Previous ChapterContentsNext Chapter

The Nightlife Of The Gods


Thorne Smith



'WHEN you propose to do the worst,' said Mr Hawk to Meg, 'always use the best.'

He dropped a nickel into the telephone slot and gave the operator the number of one of the smartest hotels in town.

'Reservations, my dear,' he told the girl at the switchboard. 'Put me on to Mr Stevens, if you will.' A short wait, then, 'Hello, Stevens, this is Hawk speaking—Hunter Hawk.'

'Hello, Mr Hawk. What can I do for you?' came the voice of Stevens.

'Stevens,' said Hawk, 'fix me up right away with a flock of rooms. I'm entertaining some friends for a week or so, and I want everything to run off smoothly.'

'About how many rooms, Mr Hawk?'

The scientist thought rapidly, taking into consideration the loose habits of the immortals. They should be allowed ample space, he decided, if only as a matter of self-protection.

'Oh, about fifteen rooms, Stevens,' he replied. 'We'll need a couple of large reception rooms, baths, and all that.'

'Certainly, Mr Hawk. I understand. I'll give you half a floor. Your own elevator goes with it, and a private entrance on a side street.'

'Excellent, Stevens,' said Mr Hawk as he hung up the receiver, then he added to himself, 'God help the other half of that floor.'

He next got Betts on the wire.

'Betts,' he said, 'events march. It doesn't look as if they're going to stop for some time. Listen. Pack a couple of bags with Miss Meg's stuff and mine. You know what to do. Then fill a steamer trunk with all the grog that's in the house and put in as much decent wine as you can lay your dishonest hands on. After that join me,' and Mr Hawk gave his man the address of the headquarters of the gods.

'Too bad his wife must miss all this,' he said to Meg as he returned the receiver to the hook. 'We might think about getting her in. She'd go nicely with the gods. Like them, she was born without morals.'

'Everyone is born without morals,' asserted Meg.

'I know,' replied Mr Hawk, 'but they very soon develop a faculty for picking up a devil of a lot of superfluous morality on the way.'

'You should worry,' retorted Meg. 'What's found can be lost again. I'm sure you don't miss yours.'

'What do you mean?' said Hunter Hawk. 'I'm one of the most moral men that ever breathed.'

'In short, staccato gasps,' added Meg. 'Come on, let's get back to our gods, or they'll be swarming all over the city.'

As they left the cigar store they ran into no less a person than Mercury himself. He had been mingling with the Broadway crowd and was now leaning against the store window, his hands carelessly thrust in his pockets.

'What did I tell you?' said Meg as they accosted the casual god. Mercury looked at them innocently and grinned. There was something about this suave god's grin to which Mr Hawk never grew quite inured. There always seemed to be a little something on Mercury's mind, some project of dubious honesty held lightly in reserve.

'Just taking a look round,' he told them. 'Thought I'd wait here while you were telephoning. Everything all right?'

'Fine,' Hawk replied, studying the smile distrustfully. 'Come along. Any other gods out, or goddesses?'

Mercury hesitated for a moment, then evidently made up his mind to speak.

'Well, I saw Venus walking down the street a piece with a tall, dark man,' he admitted. 'No harm in it, you know, but anyway, that one always was a bit of an old hooker.'

At this moment Venus under full sail undulated up to the group.

'I just met the sweetest man,' she exclaimed. 'You should have seen him, dear girl. He was plush. Wanted to see me later, but I couldn't give him our address. Haven't the vaguest idea where we're going next. Wish I had a couple of arms. Do you think some drunken sculptor made me this way deliberately, or did I get damaged in shipment?'

'You got damaged in more than shipment,' her brother replied. 'What do you mean by letting yourself get picked up by a perfect stranger?'

'Who does one generally get picked up by?' asked the goddess in innocent surprise. 'Certainly not old friends. And besides, I haven't any old friends in this town. A girl must put her best foot forward. Don't you agree with me, Mr Hawk?'

The smile she favoured the scientist with was a delicious thing indeed.

'Oh, certainly,' he hastily answered. 'So long as you confine yourself to your feet.'

'Oh, Mr Hawk,' she murmured, gazing at him with archly lowered lids.

'And speaking of feet,' said Megaera, 'I think I can do something about your arms. It will be rough work, of course, but at that it will be better than no arms at all.'

'You're a darling, Meg,' cried Venus delightedly. 'Without arms a girl's style is terribly cramped.'

'You keep referring to yourself as a girl,' put in Mercury. 'Don't do it, you ancient dragoon.'

'I'm still a girl at heart,' Venus replied lightly.

'Hurry up,' boomed a deep voice across the street.

'Uncle grows restive,' observed Mercury as they moved in the direction of the parked Emperor.

The arrival of the gods at the hotel created a little stir among the guests. Instead of making use of the private entrance Mr Hawk led them to the main lobby, where he with the help of his old friend Stevens succeeded in covering the register with a neat array of lies. Mr and Mrs Smith, Jones and Brown came in for a strong play. And for some strange reason, unknown even to himself, Mr Hawk made the gods hail from Canton, Ohio. While this heavy work was in progress the Olympians disported themselves about the lobby, in their artless way endeavouring to make friends with anyone they chanced to encounter, regardless of sex or station.

'This man won't talk to me,' Hebe complained loudly to Meg and pointed to a dignified-looking gentleman at the moment grimly engaged in hiding as much of himself as possible behind a newspaper. 'I asked him if he had a cup, and he wouldn't even answer me.'

'Don't mind him, my dear,' said Venus soothingly. 'He looks like a washout, anyway.'

'And this fellow apparently has lost his tongue,' Neptune thundered across the lobby. 'Doesn't seem to know a thing about fish.'

The unfortunate individual whose lamentable ignorance of fish had occasioned the sea god's criticism looked about him uncomfortably and edged away. As he did so a scream was heard, and a woman fell fainting to a sofa. Perseus in a moment of playfulness had thrust the head of Medusa in her face. An arrow whizzed across the lobby and pinned an old gentleman's panama to the back of the chair in which he was sitting.

'A fair hit!' boomed Bacchus. 'Well done, Diana.'

The moon goddess hurried across the lobby and retrieved her arrow.

'Did I frighten you?' she asked the old man sweetly as she handed him his hat.

'Did you frighten me?' said the old gentleman, looking up at her with an uncertain smile. 'My dear young lady, if you must know the truth, you nearly scared the shirt off my back. Don't do it again, please.'

'You're an old duck,' replied the goddess, and bestowed on the old gentleman a smile so gracious that he felt fully repaid for the damage she had done to his nerves and his hat.

The confusion created by the unconventional conduct of the gods caused Mr Hawk to turn sharply from the desk. He was just in time to see Mercury unobtrusively transferring a fat wallet from an innocent bystander's pocket to his own.

'A nice little selection of gods we made,' he muttered to himself as he hurried over to Meg.

'Collect the women,' he told her, 'and herd them into the nearest elevator. I'll get the men.'

As the Olympians ascended in the magnificent cage gasps of dismay issued from them.

'It gets me right in the pit of my stomach,' groaned Venus.

'Me too,' said Hebe. 'Whoop! There it goes again.'

The moment they were ushered into their sumptuous quarters Diana pulled up her skirt and diligently began to undress.

'For God's sake!' cried Mr Hawk. 'What are you doing that for?'

'Want to save it,' explained Diana thriftily. 'It's too nice to wear about the house.'

'Keep it on and I'll buy you a new one,' said Hawk.

Meg was convulsed in a chair.

'Look!' she gasped. 'Look!'

Hebe had opened a little cupboard in a stand by one of the beds and withdrawn a large vessel.

'I've found a cup!' she cried merrily.

Meg doubled up. Mr Hawk clapped a distracted hand to his forehead. The attending bus boys were momentarily shocked, then quietly exchanged grins.

'Put it back!' cried Mr Hawk. 'Put it back where it belongs. That thing isn't a cup. I'll get you one. I'll get you a dozen if you'll only put it back.'

'What! Not a cup?' said Hebe, inspecting the vessel with disappointed eyes. 'Looks like a cup to me. It must be a cup.'

'Hebe,' explained Mr Hawk as soberly as possible, 'you can't bear that cup, I tell you. Put—'

A fresh explosion of mirth from Meg interrupted Mr Hawk's sentence.

'Neither can I,' she managed to get out. 'I can't bear that cup.'

In spite of all objections Hebe clung to her prize. Finally Mr Hawk turned to one of the bus boys.

'Will you please go downstairs,' he told the boy, 'and bring back as many cups as it is physically possible for you to carry.'

Hebe's face brightened.

'Then I'll put this one back,' she said, 'though I'm sure I don't know what's wrong with it.'

'Do,' replied Mr Hawk. 'That's a dear, sweet girl.'

With a pleased expression Hebe returned the vessel to its cupboard.

Weakly Meg made her way from the room. In a moment she returned, her eyes still moist from tears.

'Laughing makes me that way,' she explained. 'These people don't need any grog. They act drunk already.'

'What are these things for?' asked Mercury, dangling two gold watches before Mr Hawk's horrified eyes.

Once more Meg collapsed. Mr Hawk was too full for either sound or speech.

'Where did you find those watches?' he managed to ask at last.

'Found them in my pockets,' the messenger of the gods replied.

'Yes!' said Hunter Hawk. 'And in whose pockets did you find them before that?'

'Can't remember the fellows' faces,' answered Mercury with a winning smile. 'They passed me by in the street. Watches, you say they are?'

'Yes, watches,' gritted Mr Hawk. 'Stolen watches. They're supposed to keep time, and people who steal them are supposed to do time. Understand that? They do time behind bars in dark cells. Between you and Meg and Betts you'll have us all in jail.'

'Who's Betts?' asked Mercury.

'This is Betts,' said Mr Hawk. 'As big a thief as you.'

Betts entered the room respectfully. Behind him came two boys bearing bags and suitcases, and behind the boys came another one balancing a trayful of cups. Mercury inspected Betts with lively interest.

'Can he steal as well as I can?' the god asked Mr Hawk.

'Not quite,' replied Mr Hawk. 'But he hopes to be able to soon. Meg is trying to teach him. She's in your class.'

'I'll make a master thief of you, Betts,' said Mercury. 'Here, have a watch.'

'Thank you, sir,' replied the old servant, examining the watch appreciatively before thrusting it into his pocket. 'I'll do the same for you, sir, at the first opportunity.'

Once more Betts looked at the watch, this time with a peculiar expression—a mixture of amusement and embarrassment. 'Isn't this yours, sir?' he asked at last, extending the watch to Mr Hawk.

The scientist took the watch, glanced quickly at it, then looked for a long, long time at Mercury, who skilfully avoided his gaze. The look finished, Mr Hawk carefully put the watch away and turned to Betts.

'Thank you, Betts,' he said quietly but distinctly. 'It is my watch. Someone must have deliberately stolen it.'

'Some low-lived god, perhaps,' put in Megaera with an admiring glance at Mercury.

At this moment Venus came quietly into the room. A large and drunken man had an arm round her neck.

'Look what I found,' the goddess announced proudly. 'He lives across the hall. I'll take him to one of the rooms and try to sober him up.'

Diana laughed cynically.

'You'll sober him up all right,' she said.

'The little sweetheart of all the world,' jeered Apollo.

'I'm sure I don't understand you,' retorted Venus in an injured voice.

'Throw that drunk out on his ear,' said Mr Hawk in a voice of command. 'Take him away from her and pitch him across the hall.'

Snatching the head of Medusa from Perseus, he placed it at the inebriate's feet and made use of Meg's magic. The snakes came to life with a hiss and a snap.

'Look!' cried Hawk to the swaying man. 'Look! Snakes! You've got 'em, and you've got 'em bad.'

The man took one look at the fearful object at his feet, then, clapping a hand over his eyes, turned and staggered from the room. Venus looked after him regretfully.

'He was such a nice man,' she said. 'If you'd only given me a chance to sober him up. I'm sure he was a perfect gentleman.'

'Oh, quite,' Mr Hawk assured her. 'Sorry to have been forced to deprive you of him, but there will be quite enough drunks around here before the night is over.'

A steamer trunk was brought into the room by one of the hotel porters.

'Take it to that large lounging room of ours,' said Mr Hawk, 'and put it down there. Betts, you tip the men and then lock all the doors. My brain is threatening to crack. Hebe, if you want some cups to bear, just bring that tray along and help Mr Betts. The rest of you follow me if you want something to drink. Don't push me,' he added hastily as the Olympians surged behind him. 'There'll be grog enough for all.'

'Dear Mr Hawk,' cried Venus, her recent frustration forgotten. 'The sweet man thinks of everything.'

The lounge was exactly that—a large room filled with sofas and easy chairs. It was a room for either revelry or reflexion as the spirit inclined. Mr Hawk surveyed it with approval.

'Ladies and gentlemen,' he said, 'please stop making such an infernal noise and sit down somewhere. Hebe will bear the cups, and Mr Betts will mix. Break open that trunk, Betts, and start us off with some cocktails—strong and dry. I'm sadly in need of a drink. Running this outfit is worse than handling a circus with an infinite number of rings.'

Megaera was at the telephone.

'Yes,' she was saying. 'I want plaster of Paris, and if you haven't that, putty will do. Oh, you can get plaster of Paris? Good! Send it right up. Yes. This is Mrs Hawk speaking.'

'Ask for a basket of fish,' said Neptune, but Meg had hung up the receiver.

'You shouldn't have said you were Mrs Hawk,' the rightful owner of the name told her. 'You're down on the book as Miss Turner of Canton, Ohio.'

'Want to have them think I'm living in sin?' she demanded indignantly.

'Aren't you?' asked Mr Hawk.

'What is sin?' Venus inquired.

'Almost everything that is worth while doing,' Mr Hawk answered, sinking back in a deep chair. 'The word has no meaning for you. Neither has it for Meg, but she likes to pretend.'

'Sin,' came surprisingly from Mr Betts, 'is forgetting to pull down the shades.'

'Oh,' said Mercury, 'I understand. It's not unlike leaving the door unlocked.'

'Or grabbing the wrong sandals when you jump through the back window,' Apollo added reminiscently.

'So it's that, said Venus, her face clearing. 'Well, if you ask me, I think sin is nice. I'd like to live in it.'

'You've never lived out of it.' Diana tossed at her.

'Why bring up the past?' Venus again asked rather wearily. 'Can't a girl make a remark round here without someone getting personal?'

'What girl?' demanded Apollo.

'Any,' replied Venus. 'It doesn't really matter. Let's drop the subject.'

'A wise suggestion,' quoth Neptune. 'Sin is merely a matter of thinking out loud. It's always been the same. Some people thrive on it while others take it too seriously—make a sort of cult of it. Sin is nothing to revel in—it's essential to a comfortable and cultured existence. It should go without saying. But enough of sin. Here's fair Hebe, bearing at last her cups. How does it feel, my rosy-haired huzzy?'

'Like old times, Uncle,' said Hebe. 'Take a couple while you're at it. There's lots more cups, and I'm going to bear them all.'

When everyone had been served, Bacchus rose from his chair and held his cup on high. His magnificent paunch was now swathed in a buff-coloured vest. An impressive figure, he stood there, an infectious smile well set off by the ruddy background of his jovial face.

'To Mr Hawk and Meg,' he called out in his husky, wine-seasoned voice, 'the liberators of the gods. Bottoms up!'

'Oh, Bacchus!' said Venus coyly.

Neptune's polite but not over-enthusiastic, 'Hear! Hear!' was lost amid a series of sharp explosive coughs and exclamations. Perseus sat heavily down on his head, then rose with a cry of pain. He had been seized on in various places by several snakes, who had blindly resented this uncalled-for interruption in their night's repose. Mr Betts regarded the god with respectful concern edged with a touch of triumph.

'Did you find it strong, sir?' he asked.

'Zeus, yes!' gasped the professional hero. 'Jupiter's thunderbolts were as gentle sunbeams in comparison.'

'And you, sir?' asked the servant of Apollo. That gentleman raised a tear-stained face from his hands and looked moistly at Mr Betts.

'It's a far cry to nectar,' he said, 'but I suppose we should be thankful the things weren't served in vessels the size of that mysterious cup fair Hebe originally attempted to bear.'

'You have another one right beside you,' Betts reminded him. 'Yes, I know,' said Apollo evasively. 'I can almost taste it from here.'

'And to think,' came the strained voice of Diana, 'that mortals subject themselves to that painful experience time after time throughout the course of an evening and believe they're enjoying themselves.'

'It's one hell of a commentary on the monotony of modern existence,' replied Apollo.

'I can't understand it,' said Mr Betts, pouring himself a large drink and sampling it with a convincing show of relish. 'If you'll pardon me,' he continued, 'that's one of the best cocktails I ever made.'

'Then may Zeus protect us when you're off your game,' came piously from Perseus.

'I thought it was swell,' said Meg.

'Me, too, my dear,' agreed Venus, who apparently had not turned a hair. 'I don't see what they're all kicking about.'

'You, you old hooker,' exclaimed Apollo indignantly. Anything alcoholic seems good to you.'

'Well,' she replied sweetly, 'I don't believe in looking a gift horse in the teeth.'

'Wisely spoken,' said Neptune, struggling out of his chair. 'That cocktail, whatever it was, might be hard to know at first, but it certainly seems to wear well. I feel quite bucked up already. I, too, drink to our host. There is only one thing wrong with him. He's slow on his fish.'

Once more the party drank, this time with better grace. There was a knock at the door, and Betts hastened to open it. A bus boy stood there with a large paper bag on a tray.

'The plaster of Paris,' he announced, as if the order were one of the most frequent the hotel received.

Megaera took Venus and the plaster of Paris to one of the many bathrooms.

'Set a couple of drinks outside the door at frequent intervals,' she told Mr Betts.

'Strong ones,' added Venus, as she followed Meg from the room. 'Our stomachs are strong enough to stand them.'

'Yours should be,' Diana enigmatically flung after her seductively undulating form.

Half an hour later she swept back into the room the proud possessor of a complete pair of arms. How she had acquired them was never quite revealed, although Hunter Hawk had his suspicions. Of course, the plaster of Paris was a clue.

'It's rough work,' said Meg with pardonable pride, as Venus displayed her new aquisitions to the party. 'The texture doesn't quite match, but we can pass it off as sunburn.'

'There'll be no holding her now,' said Diana. 'She'll drag them in by the hair.'

Venus was too pleased with herself to object to a little coarse jesting at her expense.

'It's such a relief,' she exclaimed. 'You can't imagine. Now I'll be able to look after myself.'

'And a couple of others' said Apollo.

Venus smiled at him coyly. 'You fresh thing,' she said.

Mr Hawk examined the arms critically. He was scientifically interested.

'Excellent technique,' he remarked at last. 'Very well done indeed. A little out of proportion, but no one would notice that.' Venus was gazing at him with glowing eyes.

'Want to see how they work?' she asked suddenly, and throwing her arms round his waist, strained him to her. It was a hug that would have done credit to a bear in the pink of condition.

'Oof!' grunted Mr Hawk. 'They're a complete success. In fact, they work too well. Let me go while life remains.'

'I guess I'll do,' said Venus, releasing him.

'What?' asked Apollo.

'None of your business,' said Venus. 'Let's go out and meet a lot of men.'

'I'd like to go out and meet a lot of fish,' put in Neptune.

'And I suppose you'd like to go out and crack a couple of safes,' Mr Hawk said to Mercury. 'I hope you'll remember to keep your hands in your own pockets, and if you must steal things, don't pick on me. You'll merely be fouling your own nest if you do.'

'Oh, I wouldn't for the world think of doing a thing like that,' replied Mercury with an embarrassed little laugh. 'That would be going altogether too far.'

'Suppose they get lost or separated?' Meg demanded suddenly. 'They wouldn't know where to go or what to do with themselves. They'd get into all sorts of trouble.'

'That's easily remedied,' replied Mr Hawk. 'We'll tag the lot of them.'

He telephoned to the porter for tags, and when they had been brought he wrote down the name and address of the hotel on eight of them. The gods and goddesses, rather than feeling humiliated by the tags, seemed to regard them in the light of decoration. They inspected them with childish pride and compared them to see who had the best.

As Mr Hawk led them from the room he heard a seething noise behind him. Turning, he was confronted by the snaky head of Medusa held carelessly under the left arm of the stalwart, professional hero. Hawk turned the snakes to stone.

'Aw, what did you want to do that for?' complained Perseus. 'They weren't bothering anybody.'

Previous ChapterContentsNext Chapter