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"The Kick-Off" from Success Magazine

by Ellis Parker Butler
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from Success Magazine
The Kick-Off
by Ellis Parker Butler

Wallace Overbury Hinchcliffe heard the postman's whistle and, softly opening the door of his fourth-floor hall-bedroom, tiptoed to the railing and looked down the far depths to the street-floor hall.

He could see the mail on the table where the maid had laid it and he could not see Mrs. Grampus, his landlady, whom he did not care to meet. With extreme cautiousness the young poet walked to the stairs and began descending them but, as the need for haste and secrecy seemed great, he adopted a more rapid method of descent and, throwing his leg over the banister, slid rapidly down to the next landing.

Looking up he saw that the scraping noise he had heard had been made by the pearl buttons on the front of his union-suit, and he trembled to think what Mrs. Grampus would say if she ever knew he had made that long white scratch on the dark walnut of the rail, and he folded his bathrobe more closely about him before sliding down the next length of rail.

It was still very early in the morning and when he had reached the lower hall Wallace Overbury Hinchcliffe shuffled the mail rapidly, took the three envelopes bearing his name, and went up the stairs three steps at a time. He entered his room and closed the door. Holding the three envelopes in his hands he raised them toward the ceiling and uttered a murmured prayer.

"Oh, Muses! Oh, great Jove! Oh, chaste Diana!" he prayed, for he had felt it best to abandon all modern religions and to return to the more poetic gods of classic Greece; "Oh, all ye mighty ones, grant that there be a check in these envelopes!"

He then bowed his head a moment, and opened the envelopes. There was nothing in them -- but returned poems and printed rejection slips. For a minute Wallace Overbury Hinchcliffe stared stupidly at the poems; then he threw himself on his folding bed and buried his face in his arms. He was in a mighty bad fix.

As a matter of fact Wallace Overbury Hinchcliffe was in just about as bad a fix as he could be in. He had exactly two cents in the world and he owed Mrs. Grampus thirty-two dollars -- even his watch was pawned. The poet business, any way you looked at it, had not been what his high hopes had cracked it up to be. He raised his head and looked dismally at the sun-faded wallpaper, the tenth-hand furniture and the threadbare carpet of his miserable room. He was face to face with the bitter fact at last -- being a poet was a bad job.

From day to day and from week to week Wallace Overbury Hinchcliffe, since his arrival from Riverbank, Iowa, had lived from one mail to the next. Between mails he wrote more poems -- free verse poems that had neither rhyme nor, to the ordinary mind, sense -- and the two hundred dollars he had brought with him had melted and melted.

At first he had opened his mail with joyful assurance, then he had opened it hopefully, then he had opened it longingly, now he had opened it despairingly and never, from first to last, had there been a check in his mail, nor even an acceptance. It was clear to him now -- the sweet words of the Riverbank Eagle, saying he was a new light of poesy in the world and destined to bring literary honor to Iowa had been ill-judged words.

"I would have been better off if I had kept my job with Himstein's Elite Clothing Parlors," he groaned miserably. "But I didn't!"

Rolling over on the bed Wallace Overbury Hinchcliffe at awhile on its edge, his face in his hands.

"Oh, well!" he said suddenly with a wide gesture of renunciation, and he drew a deep breath, smote himself twice on the chest and leaped to his feet and began to dress. The decision thus made effective was one he had dwelt upon as a possibility during these latter weeks. He had been reluctant to make it. If he had given it room in his brain it was only with the understanding that he would fight for a poetic career to the last ditch, and now that ditch was reached. As Wallace Overbury Hinchcliffe buttoned his last clean collar he was no longer a poet -- he was a fortune hunter. As he fastened his tie before the mirror, he paused to raise his chin and look at his long, dark, wavy hair, his deep-set brown eyes, his marble-white forehead.

"A face any woman would love," he said.

Looked at full-face in this way it was a rather nice face, although the eyes were decidedly close together. Looked at full-face the head had a haughty lift. It was only when seen in profile that Wallace Overbury Hinchcliffe's nose was seen to be really too enormously large for his face and his neck like that of a shamefully thin camel with an extra large Adam's apple.

Those who were inclined to be humorous might have said Wally Hinchcliffe looked like a cross between a llama and a flamingo, with a ramrod for a backbone. To those who did not love him as dearly as he loved himself his intense seriousness of bearing and face were apt to be amusing in such dapper little fellow.

Mr. Hinchcliffe was well aware that marrying a very wealthy girl was a great comedown from a poetic career. It would be very nice for the girl, of course, but perhaps a little debasing for the poet; the girl would jump at the chance but the poet would have to put his pride in his pocket. The compensation would be the wealth and comfort, limousines and a life of luxury, time and place to write poems and money to have them published in delicate, lavender covers in limited editions.

Hurriedly Wallace Overbury Hinchcliffe stored his manuscript poems in every available pocket. He rather bulged with them when they were all stored away, giving him I he appearance of a brown-clad flamingo with many wens. Then from the bottom drawer of his dresser he took eight pages of a Sunday newspaper. They were eight articles, illustrated, of a series entitled "Daughters of Luxury" but Wallace did not have to pause to choose. He had already chosen the Daughter of Luxury to whom he had meant to sacrifice himself if worst came to worst. He had chosen partly because of the portrait that adorned the page -- "Dorothy Shuttlewerke, only daughter of Amos J. Shuttlewerke; Worth $3,000,000 in her own name and only heiress of her father's $75,000,000." -- and partly because of the picture of Graytowers, Country Home of Amos J. Shuttlewerke. Cost $2,600,000."

Folding this sheet carefully Wally put it in his jacket, next his heart. He was now ready to depart, and he departed. In the lower hall, just as he was departing, Mrs. Grampus, coming stealthily from the dining room, confronted him.

Where are you going?

"Well?" she demanded sourly. "Where are you going?"

"I am going out to get a morning paper," said Wally, eyeing her haughtily.

"Humph! "said Mrs. Grampus unpleasantly, and that was their parting.

It was not exactly pleasant for Wally to have to enter a place and sell the pawn ticket that would have permitted him to redeem his watch if he ever had money enough, but It did not hurt his pride greatly. The five dollars he received meant that he had capital with which to finance his fortune-hunting, and that was desirable, because if a man does not eat he dies, and when he is dead he cannot hunt anything.

It did hurt his pride, however, to stand with his hat in his hand on the vast veranda of Graytowers and wait until Amos J. Shuttlewerke decided whether he would see him or not. There was something annoying to Wally's dignity in standing there waiting for a mere multimillionaire. An editor -- yes! But a mere multimillionaire! A common fellow who had spent his life grubbing for money!

"I'm not at all sure Mr. Shuttlewerke will see you. sir." the doorman had said. "I'll ask him, sir, but it is Mr. Shuttlewerke's almost invariable rule to see no one on business on Saturday. It is a rule he has made, sir. But I will ask him, sir. A messenger from Brittleheim, Coth & Durkis, I understand you to say, sir?"

"Yes," said Wally, grasping the rim of his hat with both hands. "On a matter connected with Chinese bonds -- a matter that may mean millions of dollars to Mr. Shuttlewerke -- a matter that Brittleheim, Coth & Durkis dare not put on paper at this stage of the game. It is most important. In fact, you may say the President of the United States wants Mr. Shuttlewerke to know about it today."

"I shall tell him, sir," said the doorman.

"Yes. Please. And -- ah -- Miss Dorothy is not yet married, I presume?"

"No indeed, sir," said the doorman with considerable surprise.

"And -- ah -- Mr. Shuttlewerke," asked Wally; "is Mr. Shuttlewerke a -- a very large man?"

"Quite large," said the doorman, still more surprised.

"That -- that's what I thought," said Wally. "I -- I just wanted to he sure I knew him when I saw him. And -- ah - I thought perhaps Miss Dorothy was being married today. There seem to be so many people -- ah -- here and there. And the lanterns."

"Merely the usual week-end party, sir," said the doorman, "and a bit of a lawn affair this evening for the local hospital."

"Oh!" said Wally.

It was distinctly annoying to his dignity to have to come in the door of the father of the girl he meant to marry, in this way, on foot and with his hat in his hand, It was annoying to his dignity to have to use subterfuges in order to get an interview, such as pretending he was a mere messenger from a business concern, even if that concern was Brittleheim, Coth & Durkis. A girl had to be mighty well worth marrying for a man to humiliate himself in this way!

"If you will just come this way, sir," said the doorman.

Wally's arms jerked nervously, the voice sounded so close behind him. He had expected to wait longer, and he had permitted himself to turn his back on the noble doorway that he might look out over the even more noble park of Graytowers. Walking from the station alongside what seemed to be endless miles of tall metal fence, Wally had had some idea of the extent of Mr. Shuttlewerke's park, but now he had a better idea. As far as the eye could reach it seemed to extend -- lawn and forest and field. It was amazing, the size of --

"I beg pardon! If you will just come this way, sir!"

"Yes. Yes. Oh, yes!" said Wally and he entered what is perhaps, one of the finest country homes in the world.

Before him spread out an enormous room, the hall itself, large enough to hold half a dozen ordinary houses, and at the far side a dozen glass doors stood open upon a red-tiled veranda, Beyond the veranda the world opened out upon terraces and lawns and a sunken garden with a vast lily pool. There were urns and statues and fountains, alleys of hedge and box, whatever art could add to the beauty of nature.

Wally glanced to right and left, turning his head in his stiff bird-like way, and saw on either sidelong vistas of rooms fabulously decorated and furnished. His feet were treading a huge oriental rug; he thought the rug itself must be worth a million dollars, but he was wrong -- it had cost Mr. Shuttlewerke a mere $50,000.

On the inner veranda were chairs and tables of wicker and in them sat men and women of various ages. Some were grouped by threes or fours, some by twos, and at one table, with cooling glasses before them, sat four men. Toward them Wally was led.

"This is Mr. Shuttlewerke, sir. Mr. Hinchcliffe, sir."

Mr. Shuttlewerke was indeed a large man. The chair in which he sat was more than ordinarily capacious and he filled it full. It creaked and groaned when he moved, so huge and heavy was the master of Graytowers, and yet his appearance was not that of an unwieldy fat man; he looked like a heavy golfer but a golfer nonetheless as he sat there in knickers and golf stockings.

Wally feared, from the redness of Mr. Shuttlewerke's face, that he had been drinking, although the color may have been due to the warm day and whatever exercise Mr. Shuttlewerke may have been taking. Mr. Shuttlewerke leaned forward in his chair.

"Excuse me, gentlemen," he said to his companions and then, to Wally. "Well, sir?"

"What I have to say," said Wally, looking the rich man full in the eye, "will have to be said to you alone."

"That's all right, too," said Mr. Shuttlewerke. "I'm just trying to get myself out of this confounded chair."

The three men at the table laughed.

"Told you you were getting too fat, Amos," one said. "This gentle homemade golf of yours isn't what you need. It will take violent exercise to train you down."

"Never you mind! I'll take violent exercise when I'm ready, Tom," said Mr. Shuttlewerke.

"Huntin' or somethin' like that is what you need," said the young fellow who looked English. "Chasin' the merry hounds and the blawsted fox, what?"

"Never you mind! Never you mind!" repeated Mr. Shuttlewerke as he finally got out of the chair. "Now, young man!"

Wally followed him into the vast hall and the multimillionaire drew two chairs together and seated himself in one.

"Sit down." he said and, when Wally had seated himself,

"What is it?"

Wally put his hat on the floor and sat straight in the chair, looking Mr. Shuttlewerke full in the eye.

"Mr. Shuttlewerke," he said, speaking rapidly but distinctly, "the matter on which I have come here is one of the utmost importance, both to you and to me, but of even greater importance to one you love -- one I hope to love -- but it has nothing to do with Chinese bonds or Brittleheim, Coth & Durkis. One minute, sir! Say nothing yet!"

Mr. Shuttlewerke had indeed started to arise from his chair, his face very red indeed.

"In short," said Wally, speaking even more quickly, "I have come here to propose myself for the hand of your daughter.

"I am a clean, straight young man, unlike the drink-sodden sons of wealth, and I am the son of Urdis Hinchcliffe, for twenty years Assistant County Treasurer of Riverbank County, Iowa. My mother was a Tungleton. By profession I am a poet. While I have never seen Miss Dorothy and do not approve of the usual morals of the wealthy classes I have decided not to let that stand in my way unless she proves utterly impossible --"

Mr. Shuttlewerke was out of his chair now, and he was purple.

"Great -- great -- great Jonah!" he shouted. "Well, of all the confounded impertinent --"

Wally was on his feet, too. He was very white but he controlled his anger nobly.

"One minute, sir!" he cried. "Don't say anything you will regret!"

"Say?" shouted Mr. Shuttlewerke. "Say? I won't say, I'll do!"

He reached for Wally but Wally backed away, toward the back veranda. It was really very unpleasant, for Mr. Shuttlewerke had both arms in the air and both hands folded into fists and he looked extremely menacing. He looked capable of committing assault and battery.

"One minute, sir! One minute, sir!" Wally warned him, backing more and more hastily and holding up a restraining hand. As they reached the red-tiled veranda one of the ladies screamed and most of the men jumped to their feet, but Wally backed briskly down the two steps to the gravel path.

"Stop, sir!" he cried then. "Do you know you are making a ridiculous exhibition of yourself? Do you know you are acting like a silly child?"

"Get out of here!" yelled Mr. Shuttlewerke. "Get off my place and stay off, you impudent young pup!"

"I shall do nothing of the kind," said Wally firmly. "When your nonsensical wrath has cooled --"

"You get off my place or I'll kick you off!" shouted Mr. Shuttlewerke, advancing to the steps.

"You will not kick me off!" declared Wallace Overbury Hinchcliffe. "I dare you to kick me off! You are not man enough to kick me off! Try it!"

"Hah!" uttered Mr. Shuttlewerke, and it was like the battle cry of some infuriated wild beast -- a jaguar or a rhinoceros.

Come on! I dare you, you big bully!

"Come on! I dare you, you big bully!" the poet cried back, and he threw his coat on the gravel and peeled off his vest and threw it on the coat. "Kick me off the place? You can't do it!"

With another strange animal cry and with his face plum colored, Mr. Shuttlewerke leaped down the steps. As he rushed at Wally in blind rage the poet leaped nimbly to one side.

"Come on! Kick me off the place!" he jeered. "You can't do it!"

Mr. Shuttlewerke turned and rushed again but where Wally had been was only his mocking laugh and Mr. Shuttlewerke's foot kicked only the air. The big man was indeed angry now.

"You're not man enough," jeered Wally.

"I ain't, ain't I?" howled Mr. Shuttlewerke.

"No, you ain't, ain't you!" mocked Wally, but Mr. Shuttlewerke made a rush and for an instant it looked as if the kick he aimed would win its mark. But it did not. Mr. Shuttlewerke stood panting and glowering. Then, suddenly, he made a new rush, the most vicious rush ever made by an angry multimillionaire. It was a long continued rush but Wally dodged. He dodged and doubled and turned, shouting back "Kick me, why don't you? Kick me off the place!" Mr. Shuttlewerke tried to do exactly that. Every three steps he sent his right foot hurtling at Wally -- and missed him. He ran ponderously, kicking out his foot at Wally. He chased him down through the sunken garden and around the lily pool and through the boxwood alley and the privet hedge alley and around the statue of Diana.

He chased him through the peonies and through the roses and up across the sloping lawn where the daffodils blossom in Spring and when he reached the top Wally was loping across the level lawn. There Wally turned and gave utterance to a long jeering laugh and, turning again, disappeared into the small forest known as The Copse. Mr. Shuttlewerke looked toward The Copse, wiped his perspiring face and walked slowly back to the mansion.

"Amos! The idea! Such a proceeding!" exclaimed the queenly lady who was Mrs. Shuttlewerke.

"Never you mind, Jane, never you mind!" said Mr. Shuttlewerke grimly between Rasps. "I know what I was doing."

"But I say!" exclaimed the English-looking young man. "Jolly bit of hare and hounds, what? Did you kick the bally bounder?"

"Never you mind what I did," said Mr. Shuttlewerke stubbornly.

"Look here, though," said the man called Tom. "You don't want the fellow around the place. Why not get some of the grooms to run him off the place?"

"Never you mind, Tom; I can attend to my own business awhile yet," Mr. Shuttlewerke said, drawing a long breath. "I'll attend to what I set out to do."

"Drink this," said Mrs. Shuttlewerke. "Who was he? What did he say to you?"

"And never you mind that either," said Mr. Shuttlewerke, sinking into his chair and taking the glass she offered. "This was all between that young pup and me. Now forget it, and --"

"I say! There he is again, the jolly beggar!" exclaimed the English-seeming young man. Mr. Shuttlewerke sat up straight and looked. Clear, in his white shirt, against the green of The Copse, stood Wallace Overbury Hinchcliffe. Mr. Shuttlewerke arose.

"Dobbs!" he called.

The majordomo of Graytowers, never far distant when the owner was on the place, stepped forward.

"You see that fellow standing out there by The Copse?" demanded Mr. Shuttlewerke. "Well, he's mine, d'you understand? I'm going to kick him off the place myself, d'you understand? I told him I would and I'm going to. You tell everyone to leave him alone, d'you understand?"

"Yes, Mr. Shuttlewerke."

"All right, tell them," said the multimillionaire. "Hand me my cap."

"Amos, what are you going to do?" asked Mrs. Shuttlewerke.

"I'm going In kick that fellow off the place," said Mr. Shuttlewerke stubbornly, "and don't you forget it! I'm not played out yet, by a long shot."

He went down the two steps to the gravel path. At the bottom he turned.

"If I don't get back for dinner," he said, "don't wait for me."

"Good work!" exclaimed the English-appearing young man. "Sportin', what? Run the bally fox to earth, what? But I say, Shuttlewerke --"

"Well, what is it?" asked Mr. Shuttlewerke impatiently as he glanced to see if Wallace Overbury Hinchcliffe was still in sight. He was; he was coming slowly forward across the long lawn.

Three Times around the pond

"There'd be no harm in a bit of a gallery, what?" suggested the English-looking young man. "Trail along at a decent distance, as you might say? Everybody all interested and that sort of thing."

"I don't care a hang what you do," said Mr. Shuttlewerke, "but you all keep your feet off him, understand?"

"Right O!" said the English-appearing young man. "What say, good folk? Shall we toddle after the master a bit?"

The many house guests were only too willing to toddle after Mr. Shuttlewerke, As he strode vigorously toward Wally then arose more or less lanquidly and strolled down through the sunken garden and up the daffodil lawn. When the foremost reached the top Mr. Shuttlewerke was walking across the long lawn and Wally was leaning against a small tree making insulting gestures with one hand. Just before Mr. Shuttlewerke reached The Copse Wally darted forward, ran twice around Mr. Shuttlewerke and darted into The Copse and was lost from sight. Mr. Shuttlewerke followed him sternly and steadily. It was somewhat like the tortoise and the hare.

About nine o'clock the next morning Cranston, the game keeper who had charge of the pheasants in the wired preserve beyond the buckwheat, came to the house to leave word that Mr. Shuttlewerke had had breakfast at the uinder-woodman's cottage at the Laurels and that Wally had stolen a hen pheasant from the breeding pens, cooked it in the open, eaten it and gone on toward the Big Wood beyond Silver Lake.

Mr. Shuttlewerke was now following him, but would like the thermos bottle with the shoulder strap and another pair of woolen golf stockings. They were not to worry if he did not get home during the day. The fugitive seemed to be following the outer edge of the estate, to the westward, and Cranston had orders to cut across by way of the sandstone bridge and meet Mr. Shuttlewerke at the Tarn Falls. When he left he departed at a brisk dogtrot.

Three times during the next week Wally was clearly seen by members of the house party. The first occasion was late Tuesday afternoon when one of the young men who was whipping the Tarn below the sawmill came upon him just as he was finishing an inscription on a planed board. When he saw he was observed Wally leaped away into the thicket to the east of the Tarn. The inscription on the board read, "I thought you were going to kick me off the pi --," the last word being incomplete.

He was seen again early Thursday morning by four of the younger guests who had gone to the Lake for an early swim, Wally being only a white streak with clothes over his arm as he vanished into the wood on the northern side of the lake. Late Friday a party of six who were running down to the village in a touring car saw Wally at the extreme limit of the park; he was bargaining with a huckster, through the iron bars of the park fence, for a watermelon, but when the party in the car hailed him he disappeared into a hazel brush thicket. The party reported that he seemed to be growing a beard.

On Wednesday of the next week Wally was seen, at two in the afternoon, by some sixteen guests, servants and members of the family who were on the red-tiled veranda, as he leaped like a deer down the daffodil slope, across the sunken garden and away toward the east. Those on the veranda had hardly clambered onto their chairs to see better when Mr. Shuttlewerke appeared from the direction in which Wally had come.

He was running light, in a sort of easy lope, his thermos bottle flapping against the small of his back, and the English-looking young fellow on the veranda gave him a cheery view-hallo. Mr. Shuttlewerke waved his hand and, after hesitating in his stride, swung toward the mansion. The party leaped from their chairs and crowded to meet him. Mr. Shuttlewerke greeted the group with a smile as he reached it. He was scarcely panting at all and he seemed in the most cheerful mood.

"Why, Amos! How thin you have grown!" Mrs. Shuttlewerke cried and gave him a warm, wifely kiss.

"I'll say so!" exclaimed Mr. Shuttlewerke, glancing at his clothes, which hung in folds. "Say, I thought I'd ask if there's such a thing as a pedometer in this crowd."

"Positively!" declared the English-looking young man. "Never travel without one, old chap. Have it down here in a jiffy," and he went.

"Wonderful sprinter, that impertinent pup fellow," said Mr. Shuttlewerke as he seated himself and took up the glass the young English-seeming chap had prepared for himself. "But I'll get him! You know how I am, Jane -- I do what I set out to do. I'll kick him off the place if I have to run a million miles and spend forty years at it."

From a clump of bushes Wally watched the group on the veranda. Had Mr. Shuttlewerke seated himself in this way earlier in the chase, Wally would have believed the multimillionaire was giving up in disgust, but time and experience had led him to believe that Mr. Shuttlewerke would never give up. For his part, every additional day of the chase redoubled Wally's resolution not to be kicked off the place.

In a way Wally was entirely satisfied. As a place in which to find food, Graytowers Park was a veritable Garden of Eden. Fruit, vegetables and fowl were abundant and thus far Wally had been able to find seclusion from time to time in which to build fires and do his crude cooking. In the stilly watches of the night, by the light of the moon and by no light at all, he had even been able to compose poems, and these poems clung in his memory because they rhymed and meant something.

One thing alone had not been pleasant -- Wally wished he had a fountain pen and paper, envelopes and postage stamps. And now, as he peered through his bush, he started as he heard a step on the gravel path behind him. He turned sharply and found himself face to face with a young woman. The gasp he gave was not so much because of fear as because her face, more than any face he had ever seen, seemed to him one against which he would like to press his own.

"Oh!" the young woman exclaimed, drawing back. "You're the runner! You're the man the master is going to kick."

"I'm the man he is never going to have a chance to kick," said Wally.

"Yes; I do hope so!" she cried. "I think it is wonderful, the way you are defying a man almost the whole world is afraid of. It has been so exciting. You've no idea how we've talked about it. You're our hero, if you care anything for that. In our hall, I mean."

"What hall?" asked Wally.

"The servants' hall," the girl explained. "We've made wagers on you. All the women are betting on you. The odds are two to one now that you won't be kicked off by Christmas and three to one that you won't be kicked off by Thanksgiving. But, of course, we're influenced a little by the way the odds run in the mansion."

"They're betting on me there?" asked Wally, a glow of pride coming into his eyes.

"Of course! And hardly anyone will take a bet against you now," the girl said. "Oh, you have no idea how thrilled I am to be actually talking to you! When I tell them! Tubbs and Dobbyns will be green with envy. But, Mr. --"

"Hinchcliffe. Wallace Overbury Hinchcliffe," said Wally.

"But, Mr. Hinchcliffe," she said, "if you knew how interested we are! Could you -- would you -- tell me why the master wanted to kick you?"

"Let's sit down; I sit whenever I have a chance -- it rests my legs," said Wally. "If we sit in this circle of bushes I'll be safe enough, for awhile, anyway. You didn't say what your name was."

"It's Mary. Mary Cummins. I'm the Sixth Assistant Parlormaid."

"I like you," Wally said. "Oh!" the girl exclaimed, but her exclamation was not resentful.

"And I hope you don't think I'm brash or forward when I say so," Wally said. "You see, I do like you. I like you better than any girl I've ever seen, and if I speak so frankly and suddenly it is because I don't have much time. I have to be on the go so much. I may be on the go any instant. You understand that, don't you?"

"Of course!"

"Well, then, Mary -- you don't mind if I call you Mary?"

"No -- not when you have to be so sudden about everything."

"Well, then, sweetheart," said Wally. "Was that anyone coming? No. Well, then, darling, I can't understand myself why that big brute wanted to kick me. All I did was to tell him I was willing to marry his daughter --"

"To marry his daughter!" cried Mary Cummins. "You don't mean Miss Dorothy?"


"But -- but --" she faltered, her eyes opening wide, "but Miss Dorothy is -- why she's twice as old as you are! She's forty-five if she's a day! And homely? Mercy!"

Wally drew the Sunday paper from his pocket and opened it.

"That's her picture, isn't it?" he asked.

"That? Yes," said Mary Cummins, "but that was taken years and years ago! Thirty years, at least! You silly boy! Look, do you see that woman on the veranda, the one in cerise? That's Miss Dorothy."

"That? What an escape! What an escape!" Wally exclaimed as he peered through the bushes. "And to think he might have taken me up!"

"You wouldn't marry her, not even for all her money, would you?" asked Mary Cummins coaxingly. "You like me a million times better, don't you? You do, don't you?"

"For answer --" said Wally -- and he leaned forward and kissed Mary Cummins. "No, I certainly would not marry her. Not since I have this -- this occupation."

"I only let you kiss me, on such short acquaintance, because you are so on the jump," the girl said.

"I didn't mean that occupation, said Wally. "I meant this -- this running about."

"I suppose it is pleasant," Mary said. "Out in the open air and all that. And I suppose you have plenty of food and don't need shelter. But it isn't," she said, faltering a little, "a very good-paying job, is it? I mean, if you wanted to -- well, marry anyboy -- the income isn't --"

"Yes," admitted Wally with a sigh, "I'll have to think of that now, darling. But, I know!" he exclaimed. "Do you think you could get a fountain pen and some paper and envelopes and stamps for me? You see, I'm a poet. Wonderful inspiration, all this out in the open spaces business. And love! Love's a wonderful inspiration! I feel I can do wonderful poems -- poems that I can sell for money."

"A poet! A real poet!" she cried, and looked at him with admiration. "But, of course, I can get you the things you want."

"And the checks -- the money I get for the poems -- can come to your address here," said Wally.

On the veranda Blythwaite, Mr. Shuttlewerke's secretary, had approached the big man apologetically.

"If you'll pardon me, Mr. Shuttlewerke," he said, "there are a few matters that should be given your attention. I have a few papers in my portfolio here. The International Oil Syndicate, the Universal Steel matter, the --"

"No, no!" exclaimed Mr. Shuttlewerke. "I can't waste time on such things now, Blythwaite. Have Gumble, Gumble, Tinker & Gumble attend to matters. What is that? Do you see a movement in those bushes up there? I'll bet --"

The English-looking young man slipped a pedometer into Mr. Shuttlewerke's hand.

"Strap it on your ankle, old top," he said, as Mr. Shuttlewerke bolted for the clump of bushes on the far side of the sunken garden.

"He's coming, said Wally, peering through the bushes. "I'll have to be going, I think," and he kissed Mary Cummins again and sprang to his feet. As Mr. Shuttlewerke bolted in among the bushes he saw Wally fading into the distance, running like a deer. He fairly stumbled against Mary Cummins.

"What's this? What's this? You in cahoots with that young whippersnapper?"

"We're engaged, if you please, sir," said Mary modestly.

"What's that? Engaged? And meeting him in bushes and who knows where? I can't have that. Disrupt the morals of the whole servants' hall. A lot of reckless hussys --"

"We'll be married as soon as we can," said Mary a little resentfully. "You -- you've no right to scold when I only met him a few minutes ago. You -- you might give us time --"

"There, there! Don't cry!" urged Mr. Shuttlewerke, but he knew he was wasting time and he gave Mary Cummins a hasty pat on the shoulder and hurried after Wallace Overbury Hinchcliffe, the un-kicked poet, running easily with his elbows close to his ribs.

Not until October -- but before explaining what happened in October it may be as well to say that the wedding of Wallace Overbury Hinchcliffe and Mary Cummins, early in August, was made possible only because Mary insisted that she would not be married unless Mrs. Shuttlewerke attended the wedding, and because Mrs. Shuttlewerke refused to attend unless she could go in the proper way, which was on her husband's arm, with the result that Mr. Shuttlewerke's pursuit of Wally was greatly slowed down, Mrs. Shuttlewerke not being a rapid runner.

For this reason, and because young Reverend Detzel was chosen to perform the ceremony, rather than the fat Reverend Ellerby, the wedding took place at not over six miles an hour, being held from the red-tiled veranda, where Mary Cummins joined the wedding party with Reverend Detzel, the bridesmaids and flower girls and where, a minute later, Mrs. Shuttlewerke joined her husband, followed by the guests and Miss Dorothy and the servants and employees.

With Mr. Shuttlewerke, retarded by the weight of his wife on his arm, the wedding did not at any time exceed a comfortable lope and not even the older and fatter guests were much winded. This was largely due to the thoughtfulness of Wally in keeping to the gravel paths.

Not until October, with its cool nights and glorious foliage, did Mr. Shuttlewerke feel that he could no longer put in all his time trying to kick Wally off the place. It was time to go back to his town house and time he gave some attention to the many huge interests in which his money was invested. The Summer and early Fall had been the most delightful he had ever spent; he had reduced in weight until he was of an almost boyish slenderness, his health was better than it had been for twenty years and his spirits almost absurdly light and gay. He had a vivid interest in life, something worthwhile to be trying to do. Life held an incentive and an ambition, Wally Hinchcliffe must be kicked off the place.

Outside the iron-barred fence of Graytowers, on the thirteenth of October, Mr. Shuttlewerke, who had stepped out of his limousine, drew from his pocket a legal-document type of paper and handed it between the bars to Wally, who was on the inside. At his side Mary looked over Wally's arm at the document.

"And as you see," said Mr. Shuttlewerke, "the contract, for the salary mentioned, provides that you are to remain on my property here until I kick you off."

"'The party of the second part,'" read Mary, '"in consideration of the use of the cottage known as The Stone Cottage and the agreed salary, agrees to trespass unlawfully --' Yes, it seems all right, Wally."

"Hand me the fountain pen," said

Wally, and he signed his name and handed one copy of the contract through the bars to Mr. Shuttlewerke.

"Thank you," said Mr. Shuttlewerke, "and next Spring --"

"Yah! Next Spring!" sneered Wally, "You'll do a lot next Spring, you will! I thought you were going to kick me off the place, you big bluff! You couldn't kick a rabbit off the place. You talk a lot of hot air but you don't seem to do much. I ran you until you were blue in the face, and you have to sneak back to town to get your wind. Why, you couldn't kick a chicken off --"

"What? Why, you poor half-baked pup of a poet," cried Mr. Shuttlewerke, getting red in the face, "do you dare talk to me like that? I'll show you whether I can kick you off the --"

The final words were lost because Mr. Shuttlewerke was racing rapidly along the iron-barred fence toward the great iron hand-wrought gates. Wally tightened his belt and bent his knees and set his cap firmly on his head.

Mrs. Shuttlewerke turned and looked through the little window in the back of the limousine. Then she settled herself comfortably in the seat.

"Drive on, George," she said, "we'll not wait for Mr. Shuttlewerke," and she opened the copy of the magazine she held in her hand and began to read a poem. It was entitled "Pursuit" and it began --

"Chaste Diana, goddess of the chase --'

It was signed with the name of Wallace Overbury Hinchcliffe.

The Merry Chase goes on -- as the Old Man reduces his weight



Saturday, October 07 at 1:19:30am USA Central
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