By H. C. Witwer THE LADY OF LYONS, N. Y. (i.) She'll never look more beautiful than she did that wild night when she stood beside me in Fairfax's deadfall and told me to make good! I'll never be as brainless again as I was that same evening when I let her go with a paltry handshake. A fool and his money is soon parted! Imagine a chilly good-by to the best looker since Venus the Milo, when I might of cinched matters then and there. I could of kissed her and she wouldn't of shrieked, but it took me many a day to find that part of it out. Well, when she told me to leave Fairfax Falls flat on its collar bone and put my- self over, she started something! Who was she? Wait ——I'm going to haul off and broadcast the low-down on the whole business. This may not be as pungent as Romeo & Juliet, but at least it's shorter. Speaking of truffles, the first thing everybody usually asks me is how did I ever manage to climb out of the ash can and get to the top of the heap. I read the other day where a great man was asked that same question. "To what do you attribute your success?" was the way it was put to him. They thought he was going to say it was the influence of his mother, the love of the little woman he was wed to, his early religious training, working twenty-four hours a day, or something like that. Well, he crossed 'em! "To what do I attribute my success?" he says. "Why——to my ability, of course!" There's a guy after my own heart——he had the courage not to be modest! Altho I've yet to experience the sensations of being called anything else but Bill, not counting oaths, my rightful name is William R. Grimm, Esq. I gradu- ated with high honors from the University of Expe- rience and I'm entitled to place T. D. after my name if the mood should hit me. T. D. is a ten-letter vertical word meaning "Taxi Driver," and don't curl your lip—— we can't all start life in Buckingham Palace. I guess you figure me hard-boiled. Well, if you'd been in hot water as much as I have, you'd be hard-boiled too! That initial R in my name stands for the word Reginald and was a big concession on the part of my man-mountain father to my sainted and romantical mother, who, I understand, fondly wished to baptize me Percy. Dad was a roaring-voiced building con- tractor of the old two-fisted school——a handsome giant, from his pictures. Mother was his exact opposite—— frail, dainty, refined. Their entirely different composi- tions has staged many a clash in me! From my father I got my brawn and from my mother my ambition. Both parents was lost at sea when I was a kid, and the pennies which should of come to me was quickly dissipated by a equally dissi- pated uncle. It's certainly a crime that the only rela- tions we can pick out for ourselves is our wives, ain't it? Well, being thrown on my own at a age when I should of been a pupil in somebody's high school, my intentions has always been much better than my gram- mar. If they wasn't, I could be hung! I guess I've about covered the situation with regards to myself, except that I might add that I never pick a fight and I never duck one. My motto is, "If hit on one cheek, turn the other——and if hit on the other, knock 'em cold!" Otherwise I'm polite to one and all, know my groceries, can wear a dress suit without somebody asking me to show them their table, read a lot to give myself a synthetic education and watch my speech like Puss watches a mouse. It ain't half as hard to come up from the gutter as it is to keep from bringing the gutter up with you. That last one's a real feat! At the winsome age of twenty, which is where I'm going to begin giving you this load of my adventures, I was foiling the poorhouse by operating the only taxi in Fairfax Falls, N. Y. Husky, healthy, and not exactly resembling a gorilla, I didn't have a worry or a dime in the world. As I was still young enough to have dreams in the daytime, I firmly intended to check out of the taxi racket and win fame and fortune at some- thing, but I hadn't located my trick as yet. Neverthe- less, I'd made up my mind that some day a glass- peneled door was going to have on it in gold letters, W. REGINALD GRIMM and underneath, PRESIDENT. Whether that would be followed by "Of the United States" or "Of the United Garbage Company," I didn't know or care! I wasn't very fluent with money while I was bound- ing around at the wheel of a taxi, but I was certainly seeing a lot of life. What I missed in jack I made up in laughs! I also learned a lot of things which didn't do me no harm in later years——few people has as good a chance to view human nature as a taxi driver has. Experience is a hard school——no Yale or Harvard——but for the pupils which will pay attention to Teacher it's a great one! My mock taxi, built by myself personally from junked parts of a flock of different cars, was something to think about. It cost me less than $150, and at that price it was a steal. There was room enough for Con- gress to meet in the thing and it had three speeds: hither, thither, and yon. It would go anywheres——by freight. Around Fairfax Falls they called it the Leap- ing Tuna, but my name for it was the Gambler Six, as it was nearly always broke. There was a garage in this slab run by Skip Mullen who ground a mean valve, but I done my own repair work after one interview with that baby. I asked him what I could do to stop my motor from smoking, and he says to keep my tobacco where the motor can't get at it! Skip writes vaudeville acts for a living now. . . . Left-Hook O'Brien and Butch Ford was my two best pals in Fairfax Falls. In spite of the fact that we've known each other for a dozen years now, by a strange coincidence they're still my friends. O'Brien was a classy lightweight box fighter and Butch was his trainer and second——no drawing-room wows, but two of the squarest shooters which ever put on a collar! Left- Hook O'Brien was born Izzy Rabinowitz, but took that Irish name for business purposes. He was nobody's fool. Once when I kidded him about being a Jewish Sinn Feiner, he grinned and answered me this: "I like to have the crowd with me when I go in there! Well, you listen to 'em the next time you see a box fight. You'll hear 'Kill the Wop!' 'Knock the Jew stiff!' 'Smack 'at Swede silly!' 'Flatten the big Limey!' But——did you ever hear a fight crowd yell, 'Kill the Irishman!'?" A pay-off, what? O'Brien's one and only ambition was to cop the light- weight title, and Butch Ford's was to wake up every morning of his life with five bucks in his kick. The first big turning point in my life arrived when Butch got me to drive him and Left-Hook O'Brien to Rochester, where O'Brien was to box Knockout Burns before going on to New York City for some more important quarrels. I'd seen O'Brien go a half dozen times before and I knew he was good, and so did the lightweight champion, which didn't wish no part of my boy friend. On paper, O'Brien figured to stop Knock- out Burns in a couple of frames, and it looked like a great chance for me to win a few nickels for myself. Likewise, I'd see the brawl from a ring-side seat which Butch staked me to. As if that wasn't enough, business comes along and combines itself with the pleasure I looked forward to having. Just before I pulled out of town I got a call to stop at Lyons the day after the fight, pick up a school-teacher named Miss Baxter and haul her back to Fairfax Falls, where she was carded to do her stuff at our new schoolhouse. Like everybody else, Left-Hook O'Brien rated Knock- out Burns a push-over, and he trained for the battle by getting his nails manicured. At that, he give Burns a fearful pasting——made a chopping block of him——but he couldn't put him away. As game a punching bag and as tough as a life sentence, Burns was in there to stay the limit. That's what he managed to do, tho in every round O'Brien done everything to this gil but run away with his wife! Burns being a local idol, the fair-minded referee called it a draw. If that scrim- mage was a draw, so was the war! However, I bet that my buddy would slap Burns for a loop, and that rotten decision cost me my lifetime savings——thirty- four iron men. I had to borrow money for gas to get home on. Not so good! Came at dawn, as they say on the screen, and right after a two-bit breakfast I shoved off for Lyons to get this school-teacher I was due to bring back to Fairfax Falls. On the way out of Rochester a female voice suddenly calls my name when I'm stopped by a traffic signal, and I immediately pull over to the curb, as the voice happens to belong to Pansy Pilkington. Don't laugh——Pansy's made many a wiser boy than me stop, look and listen! It was less than a year later that this palatable young lady was to stand New York on its head from the front row of the Follies. I know you never heard of no Pansy Pilkington in the Follies. Neither did nobody else. However, I ain't going to tip you the name she used there, as it's a hobby of mine to be a gentleman and Pansy was supposed to of hit Broadway direct from Vassar. But at this time she was just a lowly biscuit shooter at the Commercial House in Fairfax Falls and probably thought Flo Ziegfeld was a ball player. The super- flapper of the burg was as soothing to the eye as green goggles, Pansy had that schoolgirl complexion without the bother of going to school. She was a disturbance of the first water, there's no question about that; still, she never made me feverish. I guess I was Pansy- proof. For one thing, I figured it would take too much Jack to step out with this Jill! Her arms was full of bundles, and she dumped some on the front seat of my taxi beside me with a sigh of relief. "Hello, Pansy," I says. "You look keen. How come you're in Rochester?" "Well, Bill, I got sick of being a Mail-Order Mary!" she smiles. "You know——'send us only two dollars and get this beautiful Paris creation!' and 'Simply sign the coupon and the postman will toss this almost-fur in your door!' I've left that stuff to the Dumb Doras. I've been on a shopping carouse!" "You wouldn't fool me, would you?" I grins back. "What did you use for money?" "I love that!" says Pansy indignantly. "Suppose I told you I drew a month's salary in advance?" "Be your age, Pansy," I says. "If you told me that, I'd get hysterical! That guy you work for ain't putting nothing out. He's too stingy to harbor a suspicion! Why———" "Oh, that reminds me," butts in Pansy, opening her handbag excitedly, "to-day's the boss's birthday. Say ——listen, Bill. Run over to that gents' furnishing store and pick out a nice tie for him——one you'd wear your- self. Here, this is all I have left!" With that she hands me half a dollar. "I can get him a collar for this, but not no tie," I says. "But I have no more money," says Pansy, trying out some eye work on me. "Maybe you——er———" "There ain't a chance of putting the bee on me either," I told her. "I'm as flat as a ballroom floor!" And I explains to her what that Left-Hook O'Brien- Knockout Burns shambles done to me. Pansy looks vexed. "Well, run over, anyways, and see what you can get for a man for fifty cents," she says. "I'll watch your taxi." I prowled into this swell haberdashery, and they immediately suspected I wasn't by no means Vincent Astor, so they treated me accordingly. "I want to get a tasty tie, and I got half a buck to squander," I tell a haughty clerk. "What would you suggest?" The clerk gives me the up and down and yawns in my face. "I'd suggest another shop," he says and walks away. A few doors above this drum there was a five-and- ten-cent store. I blowed in there and bought Pansy's boss five ties! "I wish I could think of a little speech to make when I give him these," says Pansy. "Just say, 'Here's some ties for your birthday——try and wear 'em!'" I says. "C'mon, hop in and I'll take you back home with me!" I'd begun to think of the long voyage to Fairfax Falls with nothing for company but that school-teacher I had to get at Lyons——probably a comic valentine. "I'd love to go back with you, Bill," says Pansy, "but——well, I have my return ticket and———" "Here's a chance to play a mean trick on the railroad by not using it," I interrupts. "I got to pick up another lady at Lyons——she's going to teach at our new school——so you needn't be afraid to go with me." "Afraid of you?" says Pansy, giving me a killing look. "Why, I'd never be afraid of you, Bill. I think you're a dear." "I wouldn't be surprized," I says. "My father was a Elk!" As a matter of fact, it was me which was afraid of Pansy. "As for this school-teacher," continues Pansy, climb- ing into the seat beside me and dumping her bundles into the back of the cab, "let her walk to Fairfax Falls to buy herself a pair of roller skates or something!" But tho a long ride with just Pansy looked plenty appetizing, I needed the sugar there was in it for me if I took his school-teacher back, so I rolled into Lyons, pulled up at the address I'd been given——and got the shock of my young life! Somehow I'd got the idea that this Miss Baxter would be a hatchet-faced old maid as thin as a dime and just as thrilling. I looked for horn-rimmed glasses, hair plastered back flat, with a voice and costume about like a man's. That's the way Miss Tice, our other school-teacher, checked up——a girl which would be safe anywheres, and I don't mean maybe! Instead of that, Miss Baxter was simply a panic! Around my own age, garbed in what Fairfax Falls would be wearing about five years later, the latest bob, the most recent everything else, a unbeatable argument for short skirts——well, a breath taker! She just out- classed Pansy, which was anything but a eyesore herself. Pansy looked three or four times as surprized as I was, and she presented the Lady of Lyons with a peeved stare. Pansy could of been in Finland as far as Miss Baxter was concerned. "I've been waiting an hour for you," this remarkable and highly annoyed school-teacher says to me. "Listen!" I says, somewhat dazed. "Don't get mad over that hour's wait——I been waiting twenty years for you!" Pansy's scornful snort didn't stop us looking at each other for maybe half a minute, during which Miss Baxter executed a blush which ruined me. Then with a quick frown she discouraged any further efforts on my part, but as I hopped out and swung open the door of the cab for her, her eyes was smiling if her lips wasn't. With a murderous glance at me, Pansy got off the front seat and stepped in the back too. She was what you might call fuming. I introduced her to Miss Baxter and explaining how I happened to go out on a call carrying a girl with me. Inwardly I was wishing Pansy was in Portugal, not that I disliked her, but. . . . However, Miss Baxter seemed satisfied with my expla- nation and made room for Pansy beside her. Then begun a ride to Fairfax Falls, which to me was a riot, no kidding! Here I am with two beautiful girls and a twenty-five-mile drive staring me in the face and the fact that they're both there makes it out of the question for me to click with one or the other. It was a typical case of how happy I could be with either, was the other dear charmer away! In the back of the cab the girls is breaking their necks to be polite to each other, but conversation died a natural death after a few minutes and they didn't even attempt to fake it. However, I was goaled by Miss Baxter——Barbara Baxter, as I manage to eaves- drop——and I took a noble try at promoting myself. I managed to exchange some careless words with her which soon steamed Pansy and caused that young lady to high-hat me. That seemed to give Barbara much secret amusement, and I guess that's the only reason she talked to me at all. She must of thought I was a fearful Patsy, then. I got so interested in Barbara that I made a wrong turn on a detour and lost the state road. So I stopped outside a garage. "What's the best way for us to get to Fairfax Falls from here?" I asked the near-mechanic which come out in answer to the horn. This clown walks all around my home-made taxi, looking at it like it was the first one he ever seen in his born days. "You wish to go to Fairfax Falls in that boiler?" he inquires, like he can't believe his ears. "Absolutely," I says. "How will I get there?" "Well, if it was me, I'd pray for a miracle!" he answers, curling his lip. With that he walks into the garage and both them girls laughed their heads off. But I found the road, and no further noteworthy events happened till we're within a few miles of Fairfax Falls. Then it was different. The old boat is rattling off a noble twenty-five miles a hour when the sudden, hair-raising wail of a siren makes the girls jump. Through the rear-view mirror I peg a big, costly speed wagon, cut along racing lines, roaring over the road behind me. I recognized the car and I likewise knew that the proprietor of same had no right to use that siren, as he was neither a police car, a fire engine or a ambulance. I started to tell the nervous girls that, when this bozo, doing fifty mile a hour if he was mov- ing at all, crowds me on a turn and we go crashing into a ditch with Pansy yelling murder. I still remember there wasn't a single squawk come from Barbara Bax- ter——she was a thoroughbred, that's positive! However, we landed right side up and there was nobody hurt but my mudguards and temper. While I'm taking stock of the grief, our opponent drives slowly back round the turn, stops beside us, and gets out of his car. He was no stranger to me, being no less than Jack Fairfax, the sheik of Fairfax falls and the first villain I ever met with a name like a hero. Roughly about the same age, me and Fairfax has been first-class enemies of years standing, our private war starting long before when I knocked this tomato stiff for deliberately running his car over my dog. That's the tip-off on the kind of guy he was——one of these babies with a chin you love to touch! Jack Fairfax as something of a mystery in our town, where, in spite of the fact that it was named after his family, he was as popular as typhoid fever. His people had lived in Europe for years, and Fairfax himself aced around mostly in Rochester and New York City, tho nearly all Fairfax Falls was owned by his parents. He simply drove in every now and then to burn the natives up by Ritzing 'em, while showing some of his rich, sarcastical, cake-eating friends the village named after him. Amongst the Fairfax properties was a crumbling old mansion on the outskirts of the town which some time before had been spread all over the Sunday magazine sections of the newspapers as a haunted house. It was still looked on that way by most of Fairfax Falls, and the citizens give it a wide berth in passing by. You couldn't get a kid within a mile of it! Strange noises, just a few of the "spirit signs" which half the town swore to and the other half laughed off. Personally, I was what you might call neutral, but through the fact that Jack Fairfax constantly visited the place and bragged about doing it, I figured the haunted-house thing was apple sauce. Well, when Fairfax come back that day after run- ning me into the ditch I was naturally fit to be tied, but on account of Barbara Baxter being there I didn't smack him down. Regarding the subject of girls going wild over cave men——well, some do and some don't! I was taking no reckless chances. Dressed like a fashion plate, with a cigaret sticking out of his mouth from a long, gold holder, this proper Humpty Dumpty stood there sneering at me, and, of course, alongside of him I looked like a tramp. "I'm going to complain to the authorities about that remarkable conveyance of yours, Grimm," he says, with a nasty grin. "It's a menace to navigation!" Pansy laughed, but Barbara didn't. I seen her coldly sizing him up. "You should be heartily ashamed of yourself!" bursts out Barbara warmly. "We might have been killed!" It was then that Fairfax lamped her for the first time. One amazed look at her floored him——you could see that in his very readable face. Off comes his swagger cap. It hadn't come off for Pansy. "Don't think because you're still on your feet that I'll forget this, Fairfax!" I says. "If we was alone, I'd lay you like linoleum, you big false alarm!" But he pays me not the faintest attention. he's all eyes for Barbara Baxter. "I——why——I——I gave you the horn and I tried to avoid crowding you, but I——I was going too fast!" he stammers, talking directly to her. "I'm terribly sorry! Won't you let me take you the rest of the way into town?" At that I dropped the jack I was getting ready to raise the front wheels with and stared from him to Barbara. I noticed Pansy staring at me, and her face was good and angry. Fairfax had everything I didn't have——clothes, class, money, a swell car, a great line of chatter. Regardless of the miles there was between 'em in every other way, Fairfax and Barbara belonged in the same drawing-rooms, that was a cinch. I was just a taxi driver——where did I rate any favors from her? Barbara hesitated and looked thoughtfully at me, while Fairfax's hungry eyes never left her face. He was hanging on her answer like it as a matter of life or death. I felt pretty low. To me it was——a matter of life or death to my hopes! "How long will it take you to make repairs?" Bar- bara asks me. Five minutes!" I says before the words was hardly out of her pretty mouth. "You're crazy!" snorts Fairfax, and he pulls open the door of my taxi. "If you'll step out, Miss———" "I shall wait——you needn't bother!" interrupts Bar- bara, with icicles on every word, and my heart tries to climb out through my ribs. "Get away from that cab, and make it snappy!" I bawls at Fairfax, taking a step toward him. He moved slowly away and I could swear there was a touch of contempt in Barbara's glance at him. He seen it too, but the ignored and enraged Pansy give him a out——enabled him to take the air without choos- ing me. "You can ride me into town, Mr. Fairfax," says Pansy, and hopping out of my taxi she flounces into the front seat of Fairfax's bus. Fairfax hadn't invited her and this boy scout wasn't particularly overjoyed at the idea of rolling into Fair- fax falls with the Commercial House waitress by his side, beautiful or not. However, he had no choice and he got away with a grinding of gears and probably a grinding of teeth too. he last I got was a poisonous glare from Pansy. "I'm sorry I ain't got some magazines or something in the car to amuse you," I said calmly to Barbara, when they'd gone in a cloud of dust, "because it's going to take me a good hour and lots of equally good luck to get this mechanical toy where it'll roll!" A flash of alarm in her lovely face is quickly chased by anger. "What do you mean?" she demands. "Why did you tell me you could repair it in five minutes?" "I wouldn't fool you——it was because I wanted you to stay!" I says truthfully, opening up the hood and gazing at the motor. "You're having a romantical adventure——don't scream!"The Lady of Lyons, N. Y., by H. C. Witwer from The World's One Hundred Best Short Stories [In Ten Volumes], Grant Overton, Editor-in-Chief; Volume Ten: Humor; pp. 93 - 107. Copyright © 1927, by Funk & Wagnalls Company, New York and London. [Printed in the United States of America]
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