Official Recognition

IT was a raw, damp, April Saturday; the chill of the lower New York air was doing its best to freeze up good intentions — a fine day for morbid souls to feed upon. Anything disagreeable might happen, unless you had a name that sounded Irish or knew you were born lucky.

I had been told that if I wanted a chance to get into Europe before the war business was entirely cleaned up (there was almost nothing left then but the S.O.S.) I was to get myself down to the French liner which was sailing for Marseilles the next afternoon. Try buying a complete outfit for nobody-knows-how-long a stay in Europe on twenty-four hours’ notice and your last month’s pay check!

Someone had told me that I could get first-class—though used—army blankets at the Red Cross shop down town. I boarded a Lexington Avenue surface car at Thirty-first Street and crawled down to Sixteenth Street, got off and turned east. I had walked about fifteen hurried paces when I became aware that my right hand felt queer. I did n’t have my pocketbook — a medium-sized, rather flat (as I mentioned before) brown-leather affair. Surely I had paid my car fare on that Lexington Avenue car? True, my mind was distracted, but the conductor would n’t have permitted such an omission. I must have left it on the car.

Here I was: not a cent of money, time as precious as platinum, and I miles from the few friends I had uptown. I retraced my steps to the corner, looking without faith along the sidewalk, and then gazing hopelessly down town after a car which must have been at Whitehall Street by that time.

On the corner was one of those redgold-trimmed Meccas — a United Cigar Store. On its hospitable threshold stood a bluecoat, twirling his stick and gazing complacently at a seemingly peaceful world. He was built liberally — just as he should have been.

I crossed the street and stepped up in front of him. The stick stopped twirling and his eyes dropped — well, about six feet, I should say, judging from the size I felt as I began my story. As I remember, I omitted the date of the sailing of the liner and the reputed cheapness of the blankets. The omissions were probably due more to nervousness than to good judgment.

You know how some folks can make you seem to be lying when you are being so truthful that you feel almost naked. Looking at me, appraising me from my steady-going flat heels to my plain-band-around-straw hat and then down again, he said with a strong Donegal accent, ‘Will, loidy, why don’t ye tilephone your frinds?’

That remark did much to give me poise. He was n’t wholly logical, and anybody who is n’t wholly logical may be weak and sympathetic at times. Had n’t I told him I did n’t have a cent of money?

Timidly I reminded him of the unresponsive ways of public telephones. Once again his gray eyes traveled up and down my ultra-respectable, uninteresting raiment. Then his stick slipped to his side and his right hand to his pocket.

‘Here’s tin cents. Go over to the nixt block — take your subway up to One-sixty-eight. There’s the Lexington Avenue car bairns. Wait there and maybe whin the car comes up ye went down on ye can spot the conductor — and maybe ye can’t. If ye can’t, tell ‘em at the bairns to tilephone the lost-and-found department. If ye can’t git any satisfaction, ye can use the nickel ye ‘ve lift to git back to your frinds.’

Did I thank him properly? Could he see the lump in my throat which was so rapidly closing my windpipe? Just before I turned away I made sure of the figures on the silver plate on that blue coat — 961.

It did n’t take me long to make the subway. All the way up I was planning how to get along without the blanket — and then, as one always does, I enumerated dozens of things which I could have bought with that lost money. The way lost money bears interest and doubles its purchasing value is marvelous.

Heavens! the next thing I knew the train was pulling into One-hundredeighty-lirst Street! And the policeman had told me to get off at One-sixtyeight. Wildly I rushed out and down the steps and into the down-town entrance. And wildly I squandered the remaining nickel to ride back to Onesixty-eight. Time passed like mad!

Just as No. 961 had said, the Lexington Avenue surface-car barns were right across the street. For the first hour and fifteen minutes I stood and watched and waited. Whenever a car from down-town pulled in, I stepped up close to the steps, making it necessary for each man to walk around me or over me if he got off his car. They all looked at me with open curiosity. Women are scarce around car bams, I gather.

One motorman said as he stepped off the front, ‘ Wonder if that’s Jim’s wife, waiting for his pay envelope again ? ‘

You’d be surprised to see how conductors and motormen seem to resemble one another. By the end of an hour and a half I don’t believe I’d have recognized my own father in one of those uniforms. Despair settled thickly all over me.

Along came another car. This time I did n’t step forward — just kept on leaning heavily against the brick wall of the entrance. Off stepped the conductor, slim, young, Danish-looking. He looked at me, dived into his coat pocket and held up my purse, grinned, and said, ‘I got it, lady!’

Detaching myself abruptly from the brick wall, I rushed forward, expecting to clasp my treasure. He shook his head. According to the rules of the company he must turn in all articles found on cars at the desk upstairs. But, he said, I had better go upstairs with him and identify my property.

Nothing could have been more to my liking. As we climbed the stairs he remarked, ‘Now you want to be sure you know just what is in it. I ‘ll tip you off. You have so many bills, so many pieces, and a little piece of pink stuff.’ This last was really a sample of lavender voile.

Behind the grating in front of an office-window upstairs, sat a lean Uriah Heep model. Clearly, definitely, reassuringly, did that young Dane explain the situation, with the pocketbook still clutched in his hand. Eagerly I corroborated each statement. All the time the man inside kept shaking his head and I suffered a relapse in my spirits. Then in a bored, final tone, without apparently taking the least interest in either the conductor or myself, he said, ‘I ‘ll have to have this purse and send it down to Ninetysixth Street to our Lost and Found Department, and Monday you can go down and redeem it, madam, if it is yours.’

Monday! In vain we pleaded. That office clerk stretched long, thin, inkstained fingers under the grating and I saw my wallet carried back to a desk on the other side of the room. I looked at the conductor. He looked at me. Then, with a sudden rush of masculine chivalry, he said, ‘Can’t you ride back on my car and get near where you live? ‘

I assured him I could. So we started out. If I had been president of the whole I. R. T. I could n’t have ridden any cheaper than I did on that trip, and there was n’t anybody in the whole world I liked any better at that moment than the honest, big-hearted boy at the back of the car. We had gone about ten blocks when he came down the aisle with a two-dollar bill in his hand. ‘Wouldn’t this help you out for a little while, ma’am?’

I want to tell you that the lump in my throat which I had swallowed earlier in the morning rose up bigger and harder; with blurry eyes I refused the two-dollar bill. But if ever I sit on a Board which is dividing up and apportioning Europe to different nations, I ‘ll use my influence to see that Denmark stretches well down toward the Mediterranean.

I got off at One-hundred-forty-fifth Street with this time a number on a brass plate stamped on what little mind I had left — Conductor 1078.

It did n’t take me long to rush over to my room and friends, get the rest of my money, board a subway down to Fourteenth, walk back to Sixteenth, praying all the way that, officer No. 961 might still be on duty during the noonday rush. Luck again! There in the middle of the street stood that bulwark of comfort. Adroitly I stepped up behind him, tapped him on the arm, and held out an open palm with a dime in it. He turned quickly, started to look as his job demanded, and then suddenly his face broke into folds of real pleasure. He grabbed my whole hand, saying, ‘Will, will, loidy, did ye git it? ‘

In spite of three hours shot to the wind, I took time to tell him of the car-barn experience and the trip back (I wish now I had told him how I squandered the other nickel).

The last thing he said was, ‘Here’s good luck to ye !’

Yes, I got the blanket. It was cheap. It was warm. With hurried directions left with my friends as to a reward to be sent to Conductor No. 1078, and a letter to the Chief commending Officer 961, and their promise to go for my purse on Monday, I started that afternoon for the steamer. I did n’t miss it.

It’s a good old world and

Ah, my foes, and oh, my friends,
It gives a lovely light.