Three men sat in the Cosmic Club discussing the question: "What's the matter with Jones?" Waldemar, the oldest of the conferees, was the owner, and at times the operator, of an important and decent newspaper. His heavy face wore the expression of good-humored power, characteristic of the experienced and successful journalist. Beside him sat Robert Bertram, the club idler, slender and languidly elegant. The third member of the conference was Jones himself.
Average Jones had come by his nickname inevitably. His parents had foredoomed him to it when they furnished him with the initials A. V. R. E. as preface to his birthright of J for Jones. His character apparently justified the chance concomitance. He was, so to speak, a composite photograph of any thousand well-conditioned, clean-living Americans between the ages of twenty-five and thirty. Happily, his otherwise commonplace face was relieved by the one unfailing characteristic of composite photographs, large, deep-set and thoughtful eyes. Otherwise he would have passed in any crowd, and nobody would have noticed him pass. Now, at twenty-seven, he looked back over the five years since his graduation from college and wondered what he had done with them; and at the four previous years of undergraduate life and wondered how he had done so well with those and why he had not in some manner justified the parting words of his favorite professor.
"You have one rare faculty, Jones. You can, when you choose, sharpen the pencil of your mind to a very fine point. Specialize, my boy, specialize."
If the recipient of this admonition had specialized in anything, it was in life. Having twenty-five thousand a year of his own he might have continued in that path indefinitely, but for two influences. One was an irruptive craving within him to take some part in the dynamic activities of the surrounding world. The other was the "freak" will of his late and little-lamented uncle, from whom he had his present income, and his future expectations of some ten millions. Adrian Van Reypen Egerton had, as Waldemar once put it, "--one into the mayor's chair with a good name and come out with a block of ice stock." In a will whose cynical humor was the topic of its day, Mr. Egerton jeered posthumously at the public which he had despoiled, and promised restitution, of a sort, through his heir.
"Therefore," he had written, "I give and bequeath to the said Adrian Van Reypen Egerton Jones, the residue of my property, the principal to be taken over by him at such time as he shall have completed five years of continuous residence in New York City. After such time the virus of the metropolis will have worked through his entire being. He will squander his unearned and undeserved fortune, thus completing the vicious circle, and returning the millions acquired by my political activities, in a poisoned shower upon the city, for which, having bossed, bullied and looted it, I feel no sentiment other than contempt."
"And now," remarked Waldemar in his heavy, rumbling voice, "you aspire to disappoint that good old man."
"It's only human nature, you know," said Average Jones. "When a man puts a ten-million-dollar curse on you and suggests that you haven't the backbone of a shrimp, you--you--"
"--naturally yearn to prove him a liar," supplied Bertram.
"Exactly. Anyway, I've no taste for dissipation, either moral or financial. I want action; something to do. I'm bored in this infernal city."
"The wail of the unslaked romanticist," commented Bertram.
"Romanticist nothing!" protested the other. "My ambitions are practical enough if I could only get 'em stirred up."
"Exactly. Boredom is simply romanticism with a morning-after thirst. You're panting for romance, for something bizarre. Egypt and St. Petersburg and Buenos Ayres and Samoa have all become commonplace to you. You've overdone them. That's why you're back here in New York waiting with stretched nerves for the Adventure of Life to cat-creep up from behind and toss the lariat of rainbow dreams over your shoulders."
Waldemar laughed. "Not a bad diagnosis. Why don't you take up a hobby, Mr. Jones?"
"What kind of a hobby?"
"Any kind. The club is full of hobby-riders. Of all people that I know, they have the keenest appetite for life. Look at old Denechaud; he was a misanthrope until he took to gathering scarabs. Fenton, over there, has the finest collection of circus posters in the world. Bellerding's house is a museum of obsolete musical instruments. De Gay collects venomous insects from all over the world; no harmless ones need apply. Terriberry has a mania for old railroad tickets. Some are really very curious. I've often wished I had the time to be a crank. It's a happy life."
"What line would you choose?" asked Bertram languidly.
"Nobody has gone in for queer advertisements yet, I believe," replied the older man. "If one could take the time to follow them up---but it would mean all one's leisure."
"Would it be so demanding a career?" said Average Jones, smiling.
"Decidedly. I once knew a man who gave away twenty dollars daily on clues from the day's news. He wasn't bored for lack of occupation."
"But the ordinary run of advertising is nothing more than an effort to sell something by yelling in print," objected Average Jones.
"Is it? Well perhaps you don't look in the right place."
Waldemar reached for the morning's copy of the Universal and ran his eye down the columns of "classified" matter. "Hark to this," he said, and read:
"Is there any work on God's green earth for a man who has just got to have it?"
"WANTED--A venerable looking man with white beard and medical degree. Good pay to right applicant."
"What's that?" asked Average Jones with awakened interest.
"Only a quack medical concern looking for a stall to impress their come-ons," explained Waldemar.
Average Jones leaned over to scan the paper in his turn.
"Here's one," said he, and read:
WANTED--Performer on B-flat trombone. Can use at once. Apply with instrument, after 1 p. m. 300 East 100th Street.
"That seems ordinary enough," said Waldemar.
"What's it doing in a daily paper? There must be--er--technical publications--er--journals, you know, for this sort of demand."
"When Average's words come slow, you've got him interested," commented Bertram. "Sure sign."
"Nevertheless, he's right," said Waldemar. "It is rather misplaced."
"How is this for one that says what it means?" said Bertram.
WANTED--At once, a brass howitzer and a man who isn't afraid to handle it. Mrs. Anne Cullen, Pier 49 1/2 East River.
"The woman who is fighting the barge combine," explained Waldemar. "Not so good as it looks. She's bluffing."
"Anyway, I'd like a shy at this business," declared Average Jones with sudden conviction. "It looks to me like something to do."
"Make it a business, then," advised Waldemar. "If you care really to go in for it, my newspaper would be glad to pay for information such as you might collect. We haven't time, for example, to trace down fraudulent advertisers. If you could start an enterprise of that sort, you'd certainly find it amusing, and, at times, perhaps, even adventurous."
"I wouldn't know how to establish it," objected Average Jones.
The newspaper owner drew a rough diagram on a sheet of paper and filled it in with writing, crossing out and revising liberally. Divided, upon his pattern, into lines, the final draft read:
HAVE YOU BEEN STUNG? Thousands have. Thousands will be. They're Laying for You. WHO? The Advertising Crooks. A. JONES Ad-Visor Can Protect You Against Them. Before Spending Your Money Call on Him. Advice on all Subjects Connected with Newspaper, Magazine or Display Advertising. Free Consultation to Persons Unable to Pay. Call or Write, Enclosing Postage. This Is On The Level.
"Ad-Visor! Do you expect me to blight my budding career by a poisonous pun like that?" demanded Average Jones with a wry face.
"It may be a poisonous pun, but it's an arresting catch-word," said Waldemar, unmoved. "Single column, about fifty lines will do it in nice, open style. Caps and lower case, and black-faced type for the name and title. Insert twice a week in every New York and Brooklyn paper."
"Isn't it--er--a little blatant?" suggested Bertram, with lifted eyebrows.
"Blatant?" repeated its inventor. "It's more than that. It's howlingly vulgar. It's a riot of glaring yellow. How else would you expect to catch the public?"
"Suppose, then, I do burst into flame to this effect?" queried the prospective "Ad-Visor." "Et apres? as we proudly say after spending a week in Paris."
"Apres? Oh, plenty of things. You hire an office, a clerk, two stenographers and a clipping export, and prepare to take care of the work that comes in. You'll be flooded," promised Waldemar.
"And between times I'm to go skipping about, chasing long white whiskers and brass howitzers and B-flat trombones, I suppose."
"Until you get your work systematized you'll have no time for skipping. Within six months, if you're not sandbagged or jailed on fake libel suits, you'll have a unique bibliography of swindles. Then I'll begin to come and buy your knowledge to keep my own columns clean."
The speaker looked up to meet the gaze of an iron-gray man with a harsh, sallow face.
"Excuse my interrupting," said the new-comer.
"Just one question, Waldemar. Who's going to be the nominee?"
"Linder? Surely not! Why, his name hasn't been heard."
"It will be."
"His Federal job?"
"He resigns in two weeks."
"His record will kill him."
"What record? You and I know he's a grafter. But can we prove anything? His clerk has always handled all the money."
"Wasn't there an old scandal--a woman case?"' asked the questioner vaguely.
"That Washington man's wife? Too old. Linder would deny it flatly, and there would be no witnesses. The woman is dead--killed by his brutal treatment of her, they say. But the whole thing was hushed up at the time by Linder's pull, and when the husband threatened to kill him Linder quietly set a commissioner of insanity on the case and had the man put away. He's never appeared since. No, that wouldn't be politically effective."
The gray man nodded, and walked away, musing.
"Egbert, the traction boss," explained Waldemar. "We're generally on opposite sides, but this time we're both against Linder. Egbert wants a cheaper man for mayor. I want a straighter one. And I could get him this year if Linder wasn't so well fortified. However, to get back to our project, Mr. Jones--"
Get back to it they did with such absorption that when the group broke up, several hours later, Average Jones was committed, by plan and rote, to the new and hopeful adventure of Life.
In the great human hunt which ever has been and ever shall be till "the last bird flies into the last light"--some call it business, some call it art, some call it love, and a very few know it for what it is, the very mainspring of existence--the path of the pursuer and the prey often run obscurely parallel. What time the Honorable William Linder matured his designs on the mayoralty, Average Jones sat in a suite of offices in Astor Court, a location which Waldemar had advised as being central, expensive, and inspirational of confidence, and considered, with a whirling brain, the minor woes of humanity. Other people's troubles had swarmed down upon him in answer to his advertised offer of help, as sparrows flock to scattered bread crumbs. Mostly these were of the lesser order of difficulties; but for what he gave in advice and help the Ad-Visor took payment in experience and knowledge of human nature. Still it was the hard, honest study, and the helpful toil which held him to his task, rather than the romance and adventure which he had hoped for and Waldemar had foretold--until, in a quiet, street in Brooklyn, of which he had never so much as heard, there befell that which, first of many events, justified the prophetic Waldemar and gave Average Jones a part in the greater drama of the metropolis. The party of the second part was the Honorable William Linder.
Mr., Linder sat at five P. m., of an early summer day, behind lock and bolt. The third floor front room of his ornate mansion on Brooklyn's Park Slope was dedicated to peaceful thought. Sprawled in a huge and softly upholstered chair at the window, he took his ease in his house. The chair had been a recent gift from an anonymous admirer whose political necessities, the Honorable Mr. Linder idly surmised, had not yet driven him to reveal his identity. Its occupant stretched his shoeless feet, as was his custom, upon the broad window-sill, flooded by the seasonable warmth of sunshine, the while he considered the ripening mayoralty situation. He found it highly satisfactory. In the language of his inner man, it was a cinch.
Below, in Kennard Street, a solitary musician plodded. His pretzel-shaped brass rested against his shoulder. He appeared to be the "scout" of one of those prevalent and melancholious German bands, which, under Brooklyn's easy ordinances, are privileged to draw echoes of the past writhing from their forgotten recesses. The man looked slowly about him as if apprising potential returns. His gravid glance encountered the prominent feet in the third story window of the Linder mansion, and rested. He moved forward. Opposite the window he paused. He raised the mouthpiece to his lips and embarked on a perilous sea of notes from which the tutored ear might have inferred that once popular ditty, Egypt.
Love of music was not one of the Honorable William Linder's attributes. An irascible temper was. Of all instruments the B-flat trombone possesses the most nerve-jarring tone. The master of the mansion leaped from his restful chair. Where his feet had ornamented the coping his face now appeared. Far out he leaned, and roared at the musician below. The brass throat blared back at him, while the soloist, his eyes closed in the ecstasy of art, brought the "verse" part of his selection to an excruciating conclusion, half a tone below pitch. Before the chorus there was a brief pause for effect. In this pause, from Mr. Linder's open face a voice fell like a falling star. Although it did not cry "Excelsior," its output of vocables might have been mistaken, by a casual ear, for that clarion call. What the Honorable Mr. Linder actually shouted was:
The performer upturned a mild and vacant face. "What you say?" he inquired in a softly Teutonic accent.
The Honorable William Linder made urgent gestures, like a brakeman.
"Go away! Move on!"
The musician smiled reassuringly.
"I got already paid for this," he explained.
Up went the brass to his lips again. The tonal stairway which leads up to the chorus of Egypt rose in rasping wailfulness. It culminated in an excessive, unendurable, brazen shriek--and the Honorable William Linder experienced upon the undefended rear of his person the most violent kick of a lifetime not always devoted to the arts of peace. It projected him clear of the window-sill. His last sensible vision was the face of the musician, the mouth absurdly hollow and pursed above the suddenly removed mouthpiece. Then an awning intercepted the politician's flight. He passed through this, penetrated a second and similar stretch of canvas shading the next window below, and lay placid on his own front steps with three ribs caved in and a variegated fracture of the collar-bone. By the time the descent was ended the German musician had tucked his brass under his arm and was hurrying, in panic, down the street, his ears still ringing with the concussion which had blown the angry householder from his own front window. He was intercepted by a running policeman.
"Where was the explosion?" demanded the officer.
"Explosion? I hear a noise in the larch house on the corner," replied the musician dully.
The policeman grabbed his arm. "Come along back. You fer a witness! Come on; you an' yer horn."
"It iss not a horn," explained the German patiently, "'it iss a B-flat trombone."
Along with several million other readers, Average Jones followed the Linder "bomb outrage" through the scandalized head-lines of the local press. The perpetrator, declared the excited journals, had been skilful. No clue was left. The explosion had taken care of that. The police (with the characteristic stupidity of a corps of former truck-drivers and bartenders, decorated with brass buttons and shields and without further qualification dubbed "detectives") vacillated from theory to theory. Their putty-and-pasteboard fantasies did not long survive the Honorable William Linder's return to consciousness and coherence. An "inside job," they had said. The door was locked and bolted, Mr. Linder declared, and there was no possible place for an intruder to conceal himself. Clock-work, then.
"How would any human being guess what time to set it for," demanded the politician in disgust, "when I never know, myself, where I'm going to be at any given hour of any given day?"
"Then that Dutch horn-player threw the bomb," propounded the head of the "Detective Bureau" ponderously.
"Of course; tossed it right up, three stories, and kept playing his infernal trombone with the other hand all the time. You ought to be carrying a hod!"
Nevertheless, the police hung tenaciously to the theory that the musician was involved, chiefly because they had nothing else to hang to. The explosion had been very localized, the room not generally wrecked; but the chair which seemed to be the center of disturbance, and from which the Honorable William Linder had risen just in time to save his life, was blown to pieces, and a portion of the floor beneath it was much shattered. The force of the explosion had been from above the floor downward; not up through the flooring. As to murderously inclined foes, Mr. Linder disclaimed knowledge of any. The notion that the trombonist had given a signal he derided as an "Old Sleuth pipe-dream."
As time went on and "clues" came to nothing, the police had no greater concern than quietly to forget, according to custom, a problem beyond their limited powers. With the release of the German musician, who was found to be simple-minded to the verge of half-wittedness, public interest waned, and the case faded out of current print.
Average Jones, who was much occupied with a pair of blackmailers operating through faked photographs, about that time, had almost forgotten the Linder case, when, one day, a month after the explosion, Waldemar dropped in at the Astor Court offices. He found a changed Jones; much thinner and "finer" than when, eight weeks before, he had embarked on his new career, at the newspaper owner's instance. The young man's color was less pronounced, and his eyes, though alert and eager, showed rings under them.
"You have found the work interesting, I take it," remarked the visitor.
"Ra--ather," drawled Average Jones appreciatively.
"That was a good initial effort, running down the opium pill mail-order enterprise."
"It was simple enough as soon as I saw the catchword in the 'Wanted' line."
"Anything is easy to a man who sees," returned the older man sententiously. "The open eye of the open mind--that has more to do with real detective work than all the deduction and induction and analysis ever devised."
"It is the detective part that interests me most in the game, but I haven't had much of it, yet. You haven't run across any promising ads lately, have you?"
Waldemar's wide, florid brow wrinkled.
"I haven't thought or dreamed of anything for a month but this infernal bomb explosion."
"Oh, the Linder case. You're personally interested?"
"Politically. It makes Linder's nomination certain. Persecution. Attempted assassination. He becomes a near-martyr. I'm almost ready to believe that he planted a fake bomb himself."
"And fell out of a third-story window to carry out the idea? That's pushing realism rather far, isn't it?"
Waldemar laughed. "There's the weakness. Unless we suppose that he under-reckoned the charge of explosive."
"They let the musician go, didn't they?"
"Yes. There was absolutely no proof against him, except that he was in the street below. Besides, he seemed quite lacking mentally."
"Mightn't that have been a sham?"
"Alienists, of good standing examined him. They reported him just a shade better than half-witted. He was like a one-ideaed child, his whole being comprised in his ability, and ambition to play his B-flat trombone."
"Well, if I needed an accomplice," said Average Jones thoughtfully, "I wouldn't want any better one than a half-witted man. Did he play well?"
"Atrociously. And if you know what a soul-shattering blare exudes from a B-flat trombone--" Mr. Waldemar lifted expressive hands.
Within Average Jones' overstocked mind something stirred at the repetition of the words "B-flat trombone." Somewhere they had attracted his notice in print; and somehow they were connected with Waldemar. Then from amidst the hundreds of advertisements with which, in the past weeks, he had crowded his brain, one stood out clear. It voiced the desire of an unknown gentleman on the near border of Harlem for the services of a performer upon that semi-exotic instrument. One among several, it had been cut from the columns of the Universal, on the evening which had launched him upon his new enterprise. Average Jones made two steps to a bookcase, took down a huge scrap-book from an alphabetized row, and turned the leaves rapidly.
"Three Hundred East One Hundredth Street," said he, slamming the book shut again. "Three Hundred East One Hundredth. You won't mind, will you," he said to Waldemar, "if I leave you unceremoniously?"
"Recalled a forgotten engagement?" asked the other, rising.
"Yes. No. I mean I'm going to Harlem to hear some music. Thirty-fourth's the nearest station, isn't it? Thanks. So long."
Waldemar rubbed his head thoughtfully as the door slammed behind the speeding Ad-Visor.
"Now, what kind of a tune is he on the track of, I wonder?" he mused. "I wish it hadn't struck him until I'd had time to go over the Linder business with him."
But while Waldemar rubbed his head in cogitatation and the Honorable William Linder, in his Brooklyn headquarters, breathed charily, out of respect to his creaking rib, Average Jones was following fate northward.
Three Hundred East One Hundredth Street is a house decrepit with a disease of the aged. Its windowed eyes are rheumy. It sags backward on gnarled joints. All its poor old bones creak when the winds shake it. To Average Jones' inquiring gaze on this summer day it opposed the secrecy of a senile indifference. He hesitated to pull at its bell-knob, lest by that act he should exert a disruptive force which might bring all the frail structure rattling down in ruin. When, at length, he forced himself to the summons, the merest ghost of a tinkle complained petulantly from within against his violence.
An old lady came to the door. She was sleek and placid, round and comfortable. She did not seem to belong in that house at all. Average Jones felt as if he had cracked open one of the grisly locust shells which cling lifelessly to tree trunks, and had found within a plump and prosperous beetle.
"Was an advertisement for a trombone player inserted from this house, ma'am?" he inquired.
"Long ago," said she.
"Am I too late, then?"
"Much. It was answered nearly two months since. I have never," said the old lady with conviction, "seen such a frazzled lot of folks as B-flat trombone players."
"The person who inserted the advertisement--?"
"Has left. A month since."
"Could you tell where he went?"
"Left no address."
"His name was Telford, wasn't it?" said Average Jones strategically.
"Might be," said the old lady, who had evidently formed no favorable impression of her ex-lodger. "But he called himself Ransom."
"He had a furnished room?"
"The whole third floor, furnished."
"Is it let now?"
"Part of it. The rear."
"I'll take the front room."
"Without even looking at it?"
"You're a queer young man. As to price?"
"Whatever you choose."
"You're a very queer young man. Are you a B-flat trombone player?"
"I collect 'em," said Average Jones.
"References?" said the old lady abruptly and with suspicion.
"All varieties," replied her prospective lodger cheerfully. "I will bring 'em to-morrow with my grip."
For five successive evenings thereafter Average Jones sat in the senile house, awaiting personal response to the following advertisement which he had inserted in the Universal:
WANTED--B-flat trombonist. Must have had experience as street player. Apply between 8 and 10 p. m. R--, 300 East 100th Street.
Between the ebb and flow of applicant musicians he read exhaustively upon the unallied subjects of trombones and high explosives, or talked with his landlady, who proved to be a sociable person, not disinclined to discuss the departed guest. "Ransom," his supplanter learned, had come light and gone light. Two dress suit cases had sufficed to bring in all his belongings. He went out but little, and then, she opined with a disgustful sniff, for purposes strictly alcoholic. Parcels came for him occasionally. These were usually labeled "Glass. Handle with care." Oh! there was one other thing. A huge, easy arm-chair from Carruthers and Company, mighty luxurious for an eight-dollar lodger.
"Did he take that with him?" asked Average Jones.
"No. After he had been here a while he had a man come in and box it up. He must have sent it away, but I never saw it go."
"Was this before or after the trombone players came?"
"Long after. It was after he had picked out his man and had him up here practicing."
"Did--er--you ever--er--see this musician?" drawled Average Jones in the slow tones of his peculiar excitement.
"Bless you, yes! Talked with him."
"What was he like?"
"He was a stupid old German. I always thought he was a sort of a natural."
"Yes?" Average Jones peered out of the window. "Is this the man, coming up the street?"
"It surely is," said the old lady. "Now, Mister Jones, if he commences his blaring and blatting and--',
"There'll be no more music, ma'am," promised the young man, laughing, as she went out to answer the door-bell.
The musician, ushered in, looked about him, an expression of bewildered and childish surprise on his rabbit-like face.
"I am Schlichting," he murmured; "I come to play the B-flat trombone."
"Glad to see you, Mr. Schlichting," said Average Jones, leading the way up-stairs. "Sit down."
The visitor put his trombone down and shook his head with conviction.
"It iss the same room, yes," he observed. "But it iss not the same gent, no."
"You expected to find Mr. Ransom here?"
"I don't know Mr. Ransom. I know only to play the B-flat trombone."
"Mr. Ransom, the gentleman who employed you to play in the street in Brooklyn."
Mr. Schlichting made large and expansive gestures. "It iss a pleasure to play for such a gent," he said warmly. "Two dollars a day."
"You have played often in Kennard Street?"
"I don't know Kennard Street. I know only to play the B-flat trombone."
"Kennard Street. In Brooklyn. Where the fat gentleman told you to stop, and fell out of the window."
A look of fear overspread the worn and innocent face.
"I don't go there no more. The po-lice, they take there."
"But you had gone there before?"
"Not to play; no."
"Not to play? Are you sure?"
The German considered painfully. "There vass no feet in the window," he explained, brightening.
Upon that surprising phrase Average Jones pondered. "You were not to play unless there were feet the window," he said at length. "Was that it?"
The musician assented.
"It does look like a signal to show that Linder was in," mused the interrogator. "Do you know Linder?"
"I don't know nothing only to play the B-flat trombone," repeated the other patiently.
"Now, Schlichting," said Average Jones, "here is a dollar. Every evening you must come here. Whether I am here or not, there will be a dollar for you. Do you understand?"
By way of answer the German reached down and listed his instrument to his lips.
"No, not that," forbade Average Jones. "Put it down."
"Not to play my B-flat trombone?" asked the other, innocently hurt. "The other gent he make play here always."
"Did he?" drawled Average Jones. "And he--er--listened?"
"He listened from out there." The musician pointed to the other room.
"Different times," was the placid reply.
"But he was always in the other room."
"Always. And I play Egypt. Like this."
"No!" said Average Jones, as the other stretched out a hopeful hand.
"He liked it--Egypt," said the German wistfully. "He said: 'Bravo! Encore! Bis!' Sometimes nine, sometimes ten times over I play it, the chorus."
"And then he sent you home?"
"Then sometimes something goes 'sping-g-g-g-g!' like that in the back room. Then he comes out and I may go home."
"Um--m," muttered Average Jones discontentedly. "When did you begin to play in the street?"
"After a long time. He take me away to Brooklyn and tell me, 'When you see the feet iss in the window you play hard!"'
There was a long pause. Then Average Jones asked casually:
"Did you ever notice a big easy chair here?"
"I do not notice nothing. I play my B-flat trombone."
And there his limitations were established. But the old lady had something to add.
"It's all true that he said," she confirmed. "I could hear his racket in the front room and Mr. Ransom working in the back and then, after the old man was gone, Mr. Ransom sweeping up something by himself."
"Sweeping? What--er--was he--er--sweeping?"
"Glass, I think. The girl used to find little slivers of it first in one part of the room, then in another. I raised the rent for that and for the racket."
"The next thing," said Average Jones, "is to find out where that big easy chair went from here. Can you help me there?"
The old lady shook her head. "All I can do is to tell you the near-by truck men."
Canvass of the local trucking industry brought to light the conveyor of that elegant article of furniture. It had gone, Average Jones learned, not to the mansion of the Honorable William Linder, as he had fondly hoped, but to an obscure address not far from the Navy Yard in Brooklyn. To this address, having looked up and gathered in the B-flat trombonist, Average Jones led the way. The pair lurked in the neighborhood of the ramshackle house watching the entrance, until toward evening, as the door opened to let out a tremulous wreck of a man, palsied with debauch, Schlichting observed:
"That iss him. He hass been drinking again once."
Average Jones hurried the musician around the corner into concealment. "You have been here before to meet Mr. Ransom?"
"Where did he meet you to pay you your wages?"
"On some corner," said the other vaguely.
"Then he took you to the big house and left you there," urged Jones.
"No; he left me on the street corner. 'When the feet iss in the window,' he says, 'you play.'"
"It comes to this," drawled Average Jones intently, looking the employee between his vacuous eyes. "Ransom shipped the chair to Plymouth Street and from there to Linder's house. He figured out that Linder would put it in his study and do his sitting at the window in it. And you were to know when he was there by seeing his feet in the window, and give the signal when you saw him. It must have been a signal to somebody pretty far off, or he wouldn't have chosen so loud an instrument as a B-flat trombone."
"I can play the B-flat trombone louder as any man in the business," asserted Schlichting with proud conviction.
"But what gets me," pursued Average Jones, "is the purpose of the signal. Whom was it for?"
"I don't know nothing," said the other complacently. "I only know to play the B-flat trombone louder as any man in the world."
Average Jones paid him a lump sum, dismissed him and returned to the Cosmic Club, there to ponder the problem. What next? To accuse Ransom, the mysterious hirer of a B-flat trombone virtuosity, without sufficient proof upon which to base even a claim of cross-examination, would be to block his own game then and there, for Ransom could, and very likely would, go away, leaving no trace. Who was Ransom, anyway? And what relation, if any, did he bear to Linder?
Absorbed in these considerations, be failed to notice that the club was filling up beyond its wont. A hand fell on his shoulder.
"Hello, Average. Haven't seen you at a Saturday special night since you started your hobby."
It was Bertram. "What's on?" Average Jones asked him, shaking hands.
"Freak concert. Bellerding has trotted out part of his collection of mediaeval musical instruments, and some professionals are going to play them. Waldemar is at our table. Come and join us."
Conversation at the round-table was general and lively that evening, and not until the port came on--the prideful club port, served only on special occasions and in wonderful, delicate glasses--did Average Jones get an opportunity to speak to Waldemar aside.
"I've been looking into that Linder matter a little."
"Indeed. I've about given up hope."
"You spoke of an old scandal in Linder's career. What was the husband's name?"
"Arbuthnot, I believe."
"Do you know what sort of looking man he was?"
"No. I could find out from Washington."
"What was his business?"
"Government employment, I think."
"In the--er--scientific line, perhaps?" drawled Jones.
"Why, yes, I believe it was."
"Um-m. Suppose, now, Linder should drop out of the combination. Who would be the most likely nominee?"
"Marsden--the man I've been grooming for the place. A first-class, honorable, fearless man."
"Well, it's only a chance; but if I can get one dark point cleared up--"
He paused as a curious, tingling note came from the platform where the musicians were tuning tip.
"One of Bellerding's sweet dulcets," observed Bertram.
The Performer nearest them was running a slow bass scale on a sort of two-stringed horse-fiddle of a strange shape. Average Jones' still untouched glass, almost full of the precious port, trembled and sang a little tentative response. Up-up-up mounted the thrilling notes, in crescendo force.
"What a racking sort of tone, for all its sweetness!" said Average Jones. His delicate and fragile port glass evidently shared the opinion, for, without further warning, it split and shivered.
"They used to show that experiment in the laboratory," said Bertram. "You must have had just the accurate amount of liquid in the glass, Average. Move back, you lunatic, it's dripping all over you."
But Average Jones sat unheeding. The liquor dribbled down into his lap. He kept his fascinated gaze fixed on the shattered glass. Bertram dabbed him with a napkin.
"Tha--a--anks, Bertram," drawled the beneficiary of this attention. "Doesn't matter. Excuse me. Good night."
Leaving his surprised companions, he took hat and cane and caught a Third Avenue car. By the time he had reached Brooklyn Bridge he had his campaign mapped out. It all depended upon the opening question. Average Jones decided to hit out and hit quick.
At the house near the Navy Yard he learned that his man was out. So he sat upon the front steps while one of the highest-priced wines in New York dried into his knees. Shortly before eleven a shuffling figure paused at the steps, feeling for a key.
"Mr. Arbuthnot, otherwise Ransom?" said Average Jones blandly.
The man's chin jerked back. His jaw dropped.
"Would you like to hire another B-flat trombonist?" pursued the young man.
"Who are you?" gasped the other. "What do you want?"
"I want to know," drawled Average Jones, "how--er-you planted the glass bulb--er--the sulphuric acid bulb, you know--in the chair that you sent--er--to the Honorable William Linder, so that--er--it wouldn't be shattered by anything but the middle C note of a B-flat trombone?"
The man sat down weakly and bowed his face in his hands. Presently he looked up.
"I don't care," he said. "Come inside."
At the end of an hour's talk Arbuthnot, alias Ransom, agreed to everything that Average Jones proposed.
"Mind you," he said, "I don't promise I won't kill him later. But meantime it'll be some satisfaction to put him down and out politically. You can find me here any time you want me. You say you'll see Linder to-morrow?"
"To-morrow," said Average Jones. "'Look in the next day's papers for the result."
Setting his telephone receiver down the Honorable William Linder lost himself in conjecture. He had just given an appointment to his tried and true, but quite impersonal enemy, Mr. Horace Waldemar.
"What can Waldemar want of me?" ran his thoughts. "And who is this friend, Jones, that he's bringing? Jones? Jones! Jones?!" He tried it in three different accents, without extracting any particular meaning therefrom. "Nothing much in the political game," he decided.
It was with a mingling of gruffness and dignity that he greeted Mr. Waldemar an hour later. The introduction to Average Jones he acknowledged with a curt nod.
"Want a job for this young man, Waldemar?" he grunted.
"Not at present, thank you," returned the newspaper owner. "Mr. Jones has a few arguments to present to you."
"Arguments," repeated the Honorable William Lender contemptuously. "What kind of arguments?"
"Political arguments. Mayoralty, to be specific. To be more specific still, arguments showing why you should drop out of the race."
"A pin-feather reformer, eh?"
The politician turned to meet Average Jones' steady gaze and mildly inquiring smile.
"Do you--er--know anything of submarine mines, Mr. Linder?" drawled the visitor.
"Huh?" returned the Honorable William Linder, startled.
"Submarine mines," explained the other., "Mines in the sea, if you wish words of one syllable."
The lids of the Honorable Linder contracted.
"You're in the wrong joint," he said, "this ain't the Naval College."
"Thank you. A submarine mine is a very ingenious affair. I've recently been reading somewhat extensively on the subject. The main charge is some high explosive, usually of the dynamite type. Above it is a small jar of sulphuric acid. Teeth, working on levers, surround this jar. The levers project outside the mine. When a ship strikes the mine, one or more of the levers are pressed in. The teeth crush the jar. The sulphuric acid drops upon the main charge and explodes it. Do you follow me."
"I'll follow you as far as the front door," said the politician balefully. He rose.
"If the charge were in a chair, in the cushion of an easy chair, we'll say, on the third floor of a house in Brooklyn--"
The Honorable William Linder sat down again. He sat heavily.
"--the problem would be somewhat different. Of course, it would be easy to arrange that the first person to sit down in the chair would, by his own weight, blow himself up. But the first person might not be the right person, you know. Do you still follow me?"
The Honorable William Linder made a remark like a fish.
"Now, we have, if you will forgive my professorial method," continued Average Jones, "a chair sent to a gentleman of prominence from an anonymous source. In this chair is a charge of high explosive and above it a glass bulb containing sulphuric acid. The bulb, we will assume, is so safe-guarded as to resist any ordinary shock of moving. But when this gentleman, sitting at ease in his chair, is noticed by a trombonist, placed for that purpose In the street, below--"
"The Dutch horn-player!" cried the politician. "Then it was him; and I'll--"
"Only an innocent tool," interrupted Average Jones, in his turn. "He had no comprehension of what he was doing. He didn't understand that the vibration from his trombone on one particular note by the slide up the scale--as in the chorus of Egypt--would shiver that glass and set off the charge. All that he knew was to play the B-flat trombone and take his pay."
"His pay?" The question leaped to the politician's lips. "Who paid him?"
"A man--named--er--Arbuthnot," drawled Average Jones.
Linder's eyes did not drop, but a film seemed to be drawn over them.
"You once knew--er--a Mrs. Arbuthnot?"
The thick shoulders quivered a little.
"Her husband--her widower--is in Brooklyn. Shall I push the argument any further to convince you that you'd better drop out of the mayoralty race?"
Linder recovered himself a little. "What kind of a game are you ringing in on me?" he demanded.
"Don't you think," suggested Average Jones sweetly, "that considered as news, this--"
Linder caught the word out of his mouth. "News!" he roared. "A fake story ten years old, news? That ain't news! It's spite work. Even your dirty paper, Waldemar, wouldn't rake that kind of muck up after ten years. It'd be a boomerang. You'll have to put up a stronger line of blackmail and bluff than that."
"Blackmail is perhaps the correct word technically," admitted the newspaper owner, "but bluff--there you go wrong. You've forgotten one thing; that Arbuthnot's arrest and confession would make the whole story news. We stand ready to arrest Arbuthnot, and he stands ready to confess."
There was a long, tense minute of silence. Then--
"What do you want?" The straight-to-the-point question was an admission of defeat.
"Your announcement of withdrawal. I'd rather print that than the Arbuthnot story."
There was a long silence. Finally the Honorable Linder dropped his hand on the table. "You win," he declared curtly. "But you'll give me the benefit, in the announcement, of bad health caused by the shock of the explosion, to explain my quitting, Waldemar?"
"It will certainly make it more plausible," assented the newspaper owner with a smile.
Linder turned on Average Jones.
"Did you dope this out, young fellow?" he demanded.
"Well, you've put me in the Down-and-Out-Club, all right. And I'm just curious enough to want to know how you did it."
"By abstaining," returned Average Jones cryptically, "from the best wine that ever came out of the Cosmic Club cellar."
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