The Intrusion of Jimmy/Chapter 2
PYRAMUS AND THISBE
THE two men turned up the street. They walked in silence. Arthur Mifflin was going over in his mind such outstanding events of the evening as he remembered—the nervousness, the relief of finding that he was gripping his audience, the growing conviction that he had made good; while Jimmy seemed to be thinking his own private thoughts. They had gone some distance before either spoke.
"Who is she, Jimmy?" asked Mifflin.
Jimmy came out of his thoughts with a start.
"Who is she?"
"I don't know what you mean."
"Yes, you do! The sea air. Who is she?"
"I don't know," said Jimmy, simply.
"You don't know? Well, what's her name?"
"I don't know."
"Doesn't the Lusitania still print a passenger-list?"
"And you couldn't find out her name in five days?"
"And that's the man who thinks he can burgle a house!" said Mifflin, despairingly.
They had arrived now at the building on the second floor of which was Jimmy's flat.
"Coming in?" said Jimmy.
"Well, I was rather thinking of pushing on as far as the Park. I tell you, I feel all on wires."
"Come in, and smoke a cigar. You've got all night before you if you want to do Marathons. I haven't seen you for a couple of months. I want you to tell me all the news."
"There isn't any. Nothing happens in New York. The papers say things do, but they don't. However, I'll come in. It seems to me that you're the man with the news."
Jimmy fumbled with his latch-key.
"You're a bright sort of burglar," said Mifflin, disparagingly. "Why don't you use your oxy-acetylene blow-pipe? Do you realize, my boy, that you've let yourself in for buying a dinner for twelve hungry men next week? In the cold light of the morning, when reason returns to her throne, that'll come home to you."
"I haven't done anything of the sort," said Jimmy, unlocking the door.
"Don't tell me you really mean to try it."
"What else did you think I was going to do?"
"But you can't. You would get caught for a certainty. And what are you going to do then? Say it was all a joke? Suppose they fill you full of bullet-holes! Nice sort of fool you'll look, appealing to some outraged householder's sense of humor, while he pumps you full of lead with a Colt."
"These are the risks of the profession. You ought to know that, Arthur. Think what you went through to-night."
Arthur Mifflin looked at his friend with some uneasiness. He knew how very reckless Jimmy could be when he had set his mind on accomplishing anything, since, under the stimulus of a challenge, he ceased to be a reasoning being, amenable to argument. And, in the present case, he knew that Willett's words had driven the challenge home. Jimmy was not the man to sit still under the charge of being a fakir, no matter whether his accuser had been sober or drunk.
Jimmy, meanwhile, had produced whiskey and cigars. Now, he was lying on his back on the lounge, blowing smoke-rings at the ceiling.
"Well?" said Arthur Mifflin, at length.
"What I meant was, is this silence to be permanent, or are you going to begin shortly to amuse, elevate, and instruct? Something's happened to you, Jimmy. There was a time when you were a bright little chap, a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy. Where be your gibes now; your gambols, your songs, your flashes of merriment that were wont to set the table in a roar when you were paying for the dinner? You remind me more of a deaf-mute celebrating the Fourth of July with noiseless powder than anything else on earth. Wake up, or I shall go. Jimmy, we were practically boys together. Tell me about this girl—the girl you loved, and were idiot enough to lose."
Jimmy drew a deep breath.
"Very well," said Mifflin complacently, "sigh if you like; it's better than nothing."
Jimmy sat up.
"Yes, dozens of times," said Mifflin.
"What do you mean?"
"You were just going to ask me if I had ever been in love, weren't you?"
"I wasn't, because I know you haven't. You have no soul. You don't know what love is."
"Have it your own way," said Mifflin, resignedly.
Jimmy bumped back on the sofa.
"I don't either," he said. "That's the trouble."
Mifflin looked interested.
"I know," he said. "You've got that strange premonitory fluttering, when the heart seems to thrill within you like some baby bird singing its first song, when—"
"Oh, cut it out!"
"—when you ask yourself timidly, 'Is it? Can it really be?' and answer shyly, 'No. Yes. I believe it is!' I've been through it dozens of times; it is a recognized early symptom. Unless prompt measures are taken, it will develop into something acute. In these matters, stand on your Uncle Arthur. He knows."
"You make me sick," Jimmy retorted.
"You have our ear," said Mifflin, kindly. "Tell me all."
"There's nothing to tell."
"Don't lie, James."
"Well, practically nothing."
"It was like this."
Jimmy wriggled himself into a more comfortable position, and took a sip from his glass.
"I didn't see her until the second day out."
"I know that second day out. Well?"
"We didn't really meet at all."
"Just happened to be going to the same spot, eh?"
"As a matter of fact, it was like this. Like a fool, I'd bought a second-class ticket."
"What? Our young Rockerbilt Astergould, the boy millionaire, traveling second-class! Why?"
"I had an idea it would be better fun. Everybody's so much more cheery in the second cabin. You get to know people so much quicker. Nine trips out of ten, I'd much rather go second."
"And this was the tenth?"
"She was in the first-cabin," said Jimmy.
Mifflin clutched his forehead.
"Wait!" he cried. "This reminds me of something—something in Shakespeare. Romeo and Juliet? No. I've got it—Pyramus and Thisbe."
"I don't see the slightest resemblance."
"Read your 'Midsummer Night's Dream.' 'Pyramus and Thisbe,' says the story, 'did talk through the chink of a wall,'" quoted Mifflin.
"Don't be so literal. You talked across a railing."
"Do you mean to say you didn't talk at all?"
"We didn't say a single word."
Mifflin shook his head sadly.
"I give you up," he said. "I thought you were a man of enterprise. What did you do?"
Jimmy sighed softly.
"I used to stand and smoke against the railing opposite the barber's shop, and she used to walk round the deck."
"And you used to stare at her?"
"I would look in her direction sometimes," corrected Jimmy, with dignity.
"Don't quibble! You stared at her. You behaved like a common rubber-neck, and you know it. I am no prude, James, but I feel compelled to say that I consider your conduct that of a libertine. Used she to walk alone?"
"Generally.""And, now, you love her, eh? You went on board that ship happy, careless, heart-free. You came off it grave and saddened. Thenceforth, for you, the
"I would look in her direction sometimes," corrected Jimmy with dignity. Page 18
Mifflin groaned in a hollow and bereaved manner, and took a sip from his glass to buoy him up.
Jimmy moved restlessly on the sofa.
"Do you believe in love at first sight?" he asked, fatuously. He was in the mood when a man says things, the memory of which makes him wake up hot all over for nights to come.
"I don't see what first sight's got to do with it," said Mifflin. "According to your own statement, you stood and glared at the girl for five days without letting up for a moment. I can quite imagine that you might glare yourself into love with anyone by the end of that time."
"I can't see myself settling down," said Jimmy, thoughtfully. "And, until you feel that you want to settle down, I suppose you can't be really in love."
"I was saying practically that about you at the club just before you came in. My somewhat neat expression was that you were one of the gypsies of the world."
"By George, you're quite right!"
"I always am."
"I suppose it's having nothing to do. When I was on the News, I was never like this."
"You weren't on the News long enough to get tired of it."
"I feel now I can't stay in a place more than a week. It's having this money that does it, I suppose."
"New York," said Mifflin, "is full of obliging persons who will be delighted to relieve you of the incubus. Well, James, I shall leave you. I feel more like bed now. By the way, I suppose you lost sight of this girl when you landed?"
"Well, there aren't so many girls in the United States—only twenty million. Or is it forty million? Something small. All you've got to do is to search around a bit. Good-night."
Mr. Mifflin clattered down the stairs. A minute later, the sound of his name being called loudly from the street brought Jimmy to the window. Mifflin was standing on the pavement below, looking up.
"What's the matter now?"
"I forgot to ask. Was she a blonde?"
"Was she a blonde?" yelled Mifflin.
"No," snapped Jimmy.
"Dark, eh?" bawled Mifflin, making night hideous.
"Yes," said Jimmy, shutting the window.
The window went up again.
"Me for blondes!"
"Go to bed!"
"Very well. Good-night."
Jimmy withdrew his head, and sat down in the chair Mifflin had vacated. A moment later, he rose, and switched off the light. It was pleasanter to sit and think in the dark. His thoughts wandered off in many channels, but always came back to the girl on the Lusitania. It was absurd, of course. He didn't wonder that Arthur Mifflin had treated the thing as a joke. Good old Arthur! Glad he had made a success! But was it a joke? Who was it that said, the point of a joke is like the point of a needle, so small that it is apt to disappear entirely when directed straight at oneself? If anybody else had told him such a limping romance, he would have laughed himself. Only, when you are the center of a romance, however limping, you see it from a different angle. Of course, told badly, it was absurd. He could see that. But something away at the back of his mind told him that it was not altogether absurd. And yet—love didn't come like that, in a flash. You might just as well expect a house to spring into being in a moment, or a ship, or an automobile, or a table, or a— He sat up with a jerk. In another instant, he would have been asleep.
He thought of bed, but bed seemed a long way off—the deuce of a way. Acres of carpet to be crawled over, and then the dickens of a climb at the end of it. Besides, undressing! Nuisance—undressing. That was a nice dress the girl had worn on the fourth day out. Tailor-made. He liked tailor-mades. He liked all her dresses. He liked her. Had she liked him? So hard to tell if you don't get a chance of speaking! She was dark. Arthur liked blondes, Arthur was a fool! Good old Arthur! Glad he had made a success! Now, he could marry if he liked! If he wasn't so restless, if he didn't feel that he couldn't stop more than a day in any place! But would the girl have him? If they had never spoken, it made it so hard to—
At this point, Jimmy went to sleep.