“Hello!” he said again. He had turned round the camel’s marriage license, which he had been holding upside down, produced spectacles and was studying it intently.
“Why,” he exclaimed, and in the pervading silence his words were heard plainly by everyone in the room, “this yeah’s a sho-nuff marriage permit.”
“Say it again, Jumbo!”
“Sure you can read?”
Jumbo waved them to silence and Perry’s blood burned to fire in his veins as he realized the break he had made.
“Yassuh!” repeated Jumbo. “This yeah’s a sho-nuff license, and the pa’ties concerned one of ’em is dis yeah young lady, Miz Betty Medill, and th’ other’s Mistah Perry Pa’khurst.”
There was a general gasp, and a low rumble broke out as all eyes fell on the camel. Betty shrank away from him quickly, her tawny eyes giving out sparks of fury.
“Is you Mistah Pa’khurst, you camel?”
Perry made no answer. The crowd pressed up closer and stared at him as he stood frozen rigid with embarrassment, his cardboard face still hungry and sardonic, regarding the ominous Jumbo.
“You-all bettah speak up!” said Jumbo slowly, “this yeah’s a mighty serous mattah. Outside mah duties at this club ah happens to be a sho-nuff minister in the Firs’ Cullud Baptis’ Church. It done look to me as though you-all is gone an’ got married.”
The scene that followed will go down forever in the annals of the Tallyho Club. Stout matrons fainted, strong men swore, wild-eyed debutantes babbled in lightning groups instantly formed and instantly dissolved, and a great buzz of chatter, virulent yet oddly subdued, hummed through the chaotic ballroom. Feverish youths swore they would kill Perry or Jumbo or themselves or someone and the Baptis’ preacheh was besieged by a tempestuous covey of clamorous amateur lawyers, asking questions, making threats, demanding precedents, ordering the bonds annulled, and especially trying to ferret out any hint or suspicion of prearrangement in what had occurred.
On the corner Mrs. Townsend was crying softly on the shoulder of Mr. Howard Tate, who was trying vainly to comfort her; they were exchanging “all my fault’s” volubly and voluminously. Outside on a snow covered walk Mr. Cyrus Medill, the Aluminum Man, was being paced slowly up and down between two brawny charioteers, giving vent now to a grunt, now to a string of unrepeatables, now to wild pleadings that they’d just let him get at Jumbo. He was facetiously attired for the evening as a wild man of Borneo, and the most exacting stage manager after one look at his face would have acknowledged that any improvement in casting the part would have been quite impossible.