Read LARRY MOORE of Murder in Any Degree, free online book, by Owen Johnson, on ReadCentral.com.

I

The base-ball season had closed, and we were walking down Fifth avenue, Larry Moore and I. We were discussing the final series for the championship, and my friend was estimating his chances of again pitching the Giants to the top, when a sudden jam on the avenue left us an instant looking face to face at a woman and a child seated in a luxurious victoria.

Larry Moore, who had hold of my arm, dropped it quickly and wavered in his walk. The woman caught her breath and put her muff hastily to her face; but the child saw us without surprise. All had passed within a second, yet I retained a vivid impression of a woman of strange attraction, elegant and indolent, with something in her face which left me desirous of seeing it again, and of a pretty child who seemed a little too serious for that happy age. Larry Moore forgot what he had begun to say. He spoke no further word, and I, in glancing at his face, comprehended that, incredible as it seemed, there was some bond between the woman I had seen and this raw-boned, big-framed, and big-hearted idol of the bleachers.

Without comment I followed Larry Moore, serving his mood as he immediately left the avenue and went east. At first he went with excited strides, then he slowed down to a profound and musing gait, then he halted, laid his hand heavily on my shoulder, and said:

“Get into the car, Bob. Come up to the rooms.”

I understood that he wished to speak to me of what had happened, and I followed. We went thus, without another word exchanged, to his rooms, and entered the little parlor hung with the trophies of his career, which I looked at with some curiosity. On the mantel in the center I saw at once a large photograph of the Hon. Joseph Gilday, a corporation lawyer of whom we reporters told many hard things, a picture I did not expect to find here among the photographs of the sporting celebrities who had sent their regards to my friend of the diamond. In some perplexity I approached and saw across the bottom written in large firm letters: “I’m proud to know you, Larry Moore.”

I smiled, for the tribute of the great man of the law seemed incongruous here to me, who knew of old my simple-minded, simple-hearted friend whom, the truth be told, I patronized perforce. Then I looked about more carefully, and saw a dozen photographs of a woman, sometimes alone, sometimes holding a pretty child, and the faces were the faces I had seen in the victoria. I feigned not to have seen them; but Larry, who had watched me, said:

“Look again, Bob; for that is the woman you saw in the carriage, and that is the child.”

So I took up a photograph and looked at it long. The face had something more dangerous than beauty in it the face of a Cleopatra with a look in the deep restless eyes I did not fancy; but I did not tell that to Larry Moore. Then I put it back in its place and turned and said gravely:

“Are you sure that you want to tell me, Larry Moore?”

“I do,” he said. “Sit down.”

He did not seek preliminaries, as I should have done, but began at once, simply and directly doubtless he was retelling the story more to himself than to me.

“She was called Fanny Montrose,” he said, “a slip of a girl, with wonderful golden hair, and big black eyes that made me tremble, the day I went into the factory at Bridgeport, the day I fell in love. ’I’m Larry Moore; you may have heard of me,’ I said, going straight up to her when the whistle blew that night, ’and I’d like to walk home with you, Fanny Montrose.’

“She drew back sort of quick, and I thought she’d been hearing tales of me up in Fall River; so I said: ’I only meant to be polite. You may have heard a lot of bad of me, and a lot of it’s true, but you never heard of Larry Moore’s being disrespectful to a lady,’ and I looked her in the eye and said: ‘Will you let me walk home with you, Fanny Montrose?’

“She swung on her foot a moment, and then she said: ‘I will.’

“I heard a laugh go up at that, and turned round, with the bit in my teeth; but it was only the women, and you can’t touch them. Fanny Montrose hurried on, and I saw she was upset by it, so I said humbly: ‘You’re not sorry now, are you?’

“‘Oh, no,’ she said.

“‘Will you catch hold of my arm?’ I asked her.

“She looked first in my face, and then she slipped in her hand so prettily that it sent all the words from my tongue. ’You’ve just come to Bridgeport, ain’t you?’ she said timidly.

“‘I have,’ I said, ’and I want you to know the truth. I came because I had to get out of Fall River. I had a scrap more than one of them.’

“‘Did you lick your man?’ she said, glancing at me.

“’I licked every one of them, and it was good and fair fighting if I was on a tear,’ I said; ‘but I’m ashamed of it now.’

“‘You’re Larry Moore, who pitched on the Fall Rivers last season?’ she said.

“‘I am.’

“‘You can pitch some!’ she said with a nod.

“‘When I’m straight I can.’

“’And why don’t you go at it like a man then? You could get in the Nationals,’ she said.

“‘I’ve never had anyone to work for before,’ I said.

“‘We go down here; I’m staying at Keene’s boarding-house,’ she said at that.

“I was afraid I’d been too forward; so I kept still until we came to the door. Then I pulled off my hat and made her a bow and said: ’Will you let me walk home with you steady, Fanny Montrose?’

“And she stopped on the door-step and looked at me without saying a word, and I asked it again, putting out my hand, for I wanted to get hold of hers. But she drew back and reached for the knob. So I said:

“‘You needn’t be frightened; for it’s me that ought to be afraid.’

“‘And what have you to be afraid of, you great big man?’ she said, stopping in wonder.

“’I’m afraid of your big black eyes, Fanny Montrose, ’I said, ’and I’m afraid of your slip of a body that I could snap in my hands,’ I said; ‘for I’m going to fall in love with you, Fanny Montrose.’

“Which was a lie, for I was already. With that I ran off like a fool. I ran off, but from that night I walked home with Fanny Montrose.

“For a month we kept company, and Bill Coogan and Dan Farrar and the rest of them took my notice and kept off. The women laughed at me and sneered at her; but I minded them not, for I knew the ways of the factory, and besides there wasn’t a man’s voice in the lot that I heard.

“But one night as we were wandering back to Keene’s boarding-house, Fanny Montrose on my arm, Bill Coogan planted himself before us, and called her something to her face that there was no getting around.

“I took her on a bit, weeping and shaking, and I said to her: ’Stand here.’

“And I went back, and caught Bill Coogan by the throat and the belt, and swung him around my head, and flung him against the lamp-post. And the post broke off with a crash, and Coogan lay quiet, with nothing more to say.

“I went back to Fanny Montrose, who had stopped her crying, and said, shaking with anger at the dirty insult: ’Fanny Montrose, will you be my wife? Will you marry me this night?’

“She pushed me away from her, and looked up into my face in a frightened way and said: ‘Do you mean to be your wife?’

“‘I do,’ I said, and then because I was afraid that she didn’t trust in me enough yet to marry me I said solemnly: ’Fanny Montrose, you need have no fear. If I’ve been drunk and riotous, it’s because I wanted to be, and now that I’ve made up my mind to be straight, there isn’t a thing living that could turn me back again. Fanny Montrose, will you say you’ll be my wife?’

“Then she put out her two hands to me and tumbled into my arms, all limp.”

II

Larry Moore rose and walked the length of the room. When he came back he went to the wall and took down a photograph; but with what emotion I could not say, for his back was to me. I glanced again at the odd volatile beauty in the woman’s face and wondered what was the word Bill Coogan had said and what was his reason for saying it.

“From that day it was all luck for me,” Larry Moore said, settling again in the chair, where his face returned to the shadow. “She had a head on her, that little woman. She pulled me up to where I am. I pitched that season for the Bridgeports. You know the record, Bob, seven games lost out of forty-three, and not so much my fault either. When they were for signing me again, at big money too, the little woman said:

“’Don’t you do it, Larry Moore; they’re not your class. Just hold out a bit.’

“You know, Bob, how I signed then with the Giants, and how they boosted my salary at the end of that first year; but it was Fanny Montrose who made the contracts every time. We had the child then, and I was happy. The money came quick, and lots of it, and I put it in her lap and said:

“‘Do what you want with it; only I want you to enjoy it like a lady.’

“Maybe I was wrong there maybe I was. It was pride, I’ll admit; but there wasn’t a lady came to the stands that looked finer than Fanny Montrose, as I always used to call her. I got to be something of a figure, as you know, and the little woman was always riding back and forth to the games in some automobile, and more often with Paul Bargee.

“One afternoon Ed Nichols, who was catching me then, came up with a serious face and said: ’Where’s your lady to-day, Larry and Paul Bargee?’ And by the way he said it I knew what he had in mind, and good friend that he was of mine I liked to have throttled him. They told me to pitch the game, and I did. I won it too. Then I ran home without changing my clothes, the people staring at me, and ran up the stairs and flung open the door and stopped and called: ‘Fanny Montrose!’

“And I called again, and I called a third time, and only the child came to answer me. Then I knew in my heart that Fanny Montrose had left me and run off with Paul Bargee.

III

“I waited all that night without tasting food or moving, listening for her step on the stairs. And in the morning the postman came without a line or a word for me. I couldn’t understand; for I had been a good husband to her, and though I thought over everything that had happened since we’d been married, I couldn’t think of a thing that I’d done to hurt her for I wasn’t thinking then of the millions of Paul Bargee.

“In the afternoon there came a dirty little lawyer shuffling in to see me, with blinking little eyes behind his black-rimmed spectacles a toad of a man.

“‘Who are you?’ I said, ‘and what are you doing here?’

“‘I’m simply an attorney,’ he said, cringing before my look ’Solomon Scholl, on a very disagreeable duty,’ he said.

“‘Do you come from her?’ I said, and I caught my breath.

“‘I come from Mr. Paul Bargee,’ he said, ’and I’d remind you, Mr. Moore, that I come as an attorney on a disagreeable duty.’

“With that I drew back and looked at him in amazement, and said: ’What has he got to say to me?’

“‘My client,’ he said, turning the words over with the tip of his tongue, ‘regrets exceedingly ’

“‘Don’t waste words!’ I said angrily. ‘What are you here for?’

“‘My client,’ he said, looking at me sidelong, ’empowers me to offer you fifteen thousand dollars if you will promise to make no trouble in this matter.’

“I sat down all in a heap; for I didn’t know the ways of a gentleman then, Bob, and covered my face with the horror I had of the humiliation he had done me. The lawyer, he misunderstood it, for he crept up softly and whispered in my ear:

“’That’s what he offers if you’re fool enough to take it; but if you’ll stick to me, we can wring him to the tune of ten times that.’

“I got up and took him and kicked him out of the room, and kicked him down the stairs, for he was a little man, and I wouldn’t strike him.

“Then I came back and said to myself: ’If matters are so, I must get the best advice I can.’

“And I knew that Joseph Gilday was the top of the lot. So I went to him, and when I came in I stopped short, for I saw he looked perplexed, and I said: ’I’m in trouble, sir, and my life depends on it, and other lives, and I need the best of advice; so I’ve come to you. I’m Larry Moore of the Giants; so you may know I can pay.’ Then I sat down and told him the story, every word as I’ve told you; and when I was all through, he said quietly:

“‘What are you thinking of doing, Mr. Moore?’

“‘I think it would be better if she came back, sir,’ I said, ’for her and for the child. So I thought the best thing would be to write her a letter and tell her so; for I think if you could write the right sort of a letter she’d come back. And that’s what I want you to show me how to write,’ I said.

“He took a sheet of paper and a pen, and looked at me steadily and said: ‘What would you say to her?’

“So I drew my hands up under my chin and thought awhile and said: ’I think I’d say something like this, sir:

“’"My dear wife I’ve been trying to think all this while what has driven you away, and I don’t understand. I love you, Fanny Montrose, and I want you to come back to me. And if you’re afraid to come, I want to tell you not a word will pass my lips on the subject; for I haven’t forgotten that it was you made a man of me; and much as I try, I cannot hate you, Fanny Montrose."’

“He looked down and wrote for a minute, and then he handed me the paper and said: ‘Send that.’

“I looked, and saw it was what I had told him, and I said doubtfully: ‘Do you think that is best?’

“‘I do.’

“So I mailed the letter as he said, and three days after came one from a lawyer, saying my wife could have no communication with me, and would I send what I had to say to him.

“So I went down to Gilday and told him, and I said: ’We must think of other things, sir, since she likes luxury and those things better; for I’m beginning to think that’s it and there I’m a bit to blame, for I did encourage her. Well, she’ll have to marry him that’s all I can see to it,” I said, and sat very quiet.

“‘He won’t marry her,’ he said in his quick way.

“I thought he meant because she was bound to me, so I said: ’Of course, after the divorce.’

“‘Are you going to get a divorce then from her?’

“‘I’ve been thinking it over,’ I said carefully, and I had, ’and I think the best way would be for her to get it. That can be done, can’t it?’ I said, ’because I’ve been thinking of the child, and I don’t want her to grow up with any stain on the good name of her mother,’ I said.

“‘Then you will give up the child?’ he said.

“And I said: ‘Yes.’

“‘Will he marry her?’ he said again.

“‘For what else did he take her away?’

“‘If I was you,’ he said, looking at me hard, ’I’d make sure of that before.’

“That worried me a good deal, and I went out and walked around, and then I went to the station and bought a ticket for Chicago, and I said to myself: ‘I’ll go and see him’; for by that time I’d made up my mind what I’d do.

“And when I got there the next morning, I went straight to his house, and my heart sank, for it was a great place with a high iron railing all around it and a footman at the door and I began to understand why Fanny Montrose had left me for him.

“I’d thought a long time about giving another name; but I said to myself: ’No, I’ll him a chance first to come down and face me like a man,’ so I said to the footman: ’Go tell Paul Bargee that Larry Moore has come to see him.’

“Then I went down the hall and into the great parlor, all hung with draperies, and I looked at myself in the mirrors and looked at the chairs, and I didn’t feel like sitting down, and presently the curtains opened, and Paul Bargee stepped into the room. I looked at him once, and then I looked at the floor, and my breath came hard. Then he stepped up to me and stopped and said:

“‘Well?’

“And though he had wronged me and wrecked my life, I couldn’t help admiring his grit; for the boy was no match for me, and he knew it too, though he never flinched.

“‘I’ve come from New York here to talk with you, Paul Bargee,’ I said.

“‘You’ve a right to.’

“‘I have,’ I said, ’and I want to have an understanding with you now, if you have the time, sir,’ I said, and looked at the ground again.

“He drew off, and hearing me speak so low he mistook me as others have done before, and he looked at me hard and said: ‘Well, how much?’

“My head went up, and I strode at him; but he never winced if he had, I think I’d have caught him then and there and served him as I did Bill Coogan. But I stopped and said: ’That’s the second mistake you’ve made, Paul Bargee; the first was when you sent a dirty little lawyer to pay me for taking my wife. And your lawyer came to me and told me to screw you to the last cent. I kicked him out of my sight; and what have you to say why I shouldn’t do the same to you, Paul Bargee?’

“He looked white and hurt in his pride, and said: ’You’re right; and I beg your pardon, Mr. Moore.’

“‘I don’t want your pardon,’ I said, ’and I won’t sit down in your house, and we won’t discuss what has happened but what is to be. For there’s a great wrong you’ve done, and I’ve a right to say what you shall do now, Paul Bargee.’

“He looked at me and said slowly: ‘What is that?’

“‘You took my wife, and I gave her a chance to come back to me,’ I said; ’but she loved you and what you can give better than me. But she’s been my wife, and I’m not going to see her go down into the gutter.’

“He started to speak; but I put up my hand and I said: ’I’m not here to discuss with you, Paul Bargee. I’ve come to say what’s going to be done; for I have a child,’ I said, ’and I don’t intend that the mother of my little girl should go down to the gutter. You’ve chosen to take my wife, and she’s chosen to stay with you. Now, you’ve got to marry her and make her a good woman,’ I said.

“Then Paul Bargee stood off, and I saw what was passing through his mind. And I went up to him and laid my hand on his shoulder and said: ’You know what I mean, and you know what manner of man I am that talks to you like this; for you’re no coward,’ I said; ’but you marry Fanny Montrose within a week after she gets her freedom, or I am going to kill you wherever you stand. And that’s the choice you’ve got to make, Paul Bargee,’ I said.

“Then I stepped back and watched him, and as I did so I saw the curtains move and knew that Fanny Montrose had heard me.

“‘You’re going to give her the divorce?’ he said.

“‘I am. I don’t intend there shall be a stain on her name,’ I said; ’for I loved Fanny Montrose, and she’s always the mother of my little girl.’

“Then he went to a chair and sat down and took his head in his hands, and I went out.

IV

“I came back to New York, and went to Mr. Gilday.

“‘Will he marry her?’ he said at once.

“‘He will marry her,’ I said. ’As for her, I want you to say; for I’ll not write to her myself, since she wouldn’t answer me. Say when she’s the wife of Paul Bargee I’ll bring the child to her myself, and she’s to see me; for I have a word to say to her then,’ I said, and I laid my fist down on the table. ‘Until then the child stays with me.’

“They’ve said hard things of Mr. Joseph Gilday, and I know it; but I know all that he did for me. For he didn’t turn it over to a clerk; but he took hold himself and saw it through as I had said. And when the divorce was given he called me down and told me that Fanny Montrose was a free woman and no blame to her in the sight of the law.

“Then I said: ’It is well. Now write to Paul Bargee that his week has begun. Until then I keep the child, law or no law.’ Then I rose and said: ’I thank you, Mr. Gilday. You’ve been very kind, and I’d like to pay you what I owe you.’

“He sat there a moment and chewed on his mustache, and he said: ’You don’t owe me a cent.’

“’It wasn’t charity I came to you for, and I can pay for what I get, Mr. Gilday,’ I said. ‘Will you give me your regular bill?’ I said.

“And he said at last: ‘I will.’

“In the middle of the week Paul Bargee’s mother came to me and went down on her knees and begged for her son, and I said to her: ’Why should there be one law for him and one law for the likes of me. He’s taken my wife; but he sha’n’t put her to shame, ma’am, and he sha’n’t cast a cloud on the life of my child!’

“Then she stopped arguing, and caught my hands and cried: ’But you won’t kill him, you won’t kill my son, if he don’t?’

“’As sure as Saturday comes, ma’am, and he hasn’t made Fanny Montrose a good woman,’ I said, ‘I’m going to kill Paul Bargee wherever he stands.’

“And Friday morning Mr. Gilday called me down to his office and told me that Paul Bargee had done as I said he should do. And I pressed his hand and said nothing, and he let me sit awhile in his office.

“And after awhile I rose up and said: ’Then I must take the child to her, as I promised, to-night.’

“He walked with me from the office and said: ’Go home to your little girl. I’ll see to the tickets, and will come for you at nine o’clock.’

“And at nine o’clock he came in his big carriage, and took me and the child to the station and said: ’Telegraph me when you’re leaving to-morrow.’

“And I said: ‘I will.’

“Then I went into the car with my little girl asleep in my arms and sat down in the seat, and the porter came and said:

“‘Can I make up your berths?’

“And I looked at the child and shook my head. So I held her all night and she slept on my shoulder, while I looked from her out into the darkness, and from the darkness back to her again. And the porter kept passing and passing and staring at me and the child.

“And in the morning we went up to the great house and into the big parlor, and Fanny Montrose came in, as I had said she should, very white and not looking at me. And the child ran to her, and I watched Fanny Montrose catch her up to her breast, and I sobbed. And she looked at me, and saw it. So I said:

“’It’s because now I know you love the child and that you’ll be kind to her.’

“Then she fell down before me and tried to take my hand. But I stepped back and said:

“’I’ve made you an honest woman, Fanny Montrose, and now as long as I live I’m going to see you do nothing to disgrace my child.’

“And I went out and took the train back. And Mr. Gilday was at the station there waiting for me, and he took my arm, without a word, and led me to his carriage and drove up without speaking. And when we got to the house, he got out, and took off his hat and made me a bow and said: ‘I’m proud to know you, Larry Moore.’”