Marsh was at boiling point by this time. He turned upon Tracy:
"Answer up now-when are you going to settle?"
"To-day-since you seem to be in a hurry."
"To-day is it? Sunday--and you out of work? I like that. Come--where are you going to get the money?"
Tracy's spirit was rising again. He proposed to impress these people:
"I am expecting a cablegram from home."
Old Marsh was caught out, with the surprise of it. The idea was so immense, so extravagant, that he couldn't get his breath at first. When he did get it, it came rancid with sarcasm.
"A cablegram--think of it, ladies and gents, he's expecting a cablegram! He's expecting a cablegram--this duffer, this scrub, this bilk! From his father--eh? Yes--without a doubt. A dollar or two a word--oh, that's nothing--they don't mind a little thing like that--this kind's fathers don't. Now his father is--er--well, I reckon his father--"
"My father is an English earl!"
The crowd fell back aghast-aghast at the sublimity of the young loafer's "cheek." Then they burst into a laugh that made the windows rattle. Tracy was too angry to realize that he had done a foolish thing. He said:
"Stand aside, please. I--"
"Wait a minute, your lordship," said Marsh, bowing low, "where is your lordship going?"
"For the cablegram. Let me pass."
"Excuse me, your lordship, you'll stay right where you are."
"What do you mean by that?"
"I mean that I didn't begin to keep boarding-house yesterday. It means that I am not the kind that can be taken in by every hack-driver's son that comes loafing over here because he can't bum a living at home. It means that you can't skip out on any such--"
Tracy made a step toward the old man, but Mrs. Marsh sprang between, and said:
"Don't, Mr. Tracy, please." She turned to her husband and said, "Do bridle your tongue. What has he done to be treated so? Can't you see he has lost his mind, with trouble and distress? He's not responsible."
"Thank your kind heart, madam, but I've not lost my mind; and if I can have the mere privilege of stepping to the telegraph office--"
"Well, you can't," cried Marsh.
"Sending! That beats everything. If there's anybody that's fool enough to go on such a chuckle-headed errand--"
"Here comes Mr. Barrow--he will go for me. Barrow--"
A brisk fire of exclamations broke out--
"Say, Barrow, he's expecting a cablegram!"
"Cablegram from his father, you know!"
"Yes--cablegram from the wax-figger!"
"And say, Barrow, this fellow's an earl--take off your hat, pull down your vest!"
"Yes, he's come off and forgot his crown, that he wears Sundays. He's cabled over to his pappy to send it."
"You step out and get that cablegram, Barrow; his majesty's a little lame to-day."
"Oh stop," cried Barrow; "give the man a chance." He turned, and said with some severity, "Tracy, what's the matter with you? What kind of foolishness is this you've been talking. You ought to have more sense."
"I've not been talking foolishness; and if you'll go to the telegraph office--"
"Oh; don't talk so. I'm your friend in trouble and out of it, before your face and behind your back, for anything in reason; but you've lost your head, you see, and this moonshine about a cablegram--"
"I'll go there and ask for it!"
"Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Brady. Here, I'll give you a Written order for it. Fly, now, and fetch it. We'll soon see!"
Brady flew. Immediately the sort of quiet began to steal over the crowd which means dawning doubt, misgiving; and might be translated into the words, "Maybe he is expecting a cablegram--maybe he has got a father somewhere--maybe we've been just a little too fresh, just a shade too 'previous'!"
Loud talk ceased; then the mutterings and low murmurings and whisperings died out. The crowd began to crumble apart. By ones and twos the fragments drifted to the breakfast table. Barrow tried to bring Tracy in; but he said:
"Not yet, Barrow-presently."