from Blue Book
The Last Man
by Ellis Parker Butler
The Joke Is On Me
They tell, in books, about the "long vacation," meaning -- as near as I can make out -- the summer vacation when the swell young fellows come home from college; but when it comes to long vacations I have them all beaten. One way of looking at it, every day is Sunday with me now -- as the old song used to go -- and as near as I can make out it is going to be that way. I've lost my job.
I don't want anybody to get the idea I'm starting out to write a high-fatuling story about myself, for I haven't got the stuff in me to do that. About all the literature business I ever got into me was what I skimmed off the good old New York Journal. When I felt real high-browed, I used to read the editorials. There was a fellow on the paper that wrote cracker-jack stuff that way, but as a general thing I stuck to the sporting page pretty tight. Working at my job the way I did, and batting around town when I left the office, I never had much time for the reading game. So the best I can do is trot along at my own pace and tell what I've got to tell. I guess the best thing is to jump right into it and let it go at that.
All right then! I was working for the United Rubber Products Company, on the eighth floor of the Woolworth Building. I went there with them when they moved up from 26 Broadway, and my boss was Charley Hodder; and his title was Financial Accountant. That meant he was the head bookkeeper of the stocks and bonds and notes the Company issued.
My job was to sit on a high stool and enter the transfers in the right books. In a big company like that, somebody was always selling or buying stocks or bonds, and I had to write down the names and the numbers of the certificates and all that sort of thing, and wish it was five o'clock. That was afternoons. In the morning I did the same thing, only I wished it was lunch time. I can see now it was no job for a twenty-one-year-old man, but I began as a boy and the twenty-one-year-old business slipped up on me before I knew it.
That's about the size of my history. I hung out at a boarding house on Fifty-eighth Street, and got my morning feed there, and sometimes turned up for dinner. I got lunch at a Childs' place downtown, and when I was flush I picked up some girl I knew and had dinner with her over at Joe Guffanti's, or some other place where the feed was good and cheap. If I picked up one of my girls for dinner, we generally ate long enough to fill in part of the evening, and then we hit the "movies" for a while. If I didn't happen to pick up one of my lady friends, I generally found a couple of the fellows and we stood around and watched the crowds go by. I had a couple of swell little girls those days, and I suppose I might have married one of them some time, if things hadn't changed. A fellow generally does. If I had got a raise over my fifteen per, I would have begun thinking of tying up, I suppose.
As it was, there was no one to my family but Aunt Mary and myself. Aunt Mary lived in Flushing, which is a sort of suburban town over on Long Island, and she was a fine old lady if there ever was one. She was dead in love with me, too. She just thought I was about the finest lad that ever lived, and she told me so. She was always wanting me to come over and see her, but you know how it is with a New Yorker. It took eighteen minutes to get to Flushing, and it looked like a million miles when you were standing on the corner of Broadway and Thirty-fourth. I went over once in a while, just to please her.
I know that sounds bad, when I tell you Aunt Mary had told me she was going to leave me her money, but I didn't go to see her to square that part of it. I went because I liked the old lady and was glad to give her a nice time once in a while. She told me she had three thousand dollars in the Flushing Bank that was to be mine, besides the house and lot.
So it came along toward my vacation time. I had two weeks, beginning August first, and I had made up my mind to swell around Long Branch for two weeks, but I fell for an advertisement I saw in the paper about three weeks before my vacation time, and that put another cog in my wheel. The advertisement was about how fine it was to buy a diamond on easy payments, and when I went to the fellow's place I picked a big one, and I did it before I thought about needing my money for my vacation. So there I was. I had to pay that little eight dollars a week or the Company would get notice from the diamond man. I thought it over and decided the best thing I could do was to go out to Aunt Mary's and spend my vacation there. Lots of swells go to the country that way. Going to Aunt Mary's wouldn't cost me a cent, and it would tickle her to pieces.
Now you come to the story. I wrote Aunt Mary I was coming, and had a fight with Charley Hodder because I was about two days behind with my entry work, and left the office for my vacation. I took the Broadway car uptown and read the Journal on the way up, and while I was reading it. I ran across an advertisement. It said a young, strong man was wanted for two weeks' work in the country in connection with some experiments a man was making. The advertisement said applicants should call at a place in Bayside.
I knew Bayside was the next station beyond Flushing, and it struck me right there that perhaps I could earn a couple of installments on my ring and keep from dying of weariness at the same time, so I kept on the train when I got on it at the Pennsy station, and went right out to Bayside. Aunt Mary knew I would drop in on her when I got ready.
Now it is no use describing the place I went to. It was a sort of hospital place, near the bay, and it had nurses and all of that, and the head nurse made me sit down and wait for Dr. Bardington. He came in a few minutes, and he was a fine looking man, about sixty, and he went right at me with his proposition. You could search me for a week and you couldn't find out what the old codger had in mind. He told me all about it, but it was beyond little Jimmy. All I got out of it was that he would pay me twenty-five good dollars a week if I would let him hypnotize me for two weeks.
"Look here," I said, "you won't cut off a leg or an arm or anything while I'm asleep, will you?"
"No, sir," he said. "We perform no operations here. I repeat -- we merely desire to test a theory."
"Well, if that's all you want to do," I said, "I'm your man."
"The theory we wish to test -- I think you do not quite get it clear yet -- is that when the lung cavities --"
"Forget it!" I said. "I know a straight guy when I see one, and if you tell me this is all right and that nothing is going to hurt me, that's all I want to know. I'd let you carry my watch. Now can I go home nights?"
"Impossible!" he said. "You will be placed on a bed after you have been hypnotized and you will remain there two weeks."
"Well, that don't bother me much," I said. "It looks like a good rest for Jimmy."
"Very well," he said. "Come tomorrow morning at nine."
I went back to Flushing and told Aunt Mary, and she didn't like the idea very well. As near as I could tell her, what they wanted to do to me was to put me to sleep and squeeze all the air out of me and then turn some sort of gas into the room and see if I could stand it without kicking the covers off, as you might say. She was afraid something might happen to me. but I told her about the close watch the old medic was going to keep on me, and I guess I made her feel better about it.
The next morning I said good-by to Aunt Mary and went up to Bayside, and the old doctor was ready for me. There were three other doctors with him, and a couple of trained nurses -- I guess they were trained; they looked it -- and they took me right up to the room where they were going to try out the theory. It was a big room, all white, and there was a glass-topped table in the middle of it. The doctors talked a while about the glass-topped table. Part of them thought I ought to sleep right on the glass top, but the others said it would be better to put some blankets on it, and to let me have a pillow, and they had their way. I thought, myself, that a table with a glass top was no sort of bed for a hard working young man to spend two weeks on.
They got that settled and then old Dr. Bardington wouldn't rest easy until he told me some more about what they were going to do. I guess he wanted me to feel easy in my mind. Maybe he thought he could hypnotize me better if I felt safe. So he showed me the suit he was going to wear after I was hypnotized. It was rubber, and it had the general look of a diver's rig, and he showed me how there was a tube that ran out from the head covering to the open air outdoors. That was so he could come into the room where I was, and the gas would not kill him.
"Fine for you, Doc'," I said, "but how about little me, cooped up here in the gas?"
"Your lungs will be collapsed," he says, "and the gas can't get into them. We attach this" (I forget what he called it) "to your wrist so we can observe your pulse every instant. The slightest variation of your pulse and we will unhypnotize you and let in the fresh air. You will be perfectly safe."
"What gets me," I said, "is why you want to pay good money just to do something to me that will leave me the same after it is all over as I am when you begin."
"Science --" he began, but I stopped him.
"Is this a science business?" I said. "Why didn't you say so in the first place and let it go at that? If it's science, all right. Go as far as you like."
I was wise to science, you see, I remembered one of the editorials in the New York Journal. I didn't remember what it said, but I remembered that it was about science and that it made a big hit with me and that it had made me feel that science was hot stuff and a friend of the common people. So I felt right among friends.
"Bring on your sleep stuff!" I said.
"Thank you," said old Doctor Bardington. "Now please try to relax and yield yourself to me. Try to do what I ask you. You are going to sleep now. You will sleep two weeks. Now, you are going to sleep. You will sleep two weeks." That was what I heard when I did go to sleep: "Sleep! Two weeks! Sleep! Two Weeks! SLEEP! TWO WEEKS!" Those were the last words I heard then, and the last I heard for many a long day.
The old doc' had put that two weeks idea into me so strong and hard that I must have been thinking it all the time I was thinking nothing. As I figure it out now, I must have awakened in two weeks just about on the dot. What had happened in those two weeks is more than I know. I have thought about it a lot, but I'm not a star thinker when it comes to such things, so I won't put up any argument at all -- I'll just tell how I know it happened.
The first thing I knew when I came unhypnotized was that I needed a breath of air just about as badly as a soda fountain needs ice. I had to have it or go out of business. My chest felt all cramped up. And then, when I did take a breath -- ginger! I felt as if hot water had been poured into my lungs -- boiling hot water. "Yow!" I yelled. That helped me get a decent breath, and in a minute I was breathing all right. I lay there, just enjoying a good breathing spell, looking up at the ceiling. Then I remembered where I was.
"Ho, Doc'!" I called.
Nobody answered, and I sat up.
"Hey, Doctor!" I called again, and then I saw the doctor. He was flat on the floor at the head of my glass-topped table-bed, all done up in his rubber suit, and it looked as if he had fallen. I figured that he must have tripped and fallen over his rubber tube. I thought the poor old beggar must have cut himself, because he had fallen against sort of long door-window and had broken the lower pane, and his head was sticking outside. I got down from the table in a hurry and stooped down.
"Hurt much, Doc'?" I asked, pulling his head out of the door-window.
Then I saw what I thought was the matter. The glass had cut the rubber of his head covering, and that had let in the gas my room was filled with, and it had been too much for the old man. I dug my pocket-knife out of my pants and slit his rubber suit all the way up the front, to give him air, but the minute I saw his face I knew air wouldn't do the old gent any good. He was dead. That's right -- he was dead. Absolutely and entirely dead.
The first thing I thought was that I must call some one, and be quick about it. I let out a yell that would have awakened a two-weeks' sleeper. Then I was sorry I had yelled that way. It might look bad for me to be found there, with this dead man and the broken window and all. They might think I had jumped up and killed the poor old fellow, and it would be the jail for me. But nobody came. Then I remembered that I had been hypnotized and I wondered if maybe I hadn't killed the doctor after all. I wondered if I had jumped up and killed him while I was asleep, and what a bunch of lawyers and a jury would have to say to that. You never can tell
"Doc'," I said, "if I did kill you, maybe you're where you can know I didn't mean to do it. That's the truth. If I killed you, I don't know it, but this is no place for me. I'm going to get out of here."
I went to the door-window and looked out. Nobody seemed to be hanging around and I opened the door-window softly and stepped out. I was on a balcony on a sort of second floor, but it was not a full floor from the ground. The ground slanted up-hill from the front of the building, so it was an easy drop from the balcony. I took another look around and let myself drop over the edge of the balcony. I stood still a minute to see if anybody was coming, and then I made tracks.
I didn't know exactly which way to go, and I was sorry already that I had come this far. I saw then that my job was to stick by the old doc' until some one came to us, and that running away would only look more suspicious than the real thing, but it was too late now. I struck off to the left toward a railway that I knew was the Long Island, because that is the only railway there is out there. There were two or three houses close by, and I kept well away from them. If I was going to do the sneak-away act I must do it right. I struck the railway just beyond the houses and slid down the embankment and struck out toward Flushing. Down the track three or four hundred yards, I saw a gang of roughnecks doing something to the track. They didn't seem in much hurry about what they were doing. The whole lot of them seemed to be killing time, but that was none of my business. My business, if I was running away, was to keep out of sight, and I climbed the embankment again on the other side.
It was a poor place to escape people. I seemed to be right in town -- in the dwelling-house part, not the store part. I pulled my hat down over my eyes and walked along as if I was going somewhere on important business and didn't have time to look to right or left. And then I almost stepped on a drunk sprawled out on the sidewalk.
At least I thought it was a drunk. I pushed him with my foot.
"Get up, there!" I said. "You'll get run in if you take a nap on the sidewalk, m' friend."
He didn't move. I took him by the arm and shook him. Then I tried to lift him up. He was dead.
I've heard of lots of drunks dropping off that way, sudden. Heart disease or apoplexy or something does it, I guess. But, even if it were none of my business, I couldn't leave a man dead on the street. I looked around for some one to call, but nobody was about, so I looked for a telephone wire. There was one going into a house a little way up the street, so I made for that house. I had an idea the thing to do was to call up the police station.
I went up to the front door of the house and pushed the bell-button and the bell rang, and I wailed for some one to come to the door. Nobody came. Then I rang again. Then I knocked on the door. Then I opened the door and looked in. The hall was empty -- of folks, that is -- and I called, but no one answered. The telephone was on the wall at the end of the hall and I took a chance. I walked in and shouted once more, thinking how easy it would be for a thief to steal something when folks left their houses open that way, and then I took down the receiver of the telephone. You understand what a telephone is, I suppose, and that in New York you didn't turn a crank to call "Central" any more. You just took down the receiver and waited until Central answered. She usually answered as soon as she got ready, or soon after that.
Central did not answer. That happens sometimes, so I jiggled the receiver up and down and waited again. No answer. I couldn't get a word out of the central office at all.
"Asleep at the switch," I said to myself, and hung up.
I figured that the lady of the house might tell me how I could get word to the police, and that she was probably in the back yard, hanging over the fence talking to a neighbor, and I opened a door in the back of the hall. It was a clothes closet, and I shut it again quick. I didn't want anyone to think I was a thief. There was another door alongside that one, and I tried that one. It opened into the kitchen, and the lady of the house was there. She was sitting on a chair with a pan of potatoes in her lap and she had dropped her knife on the floor. She had been paring the potatoes when she dropped the knife, I figured, and her head was forward on her breast. I thought she was asleep, and I called to her gently. She was dead.
Yes, she was dead. She was dead there in her chair, in her own kitchen. It frightened me.
"Is everybody dead in this town?" I said to myself, and I backed out of the kitchen pretty quick. I didn't breathe until I was outdoors.
"Jimmy, you're dippy!" I said, when I was outside. "That woman wasn't dead. You've got that idea on the brain. You imagined she was dead because you happened to see two other people that way."
But I didn't go back. I was afraid to. I was afraid to see whether she was dead or not. I wouldn't have gone into that house again for a ten dollar bill. I looked up and down the street to see if anyone was coming, and just the idea that no one was coming rather frightened me. I saw another house across the street with a wire running into it, and I started across the street. And right there I got mine, as the fellow says.
You know how the English sparrows gather in bunches. There was a big bunch of them in the middle of the street, just where I meant to cut across, and the minute I turned toward them I saw they were all dead. Every one of them was toppled over on one side or the other, their little claws curled up and their eyes shut. There must have been fifty of them, all dead. That was just fifty more than enough for me. I turned and ran down that street as if the devil was after me. My hat fell off but I didn't stop to pick it up. I don't know the name of the street -- I never went back to learn -- but it ended at the main street of Bayside, and that seemed to have been a pretty well traveled street. But it wasn't now.
It was a dead street; I knew it the moment I reached it. I think I knew it before I reached it. I knew what I was going to see. There was one automobile that had run up on the sidewalk and stopped against a stone gatepost -- the three people in it were dead. One young boy lay beside his bicycle in the middle of the street. I saw a woman with a broom on a porch. She seemed to have crumpled down while she was sweeping.
I stopped running because I was out of breath and my legs gave way. I lay beside the road panting, and wondering if it was my turn to go the way all the Bayside folks had gone, and before I was really able I was up again and tottering on the best way I could. When I came on one of -- of the dead people, I ran far around him, and only struck back to the road when I was far beyond. I was half crazy, I guess. I only wanted one thing. I wanted to get where there was somebody alive. And I don't know why, but Aunt Mary was the person that seemed to me must be alive. It never occurred to me that she couldn't be. I wanted to get to her.
Even after I had passed so many of -- of them -- of the dead ones -- in Flushing, I knew Aunt Mary would be alive. I couldn't wait until I got to the house. I began shouting to her when I was at the end of the block, and I looked for her to come to the door when I called. I ran into her yard and onto the porch and threw open the door and shouted. She was in her little sitting room. She was dead.
Everybody was dead! Everybody in Flushing was dead. I went down to the main street to see, and it was so. There were streetcars and automobiles and wagons. Some had run wild and had smashed each other, and some had just stopped where they were without being hurt, but there was no one alive in the whole town. And the funny thing is that all I felt was that I was terribly lonely. I suppose, always having run with a gang of fellows, and knowing so many girls, and being right in New York where people are thickest, made it seem worse to me, but – honest -- I couldn't get over the feeling that it was an awful thing to be all alone that way. It seemed as if somebody must turn up to talk to me.
But no one did. And that was what gave me the panic, I guess. If I could have had some one to talk it over with, I might have stood it on Long Island some time, but being so lonely was more than I could stand. I knew it was long walk to Manhattan, but I just had to get there, where the folks were still alive. I struck out at once. I wondered, I remember, what sort of headlines the Journal would give this business. Pretty big, I imagined, and that kept me up some. I was anxious to get across the bridge and get hold of a late edition and see just how bad all this was, and what had happened.
The Queensborough bridge begins at Fifty-ninth Street on the Manhattan side and ends at Long Island City. It is funny that I never thought of Manhattan being dead as I hurried across the bridge. There were the same things on the bridge as everywhere I had been -- dead automobiles and street cars and horses and people -- and I went down the Manhattan side on a lope -- I was too tired to run -- so anxious was I to get to a live place again. I couldn't believe it until I was in the middle of First Avenue. Manhattan was dead too!
Yes, sir! The whole town was dead! There wasn't a moving, living thing. The elevated trains were dead; the streetcars were dead; the people were dead, and the animals were dead. Everything that had been alive was dead. Honest, I stood there in the middle of the street and I was so scared I trembled like a wet dog in December. I didn't know what in the world to do, or what would become of me. I could feel the cold sweat running down my back.
If anybody reads this, he can't guess what New York was before all this happened. There wasn't another town like it on earth -- no town with the hustle and business that it had. And it scared me stiff to think what a jar business and everything would get if everybody was dead. It wouldn't be little old New York any more at all. And then, all of a sudden I thought of the Rubber Products Company and Charley Hodder and my job. I guess I turned as white as a sheet.
"Great Scott!" I said to myself, but out loud. "If that crowd is dead too, I'm out of a job and how the dickens will I ever pay the installments on this diamond?"
The thought of that was just a little more than I could stand, and I sat right down in the middle of First Avenue and cried like a baby.
That was about four o'clock in the afternoon, and I might have cried longer if I hadn't felt so hungry. It must have been about ten o'clock in the morning when I came out of my trance at that place in Bayside, and I hadn't had anything to eat since then, and it was no wonder I was hungry, for when you come to think of it, I hadn't had anything to eat for two weeks. That's a long time to go without feeding.
When I had worked off some of my feelings blubbering there in the middle of the street, I stood up and looked around. I began to feel that I was in a bad fix, any way I looked at it. If all the people in New York were dead, the old town was no place for me, and my job was to get out of the place and go West, or wherever the people were still alive. It made me kind of sick to think of going West. I never cared for that sort of thing. Little old New York had always been good enough for me and I had thought it always would be, and now I had to cut loose and rustle out among the hayseeds.
It made me feel like a fish out of water. When a fellow has never done much but enter one kind of stuff in one kind of book, the idea that he has to tackle a new kind of job scares him. But there was one thing mighty sure. I had to get to work, and get to work quick. Like a fool, I had mailed most of my two weeks' advance salary to that diamond concern, and I hadn't waited in Bayside to collect the two weeks' pay due me for the hypnotism job, and I had only about three dollars in my pockets -- and my steady job gone. A man can't live long on three dollars in New York. I knew a lot of fellows who would stake me for a few dollars, but I guessed rightly enough that they were dead with the rest of the folks. I was up against hard times for fair.
I crowded between two dead streetcars and got to the corner of Fifty-ninth. There was a newsstand on the corner there. The newsman had dropped right beside his stand, but there were a lot of newspapers on the stand yet -- a bunch of four o'clock edition Journals under a flat stone -- and I dug into my pocket and put a penny on the stand and took a paper.
There wasn't a line in it about what had happened. The headlines on the first page were about some murder that had happened after I went to sleep for my two weeks' nap, and the red ink dope gave the news that the Giants had made one run to the Washington's none up to the end of the second inning. I liked that. I was always strong for the Giants and it did me good to know they had ended up in the lead of the League and the lead of the game. Just for fun I looked, and sure enough old Matty was in the box when the game was called on account of the end of the world, or whatever had been the matter. But the paper did not help me much. I had a laugh over the funny pictures, and read the editorial. It was about the way to wealth being to save money. That hit me hard. If anybody needed to save money I -- with my little three dollars -- needed to save it.
I went on across Fifty-ninth, sticking to the middle of the street, and got to Central Park and walked down to the Zoo. That had been a great place to take my girls on Sunday afternoons, and I knew there was a peanut man always on the job there. He was there -- like the rest of the people -- and I slipped a dime into his coat pocket and took two bags of peanuts. The animals were all dead. I went up on the drive, where there is a drinking fountain, and I found one bench that did not have anyone on it and I sat there and ate my peanuts and took a drink once in a while and tried to think things over. In a little while it would be night, and I did not like the idea of being all alone very well.
As it turned out, there was no need of worrying about sleeping alone in the dead town, because I didn't sleep. I suppose being asleep two weeks had left me wakeful. But while I sat there I couldn't think of any better plan than the one I had already made -- to get over into New Jersey and hunt up somebody that was alive, and get a job as soon as I could. On Saturday, you see, I would owe another payment on my diamond, and I didn't have enough money for that. I had to earn that -- and my living too.
I suppose some fellows -- like those that always run to fires and crowd around places where there are accidents -- would have been crazy to hustle about town and see everything that had happened, but I didn't seem to want to do it. I knew how the folks must be piled up on Broadway and in the big stores, but instead of wanting to see them I felt like keeping away. If it had not been so late I would have struck out for the East River, but a strange place like New Jersey is no place for a man at night, and I made up my mind to stay right where I was, or near it.
I hung around the park entrance until dark came on, and then I went across Fifth Avenue to one of the hotels. A Fifth Avenue stage was dead right in front of the hotel -- that being one of the corners where they stop -- and there was no one in it. Only the chauffeur toppled over on the front seat and the conductor toppled over beside a dead passenger on the top. I laid a dime on the floor, to pay my fare for the night, and tried to go to sleep spread out on one of the long seats. It grew darker and darker. I sort of expected the electric lights to blaze up outside, but of course they didn't. Presently the breeze came up a little, and a piece of old newspaper blew across the plaza. You could hear it a mile. Imagine that, in New York! It frightened me, everything else was so still, and I got up and went outside the stage.
In front of the other big hotel, across Fifty-ninth Street, there was a big limousine car, with headlights. I was getting so nervous I just had to have a light of some kind, and I monkeyed with the headlights until I got the hang of the way to light them and turn on the gas that fed them, and I lighted them both. They made a good strong glare of light and I went into the hotel and borrowed a chair and stood it in the street in the glare of light, and sat there trying to read the Journal. I couldn't keep my mind on it somehow. I kept thinking of other things.
One of the things I thought was that, if I was the only one of the Rubber Products gang left alive, maybe it was my duty to go down to the office in the morning and try to run the business the best I could. And then I thought that would be worse than leaving the business alone, because I'm such a mucker I'd be pretty sure to get it all balled up. But there was one thing I did decide to do before I went to New Jersey to hunt a job. I would go down in the morning and catch up with my work I had let get behind before I went on my vacation, I knew just how Charley Hodder would think of me if I left that job and went on another and left my work all piled up for some one else to do.
That set me to thinking of other things, and I wondered if it was up to me to bury all the people. I wasn't sure. Of course, one way of looking at it, they would rather expect the last man left alive to do the rest a good turn like that, but on the other hand it was some job. I didn't see how I could handle it alone. The more I thought of it the more impossible it looked -- there must be millions and millions that would need burying, and it would not be possible for me to bury them all. And it would not be a square deal to bury some and leave the others. Toward morning I decided I wouldn't tackle that job, and it was just as well I decided that way.
Whatever had happened to the people and animals must have happened suddenly and not very long before I awakened. The paper I found on the newsstand was of the afternoon before, and it was the four o'clock edition. It must have got to the newsstand about half past three, so that must have been when the trouble came. I awakened at Bayside between nine and ten o'clock, I imagine, so the people must have all been dead three quarters of a day or so when I awakened. Sunrise after my night in Fifth Avenue must have made about a day and a half or so since everybody died.
I mention this here so that if anybody ever wants to look this business up scientifically he will have something to go on. Whatever killed all the people and animals and birds and insects was something that acted quickly and in a way nothing else that I know of acts. I'll explain that.
When the sun came up, I got up from my chair to turn out the headlights of the limousine -- for it was not my gas I was burning -- and I happened to look up at the dead conductor on top of the stage. He had been toppled over one of the seat backs as if the stage had stopped suddenly and had thrown him, but now he was all sunk down in a pile on the floor of the top of the stage, and the passenger he had been leaning over was crumpled up the same way. That looked funny, and I climbed to the top of the stage. There was nothing left of the conductor or his passenger but the clothes. That means their hats and shoes, too, of course. The rest of them was dust.
Well, that was what had happened since evening. In one way I was glad, if they had to be dead. It took the worry about whether I should bury them entirely off my mind. In another way it made me feel lonelier than ever. It made me wonder whether the trees and the buildings and everything else might not wither up the same way some night. It was a long time before I got over that feeling that everything was going to wither from around me and from under me. I had some mighty bad dreams about it. At the moment it made me feel shaky.
I never drank much. Once in a while -- oh, say once or twice in an evening -- one or two of us fellows would drop in somewhere and have a glass of beer or two and that was all, but now I did feel as if I needed a bracer. I went into the big hotel the stage was standing in front of, and found the barroom without much trouble -- they always had them convenient -- and poured myself a drink. I put a dime on the counter to pay for it, and then I remembered what sort of place I was in, and I put down another nickel. Even at that I did not feel sure I was paying the regular price, and I took back the change and put a quarter on the bar. No matter how swell the place was, a quarter was enough for a plain drink of whisky. But I couldn't afford to pay any such price very often, and after that I hunted up a commoner looking place when my nerves needed a drink -- a place where I thought, by the looks, a dime would be about right.
But what knocked me was the big mirror back of the bar. I happened to look in it when I was tilting my glass, and caught a glimpse of my face. I never had anything jar me more in my life than that glimpse of my face. I was as white as a sheet, or whiter. That showed how scared I really was, even if I didn't know it myself. But it was the look of me that made me feel how empty the old town was now.
Thinking about these things, as I had been, in such a big way, had got me to thinking I was some big thing myself, and that glimpse of myself in the mirror brought me right back where I belonged. A man to be left alone in a town like New York ought to be a big man -- like Charley Murphy or Teddy Roosevelt or J. P. Morgan -- and there I was, a little runt of a fellow, with the whole town on my hands. What I saw was a thin young fellow with black hair. I don't know how to describe myself better than to say I looked like a clerk in a department store. As a general thing, I went in for a little warmer colors in shirts and ties than a department store clerk, but that was about my size. And here I had all New York on my hands.
"Say, bo," I said to myself, "this is a case of afraid to go home in the dark, all right!"
That's how I felt about it. I was a kid-sized man to fit a man's-size job. But just the same it was up to me to get along somehow, and the first thing to do was to get over to New Jersey and scare up some people. It made me sick to see the little old town all quiet and dead like it was.
But first I had to hoof it down to the United Rubber Products and finish my job there. Well, the town was dead all the way down. I didn't run across a living being anywhere. At Thirty-fourth and Broadway I stopped a minute to look at a suit of clothes in a window. It was a nifty piece of goods, and marked twenty dollars, and I wanted it, but I knew it was not for me. You can't go far in New York without the money to pay the way, so I went on down town, and climbed to the Rubber Products floor of the Woolworth and got to work. Old Charley Hodder was there before the desk just as he always was, except that he had crumpled down and was nothing but clothes, but I recognized his blue serge and tan shoes the moment I went inside the office. I put him on a chair in the corner. We had had some hot words in our day, but I did not hold that up against him now, and I put him on the chair so the creases in his pants wouldn't wrinkle. He was always particular about his creases, and I did what was right by them now.
It took me all forenoon to enter the bond and stock transfers, and then I put the bonds and stocks in envelopes and stacked them up, and put the books in the safe, and went away. The Rubber Products had nothing on me then, anyway. We were square.
I went down to Broadway and across to the riverfront. There were no ferries running, of course, so I found a rowboat and started for New Jersey. I landed at Hoboken, and I didn't like the looks of things. Long before I reached Hoboken I began to have a funny feeling about New Jersey. There were no streamers of smoke coming from any of the chimneys.
Hoboken was as dead as New York. I walked down the car tracks to Jersey City. That was dead too. I stopped in a dairy restaurant and got something to eat. The milk was sour, but the bread and rolls were all right -- a little stale -- and the butter was good. There was no charge mentioned on the bill of fare for bread and butter, so I ate what I wanted and left a quarter of a dollar. I had to change a dollar bill in the cash register, but I made the change straight, and then I started across the meadows by the railway tracks for Newark. Newark was dead too.
I didn't like that. I was getting pretty far from New York, but the only thing I could do was to keep on. I had no hat, having lost it in Bayside when I ran away from the first dead man, but I hated to spend any money for another if this dead zone was going to be very wide, because there was no telling when I would reach a place where I could earn some money.
I struck out of Newark along the streetcar tracks, and it did not take long to get into the country, but it was getting late in the afternoon. There was nobody alive anywhere. About dark I found a wagon with sacks of potatoes in it, and I took a few potatoes and put a dime on the seat of the wagon, and made a fire beside the road and baked the potatoes. They were pretty good, but burned too much on the outside. That night I slept on the grass by the side of the road.
There was one funny thing about that night. The mosquitoes nearly ate me alive. I sort of joked to myself about it -- that nothing could kill a Jersey hummingbird even if it killed everything else in the world, but I know that was not so, now. Those mosquitoes had been hatched after the trouble was all over. I suppose, being eggs and under water, they had escaped whatever had killed everything else.
The next morning I started west again, and I kept at it all day. Not a living person anywhere!
Well, there's no use stringing this out. I walked for a week, and did not see anything alive except a few insects. My money was about gone, and I was getting bluer and bluer the farther from New York I went. At last I just gave up. There was no use trying to fool myself any longer. I was the last man alive. I was the only man on earth, so far as I knew. My job was to get back to New York, and to get back as soon as I could, because little old New York was the middle of everything, and if anybody was alive he would make for New York sooner or later.
I turned right in my tracks and began to run. I was crazy with fear that perhaps some ship had come in while I was away, and that it might leave again before I got back.
I did not know how I would support myself in New York. I suppose, if I had run entirely out of money, I would have starved as long as I could stand it and then turned thief. They say that's what happens. But I did not have to steal. Not on my way back, anyway.
I did not have to steal, because I got a temporary job. It was a queer sort of job for a stock transfer clerk to take, but I came mighty near making it a permanent job, no matter how queer it was.
I was coming along at a good clip through a piece of woods on the road back to New York, dog trotting when I could and walking when I was too tired to trot. It was quite a big piece of woods, it seemed to me. Maybe that was only because I was a New Yorker and did not know what big woods were. Anyway, it was the quietest place I was ever in -- not a chirp, not even a squirrel now and then, as there used to be in Central Park. It was a dead piece of woods, with a dead road running through it.
I was going along that way and I had just passed a sort of clearing in the woods -- a place with a house and barn -- when I stopped as if some one had shot me. I stopped and stood listening with every ear in my head, and I fell as if I had ten of them. The noise I heard sounded like a chicken chirping, or some kind of bird noise.
And right then I knew for the first time how awful lonely I was. It took the big jump of joy I felt, when I thought that noise was a bird or a chicken, to put me wise to how wild I was to hear some living thing. Of course there were the mosquitoes, but a mosquito isn't much to talk to when a man is lonely. I stood still and listened. It was just the dead limb of one tree scraping across the trunk of another tree. It was an awful disappointment.
I struck out again for New York, but where the woods ended there was a farm -- or sort of farm -- and on the fence near the gale there was a board nailed, and the board had a sign painted on it. It said, "Wanted -- A strong man for two weeks. Seven dollars a week and board." I don't suppose I would have given it a second look if I hadn't seen another sign -- a big, permanent one -- standing on two posts. This sign said "Overbrook Poultry Farm," and somehow the feeling I had had when I thought I heard a chicken chirp there in the woods, and the lowness of my money, and everything else, gave me an idea.
"Look here, Jimmy," I said to myself. "You have to earn some money. Here's a clean offer of seven a week and board, and if ever a farmer needed a man, this one needs one right now. You're crazy to see something alive," I said to myself, "and here's your chance. Get to work and see if you are man enough to hatch a chicken."
That was really what made me stop there -- I wanted to see if I could make some live thing come on the earth, now that there was no live thing but me. I went inside the gate and pulled down the sign, to show that I was taking the job in earnest, and then I walked out to the chicken houses and took a look around. The chickens had all gone the way the folks had. Nothing was left but their clothes -- little piles of feathers. But there were plenty of eggs that looked right enough, and I was not such a dope that I didn't know an incubator when I saw "Incubator" painted on the side of one.
I studied one of the incubators until I thought I had got the hang of it, and then I loaded it with eggs and lighted the lamp that warmed it. That first batch never came to anything. It got roasted. But I looked through the house and found two or three books on poultry culture, and I got some tips that were worthwhile. The next incubator that I loaded with eggs I did not get so hot. It was a big poultry farm and I loaded ten of the incubators. I guess I must have used a thousand eggs that way, but there were plenty more. I lived mostly on eggs, with some garden truck I found growing in a garden beside the house. I slept in the chicken house beside the incubators.
You know how long it takes to hatch a chicken. I didn't, and it seemed to me that those eggs were never going to hatch. You would think that would be one of the things a man would write in a poultry culture book, wouldn't you? But I suppose everybody was supposed to know how long it took to hatch an egg.
Well, sir! When the first little chicken chipped through a shell and stood up, sort of wabbly on its legs, and blinked at me, I gave a yell that must have broken a dozen panes of glass. There was something alive in the world besides me. I didn't care if it was only a chicken; it was alive! I named that chicken "Honeybunch" right there, I got ten more out of that incubator -- about eighty-nine eggs didn't hatch -- and before long the eggs in the other incubators began to hatch, and I had eighty-four little chickens in all. A lot of them died. I didn't know how to run the brooder at first, but Honeybunch wasn't one of them. I brooded Honeybunch inside my shirt bosom myself, and fed her corn that I chewed up for her myself. Later on, she turned out to be a rooster -- but no matter. She was always my Honeybunch just the same.
I worked around the place a couple of weeks longer, after the chickens were all hatched, and saw them get a good start in the world and that the coops were all in good shape. I remember I was especially particular to see that the wire fences were sound and had no big holes in them, lest the foxes come in and kill the chickens, and then I remembered there were no foxes. There was nothing on earth to hurt a chicken. So I put a lot of feed where they could get at it and tore down a part of the wire netting so they could go out and prospect around and come back again, and then I was ready to strike out for New York again. I put Honeybunch in a shoebox and took my wages from some money I found in the poultry farmer's desk, and started. I didn't feel half so lonely as I had felt. Honeybunch was a lot of company. When I wanted to talk I talked to her.
I say "her" because I didn't know she was a rooster then.
It took me a good while to get back to New York. I didn't know the roads and went astray rather often until I bought a map at a bookstore in one of the towns I came to. I left twenty-five cents for the map, and later on I found it was marked "10 cents." I have always meant to go back and get that fifteen cents, but so far I haven't had time.
So far as I could see, New York was just the same as when I had left it. The streets were all deserted, and the place was as dead as ever. The tide was running up the river when I rowed across, and that took me uptown before I landed, so I went on up to my boarding house. Nobody had disturbed anything in my room, and I packed my things in my old suitcase and cleared out, I had decided what I meant to do. I meant to go down to the Woolworth building and up to the offices of the Rubber Products and try to get the hang of the business. It was the only work I was good for, and if I could catch onto the way to run it I would be doing what I ought to do. Of course I did not expect to learn it all at once, but I thought maybe I could study it out, and I was willing to work for enough to pay for my food until I could earn more. The way things were at the office now, I felt I had a good chance to work up in the business, and in time I might become manager. So I took my suitcase in one hand and Honeybunch under the other arm and started out.
I walked down Broadway. I stopped at one tobacco shop to buy some cigarettes, and I was walking along as grand as life, puffing the smoke out of my mouth and humming "Rastus, Rastus, ef you don't come home you's a-gwine to lose me!" which was the latest song before there stopped being any later ones, and swinging my suitcase in one hand, when all at once I stopped short and stared. I was just above Herald Square, on the west side of the street, and just below me, at the Thirty-fourth Street corner, there was a regular jam of dead trolley cars, automobiles and trucks, and I was looking at them without thinking of them much when I saw something swish from behind one of the trolley cars. I take my oath it was a skirt!
I mean a lady, when I say skirt. Well, the next moment the skirt was out of sight behind a truck. I waved my suitcase and broke into a run.
"Hey, you kid!" I yelled, running as fast as I could, loaded the way I was. "Hey, lady!"
She heard me. She turned and put her head out from behind the truck and stared at me a second or two, and then she screamed and darted across the sidewalk and into the big department store on the corner of Thirty-fourth and Broadway. I was a block away from her then, but I dropped my suitcase and ran faster. I jumped into the department store and shouted, but I could not hear a sound. Once I thought I heard a rustle of something, but it was only some ribbons the breeze was shaking. I stood there in one of the aisles and shouted.
"Say, you!" I called. "Come back here. I won't hurt you."
Nobody answered. Nobody said a thing. I walked from one aisle to another, looking down each one, but I could see nothing of the woman. I walked up and down the aisles, and then I made the rounds again and looked under all the counters. She was not on the first floor -- I was sure of that. I tried to think what I ought to do.
It was plain enough that I was not the only person left alive. There was a woman alive, and unless the distance had fooled me, she was a swell. She had that look at a distance, and she wore that kind of clothes. So I thought it out along those lines. If she was a swell, it was no wonder she was afraid to meet a man alone. I might be a thug, for all she knew. So I shouted again that I meant no harm and that I wouldn't bother her if she didn't want to be bothered.
I knew it was no use trying to catch her, even if I wanted to, in that big store. A woman knows her way about a store of that kind, and a man doesn't, and she could keep slipping from one place to another for a week if she wanted to, and I couldn't find her. She could slip out of one of the five or six doors and across the street to another department store, and from that one into another, and I would never know where she was. Perhaps she had slipped away already.
I went outside. The store had big plate glass windows and I took a look at my reflection in one of them, and when I saw myself I did not wonder that she had cut and run. I looked worse than a tramp. There I was in a light summer suit that I had tramped all over New Jersey in, and that I had worn while I was working over the smoky lamps in the chicken yard, and I was a pretty tough-looking character. I was no sort of picture to win the confidence of a common girl, let alone a swell such as this one seemed to be. If I meant to make up to this girl it was plain I had to have some decent clothes.
I counted my money. With paying my way back from the chicken farm I had worn my pile down to almost nothing. I walked down to where that nifty suit was in the shop window and stared at it. I had half a mind to go in and buy it on credit, but I knew that would not be straight. I had no credit in that store and never had had. And just when I was feeling the bluest, something came into my mind that made everything all right. I remembered Aunt Mary.
I tucked Honeybunch under my arm and started for the Queensborough Bridge as fast as I could walk. I did not get to Flushing that night, but the next day I did, and I went right to Aunt Mary's house. I had an idea where she kept her will and I found it where I thought it would be, in a tin box in the upper drawer of her dresser. I read it through, and it was just as she had said it would be -- she had left me three thousand dollars, and I knew the money was in the Flushing Bank. So I took the will and went down to the bank and wrote a note, saying I had come to get the money and that I would leave the will as security. I took three thousand dollars out of the money drawer under the counter of the paying teller's cage and left the will there, and came back to New York.
Right back to that clothing shop I went, and nothing in the place was too good for me. I bought the suit that I had seen in the window -- or one like it -- and then I bought a fall-style hat and a pair of swell shoes, and a couple of lavender striped shirts and a classy blue tie. I got some scarlet socks that would please the eye of almost any dame, and a couple of silk handkerchiefs with fancy borders. There wasn't a thing that took my fancy that I didn't buy. Everything was marked in plain figures, and when I figured up the hill it came to one hundred and seven dollars and fifty cents. Paid cash for it.
I put on all the duds I needed right there, and just as I was going out, I saw a rack of canes and I bought a cane. I assure you I was something rather classy when I stepped from that store with Honeybunch under my arm. And across the street, peeking from behind a taxi, I saw the girl. She was eyeing me strong. Maybe I should have spoken to her, but I just thought I'd show her I was as good as she was, and I did.
Across the street the other way from where she was, is the big hotel -- the McAlpin -- and it is some swell hotel. I had never been in it, but there it was, and I had almost three thousand dollars in my pocket. I thought it would teach the shy dame a lesson, so I walked across the street as if going into the McAlpin was the most natural thing I ever did. and I walked into the barroom. When I was inside, I peeked through the curtains to see what the dame thought of me now. I calculated I had made some hit with her, with my new clothes and all.
She was gone.
The Chase of the Skirt
The way that dame acted made me mad. I used to be something of a real guy with the girls, when there were girls. Hardly ever, when I stood on the corner and watched the girls go by and said
"Ah, there, kiddo!" but I got a smile, and if the girls smiled at anyone in our gang, it was at me. That was when there were plenty of other fellows in the world, too, and now here I was -- the only man left, so far as I knew -- and this girl wouldn't have anything to do with me. I thought it all over, with my feet on one of the cafe tables and a first class cigar in my mouth, and I decided I had been right in my first guess -- that she was one of the Fifth Avenue swell crowd and thought I wasn't good enough for her.
"Ail right, my lady," I said, "if that's the way you feel, I guess little Jimmy can herd by himself. I don't butt in on any girl that don't want to associate with me."
I was just that sore, you see. I opened the box I had Honeybunch in and let her run around on the top of the table, breaking up a piece of stale bread for her to peck at.
"You and me can get along all right together, anyway, can't we, Honeybunch?" I said. "We don't need to knuckle down to any girl that ever was."
I was saying that when I got a shock. From down Broadway came a long, angry-sounding squeal of an automobile horn -- one of those horns that make you jump half out of your skin when they sound close by. It was far off when I heard it first, but it came nearer at a rapid rate, screeching like a fire-engine's siren. I jumped to the door of the cafe and looked out. The automobile was tearing up Broadway at a mile a minute, dodging the dead street cars and dead trucks and things, and there were two men in it -- two live men. I jumped to the edge of the sidewalk and waved my hat and shouted at them, and they saw me. They didn't slacken the pace of the car, but the man on the far side raised himself in his seat a little and I saw something glitter in his hand and then he shot at me three times in quick succession. He missed me plenty.
That was a nice way to greet a follow, wasn't it? It took my breath away, but before I could say a word the car had passed on. I stood and watched it. It whirled past the Greeley statue and swung into Sixth Avenue, and there it stopped with a jolt, and both men jumped out. I saw them jump for the door of one of the big department stores, and then I heard a scream, and out they came, carrying my lady friend. She was kicking and hitting at them and yelling "Help!" at the lop of her voice.
I made two jumps across the street and started toward the rumpus on the run, but before I got there the two men had the lady in their car and had started up again. One of them stood up and fired a couple more shots back at me while the car was turning into Thirty-fourth Street, but he was too excited to get a bead on me, and the shots went wild. I ran up to Thirty-fourth Street and stared after the car until it turned into Fifth Avenue. Then I noticed that I had Honeybunch in one hand. I would have been a pretty one to tackle two men with revolvers when my only weapon was a chicken.
There was one thing, though. However much that girl didn't like me, she must have hated those men worse, after the way they were treating her. That made me feel that I was needed in the little old world for something more important than holding a job with the Rubber Products. I had no way of knowing how many more men there were in New York like those two, but it looked as if it was up to me to do something for that lady, and do it quick. Luckily, I had enough money to be able to stay off my job awhile. I had a feeling that that lady was somehow depending on me.
There was a sporting goods store near the McAlpin Hotel on Broadway, and the first thing I did was to go in there and buy a couple of revolvers that looked like business. I bought enough cartridges to fill my pockets, too, and left the money for the lot. I knew it was against the law to carry a revolver without a permit, but it looked to me as if this was no time to bother about a permit. It might be a million years before anybody would be around who could grant me one, and if I was going to do anything for that lady I had to do it quick.
I bought a fishing creel while I was in the store. A creel is a sort of basket to carry fish in. It hangs over your shoulder by a strap, and there is a breast strap to keep the basket from getting around in front of you. I bought that to carry Honeybunch in. I needed both hands for revolvers. It is all right for a man to shoot at another man in fun, but I had an idea those men would kill me if they got a chance.
I walked across to Fifth Avenue and started up the Avenue in the direction the big car had gone. It was a black car, long and low, and there were plenty more on the Avenue like it, standing dead -- some at the curb and some in the street. As I went up the Avenue I stopped at each long, low, black car and put my hand on the hood over the engine. I knew well enough that if the abductors' car was one of them the hood would be hot. But all the hoods were cold. It was a rather hopeless sort of search. A car traveling a mile a minute or so could be out of New York in a few minutes, now that there were no traffic police to hold them up, and for all I knew, the car and the lady and her captors might be in the Bronx by now, but it was up to me to do the best I could, and so I went along, feeling the cars and making what haste I could.
By the time I reached Fifty-ninth Street I was getting rather careless about feeling the cars. I just gave them a slap on the hood as I passed by. And then, suddenly, one was hot when my hand touched it. I looked at the car and saw it had had a blowout of one of the rear tires.
I was wondering whether the two men and the lady had changed to another car there, or whether they had gone into one of the hotels or into the Park, when -- ping! -- a pistol bullet hit one of the spokes of the car. I looked up and saw a puff of blue smoke hanging in the air at the door of one of the hotels on the east side of the Avenue, and I dodged to the other side of the car and crouched down. The fellow kept right on shooting at me. Most of his bullets went over my head, but some hit the car body, and one or two hit the asphalt. I was afraid he would shoot me in the legs under the car and I watched my chance and opened the car door and got inside, crouching flat before the rear seat. I didn't like to shoot at him, for fear the lady might get hurt, but it was no fun to stay in that car and be shot at. I took a shot at him for luck, just to let him know that two could play that game, but I missed him. It made him stop shooting, however.
He stood a moment looking at me, and then he turned and went inside the hotel. That was my chance and I took it. I jumped across the Avenue to the hotel on the other side of Fifty-ninth Street and got inside before they saw me. I walked through the hotel and out on Fifty-ninth Street through the "help" entrance, and crossed the street, keeping behind the dead trucks and cars, and slipped into a side door of the hotel the men and the lady were in. I did not know just what I meant to do after I was there, but it looked like the best thing to do.
The part of the hotel I was in was the kitchen part. I hung my creel over a hook on the wall and opened a door. I looked in cautiously but there was no one in the room. It was a sort of pantry. I bent down there and took off my shoes. I was glad to get them off, for they were rather tight on my feet, but the real reason I took them off was so as to make less noise. I pushed open the door of this pantry and I was in the big dining room of the hotel. I slipped quietly across this room, and looked through a glass-paneled door.
I almost fell over backward. Right in front of my eyes was the back of one of the men. The girl was on a sort of low sofa, her hands and feet tied, and she was looking straight toward me. She did not see me, for she was looking at the man whose back I had seen.
The room was a sort of parlor, with a door opening on Fifth Avenue, and I guessed it was the ladies' parlor. As I looked through the glass panel, the man in front of me moved away a little and that gave me a view of the other man. He was standing by the door at the Fifth Avenue side of the parlor. While I looked, he raised his revolver and fired a shot at the empty automobile I had just left.
"Come on," he said to the other man. "I think I've hit him. If you're afraid, I'll rush the car myself."
"You know I'm not afraid," said the other. "But there is no sense in rushing the car. There's no reason why we should run out there and let that fellow shoot us. Go upstairs until you get a clean shot into the car and pot him from there."
"You go upstairs and pot him, Morton, if that's what you think is best," said the other. "Don't flatter yourself I'm going to leave you here alone with the girl. I'd rather let the beggar go loose and take my chances of dropping him some time than leave you with a chance to make off with the girl. I know what I would do in such a case. I'd take the girl and clear out, and let you whistle. And that's what you'd do, and you know it, if I went upstairs."
The other laughed.
"All right," he said. "We'll rush the car."
They stood in the door a minute or so, firing at the automobile with two revolvers apiece, and then they broke into a run for it, firing as they went. It was a lucky thing for me I was not in that car.
I had to act quickly if I was going to help the girl. I took a knife from the table nearest me and ran into the parlor and cut the cords that tied her hands and feet, and had her by the hand -- pulling her out of the room -- before she knew what was up. She screamed -- she was a great little screamer -- and struck at me, but I guess her arms had gone to sleep, tied so tightly, and she did not hurt me. I hurried her through the dining room and pantry and out the side door and across the street into the other hotel. She was screaming all the while, just as if she was as much afraid of me as she was of the other men, but I was pretty sure I was doing the right thing by her.
When the door shut on us I knew her screams would not sound so loud, but I thought it best not to take any more chances, in case the two men had not seen us cross the street. There was a gunnysack on the floor of the room we were in now -- which seemed to be a sort of storeroom for the hotel -- and I kicked the sack into the air with one foot and caught it with my hands and had it around her head before she could turn and run. It shut off her yells, and while she was trying to fight the sack off her head I pushed her through another doorway and hustled her up a back stairway. I made her climb four flights and then I pushed her into a room and went in and locked the door behind me -- and helped her take off the sack.
I got my first real look at her face then, and, believe me I she was a beauty. She was rather mussed up as to hair, but she was a beauty for all that. She was about a head taller than I was and -- well, I guess when I say she was a society queen you will know what sort she was. There she was, standing as straight as a cane and looking at me as if I was some worm she was about to put her foot on and crush forever, and there was I in my socks and with no hat, and with two pretty fierce looking revolvers in my hands, with the door locked behind me and my back against it.
"Well?" she said as if she was commanding me to tell her what I meant by daring to live and breathe in the same air she lived in and breathed.
"Well -- nothing!" I said. "I saw you were in trouble and I got you out, that's all. I saw those toughs kidnap you, and I chased after them, and I got you away from them. You needn't look like you hated me for it."
"Indeed!" she said, or I guess -- when I think it over -- she said "Really!" She was strong on that word. She could say it in a way to make a man shrivel. "Really!" she said. "And perhaps you know that those toughs -- as you call them -- are Captain Harold Morton and Lieutenant Charles Worthington Seers? Perhaps you can explain what a little -- a little snip like you means by interfering with their affairs?"
"You've got me there, girly," I said, trying to feel as if it did not hurt when she called me a snip. "You'll have to come again with that introduction. This Captain and Lieutenant business don't mean anything at all to me. I suppose from the way you say it they are two swells, but I've got my opinion of two big bluffs that will tie a woman and drag her off the way they dragged you. Now, hold on! I said 'big bluffs,' and I mean it."
"And what are you, may I ask?" she said. "You do not seem to treat a woman much differently. If I am to be at the mercy of thugs, I prefer civilized thugs, at least."
Well, that did hurt! Just for that I was going to open the door and let her go back to the two nice little murderers she was so fond of being kidnapped by, and I had moved aside when I thought better of it.
"All right for you!" I said, as if that was all I wanted to have to do with her. "If that's how you look at it, you can think what you want to think of me, but I've got you here and now I've got to keep you. Those gangsters shot at me first, and they meant to kill me, and they mean to kill me now. If I let you go back to them you'll tip them where I am, and I'll be dead in about five minutes."
"What are you going to do?" she asked in that queen manner she had.
"If they leave me alone, I'll leave them alone," I said. "If they don't, they'll have to look out. I'm not easily riled, but I'm mad all through at those men. It's enough for them to try to shoot me, but the way they rough-handled you shows they're no gentlemen, whether they are captains or kings."
"And you are so chivalrous you would keep me here and kiss my hand once a week and feed me and nothing more, I suppose?" she said.
"I wouldn't touch you, anyway," I said. "I know how to treat a lady.
She laughed again at that. I didn't understand what she was laughing at then, but I understood later. She meant that she was the only woman left on earth and that sooner or later I would know it and that I would want her for my mate. She was laughing because she thought I was so ignorant I was fooling myself, while the Captain and the Lieutenant had already talked it over -- right before her, too -- and had agreed that it was their duty to mate with her, so that there might be some more people some day. The Captain and the Lieutenant had not yet decided which would take her.
I learned later that Myrtle -- that was her name -- had had quite a time already. It seemed that she was a big society favorite and quite a live member. She had her own automobile, and her horses to ride and drive, and all that sort of thing, and was a pretty good all round sport. She had gone up in an aeroplane and in a hydroplane a lot of times and when the Captain fellow asked her how she would like an underwater trip she said "Fine!" That's how she came to be alive after this big trouble that ended the world, as I might say. She, and these two men and their crew were down under the ocean in a submarine boat and they didn't know anything about what was happening on shore. When they came to the top everybody was dead -- so far as they knew -- except themselves. They spent a day looking for some one alive, and they covered quite some territory, because they had an automobile. That night the Captain and the Lieutenant shot and killed all the common sailors of the submarine boat. They said they did it to protect Myrtle. Maybe there was some danger of the common sailors' trying to get Myrtle away from them, but it seems a cruel thing to have done.
I suppose being together that way and being able to talk things over made them see sooner how bad the catastrophe was, and being educated and knowing all the stuff there is in book, they knew how they would all revert to brutes right away and get out their primal passions and start in at the bottom of the rung as animals. Being alone and having to pay my way with hardly any money in hand kept me from thinking of such things.
It was this same understanding of things that made Myrtle run away from the Captain and the Lieutenant. She knew they would fight between themselves for her and she didn't want to be around when they tried to kill each other. So that is why she skipped out and hid in the department store and was there when I saw her first. But I did not know any of this as I stood there in the room with her. I only knew she liked the two murderers better than she liked me. I was wondering what I could do to make us safe against the two men when she turned to the window and picked up a chair and threw the chair through the window. Before I could get to her she had jumped out of the window and was screaming.
She did not fall, because there was a fire escape there, but before I could put a hand on her she had started down the fire escape, still screaming. I jumped out of the window and looked down. The two men were there in Fifty-ninth Street. I did not wait. I rested a revolver on the fire escape rail, took a careful aim, and began firing.
One of them -- it was the Lieutenant -- went down in a heap. The Captain, I couldn't seem to hit, and as Myrtle got down the fire escape a story or two, he began firing at me. I followed Myrtle down, firing as I went. It is funny, but while that fight was going on I did not think of Myrtle at all. I just wanted to get that Captain fellow.
When Myrtle reached the second floor she had to stop. The fire escape ended there except for a ladder, and this ladder was hung up on the fire escape and was too heavy for her hands to lift. She stood a minute and then kicked the pane of glass out of its frame and went into the hotel through the window. I came down to where she had stood and the Captain and I went on with our shooting. He hid behind a car, but it did him more harm than good, I reckon, because one of my shots hit the windshield and threw glass in his face. That must have blinded him some, I guess, for he kept missing me -- even though he was a Navy man and trained to shoot. And at last I got him! Yes, sir! I got him!
I wasn't sure at first. He didn't fall, but sort of knelt down behind the wheel of the car, and I kept shooting at him, thinking he was loading his revolver again. Then, as he did not move, I leaned over the edge of the fire escape railing and looked at him more carefully. I was looking at him that way when Myrtle crept up behind me with a heavy silver hand mirror and hit me a clip on the back of the head. I went down like a shot.
It was a mean trick. When I came to my senses, she was gone.
The Capture of the Skirt
When I came to my senses, after Myrtle had hit me with that hand mirror, the first thing I thought of was not Myrtle but Honeybunch. I did not know how long I had been knocked out and I was afraid it might have been several days, and if that was so, Honeybunch might be dead.
Honeybunch was all right. Probably I was only unconscious a couple of minutes. I took the creel from the hook and slung it over my back. I didn't care a rap for Myrtle, or that I had killed those two men, or anything. Now that the excitement was over I only wanted to get back to some regular work where I could earn a decent living. Of course the Rubber Products job was the only one I was hungry for. It was the only job I was entitled to. I had left it with the understanding that I was coming back and I had a right to it.
At first I thought I would move downtown, so as to be near my work, but when I thought it over I decided that I would live right here in the hotel on the plaza at Fifty-ninth and Fifth Avenue. The reason was Honeybunch. I was getting so fond of Honeybunch that I couldn't do anything much when that chicken was around, and the only chicken-coop I knew of on Manhattan was the birdcage in the Central Park Zoo. I went down and looked at it and I decided it was just what I wanted. It had strong iron bars and wire netting that came a good way up the bars, and was all right in every way, even to the padlock on the door. I made sure about the padlock because I didn't want the coop robbed. It was a good thing I thought of it. I would have lost Honeybunch sure, and perhaps Myrtle too, if I had not thought of the padlock.
The next morning I padlocked Honeybunch in the coop and went down to work and put in a good day and nothing happened. I did not see a trace of Myrtle. In the evening, I bought a couple of cigars at my hotel and took a chair down to the coop and sat there, talking to Honeybunch and reading, until it grew dark.
The next day I got to thinking how lonely Honeybunch must be -- all alone in that coop all day -- and at noon I looked up the address of an incubator concern in the city directory and went around and looked over their stock of incubators. I did not buy one that day, because I couldn't quite make up my mind which I wanted, but I went back the next noon and bought a small one. It held fifty eggs, and by the time I had carried it up all those flights of stairs to the office of the Rubber Products I was glad I had not bought a hundred-egg size. That was Friday, and Saturday afternoon I knocked off work and went over on Long Island to get some fresh eggs. They were not fresh enough, I discovered later, to do any good. They would not hatch.
All this time I was having to get up very early in order to feed Honeybunch and then make the long tramp down town so as to get to work at nine o'clock, but it was too much of a job, and I bought a bicycle. It saved me quite a little time. And when I found my eggs would not hatch, I took a Sunday and rode out to the chicken farm in New Jersey. The chickens were fine and hearty, and I bought two for what I thought was a fair price and brought them back to New York in my creel. I felt better about Honeybunch after that. The chicken would not miss me when I was at work.
When I came back that Sunday night I noticed that Myrtle had been around my chicken coop. There were peanut shells and scraps of bread around the cage. I never saw Myrtle herself but, after that, I would often find these traces of her when I came back from work. I suppose she was lonely, poor thing. She had always been used to a lot of companions.
Then I began to hear an automobile.
The first time I heard it I was frightened. I thought it might be another lot of fellows like the Captain and the Lieutenant, but the second lime I heard the motor I saw Myrtle in the car. She did not come near me, but I caught a glimpse of her. Then she began trailing me down town. I would get on my wheel and start off, and before I got far I would hear Myrtle's automobile behind me. She never came very close, but would follow me at a distance until I went into the Woolworth.
I can understand just how lonely she felt, and I was sorry for her. If I had been in her class and could have afforded a wife I would have asked her to marry me any one of a dozen times that winter, but I knew what she thought of me, and I knew I couldn't support a wife on the fifteen a week I was getting, so I said nothing.
During the winter I got an idea. There were plenty of garages in New York and they were full of cars. The streets were full of dead cars, too, and they were all going to ruin. Myrtle used one once in a while, taking any one she chose, and when it ran out of gas she took another. That could not go on forever. I began to spend my evenings in one of the garages near my hotel, working on the cars there and studying them. I earned quite a little extra money that way and by the time spring arrived I knew how to run a car and how to mend one if it was not too badly broken. When I was that far along I gave up my job with the Rubber Products and took a job in the garage where I had been working as an extra hand. I got a jump of fifteen dollars a week right off the reel. With thirty dollars a week coming in every week, the idea of marrying did not look so bad. If Myrtle was willing to live a little economically at first I thought we could manage it. I wrote her a letter about it.
"Dear Friend Lady," I wrote, for I did not know her name then. We have been here in little old New York quite a while, with no other folks, and I guess you've seen enough of me to know I mean what is right even if I'm not polished to a fine finish. I give you my word I'm sound in wind and limb, although somewhat undersize, and although I used to have a bunch of girls on my string I haven't paid any attention to anybody but you and the chickens for some time. The way I look at it is this: Whether we take it as a business proposition or some other way, we ought not to be sore on each other when we are the only folks on earth. It isn't neighborly. Now I'm a poor guy and have to earn my own living, but I've got a good job in the only garage that is ready to do business in New York, and I'm pulling down thirty per week and it looks like a steady job. If I can save a few dollars a week out of my wages I can lay it by and when I get enough I can buy a small garage of my own, and you know what that means.
"Now, I say, let's get married. There are a lot of things I can't offer you that you are used to, but nobody else has them now anyway, so you won't miss them so much, maybe, and I've got two hens and a rooster, and I know where I can get some more, so you can have fresh eggs, anyway. Once in a while we might have a broiler. Well, there you are! That's what I've got to offer. It isn't up to a little 'snip' like me to say anything about being in love with a swell like you, but if it will do any good I'll just say I love the very ground you walk on, and I'm your baby and have been ever since I first saw you. Trusting I may have an early reply,
"I remain --"
I tied this letter to the chicken coop, where she would be sure to see it, and then I was so frightened I did not dare go near the coop for two days. She stopped following me to work in her automobile, too. I was pretty sure she had got mad at what I wrote. But when Sunday came I couldn't stand it any longer. I went down and took a look at the chicken coop. There was a note pinned to the door with a long hatpin, and by the dampness of it I knew it must have been there some time. I ripped it open in about a tenth of a second. Then I gave one yell and started out of the park on a gallop.
"Miss Myrtle Livingstone acknowledges the receipt of Mr. Jimmie Wiggins' kind letter," the note said, "and begs to assure him that since the day when he risked his life to protect her, her admiration for the sterling qualities of his character has been growing greater and greater. While she is aware that Mr. Wiggins is not her equal by birth or fortune, she feels that he is so much her superior in other particulars that she is honored by his proffer of his hand, and will be glad to unite herself with him in matrimony."
Some letter, what? I knew where I would find her, too. Her favorite hangout was the tea room of the Plaza, and I ran all the way there. She was at a table, and she stood up when I came in. I didn't know how to act, being engaged to a swell, but it was wonderful how easy she made it for me. She stood up and held out her hand and smiled, and when I took it she bent down and kissed me.
"Say! This is a great day for me!" I said. "I guess the better the day the better the deed, what? Now you stay here and I'll run over to that swell church and get things ready for the wedding."
"Wedding!" she said.
"Well, I should say so!" I said. "You don't think I'm the sort of guy to marry a girl without a wedding, do you? I've got the ring -- I've had it a month -- and I've got the phonograph --"
"Phonograph?" she says.
"Surest thing you know!" I said, and when I told her about it she laughed.
So we were married by phonograph. I talked the wedding service out of a prayer book into the phonograph, and the phonograph talked it back at us, and we said the "I do" business at the right places. I guess that was about as good as anybody could do under the circumstances.
Well, we're happy enough, I'd do more business at my garage if there were more people, but I have all Myrtle's repair work and that is considerable. And she's busy every minute of the day. Has her hands full -- chickens, and babies, and trying to talk me into taking the job of Mayor of New York.