JAMES WISWELL COFFIN 3D

“Nar, young man,” said Coffee John, pointing the stem of his pipe at the
lad in the red sweater, “seein’ we’ve all agreed to testify, s’pose yer
perceed to open the ball. You come in fust, an’ you talk fust. I ain’t
no fly cop, but it strikes me you’re a bit different from the rest of
us, though we’re all different enough, the Lord knows. Yer jacket fits
yer, an’ thet alone is enough to myke yer conspicus in this ’ere shop. I
see a good many men parss in an’ art from be’ind the carnter, but I
don’t see none too many o’ the likes o’ you. If I ain’t mistook, you’ll
be by wye o’ bein’ wot I might call a amatoor at this ’ere sort o’
livin’, an’ one as would find a joke w’erever ’e went. You’d larff at a
bloomin’ corpse, you would, and flirt with Queen Victoria. You’ll never
grow up, young fellar; I give yer thet stryte, before yer even open yer
marth.”

“But wot I cawn’t figger art,” he continued, “is w’y yer jumped at the
sight of a bunch o’ ord’n’ry yeller bananas. I’ve seen ’em eat with
their bloomin’ knives, an’ comb their w’iskers with their bloomin’
forks, but this ’ere is a new one on me, an’ it gets my gyme. I’m nar
ready to listen.”

“Even so!” said the youth. “Then I shall now proceed to let the
procession of thought wriggle, the band play, and the bug hop. The
suspense, I know, is something terrible, so I spare your anxiety.” And
with this fanfare he began to relate

THE STORY OF THE HARVARD FRESHMAN

When I received a cordial invitation from the Dean to leave Harvard the
second time—on that occasion it was for setting off ten alarm-clocks at
two-minute intervals in chapel—the governor flew off the handle. My fool
kid brother, that was to side-track the letter from the faculty, got
mixed on his signals, and the telegram that the old man sent back nearly
put the Cambridge office out of business. He said that I had foozled my
last drive, and, although a good cane is sometimes made out of a crooked
stick, he washed his hands of me, and would I please take notice that
the remittances were herewith discontinued.

I noticed. After I’d settled up and given my farewell dinner to the
Institute, where they were sorry to lose me because I was playing a
cyclone game on the Freshman Eleven, I had ninety-eight dollars, and
twelve hours to leave the college yard. Thinking it over, it struck me
that the keenest way for me to get my money’s worth was to go out and
take a sub-graduate course as a hobo—do the Wyckoff act, minus the
worker and the prayer-meetings. I wasn’t going to beg my meals—there was
where the pride of the Coffins stuck out—but I was willing to stand for
the rest—dust, rust, and cinders. As a dead-head tourist, ninety-eight
bones would feed me and sleep me for quite a space. I swung on at South
Boston for my first lesson in brake-beams, and, tumbled off mighty sick
at Worcester.

It’s a long tale, with hungry intervals, until I found myself in the
pound, at Peru, Illinois, for smashing a fresh brakeman and running up
against the constabulary. The police judge of that hustling little
Western centre is paid out of the fines that he collects. It is a
strange coincidence that when I was searched I had forty-seven, twenty,
on my person, and my fine for vagrancy and assault came to forty
dollars, with seven-twenty costs. The judge was a hard-shell deacon.

Next week, after I crawled out of the underground Pullman, at
Louisville, I was watching Senator Burke’s racing stables come in, and I
was hungry enough to digest a sand-car. It being work or beg, I says,
“Here’s where I break the ethics of my chosen profession and strike for
a job.” There was nothing doing until one of the hands mentioned, for a
joke, that a waiter was wanted for the dining-room where the nigger
jockeys ate. “It is only a matter of sentiment,” said I to myself, “and
my Massachusetts ancestors fit and bled and died to make freedmen out of
the sons of Ham. Here goes for a feed.” I took the place, collecting a
breakfast in advance, and threw chow for three meals at coloured
gentlemen who buried it with their knives. “If I am the prodigal son,”
says I to myself, “these are the swine, all right.”

There was a black exercise-boy in the bunch who played the prize
Berkshire hog. He was rather big for a man about the stables.
Superstition held that he could lick everything of his weight on earth,
and he acted as though he was a front-page feature in the _Police
Gazette_. During the fourth meal he got gay over my frank, untrammelled
way of passing soup. By way of repartee, I dropped the tray, tucked up
my apron, and cleared for action.

First, I wiped off one end of the table with him, the way the hired girl
handles crumbs. Then I hauled him out into the light of day, so as not
to muss the dining-room, and stood him up against the pump, and gave him
the Countercheck Quarrelsome. He was long on life and muscle, but short
on science, and he swung miles wide. After I’d ducked and countered two
attempts, he dropped his head all of a sudden. I saw what was coming. I
got out of range and let him butt, and when he came into my zone of fire
I gave him the knee good and proper. His face faded into a gaudy ruin.

The superintendent came down to restore order, and saw how merrily I
jousted. He was a bit strict, but he was a true Peruvian in some ways,
and he loved a scrapper. That night I got a hurry call to the office,
and walked away James Wiswell Coffin 3d, anointed assistant rubber.
After the season was over at Louisville, we pulled up stakes and hiked
on to Chicago, following the circuit. When we moved I was raised to
night-watchman—forty and found. Nothing happened until close to the end
of the season at Chicago, except that I ate regularly. Money was easy in
that part. Whenever I picked up any of it I looked around for good
things in the betting. Without springing myself any, I cleaned up a
little now and then, and when the big chance came I was $200 to the
good.

This is the way that Fate laid herself open, so that I could get in one
short-armed jab ere she countered hard. It was the night before a big
race, really more important to us than the Derby. Everyone around the
stables was bughouse with it. Before I went out on watch, the
superintendent—his name was Tatum, please remember that—lined me up and
told me that he’d have me garrotted, electrocuted, and crucified if
there was a hair so much as crossed on either of our entries. We had two
of them, Maduro and Maltese. The pair sold at six to five. Outside and
in, it looked as though the old man hadn’t had a cup nailed so hard for
years. The trainers were sleeping beside the ponies, but I was supposed
to look in every half hour to see how things were coming on. At midnight
Tatum came round and repeated his remarks, which riled me a bit, and
Maduro’s trainer said he would turn in for a little sleep.

The next call, for Heaven knows what nutty reason, I got back to
Maduro’s stall a quarter ahead of the hour. There was about a
teaspoonful of light coming through the cracks. I got an eye to a
knot-hole, and saw things happening. There was Maduro trussed like a
rib-roast, and trying to jump, and there was the trainer—“Honest Bob”
they used to call him—poking a lead-pencil up her nose. He said a swear
word and began to feel around in the mare’s nostril, and pulled out a
sponge. He squeezed it up tight and stuffed it back, and began to poke
again. That was the cue for my grand entry.

“Good-morning,” I said through the hole; “you’re sleeping bully.” I was
cutting and sarcastic, because I knew what was up. The sponge-game—stuff
it up a horse’s nose, and he can walk and get around the same as ever,
but when he tries to run, he’s a grampus.

He was too paralysed even to chuck the pencil. He stood there with his
hands down and his mouth open.

“Oh, hello,” he said, when his wind blew back. “I was just doctoring the
mare to make her sleep.” All this time I’d been opening the latch of the
door, and I slid into the corner.

“Oh, sure,” said I, displaying my gun so that it would be conspicuous,
but not obtrusive. “I suppose you’d like to have me send for Mr. Tatum.
He’d like to hold her little hoof and bend above her dreams,” says I.

“Oh, there’s no necessity for bothering him,” said “Honest Bob,” in a
kind of conciliatory way, and edging nearer to me all the time. I might
have been caught if I hadn’t noticed that his right hand was lifted just
a bit with the two first fingers spread. I learned that game with the
alphabet. You slide in on your man, telling him all the time that he is
your lootsy-toots, until you get your right in close, and then you shoot
that fork into both his lamps. He can neither see nor shoot nor hit
until his eyes clear out, which gives you time to do him properly.
“Honest Bob” was taking a long chance.

I guarded my eyes and shoved the gun in his face. I felt like Old Nick
Carter.

“How much do you want?” said he, all of a sudden.

“The honour of the Coffins never stoops to bribery,” said I; “but if
you’ll tell me what’s going to win to-morrow, I’ll talk business. If the
tip’s straight, I forget all about this job.”

“Early Rose,” he said.

“The devil you say!” said I. Early Rose was selling at twenty-five to
one. I gave it to him oblique and perpendicular that if his tip was
crooked I would peach and put him out of business for life. He swore
that he was in the know. For the rest of that night I omitted Maduro’s
stall and did some long-distance thinking.

I could see only one way out of it. Maduro loses sure, thinks I, and
whether it’s to be Early Rose or not, there’s an investigation coming
that involves little Jimmy 3d. What’s the matter with winning a pot of
money and then disappearing in a self-sacrificing spirit, so that
“Honest Bob” can lay it all to me? I was sick of the job, anyway.

What happened next day has passed into the history of the turf, but the
thing that wasn’t put into the papers was the fact that I was in on
Early Rose with one hundred and ninety plunks at twenty-five to one. He
staggered home at the head of a groggy bunch that wilted at the
three-quarters. I sloped for the ring and drew down $4,940. Just what
happened, and whether the nags were all doped or not, I don’t know to
this day, but there must be more in this horse-racing business than doth
appear to the casual débutante.

Two minutes after I left the bookies I was headed for the overland
train. Just as we pulled out, I looked back, proud like a lion, for a
last gloat at Chicago. There, on the platform, was that man Tatum, with
a gang from the stables, acting as though he were looking for someone.
In the front of the mob, shaking his fist and doing the virtuous in a
manner that shocked and wounded, was “Honest Bob.” I took the tip,
dropped off two stations down the line, doubled back on a local to a
child’s size Illinois town, and rusticated there three days.

I’d had time to think, and this was the way it looked: Where the broad
Pacific blends with the land of freedom and railway prospecti, the
Mistress of the Pacific dreams among her hills. Beneath her shades lie
two universities with building plans and endowments. It occurred to me
that I’d better make two packages of my money. One of nine hundred was
to get me out to San Francisco and show me the town in a manner
befitting my birth and station. The other was to transport me like a
dream through one of the aforesaid universities on a thousand a year,
showing the co-eds what football was like. With my diplomas and press
notices tucked under my arm, I would then report at the residence of
James Wiswell Coffin 2d, at South Framingham, and receive a father’s
blessing.

By the time I’d landed at this Midway Plaisance and bought a few rags,
the small package looked something like four hundred dollars. It was at
this stage of the game that I met the woman starring as the villainess
in this weird tale. We went out to the Emeryville track together. All of
my four hundred that I didn’t pay for incidentals I lost the first day
out.

But that makes no never mind, says I to myself; it’s easy to go through
a California university on seven-fifty per, and besides, a college
course ought to be three years instead of four. So I dipped into the big
pile. Let us drop the quick curtain. When it rises I am centre stage in
the Palace Hotel, ninety-dollar overcoats and pin-checked cutaways to
right and left, katzenjammer R. U. E., a week’s board-bill hovering in
the flies above me—and strapped. I gets up, puts my dress-suit into its
case, tucks in a sweater and a bunch of ties, tells the clerk that I am
going away for a day or so, and will leave my baggage until I can come
back and settle, and walks into the cold, wet world.

The dress-suit brought eight dollars. That fed me and slept me in a
little room on Third Street for a week. After dragging the ties through
every pawn-shop from Tar Flat to the Iron Works, I got a dollar for
them. They cost twenty. Next was the suit-case—two and a half. The third
day after that I had dropped the last cent, and was leaving my lodgings
two jumps ahead of the landlord, a great coarse Swede.

I hadn’t a thing but the clothes on my back. In a vacant basement of a
house on Folsom Street I found a front step invisible to the naked eye
of the cop on the beat. There I took lodgings. I got two meals by
trading my trousers for a cheaper pair and twenty cents to boot from the
Yiddish man in the shop above. When that was gone I roamed this grand
old city for four days and three nights, and never did such a vulgar
thing as eat. That’s no Child’s Dream of a Star.

The fourth day was a study in starvation. Dead serious, joshing aside,
that was about as happy a time as I ever put in. I forgot that I was
hungry, and up against the real thing. I saw myself like some other guy
that I had a line on, chasing about ’Frisco in that fix. I myself was
warm and comfortable, and having a dreamy sort of a time wandering
about.




I was strolling down Kearney Street, listening to the birds singing
through the haze, when something that wore scrambled whiskers and an
ash-barrel hat advised me to go down to Broadway wharf and take a chance
with the fruit bums. He steered me the proper course, and I smoked the
pipe along Broadway. There was the wharf all right, and there was a
whole cargo of bananas being lifted on a derrick and let down. Once in a
while one would drop. The crowd underneath would make a jump and fight
for it. I stood there wondering if I really wanted any bananas, or if it
was worth while to eat, seeing that I’d have to do it again, and was now
pretty well broken of the habit, when a big, scaly bunch got loose from
the stem and began to shake and shiver. I got under it and made a fair
catch, and went through the centre with it the way I used to go through
the Yale Freshmen line. There were seventeen bananas, and I ate them
all.

Next thing, I began to feel thirsty. So I marched up to that Coggswell
joke on Ben Franklin, somewhere in the dance-hall district, and
foundered myself with water. After that I crawled into a packing-box
back of a wood-yard, and for two days I was as sick as Ham, Shem, and
Japhet the second day out on the Ark.

When I got better I was hungry again. It was bananas or nothing. I found
them carting off the cargo, and managed to pick up quite a load in one
way or another. After dark I took up two piles and salted them down back
of my packing-box. Next day, pretty weak yet, I stayed at home and ate
bananas. When the new moon shone like a ripe banana-peel in the heavens
of the next night, I never wanted to see a banana as long as I lived.
Nathless, me lieges, they were all that I had. After breakfast next
morning, I shook my clothes out, hid the sweater, and put on my collar
to go downtown. On the way I couldn’t look at the bananas on the
fruit-stands. At the end of the line I bumped into a big yellow building
with arches on its front and a sign out:

“Football players please see Secretary.” I looked and saw that it was
the Y. M. C. A. “Aha,” says I, “maybe I dine.”

I sang a good spiel to the Secretary. They were getting up a
light-weight team and wanted talent. Thanking the gods that I was an end
instead of a centre, I spun him some dream about the Harlem Y. M. C. A.
He said report that afternoon. I went back, choked down ten bananas for
strength, and got out on the field in a borrowed suit. They lined up for
only five minutes, but that was time enough for me to show what I could
do.

I waited after the game to hear someone say training-table, and no one
peeped. I stood around, making myself agreeable, and they said come
around to the Wednesday socials, but no one asked me to say grace at his
humble board. By the time I had washed up and got back home to the
packing-box, I was the owner of such a fifty-horse-power hunger that I
simply _had_ to eat more bananas. I swore then and there that it was my
finish. Why, the taste of them was so strong that my tongue felt like a
banana-peel!

After dinner I piked back to the Y. M. C. A., seeing that it was my only
opening, and began to study the _Christian Advocate_ in the
reading-room. And the first thing that I saw was a tailor-made that
looked as though it had been ironed on her, and a pair of
coffee-coloured eyes as big as doughnuts.

As I rubbered at her over the paper I saw her try to open one of the
cases where they kept the silver cups. That was my cue. It wasn’t two
minutes before I was showing her around like a director. I taught her
some new facts about the Y. M. C. A., all right, all right. She was a
_Tribune_ woman doing a write-up, and she caught my game proper. We’d
got to the gym, and I was giving the place all the world’s indoor
athletic records, when she turned those lamps on me and said:

“You don’t belong here.”

“I don’t?” says I. “Don’t I strike you for as good a little Y. M. C.
A.’ser as there is in the business?”

She looked me over as though she were wondering if I was somebody’s
darling, and said in a serious way:

“My mother and I have supper at home. My brother’s just come on from the
East, and I’d like to have you meet him. Could you join us this
evening?”

Realising the transparency of that excuse for a lady-like poke-out, I
tried to get haughty and plead a previous engagement, but the taste of
bananas rose up in my mouth and made me half-witted. When we parted she
had me dated and doddering over the prospects. Then I raised my hand to
my chin and felt the stubble. “A shave is next in order,” says I. So I
stood at the door and scanned the horizon. Along comes the football
captain. If he was in the habit of shaving himself, I gambled that I
would dine with a clean face. I made myself as pleasant as possible.
Pretty soon he began to shift feet.

“Going down the street?” said I. “Well, I’ll walk along.” We got to his
lodgings. “Going in?” said I. “Well, I’d like to see your quarters,” and
I walked in. “Pretty rooms. That’s a nice safety razor you have there.
How do you strop it?” He showed me, kind of wondering, and I said,
“How’s your shaving-soap?” He brought it. “Looks good,” said I, heading
for the washstand. I jerked in a jet of cold water, mixed it up,
lathered my face, and began to shave, handing out chin-music all the
time about Social Settlement work. He said never a word. It was a case
of complete paralysis. When I had finished I begged to be excused. He
hadn’t even the strength to see me to the door.

Oh, the joy of walking to Jones Street, realising with every step that I
was going to have something to take the taste of bananas out of my
mouth! I got to playing wish with myself. I had just decided on a
tenderloin rare-to-medium, and Bass ale, when I bumped on her house and
the cordial welcome. It was one of those little box flats where the
dining-room opens by a folding-door off the living-room.

“Can you wait here just a minute?” said the girl with the doughnut orbs,
“I want you to meet my brother.”

She was gone longer than I expected. She was a thoroughbred to leave
such a hobo as me alone with the silver. It got so that I just had to
look at the scene of the festivities. It was here, all right, a genuine
Flemish quarter-sawed oak dining-table, all set, and me going to have my
first square meal for ten days. About that time I heard two voices in
the back of the house. One was the girl’s; the other was a baritone that
sounded mighty familiar. I explored farther, and the next clew was a
photograph on the mantel that lifted my hair out of its socket.

It was signed “Your loving brother, John,” and it was the picture of
John Tatum, the manager of Burke’s stables!

I saw my dinner dwindling in the distance. I saw myself breakfasting on
bananas, and says I, “Not on your hard luck.” I wouldn’t swipe the
silver, but, by all the gods of hunger, if there was a scrap to eat in
that dining-room I was going to have it. I ran through the sideboard;
nothing but salt, pepper, vinegar, and mustard. China closet; nothing
but dishes. There was only one more place in the whole room where grub
could be kept. That was a sort of ticket-window arrangement in the far
corner. Footsteps coming; “Last chance,” says I, and breaks for it like
a shot. I grabbed the handle and tore it open.

And there was a large, fine plate of rich, golden, mealy bananas!

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