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The Cat And The Fiddle

By Owen Fox Jerome

It Takes a Cat, a Fiddle, and a Lovely Singer to Transform Gentle, Mild Mr. Remington, Violinist of the Romany Club, into a Smart Detective as Well as a Hero!

HAD anyone told Horace Remington that he was heroic he would likely have fainted dead away. Mr. Remington was slightly on the wrong side of forty, and he was fond of cats. Also, he played the violin. He had played fifth fiddle in Tachonovich's Symphony Orchestra for fifteen years. Now he was the sole violinist at the Romany Club, a night spot on East Fifty- Ninth Street.

Never a virtuoso, he was nevertheless a conscientious musician who knew his musical scores. He had the soul of an artist—if not the fire of genius—and he was a wow in his make-up as a death's head in full dress, when he played obbligato to Madam Oravey's Gipsy fortune-telling scene.

But it was cheap, spectacular, and secretly Horace Remington resented it. But he was too much of a gentleman to voice his objections. It was difficult enough to put his thoughts into words, anyway. He did much better at pouring out his heart through the strings of his beloved violin.

In appearance Mr. Remington was a dapper little man with graying hair. In cutaway coat, striped trousers and batwing collar, he was always impeccable, in the style of two decades ago. He lived alone in his two-room apartment over on Second Avenue, walked to his nightly work at the Romany Club, and went to the Metropolitan and Carnegie Hall in season on his days off. And on his radio he listened to Kay Kyser's "College of Musical Knowledge" and Hildegarde's "Beat the Band."

Not that he was in love with Hildegarde—a radio personality he had never seen. For there was Lola Martin. Lola was a dream. What if she was a fake redhead and every day of thirty. She was the singer at the Romany Club, and as unattainable to Mr. Remington as the stars. Moreover, she was the current favorite of Georgie Mayville. Still, that didn't keep Horace Remington from pouring out his love through his violin and worshiping from afar.

Why he continued to work at the Romany Club, Mr. Remington did not know—unless it was Lola and Grimalkins. Men such as Horace Remington easily got into a rut.

But it had gradually dawned on Remington that the Romany Club was not strictly on the up and up. Just what was wrong with the place he didn't know. He simply had the feeling that something was off-key, a feeling that was growing into a firm conviction.

For one thing he didn't like Harry Doxler, the club manager. Doxler was a fat, swarthy little man, with a waxed mustache, and sharp black eyes that were as cold as chilled jet. He was always genial, smiling—and oily. He laughed frequently, short little sounds that he sucked inward instead of exploding outward in a natural manner. It was more like the barking of a small dog.

MADAM Oravey, the fortune teller, would have been a hag had she not been so fat. Her nose was craggy and her bleached hair was highly incongruous. In walk, posture and manner, she was positively bovine. What thoughts lay behind her cowlike exterior Mr. Remington could not imagine. But she was not dumb. Mr. Remington fancied that she had once played the cheaper carnival circuits.

Perhaps Remington's first distrust came about when he learned accidentally that in private life Madam Oravey was Mrs. Harry Doxler and that Doxler was in reality the owner of the Romany Club instead of merely the manager fronting for some mysterious owner. Not that this made any difference. Or did it? Anyway, that was none of Mr. Remington's business. His job was to make with the violin six nights a week, for which he received the princely sum of sixty dollars per week.

Until the night he brought the half- pound of liver to feed Grimalkins.

Grimalkins was the club cat, scarcely more than a kitten, the tortoise-shell successor to the aging black cat used by Madam Oravey as atmosphere. Oddly enough, Grimalkins had been presented to the club by Georgie Mayville. This night Mr. Remington learned the reason.

"Where's Grimalkins?" he asked Pietro, the chef, as he laid the package of liver on a kitchen table.

Pietro smiled, granting a vision of gleaming white teeth. Everybody in the Romany Club had a smile for the mild little Mr. Remington.

"Grimalkeens, she ees maybee upstairs weeth Madam Oravey for practeece een new role, eh?" he replied. "What you breeng her? Leever? You leave with me and I cut up een small pieces while you find kitty, eh?"

"Thank you, Pietro," said Mr. Remington. "Don't cut it all up tonight. There is too much there for one feeding. I'll bring Grimalkins down right away."

Pietro gazed after Mr. Remington, then sighed a bit wistfully.

"He ees fine leetle man, Pete," he said to his helper. "And he plays the violin like nobody's beezness."

Yeah," grunted Pete. "He's a fine little mouse. He better watch out or that cat'll eat him."

Unaware of this banter, Mr. Remington made his way upstairs, left his hat and gloves in the employees' cloak room, and went on toward Madam Oravey's private room next to Doxler's office. Madam Oravey had a comfortable sitting-room up here, where she kept numerous of her props, and where she could confer privately with her husband. They held numerous conferences the reason and purpose of which Mr. Remington could not fathom.

He knocked lightly on the corridor door. Receiving no answer and hearing no sound, he tried the knob. The door opened, and he stood hesitantly on the threshold. In the light from the table lamp he saw Grimalkins curled up on the little pier table under the long, paneled mirror which was the cat's favorite perch. He smiled, and stepped over to pick up the ball of feline fluff. Then the sound of voices halted him momentarily. The connecting door to Doxler's office was ajar, and he could hear the club owner and his wife talking.

"—be here tonight again," Doxler was saying. "He has reserved that table for the next three weeks straight. He's quite gone on Lola Martin."

"Why doesn't he go ahead and marry her then?" complained Madam Oravey. "I've already read his fortune for him half a dozen times. She'll marry him to get away from here, if for no other reason."

Mr. Remington silently gathered up the cat and tiptoed toward the corridor door. He knew whom the Doxlers were discussing. Georgie Mayville!

"My dear, you forget that Mr. Mayville's thirtieth birthday is still three months off. If there is the slightest breath of scandal about him before then—he doesn't inherit the estate his father left. He's been a good boy for nearly a year now. He's just playing it safe. He doesn't want to see the family fortune go to establish homes for indigent cats and dogs."

"So that's why he's so cagey," rumbled Madam Oravey's cowlike voice. "Maybe that's why he gave us a cat, too."

"Exactly, my dear. He is trying hard to prove to the executor of his father's estate that he has genuinely reformed and that he really loves animals. At that, I think the fool does."

Doxler laughed, and the jerky sound made Mr. Remington think of the yapping of a jackal. Or whatever canine beast made such jerky noise.

"Well, I'm tired of playing such a waiting game," declared Madam Oravey angrily. "We want him sewed up tight before he gets his hands on that money."

"And so we shall, my dear," agreed Doxler. "I have a plan. I have already talked Mayville into getting a marriage license. If he shows up with it tonight, here's what we will do. . . ."

MR. REMINGTON silently closed the corridor door to the sitting-room and trudged away along the carpeted, darkened hall toward the kitchen precincts. He sighed sadly, shook his head. The incongruity of the Doxlers playing the part of Cupid was lost on him. He was thinking of Lola Martin marrying Georgie Mayville.

Mayville would not be a bad catch, and it was apparent that Lola was fond of him. The only drawback was that Mayville, Senior, had finally tired of his son's escapades and had put some teeth in his last will and testament. From the time of his death, last year, until George's thirtieth birthday, now three months hence, George had to avoid the slightest breath of scandal—or be cut off with a small annuity the rest of his days.

But there was no reason he couldn't marry Lola Martin. Mr. Remington knew there was nothing wrong with Lola. It was all a perplexing puzzle to the little violinist.

Then he forgot all about the Doxlers for the moment. For Lola was near the cloak-room. The girl smiled pleasantly at him, and paused long enough to caress Grimalkins, who purred contentedly in the crook of Mr. Remington's arm.

"How are you tonight, Mr. Remington?" the singer asked. "Going to feed Grimalkins again, I'll wager."

Mr. Remington trembled at her nearness. He could only nod and gulp an unintelligible remark. He couldn't blame Mayville for falling in love with her.

Lola Martin flashed him another smile. "I'll meet you here tomorrow afternoon, Mr. Remington," she said, "to run over that new arrangement of songs."

"Thank you, Miss Lola," he managed to stammer. "And—and I hope you will be—ah—very happy."

And he fled for the kitchen.

The young woman stared after him thoughtfully. "Now I wonder what on earth made him say a thing like that?" she mused. "If only he would assert himself some time, I'd be quite happy—I think."

Later, on his way to the shallow stage, violin under his arm, to play his first selection of numbers, Mr. Remington caught sight of Georgie Mayville sitting alone at the table he had reserved indefinitely—at least for the next three weeks. Mr. Remington stopped by.

"Good-evening, Mr. Mayville," he said in his mild and friendly way. "That was nice of you to give us Grimalkins. Have you seen her lately? She is growing up like everything."

"Hello, Rem," acknowledged the former playboy, lightly. "Oh, yes, I see the cat every night up in Madam Oravey's room. Going to scrape out some Gipsy tunes for us tonight? How about the Hungarian Rhapsody?"

"With pleasure, Mr. Mayville. I will play the third and fourth movements especially for you." Mr. Remington beamed. It was nice that Mayville appreciated good music. At least, he had this in common with Lola.

"Thanks," said Mayville carelessly.

"You know," he went on in a sort of confiding way, "I can't dance so strenuously as I used to. My heart's bad, so the doctors have warned me. But I still like to hear lively music."

"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that," murmured Mr. Remington sympathetically.

"Don't feel sorry for me," said Mayville, grinning boyishly. "I'll soon have plenty of compensation."

Mr. Remington thought so, too, but he said nothing. However, he soon was telling his thoughts to the patrons of the crowded club, through the strings of his precious violin.

"How sadly you play tonight, Mr. Remington," Lola said to him after one of his numbers, and before she went on to sing a couple of popular songs. "Is there anything the matter?"

"Oh, no, not at all," he hastened to assure her. "On the contrary."

"It must be the atmosphere of this place," she said, and Mr. Remington thought she shivered slightly. "How nice it would be if you and I could get away from here and go on tour in concert work."

"That would—would be delightful," admitted Mr. Remington, distinctly startled. But how silly an idea. Soon Lola would be marrying Mayville.

He saw them sitting together later at Mayville's table, apparently absorbed in each other. And then he was going upstairs to get into his death's head makeup for the scene with Madam Oravey in a macabre mood.

THE following afternoon there was no trace of his sadness of the evening before. In fact, he was almost happy as he ran through the new arrangements with Lola.

"You are too good for this place, Mr. Remington," she observed. "Why don't you leave?"

"I think the same about you, Miss Lola. Why don't you go? You should be singing with a name orchestra—or on the radio."

A shadow passed before the girl's eyes. "I—I can't," she murmured. "My brother is—oh, forget it."

But Mr. Remington couldn't forget it. Before he returned to the Romany Club that night he spent several dollars in making discreet inquiries about Lola Martin and her brother. He wound up by visiting Charles Martin himself, and Horace Remington was appalled by what the young fellow divulged to him.

Charles worked as a bookkeeper in a wholesale grocery house. He must have been ripe for someone to talk to, for when he discovered that Mr. Remington was a good friend of Lola's, he unburdened his heart to the quiet and sympathetic little violinist. Charles, it developed, was short several hundred dollars in his accounts. He and Lola were saying every cent they could to make up the deficit. But Harry Doxler and Madam Oravey knew about his trouble because Lola had made the mistake of trying to borrow money from them. And now the pair were holding that information over Lola's head for some unknown reason.

Unknown no longer to Mr. Remington. At last he understood what had been obscure to him before. Doxler and his wife were running some sort of blackmail racket, using the Romany Club as a front and Madam Oravey's fortune-telling business as a weapon.

But what could Mr. Remington do about it? He had no proof. He was no detective, no fighter.

"One thing I can do for you, Charles," he told the anxious young man. "You say you are still short nearly five hundred dollars. I have saved more than that. On condition that you do not tell Lola, I will lend you the money so you can square yourself with your firm—and then the Doxlers will have no further hold over your sister."

Young Martin's gratitude was pathetic. In his haste to escape such a shower of thanks, Mr. Remington made an appointment to meet him the following morning and turn the money over to him. Then, his heart lighter than it had been for months, Mr. Remington made his way back to the Romany Club.

After Lola married George Mayville and left the club, he decided, he would leave, too. Perhaps he would get a job with another symphony orchestra. Anyway, he could no longer stay in such a—such a den of iniquity. Not with Lola gone.

He was late getting to the club. Harry Doxler met him as he came in through the kitchen. The owner-manager was in a vile mood. "Where the devil have you been, Remington!" he snarled. "You missed the first dinner show."

"I'm sorry, Mr. Doxler. You can take it out of my pay. I—"

"Darned right I will!" Doxler cut him off viciously. "I pay you more than you're worth to play your fiddle, and I won't tolerate this sort of thing. Now, hurry up and get ready for that new act with Lola."

"Yes, sir, Mr. Doxler," murmured the little man, and be scurried for the upper part of the house.

"And don't sneak off afterward," Doxler yelled at him. "I want you to play for a wedding we are having here at midnight. A private one."

"Yes, sir." It was only after he disposed of his hat and gloves that Mr. Remington remembered he had not yet fed Grimalkins. He glanced at his watch. He had but a scant half-hour before donning his death's head regalia and playing for Lola the numbers that led up to the Gipsy fortune-teller act with Madam Oravey. There was just time enough.

Racing along the dim-lit corridor, Mr. Remington paused breathlessly before the closed sitting-room door. He tapped gently. There was no answer. He tried the knob and the door opened for him.

He entered, and saw Grimalkins stretching and eying herself in the mirror behind the little table. Then he noticed that the room was not empty. A man sat in the armchair beside the table. It was George Mayville, and he was slouched down in an attitude of sleep.

"Oh, I beg your pardon," murmured Mr. Remington. "I had no idea you were here, Mr. Mayville."

MAYVILLE did not stir. Mr. Remington was on the verge of gathering up Grimalkins and tiptoeing out when something about Mayville's slumped attitude arrested him. Almost timidly he touched the ex-playboy on the shoulder. The man did not stir. Lightly Mr. Remington touched his face. It was cold and toughly resistant—like aging dough Pietro sometimes left overnight.

His heart beating more rapidly, Mr. Remington swiftly felt for Mayville's pulse. There was none. George Mayville, the bridegroom to be, was dead.

In his concern, Mr. Remington almost wrung his hands. Then he bent closer, sniffed at the dead man's lips. He recognized that chloral odor. In horror, he started back, resting his left hand on the center table to steady himself. He looked down and saw a legal-appearing paper beneath a book. It was a marriage license, issued to George Mayville and Lola Martin! Suddenly he understood a great many things. The Doxlers scheming the night before. . . Doxler's plan to marry the couple—

"Good heavens!" whispered Mr. Remington. "They must have slipped Mayville a mickey finn to get him in a befuddled state so they could rush the marriage and hold blackmail over his head. But they didn't know about his weak heart—and now they've murdered him!"

What to do? How could he prove what he knew to be true? Did he even want to prove it? Should he call the police? Did Doxler know Mayville was dead? Evidently not, as he was right now planning on rushing the marriage through.

But as soon as the death was discovered things would start happening quickly. Knowing they were guilty of manslaughter on top of their blackmail racket, the Doxlers would surely try to pin this crime on somebody else. And the logical person was—Lola!

Horace Remington, making stricken noises in his throat, hastily left the room, closed the door tightly behind him. In a frenzy he donned his death's head makeup, grabbed his violin. How much time had elapsed when he reached the wing entrance to the little stage he did not know, but he knew he had missed his cue again.

In a ghastly blue and yellow spotlight Madam Oravey was on the stage and ready to pour a glass of champagne for a frightened-looking Lola. The only music was a poor accompaniment on the piano.

Mr. Remington signaled the piano player, and with a bound he leaped into the spotlight. A grinning death's head in immaculate evening clothes. He slapped his violin to his chin, swept the bow across the strings in one mad volume of sound. A woman in the audience screamed.

Then Horace Remington was playing as he had never played before. A crazy medley of improvisation was pouring from his violin and he only hoped Lola remembered the words of the songs. That she would realize it was nothing like the arrangement they had practised, he was sure.

"I had the craziest dream. . . ." throbbed the violin. "Get out of town. . . . They're hanging Danny Deever in the morning. . . ." Then it swept into a strain of the "Danse Macabre."

Madame Oravey and Lola were looking at him in amazement. Then Madam Oravey filled the wine glass and urged it upon the girl. Instantly the notes of the violin changed.

"Drink to me only with thine eyes . . ." Mr. Remington was playing in mad grotesquerie. No telling what dope the Doxlers had put into that champagne for Lola to drink.

The girl looked startled. Her lips moved as her mind registered the words of the music. Mr. Remington swung into an old barroom favorite—the only thing he could think of at the moment. "I'll be glad when you're dead you rascal, you, I'll be glad when you're dead you rascal, you. I'll be standing on the corner, hi, when they bring your body by—"

"No!" cried the girl hysterically. "I won't drink that! I can't go on. Something is wrong. Horace! What—"

There was a snarl from the entrance wing, and Harry Doxler rushed out onto the stage. In his hand was the blue blackness of an automatic.

"Drink that wine!" he shouted at the girl. "As for you, Mr. Death, I'll banish you forever!" He raised his gun to aim it at Mr. Remington, signaling for the curtain with his other hand.

It made a good tableau for the customers, but Horace Remington knew there was a deadly menace behind it all. Doxler must have discovered that Mayville was dead. Now he intended hanging the crime on Remington or Lola.

UNARMED, helpless, despised for his quiet gentleness, Mr. Remington made the supreme sacrifice of his career. Somehow he had to get Lola out of this mess. The curtain was going down, cutting them off from the wildly clapping patrons. He dropped his bow, caught his precious violin by the neck with both hands. With all his might he was swinging the instrument, and it crashed against the head of Mr. Harry Doxler, murderer and blackmailer. The violin splintered into a thousand pieces, but Mr. Doxler went down like a stone.

Instantly Mr. Remington snatched up the automatic, and menaced Madam Oravey and the pair of men who came rushing on stage.

"Lola," he ordered crisply, "get to the nearest phone and call the police. Doxler has murdered George Mayville. You others stay right here, or I'll do some killing of my own. Hurry, Lola!"

Madam Oravey screamed. "I told Harry not to make that mickey too strong."

Twenty minutes later she was still screaming and babbling out the facts to the sergeant in charge of the homicide squad that answered the call.

At last, order of a sort was restored, and Mr. Remington had the opportunity of looking over the shattered remains of his beloved violin. He was oblivious to the people around him, to the bluecoats and detectives, to the snarling Doxler and the hysterical Madam Oravey.

Sadly he fussed with bits of his violin, aimlessly trying to fit them together. He started, when a warm, soft hand rested on his forearm. Raising his eyes, he found Lola looking into his face. Tears had dimmed her eyes.

"Oh—ah—Lola," he stammered. "I am—er—awfully sorry about Mayville. I just—don't know—what to say."

"So am I, Horace," she said. "He didn't deserve death. But I am more sorry about your violin. And—and I think you are wonderful!"

"You—didn't love—Mayville?"

"No. It was my brother. You see—"

"I know about that," Mr. Remington said modestly. "I fixed that up with Charles. I didn't mean to be prying, but— but I had to help you."

"Horace Remington! Put down that broken violin and look at me," she ordered firmly. "We're going to buy you another violin, better than this one, and you and I are going to make that concert tour yet. Look at me."

Horace Remington looked. And what he saw in her eyes made him indifferent to whether he ever returned to the concert stage or not.