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Sticking to Mr. Burdock
AS the evening advanced, Sally's opinion of Mr. Burdock was not favourably revised. The man was a cosmic consumer of strong drink. Sally would not have objected to this entirely forgivable weakness had the gentleman confined his indulgence to himself. Tom Burdock was not that way. Never had been. He insisted on others drinking. He forced vile libations on Sally. What had once eaten the enamel off bathtubs now got busily to work on the linings of their respective stomachs. They attended the performance of a play the name and meaning of which neither of them was ever able to remember. They slumbered disreputably through two acts and one intermission. Finally they were escorted to an exit by a contingent of ushers who bade them godspeed as they stood in the street wearily supporting each other while they strove to accustom their smarting eyes to the kaleidoscope of Broadway. To Sally's way of thinking, the street had gone mad. Tom Burdock seemed to be trying to return to sleep by resting the upper half of his body on her head. Unsympathetically she moved away. Mr. Burdock followed. His mind was consumed with one idea to the exclusion of all others. He must get some sleep. For sleep he would commit every crime on the calendar and if necessary think up a few new ones. Sally was of a like mind.
Even then all might have gone well for the ill-matched pair had not an unemployed baker by the name of Joe Clark allowed himself to be struck down by a taxicab. The collision looked more serious than it proved to be. By the time the ambulance arrived all that remained of the erstwhile baker was a battered hat. The man himself had washed his hands of the whole unpleasant incident. After roundly cursing the spot where Joe Clark had once lain, the ambulance surgeon hastened to a nearby cigar store while the driver returned to his seat and followed with hopeful eyes the frantic leaps of an elderly gentleman who seemed determined to make up for the delinquency of the baker by hurling his own frail body beneath the wheels of as many automobiles as would accept him.
The sight of an empty and comfortably appointed ambulance presented itself to Tom Burdock as a God-given opportunity. As has already been stated, Mr. Burdock continued to act long after he had ceased to think. He did so in this instance. With the confidence born of a fixed idea he climbed into the ambulance and disappeared from sight beneath a blanket. Realising the futility of any attempt to remove the body of the monolithic creature, Sally did the only thing left for her to do under the unprecedented circumstances. She followed him into the ambulance and sought the protection of another blanket. In the cozy darkness of the compartment Tom Burdock was chuckling like a well-disposed percolator.
"Willows," he said, in a subdued voice, "isn't this great? Wonder what they'll do when they find us in here."
"Quite a lot," replied Sally. "Even more than enough."
"I guess they'll do plenty," Mr. Burdock agreed. "You'd never have thought of a thing like this."
"Never," retorted Sally. "And I wish to God you hadn't. All I can think of is the vast quantities of dead men who have from time to time occupied the same spot in which I am now lying—probably the same blanket."
"No doubt about it," whispered Burdock. "I daresay this ambulance has had its fill of corpses and mangled bodies!"
"A nice place you select for a pleasant nap," observed Sally.
"The way I feel," replied Mr. Burdock, "I could sleep cheek and jowl with a corpse itself."
"You almost are," breathed Sally.
Further conversation was halted by the arrival of the surgeon. He swung himself into the back seat of the ambulance, looking back at the lights of Broadway. Gradually a peculiar sensation took possession of the man. He glanced into the body of the car and received the distinct impression that the blankets had come unrolled and were quivering as if with suppressed mirth. The possible significance of what he saw was not reassuring. Blankets that quivered of their own volition had no place in the general scheme of things. The young surgeon was not elated.
For a long minute he sat considering the blankets with apprehensive eyes, then, opening his bag, he produced a flask which he applied to his lips. Placing the flask beside him on the bench, he returned to the objects of his contemplation. This time it seemed to him that the blankets were threatening to lose control of themselves and to become wildly hysterical. Were those strange, gurgling sounds of human origin or were his eyes and ears playing tricks on him—dirty tricks, at that? He gazed down a long street and thought of other things. He thought of an old man who had died in that ambulance the previous evening because he, the surgeon, had cynically mistaken acute starvation for sordid alcoholism. True, the old man's breath had smelled strongly of bad whisky, but so did nine out of ten breaths along Broadway. Had the spirit of this hungry old man returned to taunt him with his neglect? The surgeon reached for his flask and was electrified to find it gone. Gurgling noises continued to issue from the blankets. Without further delay he called to the driver to stop; then he climbed up beside him. The blankets could have the entire ambulance for all he cared. Blankets that quivered were bad enough, but blankets that drank whisky were obviously out of the question. And, anyway, the investigation of occult phenomena was none of his business. He'd leave that to the cranks before he became one himself.
"Get more fresh air up here," he explained to the driver. "Back there the gasoline fumes from the streets are stifling."
"Maybe that's what gets the best of your customers, Doc.," suggested the driver. "Most of 'em seem to pass out en route"
Having no desire to be reminded of the high rate of mortality suffered by his customers, the surgeon made no comment and the drive was finished in silence.
Four powerful attendants were awaiting the surgeon's bidding.
"What did you catch to-night, Doc.?" one of them inquired.
"Look in the back and see," replied the surgeon with simulated indifference.
They looked in the back and saw. What they saw was in no wise startling. Since the advent of prohibition they had grown accustomed to such sights. Two well-dressed gentlemen were sleeping peacefully and comfortably on the floor of the car. Beside them was the surgeon's flask. The surgeon, himself, unable to restrain his curiosity, and fortified by the presence of others, looked long and hatefully upon the oblivious bodies. His whisky must have been the last straw. Both Sally and Mr. Burdock had gently passed out. A look of profound trouble clouded the driver's eyes.
"I'll swear to God the pair of them were born fully dressed in there," he protested, peering over the surgeon's shoulder. "We didn't pick up one body, let alone two."
Acid bitterness then entered into the young surgeon's soul. The ethical compulsions of his high vocation vanished from his mind. To him those two still bodies were not human. They were things to be made to suffer both physical and mental anguish. He spoke confidentially and persuasively to the attendants. Those stalwart worthies nodded with unqualified approval and did all that was required.
Some hours thereafter Tom Burdock swam back to consciousness through the alcoholic waves that were beating against his brain. He found himself cold, unreasonably and clammily cold. Removing the sheet from his head, he discovered that everything else also had been removed. "Strange," he thought numbly, "I seem to have crawled into bed mother-naked. Wonder where Willows is." He reached for the night lamp but was unable to find it. Then he sat up and looked about him. What he saw was not reassuring. Along the opposite wall were numerous rows of large drawers. Certainly this was not his hotel bedroom. "Might have barged into the linen closet," he reflected, "and gone to sleep there. Damn fool thing to do." Then in the dim light he noticed a number of slablike tables upon which sheet-draped figures were apparently sleeping the unstirring sleep of the weary.
"I've got it now," he decided. "We're in some sort of a Turkish bath. They've taken all our clothes and now they're freezing us to death."
He let himself down from the table and started out to search for his friend. At that moment two grey-clad figures came swinging into the room and marched up to one of the large drawers. Mr. Burdock modestly shrank down behind a table and observed a scene that was anything but happy, although his faculties were still too atrophied to comprehend the full significance of what he saw.
The two men opened one of the drawers and snapped the body of an unpleasant-looking man into view. This they unceremoniously deposited in a basket-like arrangement.
"Well, here's the last of this beauty," remarked one of the men, as if the final removal of the beauty was'a pleasure that had been long deferred.
"He's still so full of slugs he's as heavy as a graven image," complained the other.
Laying violent hands on the basket, the two grey-clad figures half dragged and half carried it through another door.
"What a tough joint we picked out," Mr. Burdock observed to himself. "First they make a guy sleep in a drawer, then they drag him off in a basket. Wonder what they meant by that bit about slugs. Sounded sort of bad to me." His growing feeling of solitude and uneasiness gave him the temerity to lift the end of the sheet from the figure on the table behind which he had been crouching. He found himself confronting a pair of large, aloof-looking feet.
"Can't be Willows' feet," he decided, delicately re-covering the feet and moving to another table. "I'll try this sheet, but maybe they tucked him in a drawer."
This effort was rewarded by a glare from two pale, malevolent blue eyes set in a dead white face decorated with a flowing beard. Mr. Burdock, after one look, hastily dropped the sheet. This Turkish bath evidently drew its customers from the very scum of society.
"I beg your pardon, brother," he mumbled, "I was looking for my friend."
He realised it was rather improper to be going about uncovering naked strangers, and was fully prepared to have this man snap erect and tell him to go to hell with his friend. He was not prepared, however, for the silence that greeted his apology. Perhaps the man had not heard. He'd try him again. Once more he diffidently raised a corner of the sheet and looked down. A person did not usually go to sleep with his eyes wide open, no matter how tired he felt. There was something in the immobility of the figure that arrested Tom Burdock's attention. Very gently, very reluctantly, he edged in a finger and touched the man's cold face. Mr. Burdock's hand flipped back like a frantic fish leaping from a lake. He stood there petrified, frozen to the marrow by the shock of a ghastly realisation.
"Oh, my God," he breathed at last, "I'm a dead man. We're all dead men. That bit about the slugs. I see it all now. The ambulance. We died on the way. That stuff in the doctor's flask did the trick. It killed us."
In his morbid mental condition it was not at all difficult for Mr. Burdock to persuade himself that this was the only rational explanation of his predicament.
"Wonder what poor Willows looks like," he mused as he moved to the next table.
Idly he lifted the sheet and glanced down. The grinning face of a Negro seared his eyeballs. The sheet dropped from Mr. Burdock's nerveless fingers and blotted out the terrible sight.
"Dear me," he quavered, in his fright forgetting how to curse. "Oh, dear, dear me. Oh, goodness. I can't go on with this much longer. How awful everything is."
At this inauspicious moment the sheet on the table on the other side of Mr. Burdock was seized with a sudden convulsion. Tom Burdock had often heard of a person's jaw dropping under the stress of some terrible fright or confrontation. He had never believed it, however. People did not really go about dropping their jaws. In the whole course of his life he had never seen a single jaw drop. But now as he stood looking at that wildly thrashing sheet he had occasion to alter his opinion. His own jaw swung open like a gate that had been roughly kicked. His eyes became two glassy points of fear. What horror was he now about to witness? When Tim Willows's head finally emerged from the sheet, Tom Burdock drew a quivering breath and snapped his jaw back into place.
"Where are we?" asked Sally, in a high tremulous voice which even in his dazed condition Mr. Burdock found somewhat incongruous.
"Take it easy, old man," he said in a funereal voice. "Pull yourself together. I fear we're all dead."
"Dead?" repeated Sally. "Why, you're not dead. You don't even look sick."
"I know," replied Burdock bleakly. "It must be like that. All around us lie the dead. Some of us are in drawers."
"You're not in drawers," said Sally, not looking at the great man. "Get a sheet and wrap it round you."
Absently Mr. Burdock plucked a sheet from a nearby table. In so doing he neatly unveiled the body of an oriental ax victim. Sally took one swift look, then crumpled beneath her sheet.
"Has it gone?" came her muffled voice. "What a sight!"
"It will never go," said Burdock hollowly. "It will be dragged away in a basket."
"Oh, dear God," moaned Sally, hoping to curry favour. "Do they make picnics out of us?"
"No," continued Burdock, now thoroughly enjoying his misery. "After that comes the ground—the earth. Parts of us go in bottles, perhaps."
"Well, we'll make a couple of powerful quarts," Sally could not help observing.
She ducked out from under the sheet and looked curiously about her.
"I thought it was a Turkish bath," intoned Tom Burdock, "but it turned out to be a morgue."
"From the frigidity of the temperature," said Sally, "I should say we've missed hell by several degrees."
"You shouldn't talk like that, Willows," Mr. Burdock mournfully remonstrated. "This may be merely a moment of transition—the pause before the plunge."
So far as the plunge was concerned the words of Tom Burdock were singularly prophetic. An aged man came into the room, gave one appalled look at the two strange figures, then hurriedly withdrew.
"There're a couple of resurrections in there," he told the doctor, "and they're raising hell with our morgue."
The doctor received this startling announcement with a smile of malicious glee. A few minutes later four large attendants filed briskly into the morgue and roughly apprehended both Sally and Mr. Burdock. Then came the plunge. They were transported through leagues of space and violently deposited in two tubs of ice-cold water.
"The final plunge," gasped Sally as the water closed over her head.
Mr. Burdock's amazement and indignation knew no bounds. Sally had reached that stage whereat nothing really surprised her. Dead or alive, she was still sticking to her man.
The bath over, a couple of strange-looking garments were flung in their faces.
"My God," chattered Tom Burdock, distastefully examining the article in his hands. "The things they can't think of doing to you in a place like this! Now what do you suppose this damn thing is? It looks pretty desperate to me."
"Put it on. Put it on," snapped one of the attendants. "Can't you see we're waiting?"
"How many poor souls have met their God in mine?" demanded Sally, at which Mr. Burdock's face went white.
"Plenty," said the attendant.
"It's still quite good," replied Sally.
"I can't do it," gasped Mr. Burdock. "Have men actually died in these things?"
"Suffered and died," said the attendant. "And if you don't get into yours you'll find yourself in a strait-jacket."
"If it's a new one," observed Mr. Burdock, as he struggled into the uncouth sleeping garment, "I think I might prefer even that."
"Now, how do we look?" asked Sally after they had slipped into the nightshirts.
"Take 'em off," commanded the attendant disgustedly. "You've got 'em on backwards."
"But this way seems more logical," suggested Mr. Burdock.
"I'm getting mighty tired of you," said the attendant. "Are you going to do what I say?"
"Sure he is," put in Sally. "Dress pretty for the gentleman, Tom."
The attendant gave Sally a suspicious look. She had spoken in her natural voice, which even Mr. Burdock found difficult to tolerate.
"Don't talk like that," he pleaded, "or you'll be getting us into more trouble."
Once more they were seized upon and hurried down the hall. This time they were thrust into a long ward apparently entirely occupied by the maddest sort of madmen. Wild and alarming noises filled this ward. Some men were cursing in their sleep while others preferred to laugh. The laughing was the harder to bear. Several were singing lustily on their cots, while others troubled the air with a cacophony of hard-driven snores. It was bedlam at its weirdest.
"You don't expect us to sleep in an animal house like this?" demanded Mr. Burdock in a voice of dignified reproof. "Why, damn it, I'm a gentleman."
"We don't care whether you sleep or not," replied the communicative attendant. "You can shout and scream like the others if you feel like it. Everybody's nuts in here."
"What!" exclaimed Tom Burdock. "Do you mean to say you're putting us in with insane people?"
"Why, didn't you know?" asked the attendant. "You're that way yourself. Hope you don't think we'd put you in with normal patients. You're under observation."
"I can't stand it," muttered Mr. Burdock to Sally. "I know I'll never be able to stand it. I'll go mad myself. What humiliation! And this damn silly nightgown all split down the back. That in itself is enough to make a person look and act like a madman."
Not only were they thrown into bed, but also strapped down until only their heads could move.
"Well, I never in my life would have thought it possible," said Mr. Burdock, cocking his massive head at Sally. "To be strapped helplessly in bed with a ward full of raving lunatics. Can you imagine it?"
"I don't have to," replied Sally, popping up her head. "I'm experiencing it to the hilt."
"Next time I crawl into an ambulance," groaned Burdock, "I hope to God they shoot me."
"They probably will," said Sally wearily. "They can do anything they want to you in a place like this, especially if you're mad. Do you think you are?"
The great man strained at his bonds.
"Don't," he pleaded. "Don't even suggest it."
"Well, I think I am," went on Sally. "I believe I've lost my reason. First I thought I was dead and now I'm pretty sure I'm not quite all there. I'm glad I'm strapped down or else I might do either you or myself an injury."
Tom Burdock gave her a frightened look and shivered. Perhaps that explained the sudden shiftings of his companion's voice. There was, now that he came to think of it, something rather odd about Tim Willows. No normal man could talk so like a woman.
"I wish we had Mr. Volstead strapped down between us," went on Sally. "He'd make a noble experiment."
A doctor came quietly up to Mr. Burdock's cot and stood looking rather sadly down at its occupant. Burdock returned the man's depressing scrutiny half timidly and half combatively. Suddenly the doctor stooped down and examined the great man's eyes, roughly snapping back the lids.
"Don't do that," complained Burdock. "Damn it, man, you're gouging."
Slowly the doctor rose and sorrowfully he shook his head.
"It's too bad," was all he said.
"What's too bad?" demanded Burdock.
"Gone, clean gone," continued the doctor, as if speaking to himself. "The mind ... a case for the mad house."
"What do you call this?" asked Sally. "They don't make houses any madder, Doc."
Mr. Burdock's eyes were starting from their sockets. His face was purple from the strain of his efforts to get at the doctor.
"Do you mean to stand there and tell me to my face I'm gaga?" he fumed.
The doctor's face brightened.
"That's it," he replied soothingly. "My good man, you're gaga. Do you like being gaga?"
"You're crazy as a coot," Mr. Burdock managed to get out. "You should be where I am. You're criminally insane, yourself."
"Another sure indication," observed the doctor. "The persecution complex. Thinks everyone's mad but himself. A very sad case."
Inarticulate with rage, Tom Burdock began to whine like a dog.
"Thinks he's a dog now," went on the doctor, then, looking down once more at Mr. Burdock: "Playing Bow-wow, old man?" he asked. "What sort of a dog are you?"
The whining turned to a howl of truly animal ferocity.
"Why don't you examine me, too?" Sally inquired of the doctor. "I'm as mad as hell. Much madder than he is. I'm so far gone I think I'm a couple of Bow-wows, not to mention a pack of wolves. If I wasn't strapped down I'd stalk myself and then turn at bay and snarl in my own face."
"You're not mad," replied the doctor. "You're merely peculiar. An all too familiar type."
"Now I wonder what he meant by that?" mused Sally as the doctor drifted away. "It had all the earmarks of a nasty crack."
"Willows," said Mr. Burdock weakly, after he had quieted down somewhat, "Julius Cæsar and Napoleon and Alexander the Great and all those famous men would be just as helpless and humiliated as we are if they took away all their clothes and made them wear these silly-looking nightshirts all split down the back, wouldn't they?"
"Sure they would," replied Sally encouragingly. "And that goes for President Roosevelt, Aimee Semple McPherson, and Rudy Vallee. Mahatma Ghandi is the only possible exception. He might look quite snappy for him."
"It's so demeaning," continued Mr. Burdock. "They don't give you a ghost of a chance. They strip you of dignity and self-respect and make you look like a fool. They get the moral and physical advantage over you and you can't do a damn thing. It's the worst feeling in the world. No man can look competent rigged out the way we are."
"I've never succeeded in looking like that even in a fur coat," replied Sally. "But it must be hard lines for you, the head of a great concern."
"It is, Willows. It is," said Burdock mournfully. "I don't think I'll ever regain my former self-esteem."
"My own inferiority complex," replied Sally, "has been given a terrific boost. If a worm looked at me severely I'd break down and confess everything."
At this juncture an interne presented himself and gave them what proved to be a sleeping potion, for presently their eyes closed and they fell into an uneasy doze.
Several hours later Mr. Burdock awoke and immediately wished he hadn't. What he saw caused him to shrink within his bonds. He hoped he was still dreaming. He even hoped that the doctor had been right and that he had gone mad. He hoped for any other explanation except the true one. An incredibly aged creature or thing, a face remotely suggestive of a woman, an evil face framed in an unholy nimbus of straggling, grey hair, was peering down into his, peering with the glazed, fixed stare of the demented. In the hand of this apparition was a long kitchen knife. Just above Mr. Burdock's throat the blade was suggestively poised.
"Get up, Jim," croaked the face in a hoarse voice. "Get up at once. It's time ye were rising, man."
Mr. Burdock licked his dry lips and endeavoured to speak. No sound came.
"Get up," continued the terrible voice. "Get up, Jim, you hulk of a man."
"My good woman," Tom Burdock gasped. "Nothing would please me more. I long to get up. I'd give ten years of my life to get up, but unfortunately I can't get up."
"I'll make you get up," grated the old woman, tentatively pricking her victim with the point of the knife.
"But, madam, I'm not Jim," Mr. Burdock protested. "You've made some mistake. I think that man over there calls himself Jim."
"Oh, what a lie!" exclaimed Sally, who had been awakened by the sound of voices. "Don't you believe him, lady. Jim went out to get a drink."
"I'd like a drink," observed the old woman.
"Why don't you go and get one?" suggested Mr. Burdock. "We all want a drink."
"No," said the old woman, once more prodding Burdock with the knife. "You go get the drink."
"Listen, lady," he said very earnestly. "If I could go get a drink you don't think I'd be lying here, do you? I couldn't go get a drink if they were being given away in buckets. I can't even budge."
"I'll make you budge," proclaimed the old lady, growing excited. "Are you going to get that drink before I slit your throat?"
As she prodded the knife into Mr. Burdock her face was working horribly. Unable to stand the situation any longer, he lifted up his voice in one anguished cry for help.
"Pipe down in there," called a gruff voice. "Want another cold bath?"
"Yes," shouted Burdock. "That's it. I want another cold bath. Quick, for God's sake."
"If you don't hurry he'll be bathed in blood," Sally sang out. "We've got a wild woman in here. And she's got the cutest knife—about twelve inches long."
"Come out of there, Maggie," came a bored voice. "Neither one of those guys is your husband. They're just plain bums. Come on and give us that knife and I'll slip you a little drink."
"That's a good girl, Maggie," said Mr. Burdock. "Did you hear what he said? He promised you a little drink. Think of that!"
Evidently Maggie was thinking of that. She seemed undecided. From the knife she looked to Mr. Burdock's unprotected throat. Maybe she could cut it and get the drink, too. A greedy look sprang up in her eyes.
"No, no," said Sally, who had been watching the old woman closely. "No cheating, Maggie. I'll tell."
Mumbling furiously to herself, Maggie turned and hobbled from the alcove.
"Who in God's name can that be?" asked Tom Burdock, the sweat standing out on his face.
"She seems to be the mascot of the troop," observed Sally.
"Well, she certainly gave me the worst fifteen minutes of my life," said Mr. Burdock. "This has been a most unpleasant night. Wish I could go home."
"Do you mean that?" cried Sally.
"If I ever get out of this place alive," replied Burdock with deadly conviction, "that's just where I'm going—home."
"Is that a promise?" asked Sally. "It's more than a promise," said Burdock. "It's a grim determination."
Sally sighed deeply and let her head sink back to rest.
An orderly appeared and stood at the foot of Mr. Burdock's bed. He was grinning rather apologetically.
"Maggie wasn't premeditated," he said. "We didn't plan Maggie. It was all her own idea."
"She's got some mean ideas, that girl," commented Sally. "Why don't you keep her locked up?"
"Oh, Maggie's perfectly harmless," replied the orderly. "We've had her with us for years. She's a sort of privileged character. She wanders from ward to ward. Nobody seems to mind."
"I mind terribly," said Mr. Burdock. "I most strenuously object to Maggie. She may be a privileged character, but not with my neck."
At an early hour they were unstrapped and fed. Then Tom Burdock was given a heavy flat weight attached to a broom handle, and told to push it up and down the linoleum which ran the entire length of the ward.
"My God," protested Burdock. "This hall is so damned long I don't even see the end of it. I'll drop from sheer exhaustion before I'm halfway through."
"Better send Maggie along with him to keep him from getting lost," suggested Sally.
Without further protest the employer of five thousand souls set off on his long trip. Sally was set to work emptying buckets, a most uncongenial task. Whenever their paths chanced to cross in the course of their humiliating occupations the two friends' expressions were eloquent. They were weary, strained, and disgusted. Sally looked especially wan.
"Would you believe it?" demanded Mr. Burdock. "Me with this damn thing. Pushing it. And in such a get-up."
"I suppose I look quite natural," remarked Sally bitterly.
"You have all your life before you," replied Tom Burdock.
"And a sweet little bit behind," retorted Sally. "You've made history for me, Tom Burdock."
By ten o'clock in the morning both of them were convinced that they had been up an entire day. An attendant flung two bags at them and told them to clear out. Neither one of them ever achieved again such speed in dressing as they did that morning. Even then the operation seemed interminable to them. Both were knotting their neckties as they marched down the hall. Once in the open air they breathed with voluptuous enjoyment. Never had life seemed quite so desirable. A taxi took them to the Grand Central. Sally was taking no chances.
"I'll fix it up with the hotel," she assured Mr. Burdock. "I'll pack your bags myself and see that they're sent along."
"You're a great little scout, Willows," said the large man. "What a time we've had, eh?"
"I've enjoyed every minute of it," Sally replied with a grin. "Every jolly old minute. Wouldn't have missed one of them."
"The same here, you liar," said Mr. Burdock. "We've had a nice, quiet time. Going to tell my wife all about it."
They were standing on the long platform now and Sally was watching Tom Burdock with anxious eyes. A white-jacketed porter stepped out of a Pullman and greeted Mr. Burdock with a dazzling display of even whiter teeth. Mr. Burdock returned the salutation in his large, friendly style. Evidently he was well known on this line. Sally had no desire to linger over the farewells. She wanted to see her charge disappear into the train and the doors shut against his return.
"Don't forget America's Sweetheart," she told him.
"You mean Maggie?" asked Burdock, with a slight shudder.
"Herself," replied Sally.
"Never," said Mr. Burdock. "I'm going in now and collapse in a chair. Do I look all right?"
"Surprisingly well, considering what you've been through."
So departed Mr. Burdock from the city that had so disastrously misunderstood his playful intentions. Sally stood on the platform until the train pulled out, then she hurried to the nearest telephone and made a full report to a congratulatory Mr. Gibber. An hour later she caught a local to Cliffside, hoping there to enjoy a much-needed rest. She never did. Not on this occasion, at any rate.
The excitement started when she was wearily crossing Springfield Avenue on her way home from the station. Speaking accurately, the excitement must have started elsewhere. It merely reached its highest point of activity in and around the spot where Sally was standing. It was first brought to her attention by a bitter fusillade of bullets and the sharp reports of an exceedingly loquacious revolver. As inured as she had become to the unexpected, Sally was nevertheless somewhat disturbed. She was more so when she saw Mr. Carl Bentley, clad in a dripping wet union suit, approaching her at great speed. Close behind Mr. Bentley, and covering ground much too rapidly for a prospective mother, came the metamorphosed Tim, diligently pumping an old service automatic. And close behind Tim were two leaping state troopers, their faces eloquently expressing incredulity and determination. It must have been a moment of supreme humiliation for Mr. Bentley, but the Don Juan of the suburbs seemed to have tossed all considerations of shame and modesty to the winds as being impediments to flight.
Catching sight of a person he erroneously believed to be the husband of his murderously inclined pursuer, Mr. Bentley crouched behind Sally and pleaded for protection.
"A terrible mistake," he managed to get out between gasping breaths. "She suddenly went mad. Speak to her, Mr. Willows, I'm too young to die."
This settled Mr. Bentley's hash forever with Sally.
"You were never too young to die," she told the cringing man. "You should never have been allowed to get as far along as you have."
Tim, held firmly by the two state troopers and talking loosely about his purely hypothetical honour, was hustled up to the spot.
"I'm afraid, Mr. Willows," said one of the troopers to Sally, "I'll have to ask you to accompany your wife and this—this———" The trooper seemed to be having difficulty in classifying Carl Bentley. Tim helped him out.
"Nasty-minded craven," he supplied, then added several unladylike epithets.
"Madam!" said the trooper reprovingly.
"To hell with you," snapped Tim. "If the two of you hadn't butted in this bum would have been a corpse by now."
"May I ask what all the shooting's about?" Sally put in mildly.
"That's what we want to know," said the other trooper. "Come on down to the police station and we'll try to find out."
"If you want to know," remarked Tim, "it's all about this damned honour of mine."
He slipped an arm through Sally's and winked wickedly up at her. Sally was undecided whether she would prefer to lose her honour privately or her reputation in public. Ahead of them, held with unnecessary brutality, Carl Bentley in his dripping union suit proceeded down the street.
In, virtually, any part of the civilised world this little procession would have occasioned comment. In Cliffside it did more than that. Even to this day it is a subject of conversation that increases in dramatic intensity with the passing of the years. Carl Bentley's dripping union suit is still as fresh in the memory of those who had been privileged to witness the incident as when that unfortunate gentleman had first sprinted grotesquely down Springfield Avenue.
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