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"All I did was to let you fall over my foot and bump your
head on the floor. You're a clumsy brute, you know, George, and if you
tried it another time you _might_ dent that dome of yours. Better
accept my offer and be friends."

"Never call you Per--"

"Don't say it!"

"Oh, all right--all right," George agreed plaintively. "And if I
promise, I'm in on that theatre party?"

"That's my offer."

"It's hard," George sighed regretfully--"damn' hard. But whatever
_you_ say goes. I'll keep your secret."

"Good!" P. Sybarite extended one of his small, delicately modelled
hands. "Shake," said he, smiling wistfully.



When they had locked in the Genius of the Place to batten upon itself
until seven o'clock Monday morning, P. Sybarite and Mr. Bross, with at
least every outward semblance of complete amity, threaded the roaring
congestion in narrow-chested Frankfort Street, boldly breasted the
flood tide of homing Brooklynites, won their way through City Hall
Park, and were presently swinging shoulder to shoulder up the sunny
side of lower Broadway.

To be precise, the swinging stride was practised only by Mr. Bross; P.
Sybarite, instinctively aware that any such mode of locomotion would
ill become one of his inches, contented himself with keeping up--his
gait an apparently effortless, tireless, and comfortable amble,
congruent with bowed shoulders, bended head, introspective eyes, and
his aspect in general of patient preoccupation.

From time to time George, who was maintaining an unnatural and painful
silence, his mental processes stagnant with wonder and dull
resentment, eyed his companion askance, with furtive suspicion. Their
association was now one of some seven years' standing; and it seemed a
grievous thing that, after posing so long as the patient butt of his
rude humour, P.S. should have so suddenly turned and proved himself
the better man--and that not mentally alone.

"Lis'n--" George interjected of a sudden.

P. Sybarite started. "Eh?" he enquired blankly.

"I wanna know where you picked up all that classy footwork."

"Oh," returned P.S., depreciatory, "I used to spar a bit with the
fellows when I was a--ah--when I was younger."

"When you was at _what_?" insisted Bross, declining to be fobbed off
with any such flimsy evasion.

"When I was at liberty to."

"Huh! You mean, when you was at college."

"Please yourself," said P. Sybarite wearily.

"Well, you was at college oncet, wasn't you?"

"I was," P.S. admitted with reluctance; "but I never graduated. When I
was twenty-one I had to quit to go to work for Whigham & Wimper."

"G'wan," commented the other. "They ain't been in business twenty-five

"I'm only thirty-one."

"More news for Sweeny. You'll never see forty again."

"That statement," said P. Sybarite with some asperity, "is an uncivil
untruth dictated by a spirit of gratuitous contentiousness--"

"Good God!" cried Bross in alarm. "I'm wrong and you're right and I
won't do it again--and forgive me for livin'!"

"With pleasure," agreed P. Sybarite pleasantly....

"It's a funny world," George resumed in philosophic humour, after a
time. "You wouldn't think I could work in the same dump with you seven
years and only be startin' to find out things about you--like to-day.
I always thought your name was Pete--honest."

"Continue to think so," P. Sybarite advised briefly.

"Your people had money, didn't they, oncet?"

"I've been told so, but if true, it only goes to prove there's nothing
in the theory of heredity...."

"I gotcha," announced Bross, upon prolonged and painful analysis.

"How?" asked P. Sybarite, who had fallen to thinking of other matters.

"I mean, I just dropped to your high-sign to mind my own business. All
right, P.S. Far be it from me to wanta pry into your Past. Besides, I
'm scared to--never can tell what I'll turn up--like, f'rinstance,


"Like that they usta call you when you was innocent, I mean."

To this P. Sybarite made no response; and George subsided into morose
reflections. It irked him sore to remember he had been worsted by the
meek little slip of a bookkeeper trotting so quietly at his elbow.

He was a man of his word, was George Bross; not for anything would he
have gone back on his promise to keep secret that afternoon's
titillating discovery; likewise he was a covetous soul, loath to
forfeit the promised treat; withal he was human (after his kind) and
since reprisals were not barred by their understanding, he began then
and there to ponder the same. One way or another, that day's
humiliation must be balanced; else he might never again hold up his
head in the company of gentlemen of spirit.

But how to compass this desire, frankly puzzled him. It were cowardly
to contemplate knockin' the block off'n P. Sybarite; the disparity of
their statures forebade; moreover, George entertained a vexatious
suspicion that P. Sybarite's explanation on his recent downfall had
not been altogether disingenuous; he didn't quite believe it had been
due solely to his own clumsiness and an adventitious foot.

"That sort of thing don't never _happen_," George assured himself
privately. "I was outclassed, all right, all right. What I wanna know
is: where'd he couple up with the ring-wisdom?"

Repeated if covert glances at his companion supplied no clue; P.
Sybarite's face remained as uncommunicative as well-to-do relations by
marriage; his shadowy, pale and wistful smile denoted, if anything,
only an almost childlike pleasure in anticipation of the evening's
promised amusement.

Suddenly it was borne in upon the shipping clerk that in the probable
arrangement of the proposed party he would be expected to dance
attendance upon Miss Violet Prim, leaving P. Sybarite free to devote
himself to Miss Lessing. Whereupon George scowled darkly.

"P.S.'s got his nerve with him," he protested privately, "to cop out
the one pippin in the house all for his lonely. It's a wonder he
wouldn't slip her a chanct to enjoy herself with summon' her own

"Not," he admitted ruefully, "that I'd find it healthy to pull any
rough stuff with Vi lookin' on. I don't even like to think of myself
lampin' any other skirt while Violet's got _her_ wicks trimmed and
burnin' bright."

Then he made an end to envy for the time being, and turned his
attention to more pressing concerns; but though he pondered with all
his might and main, it seemed impossible to excogitate any way to
square his account with P. Sybarite. And when, at Thirty-eighth
Street, the latter made an excuse to part with George, instead of
going home in his company, the shipping clerk was too thoroughly
disgusted to question the subterfuge. He was, indeed, a bit relieved;
the temporary dissociation promised just so much more time for
solitary conspiracy.

Turning west, he was presently prompted by that arch-comedian Destiny
(disguised as Thirst) to drop into Clancey's for a shell of beer.

Now in Clancey's George found a crumpled copy of the _Evening Journal_
almost afloat on the high-tide of the dregs-drenched bar. Rescuing the
sheet, he smoothed it out, examined (grinning) its daily meed of
comics, read every word on the "Sports Page," ploughed through the
weekly vaudeville charts, scanned the advertisements, and at length
reviewed the news columns with a listless eye.

It may have been the stimulation of his drink, but it was probably
nothing more nor less than jealousy that sparked his sluggish
imagination as he contemplated a two-column reproduction in coarse
half-tone of a photograph entitled "Marian Blessington." Slowly the
light dawned upon mental darkness; slowly his grin broadened and
became fixed--even as his great scheme for the confusion and
confounding of P. Sybarite took shape and matured.

He left Clancey's presently, stepping high, with a mind elate;
foretasting victory; convinced that he harboured within him the
makings of a devil of a fellow, all the essential qualifications of
(not to put _too_ fine a point upon it) a regular wag....



With a feeling of some guilt, becoming in one who stoops to unworthy
artifice, P. Sybarite walked slowly on up Broadway a little way, then
doubled on his trail, going softly until a swift and stealthy survey
westward from the corner of Thirty-eighth Street assured him that
George was not skulking thereabouts to spy upon him. Then mending his
pace, he held briskly on toward the shopping district.

From afar the clock recently restored to its coign high above unlovely
Greeley Square warned him that his hour was fleeting: in twenty
minutes it would be six o'clock; at six, sharp, Blessington's would
close its doors. Distressed, he scurried on, crossed Thirty-fourth
Street, aimed himself courageously for the wide entrance of the
department store, battled manfully through the retreating army of
feminine shoppers--and gained the glove counter with a good fifteen
minutes to spare.

And there he halted, confused and blushing in recognition of
circumstances as unpropitious as unforeseen.

These consisted in three girls behind the counter and one customer
before it; the latter commanding the attention and services of a fair
young woman with a pleasant manner; while of the two disengaged
saleswomen, one bold, disdainful brunette was preoccupied with her
back hair and prepared mutinously to ignore anything remotely
resembling a belated customer whose demands might busy her beyond the
closing hour, and the other had a merry eye and a receptive smile for
the hesitant little man with the funny clothes and the quaint pink
face of embarrassment. In most abject consternation, P. Sybarite
turned and fled.

Weathering the end of the glove counter and shaping a course through
the aisle that paralleled it, he found himself in a channel of
horrors, threatened on one side by a display of most intimate
lingerie, belaced and beribboned distractingly, on the other by a long
rank of slender and gracious (if stolid) feminine limbs, one and all
neatly amputated above their bended knees and bedight in silken
hosiery to shame the rainbow; while to right and left, behind these
impudent revelations, lurked sirens with shameless eyes and mouths of
scarlet mockery.

A cold sweat damped the forehead of P.

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