they wasn't no way to escape from dressing up and escorting the two gals into the grand ballroom and then setting there with them.
The dance was a knock-out. Outside of Ella and Kate and the aviator and myself, they was three couple. The Snells was there and so was Doctor Platt. He had a gal with him that looked like she might be his mother with his kid sister's clothes on. Then they was a pair of young shimmy shakers that ought to of been give their bottle and tucked in the hay at six p. m. A corn wouldn't of bothered them the way they danced; their feet wasn't involved in the transaction.
I and the Mrs. and Kate was the only ones there in evening clothes. The others had attended these functions before and knew that they wouldn't be enough suckers on hand to make any difference whether you wore a monkey suit or rompers. Besides, it wasn't Saturday night.
The music was furnished by the three-piece orchestra that usually done their murder in the summer parlor.
Ella was expecting me to introduce her and Kate to the Snell gal, but her and her husband was so keen for dancing that they called it off in the middle of the second innings and beat it upstairs. Then Ella said she wouldn't mind meeting Platt, but when he come past us and I spoke to him he give me a look like you would expect from a flounder that's been wronged.
So poor Codd danced one with Kate and one with Ella, and so on, and so on, till finally it got pretty late, a quarter to ten, and our party was the only merrymakers left in the joint. The orchestra looked over at us to see if we could stand some more punishment. The Mrs. told me to go and ask them to play a couple more dances before they quit. They done what I asked them, but maybe I got my orders mixed up.
The next morning I asked Wurz, the manager, how often the hotel give them dances.
"Oh," he says, "once or twice a month."
I told him I didn't see how they could afford it.
KATE went out after supper this next evening to take an automobile ride with Codd. So when I and Ella had set in the summer parlor a little w'ile, she proposed that we should go in and watch the bridge game. Well, I wasn't keen for it, but when you tell your wife you don't want to do something she always says, "Why not?" and even if you've got a reason she'll make a monkey out of it. So we rapped at the door of the red card room and Lady Perkins said, "Come in," and in we went.
The two dudes and Mrs. Snell was playing with her again, but Perk was the only one that spoke.
"Set down," she says, "and let's see if you can bring me some luck."
So we drawed up a couple of chairs and set a little ways behind her. Her and the anonymous dude was partners against Doc and Mrs. Snell, and they didn't change all evening. I haven't played only a few games of bridge, but I know a little about it, and I never see such hands as Perkie held. It was a misdeal when she didn't have the ace, king and four or five others of one suit and a few picture cards and aces on the side. When she couldn't get the bid herself she doubled the other pair and made a sucker out of them. I don't know what they was playing a point, but when they broke up Lady Perkins and her dude was something like seven hundred berries to the good.
I and Ella went to bed w'ile they was settling up, but we seen her on the porch in the morning. She smiled at us and says: "You two are certainly grand mascots! I hope you can come in and set behind me again to-night. I ain't even yet, but one more run of luck like last night's and I'll be a winner. Then," she says, "I s'pose I'll have to give my mascots some kind of a treat."
Ella was tickled to death and couldn't hardly wait to slip Sis the good news. Kate had been out late and overslept herself and we was half through breakfast when she showed up. The Mrs. told her about the big game and how it looked like we was in strong with the nobility, and Kate said she had some good news of her own; that Codd had as good as told her he was stuck on her.
"And he's going to sell his invention for a million," says Ella, "so I guess we wasn't as crazy coming out to this place as some people thought we was."
"Wait till the machine's made good," I said.
"It has already," says Katie. "He was up in it yesterday and everything worked perfect and he says the Williamses was wild over it. And what do you think's going to come off to-morrow morning? He's going to take me up with him."
"Oh, no, Sis!" said Ella. "S'pose something should happen!"
"No hope," says I.
"But even if something should happen," said Katie, "what would I care as long as it happened to Bob and I together!"
I told the waitress to bring me another order of fried mush.
"To-night," said Kate, "Bob's going in Town to a theater party with some boys he went to college with. So I can help you bring Lady Perkins good luck."
Something told me to crab this proposition and I tried, but it was passed over my veto. So the best I could do was to remind Sis, just before we went in the gambling den, to keep her mouth shut w'ile the play was going on.
Perk give us a smile of welcome and her partner smiled too.
For an hour the game went along about even. Kate acted like she was bored, and she didn't have nothing to say after she'd told them, w'ile somebody was dealing, that she was going to have an areoplane ride in the morning. Finally our side begin to lose, and lose by big scores. They was one time when they was about sixteen hundred points to the bad. Lady Perkins didn't seem to be enjoying herself and when Ella addressed a couple of remarks to her the cat had her tongue.
But the luck switched round again and Lady Perk had all but caught up when the blow-off come.
It was the rubber game, with the score nothing and nothing. The Doc dealt the cards. I was setting where I could see his hand and Perk's both. Platt had the king, jack and ten and five other hearts. Lady Perkins held the ace and queen of hearts, the other three aces and everything else in the deck.
The Doc bid two hearts. The other dude and Mrs. Snell passed.
"Two without," says Lady Perkins.
"Three hearts," says Platt.
The other two passed again and Perk says: "Three without."
Katie had came strolling up and was pretty near behind Perk's chair.
"Well," says Platt, "it looks like——"
But we didn't find out what it looked like, as just then Katie says: "Heavens! Four aces! Don't you wished you was playing penny ante?"
It didn't take Lady Perkins no time at all to forget her title.
"You fool!" she screams, w'eeling round on Kate. "Get out of here, and get out of here quick, and don't never come near me again! I hope your areoplane falls a million feet. You little fool!"
I don't know how the hand come out. We wasn't there to see it played.
LADY PERKINS got part of her hope. The areoplane fell all right, but only a couple of miles instead of a million feet. They say that they was a defect or something in poor Codd's engine. Anyway, he done an involuntary nose dive. Him and his invention was spilled all over Long Island. But Katie had been awake all night with the hysterics and Ella hadn't managed to get her to sleep till nine a. m. So when Codd had called for her Ella'd told him that Sis would go some other day. Can you beat it?
W'ile I and Ella was getting ready for supper I made the remark that I s'posed we'd live in a vale of tears for the next few days.
"No," said Ella. "Sis is taking it pretty calm. She's sensible. She says if that could of happened, why the invention couldn't of been no good after all. And the Williamses probably wouldn't of give him a plugged dime for it."
Lady Perkins didn't only speak to me once afterwards. I seen her setting on the porch one day, reading a book. I went up to her and said: "Hello." They wasn't no answer, so I thought I'd appeal to her sympathies.
"Maybe you're still interested in my dogs," I said. "They was too far gone and the veter'nary had to order them shot."
"That's good," said Perk, and went on reading.