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Mr. Billings’s Pockets
by [?]

“‘Tain’t that, sah,” he said. “I wish t’ have a word or two in private with yo’. Would yo’ mind steppin’ back into yo’ office until I git these folks out of th’ buildin’, so’s I can speak to yo’?”

I knew I had still half an hour before my six-two train, and I was not unwilling to do Lemuel a favour, so I went back to my office as he desired, and waited there until he appeared, which was not until he had taken all the tenants down in his elevator. Then he opened the door and came in. With him was the young man I had often seen in the office next to mine, as I passed, and a young woman on whom I had never set my eyes before. No sooner had they opened the door than the young man began to speak, and Lemuel stood unobtrusively to one side.

“Mr. Billings,” said the young man, “you may think it strange that I should come to you in this way when you and I are hardly acquaintances, but I have often observed you passing my door, and have noted your kind-looking face, and the moment I found this trouble upon me I instantly thought of you as the one man who would be likely to help me out of my difficulty.”

While he said this I had time to study his face, and also to glance at the young woman, and I saw that he must, indeed, be in great trouble. I also saw that the young woman was pretty and modest and that she, also, was in great distress. I at once agreed to help him, provided I should not be made to miss the six-thirty train, for I saw I was already too late for the six-two.

“Good!” he cried. “For several years Madge–who is this young lady–and I have been in love, and we wish to be married this evening, but her father and my father are waiting at the foot of the elevator at this minute, and they have been waiting there all day. There is no other way for us to leave the building, for the foot of the stairs is also the foot of the elevator, and, in fact, when I last peeped, Madge’s father was sitting on the bottom step. It is now exactly fifteen minutes of six, and at six o’clock they mean to come up and tear Madge and me away, and have us married.”

“To–” I began.

“To each other,” said the young man with emotion.

“But I thought that was what you wanted?” I exclaimed.

“Not at all! Not at all!” said the young man, and the young woman added her voice in protest, too. “I am the head of the Statistical Department of the Society for the Obtaining of a Uniform National Divorce Law, and the work in that department has convinced me beyond a doubt that forced marriages always end unhappily. In eighty-seven thousand six hundred and four cases of forced marriages that I have tabulated I have found that eighty-seven thousand six hundred and three have been unhappy. In the face of such statistics Madge and I dare not allow ourselves to be married against our wills. We insist on marrying voluntarily.”

“That could be easily arranged,” I ventured to say, “in view of the fact that both your fathers wish you to be married.”

“Not at all,” said Madge, with more independence than I had thought her capable of; “because my father and Henry’s father are gentlemen of the old school. I would not say anything against either father, for in ordinary affairs I they are two most suave and charming old gentlemen, but in this they hold to the old-school idea that children should allow their parents to select their life-partners, and they insist that Henry and I allow ourselves to be forced to marry each other. And that, in spite of the statistics Henry has shown them. Our whole happiness depends on our getting out of this building before they can come up and get us. That is why we appeal to you.”