The Camel's Back
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The glazed eye of the tired reader resting for a second on the above
title will presume it to be merely metaphorical. Stories about the cup
and the lip and the bad penny and the new broom rarely have anything
to do with cups or lips or pennies or brooms. This story is the
exception. It has to do with a material, visible and large-as-life
Starting from the neck we shall work toward the tail. I want you to
meet Mr. Perry Parkhurst, twenty-eight, lawyer, native of Toledo.
Perry has nice teeth, a Harvard diploma, parts his hair in the middle.
You have met him before—in Cleveland, Portland, St. Paul,
Indianapolis, Kansas City, and so forth. Baker Brothers, New York,
pause on their semi-annual trip through the West to clothe him;
Montmorency & Co. dispatch a young man post-haste every three months
to see that he has the correct number of little punctures on his
shoes. He has a domestic roadster now, will have a French roadster if
he lives long enough, and doubtless a Chinese tank if it comes into
fashion. He looks like the advertisement of the young man rubbing his
sunset-colored chest with liniment and goes East every other year to
his class reunion.
I want you to meet his Love. Her name is Betty Medill, and she
would take well in the movies. Her father gives her three hundred a
month to dress on, and she has tawny eyes and hair and feather fans of
five colors. I shall also introduce her father, Cyrus Medill. Though
he is to all appearances flesh and blood, he is, strange to say,
commonly known in Toledo as the Aluminum Man. But when he sits in his
club window with two or three Iron Men, and the White Pine Man, and
the Brass Man, they look very much as you and I do, only more so, if
you know what I mean.
Now during the Christmas holidays of 1919 there took place in
Toledo, counting only the people with the italicized the, forty-one
dinner parties, sixteen dances, six luncheons, male and female, twelve
teas, four stag dinners, two weddings, and thirteen bridge parties. It
was the cumulative effect of all this that moved Perry Parkhurst on
the twenty-ninth day of December to a decision.
This Medill girl would marry him and she wouldn't marry him. She
was having such a good time that she hated to take such a definite
step. Meanwhile, their secret engagement had got so long that it
seemed as if any day it might break off of its own weight. A little
man named Warburton, who knew it all, persuaded Perry to superman her,
to get a marriage license and go up to the Medill house and tell her
she'd have to marry him at once or call it off forever. So he
presented himself, his heart, his license, and his ultimatum, and
within five minutes they were in the midst of a violent quarrel, a
burst of sporadic open fighting such as occurs near the end of all
long wars and engagements. It brought about one of those ghastly
lapses in which two people who are in love pull up sharp, look at each
other coolly and think it's all been a mistake. Afterward they usually
kiss wholesomely and assure the other person it was all their fault.
Say it all was my fault! Say it was! I want to hear you say it!
But while reconciliation was trembling in the air, while each was,
in a measure, stalling it off, so that they might the more
voluptuously and sentimentally enjoy it when it came, they were
permanently interrupted by a twenty-minute phone call for Betty from a
garrulous aunt. At the end of eighteen minutes Perry Parkhurst, urged
on by pride and suspicion and injured dignity, put on his long fur
coat, picked up his light brown soft hat, and stalked out the door.
"It's all over," he muttered brokenly as he tried to jam his car
into first. "It's all over—if I have to choke you for an hour, damn
you!" This last to the car, which had been standing some time and was
He drove downtown—that is, he got into a snow rut that led him
downtown. He sat slouched down very low in his seat, much too
dispirited to care where he went.
In front of the Clarendon Hotel he was hailed from the sidewalk by
a bad man named Baily, who had big teeth and lived at the hotel and
had never been in love.
"Perry," said the bad man softly when the roadster drew up beside
him at the curb, "I've got six quarts of the doggonedest still
champagne you ever tasted. A third of it's yours, Perry, if you'll
come up-stairs and help Martin Macy and me drink it."
"Baily," said Perry tensely, "I'll drink your champagne. I'll drink
every drop of it. I don't care if it kills me."
"Shut up, you nut!" said the bad man gently. "They don't put wood
alcohol in champagne. This is the stuff that proves the world is more
than six thousand years old. It's so ancient that the cork is
petrified. You have to pull it with a stone drill."
"Take me up-stairs," said Perry moodily. "If that cork sees my
heart it'll fall out from pure mortification."
The room up-stairs was full of those innocent hotel pictures of
little girls eating apples and sitting in swings and talking to dogs.
The other decorations were neckties and a pink man reading a pink
paper devoted to ladies in pink tights.
"When you have to go into the highways and byways——" said the
pink man, looking reproachfully at Baily and Perry.
"Hello, Martin Macy," said Perry shortly, "where's this stone-age
"What's the rush? This isn't an operation, understand. This is a
Perry sat down dully and looked disapprovingly at all the neckties.
Baily leisurely opened the door of a wardrobe and brought out six
"Take off that darn fur coat!" said Martin Macy to Perry. "Or maybe
you'd like to have us open all the windows."
"Give me champagne," said Perry.
"Going to the Townsends' circus ball to-night?"
"Why not go?"
"Oh, I'm sick of parties," exclaimed Perry. "I'm sick of 'em. I've
been to so many that I'm sick of 'em."
"Maybe you're going to the Howard Tates' party?"
"No, I tell you; I'm sick of 'em."
"Well," said Macy consolingly, "the Tates' is just for college kids
"I tell you——"
"I thought you'd be going to one of 'em anyways. I see by the
papers you haven't missed a one this Christmas."
"Hm," grunted Perry morosely.
He would never go to any more parties. Classical phrases played in
his mind—that side of his life was closed, closed. Now when a man
says "closed, closed" like that, you can be pretty sure that some
woman has double-closed him, so to speak. Perry was also thinking that
other classical thought, about how cowardly suicide is. A noble
thought that one—warm and inspiring. Think of all the fine men we
should lose if suicide were not so cowardly!
An hour later was six o'clock, and Perry had lost all resemblance
to the young man in the liniment advertisement. He looked like a rough
draft for a riotous cartoon. They were singing—an impromptu song of
"One Lump Perry, the parlor snake,
Famous through the city for the way he drinks his tea;
Plays with it, toys with it,
Makes no noise with it,
Balanced on a napkin on his well-trained knee——"
"Trouble is," said Perry, who had just banged his hair with Baily's
comb and was tying an orange tie round it to get the effect of Julius
Csar, "that you fellas can't sing worth a damn. Soon's I leave th' air
and start singin' tenor you start singin' tenor too."
"'M a natural tenor," said Macy gravely. "Voice lacks cultivation,
tha's all. Gotta natural voice, m'aunt used say. Naturally good
"Singers, singers, all good singers," remarked Baily, who was at
the telephone. "No, not the cabaret; I want night egg. I mean some
dog-gone clerk 'at's got food—food! I want——"
"Julius Csar," announced Perry, turning round from the mirror. "Man
of iron will and stern 'termination."
"Shut up!" yelled Baily. "Say, iss Mr. Baily. Sen' up enormous
supper. Use y'own judgment. Right away."
He connected the receiver and the hook with some difficulty, and
then with his lips closed and an expression of solemn intensity in his
eyes went to the lower drawer of his dresser and pulled it open.
"Lookit!" he commanded. In his hands he held a truncated garment of
"Pants," he exclaimed gravely. "Lookit!"
This was a pink blouse, a red tie, and a Buster Brown collar.
"Lookit!" he repeated. "Costume for the Townsends' circus ball. I'm
li'l' boy carries water for the elephants."
Perry was impressed in spite of himself.
"I'm going to be Julius Csar," he announced after a moment of
"Thought you weren't going!" said Macy.
"Me? Sure, I'm goin'. Never miss a party. Good for the nerves—like
"Csar!" scoffed Baily. "Can't be Csar! He is not about a circus.
Csar's Shakespeare. Go as a clown."
Perry shook his head.
Light dawned on Baily.
"That's right. Good idea."
Perry looked round the room searchingly.
"You lend me a bathrobe and this tie," he said finally.
"Sure, tha's all I need. Csar was a savage. They can't kick if I
come as Csar, if he was a savage."
"No," said Baily, shaking his head slowly. "Get a costume over at a
costumer's. Over at Nolak's."
After a puzzling five minutes at the phone a small, weary voice
managed to convince Perry that it was Mr. Nolak speaking, and that
they would remain open until eight because of the Townsends' ball.
Thus assured, Perry ate a great amount of filet mignon and drank his
third of the last bottle of champagne. At eight-fifteen the man in the
tall hat who stands in front of the Clarendon found him trying to
start his roadster.
"Froze up," said Perry wisely. "The cold froze it. The cold air."
"Yes. Cold air froze it."
"Can't start it?"
"Nope. Let it stand here till summer. One those hot ole August
days'll thaw it out awright."
"Goin' let it stand?"
"Sure. Let 'er stand. Take a hot thief to steal it. Gemme taxi."
The man in the tall hat summoned a taxi.
"Where to, mister?"
"Go to Nolak's—costume fella."
Mrs. Nolak was short and ineffectual looking, and on the cessation of
the world war had belonged for a while to one of the new
nationalities. Owing to unsettled European conditions she had never
since been quite sure what she was. The shop in which she and her
husband performed their daily stint was dim and ghostly, and peopled
with suits of armor and Chinese mandarins, and enormous papier-mch
birds suspended from the ceiling. In a vague background many rows of
masks glared eyelessly at the visitor, and there were glass cases full
of crowns and scepters, and jewels and enormous stomachers, and
paints, and crape hair, and wigs of all colors.
When Perry ambled into the shop Mrs. Nolak was folding up the last
troubles of a strenuous day, so she thought, in a drawer full of pink
"Something for you?" she queried pessimistically.
"Want costume of Julius Hur, the charioteer."
Mrs. Nolak was sorry, but every stitch of charioteer had been
rented long ago. Was it for the Townsends' circus ball?
"Sorry," she said, "but I don't think there's anything left that's
This was an obstacle.
"Hm," said Perry. An idea struck him suddenly. "If you've got a
piece of canvas I could go's a tent."
"Sorry, but we haven't anything like that. A hardware store is
where you'd have to go to. We have some very nice Confederate
"No. No soldiers."
"And I have a very handsome king."
He shook his head.
"Several of the gentlemen," she continued hopefully, "are wearing
stovepipe hats and swallow-tail coats and going as ringmasters—but
we're all out of tall hats. I can let you have some crape hair for a
"Want somep'n 'stinctive."
"Something—let's see. Well, we have a lion's head, and a goose,
and a camel "
"Camel?" The idea seized Perry's imagination, gripped it fiercely.
"Yes, but it needs two people."
"Camel. That's the idea. Lemme see it."
The camel was produced from his resting place on a top shelf. At
first glance he appeared to consist entirely of a very gaunt,
cadaverous head and a sizable hump, but on being spread out he was
found to possess a dark brown, unwholesome-looking body made of thick,
"You see it takes two people," explained Mrs. Nolak, holding the
camel in frank admiration. "If you have a friend he could be part of
it. You see there's sorta pants for two people. One pair is for the
fella in front, and the other pair for the fella in back. The fella in
front does the lookin' out through these here eyes, an' the fella in
back he's just gotta stoop over an' folla the front fella round."
"Put it on," commanded Perry.
Obediently Mrs. Nolak put her tabby-cat face inside the camel's
head and turned it from side to side ferociously.
Perry was fascinated.
"What noise does a camel make?"
"What?" asked Mrs. Nolak as her face emerged, somewhat smudgy. "Oh,
what noise? Why, he sorta brays."
"Lemme see it in a mirror."
Before a wide mirror Perry tried on the head and turned from side
to side appraisingly. In the dim light the effect was distinctly
pleasing. The camel's face was a study in pessimism, decorated with
numerous abrasions, and it must be admitted that his coat was in that
state of general negligence peculiar to camels—in fact, he needed to
be cleaned and pressed—but distinctive he certainly was. He was
majestic. He would have attracted attention in any gathering, if only
by his melancholy cast of feature and the look of hunger lurking round
his shadowy eyes.
"You see you have to have two people," said Mrs. Nolak again.
Perry tentatively gathered up the body and legs and wrapped them
about him, tying the hind legs as a girdle round his waist. The effect
on the whole was bad. It was even irreverent—like one of those
medival pictures of a monk changed into a beast by the ministrations
of Satan. At the very best the ensemble resembled a humpbacked cow
sitting on her haunches among blankets.
"Don't look like anything at all," objected Perry gloomily.
"No," said Mrs. Nolak; "you see you got to have two people."
A solution flashed upon Perry.
"You got a date to-night ?"
"Oh, I couldn't possibly——"
"Oh, come on," said Perry encouragingly. "Sure you can. Here! Be
good sport, and climb into these hind legs."
With difficulty he located them, and extended their yawning depths
ingratiatingly. But Mrs. Nolak seemed loath. She backed perversely
"C'm on! You can be the front if you want to. Or we'll flip a coin."
"Make it worth your while."
Mrs. Nolak set her lips firmly together.
"Now you just stop!" she said with no coyness implied. "None of the
gentlemen ever acted up this way before. My husband——"
"You got a husband?" demanded Perry. "Where is he?"
"Wha's telephone number?"
After considerable parley he obtained the telephone number
pertaining to the Nolak penates and got into communication with that
small, weary voice he had heard once before that day. But Mr. Nolak,
though taken off his guard and somewhat confused by Perry's brilliant
flow of logic, stuck staunchly to his point. He refused firmly, but
with dignity, to help out Mr. Parkhurst in the capacity of back part
of a camel.
Having rung off, or rather having been rung off on, Perry sat down
on a three-legged stool to think it over. He named over to himself
those friends on whom he might call, and then his mind paused as Betty
Medill's name hazily and sorrowfully occurred to him. He had a
sentimental thought. He would ask her. Their love affair was over, but
she could not refuse this last request. Surely it was not much to
ask—to help him keep up his end of social obligation for one short
night. And if she insisted, she could be the front part of the camel
and he would go as the back. His magnanimity pleased him. His mind
even turned to rosy-colored dreams of a tender reconciliation inside
the camel—there hidden away from all the world. . . .
"Now you'd better decide right off."
The bourgeois voice of Mrs. Nolak broke in upon his mellow fancies
and roused him to action. He went to the phone and called up the
Medill house. Miss Betty was out; had gone out to dinner.
Then, when all seemed lost, the camel's back wandered curiously
into the store. He was a dilapidated individual with a cold in his
head and a general trend about him of downwardness. His cap was pulled
down low on his head, and his chin was pulled down low on his chest,
his coat hung down to his shoes, he looked run-down, down at the
heels, and—Salvation Army to the contrary—down and out. He said that
he was the taxicab-driver that the gentleman had hired at the
Clarendon Hotel. He had been instructed to wait outside, but he had
waited some time, and a suspicion had grown upon him that the
gentleman had gone out the back way with purpose to defraud
him—gentlemen sometimes did—so he had come in. He sank down onto the
"Want a go to a party?" demanded Perry sternly.
"I gotta work," answered the taxi-driver lugubriously. "I gotta
keep my job."
"It's a very good party."
"'S a very good job."
"Come on!" urged Perry. "Be a good fella. See—it's pretty!" He
held the camel up and the taxi-driver looked at it cynically.
Perry searched feverishly among the folds of the cloth.
"See!" he cried enthusiastically, holding up a selection of folds.
"This is your part. You don't even have to talk. All you have to do is
to walk—and sit down occasionally. You do all the sitting down. Think
of it. I'm on my feet all the time and you can sit down some of the
time. The only time I can sit down is when we're lying down, and you
can sit down when—oh, any time. See?"
"What's 'at thing?" demanded the individual dubiously. "A shroud?"
"Not at all," said Perry indignantly. "It's a camel."
Then Perry mentioned a sum of money, and the conversation left the
land of grunts and assumed a practical tinge. Perry and the
taxi-driver tried on the camel in front of the mirror.
"You can't see it," explained Perry, peering anxiously out through
the eye holes, "but honestly, ole man, you look sim'ly great!
A grunt from the hump acknowledged this somewhat dubious compliment.
"Honestly, you look great!" repeated Perry enthusiastically. "Move
round a little."
The hind legs moved forward, giving the effect of a huge cat-camel
hunching his back preparatory to a spring.
"No; move sideways."
The camel's hips went neatly out of joint; a hula dancer would have
writhed in envy.
"Good, isn't it?" demanded Perry, turning to Mrs. Nolak for
"It looks lovely," agreed Mrs. Nolak.
"We'll take it," said Perry.
The bundle was stowed under Perry's arm and they left the shop.
"Go to the party!" he commanded as he took his seat in the back.
"Where'bouts is it?"
This presented a new problem. Perry tried to remember, but the
names of all those who had given parties during the holidays danced
confusedly before his eyes. He could ask Mrs. Nolak, but on looking
out the window he saw that the shop was dark. Mrs. Nolak had already
faded out, a little black smudge far down the snowy street.
"Drive uptown," directed Perry with fine confidence. "If you see a
party, stop. Otherwise I'll tell you when we get there."
He fell into a hazy daydream and his thoughts wandered again to
Betty—he imagined vaguely that they had had a disagreement because
she refused to go to the party as the back part of the camel. He was
just slipping off into a chilly doze when he was wakened by the
taxi-driver opening the door and shaking him by the arm.
"Here we are, maybe."
Perry looked out sleepily. A striped awning led from the curb up to
a spreading gray stone house, from which issued the low drummy whine
of expensive jazz. He recognized the Howard Tate house.
"Sure," he said emphatically; "'at's it! Tate's party to-night.
Sure, everybody's goin'."
"Say," said the individual anxiously after another look at the
awning, "you sure these people ain't gonna romp on me for comin' here?"
Perry drew himself up with dignity.
"'F anybody says anything to you, just tell 'em you're part of my
The visualization of himself as a thing rather than a person seemed
to reassure the individual.
"All right," he said reluctantly.
Perry stepped out under the shelter of the awning and began
unrolling the camel.
"Let's go," he commanded.
Several minutes later a melancholy, hungry-looking camel, emitting
clouds of smoke from his mouth and from the tip of his noble hump,
might have been seen crossing the threshhold of the Howard Tate
residence, passing a startled footman without so much as a snort, and
heading directly for the main stairs that led up to the ballroom. The
beast walked with a peculiar gait which varied between an uncertain
lockstep and a stampede—but can best be described by the word
"halting." The camel had a halting gait—and as he walked he
alternately elongated and contracted like a gigantic concertina.
The Howard Tates are, as every one who lives in Toledo knows, the most
formidable people in town. Mrs. Howard Tate was a Chicago Todd before
she became a Toledo Tate, and the family generally affect that
conscious simplicity which has begun to be the earmark of American
aristocracy. The Tates have reached the stage where they talk about
pigs and farms and look at you icy-eyed if you are not amused. They
have begun to prefer retainers rather than friends as dinner guests,
spend a lot of money in a quiet way, and, having lost all sense of
competition, are in process of growing quite dull.
The dance this evening was for little Millicent Tate, and though
all ages were represented, the dancers were mostly from school and
college—the younger married crowd was at the Townsends' circus ball
up at the Tallyho Club. Mrs. Tate was standing just inside the
ballroom, following Millicent round with her eyes, and beaming
whenever she caught her eye. Beside her were two middle-aged
sycophants, who were saying what a perfectly exquisite child Millicent
was. It was at this moment that Mrs. Tate was grasped firmly by the
skirt and her youngest daughter, Emily, aged eleven, hurled herself
with an "Oof!" into her mother's arms.
"Why, Emily, what's the trouble?"
"Mamma," said Emily, wild-eyed but voluble, "there's something out
on the stairs."
"There's a thing out on the stairs, mamma. I think it's a big dog,
mamma, but it doesn't look like a dog."
"What-do you mean, Emily?"
The sycophants waved their heads sympathetically.
"Mamma, it looks like a—like a camel."
Mrs. Tate laughed.
"You saw a mean old shadow, dear, that's all."
"No, I didn't. No, it was some kind of thing, mamma—big. I was
going down-stairs to see if there were any more people, and this dog
or something, he was coming up-stairs. Kind a funny, mamma, like he
was lame. And then he saw me and gave a sort of growl, and then he
slipped at the top of the landing, and I ran."
Mrs. Tate's laugh faded.
"The child must have seen something," she said.
The sycophants agreed that the child must have seen something—and
suddenly all three women took an instinctive step away from the door
as the sounds of muffled steps were audible just outside.
And then three startled gasps rang out as a dark brown form rounded
the corner, and they saw what was apparently a huge beast looking down
at them hungrily.
"Oof!" cried Mrs. Tate.
"O-o-oh!" cried the ladies in a chorus.
The camel suddenly humped his back, and the gasps turned to shrieks.
"What is it?"
The dancing stopped, but the dancers hurrying over got quite a
different impression of the invader; in fact, the young people
immediately suspected that it was a stunt, a hired entertainer come to
amuse the party. The boys in long trousers looked at it rather
disdainfully, and sauntered over with their hands in their pockets,
feeling that their intelligence was being insulted. But the girls
uttered little shouts of glee.
"It's a camel!"
"Well, if he isn't the funniest!"
The camel stood there uncertainly, swaying slightly from side to
side, and seeming to take in the room in a careful, appraising glance;
then as if he had come to an abrupt decision he turned and ambled
swiftly out the door.
Mr. Howard Tate had just come out of the library on the lower
floor, and was standing chatting with a young man in the hall.
Suddenly they heard the noise of shouting up-stairs, and almost
immediately a succession of bumping sounds, followed by the
precipitous appearance at the foot of the stairway of a large brown
beast that seemed to be going somewhere in a great hurry.
"Now what the devil!" said Mr. Tate, starting.
The beast picked itself up not without dignity and, affecting an
air of extreme nonchalance, as if he had just remembered an important
engagement, started at a mixed gait toward the front door. In fact,
his front legs began casually to run.
"See here now," said Mr. Tate sternly. "Here! Grab it, Butterfield!
The young man enveloped the rear of the camel in a pair of
compelling arms, and, realizing that further locomotion was
impossible, the front end submitted to capture and stood resignedly in
a state of some agitation. By this time a flood of young people was
pouring down-stairs, and Mr. Tate, suspecting everything from an
ingenious burglar to an escaped lunatic, gave crisp directions to the
"Hold him! Lead him in here; we'll soon see."
The camel consented to be led into the library, and Mr. Tate, after
locking the door, took a revolver from a table drawer and instructed
the young man to take the thing's head off. Then he gasped and
returned the revolver to its hiding-place.
"Well, Perry Parkhurst!" he exclaimed in amazement.
"Got the wrong party, Mr. Tate," said Perry sheepishly. "Hope I
didn't scare you."
"Well—you gave us a thrill, Perry." Realization dawned on him.
"You're bound for the Townsends' circus ball."
"That's the general idea."
"Let me introduce Mr. Butterfield, Mr. Parkhurst." Then turning to
Perry: "Butterfield is staying with us for a few days."
"I got a little mixed up," mumbled Perry. "I'm very sorry."
"Perfectly all right; most natural mistake in the world. I've got a
clown rig and I'm going down there myself after a while." He turned to
Butterfield. "Better change your mind and come down with us."
The young man demurred. He was going to bed.
"Have a drink, Perry?" suggested Mr. Tate.
"Thanks, I will."
"And, say," continued Tate quickly, "I'd forgotten all about
your—friend here." He indicated the rear part of the camel. "I didn't
mean to seem discourteous. Is it any one I know? Bring him out."
"It's not a friend," explained Perry hurriedly. "I just rented him."
"Does he drink?"
"Do you?" demanded Perry, twisting himself tortuously round.
There was a faint sound of assent.
"Sure he does!" said Mr. Tate heartily. "A really efficient camel
ought to be able to drink enough so it'd last him three days."
"Tell you," said Perry anxiously, "he isn't exactly dressed up
enough to come out. If you give me the bottle I can hand it back to
him and he can take his inside."
From under the cloth was audible the enthusiastic smacking sound
inspired by this suggestion. When a butler had appeared with bottles,
glasses, and siphon one of the bottles was handed back; thereafter the
silent partner could be heard imbibing long potations at frequent
Thus passed a benign hour. At ten o'clock Mr. Tate decided that
they'd better be starting. He donned his clown's costume; Perry
replaced the camel's head, and side by side they traversed on foot the
single block between the Tate house and the Tallyho Club.
The circus ball was in full swing. A great tent fly had been put up
inside the ballroom and round the walls had been built rows of booths
representing the various attractions of a circus side show, but these
were now vacated and over the floor swarmed a shouting, laughing
medley of youth and color—clowns, bearded ladies, acrobats, bareback
riders, ringmasters, tattooed men, and charioteers. The Townsends had
determined to assure their party of success, so a great quantity of
liquor had been surreptitiously brought over from their house and was
now flowing freely. A green ribbon ran along the wall completely round
the ballroom, with pointing arrows alongside and signs which
instructed the uninitiated to "Follow the green line!" The green line
led down to the bar, where waited pure punch and wicked punch and
plain dark-green bottles.
On the wall above the bar was another arrow, red and very wavy, and
under it the slogan: "Now follow this!"
But even amid the luxury of costume and high spirits represented
there, the entrance of the camel created something of a stir, and
Perry was immediately surrounded by a curious, laughing crowd
attempting to penetrate the identity of this beast that stood by the
wide doorway eying the dancers with his hungry, melancholy gaze.
And then Perry saw Betty standing in front of a booth, talking to a
comic policeman. She was dressed in the costume of an Egyptian
snake-charmer: her tawny hair was braided and drawn through brass
rings, the effect crowned with a glittering Oriental tiara. Her fair
face was stained to a warm olive glow and on her arms and the half
moon of her back writhed painted serpents with single eyes of venomous
green. Her feet were in sandals and her skirt was slit to the knees,
so that when she walked one caught a glimpse of other slim serpents
painted just above her bare ankles. Wound about her neck was a
glittering cobra. Altogether a charming costume—one that caused the
more nervous among the older women to shrink away from her when she
passed, and the more troublesome ones to make great talk about
"shouldn't be allowed" and "perfectly disgraceful."
But Perry, peering through the uncertain eyes of the camel, saw
only her face, radiant, animated, and glowing with excitement, and her
arms and shoulders, whose mobile, expressive gestures made her always
the outstanding figure in any group. He was fascinated and his
fascination exercised a sobering effect on him. With a growing clarity
the events of the day came back—rage rose within him, and with a
half-formed intention of taking her away from the crowd he started
toward her—or rather he elongated slightly, for he had neglected to
issue the preparatory command necessary to locomotion.
But at this point fickle Kismet, who for a day had played with him
bitterly and sardonically, decided to reward him in full for the
amusement he had afforded her. Kismet turned the tawny eyes of the
snake-charmer to the camel. Kismet led her to lean toward the man
beside her and say, "Who's that? That camel?"
"Darned if I know."
But a little man named Warburton, who knew it all, found it
necessary to hazard an opinion:
"It came in with Mr. Tate. I think part of it's probably Warren
Butterfield, the architect from New York, who's visiting the Tates."
Something stirred in Betty Medill—that age-old interest of the
provincial girl in the visiting man.
"Oh," she said casually after a slight pause.
At the end of the next dance Betty and her partner finished up
within a few feet of the camel. With the informal audacity that was
the key-note of the evening she reached out and gently rubbed the
"Hello, old camel."
The camel stirred uneasily.
"You 'fraid of me?" said Betty, lifting her eyebrows in reproof.
"Don't be. You see I'm a snake-charmer, but I'm pretty good at camels
The camel bowed very low and some one made the obvious remark about
beauty and the beast.
Mrs. Townsend approached the group.
"Well, Mr. Butterfield," she said helpfully, "I wouldn't have
Perry bowed again and smiled gleefully behind his mask.
"And who is this with you?" she inquired.
"Oh," said Perry, his voice muffled by the thick cloth and quite
unrecognizable, "he isn't a fellow, Mrs. Townsend. He's just part of
Mrs. Townsend laughed and moved away. Perry turned again to Betty.
"So," he thought, "this is how much she cares! On the very day of
our final rupture she starts a flirtation with another man—an
On an impulse he gave her a soft nudge with his shoulder and waved
his head suggestively toward the hall, making it clear that he desired
her to leave her partner and accompany him.
"By-by, Rus," she called to her partner. "This old camel's got me.
Where we going, Prince of Beasts?"
The noble animal made no rejoinder, but stalked gravely along in
the direction of a secluded nook on the side stairs.
There she seated herself, and the camel, after some seconds of
confusion which included gruff orders and sounds of a heated dispute
going on in his interior, placed himself beside her—his hind legs
stretching out uncomfortably across two steps.
"Well, old egg," said Betty cheerfully, "how do you like our happy
The old egg indicated that he liked it by rolling his head
ecstatically and executing a gleeful kick with his hoofs.
"This is the first time that I ever had a tte—tte with a man's
valet 'round"—she pointed to the hind legs—"or whatever that is."
"Oh," mumbled Perry, "he's deaf and blind."
"I should think you'd feel rather handicapped—you can't very well
toddle, even if you want to."
The camel hung his head lugubriously.
"I wish you'd say something," continued Betty sweetly. "Say you
like me, camel. Say you think I'm beautiful. Say you'd like to belong
to a pretty snake-charmer. "
The camel would.
"Will you dance with me, camel?"
The camel would try.
Betty devoted half an hour to the camel. She devoted at least half
an hour to all visiting men. It was usually sufficient. When she
approached a new man the current dbutantes were accustomed to scatter
right and left like a close column deploying before a machine-gun. And
so to Perry Parkhurst was awarded the unique privilege of seeing his
love as others saw her. He was flirted with violently!
This paradise of frail foundation was broken into by the sounds of a
general ingress to the ballroom; the cotillion was beginning. Betty
and the camel joined the crowd, her brown hand resting lightly on his
shoulder, defiantly symbolizing her complete adoption of him.
When they entered the couples were already seating themselves at
tables round the walls, and Mrs. Townsend, resplendent as a super
bareback rider with rather too rotund calves, was standing in the
centre with the ringmaster in charge of arrangements. At a signal to
the band every one rose and began to dance.
"Isn't it just slick!" sighed Betty. "Do you think you can possibly
Perry nodded enthusiastically. He felt suddenly exuberant. After
all, he was here incognito talking to his love—he could wink
patronizingly at the world.
So Perry danced the cotillion. I say danced, but that is stretching
the word far beyond the wildest dreams of the jazziest terpsichorean.
He suffered his partner to put her hands on his helpless shoulders and
pull him here and there over the floor while he hung his huge head
docilely over her shoulder and made futile dummy motions with his
feet. His hind legs danced in a manner all their own, chiefly by
hopping first on one foot and then on the other. Never being sure
whether dancing was going on or not, the hind legs played safe by
going through a series of steps whenever the music started playing. So
the spectacle was frequently presented of the front part of the camel
standing at ease and the rear keeping up a constant energetic motion
calculated to rouse a sympathetic perspiration in any soft-hearted
He was frequently favored. He danced first with a tall lady covered
with straw who announced jovially that she was a bale of hay and coyly
begged him not to eat her.
"I'd like to; you're so sweet," said the camel gallantly.
Each time the ringmaster shouted his call of "Men up!" he lumbered
ferociously for Betty with the cardboard wienerwurst or the photograph
of the bearded lady or whatever the favor chanced to be. Sometimes he
reached her first, but usually his rushes were unsuccessful and
resulted in intense interior arguments.
"For Heaven's sake," Perry would snarl fiercely between his
clenched teeth, "get a little pep! I could have gotten her that time
if you'd picked your feet up."
"Well, gimme a little warnin'!"
"I did, darn you."
"I can't see a dog-gone thing in here."
"All you have to do is follow me. It's just like draging a load of
sand round to walk with you."
"Maybe you want a try back here."
"You shut up! If these people found you in this room they'd give
you the worst beating you ever had. They'd take your taxi license away
Perry surprised himself by the ease with which he made this
monstrous threat, but it seemed to have a soporific influence on his
companion, for he gave out an "aw gwan" and subsided into abashed
The ringmaster mounted to the top of the piano and waved his hand
"Prizes!" he cried. "Gather round!"
Self-consciously the circle swayed forward. The rather pretty girl
who had mustered the nerve to come as a bearded lady trembled with
excitement, thinking to be rewarded for an evening's hideousness. The
man who had spent the afternoon having tattoo marks painted on him
skulked on the edge of the crowd, blushing furiously when any one told
him he was sure to get it.
"Lady and gent performers of this circus," announced the ringmaster
jovially, "I am sure we will all agree that a good time has been had
by all. We will now bestow honor where honor is due by bestowing the
prizes. Mrs. Townsend has asked me to bestow the prizes. Now, fellow
performers, the first prize is for that lady who has displayed this
evening the most striking, becoming"—at this point the bearded lady
sighed resignedly—"and original costume." Here the bale of hay
pricked up her ears. "Now I am sure that the decision which has been
agreed upon will be unanimous with all here present. The first prize
goes to Miss Betty Medill, the charming Egyptian snake-charmer."
There was a burst of applause, chiefly masculine, and Miss Betty
Medill, blushing beautifully through her olive paint, was passed up to
receive her award. With a tender glance the ringmaster handed down to
her a huge bouquet of orchids.
"And now," he continued, looking round him, "the other prize is for
that man who has the most amusing and original costume. This prize
goes without dispute to a guest in our midst, a gentleman who is
visiting here but whose stay we all hope will be long and merry—in
short, to the noble camel who has entertained us all by his hungry
look and his brilliant dancing throughout the evening."
He ceased and there was a violent clapping and yeaing, for it was a
popular choice. The prize, a large box of cigars, was put aside for
the camel, as he was anatomically unable to accept it in person.
"And now," continued the ringmaster, "we will wind up the cotillion
with the marriage of Mirth to Folly!"
"Form for the grand wedding march, the beautiful snake-charmer and
the noble camel in front!"
Betty skipped forward cheerily and wound an olive arm round the
camel's neck. Behind them formed the procession of little boys, little
girls, country jakes, fat ladies, thin men, sword-swallowers, wild men
of Borneo, and armless wonders, many of them well in their cups, all
of them excited and happy and dazzled by the flow of light and color
round them, and by the familiar faces, strangely unfamiliar under
bizarre wigs and barbaric paint. The voluptuous chords of the wedding
march done in blasphemous syncopation issued in a delirious blend from
the trombones and saxophones—and the march began.
"Aren't you glad, camel?" demanded Betty sweetly as they stepped
off. "Aren't you glad we're going to be married and you're going to
belong to the nice snake-charmer ever afterward?"
The camel's front legs pranced, expressing excessive joy.
"Minister! Minister! Where's the minister?" cried voices out of the
revel. "Who's going to be the clergyman?"
The head of Jumbo, obese negro, waiter at the Tallyho Club for many
years, appeared rashly through a half-opened pantry door.
"Get old Jumbo. He's the fella!"
"Come on, Jumbo. How 'bout marrying us a couple?"
Jumbo was seized by four comedians, stripped of his apron, and
escorted to a raised das at the head of the ball. There his collar was
removed and replaced back side forward with ecclesiastical effect. The
parade separated into two lines, leaving an aisle for the bride and
"Lawdy, man," roared Jumbo, "Ah got ole Bible 'n' ev'ythin', sho
He produced a battered Bible from an interior pocket.
"Yea! Jumbo's got a Bible!"
"Razor, too, I'll bet!"
Together the snake-charmer and the camel ascended the cheering
aisle and stopped in front of Jumbo.
"Where's yo license, camel?"
A man near by prodded Perry.
"Give him a piece of paper. Anything'll do."
Perry fumbled confusedly in his pocket, found a folded paper, and
pushed it out through the camel's mouth. Holding it upside down Jumbo
pretended to scan it earnestly.
"Dis yeah's a special camel's license," he said. "Get you ring
Inside the camel Perry turned round and addressed his worse half.
"Gimme a ring, for Heaven's sake!"
"I ain't got none," protested a weary voice.
"You have. I saw it."
"I ain't goin' to take it offen my hand."
"If you don't I'll kill you."
There was a gasp and Perry felt a huge affair of rhinestone and
brass inserted into his hand.
Again he was nudged from the outside.
"I do!" cried Perry quickly.
He heard Betty's responses given in a debonair tone, and even in
this burlesque the sound thrilled him.
Then he had pushed the rhinestone through a tear in the camel's
coat and was slipping it on her finger, muttering ancient and historic
words after Jumbo. He didn't want any one to know about this ever. His
one idea was to slip away without having to disclose his identity, for
Mr. Tate had so far kept his secret well. A dignified young man,
Perry—and this might injure his infant law practice.
"Embrace the bride!"
"Unmask, camel, and kiss her!"
Instinctively his heart beat high as Betty turned to him laughingly
and began to stroke the card-board muzzle. He felt his self-control
giving way, he longed to surround her with his arms and declare his
identity and kiss those lips that smiled only a foot away—when
suddenly the laughter and applause round them died off and a curious
hush fell over the hall. Perry and Betty looked up in surprise. Jumbo
had given vent to a huge "Hello!" in such a startled voice that all
eyes were bent on him.
"Hello!" he said again. He had turned round the camel's marriage
license, which he had been holding upside down, produced spectacles,
and was studying it agonizingly.
"Why," he exclaimed, and in the pervading silence his words were
heard plainly by every one in the room, "this yeah's a sho-nuff
"Say it again, Jumbo!"
"Sure you can read?"
Jumbo waved them to silence and Perry's blood burned to fire in his
veins as he realized the break he had made.
"Yassuh!" repeated Jumbo. "This yeah's a sho-nuff license, and the
pa'ties concerned one of 'em is dis yeah young lady, Miz Betty Medill,
and th' other's Mistah Perry Pa'khurst."
There was a general gasp, and a low rumble broke out as all eyes
fell on the camel. Betty shrank away from him quickly, her tawny eyes
giving out sparks of fury.
"Is you Mistah Pa'khurst, you camel?"
Perry made no answer. The crowd pressed up closer and stared at
him. He stood frozen rigid with embarrassment, his cardboard face
still hungry and sardonic as he regarded the ominous Jumbo.
"Y'all bettah speak up!" said Jumbo slowly, "this yeah's a mighty
serious mattah. Outside mah duties at this club ah happens to be a
sho-nuff minister in the Firs' Cullud Baptis' Church. It done look to
me as though y'all is gone an' got married."
The scene that followed will go down forever in the annals of the
Tallyho Club. Stout matrons fainted, one hundred per cent Americans
swore, wild-eyed dbutantes babbled in lightning groups instantly
formed and instantly dissolved, and a great buzz of chatter, virulent
yet oddly subdued, hummed through the chaotic ballroom. Feverish
youths swore they would kill Perry or Jumbo or themselves or some one,
and the Baptis' preacheh was besieged by a tempestuous covey of
clamorous amateur lawyers, asking questions, making threats, demanding
precedents, ordering the bonds annulled, and especially trying to
ferret out any hint of prearrangement in what had occurred.
In the corner Mrs. Townsend was crying softly on the shoulder of
Mr. Howard Tate, who was trying vainly to comfort her; they were
exchanging "all my fault's" volubly and voluminously. Outside on a
snow-covered walk Mr. Cyrus Medill, the Aluminum Man, was being paced
slowly up and down between two brawny charioteers, giving vent now to
a string of unrepeatables, now to wild pleadings that they'd just let
him get at Jumbo. He was facetiously attired for the evening as a wild
man of Borneo, and the most exacting stage-manager would have
acknowledged any improvement in casting the part to be quite
Meanwhile the two principals held the real centre of the stage.
Betty Medill—or was it Betty Parkhurst?—storming furiously, was
surrounded by the plainer girls—the prettier ones were too busy
talking about her to pay much attention to her—and over on the other
side of the hall stood the camel, still intact except for his
headpiece, which dangled pathetically on his chest. Perry was
earnestly engaged in making protestations of his innocence to a ring
of angry, puzzled men. Every few minutes, just as he had apparently
proved his case, some one would mention the marriage certificate, and
the inquisition would begin again.
A girl named Marion Cloud, considered the second best belle of
Toledo, changed the gist of the situation by a remark she made to
"Well," she said maliciously, "it'll all blow over, dear. The
courts will annul it without question."
Betty's angry tears dried miraculously in her eyes, her lips shut
tight together, and she looked stonily at Marion. Then she rose and,
scattering her sympathizers right and left, walked directly across the
room to Perry, who stared at her in terror. Again silence crept down
upon the room.
"Will you have the decency to grant me five minutes'
conversation—or wasn't that included in your plans?"
He nodded, his mouth unable to form words.
Indicating coldly that he was to follow her she walked out into the
hall with her chin up tilted and headed for the privacy of one of the
Perry started after her, but was brought to a jerky halt by the
failure of his hind legs to function.
"You stay here!" he commanded savagely.
"I can't," whined a voice from the hump, "unless you get out first
and let me get out."
Perry hesitated, but unable any longer to tolerate the eyes of the
curious crowd he muttered a command and the camel moved carefully from
the room on its four legs.
Betty was waiting for him.
"Well," she began furiously, "you see what you've done! You and
that crazy license! I told you you shouldn't have gotten it!"
"My dear girl, I——"
"Don't say `dear girl' to me! Save that for your real wife if you
ever get one after this disgraceful performance. And don't try to
pretend it wasn't all arranged. You know you gave that colored waiter
money! You know you did! Do you mean to say you didn't try to marry
"Yes, you'd better admit it! You tried it, and now what are you
going to do? Do you know my father's nearly crazy? It'll serve you
right if he tries to kill you. He'll take his gun and put some cold
steel in you. Even if this wed—this thing can be annulled it'll hang
over me all the rest of my life!"
Perry could not resist quoting softly: "`Oh, camel, wouldn't you
like to belong to the pretty snake-charmer for all your——"
"Shut up!" cried Betty.
There was a pause.
"Betty," said Perry finally, "there's only one thing to do that
will really get us out clear. That's for you to marry me."
"Yes. Really it's the only——"
"You shut up! I wouldn't marry you if—if——"
"I know. If I were the last man on earth. But if you care anything
about your reputation——"
"Reputation!" she cried. " You're a nice one to think about my
reputation now. Why didn't you think about my reputation before you
hired that horrible Jumbo to—to——"
Perry tossed up his hands hopelessly.
"Very well. I'll do anything you want. Lord Knows I renounce all
"But," said a new voice, "I don't."
Perry and Betty started, and she put her hand to her heart.
"For Heaven's sake, what was that?"
"It's me," said the camel's back.
In a minute Perry had whipped off the camel's skin, and a lax, limp
object, his clothes hanging on him damply, his hand clenched tightly
on an almost empty bottle, stood defiantly before them.
"Oh," cried Betty, "you brought that object in here to frighten me!
You told me he was deaf—that awful person!"
The camel's back sat down on a chair with a sigh of satisfaction.
"Don't talk 'at way about me, lady. I ain't no person. I'm your
The cry was wrung simultaneously from Betty and Perry.
"Why, sure. I'm as much your husband as that gink is. The smoke
didn't marry you to the camel's front. He married you to the whole
camel. Why, that's my ring you got on your finger!"
With a little yelp she snatched the ring from her finger and flung
it passionately at the floor.
"What's all this?" demanded Perry dazedly.
"Jes' that you better fix me an' fix me right. If you don't I'm
a-gonna have the same claim you got to bein' married to her!"
"That's bigamy," said Perry, turning gravely to Betty.
Then came the supreme moment of Perry's evening, the ultimate
chance on which he risked his fortunes. He rose and looked first at
Betty, where she sat weakly, aghast at this new complication, and then
at the individual who swayed from side to side on his chair,
"Very well," said Perry slowly to the individual, "you can have
her. Betty, I'm going to prove to you that as far as I'm concerned our
marriage was entirely accidental. I'm going to renounce utterly my
rights to have you as my wife, and give you to—to the man whose ring
you wear—your lawful husband."
There was a pause and four horror-stricken eyes were turned on him.
"Good-by, Betty," he said brokenly. "Don't forget me in your
new-found happiness. I'm going to leave for the Far West on the
morning train. Think of me kindly, Betty."
With a last glance at them he turned and his head rested on his
chest as his hand touched the door-knob.
"Good-by," he repeated. He turned the door-knob.
But at this sound the snakes and silk and tawny hair precipitated
themselves violently toward him.
"Oh, Perry, don't leave me! Perry, Perry, take me with you!"
Her tears flowed damply on his neck. Calmly he folded his arms
"I don't care," she cried. "I love you and if you can wake up a
minister at this hour and have it done over again I'll go West with
Over her shoulder the front part of the camel looked at the back
part of the camel—and they exchanged a particularly subtle, esoteric
sort of wink that only true camels can understand.