Midge Kelly scored his first knockout when he was seventeen. The knockee was his brother Connie, three years his junior and a cripple. The purse was a half dollar given to the younger Kelly by a lady whose electric had just missed bumping his soul from his frail little body.
Connie did not know Midge was in the house, else he never would have risked laying the prize on the arm of the least comfortable chair in the room, the better to observe its shining beauty. As Midge entered from the kitchen, the crippled boy covered the coin with his hand, but the movement lacked the speed requisite to escape his brother's quick eye.
"Watcha got there?" demanded Midge.
"Nothin'," said Connie.
"You're a one legged liar!" said Midge.
He strode over to his brother's chair and grasped the hand that concealed the coin.
"Let loose!" he ordered.
Connie began to cry.
"Let loose and shut up your noise," said the elder, and jerked his brother's hand from the chair arm.
The coin fell onto the bare floor. Midge pounced on it. His weak mouth widened in a triumphant smile.
"Nothin', huh?" he said. "All right, if it's nothin' you don't want it."
"Give that back," sobbed the younger.
"I'll give you a red nose, you little sneak! Where'd you steal it?"
"I didn't steal it. It's mine. A lady give it to me after she pretty near hit me with a car."
"It's a crime she missed you," said Midge.
Midge started for the front door. The cripple picked up his crutch, rose from his chair with difficulty, and, still sobbing, came toward Midge. The latter heard him and stopped.
"You better stay where you're at," he said.
"I want my money," cried the boy.
"I know what you want," said Midge.
Doubling up the fist that held the half dollar, he landed with all his strength on his brother's mouth. Connie fell to the floor with a thud, the crutch tumbling on top of him. Midge stood beside the prostrate form.
"Is that enough?" he said. "Or do you want this, too?"
And he kicked him in the crippled leg.
"I guess that'll hold you," he said.
There was no response from the boy on the floor. Midge looked at him a moment, then at the coin in his hand, and then went out into the street, whistling.
An hour later, when Mrs. Kelly came home from her day's work at Faulkner's Steam Laundry, she found Connie on the floor, moaning. Dropping on her knees beside him, she called him by name a score of times. Then she got up and, pale as a ghost, dashed from the house. Dr. Ryan left the Kelly abode about dusk and walked toward Halsted Street. Mrs. Dorgan spied him as he passed her gate.
"Who's sick, Doctor?" she called.
"Poor little Connie," he replied. "He had a bad fall."
"How did it happen?"
"I can't say for sure, Margaret, but I'd almost bet he was knocked down."
"Knocked down!" exclaimed Mrs. Dorgan.
"Why, who -- -- ?"
"Have you seen the other one lately?"
"Michael? No, not since mornin'. You can't be thinkin' -- -- "
"I wouldn't put it past him, Margaret," said the doctor gravely. "The lad's mouth is swollen and cut, and his poor, skinny little leg is bruised. He surely didn't do it to himself and I think Helen suspects the other one."
"Lord save us!" said Mrs. Dorgan. "I'll run over and see if I can help."
"That's a good woman," said Doctor Ryan, and went on down the street.
Near midnight, when Midge came home, his mother was sitting at Connie's bedside. She did not look up.
"Well," said Midge, "what's the matter?"
She remained silent. Midge repeated his question.
"Michael, you know what's the matter," she said at length.
"I don't know nothin," said Midge.
"Don't lie to me, Michael. What did you do to your brother?"
"You hit him."
"Well, then, I hit him. What of it? It ain't the first time."
Her lips pressed tightly together, her face like chalk, Ellen Kelly rose from her chair and made straight for him. Midge backed against the door.
"Lay off'n me, Ma. I don't want to fight no woman."
Still she came on breathing heavily.
"Stop where you're at, Ma," he warned.
There was a brief struggle and Midge's mother lay on the floor before him.
"You ain't hurt, Ma. You're lucky I didn't land good. And I told you to lay off'n me."
"God forgive you, Michael!"
Midge found Hap Collins in the showdown game at the Royal.
"Come on out a minute," he said.
Hap followed him out on the walk.
"I'm leavin' town for a w'ile," said Midge.
"Well, we had a little run-in up to the house. The kid stole a half buck off'n me, and when I went after it he cracked me with his crutch. So I nailed him. And the old lady came at me with a chair and I took it off'n her and she fell down."
"How is Connie hurt?"
"What are you runnin' away for?"
"Who the hell said I was runnin' away? I'm sick and tired o' gettin' picked on; that's all. So I'm leavin' for a w'ile and I want a piece o' money."
"I ain't only got six bits," said Happy.
"You're in bad shape, ain't you? Well, come through with it."
Happy came through.
"You oughtn't to hit the kid," he said.
"I ain't astin' you who can I hit," snarled Midge. "You try to put somethin' over on me and you'll get the same dose. I'm goin' now."
"Go as far as you like," said Happy, but not until he was sure that Kelly was out of hearing.
Early the following morning, Midge boarded a train for Milwaukee. He had no ticket, but no one knew the difference. The conductor remained in the caboose.
On a night six months later, Midge hurried out of the "stage door" of the Star Boxing Club and made for Duane's saloon, two blocks away. In his pocket were twelve dollars, his reward for having battered up one Demon Dempsey through the six rounds of the first preliminary.
It was Midge's first professional engagement in the manly art. Also it was the first time in weeks that he had earned twelve dollars.
On the way to Duane's he had to pass Niemann's. He pulled his cap over his eyes and increased his pace until he had gone by. Inside Niemann's stood a trusting bartender, who for ten days had staked Midge to drinks and allowed him to ravage the lunch on a promise to come in and settle the moment he was paid for the "prelim."
Midge strode into Duane's and aroused the napping bartender by slapping a silver dollar on the festive board.
"Gimme a shot," said Midge.
The shooting continued until the wind-up at the Star was over and part of the fight crowd joined Midge in front of Duane's bar. A youth in the early twenties, standing next to young Kelly, finally summoned sufficient courage to address him.
"Wasn't you in the first bout?" he ventured.
"Yeh," Midge replied.
"My name's Hersch," said the other.
Midge received the startling information in silence.
"I don't want to butt in," continued Mr. Hersch, "but I'd like to buy you a drink."
"All right," said Midge, "but don't overstrain yourself."
Mr. Hersch laughed uproariously and beckoned to the bartender.
"You certainly gave that wop a trimmin' to-night," said the buyer of the drink, when they had been served. "I thought you'd kill him."
"I would if I hadn't let up," Midge replied. "I'll kill 'em all."
"You got the wallop all right," the other said admiringly.
"Have I got the wallop?" said Midge. "Say, I can kick like a mule. Did you notice them muscles in my shoulders?"
"Notice 'em? I couldn't help from notion' 'em," said Hersch. "I says to the fella settin' alongside o' me, I says: 'Look at them shoulders! No wonder he can hit,' I says to him."
"Just let me land and it's good-by, baby," said Midge. "I'll kill 'em all."
The oral manslaughter continued until Duane's closed for the night. At parting, Midge and his new friend shook hands and arranged for a meeting the following evening.
For nearly a week the two were together almost constantly. It was Hersch's pleasant role to listen to Midge's modest revelations concerning himself, and to buy every time Midge's glass was empty. But there came an evening when Hersch regretfully announced that he must go home to supper.
"I got a date for eight bells," he confided. "I could stick till then, only I must clean up and put on the Sunday clo'es, 'cause she's the prettiest little thing in Milwaukee."
"Can't you fix it for two?" asked Midge.
"I don't know who to get," Hersch replied. "Wait, though. I got a sister and if she ain't busy, it'll be O.K. She's no bum for looks herself."
So it came about that Midge and Emma Hersch and Emma's brother and the prettiest little thing in Milwaukee foregathered at Wall's and danced half the night away. And Midge and Emma danced every dance together, for though every little onestep seemed to induce a new thirst of its own, Lou Hersch stayed too sober to dance with his own sister.
The next day, penniless at last in spite of his phenomenal ability to make someone else settle, Midge Kelly sought out Doc Hammond, matchmaker for the Star, and asked to be booked for the next show.
"I could put you on with Tracy for the next bout," said Doc.
"What's they in it?" asked Midge.
"Twenty if you cop," Doc told him.
"Have a heart," protested Midge. "Didn't I look good the other night?"
"You looked all right. But you aren't Freddie Welsh yet by a consid'able margin."
"I ain't scared of Freddie Welsh or none of 'em," said Midge.
"Well, we don't pay our boxers by the size of their chests," Doc said. "I'm offerin' you this Tracy bout. Take it or leave it."
"All right; I'm on," said Midge, and he passed a pleasant afternoon at Duane's on the strength of his booking.
Young Tracy's manager came to Midge the night before the show.
"How do you feel about this go?" he asked.
"Me?" said Midge. "I feel all right. What do you mean, how do I feel?"
"I mean," said Tracy's manager, "that we're mighty anxious to win, 'cause the boy's got a chanct in Philly if he cops this one."
"What's your proposition?" asked Midge.
"Fifty bucks," said Tracy's manager.
"What do you think I am, a crook? Me lay down for fifty bucks. Not me!"
"Seventy-five, then," said Tracy's manager.
The market closed on eighty and the details were agreed on in short order. And the next night Midge was stopped in the second round by a terrific slap on the forearm.
This time Midge passed up both Niemann's and Duane's, having a sizable account at each place, and sought his refreshment at Stein's farther down the street.
When the profits of his deal with Tracy were gone, he learned, by first-hand information from Doc Hammond and the matchmakers at the other "clubs," that he was no longer desired for even the cheapest of preliminaries. There was no danger of his starving or dying of thirst while Emma and Lou Hersch lived. But he made up his mind, four months after his defeat by Young Tracy, that Milwaukee was not the ideal place for him to live.
"I can lick the best of 'em," he reasoned, "but there ain't no more chanct for me here. I can maybe go east and get on somewheres. And besides ----"
But just after Midge had purchased a ticket to Chicago with the money he had "borrowed" from Emma Hersch "to buy shoes," a heavy hand was laid on his shoulders and he turned to face two strangers.
"Where are you goin' Kelly?" inquired the owner of the heavy hand.
"Nowheres," said Midge. "What the hell do you care?"
The other stranger spoke:
"Kelly, I'm employed by Emma Hersch's mother to see that you do right by her. And we want you to stay here till you've done it."
"You won't get nothin' but the worst of it, monkeying with me," said Midge.
Nevertheless, he did not depart for Chicago that night. Two days later, Emma Hersch became Mrs. Kelly, and the gift of the groom, when once they were alone, was a crushing blow on the bride's pale cheek.
Next morning, Midge left Milwaukee as he had entered it -- by fast freight.
"They's no use kiddin' ourself any more," said Tommy Haley. "He might get down to thirty-seven in a pinch, but if he done below that a mouse could stop him. He's a welter; that's what he is and he knows it as well as I do. He's growed like a weed in the last six mont's. I told him, I says, If you don't quit growin' they won't be nobody for you to box, only Willard and them.' He says, 'Well, I wouldn't run away from Willard if I weighed twenty pounds more."
"He must hate himself," said Tommy's brother.
"I never seen a good one that didn't," said Tommy. "And Midge is a good one; don't make no mistake about that. I wisht we could of got Welsh before the kid growed so big. But it's too late now. I won't make no holler, though, if we can match him up with the Dutchman."
"Who do you mean?"
"Young Goetz, the welter champ. We mightn't not get so much dough for the bout itself, but it'd roll in afterward. What a drawin' card we'd be, 'cause the people pays their money to see the fella with the wallop, and that's Midge. And we'd keep the title just as long as Midge could make the weight."
"Can't you land no match with Goetz?"
"Sure, 'cause he needs the money. But I've went careful with the kid so far and look at the results I got! So what's the use of takin' a chanct? The kid's comin' every minute and Goetz is goin' back faster'n big Johnson did. I think we could lick him now; I'd bet my life on it. But six mont's from now they won't be no risk. He'll of licked hisself before that time. Then all as we'll have to do is sign up with him and wait for the referee to stop it. But Midge is so crazy to get at him now that I can't hardly hold him back."
The brothers Haley were lunching in a Boston hotel. Dan had come down from Holyoke to visit with Tommy and to watch the latter's protege go twelve rounds, or less, with Bud Cross. The bout promised little in the way of a contest, for Midge had twice stopped the Baltimore youth and Bud's reputation for gameness was all that had earned him the date. The fans were willing to pay the price to see Midge's hay-making left, but they wanted to see it used on an opponent who would not jump out of the ring the first time he felt its crushing force. Bud Cross was such an opponent, and his willingness to stop boxing-gloves with his eyes, ears, nose and throat had long enabled him to escape the horrors of honest labor. A game boy was Bud, and he showed it in his battered, swollen, discolored face.
"I should think," said Dan Haley, "that the kid'd do whatever you tell him after all you done for him."
"Well," said Tommy, "he's took my dope pretty straight so far, but he's so sure of hisself that he can't see no reason for waitin'. He'll do what I say, though; he'd be a sucker not to."
"You got a contrac' with him?"
"No, I don't need no contrac'. He knows it was me that drug him out o' the gutter and he ain't goin' to turn me down now, when he's got the dough and bound to get more. Where'd he of been at if I hadn't listened to him when he first come to me? That's pretty near two years ago now, but it seems like last week. I was settin' in the s'loon acrost from the Pleasant Club in Philly, waitin' for McCann to count the dough and come over, when this little bum blowed in and tried to stand the house off for a drink. They told him nothin' doin' and to beat it out o' there, and then he seen me and come over to where I was settin' and ast me wasn't I a boxin' man and I told him who I was. Then he ast me for money to buy a shot and I told him to set down and I'd buy it for him.
"Then we got talkin' things over and he told me his name and told me about fightin' a couple o' prelims out to Milwaukee. So I says, 'Well, boy, I don't know how good or how rotten you are, but you won't never get nowheres trainin' on that stuff.' So he says he'd cut it out if he could get on in a bout and I says I would give him a chanct if he played square with me and didn't touch no more to drink. So we shook hands and I took him up to the hotel with me and give him a bath and the next day I bought him some clo'es. And I staked him to eats and sleeps for over six weeks. He had a hard time breakin' away from the polish, but finally I thought he was fit and I give him his chanct. He went on with Smiley Sayer and stopped him so quick that Smiley thought sure he was poisoned.
"Well, you know what he's did since. The only beatin' in his record was by Tracy in Milwaukee before I got hold of him, and he's licked Tracy three times in the last year.
"I've gave him all the best of it in a money way and he's got seven thousand bucks in cold storage. How's that for a kid that was in the gutter two years ago? And he'd have still more yet if he wasn't so nuts over clo'es and got to stop at the good hotels and so forth."
"Where's his home at?"
"Well, he ain't really got no home. He came from Chicago and his mother canned him out o' the house for bein' no good. She give him a raw deal, I guess, and he says he won't have nothin' to do with her unlest she comes to him first. She's got a pile o' money, he says, so he ain't worryin' about her."
The gentleman under discussion entered the cafe and swaggered to Tommy's table, while the whole room turned to look.
Midge was the picture of health despite a slightly colored eye and an ear that seemed to have no opening. But perhaps it was not his healthiness that drew all eyes. His diamond horse-shoe tie pin, his purple cross-striped shirt, his orange shoes and his light blue suit fairly screamed for attention.
"Where you been?" he asked Tommy. "I been lookin' all over for you."
"Set down," said his manager.
"No time," said Midge. "I'm goin' down to the w'arf and see 'em unload the fish."
"Shake hands with my brother Dan," said Tommy.
Midge shook with the Holyoke Haley.
"If you're Tommy's brother, you're O. K. with me," said Midge, and the brothers beamed with pleasure.
Dan moistened his lips and murmured an embarrassed reply, but it was lost on the young gladiator.
"Leave me take twenty," Midge was saying. "I prob'ly won't need it, but I don't like to be caught short."
Tommy parted with a twenty dollar bill and recorded the transaction in a small black book the insurance company had given him for Christmas.
"But," he said, "it won't cost you no twenty to look at them fish. Want me to go along?"
"No," said Midge hastily. "You and your brother here prob'ly got a lot to say to each other."
"Well," said Tommy, "don't take no bad money and don't get lost. And you better be back at four o'clock and lay down a w'ile."
"I don't need no rest to beat this guy," said Midge. "He'll do enough layin' down for the both of us."
And laughing even more than the jest called for, he strode out through the fire of admiring and startled glances.
The corner of Boylston and Tremont was the nearest Midge got to the wharf, but the lady awaiting him was doubtless a more dazzling sight than the catch of the luckiest Massachusetts fisherman. She could talk, too—probably better than the fish.
"O you Kid!" she said, flashing a few silver teeth among the gold. "O you fighting man!"
Midge smiled up at her.
"We'll go somewheres and get a drink," he said. "One won't hurt."
In New Orleans, five months after he had rearranged the map of Bud Cross for the third time, Midge finished training for his championship bout with the Dutchman.
Back in his hotel after the final workout, Midge stopped to chat with some of the boys from up north, who had made the long trip to see a champion dethroned, for the result of this bout was so nearly a foregone conclusion that even the experts had guessed it.
Tommy Haley secured the key and the mail and ascended to the Kelly suite. He was bathing when Midge came in, half hour later.
"Any mail?" asked Midge.
"There on the bed," replied Tommy from the tub.
Midge picked up the stack of letters and post-cards and glanced them over. From the pile he sorted out three letters and laid them on the table. The rest he tossed into the waste-basket. Then he picked up the three and sat for a few moments holding them, while his eyes gazed off into space. At length he looked again at the three unopened letters in his hand; then he put one in his pocket and tossed the other two at the basket. They missed their target and fell on the floor.
"Hell!" said Midge, and stooping over picked them up.
He opened one postmarked Milwaukee and read:
I have wrote to you so manny times and got no anser and I dont know if you ever got them, so I am writeing again in the hopes you will get this letter and anser. I dont like to bother you with my trubles and I would not only for the baby and I am not asking you should write to me but only send a little money and I am not asking for myself but the baby has not been well a day sence last Aug. and the dr. told me she cant live much longer unless I give her better food and thats impossible the way things are. Lou has not been working for a year and what I make dont hardley pay for the rent. I am not asking for you to give me any money, but only you should send what I loaned when convenient and I think it amts. to about $36.00. Please try and send that amt. and it will help me, but if you cant send the whole amt. try and send me something.
Midge tore the letter into a hundred pieces and scattered them over the floor.
"Money, money, money!" he said. "They must think I'm made o' money. I s'pose the old woman's after it too."
He opened his mother's letter:
dear Michael Connie wonted me to rite and say you must beet the dutchman and he is sur you will and wonted me to say we wont you to rite and tell us about it, but I gess you havent no time to rite or we herd from you long beffore this but I wish you would rite jest a line or 2 boy becaus it wuld be better for Connie than a barl of medisin. It wuld help me to keep things going if you send me money now and then when you can spair it but if you cant send no money try and fine time to rite a letter onley a few lines and it will please Connie, jest think boy he hasent got out of bed in over 3 yrs. Connie says good luck.
ELLEN F. KELLY.
"I thought so," said Midge. "They're all alike." The third letter was from New York. It read:
Hon: -- This is the last letter you will get from me before your champ, but I will send you a telegram Saturday, but I can't say as much in a telegram as in a letter and I am writeing this to Jet you know I am thinking of you and praying for good luck.
Lick him good hon and don't wait no longer than you have to and don't forget to wire me as soon as its over. Give him that little old left of yours on the nose hon and don't be afraid of spoiling his good looks because he couldn't be no homlier than he is. But don't let him spoil my baby's pretty face. You won't will you hon.
Well hon I would give anything to be there and see it, but I guess you love Haley better than me or you wouldn't let him keep me away. But when your champ hon we can do as we please and tell Haley to go to the devil.
Well hon I will send you a telegram Saturday and I almost forgot to tell you I will need some more money, a couple hundred say and you will have to wire it to me as soon as you get this. You will won't you hon.
I will send you a telegram Saturday and remember hon I am pulling for you.
Well good-by sweetheart and good luck.
"They're all alike," said Midge. "Money, money, money."
Tommy Haley, shining from his ablutions, came in from the adjoining room.
"Thought you'd be layin' down," he said.
"I'm goin' to," said Midge, unbuttoning his orange shoes.
"I'll call you at six and you can eat up here without no bugs to pester you. I got to go down and give them birds their tickets.''
"Did you hear from Goldberg?" asked Midge.
"Didn't I tell you? Sure; fifteen weeks at five hundred, if we win. And we can get a guarantee o' twelve thousand, with privileges either in New York or Milwaukee."
"Anybody that'll stand up in front of you. You don't care who it is, do you?"
"Not me. I'll make 'em all look like a monkey."
"Well you better lay down a w'ile."
"Oh, say, wire two hundred to Grace for me, will you? Right away; the New York address."
"Two hundred! You just sent her three hundred last Sunday."
"Well, what the hell do you care?"
"All right, all right. Don't get sore about it. Anything else?"
"That's all," said Midge, and dropped onto the bed.
"And I want the deed done before I come back," said Grace as she rose from the table. "You won't fall down on me, will you, hon?"
"Leave it to me," said Midge. "And don't spend no more than you have to."
Grace smiled a farewell and left the cafe. Midge continued to sip his coffee and read his paper.
They were in Chicago and they were in the middle of Midge's first week in vaudeville. He had come straight north to reap the rewards of his glorious victory over the broken down Dutchman. A fortnight had been spent in learning his act, which consisted of a gymnastic exhibition and a ten minutes' monologue on the various excellences of Midge Kelly. And now he was twice daily turning 'em away from the Madison Theater.
His breakfast over and his paper read, Midge sauntered into the lobby and asked for his key. He then beckoned to a bell-boy, who had been hoping for that very honor.
"Find Haley, Tommy Haley," said Midge. "Tell him to come up to my room."
"Yes, sir, Mr. Kelly," said the boy, and proceeded to break all his former records for diligence.
Midge was looking out of his seventh-story window when Tommy answered the summons.
"What'll it be?" inquired his manager.
There was a pause before Midge replied.
"Haley," he said, "twenty-five per cent's a whole lot o' money."
"I guess I got it comin', ain't I?" said Tommy.
"I don't see how you figger it. I don't see where you're worth it to me."
"Well," said Tommy, "I didn't expect nothin' like this. I thought you was satisfied with the bargain. I don't want to beat nobody out o' nothin', but I don't see where you could have got anybody else that would of did all I done for you."
"Sure, that's all right," said the champion. "You done a lot for me in Philly. And you got good money for it, didn't you?"
"I ain't makin' no holler. Still and all, the big money's still ahead of us yet. And if it hadn't of been for me, you wouldn't of never got within grabbin' distance."
"Oh, I guess I could of went along all right," said Midge. "Who was it that hung that left on the Dutchman's jaw, me or you?"
"Yes, but you wouldn't been in the ring with the Dutchman if it wasn't for how I handled you."
"Well, this won't get us nowheres. The idear is that you ain't worth no twenty-five per cent now and it don't make no diff'rence what come off a year or two ago."
"Don't it?" said Tommy. "I'd say it made a whole lot of difference."
"Well, I say it don't and I guess that settles it."
"Look here, Midge," Tommy said, "I thought I was fair with you, but if you don't think so, I'm willin' to hear what you think is fair. I don't want nobody callin' me a Sherlock. Let's go down to business and sign up a contrac'. What's your figger?"
"I ain't namin' no figger," Midge replied. "I'm sayin' that twenty-five's too much. Now what are you willin' to take?"
"How about twenty?"
"Twenty's too much," said Kelly.
"What ain't too much?" asked Tommy.
"Well, Haley, I might as well give it to you straight. They ain't nothin' that ain't too much."
"You mean you don't want me at no figger?"
"That's the idear."
There was a minute's silence. Then Tommy Haley walked toward the door.
"Midge," he said, in a choking voice, "you're makin' a big mistake, boy. You can't throw down your best friends and get away with it. That damn woman will ruin you."
Midge sprang from his seat.
"You shut your mouth!" he stormed. "Get out o' here before they have to carry you out. You been spongin' off o' me long enough. Say one more word about the girl or about anything else and you'll get what the Dutchman got. Now get out!"
And Tommy Haley, having a very vivid memory of the Dutchman's face as he fell, got out.
Grace came in later, dropped her numerous bundles on the lounge and perched herself on the arm of Midge's chair.
"Well?" she said.
"Well," said Midge, "I got rid of him."
"Good boy!" said Grace. "And now I think you might give me that twenty-five per cent."
"Besides the seventy-five you're already gettin'?" said Midge.
"Don't be no grouch, hon. You don't look pretty when you're grouchy."
"It ain't my business to look pretty," Midge replied.
"Wait till you see how I look with the stuff I bought this mornin'!"
Midge glanced at the bundles on the lounge.
"There's Haley's twenty-five per cent," he said, "and then some."
The champion did not remain long without a manager. Haley's successor was none other than Jerome Harris, who saw in Midge a better meal ticket than his popular-priced musical show had been.
The contract, giving Mr. Harris twenty-five per cent of Midge's earnings, was signed in Detroit the week after Tommy Haley had heard his dismissal read. It had taken Midge just six days to learn that a popular actor cannot get on without the ministrations of a man who thinks, talks and means business. At first Grace objected to the new member of the firm, but when Mr. Harris had demanded and secured from the vaudeville people a one-hundred dollar increase in Midge's weekly stipend, she was convinced that the champion had acted for the best.
"You and my missus will have some great old times," Harris told Grace. "I'd of wired her to join us here, only I seen the Kid's bookin' takes us to Milwaukee next week, and that's where she is."
But when they were introduced in the Milwaukee hotel, Grace admitted to herself that her feeling for Mrs. Harris could hardly be called love at first sight. Midge, on the contrary, gave his new manager's wife the many times over and seemed loath to end the feast of his eyes.
"Some doll," he said to Grace when they were alone.
"Doll is right," the lady replied, "and sawdust where her brains ought to be."
"I'm li'ble to steal that baby," said Midge, and he smiled as he noted the effect of his words on his audience's face.
On Tuesday of the Milwaukee week the champion successfully defended his title in a bout that the newspapers never reported. Midge was alone in his room that morning when a visitor entered without knocking. The visitor was Lou Hersch.
Midge turned white at sight of him.
"What do you want?" he demanded.
"I guess you know," said Lou Hersch. "Your wife's starvin' to death and your baby's starvin' to death and I'm starvin' to death. And you're dirty with money."
"Listen," said Midge, "if it wasn't for you, I wouldn't never saw your sister. And, if you ain't man enough to hold a job, what's that to me? The best thing you can do is keep away from me."
"You give me a piece o' money and I'll go."
Midge's reply to the ultimatum was a straight right to his brother-in-law's narrow chest.
"Take that home to your sister."
And after Lou Hersch had picked himself up and slunk away, Midge thought: "It's lucky I didn't give him my left or I'd of croaked him. And if I'd hit him in the stomach, I'd of broke his spine."
There was a party after each evening performance during the Milwaukee engagement. The wine flowed freely and Midge had more of it than Tommy Haley ever would have permitted him. Mr. Harris offered no objection, which was possibly just as well for his own physical comfort.
In the dancing between drinks, Midge had his new manager's wife for a partner as often as Grace. The latter's face, as she floundered round in the arms of the portly Harris, belied her frequent protestations that she was having the time of her life.
Several times that week, Midge thought Grace was on the point of starting the quarrel he hoped to have. But it was not until Friday night that she accommodated. He and Mrs. Harris had disappeared after the matinee and when Grace saw him again at the close of the night show, she came to the point at once.
"What are you tryin' to pull off?" she demanded.
"It's none o' your business, is it?" said Midge.
"You bet it's my business; mine and Harris's. You cut it short or you'll find out."
"Listen," said Midge, "have you got a mortgage on me or somethin'? You talk like we was married."
"We're goin' to be, too. And to-morrow's as good a time as any."*
"Just about," Midge said. "You got as much chanct o' marryin' me to-morrow as the next day or next year and that ain't no chanct at all."
"We'll find out," said Grace.
"You're the one that's got somethin' to find out."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean I'm married already."
"You think so, do you? Well, s'pose you go to this here address and get acquainted with my missus."
Midge scrawled a number on a piece of paper and handed it to her. She stared at it unseeingly.
"Well," said Midge. "I ain't kiddin' you. You go there and ask for Mrs. Michael Kelly, and if you don't find her, I'll marry you to-morrow before breakfast."
Still Grace stared at the scrap of paper. To Midge it seemed an age before she spoke again.
"You lied to me all this w'ile."
"You never ast me was I married. What's more, what the hell difference did it make to you? You got a split, didn't you? Better'n fifty-fifty."
He started away.
"Where you goin'?"
"I'm goin' to meet Harris and his wife."
"I'm goin' with you. You're not goin' to shake me now."
"Yes, I am, too," said Midge quietly. "When I leave town tomorrow night, you're going to stay here. And if I see where you're goin' to make a fuss, I'll put you in a hospital where they'll keep you quiet. You can get your stuff to-morrow mornin' and I'll slip you a hundred bucks. And then I don't want to see no more o' you. And don't try and tag along now or I'll have to add another K. O. to the old record."
When Grace returned to the hotel that night, she discovered that Midge and the Harrises had moved to another. And when Midge left town the following night, he was again without a manager, and Mr. Harris was without a wife.
Three days prior to Midge Kelly's ten-round bout with Young Milton in New York City, the sporting editor of The News assigned Joe Morgan to write two or three thousand words about the champion to run with a picture lay-out for Sunday.
Joe Morgan dropped in at Midge's training quarters Friday afternoon. Midge, he learned, was doing road work, but Midge's manager, Wallie Adams, stood ready and willing to supply reams of dope about the greatest fighter of the age.
"Let's hear what you've got," said Joe, "and then I'll try to fix up something."
So Wallie stepped on the accelerator of his imagination and shot away.
"Just a kid; that's all he is; a regular boy. Get what I mean? Don't know the meanin' o' bad habits. Never tasted liquor in his life and would prob'bly get sick if he smelled it. Clean livin' put him up where he's at. Get what I mean? And modest and unassumin' as a school girl. He's so quiet you wouldn't never know he was round. And he'd go to jail before he'd talk about himself.
"No job at all to get him in shape, 'cause he's always that way. The only trouble we have with him is gettin' him to light into these poor bums they match him up with. He's scared he'll hurt somebody. Get what I mean? He's tickled to death over this match with Milton, 'cause everybody says Milton can stand the gaff. Midge'll maybe be able to cut loose a little this time. But the last two bouts he had, the guys hadn't no business in the ring with him, and he was holdin' back all the w'ile for the fear he'd kill somebody. Get what I mean?"
"Is he married?" inquired Joe.
"Say, you'd think he was married to hear him rave about them kiddies he's got. His fam'ly's up in Canada to their summer home and Midge is wild to get up there with 'em. He thinks more o' that wife and them kiddies than all the money in the world. Get what I mean?"
"How many children has he?"
"I don't know, four or five, I guess. All boys and every one of 'em a dead ringer for their dad."
"Is his father living?"
"No, the old man died when he was a kid. But he's got a grand old mother and a kid brother out in Chi. They're the first ones he thinks about after a match, them and his wife and kiddies. And he don't forget to send the old woman a thousand bucks after every bout. He's goin to buy her a new home as soon as they pay him off for this match."
"How about his brother? Is he going to tackle the game?"
"Sure, and Midge says he'll be a champion before he's twenty years old. They're a fightin' fam'ly and all of 'em honest and straight as a die. Get what I mean? A fella that I can't tell you his name come to Midge in Milwaukee onct and wanted him to throw a fight and Midge give him such a trimmin' in the street that he couldn't go on that night. That's the kind he is. Get what I mean?"
Joe Morgan hung around the camp until Midge and his trainers returned.
"One o' the boys from The News," said Wallie by way of introduction. "I been givin' him your fam'ly hist'ry."
"Did he give you good dope?" he inquired.
"He's some historian," said Joe.
"Don't call me no names," said Wallie smiling. "Call us up if they's anything more you want. And keep your eyes on us Monday night. Get what I mean?"
The story in Sunday's News was read by thousands of lovers of the manly art. It was well written and full of human interest. Its slight inaccuracies went unchallenged, though three readers, besides Wallie Adams and Midge Kelly, saw and recognized them. The three were Grace, Tommy Haley and Jerome Harris and the comments they made were not for publication.
Neither the Mrs. Kelly in Chicago nor the Mrs. Kelly in Milwaukee knew that there was such a paper as the New York News. And even if they had known of it and that it contained two columns of reading matter about Midge, neither mother nor wife could have bought it. For The News on Sunday is a nickel a copy.
Joe Morgan could have written more accurately, no doubt, if instead of Wallie Adams, he had interviewed Ellen Kelly and Connie Kelly and Emma Kelly and Lou Hersch and Grace and Jerome Harris and Tommy Haley and Hap Collins and two or three Milwaukee bartenders.
But a story built on their evidence would never have passed the sporting editor.
"Suppose you can prove it," that gentleman would have said, "It wouldn't get us anything but abuse to print it. The people don't want to see him knocked. He's champion."
A Predator's Game, available March 30, 2016, Rook's Page Publishing.
Nikola Tesla, Arthur Conan Doyle and Dr. Henry H. Holmes are characters in my thriller, A Predator's Game, Rook's Page Publishing.
Back page blurb of A Predator's Game .
When the author Arthur Conan Doyle meets Nikola Tesla he finds a tall, thin genius with a photographic memory and a keen eye, and recognizes in the eccentric inventor the embodiment of his creation, Sherlock. Together, they team up to take on an "evil Holmes." Multi-murderer Dr. Henry H. Holmes has escaped execution and is unleashing a reign of terror upon the metropolis. Set in the late nineteenth century in a world of modern marvels, danger and invention, Conan Doyle and Tesla engage the madman in a deadly game of wits.
Martin Hill Ortiz, also writing under the name, Martin Hill, is the author of A Predatory Mind. Its sequel, set in 1890s Manhattan and titled A Predator's Game features Nikola Tesla as detective.
His recent mystery, Never Kill A Friend, is available from Ransom Note Press. His epic poem, Two Mistakes, recently won second place in the Margaret Reid/Tom Howard Poetry Competition. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
The question that inevitably arises in any discussion of Ring Lardner’s stories is: What is Lardner’s attitude toward his characters and by extension toward the culture out of which they come? Is Lardner, in other words, a misanthrope who hated not only his own characters but also himself, or is he, rather, a disappointed idealist who found in the world of his immediate experience constant instances of cruelty, vulgarity, and insensitivity? Those who point to Lardner’s sheltered upbringing and the apparently happy family life both of his early years and of his later married life favor the latter view, while those who wish to find in his fiction some affirmation of the goodness of human beings prefer the former. Obviously, no final answer to the question is possible.
If one reads an early story such as “Champion,” one sees a heavy-handed author stacking the cards against his brutal hero, Midge Kelly. Midge beats his crippled brother to steal his half dollar and, when their mother objects, beats her too. Thereafter Midge’s life is a succession of victories and brutalities: He becomes a prizefighter who wins fight after fight and, at the same time, does in those who have befriended him. Although his crippled brother is sick and unable to get out of bed and longs to have a letter from his famous brother, Midge refuses to write. When his wife and son are ill and destitute, he tears up a letter from his wife begging for help. He fires the manager who has helped make him a champion fighter and heaps money on a woman who is obviously using him, although he later casts her off, too, and then takes for himself the wife of his new manager. Through the obvious card-stacking one sees Lardner’s intention. He hates brutality and he hates the way brutality is not only ignored but also rewarded in our society. Midge Kelly is not a believable character; he is a symbol on which Lardner heaps all of the abuse he can muster. If it were not for the brutality, “Champion” would be a maudlin tearjerker.
The truth seems to be that, underneath the pose of the realist, observer, and reporter of American crudities, Ring Lardner was a sensitive, even a sentimental man. The monologue form exactly suited his need to keep the sentimentality out of sight while letting his crude, vulgar, insensitive types condemn themselves out of their own mouths, but it was also a way of allowing the victims of the bullies to engage the reader’s sympathies without having to make them stereotyped victims: cripples who are beaten, mothers knocked down by their sons, abandoned wives and babies. Lardner’s best stories present the reader with a story in which the real author has all but disappeared while his narrator tells his ironically revealing, self-condemning tale.
One of the best of Lardner’s stories, “Haircut,” is told by a barber who is giving a haircut to an unnamed stranger in a small Midwestern town. The hero of the barber’s tale is Jim Kendall, a practical joker, whom the barber describes as “all right at heart” but whom the reader quickly sees as a man who enjoys inflicting pain on other human beings under the guise of being funny. To pay his wife back for getting his paycheck (he gives her no money to run the household), Kendall tells her to meet him with their children outside the tent of a visiting circus. Instead of joining her there with the tickets as he promised, he hides out in a saloon to savor the joke he is playing on his family. Meanwhile, a new doctor in the town, “Doc” Stair, appears on the scene, and feeling sorry for the mother with the crying children, buys the tickets for them. When Kendall hears how Doc Stair spoiled his fun, he gets furious and vows revenge. He tricks a young woman, Julie Gregg, who is “sweet on” Doc Stair, into coming into the doctor’s office...
(The entire section is 1585 words.)