Vandover, Haight, and Geary came in through the ladies’ entrance of the Imperial at about eleven o’clock, going slowly down the passage, looking into each of the little rooms, searching for one that was empty. All at once Vandover, who was in the lead, cried out:
“Well, if here isn’t that man Ellis, drinking whisky by himself. Bah! a man that will drink whisky all alone! Glad to see you just the same, Bandy; move along, will you—give a man some room.”
“Hello, hello, Bandy!” cried Geary and young Haight, hitting him in the back, while Geary added: “How long have you been down here? I’ve just come from making a call with the boys. Had a fine time; what are you drinking, whisky? I’m going to have something to eat. Didn’t have much of a lunch to-day, but you ought to have seen the steak I had at the Grillroom—as thick as that, and tender! Oh, it went great! Here, hang my coat up there on that side, will you?”
Bancroft Ellis was one of the young men of the city with whom the three fellows had become acquainted just after their return from college. For the most part, they met him at downtown restaurants, in the foyers and vestibules of the theatres, on Kearney Street of a Saturday afternoon, or, as now, in the little rooms of the Imperial, where he was a recognized habitue and where he invariably called for whisky, finishing from three to five “ponies” at every sitting. On very rare occasions they saw him in society, at the houses where their “set” was received. At these functions Ellis could never be persuaded to remain in the parlours; he slipped up to the gentlemen’s dressing-rooms at the earliest opportunity, and spent the evening silently smoking the cigars and cigarettes furnished by the host. When Vandover and his friends came up between dances, to brush their hair or to rearrange their neckties, they found him enveloped in a blue haze of smoke, his feet on a chair, his shirt bosom broken, and his waistcoat unbuttoned. He would tell them that he was bored and thirsty and ask how much longer they were going to stay. He knew but few of their friends; his home was in a little town in the interior and he prided himself on being a “Native Son of the Golden West.” He was a clerk in an insurance office on California Street, and had never been out of the state.
For the rest he was a good enough fellow and the three others liked him very much. He had a curious passion for facts and statistics, and his pockets were full of little books and cards to which he was constantly referring. He had one of those impossible pocket-diaries, the first half dozen pages loaded with information of every kind printed in blinding type, postal rates to every country in the world, statistics as to population and rates of death, weights and measures, the highest mountains in the world, the greatest depths of the ocean. He kept a little book in his left-hand vest pocket that gave the plan and seating capacity of every theatre in the city, while in the right-hand pocket was a tiny Webster’s dictionary which was his especial pride. The calendar for the current year was pasted in the lining of his hat, together with the means to be employed in the resuscitation of a half-drowned person. He also carried about a “Vest Pocket Edition of Popular Information,” which had never been of the slightest use to him.