TORCHY AS A PA
BY SEWELL FORD
AUTHOR OF THE TORCHY AND THE SHORTY McCABE STORIES
GROSSET & DUNLAP PUBLISHERS NEW YORK
Made in the United States of America
Copyright, 1919, 1920, by SEWELL FORD
Copyright, 1920, by EDWARD J. CLODE
All Rights Reserved
Printed In the United States of America
I. Vee Ties Something Loose 1 II. When Hallam Was Rung Up 16 III. The Gummidges Get a Break 34 IV. Finding Out About Buddy 50 V. In Deep for Waddy 69 VI. How Torchy Anchored a Cook 89 VII. How the Garveys Broke in 105 VIII. Nicky and the Setting Hen 122 IX. Brink Does a Sideslip 136 X. 'Ikky-Boy Comes Along 150 XI. Louise Reverses the Clock 162 XII. When the Curb Got Gypped 177 XIII. The Mantle of Sandy the Great 191 XIV. Torchy Shunts a Wizard 205 XV. Stanley Takes the Jazz Cure 220 XVI. The Mystery of the Thirty-One 234 XVII. No Luck with Auntie 248 XVIII. Hartley Pulls a New One 263 XIX. Torchy Gets a Hunch 279 XX. Giving 'Chita a Look 293
TORCHY AS A PA
VEE TIES SOMETHING LOOSE
I forget just what it was Vee was rummagin' for in the drawer of her writin' desk. Might have been last month's milk bill, or a stray hair net, or the plans and specifications for buildin' a spiced layer cake with only two eggs. Anyway, right in the middle of the hunt she cuts loose with the staccato stuff, indicatin' surprise, remorse, sudden grief and other emotions.
"Eh?" says I. "Is it a woman-eatin' mouse, or did you grab a hatpin by the business end?"
"Silly!" says she. "Look what I ran across, Torchy." And she flips an engraved card at me.
I picks it on the fly, reads the neat script on it, and then hunches my shoulders. "Well, well!" says I. "At home after September 15, 309 West Hundred and Umpty Umpt street. How interestin'! But who is this Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton Porter Blake, anyway?"
"Why, don't you remember?" says Vee. "We sent them that darling urn-shaped candy jar. That is Lucy Lee and her dear Captain."
"Oh, then she got him, did she?" says I. "I knew he was a goner when she went after him so strong. And now I expect they're livin' happy ever after?"
Maybe you don't remember my tellin' you about Lucy Lee, the Virginia butterfly we took in over the week-end once and how I had to scratch around one Saturday to find some male dinner mate for her, and picked this hard-boiled egg from the bond room, one of these buddin' John D.'s who keeps an expense account and shudders every time he passes a millinery store or thinks what two orchestra seats and a double taxi fare would set him back. And, the female being the more expensive of the species, he has trained himself to be girl proof. That's what he lets on to me beforehand, but inside of forty-eight minutes by the watch, or between his first spoonful of tomato soup and his last sip of cafe noir, this Lucy Lee party had him so dizzy in the head he didn't know whether he was gazin' into her lovely eyes or being run down by a truck. Honest, some of these babidolls with high voltage lamps like that ought to be made to use dimmers. For look! Just as she's got him all wound up in the net, what does Lucy Lee do but flit sudden off to the Berkshires, where a noble young S. O. S. captain has just come back from the war and the next we know they're engaged, while in the bond room of the Corrugated Trust is one more broken heart, or what passes for the same among them young hicks.
And now here is Lucy Lee, flaggin' as young Mrs. Blake, livin' right in the same town with him.
"How stupid of me to forget!" says Vee. "We must run in and call on them right away, Torchy."
"We?" says I. "Ah, come!"
"We'll have dinner first at that cute little Cafe Bretone you've been telling me about," says Vee, "and go up to see the Blakes afterwards."
Yes, that was the program we followed. And without the aid of a guide we located this Umpty Umpt street. The number is about half way down the block that runs from upper Broadway to Riverside Drive. It's one of the narrow streets, you know, and the scenery is just as cheerful as a section of the Hudson River tube on a foggy night. Nothing but seven-story apartment buildings on either side; human hives, where the only thing that can be raised is the rent, which the landlord attends to every quarter.
Having lived out in the near-country for a couple of years, I'd most forgotten what ugly, gloomy barracks these big apartment buildings were. Say, if they built state prisons like that, with no more sun or air in the cells, there'd be an awful howl. But the Rosenheimers and the Max Blums and the Gilottis can run up jerry built blocks with 8x10 bedrooms openin' on narrow airshafts, and livin' rooms where you need a couple of lights burnin' on sunny days, and nobody says a word except to beg the agent to let 'em pay $150 a month or so for four rooms and bath. I can feel Vee give a shudder as we dives into the tunnel.
"But really," says she, "I suppose it must be very nice, only half a block from the Drive, and with such an imposing entrance."
"Sure!" says I. "Just as cosy as being tucked away in a safety deposit vault every night. That's what makes some of these New Yorkers so patronizin' and haughty when they happen to stray out to way stations and crossroads joints where the poor Rubes live exposed continual to sunshine and fresh air and don't seem to know any better."
"Just think!" says Vee. "Lucy Lee's home down in Virginia was one of those delightful old Colonial houses set on a hill, with more than a hundred acres of farm land around it. And Captain Blake must have been used to an outdoor life. He's a civil engineer, I believe. But then, with the honeymoon barely over, I suppose they don't mind."
"We might ask 'em," I suggests.
"Don't you dare, Torchy!" says she.
By that time, though, we're ready to interview the fuzzy-haired West Indian brunette in charge of the 'phone desk in one corner of the marble wainscoted lobby. And when he gets through givin' the hot comeback to some tenant who has dared to protest that he's had the wrong number, he takes his time findin' out for us whether or not the Blakes are in. Finally he grunts something through the gum and waves us toward the elevator. "Fourth," says he. And a slouchy young female in a dirty khaki uniform takes us up, jerky, to turn us loose in a hallway with a dozen doors openin' off.
There's such a dim light we could hardly read the cards in the door plates, and we was pawin' around, dazed, when a husky bleached blonde comes sailin' out of an apartment.
"Will you please tell me which is the Blakes' bell?" asks Vee.
"Blakes?" says the blonde. "Don't know 'em."
"Perhaps we're on the wrong floor," I suggests.
But about then a door opens and out peers Lucy Lee herself. "Why, there you are!" says she. "We were just picking up a little. You know how things get in an apartment. So good of you to hunt us up. Come right in."
So we squeezes in between a fancy hall seat and the kitchen door, edges down a three-foot hallway, and discovers Captain Blake just strugglin' into his coat, at the same time kickin' some evenin' papers, dexterous, under a davenport.
"Why, how comfy you are here, aren't you?" says Vee, gazin' around.
"Ye-e-es, aren't we?" says Lucy Lee, a bit draggy.
If you've ever made one of these flathouse first calls you can fill in the rest for yourself. We are shown how, by leanin' out one of the front windows, you can almost see the North River; what a cute little dinin' room there is, with a built-in china closet and all; and how convenient the bathroom is wedged between the two sleeping rooms.
"But really," says Lucy Lee, "the kitchen is the nicest. Do you know, the sun actually comes in for nearly an hour every afternoon. And isn't everything so handy?"
Yes, it was. You could stand in the middle and reach the gas stove with one hand and the sink with the other, and if you didn't want to use the washtub you could rest a loaf of bread on it. Then there was the dumbwaiter door just beside the ice-box, and overhead a shelf where you could store a whole dollar's worth of groceries, if you happened to have that much on hand at once. It was all as handy as an upper berth.
"You see," explains Lucy Lee, "we have no room for a maid, and couldn't possibly get one if we did have room, so I am doing my own work; that is, we are. Hamilton is really quite a wonderful cook; aren't you, Hammy, dear? Of course, I knew how to make fudge, and I am learning to scramble eggs. We go out for dinner a lot, too."
"Isn't that nice?" says Vee, encouragin'.
Gradually we got the whole story. It seems Blake wasn't a captain any more, but had an engineerin' job on one of the new tubes, so they had to stick in New York. They had thought at first it would be thrilling, but I gathered that most of the thrills had worn off. And along towards the end Lucy Lee admits that she's awfully lonesome. You see, she'd been used to spendin' about six months of the year with Daddy in Washington, three more in flittin' around from one house party to the other, and what was left of the year restin' up down on the big plantation, where they knew all the neighbors for miles around.
"But here," says she, "we seem to know hardly anyone. Oh, yes, there are a few people in town we've met, but somehow we never see them. They live either in grand houses on Fifth Avenue, or in big hotels, or in Brooklyn."
"Then you haven't gotten acquainted with anyone in the building here?" asks Vee.
"Why," says Lucy Lee, "the janitor's wife is a Mrs. Biggs, I believe. I've spoken to her several times—about the milk."
"You poor dear!" says Vee.
"It's so tiresome," goes on Lucy Lee, "wandering out at night to some strange restaurant and eating dinner among total strangers. We go often to one perfectly dreadful little place because there's a funny old waiter that we call by his first name. He tells us about his married daughter, whose husband is a steamfitter and has been out on strike for nearly two months. But Hamilton always tips him more than he should, so it makes our dinners quite expensive. We have to make up, next night, by having fried eggs and bacon at home."
* * * * *
Well, it's a tale of woe, all right. Lucy Lee don't mean to complain, but when she gets started on the subject she lets the whole thing out. Life in the great city, if you have to spend twenty hours out of the twenty-four in a four-and-bath apartment, ain't so allurin', the way she sketches it out. Course, she ain't used to it, for one thing. She thinks if she had some friends nearby it might not be so bad. As for Hamilton, he listens to her with a puzzled, hopeless expression, like he didn't understand.
Vee seems to be studyin' over something, but she don't appear to be gettin' anywhere. So we sits around and talks for an hour or so. There ain't room to do much else in a flat. And about 9:30 Mr. Blake has a brilliant thought.
"I say, Lucy," says he, "suppose we make a rinktum-diddy for the folks, eh?"
"Sounds exciting'," says I. "Do you start by joinin' hands around the table?"
No, you don't. You get out the electric chafing dish and begin by fryin' some onions. Then you melt up some cheese, add some canned tomatoes, and the result is kind of a Spanish Welsh rabbit that's almost as tasty as it is smelly.
It was while we was messin' around the vest pocket kitchen, everybody tryin' to help, that we spots this face at the window opposite. It's sort of a calm, good natured face. You wouldn't call the young lady a heart-breaker exactly, for her mouth is cut kind of generous and her big eyes are wide set and serious; but you might guess that she was a decent sort and more or less sociable. In fact she's starin' across the ten feet or so of air space watchin' our maneuvers kind of interested and wistful.
"Who's your neighbor?" asks Vee.
"I'm sure I haven't an idea," says Lucy Lee. "I see her a lot, of course. She spends as much time in her kitchen as I do, even more. Usually she seems to be alone."
"Why don't you speak to her some time?" suggests Vee.
"Oh, I wouldn't dare," says Lucy Lee. "It—it isn't done, you know. I tried that twice when I first came, with women I met in the elevator, and I was promptly snubbed. New Yorkers don't do that sort of thing, I understand."
"But she's rather a nice looking girl," insists Vee. "And see, she's half smiling. I'm going to speak to her." Which she does, right off the bat. "I hope you don't mind the onion perfume?" says Vee.
The strange young lady doesn't slam down the window and go off tossin' her head, indignant, so she can't be a real New Yorker. Instead she smiles and shows a couple of cheek dimples. "It smells mighty good," says she. "I was just wondering what it could be."
"Won't you come over and find out?" says Vee, smilin' back.
"Yes, do come and join us," puts in Lucy Lee. "I'll open the hall door for you."
"Why, I—I'd love to if—if I may," says the young lady.
And that's how, half an hour or so later, when all that was left of this rinktum-diddy trick was some brown smears on five empty plates, we begun hearin' the story of the face at the window. She's young Mrs. William Fairfield, and she's been that exactly three months. Before that she had been Miss Esther Hartley, of Turkey Run, Md., and Kaio Chow, China. Papa Hartley had been a medical missionary and Esther, after she got through at Wellesley, had joined him as a nurse and kindergarten teacher. She'd been living in Kaio Chow for three years and the mission outfit was getting along fine when some kind of a Boxer mess broke out and they all had to leave. Coming back on an Italian steamer from Genoa she met Bill, who'd been in aviation, and there'd been some lovely moonlight nights and—well, Bill had persuaded her that teaching young Chinks to learn c-a-t, cat, wouldn't be half as nice as being Mrs. William Hartley. Besides, he had a good position waiting for him in a big wholesale leather house right in New York, and it would be such fun living among regular people.
"I suppose it is fun, too," says Esther, "but somehow I can't seem to get used to it. Everyone here gives you such, cold, suspicious looks; even the folks you meet in the hallways and elevator, as though they meant to say, 'Don't you dare speak to me. I don't know who or what you are, so don't come near.' They're like that, you know. Why, the street gamins of Kaio Chow were not much worse when I first went there. Yes, they did throw stones at me a few times, but in less than a month they were calling me the Doctor Lady and letting me tell them how wrong it was to spend so much time gambling around the food carts. Of course, they kept right on gambling for fried fish and rice cakes, but they would grin friendly when they saw me. Up to tonight no one in New York has even smiled at me.
"It's such a wonderful place, too; and so big, you would almost think there was enough to share with, strangers. But they seem to resent my being here at all, so I go out very little now when I am alone. And as Bill is away all day, and sometimes has to work evenings as well, I am alone a great deal. About the only place I can see the sky from and other people is this little kitchen window. So I stay there a lot, and I am sorry to say that often I'm foolish enough to wish myself back at the mission among all those familiar yellow faces, where I could stand on the bamboo shaded galleries and hear the hubbub in the compound, and watch the coolies wading about in the distant rice fields. Isn't that silly? There must be something queer about me."
"Not so awfully queer," says Vee. "You're lonesome, that's all."
"No more than I am, I'm sure," says Lucy Lee. "I wonder if there are many others?"
"Only two or three million more," says I. "That's why the cabarets and movie shows are so popular."
That starts us talking over what there was for folks to do in New York evenings, and while we can dope out quite a lot of different ways of passin' the time between 8 p. m. and midnight, nearly every one is so expensive that the average young couple can't afford to tackle 'em more'n once a week or so. The other evenings they sit at home in the flat.
"And yet," says young Mrs. Fairfield, "hardly any of them but could find a congenial group of people if—if they only knew where to look and how to get acquainted with each other. Why, right in this block I've noticed ever so many who I'm sure are rather nice. But there seems to be no way of getting together."
"That's it, precisely!" says Vee. "So why should you wish yourself back in China?"
"I beg pardon?" says Mrs. Bill.
"I mean," says Vee, "that here is a missionary field, right at your door. If you can go off among foreigners and get them to give up some of their silly ways and organize them into groups and classes, why can't you do something of the kind for these silly New York flat dwellers? Can't they be organized, too?"
"Why," says Mrs. Bill, her eyes openin' wider, "I never thought of that. But—but there are so many of them."
"What about starting with your own block?" suggests Vee. "Perhaps with only one side of the street at first. Couldn't you find out how many were interested in one particular thing—music, or dancing, or bridge—and get them together?"
"Oh, I see!" says Mrs. Bill, clappin' her hands, enthusiastic. "Make a social survey. Why, of course. One could get up a sort of questionnaire card and drop it in the letter boxes for each family to fill out, if they cared to do so, and then you could call meetings of the various groups."
"If I could find a few home folks from Virginia, that's all I would ask," says Lucy Lee.
"Then we would start the card with 'Where born?'" says Mrs. Bill. "That would show us how many were Southerners, how many from the West, from New England, and so on. Next we would want to know something about their ages."
"Not too much," suggests Hamilton Blake. "Better ask 'em if they're over or under thirty."
"Of course," says Mrs. Bill. "Let's see how such a card would look. Next we would ask them what amusements they liked best: music, dancing, theatre going, bowling, bridge, private theatricals, chess and so on. Please check with a cross. And are you a high-brow; if so, why? Is it art, books, languages, or the snare drum?"
"Don't forget the poker fiends and the movie fans," I puts in.
Mrs. Bill writes that down. "We will have to begin by electing ourselves an organizing committee," says she, "and we will need a small printing fund."
"I'll chip in ten," says Mr. Blake.
"So will we," says Vee.
"And I am sure Bill will, too," says Mrs. Fairfield, "which will be quite enough to print all the cards we need. And tomorrow evening we will get together in our apartment and make out the questionnaire complete. Shall we?"
So when we left to catch a late train for Long Island it looked like West Hundred and Umpty Umpt street was going to have something new sprung on it. Course, we didn't know how far these two young couples would get towards reformin' New York, but they sure was in earnest, 'specially young Mrs. Bill, who seems to have more or less common sense tucked away between her ears.
That must have been a week or ten days ago, and as we hadn't heard from any of them, or seen anything in the papers, we was kind of curious. So here yesterday I has to call up Lucy Lee on the 'phone.
"Say," says I, "how's that block sociable progressin'?"
"Oh, perfectly wonderful!" says Lucy Lee. "Why, at our first meeting, in a big dance hall, we had nearly 300 persons and were almost swamped. But Esther is a perfect wizard at organizing. She got them into groups in less than half an hour, and before we adjourned they had formed all kinds of clubs and associations, from subscription dance clubs to a Lord Dunsany private theatrical club. Everyone in the block who didn't turn out at first has been clamoring to get in since and it has been keeping us busy sorting them out. You've no idea what a difference it makes up here. Why, I know almost everybody in the building now, and some of them are really charming people. They're beginning to seem like real neighbors and I don't think we shall ever pass another dull evening while we live here. Even folks across the street have heard about it and want Esther to come over and organize them."
So I had quite a bulletin to take home to Vee.
"Isn't that splendid!" says she.
"Anyway," says I, "I guess you started something. If it spreads enough, maybe New York'll be almost fit to live in. But I have my doubts."
WHEN HALLAM WAS RUNG UP
It ain't often Mr. Robert starts something he can't finish. When he does, though, he's shifty at passin' it on. Yes, I'll say he is. For in such cases I'm apt to be the one that's handiest, and you know what that means. It's a matter of Torchy being joshed into tacklin' any old proposition that may be batted up, with Mr. Robert standin' by ready to spring the grin.
Take this little go of his with the Hallam Beans—excuse me, the F. Hallam Beans. Doesn't that sound arty? Well, that's what they were, this pair. Nothing but. I forget where it was they drifted in from, but of course they couldn't have found each other anywhere but in Greenwich Village. And in course of time they mated up there. It was the logical, almost the brilliant thing to do. Instead of owing rent for two skylight studios they pyramided on one; besides, after that each one could borrow the makin's off the other when the cigarettes ran out, and if there came pea-green moments when they doubted whether they were real geniuses or not one could always buck up the other.
If they had stuck to the Village I expect we'd never heard anything about them, but it seems along early last spring F. Hallam had a stroke of luck. He ran across an old maid art student from Mobile who was up for the summer and was dyin' to get right into the arty atmosphere. Also she had $300 that her grip wasn't any too tight on, and before she knew it F. Hallam had sub-let the loft to her until Sept. 15, payable in advance. Two days later the Beans, with more'n half of the loot left, were out on Long Island prospectin' around in our locality and talking vague about taking a furnished bungalow. They were shown some neat ones, too, runnin' from eight to fifteen hundred for three months, but none of 'em seemed to be just right. But when they discovered this partly tumbled down shack out on a back lane beyond Mr. Robert Ellinses' big place they went wild over it. Years ago some guy who thought he was goin' to get rich runnin' a squab farm had put it up, but he'd quit the game and the property had been bought up by Muller, our profiteerin' provision dealer. And Muller didn't do a thing but soak 'em $30 a month rent for the shack, that has all the conveniences of a cow shed in it.
But the Beans rented some second-hand furniture, bought some oil lamps and a two-burner kerosene stove, and settled down as happy and contented as if they'd leased a marble villa at Newport. From then on you'd be liable to run across 'em most anywhere, squattin' in a field or along the back roads with their easels and paint brushes, daubin' away industrious.
You might know it would be either Mrs. Robert or Vee who would pick 'em up and find out the whole story. As a matter of fact it was both, for they were drivin' out after ferns or something when they saw the Beans perched on a stone wall tryin' to unbutton a can of sardines with a palette knife and not having much success. You know the kind of people who either lose the key to a sardine can or break off the tab and then gaze at it helpless! That was them to the life.
And when Mrs. Robert finds how they're livin' chiefly on dry groceries and condensed milk, so's to have more to blow in on dinky little tubes of Chinese white and Prussian blue and canvas, of course she has to get busy slippin' 'em little trifles like a dozen fresh eggs, a mess of green peas and a pint of cream now and them. She follows that up by havin' 'em come over for dinner frequent. Vee has to do her share too, chippin' in a roast chicken or a cherry pie or a pan of doughnuts, so between the two the Hallam Beans were doin' fairly well. Hallam, he comes back generous by wishin' on each of 'em one of his masterpieces. The thing he gives us Vee hangs up over the livin' room mantelpiece, right while he's there.
"Isn't that perfectly stunning, Torchy?" she demands.
"I expect it is," says I, squintin' at it professional, "but—but just what is it supposed lo be?" And I turns inquirin' to F. Hallam.
"Why," says he, "it is a study of afternoon light on a group of willows. We are not Futurists, you see; Revertists, rather. Our methods—at least mine—are frankly after the Barbizon school."
"Yeauh!" says I, noddin' wise. "I knew one once who could do swell designs on mirrors with a piece of soap."
"I beg pardon," says Hallam. "One what?"
"A barber's son," says I. "I got him a job as window decorator, too."
But somehow after that Hallam sort of shies talkin' art with me. A touchy party, F. Hallam. The least little thing would give him the sulks. And even when he was feelin' chipper his face was long enough. As a floorwalker in a mournin' goods shop he'd be a perfect fit. But you couldn't suggest anything that sounded like real work to Hallam. He claims that he was livin' for his art. Maybe so, but I'll be hanged if he was livin' on it. I got to admit, though, that he dressed the part fairly well; for in that gray flannel shirt and the old velvet coat and the flowin' black tie, and with all that stringy, mud-colored hair fallin' around his ears, he couldn't be mistaken for anything else. Even a movie audience would have spotted him as an artist without a leader to that effect.
Mrs. Hallam Bean was a good runnin' mate for him, for she has her hair boxed and wears paint-smeared smocks. Only she's a shy actin', quiet little thing, and real modest. There's no doubt whatever but that she has decided that F. Hallam is going to be a great painter some day. When she ain't sayin' as much she's lookin' it; and Hallam, I suspect, is always ready to make the vote unanimous.
I judged from a few remarks of Mr. Robert's that he wasn't quite as strong for the Hallams as Mrs. Robert was, but seein' 'em around so much he couldn't help gettin' more or less interested in the business end of their career.
"Yes," says he, "they seem to be doing fairly well this summer; but how about next winter, when they go back to town? You know they can't possibly sell any of those things. How are they going to keep from starving?"
Mrs. Robert didn't know. She said she'd mention the matter to F. Hallam. And she found he wasn't worrying a bit. His plans were vague enough. He was doing a head of Myrtle—that being Mrs. Bean—which he thought he might let some magazine have as a cover picture. And then, other things were bound to turn up. They always had, you know.
But toward the end of the season the Beans got shabbier than ever. Myrtle's smocks were torn and stained, with a few cigarette burns here and there, and her one pair of walking boots were run over at the heel and leaky in the sole. As for Hallam, that velvet coat had so many grease spots on it that it was hardly fit to wear outside of a stable, and his rubber-soled shoes gave his toes plenty of air. The Beans admitted that their finances were down to the zero point and they had to be asked in for dinner at least three times a week to keep 'em from bein' blue in the gills.
"Hang it all!" says Mr. Robert, "the fellow ought to have a regular job of some kind. I suppose he can draw after a fashion. I'll see what I can do."
And by rustlin' around among his friends he finds one who runs a big advertisin' agency and can place another man in the art department. You'd 'most thought F. Hallam would have been tickled four ways at the prospect of draggin' down a pay envelope reg'lar and being able to look the rent agent in the face. But say, what does he do but scrape his foot and wriggle around like he'd been asked to swallow a non-skid headache tablet. At last he gets out this bleat about how he'd always held his art to be too sacred a thing for him to commercialize and he really didn't know whether he could bring himself to drawin' ad. pictures or not. He'd have to have time to think it over.
"Very well," says Mr. Robert, restrainin' himself from blowin' a fuse as well as he could. "Let me know tomorrow night. If you decide to take the place, come over about 6:30; if you find that your views as to the sacredness of your art are too strong, you needn't bother to arrive until 8:30—after dinner."
I expect it was some struggle, but Art must have gone down for the full count. Anyway the Beans were on hand when the tomato bisque was served next evenin', and in less'n a week F. Hallam was turnin' out a perfectly good freehand study of a lovely lady standin' graceful beside a Never-smoke oil stove—no-wicks, automatic feed, send for our catalogue—and other lively compositions along that line. More'n that, he made good and the boss promised him that maybe in a month or so he'd turn him loose with his oil paints on something big, a full page in color, maybe, for a leadin' breakfast food concern. Then the Beans moved back to town and we heard hardly anything more about 'em.
I understand, though, that they sort of lost caste with their old crowd in Greenwich Village. Hallam tried to keep up the bluff for a while that he wasn't workin' reg'lar, but his friends began to suspect. They noticed little things, like the half pint of cream that was left every morning for the Beans, the fact that Hallam was puttin' on weight and gettin' reckless with clean collars. And finally, after being caught coming from the butcher's with two whole pounds of lamb chops, Myrtle broke down and confessed. They say after that F. Hallam was a changed man. He had his hair trimmed, took to wearin' short bow ties, and when he dined at the Purple Pup, sneaked in and sat at a side table like any tourist from the upper West Side.
Course, on Sundays and holidays he put on the old velvet coat, and set up his easel and splashed away with his paints. But mostly he did heads of Myrtle, and figure stuff. It was even hinted that he hired models.
It must have been on one of his days home that this Countess Zecchi person discovered him in his old rig. She'd been towed down there on a slummin' party by a club friend of Mr. Robert's who'd heard of Hallam and had the address. You remember hearin' about the Countess, maybe? She was Miss Mae Collins, of Kansas City, originally, and Zecchi was either the second or third of her hubbies, or hobbies, whichever you'd care to call 'em. A lively, flighty female, Countess Zecchi, who lives in a specially decorated suite at the Plutoria, sports a tiger cub as a pet, and indulges in other whims that get her more or less into the spotlight.
Her particular hunch on this occasion was that she must have her portrait done by a real Bohemian artist, and offhand she gives F. Hallam the job.
"You must paint me as Psyche," says she. "I've always wanted to be done as Psyche. Can't we have a sitting tomorrow?"
Hallam was almost too thrilled for words, but he managed to gasp out that she could. So he reports sick to his boss, blows in all his spare cash buyin' a big mirror and draperies to fix up a Psyche pool in the studio, and decides that at last luck has turned. For three days the Countess Zecchi shows up reg'lar, drapes herself in pink tulle, and Hallam paints away enthusiastic.
Then she don't come any more. For a week she stalls him off and finally tells him flat that posing as Psyche bores her. Besides, she's just starting south on a yachting party. The portrait? Oh, she doesn't care about that. She hadn't really given him a commission, just told him he might paint her. And he mustn't bother her by calling up again. Positively.
So Hallam hits the earth with a dull thud. He reports back on the advertisin' job and groans every time he thinks how much he spent on the mirror and big canvas. He'd been let in, that's all. But he finishes up the Psyche picture durin' odd times. He even succeeded in unloadin' it on some dealer who supplies the department stores, so he quits about square.
Then an odd thing happens. At the advertisin' agency there's a call from a big customer for a picture to go with a Morning Glory soap ad. It's a rush order, to be done in six colors. Hallam has a bright little thought. Why wouldn't his Psyche picture fit in? The boss thinks it's worth lookin' up, and an hour later he comes back from the dealer's with the trade all made. And inside of three weeks no less than two dozen magazines was bindin' in a full page in colors showin' the fair form of the Countess Zecchi bendin' over a limpid pool tryin' to fish out a cake of Morning Glory soap. It was a big winner, that ad. The soap firm ordered a hundred thousand copies struck off on heavy plate paper, and if you sent in five wrappers with a two-cent stamp you'd be mailed a copy to tack up in the parlor.
Whether or not the general public would have recognized the Countess Zecchi as the girl in the soap ad. if she'd kept still about it is a question. Most likely it wouldn't. But the Countess didn't keep still. That wasn't her way. She proceeds to put up a holler. The very day she discovers the picture, through kind friends who almost swamped her with cut-out copies and telegrams, she rushes back to New York and calls up the reporters. All one afternoon she throws cat fits for their benefit up at her Plutoria apartment. She tells 'em what a wicked outrage has been sprung on her by a wretched shrimp of humanity who flags under the name of Bean and pretends to be a portrait painter. She goes into details about the mental anguish that has almost prostrated her since she discovered the fiendish assault on her privacy, and she announces how she has begun action for criminal libel and started suit for damages to the tune of half a million dollars.
Well, you've seen what the papers did to that bit of news. They sure did play it up, eh? The Psyche picture, with all its sketchy draperies, was printed side by side with half tones of the Countess Zecchi. And of course they didn't neglect F. Hallam Bean. He has to be photographed and interviewed, too. Also, Hallam wasn't dodgin' either a note-book or a camera. As a result he is mentioned as "the well-known portrait painter of Greenwich Village," and so on. One headline I remember was like this: "Founder of American Revertist School Sued for Half Million."
I expect I kidded Mr. Robert more or less about his artist friend. He don't know quite how to take it, Mr. Robert. In one way he feels kind of responsible for Hallam, but of course he ain't worried much about the damage suit. The Countess might get a judgment, but she'd have a swell time collectin' anything over a dollar forty-nine, all of which she must have known as well as anybody. But she was gettin' front page space. So was F. Hallam. And the soap firm was runnin' double shifts fillin' new orders.
Then here one afternoon, as Mr. Robert and me are puttin' the finishin' touches to a quarterly report, who should drift into the Corrugated general offices but F. Hallam Bean, all dolled up in an outfit that he must have collected at some costumers. Anyway, I ain't seen one of them black cape coats for years, and the wide-brimmed black felt hat is a curio. Also he's gone back to the flowin' necktie and is lettin' his hair grow wild again.
"Well, well!" says I. "Right off the boulevard, eh?"
"Why the masquerade?" demands Mr. Robert.
He don't seem a bit disturbed at our josh, but just smiles sort of satisfied and superior. "I suppose it is different," says he, "but then, so am I. I've just been having some new photos taken. They're to be used with an article I'm contributing to a Sunday paper. It is to be entitled, 'What is a Revertist?' They are paying me $100 for it. Not bad, eh!"
"Pretty soft, I'll say," says I. "Soak 'em while the soakin's good."
"Still getting on well with your job?" asked Mr. Robert.
"Oh, I've chucked that," says Hallam airy. "No more of that degrading grind for me. I've arrived, you know."
"Eh?" gasps Mr. Robert. "Where?"
"Why," says F. Hallam, "don't you understand what has happened during these last two weeks? Fame has found me out. I am known as the founder of a new school of art—the original Revertist. My name has become a household word. And before this absurd libel suit is finished I shall be painting the portraits of all the leading society people. They are already asking about me, and as soon as I find a suitable studio—I'm considering one on West 59th Street, facing Central Park—I shall be overwhelmed with orders. It's bound to come."
"You're quite sure this is fame, are you?" asks Mr. Robert.
F. Hallam smiles and shrugs his shoulders. "Quite," says he.
And Mr. Robert can't tell him it's anything else. Hasn't he got his pockets full of newspaper clippings to prove it? Don't people turn and stare after him in the street and nudge each other in the subway cars? Aren't his artist friends giving him a banquet at the Purple Pup? So why should he work for wages any more, or save up any of the easy money that's coming his way? And he sails out indignant, with his cape overcoat swayin' grand from his narrow shoulders.
"I give him up, Torchy," says Mr. Robert. "That is, unless you can suggest some way of making him see what an ass he is. Come, now!"
"All right," says I, gettin a sudden hunch. "I don't know as it will work in his case, for he's got it bad, but suppose we tow him out for a look at Private Ben Riggs?"
"By George!" says Mr. Robert, slappin' his knee. "The very thing. Sunday, eh?"
It was easy enough stagin' the affair. All he had to do was to ask the Beans out for the week-end, and then after Sunday dinner load 'em into the tourin' car, collect me, and drive off about 20 miles or so to the south shore of Long Island.
Maybe, though, you don't remember about Private Ben Riggs? Oh, of course the name still sticks. It's that kind of a name. But just what was it he did? Uh-huh! Scratchin' your head, ain't you? And yet it was less than two years ago that he was figurin' more prominent in the headlines than anybody else you could name, not barrin' Wilson or Von Hindenburg.
One of our first war heroes, Ben Riggs was, and for nearly two weeks there he had the great American people shoutin' themselves hoarse in his honor, as you might say. There was editorials, comparin' his stunt to what Dewey did at Manila Bay, or Hobson at Santiago, and showin' how Private Ben had a shade the best of it, after all. The Sunday illustrated sections had enlarged snapshots of him, of his boyhood home in Whositville; of his dear old mother who made that classic remark, "Now, wasn't that just like Ben"; and of his girlish sweetheart, who was cashier at the Acme Lunch and who admitted that "she always had known Ben was going to be a great man some day."
Then when the governor of Ben's state worked his pull and got Ben sent home right in the midst of it all there was another grand hooray—parades, banquets and so on. And they raised that testimonial fund for him to buy a home with, and presented him with a gold medal. Next, some rapid firin' publishin' firm rushed out a book: "Private Ben Rigg's Own Story," which he was supposed to have written. And then, too, he went on in a vaudeville sketch and found time to sign a movie contract with a firm that was preparin' to screen his big act, "True To Life."
It was along about that stage that Private Ben, with more money in the bank than he'd ever dreamed came from all the mints, got this great scheme in his nut that a noble plute like him ought to have a big estate somewhere and build a castle on it. So he comes out here on the south shore, lets a real estate shark get hold of him, and the next thing he knows he owns about a hundred acres of maybe the most worthless land on the whole island. His next move is to call in an architect, and inside of a month a young army of laborers was layin' the foundations for what looked like a city hall, but was really meant to be Riggsmere Manor, with 78 rooms, 23 baths, four towers, and a dinin' room 65 feet long and a ceiling 16 feet in the clear.
Then the slump came. I forget whether it was a new hero, or another submarine raid. Anyway, the doings of Private Ben Riggs ceased to be reported in the daily press. He dropped out of sight, like a nickel that rolls down a sewer openin'. They didn't want him any more in vaudeville. The movie producer welched on his proposition. The book sales fell off sudden. The people that wanted to name cigars or safety razors after him, or write songs about him, seemed to forget.
For a few days Private Ben couldn't seem to understand what had happened. He went around in a kind of a daze. But he had sense enough left to stop work on the Manor, countermand orders for materials, and pull out with what he could. It wasn't such a great pile. There was a construction shed on the property, fairly well built, and by running up a chimney and having a well sunk, he had what passed for a home. There in the builder's shack Private Ben has been living ever since. He has stuck up a real estate sign and spends most of his time layin' out his acres of sand and marsh into impossible buildin' lots. As he's way off on a back road, few people ever come by, but he never misses a chance of tacklin' those that do and tryin' to wish a buildin' plot on 'em. That's how we happen to know him so well, and to have kept up with his career.
On the way out we sort of revived F. Hallam Bean's memories of Private Ben Riggs. First off he thought Ben had something to do with the Barbara Freitchie stunt, or was he the one who jumped off Brooklyn Bridge? But at last he got it straight. Yes, he remembered having had a picture of Private Ben tacked up in his studio, only last year. Then we tried him on Jack Binns, and Sergeant York and Lieutenant Blue and Dr. Cook. He knew they'd all done something or other to make the first page, but his guesses were kind of wide.
"I would like to see Private Ben, though," says F. Hallam. "Must be an interesting chap."
"He is," says Mr. Robert. "His scrap books are interesting, too. He has ten of them."
"By Jove!" says Hallam. "Good idea. I must tell Myrtle about that."
But after we'd been hailed by this lonesome lookin' party in baggy pants and the faded blue yachtin' cap, and we'd let him lead us past the stone foundations where a fine crop of weeds was coming up, and he'd herded us into his shack and was tryin' to spring a blueprint prospectus on us, F. Hallam sort of put his foot in his mouth by remarkin':
"So you are Private Ben Riggs, are you?"
"I was—once," says he. "Now I'm just Sand-Lot Riggs. Who are you?"
"Oh, pardon me," puts in Mr. Robert. "I thought you would know. This is Mr. Hallam Bean, the celebrated founder of the Revertist school of art."
"Oh, yes!" said Riggs. "The one who painted the corset picture ad."
"Soap picture," I corrects hasty, "featurin' the Countess Zecchi."
"That's so, it was soap," admits Riggs. "And I was noticin' in the mornin' paper how the Countess had decided to drop them suits."
"What?" says Hallam, starin' at him. "Where was that? On the front page?"
"No," says Riggs. "It was a little item on the inside mixed up with the obituary notes. That's always the way. They start you on the front page, and then——" Private Ben shrugs his shoulders. But he proceeds to add hasty, with a shrewd squint at Hallam: "Course, it's different with you. Say, how about buyin' the estate here? I'd be willin' to let it go cheap."
"No, thank you," says F. Hallam, crisp.
"Part of it then," insists Riggs. "I'd been meanin' to write you about it. I generally do write 'em while—while they're on the front."
"No," says Hallam, and edges toward the door.
He seemed to get the idea. Before he starts back for town that night he asks Mr. Robert if he could say a word for him at the advertisin' agency, as he thought it might be just as well if he hung onto the job. It wasn't such a poor thought, for Hallam fades out of public view a good deal quicker than he came in.
"Maybe it wasn't Fame that rung him up, after all," I suggests to Mr. Robert.
He nods. "It might have been her step-sister, Notoriety," says he.
"Just what's the difference?" says I.
Mr. Robert rubs his chin. "Some old boy whose name I've forgotten, put it very well once," says he. "Let's see, he said that Fame was the perfume distilled from the perfect flowering of a wise and good life; while Notoriety was—er——"
"Check!" says I. "It's what you get when you fry onions, eh?"
Mr. Robert grins. "Some day, Torchy," says he, "I think I shall ask you to translate Emerson's Essays for me."
It's all josh, all right. But that's what you get when you're a private sec. de luxe.
THE GUMMIDGES GET A BREAK
This news about how the Gummidges had come back is 'phoned in by Vee here the other afternoon. She's some excited over it, as she always is when she sees another chance of extendin' the helpin' hand. I'll admit I wasn't quite so thrilled. You see, I'd been through all that with the Gummidges two or three times before and the novelty had sort of worn off. Besides, that last rescue act we'd pulled had been no common charity hand-out. It had been big stuff, nothing less than passing the hat among our friends and raising enough to send the whole lot of 'em so far West that the prospects of their ever gettin' back to New York was mighty slim. Maybe that was one reason I'd been so enthusiastic over puttin' the job through. Not more'n eighteen months ago that had been, and here they all were back in our midst once more.
"At the same old address," adds Vee, "so you can guess what that means, Torchy."
"Uh-huh!" says I. "The Patricia apartments has a perfectly punk janitor again and we're due to listen to another long tale of woe."
"Oh, well," says Vee, "it will be interesting to see if Mrs. Gummidge is still bearing up cheerful and singing that 'When the Clouds Are Darkest' song of hers. Of course, I am coming right in as soon as I can pack a basket. They're sure to be hungry, so I'm going to put in a whole roasted chicken, and some jars of that strawberry jam Rowena likes so much, and heaps of bread and butter sandwiches. Probably they'll need a few warm clothes, too, so I hope you don't mind, Torchy, if I tuck in a couple of those khaki shirts of yours, and a few pairs of socks, and——"
"Say," I breaks in, "don't get too reckless with my wardrobe. I ain't got enough to fit out the whole Gummidge family, you know. Save me a dress tie and a change of pajamas if you can."
"Silly!" says she. "And listen: I will call for you about 5 o'clock and we'll go up to see them together."
"Very well," says I. "I'll try to hold myself back until then."
At that, I expect I was some curious to find out just how the Gummidges had managed it. Must have been Ma Gummidge who found a way. Hen. Gummidge never would, all by himself. About as helpless an old Stick-in-the-Mud, he was, as I'd, ever helped pry out of the muck. And a chronic crape hanger. If things were bad, he was sure they were going to be worse.
"I never have no luck," was his constant whine. It was his motto, as you might say, his Fourteen Points of Fate.
I never could make out whether he got that way on account of his face, or if his face had lengthened out as his disposition grew gloomy. It was a long face, almost as long and sad as a cow's. Much too long for his body and legs as he was only medium height up as far as the chin. Kind of a stoop shouldered, hollow chested, thin shanked party, too. Somewhere in the fifties, I should judge, but he might have been sixty by his looks and the weary way he dragged around.
When I first knew him he was assistant engineer in the Corrugated buildin' and I used to see him risin' solemn out of the sidewalk on the ash elevator, comin' up from the basement like some sad, flour-sprinkled ghost. And then before he'd roll off the ash cans he'd lean his elbows on the safety bar and stare mournful up and down Broadway for a spell, just stallin' around. Course, I got to kiddin' him, askin' what he found so comic in the boiler-room and why he didn't let me in on the joke.
"Huh!" he'd grunt. "If there's any joke down there, young feller, I'm it. I wonder how much grinnin' you'd do if you had to slave ten hours a day in a hole like that. I ought to be up sittin' on the right side of an engine cab, fast freight, and drawin' my three hundred a month with time and a half overtime. That's what I set out to be when I started as wiper. Got to be fireman once, but on the second run we hit a weak rail and went into the ditch. Three busted ribs and my hospital expenses was all I pulled out of that with; and when I tried to get damages they put my name on the blacklist, which finished my railroadin' career for good. Maybe it was just as well. Likely I'd got mashed fair in the next wreck. That's me. Why say, if it was rainin' soup I'd be caught out with a fork."
Yes, he was some consistent gloom hound, Henry Gummidge. Let him tell it and what Job went through was a mere head-cold compared to his trials and tribulations. And the worst was yet to come. He knew it because he often dreamed of seeing a bright yellow dog walkin' on his hind legs proud and wearin' a shiny collar. And then the dog would change into a bow-legged policeman swingin' a night-stick threatenin'. All of which a barber friend of Henry's told him meant trouble in the pot and that he must beware of a false friend who came across the water. The barber got it straight from a dream book, and there must be something in it, for hadn't Henry been done out of $3 by a smooth talkin' guy from Staten Island?
Well, sure enough, things did happen to Gummidge. He had a case of shingles. Then he dropped the silver watch he'd carried for fifteen years and before he knew it had stepped square on it with the iron plated heel of his work boots, squashin' the crystal into the works. And six weeks later he'd carelessly rested a red hot clinker rake on his right foot and had seared off a couple of toes. But the climax came when he managed to bug the safety catch on the foolproof ash elevator and took a 20-foot drop with about a ton of loaded ash cans. He only had a leg broken, at that, but it was three or four months before he came limpin' out of the hospital to find that the buildin' agent didn't care to have him on the payroll any more.
Somehow Henry got his case before Mr. Robert, and that's how I was sent scoutin' out to see if all this about a sufferin' fam'ly was a fairy tale or not. Well, it was and it wasn't. There was a Mrs. Gummidge, and Rowena, and Horatio, just as he'd described. And they was livin' in a back flat on a punk block over near the North river. Their four dark rooms was about as bare of furniture as they could be. I expect you might have loaded the lot on a push cart. And the rations must have been more or less skimpy for some time.
But you couldn't exactly say that Ma Gummidge was sufferin'. No. She'd collected a couple of fam'ly washes from over Seventh avenue way and was wadin' into 'em cheerful. Also she was singin' "When the Clouds Are Darkest," rubbin' out an accompaniment on the wash board and splashin' the suds around reckless, her big red face shinin' through the steam like the sun breakin' through a mornin' fog.
Some sizable old girl, Ma Gummidge; one of these bulgy, billowy females with two chins and a lot of brownish hair. And when she wipes her hands and arms and camps down in a chair she seems to fill all one side of the room. Even her eyes are big and bulgy. But they're good-natured eyes. Oh my, yes. Just beamin' with friendliness and fun.
"Yes, Henry's had kind of a hard time," she admits, "but I tell him he got off lucky. Might have been hurt a lot worse. And he does feel downhearted about losin' his job. But likely he'll get another one better'n that. And we're gettin' along, after a fashion. Course, we're behind on the rent, and we miss a meal now and then; but most folks eat too much anyway, and things are bound to come out all right in the end. There's Rowena, she's been promised a chance to be taken on as extra cash girl in a store. And Horatio's gettin' big enough to be of some help. We're all strong and healthy, too, so what's the use worryin', as I say to Henry."
Say, she had Mrs. Wiggs lookin' like a consistent grouch, Ma Grummidge did. Rowena, too, is more or less of an optimist. She's about 16, built a good deal on her mother's lines, and big enough to tackle almost any kind of work, but I take it that thus far she ain't done much except help around the flat. Horatio, he's more like his father. He's only 15 and ought to be in school, but it seems he spends most of his time loafin' at home. They're a folksy fam'ly, I judge; the kind that can sit around and chat about nothing at all for hours at a time. Why, even the short while I was there, discoverin' how near they was to bein' put out on the street, they seemed to be havin' a whale of a time. Rowena, dressed in a saggy skirt and a shirt waist with one sleeve partly split out, sits in the corner gigglin' at some of her Ma's funny cracks. And then Ma Gummidge springs that rollin' chuckly laugh of hers when Rowena adds some humorous details about a stew they tried to make out of a piece of salt pork and a couple of carrots.
But the report I makes to Mr. Robert is mostly about facts and finances, so he slips a ten spot or so into an envelope for 'em, and next day he finds a club friend who owns a row of apartment houses, among them the Patricia, where there's a janitor needed. And within a week we had the Gummidges all settled cozy in basement quarters, with enough to live on and more or less chance to graft off the tenants.
Then Vee has to get interested in the Gummidges, too, from hearin' me tell of 'em, and the next I knew she'd added 'em to her reg'lar list. No, I don't mean she pensions Pa Gummidge, or anything like that. She just keeps track of the fam'ly, remembers all their birthdays, keeps 'em chirked up in various ways, shows Rowena how to do her hair so it won't look so sloppy, fits Horatio out so he can go back to school, and smooths over a row Pa Gummidge has managed to get into with the tenant on the second floor west. It ain't so much that she likes to boss other peoples' affairs as it is that she gets to have a real likin' for 'em and can't help tryin' to give 'em a boost. And she's 'specially strong for Ma Gummidge.
"Do you know, Torchy," she tells me, "her disposition is really quite remarkable. She can be cheerful and good natured under the most trying circumstances."
"Lucky for her she can," says I. "I expect she was born that way."
"But she wasn't born to live in a basement and do janitor's work," says Vee. "For you know Gummidge puts most of it on her. No, her people were fairly well-to-do. Her father ran a shoe store up in Troy. They lived over the store, of course, but very comfortably. She had finished high school and was starting in at the state normal, intending to be a teacher, when she met Henry Gummidge and ran off and married him. He was nearly ten years older and was engineer in a large factory. But he lost that position soon after, and they began drifting around. Her father died and in the two years that her mother tried to manage the shoe store she lost all that they had saved. Then her mother died. And the Gummidges kept getting poorer and poorer. But she doesn't complain. She keeps saying that everything will turn out all right some time. I hope it does."
"But I wouldn't bank heavy on it," says I. "I never studied Hen. Gummidge's palm, or felt his bumps, but my guess is that he'll never shake the jinx. He ain't the kind that does. He's headed down the chute, Henry is, and Ma Gummidge is goin' to need all her reserve stock of cheerfulness before she gets through. You watch."
Well, it begun to look like I was some grand little prophet. Even as a janitor Hen. Gummidge was in about the fourth class, and the Patricia apartments were kind of high grade. The tenants did a lot of grouchin' over Henry. He wouldn't get steam up in the morning until about 8:30. He didn't keep the marble vestibule scrubbed the way he should, and so on. He had a lot of alibis, but mostly he complained that he was gettin' rheumatism from livin' in such damp quarters. If it hadn't been for Vee talkin' smooth to the agent Gummidge would have been fired. As it is he hangs on, limpin' around gloomy with his hand on his hip. I expect his joints did pain him more or less. And at last he gives up altogether and camps down in an easy chair next to the kitchen stove.
It was about then he heard from this brother of his out in Nebo, Texas. Seems brother was an old bach who was runnin' a sheep ranch out there. Him and Henry hadn't kept close track of each other for a good many years, but now brother Jim has a sudden rush of fraternal affection. He wants Henry and his family to come out and join him. He's lonesome, and he's tired of doin' his own cookin'. He admits the ranch ain't much account, but there's a livin' on it, and if Henry will come along he'll make him an equal partner.
"Ain't that just my luck?" says Henry. "Where could I scrape up enough money to move to Texas, I'd like to know?"
"Think you'd like to go, do you?" I asks.
"Course I would," says Gummidge. "It would do my rheumatism good. And, then, I'd like to see old Jim again. But Gosh! It would take more 'n a hundred dollars to get us all out there, and I ain't had that much at once since I don't know when."
"Still," says I, "the thing might be financed. I'll see what can be done." Meaning that I'd put it up to Mr. Robert and Vee.
"Why, surely!" says Vee. "And wouldn't that be splendid for them all?"
"You may put me down for fifty," says Mr. Robert. "If he'll move to China I'll double it."
But Nebo seemed to be far enough off to be safe. And it was surprisin' how easy we stood it when the tickets was all bought and the time came to say good-bye to the Gummidges. As I remember, we was almost merry over it. Even Mr. Robert has to shoot off something he thinks is humorous.
"When you all get to Nebo," says he, "perhaps the old mountain will be a little less lonely."
"And if anybody offers to give you a steer down there," says I, "don't refuse. It might be just tin-horn advice, but then again he might mean a long-horn beef."
As usual Henry is the only gloom in the party. He shakes his head. "Brother Jim only keeps sheep," says he, "and I never did like mutton much, nohow. Maybe I won't live to git there, though. Seems like an awful long ways to go."
But they did land there safe enough, for about a week or ten days later Vee gets a postcard from Ma Gummidge sayin' that it was lucky they got there just as they did for they found Brother Jim pretty sick. She was sure she'd have him prancin' around again soon, and she couldn't say how much she thanked us all for what we'd done.
And with that the Gummidges sort of fades out. Not another word comes from 'em. Must have been a year and a half ago they went. More, I expect. We had one or two other things to think of meanwhile. You know how easy it is to forget people like that, specially when you make up your mind that they're sort of crossed off for good. And after a spell if somebody mentioned Texas maybe I'd recall vague that I knew someone who was down there, and wonder who it was.
Then here the other afternoon comes Vee with this announcement that the Gummidges were back. Do you wonder I didn't give way to any wild, uncontrolled joy? I could see us goin' through the same old program with 'em; listenin' to Pa Gummidge whine about how bad he felt, tryin' to keep his job for him, plannin' out a career for Horatio, and watchin' Rowena split out more shirtwaists.
Vee shows up prompt a little before closin' time. She's in a taxi and has a big suit case and a basket full of contributions. "What puzzles me," says she, "is how he could get back his old place so readily."
"Needn't worry you long," says I. "Let's go on up and have it over with and then go somewhere for dinner."
So, of course, when we rolls up to the Patricia apartment we dives down into janitor's quarters as usual. But we're halted by a putty-faced Swede person in blue denims, who can converse and smoke a pipe at the same time.
"Yah, I bane yanitor here long time," says he.
"Eh?" says I. "What about Gummidge then?"
"Oh, Meester Gummidge," says he. "He bane new tenant on second floor, yes? Sublet, furnished, two days ago yet. Nice peoples."
Well, at that I stares at Vee and she stares back.
"Whaddye mean, nice?" I demands.
"Swell peoples," says the Swede, soundin' the "v" in swell. "Second floor."
"There must be some mistake," says Vee, "but I suppose we might as well go up and see."
So up we trails to the elevator, me with the suitcase in one hand and the basket in the other, like a Santa Claus who has lost his way.
"Mr. Henry Grummidge?" says the neat elevator girl. "Yes'm. Second."
And in another minute Vee was being greeted in the dark hallway and folded in impetuous by Ma Grummidge herself. But as we are towed into the white and gold living room, where half a dozen pink-shaded electric bulbs are blazin', we could see that it wasn't exactly the same Mrs. Gummidge we'd known. She's about the same build, and she has the same number of chins. Also there's the old familiar chuckly laugh. But that's as far as it goes. This Mrs. Gummidge is attired—that's the proper word, I expect—in a black satin' evenin' dress that fits her like she'd been cast into it. Also her mop of brownish hair has been done up neat and artistic, and with the turquoise necklace danglin' down to her waist, and the marquise dinner ring flashin' on her right hand, she's more or less impressive to behold.
"Why, Mrs. Gummidge!" gasps Vee.
"I just thought that's what you'd say," says she. "But wait 'till you've seen Rowena. Come, dearie; here's comp'ny."
She was dead right. It was a case of waitin' to see Rowena, and we held our breaths while she rustled in. Say, who'd have thought that a few clothes could make such a difference? For instead of the big sloppy young female who used to slouch, gigglin' around the basement who should breeze in but a zippy young lady, a bit heavy about the shoulders maybe for that flimsy style of costume, but more or less stunning, for all that. Rowena had bloomed out. In fact, she had the lilies of the field lookin' like crepe paper imitations.
And we'd no sooner caught our breath after inspectin' her than Horatio makes an entrance, and we behold the youngster whose usual costume was an old gray sweater and a pair of baggy pants now sportin' a suit of young hick raiment that any shimmy hound on Times Square would have been glad to own. Slit pockets? Oh my, yes; and a soft collar that matched his lilac striped shirt, and cuff links and socks that toned in with both, and a Chow dog on a leather leash.
Then Pa Gummidge, shaved and slicked up as to face and hair, his bowlegs in a pair of striped weddin' trousers and the rest of him draped in a frock coat and a fancy vest, with gold eyeglasses hung on him by a black ribbon. He's puffin' away at a Cassadora cigar that must have measured seven inches over-all when it left the box. In fact, the Gummidges are displayin' all the usual marks of wealth and refinement.
"But tell me," gasps Vee, "what on earth has happened? How did—did you get it?"
"Oil," says Pa Gummidge.
Vee looks blank. "I—I don't understand," says she.
"Lemme guess," says I. "You mean you struck a gusher on the sheep ranch?"
"I didn't," says Gummidge. "Them experts I leased the land to did, though. Six hundred barrels per, and still spoutin' strong. They pay me a royalty on every barrel, too."
"Oh!" says I. "Then you and Brother Jim—"
"Poor Jim!" says Henry. "Too bad he couldn't have hung on long enough to enjoy some of it. Enough for both. Lord, yes! Just my luck to lose him. Only brother I ever had. But he's missin' a lot of trouble, at that. Having to eat with your coat on, for one thing. And this grapefruit for breakfast nonsense. I'm always squirtin' myself in the eye."
"Isn't that just like Henry?" chuckles Ma Gummidge. "Why, he grumbles because the oil people send him checks so often and he has to mail 'em to his bank. But his rheumatism's lots better and we're all havin' the best time. My, it—it's 'most like being in Heaven."
She meant it, too, every word. There wasn't an ounce of joy that Ma Gummidge was missin'.
"And it's so nice for you to be here in a comfortable apartment, instead of in some big hotel," says Vee.
"Henry's notion," says Mrs. Gummidge. "You remember the Whitleys that complained about him? He had an idea Whitley's business was petering out. Well, it was, and he was glad enough to sub-let to Henry. Never knew, either, until after the lease was signed, who we were. Furnished kind of nice, don't you think?"
"Why, Ma!" protests Rowena. Then she turns to Vee. "Of course, it'll do for a while, until we find something decent up on Riverside Drive; one with a motor entrance, you know. You're staying for dinner, aren't you?"
"Why," begins Vee, glancin' doubtful at me, "I think we——"
"Oh, do stay!" chimes in Ma Gummidge. "I did the marketing myself today; and say, there's a rib roast of beef big enough for a hotel, mushrooms raised under glass, an alligator pear salad, and hothouse strawberries for dessert. Besides, you're about the only folks we know that we could ask to dinner. Please, now!"
So we stayed and was waited on by two haughty near-French maids who tried to keep the Gummidges in their places, but didn't more than half succeed.
As we left, Rowena discovers for the first time all the hand luggage. "Oh!" says she, eyeing the suitcase. "You are in town for the week-end, are you?"
"Not exactly," says' I. "Just a few things for a fam'ly that Vee thought might need 'em."
And Vee gets out just in time to take the lid off a suppressed snicker. "Only think!" says she. "The Gummidges living like this!"
"I'm willing," says I. "I get back my shirts."
FINDING OUT ABOUT BUDDY
The best alibi I can think up is that I did it offhand and casual. Somehow, at the time it didn't seem like what people would call an important step in my career. No. Didn't strike me that way at all. Looked like a side issue, a trifle. There was no long debate over whether I would or wouldn't, no fam'ly council, no advice from friends. Maybe I took a second look, might have rubbed my chin thoughtful once, and then I said I would.
But most of the big stuff, come to think of it, gets put over like that; from gettin' engaged to havin' the news handed you that you're a grand-daddy. Course, you might be workin' up to it for a long time, but you're so busy on other lines that you hardly notice. Then all of a sudden—Bing! Lots of young hicks' start in on a foxtrot all free and clear, and before the orchestra has swung into the next one-step they've said the fatal words that gets 'em pushing a baby carriage within a year. Same with a lot of other moves that count big.
Gettin' Buddy wished on us, for instance. I remember, I wasn't payin' much attention to what the barber was sayin'. You don't have to, you know; 'specially when they're like Joe Sarello, who generally has a lot to say. He'd been discoursin' on several subjects—how his cousin Carmel was gettin' on with his coal and wood business up in New Rochelle, what the League of Nations really ought to do to the Zecho-Slovacks, how much the landlord has jumped his rent, and so on.
Then he begun talkin' about pups. I was wonderin' if Joe wasn't taking too much hair off the sides, just above the ears. He's apt to when he gets runnin' on. Still, I'd rather take a chance with him than get my trimmin' done in the big shop at the arcade of the Corrugated Buildin', where they shift their shear and razor artists so often you hardly get to know one by sight before he's missin'. But Joe Sarello, out here at Harbor Hills, with his little two-chair joint opposite the station, he's a fixture, a citizen. If he gets careless and nicks you on the ear you can drop in every mornin' and roast him about it. Besides, when he opens a chat he don't have to fish around and guess whether you're a reg'lar person with business in town, or if you're a week-end tourist just blown in from Oconomowoc or Houston. He knows all about you, and the family, and your kitchen help, and about Dominick, who does your outside work and tends the furnace.
He was tellin' me that his litter of pups was comin' on fine. I expect I says "Uh-huh," or something like that. The news didn't mean much to me. I was about as thrilled as if he'd been quotin' the f. o. b. price of new crop Brazil nuts. In fact, he'd mentioned this side line of his before. Barberin' for commuters left him more or less time for such enterprises. But it might have been Angora goats he was raisin', or water buffalo, or white mice.
"You no lika da dogs, hey?" asks Joe, kind of hurt.
"Eh?" says I, starin' critical into the mirror to see if he hadn't amputated more from the left side than the right. "Oh sure! I like dogs well enough. That is, real doggy dogs; not these little imitation parlor insects, like Poms and Pekes and such. Ain't raisin' that kind, are you, Joe?"
Joe chuckles, unbuttons me from the apron, brushes a lot of short hair down my neck, and holds a hand mirror so I can get a rear elevation view of my noble dome. "Hah!" says he. "You must see. I show you dogs what is dogs. Come."
And after I've retrieved my collar and tie I follows him out back where in a lean-to shed he has a chicken wire pen with a half dozen or so of as cute, roly-poly little puppies as you'd want to see. They're sort of rusty brown and black, with comical long heads and awkward big paws, and stubby tails. And the way they was tumbling over each other, tryin' to chew with their tiny teeth, and scrimmagin' around like so many boys playin' football in a back lot—well, I couldn't help snickerin' just watchin' 'em for a minute.
"All spoke for but dees wan," says Joe, fishing out one of the lot. "Meester Parks he pick heem first wan, but now he hafta go by Chicago and no can take. Fine chance for you. With beeg place like you got you need good watch dog. Hey? What you say?"
"What's the breed, Joe?" I asks.
Joe gawps at me disgusted. I expect such ignorance was painful. "Wot kind?" says he. "Wot you t'ink? Airedale."
"Oh, yes! Of course, Airedales," says I, like it was something I'd forgotten.
And then I scratches my head. Hadn't I heard Vee sayin' how she liked some particular kind of a dog? And wasn't it this kind? Why, sure, it was. Well, why not? Joe says they're all ready to be delivered, just weaned and everything.
"I'll go you," says I. "How much?"
Say, I had to gasp when Joe names his bargain price. You see, I'd never been shoppin' for dogs before, and I hadn't kept track of the puppy market quotations. Course, I knew that some of these fancy, full-grown specimens of classy breeds brought big money at times. But little pups like this, that you could hold in your hand, or tuck into your overcoat pocket—why, my idea was the people who had 'em sort of distributed 'em around where they would have good homes; or else in the case of a party like Joe you might slip him a five or a ten.
No, I ain't tellin' what I paid. Not to anybody. But after sayin' what I had I couldn't back out without feelin' like a piker. And when Joe says confidential how he's knockin' off ten at that I writes out the check more or less cheerful.
"Ought to be good blood in him, at that figure," I suggests.
"Heem!" says Joe. "He got pedigree long lak your arm. Hees mothair ees from Lady Glen Ellen III., hees father ees blue ribbon winner two tam, Laird Ben Nevis, what was sell for——"
"Yes, I expect the fam'ly hist'ry's all right," I breaks in. "I'll take your word for it. But what do we feed him—dog biscuit?"
"No, no!" says Joe. "Not yet. Some bread wit' milk warm up in pan. T'ree, four tam a day. Bymeby put in leetle scrap cook meat an' let him have soup bone for chew. Mus' talk to heem all tam. He get wise quick. You see."
"You flatter me, Joe," says I. "Nobody ever got wise from my talkin' to 'em. Might be interestin' to try it on a pup, though. So long."
And as I strolls along home with this warm, wriggly bunch of fur in the crook of my arm I get more and more pleased with myself. As I dopes it out I ought to make quite a hit, presenting Vee with something she's been wantin' a long time. Almost as though I'd had it raised special for her, and had been keepin' it secret for months. Looked like I was due to acquire merit in the domestic circle, great gobs of it.
"Hey, Vee!" I sings out, as soon as I've opened the livin' room door. "Come see what I've brought you."
She wasn't long coming, and I got to admit that when I displays Mr. Pup the expected ovation don't come off. I don't get mixed up in any fond and impetuous embrace. No. If I must tell the truth she stands there with her mouth open starin' at me and it.
"Why—why, Torchy!" she gasps. "A puppy?"
"Right, first guess," says I. "By the way you're gawpin' at it, though, it might be a young zebra or a baby hippopotamus. But it's just a mere puppy. Airedale."
"Oh!" says Vee, gaspier than ever. "An—an Airedale?"
"Well?" says I. "Wasn't that the kind I've heard you boostin' all along?"
"Ye-e-es," says she, draggy, "I—I suppose it was. And I do admire them very much, but—well, I hadn't really thought of owning one. They—they are such strenuous dogs, you know; and with the baby and all——"
"Say, take a look!" I breaks in. "Does this one size up like he was a child eater? Here, heft him once." And I hands him over.
Course, it ain't five minutes before she's cuddlin' him up and cooin' to him, and he's gnawing away at her thumb with his little puppy teeth.
"Such a dear!" says Vee. "And we could keep him out in the garage, and have Dominick look after him, couldn't we? For they get to be such big dogs, you know."
"Do they?" says I.
I didn't see quite how they could. Why, this one was about big enough to go in a hat, that's all, and he was nearly two months old. But say, what I didn't know about Airedale pups was a heap. Grow! Honest, you could almost watch him lengthen out and fill in. Yet for a couple of weeks there he was no more'n a kitten, and just as cute and playful. Every night after dinner I'd spend about an hour rollin' him over on his back and lettin' him bite away at my bare hand. He liked to get hold of my trouser leg, or Vee's dress, or the couch cover, or anything else that was handy, and tug away and growl. Reg'lar circus to see him.
And then I begun to find scratches on my hands. The little rascal was gettin' a full set of puppy teeth. Sharp as needles, too. I noticed a few threads pulled out of my sleeve. And once when he got a good grip on Vee's skirt he made a rip three inches long. But he was so cunnin' about it we only laughed.
"You young rough houser!" I'd say, and push him over. He'd come right back for more, though, until he was tuckered and then he'd stretch out on something soft and sleep with one paw over his nose while we watched admirin'.
We had quite a time findin' a name for him. I got Joe to give his pedigree all written out and we was tryin' to dope out from that something that would sound real Scotch. Vee got some kennel catalogues, too, and read over some of those old Ian MacLaren stories for names, but we couldn't hit on one that just suited. Meanwhile I begins callin' him Buddy, as the boys did everybody in the army, and finally Vee insists that it's exactly the name for him.
"He's so rough and ready," says she.
"He's rough, all right," says I, examinin' a new tooth mark on the back of my hand.
And he kept on gettin' rougher. What he really needed, I expect, was a couple of cub bears to exercise his teeth and paws on; good, husky, tough-skinned ones, at that. Not havin' 'em he took it out on us. Oh, yes. Not that he was to blame, exactly. We'd started him that way, and he seemed to like the taste of me 'specially.
"They're one-man dogs, you know," says Vee.
"Meanin'," says I, "that they like to chew one man at a time. See my right wrist. Looks like I'd shoved it through a pane of glass. Hey, you tarrier! Lay off me for a minute, will you? For the love of soup eat something else. Here's a slipper. Now go to it."
And you should see him shake and worry that around the room. Almost as good as a vaudeville act—until I discovers that he's gnawed a hole clear through the toe. "Gosh!" says I. "My favorite slipper, too."
At four months he was no longer a handful. He was a lapful, and then some. Somewhere near twenty-five pounds, as near as we could judge by holding him on the bathroom scales for the fraction of a second. And much too lively for any lap. Being cuddled wasn't his strong point. Hardly. He'd be all over you in a minute, clawin' you in the face with his big paws and nippin' your ear or grabbin' a mouthful of hair; all playful enough, but just as gentle as being tackled by a quarterback on an end run.
And he was gettin' wise, all right. He knew to the minute when mealtime came around, and if he wasn't let out on the kitchen porch where his chow was served he thought nothing of scratchin' the paint off a door or tryin' to chew the knob. Took only two tries to teach him to stand up on his hind legs and walk for his meals, as straight as a drum major. Also he'd shake hands for a bit of candy, and retrieve a rubber ball. But chiefly he delighted to get a stick of soft wood and go prancin' through the house with it, rappin' the furniture or your shins as he went, and end up by chewin' it to bits on the fireplace hearth rug. Or it might be a smelly old bone that he'd smuggled in from outside. You could guess that would get Vee registerin' a protest and I'd have to talk to Buddy.
"Hey!" I'd remark, grabbin' him by the collar. "Whaddye think this is, a soap fact'ry? Leggo that shin-bone."
"Gr-r-r-r!" he'd remark back, real hostile, and roll his eyes menacin'.
At which Vee would snicker and observe: "Now isn't he the dearest thing to do that, Torchy? Do let him have his booful bone there. I'll spread a newspaper under it."
Her theory was good, only Buddy didn't care to gnaw his bone on an evening edition. He liked eatin' it on the Turkish rug better. And that's where he did eat it. That was about the way his trainin' worked out in other things. We had some perfectly good ideas about what he should do; he'd have others, quite different; and we'd compromise. That is, we'd agree that Buddy was right. Seemed to me about the only thing to do, unless you had all day or all night to argue with him and show him where he was wrong. I could keep it up for an hour or two. Then I either got hoarse or lost my disposition.
You remember there was some talk of keepin' him in the garage at first. Anyway, it was mentioned. And he was kept there the first night, until somewhere around 2 A. M. Then I trailed out in a bathrobe and slippers and lugged him in. He'd howled for three hours on a stretch and seemed to be out for the long-distance championship. Not havin' looked up the past performances in non-stop howlin' I couldn't say whether he'd hung up a new record or not. I was willin' to concede the point. Besides, I wanted a little sleep, even if he didn't. I expect we was lucky that he picks out a berth behind the kitchen stove as the proper place for him to snooze. He might have fancied the middle of our bed. If he had, we'd camped on the floor, I suppose.
Another good break for us was the fact that he was willin' to be tethered out daytimes on a wire traveler that Dominick fixed up for him. Course, he did dig up a lot of Vee's favorite dahlia bulbs, and he almost undermined a corner of the kitchen wing when he set out to put a choice bone in cold storage, but he was so comical when he tamped the bone down with his nose that Vee didn't complain.
"We can have the hole filled in and sodded over next spring," says Vee.
"Huh!" I says. "By next spring he'll be big enough to tunnel clear under the house."
Looked like he would. At five months Buddy weighed 34 pounds and to judge by his actions most of him was watchspring steel geared in high speed. He was as hard as nails all over and as quick-motioned as a cat. I'd got into the habit of turnin' him loose when I came home and indulgin' in a half hour's rough house play with him. Buddy liked that. He seemed to need it in his business of growin' up. If I happened to forget, he wasn't backward in remindin' me of the oversight. He'd developed a bark that was sort of a cross between an automobile shrieker and throwin' a brick through a plate glass window, and when he put his whole soul into expressin' his feelin's that way everybody within a mile needed cotton in their ears. So I'd drape myself in an old raincoat, put on a pair of heavy drivin' gauntlets, and frisk around with him.
No doubt about Buddy's being glad to see me on them occasions. His affection was deep and violent. He'd let out a few joy yelps, take a turn around the yard, and then come leapin' at me with his mouth open and his eyes rollin' wild. My part of the game was to grab him by the back of the neck and throw him before he could sink his teeth into any part of me. Sometimes I missed. That was a point for Buddy. Then I'd pry his jaws loose and he'd dash off for another circle. I couldn't say how the score averaged. I was too busy to keep count. About fifty-fifty would be my guess. Anyway, it did Buddy a lot of good and must have been fine practice. If he ever has to stop an offensive on the part of an invadin' bull-dog he'll be in good trim. He'd tackle one, all right. The book we bought says that an Airedale will go up a tree after a mountain lion. I can believe it. I've never seen Buddy tuck his tail down for anything on four legs. Yet he ain't the messy kind. He don't seem anxious to start anything. But I'll bet he'd be a hard finisher.
And he sure is a folksy dog with the people he knows around the house. Most of 'em he treats gentler than he does me, which shows that he's got some sense. And when it comes to the baby; why, say, he'll gaze as admirin' at young Master Richard toddlin' around as if he was some blood relation; followin' him everywhere, with that black nose nuzzled under one of the youngster's arms, or with a sleeve held tender in his teeth. Any kid at all Buddy is strong for. He'll leave a bone or his play any time he catches sight of one, and go prancin' around 'em, waggin' his stubby tail friendly and inviting 'em to come have a romp.
Maybe you wouldn't accuse Buddy of being handsome. I used to think Airedales was about the homeliest dogs on the list. Mostly, you know, they're long on nose. It starts between their ears and extends straight out for about a foot. Gives 'em kind of a simple expression. But you get a good look into them brown eyes of Buddy's, 'specially when he's listenin' to you with his head cocked on one side and an ear turned wrong side out, and you'll decide he must have some gray matter concealed somewhere. Then there's that black astrakan coat-effect on his back, and the clean-cut lines of his deep chest and slim brown legs, which are more or less decorative. Anyway he got so he looked kind of good to me.
Like people, though, Buddy had his bad days. Every once in a while his fondness for chewin' things would get him in wrong. Then he'd have to be scolded. And you can't tell me he don't know the meanin' of the words when you call him a "bad, bad dog." No, sir. Why, he'd drop his head and tail and sneak into a corner as if he'd been struck with a whip. And half an hour later he'd be up to the same sort of mischief. I asked Joe Sarello about it.
"Ah!" says Joe, shruggin' his shoulders. "Hees puppy yet. Wanna do w'at he lak, all tam. He know better, but he strong in the head. You gotta beat him up good. No can hurt. Tough lak iron. Beat him up."
But Vee won't have it. I didn't insist. I didn't care much for the job. So Buddy gets off by being informed stern that he'd a bad, bad dog.
And then here the other day I comes home to find Buddy locked in the garage and howlin' indignant. Vee says he mustn't be let out, either.
"What's the idea?" I asks.
Then I gets the whole bill of complaint. It seems Buddy has started the day by breakin' loose from his wire and chasin' the chickens all over the place. He'd cornered our pet Rhode Island Red rooster and nipped out a mouthful of tail feathers. It took the whole household and some of the neighbors to get him to quit that little game.
This affair had almost been forgiven and he was havin' his lunch on the back porch when Vee's Auntie blows in unexpected for a little visit. Before anybody has time to stop him Buddy is greetin' her in his usual impetuous manner. He does it by plantin' his muddy forepaws in three places on the front of her dress and then grabbin' her gold lorgnette playful, breakin' the chain, and runnin' off with the loot.
I expect that was only Buddy's idea of letting her know that he welcomed her as a member of the fam'ly in good standin'. But Auntie takes it different. She asks Vee why we allow a "horrible beast like that to run at large." She's a vivid describer, Auntie. She don't mind droppin' a word of good advice now and then either. While she's being sponged off and brushed down she recommends that we get rid of such a dangerous animal as that at once.
So Buddy is tied up again outside. But it appears to be his day for doing the wrong thing. Someone has hung Vee's best evenin' wrap out on a line to air after having a spot cleaned. It's the one with the silver fox fur on the collar. And it's hung where Buddy can just reach it. Well, you can guess the rest. Any kind of a fox, deceased or otherwise, is fair game for Buddy. It's right in his line. And when they discovered what he was up to there wasn't a piece of that fur collar big enough to make an ear muff. Parts of the wrap might still be used for polishin' the silver. Buddy seemed kind of proud of the thorough job he'd made.
Well, Vee had been 'specially fond of that wrap. She'd sort of blown herself when she got it, and you know how high furs have gone to these days. I expect she didn't actually weep, but she must have been near it. And there was Auntie with more stern advice. She points out how a brute dog with such destructive instincts would go on and on, chewin' up first one valuable thing and then another, until we'd have nothing left but what we had on.
Buddy had been tried and found guilty in the first degree. Sentence had been passed. He must go.
"Perhaps your barber friend will take him back," says Vee. "Or the Ellinses might want him. Anyway, he's impossible. You must get rid of him tonight. Only I don't wish to know how, or what becomes of him."
"Very well," says I, "if that's the verdict."
I loads Buddy ostentatious into the little roadster and starts off, with him wantin' to sit all over me as usual, or else drapin' himself on the door half-way out of the car. Maybe I stopped at Joe Sarello's, maybe I only called at the butcher's and collected a big, juicy shin-bone. Anyway, it was' after dark when I got back and when I came in to dinner I was alone.
The table chat that evenin' wasn't quite as lively as it generally is. And after we'd been sitting around in the livin' room an hour or so with everything quiet, Vee suddenly lets loose with a sigh, which is a new stunt for her. She ain't the sighin' kind. But there's no mistake about this one.
"Eh?" says I, lookin' up.
"I—I hope you found him a good home," says she.
"Oh!" says I. "The impossible beast? Probably as good as he deserves."
Then we sat a while longer.
"Little Richard was getting very fond of him," Vee breaks out again.
"Uh-huh," says I.
We went upstairs earlier than usual. There wasn't so much to do about gettin' ready—no givin' Buddy a last run outside, or makin' him shake a good night with his paw, or seein' that he had water in his dish. Nothing but turnin' out the lights. Once, long after Vee should have been asleep. I thought I heard her snifflin', but I dozed off again without makin' any remark.
I must have been sawin' wood good and hard, too, when I wakes up to find her shakin' me by the shoulder.
"Listen, Torchy," she's sayin'. "Isn't that Buddy's bark?"
"Eh? Buddy?" says I. "How could it be?"
"But it is!" she insists. "It's coming from the garage, too."
"Well, that's odd," says I. "Maybe I'd better go out and see."
I was puzzled all right, in spite of the fact that I'd left him there with his bone and had made Dominick promise to stick around and quiet him if he began yelpin'. But this wasn't the way Buddy generally barked when he was indignant. He was lettin' 'em out short and crisp. They sounded different somehow, more like business. And the light was turned on in the garage!
First off I thought Dominick must be there. Maybe I wouldn't have dashed out so bold if I'd doped it out any other way. I hadn't thought of car thieves. Course, there had been some cases around, mostly young hicks from the village stealin' joy-rides. But I hadn't worried about their wantin' to take my little bus. So I arrives on the jump.
And there in a corner of the garage are two young toughs, jumpin' and dodgin' at a lively rate, with Buddy sailin' into 'em for all he's worth and givin' out them quick short battle cries. One of the two has just managed to get hold of a three-foot length of galvanized water pipe and is swingin' vicious at Buddy when I crashes in.
Well, we had it hectic for a minute or so there, but it turns out a draw with no blood shed, although I think Buddy and I could have made 'em sorry they came if they hadn't made a break and got past us. And when we gets back to where Vee is waitin' with the fire-poker in her hand Buddy still waves in his teeth a five-inch strip of brown mixture trousering.
"You blessed, blessed Buddy!!" says Vee, after she's heard the tale.
Oh, yes, Buddy finished the night behind the stove in the kitchen. I guess he's kind of earned his right to that bunk. Course, he ain't sprouted any wings yet, but he's gettin' so the sight of a switch waved at him works wonders. Some day, perhaps, he'll learn to be less careless what he exercises them sharp teeth of his on. Last night it was the leather covering on the library couch—chewed a hole half as big as your hand.
"Never mind," says Vee. "We can keep a cushion over it."
IN DEEP FOR WADDY
And all the time I had Wadley Fiske slated as a dead one! Course, he was one of Mr. Robert's clubby friends. But that don't always count. He may be choosey enough picking live wires for his office staff, Mr. Robert, as you might guess by my bein' his private sec; but when it came to gettin' a job lot of friends wished on him early in his career, I must say he couldn't have been very finicky.
Not that Waddy's a reg'lar washout, or carries a perfect vacuum between the ears, or practices any of the seven deadly sins. He's a cheerful, good-natured party, even if he is built like a 2x4 and about as broad in the shoulders as a cough drop is thick. I understand he qualifies in the scheme of things by playin' a fair game of billiards, is always willing to sit in at bridge, and can make himself useful at any function where the ladies are present. Besides, he always wears the right kind of clothes, can say bright little things at a dinner party, and can generally be located by calling up any one of his three clubs.
Chiefly, though, Waddy is a ladies' man. With him being in and out of the Corrugated General Offices so much I couldn't help gettin' more or less of a line on him that way, for he's always consultin' Mr. Robert about sendin' flowers to this one, or maneuverin' to get introduced to the other, or gushin' away about some sweet young thing that he's met the night before.
"How does he get away with all that Romeo stuff," I asks Mr. Robert once, "without being tagged permanent? Is it just his good luck?"
"Waddy calls it his hard luck," says Mr. Robert. "It seems as if they just use him to practice on. He will find a new queen of his heart, appear to be getting on swimmingly up to a certain point—and then she will marry someone else. Invariably. I've known of at least a half dozen of his affairs to turn out like that."
"Kind of a matrimonial runner-up, eh?" says I.
Oh, yes, I expect we got off a lot of comic lines about Waddy. Anyway we passed 'em as such. But of course there come days when we have other things to do here at the Corrugated besides shoot the gay and frivolous chatter back and forth. Now and then. Such as here last Wednesday when Mr. Robert had two committee meetin's on for the afternoon and was goin' over with me some tabulated stuff I'd doped out for the annual report. Right in the midst of that Wadley Fiske blows in and proceeds to hammer Mr. Robert on the back.
"I say, Bob," says he, "you remember my telling you about the lovely Marcelle Jedain? I'm sure I told you."
"If you didn't it must have been an oversight," says Mr. Robert. "Suppose we admit that you did."
"Well, what do you think?" goes on Waddy, "She is here!"
"Eh?" says Mr. Robert, glancin' around nervous. "Why the deuce do you bring her here?"
"No, no, my dear chap!" protests Waddy. "In this country, I mean."
"Oh!" and Mr. Robert sighs relieved. "Well, give the young lady my best regards and—er—I wish you luck. Thanks for dropping in to tell me."
"Not at all," says Waddy, drapin' himself easy on a chair. "But that's just the beginning."
"Sorry, Waddy," says Mr. Robert, "but I fear I am too busy just now to——"
"Bah!" snorts Waddy. "You can attend to business any time—tomorrow, next week, next month. But the lovely Marcelle may be sailing within forty-eight hours."
"Well, what do you expect me to do?" demands Mr. Robert. "Want me to scuttle the steamer?"
"I want you to help me find Joe Bruzinski," says Waddy.
Mr. Robert throws up both hands and groans. "Here, Torchy," says, he, "take him away. Listen to his ravings, and if you can discover any sense——"
"But I tell you," insists Waddy, "that I must find Bruzinski at once."
"Very well," says Mr. Robert, pushin' him towards the door. "Torchy will help you find him. Understand, Torchy? Bruzinski. Stay with him until he does."
"Yes, sir," says I, grinnin' as I locks an arm through one of Waddy's and tows him into the outer office. "Bruzinski or bust."
And by degrees I got the tale. First off, this lovely Marcelle person was somebody he'd met while he was helpin' wind up the great war. No, not on the Potomac sector. Waddy actually got across. You might not think it to look at him, but he did. Second lieutenant, too. Infantry, at that. But they handed out eommissions to odder specimens than him at Plattsburg, you know. And while Waddy got over kind of late he had the luck to be in a replacement unit that made the whoop-la advance into Belgium after the Hun line had cracked.
Seems it was up in some dinky Belgian town where the Fritzies had been runnin' things for four years that Waddy meets this fair lady with the impulsive manners. His regiment had wandered in only a few hours after the Germans left and to say that the survivin' natives was glad to see 'em is drawin' it mild. This Miss Jedain was the gladdest of the glad, and when Waddy shows up at her front door with a billet ticket callin' for the best front room she just naturally falls on his neck. I take it he got kissed about four times in quick concussion. Also that the flavor lasted.
"To be received in that manner by a high born, charming young woman," says Waddy. "It—it was delightful. Perhaps you can imagine."
"No," says I. "I ain't got that kind of a mind. But go on. What's the rest?"
Well, him and the lovely Marcelle had three days of it. Not going to a fond clinch every time he came down to breakfast or drifted in for luncheon. She simmered down a bit, I under stand, after her first wild splurge. But she was very folksy all through his stay, insisted that Waddy was her heroic deliverer, and all that sort of thing.