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Danny's Own Story By Don Marquis Characters: 19360

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


One night when I've been there more'n a week, and am getting kind o' tired staying in one place so long, I don't want to go to bed after I eats, and I gets a-holt of some of the perfessor's cigars and goes into the lib'ary to see if he's got anything fit to read. Setting there thinking of the awful remarkable people they is in this world I must of went to sleep. Purty soon, in my sleep, I hearn two voices. Then I waked up sudden, and still hearn 'em, low and quicklike, in the room that opens right off of the lib'ary with a couple of them sliding doors like is onto a box car. One voice was a woman's voice, and it wasn't Miss Estelle's.

"But I MUST see them before we go, Henry," she says.

And the other was a man's voice and it wasn't no one around our house.

"But, my God," he says, "suppose you get it yourself, Jane!"

I set up straight then, fur Jane was the perfessor's wife's first name.

"You mean suppose YOU get it," she says. I like to of seen the look she must of give him to fit in with the way she says that YOU. He didn't say nothing, the man didn't; and then her voice softens down some, and she says, low and slow: "Henry, wouldn't you love me if I DID get it? Suppose it marked and pitted me all up?"

"Oh, of course," he says, "of course I would. Nothing can change the way I feel. YOU know that." He said it quick enough, all right, jest the way they does in a show, but it sounded TOO MUCH like it does on the stage to of suited me if I'D been her. I seen folks overdo them little talks before this.

I listens some more, and then I sees how it is. This is that musician feller Biddy Malone's been talking about. Jane's going to run off with him all right, but she's got to kiss the kids first. Women is like that. They may hate the kids' pa all right, but they's dad-burned few of 'em don't like the kids. I thinks to myself: "It must be late. I bet they was already started, or ready to start, and she made him bring her here first so's she could sneak in and see the kids. She jest simply couldn't get by. But she's taking a fool risk, too. Fur how's she going to see Margery with that nurse coming and going and hanging around all night? And even if she tries jest to see William Dear it's a ten to one shot he'll wake up and she'll be ketched at it."

And then I thinks, suppose she IS ketched at it? What of it? Ain't a woman got a right to come into her own house with her own door key, even if they is a quarantine onto it, and see her kids? And if she is ketched seeing them, how would any one know she was going to run off? And ain't she got a right to have a friend of hern and her husband's bring her over from her mother's house, even if it is a little late?

Then I seen she wasn't taking no great risks neither, and I thinks mebby I better go and tell that perfessor what is going on, fur he has treated me purty white. And then I thinks: "I'll be gosh-derned if I meddle. So fur as I can see that there perfessor ain't getting fur from what's coming to him, nohow. And as fur HER, you got to let some people find out what they want fur theirselves. Anyhow, where do I come in at?"

But I want to get a look at her and Henry, anyhow. So I eases off my shoes, careful-like, and I eases acrost the floor to them sliding doors, and I puts my eye down to the little crack. The talk is going backward and forward between them two, him wanting her to come away quick, and her undecided whether to risk seeing the kids. And all the time she's kind o' hoping mebby she will be ketched if she tries to see the kids, and she's begging off fur more time ginerally.

Well, sir, I didn't blame that musician feller none when I seen her. She was a peach.

And I couldn't blame her so much, neither, when I thought of Miss Estelle and all them scientifics of the perfessor's strung out fur years and years world without end.

Yet, when I seen the man, I sort o' wished she wouldn't. I seen right off that Henry wouldn't do. It takes a man with a lot of gumption to keep a woman feeling good and not sorry fur doing it when he's married to her. But it takes a man with twicet as much to make her feel right when they ain't married. This feller wears one of them little, brown, pointed beards fur to hide where his chin ain't. And his eyes is too much like a woman's. Which is the kind that gets the biggest piece of pie at the lunch counter and fergits to thank the girl as cuts it big. She was setting in front of a table, twisting her fingers together, and he was walking up and down. I seen he was mad and trying not to show it, and I seen he was scared of the smallpox and trying not to show that, too. And jest about that time something happened that kind o' jolted me.

They was one of them big chairs in the room where they was that has got a high back and spins around on itself. It was right acrost from me, on the other side of the room, and it was facing the front window, which was a bow window. And that there chair begins to turn, slow and easy. First I thought she wasn't turning. Then I seen she was. But Jane and Henry didn't. They was all took up with each other in the middle of the room, with their backs to it.

Henry is a-begging of Jane, and she turns a little more, that chair does. Will she squeak, I wonders?

"Don't you be a fool, Jane," says the Henry feller.

Around she comes three hull inches, that there chair, and nary a squeak.

"A fool?" asts Jane, and laughs. "And I'm not a fool to think of going with you at all, then?"

That chair, she moved six inches more and I seen the calf of a leg and part of a crumpled-up coat tail.

"But I AM going with you, Henry," says Jane. And she gets up jest like she is going to put her arms around him.

But Jane don't. Fur that chair swings clear around and there sets the perfessor. He's all hunched up and caved in and he's rubbing his eyes like he's jest woke up recent, and he's got a grin onto his face that makes him look like his sister Estelle looks all the time.

"Excuse me," says the perfessor.

They both swings around and faces him. I can hear my heart bumping. Jane never says a word. The man with the brown beard never says a word. But if they felt like me they both felt like laying right down there and having a fit. They looks at him and he jest sets there and grins at them.

But after a while Jane, she says:

"Well, now you KNOW! What are you going to do about it?"

Henry, he starts to say something too. But-

"Don't start anything," says the perfessor to him. "YOU aren't going to do anything." Or they was words to that effect.

"Professor Booth," he says, seeing he has got to say something or else Jane will think the worse of him, "I am-"

"Keep still," says the perfessor, real quiet. "I'll tend to you in a minute or two. YOU don't count for much. This thing is mostly between me and my wife."

When he talks so decided I thinks mebby that perfessor has got something into him besides science after all. Jane, she looks kind o' surprised herself. But she says nothing, except:

"What are you going to do, Frederick?" And she laughs one of them mean kind of laughs, and looks at Henry like she wanted him to spunk up a little more, and says: "What CAN you do, Frederick?"

Frederick, he says, not excited a bit:

"There's quite a number of things I COULD do that would look bad when they got into the newspapers. But it's none of them, unless one of you forces me to it." Then he says:

"You DID want to see the children, Jane?"

She nodded.

"Jane," he says, "can't you see I'm the better man?"

The perfessor, he was woke up after all them years of scientifics, and he didn't want to see her go. "Look at him," he says, pointing to the feller with the brown beard, "he's scared stiff right now."

Which I would of been scared myself if I'd a-been ketched that-a-way like Henry was, and the perfessor's voice sounding like you was chopping ice every time he spoke. I seen the perfessor didn't want to have no blood on the carpet without he had to have it, but I seen he was making up his mind about something, too. Jane, she says:

"YOU a better man? YOU? You think you've been a model husband just because you've never beaten me, don't you?"

"No," says the perfessor, "I've been a blamed fool all right. I've been a worse fool, maybe, than if I HAD beaten you." Then he turns to Henry and he says:

"Duels are out of fashion, aren't they? And a plain killing looks bad in the papers, doesn't it? Well, you just wait for me." With which he gets up and trots out, and I hearn him running down stairs to his labertory.

Henry, he'd ruther go now. He don't want to wait. But with Jane a-looking at him he's shamed not to wait. It's his place to make some kind of a strong action now to show Jane he is a great man. But he don't do it. And Jane is too much of a thoroughbred to show him she expects it. And me, I'm getting the fidgets and wondering to myself, "What is that there perfessor up to now? Whatever it is, it ain't like no one else. He is looney, that perfessor is. And she is kind o' looney, too. I wonder if they is any one that ain't looney sometimes?" I been around the country a good 'eal, too, and seen and hearn of some awful remarkable things, and I never seen no one that wasn't more or less looney when the SEARCH US THE FEMM comes into the case. Which is a Dago word I got out'n a newspaper and it means: "Who was the dead gent's lady friend?" And we all set and sweat and got the fidgets waiting fur that perfessor to come back.

Which he done with that Sister Estelle grin onto his face and a pill box in his hand. They was two pills in the

box. He says, placid and chilly:

"Yes, sir, duels are out of fashion. This is the age of science. All the same, the one that gets her has got to fight for her. If she isn't worth fighting for, she isn't worth having. Here are two pills. I made 'em myself. One has enough poison in it to kill a regiment when it gets to working well-which it does fifteen minutes after it is taken. The other one has got nothing harmful in it. If you get the poison one, I keep her. If I get it, you can have her. Only I hope you will wait long enough after I'm dead so there won't be any scandal around town."

Henry, he never said a word. He opened his mouth, but nothing come of it. When he done that I thought I hearn his tongue scrape agin his cheek on the inside like a piece of sand-paper. He was scared, Henry was.

"But YOU know which is which," Jane sings out. "The thing's not fair!"

"That is the reason my dear Jane is going to shuffle these pills around each other herself," says the perfessor, "and then pick out one for him and one for me. YOU don't know which is which, Jane. And as he is the favourite, he is going to get the first chance. If he gets the one I want him to get, he will have just fifteen minutes to live after taking it. In that fifteen minutes he will please to walk so far from my house that he won't die near it and make a scandal. I won't have a scandal without I have to. Everything is going to be nice and quiet and respectable. The effect of the poison is similar to heart failure. No one can tell the difference on the corpse. There's going to be no blood anywhere. I will be found dead in my house in the morning with heart failure, or else he will be picked up dead in the street, far enough away so as to make no talk." Or they was words to that effect.

He is rubbing it in considerable, I thinks, that perfessor is. I wonder if I better jump in and stop the hull thing. Then I thinks: "No, it's between them three." Besides, I want to see which one is going to get that there loaded pill. I always been intrusted in games of chancet of all kinds, and when I seen the perfessor was such a sport, I'm sorry I been misjudging him all this time.

Jane, she looks at the box, and she breathes hard and quick.

"I won't touch 'em," she says. "I refuse to be a party to any murder of that kind."

"Huh? You do?" says the perfessor. "But the time when you might have refused has gone by. You have made yourself a party to it already. You're really the MAIN party to it.

"But do as you like," he goes on. "I'm giving him more chance than I ought to with those pills. I might shoot him, and I would, and then face the music, if it wasn't for mixing the children up in the scandal, Jane. If you want to see him get a fair chance, Jane, you've got to hand out these pills, one to him and then one to me. YOU must kill one or the other of us, or else I'LL kill HIM the other way. And YOU had better pick one out for him, because I know which is which. Or else let him pick one out for himself," he says.

Henry, he wasn't saying nothing. I thought he had fainted. But he hadn't. I seen him licking his lips. I bet Henry's mouth was all dry inside.

Jane, she took the box and she went round in front of Henry and she looked at him hard. She looked at him like she was thinking: "Fur God's sake, spunk up some, and take one if it DOES kill you!" Then she says out loud: "Henry, if you die I will die, too!"

And Henry, he took one. His hand shook, but he took it out'n the box. If she had of looked like that at me mebby I would of took one myself. Fur Jane, she was a peach, she was. But I don't know whether I would of or not. When she makes that brag about dying, I looked at the perfessor. What she said never fazed him. And I thinks agin: "Mebby I better jump in now and stop this thing." And then I thinks agin: "No, it is between them three and Providence." Besides, I'm anxious to see who is going to get that pill with the science in it. I gets to feeling jest like Providence hisself was in that there room picking out them pills with his own hands. And I was anxious to see what Providence's ideas of right and wrong was like. So fur as I could see they was all three in the wrong, but if I had of been in there running them pills in Providence's place I would of let them all off kind o' easy.

Henry, he ain't eat his pill yet. He is jest looking at it and shaking. The perfessor pulls out his watch and lays it on the table.

"It is a quarter past eleven," he says. "Mr. Murray, are you going to make me shoot you, after all? I didn't want a scandal," he says. "It's for you to say whether you want to eat that pill and get your even chance, or whether you want to get shot. The shooting method is sure, but it causes talk. These pills won't. WHICH?"

And he pulls a revolver. Which I suppose he had got that too when he went down after them pills.

Henry, he looks at the gun.

Then he looks at the pill.

Then he swallers the pill.

The perfessor puts his gun back into his pocket, and then he puts his pill into his mouth. He don't swaller it. He looks at the watch, and he looks at Henry.

"Sixteen minutes past eleven," he says. "AT EXACTLY TWENTY-NINE MINUTES TO TWELVE MR. MURRAY WILL BE DEAD. I got the harmless one. I can tell by the taste."

And he put the pieces out into his hand, to show that he has chewed his'n up, not being willing to wait fifteen minutes fur a verdict from his digestive ornaments. Then he put them pieces back into his mouth and chewed 'em up and swallered 'em down like he was eating cough drops.

Henry has got sweat breaking out all over his face, and he tries to make fur the door, but he falls down onto a sofa.

"This is murder," he says, weak-like. And he tries to get up again, but this time he falls to the floor in a dead faint.

"It's a dern short fifteen minutes," I thinks to myself. "That perfessor must of put more science into Henry's pill than he thought he did fur it to of knocked him out this quick. It ain't skeercly three minutes."

When Henry falls the woman staggers and tries to throw herself on top of him. The corners of her mouth was all drawed down, and her eyes was turned up. But she don't yell none. She can't. She tries, but she jest gurgles in her throat. The perfessor won't let her fall acrost Henry. He ketches her. "Sit up, Jane," he says, with that Estelle look onto his face, "and let us have a talk."

She looks at him with no more sense in her face than a piece of putty has got. But she can't look away from him.

And I'm kind o' paralyzed, too. If that feller laying on the floor had only jest kicked oncet, or grunted, or done something, I could of loosened up and yelled, and I would of. I jest NEEDED to fetch a yell. But Henry ain't more'n dropped down there till I'm feeling jest like he'd ALWAYS been there, and I'd ALWAYS been staring into that room, and the last word any one spoke was said hundreds and hundreds of years ago.

"You're a murderer," says Jane in a whisper, looking at the perfessor in that stare-eyed way. "You're a MURDERER," she says, saying it like she was trying to make herself feel sure he really was one.

"Murder!" says the perfessor. "Did you think I was going to run any chances for a pup like him? He's scared, that's all. He's just fainted through fright. He's a coward. Those pills were both just bread and sugar. He'll be all right in a minute or two. I've just been showing you that the fellow hasn't got nerve enough nor brains enough for a fine woman like you, Jane," he says.

Then Jane begins to sob and laugh, both to oncet, kind o' wild like, her voice clucking like a hen does, and she says:

"It's worse then, it's worse! It's worse for me than if it were a murder! Some farces can be more tragic than any tragedy ever was," she says. Or they was words to that effect.

And if Henry had of been really dead she couldn't of took it no harder than she begun to take it now when she saw he was alive, but jest wasn't no good. But I seen she was taking on fur herself now more'n fur Henry. Doctor Kirby always use to say women is made unlike most other animals in many ways. When they is foolish about a man they can stand to have that man killed a good 'eal better than to have him showed up ridiculous right in front of them. They will still be crazy about the man that is dead, even if he was crooked. But they don't never forgive the fellow that lets himself be made a fool and lets them look foolish, too. And when the perfessor kicks Henry in the ribs, and Henry comes to and sneaks out, Jane, she never even turns her head and looks at him.

"Jane," says the perfessor, when she quiets down some, "you have a lot o' things to forgive me. But do you suppose I have learned enough so that we can make a go of it if we start all over again?"

But Jane she never said nothing.

"Jane," he says, "Estelle is going back to New England, as soon as Margery gets well, and she will stay there for good."

Jane, she begins to take a little intrust then.

"Did Estelle tell you so?" she asts.

"No," says the perfessor. "Estelle doesn't know it yet. I'm going to break the news to her in the morning."

But Jane still hates him. She's making herself hate him hard. She wouldn't of been a human woman if she had let herself be coaxed up all to oncet. Purty soon she says: "I'm tired." And she went out looking like the perfessor was a perfect stranger. She was a peace, Jane was.

After she left, the perfessor set there quite a spell and smoked. And he was looking tired out, too. They wasn't no mistake about me. I was jest dead all through my legs.

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