Back to the Index Page

 
 
 

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 distinguished times.

"You go tonight."

"Yes, Mr. Hamshaw. May I ask what I have done to displease you, sir!"

"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 street.

"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 incensed.

"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 Mr. Hamshaw.

"I have given notice, sir, that Ellen has to go," said Sago soberly.

"And I refuse to go for the loikes of you," retorted Ellen with great dignity.

"Then, Mr. Hamshaw, I shall remain until she does go. But go she must."

"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 slouched in.

"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 their consciences.

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 collapsed.

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 two girls.

"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."

"Ah!"

"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 aproned.

"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 that, sir?"

"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. Hamshaw."

"Oh!"

It was not what Mr. Hamshaw said but the way he said it.

 
 
 

Back to the Index Page