Collier’s Weekly, December 31, 1921
WHATEVER devastating happenings had been going on in his home, it was plain a moment later that Gerald had managed to survive them, for there came the sound of a dragging footstep, and the door opened. Gerald stood on the threshold, the weak smile back on his face. “Hullo, Sally!”
At the sight of him, disreputable and obviously unscathed, Sally’s brief alarm died away, leaving in its place the old feeling of impatient resentment. In addition to her other grievances against him, he had apparently frightened her unnecessarily.
“Whatever was all that noise?” she demanded.
“Noise?” said Gerald, considering the point open-mouthed.
“Yes, noise,” snapped Sally.
“I’ve been cleaning house,” said Gerald with the owllike gravity of the man just conscious that he is not wholly himself.
Sally pushed her way past him. The apartment in which she found herself was almost an exact replica of her own, and it was evident that Elsa Doland had taken pains to make it pretty and comfortable in a niggly feminine way. Amateur interior decoration had always been a hobby of hers. Even in the unpromising surroundings of her bedroom at Mrs. Meecher’s boarding house she had contrived to create a certain daintiness which Sally, who had no ability in that direction herself, had always rather envied. As a decorator Elsa’s mind ran in the direction of small, fragile ornaments, and she was not afraid of overfurnishing. Pictures jostled one another on the walls; china of all descriptions stood about on little tables; there was a profusion of lamps with shades of parti-colored glass, and plates were ranged along a series of shelves.
One says that the plates were ranged and the pictures jostled one another, but it would be more correct to put it that they had jostled and had been ranged, for it was only by guesswork that Sally was able to reconstruct the scene as it must have appeared before Gerald had started, as he put it, to clean house. She had walked into the flat briskly enough, but she pulled up short as she crossed the threshold, appalled by the majestic ruin that met her gaze. A shell bursting in the little sitting room could hardly have created more havoc.
The psychology of a man of weak character under the influence of alcohol and disappointed ambition is not easy to plumb, for his moods follow one another with a rapidity which baffles the observer. Ten minutes before Gerald Foster had been in the grip of a clammy self-pity, and it seemed from his aspect at the present moment that this phase had returned. But in the interval there had manifestly occurred a brief but adequate spasm of what would appear to have been an almost berserk fury. What had caused it, and why it should have expanded itself so abruptly, Sally was not psychologist enough to explain, but that it had existed there was ocular evidence of the most convincing kind. A heavy niblick, flung petulantly—or remorsefully—into a corner showed by what medium the destruction had been accomplished.
BLEAK chaos appeared on every side. The floor was littered with every imaginable shape and size of broken glass and china. Fragments of pictures, looking as if they had been chewed by some prehistoric animal, lay amid heaps of shattered statuettes and vases. As Sally moved slowly into the room after her involuntary pause, china crackled beneath her feet. She surveyed the stripped walls with a wondering eye, and turned to Gerald for an explanation.
Gerald had subsided on to an occasional table, and was weeping softly again. It had come over him once more that he had been very, very badly treated.
“Well!” said Sally with a gasp. “You’ve certainly made a good job of it!”
There was a sharp crack as the occasional table, never designed by its maker to bear heavy weights, gave way in a splintering flurry of broken legs under the pressure of the master of the house, and Sally’s mood underwent an abrupt change. There are few situations in life which do not hold equal potentialities for both tragedy and farce, and it was the ludicrous side of this drama that chanced to appeal to Sally at this moment. Her sense of humor was tickled. It was, if she could have analyzed her feelings, at herself that she was mocking—at the feeble, sentimental Sally, as she appeared to her now, who had once conceived the absurd idea of taking this preposterous man seriously. She felt light-hearted and light-headed, and she sank into a chair with a gurgling laugh.
The shock of his fall appeared to have had the desirable effect of restoring Gerald to something approaching intelligence. He picked himself up from the remains of a set of water colors, gazing at Sally with growing disapproval.
“No sympathy,” he said austerely.
“I can’t help it,” cried Sally. “It’s too funny.”
“Not funny,” corrected Gerald, his brain beginning to cloud once more.
“What did you do it for?”
Gerald returned for a moment to that mood of honest indignation which had so strengthened his arm when wielding the niblick. He bethought him once again of his grievance.
“Wasn’t going to stand for it any longer,” he said heatedly. “A fellow’s wife goes and lets him down—ruins his show by going off and playing in another show. Why shouldn’t I smash her things? Why should I stand for that sort of treatment? Why should I?”
“Well, you haven’t,” said Sally, “so there’s no need to discuss it. You seem to have acted in a thoroughly manly and independent way.”
“That’s it. Manly independent.”
He waggled his finger impressively.
“Don’t care what she says,” he continued. “Don’t care if she never comes back. That woman—”
Sally was not prepared to embark with him upon a discussion of the absent Elsa. Already the amusing aspect of the affair had begun to fade, and her hilarity was giving way to a tired distaste for the sordidness of the whole business. She had become aware that she could not endure the society of Gerald Foster much longer. She got up and spoke decidedly.
“And now,” she said, “I’m going to tidy up.”
Gerald had other views.
“No,” he said with sodden solemnity. “No! Nothing of the kind. Leave it for her to find. Leave it as it is.”
“Don’t be silly. All this has got to be cleaned up. I’ll do it. You go and sit in my apartment. I’ll come and tell you when you can come back.”
“No!” said Gerald, wagging his head.
SALLY stamped her foot among the crackling ruins. Quite suddenly the sight of him had become intolerable to her. “Do as I tell you,” she cried.
Gerald wavered for a moment, but his brief militant mood was ebbing fast. After a faint protest he shuffled off, and Sally heard him go into her rooms. She breathed a deep breath of relief and turned to her task.
A visit to the kitchen revealed a long-handled broom, and, armed with this, Sally was soon busy. She was an efficient little person, and presently out of chaos there began to emerge a certain order. Nothing short of a complete redecoration would ever make the place look habitable again, but at the end of half an hour she had cleared the floor, and the fragments of vases, plates, lamp shades, pictures, and glasses were stacked in little heaps against the walls. She returned the broom to the kitchen, and, going back into the sitting room, flung open the window and stood looking out.
Over the quiet street below there brooded that strange, metallic light which ushers in the dawn of a fine day. A cold breeze whispered to and fro. Above the housetops the sky was faint, level blue.
She left the window and started to cross the room. And suddenly there came over her a feeling of utter weakness. She stumbled to a chair, conscious only of being tired beyond the possibility of further effort. Her eyes closed, and almost before her head had touched the cushions she was asleep.
Sally woke. Sunshine was streaming through the open window, and with it the myriad noises of a city awake and about its business. Footsteps clattered on the sidewalk, automobile horns were sounding, and she could hear the clank of street cars as they passed over the points. She could only guess at the hour, but it was evident that the morning was well advanced. She got up stiffly. Her head was aching. She went into the bathroom, bathed her face, and felt better. The dull oppression which comes of a bad night was leaving her. She leaned out of the window, reveling in the fresh air, then crossed the passage and entered her own apartment. Stertorous breathing greeted her, and she perceived that Gerald Foster had also passed the night in a chair. He was sprawling by the window with his legs stretched out and his head resting on one of the arms, an unlovely spectacle.
Sally stood regarding him for a moment with a return of the distaste which she had felt on the previous night. And yet, mingled with the distaste, there was a certain elation. A black chapter of her life was closed forever. Whatever the years to come might bring to her, they would be free from any wistful yearnings for the man who had once been woven so inextricably into the fabric of her life. She had thought that his personality had gripped her too strongly ever to be dislodged, but now she could look at him calmly and feel only a faint half pity, half contempt. The glamour had departed.
She shook him gently, and he sat up with a start, blinking in the strong light. His mouth was still open. He stared at Sally foolishly, then scrambled awkwardly out of the chair.
“Oh, my God!” said Gerald, pressing both hands to his forehead and sitting down again. He licked his lips with a dry tongue and moaned: “Oh, I’ve got a headache!”
SALLY might have pointed out to him that he had certainly earned one, but she refrained. “You’d better go and have a wash.”
“Yes,” said Gerald, heaving himself up again.
“Would you like some breakfast?”
“Don’t!” said Gerald faintly, and tottered off to the bathroom.
Sally sat down in the chair he had vacated. She had never felt quite like this before in her life. Everything seemed dreamlike. The splashing of water in the bathroom came faintly to her, and she realized that she had been on the point of falling asleep again. She got up and opened the window, and once more the air acted as a restorative. She watched the activities of the street with a distant interest. They, too, seemed dreamlike and unreal. People were hurrying up and down on mysterious errands. An inscrutable cat picked its way daintily across the road. At the door of the apartment house an open car purred sleepily.
She was roused by a ring at the bell. She went to the door and opened it, and found Bruce Carmyle standing on the threshold. He wore a light motor coat, and he was plainly endeavoring to soften the severity of his saturnine face with a smile of beaming kindliness.
“Well, here I am!” said Bruce Carmyle cheerily. “Are you ready?”
With the coming of daylight a certain penitence had descended on Mr. Carmyle. Thinking things over while shaving and subsequently in his bath, he had come to the conclusion that his behavior overnight had not been all that could have been desired. He had not actually been brutal, perhaps, but he had undoubtedly not been winning. There had been an abruptness in the manner of his leaving Sally at the Flower Garden which a perfect lover ought not to have shown. He had allowed his nerves to get the better of him, and now he desired to make amends. Hence a cheerfulness which he did not usually exhibit so early in the morning.
Sally was staring at him blankly. She had completely forgotten that he had said he would come and take her for a drive this morning. She searched in her mind for words, and found none. And, as Mr. Carmyle was debating within himself whether to kiss her now or wait for a more suitable moment, embarrassment came upon them both like a fog, and the genial smile faded from his face as if the motive power behind it had suddenly failed.
“I’ve—er—got the car outside, and—”
At this point speech failed Mr. Carmyle, for, even as he began the sentence, the door that led to the bathroom opened and Gerald Foster came out. Mr. Carmyle gaped at Gerald; Gerald gaped at Mr. Carmyle.
THE application of cold water to the face and head is an excellent thing on the morning after an imprudent night, but as a tonic it only goes part of the way. In the case of Gerald Foster, which was an extremely serious and aggravated case, it had gone hardly any way at all. The person unknown who had been driving red-hot rivets into the base of Gerald Foster’s skull ever since the moment of his awakening was still busily engaged on that task. He gazed at Mr. Carmyle wanly.
Bruce Carmyle drew in his breath with a sharp hiss, and stood rigid. His eyes, burning now with a grim light, flickered over Gerald’s person and found nothing in it to entertain them. He saw a slouching figure in shirt sleeves and the foundations of evening dress, a disgusting, degraded figure with pink eyes and a white face that needed a shave. And all the doubts that had ever come to vex Mr. Carmyle’s mind since his first meeting with Sally became on the instant certainties. So Uncle Donald had been right after all. This was the sort of girl she was!
At his elbow the stout phantom of Uncle Donald puffed with satisfaction.
“I told you so!” it said.
Sally had not moved. The situation was beyond her. Just as if this had really been the dream it seemed, she felt incapable of speech or action.
“So . . . !” said Mr. Carmyle, becoming articulate, and allowed an impressive aposiopesis to take the place of the rest of the speech. A cold fury had gripped him. He pointed at Gerald, began to speak, found that he was stuttering, and gulped back the words. In this supreme moment he was not going to have his dignity impaired by a stutter. He gulped, and found a sentence which, while brief enough to insure against this disaster, was sufficiently long to express his meaning.
“Get out!” he said.
Gerald Foster had his dignity too, and it seemed to him that the time had come to assert it. But he also had a most excruciating headache, and when he drew himself up haughtily to ask Mr. Carmyle what the devil he meant by it a severe access of pain sent him huddling back immediately to a safer attitude. He clasped his forehead and groaned.
For a moment Gerald hesitated. Then another sudden shooting spasm convinced him that no profit or pleasure was to be derived from a continuance of the argument, and he began to shamble slowly across to the door.
Bruce Carmyle watched him go with twitching hands. There was a moment when the human man in him, somewhat atrophied from long disuse, stirred him almost to the point of assault; then dignity whispered more prudent counsel in his ear, and Gerald was past the danger zone and out in the passage. Mr. Carmyle turned to face Sally, as King Arthur on a similar if less impressive occasion must have turned to deal with Guinevere.
“So—” he said again.
Sally was eying him steadily—considering the circumstances, Mr. Carmyle thought with not a little indignation, much too steadily. “This,” he said ponderously, “is very amusing.”
He waited for her to speak, but she said nothing.
“I might have expected it,” said Mr. Carmyle with a bitter laugh.
Sally forced herself from the lethargy which was gripping her. “Would you like me to explain?” she said.
“There can be no explanation,” said Mr. Carmyle coldly.
“Very well,” said Sally.
There was a pause. “Good-by,” said Bruce Carmyle.
“Good-by,” said Sally.
Mr. Carmyle walked to the door. There he stopped for an instant and glanced back at her. Sally had walked to the window and was looking out. For one swift instant something about her trim little figure and the gleam of her hair where the sunlight shone on it seemed to catch at Bruce Carmyle’s heart, and he wavered. But the next moment he was strong again, and the door had closed behind him with a resolute bang.
Out in the street, climbing into his car, he looked up involuntarily to see if she was still there, but she had gone.
As the car, gathering speed, hummed down the street, Sally was at the telephone, listening to the sleepy voice of Ginger Kemp, which, as he became aware who it was that had awaked him from his rest, and what she had to say to him, magically lost its sleepiness and took on a note of riotous ecstasy.
Five minutes later Ginger was splashing in his bath, singing discordantly. . . .
DARKNESS was beginning to gather slowly and with almost an apologetic air, as if it regretted the painful duty of putting an end to the perfect summer day. Over to the west, beyond the trees, there still lingered a faint afterglow, and a new moon shone like a silver sickle above the big barn. Sally came out of the house and bowed gravely three times for luck. She stood drinking in the sweet evening scents, and found life good.
The darkness, having shown a certain reluctance at the start, was now buckling down to make a quick and thorough job of it. The sky turned to a uniform dark blue, picked out with quiet stars. The cement of the State road which led to Patchogue, Babylon, and other important centers ceased to be a pale blur and became invisible. Lights appeared in the windows of the houses across the meadows. From the direction of the kennels there came a single sleepy bark, and the small white woolly dog which had scampered out at Sally’s heels stopped short and uttered a challenging squeak.
The evening was so still that Ginger’s footsteps, as he pounded along the road on his way back from the village, whither he had gone to buy provisions, evening papers, and wool for the sweater which Sally was knitting, were audible long before he turned in at the gate. Sally could not see him, but she looked in the direction of the sound and once again felt that pleasant, cozy thrill of happiness which had come to her every evening for the last year.
“Ginger,” she called.
The woolly dog, with another important squeak, scuttled down the drive to look into the matter, and was coldly greeted. Ginger, for all his love of dogs, had never been able to bring himself to regard Toto with affection. He had protested when Sally a month before, finding Mrs. Meecher distraught on account of a dreadful lethargy which had seized her pet, had begged him to offer hospitality and country air to the invalid.
“It’s wonderful what you’ve done for Toto, angel,” said Sally as he came up frigidly eluding that curious animal’s leaps of welcome. “He’s a different dog.”
“Bit of luck for him,” said Ginger.
“In all the years I was at Mrs. Meecher’s I never knew him to move at anything more rapid than a stately walk. Now he runs about all the time.”
“The blighter had been overeating from birth,” said Ginger sternly. “That was all that was wrong with him. A little judicious dieting put him right. We’ll be able,” said Ginger, brightening, “to ship him back next week.”
“I shall quite miss him.”
“I nearly missed him—this morning—with a shoe,” said Ginger. “He was up on the kitchen table wolfing the bacon, and I took steps.”
“My cave man!” murmured Sally. “I always said you had a frightfully brutal streak in you. Ginger, what an evening!”
“Good Lord!” said Ginger suddenly as they walked into the light of the open kitchen door.
He stopped and eyed her intently. “Do you know you’re looking prettier than you were when I started down to the village!”
Sally gave his arm a little hug. “Beloved!” she said. “Did you get the chops?”
Ginger froze in his tracks, horrified. “Oh, my aunt! I clean forgot them!”
“Oh, Ginger, you are an old chump! Well, you’ll have to go in for a little judicious dieting, like Toto.”
“I say, I’m most awfully sorry. I got the wool.”
“If you think I’m going to eat wool—”
“Isn’t there anything in the house?”
“Vegetables and fruits in their season.”
“Fine! But, of course, if you want chops—?”
“Not at all. I’m spiritual. Besides, people say that vegetables are good for the blood pressure or something. Of course you forgot to get the mail too?”
“Absolutely not! I was onto it like a knife. Two letters from fellows wanting Airedale puppies.”
“No! Ginger, we are getting on!”
“Pretty bloated,” agreed Ginger complacently. “Pretty bloated. We’ll be able to get that two-seater if things go buzzing on like this. There was a letter for you. Here it is.”
“It’s from Fillmore,” said Sally, examining the envelope as they went into the kitchen. “And about time too. I haven’t had a word from him for months.”
She sat down and opened the letter. Ginger, heaving himself on to the table, wriggled into a position of comfort and started to read his evening paper. But after he had skimmed over the sporting page he lowered it and allowed his gaze to rest on Sally’s bent head with a feeling of utter contentment.
Although a married man of nearly a year’s standing, Ginger was still moving about a magic world in a state of dazed incredulity, unable fully to realize that such bliss could be. Ginger in his time had seen many things that looked good from a distance, but not one that had borne the test of a close acquaintance—except this business of marriage.
Marriage, with Sally for a partner, seemed to be one of the very few things in the world in which there was no catch. His honest eyes glowed as he watched her.
Sally broke into a little splutter of laughter. “Ginger, look at this!”
He reached down and took the slip of paper which she held out to him. The following legend met his eye, printed in bold letters:
(Just say “Pop!” A child can do it.)
GINGER regarded this cipher with a puzzled frown. “What is it?” he asked.
“How do you mean?”
Sally gurgled. “Fillmore and Gladys have started a little restaurant in Pittsburgh.”
“A restaurant!” There was a shocked note in Ginger’s voice. Although he knew that the managerial career of that modern Napoleon, his brother-in-law, had terminated in something of a smash, he had never quite lost his reverence for one whom he considered a bit of a master mind. That Fillmore Nicholas, the Man of Destiny, should have descended to conducting a restaurant—and a little restaurant at that— struck him as almost indecent.
Sally, on the other hand—for sisters always seem to fail in proper reverence for the greatness of their brothers—was delighted.
“It’s the most splendid idea,” she said with enthusiasm. “It really does look as if Fillmore was going to amount to something at last. Apparently they started on quite a small scale, just making pork pies—”
“Why Popp?” interrupted Ginger, ventilating a question which was perplexing him deeply.
“Just a trade name, silly. Gladys is a wonderful cook, you know, and she made the pies and Fillmore toddled round selling them. And they did so well that now they’ve started a regular restaurant, and that’s a success too. Listen to this.” Sally gurgled again and turned over the letter. “Where is it? Oh, yes. ‘. . . sound financial footing. In fact, our success has been so instantaneous that I have decided to launch out on a really big scale. It is Big Ideas that lead to Big Business. I am contemplating a vast extension of this venture of ours, and in a very short time I shall organize branches in New York, Chicago, Detroit, and all the big cities, each in charge of a manager and each offering as a special feature, in addition to the usual restaurant cuisine, these Popp’s Outstanding Pork Pies of ours. That done, and having established all these branches as going concerns, I shall sail for England and introduce Popp’s Pork Pies there. . . .’ Isn’t he a little wonder!”
“Dashed brainy chap. Always said so.”
“I must say I was rather uneasy when I read that. I’ve seen so many of Fillmore’s Big Ideas. That’s always the way with him. He gets something good and then goes and overdoes it and bursts. However, it’s all right now that he’s got Gladys to look after him. She has added a postscript. Just four words, but golly! how comforting to a sister’s heart. ‘Yes, I don’t think!’ is what she says, and I don’t know when I’ve read anything more cheering. Thank Heaven, she’s got poor dear Fillmore well in hand.”
“Pork pies!” said Ginger musingly as the pangs of a healthy hunger began to assail his interior. “I wish he’d sent us one of the outstanding little chaps. I could do with it.”
Sally got up and ruffled his red hair. “Poor old Ginger! I knew you’d never be able to stick it. Come on, it’s a lovely night; let’s walk to the village and revel at the inn. We’re going to be millionaires before we know where we are, so we can afford it.”
Printer’s error corrected above:
Magazine had “lamps with shades of party-colored glass”; amended to “parti-colored” as in all other versions.