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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWhat's-his-name - Chapter 6. The Revolver
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What's-his-name - Chapter 6. The Revolver Post by :?ric_Hamel Category :Long Stories Author :George Barr Mccutcheon Date :May 2012 Read :1201

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What's-his-name - Chapter 6. The Revolver


He waited until the middle of the week for some sign from her; none coming, he decided to go once more to her apartment before it was too late. The many letters he wrote to her during the first days after learning of her change of plans were never sent. He destroyed them. A sense of shame, a certain element of pride, held them back. Still, he argued with no little degree of justice, there were many things to be decided before she took the long journey--and the short step she was so plainly contemplating.

It was no more than right that he should make one last and determined effort to save her from the fate she was so blindly courting. It was due her. She was his wife. He had promised to cherish and protect her. If she would not listen to the appeal, at least he would have done his bounden duty.

There was an ever present, ugly fear, too, that she meant, by some hook or crook, to rob him of Phoebe.

"And she's as much mine as hers," he declared to himself a thousand times or more.

Behind everything, yet in plain view, lay his own estimate of himself--the naked truth--he was "no good!" He had come to the point of believing it of himself. He was not a success; he was quite the other thing. But, granting that, he was young and entitled to another chance. He could work into a partnership with Mr. Davis if given the time.

Letting the midweek matinee slip by, he made the plunge on a Thursday. She was to leave New York on Sunday morning; that much he knew from the daily newspapers, which teemed with Nellie's breakdown and its lamentable consequences. It would be at least a year, the papers said, before she could resume her career on the stage. He searched the columns daily for his own name, always expecting to see himself in type little less conspicuous than that accorded to her, and stigmatised as a brute, an inebriate, a loafer. It was all the same to him--brute, soak, or loafer. But even under these extraordinary conditions he was as completely blanketed by obscurity as if he never had been in existence.

Sometimes he wondered whether she could get a divorce without according him a name. He had read of fellow creatures meeting death "at the hand of a person (or of persons) unknown." Could a divorce complaint be worded in such non-committal terms? Then there was that time-honoured shroud of private identity, the multitudinous John Doe. Could she have the heart to bring proceedings against him as John Doe? He wondered.

If he were to shoot himself, so that she might have her freedom without going to all the trouble of a divorce or the annoyance of a term of residence in Reno, would she put his name on a tombstone? He wondered.

A strange, a most unusual thing happened to him just before he left the house to go to the depot. He was never quite able to account for the impulse which sent him upstairs rather obliquely to search through a trunk for a revolver, purchased a couple of years before, following the report that housebreakers were abroad in Tarrytown, and which he had promptly locked away in his trunk for fear that Phoebe might get hold of it.

He rummaged about in the trunk, finally unearthing the weapon. He slipped it into his overcoat pocket with a furtive glance over his shoulder. He chuckled as he went down the stairs. It was a funny thing for him to do, locking the revolver in the trunk that way. What burglar so obliging as to tarry while he went through all the preliminaries incident to destruction under the circumstances? Yes, it was stupid of him.

He did not consider the prospect of being arrested for carrying concealed weapons until he was halfway to the city, and then he broke into a mild perspiration. From that moment he eyed every man with suspicion. He had heard of "plain clothes men." They were the very worst kind. "They take you unawares so," said he to himself, with which he moved closer to the wall of the car, the more effectually to conceal the weapon. It wouldn't do to be caught going about with a revolver in one's pocket. That would be the very worst thing that could happen. It would mean "the Island" or some other such place, for he could not have paid a fine.

It occurred to him, therefore, that it would be wiser to get down at One Hundred and Tenth street and walk over to Nellie's. The policemen were not so thick nor so bothersome up there, he figured, and it was a rather expensive article he was carrying; one never got them back from the police, even if the fine were paid.

Footsore, weary, and chilled to the bone, he at length came to the apartment building wherein dwelt Nellie Duluth. In these last few weeks he had developed a habit of thinking of her as Nellie Duluth, a person quite separate and detached from himself. He had come to regard himself as so far removed from Nellie Duluth that it was quite impossible for him to think of her as Mrs.--Mrs.--he had to rack his brain for the name, the connection was so remote.

He had walked miles--many devious and lengthening miles--before finally coming to the end of his journey. Once he came near asking a policeman to direct him to Eighty-ninth Street, but the sudden recollection of the thing he carried stopped him in time. That and the discovery of a sign on a post which frostily informed him that he was then in the very street he sought.

It should go without the saying that he hesitated a long time before entering the building. Perhaps it would be better after all to write to her. Somewhat sensibly he argued that a letter would reach her, while it was more than likely he would fall short of a similar achievement. She couldn't deny Uncle Sam, but she could slam the door in her husband's face. Yes, he concluded, a letter was the thing. Having come to this half-hearted decision, he proceeded to argue himself out of it. Suppose that she received the letter, did it follow that she would reply to it? He might enclose a stamp and all that sort of thing, but he knew Nellie; she wouldn't answer a letter--at least, not that kind of letter. She would laugh at it, and perhaps show it to her friends, who also would be vastly amused. He remembered some of them as he saw them in the cafe that day; they were given to uproarious laughter. No, he concluded, a letter was not the thing. He must see her. He must have it out with her, face to face.

So he went up in the elevator to the eleventh floor, which was the top one, got out and walked down to the sixth, where she lived. Her name was on the door plate. He read it three or four times before resolutely pressing the electric button. Then he looked over his shoulder quickly, impelled by the queer feeling that some one was behind him, towering like a dark, threatening shadow. A rough hand seemed ready to close upon his shoulder to drag him back and down. But no one was there. He was alone in the little hall. And yet something was there. He could feel it, though he could not see it; something sinister that caused him to shiver. His tense fingers relaxed their grip on the revolver. Strangely the vague thing that disturbed him departed in a flash and he felt himself alone once more. It was very odd, thought he.

Rachel came to the door. She started back in surprise, aye, alarm, when she saw the little man in the big ulster. A look of consternation sprang into her black eyes.

He opened his lips to put the natural question, but paused with the words unuttered. The sound of voices in revelry came to his ears from the interior of the apartment, remote but very insistent. Men's voices and women's voices raised in merriment. His gaze swept the exposed portion of the hall. Packing boxes stood against the wall, piled high. The odour of camphor came out and smote his sense of smell.

Rachel was speaking. Her voice was peculiarly hushed and the words came quickly, jerkily from her lips.

"Miss Duluth is engaged, sir. I'm sorry she will not be able to see you."

He stared uncertainly at her and beyond her.

"So she's packing her things," he murmured, more to himself than to the servant. Rachel was silent. He saw the door closing in his face. A curious sense of power, of authority, came over him. "Hold on," he said sharply, putting his foot against the door. "You go and tell her I want to see her. It's important--very important!"

"She has given orders, sir, not to let you----"

"Well, I'm giving a few orders myself, and I won't stand for any back talk, do you hear? Who is the master of this place, tell me that?" He thumped his breast with his knuckles. "Step lively, now. Tell her I'm here."

He pushed his way past her and walked into what he called the "parlour," but what was to Nellie the "living-room." Here he found numerous boxes, crates, and parcels, all prepared for shipment or storage. Quite coolly he examined the tag on a large crate. The word "Reno" smote him. As he cringed he smiled a sickly smile without being conscious of the act. "Wait a minute," he called to Rachel, who was edging in an affrighted manner toward the lower end of the hall and the dining-room. "What is she doing?"

Rachel's face brightened. He was going to be amenable to reason.

"It's a farewell luncheon, sir. She simply can't be disturbed. I'll tell her you were here."

"You don't need to tell her anything," said he, briskly. The sight of those crates and boxes had made another man of him. "I'll announce myself. She won't----"

"You'd better not!" cried Rachel, distractedly. "There are some men here. They will throw you out of the apartment. They're big enough, Mr.--Mr.----"

He grinned. His fingers took a new grip on the revolver.

"Napoleon wasn't as big as I am," he said, much to Rachel's distress. It sounded very mad to her. "Size isn't everything."

"For Heaven's sake, sir, please don't----"

"They seem to be having a gay old time," said he, as a particularly wild burst of laughter came from the dining-room. He hesitated. "Who is out there?"

Rachel was cunning. "I don't know the names, sir. They're--they're strangers to me."

At that instant the voice of Fairfax came to his ears, loudly proclaiming a health to the invalid who was going to Reno. Harvey stood there in the hall, listening to the toast. He heard it to the end, and the applause that followed. If he were to accept the diagnosis of the speaker, Nellie was repairing to Reno to be cured of an affliction that had its inception seven years before, a common malady, but not fatal if taken in time. The germ, or, more properly speaking, the parasite, unlike most bacteria, possessed but two legs, and so on and so forth.

The laughter was just dying away when Harvey--who recognised himself as the pestiferous germ alluded to--strode into the room, followed by the white-faced Rachel.

"Who was it, Rachel?" called out Nellie, from behind the enormous centrepiece of roses which obstructed her view of the unwelcome visitor.

The little man in the ulster piped up, shrilly:--

"She don't know my name, but I guess you do, if you'll think real hard."

There were ten at the table, flushed with wine and the exertion of hilarity. Twenty eyes were focussed on the queer, insignificant little man in the doorway. If they had not been capable of focussing them on anything a moment before, they acquired the power to do so now.

Nellie, staring blankly, arose. She wet her lips twice before speaking.

"Who let you in here?" she cried, shrilly.

One of the men pushed back his chair and came to his feet a bit unsteadily.

"What the deuce is it, Nellie?" he hiccoughed.

Nellie had her wits about her. She was very pale, but she was calm. Instinctively she felt that trouble--even tragedy--was confronting her; the thing she had feared all along without admitting it even to herself.

"Sit down, Dick," she commanded. "Don't get excited, any of you. It's all right. My husband, that's all."

The man at her right was Fairfax. He was gaping at Harvey with horror in his face. He, too, had been expecting something like this. Involuntarily he shifted his body so that the woman on the other side, a huge creature, was partially between him and the little man in the door.

"Get him out of here!" he exclaimed. "He's just damned fool enough to do something desperate if we----"

"You shut up!" barked Harvey, in a sudden access of fury. "Not a word out of you, you big bully."

"Get him out!" gasped Fairfax, holding his arm over his face. "What did I tell you? He's crazy! Grab him, Smith! Hurry up!"

"Grab him yourself!" retorted Smith, in some haste. "He's not gunning for me."

What there was to be afraid of in the appearance of the little ulstered man who stood there with his hands in his pockets I cannot for the life of me tell, but there was no doubt as to the consternation he produced in the midst of this erstwhile jovial crowd. An abrupt demand of courtesy urged him to raise his hand to doff his hat in the presence of ladies. Twenty terrified eyes watched the movement as if ten lives hung on the result thereof. Half of the guests were standing, the other half too petrified to move. A husband is a thing to strike terror to the heart, believe me, no matter how trivial he may be, especially an unexpected husband.

"Go away, Harvey!" cried Nellie, placing Fairfax between herself and the intruder.

"Don't do that!" growled the big man, sharply. "Do you suppose I want him shooting holes through me in order to get at you?"

"Is he going to shoot?" wailed one of the women, dropping the wineglass she had been holding poised near her lips all this time. The tinkle of broken glass and the douche of champagne passed unnoticed. "For God's sake, let me get out of here!"

"Keep your seats, ladies and gents," said Harvey, hastily, beginning to show signs of confusion. "I just dropped in to see Nellie for a few minutes. Don't let me disturb you. She can step into the parlour, I guess. They'll excuse you, Nellie."

"I'll do nothing of the sort," snapped Nellie, noting the change in him. "Go away or I'll have a policeman called."

He grinned. "Well, if you do, he'll catch me with the goods," he said, mysteriously.

"The goods?" repeated Nellie.

"Do you want to see it?" he asked, fixing her with his eyes. As he started to withdraw his hand from his overcoat pocket, a general cry of alarm went up and there was a sudden shifting of positions.

"Don't do that!" roared two or three of the men in a breath.

"Keep that thing in your pocket!" commanded Fairfax, huskily, without removing his gaze from the arm that controlled the hidden hand.

Harvey gloated. He waved the hand that held his hat. "Don't be alarmed, ladies," he said. "You are quite safe. I can hit a silver dollar at twenty paces, so there's no chance of anything going wild."

"For God's sake!" gasped Fairfax. Suddenly he disappeared beneath the edge of the table. His knees struck the floor with a resounding thump.

"Get away from me!" shrieked the corpulent lady, kicking at him as she fled the danger spot.

Harvey stooped and peered under the table at his enemy, a broad grin on his face. Fairfax took it for a grin of malevolence.

"Peek-a-boo!" called Harvey.

"Don't shoot! For the love of Heaven, don't shoot!" yelled Fairfax. Then to the men who were edging away in quest of safety behind the sideboard, china closet, and serving table:--"Why don't you grab him, you idiots?"

Harvey suddenly realised the danger of his position. He straightened up and jerked the revolver from his pocket, brandishing it in full view of them all.

"Keep back!" he shouted--a most unnecessary command.

Those who could not crowd behind the sideboard made a rush for the butler's pantry. Feminine shrieks and masculine howls filled the air. Chairs were overturned in the wild rush for safety. No less than three well-dressed women were crawling on their hands and knees toward the only means of exit from the room.

"Telephone for the police!" yelled Fairfax, backing away on all-fours, suggesting a crawfish.

"Stay where you are!" cried Harvey, now thoroughly alarmed by the turn of affairs.

They stopped as if petrified. The three men who were wedged in the pantry door gave over struggling for the right of precedence and turned to face the peril.

Once more he brandished the weapon, and once more there were shrieks and groans, this time in a higher key.

Nellie alone stood her ground. She was desperate. Death was staring her in the face, and she was staring back as if fascinated.

"Harvey! Harvey!" she cried, through bloodless lips. "Don't do it! Think of Phoebe! Think of your child!"

Rachel was stealing down the hall. The little Napoleon suddenly realised her purpose and thwarted it.

"Come back here!" he shouted. The trembling maid could not obey for a very excellent reason. She dropped to the floor as if shot, and, failing in the effort to crawl under a low hall-seat, remained there, prostrate and motionless.

He then addressed himself to Nellie, first cocking the pistol in a most cold-blooded manner. Paying no heed to the commands and exhortations of the men, or the whines of the women, he announced:--

"That's just what I've come here to ask you to do, Nellie; think of Phoebe. Will you promise me to----"

"I'll promise nothing!" cried Nellie, exasperated. She was beginning to feel ridiculous, which was much worse than feeling terrified. "You can't bluff me, Harvey, not for a minute."

"I'm not trying to bluff you," he protested. "I'm simply asking you to think. You can think, can't you? If you can't think here with all this noise going on, come into the parlour. We can talk it all over quietly and--why, great Scott, I don't want to kill anybody!" Noting an abrupt change in the attitude of the men, who found some encouragement in his manner, he added hastily, "Unless I have to, of course. Here, you! Don't get up!" The command was addressed to Fairfax. "I'd kind of like to take a shot at you, just for fun."

"Harvey," said his wife, quite calmly, "if you don't put that thing in your pocket and go away I will have you locked up as sure as I'm standing here."

"I ask you once more to come into the parlour and talk it over with me," said he, wavering.

"And I refuse," she cried, furiously.

"Go and have it out with him, Nellie," groaned Fairfax, lifting his head above the edge of the table, only to lower it instantly as Harvey's hand wabbled unsteadily in a sort of attempt to draw a bead on him.

"Well, why don't you shoot?" demanded Nellie, curtly.

"No! No!" roared Fairfax.

"No! No!" shrieked the women.

"For two cents I would," stammered Harvey, quite carried away by the renewed turmoil.

"You would do anything for two cents," said Nellie, sarcastically.

"I'd shoot myself for two cents," he wailed, dismally. "I'm no use, anyway. I'd be better off dead."

"For God's sake let him do it, Nellie," hissed Fairfax. "That's the thing; the very thing."

Poor Harvey suddenly came to a full realisation of the position he was in. He had not counted on all this. Now he was in for it, and there was no way out of it. A vast sense of shame and humiliation mastered him. Everything before him turned gray and bleak, and then a hideous red.

He had not meant to do a single thing he had already done. Events had shaped themselves for him. He was surprised, dumfounded, overwhelmed. The only thought that now ran through his addled brain was that he simply had to do something. He couldn't stand there forever, like a fool, waving a pistol. In a minute or two they would all be laughing at him. It was ghastly. The wave of self-pity, of self-commiseration submerged him completely. Why, oh why, had he got himself into this dreadful pickle? He had merely come to talk it over with Nellie, that and nothing more. And now, see what he was in for!

"By jingo," he gasped, in the depth of despair, "I'll do it! I'll make you sorry, Nellie; you'll be sorry when you see me lying here all shot to pieces. I've been a good husband to you. I don't deserve to die like this, but----" His watery blue eyes took in the horrified expressions on the faces of his hearers. An innate sense of delicacy arose within him. "I'll do it in the hall."

"Be careful of the rug," cried Nellie, gayly, not for an instant believing that he would carry out the threat.

"Shall I do it here?" he asked, feebly.

"No!" shrieked the women, putting their fingers in their ears.

"By all means!" cried Fairfax, with a loud laugh of positive relief.

To his own as well as to their amazement, Harvey turned the muzzle of the pistol toward his face. It wabbled aimlessly. Even at such short range he had the feeling that he would miss altogether and looked over his shoulder to see if there was a picture or anything else on the wall that might be damaged by the stray bullet. Then he inserted the muzzle in his mouth.

Stupefaction held his audience. Not a hand was lifted, not a breath was drawn. For half a second his finger clung to the trigger without pressing it. Then he lowered the weapon.

"I guess I better go out in the hall, where the elevator is," he said. "Don't follow me. Stay where you are. You needn't worry."

"I'll bet you ten dollars you don't do it," said Fairfax, loudly, as he came to his feet.

"I don't want your dirty money, blast you," exclaimed Harvey, without thinking. "Good-by, Nellie. Be good to Phoebe. Tell 'em out in Blakeville that I--oh, tell 'em anything you like. I don't give a rap!"

He turned and went shambling down the hall, his back very stiff, his ears very red.

It was necessary to step over Rachel's prostrate form. He got one foot across, when she, crazed with fear, emitted a piercing shriek and arose so abruptly that he was caught unawares. What with the start the shriek gave him and the uprising of a supposedly inanimate mass, his personal equilibrium was put to the severest test. Indeed, he quite lost it, going first into the air with all the sprawl of a bronco buster, and then landing solidly on his left ear where there wasn't a shred of rug to ease the impact. In a twinkling, however, he was on his feet, apologising to Rachel. But she was crawling away as fast as her hands and knees would carry her. From the dining-room came violent shouts, the hated word "police" dominating the clamour.

He slid through the door and closed it after him. A moment later he was plunging down the steps, disdaining the elevator, which, however fast it may have been, could not have been swift enough for him in his present mood. The police! They would be clanging up to the building in a jiffy, and then what? To the station house!

Half-way down he paused to reflect. Voices above came howling down the shaft, urging the elevator man to stop him, to hold him, to do all manner of things to him. He felt himself trapped.

So he sat down on an upper step, leaned back against the marble wall, closed his eyes tightly, and jammed the muzzle of the revolver against the pit of his stomach.

"I hate to do it," he groaned, and then pulled the trigger.

The hammer fell with a sharp click. He opened his eyes. If it didn't hurt any more than that he could do it with them open. Why not? In a frenzy to have it over with he pulled again and was gratified to find that the second bullet was not a whit more painful than the first. Then he thought of the ugly spectacle he would present if he confined the mutilation to the abdominal region. People would shudder and say, "how horrible he looks!" So he considerately aimed the third one at his right eye.

Even as he pulled the trigger, and the hammer fell with the usual click, his vision centred on the black little hole in the end of the barrel. Breathlessly he waited for the bullet to emerge. Then, all of a sudden, he recalled that there had been no explosion. The fact had escaped him during the throes of a far from disagreeable death. He put his hand to his stomach. In a dumb sort of wonder he first examined his fingers, and, finding no gore, proceeded to a rather careful inspection of the weapon.

Then he leaned back and dizzily tried to remember when he had taken the cartridges out of the thing.

"Thank the Lord," he said, quite devoutly. "I thought I was a goner, sure. Now, when did I take 'em out?"

The elevator shot past him, going upward. He paid no attention to it.

It all came back to him in a flash. He remembered that he had never loaded it at all. A loaded pistol is a very dangerous thing to have about the house. The little box of cartridges that came with the weapon was safely locked away at the bottom of the trunk, wrapped in a thick suit of underwear for protection against concussion.

Even as he congratulated himself on his remarkable foresight the elevator, filled with excited men, rushed past him on the way down. He heard them saying that a dangerous lunatic was at large and that he ought to be----But he couldn't hear the rest of it, the car being so far below him.

"By jingo!" he exclaimed, leaping to his feet in consternation. "They'll get me now. What a blamed fool I was!"

Scared out of his wits, he dashed up the steps, three at a jump, and, before he knew it, ran plump into the midst of the women who were huddled at Nellie's landing, waiting for the shots and the death yells from below. They scattered like sheep, too frightened to scream, and he plunged through the open door into the apartment.

"Where are you, Nellie?" he bawled. "Hide me! Don't let 'em get me. Nellie! Oh, Nellie!"

The shout would have raised the dead. Nellie was at the telephone. She dropped the receiver and came toward him.

"Aren't you ashamed of yourself!" she squealed, clutching his arm. "What an awful spectacle you've made of yourself--and me! You blithering little idiot. I----"

"Where can I hide?" he whispered, hopping up and down in his eagerness. "Hurry up! Under a bed or--anywhere. Good gracious, Nellie, they'll get me sure!"

She slammed the door.

"I ought to let them take you and lock you up," she said, facing him. The abject terror in his eyes went straight to her heart. "Oh, you poor thing!" she cried, in swift compassion. "You--you wouldn't hurt a fly. You couldn't. Come along! Quick! I'll do this much for you, just this once. Never again! You can get down the back steps into the alley if you hurry. Then beat it for home. And never let me see your face again."

Three minutes later he was scuttling down the alley as fast as his eager legs could carry him.

Nellie was holding the front door against the thunderous assault of a half dozen men, giving him time to escape. All the while she was thinking of the depositions she could take from the witnesses to his deliberate attempt to kill her. He had made it very easy for her.

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