Mr. Mamshaw's Love Affair by George Barr McCutcheon
Mr. Hamshaw was short, bald, pudgy—and fifty-seven. Besides all
this, he was a bachelor, and one jolly one, at the time when this
narrative opens. He lived in apartments pretty well downtown, where he
was looked after with scrupulous care by a Japanese valet and an Irish
"cook-lady." Mr. Hamshaw was forever discharging his valet and forever
re-engaging him. Sago persistently refused to leave at the hour set
for his departure, and Mr. Hamshaw finally came to discharge him every
evening in order that he might be sure to find him at his post in the
morning. Regularly, he would call Sago into the den, very red in the
face over some wholly imaginary provocation.
"This ends it, Sago! You go! I've stood it as long as I can—or
will. You leave the place tonight, sir—bag and baggage. I don't want
to see your face again. Understand?"
"Yes, sir; very well, sir" Sago would respond with perfect
equanimity. Sago engaged to be very, very English at such
"You go tonight."
"Yes, Mr. Hamshaw. May I ask what I have done to displease you,
"Never mind, sir! I'll tell you tomorrow. Don't bother me about it
today. And, say, if you don't press this dinner coat of mine before
tomorrow night I'll discharge you without a recommendation."
"Very good, sir."
Once when Sago threatened to leave unless Ellen, the cook, was
dismissed, poor Mr. Hamshaw had a most uncomfortable half-hour. Young
Mr. Goodrich from the bank was dining with him at the time. Now it was
quite as hard to get rid of Ellen, notwithstanding the fact that she
was constantly on the verge of leaving of her own accord, as it was to
discharge Sago. The host prayed down to his comfortable boots that the
threats of Sago might not grow louder than confidential hisses as he
passed behind his chair in the capacity of butler, but he was counting
without Ellen. There was a long, painful interval between courses, and
then Ellen marched in from the kitchen, majestically attired for the
"I beg your pardon, Mr. Hamshaw, but this time I go for fair. It's
aither me or the Chinee-"
"Blawst yer eyes!" snarled Sago in his very best English, mightily
"But, Ellen—" began Mr. Hamshaw, bowled over.
"Don't beg me to stay," she cried, glaring at Sago, who glared back
safely from behind Mr. Goodrich's chair. "The dago has insulted me for
the last toime. I'm sorry, sor, it had to come roight in the middle of
dinner, sor, but it couldn't wait."
"Can't you subdue yourself till morning, Ellen? It is—"
"I can subjue meself, sor, but who the divil is to subjue the
Malay? He's gone too far this—"
"I've only been doing my duty, sir," inserted Sago, drawing the
salad spoon through his hand very much as a Samurai would have drawn a
sword. "Ellen she—I mean her didn't—"
"Never mind, never mind," groaned Mr. Hamshaw, at bay. "You may
both go. I fire—I discharge both of you! I'm sure, Mr. Goodrich, you
will overlook this unfortunate—"
"Discharge me, sor?" half shrieked Ellen. "I never was discharged
from a place in me loife. I won't stand for it! I'll lave, but I'll
not be discharged. It's Sago that has to be discharged—not me."
"Discharge both of them, Mr. Hamshaw," advised Goodrich amiably. "I
know where you can get an excellent cook and—"
"Oh, you do, eh? With recommindations, too, I suppose!" sniffed
Ellen in a fine flare.
"The very best, my good woman."
"Well, I'd loike to see them," announced Ellen loyally. "No wan can
cook for Mr. Hamshaw unless she gives the best of characters."
"She's a Japanese woman," explained Mr. Goodrich, "and they're said
to be the best cooks in the world."
"The divil a step will I take out of this place to make way for a
haythen Jap." Shebegan taking off her hat. "I'll have the squab on in
a minute, Mr. Hamshaw, and I'll serve it, too." This last with a
deadly look at Sago. "He says he'll quit if I don't. Well, I don't!"
"Will you make the dressing for the salad, sir, or shall I?"
politely inquired Sago, ignoring Ellen completely.
"Have you decided to stay long enough for that purpose?" demanded
"I have given notice, sir, that Ellen has to go," said Sago
"And I refuse to go for the loikes of you," retorted Ellen with
"Then, Mr. Hamshaw, I shall remain until she does go. But go she
"I'll go when I get good and ready, Mr. Sago."
"We'll have the squab now, Sago," said Mr. Hamshaw.
"Very good, sir."
It was quite an old story among the members of the club, especially
those who knew Mr. Hamshaw intimately, that he had once felt the
inclination to take unto himself a wife. That, of course, was years
and years ago, and it is hardly necessary to remark that the young
woman, whoever she may have been, was not possessed of a responsive
inclination. Result: Mr. Hamshaw not only refrained from marrying any
one in all the subsequent years but astutely prevented any one from
marrying him. It was quite true that at fifty-seven he was not a thing
of beauty, but he had a heart of gold and was beloved by all the men
and children who knew him. Certainly it is quite doubtful if he could
have been all this had he married even the woman of his choice.
One day there came to the big apartment-house where lived Mr.
Hamshaw and his two servants a most uncommon hullabaloo and sensation.
It was an unheard-of proceeding for a tenant to move out of this
amiable and exclusive establishment, and naturally, it was impossible
for any one to move in. Of course, however, such contingencies as
births, weddings, and funerals could not be provided against, and it
was due entirely to the advent of a bride that the aforesaid uproar
occurred. A widower on the second floor took unto himself a widow, and
she was now being moved in with all her goods and chattels.
It would appear that the new Mrs. Gladding did not approve of her
husband's furniture, his servants, or his own flesh and blood. As a
consequence, they were departing jointly, and in their stead came
substitutes from her former apartments in Eads Avenue. Mr. Gladding's
two grown-up sons were shuffled off to bachelor quarters downtown and
their rooms were turned over to Mrs. Gladding's two grown-up
daughters—just out in society. The transfer was over at last, and, to
the intense gratification of Mr. Hamshaw, the big building saw the
last of its moving-vans, its plumbers and decorators, and the new
Gladdings were as quietly ensconced as the old had been. It was not
until the end of the second week thereafter that Mr. Hamshaw had his
first glimpse of the two debutantes—the young Misses Frost.
But that one glimpse was his undoing.
All those years of constancy to his original inclination were
blotted out as if by magic. His primeval affection was uprooted,
turned over, and then jolted unceremoniously out of existence. One
divided glimpse had restored vigour to his waning passion and it
flamed with all the fury of coals that have smouldered long and
lazily. The one distressing condition attached to this pleasant and
refreshing restoration was the fact that he succumbed not to one, but
to both of the Misses Frost—succumbed heartily and bodily, without
the faintest hope of discrimination. He was in love with both at first
sight. For the life of him he could not tell which he had seen first.
That very evening at the dinner hour he rode up and down in the
elevator no less than a dozen times, and each time as he passed the
second floor he hopefully but surreptitiously peered forth at the
Gladdings' door. Once the car stopped to take some one on at this
floor, and his dear old heart gave an enormous throb of anticipation,
turning to disappointment an instant later when a messenger-boy
"Find 'em at home?" asked the elevator-boy.
"Sure. Say, dey're wonders, ain't dey, dese society girls? I don't
blame people for sendin' 'em violets."
Mr. Hamshaw could have slain No. 329 for his familiarity, but lost
the opportunity in wondering what the young ladies would think if they
received 10,000 violets from an unnamed sender. For days, be it said
in all solemnity, Mr. Hamshaw waited and watched for glimpses of the
young ladies—princesses he was calling them down in the neighbourhood
of his rejuvenated heart. He neglected his business, ate at the most
irregular hours, and finally gave himself up to the astonishing habit
of walking up and down five flights of stairs. Sago and Ellen, united
in worrying over these idiosyncrasies, were troubled deep down in
The master took to standing out in front of the main entrance on
bitterly cold days, smoking cigar after cigar. He said, in
explanation, that it was unhealthy to smoke indoors. Twice in as many
weeks he had glimpses of the young ladies. On both occasions they
walked briskly past him with their pretty noses in the air. It was
evident that they disdained carriages and street cars, for they struck
off downtown with the stride of athletes.
"By Jove, they're fine specimens!" murmured Mr. Hamshaw, admiring
their bonny figures from the doorway.
It is quite natural that he should have kept his secret from Sago
and Ellen. Sooner would he have died than permit these staunch
guardians to grasp the whole truth concerning his—he even felt guilty
enough to call it "foolish"—infatuation. If the Misses Frost received
frequent offerings of rare violets from an unmentioned source they
were not so puzzled that they could find no one to thank even though
it surprised the innocent young man in the extreme. If they took
notice of the stout, bald old gentleman who shuffled his feet and
looked conscious when they strode past it was not for him to know at
that stage of the game. He felt so small after the weary weeks of
watching that he went and had himself weighed, devoutly certain that
he shrunk respectably. He even went in for a savage system of
training, calculated to reduce his avoirdupois.
One day, while he was swinging along through the park, a mile and a
half from home, trying to take off a few of the pounds that made him
impossible to the willowy Misses Frost, he unexpectedly came upon his
dual affinity. In his agitation he narrowly escaped being run down by
a base and unsympathetic cab operated by a profane person who seldom
shaved. As it was, he lost his hat. The wind whirled it over the
ground much faster than he could sprint, with all his training, and
brought it up against a bush in front of the young women. One of them
sprang forward and snatched it up before it could resume its flight.
Mr. Hamshaw came up puffing and confused, but radiant.
"Thank you, thank you, ever so much!" he panted. "Never mind the
dust. It's been dusty before. Besides, it's an old one. I have a
better one at home, and a silk—"
He brought himself up with a jerk, realising that he was jabbering
like a fool. The young women were polite and respectful. Not a sign of
derision appeared in their faces.
"Fierce wind, isn't it?" asked one of them, and it dawned instantly
upon him that she was the one he loved. He jammed his hat far down
upon his head, glancing, as he did so, at the other girl. She was
smiling genially, her face rosy from the wind her sister condemned,
and, with ruthless inconstancy, Mr. Hamshaw at once changed his mind.
She was the one.
"Pardon me for the liberty," he said, "but I am Mr. Hamshaw. We are
neighbours, you know. Live in the same building."
"Oh, is that so?" asked the taller of the two, and, to his dismay,
he saw that her surprise was genuine.
"Yes; you are on the second—I am on the sixth."
"Where the Jap is?" asked the shorter one.
"He's my valet."
"Funny little thing, isn't it?"
"An excellent servant, Miss—"
"Look out, there goes your lid again! I'll get it—my legs are
swifter than yours!" cried the tall athlete in petticoats, and off she
sailed in pursuit.
"You need some one to chase your hat for you, Mr. Hamshaw," said
the short one airily.
"Are you going our way?" asked the other, with a smile that could
have led him to perdition.
"To the end of the earth," he murmured gallantly.
For the next ten minutes he walked on air. His heart was so light
that it bobbed up and down like a fisherman's cork. He was not long in
discovering that the tall one was Mame and the short one Lou—short
for Marie and Louise, they explained on request!
"I see a good many boxes of flowers going up to your apartment,"
ventured Mr. Hamshaw, quite out of breath.
"Every day, and sometimes in between," said Marie.
"Ah, it's so nice to be popular!" he chirped. "And—and you can't
blame the men, either, you know."
"You can't thank them, either, if they don't enclose their cards.
Nearly every day there is a guessing match in the back parlour. It's
poor form to send flowers without a card."
"By George, they're fine girls!" reflected Mr. Hamshaw. "Healthy,
vigorous, full of life, and not a bit spoiled. Hang it all, I'm an ass
to act like this! But I can't help it. A man is never too old to learn
or to love. I'll play hob with some of these young dandies before I
get through. Hamshaw, you've got to win one of these girls. But which
one? There's the rub! It's awfully annoying!"
But it grew to be quite romantic. Mr. Hamshaw came to look upon
himself as an up-to-date Romeo. The young ladies did not offer him any
inducement to call upon them in their own home, but they frequently
walked with him in the park of afternoons, and were astonishingly
agreeable about candy, soda-water and matinees. Their reluctance to
lunch or dine with him downtown stamped them in his mind as something
most admirable. He quite understood. And their devotion to their sick
friend was truly beautiful. He never saw them but they were going to
visit her. Miss Louise naively informed him that they gave her some of
the violets he sent to them, but that she knew he wouldn't mind.
"Do you think she'd like it if I sent her some good books to read?"
asked he, quite delighted.
"Sure," replied Miss Marie.
"How very unconventional," beamed Mr. Hamshaw to himself. "Hang it
all, I wish I could decide between them! I think I'd look better with
the short one, but—"
One day his nephew, young Jimmy Sprang, met him on the street and
proceeded to twit him about his second childhood.
"What do you mean, sir?" demanded Mr. Hamshaw with great dignity
and a sinking heart.
"Who are the fairies you're trotting—"
"Stop, sir!" thundered Mr. Hamshaw. "Not another word, sir! They
are ladies, and not to be discussed by such a bounder as you."
At last Mr. Hamshaw decided to take Louise. "I'll tell her
tomorrow," he said to himself, quite sure that it was only necessary
to tell and not to ask. But that evening, just after returning from
the club, he saw something that troubled and harassed him not a
little. He saw and heard Sago talking to the Misses Frost—not only
talking but in a manner so familiar that it must have been extremely
nauseating to the cultured young women. The three were standing under
the electric light at the corner, and the young women instead of
appearing annoyed at the heathen's twaddle, seemed to be highly
amused. Only the greatest exercise of self-restraint kept Mr. Hamshaw
from kicking Sago into the middle of the next block.
Mr. Hamshaw was on the point of intervening when, to his utter
consternation, the two young women started off up the street with
Sago. To add to his misery, Sago did not come in at all that night. In
response to Mr. Hamshaw's savage inquiry, Ellen, who attended him the
next morning, said that Sago had gone to a dance on the West Side and
had not turned up. Mr. Hamshaw sat bolt upright in bed and then
The next afternoon he went home early, haggard and with a headache.
His confidence was not gone, however. After arranging himself
carefully—he refused to call for Sago—he boldly descended to the
second floor. Then he lost his nerve. Instead of ringing the Gladding
door-bell he walked on downstairs and out into the open air. At the
corner he came plump upon Mr. Gladding himself, the step-father of the
"How are you, Mr. Hamshaw? Fine weather we're having," greeted the
man from the second floor.
"I've just been to your flat," said Mr. Hamshaw.
"Indeed! Any one at home?"
"I don't know—that is, I didn't go in. You see—are you going home
now, Gladding, or downtown?"
"Home, of course. I've been downtown all day. Anything you wanted
to see me about, Mr. Hamshaw?"
"Oh, no—nothing important."
"Well, won't you come up with me now? By the way, I'd like you to
meet my wife and her daughters."
"I know your daughters, I believe."
"It is about one of them that I wish to speak with you, sir." They
were on the second-floor landing by this time. "May I come in?"
"Certainly," said Mr. Gladding.
Mr. Hamshaw sat stiff and uncomfortable on the divan while Mr.
Gladding rang for a maid. He also called down the hall to ask Mrs.
Gladding and the young ladies to come in and greet Mr. Hamshaw.
"Before they come," began the latter, fidgeting nervously, "I want
to say that I expect to marry Miss Frost. It's been hard work to
choose between them—"
"What are you talking about?" gasped the father.
"I know I've done a most reprehensible thing in courting them—I
mean her—in this manner, but, you see—"
At this juncture Mrs. Gladding entered the room, followed by two
strange young women—sleepy, tired, scrawny young women, who looked at
Mr. Hamshaw as if he were a sofa-cushion and nothing more.
"My wife—er—Mr. Hamshaw, and the Misses Frost," mumbled Mr.
Gladding, bowled over completely.
"What's that?" shouted Mr. Hamshaw, coming to his feet and toppling
over backward again. The others stared at him as if he were mad. "How
—how many have you—I mean, how many daughters are there?"
"Two!" exclaimed Mrs. Gladding, freezing up immediately. The
society young women relaxed into a giggle.
"Then—who—is this a joke?" gasped Mr. Hamshaw, perspiration
starting in torrents.
"What do you mean, sir?" demanded Mr. Gladding.
"Where are Marie and Louise?" murmured Mr. Hamshaw.
Just then a trim maid appeared in the doorway—white-capped and
"Did you ring, Ma'am?—Good Heavens!"
It was Marie!
Mr. Hamshaw fainted without more ado, and the apartment was in an
uproar. Everybody thought he was dead, and the Misses Frost promptly
duplicated his swooning act.
When Mr. Hamshaw opened his eyes, Marie was standing near by with
ammonia and wet towels.
"Where is Louise?" he asked weakly.
"She's went and married that awful little Jap of yours last night.
Here, take another sniff at this. Go on; don't be afraid of it. I've
give it to the young ladies regular for the last five years. What's
"Nothing—nothing," he whispered.
"You said something, sir."
"And you're not Miss Frost?"
"One of them scrawny—I beg pardon, sir! Did you think I was—"
"Well, if that's the case, I can tell you what I said a moment ago.
I said 'D—n it all!' Where am I?"
"At Mr. Gladding's, sir."
"Is Sago upstairs?"
"No, sir; they've gone to the matinee on their wedding trip, Mr.
It was not what Mr. Hamshaw said but the way he said it.