The Saturday Evening Mail: New York, November 23, 1912.


By Pelhan G. Wodehouse




AMONG THE GOOD qualities, none too numerous, of Mr. Bat Jarvis, of Groome Street, in the Bowery, early rising was not included. It was his habit to retire to rest at an advanced hour, and to balance accounts by lying abed on the following morning. This idiosyncrasy of his was well known in the neighborhood and respected, and it was generally held to be both bad taste and unsafe to visit Bat’s shop until near the fashionable hour for luncheon, when the great one, shirt-sleeved and smoking a short pipe, would appear in the doorway, looking out upon the world and giving it to understand that he was now open to be approached by deserving acquaintances.

When, therefore, at 10 o’clock in the morning his slumbers were cut short by a sharp rapping at the front door, his first impression was that he had been dreaming. When, after a brief interval, the noise was resumed, he rose in his might and, knuckling the sleep from his eyes, went down, tight-lipped, to interview this person.

He had got as far as a preliminary “Say!” when speech was wiped from his lips as with a sponge, and he stood gaping and ashamed, for the murderer of sleep and untimely knocker on front doors was Betty.

Mr. Jarvis had not forgotten Betty. His meeting with her at the office of Peaceful Moments had marked an epoch in his life. Never before had any one quite like her crossed his path, and at that moment romance had come to him. His was essentially a respectful admiration. He was content—indeed he preferred—to worship from afar. Of his own initiative he would never have met her again. In her presence, with those gray eyes of hers looking at him, tremors ran down his spine, and his conscience, usually a battered and downtrodden wreck, became fiercely aggressive. She filled him with novel emotions, and whether these were pleasant or painful was more than he could say. He had not the gift of analysis where his feelings were concerned. To himself he put it, broadly, that she made him feel like a nickel with a hole in it. But that was not entirely satisfactory. There were other and pleasanter emotions mixed in with this humility. The thought of her made him feel, for instance, vaguely chivalrous. He wanted to do risky and useful things for her. Thus, if any fresh guy should endeavor to get gay with her, it would, he felt, be a privilege to fix that same guy. If she should be in bad, he would be more than ready to get busy on her behalf.

BUT HE HAD never expected to meet her again, certainly not on his own doorstep at ten in the morning. To Bat ten in the morning was included with the small hours.

Betty smiled at him, a little anxiously. She had no suspicion that she played star to Mr. Jarvis’ moth in the latter’s life, and, as she eyed him, standing there on the doorstep, her excuse for coming to him began to seem terribly flimsy. Not being aware that he was in reality a tough Bayard, keenly desirous of obeying her lightest word, she had staked her all on the chance of his remembering the cat episode and being grateful on account of it; and in the cold light of the morning this idea, born in the watches of the night, when things tend to lose their proportion, struck her as less happy than she had fancied. Suppose he had forgotten all about it! Suppose he should be violent! For a moment her heart sank. He certainly was not a pleasing and encouraging sight, as he stood there blinking at her. No man looks his best immediately on rising from bed, and Bat, even at his best, was not a hero of romance. His forelock dropped dankly over his brow; there was stubble on his chin; his eyes were red, like a dog’s. He did not look like the Fairy Prince who was to save her in her trouble.

“I—I hope you remember me, Mr. Jarvis,” she faltered. “Your cat. I—”

He nodded speechlessly. Hideous things happened to his face. He was really trying to smile pleasantly, but it seemed a scowl to Betty, and her voice died away. Mr. Jarvis spoke.

“Ma’am—sure!—step ’nside.”

Betty followed him into the shop. There were birds in cages on the walls, and, patrolling the floor, a great company of cats, each with its leather collar. One rubbed itself against Betty’s skirt. She picked it up and began to stroke it. And, looking over its head at Mr. Jarvis, she was aware that he was beaming sheepishly.

His eyes darted away the instant they met hers, but Betty had seen enough to show her that she had mistaken nervousness for truculence. Immediately, she was at her ease, and womanlike, had begun to control the situation. She made conversation pleasantly, praising the cats, admiring the birds, touching lightly on the general subject of domestic pets, until her woman’s sixth sense told her that her host’s panic had passed, and that she might now proceed to discuss business.

“I hope you don’t mind my coming to you, Mr. Jarvis,” she said. “You know you told me to if ever I were in trouble, so I’ve taken you at your word. You don’t mind?”

Mr. Jarvis gulped and searched for words.

“Glad,” he said at last.

“I’ve left Peaceful Moments. You know I used to be stenographer there.”

She was surprised and gratified to see a look of consternation spread itself across Mr. Jarvis’ face. It was a hopeful sign that he should take her cause to heart to such an extent.

But Mr. Jarvis’s consternation was not due wholly to solicitude for her. His thoughts at that moment, put, after having been expurgated, into speech, might have been summed up in the line: “Of all sad words of tongue or pen the saddest are these, ‘It might have been’!”

“Ain’t youse woikin’ dere no more? Is dat right?” he gasped. “Gee! I wisht I’d ’a’ known it sooner. Why, a guy come to me and wants to give me half a ton of the long green to go to dat poiper what youse was woikin’ on and fix de guy what’s runnin’ it. An’ I truns him down ’cos I don’t want you to be t’rown out of your job. Say, why youse quit woikin’ dere?” His eyes narrowed as an idea struck him. “Say,” he went on, “you ain’t bin fired? Has de boss give youse de trundown? ’Cos if he has, say de woid and I’ll fix him for youse, loidy. An’ it won’t set you back a nickel,” he concluded handsomely.

“No, no,” cried Betty, horrified. “Mr. Smith has been very kind to me. I left of my own free will.”

MR. JARVIS looked disappointed. His demeanor was like that of some medieval knight called back on the eve of starting out to battle with the Paynim for the honor of his lady.

“What was that you said about the man who came to you and offered you money?” asked Betty.

Her mind had flashed back to Mr. Parker’s visit, and her heart was beating quickly.

“Sure! He came to me all right an’ wants de guy on de poiper fixed. An’ I truns him down.”

“Oh! You won’t dream of doing anything to hurt Mr. Smith, will you, Mr. Jarvis?” said Betty anxiously.

“Not if you say so, loidy.”

“And your—friends? You won’t let them do anything?”


Betty breathed freely again. Her knowledge of the east side was small, and that there might be those there who acted independently of Mr. Jarvis, disdainful of his influence, did not occur to her. She returned to her own affairs, satisfied that danger no longer threatened.

“Mr. Jarvis, I wonder if you can help me. I want to find some work to do,” she said.


“I have to earn my living, you see, and I’m afraid I don’t know how to begin.”

Mr. Jarvis pondered. “What sort of woik?”

“Any sort,” said Betty valiantly. “I don’t care what it is.”

Mr. Jarvis knitted his brows in thought. He was not used to being an employment agency. But Betty was Betty, and even at the cost of a headache he must think of something.

At the end of five minutes inspiration came to him.

“Say,” he said, “what do youse call de guy dat sits an’ takes de money at an eatin’ joint? Cashier? Well, say, could youse be dat?”

“It would be just the thing. Do you know a place?”

“Sure. Just around the corner. I’ll take you dere.”

Betty waited while he put on his coat, and they started out. Betty chatted as they walked, but Mr. Jarvis, who appeared a little self-conscious beneath the unconcealed interest of the neighbors, was silent. At intervals he would turn and glare ferociously at the heads that popped out of windows or protruded from doorways. Fame has its penalties, and most of the population of that portion of the Bowery had turned out to see their most prominent citizen so romantically employed as a squire of dames.

After a short walk Bat halted the expedition before a dingy restaurant. The glass window bore in battered letters the name, Fontelli.

“Dis is de joint,” he said.

Inside the restaurant a dreamy-eyed Italian sat gazing at vacancy and twirling a pointed mustache. In a far corner a solitary customer was finishing a late breakfast.

Signor Fontelli, for the sad-eyed exile was he, sprang to his feet at the sight of Mr. Jarvis’s well-known figure. An ingratiating, but nervous, smile came into view behind the pointed mustache.

“Hey, Tony,” said Mr. Jarvis, coming at once to the point, “I want you to know dis loidy. She’s going to be cashier at dis joint.”

SIGNOR FONTELLI looked at Betty and shook his head. He smiled deprecatingly. His manner seemed to indicate that, while she met with the approval of Fontelli, the slave of her sex, to Fontelli, the employer, she appealed in vain. He gave his mustache a sorrowful twirl.

“Ah, no,” he sighed. “Not da cashier do I need. I take-a myself da money.”

Mr. Jarvis looked at him coldly. He continued to look at him coldly. His lower jaw began slowly to protrude, and his forehead retreated further behind its zareba of forelock.

There was a pause. The signor was plainly embarrassed.

“Dis loidy,” repeated Mr. Jarvis, “is cashier at dis joint at six per——” He paused. “Does dat go?” he added smoothly.

Certainly there was a magnetism about Mr. Jarvis. With a minimum of words he produced remarkable results. Something seemed to happen suddenly to Signor Fontelli’s spine. He wilted like a tired flower. A gesture, in which were blended resignation, humility, and a desire to be at peace with all men, particularly Mr. Jarvis, completed his capitulation.

Mr. Jarvis waited while Betty was instructed in her simple duties, then drew her aside.

“Say,” he remarked confidentially, “youse’ll be all right here. Six per ain’t all de dough dere is in de woild, but, bein’ cashier, see, you can swipe a whole heap more whenever you feel like it. And if Tony registers a kick, I’ll come around and talk to him—see? Dat’s right. Good morning, loidy.”

And, having delivered these admirable hints to young cashiers in a hurry to get rich, Mr. Jarvis ducked his head in a species of bow, declined to be thanked, and shuffled out into the street, leaving Betty to open her new career by taking thirty-seven cents from the late breakfaster.



THREE days had elapsed since the battle which had opened the campaign, and there had been no further movement on the part of the enemy. Smith was puzzled. A strange quiet seemed to be brooding over the other camp. He could not believe that a single defeat had crushed the foe, but it was hard to think of any other explanation.

It was Pugsy Maloney who, on the fourth morning, brought to the office the inner history of the truce. His version was brief and unadorned, as was the way with his narratives. Such things as first causes and piquant detail he avoided, as tending to prolong the telling excessively, thus keeping him from the perusal of his cowboy stories. He gave the thing out merely as an item of general interest, a bubble on the surface of the life of a great city. He did not know how nearly interested were his employers in any matter touching that gang which is known as the Three Points.

Pugsy said: “Dere’s been fuss’n going on down where I live. Dude Dawson’s mad at Spider Reilly, and now de Table Hills is layin’ for de T’ree Points, to soak it to ’em. Dat’s right.”

He then retired to his outer fastness, yielding further details jerkily and with the distant air of one whose mind is elsewhere.

Skillfully extracted and pieced together, these details formed themselves into the following typical narrative of east side life.

There were four really important gangs in New York at this time. There were other less important institutions besides, but these were little more than mere friendly gatherings of old boyhood chums for purposes of mutual companionship. They might grow into formidable organizations in time, but for the moment the amount of ice which good judges declared them to cut was but small. They would “stick up” an occasional wayfarer for his “cush,” and they carried “canisters” and sometimes fired them off, but these things do not signify the cutting of ice. In matters political there were only four gangs which counted, the East Side, the Groome Street, the Three Points and the Table Hill. Greatest of these, by virtue of their numbers, were the East Side and the Groome Street, the latter presided over at the time of this story by Mr. Bat Jarvis. These two were colossal, and, though they might fight each other, were immune from attack at the hands of the rest.

But between the other gangs, and especially between the Table Hill and the Three Points, which were much of a size, warfare raged as frequently as among the republics of South America. There had always been bad blood between the Table Hill and the Three Points. Little events, trifling in themselves, had always occurred to shatter friendly relations just when there seemed a chance of their being formed. Thus, just as the Table Hillites were beginning to forgive the Three Points for shooting the redoubtable Paul Horgan down at Coney Island, a Three Pointer injudiciously wiped out a Table Hillite near Canal Street. He pleaded self-defense, and in any case it was probably mere thoughtlessness, but nevertheless the Table Hillites were ruffled.

THAT had been a month or so back. During that month things had been simmering down, and peace was just preparing to brood when there occurred the incident alluded to by Pugsy, the regrettable falling out between Dude Dawson and Spider Reilly.

To be as brief as possible, Dude Dawson had gone to spend a happy evening at a dancing saloon named Shamrock Hall, near Groome Street. Now, Shamrock Hall belonged to a Mr. Maginnis, a friend of Bat Jarvis, and was under the direct protection of that celebrity. It was, therefore, sacred ground, and Mr. Dawson visited it in a purely private and peaceful capacity. The last thing he intended was to spoil the harmony of the evening.

Alas for the best intentions! Two-stepping clumsily round the room—for he was a poor, though enthusiastic, dancer—Dude Dawson collided with and upset a certain Reddy Davis and his partner. Reddy Davis was a member of the Three Points, and his temper was the temper of a red-headed man. He “slugged” Mr. Dawson. Mr. Dawson, more skillful at the fray than at the dance, joined battle willingly, and they were absorbed in a stirring combat, when an interruption occurred. In the far corner of the room, surrounded by admiring friends, sat Spider Reilly, monarch of the Three Points. He had noticed that there was a slight disturbance at the other side of the hall, but had given it little attention till the dancing ceasing suddenly and the floor emptying itself of its crowd, he had a plain view of Mr. Dawson and Mr. Davis squaring up at each other for the second round.

We must assume that Mr. Reilly was not thinking of what he did, for his action was contrary to all rules of gang etiquette. In the street it would have been perfectly legitimate, even praiseworthy, but in a dance-hall under the protection of a neutral power it was unpardonable. What he did was to produce his revolver, and shoot the unsuspecting Mr. Dawson in the leg. Having done which, he left hurriedly, fearing the wrath of Bat Jarvis.

Mr. Dawson, meanwhile, was attended to and helped home. Willing informants gave him the name of his aggressor, and before morning the Table Hill camp was in a ferment. Shooting broke out in three places, though there were no casualties. When the day dawned there existed between the two gangs a state of war more bitter than any in their record, for this time it was chieftain who had assaulted chieftain. Royal blood had been spilt.

Such was the explanation of the lull in the campaign against Peaceful Moments. The new war had taken the mind of Spider Reilly and his warriors off the paper and its affairs for the moment, much as the unexpected appearance of a mad bull would make a man forget that he had come out snipe-shooting.

At present there had been no pitched battle. As was usual between the gangs, war had broken out in a somewhat tentative fashion at first. There had been skirmishes by the wayside, but nothing more. The two armies were sparring for an opening.

SMITH was distinctly relieved at the respite, for a serious blow had fallen on “Peaceful Moments,” necessitating careful thought. This was the defection of Kid Brady.

The Kid’s easy defeat of Cyclone Dick Fisher had naturally created a sensation in sporting circles. He had become famous in a night. It was not with surprise, therefore, that Smith received from his fighting editor the information that he had been matched against one Eddie Wood, whose fame outshone even that of the late Cyclone.

The Kid, a white man to the core, exhibited quite a feudal loyalty to the paper which had raised him from the ruck and placed him on the road to eminence.

“Say the word,” he said, “and I’ll call it off. If you feel you need me around here, Mr. Smith, say so, and I’ll side-step Eddie.”

“Comrade Brady,” said Smith with enthusiasm, “I have had occasion before to call you sport. I do so again. But I’m not going to stand in your way. If you eliminate this Comrade Wood, they will have to give you a chance against Jimmy Garvin, won’t they?”

“I guess that’s right,” said the Kid. “Eddie stayed nineteen rounds against Jimmy, and, if I can put him away, it gets me clear into line with Jim, and he’ll have to meet me.”

“Then go in and win, Comrade Brady. We shall miss you. It will be as if a ray of sunshine had been removed from the office. But you mustn’t throw a chance away.”

“I’ll train at White Plains,” said the Kid, “so I’ll be pretty near in case I’m wanted.”

“Oh, we shall be all right,” said Smith, “and if you win, we’ll bring out a special number. Good luck, Comrade Brady, and many thanks for your help.”

JOHN, when he arrived at the office and learned the news, was for relying on their own unaided efforts.

“And, anyway,” he said, “I don’t see who else there is to help us. You could tell the police, I suppose,” he went on, doubtfully.

Smith shook his head.

“The New York policeman, Comrade John, is, like all great men, somewhat peculiar. If you go to a New York policeman and exhibit a black eye, he is more likely to express admiration for the handiwork of the citizen responsible for the same than sympathy. No; since coming to this city, I have developed a habit of taking care of myself, or employing private help. I do not want allies who will merely shake their heads at Comrade Reilly and his merry men, however sternly. I want someone who, if necessary, will soak it to them good.”

“Sure,” said John. “But who is there now the Kid’s gone?”

“Who else but Comrade Jarvis?” said Smith.

“Jarvis? Bat Jarvis?”

“The same. I fancy that we shall find, on inquiry, that we are ace high with him. At any rate, there is no harm in sounding him. It is true that he may have forgotten, or it may be that it is to Comrade Brown alone that he is——”

“Who’s Brown?” asked John.

“Our late stenographer,” explained Smith. “A Miss Brown. She entertained Comrade Jarvis’s cat, if you remember. I wonder what has become of her. She has sent in three more corking efforts on the subject of Broster street, but she gives no address. I wish I knew where she was. I’d have liked for you to meet her.”



“IT will probably be necessary,” said Smith, as they set out for Groome street, “to allude to you, Comrade John, in the course of this interview, as one of our most eminent living cat fanciers. You have never met Comrade Jarvis, I believe? Well, he is a gentleman with just about enough forehead to prevent his front hair getting inextricably blended with his eyebrows, and he owns twenty-three cats, each with a leather collar round its neck. It is, I fancy, the cat note which we shall have to strike to-day. If only Comrade Brown were with us we could appeal to his finer feelings. But he has seen me only once, and you never, and I should not care to bet that he will feel the least particle of dismay at the idea of our occiputs getting all mussed up with a blackjack. But when I inform him that you are an English cat fancier, and that in your island home you have seventy-four fine cats, mostly Angoras, that will be a different matter. I shall be surprised if he does not fall on your neck.”

They found Mr. Jarvis in his fancier’s shop, engaged in the intellectual occupation of greasing a cat’s paws with butter. He looked up as they entered, and then resumed his task.

“Comrade Jarvis,” said Smith, “we meet again. You remember me?”

“Nope,” said Mr. Jarvis promptly.

Smith was not discouraged.

“Ah!” he said tolerantly, “the fierce rush of New York life! How it wipes from the retina to-day the image impressed on it but yesterday. Is it not so, Comrade Jarvis?”

The cat expert concentrated himself on his patient’s paws without replying.

“A fine animal,” said Smith, adjusting his monocle. “To what particular family of the Felis Domestica does that belong? In color it resembles a Neapolitan ice more than anything.”

“Say what do youse want? That’s straight, ain’t it? If youse want to buy a boid or a snake, why don’t youse say so?”

“I stand corrected,” said Smith; “I should have remembered that time is money. I called in here partly in the hope that, though you only met me once—on the stairs of my office—you might retain pleasant recollections of me, but principally in order that I might make two very eminent cat-fanciers acquainted. This,” he said, with a wave of his hand in the direction of John, “is Comrade Maude, possibly the best known of English cat-fanciers. Comrade Maude’s stud of Angoras is celebrated wherever the English language is spoken.”

MR. JARVIS’S expression changed. He rose, and, having inspected John with silent admiration for a while, extended a well-buttered hand toward him. Smith looked on benevolently.

“What Comrade Maude does not know about cats,” he said, “is not knowledge. His information on Angoras alone would fill a volume.”

“Say”—Mr. Jarvis was evidently touching on a point which had weighed deeply upon him—“why’s catnip called catnip?”

“The word, as Comrade Maude was just about to observe,” said Smith, “is a corruption of catmint. Why it should be so corrupted I do not know. But what of that? The subject is too deep to be gone fully into at the present. I should recommend you to read Mr. Maude’s little brochure on the matter. Passing lightly on from that—”

“Did you ever have a cat that ate beetles?” inquired Mr. Jarvis.

“There was a time when many of Comrade Maude’s Felidae supported life almost entirely on beetles.”

“Did they git thin?”

John felt it was time, if he were to preserve his reputation, to assert himself.

“No,” he replied firmly.

Mr. Jarvis looked astonished.

“English beetles,” said Smith, “don’t make cats thin. Passing lightly—”

“I had a cat oncst,” said Mr. Jarvis, ignoring the remark and sticking to his point, “dat ate beetles and got thin and used to tie itself inter knots.”

“A versatile animal,” agreed Smith.

“Say,” Mr. Jarvis went on, now plainly on a subject near to his heart, “dem beetles is fierce. Sure! Can’t keep de cats off of eatin’ dem, I can’t. First t’ing you know dey’ve swallowed dem, and den dey gits thin and ties theirselves into knots.”

“You should put them into strait-waistcoats,” said Smith. “Passing, however, lightly—”

“Say, ever have a cross-eyed cat?”

“Comrade Maude’s cats,” said Smith, “have happily been almost entirely free from strabismus.”

“Dey’s lucky, cross-eyed cats is. You has a cross-eyed cat, and not’in’ don’t never go wrong. But, say, was dere ever a cat wit’ one blue and one yaller one in your bunch? Gee! it’s fierce when it’s like dat. It’s a skidoo, is a cat wit’ one blue eye and one yaller one. Puts you in bad, surest t’ing you know. Oncst a guy give me a cat like dat, and first t’ing you know I’m in bad all round. It wasn’t till I give him away to de cop on de corner and gets me one dat’s cross-eyed dat I lifts de skidoo off of me.”

“And what happened to the cop?” inquired Smith, interested.

“Oh, he got in bad, sure enough,” said Mr. Jarvis without emotion. “One of de boys what he’d pinched and had sent up the road once lays for him and puts one over on him with a blackjack. Sure. Dat’s what comes of havin’ a cat wit’ one blue and one yaller one.”

Mr. Jarvis relapsed into silence. He seemed to be meditating on the inscrutable workings of Fate. Smith took advantage of the pause to leave the cat topic and touch on matters of more vital import.

“Tense and exhilarating as is this discussion of the optical peculiarities of cats,” he said, “there is another matter on which, if you will permit me, I should like to touch. I would hesitate to bore you with my own private troubles, but this is a matter which concerns Comrade Maude as well as myself, and I can see that your regard for Comrade Maude is almost an obsession.”

“How’s that?”

“I can see,” said Smith, “that Comrade Maude is a man to whom you give the glad hand.”

Mr. Jarvis regarded John with respectful affection.

“Sure! He’s to the good, Mr. Maude is.”

“Exactly,” said Smith. “To resume, then. The fact is, Comrade Jarvis, we are much persecuted by scoundrels. How sad it is in this world! We look to every side. We look to north, east, south, and west, and what do we see? Mainly scoundrels. I fancy you have heard a little about our troubles before this. In fact, I gather that the same scoundrels actually approached you with a view to engaging your services to do us up, but that you very handsomely refused the contract. We are the staff of ‘Peaceful Moments.’ ”





Text from American book edition omitted from this serial:
After “why’s catnip called catnip?” the book inserts the following short paragraph:
  John looked at Smith helplessly. It sounded like a riddle, but it was obvious that Mr. Jarvis’s motive in putting the question was not frivolous. He really wished to know.