LOVE: With Incidental Music
Overalls and money, or a white Collar job and very little cash: which would you prefer?
OF A May evening which should have been as calm as the proverbial May morning—and which would have been had nature been permitted to reign undis-
turbed —Theodore Norton, Second, returned to Elton Heights. Returned as was his wont, somewhat in need of a shave, attired in nondescript khaki and showing the marks of the many miles he had traversed since his last appearance there. And though the soft shades of night might cast a kindly mantle over his disreputable appearance, even they could not conceal his shame. This was because he had none. Elton Heights might blush for him, but Theodore Norton, Second, free, white and old enough to know better, continued to walk in the error of his ways. Even the pointed comments of Kay Elton, the most charming of his feminine contemporaries, never ruffled his composure. “Is it necessary,” Kay had asked with a lift of her pretty eyebrows, “for you to go around looking like a tramp?” “What would you suggest as correct attire for one of my' deplorable vocation?” Ted had demanded equably. “A tux?” “Don’t be silly!” she had retorted. “There is such a thing as a happy medium. You might at least wear a white collar--” “I thank you,” he had replied, “both for your interest and for your advice. But I protest that I do not call a white collar a happy medium. It rasps my neck!” To which he had
added: “Besides, there are too many white collars in Elton Heights already.” Which may have been true, but which was treason none the less. Elton Heights had been founded by Kay’s ancestors. Her immediate ancestors, in fact, for her mother and father had settled there in 1901, the year in which she was born. They bought an old farmhouse which they promptly dubbed Elton Manor. They were young then and full of optimism, which must have proved contagious. Anyway, other young married couples whom they had had out toi dinner or for a week-end began by protesting that the Heights might be pretty but were certainly incredibly remote from Toronto and ended by emigrating there too. The original settlers had numbered eight young married couples. All commuters when the term was one of reproach. But they had a wonderful time..
Other houses were built later, as the city began to encroach, but they were never of the original group officially. That was because of the plan—eight houses built in a rectangle with, in place of eight backyards, one common playground, two croquet lawns and later, a tennis court.
The latter was never of championship caliber, but famous battles were fought there.
Life was before them ail—in 1901. Their ships were sure to come in. At twenty-five who could not stand a measure of privation with the knowledge that, come forty, luxury was certain? So they had felt. The Eltons, the Nortons, the Witherbees and the Emersons. A typically Canadian community. Which means that its men-folks nourished typically Canadian ideals in their hearts—and wore typically Canadian white collars around their necks.
They were of a caste which must be preserved at any cost.
They had preserved it. But in 1924 life had chastened them. Their hopes and their ambitions were in their children now.
One child, mostly. The Eltons, for instance, glimpsed their future in Kay. The Nortons had seen theirs in Ted.
As the descendant of one of the eight original whitecollared settlers of the Heights he should have had both its interests and its traditions at heart. But he never had had. He proved that yet again this May night by halting abruptly under a budding maple, the better to view what the Heights considered the crowning misfortune of its history.
“The Six Musical McSweeneys,” he murmured with a grin that approached the beatific, “are certainly living up to their name.”
They who called themselves the Six Musical McSweeneys, and proved it—or perhaps disproved it—by playing everything from saxophones and trumpets to snare drums and sleigh bells, were recent arrivals at the Heights. They had moved into what, although the original owners had long since moved away, was still known as the Witherbee house.
The Witherbee house now emitted light and broadcast jazz until even the soft shy stars of spring seemed to shudder and withdraw.
The residents of the Heights could not withdraw. They simply shuddered.
Shuddered, that is, with one exception.
“Class.” approved Ted, “class—and brains!”
Tj'ROM the Witherbee house his eyes turned toward
Elton Manor, which had the supreme misfortune to adjoin it. A light shone in the kitchen. From that Ted deduced that Kay Elton, having said good night to her “latest” had descended from the high altitudes of romance and was foraging the family ice chest.
This suggested diversion. He decided to join her.
Kay was discovered as he had visualized her.
“Who's that?” she demanded, raising a startled face as he entered.
"It’s me—Theodore, gift of the gods,” he announced modestly.
“What do you mean coming in that way?” she demanded.
“How did you expect me to approach your august presence?” he retorted, reasonably enough. “Walking on my hands—or crawling on my knees?”
“Who asked you to come, anyway?”
“Nobody,” he admitted. “But I’m one of those joyous souls who find welcome anywhere. Don’t let me disturb you. And don’t make any special preparations on my account. Just select something good and hearty and hand it over--”
“Do yovi ever think of anything except your stomach?”
“Oh, absolutely! Even now my soul is uplifted by the melody next door.”
He paused and extemporized:
There’s music in the air,
When the infant morn—is—nigh!
There’s music in the —a-i-r,
It rips great holes in the sky.
Speaking of infants,” he added, “I understand that the youngest MeSweeney that eight-year-old artiste with the incredible legs is going to start to learn the steam calliope next week. They’re having one shipped out to her ”
I suppose you think you’re funny!” six; commented.
“My jokes,” he acknowledged, “have been laughed at even by people to whom 1 owe money. 1 know of no greater tribute. But speaking of jokes how comes it that Colgate Derr Bromley deserted you so early this evening?"
“Don’t be so transparent!” she countered. ".Just because you’re jealous—”
“Because he won your young affections away from me?’ he suggested blandly.
Kay blushed in spite of herself. “You know very well what I mean,” she snapped.
“Oh—you mean that brilliant plan of his that has filled our hearts and ears and—yes, even our digestive apparatus with music? Misjudge me not. I salute the brain that conceived it. I stand and marvel—”
“You get out!” she commanded, coming swiftly to her feet and threatening him with the first missile that had come to hand.
“A lady,” he protested, “doesn’t throw things. Least of all tomatoes. I defy you to discover precedent for it in any book of etiquette—”
“One!” began Kay firmly. “Two—”
He dodged outdoors just in time.
And that, as Kay’s mother would have remarked, was the way they always ended up. They couldn’t be together five minutes without quarreling. For which Kay’s mother was not sorry, Ted was, she granted, attractive enough. But he was absolutely irresponsible and irrepressible.
"He’ll never stick to anything,” she was wont to remark.
And the Heights agreed with her. They had seen Ted start off for college, graduating, as had his father, at Varsity. But he had not stuck it out.
“I’d make a dub lawyer and if I studied medicine—well, Heaven save my patients,” he had explained. “So what’s the use of your slaving to put me through?”
Ted’s father had wondered himself sometimes. But true to his creed and caste, he would not admit it.
“Just what do you intend to do?”-he had evaded.
Ted had hesitated. Then: “Well—there seems to be money in furniture moving—”
“Furniture moving! This is no time for joking, Ted. Try to be serious for once in your life.”
“I am,” Ted had replied, calmly enough.
And a furniture mover he became. The modern sortlong-distance trucking and all that. He drove a truck for a man named Riley; had secured the job, indeed, even before he told his father he wanted to leave college.
It s because it’s outdoors and he’s crazy about engines,” his mother had wailed explanatorily. “It’s just a crazy notion. He’ll get over it.”
“Of course,” agreed Elton Heights.
But they were both dumfounded and disapproving.
TNDEED, Ted might -*• have become an outcast, had he not refused the nomination. A truck driver he might be, but that did not prevent him from looking very well in a tux. And he danced on his own feet, not his partner’s, was always in funds and had a way with him. The mothers of Elton Heights might not approve of him, but their daughters were wiser in their day and generation.
With them a man was a man for a’ that.
And Ted might yet have been snatched from tv burning and reformed nad he not, in his own phrase, been fast on his feet. He never stuck to one girl—he flitted.
“A second-string Romeo, filling in until the regular shows up— that’s me,” was bis explanation.
Which added, inevitably, to his reputation of never sticking to anything long. True, he had stuck to his truck for all of four years now, but that, as Kay’s mother would have argued, was the sort of thing he would stick to.
And she thanked her stars that there had never been a grain of sentiment between him and Kay in all the years they had known each other
There was no reason, she assured herself—passionately, almost—why Kay—so much prettier than she herself had ever been—should not marry anybody. Meaning, of
course, somebody— somebody with social position and money who could give her gowns and trips to Europe and cars and servants. All that she herself had somehow missed, and which like so many mothers, she craved vicariously—and inordinately—for her daughter.
Some might have wondered where Kay would meet this somebody. But Kay’s mother never doubted that she would.
And then in April—flowering of all her dreams—Colgate Derr Bromley had appeared. As far as Kay’s introduction of him to her family went, his coming was casual enough. But there was nothing casual about her mother’s reaction. Even before Colgate Derr Bromley had had opportunity to speak for himself, his car, glimpsed from an upper window, had spoken for him.
The car was a long, low, racy roadster which suggested power and price in every line and every accessory. It looked, in Elton Heights, like a bird of paradise among sparrows.
Yet the Heights was given to understand that all this magnificence was something that its owner deprecated. The roadster, it seemed, was endeared to him by long association and excellent service, so that, though he really ought to trade it in, he preferred it to his other cars.
There were apparently an indefinite number of these. But Colgate Derr Bromley never appeared in them. Which led Ted to remark that he was from Missouri.
“Isn’t that where the mules come from?” Kay had suggested sweetly.
No one else paid even that much attention to Ted’s jibes. Elton Heights is very human; it appraised Bromley’s car and rated its owner accordingly. The fact that it bore United States license plates gave it a final fillip of distinction. Bromley claimed New York äs his residence.
Everybody in Elton Heights knows New York well. They can talk of its shows, its little eating places, the prismatic glory of the Roaring Forties at night.
They have all been there. Once, to be precise. Back in the ’nineties, stopping over on their way to Washington on their wedding trip. Or something like that. But they have their newspapers, their magazines, their movies and
their radios to keep them in touch with all that New York is.
They would have placed Colgate Derr Bromley as a New Yorker anywhere. By his sartorial splendor, his aggressiveness and—yes, even his egotism.
New Yorkers are that way—the successful ones. So they agreed.
And there was no questioning Colgate Derr Bromley’s success.
Five thousand dollars wasn’t to him what it was to the Heights—more than any member of the community had made or ever would make in a year. It was a sum to be rolled off the tongue casually, contemptuously, almost.
“This talk about young Wood and his near million makes me sick,” he assured the Eltons. “Why, I know chaps that have cleared up that much in a month. If you’ve got a bit of chicken feed—five thousand, for instance—you want to play with, I can give you a tip on something good right now!”
This was addressed to Kay’s father, who inadvertently swallowed a spoonful of very hot soup in his surprise and so was obliged to combat strangulation.
FIVE thousand to play with! Kay’s father was a big man, jovial and popular with his fellows, but not—well not the success he had once hoped to be. He was slow of movement and sometimes it seemed to him he must be slow of wit, too. Anyway, he hadn’t made money. Three thousand a year had proved his limit. He no longer hoped to make more. Rather was he haunted by the fear he might make less.
Now he struggled with something he could not put into words.
“I don’t believe in stock market speculation,” he managed to reply presently.
“Neither do I,” retorted Bromley.
“I’m not interested in anything less than a sure thing.”
To which Kay’s father said nothing. He was very polite to Bromley and though he felt a distaste for the younger man he flattered himself that he hid it.
His wife assured him otherwise, in the privacy of their chamber.
“What do you want me to do—fall on his neck and kiss him?” he demanded.
“You know very well that you've taken a perfectly preposterous dislike to him. I don’t see why you should!”
“He’s a stock market gambler—and they’re all rich one day and broke the next.” he growled defensively.
“He’s not,” she retorted. “He’s a promoter—and if you think he’s not a good one, just let me tell you this— he’s stopping at the King George!”
“Those promoters always have to throw a big front!”
“You make me sick!” she announced and turned a cold shoulder toward him, only to add tempestuously, “You might at least want to see Kay get the things we’ve never been able to give her!”
And yet they loved each other. She would have defended him not only to the world, but to Kay. Generally she defended him to herself even, and presently she would be sorry—if still sharp.
And if Kay’s father displeased her mother, Kay in turn bewildered her.
“She seems so—so calm about it all,” she confessed to Kay’s father sometime later. “Flowers, books, candy and theater tickets—why, I would have been in the seventh heaven when I was a girl.”
He gave her a curious look, but said nothing.
“Not that I wasn’t,” she added, hastily. “But think what such attentions mean to a girl, Sam. I should think she’d be simply thrilled.”
The rest of Elton Heights certainly was. The long racy roadster forever drawing up before the Elton house:
flowers and candy by messenger boys! Think of it! History was in the making in the Heights.
And the diversion was Heaven-sent, for all this^was back in April, when the Witherbee house, just vacated by the Randalls, remained a problem. The Randalls had not had the distinction of being among the original settlers, but they had proved most acceptable adjuncts to community life. Which was more than could be said of their immediate predecessors, a family of Italians who had kept a horse in the cellar!
This had seemed to Ted, aged eleven, and Kay, aged eight, a highly desirable innovation at the time. It had not seemed so to their elders.
Of course, there had been then no modern conveniences in the Witherbee house. This, with its size, had
made it difficult to rent then. Now, with all improvements, it did seem as if nice people might be taken for granted.
Nevertheless, Elton Heights worried and would continue to worry until the hoped-for nice people moved in.
“There were some people out to see the Witherbee house to-day”—so most any Elton Heights wife would inform her hero, home from the wars, most any night.
“And oh, John, I do hope they won’t take it! The woman—I wish you could have seen her. She was perfectly impossible. Sixty if she was a day—and she had on one of those new sleeveless flannel sport suits in orange and a hat that was supposed to match and didn’t.”
THIS sort of conversation was much in evidence in the Heights during April. And inevitably, as Colgate Derr Bromley spent much of his time there, he was conversant with the community crisis of which the Witherbee house was the crux.
To him this was at first a source of amusement; then, suddenly, a chance to display that brilliancy of intellect on which his spectacular success was based.
“Why don’t you all club together and buy it?” was his first suggestion.
“Unfortunately none of us has the spare cash,” Kay’s father replied, trying to keep his voice amiable—-and with a wary eye on his wife.
“Well—there must be something you can do!” persisted Bromley.
“What?” asked Kay’s father, mildly enough.
Yet there was a challenge in his voice and that Bromley could not let pass.
“Easiest thing in the world—scare off the undesirables,” he retorted.
“Why •—give the people you don’t like the looks of a reception that will act like knock-out drops.”
“Very interesting,” commented Kay’s father. “But not, as yet, illuminating.”
This Bromley himself realized. He strove desperately for inspiration. Then:
“Listen!” he commanded triumphantly.
They listened. And if Kay’s father did not think much of the plan he at least kept the fact to himself, until he and Kay’s mother were alone. He filed exceptions then but was promptly overruled.
“I think it’s a perfectly gorgeous idea,” she concluded. “And so will everybody else.”
Everybody else did. They chuckled over it and were strong for it.
“I’ve got a cornet in the attic,” recalled Theodore Norton, First. “I haven’t used it since—”
“Not since we all got together and threatened to tar and feather you,” Charley Emerson assured him.
“It was no worse than that harmonica you used to imitate bird trills on,” retorted Theodore Norton, First.
“I wonder where that is,” replied Charley Emerson, unabashed. ,,
“My boy John has been howling for a saxophone, contributed Ed Hickocks. “I’ll be hanged if I don’t get him one if I can pick up a second-hand one cheap.
“You can hire one, anyway,” he was assured.
And so they discussed the great plan and agreed upon the campaign.
Through all this Ted was away, off on a trucking job that had taken him to Woodstock. He came back over the road of a Saturday night, put up his truck and was on his way home on as peaceful a Sabbath morning as May, mistress of the art, ever achieved.
Peaceful, that is, until he came to within ear-shot of the Heights.
“Good Lord!” he gasped then. “What’s struck everybody?”
The real estate agent who was handling the Witherbee house was asking himself the same question. He had returned to the house, bringing with him the lady who, though sixty if a day, persisted in wearing the orange sport suit with the hat that didn’t match. She had been favorably enough impressed with the house and neighborhood to draw her husband away from his Sunday papers to see it.
“A good, quiet, thoroughly Canadian neighborhood, the real estate agent had assured her husband. “And you couldn’t ask for better neighbors—”
The Nortons spied them first. Ted’s father grabbed his cornet, while his wife rushed to the phone, a feminine Paul Revere arousing the neighborhood.
The cornet opened the action with massacre. It could not be characterized as anything else, for Ted’s father had not attempted to play the cornet for years. He said afterward he played, “Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms.”
But nobody believed him.
The second-hand saxophone that had been bought for John Junior came up in full force immediately. As it had arrived only the previous night and he had so far been forcibly restrained from using it, he approached it as a neophyte.
Indeed, paraphrasing Edna St. Vincent Millay, he might have said: Continued on page 43
Continued from page 15
My saxophone is new to me, I’ve yet toprobe its joys. But oh my friends, and ah my foes! It makes a lovely noise!
Every household contributed something toward the musical barrage laid down against the invaders. Some even had the piano and the phonograph going simultaneously if not harmoniously. “Great Scott!” exclaimed the startled husband of the lady in the orange sport suit. “Did you say this was a quiet neighborhood?” Of the purpose of all this, Ted had had no inkling. The real estate agent and his prospects had vanished when he arrived in sight of the Witherbee house, but the neighborhood was still going full tilt. Indeed, it proved necessary to remove Norton Senior’s cornet from him by force and John Junior bleated like a cow bereft of its calf when his saxophone was confiscated. In the meantime the month was May, the morning warm. The windows of the Elton house were open. Beyond a fluttering curtain Ted glimpsed Kay at the piano. He ascended the Elton path and broke in upon her, without preface or apology. “I thank you,” said he, “from the bottom of my heart!” “For what?” she demanded. “For this remarkable, this gratifying demonstration of my neighbors’ regard for me. I realize that the conquering hero, returning to the scenes of his youth, is more customarily met at the station with a brass band. But you were handicapped. You have no station, no brass band. You did your best—I thank you!” Kay paused in her playing to regard him scornfully. “It’s too bad,” she remarked, “that it didn’t drive you off too!” “Drive me off? I am naturally quick of wit but there is something in that remark that is beyond me. I am—I admit it—baffled. Explain, please.” And Kay explained. “I might have suspected it,” he said, when she finished. “Bromley has--” “Oh, go home and change your clothes!” she broke in rudely. “I should think you’d be ashamed of yourself, looking as you do, on a Sunday.” “I have no shame,” he retorted. “I am but a humble truck driver. But believe me I can make that truck travel. Two hundred and ten miles since--■” “The first thing you know you’ll kill somebody and land in jail.” And as he let that pass, regarding her meditatively, she added, “Well—what great thought are you thinking now?” “That you might do worse than powder your nose,” he replied. And, as Bromley’s roadster came to a standstill outside, he added, “I advise you to make it snappy —the pride of Manhattan has arrived.” With which he withdrew, departing by the way of the kitchen and the back door. Outside he encountered Kay’s father. The latter was smoking furiously, with his hands plunged into his pockets. “Greetings,” said Ted blithely. “Why aren’t you giving three cheers for that wonderful plan?” The older man emitted an inarticulate rumble. “You’re jealous!” chided Ted. “You must be, or else you’d admit that it was simply unprecedented. Worthy of Colgate Derr Bromley at his best——” “G-r-r!” said Kay’s father—or something that sounded like that. Ted reached for his own pipe and filled it. “If that’s the way you feel about it,” he remarked, “I suggest we take a little walk. I would have word with thee.” They walked. Indeed, it was not until dinner was on the table that Kay’s father reappeared. Colgate Derr Bromley
was present, wearing his honors modestly. “Well,” announced Kay’s father with a geniality that his wife approved, “that plan of yours is certainly a corker.” AND so it seemed. The men departed, perforce, to the city every morning during the week that followed, but their womenfolk rose to each and every crisis that presented itself, nobly. They proved again that the female of the species is as deadly as the male. The real estate agent who was handling the Witherbee house at first approached it with his prospects wearing a nervous and furtive air, and finally, from Thursday through to the following Sunday, he appeared'not at all. On that Sunday morning Ted called to pay his disrespects to Kay. “Looks to me as if you’d scared everybody off,” he commented. “Isn’t that hard on the Randalls?” “It would be harder on us if somebody simply impossible took the house. I—” “To arms!” Ted broke in. “Here comes the real estate agent again. And look who’s with him!” Kay looked. And looked simply stunned. Than which no better description of the latest prospects of the Witherbee house could be contrived. And the Heights shared her feelings. Its efforts that Sabbath morning achieved new heights in volume, if not in melody. But the invaders, so far from retreating, disembarked and proceeded into the Witherbee house apparently unmoved. “Perhaps they’re deaf mutes,” contributed Ted. It seemed as if they must be. Anyway, a first premonition of defeat ran through the Heights as the new prospects lingered within the house. Presently they emerged and surveyed their surroundings. “Either I’m no judge of the human countenance or that real estate agent has made a sale,” reported Ted from the window. “And here comes Bromley —and here goes me.” He departed. Presently Kay and Bromley, to whom her greetings proved a shade perfunctory, saw him join the group on the Witherbee lawn. When this had been wedged back into the real estate agent’s car, he returned. “They—they haven’t taken it?” gasped Kay. “They have!” he replied. “I’ve got the job of moving their stuff here for them.” “You’re joking!” she protested. “Even I,” he assured her, “realize that this is no time for joking. We stand on the threshold of a new era in Elton Heights. The Six Musical McSweeneys will move in to-morrow. They take possession at once--” “The six who?” “Never let them hear you ask such a question. To ask them who the Six Musical McSweeneys are is like asking Paderewski if he ever took piano lessons.” “You mean that they are—are professional musicians?” “Bright girl! Practise and let practise is their creed.” “What do you mean?” “Musicians must practise. Some narrow-minded neighborhoods would resent this. But here they find themselves in a congenial atmosphere.” TED paused and glanced at Bromley. “Were you about to say something?” he asked courteously. “N-no,” managed Bromley. “I thought you might be,” explained Ted. “As it was your plan——” Kay colored with indignation. “Who would have dreamed it would turn out this way?” she demanded. “I didn’t exactly dream it,” Ted replied, “but I did wonder what would
happen if some people who preferred a noisy, lively community, should arrive in the midst of one of our musical festivals.”
“It’s very well to say that now—why didn’t you say it then?”
“Far be it from me to be anything but the perfect little Pollyanna. I—but
somehow, I fear I intrude.”
He bowed ceremoniously, first to Kay, who glared at him, and then to Bromley, who hardly saw him. Bromley, in fact, was like a boxer who has recently suffered a knock-out and is still wondering what it is all about.
“Good morning,” added Ted, and went about his own affairs.
Now of these affairs Elton Heights knew almost nothing. For a young man who admittedly talked a lot, Ted was, in some respects, singularly close-mouthed.
And so it was that the neighborhood got a supplementary surprise when, the next morning, two large vans bearing the worldly possessions of the Six Musical McSweenys drove up and proceeded to disgorge their contents upon the Witherbee walk.
The two vans that brought the goods of the Six Musical McSweenys were large and highly varnished. Emblazoned across their broad expanse, on either side, was a legend for all the world to read. To wit:
Riley and Norton Long Distance Trucking
Norton? The Heights gasped. Could it be possible--
But conjecture as to the possible was cut short by the incredible. The furniture of the newcomers began to appear. The Heights had never seen its like. True, here and there in various houses—acquiring dust in attics or cellars—were chairs and tables of similar period and like design. Battered maple and scarred oak.
But they were isolated pieces; here was a collection. It looked like a secondhand dealer’s nightmare.
“I should think,” announced Kay’s mother, “that even Ted Norton would have had more decency than to have any part in bringing such stuff into his own neighborhood.”
But Ted was bereft of any such fineness of fiber. He drove one of the vans himself, it was he who directed the operations of the men who accompanied him.
“Those must be their musical instruments,” suggested Mrs. Charley Emerson, who shared a window in the Elton house—a preferred vantage-point—with Kay’s mother. “Gracious, haven’t they a lot of them!”
THEY had. And they brought other more portable instruments with them when they appeared in full force, while the moving-in process was still under way. The head of the family, a big man with a sweeping black mustache, paused to confer with Ted who—actually— clapped him on the back.
“I’d like to give him a piece of my mind,” announced Kay’s mother.
She did not say which him, but Mrs. Charley Emerson understood perfectly.
Anyway, the opportunity was denied her. For Ted, driving away, was absent from the Heights until that soft May night when he dropped in, informally, upon Kay, and even more informally took his departure.
Nevertheless he continued homeward with spirits apparently undampened. At home he found his father waiting for him, clad in bathrobe and carpet slippers and with something almost as visible on his mind. Theodore Norton, First, was not given, nominally, to self-assertion. He was one of those for whose better description the phrase “easy-going” was first coined.
Which, as his wife pointed out, was why Ted acted as he did.
“You’ve never put your foot down,” she had said. “Now you simply must.” This was very natural after the tactful reassurances she had received that everybody realized it was not her fault that Ted had himself moved the Six Musical McSweeneys into their midst.
This reassurance had, in every case, been followed by a question.
“The vans bad Riley and Norton painted on them—does the Norton refer to Ted?”
“I haven’t the slightest idea,” she had confessed. “Naturally, we have never cared to discuss Ted’s work with him, it being our hope that in time he would
settle down to something worth whil But she intended to have his fatl discuss Ted’s work with him forthwitl And so it was that Ted’s father waiti “So you’re back,” he began, by way preface.
“The prodigal returns,” acknowledg Ted. “Any husks in the ice-chest?”
“I don’t know,” said his father, tryi
to look stern. “I--”
“Let’s take a look-see,” suggested Tt “I want to speak to you,” his fath persisted desperately.
“Trail along, then—I can eat and ta too,” Ted replied.
From the ice-chest he extracted prove der, then turned toward his father. “Shoot!” he invited.
HIS father cleared his throat. He h;
that sense of constraint that fathe so often feel in the presence of their oi spring, grown to maturity.
“Look here, Ted,” he said, but in tone that sounded more like a plea tha like a foot being put down, “who doi Norton on those vans stand for?”
“Me,” said Ted, creating a roast bei sandwich for himself. “Riley and I wer into partnership about a year ago.” “You never told me anything aboi it.”
“Never thought you seemed partial larly interested.”
This his father ignored. “A full partner ship?” he asked.
“Uh-huh,” said Ted, between mouth fuis.
“What did it cost you—and where di; you get the money?”
“I didn’t put in money—just brains ’ “What?”
“ Y ou don’t sound flattering. But—well Riley is getting along. I’d been sup plying most of his ideas and getting th; bulk of his business for him and I didn’t see why he should get all the profit. I put it to him straight—that I’d go in for myself as a competitor or stay with him on a fifty-fifty basis. He kicked like a steer at first, but presently he saw light. Which was that.”
“Are—are you making any money?” “Nothing but. We’ve been putting most of it back into the business so far, but I think this year we’ll take some
profit. Probably ten thou apiece--”
“Ten thousand—apiece!” echoed his father incredulously. “Moving furniture--”
Ever since college he had been with one concern—the Supreme Concrete Block Company. He was now its treasurer, which sounded very well. But he received actually, twenty-six hundred a year—and he knew he would never get more. His day had passed.
“I—I don’t understand,” he added weakly.
He meant not Ted’s statement, but life’s riddle. But Ted took him literally.
“Oh, Riley was a furniture mover when I went to him—but that’s only a side-line now. I picked him out because he had two trucks but no eye for business, and I pointed out to him that the money nowadays was in stealing the railroad’s business —transporting freight by truck, that is. A truck hasn’t the railroad’s overhead and it’s quicker and cheaper in every way, when everything is figured in—”
“Sure that you’ve figured everything in—depreciation and such things?” “Sure. We depreciate the trucks on a life of a hundred thousand miles. Some of ’em have run over eighty and are still in first-class condition. Maintenance costs —but here, I’ve got the figures with me.” He hauled a loose leaf memorandum book from his pocket and handed it over.
“Those are figures just compiled on our trucks with dump bodies, after a year’s use,” he explained. “They haul stuff mostly around Montreal—bulk material— ashes, cinders, sand and brick—”
“You have trucks for such business, too?”
“Branching out all the time. Have to. Long-distance trucking is all right now but something may crab it. Higher taxes on trucks, for instance. I put this new line up to Riley—that’s my part of the partnership, making him more money than he’d ever make alone—and so we tried it out. Take a squint at the figures.”
Ted’s father glanced at the book he held and saw:
Average gas consumption, per truck, 4.4 miles per gallon Average oil consumption, per truck, 3 quarts per day.
Average repair and maintenance charge per truck per year, $175.
Cost, per truck per day, $22.30; per mile 29.58 cents.
The page was closely filled with other igures, but at this point Ted’s father ifted his eyes.
‘XT'OU seem to have figured it all out,” 1 he admitted dazedly. “What—what is the yearly profit per truck?”
“Four thousand sixty-four,” replied Ted promptly. “Want any more figures?” “I—guess that’s enough for now. But— what made you think of trucking in the first place?”
“Oh, I’d heard there was money in it and—” Ted hesitated. Then: “Well, to tell you the truth it seemed to me that everybody here at the Heights was in a squirrel cage—going all the time but getting nowhere. You’re all doing work you don’t care a hoot about and you’re not any of you making an awful lot of money
“Money isn’t everything, Ted!” protested his father.
“I haven’t seen many people giving it away, just the same. Anyway, I couldn’t see myself marrying and settling down the same way. In fact, if I’d taken a white collar job I’d be in no position to marry now—”
“You aren’t thinking of getting married?” broke in his father, startled.
“You said it,” Ted assured him.
His father gasped. Then: “It—it isn’t an American girl, Ted?” he asked, almost fearfully.
Ted grinned, as he guessed what was in his father’s mind.
“I’ve been in New York lately,” he admitted. “But that’s neither here nor there. I’m tired. Mind if we adjourn?” He wiped his fingers — deplorably enough—on his khaki trousers.
“Wait a minute,” protested his father. And added, more as a fellow conspirator than an accuser, “The neighbors don’t take it kindly that you moved those new people into the Witherbee house. I—I don’t think myself it was well advised—” “You never can tell until the ball stops moving,” replied Ted calmly. “I’m off to bed—see you in the morning.”
And his father retired, not to bed, but to report to the wife of his bosom.
“What?” she gasped as he told her what he had learned.
But by morning she had recovered. After breakfast she went over to the Eltons’, ostensibly to borrow an egg, but actually for a purpose quite different.
“Oh, about that Norton on the moving vans,” she remarked, altogether too casually, “it stands for Ted. He and Riley are equal partners and Ted’s doing very well. He’ll make at least ten thousand this year—”
Which was inexcusable, but the way mothers will talk.
Kay’s mother rallied nobly. “I’m so glad,” she announced sweetly, “that he’s doing so well. It must be such a relief to you!”
“I’m afraid, though,” added Ted’s mother, ignoring the thrust, “that we are going to lose him soon. He’s engaged to a New York girl—very beautiful and talented.”
“I suppose he’ll leave Canada for good then, and live in New York,” cooed her adversary. “You will miss him, of course —yet if I had a son I should want him to go there. So many opportunities, you know. Why, Mr. Bromley has often made ten thousand overnight!”
And they call them the subtle sex! Nevertheless, the honors were, on the whole, with Ted’s mother. The Heights revised its estimate of Ted and even forgave him his part in the bringing of the Six Musical McSweeneys to its anything but receptive bosom. After all, it was, the men admitted, all in a day’s work. And Ted certainly had an eye for business—no recent discovery on their part; they had suspected that all along, to hear them talk.
As for the neighborhood curse, responsibility for that was placed where it belonged.
“It’s all young Bromley’s fault,” they agreed, ignoring their own acclamation of hispían and participation therein. “That’s the trouble with those New Yorkers. They’re so darn slick that tbéy overreach themselves. Lot of hot air when you come right down to it!”
Which had, on Kay, exactly the effect that the wise would have prophesied.
EVER since Bromley had appeared, Kay’s apparent indifference had perplexed her mother. Now this all changed with a suddenness that took her mother’s breath away. Kay, who had literally held a most desirable suitor at arm’s length, now—if only metaphorically—took him to her breast.
He was, after all, her possession. As such she refused to have him belittled.
Women have, indeed, married men on no greater provocation.
As for the news of Ted’s approaching marriage, her reaction to that was revealed by a suggestion of sarcasm that, unfortunately, crept into even her felicitations to him—if felicitations they could be called.
These were delayed in delivery by another absence on his part. But presently he reappeared, again of a Sunday morning.
“I hear you’re going to get married,” she said at once.
“Might as well get it over with,” he replied, in the modern manner.
“I suppose you think she’s the most wonderful creature in the world!”
“Hardly that! But she has her points . . Speaking of marriage, when am I to be privileged to throw rice at you— and possibly an old trench shoe at Bromley?”
Kay gave him a swift, curious glance. Then she shrugged her shoulders.
“Why should a girl marry?” she demanded. “It’s only a form of slavery.” “Perhaps you are right! If so, I hope to get a good slave. I’m afraid you’re the sort that would be thrown over the cliff in a bag.” And giving her no chance to make the obvious reply, he added: “Guess I’ll go over and see what new improvement the McSweeneys have added on. They’re certainly blossoming out these days, aren’t they?”
The McSweeneys were. As they seemed, in the picturesque parlance of their profession, to be “resting” between engagements, they had had the time and opportunity to display virtuosity in other lines. They proved to be equally gifted as plumbers, painters and carpenters, and the Witherbee house had been undergoing renovation.
There were rumors of much painting inside and even of the installation of a second bath—unheard of luxury, so far, for the Heights.
Outwardly the changes were apparent to all. A sun porch had been added, the house painted a glistening white; the old blinds were replaced with new green shutters, solid save for a crescent, which gave the house a smart appearance. The lawns had been seeded and new shrubbery set here and there, most effectively.
The Heights was revising its estimate of a vaudeville troupe’s earnings.
“I suppose they make fifteen or twenty thousand a year, at that,” remarked Charley Emerson thoughtfully.
Yet there was something queer about it. This his wife put into words.
“But why,” she demanded, “do they bother to make it so attractive with all that horrible furniture in it?”
No one could guess the answer to that riddle. The McSweeneys displayed no interest in their neighbors and naturally nobody called upon them. Nobody, that is, save Ted, who had always had a wide acquaintance among strange sorts of people and who had struck up a notable friendship with the McSweeneys. He dropped in on them as casually as he dropped in on the Eltons.
This Sunday morning, as he moved toward the McSweeneys, Kay’s father interctepted him.
“All set?” he asked mysteriously. “Keep your eyes peeled,” retorted Ted. “Look here, Ted,” said Kay’s father, detaining him, “I’m strong for you—but aren’t you afraid you’re overplaying your hand. Kay ”
“I’ve got the makings of a straight,” Ted admitted, “with one card short. I’m taking a chance on the draw, that’s all.” And he went on to the McSweeneys, followed by the older man’s anxious eyes.
Presently he and MeSweeney emerged from the Witherbee house. Kay, who expected Bromley and was presumably watching for him,, saw Ted slap his companion on the back with what seemed to her an excess of good fellowship.
This phenomenon she had no chance to consider further, for Bromley and his roadster came into sight. As she had promised to take a ride with him, she went
upstairs to get her hat. She was not, therefore, among those who saw Ted desert MeSweeney and cross over to greet Bromley.
Nevertheless, the meeting of the two was not without spectators. Among these was Kay’s father, who alone was not taken by surprise by what followed.
“Morning,” said Ted. “Would you mind removing your plates from my car?”
“What?” replied Bromley uncomprehendingly.
“Listen!” suggested Ted. “Listen carefully. You paid one hundred dollars down on this car last December. You’ve never paid any more. The man you bought it from has been looking for you. He was afraid he’d been stung. I set his mind at rest on that point by taking the car off his hands—and mind, I’ve got a bill of sale. Now, as I said in the beginning, please remove your license plates from my car.”
“I—won’t,” sputtered Bromley. “You can go—”
“You will,” intervened Ted softly, “or else—”
There he paused. His eyes were mild, suggesting whimsy rather than unspoken menace. His hands were thrust carelessly in his pockets. He stood as he customarily moved, with a suggestion of leisured grace.
And yet Bromley licked lips suddenly gone dry and decided to remove his license plates.
“I’ll drive you as far as the car line,” said Ted, when he had finished. And with no change of expression added, “Oh, let’s not argue about it!”
And so, while the Heights watched with open mouths—an open mouth being presumably a valuable aid to eyesight— the two drove away together.
“I was interested enough in you and your spectacular success,” explained Ted, as they negotiated the corner, “to call at the King George. They told me you only received your mail there, so that proved a blind alley. But I had the number on your license plates and so I made a special trip to New York I investigated from that angle. Were you about to say anything?”
Apparently Bromley was not.
“I discovered,” Ted went on, “that you were a clerk in a brokerage office—bucket, I believe. You cleaned up somewheres around ten thousand in a pool with two of your fellows. Since then you’ve been stepping wide, high and handsome. Now —but there’s a car coming. I’m afraid you’ll have to run for it.”
Even so, Ted had a chance to, in a manner of speaking, say good-bye to him.
“I’ll carry your regrets to everybody— and explain your sudden departure,” he promised. “You needn’t bother to even write. In fact, take my advice, and don’t.”
“You go to Hades,” said Bromley, breaking his sullen silence at last.
Only he did not say it until the car was in motion. Nor did he say Hades.
Instead of obeying, Ted returned home to place his own license plates on the roadkter.
IN THE meantime Kay had returned to the Elton’s living-room.
“Why—where’s Mr. Bromley?” she asked of her father.
“He drove off with Ted,” replied her father evasively.
“Drove off with Ted? What do you mean?”
“Here’s Ted now—ask him,” suggested her father, withdrawing hastily.
“What did you do with Mr. Bromley?” demanded Kay at once.
“From your tone one might think I had kidnapped and foully murdered him,” Ted protested plaintively. “Actually he was— er, unavoidably called away. But before leaving he very kindly turned his car over to me so that you and I could go out and see the house I’ve bought for my bride to be.”
“I,” she retorted, “have no intention of going anywhere with you.”
“I asked you politely—but I’m prepared to use force if necessary.”
“You just try it!” she flashed.
The next moment she was in his arms. She struggled with all the strength she possessed, yet was powerless. He carried her to the front door.
“Put—put me down, please,” she begged then.
“You’ll come'—peaceably?” he demanded.
She hesitated, avoiding his eyes and
quivering with what could not—surely— be anything but righteous wrath. Then: “Yes,” she murmured.
And so the Heights saw them in turn drive off.
“I bought this car from Bromley because you seemed to like it,” remarked Ted. “Strikes me as sort of loud—but women are queer. I hope my wife will like it.”
Kay said nothing. She sat with her pretty profile inflexible and unrelenting.
“The house isn’t furnished as yet—I wanted your opinion on that,” Ted ran on, as if they were two souls with but a single thought. “Here we are!”
And Kay’s determination to say nothing was shattered by surprise. He had no more than driven around the block and he was stopping before the Witherbees’ house.
“You—you bought this?” she gasped. “It seemed a good move—settling a neighborhood problem and mine at one crack,” he explained.
“That was just my little joke. McSweeney is really a plumber and his sons are carpenters and painters. But the whole family is musical—or thinks they are. They actually call themselves the Six Musical McSweeneys. I moved them out here so that they would be on the job both ways, so to speak.”
In her bewilderment she permitted him to lead her inside the house.
“The McSweeneys have gone,” he explained. “I’ll move their stuff out tomorrow. How does this living-room hit you? That white wainscoting strikes me as the goods.”
Between a house—almost any house— and a woman there is always a curious affinity.
“Oh, it’s ducky!” breathed Kay, approving in spite of herself.
“I hoped you’d like it,” he said. ‘T’ve wanted to ask your advice quite a few times.” He paused almost imperceptibly and then added: “But I was sure of one thing, anyway. And that is that I couldn’t get a better location—right next door to your own house. You can go home to your mother so easily when we quarrel as I—suspect —we will.”
Kay’s eyes met his incredulously; for a second she was speechless. Then :
“We?” she echoed.
“You and me,” he assured her.
His voice was still whimsical but there was a little catch in it as he spoke.
“But—but you’re engaged to that American girl you met at the Royal Muskoka and that you went down to New York to visit!” she protested.
“Oh, that was all an idea father and mother got—they went off half cocked. There never was any girl for me but you, Kay. Haven’t you known that all along? Where’s—where’s your woman’s intuition?”
Kay’s eyes met his—just long enough to see all his heart in them—then fell. And then—well, it was fortunate that he had had the forethought to send the Six Musical McSweeneys on their way.
They would have been superfluous. To say the least.
Presently Kay glanced at him, her eyes soft and shy, yet glowing like altar candles.
“Why—why didn’t you tell me all this long ago?” she asked.
“Because,” he replied whimsically, yet huskily, “I—as the movies might put it— wanted to make a man of myself first. Get ahead and be able to give you the things you deserve. I tried darned hard, Kay—do I suit?”
“You—you know you do,” she whispered.
And Kay’s mother?
“As if I didn’t suspect it all when I saw you and Ted mooning around together,” she told Kay’s father scornfully. “I’ve known all along that Kay would probably marry Ted in the end. The way they acted might fool a man—but never a woman.”
And she almost convinced him that this was so.
But she knew better than to try to fool another woman.
“Of course I’m as pleased as can be,” she assured Ted’s mother, after they had embraced and kissed. “But you could have knocked me over with a feather.” “Me too,” admitted Ted’s mother.
“Some feather!” commented Ted, characteristically.