Two Hearts and a Lover's Knot


Two Hearts and a Lover's Knot

By Ethel Watts Mumford


THE tattoo man tells a tale of a Reno lady, a middleweight "pug," and the fighting man's betrothed; and, speaking after the manner of the tattoo man, "there is plenty doing," and you find in the bunch plenty of that nature whose one touch makes all bunches kin.


"WELL, Guff," said Kid Breese to me as I met him comin' out of Jim Brady's Athletic Club, "did you hear I'd signed on for the Big Fight?"

"Don't say!" says I. "That's good news; and when is it to be pulled off?"

"Day after to-morrow," says he, with a twinkle in his eye. "I'm throwin' up the sponge—it's all fixed!"

"No!" says I, and my face must have fell, for there ain't a squarer, whiter little fighter than Kid Breese. As decent a lad as you'll find among the pugs anywhere. "By golly!" says I, "I'm ashamed of you. You to go into a fixed-up fight, and gas about it, too." Then I fell for my bein' a come-on. "Who's the other one?" says I, suspicious.

"Battlin' Bessie Lewis," says he, and doubles up with the ha! ha! "I'm goin' to be married," says he, "and I want you to give the bride a present of my selection."

"You boob!" says I. "You blessed boob! aren't you through with that foolishness yet? Why, man alive, where's your trainer, to let you do such a fool thing? And Bessie Lewis! Aw, quit your kiddin'!" But Breese slipped his arm through mine and turned downtown toward my dump.

"No," says he, "I'm all signed up, and you know how much I like your work, Guff."

{[dhr]} I NODDED. That boy is plumb crazy about tattoo. He was always hangin' around when I was on a nice complicated job, fairly itchin' to have it on hisself.

"Well," says he, "I can't have no exhibition on my own person. I'd look pretty, I would, stripped for the step lively, with pictures all over me to dazzle the enemy. But I want you to do a classy little bit on my fi-an-cée. Besides," says he, lookin' sort of wistful and far away, "I think it's good for 'em—sort of keeps you as a constant reminder; they sort of feel you owns 'em more when you've got 'em marked. Now, Bessie sort of needs to be tagged. She's too good a looker to be let loose. I'll bring her down this afternoon, if you can do the trick. Just a couple of hearts with a true-lover's knot, on the inside of the arm, where it don't show up too much."

"Knee's nice for ladies," I suggested.

"No, you don't," says he. "She'd be that determined to show it, she'd be keepin' even her carfare nickels in her stockin'. We'll just stick to the arm, if you please. She'll want the butterfly just as soon as she lamps your sketch books; but steer her off. It's the sentiment I want besides the decoration—and, thanks a lot, old man; there ain't an artist in your trade that can turn out the stuff you do, Guff, and we'll be proud, both of us, to have a sample, we sure will. Will you be in the joint about three? Good! I'll trot her over. Can't stay while you knick the dame, I've got to see Brady about puttin' off my bout with Knockout Burns, and I'll stop by for her later on. S'long."

He left me with a grin and a wave of his hand, and I watched him walk off with his panther-footed step—as prettily built a lightweight as ever stood up, and he had to go and pull off some more of that weddin' stuff. I suppose we all have our loony spots, and the kid took his out in marryin'. Just naturally had the habit. Well, it was none of my business, except to work out my little weddin' present on his girl, and give 'em both my blessin'—whatever that might be worth.

I went up to my room, on the top of the house on account of the light bein' better. I got that light mania from old Nagata, my tattoo master in Yokohama. He wanted the whole side taken out of the house before he'd touch a needle. Can't do that very well in New York; but I did manage to get a good skylight in an old photographer's joint on the Bowery, next door to a movie show.

I found McGirk waitin' for me. He'd gotten a bad scar right through his dragon in some mix-up or other, and wanted me to fill it in; at best a bungling sort of job, so I got him to let me do it like a sword traversin' the dragon, and by a little shadin' and careful outline, I finally made use of that scar, most artistic. But I got to talkin' with him, and forgot all about Kid Breese and the Big Fight, until in he walks with Bessie, just as McGirk left. She was all dolled up; as many plumes on her hat as a Spanish hearse, and her hair marcelled till it looked like a storm in the Yellow Sea. Kid was swellin' around a-spreadin' hisself.

"Here she is!" says he, "and tickled to death with your weddin' present, Guff. Take off your jacket, Bessie, and show the artist your lily arm."

Bessie blushed and smiled, and peeled out of her pony skin, and lo and behold! she had on the waist of a blue satin party dress. What with her checked street skirt cut short to show her white-topped shoes, and the hearse hat, she was some queer-lookin' combine, believe me. She held out her arm, which was big and white and soft as a sofa cushion, and she and Kid argued about the spot. Finally they pretty well decided on the left upper arm near the shoulder, and she wanted to see some pictures of what was to go on it. I showed her my sample books, and sure enough, the minute she seen my Jap and China designs, she was all for butterflies and geisha and goldfish. Then she would have a pair of mandarin ducks, and we couldn't get her back to the heart-sob collection. Finally the Kid got sentimental about it, and begged so hard for the two hearts and true-lover's knot that she gave in. Then the Kid tipped me a wink and went off to his date with Brady.

Bessie looked over my kit and asked one thousand questions, and couldn't see why I had to wash her arm with alcohol, when she'd just rubbed it down with perfumery and white chalk. Then she argued about the color. She wanted the hearts in red and the knot in blue, and Kid had decided for all red as more classy.

We were in the midst of the discussion, when the door opened, and in walks the dizziest dame that ever you saw. She was big and dark, with plenty of teeth and eyes, and if Bessie looked like a poster in her get up, believe me, this new dame looked like a full-sized sheet of the best burlesque paper. She had white-topped shoes, too, and a brass bag as big as a suitcase. The frill on her waist stuck out like a pouter pigeon, and her hat looked like a gardener's almanac. She wore jet earrings that were so long they hit her shoulders every time she turned her head; and her suit, which was black, made up for bein' dark by bein' tight. Lord only knows how she managed to get up the stairs!

"Well," says she, friendlylike, "I'm just from Reno."

 

WELL, of course, after that the ice was all melted.

"Reno," says Bessie, smilin' all over. "’Pears to me I have heard of that burg."

"Well," says the new dame, "you're lucky to get off by just hearin' about it. Believe me, it's no town for a live woman. I didn't realize what I was lettin' myself in for, you see. I'd only been there when the Johnson fight was on, and, of course, then it was a fairly nice place for any lady. But, see!—I've been takin' the treatment for six months, and I most died—I sure did. But I suppose," she says to me, "you're wonderin' how I happen to be in here. It's this way: A lady friend, who was out there takin' the cure, too—Ruby Hale, you remember her, Ruby Hale?"

"Sure," says I. "I've known her for years. Met her in St. Louis, at Fair time. Is she scrapin' off her Bill?" I asked.

"Surest thing you know," says the dame. "And, she says to me, says Mrs. Hale, 'If you want them tattoo marks taken off your arm, there's just one guy in all the world who can do it painless and proper, or turn it into somethin' neat and different,' and she gave me your name and address. Mister, and here I am."

"Sure I can," says I. "And very nice it is of Ruby to give me the reference. I'll be very glad to do the trick for you. Is it a big job?"

"Oh, no," she says. "I never was for the very conspicuous in dressin' or anything else. It's just a couple of hearts on the upper arm. They never were very well done, anyhow. We was in Seattle when I got married, and there didn't seem to be no first-class artist, though my husbun' rustled around hard to find one. Tattoo was one of his fads."

"Is that so?" says Bessie, lookin' interested.

As for me, the dame had me plumb hypnotized by her talk. She had such a warm sort of wrap-me-up-cuddly way with her.

"Well, well," I said, "the best of friends must part; and after all, a souvenir like that can't be as pleasant as it uster was."

She nodded till all the flowers on her hat woggled. "Certainly not. Oh, he made things hot for me, my husbun' did. Why, when I told the judge all I'd been through, he'd hardly believe it—said so, himself. And when I had lunch with him the day after I got my divorce, he made me tell him all over again: said he'd never heard a tale like that in all bis experiences. Why, honest, there was times when I do believe he took me for a punchin' bag. Believe me, these fighters may be all to the merry in the ring but nix, oh, nix, in the weddin' ring."

 

WITH that Miss Lewis went sort of white.

"Was you hitched to a champion, too?" she axed with a sort of dangerous quiet.

"Was I?—well, ra-ther! he's licked 'Tough Wilkins' and 'Water-front' Will and Gentleman Kierd. I don't say he wasn't handsome, and I don't say he wasn't a perfect gentleman in lots of ways—but, take it from me. they don't know how to treat a lady. Why, he'd get so jealous of me, for nothin', that I couldn't live at all. If I had a new dress or a new hat, he'd deliberately spoil 'em. He'd raise a ruction if I spoke to a gentleman friend. And every day he'd do his sprintin' so's he could get the mail from the postman on the way. Open mine?—you bet be did, every time. And he was that ugly about me, he'd not let me have a manicure or a face thump, or a marcel. Said I was tryin' to make a bid for attention. And as for my paint can—Gosh!—he threw my vanity case outer the window, and hit a man on the head with it—like to killed him, too; and the wife of the man wouldn't believe he hadn't been up to somethin' or other, when she heard he'd been knocked senseless by a vanity case. These jealous bugs is somethin' fierce! And if ever you strike one of 'em who wants to have sentimental sentiments marked on you for life, beat it, kid, to the tall timber. They're the worst of the whole lot! Why, that man of mine just couldn't stand it till he got this same sign tattooed on me; made him feel he owned me; had a sort of sense of security, like puttin' initials on yer baggage. I guess. Well, it didn't prevent him from feel in' as unmarked as you please. lie couldn't have his frame all monogrammed, not he; he'd 'be the laughin' stock of the ring,' unless it was chains and anchors, and such—Oh, no, not for him—but— Well. Mister, there's a brace of hearts comin' off my arm, and a good job, too!"

 

BY THE time the dame had got that far, it wasn't hypnotized I was, it was paralyzed clean through. I've seen a whole lot of rough work in my life, but the stuff the little ladies will pull is somethin' you can't never count on. Bessie Lewis had fetched me one look that said: "Shut up, you!" So I sat still as a stone Buddha, tryin' to look wise and unconcerned.

"Did he drink at all?" inquired Bessie.

"Drink!" says the dame. "Oh, my! Not when he's in trainin', mind. No, he's honest about his fights, clean through, and as good a man as there is in his class, with a fine jab, and a quick twist, and cat-footed—my eye! But when he was on a vacation, there was no holdin' him. Many's the time me and a couple of his pals would go out after him he'd be gone, sometimes for a week—and in the darndest places! Once we found him asleep in a church pew. Why, there was nowheres be wouldn't go! Well, I've been restin' now for over six months, and believe me, I needed it!"

"You're lookin' very fit, indeed," says I—thinkin' how about a soft answer turnin' away wrath.

"Oh, yes," she says, "I've got my second wind now, I guess; but when I come up to the next round," she says, "it's me for somethin' at the ribbon counter, or a man milliner. My! how I run on!" she says, with a nice big laugh. "I'm keepin' you from your work. Was you goin' to trim this lady up?"

Bessie looked sort of blue around the gills. "That can wait," she says. But, as they say at the the-atre: 'Little one, your story interests me.' I'd like to hear more. I've got a young man in the profession myself, and what you say sounds like 'advice from mother' to me. Do they get run after much—the champions—by other women?"

 

"YOU poor misguided child!" says the dame, and she meant it, too. "Ain't you got no father nor brother to protect you? You tell that fighter of yours to go and enlist. But sure not to get married. ‘Run after,' did you say? It's a procession, that's what it is. A prize fighter's lady has got to be on her guard every minute. When it comes to a top liner, women don't seem to have any feelin's at all. I've had 'em have the gall to come to me cryin', askin' me why he wouldn't pay no attention to 'em. Dearie, you just profit by my experience, and cut it out, cut it all out, no matter how it hurts you. Just put all that in the discard. I know how hard it is—don't I, though! But enough is enough, and I'm through. Why, ever since I've been in Reno, until just a couple of months back, my husbun's been writin' to me to come back, and sometimes it was an awful temptation—me way out there in a dead hole, and rememberin' a whole lot of things about the excitement of it all, and the trainin', and when the fights come off—and the men and the hollerin'—and then when it was all over, and the whole town wild, to have him come up all puffed and bloody and drawn about the mouth, where it wasn't smashed, and say: 'Old girl, we pulled that off for fair, didn't we!' Oh, it wasn't so easy to let those letters go unanswered. But's, I said, it ain't worth it, not all the other stuff you have to stand. And, well—here you see me, waitin' my turn to have them souvenirs taken off my arm, and only wishin' there was some wise guy who could take 'em off my heart and memory. No, dearie, don't get into it, and if it's the fist artist you're havin' yourself marked for, just you think twice before you do it—or else you see that you get divorce coupons on your bonds of matrimony."

"And these women," persisted Bessie, "was he careful how he trotted around with 'em? If he cut all the gents off your trail, do y' mean he'd be seen around with a lot of dolls?"

"To beat the band, I tell you. It wasn't the women chasin' him altogether, though they did their share. The minute he'd lamp a pretty woman he'd swagger and grin, and the next thing, maybe, I'd find 'em lunchin' or walkin' out calm as you please; and married ones, too, and their husbun's afraid to pick a quar'l till they got their wife off alone. Who did you say your young man was, dearie? Perhaps I know him, and, believe me, I've got the dope on most of the boys, naturally, me at all the big fights, you see."

There was the sound of a step outside. The door knob turned.

"I guess that's him now," says Bessie.

 

THE door swung open, and in stepped the Kid, as dapper as could be. The first thing he saw was the dame. My golly! I never saw such a look in all my life—and in all his life Kid Breese'll never get a knockout like that one. His jaw dropped, his eyes bulged, his backbone sort of wilted. He stood there, unable to speak, or move. And as for the dame, she was worse off. She got as white as oleomargarine. All the wind was jammed outer her. And Bessie Lewis, her face was like cast iron.

"So," she says, brittlelike, "Mrs.—Lady-from-Reno, I take it you have the dope on my young man. But, believe me, I have, too, now! And," she turned like a whirlwind on Breese, "let me tell you, that a feller who opens his wife's letters and fires her vanity box out of the window will never do for me. And the feller who's writin' his wife-once-removed to come back to him, while he's askin' another girl to sign up, is no man for me, either. Lady-from-Reno—Mrs. Kid Breese, that was—I'll take your advice, and cut it out!" She was at the door by then, and she turned for one last shot. "Thank you, Mr. Guff," she says in a mincin' voice, "but I won't have to trouble you for a couple of red hearts and a blue lover's knot. Good-by."

The door slammed behind her, and still them two stood starin' at each other.

"Mamie—Mamie!" he said at last.

With that she sat down hard on my best chair, and began to cry.

The Kid seemed to sort of wake out of his trance at that. I guess the noise was familiar.

"Oh—oh!" she sobbed. "How did you ever come here—and what," says she, "is that meringue-haired hussy to you?"

"Mamie," he said, and his voice shook, "why didn't you answer my letters?"

"Why didn't you come yourself?" she snapped, "instead of writin'? Were you goin' to marry that girl?"

"Mamie," says the Kid, "I was—I was, because I was so d—— lonely, I couldn't stand it. Mamie, I didn't believe anybody could be so lonely. You threw me down, and I just couldn't stand it."

"So," says she, though I could see she'd been just eatin' out her heart to hear the very things he was sayin'—"so, for that reason you go find try to spoil another woman's life. That's just like a man!"

"No," says he, "it wasn't that. Honest, I meant to make her happy. I wanted to treat some woman better than I'd treated you. I wanted to make it up to some woman just because you were a woman"—he got sort of tangled in his own words, but he went on doggedly, just the way he fights an up-hill fight in the prize ring. She laughed sort of hysterically.

"Oh, you were marryin' her on my account. I wish I could have told the judge that; he'd have laughed himself to death!"

"Yes, it was," he said, serious as could be. "I'd have made her a good husband, too, even if I didn't love her. I've learned my lesson, Mamie, right through the book."

She stood up suddenly, and her big eyes flashed through her tears. "And what did you mean by wantin' her tattooed with two red hearts and a blue true-lover's knot? I suppose that was to show her how much you love me!"

"It sure was to remind me of you," he said, never flinchin'. "I wanted to think all the time of the mean way I treated you. I wanted every time I saw that mark to say to myself: 'Kid, hearts is hearts. You did a bum job once, but you needn't twice. You didn't live up to the promises you made to Mamie—don't forget it.' That was why I wanted Bessie to wear them two hearts and lover's knot and things, to remind me of you!"

"And I call that not fair to her," says she, weakenin' just the same. Then she pushes up the loose sleeve of her dress, which only just came to her elbow, and there, sure enough, was the rottenest job of tattooin' that ever was made on a pretty arm. She looked at it, twistin' her arm over to get a squint at it, and the big tears kept comin' to her eyes and rollin' down her cheeks one after another. "Do you remember," she says, softlike, "the funny dump we went to in Seattle, where that was done?"

"Yes," says he.

"And the little monkey of a man who did that for us?"

He nodded.

"And do you remember when we came home, how you kissed all around the place, and almost cried because you thought it hurt me?" Her voice choked, and he didn't answer, because he couldn't. "Oh," she sobbed, "it cost me a heap just to make up my mind to have that taken off. But I felt I just had to. I couldn't be reminded all the time—it would have killed me. I didn't want ever to see it again."

 

HE came over to the chair and knelt down to her just like a little boy sayin' his prayers to his mother. They'd forgotten I was anywhere in the world, them two. I might just as well have been a clothes dummy for all they saw or heard of me. So I just sat and took it all in, and wondered at what fools we all is, and envied them, too.

"Then," says he, "let it stay—let it stay there, Mamie, dearie. That mark'll remind me in all the years to come what a beast I've been—just as I said it would, and I promise to be all you wanted me to be when we decided on them two hearts. Don't take it off, Mamie. Take me back, instead. They say a prize fighter can't 'come back'—show 'em they lie, Mamie. Let me do it. And, girlie, I'm signed up to fight Knockout Burns. I can't do it with no heart in me. Mamie, for the sake of the game, give me another chance, and I promise you now, there'll be no side steppin', and you can land me the solar plexus for keeps if ever I go over the ropes. Mamie, old girl, will you?"

Then they clinched. After a while I got tired.

"Time!" I calls, suddenlike. Golly! you should have seen 'em break away. I liked to bust from laughin'. The Kid looked at me sort of dazedlike. Then he giggled.

"We sort of forgot the audience, didn't we, Mamie?" He looked at me and laughed again. "Why, Guff, I'm a Jonah to your business, all right, all right; lost you a job comin' and goin', didn't I?—stopped Bessie from puttin' it on, and Mamie from takin' it off. Well, come along with me and Mamie, and see us buy the license, and we'll blow you."


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1925.


The author died in 1940, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 75 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.