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Topper Takes A Trip
THE ASCENSION OF COLONEL SCOTT
NO bookmaker — honest or otherwise — who accepted money as freely as had the Colonel, could expect to retain it all. It was hardly possible for some of his many clients not to win occasionally. However, the Colonel was a gentleman whose expectations surpassed all laws of logic. They were seldom if ever disappointed, and never discouraged. He could expect the most prodigious things and realize them with surprising ease if not the strictest honesty.
Even had he paid his fortunate clients the winnings that were rightfully theirs, he would not have been much out of pocket. His own vast, ill-gotten gains would have hardly noticed the difference. But on this occasion greed had overcome whatever feeble resistance his none too robust scruples had attempted to offer. He did more than expect to retain all of the money in his possession. As he expressed it somewhat grimly to himself, he damn well intended to retain all of the money down to the last centime. He even considered for a moment his chances of success in walking out on his two henchwomen, but reluctantly abandoned the idea. He knew Mrs Hart's character well enough to realize that she would gracefully follow him through the most tortuous corridors of hell for the sake of five francs. And as for Marion Kerby, he had not the slightest doubt that that young lady would turn the earth and the air itself into a living inferno for him if he attempted to play her false in an enterprise involving money. Even while regretting the sordid characters of these two women he could not altogether detach from his regret a sort of unholy feeling of admiration. Moreover, Mrs Hart and Marion might prove useful in future ventures. He would have to satisfy himself by holding out on them as much as possible — by taking advantage of their inability to deal rapidly and accurately with the intricacies of foreign money. He earnestly hoped that Mr Topper, in the capacity of an ex-banker, would not step in as an unofficial observer at the division of the spoils.
As soon as the last race had dragged itself to its final collapse the Colonel became exceedingly busy in collecting his side bets, an enterprise in which he succeeded by the exercise of the most brutal methods. The professional gamblers with whom he had dealt, believing him thoroughly mad, had put him down as easy picking. They now discovered to their sorrow how terribly mistaken they had been. In spite of the arguments they properly advanced regarding the honesty of the races the outraged Colonel insisted on extracting his pound of flesh.
It was while dealing with the most stubborn of these dishonest gentlemen that several disconcerting incidents occurred — incidents which led to a scene that will long be remembered by the frequenters of that race track.
Profoundly moved by the pusillanimous and obviously unfair attitude of this reluctant gambler, the Colonel was calling loudly on God to take prompt and effective action when the avaricious shouts of his own clients were borne unpleasantly in on his ears. Among these shouts he distinguished one of outstanding ferocity. Turning with elaborate indignation, the excellent Colonel encountered the envenomed gaze of a gentleman clad unbecomingly in a blue undershirt and a pair of gaudily striped drawers which struck a faint spark in the Colonel's memory. Where had he seen those drawers before? Ah, yes. They were none other than the incredibly ill-chosen garments of the betrayed and assaulted bookmaker. This was serious. It grew even more serious when the Colonel remarked the presence of two evil-faced gendarmes standing on either side of the repellent looking bookmaker. The Colonel was not amused. He found nothing funny in the quaint appearance of the passionately vociferating bookmaker as so many disinterested spectators appeared to be doing. He realized with alarm that if caught in his present condition of solidity by this emotional French mob he would be torn franc from franc. Scenes from the French Revolution swept through his mind. The Colonel could take care of his body, but that was not enough. He wanted also to take care of the francs. Without the purchasing power of those francs the activities of his body would be seriously curtailed. Furthermore, there was the matter of the last uncollected bet. As critical as the situation was he had no intention of abandoning all that money in favour of a welshing Frenchman. To do so would be to establish a bad precedent for the noble institution of racing. He, the Colonel, would be actually encouraging dishonesty.
Accordingly, he felt that he was conferring a favour on France when he turned suddenly and, smiting the gambler to the ground, conscientiously rifled his pockets. A cry broke from the mob, and the gendarmes made hostile advances. Having impoverished his fallen enemy the Colonel quickly extracted several huge wads of francs from his own pockets and proceeded leisurely to dematerialize before the eyes of the incredulous spectators.
The borrowed garments of the accusing bookmaker fell from the Colonel's body, disclosing some rather flamboyant shorts in which the wearer could be only faintly discerned. An aggressive military moustache, two huge bundles of francs, and the drawers themselves, the whole being loosely held together by a filmy structure in the semblance of a man, were all that remained of the Colonel. Slowly and impressively he rose from the ground and remained poised in benign contemplation above the heads of the multitude as a light breeze gently swayed him to and fro.
'Regard that!' cried one of the Colonel's erstwhile clients, forgetting in his admiration that he was witnessing the irrevocable disappearance of his own winnings. 'Monsieur the bookmaker has dissipated himself. It is that he has become as a god. A thing marvellous, this. Is it not?'
'But yes,' replied another bilked client, not so easily carried away by the excitement of the moment. 'It is of a marvellousness in full truth, but — hein! It is also an affair of the most lamentable nature, for is it not that there go an illimitable number of francs that should be rightfully ours?'
'Of a verity,' responded the first Frenchman, his expression of admiration promptly changing to one of poignant despair. 'It is but now being borne in on me that I am applauding a theft instead of a miracle. That one on high, semi-seen only and aloof, is far from what he seems.'
'M'sieu, he is even less,' said the other politely. 'Bear witness, nevertheless, that the small little that remains still possesses sufficient astuteness to cling with a greed of the utmost tenacity to our francs.'
'Indubitably, m'sieu, and one regrets that much,' the first victim agreed. 'It would be no less than a step of justice and wisdom if our brave gendarmes encumbered the drawers of the wicked one with lead.'
'But, no!' cried the other thriftily. 'It is that they might miss and destroy a number of francs enormous.'
'So far as we ourselves are concerned,' observed the first Frenchman, whose intellect was not sufficient to follow the economic abstractions of his friend, 'those francs of innumerable number are, if not destroyed, at least departed, and for ever, alas.'
It was of a truth. The francs were departing. Higher and higher ascended the Colonel above the heads of the gesticulating crowd. The military moustache became confused with the branches of trees on a distant hill. The drawers blended harmoniously with the sky now, shot with pastel shades from the lowering sun. Only the two huge bundles of francs remained visible to the tormented eyes of the mob, then they, too, slowly faded from mere specks to an aching void.
The Colonel had made good his escape. His highly questionable conduct had been most impressively dramatized. To his way of thinking he had given his baffled clients more than enough for their money. He was well pleased with the results of the day. Now for the automobile and Mr Topper — perhaps a bit of an orgy.
If brevity is the soul of wit Marion's briefs were brilliant. They were short to the point of brusqueness — neat, concise little garments. The young lady, now back in the private room in the club-house with Mrs Hart and Oscar, was holding these briefs in her hands preparatory to materializing in them when Mrs Hart first noticed the absence of the bookmaker.
'He is gone, my dear,' she announced.
'That's good,' Marion replied abstractedly. 'I'm glad he took those drawers away, or I'd never be able to get into my own.'
'Weren't they fearful?' said Mrs Hart, now busy about her own materialization. 'Wonder who thought them up?'
In answer to this came a low growl from Oscar.
'My dear,' called Marion, 'I have the most uncanny sensation that someone is looking at my scanties askance. So, seemingly, has Oscar.'
'So have I,' replied Mrs Hart. 'Something tells me we're not alone.'
'Evidently,' said Marion, calmly, turning towards the door. 'Looks as if the whole damn Riviera has wedged itself into the room.'
'What's the big idea?' demanded Mrs Hart, following Marion's example and turning to confront a breathlessly interested group of club members, servants, and gendarmes.
'In place of the absent drawers,' commented Marion, 'we seem to have much of France.'
'More of it than I need or want,' gasped Mrs Hart. 'This is a terribly embarrassing situation. Do something about those briefs, my dear. You're in an awful state.'
'I'll do what I can,' said Marion. 'You're not swathed in garments yourself, you know.'
'Yes,' chattered Mrs Hart. 'I know only too well, but I can't seem to manage my ectoplasm.'
Marion, too, was experiencing difficulty in that direction. Their ectoplasm — at all times of a sensitive disposition — had received such a severe shock that its action had become atrophied. Consequently the ladies were left in a state of suspended materialization in which they appeared to be made of delicately tinted gelatine. They could neither return to nothing nor advance to more. Oscar had completely disappeared. There was not even a rump to be seen. As tired as she had become of seeing that part of the dog bunching itself about the landscape, Marion now decided it would at least be a comfort to have had even that unprepossessing object with them in this moment of crisis.
'The ladies,' one of the gendarmes observed superfluously, 'they are without costumes.' He hesitated, then added as the ladies in question shrank into their briefs, 'Or nearly so.'
'They should be arrested and put into jail,' remarked an American guest of the club. 'If my husband were here I wouldn't know what to do.'
'Is that so?' said Marion in a hard voice. 'Well, lady, neither would he, or else he wouldn't have married you.'
'They are the same as the ones who misled monsieur the book-maker,' put in another gendarme.
'He was certainly wearing a misleading pair of drawers,' retorted Marion.
'But, my old,' objected still another representative of French law and order, 'that one assured us they undressed him and not themselves. He had hoped otherwise, he told us.'
'He was a gentleman at least,' replied Mrs Hart. 'He didn't want to brag.'
'I'm getting sick of this back talk,' said Marion. 'Let's make a break.'
'How?' asked Mrs Hart.
'We'll scream our way out,' Marion replied. 'Grab up your clothes and follow me and yell like hell. Maybe Oscar will show some signs of life and limb.'
Suddenly the room was filled with a volley of ear-splitting screams, shrieks, and imprecations. Two translucent ladies, clad only in the curtest of panties and clinging on to their outer raiment, danced weirdly about the room. From beneath a table arose the howling of a dog that increased in ferocity with the tempo of the dance. Presently the head of a mad dog appeared at the seat of the howls. Guests, servants, and club members vied with each other to give the gendarmes ample room in which to make their arrests.
'My God in heaven!' muttered an old débauché, mopping his forehead with a scented handkerchief. 'I thought I had slept, in my time, with every manner of woman extant, but I must have completely overlooked that type. What are they?'
'Why, they're hardly anything at all, old chap,' an English visitor explained. 'Merely a pair of scandalously animated ladies' garments, so far as I could tell.'
'Well, I recognized more than that,' said the old gentleman. 'And listen to them. Do you mean to tell me that a couple of pairs of jigging drawers can let out whoops like that?'
The Englishman, a trifle offended at the other's coarse way of putting things, stalked off. Anyway, this was France. He was not responsible for its morals. Joining a French show girl out of work whom he was maintaining at a favourable rate of exchange while on the Continent, he drove impeccably away from the club-house and later telegraphed his wife to be careful of Junior's cold.
The game old débauché, as if still fascinated by the riddle of the sexes, struggled back to the door of the private room and peered in between two gendarmes. He was just in time to witness the charge of the embattled panties foamingly led by the snapping fangs of Oscar.
'Strange women,' mused the old gentleman as he got himself out of the way. 'And an even stranger dog.'
As Marion dashed through the door one of the gendarmes made a shrinking grab at her. There was the sound of ripping silk.
'There go the briefs!' cried Marion. 'Hold on to yours, Clara. The godarme gendam — I mean, the goddam gendarme got 'em.'
'Hope he keeps his beastly hands off mine,' yelled Clara Hart as she dashed through the door, then triumphantly added, 'Made it! Only an impertinent pinch.'
'Mine weren't much, but they meant a lot to me,' Marion called back over her shoulder.
'Easy come, easy go,' Mrs Hart panted as philosophically as one can pant.
'You mean, easy on, easy off,' replied Marion. 'That's why I liked 'em.'
'Drape your dress around you and run like heIl,' Mrs Hart urged. 'The godarmes are following.'
'I can't run like hell with this dress draped around me,' Marion complained.
'Then just run like hell,' said Mrs Hart.
Down the main thoroughfare of the French resort the fascinating figures sped, a path being cleared before them by the anything but fascinating head of the baying Oscar. Shopkeepers, chauffeurs, and tourists saw them and blinked their eyes. Even the Colonel saw them, and joined the merry chase as it debouched into a palm-lined avenue that led to the Casino.
'Sick 'em, Oscar,' called the Colonel, and the dog, at the sound of his master's voice, turned back and threw consternation into the ranks of the pursuing gendarmes.
'Oh, look at all the francs,' cried Mrs Hart in a delighted voice.
'You'd run naked through the streets of Paris for half that amount,' Marion Kerby told her.
'Wouldn't I!' shouted Mrs Hart. 'I'd even loiter sans costume through the streets of New York itself for less than a third.'
'Come! Come!' cried the Colonel. 'This is no time for vulgar niceties. Run, girls, run.'
'Well, we're not exactly crawling,' said Clara Hart in an injured voice.
'I was under the impression we were literally killing the kilometres,' put in Marion bitterly.
'What's wrong with your ectoplasm?' the flying Colonel inquired. 'Why are you that way?'
'What's wrong with your own ectoplasm?' exploded Mrs Hart. 'You seem to be all francs and drawers. Ours is stuck, that's all.'
Mr Topper, seated at the wheel of his chartered machine, heard the tumult of their approach. To his startled eyes it seemed that the entire populace of the town proposed to take a ride in his machine. Preparing for the worst, he started up the engine. The Colonel, or rather, two wads of francs were the first to arrive.
'I must look queer to you,' he laughed apologetically, 'but everything is all right. Mrs Hart has most of my clothes.'
'Pardon my informal appearance,' gasped that lady as she fell in beside the Colonel. 'My ectoplasm will soon be in circulation.'
Marion, in the front seat, was practically choking Topper with a pair of tapering diaphanous arms. Even the French witnesses to this intimate little scene were shocked into forgetting its romantic flavour. Some of them even remembered to take the number of the car. The French can be very much like that on occasions. Especially when it's at the expense of an apparently wealthy American.
'Journeys end in lovers meeting,' Marion sang out.
'I think I can stand almost everything except the way Oscar is,' remarked Mr Topper judiciously. 'I refuse to be responsible for the quality of my driving with that head in my lap.'
Oscar, with a gendarme's cap gripped firmly in his teeth, was busily worming himself into the front seat beside Topper. Oscar liked this man. He was so solid. A good lap for a weary head. The poor beast had forgotten how unpalatable he looked.
'We'll deal with Oscar later,' said the Colonel. 'Now, if you love your liberty, for God's sake look alive, even if we can't.'
'Where away?' demanded Topper.
'Anywhere,' replied the Colonel. 'Anywhere but home. They'd trace you there as quick as a wink. Got to give 'em the slip. Head for Monte Carlo.'
'Splendid!' cried Mrs Hart.
'Shove off,' commanded Marion. 'If we must wash our soiled linen, let's do it in someone else's public.'
'You don't seem to be wearing any linen at all,' Mr Topper observed.
'I didn't think you'd notice,' Marion replied, making another dive for him.
'If you'll restrain this woman,' said Mr Topper with fastidious calm, 'and drop a handkerchief over this dog's face, I'll try to budge along.'
As the gendarmes arrived, the car sped on its way.
'Here's your cap, dearie,' Marion called back. 'Wish it had been your pants.'
'Trousers,' corrected Topper. 'Are all women alike?'
'I don't know,' replied Marion innocently, 'but now's a good time to find out.'
'Low. Always low,' Mr Topper murmured regretfully, as if to himself.
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