by Henry M. Blossom
A HARD-LUCK STORY BY
HENRY M. BLOSSOM Jr.
HERBERT S. STONE &COMPANY
CHICAGO &NEW YORK
COPYRIGHT, 1896, BY
HERBERT S. STONE &CO.
TO MY FRIEND,
I had never before attended the races. The sport of kings is not
popular in Boston, my former home, but here in Chicago every one turns
out on Derby Day, if at no other time. And so, catching something of
the general enthusiasm, my friend Murray Jameson, who by the way is
something of a sport, and I, who by the same token am not, found
ourselves driving a very smart trap out Michigan avenue, amidst a
throng of coaches, cabs, breaks and buggies, people and conveyances of
every descriptionbeautiful women beautifully costumed, young men,
business men, toughs and wantonsall on their way to Washington Park,
and all in a fever of excitement over the big race to be run that
afternoonthe great American Derby.
Now Jack, said Murray, as in due process we reached our box and
sat gazing at the crowds about and below us, it strikes me that we
should have a small bet of some sort on the different races, just to
liven things up a bit. What say we go down into the betting ring and
have a look at the odds?
As you like, I answered, rising to show my willingness; but you
will have to do the necessary, I do n't know one horse from another.
The less you know the more apt you are to win, said Murray airily;
but if you say so, I 'll make one bet for both of us, share and share
alike. No plunging goes to-day though, Jack; we do n't want to gamble.
We 'll have up a couple of dollars, just to focalize the interest. If
we lose it won't amount to much, and if we winwe win.
But just a word of warning before we go down. Keep your eye on your
watch and your money, or you 'll get 'touched;' and if we should chance
to be separated in a crowd, be careful not to let anyone 'tout' you.
Now, if there 's one thing I am especially proud of, it is my
ability to take care of myself in any company, and Murray's patronizing
manner, in view of my professed ignorance, rather galled me.
The man who gets my watch or money is welcome to it, I answered
shortly, buttoning my coat about me as we walked along; and as for
being 'touted'well, I 'll try to take care of that.
Whether to be 'touted' was to be held up, buncoed, or drugged and
robbed, I had no definite notion; but I took it to be a confidence game
of some sort and despised it accordingly.
Just here, following Murray, I elbowed my way into the hottest,
best-natured, most conglomerate crowd it was ever my lot to mingle
with. Merchants, clerks and gilded youths, laborers, gamblers, negroes,
and what-not, money in hand, pushed, pulled and trod upon each other
indiscriminately in their efforts to reach the betting stands.
The book-makers, ranged along in rows, stood on little platforms in
front of their booths, taking the crowd's money and calling out the
amount and nature of each bet to assistants within who scratched off
and registered corresponding pool-tickets which were quickly returned
to the struggling bettors.
On a blackboard at the end of each booth were posted the names of
the horses with their jockeys. Against these names the book-makers
chalked up their figures, increasing or lessening the odds from time to
time as the different horses were fancied or neglected in the betting.
There 's nothing in this race but Maid Marian, said Murray,
scanning the blackboards critically; but 4 to 5 is the best I see on
her, and I want even money or nothingthe which was largely Greek to
me until by questioning and deduction I found the situation in English
to be as follows:
Maid Marian was judged on breeding and past performance to be much
the best horse in the race, so much so that although about to run with
five or six other racers, the book-makers demanded odds from those who
bet on her in the ratio of 5 to 4.
When I asked Murray why they did not offer $1 to $1.25 he replied
that halves and quarters did n't go, and pointed out a sign which
read: No bets taken under $5. There were several smaller books,
however, which took $2 bets, and did a thriving business.
The crowd by this time had become absolutely dense. Murray was
suddenly dragged away by a current in the mob which set towards a
book-maker who had chalked up even money, Maid Marian.
I followed long enough to see the booky change again to 4 to 5
before Murray reached him; and then, believing myself about to be
crushed to death, I forced my way to the edge of the ring and stood
hoping that my friend would do likewise.
A very horsey individual, wearing an owner's badge, and a most
disreputable-looking negro were discussing the forthcoming race just
Dat Maid Marian ain't got no license to win dis racea mile 's too
fah fo' her, suah, said the darkey. Sister Mary 'll windat 's who
Naw! naw! drawled the other. Senator Irby 'll come purty near
gettin' de coin, wid Peytonia fer an outside chance. I see Peytonia
work a mighty fast mile yesterday mornin', and I 'm jes' takin' a flyer
on her to win today for luck.
I glanced at the nearest blackboardPeytonia 200 to 1!!!
Would they dare to lay such odds against a horse that had even the
slightest chance of winning? It seemed most unlikely, and yetI
hesitated. There must be a possibility, or why was the horse in the
race? My sporty-looking friend had said she was fast and had bet upon
her himself. Perhaps I had chanced upon some inside information; and,
after all, $2 was not a very serious matter whether I won or lost.
I started toward the betting stand, but suddenly stopped short. No,
Murray was to make one bet for both of us, and had undoubtedly done
what he thought was bestI would abide by his judgment.
But did he know what I knewwhere could he be?
The crowd, which was now surging out of the betting ring toward the
fence and up into the grand stand, thinned out rapidly; but I held my
place, hoping to catch sight of Murray.
Come on here and make your bets, yelled the book-makers, with whom
business had begun to grow slack; they 're at the postthey 'll be
off in a minute.
I accepted the invitation. Rushing up to the nearest stand, I handed
up two silver dollars. Peytonia, I said, with all the nonchalance I
Peytonia, repeated the book-maker; four hundred to two, and in a
moment more I was the possessor of a fantastically-colored piece of
card-board, on which was scribbled in pencil Peyt.400-2.
Suddenly there was a roar of excitement.
They 're off, was the cry from a thousand throats, and I and the
other tardy ones rushed to find a favorable spot from which to view the
I had n't time to hunt up our box; so making for the fence, I forced
my way in next to the rail just as the horses, all in a bunch, swung
recklessly around the first turn.
As the race progressed they began to string out, one horse very
clearly taking the lead.
The Maid's in front, Senator Irby second, yelled an enthusiast
just beside me. Where's Sister Mary? Maid Marian 's quittin'. There 's
Flora Thornton. Go on, you Flora. Maid Marian 's out of it. The Senator
's leadin'. Flora is second. Just look at Peytonia.
I leaned over the rail, my heart in my mouth. Down the stretch they
came at a terrible pace; some three were in front, running almost as
one. In a breath they were by us and under the wire, but which of the
three was first I could not determine.
Instantly there was a babel of voices, in which Senator Irby,
Peytonia and Flora Thornton were severally declared to have won, and a
general movement toward the judges' stand was inaugurated for the
purpose of learning the official.
I had scarcely gone a dozen yards before I ran across Murray,
viciously elbowing his way through the crowd.
There was something so irresistibly funny in the expression of
rueful chagrin which sat upon his good-natured face, that I forgot my
excitement and began to laugh immoderately.
Now, what do you think of that for luck? he exclaimed on catching
sight of me; Senator Irby, a stake-horse, to be beaten out by an old
dog like Peytonia? It's enough to
Peytonia! I echoed breathlessly, did Peytonia win?
Of course she won. Did n't you see the race?
For a moment I simply could n't speak, but clasping the tighter my
precious ticket, I swallowed heroically at the lump in my throat, while
Murray, unmindful of my silence, continued.
You see, Jack, after I left you, I got it straight from a friend of
mine that Maid Marian was out of condition, which left the race, it
seemed to me, a walk-over for Senator Irby. Well, it looked like a good
chance to make a 'killin',' and I put twenty on him at two and a half
to one. Of course I could n't figure on getting nosed out by a hundred
to one shot, but that's the luck I always play in. Well, I 'll get it
back on the third race; I've got a 'cinch' in that. You understand
though, Jack, he added, stopping suddenly, you have only a dollar's
interest in the losingI had no right to bet but $2, as was originally
Just here I foresaw a peculiar complication, and I was glad that, in
my desire to appear properly nonchalant, I had not as yet announced my
Why, Murray, I exclaimed, slipping my ticket into my pocket, you
are absolutely absurd. We agreed to share and share alike in the day's
transactions, and I shall insist upon it. Suppose Senator Irby had won
instead of losing, would you have offered me but a dollar's interest in
the winning, simply because I did n't know you were going to bet so
Of course not, you should have had your half; but that is a very
Different in result perhaps, but not in principle; besides, come to
think of it, I made a little bet myself.
You didhow much?
Oh, only $2.
Two dollars, eh? Well! That makes us twenty-two out altogether.
Eleven apiece, if you insist upon it, although
I do insist upon it; so that's settled, and now
By the way, Jack, what did you bet on?
This was the moment of my triumph Handing him the ticket with an air
of assumed carelessness, I covertly watched with keenest relish his
changes of expression, as he ran the gamut of varied emotion from idle
indifference to supreme excitement.
Jack! he exclaimed at last, grabbing my arm. Jack, my boy! Did
you know Just here I laughed and gave the thing away, and then we
both laughed, while Murray improvised superlative similes anent my
luck, and upbraided me for my duplicity.
Ahem! two dollarstwenty-two outeleven apiece, eh, Murray? I
chuckled mockingly. Come on now, old man, and show me how to cash this
ticket; and we made our way toward the betting ring.
We experienced no delay in getting the money, as not one in a
thousand had won on the race, and the cashiers at the back of the
stands had little or nothing to do.
I found great difficulty, however, in making Murray accept his
rightful half of the spoils; but out of his own mouth I judged him, and
in the end prevailed.
The next race, the second, we decided not to bet upon, as the horses
were, according to Murray, only a lot of selling-platers, and we
needed a little respite from the crowd.
So we sought our box, and in highest spirits sat watching the masses
surge to and fro, while the freshening breeze blew strong and cool, and
brought up dark clouds which looked like rain.
The race after this is the Derby, you know, said Murray, glancing
at his programme. Now I do n't want to influence you, old man, but I
really believe that Domino will win. He's the best horse in the race,
and with Taral to ride him he ought to be first under the wire. This
time, though, you shall bet for yourself, as you have the proverbial
beginner's luck. Ah, they're off! By Jove! that's a beautiful start.
Selling-platers or not, the second race was a pretty one and I
enjoyed it thoroughly, from start to finish.
Is there any more pleasurable or intensely interesting sight than
that of a well-appointed race between a number of sleek-limbed
thoroughbreds? The multi-colored satins of the plucky little jockeys,
the whitened fences and the trim greensward lend a picturesqueness; the
buzz and hum of the restless, pushing, ill-assorted crowd adds an
excitement to an ensemble, in my opinion, altogether fascinating.
And now for the Derbythe great stake race worth so many thousands
of dollars to the winner; the much-talked-of race, in which the most
noted horses in the country, East and West, were to compete for
supremacy in fleetness and endurance, and the most celebrated jockeys
to vie with each other in their peculiar generalship.
Leaving our box, we joined in the crush and forced our way into the
betting-ring. The crowd was enormous, the interest intense. One had but
to listen for a moment to hear every horse in the race enthusiastically
spoken of as sure to win.
As it was simply useless in that crush to try to keep together,
Murray and I decided to go our several ways, and meet in good time at a
place agreed upon.
Now, although I had said nothing about it, I had quite decided not
to bet upon this event. I had found the second race upon which I had no
bet infinitely more enjoyable than the first, despite the good fortune
chance had thrust upon me; and reasonably so, I think, for with any
kind of a wager up one's interest naturally centers in the performance
of one horse, and the beauty of the race, as a race, is to a great
extent lost sight of.
With something of this idea in mind, I stood watching the frantic
efforts of the crowd to reach the betting stands, wondering idly the
while where all the money so recklessly offered came from in these days
of universal hard times, when I was suddenly accosted by an unknown
youth who asked to see my programme for a minute, explaining at the
same time that some guy had pinched his, coming through the crowd.
I silently complied.
He studied the programme briefly, smiled a satisfied smile, and
There 's a good thing coming off in the fourth, he remarked in a
confidential manner. If I can see you somewhere just before the race I
'll put you on. It 'll be a 'hot one.'
I thanked him.
The owner himself is going to 'put me next,' he continued; it 'll
be a 'lead-pipe.'
I began to be interested. I should like to know it, I replied,
and I will wait for you after the Derby. I may not bet on it myself,
but I have a friend who doubtless will, if you will give him the
I 'll give it to him if he 'll go down the line, but it's going to
win a city block, and we ought to make a killin' on it. I went broke
myself, on Senator Irby, or I 'd have gone home to-night with a
Well, I replied, we 'll see when the time comes. Now, what do you
fancy to win the Derby?
He lighted a cigarette and puffed it a moment in silence.
It's a dead-tough race, he at last remarked, and I would n't play
it with counterfeit money. There 's no use in playing any race unless
you 've got some information. These geezers that play every race go
broke. But it's an easy game to beat if you just stay off till you 're
next to something good, and then plug it hard. Why, if I could shake
the faro-bank and crap-game, I 'd have money to burn ice with.
Y' see, take a big stake-race like this, where every horse is a
'cracker-jack,' they 're all of 'em good, and they 've all got a
chance, and you just take my advice and stay off. We 'll have something
good in the fourth that we know, and we just won't do a thing to it.
Well, I must hurry down to the paddocks to see a stable boy I know; if
I hear anything I 'll come back and tell you. But be sure and be here
for the next with your friend, 'cause it's all over now, but cashing
the ticketso long; and he dodged away through the crowd.
Oddly enough, it did not at the moment strike me as in the least
peculiar that I should have been conversing on a basis of perfect
equality with a companion of stable boys and a frequenter of gambling
hells. Nothing further.
The spirit of easy, good-natured camaraderie was in the very air;
and in the singleness of purpose which animated allthe picking of the
winnerall ranks seemed leveled, all social barriers cast aside.
Again, he had proved in our few minutes' talk a new, and to me an
interesting, type; and I resolved to keep the appointment, if for
nothing more than to study him further.
He was a young man, certainly not over twenty-three, short, slight,
and becomingly dressed. His face was thin, smooth-shaven and red, but
somehow peculiarly prepossessing. His deep blue eyes and long black
lashes might have atoned for much less attractive features; and the
lines which ran from his well-shaped nose to the corners of his clear
cut lips suggested a hard lived life which I afterwards learned did not
A glance at my watch discovered the fact that it lacked but a few
minutes of my appointment with Murray, and I began to slowly edge my
way to the point of our rendezvous.
I reached it promptly on the minute and stood awaiting his tardy
coming, when suddenly my arm was grasped and I turned to find my new
He was all excitement and breathing hard, as though in the greatest
Come here, he said in a low quick voice; and he beckoned me into a
quiet corner. I 've been looking for you everywhere. Now listen a
minute and do n't ask questions; Domino's got a 'dickey' leg, and he
won't be a thing but last. Garrison tells me that Senator Grady is
going to win in a common canter. Richard Croker 's in the ring, and the
'bookies' are swipin' it off the boards. Hurry and get in with your
money while there 's a chance to get the odds; and he started into the
betting ring as though fully expecting I would follow.
His manner was intensely earnest, and his hurried words and furtive
looks were at once impressive and convincing. I felt my latent sporting
spirit rising strong again, and I began the simple process of arguing
myself out of my former position.
Some Frenchman, I think, has somewhere said, A man is his own worst
sharper. However that is, in an argument with one's self the other
side is usually silenced. And so it chanced that, a few minutes later,
I again held a penciled ticket, which this time called for $60 to be
paid in the event of certain contingencies, and for which I had given
$20 of my former winnings. I had also given my Mentor an extra five to
bet for the boy from whom he had received such timely and valuable
Such reckless plunging I can only excuse upon the grounds of having
been forced into it; for not the least of this versatile youth's many
and varied gifts was the power, not uncommon amongst waiters and
shop-keepers, of shaming his whilom client out of anything approaching
pettiness, by the assumption of that air of blended superiority and
indifference we have all felt the force of at times.
I had drawn forth my roll with the laudable intention of chancing a
two or perhaps a five, when I was met with the startling proposition
that I bet fifty each way, to win and for place, and this was
followed by so convincing an array of figures, weights, times and
distances, that a compromise of $20 to win, and a five-dollar bet for
the boy, who could n't leave the paddocks, but had been promised that
the right thing would be done by him, seemed the least I could do,
consistent with my dignity and self-respect.
And now to hurry back to Murray. We found him standing watch in
hand, and he began to smile when he saw my companion.
Well! well! he exclaimed in a bantering tone; so you 've fallen a
prey to Checkers, have you? What loser has he touted you onto, that's
'going to win in a walk, hands down'?
Now, there's a guy that makes me sick, interrupted Checkers,
ignoring the question. Because he dropped a couple of 'bones' not long
ago at the Harlem track, he made a roar that's echoing still between
this and the Rocky Mountains. The next time I saw him I gave him a
'good thing' he could have win out on, but he would n't touch it. He
don't know the right way around the track. The book-makers call him
'Ready-Money'he 's so easy.
Come off now, Checkers, laughed Murray, you know you never guess
'em right; the only time your horses win is when the others all fall
down. But really, Jack, what did you play?
I 'm playing Senator Grady, Murray; our friend here told me he
could n't lose.
Well, he may be right, said Murray thoughtfully, but I 'm not
playing the race that way. Domino first, and Despot third, is the way I
figure it ought to come. Grady I think will get the place, but the odds
are better on Despot for third. Well, let's go up in the grand-stand
now, and see them all parade to the post.
We chanced to find a place for three, in the seats almost opposite
the judges' stand, for I had taken Checkers with me for the pleasure I
found in hearing him talk.
As yet I had n't made up my mind about Checkers, and I was anxious
to question Murray privately concerning him. He certainly did not look
like a tout, for the meaning of the word as applied to that genus now
came to me. Rather, he seemed to be playing a fantastic rôle. He played
it well, I confess, but there was a whimsical air about all that he
said and did which puzzled me greatly. His slang, however, was natural.
Of that there could be no doubt, and he used it with a native grace, a
varied inflection and appositeness which made it seem a part of him,
and therefore robbed it of objection.
In fact I afterwards discovered, and I grew to know him very well,
that in all his slang there was a pertinence which took a short cut to
the gist of things; a humor, dry and sometimes broad, but never vulgar,
and seldom profane.
The bugle calling the horses to the post sounded soon after we took
our seats, and shortly they began to appear parading in order past the
Domino, Dorian and Senator Grady, the three eastern horses,
favorites in the betting, were cheered as they passed to the very echo;
while others of the eight had their many supporters, who had backed
their belief with some share of their wealth, at longer and much more
There's the baby'll get the dough, said Checkers, as Senator Grady
passed. He's the finest that ever came over the pike. How on earth are
they going to beat him?
I glanced at Murray, who simply smiled and fixed his eyes upon
The horses were soon lined up for the start, and after three or four
attempts, the starter caught them well in motion, dropped the flag, and
the race was off.
Domino in the lead, laughed Murray. I hope he keeps it all
Checkers was muttering under his breath some words ofwell,
Now look at that start and burst out cryin', he groaned in a
bitter tone. Grady absolutely last, and Domino gets off in front. That
starter never was any good; talk about his startin' a race, why! that
bloke could n't start a fire; and he lighted another cigarette by way
of partial consolation.
The horses were nearing the grand-stand now, which was for them the
half-mile post, for the race was to be a mile and one-half, or once and
one-half around the track. Their positions had changed since the drop
of the flag, for as they passed us Alcenor led, Resplendent was second,
Prince Carl third, and Senator Grady was now a good fourth.
Say! girls, look at Grady, yelled Checkers excitedly. Why, he 'll
back in by twenty lengths. There's the place to have him laying, third
or fourth, till they hit the stretch; then Garrison will cut him loose,
and beat 'em all in a grand-stand finish. Those dogs in front can't
hold that pace; they 'll throw up their tails and quit at a mile; and
Checkers puffed the cigarette between his yellow, smoke-stained
fingers, with a look of placid unconcern which I myself was far from
Suddenly he jumped to his feet with an exclamation of surprise.
Grady had suddenly gone to the front as though the others were standing
still, and it looked as though his jockey, Garrison, intended to make
it a runaway race. At the mile he led by a length and a half, and it
seemed to me he would surely win.
The crowds in their intense excitement bustled and buzzed like so
many bees. Cries of Grady! filled the air, and thousands yelled in
frenzied glee. I confess I lost my self-control and whooped as loudly
as any one.
D 'ye see, said Checkers, that's what it is to have reliable
information. Talk about Domino's winning, why, he can't beat a fat man
up a hill; and he cast a pitying glance at Murray, and climbed on his
seat for a better view.
Across the level stretch of greensward the horses looked almost like
playthings. Up the back stretch on they went, with Grady now a length
in front. The others were rapidly closing up, and the final struggle
was soon to begin. At the further turn it seemed to me they slackened
up for a breathing spell; but on they came again faster and faster,
with Grady but half a length in front.
The noisy chatter suddenly ceased and an interested silence fell
upon all. My heart was beating a wild tattoo. I felt as though I were
Murray was wholly occupied in helping Domino along, by calling his
name in a low, quick voice, and energetically snapping his fingers (a
process commonly known as pulling, and thought by the cult to be
I glanced at Checkers. Disappointment was clearly written across his
We 're up against it, he said despondently. Garrison 's give us
the double-cross. He had no business settin' the pace. There 's some
one going after him now. Go on, you Grady! Wiggle yourself! They 've
collared him! They 're passing him! And sure enough some fleet-limbed
bay was drawing ahead of our beautiful brown in a way that left us
little hope of ever getting in front again.
Around the turn and into the stretch, nearer they raced in a cloud
of dust. The leader was gaining at every jump, but Grady hung to second
place. Taral now called upon Domino, and at once the colt responded
gamely. But his time had gone, and the gallant horse that never before
had lost a race fell back with the others, hopelessly beaten, and
Taral, seeing that all was lost, pulled up and galloped slowly in.
Martin on Despot came out of the bunch, and, passing Prince Carl, set
sail for Grady, while Garrison, riding as though for his life, made
every effort to hold his own.
Within one hundred yards of the wire the leader had six lengths to
spare. His jockey was riding in leisurely fashion, glancing around from
time to time, to watch the struggle that Despot was making to wrest the
place from Senator Grady.
Whipping and spurring they thundered past us, fighting it out to the
finishing post. By it they flashed, the bay horse first, Grady second
and Despot third. Garrison's riding had saved him the place, but the
race had been won by a rank outsider.
For a moment or two the crowd was silentdumb with surprise and
disappointment. Few, if any, cheered the winner; thousands inwardly
cursed the favorites.
Quickly the word was passed along, Rey El Santa Anita wins.
Lucky Baldwin's horse, said Checkers. The odds were an easy fifty
to one. Grady second! D 'ye see, if you 'd have played him for place as
I wanted you to, we 'd have saved our stake. But you would n't 'thaw
out,' and now your ticket's a souvenir. We 'd have win as it was with a
good boy up. That settles Garrison for me. There 's a jockey that ought
to be driving cows instead of riding a sprinter like Grady, and pumping
him out in the first three-quarters. Domino last! That 'good thing.'
Well; I knew from the start that he was a 'lobster.'
Murray flushed up. Well, any way, I won on Despot for third, he
said, enough to put me ahead on the race, and cover your losing on
Grady, Jack. But, Jove, what a harvest the bookies have reaped. There
were thousands of dollars bet on Domino and the other favorites, and
there probably were n't a dozen bets in all on Rey El Santa Anita. It's
a terrible thing this gambling, Jack, when you come to look it square
in the face. Just think of the money gone to swell the pile of a lot of
miserable gamblers, and think of the poor deluded mortals who play this
game day after day, constant in the fatuous hope of some day making a
brilliant coup, and squaring themselves on their years of losing.
Fortune 'jollies' them along with temporary small successes, and having
gained their confidence proceeds to throw them down the harder.
Disappointment, misery, embezzlement, suicide, follow it all as effect
follows causeand still the game goes on.
Well, anyway, I 'm glad we touched them, and we 'll take good care
that they do n't get it back. By Jove, it's nearly 4 o'clock. I 'm
afraid we ought to be going, Jack. It's a long drive in, and recollect
we have a date for dinner to-night. Come on, I 'll cash this Despot
ticket, and then we 'll make a start for home.
Home! exclaimed Checkers. You're not going home? Why this is the
race I 've been waiting for. You do n't want to miss a lunch like this.
It's a puddin'; it's a tapioca. Honest, it's a regular gift; the chance
of your life to make a 'killin'.
But to all his entreaties we lent a deaf ear though he talked with a
masterful eloquence. I confess, however, to one more weakness. I gave
him a ten which he swore to return. (Murray was standing in line with
his ticket.) He said he would play it carefully, and gradually win
himself out of the hole. I felt at the time that I was a sucker, but
somehow he had a persuasive way.
A number of weeks had come and gone ere I again laid eyes upon
Checkers, and then it chanced most unexpectedly.
I had stayed at my office late one evening, finishing up some odd
jobs which I had allowed to accumulate. The additional work and the
lateness of the hour lent a keen edge to my appetite, and I decided to
dine down town and perhaps drop into one of the theaters.
As I hastened along on my way to Kinsley's (I am not a member of the
down-town clubs) a figure stepped out of a neighboring doorway, and
brushed against me in passing. It was Checkers. I knew him at once. But
I gave no sign of recognition and hoped to escape him unobserved. A
futile hope, for he knew me as quickly, and in an instant was by my
Why, Mr. Preston, he exclaimed grabbing and shaking my passive
hand. Say, on the dead, I 'm glad to see you; why is it you have n't
been out to the track? I 've had 'something good' nearly every day. I
wish I had seen you an hour ago. I 've been playing 'the bank,' and
they 've cleaned me flat. They say that's the squarest game on earth,
but the cards do run dead wrong for me. Where you goingto eat? Well,
say, as the tramp says, 'Me stomach tinks me troat's cut.' Back me
against a supper, will you? It's a hundred to one I get the best of
it. And so he rattled on and on, never waiting for his questions to be
answered, careless and slangy as ever.
As I turned into Kinsley's I hesitated, as to whether simply to
dismiss him straight, or to give him a dollar and tell him to go and
satisfy his evident hunger. He saw me pause and read my thoughts, but
he did not propose thus to be disposed of.
Come on, he said, starting quickly ahead and entering the
elevator. We 're going up to the café, ain't we?
I was greatly minded to turn on my heel and tell him to go to the
deuce, if he chose. But his manner was wholly ingenuous, and after
all, I said to myself, I'm tired and he 's amusing. It's something
after 8 o'clock and no one will be here at such an hour. At all events
I disliked a scene, and so I simply acquiesced, and took him to a quiet
corner of the large dining-room, where I seated myself in such a way as
to have my back to whomsoever might come in.
Without consulting the taste of my guest, I ordered a steak with
mushrooms, potatoes, a salad, dessert and a bottle of claret, and began
to read the evening paper.
For perhaps ten minutes we both were silent. I glanced at Checkers
several times as I folded my paper in or out. He seemed to be lost in a
reverie. But at last his thoughts came back to earth, and glancing up
he said very softly, The last time I took supper here was with my wife
a year ago.
Your wife, I exclaimed, starting with surprise. You do n't mean
to tell me you have a wife?
I had a wife, he answered sorrowfully, but
I beg you pardon, Checkers, I said, I hope I have n't hurt your
No, you have n't hurt them, he replied. I 've got my feelings
educated. I 've had so many ups and downs I 've learned to take my
medicine. But I 'll bet I 've had the toughest luck of any guy that
ever lived. A' year ago I had money, a wife and friends, and was doing
the Vanderbilt act. In two short weeks I lost them all. I 've been 'on
my rollers' ever since.
But say, you wouldn't have known me if you 'd seen me here with my
wife that timemy glad rags on, a stove-pipe lid, patent leather kicks
and a stone on my front. We came to Chicago to take in the Fair, and
dropped in here to eat, one night.
We sat at that table over there; I remember it as though it was
yesterday. I ordered all kinds of supper, and at last the waiter brings
in some cheese and crackers. It was a kind of a greenish, mouldy
cheeseRocquefort! Yes, I believe that's it. I goes against a little
piece of it, and 'on the grave,' I like to fainted. Good! Well, maybe
you think it's good, but scratch your Uncle Dudley out of any race
where they enter Rocquefort.
Yes; those were happy days for me. I hate to think about them now.
I had a good time while it lasted, though, and when they got me 'on the
tram,' I had to go to hustlin'. Well, here comes supper. Excuse me now,
while I get busy with a piece of that steak.
But, Checkers, I expostulated, I 'd like to hear the particulars.
You must have an interesting story to tell. And if you don't mind
Oh, I do n't know. It's a hard luck story. I've had the hot end of
it most of my life. But you can see for yourself that I'm no 'scrub.' I
come from good people, and I 've lived with good people. I can put up a
parlor talk, or a bar-room talk. I've seen it all. But of course when a
fellow 'hits the toboggan,' he gets to going down mighty fast.
I appreciate all that, my boy, I said, or I should n't have
brought you here; and now if you will, while we are eating our dinner,
give me a little sketch of how it all happened.
Well, there is n't very much to tell as I know ofat least,
anything that would interest you. To look back now it kind of seems as
though things just pushed themselves along.
You see, in the first place, my father and Uncle Giles, his
brother, both fought in the war. Well, father got shot and came home a
cripple. About ten years afterwards I was born. Then father died, and
mother got a pension. She had some little money besides. After the war
Uncle Giles came back and hung around our house. He was 'flat,' and he
couldn't get a job. But he finally got some pension-shark to push a
pension through for him, and after that he 'pulled his freight' and
went to Baltimore to live. Mother and I stayed here in Chicago.
Well, I went to school until I was twelve, and then I went to work
in a store. Mother's health was very bad, though, and at last we went
South on account of her lungs. We went to San Antonio, and at first the
air kind of did her good. I gets a job in a dry goods store, and things
are rollin' pretty smooth, when one night mother takes to coughing, has
a hemorrhage and dies.
There's no use trying to tell you my feelings. Mother was dead and
I was alone. There was hardly a soul to come to her funeral. The
minister and a few of the neighbors came inmy God, it was simply
awful. I was still a kid, only fifteen, you see, and I felt the
terrible lonesomeness of it.
Well, mother had saved considerable moneytwenty-six hundred
dollars in all. I sold our furniture and came to Chicago, and went to
board with some friends of the family. I worked more or less for two or
three years; but my money made me kind of 'flossy,' and whenever I 'd
feel like it, I 'd just throw up the job and quit.
After a while I got so I did n't try to work. I fell in with a gang
of sports that used to hang around the pool-rooms, and pretty soon
'your little Willie' was losing his money right and left. The local
meeting came along, and I took to going out to the track. I was nearly
broke when one day a tout tried to 'get me down' on a 'good thing' he
had. I told him I would n't play it, but I afterwards shook him and put
twenty on itI 'm a goat if it did n't win, and I pulled down a
thousand. I looked for the guy who gave me the tip, but I could n't
find him anywhere. I guess he fell dead with surprise himselfat least
I 've never seen him since.
Now, about that time, I had to quit the family I was living with.
They broke up housekeeping and moved away, leaving me on a cold, cold
world. After that I did nothing but play the races. I followed them
from town to townSt. Louis, Louisville, Cincinnati, New
Orleanswinning a little now and then, but up against it most of the
I got the malaria down south, and I took a notion I 'd go to Hot
Springs. You ever been there? No? Well say, you talk about your
sportin' lifethere is the onliest place to see it. Every kind of a
gamblin' game you ever heard of runnin' wideand everybody goes
I had heard that some of the games were crooked, and I thought I 'd
be foxy and leave them alone. I left my leather full of bills with the
clerk up in the hotel safe.
A little more potato, please. Thanks, I am hungry, and that's no
Well, as I was saying, one day at the bath I meets a young guy in
the cooling-room, and he springs a system to beat roulette, which
figures out a mortal cinch. I do n't remember the system now, but I
recollect we tried it ourselves on a private wheel, and it could n't
lose. The only trouble with it was that with luck against us we might
get soaked in doubling up before we win. But we made up our minds to
begin it small, and be content with a little profit.
We had a bank-roll of $600four from me and two from him. I was to
have two-thirds of the profits, because I risked two thirds of the
It was Thursday night we set to try it. Thursday was always my
Jonah day. I wanted to wait until Saturday, but he did n't want to wait
that long. I was to do the playing while he kept tab and told me what
to do each whirl.
Well, we buys a stack of a hundred chips, and runs them up to two
hundred and fifty. I says, 'let's quit,' but he was stuck on pushing
our luck while it came our way. We played along for half an hour, and
hardly varied $50; then, all at once, we 'struck the slide,' and I had
to buy another stack. We lost that; bought another and lost it, and
stood in the hole $300.
All the while we were playing the system, and I had a 'hunch' that
if we kept on it would pull us out. So I starts to buy another stack
when Kendallhis name was Arthur Kendallstops me and says he wants
to quit. Quit, with half our money gone! I was so sore I could have
smashed him. And while we stood there arguing, without a nickel on the
board, the wheel was rollin' dead our wayenough to have put us ahead
of the game.
I gave him his hundred, and told him to 'take it and chase
himself'I was through with him. I stuck to the game until five in the
morning. They got every cent I had in the world.
Well, I went to the hotel and went to bed, but I lay there
wondering how I was going to dig up the money to pay my bill, and give
me a start when my luck turned again. The longer I wondered the tougher
it seemed. Finally I ordered an absinthe frappéit kind of gave me a
new idea. I 'd put up a song to my Uncle Giles, and try to make a
I had n't seen or heard of him for half a dozen years, but I
thought after all we had done for him, he could n't hardly lay down on
Well, I wrote him a letter that would have brought tears to a pair
of glass eyes. Say, it was the literary effort of my life. Of course, I
did n't just stick to the facts. Then I goes down and gets me a little
breakfast, and begins to feel like myself again.
This was Friday. Saturday my hotel bill was coming due. I had to
make a killin' somehow to get my trunk and clothes away.
I chased myself from joint to joint, but I could n't get next to
anything. There was n't a thing I could hock nor no one that I could
'give the borry.' Have you ever been flat broke, Mr. Preston, with not
a nickel in your jeans; no one to stake you; no place to go, and
nothing to keep you from starving to death? You haven't, eh? Well, then
you do n't begin to know what trouble is. You feel as though every one
had you 'sized,' or as though you were going to be arrested. You can't
help thinking about the stuff you blew so reckless when you were
flushthe night you got out and spent a hundred, and say, if you only
had it now! You take a paralyzed oath on your mother that if you ever
get right again you'll 'salt your stuff' and be a 'tight-wad'and then
you remember you 're broke again. I 've been up against some dead tough
luck, and I 've had some fancy crimps put in me, but somehow I 've
never felt so 'on my uppers' as I did at the Springs that night.
Say, if this hard-luck story of mine gets tiresome to you, ring me
off. I did n't think I 'd be so long in getting to where my troubles
I assured him that I felt the tale immensely interesting, as indeed
I did, not only in its mere detail, but taken in connection with the
youth who sat there, telling me his story in his naïve way, as
unconcerned as though he had the Bank of England to draw upon. With not
a penny in his pocket, or for aught I knew a place to sleep, it
certainly seemed that, with the sparrows, he leaned most heavily on
Let 's have the rest of it, Checkers, I said; I 'm anxious to
hear how you raised the wind.
He sipped his coffee and puffed his cigarette with a retrospective
air, inhaling the smoke at every draught, or blowing it forth in little
rings which he watched as they circled off into space.
I waited in silence.
Well, he continued, it was nothing but 'gallop on after the
torch.' About 10 o'clock I blew into a joint that I had n't been toa
gambling house. There was a gang around the faro-bank, and I shoved in
to see what was going on. I hope I may drop if Kendall was n't sitting
there, howling, paralyzed full. He had a lot of chips in front of him,
playin' 'em like a drunken sailor. He had down bets all over the board,
and, honest, it gave me heart disease to see him play. He puts a stack
on the ace to win. In a minute or two another player coppers it, and
takes it down. I jumps in and grabs him by the arm. 'Hold on,' I
hollered, 'Arthur, here's a piker that's touchin' you for your chips.'
Say, there was trouble right away. The piker made a smash at me. I
dodged and caught him an upper cut, and the bouncer grabbed him and
threw him out. This sort of sobered Arthur up, and for a while he
played 'em 'cagey.' I goes over by him, and puts up a bluff to the gang
that I 'm a friend of his. You see I wanted to get him out before they
got his money away. It was a 'pipe' he'd lose it all the minute his
luck turned. But as long as I was n't playing myself, I knew I 'd
better not get too gay, but I watched his bets, and stacked his chips,
and saw that no one pinched his sleepers.
Well, every few minutes he 'd call for a drink, and what do you
think he was drinking? Sherry. Did you ever get a jag on sherry? Well,
neither did I, but it gives you a 'beaut.' Arthur had a 'carry-over'
that lasted him for about three days. He 'd slap his chips down any old
place. It was the funniest thing you ever saw. But he was playing in
drunken luck, and I let him do what he wanted to.
Well, to make a long story short, I finally 'cashed him in' for
$200. I got him into a hack, and took him to my room. But say, when I
got that boy undressed and abed and asleep, I 'll tell you like these:
I was just three minutes ahead of a fit, and the fit was gaining on me
fast. I had to take a couple of absinthes before I could get myself
together. But you ought to have seen Kendall in the morning. He had a
horrible 'sorry' on. The wheels were buzzing around in his head until I
believe if he 'd have put his fingers in his ears, they 'd have been
cut offI do on the square. He could n't remember a thing he 'd done,
except that he started out on a 'sandy' after he left me playing
roulettethe night before, you recollect, and he got a 'package'
aboard that he ought to have made at least two trips for.
I gave him his money, and told him where I found him, and how I
saved it for him, and he began to cry like a baby. You see his nerves
were all to pieces. He wanted me to take him home; nothing would do but
he must go home. He felt too rocky to go alone, and besides he could
n't trust himself. He begged me for God's sake not to leave him or he
'd get full again, or shoot himself.
I found out afterward that he had solemnly promised his girl that
he 'd never get drunk again. That's what it was that gave him that
awful 'sorry.' You know how it is when you love a girl. While you 're
with her it seems dead easy to live decent, and do what 's right, and
you promise anything. Then some day you get out with the gang and
'fall,' and the next morning R. E. Morse is sitting up on the edge of
your bed giving you the horrible ha-ha.
Well, anyhow, I finally agreed to take him home. He lived in
Clarksville, Ark. He gave me the roll to pay our bills with and buy the
tickets and one thing and another, while he went down to the bath to
boil out. But say, the hardest job of my life was not to 'pinch' that
coin and 'duck.' It was mine by rights. He 'd never have kept it if I
had n't jumped in and saved it for him. But, thank God, I can say one
thing, I never stole a cent in my life. I may have separated three or
four guys from their stuff, perhaps, at different times; but they
always got a run for their money, and if they dropped it it was n't my
fault. So I just could n't bring myself to do it. And I was thankful
afterwards that I did n't.
The happiest year I ever had came to me on account of that
tripand the unhappiest. But I would n't give up the pleasant memories
if I had to go through twice the troubles again.
'The banister of life is full of slivers,' as old man Bradley used
to say, and when a fellow 'hits the slide,' he's apt to pick up a
splinter or two. But I 'll tell you, if you 've only got some happy
times that you 've had with your mother or sisters, your wife, or your
girl, to look back to and think about, when you 're in hard luck, it's
a kind of a bracer, and saves your life
He suddenly stopped. I followed his gaze, and turning around saw
Murray and three other friends coming toward me. I felt it an ill-timed
interruption; but I ordered cigars and liquid refreshments, and
introduced, all but Murray, to Mr. Edward Campbell, which I had learned
was the proper name of my little friend.
I was needed, Murray explained, to make the fifth man in some game
of theirs which could not be played to advantage with less; and
knowing that I was to work late, they had taken a chance of finding me
In vain I begged to be excused, pleading indisposition, the lateness
of the hour, anything and everything which might have served to drive
them off. But the evening was young, the table was ready, and I
ought to be accommodating, and so I said good-bye to Checkers, and
slipping him a dollar, told him to come to my office next day, and I
would talk with him of another matter.
He thanked me, saying he would be there, and shaking my hand, bid us
all good night. Then tiptoeing back he whispered in my ear: Say, I
want to give you a little advice: Never come in on less than jacks, and
never raise a one-card draw, unless you 've got a 'pat' yourself. If
you stick to that you 'll have the coin when the rest of the gang are
'on the tram.'
The following morning at about 10 o'clock Checkers sauntered into my
office; his hands in his pockets; his hat on the back of his head;
smoking the ubiquitous cigarette.
I was busy at the time with my morning's mail.
Picking up the daily paper he tilted back comfortably in a chair,
and interested himself in the sporting news.
Well, Checkers, I said, when at last I had finished, How are you
this morning, my boy?
If I felt any better I could n't stand it, he answered, throwing
down the paper. But you do n't look very fit. How did you come out
with the boys last night?
About even, I replied, deprecatorily.
He smiled in a most exasperating way.
[Illustration: MR. PRESTON]
Now I'll tell you, he said growing suddenly confidential. There
's a 'hot thing' coming off to-day, and I want you to put a swell bet
on it. They've been laying dead with it all the meetingpulled his
head off his last two outsbut to-day they 've got him in a good soft
spot, and they 're going to 'put it over the plate.'
Checkers, I said, I want you to understand, once and for all,
that I am no gambler. I went to the races Derby Day, as I would go to
any other show, and now and then I play a little quarter limit game
with my friends. But even that I do n't approve of. I tell you I
consider gambling the most insidious of all the vices, and it's on just
that point that I want to talk to you.
I want you to give up that kind of life, get a position in some
good house, and begin to make a man of yourself. I tell you you 're too
bright a boy to be throwing yourself away as you are. Suppose your
'good thing' wins to-daysuppose you do make some money on ityou
will lose it on something else to-morrow. You are simply living from
hand to mouth, growing older every day with nothing to show for the
time you have spent.
Now, what I propose is simply this. I shall look about among all my
friends in the wholesale lines, and try to find you a position where
you can learn some business from the beginning. If you are industrious
and quick it will be but a comparatively short time when you 'll have a
chance to go on the road, or something of that sort. Now, what do you
I can't say that Checkers seemed wholly delighted. He looked
anywhere but into my eyes and finally said he would like a job, but he
did n't believe I could get him one.
I replied that I was sure I could, as my uncle was a wholesale
dry-goods merchant, and I had several friends who were heads of
departments in other large stores of various kinds.
Well, we 'll try it and see, he said resignedly, but I 'll tell
you just about how it is. A guy goes into a wholesale house and he
starts at the bottom in some department. He gets up at the break of
day, and he works like the devil after a Christian. If he has good luck
he do n't get 'fired,' but he never gets a raise on earth, unless the
mug above him dies, or breaks down his health and has to quit.
Why, I knew a joker who worked in a certain big store in this town
for fifteen years. He lived somewhere way out in the suburbs, and he
told me he had to get down so early, that when he was coming home at
night he used to meet himself starting down in the morning. Well, one
day some one gave him a pass to the Harlem trackone Saturday
afternoon. He went to the races for the first time in his life. I got
ahold of him and made him win three hundred dollars with a five-dollar
bill, and you ought to have heard the talk he put up. 'Has this game
been going on all this time,' he says, 'with me doing the Rip Van
Winkle act? Why, I 'd be worth all kinds of money now, if I 'd had any
sense.' And Monday he went down and threw up his job, and started in to
play the ponies. Of course he went broke, but not long ago he struck a
streak, and made a killin'. He started in to making a book, and now
he's got a stable with five good sprinters, and a twenty thousand
dollar bank-roll. If he had stuck to his job in that store, he 'd have
probably had nervous prostration by this time.
But the case you cite, Checkers, is one in a thousand, I said,
smiling broadly in spite of myself. While that one man may have made a
success of a very questionable sort through unusual luck, or unusual
shrewdness, there have numberless others gone to ruinutter,
irretrievable ruin, by giving way to their passion for gambling.
If you object to a wholesale house, I may perhaps find something
else for you to do. But it seems to me to be simply a shame that a boy
of your ability and brains should be content to be nothing but a tout,
and herd with the riff-raff and scum of creation. Now, once and for
all, if you desire to better yourself, I shall be glad to help you; but
otherwise I must simply refuse to have you about me any longer. Think
it over and come in to-morrow, and tell me your decision. Now, you must
excuse me as I have an engagement with this gentleman, and I turned to
greet a friend whose timely arrival saved me from the touch which I
could see Checkers was nerving himself to make.
I found however that to secure an immediate position for my protégé
was a much more difficult matter than I had at first imagined. I spoke
to a dozen different people. Most of them assured me that they already
had more help than they had need of. Others needed no one now, but
thought they might in a month or two. My uncle said that for my sake
he would try to make a place for my friend. But when I told him all
the facts, he shook his head and looked very dubious.
Meanwhile at frequent intervals, Checkers would drop into my office,
and chat of the happenings of other days, or tell me of his present
doings. It seemed to me, as I often told him, that if he would only
exercise one-half the thought and ingenuity in the pursuit of something
legitimate that he used in separating the angels he got next to from
their gold, he would long since have achieved a fortune.
He delighted in telling of the successful working of some new scheme
he had figured out for the trapping of the unwary. And at each recital
I used to marvel at the boundless credulity of the average human.
But whenever I could I would start him off upon some incident in his
former life. In the story of his boyish courtship, the trials he
underwent in securing his wife, and his subsequent sorrows and
misfortunes, there was an exquisite blending of humor and pathos which
appealed to me immeasurably. It was seldom, however, that he would talk
of those daysthe sadness of it all was still too near to him. When he
was in luck he never referred to themhe seemed to live in the present
alone. But when, as was frequently the case, his luck deserted him and
things went wrong, he would sometimes get a fit of the blues, and,
falling into a reminiscent mood, would find a sort of morbid comfort in
living it all over again. He would skip abruptly from scene to scene,
one incident or person suggesting another, and in his own peculiar way
he would describe a situation or picture a character with a vividness
worthy of a Dickens. For instance, when, in speaking of his
father-in-law, he said that the family used to have to treat him with
cocaine before he could stand it to give up a nickel, I thought it a
very forceful way of expressing the old man's carefulness.
As the days went by and nothing came of my efforts to get a position
for Checkers, I had perforce to drop the matter, and Checkers never
again referred to it.
Gradually his visits became less frequent, as I ceased to continue a
profitable subject; for his invention, however fertile, could not
furnish new excuses forever. But I often found myself gathering up the
threads of his story as he had told it, weaving into the growing fabric
some strands of my own imaginings, until I seemed to find in it an odd
and pathetic little romance.
* * * * *
The town of Clarksville, Ark., was not attractive at any time, but
to Checkers, who had arrived there with Arthur Kendall at three o'clock
that summer's morning en route from Hot Springs, the aspect of the
place seemed particularly dismal.
The train which had brought them from Little Rock steamed away
toward the Territory, and left them standing in darkness on the station
A 'bus from the hotel, with two forlorn old horses driven by a
sleepy, shock-headed boy, stood waiting on the other side. They entered
it and went creaking off.
As Arthur had previously explained to Checkers, his father's home
was some miles from town, and accordingly he thought it better for them
to sleep at the hotel until morning, have their breakfast, and then
As they lumbered along the dusty streets in the silence of the early
morning, Checkers peered curiously out, and found his original
impressions gaining strength.
The stars were shining clear and luminous, and in the East there was
just the faintest glow which told of the coming sunrise. A vaporish
mist hung low on the ground, and in the dim uncertain light all objects
seemed to take to themselves a weird and most uncanny look. At frequent
intervals a razor-back, already up and browsing about, would trot
tardily out of the horses' way, grunting his dissatisfaction.
Shortly they turned into what seemed to be the street of the town.
It was wider and dustier than any of the others, and on it stood a
large brick structure, which Checkers judged to be the court house. It
formed what is commonly known as a square, for on opposite sides of
the street as they passed Checkers noticed that most of the buildings
were stores, with their low-burning lamps keeping watch through the
A few moments more and the 'bus drove up, and stopped before a low
Kendall, who had fallen asleep in his corner, awoke, and with a
here we are, jumped out and ushered Checkers into an ill-smelling
room, where a heavy-eyed youth did the honors as clerk, and then
lowering himself to the office of bell-boy, took their luggage and
showed them the way to their room.
Arriving, they stood in the darkness, until he succeeded in
lighting, with a sulphur match, a very much smoked little kerosene
lamp, after which he brought them a pitcher of water, and departed
without the formality of a good night.
Immediately Arthur began to undress. This was all an old, old story
to him. But Checkers fell to looking about him. He found that the door
had no lock upon it, and that the windows opened wide upon a low
veranda; that they boasted no screens, nor could he find that the beds
had any mosquito-bars.
Kendall's face expressed a sleepy surprise. Come on, old man; get
undressed, he said, it's nearly 4 o'clock. We have n't any too much
time to sleep.
Checkers' only reply was to pull off his coat, and to sit down and
begin to unfasten his shoes. A couple of June-bugs, attracted by the
light, flew in at the window, and bumping around in their noisy,
disagreeable way, gave Checkers an uncomfortable, crawly feeling.
The truth was, Checkers was wholly metropolitan, and this was a new
experience. The darkness and silence disheartened and cowed him. He
missed the confusion and glare of the city.
Kendall had fallen fast asleep, and was breathing loudly in half a
minute. But Checkers lay wide-eyed and wondering, listening to the
locusts and katydids outdoing themselves in the trees outside.
And then he fell to speculating about his chances for the future,
wondering what the probable outcome of this new venture of his was to
be. Had n't he been foolish in coming to such a God-forsaken little
place? He might have borrowed some money from Kendall, and stayed at
the Springs and recouped.
And now that, after several days of solicitous care and constant
watching, he had succeeded in pulling Kendall through without his
giving way to the terrible after-craving he had for liquor, would the
promises made him be fulfilled, or had he been too credulous?
Kendall had told him that he and his father were wealthy. That
besides their large fruit farm, they were interested in a general store
and commission business. He had promised Checkers that if he would but
consent to see him to his home in Clarksville, he should be given a
good position in the store, and that if after they arrived there he
found that he did not care to remain, he should have transportation to
any place in the country he cared to go. And to Checkers, disheartened
and penniless, out of conceit with gambling, and satiated with the
excitement and uncertainty of the life he had been leading, the
opportunity seemed a very godsend. Thoughts of the country, green and
cool, appealed to him with a grateful sense of restfulness and quiet;
and the idea of going to work again at something legitimate brought
with it the feeling of conscious approval, which always accompanies
But since Kendall had become himself again, he seemed to have grown
less dependent and thankful. And again the glimpse that Checkers had
caught of the place had greatly dampened his ardor.
An hour dragged slowly by, and still he lay restlessly tossing
about. The roosters began to crow and answer each other from point to
point in the distance; and a hound near by with a mournful howl bayed
dismally at intervals.
'Twas the strangeness of it all that kept him wakeful, but at last
the tension was relieved by a knocking at the door of the room beyond
which aroused a couple of drummers, who were called to catch an early
train. He heard them through the thin partition, dressing and grumbling
at their luck. Here at least was something natural, and gradually the
humorous side of the situation appealed to him. He smiled, as with a
long-drawn sigh he murmured, I think I 'll get fat here, nit, and
when he awoke it was broad daylight, and Kendall was standing over him,
Hello, old man, awake at last, laughed Kendall. Well, you better
get up and dress, or we 're apt to miss our breakfast. How did you
sleep? All right, I hope; you look as fresh as a mountain daisy.
Checkers crawled slowly out of bed. Well, then my looks are a
horrible bluff, he said, with the slight, sardonic smile which was
usual to him at nearly all times. I feel like the last end of a
misspent life, and he fished a sock out from under the bed. Do you
know, he continued, as he held his shirt aloft, preparatory to putting
it on, it's wonderful how a fellow's early training comes back to him
later in life. I recollect my mother used to read a psalm about not
being 'afraid of the terror by night, nor the pestilence that walketh
in darkness.' Now, somehow, it never struck me before, but I 'll bet
the party that wrote the verse never slept in an Arkansas hotel bed. If
he did, he had on his tin pajamas, or else he could beat 'the
pestilence' walking. Say, where on earth is my other sock? I'll gamble
that one of them pinchin'-bugs pinched it? and Checkers kept up a
running fire of quaint remarks while Kendall laughed.
Their breakfast was a culinary horror.
Have you got any capsules? asked Checkers of the waitress.
Yes, I'll have to have some, if I take this butter internally. A
kick under the table from Arthur put an end to further persiflage.
A two-seated spring wagon, known locally as a hack, with two
sturdy horses and a driver stood waiting for them. Arthur had sent out
and ordered it before breakfast, and his telescope bag and Checkers'
trunk he had caused to be firmly strapped into the end.
The day was a typically beautiful one. The clear and bracing morning
air had in it just enough of a chill to make the sunshine grateful to
them, as they drove along the winding road, toward the mountainous
country lying beyond them.
Checkers' blues had disappeared with the vapors of the night before,
and he felt the exultation of a new and pleasant experience. Arthur was
in an easy humor, and described at considerable length to Checkers his
family and their circumstances.
Some ten years back his father had moved from Massachusetts to that
locality at the advice of his doctor. He had bronchial trouble, and he
found the thin, clear air of the Ozarks beneficial. Mrs. Kendall was
long since dead, and Arthur had been an only child. Besides these two
there were in the household Aunt Deb, who was a sister of Mr.
Kendall's, and Cynthy, the cook, and maid of all work. There was also
a good-natured creature named Tobe, half-witted and harmless, attached
to the family, who did odd jobs for his board and keep, and had
constituted himself a fixture.
At their store they sold everything from plows to perfumery. The
commission business was simply an adjunct. They bought for cash from
the farmers, and shipped the goods to Little Rock, and sometimes to St.
Louis. Old Mr. Bradley, who had owned the store when they first came
there, was running it now. They had bought him out, but had given him
an interest and salary as manager.
The business was the pride of the old man's life, and he watched it
as a mother watches her babe.
Arthur spent most of his time at the store, selling goods and
talking to the trade; but the elder Kendall seldom went there. He
passed the summer in his garden and among his fruit trees. In the
winter he generally traveled farther South.
Checkers gathered by indirection that he was wealthy outside of his
business. Probably an eccentric individual, who simply liked the place
and stayed there.
I should think, said Checkers, as Arthur paused in his recital,
that a fellow would fall into a trance in about a week, in a place
like this. What on earth do you do with yourself.
Well, said Arthur, I haven't lived here much. I've been East to
school, and knocked around in a lot of different places, and I like it
here as a kind of a change. There are a couple of very nice girls in
the town that I call on once in a while. I read a good deal in the
evenings, and, in season, the shooting is fine. I 'll admit it gets
rather stupid at times, but it's the best place in the world for me.
You know they have 'local option' here, and you can 't get a drink for
love or money. As long as I stay here, of course, I 'm all right; but
as sure as I get away some place, I make a fool of myself, and get
full, as I did when you rescued me at the Springs. Drinking is a
disease with me. I can't drink as most fellows do. If I touch a drop it
starts me off, and it's good-bye for a week or two. Each time I come
home as the prodigal did, and my father comes out and 'falls on my
neck.' He 's been devilish kind, the governor has, and I 've cost him a
lot of money and trouble.
Well, that's what a father has to expect, remarked Checkers. If
ever I have a son, I 'll begin storing up veal on the day that he's
bornI'll need it if he takes after 'papa.'
Arthur laughed and laid his hand caressingly upon Checker's
shoulder. Old man, he said, I like you and I want you to stay here
and be my chum. We 'll have some bully times together, and you 'll like
it when you get used to the place. You 've treated me mighty white all
through, and I want to tell you that I appreciate it.
Checkers grew red. He felt embarrassed, and hesitated for a reply.
Arthur knew his story, or such of it as Checkers had seen fit to relate
to him. But Checkers had never intimated that he was hopelessly
dependent. He had spoken vaguely of relatives; of drawing a draft on
Uncle Giles; of telegraphing to Chicago for money; it lent him
It must be remembered that at this time Checkers had not been
through the most trying part of the experiences of which he had spoken
while dining with me at Kinsley's that night. And while by no means
Arthur's equal in the social scale, he was still very far from being
the hardened tout, whom two years later, I met at the race-track, Derby
Nevertheless, he himself felt a difference intuitively, and though
he had exercised to the full his talent for making himself
companionable, it had proved a very difficult task to fully break
through Arthur's reserve. This sudden show of sentiment, therefore,
upon Arthur's part, affected and pleased him; and reaching up to the
hand on his shoulder, he grasped it warmly. I 'll go you, he said.
And the two friends smiled into each other's eyes.
A very few days sufficed to make Checkers feel thoroughly at home in
his new surroundings. The Kendall house was a roomy, frame structure
set upon one of the highest of the Ozark Mountains, to which the road
from Clarksville was a gradual, and almost constant ascent. From his
window Checkers could see for miles down into the valley, across the
dense growth of mountain-pines, the many shaded green and yellow
squares of fields and farm lands beyond, and away in the distance the
Arkansas River glistening in the sun like a silver snake.
Immediately surrounding the house were the orchards, their trees
almost breaking with the wealth of their red and yellow fruit.
Checkers had found ready favor with Mr. Kendall by evincing an
enthusiastic interest, confessing at the same time an ignorance which
allowed the old gentleman full opportunity for enlarging upon his
favorite hobbies. Aunt Deb's smiles were as quickly won by a deft word
in praise of the table.
Just how Arthur had explained the presence of his friend to the
household, Checkers did not know. But it was evident, as he remarked to
himself, that the explanation went, and he bothered himself about it
At the store it was found that Checkers' talents were those of a
salesman par excellence.
He quickly learned the run of the goods, and his chief delight, to
use his own words, was to jolly the jays into buying something they
absolutely had no need of.
Arthur and Mr. Bradley would sometimes stand almost convulsed with
silent laughter, listening to the dialogue between Checkers and some
He was quick at reading character, and his intuitions were
remarkably keen. He was able, therefore, to ingratiate himself with
nearly every class of purchaser, by starting a genial conversation upon
the topic he deemed most fit, letting it take its course through all
the vagaries of a country mind, until at last it veered around to the
subject of a possible purchase. Then, in the most disinterested way,
and as though rather sorry to end the talk, he would go behind the
counter and pleasantly show forth a number of things that had n't been
asked for, as though it was only as a special favor that he had gone to
the trouble of getting the articles down. Such consideration, backed by
a judicious talk, seldom failed of the most substantial results; and
Checkers' fame soon went abroad as a nice, young feller and a smart
It was during his first few days at the store that he acquired the
soubriquet of Checkers. It was a piece of rude, bucolic wit, but the
name stuck to him, as such names will, and followed him through his
Time was at a discount in Clarksville, Everyone had time to spend,
but few had money for such a purpose. And generally at the Kendall
store, some six or eight of the local talent might be found lounging
comfortably in the chairs outside, chaffing one another, chewing
tobacco, and waiting for something new to turn up.
This was particularly the case on Saturdays, when the farmers came
to town with their apples, vegetables and eggs for barter, made their
necessary purchases, and consumed the balance of the day in standing
around, talking crops and politics.
Although there were no saloons in the place, the greater part of the
assemblage always delayed their shopping until the last possible
moment, which naturally made a considerable rush at the various stores
as evening approached.
It was Checkers' first Saturday there, and while endeavoring to be
as helpful as possible, he was nevertheless rather awkward, as a result
of his unaccustomedness.
This did not fail to be observed by the natives, to whom he was an
object of much curiosity, and to whom his presence among the Kendalls
was a matter of wide and varied conjecture. The younger element
especially showed an undisguised interest in all that he did,
whispering and laughing among themselves in a way which, to Checkers,
was most exasperating.
There is something about a city-bred youthhis manner, his clothes,
his well-groomed look, his unconscious air of superioritywhich is
antagonistic to country prejudice. Such prejudice is not hard to
remove, and generally disappears upon short acquaintance. But the
initiation is very trying, and Checkers felt the ordeal keenly.
Say, Arthur, he said, as Kendall passed, if some of those guys do
n't chase themselves, and quit whisperin' around, and givin' me the
rah-rah, there 's going to be a fight or a foot race, and your Uncle
Dudley won't be in front.
Why, they're all right, said Arthur, soothingly. They're
interested in you, because you 're a stranger. But they do n't mean the
slightest harm. You know 'a cat may look at a king.'
Yes, I know 'a cat may look at a king,' but she 'd better not see
any flies on the king, if she wants to keep her health and strength,
and Checkers continued arranging a show-case.
In order to save his clothes while working, Checkers had brought to
the store an old suit of a loud, checked pattern, and peculiar cut,
which, nevertheless, was very becoming.
Towards evening the crowd began to increase, and Mr. Bradley,
Arthur, two assistants and Checkers were all as busy as it was possible
to be. Those who were being waited on took none the less time in making
their purchases, because there were others awaiting their turn. As a
consequence, there was chafing and grumbling among the procrastinators,
who were now in a hurry.
Uncle Jerry Halter, from the back woodsa character; shrewd,
crabbed and as close as the next minutewas foremost among these, and
at last he discovered our friend, Mr. Campbell, checked suit and all,
returning from having washed his hands, after a not very successful
attempt at filling a large brown jug with molasses.
The old man crowded through to the counter, leaning over it
expectantly, but Checkers passed him by unheeded, making his way toward
a pretty girl.
Hey there! exclaimed Uncle Jerry indignantlyhis voice was loud
and very nasal. Hey! 'Checkers,' or whatever your name isI'm in a
hurry, and I want to go.
Instantly there was a general laugh, and Checkers stopped and turned
Well, go if you want toyou're not tied down, he retorted, and
the laugh was on Uncle Jerry.
The old man colored to the roots of his hair. You 're very fresh,
young feller, he snarled.
Yes; warranted to keep in any climate, said Checkers, smiling
good-naturedly at him.
Arthur happened along just then, and soothed and waited upon Uncle
Jerry, getting him peaceably out of the store.
In the morning at breakfast he related the incident to Mr. Kendall,
who he knew would appreciate it.
There is only one man about here meaner than old Jerry Halter,
said Mr. Kendall, addressing Checkers, and that is the father of
Arthur's little friend, Miss Barlow. I once heard a friend of mine say
of him that 'he wouldn't smile unless it was at another man's expense,'
and I quite believe it. Arthur could tell you no end of humorous things
about him, if he only would. But I suppose he does n't want to relate
what may some day be family secrets. How is that, Arthur?
Arthur looked annoyed, but did not reply to this bit of parental
As soon as Pert and Sadie come home you must take Mr. Campbell to
call on them, Arthur, said Aunt Deb. They are two lovely girls, she
continued, turning to Checkers. They 've been away to school; to a
seminary up in Illinois. School's out now, of course, but they 're
visiting somewherein St. Louis, I believe. They 're expected home
this week, though; so you 'll have the pleasure of meeting them soon.
Sisters? asked Checkers.
No; not sisters, but cousins, and almost inseparable. Sadie is n't
as pretty as Pert, but she 's just as sweet as sweet can be, and a
perfect treasure about a house. Are you fond of young ladies, Mr.
Checkers hardly knew what to say. I 'm a great admirer of girls in
general, he replied, after a moment's hesitation, and they 've always
struck me as being a mighty nice thing to kind of have around. But I
've had very little experience with themthat is, at least, in the
last two years.
The truth was, that the friends with whom Checkers had gone to live
in Chicago, after his mother's death, had been people of true worth and
refinement. They were poora widowed mother and two daughtersand the
liberal sum which Checkers insisted upon paying them for his monthly
maintenance was to them a matter of grateful benefit. But they, in
return, had exercised a restraining influence over him; had taught him
to be courteous and gentlemanly, deferential to his elders, and
respectful toward women, or, at least to maintain such an outward
semblance, which answered all general purposes.
He had conceived a boyish adoration for the elder daughter, four
years his senior, which had aided her materially in her influence over
him for good. And it was only as he began to realize the utter
hopelessness of his passion, and at the same time found himself being
supplanted by the bearded man who some months after married her and
took her away, that he grew dissatisfied with working and found the
excitement that he craved in racing and kindred gambling devices.
For several years he had lived this life, gradually growing hard and
careless. But now that he found himself once more an inmate of a
respectable family circle, he resumed his gentleness of manner, as it
had been a half-forgotten rôle.
I had been keeping the girls as a little surprise for him, Aunt
Deb, said Arthur rather reproachfully. To meet a girl who has been
described to you is like listening to a joke which is told point
I warrant he 'll find plenty to be interested in after he meets
them, for all we may tell him, replied Aunt Deb.
Yes, said Mr. Kendall, there is something about each girl one
meets a little different from any other. At least it was so when I was
a boy. I never found any two quite alike.
I never found one alike any two times, said Arthur, very
feelingly; but their uncertainty, I suppose, is their charm. Come,
let's go out and loaf under the trees.
Thank God, Sunday comes once a week, said Checkers. I could stand
two a week without straining myself.
The girls are to be home Friday, said Arthur. Friday night we 'll
go down and call, if you'd like to.
Tickled to death, said Checkers.
Sadie will probably stay with Pert a while, as her father, Judge
Martin, has gone to Texas, and won't be back for a couple of weeks.
Sadie's mother is dead, you know, and she and the old man are all
alone. By the way, the Judge is rich, and Sadie is rich in her own
That settles it, Sadie dear; you 're mine. A fortune-teller told me
I 'd marry a rich girl.
Better see her before you marry her, had n't you? suggested
Why? She has n't got pen-paralysis, has she?
Pen-paralysis! No; what on earth is that?
Well, as long as she can sign a check, I guess we can manage to
worry along. She may have faults; she probably has; but any girl who
marries me won't be getting any the best of it. There' s a heap of
consolation in that idea to a man about to commit matrimony.
There are very few men I know of, said Arthur, but what could
'lay to their soul that flattering unction.'
When you 're swapping 'sights unseen,' said Checkers, you do n't
want too good a knife, or a horse yourself, or you 'll get the hooks on
With all respect to you, my boy, you'd be far from 'getting the
hooks,' as you call it, with Sadie Martin for a wife.
Or you with Miss Barlow, I suppose.
Arthur's only response was a long drawn sigh, and he gazed into
Where did they get the name of 'Pert' for Miss Barlow, Arthur?
asked Checkers, suddenly.
It's an abbreviation of a biblical name, said Arthur. In a verse
of one of Paul's Epistles to the Romans, he says, 'Salute also the
beloved Persis.' When Pert was a child they gave her the nick-name, and
it's stuck to her ever since.
Friday evening came at last, and Arthur and Checkers at an early
hour drove down the mountain to call upon the young ladies.
The Barlows lived much nearer Clarksville than did the Kendalls,
though upon a different road, and the young men had a long and
round-about drive ere they reached their destination. As they entered
the driveway two large dogs came bounding toward them, growling
Look out thar, boys, ye do n't git dog-bit! shouted a voice. Here
Lion, here Tige; commir, ye varmints! What d 'ye mean? All right now; I
've got a-hold of 'em. That you, Arthur; how de do?
How do you do, Mr. Barlow? responded Arthur.
Hitch yer hosses ter that tree thar. I 'll send Joe out ter tend to
'em. Ye 'll find the girls round the side in a hammock. Here 's Pert
Good evening, Arthur, I 'm glad to see you, said a pleasant voice,
and out of the shadow into the light of the yellow moon, which was just
showing over the tops of the trees, the figure of a girl in white
appeared, moving quickly and gracefully toward them.
Arthur stepped forward, and taking both of her hands in his, pressed
them silently for a moment. Pert, he said, I want you to meet my
friend, Mr. Campbell. Come here, old man. Miss Barlow, Mr. Campbell.
I am very glad to meet you, Miss Barlow, said Checkers, with a
Where's Sadie, Pert? Oh, here she comes, said Arthur. That you,
Sadie? How are you?
Pretty well, thank you. How's yourself?
Sadie, let me introduce you to a friend of mine. Miss Martin, Mr.
Miss Martin straightway offered her hand, and Checkers shook it
Let's go and sit where we can see the moonit's perfectly
beautiful to-night, said Pert. Arthur, get two chairs from the porch,
and bring them over by the hammock.
Arthur went to fulfill his mission while Checkers walked between the
Suddenly he skipped nimbly forward. Excuse me while I climb a
tree, he exclaimed, with a comical intonation. There comes Lion and
Tige, and I 'm afraid it's another horrible case of 'They're After
Oh, they won't touch you while you 're with us, laughed Sadie.
Here Lion, here Tige, good dogs.
Well then, I think I 'd better establish my popularity with them
both right now, said Checkers; and with an air of confidence he kindly
patted and rubbed their heads in a way that dogs love, and made them
Meanwhile Arthur arrived with the chairs. Sadie seated herself in
one of them, and motioning Checkers to place the other beside her, left
the hammock to Pert and Arthur.
Did you have a good time in St. Louis, girls? asked Arthur.
Oh lovely! they both exclaimed.
We hated dreadfully to come home, continued Sadie, but we simply
had to. Our clothes were in tatters. All the men were so sweet to us.
They kept something going on every minute.
Then followed an enthusiastic account of their good time, which was
tiresome to Checkers, and torture to Kendall.
Pert, get your banjo, said Arthur, suddenly. It seems like years
since I 've heard you play.
It has n't but one string on it, Arthur, laughed Pert, but I 'll
fix it up to-morrow, sure.
I think it would sound very smooth out here in the moonlight, Miss
Barlow, suggested Checkers. If you have some new strings I 'd be glad
to fix it up for you. I used to play a bit myself.
Sadie jumped up. Come, let's go and get it, she said; and she and
Checkers went into the house.
She ushered Checkers into a room where Mr. Barlow, in shirt sleeves
and stocking feet, sat dozing in a rocking chair, while his wife, a
sweet-faced, grey-haired woman, worked button-holes in his new gingham
Checkers felt drawn towards Mrs. Barlow. She reminded him strangely
of his mother. She had a smile like a benediction; but in her weary
eyes he could read a tragedy.
The banjo was one of Arthur's many gifts to Pert in days gone by,
and Checkers to his great relief found it a very excellent instrument.
Checkers was not a conversationalist, where conversation had to be
made; but he was a very good amateur banjoist, and he sang an excellent
comic song; and he was glad of the opportunity offered to show himself
in perhaps his best rôle.
While, with the banjo on his knee, he deftly adjusted the strings,
Miss Martin sat beside him, an interested spectator, and talked to him
in an undertone.
I thought we had better come in here and give Arthur a little
chance, she saidpoor fellow. This with a long drawn sigh, which
seemed to demand an explanation.
Checkers looked up, inquiringly. This was his first legitimate
opportunity of taking a comprehensive look at her. The casual glance
had proclaimed her plain, but now in the bright light of a hanging-lamp
she seemed to him hopelessly unattractive. He felt chagrined and
disappointed. He was angry with Arthur for not having prepared him for
such a cruel disillusion. For somehow since his jesting words of the
previous Sabbath morning, he had allowed his fancy to run the gamut of
many glittering possibilities.
He had started forth that evening, feeling a pleasurable excitement
in the vague presentiment that he was going to meet his destiny. But
now it simply would n't do. He decided quickly and became resigned.
It was n't that she was really so ugly, he afterwards explained to
me, but there was n't anything about her that you could tie to, and
sort of forget the restexcept her stuff, and he wasn't sure but
that was one of Arthur's pipe-dreams. She had no style, no face, no
figure. Nothing at all for a little starter. She was just a girl, that
was alljust a girl. A fact which put her beyond the pale.
Why do you say 'poor fellow?' said Checkers, after several moments
silence. It seems to me he's mighty lucky to have such a tidy little
Yes, but I fear she is only a friend, and that's why I 'm so sorry
for him. I like Arthur; I think he is simply a dear. He has always been
perfectly lovely to me. But Pertwell, Pert is very peculiar, and
Arthur, you know, is awfully fast.
Checkers put on an incredulous look. Arthur fast! he exclaimed
with a laugh. Why, if he was in a city, I 'd expect him to get run
over by a hearse inside of a week.
Oh, you men always stand up for each other; but I know all about
it. You can't fool me.
Mrs. Barlow looked up from her sewing. You and Arthur are very old
friends, I suppose, she said, interrogatively.
This was just the question that Checkers had feared. We went to
school at about the same time, he replied, and immediately struck up
an air, which, for the time, precluded further questioning. At least,
I suppose we did, he thought to himself, as we are about the same
Meanwhile Pert and Arthur sat in the hammock outside in the radiant
moonlight. It seemed to Arthur Pert had never looked so beautiful
before. Her large, dark eyes were lustrous; and a silvery halo played
about her soft, brown hair, while the pale light gave the clear skin of
her oval face the pallor of marble, save for her lips, which were the
redder by contrast.
Such a nice little fellow! she had exclaimed, as Sadie and
Checkers went into the house. Who is he, Arthur? Where did he come
Arthur hesitated awkwardly. It had been his intention to confess to
Pert all the circumstances of his last misadventure; but her few words
in praise of Checkers now suddenly emphasized in his mind the thought
that everything he had to tell was as clearly discreditable to himself
as it was favorable to Checkers, and he had n't the generosity of
nature to put the matter upon that footing.
Still, when upon several former occasions, he had confessed to Pert
his weaknesses and sins, there had been a kindness in her ready
sympathy, her gentle chiding and disapproval, which seemed to bring her
nearer to him than she ever was during good behavior. He had found a
certain desperate pleasure at times in telling her of his misdoings. It
roused her, at least temporarily, out of her usual placid indifference
toward himan attitude to which he sometimes felt that her hatred
would have been preferable.
As a school-girl of sixteen, with romantic tendencies, Pert had
entered upon the task of reforming Arthur, with a childish belief that
the love he professed for her, and which she, in a measure, returned,
might be made a means to an earnest and successful endeavor upon his
part to become worthy of her. But lapse after lapse had shaken this
faith, and three years of experience found her with simply a sisterly
pity for this weak young man, whose devotion was so abject that he
ceased to interest her, and whose spasmodic vices were not of the kind
which make some men so darkly fascinating.
And so Arthur hesitated, debating rapidly in his mind what to say,
what to leave unsaid. Well, it's a rather peculiar story, Pert,
although it all happened naturally enough, he answered, after a little
time. I went up to Little Rock a few weeks ago to see a party on
business. I found when I got there that he had gone to Hot Springs, and
so I followed him over there. I wound up the business in a couple of
days, but, as long as I was there, I thought I 'd stay a week or so and
take a few baths.
Well, one day in the cooling-room I struck up a conversation with
the man lying next to me, and I 'll pledge you my word I never laughed
so much in all my life as I did that morning at our little friend here,
who told me a lot of his hard-luck stories.
We dressed, and went and had lunch together, and he told me that he
was dead, flat broke. He had been 'bucking the tiger,' and was waiting
to hear from his uncle, to whom he had written for money. I met him
again a few days later, and he told me he had n't heard a word as yet;
that his trunk was in hock at the hotel, and altogether he was in the
deuce of a fix. But he seemed so cheerful about it all that I could n't
help taking a liking to him, and I proposed that he come to Clarksville
with me, and take a job in the store, till he heard from his uncle, or
had saved enough money to get straightened out again. He jumped at the
chance, and I brought him along. He 's a first-class salesman, and
jolly good company; but I 'm afraid he won 't stay with me much longer;
he's getting tired of the place already. I shall be dreadfully lonesome
when he 's gone.
But heavens, Pert; how lonesome I 've been without you, away at
your school all these months. It seems so good to see you here that I
can scarcely believe my eyes.
I 'm glad to be back on some accounts, although it grows horribly
Stupid, Pert! It wouldn't seem stupid to me on a desert island, if
you were there.
I should n't care to try it.
Pert, dear, Arthur's voice grew tender, I want to say a few words
to you seriously, and I beg of you to listen seriously. We are children
no longer, little girl. You have finished with school, and I have
practically assumed control of father's business. I have no new story
to tell you, but you know that I love you and long for you now as I
have loved and longed for you for years.
You have been my good angel, Pert. It has been my love for you and
your influence over me alone that has kept me steadfast during hours of
terrible temptation. You know I 'm not naturally vicious, Pert; I must
have inherited this appetite I have had to fight so hard against. But I
am overcoming itI 'll conquer it, Pert; and with you to be with me to
love me and help me, I 'll make a good man. I 'll make a place and a
name in the world. But I need you, darlingI love you, and I 'd rather
die than live without you. We 'll sell out this business, leave this
place, and go back to the East and civilization to live, where there 's
something to see and to do. You shall have everything, anything, dear,
that your heart desiresonly say that you love me. And bending
nearer, he sought to draw her to him in a passionate embrace.
Pert did not move from her position in the hammock; but firmly
resisted his endeavor, and, taking his arm from around her waist,
simply handed it back to him, as it were. (A maneuvre upon a girl's
part more aggravating, en passant, than any other one thing she
I am sorry, she said, as Arthur still sat in the hammock beside
her, silent and downcastI 'm dreadfully sorry, Arthur, that you
should have brought this matter up again. We have been such friends so
many years, and you are such a good friend, when you are only a friend.
I hate to wound you, if, indeed, you care for me as you say you do; but
I do n't love you, Arthur, in the way you would have me, and I know I
never shall. It's best that I should tell you this plainly, and I know
you will be glad of it in the end. I am not the girl you think me,
Arthur. You do n't know me as I really am. If you did you 'd be glad to
have escaped so luckily. I always try to make a good impression, but
really I am willful, selfish and discontented. You would be awfully
sorry when it was too late. Believe me, I am telling the truth. So
let's never talk about this any more, but be the good friends we have
Arthur jumped up impatiently. You are trifling with me, as you
always do, he said, with a savage ring in his voice. I do n't care
what your faults are. I want you, just as you are, to be my wife. Care
for you as I say I do! I have loved you since we were children
together. I have never cared for any one else. My every thought has
been for your happiness. I have never spared trouble, time or money in
doing what I thought would please youand why do you suppose I 've
done so? for fun? for glory? for something to pass away time? I tell
you, Pert, I 'm getting mighty tired of this kind of foolishness. You
and I are fitted for each other by reason of natural situation, if
nothing else. What other man is there around here who is anywhere near
your equal, socially? What kind of a life will you lead cooped up on
this hillside farm as the years go by?a living death, only think of
Your father is willing, anxious, that you should be married and
safely provided forI have talked with him; he has told me so. My
father simply worships you, and nothing on earth would please him so
much as to have you for a daughter-in-law.
But, Arthur, said Pert, almost pleadingly, I have told you how I
feel about it. I don't love you, and how can I marry a man I do n't
love? I am fonder of you, much fonder, than of any other man I know,
and I can't begin to tell you how bad I should feel to lose your
She paused as a sound of voices reached them, and in a moment, to
her great relief, Sadie and Checkers, with the banjo, came round the
house and joined them.
One sweep of the strings, to be sure it was in tune, and Checkers
tendered Pert the instrument.
No, I shan't play; we want to hear you, she laughingly exclaimed,
putting her hands behind her. I am only a novice, and you know the old
proverb, 'The poor ye have always with ye.'
Without more ado Checkers sat down and played a couple of lively
Now, a song, exclaimed Pert; I am sure that you sing.
How did you guess it? asked Checkers, smiling. Well, what shall
it be, a 'serio-chronic,' or a song about some 'old oaken' thing?
Oh, something funny, Mr. Campbell, said Sadie.
Checkers sang a song of an Irish dance. This he followed with one of
the popular ballads of the day, full of melody.
He had a clear, high voice, with a touch of that boyish sweetness in
it, which made Emmet so famous. A sweetness to which the open air and
the sharpness of the banjo added a charm.
The girls were delighted. They called upon him for song after song,
until Arthur, pulling out his watch, said abruptly, It is time to be
going, and went to untie the horses.
Amid hearty hand-shakings and cordial invitations to call again
soon, Checkers said good-by, and climbed into the buggy as Arthur drove
Down the driveway, out upon the moon-lit road, they sat in silence.
Each was busy with his own thoughts. Arthur cut the horses viciously
from time to time for no apparent reason. Checkers smoked a cigarette
as though altogether pleased with himself. Arthur finally broke the
spell. Well, he exclaimed, with a rising inflection.
A nice line of girls. Miss Barlow's 'Class A' answered Checkers.
The other one is all right, too; but she 's just a few chips shy on
Looks are not the only thing in the world, snapped Arthur;
beauty's only skin deep.
It might improve some of our friends a little to skin 'em, then, if
that's so, laughed Checkers. That reminds me, he continued musingly,
of what a friend of mine, 'Push' Miller, told me once. He said he
never in his life ran across two pretty girls that trotted together. If
one of 'em was a queen, her partner was safe to be about a nine-spot.
He figured that the pretty one used the other as a kind of foil, while
the homely one trailed along to get in on the excess trade which the
pretty one drew, and turned over to her.
As Arthur neither laughed at, nor replied to, this sally, Checkers
concluded he had a grouch, and left him to his own devices.
That night, upon going to bed, the girls, as was natural, had
compared notes, and quickly discovered the apparent discrepancy between
Checkers' statement to Mrs. Barlow, and the story Arthur had related to
I am sorry to know that Mr. Campbell has told a deliberate lie,
said Pert, but there is some excuse for him, after all, for any other
explanation would have been embarrassing.
Oh, a little thing like a lie or two does n't stand in the way of
the average man, said Sadie.
Well, there is something back of Arthur's story, Sadie, I know from
the way he hesitated. We 'll know all about it before long, I guess. He
's an awfully cute little fellow, though, isn't he? I hope he'll decide
to stay a while; he 's such jolly good company, and Arthur's so
Poor Arthur! sighed Sadie.
Poor Pert, echoed Pert.
The following afternoon Arthur complained of feeling ill. On the way
home from the store he was taken with a violent chill, which was
followed by a raging fever. The doctor was summoned, and pronounced it
malaria, but typhoid symptoms developed later, and for weeks his life
hung in the balance.
Meanwhile Checkers worked early and late at the store, to make up
for Arthur's absence. He felt this loss of a companion keenly, and soon
the long drive home alone, and the air of apprehension and
lonesomeness, which pervaded the house, became so irksome to him that
he arranged to stay in town with Mr. Bradley, who kept house with a
maiden sister in their little home just next to the store.
It was from this same sister, who disliked Arthur, but had taken to
Checkers, as every one did, that Pert at last learned the reason of
Checkers coming to Clarksville.
Mr. Bradley had told his sister the bare facts as he had learned
them from Arthur, and these she had enlarged upon in relating them to
Pert, embellishing the story to suit her fancy.
The discovery of this attempt upon Arthur's part to shield himself,
and belittle his friend, checked the growing pity and tenderness Pert
felt for him because of his illness, and killed every possible vestige
of regard she might have had remaining for him. Checkers, on the
contrary, grew in favor. He had discovered that it was but a pleasant
and picturesque walk from town to the Barlow place, and evening after
evening found him seated under the trees with the girls, banjo in hand,
singing for them, and telling them interesting tales of his many and
Sadie's father returned, and she went back to town to be with him.
But Checkers still took his evening walk out the country road, except
when Pert came in to spend the night with her cousin, as she often did.
Under such conditions friendships quickly ripen, and Checkers, at
least, soon found himself upon the borderland of a warmer sentiment;
but his manner continued one of purely good-natured interest and
friendship, for, in spite of what Sadie had told him, he still felt
that Pert belonged to Arthur.
One night he stayed somewhat later than usual. It had been
dreadfully hot all day, but now it was gratefully cool. The stars were
bright, as he had never seen them bright before; the scent of the
magnolias was delicious, and he and Pert had been singing together. She
looked more than sweet in her thin, white dress, and the night, the
perfume and the music had stirred him strangely. He longed for the
power to tell her in beautiful words, he knew not what. But he had the
good sense to realize that he and poetry were far apart. Nevertheless,
as he said good night, he held her small white hand in his, till she
forcibly withdrew it, but not with any sign of anger.
How his heart swelled as he walked along. How he still thrilled with
the gentle pressure he fancied he had felt returned. Here was the
faintest opening to possibilities which might end, who could tell
where? He had never before known a girl like this. In fact, with the
one exception previously mentioned, girls had never in any way entered
his life. Still he had learned in his fight with the world to look at
everything from a practical standpoint, and he had not gone very far
before his natural shrewdness asserted itself.
It won't do, Campbell, he soliloquized, with an unconscious sigh.
You 're 'playing a dead one.' It's a hundred-to-one shot in the first
place, and there is Arthur in the second. I wonder how he is to-day. I
wonder if he's going to get well. If he shouldn'tbut, my God, I hope
he doesain't it awful what thoughts will come to a fellow?
I wonder if he 's got her 'nailed;' she does n't act much like it
to me. But I do n't believe I 'm acting on the square to try to 'do'
him when he ain't around to look after his trade. I 'll go up home
to-morrow night and see the old man, if he 's able to sit up. I had my
nerve with me to hold her handI wonder what she 'd have done if I 'd
have kissed it? Gee! but it's tough to be on the tram, he continued
with a sigh. With a couple of thou. what could n't I do? But a man
without money hasn't got 'openers;' he draws four to a queen and never
He found Arthur convalescent and jealous of all the time that could
be spared to him. So, much to Checkers' disgust, his only opportunity
of now seeing Pert lay in her occasional visits to the store, when
shopping, generally accompanied by Sadie.
As soon as Arthur was strong enough to be about the house, Aunt Deb,
as a little surprise for him, asked Sadie and Pert to one o'clock
Arthur's hollow eyes beamed lovingly from his thin, pale face, as
Pert entered the room. Checkers saw it, and his conscience smote him.
I 'll scratch my entry, he inwardly resolved, and leave Arthur a
The afternoon passed uneventfully. The day was warm, the sun shone
bright, and they all sat under the shade of the trees, enjoying the air
and the beautiful view of the mountains, now made gorgeous by the
brilliant and variegated colors of the changing autumn leaves.
Pert so managed that she was not left alone with Arthur at any time,
and she and Sadie left somewhat early in order to reach home well
After their departure Checkers and Arthur sat together in the
hammock. Arthur was monosyllabic. Checkers talked for a while against
time, but not with any brilliant success. Come, 'smoke up,' old
manyou 're going out! he exclaimed, slapping Arthur on the back, a
figure doubtless suggested to him by the dying cigarette-stump between
I wish to heaven I had 'gone out;' instead of getting well, was
the answer; I am no good to myself, nor to any one else, and the only
being in the world I love, except my father, cares no more for me than
she does for a yellow dog.
There was an embarrassing silence.
Girls are funny, said Checkers, musingly.
Arthur saw no grounds for argument, and Checkers continued, I never
had much time for them, myself, but my friend 'Push' Miller had them
coming his way in carriages. You never saw such a fellow for girls; he
always had three or four on his staff. He used to play a system on
them. I think he called it the Fabian System, after some old joker in
the war, who used to win his battles by running away. You see, the
other guys would come chasing after this joker, and when he got them
where he wanted, he 'd go out and nail themeasy thing.
Well, this Fabian System was a dead sure winner for Push, and if I
were you, I 'd try it. The next time you get together, 'jolly up'
Sadie. Don't push it too strong; but just enough so that Pert will
notice itshe'll get jealous. 'Jolly' Sadie harder, but be polite to
Pert, and pretty soon you 'll have her guessing. The chances are that
before long she 'll make a play at yougive her the frozen face. Put
up a talk about how much you used to love her; work in something about
the past, and what might have been. But keep a little up your sleeve;
you do n't want her to think you 're coming too easy, and after things
are all fixed up, do n't treat her too well again. Push used to say
'there was nothing that really spoiled a girl like treating her too
well.' He used to make a date every once in a while, and then break it
without sending any excuse, just to show the girl that he was 'good
people,' and teach her to have a proper respect for him.
Arthur smiled wearily. Yes; he said, that may have done all very
well for Push, but it would n't do for me. The girl does n't love me,
and there's the end of it. Perhaps some daywell, there's no use
discussing it; besides, it would n't be fair to Sadie to use her merely
as a cat's-paw. She is a true little girl, with a big, warm heart, and
I would n't deceive her for the world.
Well, what's the matter with going out after Sadie in earnest,
then? said Checkers. Now there 's a scheme that fixes things up all
around. Checkers waxed enthusiastic.
Arthur did not reply immediately. Sadie is an earnest, capable
girl, he said at length, and she 'll make some man a splendid wife. I
would cheerfully recommend her to my very best friend, but
But your friend could have her without a struggle, suggested
Checkers; and then they both laughed.
This, Checkers afterwards told me was the nearest approach to a joke
he ever heard Arthur make.
A week passed by uneventfully. Arthur continued to improve in
health. Checkers drove home each evening tired from his hard day's
work. Saturday night a note from Pert arrived, inviting them both to
dinner on the following day; a return of courtesies which they accepted
Sadie drove up that morning to spend a day or two with her cousin.
The dinner passed off pleasantly, and in the afternoon the four took a
stroll through the neighboring woods, to a beautiful spot where from
the top of a cliff of massive rock they could gaze for miles up the
dark, thickly wooded ravine, lying sheer many feet below.
Sadie and Arthur walked off together. Checkers and Pert followed
Do you think you deserve to be treated so well, after neglecting me
as you have lately? asked Pert.
I have n't been able to get here, Miss Pert, replied Checkers.
The Broadway cable isn't in it with the way I've been pulling to get
away; but if Arthur had known I was coming here, we would only have had
a speaking acquaintance. I'll tell you, Miss Pert, that poor boy is all
broke up about you, and to come down to cases, it ain't very safe for
me to be seeing so much of you, whenwell, you know he saw you first,
and the rights of property
Now, listen to me, interrupted Pert, with a stamp of her foot,
Arthur is nothing to me; I do n't love him and I shall never marry
him. I 've told him so, and I 'll tell you so. I 've enjoyed having you
call here very much, and there 's no reason why you shouldn't
comeunless, of course, you would rather not.
Ahead, Arthur was carefully helping Sadie over a fallen tree which
lay across the path. He 's playing the system, after all, thought
Checkers, I'll help him push it along. May I come to-morrow night? he
said; it's the first night I 've got disengaged.
Certainly, laughed Pert. Sadie is going to stay until Tuesday
Make it Tuesday night.
Pert assented with an audible chuckle.
And now they had come to the fallen tree, an ancient pine of huge
dimensions. Checkers clambered atop of it, and, taking both of Perl's
hands, pulled her up; then, from the other side, he supported her
tenderly as she jumped to the ground. 'Twas a rapturous moment. The
fair, sweet face above him, and the bright, roguish eyes looking down
into his; the warm, red lips, half parted in a smile, and coming so
near as he carefully lowered her, tempted him sorely. But he resisted;
not from any strength of virtue, but because he did not dare to do
Thank you, said Pert. Checkers was silent. His emotions of mingled
excitement and regret were such that he could not trust his voice; but
as they drew near to where Arthur and Sadie were sitting, he purposely
drew away from Pert, and feigned a look of general indifference, which
was masterly in its way.
I may possibly stay down to-night, Arthur, called Checkers, as he
drove out of the door-yard Tuesday morning.
Tuesday night found him seated with Pert in the cozy, old-fashioned
little sitting-room, before the blazing embers of a large, wood fire,
for it had suddenly turned cold.
Checkers had brought up the illustrated papers, and with these and
the banjo, with nuts and apples, pop-corn and cider, for refection,
time sped merrily on.
Now, just how it all came about that night, Checkers never
adequately explained to me. He always claimed, shamefacedly, to have a
confused recollection of the matter. But suffice it to say, there came
an opportunity, and, forgetting his former resolutions, forgetting his
povertyeverything, he told as best he could the story of his love to
the listening girl beside him. What matter how he told it? She cared
not for that, so long as the tale rang true to her ears; and of
Checkers' whole-hearted sincerity, there was never a doubt, as after
The strangeness of a woman's love has been a prolific source of
wonder and remark for philosophers of every age. It should not,
therefore, seem incongruous that Checkers, penniless, slangy,
illiterate, should have won, in a few, short weeks, the love of a girl
whom Arthur, a higher type, from a worldly standpoint, had tried for
years to make his own, without success. Perhaps the explanation lay in
the fact that Checkers possessed two qualities in which Arthur was
wholly lackingtact and magnetism; and again, Pert was too young and
inexperienced to let worldly advantages weigh with her.
At all events, they sat there together, blissful in their new-found
happiness, talking the love all lovers talk, and heedless of the
As Checkers rather coyly put it, There was n't very much room in
the room. The fire had died almost to ashes, and for the hundredth
time he had said, I must go, when suddenly he was jerked from his
seat by a rough hand which had laid hold of his collar.
With a violent effort he broke away, and, turning about, faced Mr.
So! snorted the old man, angrily, so this is what ye 're doin',
is it, settin' here philanderin'? I reckoned somethin' was goin' on.
You go to yer room, girl; come, git along. And you, my young
jack-snipe, mosey off afore I wear ye out with a switch.
Checkers' surprise had been so complete that for a moment he could
not collect himself. Then such was his sense of anger at the indignity
that had been put upon him that only Pert's hand upon his arm
restrained him from making a fight of it. As it was, the two men stood
with an armchair between them, grimly glaring at each other.
Father, cried Pert, peeping timidly from behind Checkers, Mr.
Campbell and I are engaged to be married.
To be what? howled the old man, dancing with rage.
To be married, said Checkers. Now, listen to me, and don't you
get so gay with yourself. I love your daughter; she loves me; we are
going to be married, and that's the end of it.
Checkers stepped back. It was well that he did, for the old man
suddenly reached for him, and if he 'd have got me, said Checkers,
afterwards, relating the incident to me, he would n't have done a
thing to me. We made a few laps around the room, he continued, with
the chairs and table in the middle. The old man ran a bang-up second,
but he was 'carrying weight for age,' and I fouled him in the stretch,
by pulling a rocker in the way, that he stumbled over; then, I opened
the door, kissed Pert good by, grabbed my hat, and did the slide for
the road. The old joker tried to 'sic' the dogs on me, but they knew me
so well they would n't 'sic.'
It had long been a pet scheme of Mr. Barlow's to marry Pert to
Arthur Kendall. In fact, he considered the matter settled, and had
often congratulated himself upon his prospects of securing a wealthy
son-in-law. The presumption, therefore, of this little pauper drove
him nearly beside himself.
Pert thought it wise to spend most of her time in her room next day,
until the first burst of his anger should have subsided.
As Checkers drove home the following evening, he was met by Tobe,
the hired man, about a mile from the house. Hello, Tobe, he called,
Thar's hell out, Mr. Checkers, said Tobe.
Has old Barlow been up here?'
He ain't gone two hours.
Checkers smiled. He was glad to know the worst. I suppose I 'm not
very popular with Arthur?
He swars he 'll fill ye full o' lead. I overheern the hull
conversation atween 'em, and I 'lowed I 'd come down and warn ye. Mr.
Kendall and Aunt Deb 's gone to Little Rock, and won't be back afore
Thank you, Tobe; get in and ride.
Wal, till we gits in sight o' the house; but don't you 'low you 'd
better go back?
No; I'll go on and face the music.
Thar never was nawthin' but trouble come o' foolin' with women,
anyhow, said Tobe. I 've had four on 'em in my time, and they've worn
the soul-case off'n me.
Four! exclaimed Checkers.
Yes, I 've had four. My first woman spent me out o' house and home,
and then run awayI was glad to get shet o' her. The second un I jest
nachally could n't live with, she hed sech a pizen-bad temper; and I
've had two others to die on me. I 've worked like a nigger airnin' 'em
money fer cloes, and doctor's bills and sich, and not one on 'em but
what 'ud claim she wa'n't well treated. The trouble with women is that
a man takes and treats 'em so well when he's a-courtin' of 'em, that
after they 're married, plain, ordinary, every-day treatment seems like
cruelty to 'em.
This was a phase of the woman question which had never before
occurred to Checkers; but the weight of suspense at his heart prevented
his encouraging Tobe to further reminiscence.
As he drove into the door-yard, Arthur came out of the house,
trembling and pale with anger and excitement.
Hello, Arthur? called Checkers, cheerily.
Traitor, hypocrite, was the answer; how can you look me in the
Oh, get used to it.
Ha! you make a jest of it, do you?
Of what, your face?
Arthur grew livid. It's easy and safe for you to taunt a man who is
just recovering from a weakening sickness, he said. If it were n't
for my father, I 'd shoot you like the cur that you are, if I hanged
Checkers jumped to the ground. Now, look here, Arthur Kendall, he
said threateningly. I won't stand any such talk from any one. If you
're making your roar about Miss Barlow, and I suppose you are, I'll
tell you this: The girl doesn't love you and never did, and why you
should want to do the dog-in-the-manger act is more than I can see.
No; of course she does n't love me, if a sneaking Judas goes and
betrays me to her.
I never mentioned your name to her, unless it was to say something
good about you.
You lie! You told her all about our affair at Hot Springs.
I did no such thing.
You did. She told her father about it, and he told me this very
Did he say I told her?
Who else could have told her? do you think I told her?
I do n't know, and, what's more, I don't care a damn. I do n't want
any trouble with you, but I have n't got the temper of an angel, and I
'd advise you to take a tumble to yourself until I 'm goneand that
won't be longer than it takes me to get my stuff into my trunk.
It can't be any too quick to suit me.
Checkers started for the house, but stopped half-way, and turned for
a parting word, while Arthur stood still, and eyed him malignantly.
Now, listen, Arthur Kendall, said Checkers earnestly; and these
are the last words I 'm going to say. I 've been on the square with you
from the day I met you, and if our positions were reversed, I 'd take
you by the hand and wish you all kinds of happiness, but as it is, you
show the yellow streak I always thought you had in youit's wider than
I thought it was, that's all. But just keep saying this over to
yourself: 'I love that girl and I 'm going to have her, in spite of her
father, or you, or the world.' And turning on his heel, Checkers went
into the house to collect his few, poor, little belongings.
That same night Pert, after another stormy interview with her
father, had gone to her room, and, throwing herself on her little white
bed, in a paroxysm of bitter grief, had softly sobbed herself to sleep.
Gradually into her dreams there came the whistled notes of a
familiar little cadence, faint and far away at first, but growing
louder and nearer until she awoke with a start.
It was a whistle which Checkers had taught her weeks before, and
ran as follows:
Come, my love, and walk with me.
Yes, my love, I'll walk with thee.
[Illustration: music fragment]
At this time, however, Checkers, standing down in the road outside,
had cut the ta-ra-dum as flippant and irrelevanta delicacy which,
in her trepidation, Pert failed to remark. But, jumping up, she lighted
her lamp, and cautiously exposed it at the window for a moment. Then,
thanking fortune that she chanced to be dressed, she slipped a warm
wrap over her shoulders, and stole down the stairs, out into the night.
Checkers folded her in his arms, and kissed her gently. My
darling, he murmured, you haven't let them turn you against me, have
Why, Checkers dear, she answered looking into his eyes, the whole
world could n't turn me against youI love you. Checkers kissed her
In the bright starlight they sat together, once more on the little
rustic bench under the tree, listening with ready sympathy, as each
related to each the trials of the day.
No, little sweetheart, said Checkers finally, there is no
possible way for me to stay in Clarksville. The old man is practically
right, I am a pauper, but I won't be long. Pert, I can hustle, when I
want to; I 've got enough money to take me to Chicago, and keep me till
I can get a job. When I get to work I 'll salt every cent, and with any
kind of luck, I 'll come back and get you within a year. A year is not
such a very long while. And with a show of genuine enthusiasm,
Checkers ended by talking the downcast girl into a happy confidence in
himself and the future.
And now, Pert, he said, solicitously, it's too cold for you to
stay out here longer; come, we must be brave, and say good-bye.
O, Checkers, she exclaimed, with a choking sob, suddenly throwing
her arms around his neck, I can't bear to let you go; I shall be
miserable, miserable without you.
Tenderly Checkers soothed and reasoned with her. Once more their
plans were gone over. Checkers was to leave in the morning for Chicago.
He was to write to her as often as possible, addressing the letters to
Sadie, whom Pert knew she could depend upon. Checkers was to bend every
effort towards getting a position and saving money; and Pert was to be
brave, and waitthe common lot of women.
With his arm around her, lovingly, he led her slowly to the house.
Again and again they said good-bye; but there is something in the word
which makes us linger.
Some little keepsake, sweetheart, he whisperedthis ribbon, or
No; wait here a minute, she answered. Carefully entering the
house, she crept to her room, and from its hiding-place brought forth a
fifty-dollar gold piece. It was of California gold, octagonal in shape,
and minted many years before.
Here, dear, she said, returning noiselessly. Here is a coin that
was given me long ago by my grandfathertake it as a lucky-piece. And
whenever you see it, think of one who loves you and is praying for you.
And, Checkers, if you should have misfortune, and should really need
to, don't hesitate to spend it; because, you see, if you don't have
good luck, so that you do n't need to spend it, why it is n't a lucky
piece, and you 'd better get rid of itthat is, ifif you have to.
Checkers embraced her passionately. My darling, he protested, I
shall have to be nearer starving to death than I 've ever been, or
expect to be, before I part with this. I shall treasure it as a
keepsake from the dearest, sweetest, prettiest, sandiest girl in the
world; the one that I love and the one that loves me; and herehere's
a scarfpin that once was my father's. They say opals are unlucky. Well,
father got shot, but I wore it the lucky day I met you; so that does
n't prove anythingwear it for my sake. Now, dear, I must go.
Keep a stiff upper lip, and do n't let the old man get in his bluff on
you. Win your mother overshe'll help you out. I think she likes me; I
am sure I do her. I 'll write to you every day. Good-bye, my
preciousI 'll be back for you soon; good-bye, good-bye.
One last fond embrace, one lingering kiss, and Checkers turned and
walked resolutely away.
The next morning early he bid the Bradleys a sorrowful farewell, and
boarded the train for Little Rock. Mr. Bradley gave him letters to a
number of merchants there, but he was unable to find employment. In
fact, he only sought it in a half-hearted way; Little Rock was too
small, too near Clarksville. Chicago was his Mecca. He felt a happy
presentiment that once there circumstances would somehow solve for him
the problem of existence. But, alas, for vain hopes! Day after day,
from door to door, he sought employment without success. The answers he
received to his inquiries for work were ever the same: Business was
dull; they were reducing rather than increasing their forces; sorry,
but if anything turned up they would let him know. At times he
received just enough encouragement to make his eventual failure the
more disheartening and cruel.
How could he write to Pert under such circumstances? At first it had
not been so hard; but now he had put it off from day to day, dreading
to tell her of his non-success, always hoping that surely to-morrow he
must have good news, until fully a week elapsed in which he had not
written. How troublesome a thing is prideto the poor.
In the course of his wanderings he came across numbers of the old
companions of his pool-room days. Few of them had changed, but for the
worse. Most of them were penniless, hungry and threadbare, but still
the victims of the hopeless vice, and whenever fortune threw in their
way a dollar, it went into the insatiable maw of the race-tracks.
Checkers noted and was warned; and to their earnest solicitations to
play their good things he pointed them to their own conditiona
pertinent and unanswerable argument.
But though never so careful the time came apace when his little
hoard was all but exhausted. His treasured keepsake he still vowed
nothing should make him part with. If I 've got to starve, he grimly
resolved, it might as well be a week or two earlier as laterbut I
'll keep Pert's gold piece.
That same day he received from Pert a letter full of encouragement,
but pleading with him, as he loved her, to write. All in the world
that I have to look forward to now, Checkers, dear, she said, is your
letters; and you can 't imagine how disappointed I am, and how I worry
for fear you are sick, or something, as the days go by, and no word
comes from you.
Standing by the window in his dismal boarding-house room Checkers
read the letter over and over. Meditatively he examined his
pocketsnothing! nothing but the gold piece. Something must be done.
There were a number of garments hanging on the wall, among them an
overcoat. I can do without that, he said, with a shiver.
Half an hour later, richer by a few pieces of silver, he stood in a
telegraph-office, penning a message to Pert. Letter received, he
wrote. Am well, but no luck. Will write to-day. Checkers.
Beside him as he wrote, stood a man whom he recognizedone Brown,
an owner of a racing-stable. With the tail of his eye Checkers read
what he was writing. It was a telegram to some one in St. Louis, and
ran: Stand a tap on the mare to-day. She can't lose. Checkers' heart
was in his mouth. Instantly his resolution was taken. Out into the
street he followed Brown. With the furtive care of a Hackshaw he
shadowed him in and out of hotels and saloons, until about noon they
brought up at a restaurant, where Checkers modestly seated himself at a
table behind Brown and ordered a light repast. But Brown was hungry,
and Checkers had ample time to think the thing over. I 'm in luck at
last, he soliloquized. Stand a tap on the mare! His friend will play
it in the foreign-book at East St. Louis and he 'll play it at the
track. It must be a 'hot one'I wonder what the odds will be. Well, I
'll keep this can 't-shake-me glide on my feet till I see what he
plays, and then 'get down' on it myself. I 'll put up the gold-piece,
and stand to either lose it or make a stake for myself. Somehow I 'd
feel better to have it go in one last effort to make a killin' than to
spend it a quarter at a time on sandwiches and cigarettes. To-night I
'll either be able to write to Pert that my luck has turned, or I 'll
know the worst, and that 's some comfort. Ah, Brown 's paying his bill
The summer meeting at Washington Park, with large purses and
high-class horses, was over and gone. But there were other tracks where
racing was carried on all the fall and most of the winter;
gambling-hells, pure and simple, or rather, purely and simply
gambling-hells, which the Legislature has since effectively closed.
In the betting-ring of one of these, that afternoon, Checkers
threaded his way through the crowd after Brown. The programme showed
that Brown had an entry in the last raceRemorse, an aged
selling-plater. Checkers remembered the horse as one that had shown
considerable speed as a three-year-old. He glanced at the programme
again: Remorse, by Gambler, dam Sweetheart. Was it an omen? Remorse
would certainly follow if he gambled away the keepsake which his
sweetheart had given him. But wouldn't an equally poignant regret
possess him if after this providential tip he failed to play the horse
and she won? He felt that it would.
The fourth race was on, and the last was approaching. Brown stood at
the edge of the ring, his hands in his pockets, smoking idly. The
official results of the fourth were announced, and the bookmakers
tacked up the entries for the last. Still, Brown seemed nonchalant.
Checkers anxiously watched the posting of the odds. Remorse, four
to one, he exclaimed under his breath. Brown also glanced at the
blackboardsand lighted a fresh cigar. Every minute some one would
buttonhole him, and ask, How about Remorse? O, she's got a chance,
he would answer, with a shrug which seemed to indicate that she had no
The favorite, under a heavy play, was rapidly cut to even money,
while the odds on the others were correspondingly increased. Remorse
went to five and six to one. Brown took fifty dollars out of his
pocket, and, going up to a prominent bookmaker, playedthe favorite. Checkers was paralyzed. The same performance Brown repeated with
another book-maker on the other side of the ring. Gradually Remorse's
price went up to eight to one, as it became generally known that her
owner was not playing her.
The favorite's odds went to four to five, and Checkers fingered
his gold piece nervously. One book-maker still laid even money. Here
was his chance if he wanted to play it. He started forward, and
stopped. As he hesitated, Brown sauntered out of the ring. Checkers
From a distance he saw Brown meet two horsemen and, after a brief
conversation, give them each a roll of bills. He saw these two enter
the betting-ring and, taking opposite sides, start down the line on
Remorse; then the scheme was revealed to him.
From stand to stand they went, betting Remorse in each book, ten and
twenty dollars at a time; not enough to cause remark, but amounting to
hundreds in the aggregate. Gradually the odds began to recede. Checkers
rushed to the other end of the ring. Gimme Remorse! he exclaimed,
excitedly, handing his gold-piece to a convenient blockman.
What the 'ell's this? asked the wondering book-maker.
It's fifty, answered Checkers, laconically.
Well, it's the first time I ever seen one of them babiesbut it
looks like it's good. Remorse, four hundred to fifty.
If I win, I want it back, said Checkers. It was given to me
byit's my lucky piece.
All right, was the answer, and Checkers walked away with his
dearly purchased ticket deep in his pocket.
Under a steady but somewhat mysterious play, Remorse was cut to four
to one, and the favorite went up to six to five. This was gratifying to
Checkers, as indicating that Brown and his friends were confident.
He went up into the grand stand; the horses were at the post.
Remorse was acting very badlyplunging, kicking and refusing to break.
I 'll just about get left at the post, thought Checkers. Say, that
favorite looks good, he remarked to a young fellow next to him.
Good, echoed the youth; well, I should say he is good. He 's
cherry-ripe, and he 'll gallop in. If I had a thousand dollars, and did
n't know where I was goin' to eat to-night, I 'd put it all on
him. There 's a lot of 'marks' around toutin' Remorse to beat himwhy,
that old mare could n't beat a carpet; her last two races she could n't
get out of her own way.
This was pleasant for Checkers, but he held his counsel. The next
moment the starter dropped the flag.
Remorse, with a running start from behind, got two lengths the best
of it; and, setting a hot pace, widened up the gap between herself and
the field in a way that cheered Checkers' heart.
It was a three-quarter dash, and at the half she had a lead of at
least ten lengths, with the others strung out in a regular procession.
The favorite was trailing along in fifth place; but Checkers noticed
that he was running easy. The jockey was leaning back in the saddle,
and the horse's mouth was pulled wide open, as he fought for his head
under a double wrap.
As they rounded into the stretch Remorse still led, but she seemed
to be tiring rapidly. The favorite swung very wide at the turn, losing
several lengths; his jockey then drew in behind three others, and
allowed himself to be hopelessly pocketed.
Up to now Checkers' new acquaintance had been silent; but at this
exhibition of incompetent jockeyship he expressed a desire to be good
and damned if that ride would n't frost a cigar-sign Indian.
Under whip and spur Remorse staggered on two lengths in the lead.
Within fifty feet of the wire the favorite got through, and coming with
a rush, as it seemed almost in spite of his jockey's efforts to
restrain him, he nipped Remorse on the post.
From where Checkers stood it looked as though Remorse was beaten
half a length. The crowd yelled with delight; No. 4 was posted.
Checkers looked at his programmeRemorse, No. 4. Then it was his
turn to yell, and he rather abused his privilege. The tumult of varied
emotion within him demanded this vent, and he gave it full play. I
thought I was out of it, he laughed delightedly to the young man
beside him. It looked like it, did n't it, at the angle? You see,
Remorse had the rail.
But the young man was n't interested in Checkers' good luck. Just
then he had troubles of his own. He vouchsafed one glance of sour
contempt and hurried off to try to borrow car-fare from some one.
Often Checkers had won and lost more money than was involved in his
present venture and stood it stoically; but never before had his need
been so great, and he had reason to know that necessity and luck have
at best little more than a speaking acquaintance. Exultantly,
therefore, he skipped down the stairs into the betting-ring. You can
't keep a squirrel on the ground, he chuckled. They 've got to stop
printing money when I ain't got some. The next minute he was in line
behind the stand where he had made his purchase, tightly grasping the
ticket which was to give him back his gold-piece and four hundred
Four hundred dollars! It was a snug little sum. The gold-piece had
proved a mascot after all. Now, he would get out his overcoat and
purchase some other necessary articles. He decided to pay off his
landlady and find some more inviting quarters. But the pleasantest
thought of all was that now he could write to Pert. The delight he
found in this reflection could only have been surpassed by the joy of
seeing her in person. He did not know what he should say; but he knew
that with this load off his heart, and with the return to self-respect
which this success had brought him, he would be able to write a letter
which would encourage and cheer herit should be his first task. He
longed to be at it, and he began to chafe at what seemed an unusual
delay in announcing the official.
Turning, he glanced toward the judge's stand. There was a surging,
interested crowd around it. A presentiment of sudden misfortune came
over him. Almost at the same moment the air was rent by joyous yells
from hundreds of throats.
The crowd turned about, and with one accord made a rush for the
In the van was Checkers' surly acquaintancesurly no longer, but
radiant with a smile which extended from ear to ear. Checkers broke
from the line, and grabbed him by the arm. What 's up? he exclaimed.
What's the yelling about?
All bets off, was the glad rejoinder; the favorite was 'pulled.'
The judges are onto a job in the race. It was 'fixed' for Remorse. We
all get our money back. Let goI 'm in a hurry.
Checkers stood as though paralyzed from an actual blow. His eyes
were fixed and his lips were colorless. By the bald-headed,
knock-kneed Jove! he exclaimed, suddenly rousing himself with a
vehement gesture; if my luck ain't But he felt it impossible to do
the occasion justice.
With a set face and a heavy heart he again lined up behind the
stand. In turn he was given his gold piece in exchange for his ticket,
but the $400 was gone, to return no more forever.
Under any sudden and crucial misfortune the subsequent action of the
average man is largely a matter of temperament. Numbers, no doubt, in
Checkers' position would have felt themselves justified in drowning
their sorrows in the flowing bowl. Others, with the obstinacy of
despair, might 'ave sought, perforce, the smiles of frowning fortune,
throwing discretion to the winds, and risking their all at any
desperate game chance threw in their way until satiated. A few might
have taken their hard luck resignedly, only thankful that it was no
worse, and hoping for better luck next timesuch are they who, in the
These alternatives occurred to Checkers in turn, and he effected a
sort of compromise. He needed a temporary excitement of some sort as a
counter-irritant to his nerves. He was tired and hungry, and he decided
that his first move would be to get a good supper. He did n't care how
good or what it costhe was tired of practicing economy. But he must
have some money; it would hardly do to spring the fifty in a
restaurant. Ah! Uncle Isaac! Yes, he believed he could pawn the gold
piece as he would a watch, and then if luck ever came his way, he would
have a chance of redeeming it.
The staid old waiters in a fashionable caf£ smiled that evening as a
youthful figure entered with an unaccustomed air, and, seating himself
at one of the tables, studied the menu earnestly. A few deft
suggestions from one of them, however, put him in the way of a very
good supper; and with a pint of Mumm's to wash it down, and a cigarette
to top off with, Checkers, for it was he, began to feel that things
might have been a bit worse after all. As he stepped into the street,
the glaring and impossible posters of a spectacular show at a
neighboring theater caught his eye and decided him. Five minutes later
he was comfortably seated in the front row of the orchestra chairs,
enjoying himself in present forgetfulness of troubles past or troubles
Now, I fear, that to properly do my part, I should here create a
dream for Checkers to have had that night, in which Pert, Remorse, a
waiter, and a comedian should all take more or less senseless parts.
But being somewhat skeptical myself, I was careful to question Checkers
on this point, especially when I afterward learned what great things
the morrow had in store for him. And, in spite of all precedent, he
confessed to the oblivion of the insensate clod, devoid of dream or
premonition, until nine the next morning, when he awoke with a start.
With the awakening came a realizing sense of his situation in all its
most disheartening phases. His course of the night before now seemed to
him the height of idiocy. He reproached himself in no measured terms
for having neglected to write to Pert as promised in his telegram. I
ought to have a guardian appointed to look after me, he grumbled to
himself. Think of my blowing myself for wine and the show, with
starvation staring me in the face; and then to think of that poor
little girl expecting a letter, and not getting it.
He was interrupted by a knock at the door. A letter for you, Mr.
Campbell, said the servant. Taking it from her he recognized the
well-known writing of his beloved. He put the letter in his pocket,
and, grabbing his hat, started down the stairs. I 'm too late for
breakfast here, he exclaimed; I 'll go next door to the 'beanery' and
get a roll and a cup of coffee. I 've got to play 'em close to my vest
now, he sighed. A dime is nothing when you 've got it, but it 's
bigger than a mountain when you have n't; and it won 't be long before
I have n't at this rate.
Seated on a little round stool at the corner in the beanery, he
gave his order, and then opened and commenced to read his letter. A
newspaper clipping dropped to the floor; he picked it up mechanically,
continuing his reading as he did so. Suddenly he began to glance from
one to the other rapidly. An instant later he jumped to his feet, and
rushed to the window for a better light. It could n't be trueit
simply could n't! Yes, yes, it must be; for here was a notice from the
public administrator in Baltimore, advertising for him as an heir of
Giles Edward Campbell, deceased, who died intestate, etc., etc., and
Judge Martin, so Pert said in the letter, had had an inquiry regarding
him, with the statement that the only knowledge the authorities had of
such a person was based upon a letter found among the effects of the
deceased, headed Eastman Hotel, Hot Springs, beginning My dear
Uncle, and signed Your affectionate nephew, Edward Campbell. The
clerk at the Eastman, when applied to, had reported a memorandum left
by Checkers, that any mail which might come for him be forwarded to
Clarksville, Ark.; hence this letter to Judge Martin, and hence Pert's
knowledge of the matter, as her uncle immediately applied to her for
the necessary information.
Uncle has written to Baltimore to-day, continued the letter, and
he says you will hear from the authorities there without delay. The
inclosed clipping is from a Little Rock paper. Oh! Checkers, darling,
is n't it lovely?
The slovenly waiter shuffled to the counter with his cup of muddy
coffee and a soggy roll. Checkers tossed him half a dollar, and stalked
majestically out. I think the joint where I ate last night is just
about my size this morning, he chuckled. Gee, but I 'd like to yell
just once. The judges can't call all bets off this time. All during
breakfast his mind was busy with a thousand different speculations, and
he finally decided that in so momentous a matter he ought to consult a
lawyer. I 'll find one in some big office building, he mentally
resolved, and get his advice.
| MURRAY JAMESON, |
| Attorney-at-Law. |
This, in modest gold letters upon an office window, was the first
thing he saw upon reaching the street.
Everything 's coming my way to-day, he thought. Well, I 'll go in
and see the old joker.
He was much taken aback upon entering, however, to find the old
joker a man of about thirty.
Is Mr. Jameson in? he asked.
I am Mr. Jameson, was the reply.
Well, I wanted to get a little advice, but
Certainly; come into my private office.
Checkers was trapped. I do n't believe, he began desperately,
that you 'll be able to help me. It's a very important case,
andwell, II want some one with a lot of experience.
As you like, said Mr. Jameson, who, by the way, was none other
than my old friend Murray, but I 've been practicing law for more than
Well, that's enough practice to learn any game; and, seating
himself, Checkers told him the facts as succinctly as possible from the
Of his uncle's circumstances he really knew nothing; but he
remembered hearing his mother speak of him, just before her death, as
being well off, and Uncle Giles was n't the kind, once he had a
dollar, ever to let it get away.
If Checkers' chronology was correct, it was clear that he was the
only heir, and whether his Uncle left much or little, it was that much
better than nothing at all. But Murray somewhat damped his enthusiasm
by the statement that there might be bills and claims of various sorts
against the estate, which, in the end, would show it to be insolvent.
However, he agreed to take the matter up at once, and be content to
receive his fee when the final settlement was made.
Checkers spent the rest of the day in writing the long-delayed
letter to Pert, telegraphing her in the mean time that he had received
her letter, and expressing his thanks.
A few days brought to light these facts concerning Giles Edward
Campbell, deceased: He had drawn a large pension undeservedly for
years, and by pinching and saving had amassed a fortune. Under
Cleveland in '84 his pension was annulled, and about the same time he
was nearly bankrupted in a greedy and foolish speculation. Then fear of
absolute want must have seized him, for, converting the little that was
left into gold, he hoarded it in miserly fashion; loaning it at
usurious rates, and hiding it when not in use in chests and crannies in
his den. At the time of his death, which was due more to lack of
nourishment than to anything else, there was found upon his person and
in nooks and corners of his room, thirty thousand dollars in gold and
government bonds, all of which in due time became the property of
On a certain bright December day not many weeks after the occurrence
of the last related events, the town of Clarksville seemed to have
assumed a most unwonted bustle and confusion. People were actually
hurrying in and out of the little white Methodist church, carrying
evergreen boughs, chrysanthemums and sprays of holly and mistletoe.
Wagons were driving back and forth between town and the Barlow place,
and the Barlow house was in the hands of a Little Rock caterer and his
assistants. It was Checkers' wedding day. He and Pert were to be
married that night at six o'clock. Nothing they could think of had been
left undone to make the occasion a happy one.
Though the old man fumed and fretted at the expense, Checkers
insisted upon having things right. This is my first and last
wedding, he said, and there 's going to be nothing Sioux City about
it. So, though the old man groaned in spirit, caterer, orchestra,
flowers, etc., were ordered, regardless of expense, from Little Rock,
and all the town took a surpassing interest in the event.
Checkers' return to Clarksville had been the triumphant return of
Caesar to Rome. As is usual in such cases, current report had magnified
his fortune twenty-fold. Mr. Barlow was now all smiles and
acquiescence; but his first meeting with Checkers was painfully
strained. Checkers treated him on the principle of least said, soonest
mended; but Mrs. Barlow he kissed and called mother.
He had found Pert looking a little pale, and her bright eyes seemed
somewhat larger and brighter. But the happiness which accompanied his
return soon brought the color back to her cheeks.
Of course Checkers urged an immediate marriage, and of course there
was the usual demur; but, in the end, a date was fixed upon as near as
would conveniently allow for such preparations as Pert and her mother
felt it necessary to make. And in the mean time Checkers and Pert were
ideally happy. They took long drives and walks through the woods, and
spent long evenings in talking over their plans for the future, with a
It was practically decided that Checkers was to buy the Tyler place.
This was a fruit farm in perfect condition, with a neat little house
upon it, and not far from town. It could be purchased for cash at a
very low figure, and as the trees were all bearing, it seemed to
promise a large and sure return for the money, even cutting in half,
for possibilities of frost or drought, a conservative estimate of what
the trees should yield to the acre.
Mr. Barlow and Checkers figured upon it carefully from every
standpoint, and the more they figured, the more it seemed a
providential opportunity, Checkers knew nothing of any other business,
and his money was practically lying idle in the bank. No other safe
investment could promise so large an income and at the same time
furnish him with employment and a pleasant home.
And so at last the matter was decided. The earnest money was paid,
and the order given for the execution of the necessary papers. The
house was vacated and thoroughly renovated, and Pert found a new
delight in selecting paper, carpets and furniture to her
likingCheckers had given her carte blanche.
As soon as the title to the property was found to be clear, Checkers
gave a certified check to Mr. Tyler for twenty thousand dollars, and a
warranty deed was signed, conveying the property, in fee, to Persis
Barlow. This was in accordance with Checkers' desire, and was a great
surprise to Pert and her parents. What's mine is yours, dear, he said
with a smile, and what's yours is your own. And that ended the
matterunfortunately for Checkers.
There was just one question upon which the two had a serious
differencethe case of Arthur Kendall.
Now, Edward, said Pert one evening (when she called him 'Edward'
he knew that something important was coming), I want to talk to you
about something that has been worrying me dreadfully.
What is it, sweetheart?
And I want you to promise to do as I ask you.
Checkers felt suspicious, and refused to go it blind.
Well, it's about the Kendalls. I want you to make up with Arthur,
Not on your
Yes, Edward; you must. Remember the Thanksgiving sermon about
forgiveness and loving your neighbors.
Oh, it's all well enough to love your neighbor, but there 's no
necessity for taking down the fence. Arthur treated me like a
But, Checkers dear, we want Aunt Deb. and Mr. Kendall at the
wedding. They won't come unless Arthur does, and Arthur won't come
unless you make up with him. Consider, Checkers, you 've been unusually
blest, and you ought to be humble and thankful, and do something to
show it; and here's your opportunity. Another thingthis came
hesitatinglyhe 's the only fellow about here who could make a decent
appearance as your best man.
Checkers went off into peals of laughter. Oh, he exclaimed, I
begin to tumble. Forgive your neighbor, if you happen to need
himafterwards you can shake him again.
Pert joined in the laugh. It is no such thing, she responded. If
you half appreciated me, you would n't blame Arthur for being angry at
you for doing what you did to him. He loved me a great deal more than
you do; he never refused me a favor in his life.
That's just why he lost you. Push Miller used to say
Never mind Push Miller; Arthur is to be at Sadie's to-morrow
evening. You and I are going there to call. You are to shake hands with
Arthur and tell him you 're glad to see him, and be natural and
friendly. Afterwards you can ask him to stand up with you.
It seems to be settled, said Checkers; and so it eventuated.
Checkers greeted Arthur with frank cordiality, and relieved the tension
by a few well-turned witticisms. No apologies passed between them, and
reference to the past was tacitly barred. Checkers' sunny nature was
not one to harbor a grudge, and if Arthur still felt rebellious, he
managed to hide it gracefully. He readily consented to act the part of
best man for Checkers; and Sadie, of course, was to be Pert's maid of
honor. Most of the evening was spent in discussing other available
material in the way of bridesmaids and groomsmen, and it was agreed
that with a few importations from Little Rock, they would be able to
present an attractive wedding party.
Now, I have an idea, said Arthur, which I think is a good one.
Checkers ought to know those fellows before they are asked to be his
groomsmen; we'll go up to Little Rock to-morrow, and I 'll invite them
to meet him at an informal dinner at one of the hotels.
A very good scheme, assented Pert.
And I 'll invite the party here to supper for the night before the
wedding, put in Sadie.
It 's very kind of you both, said Checkers, and I appreciate it
more than I can tell you.
Early the next morning the two boys went to Little Rock. Arthur
invited four of the most desirable of his acquaintances to dinner that
evening, and luckily they all accepted.
Most of Checkers' day was taken up in fulfilling missions for Pert
and her mother. He returned to the hotel late in the afternoon, and had
barely time to don his new dress-suit and join Arthur in the rotunda
before their guests arrived.
They were jolly good fellows, all of them. Checkers was duly
presented, and after a preliminary cocktail the party adjourned to the
private dining-room, where a round table was prettily laid for six.
Checkers felt apprehensive for Arthur, when he noticed three different
glasses at each plate; but Arthur took early occasion to state that he
was on the water-wagon, and he hoped that the boys would not let it
make any difference with them, or with the gayety of the eveningand
it did n't. After the first edge of their hunger was turned the jollity
grew apace. Checkers in his happiest vein related numberless humorous
anecdotes, among them his experience of Remorse and the gold piece.
Each of them told his particular pet joke, and all were boisterously
Now, waiter, exclaimed Arthur, suddenly righting his down-turned
champagne glass, fill them up again all around, and give me some.
Gentlemen, I want to propose a double toast, and I 'll ask you to drink
it standinga bumper. All arose expectantly. Let us drink, he said,
to the health and happiness of the sweetest, fairest, most lovable
girl God ever put upon this earthit is needless to name her. Let us
also drink to the health and prosperity of the thrice-fortunate man who
has won her loveMr. Campbell, your health. He touched his wine to
his lips; the others drained their glasses, and all sat down.
There was an expectant silence. Checkers felt the blood go surging
to his brain, while his heart seemed to sink like lead within him. He
felt powerless to rise, although he knew that all were awaiting his
response. The silence became painful. Speech, murmured some one.
Speech, echoed the others. With a superhuman effort he managed to
arise, and grasping a full glass of water, drained it. I 'll tell you,
boys, he said huskily, here's where I 'd put up the talk of my life,
if I could; but it's like it was that day they declared all bets
offthe occasion 's too much for me. I feel it allI feel it in my
heart, he continued earnestly. I 'm obliged to Arthur for his motion,
and to you all for making it unanimous. I know that I 'm lucky, so
lucky that I can hardly believe my good fortune myself. Half the time I
think that I must be asleep, and trying to 'cash a hop-dream.' I 've
been ready to get married for a couple of yearsI 've had everything
but the stuff and the girl; I was ready to furnish the groom all right;
but I 've always had a feeling that I could n't have much respect for a
girl that would marry me if she was 'onto' meevery fellow feels the
same, or ought to. And so when I find I have drawn a prize girl, who,
as Arthur says, is 'the fairest and sweetest God ever put on this
earth,' and it's true, it jars me, boys; it does, on the dead. I feel
like the only winner in a poker-game, as though I ought to apologize
for itand I do, with about the same regret.
Well, I 've had my hard luck, and 'played out the string,' and now
that things seem to be coming my way, I 'm going to enjoy myself while
it lasts. 'Life is short, and we 're a long time dead.' That's an old
saying, but it's a good one. Boys, I hope you 'll all be as happy as I
am when it comes your turn, and may it come soon. Here 's how. He
lifted his glass, which in the mean time the waiter had filled, and,
smiling around the circle, tossed off his wine in unison with the
others and sat down.
There was the usual clapping and cheering, after which Checkers
asked their attention for a moment more. I want to sign two of you
fellows for groomsmen, he said. I wish I needed four, I 'd like to
have you all; but Pert said 'two,' and what Pert says goes. Now, how
shall we decide it?
Why not match for it! suggested one of them.
Good idea! exclaimed Checkers; you four match nickels, odd man
out. until two are leftcome on, get busy.
On the first trial, two called heads, and two tails. No
business, said Checkers. On the second trial, three called heads and
one tails. Tough luck, old man, said Checkers to the one; I wanted
you particularly. At the first essay of the three remaining, all
showed heads up; at the second two of them switched to tails,
while the third kept headsthus deciding the matter.
Well, that settles that, said Checkers; but groomsmen or not, we
'll all be there, and I hope we'll all have a good time.
It was in the wee, sma' hours when the party broke up, and
Checkers and Arthur, after seeing their guests safely out, sought their
rooms, and quickly tumbled into bed. Checkers, however, took occasion
to thank Arthur warmly for his kindness, and to express a hope that an
opportunity might soon occur for him to requite it. The next afternoon
saw them back in Clarksville.
The few intermediate days passed quickly. Sadie's supper was a
success, as such things go; the ceremony was rehearsed, and all was in
readiness for the great event.
The wedding morning dawned, as bright and beautiful a winter's day
as nature ever vouchsafed a happy bridal pair. Checkers was up with the
lark. He felt the weight of the nations upon his shoulders. All day he
was back and forth between house and church, anxious that nothing
should be overlooked; suggesting and helping until late in the
afternoon, when Arthur laid violent hands upon him, and insisted upon
his taking a rest before making a toilet for the evening.
Promptly at six, to the Lohengrin March on a cabinet organ, the
bridal party came slowly down the aisle, the two ushers first, and
following them, the two bridesmaids. After these came Sadie, alone,
with a huge bouquet of roses, and lastly leaning upon her father's arm,
came Pert, in a simple white gown, her veil wreathed with orange
blossoms and pinned with a diamond star, one of Checkers' gifts.
Every neck was craned, and every eye fastened upon her in breathless
admiration, for she was beautiful.
From behind a screen at the side, Checkers and Arthur came forth,
and met them at the altar. The service was simple, but solemn and
impressive. The earnestness of Checkers' answers caused a quiet smile
to pass around, which culminated in down-right laughter at the ardor
with which he kissed the bride when the time came; but he was wholly
oblivious. Marching out to the accustomed music, he could scarcely
maintain a decorous step, so great was his elation.
Their short drive to the house, during which he folded Pert in his
arms, and knew that she was hisall hishe felt to be the moment of
his supremest earthly happiness.
The others followed quickly. The guests arrived, and soon there were
congratulations, feasting, music and merry-making galore.
But all thingsgood thingshave an end, and perhaps it is just as
well that they have; at least, in this case Checkers and Pert, as they
crossed the threshold of their own little home, breathed a happy sigh
at the thought that they were alone at lasttogether.
The succeeding days brought one continuous round of simple
pleasures. Christmas and the holidays followed hard upon the wedding,
and New Year's Day being Sunday, Pert invited the members of the
wedding party to the house for from Friday to the Monday following.
At this season of the year there was nothing of actual work to be
done upon the place, and Checkers was free to hunt with the men or
drive with the girls, as he elected.
Whether it be for the reason that misery loves company, or for the
much more probable and kindly reason that our truest happiness lies in
making others happy, it is certain that most young married couples
have a very strong weakness for match-making. And Pert and Checkers
were no exception to this rule.
They decided that Arthur's truest good demanded that he marry Sadie;
and poor little Sadie showed but too plainly in what direction her
But in spite of Pert's well-laid plans to leave them in quiet
corners together, in spite of her many little tactful suggestions,
Arthur remained unresponsive. He was attentive in a perfunctory way,
but that was all. And often Pert would blush to find him gazing at her
with a wistful, far-away look in his eyes, which told more surely than
words what was in his heart. In fact, Sadie timidly suggested to Pert
one day that Arthur was always distrait and silent after seeing her and
Checkers together; and that instead of making him desire a domestic
little home of his own, it seemed to embitter and sour him.
So, after the house party Checkers settled down to serious life on a
farm, and Pert busied herself with housekeeping, learning to cook from
her neat old colored servant Mandy, trying new dishes herself, and
doing the thousand and one little things that go to make up a woman's
work, which 't is said is never donedone, of course, in the
sense of finished.
And so the winter glided quickly into springthe spring of '93; a
year that many of us will long remember.
One evening Checkers unfolded to Pert a long-cherished scheme, which
delighted her. This was nothing less than a plan to take her to Chicago
in May to see the World's Fair. We 'll call it our wedding trip,
little girl, he said caressingly, and we won't be gone but ten days
or two weeks.
But when Mr. Barlow heard of it, he made a monkey of himself, as
Checkers put it. He ranted and swore, and told them both they would end
in the poorhouse with their reckless extravagance. But Checkers laughed
him off good-naturedly. He knew that the trip would be expensive; but
he felt that he could afford it, and he had another and a deeper reason
for taking Pert to Chicago. He was greatly worried about her health,
and he desired to have her consult some eminent physician regarding
One day, when they were out for a walk, she had run a playful race
with him along a level stretch of road, bending every energy to beat
him. He was running easily behind her, puffing and grunting to make her
think that she was really worsting him, when suddenly she stumbled,
tottered, and, putting her hand to her heart, sank limply upon a bed of
leaves at the side of the road. In an instant Checkers was kneeling
beside her. She had not fainted, but was as pale as death, and she
still held her hand to her heart and gasped for breath. Checkers
loosened her gown about her throat, then filling his hat with water at
a little stream near by, he bathed her brow and wet her lips. Fully an
hour passed before she was able with his assistance to walk to the
house, and though about, next day apparently as well as ever, she
complained thereafter, at intervals, of dizziness, chilly sensations
and strange flutterings at her heart.
The local doctor joked her about the size of her waist, and told her
that her trouble was probably due to a combination of lacing and
indigestion. But to Checkers he confided a fear that there might be
some affection of the heart, and earnestly advised that he consult some
So, while Checkers told nothing of his apprehensions to Pert, he
would brook no interference in his plans. The middle of May they left
the house in care of Mandy, and set out for the land of The Great
What delight they found in roaming about through those wonderful
buildings and marvelous displays! Checkers, alert and all-observing,
Pert, enthusiastic and wonderingthey spent whole days in a single
building or upon the ever-interesting Midway.
Checkers had found cozy quarters in a small hotel not far from the
grounds, but they lunched and dined where it suited them best. Thus it
chanced that one night, when they were going to the theater, they dined
beforehand at Kinsley's, as related by Checkers in the opening
Meanwhile, Checkers did not neglect the more serious part of his
mission. He hunted up Murray, who was surprised and glad to see him,
and who evinced a genuine interest in the story of his marital
Upon the matter of a doctor for Pert, Murray happened to know just
the man, a friend of his, to whom he gave Checkers a letter of
introduction. Checkers called and explained the case to the doctor, and
the next day Pert underwent a thorough examination. Checkers awaited
the verdict anxiously. In effect it was this: her heart action was
weak, and at times irregular, but there was no reason to apprehend but
what, with a careful diet, regular exercise, plenty of sleep and fresh
air, she would live as long as the average woman, and fully recover
from the troublesome symptoms which sudden over-exertion had brought
upon her. Violent exercise and excitement, however, were especially to
be avoided; and the use of all stimulants, narcotics and anaesthetics
must be set down as dangerous in the extreme.
Checkers breathed a sigh of relief. He had warned the doctor to make
as light of the case to Pert as his conscience would permit, explaining
that he himself would tell her gradually, as fitting occasion offered,
what had been said to him, and would see that all instructions were
carefully carried out. Violent exercise she was already warned against,
and Checkers felt that he could guard her against unusual excitement.
He carefully avoided the harrowing plays at the theater, but took her
to operas and burlesques. But it never occurred to him as necessary to
warn her specifically against stimulants and drugs.
A few days before their departure for home, they received a pleasant
surprise in the shape of a telegram from Arthur and Sadie, announcing
A letter from Sadie arrived the next day, in which she said that she
and Arthur had hoped to join them in Chicago and surprise them, but
that conditions were such at the store that Arthur's every available
moment was demanded, and he could not possibly get away. But this was
not the half of it. The panic of '93, of which premonitory notice had
been given by numerous bank failures, was now a stern reality.
Collections were bad, business was dead, and the firm of Kendall &Co.,
which had unfortunately laid in a larger stock of goods than usual that
season, found it all they could do to keep themselves from going to the
Checkers and Pert returned and soon fell into their accustomed
grooves. They called upon Arthur and Sadie, and found them reasonably
happy under new conditions, although Arthur was evidently carrying a
load of care and responsibility; while Judge Martin sat up and
cheerfully predicted confusion and every evil work as a result of the
demonetization of silver and other kindred political outrages.
One morning as Checkers was working about the dooryard, he espied
his father-in-law coming up the road at a gait which presaged important
news. The old man reached him, out of breath. Checkers waited
Well, what do ye think has happened now? panted Mr. Barlow. The
First National Bank of Little Rock has gone upbusted; got yer money.
There was in his voice and manner something of the triumph that mean
spirits feel at being the first to bring disastrous news, as well as a
show of personal injury at the thought of Checkers allowing himself to
lose what he himself had even the shadow of an interest in.
My God! exclaimed Checkers involuntarily, growing pale at the
news. Then for a moment he stood in silence, nervously biting his upper
lip. He had had long experience in controlling himself under trying
circumstances. If that's so, he finally answered in a quiet voice,
it 's tough.
This exasperated Mr. Barlow. Tough, he repeated; you nincompoop,
it's actual ruin; the bank has been robbed by its presidentlootedye
'll never see a cent of it ag'in, and he started toward the house.
Hold on! exclaimed Checkers, grabbing him by the arm. Not a word
of this to Pert; it will only excite her, and not do any good.
But the old man shook him off and continued his way. Checkers picked
up a handy piece of scantling, and running up the steps, turned and
faced his father-in-law.
Now, see here, old man, he exclaimed, I 've taken as much of your
slack as I 'm going tosee? I tell you you can't come into this house;
and I give you fair warning, if you put your foot on one of those steps
I 'll smash you over the head; and he swung his weapon threateningly
to his shoulder. What I 've made or lost is mine, not yours, he
continued, and it don't 'cut any pie' with youyou'll never get a
cent of it. My wife is mine, not yours, and I 'll take care of her,
what ever happens. But she is n't well, and the doctor said any sudden
excitement might kill her. I 'll tell her gradually and quietly, and go
down to Little Rock this noon and see if there 's anything can be done.
If I 'd let you tell her you 'd break the news with an ax, and I tell
you I ain't going to have it; so just 'jar loose,' and 'pull your
There was something in Checkers' determined look which cowed the old
man, but he would n't go without a last word. Well, ye 'll both o' ye
end a couple of paupers and die in the poorhouse if this keeps up, he
said, with your fancy furniture and trips to Chicago. How much did you
have in that bank?
Just here Pert appeared in the doorway. Checkers' threatening
attitude and her father's question, which she overheard, surprised and
startled her. What is it? she cried, putting her arm around Checkers
and disarming him gently.
Nothing much, he began.
Nothing much, interrupted her father, except that the Little Rock
bank is busted, and all yer money's gone.
Checkers reached for his stick, but Pert restrained him. Never
mind, dearest, she said, it may not be as bad as you thinkthings
never are; and we 've got the house and the farm, and the bonds; and,
whatever happens, we 've got each other.
Yes; you 've got each other, said the old man cynically, and
that's all ye will have, if things goes this way. If yer goin' to
Little Rock, boy, he said sharply, consulting his old silver watch,
ye must hurry; ye ain't more 'n time to make it now.
Checkers saw that this was so, and going to his room, made a hasty
toilet. Good-bye, Pert, darling, he said, as he emerged, catching her
up and embracing her lovingly. I 'll be back soon; don't mind what he
says; and with a warning glance at Mr. Barlow, he hurried off down the
road toward the station.
As he stood upon the platform awaiting the train he felt a sudden
presentiment of evil, and with a superstition born of his early
experience in gambling, he half decided to turn back. I 've got a
feeling I ought n't to go, he muttered; but I guess it's because I 'm
afraid the old man will worry Pert. Still, she seemed to take it calm
enough, and I ought to get there and look after my stuff. He boarded
the train and went steaming off, but he could not get rid of his
The situation with Checkers at this time was about as follows: Of
the legacy left him, $20,000 had gone for the farm, or fruit ranch,
which he had given Pert. A thousand more had been spent in refitting
and furnishing the house. Most of the wedding expenses, which Checkers
had assumed, Part's presents, an elaborate wardrobe for himself, the
household expenses, and the trip to Chicago, had consumed about another
thousand. The balance, except ten government bonds and a few hundred
dollars in the bank at Clarksville, was on deposit at interest in this
bank which failed$4,800, for which he held a certificate of deposit.
It was very unfortunate, and the sense of his loss kept growing upon
him as time went on.
Meanwhile Mr. Barlow had taken occasion to lecture Pert on her
sinful extravagance. With pencil and paper he sat before her, and
showed her how within six short months she and Checkers had spent
one-tenth of their fortune, and how with this loss at the bank they
were poorer by a third of all they had ever possessed.
Figures won't lie, but liars will figure. He knew, but he did not
tell her, that of what was actual expense there would be little cause
for its repetition, and that most of the money expended was visible in
assets of one sort or another. He only made her feel perfectly
miserable, and wrought her up beyond the point of thinking or answering
When he had gone she tried for a while to busy herself about the
house, but she felt a growing lonesomenessa desire for sympathy and
companionshipand she decided to put on her hat and go down to her
It was now high noon, and a stifling hot day; but she braved the
heat of the blistering sun, and trudged along the dusty way to her
destination. When she reached the Martins' house she was dizzy and
faint from the heat and the blinding glare.
Judge Martin and Arthur came home to dinner, and both expressed the
greatest sympathy for her and Checkers in their sudden misfortune. At
the table Pert tried to eat for appearance's sake, but her efforts
ended in mere pretense. Sadie noticed it, and insisted that after
dinner she go to a room on the cool side of the house and take a nap.
To this Pert objected. I can never sleep during the day, she said;
the longer I lie, the wider awake I get. I am really all right, she
added, smiling bravely, only my head achesa very little.
We'll soon fix that, exclaimed Arthur. I 've been troubled with
headache and sleeplessness lately, myself, and I 've struck a remedy
that beats anything you ever saw; knocks a headache, and makes you
sleep like an infant. It's perfectly harmless, tooguaranteed. Excuse
me a minute; I'll get the box.
Pert felt too miserably weak and apathetic to further object to
Sadie's suggestion or Arthur's remedy; so, under her cousin's
ministering guidance, she retired to an upper room and prepared herself
with what comfort she could to rest, while Sadie opened the windows and
drew the shades.
Now, Pert, said Sadie, take one of these powders with a little
water, and I think you 'll feel better right away. I 'll leave the box
here on the table, near the bed, and if the first one does n 't cure
your headache and put you to sleep, take another. Now is there anything
more you want, dear? If there is, just call; I 'll leave the door the
least bit open. A sudden impulse prompted her, as she was going out,
to return and kiss Pert fondly, and though not an uncommon thing
between them, still both wondered for a moment afterward at the unusual
tenderness and feeling that each had unconsciously put into the
Left alone, Pert tried to compose her mind and go to sleep; but in
spite of herself her brain dwelt anxiously upon Checkers in Little
Rock, and upon what her father had said to her. Half an hour passed and
still her fancy teemed, as she restlessly tossed from side to side. She
felt herself growing nervous, and her ear upon the pillow told her that
her heart was beating rapidly.
At least my head feels a great deal better, she murmured, raising
herself upon her elbow; now if I could only get to sleep I believe I
should wake up quite myself again. Perhaps another powder will do it; I
'm afraid of them, though. Still, Arthur says they 're perfectly
harmlessI 'll take just one more. Checkers would n 't like it; he
told me never to take any medicine. She lifted her box from the table.
Dear old Checkers, she said to herself, with a sigh, preparing the
powder; how he loves me! His first thought was to keep the news from
me for fear I would worry. She took the draught and sank back upon the
pillowto be loved as he loves meOh, Checkers! mother!!
The afternoon wore on towards dusk. Sadie went about her household
duties, humming softly. Once she thought she heard Pert call, but as
the sound was not repeated, she fancied herself mistaken, and sat down
to read, happy in the thought that Pert must have fallen asleep. It
seemed to be blowing up cooler; the wind had shifted, and a few dark
clouds were rolling up from the west, with distant rumbling.
About five o'clock Mr. and Mrs. Barlow drove up in a buggy. Mrs.
Barlow got out, and Mr. Barlow drove on toward the store. Sadie saw
them and opened the door.
Is Pert here, Sadie? was the question which greeted her. We 've
been up to her house, and 'Mandy' said she had come down here.
Yes; she 's here, Auntie Barlow.
The poor little thing! My husband only told me the news this
afternoon; he 's been down street all morning, and I wanted to see her
and comfort her.
She wasn't feeling well, explained Sadie, and after dinner I sent
her up stairs to sleep. You 'll find her in the bedroom over the
parlor. She must be awake by this time.
Very well; I 'll go up. Mrs. Barlow ascended the stairs.
Sadie went to the window and looked out upon the gathering storm,
now vividly foretold by constant flashes of jagged lightning. Suddenly
she started, and stood transfixed, as though turned to ice with a
chilling horror. There had come to her ears from above an awful cry of
bitter anguish, quickly followed by a jarring, muffled sound, as of a
Auntie Barlow! she gasped, regaining her faculties with a
superhuman effort, and rushing blindly toward the stairs. Staggering up
with the aid of the banister, she reached the landing and entered the
room beyond. There, prostrate upon the floor, lay Mrs. Barlow in a
deathlike swoon. Upon the bed lay the lifeless body of poor little
Perther pure, white soul had flown.
There are some who faint at the thought of a thing, but are brave
when they meet it face to face. Such a one was Sadie. She realized the
situation at a glance; and though the awfulness of it benumbed her, she
did, dry-eyed and mechanically, what she knew must be done. Mrs. Barlow
she could not lift, but, she sprinkled her face with water, and put a
pillow under her head. Then with the ghost of a hope that Pert was but
in a stupor, she rushed down the stairs, and out into the street,
toward the doctor's, a few doors away. She met him just coming out of
his gate. Come, quick, she said; and as they hurried back she told
him in a few words what had happened.
Mrs. Barlow still lay in a state of semi-consciousness, moaning
pitifully at intervals. With all her soul in her eyes, Sadie watched
the doctor while he felt Pert's wrist and held a glass before her lips
for an indication of breathing. But his face gave never a sign of hope,
and his eyes, as he looked up, told her all. She is dead, he said
softly. Sadie burst into a fit of uncontrollable weeping. The doctor
lifted Mrs. Barlow carefully and deposited her upon a bed in another
The sound of voices was heard outsidethose of Arthur and Judge
Martin talking to Mr. Barlow, who had just driven up and met them as
they were coming in. Sadie went slowly down the stairs and opened the
door. The sight of her tear-stained face startled them all. What is
it? they exclaimed simultaneously.
Oh, Pert she began; but burst again into weeping and was unable
The doctor appeared just behind her, and told the three men what had
happened. Mr. Barlow, his face set hard, and a ghastly white under his
yellow skin, tottered up the stairs, the doctor following. Judge Martin
penned a telegram to Checkers, and dispatched Arthur with it at once.
Pert is very sick. Come home, it read, and it was signed as though
from Mr. Barlow.
Fortunately, Checkers, in Little Rock, had but a few moments to wait
for the outgoing train after receiving the message; but every moment of
the journey was torture; every delay at way-stations, agony. When,
after what seemed to him like years, they at last pulled into
Clarksville, he jumped from the moving train to the platform.
Judge Martin had set for himself the unwelcome task of meeting him
and breaking the sad news. But his resolution all but failed him when
Checkers, grasping both his hands, asked breathlessly, How is she,
sir? his face upturned with a pleading look, as though upon the answer
depended his very life and salvation.
She is very low, my poor boy, answered the Judge, the tears coming
into his eyes; but you must be brave
My God, my God! breathed Checkers, raising his hand to his eyes in
a dazed way, as though to ward off the blow of the Judge's words, the
import of which was all too plain. The Judge laid his hand upon
Checkers' shoulder and drew him toward him, protectingly. Come, he
said, gently; she is at my house.
Checkers started as though from a dream. At your house, he echoed,
and I have been standing here wasting precious time.
With a sudden bound he jumped to the ground and flew up the street
through the darkness, toward the Judge's house, not many yards away.
Arthur heard the sound of his footsteps, and silently opened the door.
Upstairs, Checkers, he whispered. Checkers hurried frantically up the
stairs, but paused at the threshold, ere he entered the room. There
before him, by the light of one dim, flickering candle, sat Sadie,
silently weeping. There upon the bed, cold and silent in death, lay the
mortal remains of his sweet girl-wife.
With an agonized cry he fell to his knees at the bedside, and taking
her cold little hand, he rubbed it and kissed it caressingly. Pert, my
darling, he moaned, come back to me! Don't leave me, Pert, my
precious onetell me you won't deartell me you hear me! But only
the sound of Sadie's convulsive sobbing answered him as she stumbled
from the room.
The long threatened storm now suddenly broke in all its fury. The
rain blew fiercely in at a window near him, and drenched him through
and through with the flying spray; but he heeded it not. Kneeling at
the bedside, his face above the little hand clasped in both of his, he
uttered mingled incoherent prayers to Pert to come back, and to God to
take him too.
Judge Martin noiselessly entered the room and closed the window.
Gently he put a hand under each of Checkers' arms, and raised him up.
Come, my boy, he said kindly, but firmly, you must not stay here in
this condition. Try to bear up. It's an awful blow that has come upon
us; but God, in his inscrutable wisdom, has thought it best to take
Again, with a sudden burst of anguish, as though his very heart had
broken within him, Checkers threw himself to his knees by the bedside,
and burying his face between his outstretched arms, poured out in
bitter, choking sobs, his utter hopeless, despairing misery. So
terrible a strain, however, brought about, in the end, its own results.
Beneficent nature intervened, and toward the morning hours Judge Martin
and Arthur gently lifted the grief-stricken boy from the kneeling
position in which he had fallen asleep, and put him comfortably upon a
bed in another room, without his awakening.
Details of this sort are harrowing at best, but nothing imaginable
could have been sadder than was the funeral two days later. The rain,
which had never intermitted, fell with dismal hopelessness. Mrs. Barlow
had not been able to leave her bed since the shock, and, never strong,
her life was now almost despaired of.
Checkers stood uncovered in the down-pouring rain, beside the open
grave, his clear-cut face as hard and white as marble. In spite of the
draggling wet and clinging mud, the country people were out in force;
but their gapes, their nudges and whispers, were as little to him as
the falling rain. He was dead to everything but the sense of his utter,
What made it all even sadder, if possible, was that a dreadful
breach had come between him and Sadie and Arthur.
On the morning following that first awful night, he had suddenly
confronted them with the box of powders crushed in his hand, and in his
eyes a tragic, questioning look which spoke, while he stood sternly
Oh, Checkers, cried Sadie, falling to her knees and holding out
her hands entreatingly, forgive uswe did n't knowwe didn't know!
Forgive us; please forgive us!
But his face only grew the harder. Forgive you, he said, as he
raised his clenched hand to heaven, invokingly; may God eternally
but he faltered, and his voice grew suddenly soft, forgive you, he
added, dropping his arm and lowering his voice contritely. But I, he
began again, in measured passionless wordsI can never forgive you. I
never want to see youeither of youagain. And from that hour he
never spoke to them, nor looked at them, any more than as though they
The funeral was over. He had come home. The rain had ceased. He sat
alone on his doorstep. The minister and some well-meaning but mistaken
friends, who had tried to comfort him, were gone. Over the western
hills the lowering sun broke through the heavy, moving clouds, painting
some a lurid tinge, and lining the heavier ones with silver. Checkers
noted it absently. Another lie nailed, he muttered, as the trite old
proverb occurred to him. My cloud is blacker and heavier than any of
thoseand silver lining? Humph! Well, silver 's demonetized! Over his
face there flitted the ghost of a smile. A smile, not at the sorry
jest, but at the thought that at this hour there should have come to
him so whimsical a fancy.
A number of days went by. He simply drifted, doing a few needful
duties mechanically; sometimes eating the food which Mandy prepared for
him, but oftener going without altogether; sitting, brooding, hours at
a time, gazing vacantly into space.
Mrs. Barlowhe learned one day from the doctor, who stopped a
moment in passinghad taken a slight turn for the better. Mr. Barlow,
the following morning appeared, as Checkers stood meditatively
surveying a fine old apple tree, from which a large limb, hanging heavy
with fruit, had been blown during the night.
Thar, snorted the old man as he came up; thar ye go, with yer
dog-durned laziness. If you 'd o' propped that limb weeks ago, as you
'd ought t' done, you 'd o' saved me a couple o' barrels o'
applesShannons, too. It's high time I was takin' a holt here myself.
Git the saw and the grafting-wax. Checkers obeyed, and stood
apathetically watching Mr. Barlow minister to the tree's necessity.
Now, said the old man, when at last he had finished, come and set
in the shade; I want to have a talk with ye; and he led the way around
to the doorstep. Both sat down. The old man drew a plug of Horseshoe
from his pocket, and cut off a liberal piece, which he chewed into a
comfortable consistency before beginning.
Now, boy, he said, luck's ben a-comin' mighty hard for you and me
these last few weeks, and I ain 't a-sayin' it's over yit for both o'
us. Checkers made no response.
The old man chewed ruminatingly, and spat at a devil's-horse which
sat alertly atop of a shrub near by. Y' see, he continued, times is
gittin' wuss and wuss; banks failin' everywhar, and nawthin' wuth a
cent on th' shillin', 'cept Gov'ment bonds. Corn aint wuth nawthin;
farmers is feedin' their wheat to th' hogs, and cotton ye could n't
give away. Again there was a silence, and again the devil's-horse
narrowly escaped a deluge.
By the way, whar 've ye got them Gov'ment bonds o' yourn? Checkers
came out of his reverie at the question.
Mr. Bradley 's got them put away in the safe for me at the store,
Mm-hmm! mused the old man; I was kinder wonderin' whether ye ever
give any on 'em away, like ye done th' place here; and he glanced at
Checkers cunningly out of the corner of his eye.
I never gave them away, said Checkers, drearily, because there
was no occasion for it. What we had we owned together and shared in
common, and it makes little difference whether it was in my name oror
any one else's.
Yes; but it does. It makes a difference in the eye o' the law.
Well, the law can leave it in its eye, or get it out, if it worries
The old man grinned sardonically on the side of his face away from
Checkers. He had never liked our little friend from the time when
Checkers had caused him to fall over a rocking-chair in the parlor the
night that he and Pert became engaged; and Checkers had fostered this
dislike by snubbing and belittling him whenever an opportunity
occurred. His entire make-up of sneaking, petty selfishness and greed
was abhorrent to one of Checkers' open, generous nature, and it was
only for Pert's sake that he had ever consented to have the old man
about or notice him at all.
Wal, said Mr. Barlow, musingly, that 's one thing I kin see
stickin' out; you ain't no kind o' hand to run a place like thisye
're too tarnal shif'less. Somebody 's got to look after things. Now, my
place down below 's all right for raisin' cotton and sich, but it 's
onhealthy, mighty. The doctor says it 's livin' down thar gives my wife
chills and ager. So, take it all 'round, and bein' 's ye 're fixed so
nice up here, but lonesome-like by yerself, I guess me an' wife 'll
close up the ole house an' move up here to live.
No; I 'low I guessed it right fust time, grinned the old man.
What 's the good in runnin' two houses when we kin all live together
in one jist ez well? Wife kin have the parlor bedroom all t' herself,
and you kin have the front or back room upstairs, either you likeI
ain't pertic'lar on that pint
Now, see here, interrupted Checkers, jumping up with an impatient
gesture, I 've listened to enough of this bloody nonsense. I 'll live
here by myself and run this place to suit myself. Now, when you go out,
close the gateI 'm tired of talking, and I want to be left alone.
But the old man never budged; and again the devil's-horse braved
an unrighteous fate with a stoicism worthy of a better cause.
Young feller, said Mr. Barlow, after several moments' cogitation,
you ain't never treated me with the perliteness and respect as is due
from a boy yer age t' his elders and betters. But I never harbored no
grudge, 'cause I knowed it was only a matter o' time when chickens like
them 'ud come home to roost.
Checkers had intended to move off and leave him sitting there alone;
but he stopped long enough to light a cigarette (a thing which the old
man abominated) and listen to this last remark.
[Illustration: MR. BARLOW]
Now it's roostin' time, continued Mr. Barlow with emphasis,
and onless ye come down off'n th' high horse ye 're ridin', ye 're
goin' ter hear suthin' drap that 'll kinder put a crimp in that pride
This was a new tone for him to take, and Checkers turned and looked
at him surprisedly.
The fact is, he went on, you ain't got no head for bizness, and
it 's providential things hez come round so 's I kin run this place and
make what they is to be made out'n it. He looked up as though he
expected to be interrogated.
What's your lay? asked Checkers.
Wal, the situation, ez near ez I kin figger it out, accordin' to
law, is this: I owns this ranch.
Checkers stood silent for a moment, and then laughed. You owns it?
he mimicked; nit.
This real estate, began Mr. Barlow dryly, as though repeating a
well-conned lesson, with the house upon it, was owned in fee by Persis
Barlow Campbell at the time o' her death. Said Persis Campbell died
intestate and without issue, and accordin' to th' laws o' the State of
Arkansas all real and personal property standin' in her name, or
belongin' to her at th' time o' her death, reverts to her next o' kin,
who 's her father. Now, what d 'ye say?
It's a lie, exclaimed Checkers, trembling with anger at the
thought of so outrageous a thing.
It 's th' gospel truth, said Mr. Barlow, trying in vain to hide
the look of satisfaction which sat upon his face. His words and the
tone of his voice carried conviction. This was the final blow; the
crowning evil. Checkers staggered under it. The house and the trees
floated before his eyes like a stifling vapor, but with a mighty effort
he gathered himself together.
If this is so, he began, his voice hoarse with passion, it's the
most ungodly outrage that everI 'm going down to ask Judge Martin if
that's the law. But let me tell you, he added, law or no law, you
shall never live in this house while I 'm alive and able to shoot a
gun. Do you understand?
The old man was silent.
Do you understand? repeated Checkers, more vehemently.
Pp-tttt, said the old man, and this time the devil's-horse fell
a victim to its too great temerity.
Sadly enough, it was all too true. Judge Martin, while forced to
admit the fact, cursed Mr. Barlow in no measured terms. The damned old
pachyderm! he exclaimed; suppose it is the letter of the law, by
every sense of equity, justice, and decency, the place belongs to you,
and if he tries to take it, damme, I 'll head a movement to tar and
Checkers went back in utter dejection.
Mandy had a tempting dinner ready, but he barely touched it. All the
afternoon he sat under the shade of the trees, thinking deeply. Mr.
Barlow he knew too well to believe that he could be dissuaded from any
purpose once formed, if he had the law on his side, and there was any
question of money in it. He was already miserable; but to be forced to
live with the old man, even with the mitigating circumstances of his
wifeto have him around all the timewould be wholly unbearable.
Then, too, stronger than this was the feeling that such an invasion
of the house would be a profanation. Every ornament, every chair, was
standing just as Pert had left it. No vandal hand should move or break
them, devoting them to secular usenot if he had power to help it; and
he believed he had.
He jumped up and hurried into the house. For two hours he worked in
eager haste, opening and closing drawers, and sorting articles into
different piles on the floor.
As night approached he entered the Kendall store, and related the
whole affair in a quiet tone to Mr. Bradley. That good old soul could
hardly contain himself for righteous indignation; but Checkers cut him
short by telling him he was in a hurry.
There 's two things I want to ask of you, Mr. Bradley, said
Checkers. I want that package of bonds you have for me in the safe,
and I want you to cash a check for two hundred dollarsit's just the
balance I have in the bank here. I 'm going away to-nightfor a while,
Mr. Bradley gave him the package, and luckily had enough money on
hand to cash his check. Thank you, said Checkers, for this and for
all your other kindness to me. Good-bye.
Good-bye, my son, and God bless you! and Mr. Bradley wrung
Checkers' hand, while the tears welled up in his kind old eyes and
trickled down his wrinkled cheeks.
Outside, Checkers met Tobe, lumbering along with a pair of mules and
a lumber wagon.
Tobe, you 're the very man I want! he exclaimed; come, turn
round, and drive up to my place. Tobe proceeded to obey without demur
Since last we saw him, Tobe had tried his luck with a fifth woman,
and lived in a two-room shanty on a clearing in the mountains.
Checkers walked ahead until they reached the house. Drive up as
near to the door as you can, Tobe, he said. I 'll be out in a
Mandy was preparing his supper in the kitchen. Mandy, said
Checkers, I 'm afraid I 've got bad news for you. I 'm going away
to-night, and I may not come back again; so, Mandy, I 'm afraid I won't
need you any more.
Mandy's honest black face took on a comically serious look. Her lip
hung pendulously, as she slowly shook her gaudily turbaned head. You
aint goin' sho' 'nough, is you, Marse Checkahs? she asked, for lack of
something better to say.
Yes, Mandy, I'm going to-night, he said, and before I go I want
to lock up this house. So after you 've washed the dishes and put
things to rights, you 'd better arrange to go home. And, Mandy, there
's a number of things here I 'll never need, that would make your cabin
very comfortable. Tobe is here with his wagon, and I 'll get him to
give you a lift with them to-night.
Thank you, Marse Checkahs, thank you, sah, was all the poor old
soul could say.
Two hours later Tobe drove out of the gate with a wagonful of
furniture, carpets, bedding, and kitchen utensils, en route for Mandy's
cabin. Mandy sat beside him, rocking back and forth, and crooning to
herself in a curious mixture of boundless grief and delirious joy.
Tobe returned and piled another wagon-load even higher. This was
destined for the cabin in the mountains. Tobe's delight was
indescribable, and his efforts to express his thanks were quite as
futile as had been those of Mandy. Checkers had allowed the two to take
every useful article they chose from all save the parlor and Pert's
room. Those rooms remained inviolate.
I will write to Judge Martin to-night, Tobe, said Checkers,
telling him what I have done for you and Mandy, in case any one should
question how you came by all this plunder. This furniture belongs to
me, he muttered to himself, whatever the law may do with the house
and ground, for I bought it and paid for it myself, and never gave it
Now, Tobe, one thing more, here 's my trunk; put it on your wagon
and drop it off at the station on your way through town. That's it.
Good-bye, old fellow; my regards to the madamI hope she 'll be
pleased with my wedding-gift.
Tobe buried Checker's hand in his great horny palm. Mr. Checkers,
he said, and his voice grew husky, ye 're God's own kind; may He have
ye in His keepin'! and he climbed upon his wagon, and drove slowly out
into the night.
Checkers was alone. He went slowly into the house. A clock upon the
mantel was chiming ten. There was still two hours before train time. He
sat down and wrote a long letter to Judge Martin, sealed and stamped
it, and put it in his pocket. His hat and light overcoat lay upon a
chair beside him. He arose and put them on. His satchel, cane, and
umbrella he then carefully laid on the stoop outside, and stood a while
listening in the darkness. Apparently satisfied, he returned, and,
taking one last, lingering look around, put out the lights.
For perhaps ten minutes he was busy at something under the stairway.
He then silently emerged and locked the door.
The people of Clarksville and that vicinity are given to retiring
early. Had they been abroad, or even awake, as late as eleven o'clock
that night, they might have seen a startling spectacle in the
distancethat of a mass of ruthless, hungry flames devouring a little
white dwelling; leaping up in their fierce ecstacy to the heavens, and
painting the sky all about a lurid, smoky crimson.
Checkers sat perched upon the fence some distance off. One heel was
caught upon the first rail below him. His elbow rested upon his knee,
and his upturned palm supported his chin.
The poor little house writhed helpless in the withering grasp of the
remorseless flames. This, then, was the final ending, he
thoughtashes to ashes, literally. This was the awakening from his
short dream of bliss. Here he had lived six happy months; then
ill-fortune singled him out for a plaything. He laughed a bitter,
The night was perfectly still and the myriad sparks from the flames
rose straight to heaven. There 's one good thing about it all, he
mused, and that is that I kept neglecting to insure the house and
furniture when I went to Little Rock. That being the case, it 's a
wonder I did n't burn out before this. I guess it was coming. I
probably got a lead of a couple of days on my luck, and beat it out a
length or two.
He looked at his watch. He had still half an hour before train time.
The fire was burning lower. Suddenly the whole standing structure fell
in with a muffled crash. Again the flames rose high and fierce; but
they rapidly died down, and soon there remained of the fair white
cottage but a blackened, smouldering ruin.
Checkers climbed down and went over near by. Nothing of value was
left. The very foundations were cracked and fallen in; but the sounds
of voices on the road now warned him that he must be going.
He turned for an instant in the direction of the Barlow house, and
bowed low. Now, you thieving old highbinder, he said, take the
change; and, diving into a grove of trees he took a roundabout way
through the fields to avoid the gathering crows which, finally aroused,
now flocked to the scene of the disaster. Breathless, he arrived on the
nick of time. His trunk was thrown aboard the train; he entered the
sleeper and was whisked away toward Little Rock.
He went out again and stood upon the platform until the last vestige
of Clarksville was passed. He then found a seat in the smoking-room and
smoked until almost morning.
* * * * *
Chicago! Checkers stood once more upon his native heath. He had
come directly from Little Rock, had rented a modest room, and had taken
up again the thread of a drifting, devil-may-care existence. Gradually,
the constant, active, throbbing pain of his bereavement wore away, and
in its stead there came a sullen, morbid sense of the uselessness of
all things. He had neither friends nor acquaintances; even Murray
Jameson was out of town. He haunted the Fair grounds in the daytime and
the theatres at night.
Excitement and Forgetfulnessthis might have been his watchword.
I feel that if I could have met him at this time instead of almost a
year later as I did, I might have brought an active pressure to bear
upon him, and saved to him the good that the refining influence of his
wife and his Clarksville connections had done him. But, alas! in this
busy world there is no such thing as standing still. We either advance
or retrograde. The hill is steep to climb, but going down is easy.
Checkers went down; gradually, it is true, but still he went down.
By degrees he met his fellow-roomers in the housegood fellows, all
of them, in their way, but worthless. Checkers craved companionship.
Often he sat in a poker game all night with them, in some one of their
rooms, or did the Midway with them, ever mocking the spirit which
could be moved to such a thing, but sometimes finding in it a
temporary respite from the bitter, haunting memories of the past.
It would be difficult to follow, and uninteresting to read, the
devious windings of Checkers' way during the next few months. Hardened,
despondent, and utterly careless; without the restraining influence of
worthy friends or home ties to soften and hold him; with money, but no
occupation; time, but nothing to do with itlittle wonder is it that,
after the great White City finally closed its gates, shutting him off
from his one simple pleasure, he gradually drifted back to the stirring
scenes of his youththe races and the betting-ring.
The history of every one of the hundreds of thousands of men who
have played the races may be told in three short words: They went
brokesooner or later. Generally sooner than later; but they went
So it was with Checkers. Good information, careful bettingplaying
horses for place when he thought they could win; sometimes not risking
a cent all day; watching the owners, standing in with the jockeysall
this put him nicely ahead for a while, and staved off the evil day for
long. But the eternal law of average will not down, and the percentage
in the betting-ring is absurdly against the bettor. A streak of hard
luck; a slaughter of the favorites; a plunge; throwing good money after
bad; doubling up once or twice; a final coup. Pouf! One afternoon
Checkers found himself penniless.
That night he pawned his watch for all it would bring. This put him
in funds again, but gave him pause. He decided to stop gambling and go
to work. But the morning paper contained a tempting list of entries. It
was Saturday, and a short day.
He went to the track as usual, and at the end of the third race was
broke. Then he met Murray Jameson. Both were surprised. Checkers told
him his story, and borrowed ten dollars. Murray lost fifty more by
playing Checkers' tips, against his own better judgment. Murray was
soreCheckers apologetic. This was his first experience as a tout.
After that he picked up a precarious living, selling whatever articles
of value he possessed, one after another, until he had left but the
diamond star he had given Pert as a wedding gift, and a scanty
When necessity caused him to part with the star he forswore the
races, and for two full weeks conscientiously sought for legitimate
employment. But Chicago was filled with idle hands, which the closing
of the Fair months before had left there stranded. Everything was
overcrowded. Business was dead, and his search was unavailing. Then he
took up touting as a profession. He rotated between the various
merry-go-rounds, which were open all seasons of the year. The tout's
stock devicesthe bank-roll game, the phoney ticket, the jockey's
cousinhe worked with better success than most; but, as a rule, his
method was simple. He sought the acquaintance of such as he thought
might be persuaded, and by showing confidence where they were
doubtful, knowledge where their own was lacking, he usually managed to
get some four or five men to make bets during the day. Those who won
were grateful, and generally paid him well for his information. The
losers got an explanation of how it was and a sure thing for the
One thing, however, must be said for Checkers. He never touted a
horse unless he thought it had a best chance of winning. That is, if
there were five horses in a race, and Checkers had five men on his
string, he never descended to the common practice of getting each one
of the five to bet on a different horse, and thus land a sure winner.
All five were certain to have the same chance, and to stand or fall
upon Checkers' judgment.
Some weeks later it was that I first met him, at Washington Park,
Derby Day. He told me afterward that the minute he saw me he knew me
for a mark and tried to get next.
Yet, for all, Checkers was not innately bad. He was weak, I 'll
admit, and cruelly mistaken; but he had a simple, lovable nature, and a
natural longing for higher things. A case in point: I learned by chance
that he never missed a Sunday at church since the death of his wife. He
had no predilection, and I espied him one day in my own sanctuary. When
questioned about it he told me these facts, and confessed to the
pleasure he found in going.
I don't know, he said; I always enjoy it. It's quiet and cool;
everybody 's well dressed, and I like to sit there, close my eyes,
think over my troubles, and listen to the music. And then, againhere
his voice grew softI 've a feeling that it pleases Pert to know that
I 'm there. She liked me to go to church, and I think she knows it now
when I go; do n't you? I would n't take a great deal of money and think
that she did n't know.
What Pert must have thought of his actions weekdays was perhaps a
fair question; but it was one that I had the heart not to ask. And so
it went on; my efforts to get him a position and reform him ending in
nothing, as I have previously related.
After the big meeting closed Checkers reached his lowest ebb. It was
during these days that he made my office a loafing place. I suppose
that for six weeks I practically supported him, lending him two or
three dollars at a time, to square his room rent, get out his
overcoat, pay a doctor's bill, play a good thing, and heaven knows
what noteach time assuring him that I positively would not succumb
again, but regularly doing so. Still, I never begrudged it. A couple of
hours with him was worth a few dollars at any time. I divided the
expense between my amusement and charity accounts; and, in truth, when
with him I never could tell whether pleasure or compassion had the
upper hand with me. I have tried to set down with some succinctness the
major part of his experiences as I heard them; but I fear they have
greatly lost, in the telling, that delicious flavor of originality
which Checkers' person, voice, and manner gave to them as I heard them
piecemeal. Many of his sayings, when repeated afterward by Murray or
me, scarcely caused a smile, while coming from him they had seemed to
us excruciatingly funny. But I believe the secret was thishe never
seemed to say anything with the primary idea of being funny. He always
looked up with genuine surprise when his listeners laughed, and only
joined them, when the mirth was infectious, by deepening a little the
cynical curves at either corner of his expressive mouth.
For two weeks I missed him. On a morning of the third he came in
with a look of happiness on his face. I 've got a job, he said,
simply. I wrung his hand.
Where? I asked.
With Mr. Richmond.
Richmond was one of my friends. He was a partner in a wholesale
paper-house. As a boy Checkers had worked in a paper-house and knew the
stock. As a consequence he had been after Richmond, whom he had met
through me, to give him a position. Richmond liked him, and, when an
opportunity offered, he sent for him and put him to work in the stock.
At the end of two weeks he determined to give Checkers a chance upon
the road. So Checkers was going out that night, and had come to say
good-bye. I was delighted, you may be sure. I gave him good advice, and
bade him Godspeed. A few days later I received this characteristic
letter, dated from some little town in Kansas:
DEAR MR. PRESTON:
I 'm here doing a stage-coach businessstraining the leaders of my
legs, hustlin'. If trade keeps up I 'll have coin to melt when I get
home, and you bet I 'll melt it. The food out here would poison a dog.
I ain't got the health to go against it. I 've been sick ever since I
left Chicago, anyhow, on account of Murray Jameson. I met him at the
depot the night I left. He had a box of cigars he said a friend of his
brought him from Mexico. He gave me a handful. I got on the train, and
got busy with oneI like to croaked. Strong!!! Oh, noit was n't
strong! Drop one of them in a can of dynamite and it's ten to one it
would 'do' the can. Start a 'Mexican' and a piece of Limburger in a
short dash, it's a hundred to one you 'd need a searchlight to find the
Limburger. I 've switched to cigarettes.
I got in here at six to-night, and I 'm going to get away at one.
After supper (Supper! I 'll tell you about that later!) I went over to
the only shanty in the place that looked like a store, and opened the
door. There were a lot of 'Jaspers' sitting around the stove, chewing
tobacco and swapping lies. I asked the guy that got up when I came in
where he kept his stock (he had nothing in sight). He lighted a
lantern, walked me a quarter of a mile, and showed me four
'mooley-cows'say, I was sore. But I 'm square with himI gave him a
couple of 'Mexicans.'
That supper! Well, say, it was a 'peach.' (I had an egg this
morning and it was a 'bird.') I sat down to the table with a St. Louis
shoe-man. We turned the things down one by one as they came in. A few
soda-crackers on the table saved our lives. We tried the griddle-cakes.
They were pieces of scorched, greasy dough, as big as pie-plates. There
were a couple of 'Rubes' at the other end of the table; a short,
little, fat one, and a long, lean, thin one. We shoved the cakes on
down their way. They ate their own and ours, and ordered more. I bet
the shoe-man five on the fat one. We ordered more ourselves and pushed
them along. The thin man finally began to weaken, but the fat one got
stronger every minute. My friend said I was 'pullin',' and wanted to
draw the bet; but I made him 'give up.'
Just as we were going, the waitress came up with a grouch on, stuck
out her chin, and says, 'Pie?'
'Is it compulsory?' says the shoe-man.
'Naw; it's mince.'
'Well, that lets us out,' he says, and we skipped.
I got interrupted here. The boys wanted me to play 'high-five'
until train-time; I picked up a little 'perfumery money,' and came up
here to Kansas City to spend Saturday night and Sunday.
There 's a lot of 'rummies' I used to know hanging around here,
'broke.' They 've all 'got their hand out.' One of them made me a talk
last night for enough to get to St. Louis onsaid he 'must get there.'
'Well,' I says, 'try the trucks; how are you on swinging under?'
'Yes,' he says, 'you're in luck, and makin' a swell front, with
your noisy duds and plenty of money, but it's a wonder you would n't
'let your blood gush' a little when you see an old friend of yours in
That was a new one on me, and I 'loosened.' Well, perhaps he 'll do
me a good turn some time.
Now, I must close. I see dinner's ready. There's a big, fat guy has
been beating me out in a race for a seat I want in the dining-room. I
'll 'put it over him a neck' to-day for the chair. The cross-eyed fairy
that waits on that table can dig up cream while the rest of the
waitresses are looking around to see if there 's any skimmed milk in
Yours till deathand as long after as they need me at the morgue.
Occasionally I met Richmond and asked him how Checkers was doing.
Not badly, was the usual answer. He is handicapped, though,
explained Richmond one day, by not thoroughly knowing our goods and
those of other houses. After this trip I shall put him to work in the
store again for a while.
But this never occurred. Either by mistake or through a serious
error in judgment, Checkers sold an unusually large bill at an absurdly
low figure. This brought a sharp reproof from the house, which he
answered cavalierly. His recall and prompt dismissal followed.
A month elapsed before I saw him. He had been trying to get another
position before coming to me, for his pride was lowered. One morning he
came in looking careworn and threadbare. I welcomed him cordially, as
usual. But though neither of us referred to his recent misfortune, it
caused an evident embarrassment in his manner. After a few moments'
desultory conversation he drew a letter from his pocket. Read that,
he said simply, handing it to me. With difficulty I read what seemed to
be a letter from Mr. Barlow, his father-in-law. In effect it set forth
that he was now alone. Mrs. Barlow was dead, and her last dying request
had been that he find Checkers and restore to him his own. This he had
solemnly promised to do. He complained that he was poorly himself,
and expected to be carried off at any time, with a misery in his
chest. And he went on to say that if Checkers had not married again
(perish the thought!), and would come back and live with him and take
care of him, he would make him his heir to the old place as well, and
to what little else he had to leave. He did n't bear no grudge for
the loss of the house, as things had turned outhe liked a lad of
sperrit. However, whether he found Checkers or not, the preacher and
them whited sepulchers at the church should never finger a cent of
what he left. There followed a tirade which seemed to show that the
church people had made it hot for the old man after Checkers'
departure, and doubtless more so after the death of Mrs. Barlow.
What do you think? asked Checkers as I finished.
Think! I think it's the best of good fortune.
Yes; with a horrible string tied to it. Of course I want my place
back; but I 'd rather be hung than go back to Clarksville.
Stuff and nonsense! I exclaimed.
Yes; everything is; what is n't 'stuff' is nonsense. But, say, the
funniest thing of all is that he seems to think I burnt up the house.
How do you suppose he got such a notion? This with a laughable
expression of innocence.
Isn't it possible, Checkers, I said, that this letter is a ruse
to get you down there and have you arrested for arson?
He thought a moment. No, he replied; I hardly think so. No judge
or jury down there would convict me, anyhow, when they heard the
factsstill, it's about his size. If I had a little money I would n't
need to be in a hurry. There 's some friends of mine got a bottled-up
'good thing' they 're going to 'turn loose' next week, that's a
'mortal''Bessie Bisland'she 'll back in. If I had about fifty I 'd
win a lot of money, quit gamblin', and wait till the old man croaked.
Still, that might be risky; these old guys 'take notice' again
scand'lous quick. While I was foolin' around some Arkansas fairy might
get in and nail down my little job.
Yes, I laughed; upon all accounts, the quicker you get there the
Checkers closed one eye and fixed the other on a spot in the
ceiling. I wonder, he murmured, how the walking is between here and
Checkers, I said, are you broke again?
If you can find the price of a car ride on me, I 'll give it to
youand I 'll help you hunt.
Checkers, your acquaintance has been expensive for me, I said
soberly. I suppose now you want me to give you the money to take you
Mr. Preston! he exclaimed, with an earnest expression, I don't
want you to give me anything. All the money I 've had
from you has been borrowed. I 've kept a strict tab on it, and I
intend to repay it. My farm down there is worth $20,000; when I get
that back I 'll be 'in the heart of town.' But I don't want to go back
looking like a 'hobo,' and I 've got to have some money 'to make a
front with.' I could write the old man that I 'm flat, and get him to
send me some money easy enough. But that would give him the upper hand
of me, and queer me on the start. If I drop in unexpectedly, looking as
though I had money to throw to the birds, he 's likely to 'unbelt'
right away, and I 'll send you your stuff the minute I get it.
Well, the upshot of it all was that I advanced to Checkers what he
neededwithin reason. He consumed nearly a week in making his
preparations; but in the mean time I suggested that he advise Mr.
Barlow and Judge Martin of his coming. When the day finally arrived he
insisted that I dine with him before his departure; but I had an
engagement, and was forced to refuse. We compromised, however, on a
modest luncheon, during which I advised him earnestly and well.
Now, Checkers, I said, before bidding him farewell, you are about
to begin a new life; be a man, settle down, and make some good
I have, he said. It'll take me a year to live down those I have
made already. Just think of Bessie Bisland running this afternoon and
me with not a nickel on her.
And, Checkers, I said, you must school yourself to endure what
may come, however unpleasant. Treat the old man wellit won't be for
long; and remember what it means to you in the future. When you get
your property, whether soon or late, keep it, or rent it, and live
within your income.
You bet I will, he replied, and I believe I 'll hire three or
four little sleuths to go round with me all the time, and see that
nobody 'does' me.
Have Judge Martin advise you, I said. He doubtless knows the law;
and write to me when you are settledI shall be interested. I clasped
his hand warmly in one of mine, and rested my other upon his shoulder.
And now good-bye, my boy, I said; you have had a long run of hard
luck, and I am glad that fortune is about to smile upon you again. Quit
gambling; watch your opportunities and make the best of them as they
Good-bye, Mr. Preston. What you say is no 'song without words,' and
I 'll remember it. I have had hard luck, and, no matter what comes, I
can never be as happy as I 've been in the past. But we all have our
troubles, and I 'll try to make the best of things, like the old crone
who had only two teeth, but she said 'Thank God, they hit!' Good-bye.
Again we shook hands and parted silently, taking opposite
* * * * *
Ten days have passed, and I have not heard from Checkersit is
doubtless still a little early.
The morning after we parted I chanced to see in the paper that
Bessie Bisland also ran. It is quite as well, therefore, that
Checkers did not defer his going, but went that night.