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The Stray Lamb


Thorne Smith



"WHY must I be carried into the city?" Mr. Lamb complained, as his daughter spread disorder among the traffic in upper New York. "I just came from that wallow of vice and corruption."

"I'm going to spend money, I told you," his daughter patiently explained, "and I want you to watch how I do it. You see, major, at any moment now I might get married or something very closely related to getting married. From now on I've got to be always on the alert."

"There's an infinity of space between getting married and something very closely related to getting married," Mr. Lamb mildly observed. "Then of course there remains the relatively unimportant question of the morality of the thing."

"There you have me," replied Hebe. "I've always been backward on morals, but I do know how to dress appropriately for any given occasion, and that's more than half the battle."

"You may be right," her father agreed. " My own morals are undergoing a severe strain at present. They seem to be almost undermined, although thus far I am still intact. As a seagull I slept with a lady, but not very comfortably nor very long. I made an impression at that. It is a question in my mind if that lady ever sleeps again. She will certainly never sleep with a seagull."

Hebe parked the car in a side street and, taking her father's arm, directed his steps to a magnificent shop just off Fifth Avenue.

"This place is obviously not designed to improve one's morals," Mr. Lamb remarked as he looked about him. "I can hardly understand how a woman with such remarkable contraptions on underneath can refrain from discarding her outer garments and displaying herself demi-nude."

"All women cherish or have cherished that pious desire," Hebe replied wisely. "Your mind operates too crudely to understand the finer feelings of women. Anyway, here comes Madam."

Madam having been introduced to Hebe's father and the young lady's wishes having been made known in a low voice, the couple were ushered into a private room and offered ridiculously inadequate gilt chairs.

"If you weren't my daughter," said Mr. Lamb, "I'd be leaving at just this point. What goes on here? The presence of that sofa over there is not reassuring. Am I expected to ring for drinks?"

"I wouldn't have a mind like yours for the world," his daughter told him. "It's so utterly evil—so bad."

"Do you mean to sit there and tell me—," Mr. Lamb began, but he never finished the sentence.

The door opened and a girl clad in what Lamb considered next to nothing came slithering and swaying into the room. The girl was Sandra ... impersonal, aloof, and unsmiling. Her eyes glittered dangerously, Mr. Lamb thought, when they occasionally met his.

"Get an eyeful, you old roue," she gritted as she swept close to his chair.

Mr. Lamb started back.

"Hebe," he said, " I think I'd better be going. My morals as I have already told you are almost under-mined."

"Is it not chic?" Madam demanded. "Is it not ravissement?"

While Hebe was agreeing with Madam that the garment was both chic and ravissement Sandra once more glided past Mr. Lamb.

"Nasty," she muttered. "Nasty old man."

Mr. Lamb leaned close to his daughter and actually brought himself to whisper, so great was his indignation.

"She just called me a nasty old man," he told her. "You staged this party—not I."

Hebe patted her father's arm with a soothing little hand.

"Don't mind her," she replied in a low voice. "You are nasty, but you're not so very old."

"Well, I'll be damned," breathed Mr. Lamb, and fastened his eyes on the exact centre of the rug.

"What do you think, Mr. Lamb?" asked Madam, fearing that the source of revenue might be growing bored. "Would not your daughter wear well in that?

"What?" said Mr. Lamb with a slight start. "Wear well? Oh yes, of course. She'd wear splendidly if she didn't wear out altogether."

"Your father is droll," laughed Madam. "Come, I have something to show—," and taking Hebe by the arm, she led the girl from the room.

"Un moment, monsieur," drifted back to him through the closing door.

Then things began to happen. When the click of the latch assured Sandra that she was alone in the room with Mr. Lamb, she took instant advantage of their privacy. With one spring she was on his lap, her arms twined tightly round his head. To Mr. Lamb it seemed that Sandra's unexpected demonstration was more in the nature of an assault than an expression of tender emotions. Suppose he should be discovered in this compromising position? Lamb grew frantic.

"Get up," he mouthed, his vowels being muffled by a quantity of ineffectual lace. "Get up at once—this instant!"

Then Madam and Hebe made their appearance. Madam uttered a shocked cry and covered her eyes, but Hebe studied the situation with her usual detached interest.

Sandra wriggled off the knees and took refuge behind Madam.

"It was a veritable assault, Madam," she chattered with every appearance of terror. "The moment you left the room that nasty old man on the chair looked at me and said, "I'm going to get you, and with that I was seized—you saw."

She embellished this lying statement with a volley of extremely convincing sobs and shudders. Madam put her arms round the girl and did her best to quiet her maidenly alarm.

"Let me explain," Lamb began, but Hebe interrupted.

"Madam," said she, "I think I'll take several sets of that small thing she's wearing."

Madam was delighted. She even regarded Mr. Lamb with sympathetic eyes.

Mr. Lamb walked out of the shop and allowed Hebe to guide his faltering steps at random.

Hebe knew of a place and thither she led her father. For the remainder of the afternoon she dutifully fed him highballs until his belief in the ultimate wisdom of God was partially restored. He was even able to smile ruefully over the memory of Sandra's assault.

At a late hour that night he was still drinking highballs and running up a commendable cheque at a night club for the benefit of Sandra, his daughter and Melville Long. Mr. Lamb had danced with more diligence than grace. Now, however, he was past dancing. In fact, if the truth must be known, Mr. Lamb was rapidly disappearing, the top of his head being level with the tablecloth, and in a few minutes even the little of him with which he saw fit to grace the table was withdrawn from public view.

Observing the reluctance of her father to remain in an erect position, Hebe called the waiter and asked for the cheque. Presently he returned with a beaming face in anticipation of a heavy tip, but as he was on the point of proffering the final reckoning he suddenly became transfixed in his tracks, his eyes riveted themselves on the floor, and the beam slowly melted from his face, giving place to an expression decidedly unnerving to behold. The party looked down and saw what the waiter saw—a long, large, tawny tail protruding from under the table. The waiter felt sure that even to look at such a thing was not included in his salary. He tiptoed away carrying the cheque with him. Let more intrepid spirits collect it if they could. His duty lay with his family.

The two girls looked at the one remaining man, who himself was not so crisp.

"What's on the other end of it?" asked Sandra. Hebe bent over and thoughtfully contemplated the tail.

"Search me," she said at last, "I don't rightly remember ever having had any dealings with a tail like that before."

"Perhaps it's an altogether new and better animal," Mr. Long suggested enterprisingly.

He pulled a flask from his hip pocket and passed it to the ladies. The situation called for a drink.

"That," said Hebe, sweeping the back of her hand across her mouth, "endears you to me for life."

At this moment Mr. Lamb decided to relieve the tension of the situation. A long, sleek head with a pointed snout appeared above the table, slid onto the rumpled cloth and looked moistly at the three young people. In the due course of time the head was followed by a body, which slumped back awkwardly in its chair.

"I don't want to be hasty," said Hebe, "but roughly speaking, I think my father and our host leans toward kangaroo. What will we use for money now that he has gone?"

Once more Mr. Long was enterprising.

"Mightn't he have a pouch?" he asked. "I seem to remember something about kangaroos and pouches."

The kangaroo laughed foolishly and beat on the table with his short but powerful forelegs. Hebe cast her lover a smile of infinite commiseration.

"For one I'd prefer not to look for it," she remarked. "You see, darling, he's not that sort of a kangaroo."

"I beg your pardon," said Mr. Long. "It was merely a suggestion."

"Rather an indelicate one," observed the girl.

For some minutes Sandra had been looking with growing disgust at the obviously inebriated kangaroo, who had been fatuously trying to hold her hand.

"Now, I ask you," she demanded. "What are we going to do with that? You just can't leave a kangaroo to shift for himself in a city like this."

"He'd be safe as far as women are concerned," observed Melville Long, surpassing himself in optimism.

The kangaroo received this remark with a giggle of appreciation.

"I don't know," said Hebe. "He's not such a bad-looking kangaroo."

"He's a terrible-looking kangaroo," declared Sandra. "Look at him there, all slouched over. Why can't he sit up properly?"

Mr. Lamb favoured her with a scowl.

It seems unfortunate that at this stage of the conversation a gentleman in executing an ambitious dance step should have descended heavily on Mr. Lamb's tail. It seems doubly unfortunate that Mr. Lamb had not sufficient restraint to withhold the vicious uppercut he immediately delivered upon the point of that gentleman's chin. From that time on everything seemed increasingly unfortunate.

The dancer retaliated with a left hook to Mr. Lamb's jaw, and Sandra, as if guided by an infallible sense of balance, sprang upon the man's partner and partially disrobed her.

"Touch a hair of his head," she shouted, "and I'll strip you clean."

Several ladies rushed to the assistance of the assaulted woman, and this quite naturally brought Hebe into the fray. One thing led to another, and presently Melville Long found himself engaged in biting the ear of a perfect stranger while kicking another diligently in the stomach. On all sides it was an earnest, hard-breathing little engagement that did not lose one whit of interest because of the fact that only a few of its participants had the vaguest idea of what it was all about.

In the meantime the kangaroo, highly excited by all that was going on, was leaping from table to table and impartially smiting both friend and foe whenever the occasion offered.

The room was not quiet nor the scene restful. Several men, as if preferring not to trust the evidence of their eyes, were sitting motionless at their tables, their heads buried in their arms. When Mr. Lamb's head managed to get itself through a spare drum, retaining the frame round his neck, it seemed high time to think about going home.

Hebe, Sandra, and a shockingly tattered Mr. Long cut a path through the whirling mass and joined the kangaroo at the door.

"Cut and run!" cried Sandra. "The car's round the corner."

The four of them burst so compactly from the place that two arriving policemen were heavily borne to the pavement. There they sat and blew their whistles, then lurched in the direction of the flying wedge. They were trailed by a waiter wildly waving a cheque.

"Off again," thought Lamb to himself, as he leaped along beside Sandra. "My universe of late seems to be in a disconcertingly unsettled condition."

As they swarmed into the automobile a motor cycle policeman came into view and calmly took the number of the car, which by this time was gathering speed, then with a satisfied grin, settled himself down on his machine to show these people exactly where they got off.

At Columbus Circle another officer tried to hold them up when they were forced to slow down in traffic, but a hairy arm shooting out unexpectedly from the rear seat of the car, landed him in the gutter.

"What sort of a mob is that?" he wondered, vividly recalling the strange-looking arm that had so bewilderingly altered his plans.

Melville Long was at the wheel, and Hebe was sitting beside him. On the back seat Sandra was clinging to the kangaroo and laughing softly at the festive appearance he made with the rim of the drum round his neck.

When they were well out of the city the motor-cycle policeman, who had not forgotten them for a moment, telephoned ahead to the next fair-sized town and gave full particulars and an adequate description of the merry little party. They were all laughing now, save Mr. Lamb, who showed a strong inclination to doze off on Sandra's shoulder. Melville Long's merriment was the greater because of the skilful manner in which he believed he had eluded pursuit.

The flight came to an end at the railroad tracks of the next town. The bars were down, and it was here that the reception committee waited.

"Damn," said Melville Long under his breath asseveral dark figures emerged from the shadows and manifested their presence in other unpleasant ways.

"You big stiffs," said Hebe. "Why didn't you call out the army?"

"That's all they are," agreed Sandra unhesitatingly. "They're just great, big, liver-footed stiffs—morons!"

"That talk ain't going to help you a bit," one of the officers warned the ladies.

"Aw, shut up," said Mr. Long. "We're not asking you for a lesson in polite conversation."

The officer was about to attend to the young man for this remark, when a terrible, grinning face was suddenly thrust into his. He started back with a cry and had to be supported by two of his brother officers. But this was Mr. Lamb's last effort that night. He had no recollection of being driven to a station-house and half carried to a cell in which he was locked up in company with his prospective son-in-law. The two girls, still busily insulting every uniform in sight, were given a barred apartment of their own, where they sang and jeered themselves to sleep.

When Judge Gibson arose next morning he made up his mind to give all prisoners brought before him whom he could not sentence to painful death, at least a life term at revolting labour. In this cheerful frame of mind he repaired to his court and proceeded to spread dread and dismay among the ranks of evil-doers. When Sandra, Hebe and Melville Long were lined up against the rail he kept them waiting a considerable time before he looked up from a paper he had been studying with growing interest. When he did look up his expression was almost happy. Here was something he could get thoroughly enraged about. Convulsing his face into a small bunch he slowly considered in turn each youthful face looking bravely up into his.

"Good morning," he said in a suspiciously pleasant voice. "Can you think of anything you haven't done?"

"Rape," replied Sandra promptly.

"Arson and pillage," added Hebe.

"Treason," was the best that Long could achieve.

The judge was a little taken aback by the nature of the snappy replies. Evidently these young people were not so soft as they looked. He would have to deal with them astutely.

"Well, I have you down here for about everything else," he continued, referring to the paper. "I'll select a few charges at random just to give you an approximate idea of how very long you are going to be with us."

He cleared his throat efficiently and carefully adjusted his glasses.

"A mention is made here of driving while under the influence of spirituous liquor, of demolishing a restaurant and refusing to pay the cheque, of assaulting, maiming, and wounding upwards of half a hundred innocent persons, of speeding and violating every known traffic regulation in the most flagrant and callous manner, of having in your company and possession a dangerous wild beast, of attacking several officers of the law, and of being in possession of a flask of whisky. Your evening seems to have been industriously spent in disturbing the world at large."

"I'll bet you love to read the weather reports that say 'Rain and increasing cold,'" observed Sandra with her most disarming smile.

The judge was not annoyed. He looked at the girl a long time as if trying to fix her image forever in his memory.

"Where you are going," he told her distinctly, "you won't have to worry about the weather. It will be all overcast to you."

In spite of herself Sandra shuddered at this unemotional announcement.

"Your honour," put in one of the policemen. "They also used bad language and called us a bunch of big stiffs."

The judge looked at the policeman with a shocked expression, then turned his eyes to the prisoners. "How did you find that out?" he asked.

"You can see for yourself, your honour," replied Hebe.

"I know," agreed the judge, "but we've been trying to hush it up. Don't go giving us away every time you get run in."

The judge paused and once more considered the document.

"It refers here," he continued, with a new note of interest in his voice, "to a dangerous wild beast. Where is this wild beast at present, Donovan?"

"He's locked up," replied that worthy.

"Did you capture it last night?" asked the judge.

The four of us, your honour," said Donovan modestly. "Officers O'Boyle, Burk—"

"Quite right," the judge interrupted. "Then I assume the beast was neither dangerous nor wild."

"It gave us a terrible start, your honour," Donovan got in. "An awful sight it was with the drum around its neck and all."

The judge looked up quickly. This was all news to him.

"It must have been dreadful," he remarked with elaborate solicitude. "But what's this about a drum? It says nothing here about a drum."

"Yes, sir, it was wearing a drum," said Donovan.

"And you say this drum was around the neck of this alleged wild beast?" continued Judge Gibson. "What sort of wild beast does it happen to be?"

"The doctor just came in on a case, sir, and claims it's a kingaroo," the officer replied.

"Kangaroo, Donovan," corrected the judge.

"Yes, your honour," Donovan continued, "but Sergeant Brophy says it ain't a kingaroo, because kingaroos don't act that way."

"In what lies the eccentricity of this unknown wild beast's behaviour?" demanded the judge, now thoroughly interested.

"Didn't get your honour," said Donovan.

"What's wrong with the thing?" snapped the judge, then turning to his prisoners, added politely, "You'll pardon me, I hope, before I put you away. I must get Donovan to tell me all about this kingaroo."

"Certainly, your honour, we'll pardon you if you will pardon us," replied Hebe.

"Very good," said the judge, with a ghastly grin. "You were going to say, Donovan?"

"I hadn't intended saying anything," replied Donovan.

"Well, go right ahead and say it," urged the judge patiently. "I think you can confide in us. What's wrong with this wild beast?"

"Well, your honour," replied the officer with every sign of hesitancy. "The last I saw of the thing it was humming 'Me and My Shadow,' and dancing around in its cell."

"What!" the judge almost shouted, leaning far over his desk; then, sinking back, he added, "Don't say any more for a moment, Donovan. I need to think."

The prisoners before him were leaning on the rail, their faces hidden from view.

"I wish I could laugh," said the judge gloomily. "Never have I been forced to listen to such an involved and successfully obscured narrative."

He picked up a newspaper and read for several minutes, occasionally stopping to look penetratingly at Donovan until that intrepid limb of the law began to grow more than a little reflective.

"What did you say the name of that song was?" the judge asked at last.

"'Me and My Shadow,'" Donovan replied.

"Is it a pretty song?" continued the judge. "Do you know it."

"I couldn't sing it myself, your honour," said Donovan, fearing the judge's next request, "but I know it when I hear it."

"I'll buy you a record, your honour," offered Sandy. "It's sweetly wistful like so many of your clients."

"You won't be near any store," said the judge. "Oh," said Sandy, "that's too bad!"

"Sounds like a criminal record," observed the judge. "' Me and My Shadow'—shadow, you see. Good! Everyone gets 100 but Officer Donovan."

The judge folded his papers with a snap and sat up abruptly.

"Enough of this," he said briskly. "Donovan, bring in that singing kangaroo. Let's all have a look at it. Perhaps we'll be able to agree on a name."

"He's not such a poisonous judge," murmured Hebe to Sandra.

"Not at all," said Sandra. "Quite a human being."

"Wait till you see what he does with us," Melville Long whispered behind his hand, his optimism vanished.

The kangaroo was not entirely sober when Donovan, holding a rope, the other end of which was secured around his neck, brought him before the judge. The animal covered the ground with a peculiar gliding motion that gave him the appearance of skating. He was still humming under his breath in a preoccupied manner. Greeting his friends with a casual wave of a relatively short foreleg, he bowed to the judge.

At this point several sleepy reporters came back to life and began to ask each other questions. Here was a good story. They collared an attendant and obtained full details. The few remaining spectators also displayed signs of returning interest. The judge leaned forward and listened intently, one hand held up for silence. A strange noise was issuing from the kangaroo's lips. Observing the judge's strained attitude the kangaroo obligingly increased the volume of his humming, and the room was filled with what the kangaroo fondly believed to be a song.

"You've a better ear for music than I have, Donovan," said the judge, settling back in his chair. "Is he still harping on his favourite song?"

"That's what he thinks he's doing," answered the officer. "It ain't so bad, your honour, considering he's a poor, dumb, soulless beast."

Mr. Lamb looked pensively at Donovan.

"Where's his drum?" asked the judge suddenly.

"He refused to come out of his cell until I'd taken it off for him," Donovan replied.

"Too bad," observed the judge. "I'd like to have seen that." Then turning to Hebe, he asked, "Miss Lamb, where did you get this singing kangaroo?"

"My uncle found him in the bush," said Hebe.

"What bush?" asked the judge. "Try to be specific."

"The Australian bush," replied Hebe. "He's been in our family since he was a pup."

The judge continued to question the girl about the kangaroo until Mr. Lamb grew bored. He was also becoming extremely sleepy. The liquor was wearing off. Slowly he sank down and fell into a gentle slumber. The judge looked over the edge of his desk.

"Donovan," he ordered, "wake that kangaroo up. Neither man nor beast sleeps in this court."

A violent jerk on the noose brought the kangaroo erect like a released spring. He made a side swipe at Donovan, but, luckily for that officer, failed to land. Then, as if suddenly realising his surroundings, he looked apologetically at the judge.

A strange feeling was taking possession of Mr. Lamb, a feeling not entirely due to his over-indulgence. Some sort of chemical revolution was taking place within him. He was unable to shake off his drowsiness and confusion. As he drifted off to sleep again he had a vague idea that the judge was asking Donovan whether the poor soulless beast had been given a cup of coffee that morning.

A loud discussion in the back of the courtroom between two heavy-faced, unhatted ladies stoutly defending the smirched reputations of their respective husbands presently to be tried on a charge of jointly attempting to put an end to each other's lurid careers, created a momentary diversion. All eyes were turned in their direction, and by the time the belligerent ladies had been voluminously ejected, another diversion had arisen to mar the tranquillity of the judge's morning. When he next peered at the kangaroo he found himself looking into the dark eyes of a tall, fashionably clad gentleman of distinguished manner and sober bearing.

"Hello!" exclaimed the judge in some surprise. "Where the devil did you spring from?"

Mr. Lamb presented his card and explained his presence in the court. Having learned indirectly about the escapade of these young people, and being the father of one of them and an old friend of the parents of the other two, he had hastened to help the judge to show them the error of their ways.

"You are just in time to see the last of them, Mr. Lamb," judge Gibson informed him. "And, by the way, how did you manage to get that noose about your neck?"

Mr. Lamb's hand flew to the rope. Fora moment he appeared to be crushed. His companion of the night gazed at him with dismayed eyes. How could he he himself out of this? Then a bland smile touched Mr. Lamb's lips as he looked up at the judge.

"I just found it lying there on the floor," said Mr. Lamb, "and I thought I'd try it on."

"Are you in the habit of trying on nooses?" asked the judge.

Sandra was leaning against Mr. Lamb. Her face was crimson, and a handkerchief was crammed in her mouth.

That's the most deflated lie I've ever attended," breathed Hebe.

"No," replied Mr. Lamb in reply to the judge's question. " It is not one of my hobbies."

"I'm glad to hear it," the judge remarked. "One of the nooses might stay put sometime."

Mr. Lamb laughed politely.

"Donovan," continued the judge, "where has that kangaroo gotten himself to? Is he still sleeping or what's he think he's doing?"

When the judge's eye gathered in Donovan, he imagined the officer was giving every appearance of shell shock. Donovan was staring at Mr. Lamb with frightened, bewildered eyes.

"Why, that gentleman's the kangaroo he faltered. The rope ain't never been out of my hand, your honour."

"No, Donovan," replied the judge. " Mr. Lamb is not a kangaroo in spite of his eccentric conduct. You've tried to convince me of many strange, unbelievable stories in the course of our relations, but I refuse to be convinced that this gentleman is a kangaroo."

A hard light came into the judge's eyes, and he leaned far over his desk again.

"Now, Donovan," he rasped. " You go out and find me that kangaroo. Take some of your fellow-incompetents with you. Bring that animal back to me. I want him to teach me that song."

"I beg your pardon, Judge Gibson," Mr. Lamb put in, "but I think I can help the officer out. As I was coming in a kangaroo burst from between two excited women, who were evidently being put out. The creature almost knocked me over in his eagerness to go somewhere. He turned to the left and jumped into a passing van heading away from the city. That's the last I saw of him."

"Search for that van, Donovan," said the judge. " And don't forget to beat every bush. He likes bushes. So far it seems you've made a mess of the case. There's not a witness here in court to support a number of your charges. I don't even see a plaintiff."

Donovan left with one last fascinated look at Mr. Lamb, who immediately after retired with the judge to his private chamber. When he returned he smiled encouragingly at the delinquents. The judge, brushing his lips with a handkerchief, also smiled upon them.

"What your various parents are going to do to you will be plenty," he said, happily. " You will come to wish I had put you in prison for ever. I've just had Mr. Long on the wire, young man, and he actually pleaded with me to sentence you for life. He said something about being able to prove yourself in jail. In view of the approaching unpleasantness I am letting you off with a suspended sentence. Get them out of my sight, Mr. Lamb. They've taken up my entire morning—they and that kangaroo."

Back in the automobile Lamb collapsed. Sandra nestled against him.

"I hope this will teach us all a lesson," he said piously. "It will all come out in the papers."

"'Twill make erotic reading for Sapho," replied Hebe. "I think we had better go away somewhere."

"I know I had," said Long moodily. "There'll be no living at home. I've proved myself conclusively at last."

"Ruination?" suggested Hebe.

"We're ruinated enough as it is," said Long. Sandra's hand crept into Mr. Lamb's.

"You're such a nice, long, lovely liar," she murmured.

Mr. Lamb was looking at her ear.

"That thing," he said, pinching it slightly, "was the start of all my troubles."

"Kiss it," urged Sandra in a low voice.

Mr. Lamb looked coldly at the girl.

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