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(c. 1925)

by Charles MacArthur

Chapter I.

Charlie Miller was having the time of his life. The beer was good, he liked everybody at the party, and Maizie at last showed signs of listening to reason.

But there was Stew Ribbon again, bawling that he was wanted at the door.

“Ask who it is,” demanded Miller, loathe to leave his lady’s side.

“He won’t say,” relayed Mr. Ribbon, “except that it’s important.”

With an angry exclamation, Miller disengaged himself from Maizie and scuffed to the vestibule. A large and ill favoured youth stood in the passage, puffing at a rank cigar. He stepped on it deliberately as Miller approached, and seemed to square off for trouble. This nuance of behaviour disturbed Miller (he had no enemies that he knew of) and he commenced with tact:

“Well, brother, what’s on your mind?”

“Plenty,” said the stranger, advancing darkly. “You and me are going to the mat right now!”

The unexpectedness of this attack took the wind from Miller’s sails. He eyed the stranger, feeling certain that he was either drunk or insane. The possibility of returning to Maizie with a badly discoloured eye, acquired for no reason in the world, caused a ripple of goose flesh to spread slowly down his back. He sought to temporize:

“Just a minute, pal. What’s all this all about?”

“If you think I’m going to pay your wife’s bills, you’re out of your mind!” stated the stranger, closing in. “She’s nothing to me.”

“Now, wait one second, young fellow,” counselled Miller, greatly heartened at finding a reason for dispute. “I ain’t seen my wife for fifteen years and if I don’t see her for fifty years, it’s all right with me. And it goes without saying that I ain’t responsible for her debts.”

“No?” said the youth, but Miller sensed that he had scored, and continued with authority:
“She’s got a job -- or so I hear. Let her pay her own bills.”

The young man stared, and then guffawed unpleasantly.

“That’s pretty rich!” he observed. “She’s got a job, oh? Well, you tell that to the undertaker!”

Miller blanched.

“What undertaker?”

“The undertaker that’s got her!” retorted the stranger hotly. “The fellow that’s trying to sandbag me for five hundred bucks! Where does he think I’m going to get five hundred bucks? And why would I hand it over to him if I had it? I never laid eyes on the woman till six months ago!”

“Wait a second,” Miller murmured, his mouth loose and trembling. “Let me get this. You mean -- she’s dead?”

“What the hell did you think I said?”

“When -- did it happen?”


“My God!”

This invocation, piously intended, seemed to annoy the stranger.

“You can save that ‘My God’ stuff, after the way you treated her! You got a lot to ‘My God’ about, you have!”

Miller rallied at the unreasonableness of his heckler. His voice became dignified, and a little chill.

“Say,” he said. “I’ve been taking a lot of guff off you. Just who do you think you are?”

“I’m your daughter’s husband -- that’s all!” roared the stranger. “And I picked a fine father-in-law -- I don’t think! A fine bum, if you ask me!”

Miller was confounded at this sudden relationship to his adversary.

“Even so,” he protested. “That’s no way to talk. At a time like this we ought to get together.”

“Well, get together,” the youth shouted. “And get some dough together -- if you’re a man. Or are you going to welsh?”

“Now, now,” remonstrated Miller. “Do I look like a fellow who would try to run out on a thing like this?”

“I don’t care what you look like. Let’s see the dough.”

“Keep your shirt on!” cried Miller, suddenly tormented. “I’ll get it!”

Both men subsided, and regarded each other uncertainly. Miller relaxed, and laid his hand on the other’s arm.

“My God, brother,” he murmured. “This is very confidential -- but you couldn’t have caught me at a worse time. I just lost my pants at seven card stud.”

“I don’t want to hear any alibis.”

“I ain’t making any, only it’s embarrassing ... Where have you got her?”


“Cunningham’s!” Miller repeated, wildly.

“Why -- what’s the matter with them?”

“They’re the biggest gyp artists in town -- that’s all! What the hell did you take her there for?”

“They were the first one that come.” The stranger was on the defensive.

“Certainly they were! That’s their game! And you fell for it!”

“Well,” said his son-in-law, “it’s too late now.”

“Oh, no it ain’t!” declared Miller, with feeling. “If this Cunningham is pulling anything contrary to ethics, I’ll report him to the Board of Health. He’ll find out that I’m no chump!”

“He said it was the minimum,” demurred his relation.

“Why you could bury a whole family for that!” Miller cried. “Wait till I get my hat and coat, and I’ll show Mr. Cunningham a thing or two! I’ll get his license! You watch!”

He turned hospitably in the door.

“Come in and meet the gang. It’ll just take a second.”

© 2003-04 The Estate of Charles G. MacArthur. All Rights Reserved.

Continue to Chapter Two or Return to Charles Gordon MacArthur Page

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