Davis' Short Stories Vol. 2 by Richard Harding Davis - HTML preview

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The Make-Believe Man


I had made up my mind that when my vacation came I would spend it seeking adventures. I have always wished for adventures, but, though I am old enough--I was twenty-five last October--and have always gone half-way to meet them, adventures avoid me. Kinney says it is my fault. He holds that if you want adventures you must go after them.

Kinney sits next to me at Joyce & Carboy's, the woollen manufacturers, where I am a stenographer, and Kinney is a clerk, and we both have rooms at Mrs. Shaw's boarding- house. Kinney is only a year older than myself, but he is always meeting with adventures. At night, when I have sat up late reading law, so that I may fit myself for court reporting, and in the hope that some day I may become a member of the bar, he will knock at my door and tell me some surprising thing that has just happened to him. Sometimes he has followed a fire-engine and helped people from a fire-escape, or he has pulled the shield off a policeman, or at the bar of the Hotel Knickerbocker has made friends with a stranger, who turns out to be no less than a nobleman or an actor. And women, especially beautiful women, are always pursuing Kinney in taxicabs and calling upon him for assistance. Just to look at Kinney, without knowing how clever he is at getting people out of their difficulties, he does not appear to be a man to whom you would turn in time of trouble. You would think women in distress would appeal to some one bigger and stronger; would sooner ask a policeman. But, on the contrary, it is to Kinney that women always run, especially, as I have said, beautiful women. Nothing of the sort ever happens to me. I suppose, as Kinney says, it is because he was born and brought up in New York City and looks and acts like a New York man, while I, until a year ago, have always lived at Fairport. Fairport is a very pretty harbor, but it does not train one for adventures. We arranged to take our vacation at the same time, and together. At least Kinney so arranged it. I see a good deal of him, and in looking forward to my vacation, not the least pleasant feature of it was that everything connected with Joyce & Carboy and Mrs. Shaw's boarding-house would be left behind me. But when Kinney proposed we should go together, I could not see how, without being rude, I could refuse his company, and when he pointed out that for an expedition in search of adventure I could not select a better guide, I felt that he was right.

"Sometimes," he said, "I can see you don't believe that half the things I tell you have happened to me, really have happened. Now, isn't that so?"

To find the answer that would not hurt his feelings I hesitated, but he did not wait for my answer. He seldom does.

"Well," on this trip," he went on, "you will see Kinney on the job. You won't have to take my word for it. You will see adventures walk up and eat out of my hand."

Our vacation came on the first of September, but we began to plan for it in April, and up to the night before we left New York we never ceased planning. Our difficulty was that having been brought up at Fairport, which is on the Sound, north of New London, I was homesick for a smell of salt marshes and for the sight of water and ships. Though they were only schooners carrying cement, I wanted to sit in the sun on the string-piece of a wharf and watch them. I wanted to beat about the harbor in a catboat, and feel the tug and pull of the tiller. Kinney protested that that was no way to spend a vacation or to invite adventure. His face was set against Fairport. The conversation of clam-diggers, he said, did not appeal to him; and he complained that at Fairport our only chance of adventure would be my capsizing the catboat or robbing a lobster-pot. He insisted we should go to the mountains, where we would meet what he always calls "our best people." In September, he explained, everybody goes to the mountains to recuperate after the enervating atmosphere of the sea-shore. To this I objected that the little sea air we had inhaled at Mrs. Shaw's basement dining-room and in the subway need cause us no anxiety. And so, along these lines, throughout the sleepless, sultry nights of June, July, and August, we fought it out. There was not a summer resort within five hundred miles of New York City we did not consider. From the information bureaus and passenger agents of every railroad leaving New York, Kinney procured a library of timetables, maps, folders, and pamphlets, illustrated with the most attractive pictures of summer hotels, golf links, tennis courts, and boat- houses. For two months he carried on a correspondence with the proprietors of these hotels; and in comparing the different prices they asked him for suites of rooms and sun parlors derived constant satisfaction.

"The Outlook House," he would announce, "wants twenty-four dollars a day for bedroom, parlor, and private bath. While for the same accommodations the Carteret Arms asks only twenty. But the Carteret has no tennis court; and then again, the Outlook has no garage, nor are dogs allowed in the bedrooms."

As Kinney could not play lawn tennis, and as neither of us owned an automobile or a dog, or twenty-four dollars, these details to me seemed superfluous, but there was no health in pointing that out to Kinney. Because, as he himself says, he has so vivid an imagination that what he lacks he can "make believe" he has, and the pleasure of possession is his.

Kinney gives a great deal of thought to his clothes, and the question of what he should wear on his vacation was upon his mind. When I said I thought it was nothing to worry about, he snorted indignantly. "YOU wouldn't!" he said. "If I'D been brought up in a catboat, and had a tan like a red Indian, and hair like a Broadway blonde, I wouldn't worry either. Mrs. Shaw says you look exactly like a British peer in disguise." I had never seen a British peer, with or without his disguise, and I admit I was interested.

"Why are the girls in this house," demanded Kinney, "always running to your room to borrow matches? Because they admire your CLOTHES? If they're crazy about clothes, why don't they come to ME for matches?"

"You are always out at night," I said.

"You know that's not the answer," he protested. "Why do the type- writer girls at the office always go to YOU to sharpen their pencils and tell them how to spell the hard words? Why do the girls in the lunch-rooms serve you first? Because they're hypnotized by your clothes? Is THAT it?"

"Do they?" I asked; "I hadn't noticed."

Kinney snorted and tossed up his arms. "He hadn't noticed!" he kept repeating. "He hadn't noticed!" For his vacation Kinney bought a second-hand suit-case. It was covered with labels of hotels in France and Switzerland.

"Joe," I said, "if you carry that bag you will be a walking falsehood."

Kinney's name is Joseph Forbes Kinney; he dropped the Joseph because he said it did not appear often enough in the Social Register, and could be found only in the Old Testament, and he has asked me to call him Forbes. Having first known him as "Joe," I occasionally forget.

"My name is NOT Joe," he said sternly, "and I have as much right to carry a second-hand bag as a new one. The bag says IT has been to Europe. It does not say that I have been there."

"But, you probably will," I pointed out, "and then some one who has really visited those places--"

"Listen!" commanded Kinney. "If you want adventures you must be somebody of importance. No one will go shares in an adventure with Joe Kinney, a twenty-dollar-a- week clerk, the human adding machine, the hall-room boy. But Forbes Kinney, Esq., with a bag from Europe, and a Harvard ribbon round his hat--"

"Is that a Harvard ribbon round your hat?" I asked.

"It is!" declared Kinney; "and I have a Yale ribbon, and a Turf Club ribbon, too. They come on hooks, and you hook 'em on to match your clothes, or the company you keep. And, what's more," he continued, with some heat, "I've borrowed a tennis racket and a golf bag full of sticks, and you take care you don't give me away."

"I see," I returned, "that you are going to get us into a lot of trouble."

"I was thinking," said Kinney, looking at me rather doubtfully, "it might help a lot if for the first week you acted as my secretary, and during the second week I was your secretary."

Sometimes, when Mr. Joyce goes on a business trip, he takes me with him as his private stenographer, and the change from office work is very pleasant; but I could not see why I should spend one week of my holiday writing letters for Kinney.

"You wouldn't write any letters," he explained. "But if I could tell people you were my private secretary, it would naturally give me a certain importance."

"If it will make you any happier," I said, "you can tell people I am a British peer in disguise."

"There is no use in being nasty about it," protested Kinney. "I am only trying to show you a way that would lead to adventure."

"It surely would!" I assented. "It would lead us to jail."

The last week in August came, and, as to where we were to go we still were undecided, I suggested we leave it to chance.

"The first thing," I pointed out, "is to get away from this awful city. The second thing is to get away cheaply. Let us write down the names of the summer resorts to which we can travel by rail or by boat for two dollars and put them in a hat. The name of the place we draw will be the one for which we start Saturday afternoon. The idea," I urged, "is in itself full of adventure."

Kinney agreed, but reluctantly. What chiefly disturbed him was the thought that the places near New York to which one could travel for so little money were not likely to be fashionable.

"I have a terrible fear," he declared, "that, with this limit of yours, we will wake up in Asbury Park."

Friday night came and found us prepared for departure, and at midnight we held our lottery. In a pillow-case we placed twenty slips of paper, on each of which was written the name of a summer resort. Ten of these places were selected by Kinney, and ten by myself. Kinney dramatically rolled up his sleeve, and, plunging his bared arm into our grab-bag, drew out a slip of paper and read aloud: "New Bedford, via New Bedford Steamboat Line." The choice was one of mine.

"New Bedford!" shouted Kinney. His tone expressed the keenest disappointment. "It's a mill town!" he exclaimed. "It's full of cotton mills."

"That may be," I protested. "But it's also a most picturesque old seaport, one of the oldest in America. You can see whaling vessels at the wharfs there, and wooden figure-heads, and harpoons--"

"Is this an expedition to dig up buried cities," interrupted Kinney, "or a pleasure trip? I don't WANT to see harpoons! I wouldn't know a harpoon if you stuck one into me. I prefer to see hatpins."

The Patience did not sail until six o'clock, but we were so anxious to put New York behind us that at five we were on board. Our cabin was an outside one with two berths. After placing our suit-cases in it, we collected camp-chairs and settled ourselves in a cool place on the boat deck. Kinney had bought all the afternoon papers, and, as later I had reason to remember, was greatly interested over the fact that the young Earl of Ivy had at last arrived in this country. For some weeks the papers had been giving more space than seemed necessary to that young Irishman and to the young lady he was coming over to marry. There had been pictures of his different country houses, pictures of himself; in uniform, in the robes he wore at the coronation, on a polo pony, as Master of Fox-hounds. And there had been pictures of Miss Aldrich, and of HER country places at Newport and on the Hudson. From the afternoon papers Kinney learned that, having sailed under his family name of Meehan, the young man and Lady Moya, his sister, had that morning landed in New York, but before the reporters had discovered them, had escaped from the wharf and disappeared.

"'Inquiries at the different hotels,'" read Kinney impressively, "'failed to establish the whereabouts of his lordship and Lady Moya, and it is believed they at once left by train for Newport.'"

With awe Kinney pointed at the red funnels of the Mauretania.

"There is the boat that brought them to America," he said. "I see," he added, "that in this picture of him playing golf he wears one of those knit jackets the Eiselbaum has just marked down to three dollars and seventy-five cents. I wish--" he added regretfully.

"You can get one at New Bedford," I suggested.

"I wish," he continued, "we had gone to Newport. All of our BEST people will be there for the wedding. It is the most important social event of the season. You might almost call it an alliance."

I went forward to watch them take on the freight, and Kinney stationed himself at the rail above the passengers gangway where he could see the other passengers arrive. He had dressed himself with much care, and was wearing his Yale hat-band, but when a very smart-looking youth came up the gangplank wearing a Harvard ribbon, Kinney hastily retired to our cabin and returned with one like it. A few minutes later I found him and the young man seated in camp- chairs side by side engaged in a conversation in which Kinney seemed to bear the greater part. Indeed, to what Kinney was saying the young man paid not the slightest attention. Instead, his eyes were fastened on the gangplank below, and when a young man of his own age, accompanied by a girl in a dress of rough tweed, appeared upon it, he leaped from his seat. Then with a conscious look at Kinney, sank back.

The girl in the tweed suit was sufficiently beautiful to cause any man to rise and to remain standing. She was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. She had gray eyes and hair like golden-rod, worn in a fashion with which I was not familiar, and her face was so lovely that in my surprise at the sight of it, I felt a sudden catch at my throat, and my heart stopped with awe, and wonder, and gratitude.

After a brief moment the young man in the real Harvard hat-band rose restlessly and, with a nod to Kinney, went below. I also rose and followed him. I had an uncontrollable desire to again look at the girl with the golden-rod hair. I did not mean that she should see me. Never before had I done such a thing. But never before had I seen any one who had moved me so strangely. Seeking her, I walked the length of the main saloon and back again, but could not find her. The delay gave me time to see that my conduct was impertinent. The very fact that she was so lovely to look upon should have been her protection. It afforded me no excuse to follow and spy upon her. With this thought, I hastily returned to the upper deck to bury myself in my book. If it did not serve to keep my mind from the young lady, at least I would prevent my eyes from causing her annoyance.

I was about to take the chair that the young man had left vacant when Kinney objected. "He was very much interested in our conversation," Kinney said, "and he may return."

I had not noticed any eagerness on the part of the young man to talk to Kinney or to listen to him, but I did not sit down.

"I should not be surprised a bit," said Kinney, "if that young man is no end of a swell. He is a Harvard man, and his manner was most polite. That," explained Kinney, "is one way you can always tell a real swell. They're not high and mighty with you. Their social position is so secure that they can do as they like. For instance, did you notice that he smoked a pipe?"

I said I had not noticed it.

For his holiday Kinney had purchased a box of cigars of a quality more expensive than those he can usually afford. He was smoking one of them at the moment, and, as it grew less, had been carefully moving the gold band with which it was encircled from the lighted end. But as he spoke he regarded it apparently with distaste, and then dropped it overboard.

"Keep my chair," he said, rising. "I am going to my cabin to get my pipe." I sat down and fastened my eyes upon my book; but neither did I understand what I was reading nor see the printed page. Instead, before my eyes, confusing and blinding me, was the lovely, radiant face of the beautiful lady. In perplexity I looked up, and found her standing not two feet from me. Something pulled me out of my chair. Something made me move it toward her. I lifted my hat and backed away. But the eyes of the lovely lady halted me.

To my perplexity, her face expressed both surprise and pleasure. It was as though either she thought she knew me, or that I reminded her of some man she did know. Were the latter the case, he must have been a friend, for the way in which she looked at me was kind. And there was, besides, the expression of surprise and as though something she saw pleased her. Maybe it was the quickness with which I had offered my chair. Still looking at me, she pointed to one of the sky-scrapers.

"Could you tell me," she asked, "the name of that building?" Had her question not proved it, her voice would have told me not only that she was a stranger, but that she was Irish. It was particularly soft, low, and vibrant. It made the commonplace question she asked sound as though she had sung it. I told her the name of the building, and that farther uptown, as she would see when we moved into midstream, there was another still taller. She listened, regarding me brightly, as though interested; but before her I was embarrassed, and, fearing I intruded, I again made a movement to go away. With another question she stopped me. I could see no reason for her doing so, but it was almost as though she had asked the question only to detain me.

"What is that odd boat," she said, "pumping water into the river?"

I explained that it was a fire-boat testing her hose-lines, and then as we moved into the channel I gained courage, and found myself pointing out the Statue of Liberty, Governors Island, and the Brooklyn Bridge. The fact that it was a stranger who was talking did not seem to disturb her. I cannot tell how she conveyed the idea, but I soon felt that she felt, no matter what unconventional thing she chose to do, people would not be rude, or misunderstand.

I considered telling her my name. At first it seemed that that would be more polite. Then I saw to do so would be forcing myself upon her, that she was interested in me only as a guide to New York Harbor.

When we passed the Brooklyn Navy Yard I talked so much and so eagerly of the battle- ships at anchor there that the lady must have thought I had followed the sea, for she asked: "Are you a sailorman?"

It was the first question that was in any way personal. "I used to sail a catboat," I said.

My answer seemed to puzzle her, and she frowned. Then she laughed delightedly, like one having made a discovery.

"You don't say 'sailorman,'" she said. "What do you ask, over here, when you want to know if a man is in the navy?"

She spoke as though we were talking a different language.

"We ask if he is in the navy," I answered.

She laughed again at that, quite as though I had said something clever. "And you are not?"

"No," I said, "I am in Joyce & Carboy's office. I am a stenographer."

Again my answer seemed both to puzzle and to surprise her. She regarded me doubtfully. I could see that she thought, for some reason, I was misleading her.

"In an office?" she repeated. Then, as though she had caught me, she said: "How do you keep so fit?" She asked the question directly, as a man would have asked it, and as she spoke I was conscious that her eyes were measuring me and my shoulders, as though she were wondering to what weight I could strip.

"It's only lately I've worked in an office," I said. "Before that I always worked out-of- doors; oystering and clamming and, in the fall, scalloping. And in the summer I played ball on a hotel nine."

I saw that to the beautiful lady my explanation carried no meaning whatsoever, but before I could explain, the young man with whom she had come on board walked toward us.

Neither did he appear to find in her talking to a stranger anything embarrassing. He halted and smiled. His smile was pleasant, but entirely vague. In the few minutes I was with him, I learned that it was no sign that he was secretly pleased. It was merely his expression. It was as though a photographer had said: "Smile, please," and he had smiled.

When he joined us, out of deference to the young lady I raised my hat, but the youth did not seem to think that outward show of respect was necessary, and kept his hands in his pockets. Neither did he cease smoking. His first remark to the lovely lady somewhat startled me.

"Have you got a brass bed in your room?" he asked. The beautiful lady said she had. "So've I," said the young man. "They do you rather well, don't they? And it's only three dollars. How much is that?"

"Four times three would be twelve," said the lady. "Twelve shillings."

The young man was smoking a cigarette in a long amber cigarette- holder. I never had seen one so long. He examined the end of his cigarette-holder, and, apparently surprised and relieved at finding a cigarette there, again smiled contentedly.

The lovely lady pointed at the marble shaft rising above Madison Square.

"That is the tallest sky-scraper," she said, "in New York." I had just informed her of that fact. The young man smiled as though he were being introduced to the building, but exhibited no interest.

"IS it?" he remarked. His tone seemed to show that had she said, "That is a rabbit," he would have been equally gratified.

"Some day," he stated, with the same startling abruptness with which he had made his first remark, "our war-ships will lift the roofs off those sky-scrapers."

The remark struck me in the wrong place. It was unnecessary. Already I resented the manner of the young man toward the lovely lady. It seemed to me lacking in courtesy. He knew her, and yet treated her with no deference, while I, a stranger, felt so grateful to her for being what I knew one with such a face must be, that I could have knelt at her feet. So I rather resented the remark.

"If the war-ships you send over here," I said doubtfully, "aren't more successful in lifting things than your yachts, you'd better keep them at home and save coal!"

Seldom have I made so long a speech or so rude a speech, and as soon as I had spoken, on account of the lovely lady, I was sorry.

But after a pause of half a second she laughed delightedly.

"I see," she cried, as though it were a sort of a game. "He means Lipton! We can't lift the cup, we can't lift the roofs. Don't you see, Stumps!" she urged. In spite of my rude remark, the young man she called Stumps had continued to smile happily. Now his expression changed to one of discomfort and utter gloom, and then broke out into a radiant smile.

"I say!" he cried. "That's awfully good: 'If your war-ships aren't any better at lifting things--' Oh, I say, really," he protested, "that's awfully good." He seemed to be afraid I would not appreciate the rare excellence of my speech. "You know, really," he pleaded, "it is AWFULLY good!"

We were interrupted by the sudden appearance, in opposite directions, of Kinney and the young man with the real hat-band. Both were excited and disturbed. At the sight of <