“Why don’t you enlist?” he said. “Every car-driver, stage-driver, hackman, and racing-tout can become major-generals if they yell loud enough.”
Burgess continued ironing, then stole a glance at his master.
“Are you thinking of enlisting, sir?”
“No; I can’t pass the examination for lung power. By the way,” he added, laughing, “I overlooked the impudence of your question, too. But now is your time, Burgess. If I wanted you I’d have to put up with your insolence, I suppose.”
“But you don’t want me, sir.”
“Which restrains you,” said Philip, laughing. “Oh, go on, my friend. Don’t say ‘sir’ to me; it’s a badge of servitude pasted onto the vernacular. Say ‘Hi!’ if you like.”
“Hell! I say don’t behave like a servant to me.”
“I am a servant, sir.”
“You’re not mine.”
“Yes, sir, I am. Will you wear this coat this evening, sir?”
“God knows,” said the young fellow, sitting down and gazing about at the melancholy poverty of the place. . . . “Is there any of that corn whisky?”
“Damn it, you said there was this morning!”
“No, sir, I didn’t.”
The man lied placidly; the master looked at him, then laughed.
“Poor old Burgess,” he said aloud as though to himself; “there wasn’t a skinful in that bottle. Well, I can’t get drunk, I can’t lie here and count from six to midnight and keep my sanity, I can’t smoke—you rascal, where’s my cigar? And I certainly can’t go out anywhere because I haven’t any money.”
“You might take the air on the avenue, sir. Your clothes are in order.”
“Poor Burgess! That was your amusement, wasn’t it?—to see me go out discreetly perfumed, in fine linen and purple, brave as the best of them in club and hall, in ballroom and supper room, and in every lesser hell from Crystal Palace cinders to Canal.
“Poor Burgess! Even the seventy-five pretty waitresses at the Gaities would turn up their seventy-five retrousse noses at a man with pockets as empty as mine.”
“Your clothes are fashionable. So is your figger, sir.”
“That settles it?” protested the young fellow, weak with laughter. “Burgess, don’t go! Don’t ever go! I do need you. Oh I do want you, Burgess. Because there never will be anybody exactly like you, and I’ve only one life in which to observe you, study you, and mentally digest you. You won’t go, will you?”
“No sir,” said Burgess with dignity.
There was incipient demoralisation already in the offices of Craig & Son. Young gentlemen perched on high benches still searched city maps and explored high-way and by-way with compass and pencil-point, but their ears were alert to every shout from the streets, and their interest remained centred in the newspaper bulletins across the way, where excited crowds clamoured for details not forthcoming.