Alexander the Great

by Charles Weathers Bump

Alexander loved everything about Antoinette except her too pronounced fondness for the romantic. That perturbed him greatly. Nobody liked to be sentimental with a pretty girl more than did Alexander. If he could squeeze Antoinette's hand slyly at Ford's or the Academy when a "dark scene" was on, and get a sweet answering pressure; if he engineered his arm about her undisturbed when he took her driving on Druid Hill's unlighted roads of a summer night; if he hazarded an occasional kiss on her warm, cherry-red lips as they lingered in the parting on the front steps of her Harlem-avenue home—he was as pleased as any admiring lover could well be. And the next day in that dull, prosaic German-street office, pictures of Antoinette as she laughed, of Antoinette as she lowered her clear brown eyes after that kiss, would thrust themselves most impertinently into each page of the big ledger he had to post.

The trouble, however, with Antoinette from Alexander's viewpoint was that she was more romantic than that. It was all right for her to be a trusting little dear and allow him the occasional kiss or hug. But no adorer likes to be told that he doesn't come up to the lady's ideal, and that was what Antoinette had plainly given Alexander to understand in those moments when, spurred on by the kiss or the hug, he had sought to make her more truly his only and own. "The man I marry," vowed the darling Antoinette, "must be a hero. You're just an ordinary fellow. You're better than the rest I know, and I like you awfully much. But Alexander, dear," and she gave a little twist to the top button of his coat, "I don't love you, because you have never shown yourself capable of bold deeds or brave actions. I am woman enough to worship a man who can do things of that kind. The age of chivalry is not dead. There are heroes in this world, and though I'm awfully fond of you, Alexander, I'm going to wait until I meet my ideal." Then Alexander would hie himself to his Gilmor-street home and curse his luck. What could a plain, unassuming, workaday clerk do in the way of being a hero? Where did he have opportunities of meeting situations of peril in which he could prove his valor?

One of those evenings when Antoinette waxed confidential and revealed her true thoughts—evenings rare, because, as a rule, she was fencing coquettishy with tongue and eyes—she acknowledged that the nearest approach to her ideal that she had ever seen was a handsome, lithe young Atlantic City life guard. She put such a valuation upon the courage of this sun-bronzed, red-shirted Adonis that Alexander's jealousy rose to the fuming point. There pressed upon him the notion of going to the City-by-the-Sea, either to challenge this approximate ideal to mortal combat or of emulating his choice of occupation and working a lifeboat and a rescue-line himself. Then he reflected that, after all, he would rather be a live clerk in Baltimore than a dead hero in the restless ocean surf.

"It's all the fault of those blamed novels," muttered Alexander, in his wrath. "She has filled up her head with that silly trash until she has spoiled the finest girl on earth." He never met her on Lexington street that she was not on her way to or from the Enoch Pratt Library, or was carrying home the latest bit of fiction from the bookstores. The old and the new alike fed her imagination—Scott, the elder Dumas, the King Arthur romances, Stanley Weyman, Anthony Hope, Hallie Erminie Rives, Laura Jean Libbey, Bertha M. Clay, Mrs. Alexander—all were fish for her net, tabloids for her mental digestion. "If she had her way, she would make me a Rob Roy, a Romeo, a Prisoner of Zenda, a Sir Gal—or whatever the dickens that old fellow's name was," vowed Alexander, who, it must be confessed, was not strong on literature.

For three hours and more he lay awake on his bed that night. He knew the length of time, because the wind was from the east and brought the sound of the City Hall's strike to him. How to gain Antoinette in marriage, how to meet her fancy of what a man ought to be, how to be a hero without an untimely fate in the flower of his youth—was ever lover more perplexed, more worried!

The next morning brought his deliverance. It came to him as he held himself in place on two inches of the footboard of a crowded open car. A queer spot for salvation to be handed to a despairing lover! Yet salvation is accustomed to odd performances. In this instance it popped into Alexander's mind so unexpectedly that he chuckled and made a seated individual think Alexander was reading the jokes of his penny paper over his shoulder. As a matter of fact, Alexander was soaring into a new and unexplored world. A great white light was leading him far from the madding crowd.

For three days chuckling alternated with heavy thinking. His mind was so engrossed with the probability of his deliverance from the trials and anxieties of trying vainly to please Antoinette that when he went, by appointment, to take her to Electric Park to see the vaudeville show he came perilously near telling her all about it. And that to the swain who hopes to capture a hesitating maiden would, as every masculine knows, have been fatal. As it was, Alexander's countenance was so benign and cheerful that the little lady noticed it.

"You've got a surprise for me, I know," she declared as she eyed him, pouting most charmingly.

She had hit so near the truth that Alexander, helpless masculine, floundered. "N—n—no. I—I—I haven't," he vowed.

"Yes, you have, Alexander Brotherton," she replied, spiritedly; and at midnight as they were crossing Harlem square, homeward bound, she snuggled up to him confidingly and intimated that it was about time to tell her.

Alexander weakened. When a fellow is 24 and a girl is 22 and unusually pretty and winsome, his heart must be adamant to withstand that little trick of snuggling up. Alexander gasped, but with the gasp gained sense enough to see he couldn't tell her about the "great white light."

Antoinette, girl like, was miffed. It was the first time in her experience with Alexander, and in fact with several other adorers, that she had not been able to operate that little device successfully. As a result, she was rather cool when they parted.

The next evening Alexander went around to make it up. He had to "crawl," of course. They all do. The girls make them do it. And when he had apologized earnestly for the eleventh time and vowed with a double criss-cross that there really wasn't any secret, Antoinette was partially mollified and allowed Alexander to stay until past 11 o'clock without a recurrence of pouting on her part.

The next night she was in a lovely humor when Alexander came around. It was close and hot, and, after buying sondaes at the drug store on the corner below, Alexander suggested riding out and strolling along some of the paths of Druid Hill Park. He put it humbly, but he was most blithe and joyous when she consented.

They were walking up the Mall on their way to the boat lake half an hour later. It was dark just there, and, as no one seemed to be near, Alexander let his hand steal around Antoinette's little waist.

"You shouldn't do that," said Antoinette slipping away from him, but not angrily. "We're not engaged, you know."

"I'd like to be," asserted Alexander ardently.

What answer she would have made can only be guessed at, for just at this moment two muscular fellows sprang in front of them from behind a tree. In the few arc-light rays that penetrated the low-hanging limbs Antoinette could see that both were masked and that one held a pistol at her. Antoinette backed close to Alexander and screamed. It was a good, lusty scream, far stronger than Alexander had thought her capable of emitting.

"Hand over your money and valuables," gruffly said the companion of him who held the pistol.

Antoinette could feel Alexander double his fists and his muscles grow hard. He started toward the two highwaymen. "Don't! don't!" she cried, as she threw her arms around him. "They'll kill you!"

But Alexander heeded her not. Instead, he pushed her aside and sprang determinedly at the other pair. With his left hand he knocked up the pistol and caused it to fall to the ground. With his right he delivered a swinging blow on the shoulder that staggered the other fellow. Apparently the pair had not expected resistance, for they darted off in the shadows, with Alexander in stern pursuit.

"Don't leave me alone," called Antoinette agonizingly. Visions of dire peril to distressed womanhood leaped into her brain from a score of favorite novels. She might be kidnapped and confined in some dark tower—she might be shot down from ambush—she might—but, ah, now! her fears were dissipated, for the doughty Alexander was back. He was puffing most unromantically, but was overjoyed at the turn that enabled him to show himself so valiant.

Several strangers had been attracted by Antoinette's scream. Alexander satisfied their curiosity by a modest recital of the incident. And then with the adoring Antoinette holding close to him he turned away. One of the strangers stopped him.

"You've left the pistol," he said.

"By George! so I did," said Alexander.

"Don't take that awful thing," said Antoinette with a shudder.

"It will be a prize trophy," said Alexander, and Antoinette with this point of view was content. Under the first light he showed the weapon to her. She needed to be encouraged to handle the pistol, but finally she inspected it closely. "It has your initials—'A. B.'—on it," she suddenly declared.

"Why so it has," stammered Alexander. Without further ado he put the revolver in his pocket.

"Hadn't you better tell the park gateman about the outrage?" asked Antoinette presently.

"No; I think it wiser to keep it out of the papers," returned Alexander. "After all, it was only a little incident, with no serious consequences."

But Antoinette did not regard it in that light. To her it was a valorous deed, and she rehearsed her view of it all the way home.

"You are my hero, my first hero," she said to the proud Alexander on her stoop, and reaching up to his face she impulsively gave him the warmest kiss he had ever secured from her. The hero business wasn't so bad after all.

Some evenings later they were again strolling in the park. Alexander had received permission to smoke a cigarette as they walked, but could not light it in the breeze that was blowing. "Wait a moment, little girl," he finally said, and he stepped aside to the protection of a broad tree trunk, perhaps forty feet away, leaving Antoinette on the path. It was the main-traveled way from Madison-avenue gate to the Mansion House, but at the time no one was near. Suddenly, however, a tall man loomed up from behind Antoinette and seized her rudely in his arms.

"A kiss, my little beauty," he said as he put his face close to hers. Antoinette would have dropped with fright had not his firm grasp upheld her. She was too scared to scream, but she did have presence of mind enough to turn her face aside. What she saw when she did turn overjoyed her, for Alexander was coming agilely over the turf to her rescue.

"Here, let go of that lady, you dirty whelp!" cried Alexander, when yet some paces away. The man relaxed his hold on her, but, instead of running as her hold-up man had done, he turned to meet the oncoming champion. Alexander grappled with him and there was a stout tussle. It seemed ages to Antoinette, who was watching the struggle with tense, strained eyes, before Alexander proved his redoubtability by throwing her insulter over on the grass.

"Oh, Alexander!" she cried in exultation and relief. "You are so strong and brave!"

Alexander, panting, swelled his chest. Such praise from the girl he loved was like divine, enchanting wine. He took her to his bosom, as they say. But the fond embrace was cut short by a snicker from the onlooker. He had not risen from the recumbent position in which Alexander's prowess had placed him. Antoinette's beloved turned angrily on him, "Get you gone, you vile dog!" he exclaimed theatrically. And then he kicked him, not gently, but positively.

In a flash the other man was up and had grabbed the surprised Alexander. It was such a grab that Alexander murmured in pain. Antoinette thought she heard one of them say something about "Not in the bargain." She was not sure. But she was sure that Alexander was not doing so well in the second round of combat as in the first. Then he whispered to his opponent, and almost immediately the strength of the other diminished, even as did Samson's when shorn of his locks. Presently the other broke away and ran, and Alexander stood breathless, master of the field.

On the walk back to the Druid Hill-avenue entrance to take a car for home Antoinette again proposed that they tell the authorities of the two attacks. Alexander was against it. He said he dreaded the mire of publicity for the sweetest creature on earth. And he looked at her lovingly as he said it. Antoinette's purpose weakened, but she had enough strength of will left to declare she was almost sure she could identify her assailant. "He had an odd-shaped mole on his right cheek," she remarked. "And, do you know, it's curious that I think I am nearly certain that one of our highwaymen of last week had a similar mark. I got a glimpse of it once when a puff of air caught his mask." Alexander redoubled his urgings that they keep silent. He breathed easier when they were past the gateman and on the car.

For a week he basked in the glory of her adulation. Never was a hero so worshiped as this proven one. Never was a sweet girl so happy as Antoinette. She had met her ideal, and he was hers. Twenty hours of the twenty-four she dreamed of him; the other four she rejoiced at being with him.

The eighth night after the second encounter in Druid Hill he had taken her to Gwynn Oak Park to dance. Until the sixth number, the waltzes and two-steps were all his. Then Will Harrison, an old acquaintance, came up. "I hate to leave you," whispered Antoinette, as she gazed up into her hero's face, "but Will is a nice boy, and I don't like to refuse him one." Alexander smiled in return, and told her to enjoy herself. As she floated around on Will's arm she took advantage of every turn to watch the adored Alexander. She thought he looked lonely, and she wished she could decently end her waltz and get back to him. For a moment, in a reverse step, she lost sight of him, and when she saw him again a tall young fellow was talking to him. Alexander seemed ill at ease and perturbed. In fact, he quite failed to notice that she was nearing him again in the dance. "I want that extra five you whispered you'd give me," Antoinette heard the tall chap say. "That kick was worth it. If you don't cough up I'll tell the lady how much it cost you, you coward, to be a hero twice." Antoinette looked intently at the tall man. There was a mole on his right cheek. She was wise all of a sudden. Then she grew faint with the shock of the knowledge.

"Take me out of here," she muttered to her partner. He obeyed. A car was fast filling up to leave for Walbrook. Antoinette made a dash for it. "Come, take me home, Will!" she called. Again he obeyed, and bounced her into a seat.

"I'll never speak to that awful wretch again," said Antoinette to the curious Will. "I am ashamed of myself."

And thus was Alexander the Great dethroned.