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Rain In The Doorway

BY

Thorne Smith



CHAPTER XII

SATIN SLINGS AN EEL

MANY little difficulties never get themselves quite ironed out. Gangsters, judges, and other disturbing elements have long been aware of this. But women are even more so. As a matter of fact, women seem to glory in it. And of all things in the world, a great many of their little difficulties have to do with men, actually with men who are notoriously not worth the snap of one's fingers, especially a woman's fingers.

Nor do women need to be particularly interested in the same man to precipitate a deluge of these little difficulties—to arouse emotions of jealousy. Far from it. Both of them may heartily detest the poor beast, as they have no hesitancy in telling him the first moment they get him alone. The more women fight over a man, the more that doomed wretch eventually suffers. He pays for all their trouble. He suffers if they do and he suffers if they don't. For him there is no escape. If women don't fight over him, his market value declines. His wife grows restless—she becomes cold and unduly critical. On the other hand, many an odd fish with nothing in God's world to recommend him save his trousers has found himself the centre of the most alarming competition, merely because one woman has conceived the idea that another woman wants him.

For this reason it is barely possible that jealousy between women is not such a personal manifestation as is commonly supposed. With men it is entirely different, entirely personal—too personal, if anything. Men know exactly what they want, and although their motives are generally of the lowest, they usually know what they are getting at. With women, jealousy has more of the professional quality. It is the jealousy of the artist. It springs not so much from a woman's love of a definitely selected male as from the disinclination to see one of her sex get away with anything, no matter how undesirable it may be. In other words, women have a proprietary interest in the entire class of males, whereas men, in their casual and shiftless manner, follow the female of the least resistance.

It so happened that Mr. Hector Owen, seated with Satin Knightly and his three partners at a table in a smart sidewalk café, found himself the unwilling centre of one of these distressing conflicts. He was not greatly amused. Few men are, to hear themselves boldly discussed as if they were not present. Nor was he, as are so many of his sex, conceited enough to take any credit for the unbecoming conduct of the ladies.

Madame Gloria played a prominent part in this action. She made her entrance while Honor Knightly, pornographic expert, was buying the four partners a drink and, in turn, was being bought drinks by them. There had been lots of drinks already. There were prospects of lots more. Madame Gloria, accompanied by several ladies and gentlemen of her profession, wearily seated herself at the next table. This was unfortunate, for the moment Satin's madly bright eyes rested on Madame Gloria and noted that she was good, they began to snap and sparkle dangerously— venomously. The fact that Madame Gloria was a truly beautiful woman, although perhaps a shade faded, did not soften the quality of Satin's hostile gaze. She had, however, the grace to allow her enemy to seat herself before opening the attack.

"I understand," began Honor, her voice unrelieved by the slightest inflection, "that this person owns you for life. What about it?"

Satin indicated this person by leaning so heavily against him that Mr. Owen found it wiser to cling to his chair rather than to be pushed off it to the floor. In a small flurry of panic the senior partner, whose experience in the past with women gave him small hope of the immediate future, fluttered his hands nervously and rolled his eyes to heaven.

"Here," he predicted in a low voice, "is where we all begin to veer like a series of cock-eyed gyroscopes."

Madame Gloria observed Satin with one of her most perfectly refrigerated smiles.

"Are you personally interested in the answer, my dear?" she inquired.

"I am," said Satin distinctly. "And that lets you out. This man is mine. Understand that—all of you. He's mine. Of course, I don't want him much, but just the same I'm going to have him. One encounters new faces so rarely."

"Very well, my child," Mr. Larkin proposed in a fear-fully soothing voice. "Excellent, excellent, my dear girl. You take his face, and Madame Gloria can have what's left of him, although I very much fear that with her much won't be left of him long."

"Come! Come!" muttered Mr. Owen ineffectually, then added, by way of emphasis, "I say now—come, come!"

"No," replied Honor firmly, utterly disregarding the weak objection of the gentleman under discussion. "I'll have little use for his face unless I find it necessary to slap it occasionally. I want all."

"Couldn't some mutually satisfactory division of the man be arranged?" interposed Major Barney, pursuing the senior partner's difficult anatomical compromise.

Once more Mr. Owen was moved to objections as he gulped down a strong drink.

"Why not draw and quarter me?" he suggested. "Or put me on the spot? From the way things are going, I might as well be hanging in cold storage. Am I some butcher's chunk to be sliced and hacked at the convenience of two women?"

"You'd be better off if you were," Mr. Dinner uttered gloomily. "They're going to do you no good, those two trulls."

"I find this conversation jarring on my artistic sensibilities," put in Madame Gloria languidly. "Why drag it out here of all places?"

"Why drag it out at all?" demanded Mr. Owen in a shocked whisper.

"Now that we've started," replied Mr. Larkin sadly, "it has to be dragged out."

"What has?" mumbled Mr. Owen.

"It!" cried Madame Gloria dramatically. "Everything! We must know all, see all, and hear all."

"Not about me, you don't," exclaimed Mr. Owen, rising from the table. "I'm leaving now. Oh, yes, I am. I'm going right away."

"Sit down! " Satin snapped at him. "And don't mind that woman. I'll drag it out as much as I want. This——"

"Do you think I'm worrying about which one is going to do the dragging?" furiously interrupted the indignant man.

"Will you please be still?" the girl demanded. "This matter must be settled here and now. Drag it out, say I."

"How do you mean?" asked Mr. Owen, now thoroughly aroused. "Who are you talking to, anyway?"

"My good woman," explained Madame Gloria with softly malicious patience, "it has been settled already, this little affair. Can't you get it through your silly head that I am his for life and he is mine?"

"What fractional life interest can he possibly have in you?" Miss Knightly wanted to know. "You're an oversubscribed issue already. For years you've been floating yourself all over town."

"Really," protested Madame Gloria. "This is too insulting. When I give myself to a man I give myself entirely. Everybody knows that."

"Everybody should," Satin tossed back with a smile.

"That is, every able-bodied member of the male population, not to mention a few cripples. When you give yourself, lady, you give yourself like a ton of bricks, you horrid old hooker!"

"Oh!" gasped Madame Gloria, not a little offended. "Is that so?"

"Yes, it's so," Satin informed her. "And here's something else: If he's yours for life, he's not going to live very long."

"I don't care how long he lives," Madame Gloria replied most convincingly. "I wouldn't mind killing him myself the way he sits there without a word to say in defence of the woman he owns."

"But, my dear lady," protested Mr. Owen, "you gave yourself to me of your own free will."

"That's a rotten thing to say," cried Madame Gloria, appealing tragically to the members of her party. "You were with me, all of you. Tell them it's a lie. He had no chance—no opportunity. Out here on the sidewalk—think of it! The man's quite mad."

"Why get so technical, Gloria?" asked a gentleman at her table who was obviously all for peace. "Frankly, I can't see what either of you two women want with him at all."

"I don't either," replied the lady of the stage, "but that doesn't matter. It's not as if I belonged to myself. I don't. I belong now to my public. I have that to think about, and my career, my reputation. Would it look well to see in the papers, 'Gloria Loses Her Man'? Wouldn't that burn you up? Why, I've never lost a man to any woman."

"I wouldn't mind it so much," the gentleman replied, "not when you consider the man."

"I know," went on the actress. "He's admittedly a flop and all that, but I don't want my public to get the impression that the first overripe tomato that comes along can drop in the lap of one of my interests."

"I'll be damned well damned if I'll stand for all this!" Mr. Owen exploded, gulping down another drink. "That man has insulted me twice."

"Insulted you, hell!" exclaimed Satin. "That bedridden trollop of an actress called me a tomato—an overripe one, at that. If it wasn't her stock in trade I'd tear her clothes off!"

"Are you afraid, my dear," asked the bedridden trollop sweetly, "that my figure would put yours to shame?"

Satin rose furiously and began to unhook her dress while the three partners beat desperately at her hands.

"Come on!" she cried to Madame Gloria. "I'll make your body look like a mal-conditioned cow's!"

"Why, if I did such a thing in public," scoffed the lady, "men would hang diamonds round my neck."

At this tense moment a waiter, having proudly exhibited a moribund and loathsome eel to some strong stomached patron, passed by Satin on his way to the kitchen. Mastering her instinctive repulsion in the magnitude of her rage, she seized the snake-like object by its tail, twirled it expertly above her head, then gave it with a lashing motion to the actress, horror-riven in her chair.

"How do you like that round your neck?" Satin asked her, sitting down and fastidiously dipping her fingers in a fresh highball, then gulping it down considerably less fastidiously.

An eel is not so much a matter of character as it is of feeling. This is especially true of an eel wound round one's neck. One may have no character at all to speak of and yet object strongly to having an eel like that. Although Madame Gloria's character was far from good, she had every justification in assuming that the eel was not going to improve it any. Satin had asked her how she liked the eel round her neck. Madame Gloria was far too busy to give her an individual answer. However, she did make a fairly convincing public protest. Emitting a piercing scream, she clutched with both hands at her neck, only to encounter eel. Immediately she uttered another scream and decided she would rather be strangled to death than risk a similar experience. Thereafter she moved her hands impotently in the air and from time to time made noises. Mr. Larkin was of little help in this crisis. He was sitting with a napkin pressed delicately to his eyes.

"That was a decidedly offensive thing to do," came his awe-touched voice. "How can people think up such things? Just imagine—an eel round one's neck. What retribution!"

But by this time the eel was no longer round the fair neck of Madame Gloria. The eel was in quite a different quarter of the lady. It had slid down the neck of her dress in the general direction of her stomach, where it was much worse not only for itself but also for Madame Gloria. People who have had eels in both places claim that an eel on the stomach is, if anything, more undesirable than the same eel round the neck.

Such people would have experienced no difficulty in getting Madame Gloria to subscribe to their views. In the past she had electrified many an audience by the abandon of her dancing, especially in and about the present locality of the eel. She now cast aside whatever little restraint she had exerted over her movements and did some really shocking things with her torso. At various tables patrons unacquainted with the circumstances leading up to the gratuitous demonstration, cheered the gyrating woman on to even more devastating endeavours. For the first time in her life Madame Gloria was deaf to applause. It was not until the cause of her anguish fell with a moist flop at her feet that she desisted from her abdominal revolutions and rushed shrieking down the street in the direction of her automobile. After her trailed her party, leaving Satin and her horrid weapon in full possession of the field.

Madame Gloria had departed, and the first round had gone to Satin, yet deep in the heart of the actress burned an intense desire to rehabilitate herself in the eyes of her audience to which she owed so much. And she swore to herself that at a time no later than that night would she assert her rights to the body and person of one Hector Owen. She would watch for her opportunity.

"Now," said Honor Knightly, looking coldly upon Mr. Owen, "you're mine tooth and nail. Make no mistake about that. If it hadn't been for your cowardly vacillation all this would never have occurred. You've succeeded in making me extremely nervous and jumpy, you and your horrid old eel between you."

"It wasn't my eel in the first place," disclaimed Mr. Owen. "I wouldn't lift a finger for all the eels in the world."

"Oh, no!" shot back Miss Knightly in a nasty voice. "Well, what would you do for this one?"

With a vicious lunge she recaptured the fallen eel. Once more the air whistled as the flashing body became the radius of a circle. Patrons at near-by tables buried their heads in their arms and waited for the inevitable crack. Fortunately for her intended victim, but not so for an unknown drunkard, the eel escaped her clutches and landed without warning in his soup. Drunk as he was, the man had enough sense left to know that he had not ordered eel with soup on it or soup with eel in it or eel in any other form. Therefore, putting the worst interpretation on this sudden appearance of reptilian life in the first thing he had attempted to eat for days, he broke into a cold sweat and collapsed to the sidewalk, where he lay calling on God until dragged off by the waiters. Henri, the head deity of the café approached Mr. Larkin's table and deferentially registered a mild objection.

"Is it," he said, more in the nature of a suggestion than a request, "that the eel, you could let him rest tranquil for a small little? To our patrons he is more than enough already."

"Count me among the strongest objectors, Henri," Mr. Larkin replied with feeling. "I think it's simply disgusting myself."

"What's so wrong with a little eel?" asked Major Barney.

"I can't begin to tell you," Mr. Larkin replied. "As Henri says, he is simply more than enough. Please, Henri, hurry back with at least two quarts of champagne. And keep all eels away from this young lady. It's not her fault. It's a weakness—like a red flag to a banker, or is it a bull? I'm forever getting them mixed—bulls and bankers, you know. Not red flags. Anyway, what does it matter? And Henri, for God's sake, draw a sheet over the body of that eel, either dead or exhausted, on the table. He is doing no one any good where he is. He is an eel the most depressing, is he not, my old?"

My old, with a dazzling smile, showed the stuff that was in him by departing with the eel mercifully swathed in a tablecloth. Mr. Larkin breathed a sigh of relief and beamed upon his companions. "What a lot of things life is full of," he observed, "and what a lot of liquor we are."

"And we're going to get even fuller," gloated Satin, "and then I'm going for him in a big way."

Once more Mr. Owen braced himself against the pressure of her body. The situation was growing serious. By the time they had completed the ruin of the first bottle of wine he had formulated a plan of action.

"You'll have to excuse me a moment," he said, rising from the table.

"Why?" demanded Honor.

"Is that necessary?" he asked, elevating his eyebrows,

Mr. Owen had been absent less than five minutes when she sprang to her feet and seized a passing waiter.

"Where's the gentlemen's room?" she demanded.

"You're a lady," the waiter informed her. "It's another room, madam."

"At this moment I'm not a lady," she told him. "And what is good enough for a gentleman is good enough for me."

"I know, madam," said the waiter, who evidently had ideas of his own on the subject. "It's maybe all right for you, but what about the gentlemen? Are they to enjoy no privacy at all?"

"If a man's a gentleman," declared Honor, "he shouldn't want to enjoy privacy with a good-looking girl about. Anyway, I don't want to annoy your blessed gentlemen. I merely want to stand outside."

"Very good, madam," said the waiter, "but I don't see what that's going to get you. All the way back to the right."

Satin hurried away and took up her position by the door, where she stood her ground in spite of the curious glances of various gentlemen passing in and out. After she had waited what she considered was a reasonable time she sent for Mr. Larkin. That gentleman appeared nervously with his partners.

"You're the most restless woman to lake places," he complained. "Never a moment's peace and quiet. If it isn't an eel it's a gentlemen's room. What won't you be wanting next?"

"I want that partner of yours," she grated. "And I want him quick. I don't care what he's doing. You go in there and tell him if he doesn't snap out with a click I'll go in and drag him out."

Mr. Larkin departed on his mission, only to return within a few minutes a much-puzzled man.

"He's not there," he said. "He's not in the gentlemen's room."

Satin made a dash for the door, but the partners held her back.

"Think!" cried Mr. Larkin. "Think of what you're doing."

"If I can stand the Pornographic Department," she retorted, "a gentlemen's room should be child's play to me."

"But the gentlemen take it quite seriously, I assure you," protested the senior partner. "And besides, Mr. Owen is not in there."

"Then where is he?" she demanded.

"Gone," said Mr. Dinner.

"To a hotel, perhaps," supplied the Major.

"A stand-up, eh?" muttered Satin. "I'll cook his goose. Let me out of here."

With a sigh of relief Mr. Larkin watched the girl hurry from the café. Then he turned to his partners. "Let's finish that other bottle of wine," he suggested, and then go and collect what she has left of our new partner. He's a very foolish man if he entertains the idea he can get the best of one woman, not to mention two.

"That's a funny thing, too," quoth Mr. Dinner. "A woman doesn't mind giving you her best but hates like hell to have you get the best of her."

"Splendid, Dinner!" cried Mr. Larkin, leading the way back to their table. "Write it down in your little book. Even the fact that it's true cannot rob such an utterance of its brilliancy."

A few minutes later another cork popped. The partners, minus Mr. Owen, were industriously at it again.

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