Immediately the two came together; the shoulder of P. Sybarite in the paunch of Respectability, evoking a deep grunt of choleric surprise and bringing the gentleman to an abrupt standstill.
Upon this, P. Sybarite’s mouth relaxed; he smiled faintly, almost placatingly.
“Well, old top!” he cried with malicious cordiality. “Who’d think to meet you here! What’s the matter? Has high finance turned too risky for your stomach? Or are you dabbling in low-life for the sheer fun of it—to titillate your jaded senses?”
Respectability’s cheeks puffed out like red toy balloons; so likewise his chest.
“Sir!” he snorted—“you are drunk!”
“Sir!” retorted P. Sybarite, none too meekly—“you lie.”
The ebony-and-gold cane of Respectability quivered in mid-air.
“Out of my way!”
“Put down that cane, Mr. Brian Shaynon,” said P. Sybarite peaceably, “unless you want me to play horse with you in a way to let all New York know how you spend the wee sma’ hours!”
At the mention of his name Respectability stiffened in dismay.
“Damnation!” he cried hoarsely. “Who are you?”
“Why, have you forgotten me? Careless of you, Mr. Shaynon. I’m the little guy that put the speck in Respectability: I’m the noisy little skeleton in the cupboard of your conscience. Don’t you know me now?”
With a gasp (prudently lowering his stick) Mr. Shaynon bent to peer into the face exposed as P. Sybarite pushed back his hat; stared an instant, goggling; wheeled about, and flung heavily toward his taxicab.
“The Bizarre!” wheezed he to the chauffeur; and dodging in, banged the door.
As for P. Sybarite, he watched the vehicle swing away and round the corner of Seventh Avenue, a doubtful glimmer in eyes that had burned hot with hostility, a slight ironic smile wreathing lips that had shown hatred.
“But what’s the good of that?” he said in self-disgust, as the taxicab disappeared.
With a sigh, shaking himself together, he went into Dutch House.
WHERE ANGELS FEAR TO TREAD
From street door to restaurant entrance, the hallway of Dutch House was some twenty-five feet long, floored with grimy linoleum in imitation of tiling, greasy as to its walls and ceiling, and boasting an atmosphere rank with a reek compounded of a dozen elements, in their number alcohol, cheap perfumery, cooked meats, the sweat of unclean humanity, and stale tobacco smoke.
Save for this unsavoury composite wraith, the hall was empty when P. Sybarite entered it. But it echoed with sounds of rowdy revelry from the room in back: mechanical clatter of galled and spavined piano, despondent growling of a broken-winded ’cello, nervous giggling and moaning of an excoriated violin—the three wringing from the score of O You Beautiful Doll an entirely adequate accompaniment to the perfunctory performance of a husky contralto.