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Rain In The Doorway
THE TRIPLE CO-RESPONDENT
THE partners sat at one table, their wives at another. Mr. Owen, the co-respondent, and Miss Knightly, the chief witness, occupied a smaller table between the two. Looking down on them from behind his elevated desk sat Judge Hampton, who knew nothing at all about the whys and wherefores of divorce procedure. He had been appointed to handle the case in the absence of the official referee. The wives did not like his looks. Neither did the partners, and, from the expression on Judge Hampton's face, he failed to like anyone's looks. Disgust with mankind ran eloquently through all the wrinkles of his rage-punished face. The iron-grey hair on his head seemed to bristle forward in a gesture of contempt for humanity. So light blue were his eyes that they gave the impression of being sightless. This peculiarity made the good Judge all the more disconcerting. One was never quite certain upon whom those eyes were fixed.
Never had Mr. Owen been so popular with the partners. From their table they gazed across at him with eyes overflowing with gratitude and affection. Not only had he twice saved them from extinction, but also he was now about to liberate them from their wives. In celebration of the auspicious occasion they had succeeded in getting themselves comfortably yet still competently inebriated. The pitcher on the table, supposed to contain fresh water, had been clearly filled with gin by the crafty Mr. Dinner. In the folly of their childish confidence they had dispensed with the services of lawyers. They would conduct their own case.
Satin, motivated by some misguided impulse, had dressed herself so deeply in mourning one could only conclude she had lost an entire family. It made Mr. Owen feel partly buried merely to sit beside her.
The courtroom was packed to the rails, moral turpitude still being the greatest show on earth. Judge Hampton's head was turning in the direction of the partners. His misty eyes seemed to be weaving a curse around them.
"The air from the plaintiff's table," he said, "has an unpleasant suggestion of a bar-room. It makes me blink. Charlie, turn on the fan before I begin to dance and sing." Charlie, an aged court attendant, directed the full power of an electric fan against the indignant partners. "That's better," continued the Judge, "but not, I fear, for those sitting behind them. Did not this paper tell me differently"—here the Judge raised an official-looking sheet—"I would come to the conclusion that these ladies here were quite rightly endeavouring to divorce themselves from a trio of alcoholics instead of serving as defendants."
"Your honour," Mr. Larkin politely replied, "the ladies, as you inaccurately called them, have the capacity to drink this trio under the table."
"They should add another bottle," his honour retorted in a cruel voice, "and drink you under the sod."
Mr. Black, attorney for the wives, rose to his feet.
"In denying the plaintiffs' implications, your honour," said the suave Mr. Black, "my clients wish me to remind you that no fan was needed to be turned against them."
"Back in your chair," snapped Judge Hampton sharply. The torrents of so-called perfume deluging me from your clients' table suggests another resort of vicious amusement the name of which I will leave to your imagination. Between these two tables I find myself leading a life of vicarious depravity. Such tactics will have no effect on me save an unpleasant one."
Upon the reception of this remark, derogatory to their wives, the partners broke into a volley of spontaneous clapping.
"You will either be quiet where you are," the Judge told them, "or raving in your cells. Take your choice." He paused and frowned down at the paper on his desk, then he both shook and raised his head as if suddenly coming back to life. "I did not come here," he said, "to discuss the various odours of those before me. Suffice it to say both are thoroughly obnoxious. As I understand it, Messrs. Larkin, Dinner, and Britt-Britt charge their wives with excessive adultery, and on those unsavoury grounds submit a plea for a divorce."
"Quite correct, your honour," replied the senior partner. "Those three women do nothing else but."
"But what?" demanded his honour.
"You know," Mr. Larkin answered significantly. "That word you used. It began with an 'a'."
"Do they now," murmured the Judge, a small spark of interest faintly illuminating his eyes as he fixed them on the wives. "Aren't they getting a little old for that sort of thing?"
"Your honour!" cried the Kitten, stung to a disregard of the good offices of Mr. Black. "We look ten years older with our clothes on."
"Madam," replied Judge Hampton, "are you arguing for or against yourself and your companions? As I interpret your remark you are deliberately attempting to convey to me the disgraceful information that when your clothes are off you look ten years younger. Just where does that lead?"
"Well, your honour," faltered the Kitten, "you know how women are."
"You mean with their clothes off?" interrupted the Judge.
"I mean," the Kitten struggled on, "no lady likes to be told she's too old to be otherwise, if you get what I mean."
"I do," put in the Judge. "You have just told me, and it hasn't done any of you a bit of good. Please sit down and cease from disgracing yourself." Again the Judge paused and passed a hand across his eyes. "Owing to the sudden calling of the case and the suspicious circumstances surrounding the whole sordid affair, it has been deemed expedient to have the three co-respondents in court. Will they now come forward?"
"Your honour," announced Mr. Larkin, "there is only one co-respondent."
"What!" exclaimed the Judge, his blue eyes swimming in his face. "Only one man for these three women? My word, has he no other occupation?"
"He's our partner," Mr. Larkin answered, a little proudly.
"Do you mean to say this frantic adulterer is still your partner?" the Judge demanded incredulously.
"We never confuse business with pleasure," was the senior partner's hypocritical retort. "The gentleman's name is Hector Owen, and he is one of the busiest and most progressive men in town."
"He must be," commented the Judge. "Will Mr. Owen please stand up? I can scarcely wait to see him."
The entire courtroom rose as Mr. Owen got to his feet to confront the Judge. Here was a man worth looking at —a man of solid achievement.
"Mr. Owen," began the Judge, "if what I hear about you is true you must be a very horrid man indeed. Who is that woman beside you? She's all in black. Did you happen to murder her husband?"
Before Mr. Owen could reply to these questions Satin's voice was heard.
'No, your honour," she announced devastatingly. "I'm only his mistress. I was there and saw it all."
"I had hoped not to veer," muttered the senior partner to his companions, "but that girl's candour is simply muscle binding."
Upon the reception of Satin's information the Judge's eyes seemed to die in his face. For a brief moment he gave the impression of a man withdrawn from life.
"Good God," he was heard to remark to the court room at large. "What an amazing character. What an unregenerate soul. He wrecks three homes, then drags his mistress into court. And although she saw it all they are still as thick as thieves."
At this point Judge Hampton clasped his hands and leaned across his desk. Mr. Owen received the uneasy impression he was being most disagreeably scrutinized. "Hector Owen," resumed his honour in a meditative voice, "you're not an especially powerful man and most certainly not a handsome one. I must confess, I don't understand how you get away with it. If this were a criminal court I'd greatly enjoy putting you away for life. As it is I can only ask you to confirm the charges, but, for God's sake, don't tell the story in what I can well imagine would be your own words. A few of us present still have a shred of decency left."
"Your honour," replied Mr. Owen, "I am happy to say I don't remember a thing."
"You are happy to say that, are you?" observed the Judge with biting sarcasm. "Well, I'd be ashamed to say it. Do you mean to tell me that you've grown so accustomed to your misconduct that it leaves no impression on your mind?"
"No, your honour," put in the helpful Mr. Larkin, "he doesn't mean that. Our partner was drunk at the time. You must forgive him. Also, he's been extremely busy selling pornographic literature."
Judge Hampton was seen to sway a little in his chair. His mouth opened and closed, but for a few moments no words issued therefrom.
"I have never," he got out with an effort, "I have never in my life encountered so disreputable a character in human form. He gets himself drunk, ruins a lot of women, and then pops off and sells dirty books to the general public. I'd prefer to deal with a poisoner. Owen," he suddenly thundered, "tell me when and where these several incidents took place. What period of time did they cover?"
Satin was on her feet now, standing loyally by the wretched Mr. Owen.
"Your honour," she answered for him, "it all happened at the same time and at the same place. You see, the three wives were occupying the same bed and——"
"Have you by any chance mistaken this courtroom for a stag party?" interrupted the Judge. "We don't care to hear any vile stories, if you please."
"But it's true, your honour," Satin insisted. "I was there at the time."
"Cheering him on to further endeavours, I suppose," observed the Judge icily. "Why didn't you intervene? Why didn't you raise a protesting hand?"
"I couldn't even lift a finger, your honour," the girl replied, with an engaging smile. "I was as drunk as a lord myself."
Judge Hampton closed his eyes and sat like a man frozen inanimate with pain. Presently he spoke as if from a great distance.
"Merciful heavens," he told all who cared to listen, "I'll have to go into a retreat after this case is ended. Never have I been forced to hear such demoralising testimony. There isn't a scrap of fragrance anywhere. The indecency of it all is quite unrelieved. What were all those women doing in that one bed?"
"Well, you see," replied Satin, "the ladies were drunk too—petrified."
"It only remains now for you to tell me," said the Judge in a dead voice, "that the husbands were smoking opium in a waterfront dive, and the whole vicious circle will be complete." Here he looked scornfully upon the partners. "What I want to know is, how could so many persons and so much activity be confined to a single bed?"
"It wasn't a single bed, your honour," Mr. Larkin put in. "As a matter of fact, I had that bed especially made. It's about twice the size of a double bed."
"It must be a huge bed," his honour reflected aloud, as if picturing the object in his mind's eye. "It's a tremendous bed, your honour," enthusiastically agreed the senior partner. "There would have been ample room for you." The Judge started in his chair as if suddenly and mortally stung.
"What would I be doing in that bed?" he gasped.
"Seeing life," quoth Mr. Dinner with startling clarity.
At this his honour seemed to be deciding whether to burst a blood vessel or to faint dead away on his desk. Finally, after a desperate mental effort, he succeeded in pulling himself together into a compact mass of venom.
"Dinner," he said, "if I had my way you'd be warmed over in hell. As it is, if you make any more remarks you'll grow cold and stale in jail." Here the Judge turned sharply upon the three wives. "Do you or do you not deny the charges of your husbands?"
"My clients cannot answer that question, your honour," replied Mr. Black, rising. "They say they do not remember."
"This," commented the Judge bitterly, "is by all odds the most forgetful series of adulteries on record."
"If you'd been in our place," said Nana defensively, "you wouldn't have remembered either, your honour."
"Madam," rasped the Judge, "you will kindly refrain from putting me in your place. I am a judge, you must remember, of long standing."
"All the more reason for lying down in bed," Nana retorted, "and getting a little rest."
"Under the circumstances," said his honour tartly, "I'm afraid there would have been little rest for me."
"Oh, your honour! " exclaimed Nana coyly. "What a thing to say!"
The Judge looked shocked.
"I didn't mean that at all," he told her.
"Mean what, your honour?" she asked sweetly.
"Never mind," retorted the Judge. "We will drop the bed and take up other things." He turned back to the partners who, for the sake of verisimilitude, had been drinking gin like water. Mr. Dinner was now snoring gently with his head resting against the pitcher. "You gentlemen," observed the Judge, "appear to be in worse condition than when this case started. Are these divorce proceedings making you drunker? Wake that little chap up. His noises make me nervous."
Major Barney reached out and shook Mr. Dinner vigorously. The small man woke up and started to his feet.
"Are we divorced yet?" he inquired.
"No," snapped the Judge. "You're lucky you're not hung. As far as I can see, we haven't got anywhere except deeper and deeper into a morass of immorality."
"Would you like me to tell you about it, your honour?" asked the senior partner.
"Go ahead," retorted the Judge.
"Well," began Mr. Larkin, "it was this way. When we came into the room, there they were in the bed—all three of our wives, and would you believe it, your honour, I don't think they had a stitch between them. And there he was, too, plump in the same bed. Well, your honour, I almost screamed. You should have seen me veer. I had to be held to keep from spinning like a windmill. And he had on a pair of drawers—I didn't actually see the drawers, your honour, and I don't understand how he could have possibly kept them on when you come to consider everything, but he claimed he was wearing his drawers and so I let it go at that. And he was lying all squeezed up between my wife and Mr. Dinner's wife——"
"One moment," interrupted the Judge. "You seem to be enjoying this so much, perhaps you'd like to draw a picture of it."
"I could never do that, your honour," said Mr. Larkin delicately. "It wouldn't be at all nice."
"I appreciate your scruples," heavily observed Judge Hampton. "Sit down and keep quiet."
"Your honour," said Mr. Black, "one of my clients, Mrs. Larkin, to be specific, wishes me to state that her husband is not without blemish."
"I should say not," commented the Judge.
"Three weeks ago," continued Mr. Black, "he, Mr. Larkin, spent the week-end with the wife of another one of my clients, Mrs. Dinner, to be specific, at a near-by watering resort."
Mr. Dinner looked reproachfully at Mr. Larkin. "What a thing to do," he said, then fell asleep once more against the pitcher.
The Kitten, furiously angry, sprang to her feet.
"Your honour," she cried, "the reason Nana Larkin is so sure of her ground is that she herself was stopping at the next hotel with no less a person than my shrimp of a husband, and I hope that's specific enough to suit everybody concerned."
It was difficult to judge whether the senior partner looked more surprised than amused. He aroused the slumbering Dinner and shook his limp hand.
"That makes us even," Mr. Larkin said.
Aggie, the wife of the Major, was now confronting the shocked and astounded Judge.
"Your honour," she proclaimed, "as you can easily see for yourself, I am not exactly a cripple. I don't intend to be left out in the cold. I, myself, have spent some pleasant week-ends with both Mr. Larkin and Mr. Dinner. They are altogether different when they're not with their wives. And as for my own husband—my word! He and Nana Larkin have been just like that for years."
Before the shrinking eyes of the Judge she held up two fingers, eloquently pressed together. Even the spectators in the courtroom were too stunned by this unedifying expose of these extra-marital activities to create the usual buzz of satisfaction and surprise. Many of them were either too afraid or too well bred to look at the Judge.
"Tell that woman to sit down," he croaked. "I don't want to hear any more. Who was it mentioned veering? Well, I'm doing a lot of that myself. Of all the licentious groups this one wins the palm!"
Judge Hampton's voice drifted away. He sank back in his chair and mopped his brow with a large tan handkerchief. The partners were exchanging apologetic glances. Satin and Mr. Owen smiled at them encouragingly. Mr. Larkin waved a debonair hand and raised his glass. When he had finished drinking he passed the glass to the Major, who in turn quaffed deeply, then passed it on to Mr. Dinner. Apparently it would take something far more serious than mutual infidelity to break up the entente cordiale. Suddenly Judge Hampton sat forward in his chair. The attorney for the wives received the chilly impression that he was under the observation of those faint blue eyes.
"Go on, Mr. Black," came the spiteful voice of the Judge. "Why don't you say it?"
"Say what, your honour?"
"That at one time or another you have spent week-ends with all these ladies," replied the Judge. "That would bring in everyone involved in this disreputable case except myself. How those women must look forward to Saturdays."
"Unfortunately, your honour," said Mr. Black with a smooth smile, "my relations with my clients have been purely professional."
At the introduction of the word purely Judge Hampton laughed shortly. To some of the spectators the jurist sounded common; to others, merely crazed.
"The criminal immorality of this case almost frightens me," he said. "Here we have three husbands suing their respective wives for divorce. What do we find? A round robin of infidelity—a frantic scramble of corruption. No sooner have they unpacked their bags after one vicious week-end, than they begin repacking them again to pop off on another one with the wife of one of their dearest friends. They're partners, no less. Look at them. They look like a glee club. Probably comparing notes. And why, may I ask, why did they deem it necessary to drag the man Owen and his mistress into court? Each one of those husbands can serve as a co-respondent for the other two. Each one of the wives can act in the same disgusting capacity."
Mr. Larkin was on his feet. His face was flushed from gin, and his eyes were glittering.
"Judge," he said, "we thought you would like to see him. You know, it is rather unusual. My other two partners and myself may have been a trifle informal as regards each other's wives, but Mr. Owen was simply epic. He got all three of them. Imagine! All three. At the same time and in the same place, at that. And with his avowed mistress present. I wouldn't have believed it possible if I hadn't seen him with my own two eyes. The man should run for office. I'd vote for——"
"Will you please stop going on like that," interrupted Judge Hampton. "Someone might get the impression you knew me personally. I feel slightly tainted to be found in the same courtroom with you and your wives and your partners. Pass that pitcher up here."
Mr. Larkin obediently gave the pitcher to the Judge together with the glass. His honour poured and drank, coughed and drank again.
"Even the water you drink is different," he commented.
"Is my face flushed?"
"It's just beginning," replied Mr, Larkin. "That's powerful water, your honour."
"The strongest I ever drank," agreed the Judge. "Hope I don't fall in the pitcher. Would you mind telling me how long you and your partners have been married to these women?"
"Well, your honour," replied Mr. Larkin somewhat uneasily, "properly speaking, we never exactly married them—not legally, we didn't. We forgot to tell you that. But they've been sticking round for a long time now. Nearly ten years."
"Do you mean to say," cried the Judge, leaning incredulously over the desk, "that the three of you are trying to get a divorce from women you haven't even married?"
"Judge Hampton," called Major Barney, "if you can't exactly give us a divorce, couldn't you help us to get rid of them? These women are awful. We want some more." As the Judge was collapsing in his chair another interruption called him back to life. No less a person than Madame Gloria had burst through the rails.
"Your honour," she cried, pointing at the startled Mr. Owen, "I want to sue that man for breach of promise. I gave myself to him for life and he hasn't even called to get me."
"Do you mean," asked the Judge in a weak voice, "he actually promised to marry you?"
"Oh, no!" exclaimed Madame Gloria as if shocked at the suggestion. "Nothing as stupid as that. I never marry, your honour, I just get kept."
A wild scream rang through the court as the Judge tottered towards his chambers.
"I want to be alone," he mumbled. "Send everybody away and tell them never to come back, especially those partners."
In a compact and not unfriendly mass, wives, husbands, the co-respondent, Owen, with his publicly acknowledged mistress, and even Madame Gloria made their way to the street. As if by common consent they continued across the broad thoroughfare to the nearest café. Here, after much confusion, tables were arranged to accommodate the large party.
"What are we celebrating?" asked Mr. Owen as the senior partner ordered wine in lavish quantities.
"Our reunion," replied Mr. Larkin, smiling across at Nana.
"If we want to get rid of these women," observed Mr. Dinner, "I guess we'll have to marry them first."
"Oh, shucks," said the Major indulgently. "Let them stick around. They're not such bad women."
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