He insisted that Durante and I should collect the belt and make his apologies. We did, taking on an additional load at the dinner. Afterward, as we headed for Texas Guinan's, Durante insisted on wearing the belt. We got it around him, threw the plush leather case into a trash basket and proceeded toward the 300 Club, Durante dancing along grotesquely, shadowboxing every few feet and jabbing his nose with his thumb while doing a pugilistic soft-shoe routine.
"Hey," he kept chortling over and over. "Look at old Schnozzola. I'm duh middleweight champeen uh duh woild."
He soon found himself a challenger. A big drunk staggered up to us, assumed a flat-footed stance a la John L. Sullivan, and announced that he, not Durante, was the champ. They started going around and around on the sidewalk, hurling punches from a cautious distance of 10 feet. I sat on the curbstone and laughed.
Then, before I knew what was happening, the big guy stepped inside, belted Durante a shot on the chops and knocked him on the seat of his pants. Before either of us could bat an eye, he had snatched the belt from around Durante's waist and run away up the street. He was out of sight before we were able to stand up.
Mickey finally did get his belt. When Fleischer heard what had happened he had a duplicate made. This one he presented to Mickey personally.
About this time, Tommy Milligan of England was middleweight champion of Great Britain and eager for the world title. I accepted a $110,000 guarantee. Mickey and I bought a dozen suits apiece and all the accessories, right down to bowler hats. Then we booked passage on the S.S. Berengaria, and Texas Guinan arranged to send us off in style. The party included Harry Richman's band and went right through the night and up to sailing time. To get to the boat Texas had arranged for a dozen chauffeur-driven cars which in that era were known as phaetons. These were touring cars on which the tops folded all the way back. Texas had ordered an iced tub of champagne placed in each of them. She, Mickey and I rode in the front car, Harry and the band took the next three and after that, as she put it, it was "everyone for himself." We staged a riotous parade to the docks, Richman's band playing all the way. The cops at the dock cleared a space for us, and before you could open another bottle the party was back in full swing in a saloon on the ship.
At the final "all ashore" we still were rounding up some of the boys to get them off before sailing. A couple of them never did make it. We were far out to sea when Swifty Morgan and Peaches Van Camp turned up. They weren't the least bit perturbed. Peaches, a gent who made a very fine living through polished dexterity with cards, borrowed one of my tuxedos and moved into the cardroom like Paderewski advancing on a piano. Speedily, he took over a game of banker and broker. At the end of the first night's play Peaches was $1,500 to the good and bought himself a first-class ticket.
Swifty soon had something good going for himself, too. The first day out he hit the ship's pool for $500 because he came closest to guessing the daily distance that would be logged. The second day he hit it, too. And the third.
At this point, one of the mates looked me up.
"This, ah, er, gentleman, Mr. Morgan," he inquired, "is a friend of yours?"