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THE BOTTLE WITH THE GREEN WAX SEAL

 

 

CHAPTER I

 

“PEDRO” ON HONKY-TONK ROW!

 

Derek Wingblade, ambling this evening along New York’s notorious “Honky-Tonk Row” in the flamboyant Mexican regalia specially provided him by the City Editor of the New York Courier, hoped against hope that he was going to work out successfully the particular feature story he was after.

Indeed, catching a glimpse, in the darkishly reflecting surface of the window of a closely curtained gin-joint, of himself—in his brown corduroy suit with short-cut jacket and pants flaring wide at the bottoms, his flamboyant pink silk shirt, and his tall heavy black-velvet cornucopia-like hat studded about its brim with hollowed-out silver dollars, Derek Wingblade felt that—with that jet-black hair of his, cut low at the temples as it was, and his black eyes—he ought to pass easily as John Mexico—straight out of Mexico itself! And thus win beautifully and easily to the first step of that badly desired goal.

For Derek Wingblade had knocked no less than 34 times at least—figuratively speaking—on the New York newspaper editors’ doors. Only to be flatly refused a connection because he’d had no experience. As was characteristic of all members of blue-blooded families that, like his own, had gone broke in the Big Panic. At least Derek Wingblade had been consistently refused until this assignment from the Courier. Which, successfully worked out, and made into an exclusive yarn, meant—the good Lord be thanked!—a journalistic connection at last. But even now the warning words of the Courier City Editor were ringing in Derek Wingblade’s ears:

“We don’t usually dish out assignments like this to rank beginners—but I’ll try it this once! But don’t forget that newspapers are built out of stories—and exclusive ones to boot! So don’t come back unless you have one such for the Courier literally leaking out of your very ears!”

Derek Wingblade, ambling along, paid very little attention to the gilded entrances of the burlesque shows—black and white!—the awning-covered entrances to taxi-dance halls upstairs from which blatant music roared down to the sidewalk—to the “museums” of “living art models”—the cheap beer-joints with sawdust-covered floors. He had seen it all before. Instead, he bent his attention to the dingy doorways between all these attractions—the dingy doorways which led up dingy stairways to dingy hotel-rooming houses above. For here—in one of these doorways—would lie the first incident in his story!

His story which, if he didn’t bring it back—and complete—meant the end of the only chance he might ever have to get aboard a daily. Not, to be sure, that if he didn’t bring it back, it would matter now—so far as finances went. For Aunt Sophronia—God bless her!—had seen to it that every one of her 40 kith and kin had received a tangible part of her estate.

One valuable piece—and one sentimental piece!

Unique of Aunt Sophronia!

Take Kitty Highsmith, Derek’s cousin. Kitty had received Aunt Sophronia’s emerald eardrops—and Aunt Sophronia’s own left baby-shoe! While Steward Clarke, Derek’s youngest uncle, had received Aunt Sophronia’s Rolls-Royce car—and the collar of Aunt Sophronia’s cat, Buster, now dead these 20 years.

And Derek Wingblade himself?

Well, he had just come from the offices, uptown, of Custer Custer and Custer, Aunt Sophronia’s executors, apologizing, of course, for his outré appearance in Mexican costume by saying that he was doing a monologue, that evening, far uptown, for a charity performance. And in the breast pocket of his short Mexican jacket was, right now, his particular valuable-plus-sentimental pair of bequests from Aunt Sophronia’s estate. The valuable component being, of course, her diamond necklace with the World’s Columbian Exposition gold piece hanging from it, encased in but a slender silver rim. While the purely “sentimental” component was no other than the small rubber ball which Buster—dear Buster!—had played with in the long, long ago. Derek knew he ought to toss that fool ball away, here and now, but having just received, in the matter of that necklace and pendant gold piece, a literal fortune from Aunt Sophronia, he didn’t quite have the gall to do so. At least yet! For—

No one paid much attention to him here tonight. For Honky-Tonk Row was thronged with every kind of person and nationality. An occasional Jew with black skullcap and long white beard went along, looking generally shocked; Negroes in flashy checked suits with glass diamond-pins; once an East Indian with a turban about his head; once a real Mexican, dressed much like Derek Wingblade himself except that the other wore a straw sombrero instead of the “Sunday” sombrero that Derek wore; not less that 3 Chinamen passed him: no one throwing him more than a passing glance.

What, he mused, would any of them have thought had they known that, buttoned in his breast pocket with the play-ball of a cat now gone 20 years, there was a snug bequest of virtually $50,100 in cash. For in cash was what it would be tomorrow morning, Derek Wingblade told himself. After, that is, at the first bank, he had “plopped” that gold piece out of its frame with his thumb, and turned it over the ledge of the nearest paying teller’s window for a crisp hundred-dollar bill; for, after all, it was a U. S. $100 gold piece—legal tender—and unmarred by a single drilling. And after, of course, he had hied himself to the diamond brokers, Asenstein and Asenstein, who had appraised the necklace for the estate at the price they themselves stood willing at any time to pay for its stones: i.e. $50,000.

But none on New York’s Honky-Tonk Row knew all this.

Which was as it should be!

In view of the fact that the particular story Derek Wingblade was now embarked on was to be titled MANHATTAN’S CLIP-GIRLS—and to be sub-titled “—AS THE HORNY-HANDED SON OF TOIL MEETS UP WITH THEM.”

Watch your step, Derek! You may tonight be only poor Pedro off the section gang—come to Honky-Tonk Row, in Sunday attire, for a bit of wine, woman and song. Even as tomorrow night, with your black hair bleached yellow, you may be Oley Olson, out-of-town carpenter, come to play for a while. But the eyes of clip-girls are sharp—and their intuition is amazing. And a clip-girl, even though she possessed no cat, and could not use the defunct and decayed Buster’s playball in your breast pocket, could do plenty—with $50,100!

Yes, Derek, watch your step. Watch your fool step!

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