Tommy Barban was a ruler, Tommy was a hero — Dick happened upon him in the Marienplatz in Munich, in one of those cafés, where small gamblers diced on “tapestry” mats. The air was full of politics, and the slap of cards.
Tommy was at a table laughing his martial laugh: “Um-buh — ha-ha! Um-buh — ha-ha!” As a rule, he drank little; courage was his game and his companions were always a little afraid of him. Recently an eighth of the area of his skull had been removed by a Warsaw surgeon and was knitting under his hair, and the weakest person in the café could have killed him with a flip of a knotted napkin.
“— this is Prince Chillicheff —” A battered, powder-gray Russian of fifty, “— and Mr. McKibben — and Mr. Hannan —” the latter was a lively ball of black eyes and hair, a clown; and he said immediately to Dick:
“The first thing before we shake hands — what do you mean by fooling around with my aunt?”
“You heard me. What are you doing here in Munich anyhow?”
“Um-bah — ha-ha!” laughed Tommy.
“Haven’t you got aunts of your own? Why don’t you fool with them?”
Dick laughed, whereupon the man shifted his attack:
“Now let’s not have any more talk about aunts. How do I know you didn’t make up the whole thing? Here you are a complete stranger with an acquaintance of less than half an hour, and you come up to me with a cock-and-bull story about your aunts. How do I know what you have concealed about you?”
Tommy laughed again, then he said good-naturedly, but firmly, “That’s enough, Carly. Sit down, Dick — how’re you? How’s Nicole?”
He did not like any man very much nor feel their presence with much intensity — he was all relaxed for combat; as a fine athlete playing secondary defense in any sport is really resting much of the time, while a lesser man only pretends to rest and is at a continual and self-destroying nervous tension.
Hannan, not entirely suppressed, moved to an adjoining piano, and with recurring resentment on his face whenever he looked at Dick, played chords, from time to time muttering, “Your aunts,” and, in a dying cadence, “I didn’t say aunts anyhow. I said pants.”
“Well, how’re you?” repeated Tommy. “You don’t look so —” he fought for a word, “— so jaunty as you used to, so spruce, you know what I mean.”
The remark sounded too much like one of those irritating accusations of waning vitality and Dick was about to retort by commenting on the extraordinary suits worn by Tommy and Prince Chillicheff, suits of a cut and pattern fantastic enough to have sauntered down Beale Street on a Sunday — when an explanation was forthcoming.
“I see you are regarding our clothes,” said the Prince. “We have just come out of Russia.”
“These were made in Poland by the court tailor,” said Tommy. “That’s a fact — Pilsudski’s own tailor.”
“You’ve been touring?” Dick asked.
They laughed, the Prince inordinately meanwhile clapping Tommy on the back.
“Yes, we have been touring. That’s it, touring. We have made the grand Tour of all the Russias. In state.”
Dick waited for an explanation. It came from Mr. McKibben in two words.
“Have you been prisoners in Russia?”
“It was I,” explained Prince Chillicheff, his dead yellow eyes staring at Dick. “Not a prisoner but in hiding.”
“Did you have much trouble getting out?”
“Some trouble. We left three Red Guards dead at the border. Tommy left two —” He held up two fingers like a Frenchman —“I left one.”
“That’s the part I don’t understand,” said Mr. McKibben. “Why they should have objected to your leaving.”
Hannan turned from the piano and said, winking at the others: “Mac thinks a Marxian is somebody who went to St. Mark’s school.”
It was an escape story in the best tradition — an aristocrat hiding nine years with a former servant and working in a government bakery; the eighteen-year-old daughter in Paris who knew Tommy Barban. . . . During the narrative Dick decided that this parched papier mâché relic of the past was scarcely worth the lives of three young men. The question arose as to whether Tommy and Chillicheff had been frightened.
“When I was cold,” Tommy said. “I always get scared when I’m cold. During the war I was always frightened when I was cold.”
McKibben stood up.
“I must leave. To-morrow morning I’m going to Innsbruck by car with my wife and children — and the governess.”
“I’m going there to-morrow, too,” said Dick.
“Oh, are you?” exclaimed McKibben. “Why not come with us? It’s a big Packard and there’s only my wife and my children and myself — and the governess —”
“I can’t possibly —”
“Of course she’s not really a governess,” McKibben concluded, looking rather pathetically at Dick. “As a matter of fact my wife knows your sister-in-law, Baby Warren.”
But Dick was not to be drawn in a blind contract.
“I’ve promised to travel with two men.”
“Oh,” McKibben’s face fell. “Well, I’ll say good-by.” He unscrewed two blooded wire-hairs from a nearby table and departed; Dick pictured the jammed Packard pounding toward Innsbruck with the McKibbens and their children and their baggage and yapping dogs — and the governess.
“The paper says they know the man who killed him,” said Tommy. “But his cousins did not want it in the papers, because it happened in a speakeasy. What do you think of that?”
“It’s what’s known as family pride.”
Hannan played a loud chord on the piano to attract attention to himself.
“I don’t believe his first stuff holds up,” he said. “Even barring the Europeans there are a dozen Americans can do what North did.”
It was the first indication Dick had had that they were talking about Abe North.
“The only difference is that Abe did it first,” said Tommy.
“I don’t agree,” persisted Hannan. “He got the reputation for being a good musician because he drank so much that his friends had to explain him away somehow —”
“What’s this about Abe North? What about him? Is he in a jam?”
“Didn’t you read The Herald this morning?”
“He’s dead. He was beaten to death in a speakeasy in New York. He just managed to crawl home to the Racquet Club to die —”
“Yes, sure, they —”
“Abe North?” Dick stood up. “Are you sure he’s dead?”
Hannan turned around to McKibben: “It wasn’t the Racquet Club he crawled to — it was the Harvard Club. I’m sure he didn’t belong to the Racquet.”
“The paper said so,” McKibben insisted.
“It must have been a mistake. I’m quite sure.”
“Beaten to death in a speakeasy.”
“But I happen to know most of the members of the Racquet Club,” said Hannan. “It MUST have been the Harvard Club.”
Dick got up, Tommy too. Prince Chillicheff started out of a wan study of nothing, perhaps of his chances of ever getting out of Russia, a study that had occupied him so long that it was doubtful if he could give it up immediately, and joined them in leaving.
“Abe North beaten to death.”
On the way to the hotel, a journey of which Dick was scarcely aware, Tommy said:
“We’re waiting for a tailor to finish some suits so we can get to Paris. I’m going into stock-broking and they wouldn’t take me if I showed up like this. Everybody in your country is making millions. Are you really leaving to-morrow? We can’t even have dinner with you. It seems the Prince had an old girl in Munich. He called her up but she’d been dead five years and we’re having dinner with the two daughters.”
The Prince nodded.
“Perhaps I could have arranged for Doctor Diver.”
“No, no,” said Dick hastily.
He slept deep and awoke to a slow mournful march passing his window. It was a long column of men in uniform, wearing the familiar helmet of 1914, thick men in frock coats and silk hats, burghers, aristocrats, plain men. It was a society of veterans going to lay wreaths on the tombs of the dead. The column marched slowly with a sort of swagger for a lost magnificence, a past effort, a forgotten sorrow. The faces were only formally sad but Dick’s lungs burst for a moment with regret for Abe’s death, and his own youth of ten years ago.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54