Chapter 1 - Mabel and Charlie at the Races
The year was 1914. The tramp woke up in his rooming house lodgings as his alarm clock tinkled merrily. The room was cosy but not expensive. He yawned and turned over in bed. The alarm clock desperately continued to try to do its job. It was already eight o'clock! He grabbed the unfortunate clock and threw it out the half-open window. He pulled the covers over himself and fell back asleep.
Two hours later, the tramp woke up again. This time he jumped up with a start, his bright blue eyes wide open. He looked for the clock to find out what time it was, then remembered the clock no longer shared his room. He got out of bed in his nightclothes which consisted of a white short sleeved shirt and long pants knotted at the waist with a tie. He splashed some water on his face and shaved quickly, trimming his small black moustache.
The tramp pulled on his grey trousers which were many sizes too large for him over the night clothes. He pulled up the white braces to hold up the trousers and buttoned his collar, shirt and tie. He looked at his feet which sported thin black stockings with huge holes, through which one could view his big toe on each foot. He pulled his large, disreputable shoes from under his pillow and held them up in the direction of the window. Yes, he could still see sunlight through the holes. He put them on and examined his cutaway suit coat. It had a hole in the left elbow and a tear on the right sleeve seam. Mabel would fix that for him. He put on his light blue vest and the jacket.
Pulling out his pocket watch, he wound it and found that it was already after 10:00! The auto races started at eleven and he didn't want to disappoint Mabel. Sleeping late had its advantages, though; you didn't have to buy breakfast. He ran his fingers through his shiny, black curly hair and satisfied that he looked presentable, he put his battered black derby on his head, grabbed his bamboo cane from the doorknob and ran out the door.
He rushed down the stairs, only to run into a tall man with a large moustache.
"Charlie, your weekly rent is due," said the man. He held out his hand.
"Ain't go' the toime roigh' now, Billy," said Charlie, trying to sidestep the tall man. "Go' a impor'nt engagem'nt…" He ran out the door.
"You better have it this afternoon, Charlie, or you're outa here!" yelled Billy, after the tramp.
Charlie stopped momentarily, turned, made a face and thumbed his nose at the man. He resumed running as he held onto his hat and when he came to the corner, he turned by sticking his left leg out straight and skipping several times on his right. He had to hurry. Mabel, his girlfriend, wouldn't be happy if he were late today.
He ran past the saloon, then stopped and looked at the sign. He was expecting to buy lunch at the races for himself and Mabel, but examining his tongue, he realized he was very thirsty. The saloon was just opening up and it couldn't hurt to have a drink. He went in and the place was already crowded.
He checked his pockets for money and pulled out a silver dollar. It was all he had and earmarked for going to the races with Mabel today. He flipped the coin around in his hand, then set it on the bar and tapped it to get the bartender's attention.
"I need some change…" The bartender nodded and turned his back to make change.
The man standing next to him had his back turned and his drink was on the bar. Charlie grabbed it surreptitiously and chugged it down in one swallow. He put the empty glass back on the bar and the bartender brought his change. He ordered a drink for himself. He watched carefully for a chance to grab the bottle sitting on the bar and he chugged down some of that too. Then he picked up his own drink and sipped from it. He pocketed his change, including some other people's change that was on the bar counter.
Noticing the regulator clock on the wall, he squinted at it, and had a bit of a time focusing his eyes on it. He elbowed the man next to him. "I say, wha' toime is it by th' clock?"
"It's 11:15...what the matter? Can't you tell time?"
Charlie drank the rest of his drink then kicked the man in the backside and ran to the swinging doors. The doors unfortunately knocked him down as another customer came in. On his hands and knees he crawled out under the doors. He had a hard time standing up, but he did. He walked unsteadily to the curb, spying a streetcar. He took a very large step off the very small curb step and fell down in the street.
He helped himself up by putting his hand on the back of a parked automobile which had a picnic basket standing on the fender. He accidentally stuck his hand in the basket which held a cream pie. He pulled his hand out and looked at it. There was a man standing next to the car, holding the door open for a woman. The tramp wiped his hand on the back of the man's jacket.
Then he went to the middle of the street, almost tripping over the streetcar tracks. The car stopped and Charlie got on and dropped a button in the fare box. Then he started walking to the back of the car.
"Hey!" yelled the conductor. "Come back here! You put a button in the fare box!"
Charlie turned, holding on to a seat. "Wha' y' wan', a bigger but'ton?" he yelled back. He giggled and thumbed his nose in the conductor's direction.
Some of the other passengers tittered and Charlie giggled again, enjoying the audience. The conductor stopped the car and came back to where Charlie had seated himself in the middle of the aisle on the floor. He pulled the tramp up by his lapels and shook him by the neck. "You owe me a fare!"
Charlie dug around in his pocket and gave him a bigger button. He was promptly thrown off the streetcar. He fell down the streetcar steps and picked himself up off the street again. Then, spying the saloon again, he attempted to go back there, having completely forgotten about Mabel. He was suddenly knocked down by a car whose driver saw him only at the last minute.
It was Mabel. She screamed, stopped the car and jumped out. The tramp was sprawled across the hood of the car.
"Oh, no!" she screamed, seeing Charlie. She touched his face and hands and he moved. "Oh, thank goodness, you're alive! Are you all right? Charlie, speak to me!"
He roused himself and pushed himself to a shaky standing position next to the car. "Yeah, I'm foine," he stated, not quite sure of what had happened. He blinked a bit and attempted to pick up his cane and hat from the street. Mabel picked them up for him. A crowd was gathering.
"Can you walk okay?" asked Mabel. Charlie nodded. "Get in the car, honey." He got in the passenger seat and Mabel drove off, leaving the gaping crowd behind. The tramp closed his eyes.
"Charlie, are you sure you're all right? We can call off going to the auto races today if you want…"
"No, tha's awroigh'; let's go…"
"What were you doing in the middle of the street anyway? And why were you so late? I waited so long for you; I decided you must have overslept. I thought I would come and pick you up."
"Yer so sweet…" He hiccupped and put his fingers over his mouth, grinning. Then he leaned over to give her a kiss.
"Oh, now I understand, you were at the saloon. Charlie, it isn't even noon yet! When are you going to learn to be a responsible person?"
Charlie smiled, looking at her. When Mabel got angry, she became even more animated than usual. She had tiny rosebud lips that often formed the letter "O" in exasperation. Her large prominent brown eyes lit up her whole oval shaped face. She had long curly dark brown hair which she wore pinned up today, under her large white straw hat with feathers, ribbons and flowers and matching jacket and skirt. Her fancy umbrella was on the seat next to her.
"Yer purdy when yer angry, Mabel," he said, still smiling.
"Hmmmpppphhh," said Mabel. He was always very sweet after he had done something unspeakably bad. She wasn't going to make up with him right away.
"I hope you have some money….you didn't spend it all at the saloon, did you?"
"No, I 'ardly spent any o' me money a t'all, Mabel. In fac', I think I made some money…"
They arrived at the auto race track. Mabel pulled into a parking space. She got out of the car and closed the door. "Well aren't you going to get out?"
"Me foot 'urts, Mabel…think mybe y' did roll over it…"
"Oh Charlie, I'm sorry…let me look…"
"No, jus' 'elp me outa th' car, ducks."
Mabel helped him out of the car and he was indeed limping. She closed his door and put her arm around his back. It took a little while for them to walk together to the entrance of the park where Charlie, true to his word, paid for them to enter. They found a front row seat in the grandstand with a good view of the race.
Charlie bought hot dogs for himself and Mabel. The races started and the crowd became excited and animated. Charlie was acting a little under-whelmed until a tall blonde woman and her boyfriend sat down next to him. He eyed her, then poked her with his cane. She turned to look at him and he tipped his hat, grinning. She sniffed haughtily and turned away. He had his left arm around Mabel, who was intently watching the races and he slowly crept his right arm around the tall blonde woman's back. Suddenly she felt his arm, turned and stood up, giving him a good whack in the face, which knocked him backwards into the people sitting in the next grandstand row. His legs flipped up and the people in the row behind pushed him back to his own row where he fell on his face on the dirt.
Mabel jumped up alarmed, her mouth making a large "O". The large man who was the blonde girl's boyfriend pulled Charlie up by the nape of his neck and was about to hit him when Charlie pulled out his secret weapon. He always kept a variety of stick pins in the bottom of his vest and he took the pin and stuck the large man, whose name was Ambrose, in the thigh. He dropped Charlie in surprise and the tramp kicked him in the leg. The women tried to make peace and pulled the men back to sitting positions, the women next to each other, the men on the ends.
Charlie momentarily forgot his fighting and started watching the races. A car he didn't want to win was in the lead. He found a brick underneath the grandstand bench and heaved it at the car. It bounced off harmlessly, but some of the other first row people found their own bricks and started heaving them at the autos.
A policeman came over to find out what was the matter. A couple of the auto drivers stopped their cars and came over after having been hit with bricks. They rolled up their sleeves, angry that the race had been disrupted and ready to hit someone, anyone. The policeman and Charlie got into a shouting match and Charlie took off running, the cop after him. Mabel's mouth formed an "O" again and she put her hand to her cheek as she watched the tramp run with his weird splay-footed run. The rat, she thought, I didn't run over his foot…he was playing me for sympathy! And he probably wanted me to put my arm around him too!