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Curious Cubes

By T. Bell

YOU might camp out on the Great American Desert for days and days and nothing worthy of comment would happen.

At the junction of Thirty-Fourth Street, Sixth Avenue and Broadway something happens every two and one-half minutes, or twice every five minutes, wherein that vicinity differs vastly from the Great American Desert.

This is no reflection on the G. A. D., but such are the facts, and must be so set down as hereinbefore provided and contained in the minutes of this meeting.

First, a fire-engine came tearing up Broadway. Second, a cab-horse, for reasons known only to cab-horses and possibly to traffic policemen—though I have never inquired of one—lay down on the car-tracks.

Then all the trucks, street-cars, automobiles, ambulances, and fire-fighting apparatus in the vicinity became inextricably entangled in a true lover's-knot, so that a common, ordinary Mexican ant could not have made its way out of the mass.

In company with hundreds of other New Yorkers who are so busy neglecting their own business that they have time to mind every one else's, I paused and surveyed the scene of disorder.

Suddenly a cry broke from the lips of the assembled multitude (I got this phrase out of a book—rather good—eh, what?) and I looked in the direction toward which all eyes were turned.

There, in the very core and center of the hub- locked mess of traffic was a little old man, caught like a rat in a trap, He darted up, under, over, and above, through, outside, inside, and across, beneath the hoofs of prancing steeds, narrowly escaping death by hairbreadths, and then, just as he was about to drag himself clear of the whole business, some invisible force set the congested mass in motion and he would have been crushed beneath the wheels of an expensive, red automobile had I not dashed forward and pulled him to his feet.

It all happened in a moment.

He leaned heavily against me, grasping my arm. I steadied him and slowly forced him through the crowd now rapidly reducing itself to fragments. When we hit an open space he looked up into my face with gratitude.

"Young man," he said in a small, thin, weak, trembling voice. "you have saved my life."

"Don't mention it," I said airily, brushing myself off. "It was a rare pleasure, I assure you."

"I am disposed to reward you." He regarded me thoughtfully, the while he stroked his long, luxurious, King-Leopold beard. "Yes," he went on, "I shall reward you. It is fitting and proper."

"Please," I said modestly, "don't think of such a thing. I really won't permit it."

We walked slowly down Broadway. He was leaning on my arm and I was heartily wishing I could drop him in some polite, convenient manner.

"Let us step into this hotel," he said as we passed one of those gilded sin-palaces for which Broadway is noted from the rock-bound coast of the Pacific to the pine-clad hills of Maine. "I wish to present you with a token of my gratitude which knows no bounds."

"Now—really?" I protested feebly; but he led me through the portal—decorated like a ticket- wagon at a circus—and into the lobby.

"Now," he said, after we were seated in deep, leather-covered chairs, "I shall ask you to tell me your name so that I may engrave it on the tablets of my memory."

"J. Harvey McNuder." I replied.

"And I," he said, grasping my hand, "am Professor Horace Maxwell. You have saved my life. You have saved a benefactor of the human race— the inventor of—but wait."

He drew a small, glittering object from his waistcoat-pocket and handed it to me. It looked like a lump of sugar wrapped in tinfoil.

"That little thing," he went on, "is a cube of congeniality.

"Listen." he continued as I observed the thing in wonder. "and I will explain.

"I have discovered a method of solidifying the psychic elements in the atmosphere, a subject to which I have devoted my life. At last I have triumphed. That cube, and several others I have with me, are the result."

"You're too far over in the book for me," I said. "I don't make you, professor. May I unwrap it and take a look?"

"Not yet," he protested. "Allow me to continue.

"You have frequently noticed, I presume, that certain states of mind are infectious. For instance, one man carries about him an air of gloom, another an air of prosperity. Such a man visibly affects those about him. He enters a company and his presence is felt and noticed. Shortly the company becomes infected with the atmosphere of the strongest personality in it; this atmosphere expands until it may be said that one man has dominated—by what we call personality—those around him. Is this true?"

"Well—yes," I replied slowly. "I'd never thought about it that way. I fail, however, to understand?"

"Very well," he returned with dignity. "Now this cube"?he took it from me?"is a cube of congeniality. I secured its ingredients from the atmosphere in a room where six prominent politicians were seated at damp, round tables in the back of a café, 'dividing the swag,' as they say. Naturally the atmosphere was heavily charged with congeniality.

"This man," I said to myself. "is crazy. Far better had I permitted him to become a victim of the rich, red motor-car."

"This cube," he went on excitedly, drawing another from his pocket, "is what I call a cube of prosperity. The ingredients of this were procured from the office of a prominent railway king whose name I may not divulge. Suffice to say he has millions of dollars at his command. He is one of the richest men in the world."

"Really," I thought to myself again. "I ought to turn old gray-beard over to a policeman."

"And this," he produced another, "is a cube of gloom, and was the result of attending the World's Series at the Polo Grounds in nineteen twelve when the Giants lost the pennant. It is the one most highly charged, and will, therefore, be the most highly efficient."

"Very interesting." I murmured, edging away from him ever so little and casting about for a means of escape.

"I am going to give you one specimen of each of these," he said, placing them in my hand. "I can confer no greater gift on you for the service you have performed in my behalf this day. You have saved my life."

"How do they—they work?" I asked, merely to humor him. "Just pour hot water and serve?"

"Do not jest," he warned me, laying a thin, cold, blue-white hand on my shoulder. "Simply remove the tinfoil. Contact with the atmosphere will do the rest. The cube will gradually disappear. The effect is temporary and immediate."

"Thank you," I said, thrusting the three cubes in my coat-pocket. "I accept these with pleasure." I looked at the big clock at the far end of the lobby. "I must be going along. It's getting late."

"I, too, must proceed on my way," the old man rose stiffly. "Allow me to grasp you by the hand again, young man. You have saved my life. In return I have conferred upon you a marvelous triumph of science. Use it with discrimination."

He moved away and presently I lost sight of him in the throng that eddied and surged through the corridor of the hotel.

"Well," I said to myself, "I've wasted some time on this loose-beaned, elderly person. It is five o'clock. I will go up home, dress, and?"

Then I heard my name called.

The speaker was Joe Mellish, for whom I have slight regard.

"Hello, Joe," I greeted him. "How's your conduct?"

"Great," he replied, grasping me by the hand. "Have you heard the news?"

"Nothing to speak of," I replied.

"I'm engaged."

He said this as one would say "I have been elected President of the United States," or "The world is mine," or some other large, high-priced remark.

"Put it there." I shook hands with him again. "Miss Borden, I suppose. Fine girl, lucky man. Have a drink,"

We stepped into the café and spoke certain mysterious words to the white-coated gentleman behind the bar, who presently laid before us two portions of a wet, intoxicating fluid.

"Pulled it last night," Joe said in a joyous tone of voice. "She snapped me up like a bargain. I guess I ain't a lucky guy—what?"

"Oh," I said, "you're simply poisoned with luck. I don't see how you'll ever be able to die when your time comes."

"Well"?he expanded his chest considerably? "you got to give me credit, Harve, for picking the sweetest, finest, most good-looking, all-round member of the obstinate sex in these here parts. Gimme credit, will you?"

"Sure," I replied. "I ain't like a fellow that's the least bit jealous, you know, even though I was once—well,—kind of sweet on the lady myself."

"I beat you to it," he said complacently as he made a motion to the dispenser behind the long, moist mahogany. "Same?" he asked condescendingly.

"Yes, same for me," I answered, and suddenly I longed to damage the gigantic assurance of this person.

It was then that I thought of the cubes in my pocket—those marvels of science—triumphs of the inventor's art, et cetera.

I surreptitiously took them out to look at them, and suddenly became aware of the fact that there was nothing by which to identify one from the other.

"Oh, well," I said to myself, "it's likely they are only the work of a nut, so it won't make much difference, anyway."

I unwrapped one and dropped it in Joe's pocket.

"There's no use talking," Joe said as he sipped his drink, "this getting married is a serious proposition. For one thing, marriage without love is an awful lemon, so they tell me. Of course Janet loves me," he took another sip.

"Nothing could save him," I thought to myself, "if we were in a dark alley and I had an ax with me."

"But sometimes I feel as if—well, maybe she don't love me, Harve; and—I—oh, what the dickens!"

He set his glass down on the bar while a tear formed in the corner of his eye and rolled down the side of his nose.

"Say," I cried, "what's the matter with you?" "I don't know," he lamented, wiping his eyes with his handkerchief; "but I feel so—Say, Harve, do I look like a human being?"

"You bear slight chemical traces of belonging to the human race," I replied. "Why?"

"She don't love me," he said finally as he wiped bus eyes again. "I feel it, Harve, and it's awful. I didn't feel this way before, but now?"

He burst out crying. "What are you going to do about it?" I said. "Don't weep all over this perfectly good café, that never did a thing to either of us. Come outside."

I led him, weeping, to the door. "Do me a favor, Harve," he sobbed when we were outside, where we attracted unfavorable comment. "Go up to the Bordens to-night and tell Janet that you've seen me and that I—oh, she won't care, anyway—but tell her that I am on my way to bleach my bones in the desert places of the earth. Some day she will—she will regret that she—I? Oh, Harve, go to her and tell her that."

"I'll go," I said with an air of resignation. "Yes, go"—he clung to me—"and take her, Harve. She loves you. I feel it. Go to her—take her, and—and be good to her for my sake. And when you lead her to the altar—you will lead her to the altar, won't you?"

"Perhaps," I replied, gently disengaging him from my shoulder, which was damp from his tears.

"When you lead her to the altar and—and—think of me, will you, Harve? And teach her to think kindly of the man who loves her, and always will love her so long as she—tell her that, will you, Harve?"

"I will." I spoke gently.

"Go," he wailed. "And if the Giants—the Red Sox win the pennant—I?what am I saying?"

So it was the cube! The baseball game was showing through!

"Nothing," I said gently. "You were saying positively nothing."

"I thought so," he returned as I moved away hurriedly.

I lost no time in reaching the Borden residence, which is tucked away in the vest-pocket of Harlem.

Janet met me at the portals. "Why, how do you do, Mr. McNuder?" she exclaimed. "This is indeed a surprise!"

"Isn't it?" I said affably as we entered the little two-by-four parlor.

"You never come up here any more," she pouted very prettily. "Am I honored in believing that you came to-night just to see my humble self?"

"Honored is scarcely the word," I smiled upon her. "I am performing a duty," I said.

"Oh, how wretched!" she cried. "That's such a terrible word to use."

"Well, I couldn't think of a better one." I unwrapped one of the two remaining cubes.

"It don't make much difference." I said to myself as I turned loose another triumph of science. "It won't make much difference whether it's Prosperity or Congeniality. Women fall for either or both."

"Do tell," she chided me. "What is the nature of this duty, may I ask?"

"Certainly," I replied. "I have just left Joe down-town!"

"Something has happened to him!" She rose and came over to me. "Tell me at once!"

"It's really nothing," I replied calmly. "He told me to tell you that he is on his way to—to some desert or other, because he thinks you don't love him or he don't love you, or something of the sort. I couldn't just get the hang of it."

"Great Heavens, the man is mad!" She dropped into a chair. "So I thought maybe you'd like to come out with me to-morrow afternoon for a spin in my motor-car."

(I had no motor-car.) "It's very good of you." She spoke brokenly. "I—yes—I will come."

"And," I went on madly, "perhaps some day you will think kindly of one who wishes to make you the happiest woman in the world."

"Please don't speak of it yet," she whispered. "Why not?" I replied, impetuously, taking both her little white hands in mine. "I can give you everything—everything in the world that your heart craves."

"I will build a palace for you as I high as the skies; you shall have a thousand servants to do your bidding; jewels, motor-cars, opera-boxes, yachts, European trips—I lay them all—all at your feet."

I suited the action to the word by laying an imaginary universe on the carpet before her.

"Why, Mr. McNuder," she blushed very, very attractively, "I had no idea you were so—so rich."

"Rich!" I cried, abandoning myself to the triumph of science. "Rich! The half has not been told. Name it and you can have it. That's my motto. I do nothing by halves—positively nothing.

"For you, Janet, I will turn the world wrong side out and paint the other side red, like your lips. I will reach up and pluck a star for you to wear in a ring. You may have the moon with which to decorate your alabaster brow.

"There is nothing in the wide, wide world—in the wide, wide universe—that you shall not have, if money can buy it. And," I added complacently, "money can buy anything."

"Where did you get all this money?" she asked.

"Have no fear on that score," I replied airily. "Picture to yourself a thousand miles of steel rails girdling the continent. Picture the vast, comprehensive railway system that brings San Francisco next door to New York, and then ask me—me—where I got all this money!"

I still held her hands in mine.

"Oh!" she gasped. "Why—I never knew, I never dreamed of anything so wonderful! You must be?"

"They call me the railroad king," I said modestly.

In another moment she would have been mine. But that moment never arrived, for I heard a great clatter outside in the hall, as if twenty men were simultaneously trying to enter and pull the house in after them.

I looked up. Joe stood in the doorway. He took in the situation at a glance, and I hurriedly slipped off the covering of the one remaining cube—the cube of Congeniality.

Janet ran to him and grasped him in what I believe to be a half-Nelson, a wrestling term.

"Let me at him!" Joe cried. "The—the— hound!"

"Don't," I said with dignity. "Keep away. I shall explain."

Joe tossed Janet gently to the far end of the room and advanced on me.

"You explain!" he hissed. "I'll muss you up first, and then do your explaining afterward!"

He did. I didn't.

Outside, I slowly and painfully arranged my attire and discovered that I could actually see out of one eye, which was a great relief to me.

The bright lights of a café on the corner attracted my attention. I slipped in through the side door labeled "Family Entrance," though why they should so label a side door I have never been able to discover, because I never saw nor heard of a family entering such a place.

The room was deserted except for one man who was asleep.

The waiter entered and brushed off the table at which I sat.

"Bring me some pens and ink and paper." I ordered.

Was I mad? What was the reason for this bursting, throbbing sensation in my head? Of course, it might have been on account of having come in violent contact with the United States when Joe Mellish (curse him) hurled me through the front door.

And, anyway—the desire to write! Me, a poor slave of a thieving corporation, suddenly seized with a mania for pen, ink, and paper! Horrible thought! I wondered if there was such a thing as an ink-drunkard!

He went out and presently returned with them. "Now," I said, "bring me a forty- horse-power rye highball, and then let me alone."

I wrote until far into the night.

* * *

A month afterward I ran into Professor Maxwell on Broadway.

I drew him aside.

"See this eye?" I said. "Well, it's better now, but you ought to have seen it when it was fresh."

I told him what had happened.

"Everything worked like a charm," I said,

"except that blamed cube of Congeniality. It's a frost."

"Not so," he replied kindly. "I found, after I had returned home, that I had included by mistake a cube of Literary atmosphere which was secured at the home of Rudyard Kipling while that master was engaged in a most difficult piece of literary labor. That accounts for your having written the story of your experiences.

"Allow me to present you with my latest triumph of science, the cube of Courage. It was secured by me at the exact moment when you saved my life, a service for which I feel that I cannot sufficiently repay you.

"Accept it, please, as a final testimony of my gratitude. I leave for Europe to-morrow, and we shall probably never meet again."

"Thank you just the same, professor," I said. "But I've had all the experience I want with your cubes, which, I may say, are all that you claim for them."

"Take it, young man." He thrust it into my hand. "Use it when you present your literary masterpiece to an editor for publication."

Under the circumstances I accepted it, with the result that you observe the story in print.

I fear I shall never write another.