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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWhat's-his-name - Chapter 2. Miss Nellie Duluth
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What's-his-name - Chapter 2. Miss Nellie Duluth Post by :?ric_Hamel Category :Long Stories Author :George Barr Mccutcheon Date :May 2012 Read :3551

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What's-his-name - Chapter 2. Miss Nellie Duluth

CHAPTER II. MISS NELLIE DULUTH

Nellie Duluth had an apartment up near the Park, the upper end of the Park, in fact, and to the east of it. She went up there, she said, so that she could be as near as possible to her husband and daughter. Besides, she hated taking the train at the Grand Central on Sundays. She always went to One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Street in her electric brougham. It didn't seem so far to Tarrytown from One Hundred and Twenty-fifth. In making her calculations Nellie always went through the process of subtracting forty-two from one-twenty-five, seldom correctly. She had no difficulty in taking the two from the five, but it wasn't so simple when it came to taking four from two with one to carry over. It was the one that confused her. For the life of her she couldn't see what became of it. Figures of that sort were not in her line.

Nellie's career had been meteoric. She literally had leaped from the chorus into the role of principal comedienne--one of those pranks of fortune that cannot be explained or denied. She was one of the "Jack-in-the-Box" girls in a big New York production. On the opening night, when the lid of her box flew open and she was projected into plain view, she lost her bearings and missed the tiny platform in coming down. To save herself from an ignominious tumble almost to the footlights she hopped off the edge of her box, where she had been "teetering" helplessly, and did a brief but exceedingly graceful little "toe spin," hopping back into the box an instant later with all the agility of a scared rabbit. She expected "notice" from the stage manager for her inexcusable slip.

But the spectators liked it. They thought it was in the play. She was so pretty, so sprightly, so graceful, and so astoundingly modest that they wanted more of her. After the performance no fewer than a dozen men asked the producer why he didn't give that little girl with the black hair more of a chance.

The next night she was commanded to repeat the trick. Then they permitted her to do it over in the "encore." Before the end of a fortnight she was doing a dance with the comedian, exchanging lines with him. Then a little individual song-and-dance specialty was introduced. At the close of the engagement on Broadway she announced that she would not sign for the next season unless given a "ripping" part and the promise to be featured.

That was three years ago. Now she was the feature in the big, musical comedy success, "Up in the Air" and had New York at her feet. The critics admitted that she saved the "piece" in spite of composer and librettist. Some one is always doing that very thing for the poor wretches, Heaven pity them.

Nellie was not only pretty and sprightly, but as clever as they make them. She never drew the short straw. She had a brain that was quite as active as her feet. It was not a very big brain; for that matter, her feet were tiny. She had the good sense to realise that her brain would last longer than her feet, so she got as much for them as she could while the applause lasted. She drove shrewd bargains with the managers and shrewder ones with Wall Street admirers, who experienced a slim sense of gratification in being able to give her tips on the market, with the assurance that they would see to it that she didn't lose.

She put her money into diamonds as fast as she got it. Some one in the profession had told her that diamonds were safer than banks or railroad bonds. She could get her interest by looking at them and she could always sell them for what she paid for them.

The card on the door of her cosey apartment bore the name, "Miss Nellie Duluth."

There was absolutely nothing inside or outside the flat to lead one to suspect that there was a Mr. Duluth. A husband was the remotest figure in her household. When the management concluded to put her name in the play-bill, after the memorable Jack-in-the-Box leap, she was requested to drop her married name, because it would not look well in print.

"Where were you born?" the manager had asked.

"Duluth."

"Take Duluth for luck," said he, and Duluth it was. She changed the baptismal name Ella to Nellie. At home in Blakeville she had been called Eller or Ell.

Her apartment was an attractive one. Her housemaid was a treasure. She was English and her name was Rachel. Nellie's personal maid and dresser was French. Her name was Rebecca. When Miss Duluth and Rebecca left the apartment to go to the theatre in the former's electric brougham, Rachel put the place in order. So enormous was the task that she barely had it finished when her mistress returned, tired and sleepy, to litter it all up again with petticoats, stockings, roses, orchids, lobster shells, and cigarette stubs. More often than otherwise Nellie brought home girls from the theatre to spend the night with her. Poor things, they were chorus girls, just as she had been, and they had so far to go. Besides, they served as excuses for declining unwelcome invitations to supper. Be that as it may, Rachel had to clean up after them, finding their puffs, rats, and switches in the morning and the telephone number at their lodgings in the middle of the night. She had her instructions to say that such young ladies were spending the night with Miss Duluth.

"If you don't believe it, call up Miss Duluth's number in the telephone book," she always concluded, as if the statement needed verification.

Nellie had not been in Tarrytown for a matter of three weeks; what with rehearsals, revisions, consultations, and suppers, she just couldn't get around to it. The next day after Harvey's inglorious stand before Bridget she received a letter from him setting forth the whole affair in a peculiarly vivid light. He said that something would have to be done about Bridget and advised her to come out on the earliest day possible to talk it over with him. He confessed to a hesitancy about discharging the cook, recalling the trouble she had experienced in getting her away from a neighbour in the first place. But Bridget was drinking and quarrelling with Annie and using strong language in the presence of Phoebe. He would have discharged her long ago if it hadn't been for the fear of worrying her during rehearsals and all that. She wasn't to be bothered with trifling household squabbles at such an important time as this. No, sir! Not if he could help it. But, just the same, he thought she'd better come out and talk it over before Bridget took it into her head to poison some one.

"I really, truly must go up to Tarrytown next Sunday," said Nellie to the select company supping in her apartment after the performance that night. "Harvey's going to discharge the cook."

"Who is Harvey?" inquired the big blond man who sat beside her.

"My teenty-weenty hubby," said she, airily.

There were two other men besides the big blond in the party, and the wife of one of them--a balance wheel.

The big blond man stared at his hostess. He expected her to laugh at her own joke, but she did not. The others were discussing the relative merits of the Packard and Peerless cars. He waited a moment and then leaned closer to Nellie's ear.

"Are you in earnest?" he asked, in low tones.

"About what, Mr. Fairfax?"

"Hubby. Have you got one?"

"Of course I have. Had him for six years. Why?"

He swallowed hard. A wave of red crept up over his jowl and to the very roots of his hair.

"I've known you for over a month, Nellie," he said, a hard light in his fishy grey eyes, "and you've never mentioned this husband of yours. What's the game?"

"It's a guessing game," she said, coolly. "You might guess what I'm wearing this little plain gold ring on my left hand for. It's there where everybody can see it, isn't it? You just didn't take the trouble to look, Mr. Fairfax. Women don't wear wedding rings for a joke, let me tell you that."

"I never noticed it," he said, huskily. "The truth is, it never entered my head to think you could be a married woman."

"Thought I was divorced, eh?"

"Well, divorces are not uncommon, you know. You girls seem to get rid of husbands quite as easily as you pick them up."

"Lord bless you," said Nellie, in no way offended, "I have never done anything to give Harvey cause for divorce, and I'm sure he's never done the tiniest thing out of the way. He never treats me cruelly, he never beats me, he doesn't get tight and break things up, and he never looks at other women. He's the nicest little husband ever."

She instructed Rachel to fill up Mr. Fairfax's glass and pass the ripe olives. He was watching her, an odd expression in his eyes. A big, smooth-faced man of fifty was he, fat from high living, self-indulgence, and indolence, immaculately dressed to the tips of his toes.

"Speaking of divorce," she went on, without looking at him, "your wife didn't have much trouble getting hers, I've heard."

It was a daring thing to say, but Nellie was from the West, where courage and freshness of vision are regarded as the antithesis of tact and diplomacy. Tact calls for tact. The diplomatist is powerless if you begin shooting at him. Nellie did not work this out for herself; she merely wanted to put him in a corner where he would have to stand and get it over with.

Fairfax was disconcerted. He showed it. No one ever presumed to discuss the matter with him. It was a very tender subject. His eyes wavered.

"I like your cheek," he growled.

"Don't you like to talk about it?" she inquired, innocently.

"No," he replied, curtly. "It's nobody's business, Miss Duluth."

"My, how touchy!" She shivered prettily. "I feel as if some one had thrown a pail of ice water over me."

"We were speaking of your--this husband of yours," he said, quietly. "Why have you never mentioned him to me? Is it quite fair?"

"It just slipped my mind," she said, in the most casual way. "Besides, I thought you knew. My little girl is four--or is it five?"

"Where do you keep them?"

"I've got 'em in storage up at Tarrytown. That's the Sleepy Hollow neighbourhood, isn't it? I guess that's why Harvey likes it so well."

"What is his business?"

She looked up quickly. "What is that to you, Mr. Fairfax?"

"Nothing. I am in no way interested in Mr. Duluth."

"His name isn't Duluth," she flashed, hotly. "If you are not interested in him, let's drop the subject."

"I retract what I said. I am always interested in curiosities. What's he like?"

"Well, he's like a gentleman, if you are really interested in curiosities," she said.

He laughed. "By Jove, you've got a ready wit, my dear." He looked at her reflectively, speculatively. "It's rather a facer to have you turn out to be a married woman."

"Don't you like married women?"

"Some of 'em," he answered, coolly. "But I don't like to think of you as married."

"Pooh!" she said, and there was a world of meaning in the way she said it.

"Don't you know that it means a great deal to me?" he demanded, leaning closer and speaking in a lowered voice, tense and eager.

"Pooh!" she repeated.

He flushed again. "I cannot bear the thought of you belonging----"

She interrupted him quickly. "I wouldn't say it, if I were you."

"But I must say it. I'm in love with you, Nellie, and you know it. Every drop of blood in my veins is crying out for you, and has been----"

Her face had clouded. "I've asked you not to say such things to me."

He stared in amazement. "You are dreaming! I've never uttered a word of this sort to you. What are you thinking of? This is the first time I've said----"

Nellie was dismayed. It was the first time he had spoken to her in that way. She stammered something about "general principles," but he was regarding her so fixedly that her attempt at dissembling was most unconvincing.

"Or perhaps," said he, almost savagely, but guardedly, "you are confusing me with some one else."

This was broad enough to demand instant resentment. She took refuge in the opportunity.

"Do you mean to insult me, Mr. Fairfax?" she demanded, coldly, drawing back in her chair.

He laughed harshly.

"Is there any one else?" he asked, gripping one of her small hands in his great fist.

She jerked the hand away. "I don't like that, Mr. Fairfax. Please remember it. Don't ever do it again. You have no right to ask such questions of me, either."

"I'm a fool to have asked," he said, gruffly. "You'd be a fool to answer. We'll let it go at that. So that's your wedding ring, eh? Odd that I shouldn't have noticed it before."

She was angry with herself, so she vented the displeasure on him.

"You never took much notice of your wife's wedding ring, if tales are true."

"Please, Miss Duluth, I----"

"Oh, I read all about the case," she ran on. "You must have hated the notoriety. I suppose most of the things she charged you with were lies."

He pulled his collar away from his throat.

"Is it too hot in the room?" she inquired, innocently.

His grin was a sickly one. "Do you always make it so hot?" he asked. "This is my first visit to your little paradise, you must remember. Don't make it too hot for me."

"It isn't paradise when it gets too hot," was her safe comment.

Fairfax's wife had divorced him a year or two before. The referee was not long in deciding the case in her favour. As they were leaving Chambers, Fairfax's lawyer had said to his client:--"Well, we've saved everything but honour." And Fairfax had replied:--"You would have saved that, too, if I had given you a free rein." From which it may be inferred that Fairfax was something of a man despite his lawyer.

He was one of those typical New Yorkers who were Pittsburgers or Kansas Citians in the last incarnation--which dated back eight or ten years, at the most, and which doesn't make any difference on Broadway--with more money than he was used to and a measureless capacity for spending. His wife had married him when money was an object to him. When he got all the money he wanted he went to New York and began a process of elevating the theatre by lending his presence to the stage door. The stage declined to be elevated without the aid of an automobile, so he also lent that, and went soaring. His wife further elevated the stage by getting a divorce from him.

"This is my first time here," he went on, "but it isn't to be the last, I hope. What good taste you have, Nellie! It's a corking little nest."

"I just can't go out to Tarrytown every night," she explained. "I must have a place in town."

"By the way," he said, more at ease than he had been, "you spoke of going to Tarrytown on Sunday. Let me take you out in the motor. I'd like to see this husband chap of yours and the little girl, if----"

"Nay, nay," she said, shaking her head. "I never mix my public affairs with my private ones. You are a public affair, if there ever was one. No, little Nellie will go out on the choo-choos." She laughed suddenly, as if struck by a funny thought. Then, very seriously, she said:--"I don't know what Harvey would do to you if he caught you with me."

He stiffened. "Jealous, eh?"

"Wildly!"

"A fire-eater?"

"He's a perfect devil," said Nellie, with the straightest face imaginable.

Fairfax smiled in a superior sort of way, flecked the ashes from his cigarette, and leaned back in his chair the better to contemplate the charming creature at his side. He thoroughly approved of jealous husbands. The fellow who isn't jealous, he argued, is the hardest to trifle with.

"I suppose you adore him," he said, with a thinly veiled sneer.

"'He's the idol of me 'art,'" she sang, in gentle mimicry.

"Lucky dog," he whispered, leering upon her. "And how trustful he is, leaving you here in town to face temptation alone while he hibernates in Tarrytown."

"He trusts me," she flashed.

"I am the original 'trust buster,'" he laughed.

Nellie arose abruptly. She stretched her arms and yawned. The trio opposite gave over disputing about automobiles, and both men looked at their watches.

"Go home," said Nellie. "I'm tired. We've got a rehearsal to-morrow."

No one took offence. They understood her ways.

Fairfax gave her his light topcoat to hold while he slipped into it. She was vaguely surprised that he did not seek to employ the old trick of slipping an arm about her during the act. Somehow she felt a little bit more of respect for him.

"Don't forget to-morrow night," he said, softly, at the door. "Just the four of us, you know. I'll come back for you after the play."

"Remember, it has to be in the main restaurant," she warned him. "I like to see the people."

He smiled. "Just as you like."

She laughed to herself while Rebecca was preparing her for bed, tickled by the thought of the "fire-eating" Harvey. In bed, however, with the lights out, she found that sleep would not come as readily as she had expected. Instead her mind was vividly awake and full of reflections. She was thinking of the two in Tarrytown asleep for hours and snugly complacent. Her thoughts suddenly leaped back to the old days in Blakeville when she was the Town Marshal's daughter and he the all-important dispenser of soft drinks at Davis'. How she had hung on his every word, quip, or jest! How she had looked forward to the nights when he was to call! How she hated the other girls who divided with her the attentions of this popular young beau! And how different everything was now in these days of affluence and adulation! She caught herself counting how many days it had been since she had seen her husband, the one-time hero of her dreams. What a home-body he was! What a change there was in him! In the old Blakeville days he was the liveliest chap in town. He was never passive for more than a minute at a stretch. Going, gadding, frivolling, flirting--that was the old Harvey. And now look at him!

Those old days were far, far away, so far that she was amazed that she was able to recall them. She had sung in the church choir and at all of the local entertainments. The praise of the Blakeville _Patriot was as sweet incense to her, the placid applause of the mothers' meetings more riotous than anything she could imagine in these days when audiences stamped and clapped and whistled till people in the streets outside the theatre stopped and envied those who were inside.

And then the days of actual courtship; she tried to recall how and when they began. She married Harvey in the little church on the hill. Everybody in town was there. She could close her eyes now and see Harvey in the new checked suit he had ordered from Chicago especially for the occasion, a splendid innovation that caused more than one Lotharial eye to gleam with envy.

Then came the awakening. The popular drug clerk, for all his show of prosperity and progress, had not saved a cent in all his years of labour, nor was there any likelihood of his salary ever being large enough to supply the wants of two persons. They went to live with his mother, and it was not long before he was wearing the checked suit for "everyday use" as well as for Sunday.

She was stagestruck. For that matter, so was he. They were members of the town dramatic club and always had important parts in the plays. An instructor came from Chicago to drill the "members of the cast," as they were designated by the committee in charge. It was this instructor who advised Nellie to go to Chicago for a course in the school he represented. He assured her she would have no difficulty in getting on the stage.

Harvey procured a position in a confectioner's establishment in State Street and she went to work for a photographer, taking her lessons in dancing, singing, and elocution at odd hours. She was pretty, graceful, possessed of a lovely figure not above the medium height; dark-haired and vivacious after a fashion of her own. As her pleased husband used to say, she "got a job on the stage before you could say Jack Robinson." He tried to get into the chorus with her, but the management said, "No husbands need apply."

That was the beginning of her stage career, such a few years ago that she was amazed when she counted back. It seemed like ten years, not five.

She soared; he dropped, and, as there was no occasion for rousing himself, according to the point of view established by both of them, he settled back into his natural groove and never got beyond his soda-fountain days in retrospect.

The next night after the little supper at Nellie's a most astonishing thing happened. A smallish man with baby-blue eyes appeared at the box-office window, gave his name, and asked for a couple of good seats in Miss Duluth's name. The ticket-seller had him repeat the name and then gruffly told him to see the company manager.

"I'm Miss Duluth's husband," said the smallish man, shrinking. The tall, flashily good-looking man at his elbow straightened up and looked at him with a doubtful expression in his eyes. He was Mr. Butler, Harvey's next-door neighbour in Tarrytown. "You must be new here."

"Been here two years," said the ticket-seller, glaring at him. "See the manager."

"Where is he?"

"At his hotel, I suppose. Please move up. You're holding the line back."

At that moment the company's press representative sauntered by. Nellie's husband, very red in the face and humiliated, hailed him, and in three minutes was being conducted to a seat in the nineteenth row, three removed from the aisle, followed by his Tarrytown neighbour, on whose face there was a frozen look of disgust.

"We'll go back after the second act," said Harvey, struggling with his hat, which wouldn't go in the rack sideways. "I'll arrange everything then."

"Rotten seats," said Mr. Butler, who had expected the front row or a box.

"The scenery is always better from the back of the house," explained his host, uncomfortably.

"Damn the scenery!" said Mr. Butler. "I never look at it."

"Wait till you see the setting in the second----" began Harvey, with forced enthusiasm, when the lights went down and the curtain was whisked upward, revealing a score of pretty girls representing merry peasants, in costumes that cost a hundred dollars apiece, and glittering with diamond rings.

Mr. Butler glowered through the act. He couldn't see a thing, he swore.

"I should think the husband of the star could get the best seats in the house," he said when the act was half-over, showing where his thoughts were.

"That press agent hates me," said Harvey, showing where his had been.

"Hates you? In God's name, why?"

"I've had to call him down a couple of times," said Harvey, confidentially. "Good and hard, too."

"I suppose that's why he makes you take a back seat," said Butler, sarcastically.

"Well, what can a fellow do?" complained the other. "If I could have seen Mr.--"

A man sitting behind tapped him on the shoulder.

"Will you be good enough to stop talking while the curtain's up?" he requested, in a state of subdued belligerency.

Harvey subsided without even so much as a glance to see what the fellow was like.

After the act Butler suggested a drink, which was declined.

"I don't drink," explained Harvey.

His companion snorted. "I'd like to know what kind of a supper we're going to have if you don't drink. Be a sport!"

"Oh, don't you worry about that," said Harvey. "Ginger ale livens me up as much as anything. I used to simply pour the liquor down me. I had to give it up. It was getting the best of me. You should have seen the way I was carrying on out there in Blakeville before----"

"Well, come out and watch me take a drink," interrupted Butler, wearily. "It may brace you up."

Harvey looked helplessly at the three ladies over whom they would have to climb in order to reach the aisle and shook his head.

"We're going out after the next act. Let's wait till then."

"Give me my seat check," said Butler, shortly. "I'm going out." Receiving the check, he trampled his way out, leaving Harvey to ruminate alone.

The joint presence of these two gentlemen of Tarrytown in the city requires an explanation. You may remember that Nellie's husband resented Butler's habit of ignoring him. Well, there had come a time when Butler had thought it advisable to get down from his high horse. His wife had gone to Cleveland to visit her mother for a week or two. It was a capital time for him to get better acquainted with Miss Duluth, to whom he had been in the habit of merely doffing his hat in passing.

The morning of his wife's departure, which was no more than eight hours prior to their appearance at the box office, he made it a point to hail Harvey in a most jovial manner as he stood on his side porch, suggesting that he come over and see the playroom he had fixed up for his children and Phoebe.

"We ought to be more neighbourly," he said, as he shook hands with Harvey at the steps. Later on, as they smoked in the library, he mentioned the fact that he had not had the pleasure of seeing Miss Duluth in the new piece.

Harvey was exalted. When any one was so friendly as all this to him he quite lost his head in the clouds.

"We'll go in and see it together," said he, "and have a bit of supper afterward."

"That's very good of you," said Butler, who was gaining his point.

"When does Mrs. Butler return?" asked Harvey.

Butler was startled. "Week or ten days."

"Well, just as soon as she's back we'll have a little family party----"

His neighbour shook his head. "My wife's in mourning," he said, nervously.

"In mourning?" said Harvey, who remembered her best in rainbow colours.

"Yes. Her father."

"Dead?"

"Certainly," said Butler, a trifle bewildered. He coughed and changed the current of conversation. It was not at all necessary to say that his wife's father had been dead eleven years. "I thought something of going in to the theatre to-night," he went on. "Just to kill time. It will be very lonely for me, now that my dear wife's away."

Harvey fell into the trap. "By jinks!" he exclaimed, "what's the matter with me going in, too? I haven't been in town at night for six weeks or more."

Butler's black eyes gleamed.

"Excellent! We'll see a good play, have a bite to eat, and no one will know what gay dogs we are." He laughed and slapped Harvey on the back.

"I'll get seats for Nellie's show if you'd like to see it," said Harvey, just as enthusiastically, except that he slapped the arm of the chair and peeled his knuckle on a knob he hadn't seen.

"Great!"

"And say, I'd like you to know my wife better, Mr. Butler. If you don't object I'll ask her to go out with us after the show for something to eat."

"Permit me to remind you, Mr.--Mr.--er----"

"Call me Harvey," said the owner of the name.

"----to remind you that this is my party. I will play host and be honoured if your wife will condescend to join me--and you--at any hour and place she chooses."

"You are most kind," said Harvey, who had been mentally calculating the three one-dollar bills in his pocket.

And that is how they came to be in the theatre that night.

The curtain was up when Butler returned. He had had a drink.

"Did you send a note back to your wife?" he asked as he sat down.

"What for?"

"To tell her we are here," hissed the other.

"No, I didn't," said Harvey, calmly. "I want to surprise her."

Butler said something under his breath and was so mad during the remainder of the act that everybody on the stage seemed to be dressed in red.

Miss Duluth did not have to make a change of costume between the second and third acts. It was then that she received visitors in her dressing-room. She had a sandwich and a glass of milk at that time, but was perfectly willing to send across the alley for bottled beer if her callers cared to take anything so commonplace as that.

She was sitting in her room, quite alone, with her feet cocked upon a trunk, nibbling a sandwich and thinking of the supper Fairfax was to give later on in the evening, when the manager of the company came tapping at her door. People had got in the habit of walking in upon her so unexpectedly that she issued an order for every one to knock and then made the injunction secure by slipping the bolt. Rebecca went to the door.

"Mr. Fairfax is here, mademoiselle," she announced a moment later. "Mr. Ripton has brought him back and he wants to come in." Except for the word "mademoiselle" Rebecca spoke perfect English.

Nellie took one foot down and then, thinking quickly, put it up again. It wouldn't hurt Fairfax, she argued, to encounter a little opposition.

"Tell Ripton I'm expecting some one else," she said, at random. "If Mr. Fairfax wants to wait in the wings, I'll see him there."

But she had not the slightest inkling of what was in store for her in the shape of visitors.

At that very moment Harvey and his friend were at the stage door, the former engaged in an attempt at familiarity with the smileless attendant.

"Hello, Bob; how goes it?" said he, strutting up to the door.

Bob's bulk blocked the passage.

"Who d'you want to see?" he demanded, gruffly.

"Who d'you suppose?" asked Harvey, gaily.

"Don't get fresh," snapped the door man, making as if to slam the iron door in his face. Suddenly he recognised the applicant. "Oh, it's you, is it?"

"You must be going blind, Bobby," said Harvey, in a fine effort at geniality. "I'm taking a friend in to show him how it's done. My friend, Mr. Butler, Bob."

Mr. Butler stepped on Harvey's toes and said something under his breath.

"Is Miss Duluth expecting you, Mr.--er--Mr.--Is she?" asked old Bob.

"No. I'm going to surprise her."

Bob looked over his shoulder hastily.

"If I was you," he said, "I'd send my card in. She's--she's nervous and a shock might upset her."

"She hasn't got a nerve in her body," said Harvey. "Come on, Butler. Mind you don't fall over the braces or get hit by the scenery."

They climbed a couple of steps and were in the midst of a small, bustling army of scene shifters and property men. Old Bob scratched his head and muttered something about "surprises."

Three times Harvey tried to lead the way across the stage. Each time they were turned back by perspiring, evil-minded stage hands who rushed at them with towering, toppling canvases. Once Harvey nearly sat down when an unobserving hand jerked a strip of carpet from under his feet. A grand staircase almost crushed Mr. Butler on its way into place, and some one who seemed to be in authority shouted to him as he dodged:--

"Don't knock that pe-des-tal over, you pie face!"

At last they got safely over, and Harvey boldly walked up to the star's dressing-room.

"We're all right now," he said to Butler, with a perceptible quaver in his voice. "Just you wait while I go in and tell her I am here."

Butler squeezed himself into a narrow place, where he seemed safe from death, mopped his brow, and looked like a lost soul.

Two men, sitting off to the left, saw Harvey try the locked door and then pound rather imperatively.

"Good Lord!" exclaimed one of them, staring. "It's--it's--er--What's-His-Name, Nellie's husband! Well, of all the infernal----"

"That?" gasped Fairfax.

"What in thunder is he doing here this time o' night! Great Scott, he'll spoil everything," groaned Ripton, the manager.

Harvey pounded again with no response. Nellie was sitting inside, mentally picturing the eagerness that caused Fairfax to come a-pounding like that. She had decided not to answer.

Ripton called a stage hand.

"Tell him that Nellie isn't seeing anybody to-night," he whispered. "Do it quick. Get him out of here."

"Shall I throw him out, sir?" demanded the man, with a wry face. "Poor little chap!"

"Just tell him that Nellie will see him for a few minutes after the play." Then, as the man moved away:--"They've got no business having husbands, Mr. Fairfax. Damned nuisances."

Fairfax had his hand to his lips. He was thinking of Nellie's "perfect devil."

"I fancy he doesn't cut much of a figure in her life," said he, in a tone of relief.

In the meantime the stage hand had accosted Harvey, who had been joined by the anxious Mr. Butler.

"Miss Duluth ain't seeing any one to-night, sir," he said. "She gave strict orders. No one, sir."

Harvey's blue eyes were like delft saucers. "She'll see me," he said. "I'm her husband, you know."

"I know that, sir. But the order goes, just the same."

"Is she ill?"

"Yes, sir. Very ill," said the man, quickly.

Butler was gnawing his moustache.

"Rubbish!" he said, sharply. "Come away, you. She's got a visitor in there. Can't you see the lay of the land?"

The little husband turned cold, then hot.

"A--a man visitor?"

"Certainly," snapped the aggrieved Mr. Butler. "What else?"

Without another word, Harvey brushed past the stage hand and began rattling the door violently.

"Nellie!" he shouted, his lips close to the paint.

In a second the door flew open and the astonished actress stood there staring at him as if he were a ghost. He pushed the door wide open and strode into the dressing-room, Nellie falling back before him. The room was empty save for the dismayed Rebecca.

"There!" he exclaimed, turning to address Butler in the doorway, but Butler was not there. The stage hand had got in his way.

"Wha--what, in the name of Heaven, are you doing here, Harvey?" gasped Nellie.

"How are you, Nell? Nothing serious, I hope."

"Serious?" she murmured, swallowing hard, her wits in the wind.

"Ain't you ill?"

"Never was better in my life," she cried, seeing what she thought was light. "Who brought you to town with such a tale as that? I'm fine. You've been fooled. If I were you, I'd take the first train out and try to find out who----"

"It's all right, Butler," he called out. "Come right in. Hello! Where are you?" He stepped to the door and looked out. Mr. Butler was being conducted toward the stage door by the burly stage hand. He was trying to expostulate. "Hi! What you doing?" shouted Harvey, darting after them. "Let my friend alone!"

Up came Ripton in haste.

"O'Brien, what do you mean? Take your hand off that gentleman's shoulder at once. He is a friend of Mr.--Mr.--ahem! A terrible mistake, sir."

Then followed a moment of explanation, apology, and introduction, after which Harvey fairly dragged his exasperated friend back to Nellie's room.

She was still standing in the middle of the room trying to collect her wits.

"You remember Mr. Butler, deary," panted Harvey, waving his hand. Nellie gasped in the affirmative.

At that instant Fairfax's big frame appeared in the door. He was grinning amiably. She glared at him helplessly for a moment.

"Won't you introduce me to your husband?" he said, suavely.

Nellie found her tongue and the little man shook hands with the big one.

"Glad to meet you," said Harvey.

"I am glad to see you," said Fairfax, warmly.

"My friend Butler," introduced Harvey.

Mr. Butler was standing very stiff and pallid, with one knee propped against a chair. There was a glaze over his eyes. Fairfax grinned broadly.

"Oh, Butler and I are old acquaintances," said he. "Wife out of town, Butler?"

"Sure," said Harvey, before Butler could reply. "And we're in town to see the sights. Eh, Butler?"

Butler muttered something that sounded uncommonly like "confounded ass," and began fanning himself with his derby hat and gloves and walking-stick, all of which happened to be in the same hand.

"We're going to take Nellie--I mean Miss Duluth--out for supper after the play," went on Harvey, glibly. "We'll be waiting for you, dearie. Mr. Butler is doing the honours. By the way, Butler, I think it would be nicer if Nellie could suggest an odd lady for us. We ought to have four. Do you know of any one, Nell? By George, we've got to have a pretty one, though. We insist on that, eh, Butler?" He jabbed Butler in the ribs and winked.

"Don't do that!" said the unhappy Mr. Butler, dropping his stick. It rolled under a table and he seized the opportunity thus providentially presented. He went down after it and was lost to view for a considerable length, of time, hiding himself as the ostrich does when it buries its head in the sand and imagines it is completely out of sight.

Nellie's wits were returning. She was obliged to do some rapid and clever thinking. Fairfax was watching her with a sardonic smile on his lips. Ripton, the manager, peered over his shoulder and winked violently.

"Oh, Harvey dear," she cried, plaintively, "how disappointed I am. I have had strict orders from the doctor to go straight home to bed after every performance. I really can't go with you and Mr. Butler to-night. I wish you had telephoned or something. I could have told you."

Harvey looked distressed. "What does the doctor say it is?"

(Illustration: Copyright, 1911, by Dodd, Mead & Company Fairfax was sitting on a trunk, a satisfied smile on his lips)

"My heart," she said, solemnly.

"Don't you think you could go out for a--just a sandwich and a bottle of beer?" he pleaded, feeling that he had wantonly betrayed his friendly neighbour.

"Couldn't think of it," she said. "The nurse will be here at eleven. I'll just have to go home. He insists on absolute quiet for me and I'm on a dreadful diet." A bright thought struck her. "Do you know, I have to keep my door locked so as not to be startled by----"

The sharp, insistent voice of the callboy broke in on her flow of excuses.

"There! I'll have to go on in a second. The curtain's going up. Good-night, gentlemen. Good-night, Harvey dear. Give me a kiss."

She pecked at his cheek with her carmine lips.

"Just half an hour at some quiet little restaurant," he was saying when she fled past him toward the stage.

"Sorry, dear," she called, then stopped to speak to Mr. Butler. "Thank you so much, Mr. Butler. Won't you repeat the invitation some time later on? So good of you to bring Harvey in. Bring Mrs. Butler in some night, and if I'm better we will have a jolly little spree, just the four of us. Will you do it?"

She beamed on him. Butler bowed very low and said:--

"It will give me great pleasure, Miss Duluth."

"Good-night, then."

"Good-night."

When she returned to her dressing-room later on, she found Fairfax there, sitting on a trunk, a satisfied smile on his lips. She left the door open.

Mr. Ripton conducted the two men across to the stage door, leading them through the narrow space back of the big drop. Chorus girls threw kisses at Harvey; they all knew him. He winked blandly at Butler, who was staring straight before him.

"A great life, eh?" said Harvey, meaning that which surrounded them. They were in the alley outside the stage door.

"I'm going to catch the ten-twenty," said Butler, jamming his hat down firmly.

"Ain't you going to see the last act?" demanded the other, dismayed.

Butler lifted his right hand to heaven, and, shaking it the better to express the intensity of his declaration, remarked:--

"I hope somebody will kick me all over town if I'm ever caught being such a damned fool as this again. I honestly hope it! I've been made ridiculous--a blithering fool! Why, you--you----" He paused in his rage, a sudden wave of pity assailing him. "By George, I can't help feeling sorry for you! Good-night."

Harvey hurried after him.

"I guess I'll take it, too. That gets us out at eleven-thirty. We can get a bite to eat in the station, I guess."

He had to almost trot to keep pace with Butler crossing to the Grand Central. Seated side by side in the train, and after he had recovered his breath a bit, he said:--

"Confound it, I forgot to ask Nellie if it will be wise for her to come out on Sunday. The heart's a mighty bad thing, Butler."

"It certainly is," said Butler, with unction.

At the station in Tarrytown he said "Good-night" very gruffly and hurried off to jump into the only cab at the platform. He had heard all about Blakeville and the wild life Harvey had led there, and he was mad enough to fight.

"Good-night, Mr. Butler," said Harvey, as the hack drove off.

He walked up the hill.

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