The Holy Roman Empire of the Bronx
THE HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE OF THE BRONX
BY PHILIP CURTISS
" READ it!" commanded Daphne. "Just read it! That's all I ask!"
Daphne Day was known on the musical-comedy stage as a, star of the "sweet, wistful type," but at the moment, although she might still be sweet, she was certainly not wistful. On the contrary, she formed such a perfect and yet petitely ridiculous picture of outraged righteousness that Jimmy Furlong, her press agent, sitting on the other side of the luncheon-table, could hardly repress a smile. The impression she gave was beautifully that of a humming-bird fiercely beating its wings and snapping its beak in defense of its young.
Jimmy Furlong, however, was an extremely tactful young man. With every look of sympathetic concern he held out his hand.
"Let me see it," he urged.
With fingers which positively quivered. Daphne tossed over the table a wad of pages which she had torn from a magazine and apparently torn with some vigor.
Jimmy's trained eye skimmed through the sheets, although he had already a fair idea of what they contained. Every month The Universal Magazine, a periodical which had a very wide circulation and a very effective method of reproducing portraits in sepia, published an interview with some "stage favorite," written by a palpitating person who signed herself "Anne Adair." This month Miss Adair had palpitated about a certain Jane Carmody, a musical-comedy actress who was distinctly unpopular in the profession because she constantly gave the impression that she felt herself above it, that she was merely toying with musical comedy until she took up her real aim in life.
To be the subject of one of Anne Adair's interviews in The Universal was an undoubted distinction, one for which Jimmy had long been angling in the interests of Daphne, but, aside from that fact, Jimmy saw very little in the article to excite either envy or indignation. Daphne realized his lack of response and, snatching the sheets from his hand, she pointed to certain paragraphs.
"Read that again," she commanded. "Just read it."
Jimmy did so:
"But what do you do when you are not on the stage?" (The breathless Anne Adair had ventured to ask of Jane Carmody.)
A far-away look came into the great blue eyes which have held their thousands spellbound on Broadway. I have seen such a look on the faces of mothers with babes in their arms.
"Do I dare tell you?" asked the young miss whom I had known only as a tantalizing, witchlike figure in "The Girl Behind the Scenes."
"Please do," I begged, for something had told me that I was about to be given a peek at a phase of Miss Carmody which she had kept hidden from the world in general, which she had treasured as something sacred. For a moment her big blue eyes were troubled, uncertain. Then, as my comprehending silence seemed to win her confidence, she admitted:
"I will tell you. It is my books."
I looked at her unbelieving and she smiled mischievously.
"I know that it is hard to credit," she said. "We are supposed to be the butterflies of the world, but let me show you."
Rising, more like a happy, spontaneous child than like a famous artiste, she led me into a room which was lined from floor to ceiling with books, nothing but books.
"This," she said, "is what I call my sanctum sanctorum."
My eye roved over the rows of volumes. Dickens, Thackeray, Scott, Balzac, all the classic authors were there. She seemed amused at my bewilderment.
"Oh!" she cried, prettily, "there are lots more up in the attic, but these are the ones that I like to have near me."
I caught sight of one red volume lying alone on the table. I picked it up. It was thumbed and worn with constant study on every page. It was a copy of Romeo and Juliet. She saw my look and flushed guiltily.
"Yes," she confessed, "I, too, have my ambitions."
Jimmy looked up and met Daphne's indignant gaze.
"Can you beat it?" Daphne demanded. Once more the humming-bird flapped its wings fiercely. "She didn't go on to say, did she, that she had rented that house in Mount Vernon all ready furnished from some old man who had gone to California or something?"
For the first time Jimmy's eyes twinkled. The idea struck him not merely as funny, but also as a clever professional stroke. Personally, Jimmy did not believe that it had been Jane Carmody's dainty fingers which had dog-eared that copy of Juliet. He did not believe that the dust had been disturbed all summer on one of those heavy volumes, but, all the same, Jane Carmody had just the aristocratic manner, just the facile literary patter to play up prettily to such an idea. She was one of those girls who could look at one coyly and hint, "You know what Maeterlinck says—" as if she really knew herself, or cared.
"Well," demanded Daphne, "why can't you feature me in a story or two of that kind?"
Jimmy looked at the table-cloth unhappily.
"Of course," he said, slowly and thoughtfully, "that kind of interview is all right for Jane Carmody—"
With needle-like feminine instinct Daphne saw through his evasion.
"Do you mean to say," she demanded, "that I can't do the high intellectual just as well as Jane Carmody?"
As a matter of fact that was just what Jimmy did mean. He had extreme doubts as to whether Daphne had opened a book in five years, but he could hardly say so.
"Of course not, Miss Day," he pleaded. "What I meant was that the public likes you in the particular character, if you see what I mean—the sweet, timid, ingénue type, almost the clinging vine you might call it. Now if you ask me frankly what I'd do, I'd come right hack with something homey—say an interview on how your greatest pleasure is to cook and sew, with pictures of you among your dogs, for instance, or among your flowers with a big, floppy hat and an old sun-dial in the picture. By Jove! That's it! An old sun-dial would be great! I know where we can get one."
With a contemptuous wave of her hand Daphne dismissed his feigned enthusiasm.
"Old, Jimmy, old," she scorned. "Intellectual stuff, that's the note this year and you know it. Does Jane Carmody think she's the only girl who's ever read Juliet?"
Jimmy hung his head in silence, for secretly he felt that Daphne was more than half right; but, right or wrong, he did not wish to raise an issue which would get to Bernstein's ears. Bernstein was the producer who employed them both, and, in Bernstein's eyes, his favorite stars could do no wrong. In regard to his press agent he had no such conviction.
"Well, Miss Day," said Jimmy, slowly, "you're the doctor, only I can't work up a plan all at once. I'll have to think."
"Oh, drop the 'Miss Day,'" replied Daphne, with impatience. "It's only in print that I mean to be high and mighty, but you see now what I want."
"I see," answered Jimmy, without conviction. He looked at his watch and pushed back his chair. "I hope you'll excuse me, Miss Day—Daphne. I've got to drip away now. Every Monday afternoon I go up to see an old aunt in the Bronx."
Daphne smiled, but Jimmy Furlong really did have an aunt in the Bronx, and he really did go to see her. He had done his duty like a man and a nephew, he was thoughtfully making his way through a cross-street back to the Subway, still carrying Daphne's wholly unreasonable whim like a load on his mind, when suddenly he saw a thing which made him come to a dead stop and stare, the germ of a great idea beginning to ferment in his mind.
At first his idea was not highly original. It was, in fact, nothing more than frank imitation of Jane Carmody's coup; but a press-agent's mind is trained to take a worn-out idea and warp it into some novel shape. On the steps of an old brick house he had suddenly seen a huge pile of books, books of every kind and description, big books, little books, old books, new books, heaped in stacks and overflowing down into the area-way. It might easily have been a second-hand-book shop. Indeed, at first glance, Jimmy had thought that it was, but when he peered around into the area-way he saw that the door was boarded and padlocked. Looking up the steps, Jimmy for the first time became conscious of the fact that a man of about his own age was calmly sitting among the books, smoking a pipe and looking down at him with an air neither friendly nor hostile, neither curious nor incurious.
The man on the steps was of a type which Jimmy instinctively characterized as English for no other reason than because he was wearing a loose tweed suit and a cap in that city of derbies and form-fitting serges. He doubted very much that the man was a dealer, but he felt that, in sheer decency, he must either explain himself or pass on.
"You will excuse me," he said, "but the sight of so many books caught my eye. I am a bit of an amateur myself."
Jimmy had been treasuring the word "amateur," in that sense, for a long time, hoping for some chance to use it. The man on the steps made no reply, and Jimmy began to feel rather foolish.
"Do you mind if I look them over?" he asked.
"Not those down there," answered the man. His voice was pleasant, but, like his expression, it was neither friendly nor unfriendly.
Jimmy picked up one or two of the books in a perfunctory way, feeling that by his choice and his interest he was likely to prove or disprove his claim to being an "amateur." He suddenly decided to force the issue at once.
"Excuse my asking, but are these books for sale?"
The man on the steps was as unmoved as ever. "You remember," he answered, "what David Harum said about the horse. He said that he had never seen the horse that wasn't for sale."
Jimmy Furlong looked up estimatingly. Was the man really a dealer, or what? His gambling spirit was suddenly roused.
"What will you take for the lot?" he asked.
The man on the steps looked down over his collection thoughtfully, calmly puffing his pipe.
"About thirty thousand dollars," he answered, quietly.
Jimmy whistled and drew back. He looked up suspiciously to see whether or not the man were joking, but the latter's expression had not changed an atom. Jimmy picked up the nearest volume. It didn't look very valuable to him.
"What are they—first editions?" he ventured.
The man above him laughed. "That is a great phrase," he said, "—first edition. As a matter of fact I presume that that book you have in your hand is a first edition—and a last. It is worth possibly ten cents. A first edition is not necessarily valuable in itself."
Jimmy was caught by the humorous, well-bred accent and the tone of authority. The man drawled on:
"If you have any idea of hitting me on the head with a sandbag on the theory that these books are worth the figure I mentioned, don't let me mislead you. What I meant was that if you are, by any chance, writing a history of the Holy Roman Empire, they would be worth that much to you because this is said to be a very decent collection on that subject. From any other viewpoint I don't know what their value may be."
"But why—" began Jimmy; then suddenly it occurred to him that this was a remarkable conversation to be having on the streets of New York. He looked up at the man on the steps closely, and something in his attitude, something that he had seen more than once in his career among well-dressed but improvident actors, raised a sudden suspicion in his mind.
"Look here," he demanded. "Pardon my rudeness, but I have been there myself. Are you up against it?"
The man smiled. "In what way?"
"I mean—" said Jimmy, cautiously. "I don't want to butt in, but have you had the bounce?"
The man above him laughed heartily.
"That's very kind of you," he said. "I wondered whether any one would think that." He smiled, as if chuckling to himself, and then went on. "To tell the truth, I am in a fix, but it is not what you meant." He jerked his head toward the door behind him. "No, this is not a case of bounce, but a case of lockout. I was merely waiting here until a policeman should come along to watch these books while I went and did some telephoning. I have been here now for nearly two hours and still no policeman."
"Well, can't I go and telephone for you?" asked Jimmy.
The man puffed his pipe thoughtfully for a moment. "To tell the truth I can't tell you exactly where to telephone."
Jimmy looked up at the house. The paint was peeling from the door and the windows stared vacantly.
"Do you live here?" he asked.
"I thought I did," replied the stranger, "but it seems not. The place belongs to an estate, but I have always had the run of it. This afternoon I had my books sent down from the country expecting to store them here. I had them unloaded because I thought I could get the key in the neighborhood, but nobody seems to know who has it. It is rather a funny fix. I don't dare to leave the books to go to a telephone and I don't know just where to telephone if I could leave them. It looks as if I might be here indefinitely."
"Why don't you take them to a library?" suggested Jimmy.
"Too much red tape and fussy old women."
Jimmy pondered. "Then why don't you take them to a hotel?"
The man on the steps looked at him as if at last he had made a real suggestion. "They'd think me insane," he said, hesitating.
"Nonsense," answered Jimmy. "Say, look here," he went on; then he paused with an inspiration. Suddenly in one glorious moment the troublesome ends and pieces of his own puzzle had begun to fall into place in one magnificent plan. "Say, look here," he repeated. "Have you ever heard of Miss Daphne Day?"
The man on the steps slipped cautiously back into his non-committal attitude.
"I don't want to be rude," he said, "but if you are about to introduce yourself as Mr. Douglas Fairbanks, please don't bother. I have, I admit, a cloistered and scholarly air, but I am not wholly devoid of metropolitan experience."
Jimmy laughed. "No," he said. "I just mentioned Miss Day because I thought that her name might be better known than mine. I am her manager."
It was not the first time that Jimmy had thus innocently promoted himself by leaving the word "publicity" out of his actual title of "publicity manager." He took out his card, which did not dispute him since it read:
Mr. James Furlong,
The Bernstein Productions, Inc.
Morpheus Theater Building N. Y. C.
The stranger read it and seemed impressed.
"I haven't a card of my own," he drawled, "but if you want one you might take one of those books. My name is written in most of them. It is Edward Eaton."
"Pleased to meet you, Mr. Eaton," said Jimmy. "Now what I was going to propose was this: I always keep an apartment at the Saint Stuyvesant Hotel, but I seldom use it. You are welcome to it for the night. You can stay there if you like or just leave your books there. If you prefer, I will get the manager to store them under lock and key. I can fix it up so that we can run them in by the service entrance and spare you any embarrassment."
Th e stranger hesitated. "The Saint Stuyvesant sounds rather—"
Jimmy foresaw his objections. "Look here. Of course I meant you to be my guest. The apartment is there and it might just as well be used. I'm a booklover just as you are. You would do the same for me if the circumstances were reversed."
The stranger smiled. "That is a situation hard to picture," he said.
"Nonsense," replied Jimmy. "Now you wait here while I get a couple of taxis."
Before the stranger could interpose further objections Jimmy was off at a rapid walk while his imagination was off at a gallop. He did not know just where it was going, but he knew that it was on its way and that was enough for him. All his best previous exploits as a press agent had resulted from just such reckless plans as this. With some difficulty, in that district, he gathered in two taxi-cabs and, with the help of the drivers, the books were speedily loaded. They filled both cabs from floor to roof, forcing Jimmy to sit beside the driver of one and Eaton, clutching his most special prizes 111 his lap, to sit besides the driver of the other.
It was almost seven o'clock before the two cabs had threaded their way from 181st Street to the Hotel Saint Stuyvesant down in the thirties. Jimmy had no apartment at the Saint Stuyvesant, but Daphne had, and Jimmy at least had not stretched the truth in saying that he was well known to the management. At that hour, just before a performance, it would have been suicide to disturb Daphne, and Jimmy was just as well satisfied not to do it. He had no time for the slow and painful explanations which she would demand. If she would not stand the expense, Bernstein would. If neither of them would, he was out of luck, that was all.
Fortune, however, was smiling on Jimmy that evening. Leaving Eaton in charge of the cabs, he hastened into the ornate foyer of the Saint Stuyvesant, where, as he had always been a liberal dispenser of free passes, the room-clerk greeted him with a smile.
"Well, Mr. Furlong, what's on your mind this evening?"
Jimmy told him and secured a splendid apartment two doors from Daphne's, looking out on Fifth Avenue, but he thought that it was none too early to begin laying the groundwork for his plan.
"Look here, Fred," he explained glibly to the clerk. "I will register for this apartment in my name, but it is really for the Morpheus Theater account. The idea is this: Miss Day has a very valuable collection of old books which she has been storing with a friend up-town, but Mr. Bernstein got the notion that it would be a good plan for her to give some private showings of the collection to a bunch of professors from Columbia University and perhaps some newspaper men. I've brought the books down with me and, with them, an expert named Mr. Eaton, who is going to catalogue and arrange them for the exhibition. I'm going to put him up there for a day or two as my guest. Could you arrange to let me have some bookcases and a few fine tables and perhaps a couple of Persian rugs to-morrow?"
"Anything you want, Mr. Furlong."
Jimmy paused meaningly, then added, with a smile, "There will probably be at least a column in all the papers about this, and the Saint Stuyvesant won't lose anything by being mentioned."
"I understand that," answered the clerk, smiling also. "I'll tell the manager, Mr. Fontaine. Fine dope, Mr. Furlong, fine dope."
Jimmy went back to the cabs and the waiting Eaton in a magnificent glow. With every sentence that he had glibly uttered to the clerk the structure of his great idea had grown and taken form. There was only one flaw, and that reminded him of a line in one of the Bernstein farces—"Marriage would be such a fine institution if it didn't involve a wife." Thus Eaton's valuable collection would have been such a boundless asset if it hadn't involved Eaton.
The fact indeed that he must play on his guest's good nature was one that weighed more and more heavily on Jimmy's conscience, if the word is not extravagant as applied to a press agent. Eaton positively blossomed in the rich atmosphere of the Saint Stuyvesant and the more he saw of his guest the more Jimmy was forced to admire his air of aristocratic nonchalance. They went down to dinner together, and, although Eaton still wore his rough brown suit, he still appeared better dressed than half the wearers of evening clothes in the room. Jimmy secretly envied him. "The real thing," he chuckled to himself, and wondered just how that commanding presence could he blended into the scheme.
So beautifully, in fact, did the scheme grow during dinner and during the evening which they spent together looking over the really remarkable collection of books that the reckless Jimmy utterly forgot the one person who was eventually to play the leading role in this little comedy. He was reminded of it only when Daphne called him violently on the 'phone on the following morning.
"Say, look here, Jimmy," pleaded Daphne, "what in the world are you trying to do?"
With sudden terror Jimmy thought of a thousand things that might have occurred. "What's happened?" he asked.
"Well, that's what I'm asking you," protested Daphne. "This morning the clerk called me up and told me that he had sent some tables and rugs up to four-sixty-eight. He said you had ordered them for me and wanted to know if they were all right. I couldn't imagine what he was talking about, but thought I would go and find out. So I knocked at the door of four-sixty-eight. A voice said, 'Come in,' and there was a strange man in a dirty bath-robe, smoking a pipe, with his feet on the table."
Jimmy laughed. "That's going to be your background—Number four-sixty-eight."
"Well, it's a funny kind of a background," retorted Daphne, and Jimmy decided that he had better hasten to the Saint Stuyvesant.
As he paused at the desk to send up his name to Daphne, the day-clerk handed him a note. It read:
My Dear Mr. Furlong,—I have tried to get you on the 'phone at the Morpheus Theater, but nobody answered.
I got in touch with one of my friends this morning, and learned that a shooting-party with which I was going to Canada this month was anxious to start right away. They were raking New York to find me. I will have to hustle my preparations at once and take the Montreal express to-night, so I am taking the liberty of asking whether I can leave my books in your rooms for five or six weeks.
If I thought that this would be any expense to you of course I would not do it, but as you say that you keep the rooms anyway, perhaps you will not mind. I cannot let you know just when to expect me, as we will be wholly out of touch with civilization.
Thanking you for your kindness to a fellow-bookworm, I am,
At first reading Jimmy made a grimace—five or six weeks and that apartment was costing twenty dollars a day, but then he realized that the simple question of storage might be solved more cheaply. The main thing was that this marvelous collection was in his hands for four weeks at least with no one to question any harmless use that he might make of it. Just what a collection it was he had only begun to realize when Eaton had casually pointed out volume after volume the evening before while Jimmy's trained press-agent mind had stored away every technical phrase as a soft blotter might absorb ink.
He went to work at once. By lunchtime the books had been arranged on shelves and tables, rugs had been carefully spread, and No. 468 looked as if it had been a book-lover's sanctum for years. Late in the afternoon Daphne was summoned to examine her treasures, but, at first glance, she did not seem to be deeply impressed by her priceless collection of volumes relating to the Holy Roman Empire. Her intellectual ambitions seemed to have waned overnight.
"They look kind of shop-worn to me."
Jimmy took an indignant step away from her. "My heavens! Daphne," he exclaimed, "if you bought an antique chair or an antique brooch would you expect it to look as new as if it had just come from a mail-order house?"
This argument reached Daphne's range of experience. "Well," she remarked, "I suppose the next thing to do is to ask in the reporters."
"Nothing doing, dear girl," replied Jimmy. "This is no ordinary press stunt. This is going to be my little masterpiece. You don't understand newspaper psychology. If I should ask the reporters, what should I get. A grudging little paragraph among the theatrical items, next the paid ads. No, sir, I am not going to ask the reporters at all."
Daphne looked disappointed. "But if you don't tell them how are they going to know that I've got this rare bunch of junk?"
Jimmy smiled. "I'm going to let them find it out for themselves," he said, slowly. "I am going to use the oldest trick known to the annals of press-agent crime."
He walked to a table and picked up an old manuscript volume done on parchment and bound in sheepskin. He held it in front of Daphne's eyes.
"Do you see this little lad. It's the only one of its kind in the world."
"Well, what of it?" asked Daphne.
"I'm going to lose it," replied Jimmy—"or, rather, you're going to lose it."
Possibly because it was the oldest trick in the annals of press-agent crime, because it had faithfully served her professional sisters for years and their mothers before them, Daphne at last had found an idea that pleased her. With growing comprehension she stood looking at Jimmy with bigger and bigger eyes, her face lighting in admiration.
"Jimmy Furlong," she said, "you're a duck."
Basking in the flow of her tardy appreciation, Jimmy pointed out, one after another, the beauties of his scheme much as he might have held a jewel to the light and watched the sparkle from its various facets.
"Suppose," he said, "that an actress were to lose a valuable set of pearls, what would the city editors say? They would laugh. But now when the news comes that a musical-comedy star who is supposed to know nothing about anything except high kicking and lobster suppers has lost"—he glanced at the book in his hand—"has lost a copy of De Orinine Imp. Rom. Sanctissimi, hand-illuminated by the Cluny monks in the tenth century, and seems all broken up by the loss, what are those same city editors going to say? They are going to say, 'Cassidy, take your foot in your hand and beat it up to the Saint Stuyvesant to see whether this is simply another of Jimmy Furlong's press stunts.'
"So up comes Cassidy and what does he find?" Jimmy waved his hand toward the rows and rows of old books. "He finds little Miss Daphne Day consoling herself among the treasures which she has always kept hid from the eyes of the prying world."
With these gleeful words, Jimmy proceeded to lose the rare volume by hiding it behind a row of other books and then walked out to shake the intellectual world.
On the following day, in every morning paper in New York, appeared this four-inch advertisement:
between the metropolitan museum
and the saint stuyvesant hotel
a brown paper parcel containing an
ancient manuscript book
"de origine imp. rom. sanctissimi"
made by the monks of cluny in the
the above reward will be paid for its
MISS DAPHNE DAY
saint stuyvesant hotel.
Note.—As this book is the only one of its kind in the world any attempt to dispose of it otherwise will result in immediate detection.
The effect of this advertisement lived up to Jimmy's most extravagant dreams. On the morning of its appearance the lobby of the Saint Stuyvesant was lined with reporters hours before Daphne was able to receive them, not because the famous star was making her leisurely toilet, but because Jimmy was giving her a last dress rehearsal, partly in what she was to say, but much more in what she was not to say.
At eleven o'clock Daphne received the newspaper men in a body in her library—No. 468. The room itself had been carefully stage-managed, and so had its sole occupant. Just enough of Daphne's personal belongings had been left around to give the room a feminine air, while Daphne herself was wearing a black-velvet gown with a huge silver chain hanging loosely around it in place of a belt. At the very sight of her, one's mind instinctively leaped back to dim, medieval monasteries and patient monks bending over hand-illuminated volumes. Her face was pale and rather saddened, as whose face would not be after such a loss as hers?
Briefly, she related to her wholly sympathetic audience the plain facts of the loss. She had taken the book to show it to a certain well-known authority. No, she would prefer not to give his name, as she did not wish to subject any one to unnecessary publicity.
After leaving the house of this well-known savant she had made a few purchases which, curiously, had been done up in a package of exactly the same size and appearance as the lost volume. What was in the other package? No, she had no objection to telling. In fact the contrast was rather ludicrous. The other package contained cosmetics, "Although, of course," as Daphne explained, "no actress ever uses such things." An appreciative laugh went over the group and the reporter for the Evening Day jotted down the rough note, "One package sternly monastic, other package deliciously feminine."
After this, as Daphne informed her respectful hearers, she had stopped in at the Metropolitan Museum, where she frequently found it relaxing to spend a quiet hour among the paintings. "Which paintings?" Did she mind saying? Of course that depended on her mood, but this afternoon it had happened to be Corot. The rest was easy to imagine. When she had returned to her room she had found that she was carrying only one package—the cosmetics.
But all this time one question had been hanging on twelve pairs of lips, waiting to be asked. The man from the Evening Sphere asked it at last, and, for the first time, the frail young woman in black seemed to draw back into her shell of reserve.
"I hoped that you were not going to ask that," said Daphne, in pretty perplexity—"how I happened to have this rare book. To be frank with you, while these old books have become a genuine hobby with me, it is one concerning which I prefer to have nothing said, for I do not pretend in the least to be a connoisseur. If I really considered myself an expert on the subject I should be only too glad to talk about it, but anything I could say would only sound so silly to the men and women who have really spent their lives in work along this line."
Behind the keyhole in the next room Jimmy Furlong was waving his tense fists in ecstasy. This was the part of the interview which he had written out and which Daphne had committed to memory. She had not missed a syllable. From the respectful silence which followed he knew that Daphne's words had convinced her hearers of the exact opposite of what she was so modestly saying. The silence lasted so long that Daphne herself was able to pick up her written lines without a break.
"Of course," she said, "if you care to look at my few small treasures—"
With a murmur of appreciation the reporters spread out along the shelves, looking respectfully at the volumes and trying to act as if they understood something about old books. It was rather a hollow attempt, however, and the Evening Sphere man voiced the general wish:
"Won't you point out some of your most notable volumes, Miss Day?"
It was like taking candy from a child, for Jimmy had foreseen some such question as this, and, from his evening with Eaton, supplemented by an hour's work with an encyclopedia, he had prepared a brief lecture which a barker for a dime museum could have delivered with complete conviction.
Daphne paused just long enough to appear reluctant and then began, in a quiet, diffident voice:
"Possibly you know that the larger part of my books are concerned with the history of the Holy Roman Empire. Of course this is not to be confused with the Roman Empire of Octavius, but was the Germanic structure of the Middle Ages which was called the Holy Roman Empire, possibly because," she added, with a smile, "it was neither holy nor Roman nor empire."
The phrase caught the ear of the reporters and half of them wrote it down, supposing that they had heard an original epigram. None of them interrupted, however. None of them dared to show his ignorance.
"Here," said Daphne, "is a book which is modern, but is, nevertheless, one, of my greatest treasures. It is Bryce's great work, signed by the author himself."
For eight or ten minutes Daphne went on like the exquisitely trained little parrot that she was, stopping from time to time to lift one book from the shelves and then another. Her hearers were too much amazed to notice that every book she picked out had a tiny slip of white paper protruding from the margins and that she worked systematically from right to left.
Precisely as the lecture was due to come to its end, the telephone pealed sharply and Jimmy, at the other end, whispered a lot of gibberish.
"Yes," replied Daphne. "No, Mr. Bernstein, not yet. Thank you very much. Now? Why, yes, as soon as I can get there."
She turned to the roomful of reporters.
"Gentlemen, I have just had an imperative call to a special rehearsal. I hope that you will excuse me. I am afraid that I have bored you fearfully."
The reporters murmured protests and herded themselves into the hall, their brains reeling. As the last of them disappeared, Jimmy burst in at the other door, frantic with delight, but Daphne collapsed in a chair.
"Zowie!" she gasped.
Dusk fell that day on a deliriously happy Jimmy. As soon as the evening papers came out he gathered them in by handfuls, and not one of them disappointed him. From the frankly sensational Record to the staid and literary old Union, not a single paper had failed to give the story a column on the first page. Indeed, the more literary the papers were and the more inaccessible to the usual press-agent story the more they had warmed to this one. The Union, in fact, talked sagely as if it had been wondering for years where that rare copy of De Origine Imp. had been hiding itself.
There was no longer any question as to who was to pay the expenses of this little affair. Bernstein had only to be shown six first-page stories in succession to give Jimmy carte blanche to go as far as he liked.
The morning papers on the following day could hardly be expected to carry a "cold" story on the first page, but one of them did at that, and all of them gave generous columns. Daphne and Jimmy read them joyously in Daphne's "library" at the Saint Stuyvesant, and then Jimmy outlined his further plans for Bernstein's money and Eaton's collection.
"There is a boy at Columbia University," he said, "who is crazy to write a play. I am going to get ahold of him and get a list of about five experts who really might know what this collection is worth. Then on Wednesday we will ask them all down here for a private exhibition. I fixed a matinée day because I thought—"
"Don't you worry," interrupted Daphne. "I wouldn't go through that again for a million dollars—especially with a lot of people who knew what they were talking about."
"That's what I thought," replied Jimmy, "but it would be a good plan for you to be there to greet them—sweet and gracious and all that, and then hurry off for your matinée.
"Then at the same time," he continued, "I am going to send this to the literary editors of the various papers—the literary editors, mind you, not the dramatic."
He handed Daphne a typewritten sheet which read:
So much attention has been called, by the recent unfortunate loss of a priceless volume, to the rare collection of books on the Holy Roman Empire in the possession of Miss Daphne Day, the dramatic artiste, and so many inquiries have been received from eminent scholars, that Miss Day has consented to give a small private exhibition to a limited number of experts. If you would care to attend. Miss Day most cordially invites you to the Saint Stuyvesant Hotel on Wednesday next. An informal luncheon will be served at one-thirty.
"That means just salad and chocolate handed around here in the library," explained Jimmy. "That will give you an opportunity to buzz around for a moment while they have their hands full and then breeze away. For all those professors know, a musical comedy plays a matinée every day."
"Do you suppose they will be suspieious?" asked Daphne. "I mean the editors."
"I don't care whether they are or not," retorted Jimmy. "They will come just the same. They can't afford not to. Even a literary editor knows news when he sees it."
To few mortals in any walk of life, and still fewer press agents, is it given to spend six days as delightful as those which intervened for Jimmy before the eventful Wednesday on which Daphne was to hold her first bibliographic reception. Jimmy Furlong had turned the supreme trick of press agenting. He had started one of those rolling snowballs of publicity which even he could not have stopped if he had wished to do so.
Stimulated by the twenty-thousand-dollar reward, spurious copies of De Origine Imp. Rom. Sanct. were sprouting up in every part of the city, proving to be, on closer examination, nothing more than old books in modern Italian or tattered Latin commentaries. Every paper had one reporter doing nothing but running down clues. Second-hand dealers on the East Side were clawing frantically everything in the shape of a book that was offered to them, while Jimmy's Columbia student, now in his own seventh heaven of being at last a part of the theatrical world, sat all day long in a private office at the Saint Stuyvesant casting out the impositions which, honestly or dishonestly, were offered for the reward. His task was not difficult, for the lost book itself was lying peacefully in the hotel safe.
In it all Jimmy basked and reveled. Bernstein treated him now like a matinée idol or a prize tenor; the manager of the Saint Stuyvesant gave him a black cigar every time he saw him, and even at the Lambs and the Friars his fellow-press agents did not chaff him. Silently they all doffed their hats to genius.
Not the least among the events of his glorious week did Jimmy enjoy the preparations for the great reception. There was not a detail to which he failed to give his personal supervision. With the advantage of her previous try-out. Daphne was learning a few quiet, effective lines which made her efforts with the reporters sound like a badly played melodrama.
The great morning dawned, with Jimmy more nervous than Bernstein had ever been for the opening night of his biggest production. At one o'clock, dressed in a braided morning-coat with silk hat, pearl tie and gloves, he was sitting impatiently in the foyer of the Saint Stuyvesant glancing over the morning papers, for every day, now, the papers brought new grist to his mill. Half the literary editors had sent formal acceptances to Daphne's salon, and all of them had inserted at least a paragraph in advance about it. Jimmy shook his head in unbelief. It had all been so ominously easy. It must be too good to be true. It was.
Three minutes later Daphne, arranging the flowers in No. 468, was startled by the cyclonic entrance of a pale and distorted Jimmy.
"For Heaven's sake! You scared me. What's the matter?" she gasped, but Jimmy only shoved a morning paper into her hand and pointed to a news item.
VALUABLE LIBRARY LOOTED
GREENWICH HOME OF EDWARD EATON ROBBED
OF RARE VOLUMES DURING ABSENCE
It never takes the eye long to grasp the details of bad news. Daphne caught the import of the item as instantaneously as Jimmy had done. Mr. Edward Eaton, it seemed, was no less a person than the secretary of the Bibliographic Society of Manhattan, a lecturer at Yale, Harvard, and Princeton, an Oxford LL.D., and the author of several recondite volumes. His country house at Greenwich had been in charge of a caretaker who visited it every week. On his last visit— But what was the use? Jimmy sank into a chair and covered his face with his hands.
"Oh! if I only had a drink," he groaned, "a drink of carbolic acid."
Daphne stared at him pale and trembling. "What are we going to do?"
Jimmy moaned on, unhearing. "I'll never be kind to any one again in my life. If I see a blind man without any arms I'll kick him in the nose and rob him of his pennies."
"But, Jimmy," pleaded Daphne, "what could have been that man's object in roping us into it the way he did?"
"Search me," answered the anguished Jimmy. "Blackmail possibly. More likely he knew that no one would ever come searching for stolen goods at the most expensive hotel in New York."
"We'll have to call off this razzle to-day," mourned Daphne. "That's one thing that's certain."
"But how are we going to do it?" wailed Jimmy. "I don't know where any of those men live. They'll be here in a few minutes. Besides, those literary editors will love being called here on a fake, won't they? You'll get publicity with a vengeance then!"
Jimmy's nerve, however, never deserted him for long, although he still sat with his head in his hands.
"Jimmy," quavered Daphne.
"Be still, please," he answered. "I'm thinking. I may have an idea."
That was too much for Daphne. "That's just the trouble with you, your crazy ideas. If you hadn't insisted on this library business we shouldn't have got into all this mess. Now they'll call me a thief and a crook. Bernstein will be wild. My career will be ruined."
She began to whimper and Jimmy began to plead.
"I'll get you out of it, Daph. Honest, I will. Just let me alone for a minute. Just let me think. There's life in the old brain yet."
A moment later he bounded back with his old resiliency.
"Daph," he cried, jumping to his feet, "I've got it. We'll find those books!"
"Find the books?" answered Daphne, dully. "What good is that going to do us? That cheap trick is killed."
"Not that one book," answered Jimmy, in excitement. "The whole bally lot of them. You are going to find the stolen Eaton collection!"
Automatically his mind leaped into his usual press-agent phraseology. He saw his second great hit rising out of the ashes of his first.
"Miss Daphne Day," he rattled on, feverishly, "already well known as a famous collector, of of course always haunts the second-hand-book stores. Known to all the dealers. One day, near a second-hand store in the Bronx, several books were offered her by a stranger for two dollars. Her trained eye saw at a glance that they were a find. Stranger told her he could get her more. Purchased the lot for a song. Did not examine them for days. Too busy playing at the Morpheus. When she did she found that they were priceless. Her suspicions aroused. That's why she took the book to a well-known savant as told in a recent issue. That explains why she did not care to tell the reporters where she got De Rom. Imp. Hoped to locate stranger. Never seen him since. Only learned by to-day's paper of Eaton's robbery. 'Nother set of first-page stories. Far bigger sensation than the first. Knockout!"
Daphne was not so confident. "But the experts," she said. "They will be here in a minute."
Jimmy's jaw dropped. He stood a moment blinking in thought, but his mind was now running on high. Suddenly he snapped his fingers.
"Got it!" he cried. "Tell those experts you asked them down on the q. t. to confirm your suspicions. If the Eaton collection is really famous they will know it at a glance." Then again he went pale. "Yes," he said, in a dead, hopeless voice, "they'd be a fine bunch of boobs if they didn't know it—with Eaton's name written in the front of every book."
Daphne almost collapsed, but even at that blow Jimmy refused to give in. He walked to the bookcase and picked out the first volume. That, at least, was not marked. His hope revived and he examined the second. Neither was that. The third was marked and he threw it to the floor. The sixth was also marked and went into the discard, but out of the first dozen books he examined those were the only ones that bore Eaton's name.
"Quick, Daph," he cried, "you take the bottom row and Ell take the top."
Frantically they set to work, their hands going like jig-saws and the marked books flying over their shoulders like grain out of a chute. At last Jimmy stood up and mopped his brow.
"That's all," he said. "Now let's hustle these into the bedroom and then see what we've got left."
As a matter of fact they had far more left than they had expected, and, as Jimmy's newly expert eye was able to see, they had all of the best ones. He had not been an expert long enough to know that a real collector does not mar his prize treasures even with his own name. Hastily they arranged the remainders and then stood back with their first sigh of relief. Proudly they looked at the result of their labors and then at each other.
Daphne's eyes suddenly twinkled and over Jimmy's haggard face spread a broad grin. With a simultaneous impulse they grasped each other's hands in a shake of appreciation.
The telephone rang. Daphne's hand shot from Jimmy's and went to arranging her hair.
"There's the first of the experts," said Jimmy. "You answer. I'm not supposed to be here just yet."
Once more perfectly composed, Daphne went to the 'phone.
"Helleou," she said, in a low, modulated voice. … "Who. … What?" She clapped her hand over the mouth-piece and turned to Jimmy, aghast. "My gosh! It's Eaton!"
Jimmy stared. "Which Eaton?"
"Your Eaton. The man in the dirty bathrobe."
"Tell him to wait. I'll be right down," said Jimmy.
Daphne did so and Jimmy paced back and forth.
"Daph," he said slowly, "it's up to you this time. I'll go down and find out all I can. If he really is Eaton there is only one thing to do. I hate to do it, but we must. You have got to take him to the matinée with you. I will fix it up somehow. Look at him soulful all the way down; plant him in a stage box and don't take your eyes off him during the whole performance. After the show take him to tea somewhere and don't let him get back here until six o'clock. I will be waiting for you in the foyer.
"Now get this right," he continued, still pacing back and forth. "Some of those experts may be here before I get back. Begin shoving food at them the minute they come in. Then watch for me. When I come back, if I shake my head, that means that the fellow down-stairs is a crook and I have kicked him out and told him to beat it. If I nod my head that means that he is really Eaton. In that case make your excuses, get on your things and meet me at the elevator."
Jimmy looked at his watch and went out at a run. As he left one elevator at the main floor a group of men with spectacles and gray beards were entering the other, asking for 468. Jimmy glanced around the foyer, saw that the house detective was within hail, then walked heartily toward Eaton, whom he saw standing casually by the news-stand.
"Hello!" hailed Jimmy, cheerfully. "Why aren't you in Canada?"
"Because my caretaker is an ass," replied Eaton.
"What's he done now?" asked Jimmy, innocently.
"Well, you know that I went up to Greenwich myself last Monday week and took my books out, leaving a note as big as an ice-ticket tied to the kitchen faucets which he is supposed to inspect. Then he comes in, sees that the books are gone, and, without looking any farther, catches me clear back on the trail in Canada with a telegram saying, 'Return at once, very serious news'—nothing but that. I thought the place had burned down at the very least."
"I see," said Jimmy, guardedly, his usually competent mind utterly at a loss to know what to believe and what not to believe. "Do you want your books?" he asked, vaguely.
"Are they in your way?" asked Eaton, in evident surprise.
The naturalness of that question convinced Jimmy. "Not in the slightest," he answered, heartily. He thought a moment, then asked, "What are you doing this afternoon?"
"Cursing," replied Eaton.
Jimmy smiled. "Well, look here," he suggested. "Miss Day and I are going down to a matinée of her show. Why don't you come with us? It might amuse you to go behind the scenes."
"Well, really," protested Eaton. "I don't want to saddle myself on you as well as my books."
"Rot," replied Jimmy, and, before his guest could invent excuses, he was rushing away to give Daphne her cue.
A moment later the three stood together in the lobby. Daphne and Eaton laughing over their previous informal encounter. As hastily as he could, Jimmy hustled them into a taxi with the remark that he would join them at the theater and then turned back to the elevator. The task of facing the experts looked like child's play compared to what he had just gone through.
He was indeed in a mood almost hilarious when he approached the open door of Daphne's "library" and found it filled with black coats and gray beards, the owners of all of them looking around helplessly for some one to act as host. With a fine show of gaiety Jimmy started in grandly, but some one grabbed him by the sleeve and, turning, he found the dramatic editor of the Sphere. Beside him was standing a stout, dignified gentleman with a gray beard.
"Mr. Furlong," said the dramatic editor, "I wonder whether you know Mr. Edward Eaton, the secretary of the Bibliographic Society of Manhattan?"
At the words Jimmy felt a cold, sick feeling creeping up from his hands to his shoulders and down to the pit of his stomach and at the same moment he felt his face growing fiery red. He looked at the elderly gentleman closely. He dared not reply a "yes" or a "no." He merely repealed, courteously:
"Mr. Edward Eaton?"
The editor noticed his blank stare at the gray-bearded gentleman, and suddenly seemed to recall himself.
"Oh, I beg your pardon!" he exclaimed. "I thought you had met Professor Martin. Professor Martin, Mr. Furlong. Yes," he resumed, "I thought I caught sight of Mr. Eaton in the lobby below, and wondered whether he were familiar with this collection. He is the best-known authority in America on the Holy Roman Empire."
Like a man who suddenly waked from a horrible dream, Jimmy recovered himself and became all smiles and attention.
"Mr. Eaton? Oh yes, Mr. Eaton," he said. "I did not quite catch you at first. Yes, indeed, I know Mr. Eaton. I expected a few minutes ago that we should have him with us this afternoon, but I have just learned that he will not be here. Mr. Eaton? Familiar with this collection? I should say he was! Why, I really believe that Mr. Eaton is more familiar with this collection than Miss Day is herself." He rubbed his hands genially. "Now, gentlemen, what would you like to look at first?"
It was not six o'clock by any means when Daphne and Eaton returned to the foyer of the Saint Stuyvesant. It was nearer seven, and both seemed to have enjoyed their extended tea. Daphne sailed up to Jimmy, who was slouched in a chair recuperating by inches.
"Jimmy," she burst out, "I couldn't help it. I told him the whole story going down in the cab, and, Jimmy, he's a real sport."
The grinning face of Eaton, looking over her shoulder, testified to this last, as did his words.
"I think," he said, "that you both had better have dinner with me, if Miss Day is not afraid of being late for her evening performance."
"I'm not afraid of anything now," replied Daphne. "I have known the worst that a woman can know."
As soon as they were seated in the small dining-room Eaton lifted his glass of wholly inadequate mineral water.
"Well," he proposed, "here's to the Holy Roman Empire of the Bronx!"
"Don't speak that word, Bronx," moaned Jimmy. "I need one too badly."
Daphne looked at him. "Why? What kind of an afternoon did you have?"
"Oh, fine!" mocked Jimmy, hollowly. He told his story; then, instinct slowly beginning to stir within him again, he added:
"That reminds me, Daph. The dramatic editor of the Sphere was quite taken with your collection. He wants to run a picture of you in the Sunday supplement. That would be a big thing. He suggested one with your books as a background."
Solemnly, piously, Daphne lifted her hand.
"Never again," she vowed, "ne-vur again. If he wants to print something I'll have one taken among my jelly-fish, or—wait a minute. What was that you were saying the other day about an old sun-dial?"