In the Dog Days
Carl H. Grabo
THE Junior Partner removed his feet from the desk with a bang, and tossed a roll of specifications to the Senior Partner, remarking, “The lunch is on you! Beddoes has made an error."
“No!” exclaimed his companion incredulously. “Well, I think the better of him. Now we know he is human, fallible, and trustworthy. Better raise his pay.”
“What he needs,” said the Junior Partner, “is a vacation.”
“We might try him out on that Oregon contract in September,”suggested the Senior Partner. “That would give him a change.”
“We’ll bear it in mind,” said the J. P.
“By the way, what was Beddoes s mistake?” asked the Senior Partner.
“Forgot to take into account the weight of the snow on the superstructure.”
“Why, man, they don't have snow in southern Texas.”
“Government report,” said the Junior Partner, “states two instances of a precipitation of three-tenths of an inch. It melted almost as it fell, to be sure.”
“Astonishing aberration for Beddoes,” murmured the Senior Partner. “Must be due to the heat.”
Indeed, something was the matter with the “Errorless Wonder,” as his envious fellows had dubbed him. What the matter was, he himself did not know, and, not being introspective, he was unlikely ever to find out.
When the good-looking draughtsman who smoked the bulldog pipe drifted over to his desk and remarked, “Too cussed hot to-day to work, ain’t it, Beddy?” an explanation seemed to be suggested. Yet heat had never before seduced him from his errorless way.
Returning the specifications, the Junior Partner remarked casually, “Better calculate the weight of the snow, too, Beddoes. There is a record of a light fall.” Beddoes was too much surprised at his own oversight to feel any mortification.
In the late afternoon Beddoes, seemingly cool and fresh, clung to a strap in a packed and perspiring trolley-car. Still unafifected, he ate moderately of the hot and heavy supper— ham, fried potatoes, cofifee and pie— prepared by his landlady, Mrs. Shorts.
“It ain’t a day as makes you hungry, is it?” said Mrs. Shorts, as Beddoes refused a second quarter of pie. “This noon I felt that languid I couldn't eat nothin' but a piece of cold steak an’ a cup of tea.”
Later, as Beddoes sat on the front steps in shirt-sleeves, Mrs. Shorts appeared in the doorway for a breath of air. “This is the kind of a night a young girl wants her young man to take her to the park an’ row her on the lagoon an’ treat her to ice-cream. Don't you know any girls, Mr. Beddoes ?”
“Come to think of it, I don’t believe I do.” Beddoes replied. “But the park may be cooler than this." He went into the house for his coat, put
Schmidt on “Structural Strains” into its place on the book-shelf, and turned down the student-lamp. Then, with an unwonted sense of freedom, he strolled towards the park and his favorite bench in a retired corner.
The only occupant was not unfamiliar. As usual, she sat well to the extreme of her end of the bench, and Beddoes seated himself at the other. His companion glanced at him almost with recognition in her eyes, and Beddoes quite automatically remarked, “It’s very hot this evening, isn’t it?”
“Very,” assented the girl. “But the park is so much better than a stuffy flat.”
Conversation languished, as Beddoes tried vainly to take up the chain of fancy where he had dropped it on other evenings : If one were to con-
struct a viaduct over the boulevard and the lagoon beyond, a distance of two thousand feet, and this were made eighty feet wide and calculated to accommodate a solid stream of automobiles moving at the rate of twenty miles an hour—but it was no use. He was in no mood for dreaming.
“Do you live near-by?” he inquired suddenly.
“Three or four blocks from the entrance,” the girl answered, with a touch of surprise in her voice.
“I live about the same.” said Beddoes, in a burst of frankness, and added, “I like to come to the park on hot evenings.”
“Yes,” said the girl, in a tone inviting further conversation. But Beddoes felt suddenly that he had been very bold, and he relapsed into silence.
The girl watched with secret amusement the preliminary symptoms of his next conversational move. It took him ten minutes to make it, but its daring astonished her.
“My landlady remarked this evening,” ventured Beddoes, in a rather strained tone, “that on a hot evening like this young ladies liked young men to treat them to ice-cream. Is that true, do you suppose?”
“I don’t know, I’m sure,” replied the girl.
“There’s an ice-cream parlor right beside the park entrance,” said Beddoes hopefully.
“I know there is and she laughed, very pleasantly.
“Will you—you come with me and —a—have a dish?” asked he very stiffly—as -he felt.
She hesitated, became serious, and then, after a glance at him, said graciously, “Thank you, I shall be glad to.”
In the glitter of the “Refreshment Palace”—so designated by an electric sign—Beddoes first saw his companion to advantage. She had dark eyes that pleased him, and dark hair about a square face, and a chin pointed and resolute. Beddoes didn’t know whether she was pretty or not, for he had no standards of comparison.
She, on her part, seemed quickly to overcome some constraint of manner, and treated Beddoes straightforwardly-
“I have, of course, often noticed you on our bench in the park,” she said, “and I wondered who you were. Isn’t a city strange? You know people by sight sometimes for years and never speak. I don’t like it. I can’t get used to the unfriendliness of it. You see, I lived in the country until I was sixteen.”
“I suppose it is unfriendly,” responded Beddoes, “only I never thought of it before. I’ve never had many friends, and I think of my own work mostly, so I don’t feel the need of them. I’m an engineer,” he continued, in answer to what he took to be a questioning look—“bridge-building.”
“And I am a stenographer,” said the girl.
They lingered at their table in the corner, saying little, but with a pleasurable sense of companionship.
“It is nearly ten o’clock,” declared the girl, at last. “I must be going home.”
She rose to go, and Beddoes, as of right, went with her. At the corner of her street, she stopped in dismissal.
“Thank you,” she said, “I have enjoyed the evening very much.” •
“But you haven’t told me your name,” said Beddoes, acting on a resolution he had been slowly evolving.
“My name is Ruth Holmes,” she told him, without hesitation.
“And mine is Harry Beddoes,” he returned. “Good-night.”
On the next evening, somewhat earlier than usual, Beddoes was in his place on the park bench. He did not recognize her at first as she came near, for she was dressed in white, and he had always before seen her in dark gowns. The change struck even his blunted perceptions.
“I like you in that white dress,” he remarked, but at this she became embarrassed, and conversation languished for the remainder of the evening. She would have no ice-cream that night. She felt too tired. However, she let him go with her to her corner, and she said good-night very pleasantly.
It became habitual, the evening meeting. Nothing was ever said by way of promise, yet each evening he looked for her, and each evening she came, talked, ate a chocolate “sundae” at the Greek “Refreshment Palace,” and permitted him to take her to the corner of her street. She did not ask him to call, and the thought of it never entered his head.
The days were of unbroken heat, uniform, persistent. For three weeks the city gasped and prayed for a pitying rain or a reviving breeze. The nights were glorious, deep as blue velvet, with stars like sequins; and with the coming of a new queen moon the world after sunset became an enchanted place.
Beddoes bore the day’s heat cheerfully, and looked so cool and fresh that his presence irritated the entire office. When he blossomed into a red necktie, a delegation waited on him and demanded an explanation. And Beddoes, move to an unusal lightness of spirit, told them that the tie was not
new, but was an old white one which was suffering from sunburn.
But such was the pertinacity and prying curiosity of the office force that Beddoes’s romance (he did not think of it as that) could not long remain undetected. His first intimation that he was found out came when he discovered on his desk a poster such as those .used for advertising in the street-cars. It was bordered with pink cupids, and its chief feature was the portrait of a bird unknown to ornithology. Beneath in large letters ran the legend—
GREENBAUM FEATHERS THE NEST. FOUR-ROOM FLAT FURNISHED COMPLETE FOR $84.49. LONGTIME. EASY PAYMENTS.
Pie felt the eyes of the office upon him as he carefully read the poster, held it at arm’s length to get the full beauties of its impressionistic art, and placed it in a conspicuous position on his desk. He evinced no embarrassment, much to the disappointment of the observers.
The handsome draughtsman drifted over to his desk. “Good ice-cream joint near the park entrance, isn’t it?” he remarked.
“Very,” answered Beddoes. “I don’t remember seeing you there, though.”
“You were much too busy to notice me,” said the draughtsman. Then, confidentially and in a stage-whisper audible to the entire office; “She’s a peach. Congratulations.”
“You needn’t be in a hurry,” said Beddoes calmly.
Nevertheless, it was with a new expectation that he awaited her arrival that night. But she did not come. He remained in his accustomed place until ten o’clock, and then went home, feeling strangely desolate. In the office the next day the red-haired stenographer observed that Mr. Beddoes
had evidently been “thrown down,” for he was “as glum as a boiled owl.”
When she had not arrived at half past eight of the same evening, Beddoes resolutely walked to her street. He did not know the number, so he walked slowly, scanning the front of each apartment building. He saw her at last, seated on a doorstep in the shadow, and went up boldly.
“I’m glad you’ve come, she said.
“I missed you last night and tonight,” he replied.
“The heat and my work have been too much for me. I’ve stayed home from the office two days."
She spoke listlessly, and Beddoes could see that her face showed signs of weariness.
“I’d have gone to the park had I felt able,” she continued. “But I thought maybe you’d come.
“I waited in the park last night,” he said simply. “To-night I knew something unusual must have happened.”
They sat quietly for a time. Then she went on half to herself : “I wish sometimes I’d never left the country. If I could have got more education— enough to teach school—I’d have stayed. In summer I long to go back. But there is nothing to do, and I have few friends there, and none to whom I can go for help. But there are many worse off than I, I suppose. The poor girls that work in stores—they have a much harder time, and so little to live on. I can live decently, at least. But there is no future. I just go on and on, and there is nothing to look forward to. Is it like that with everybody, do you suppose? Does everybody feel that way?”
“I didn’t use to feel so,” said Beddoes, “but lately I’ve been getting restless, and I’ve been making up my mind to go West. I’ve half a mind to go to the Pacific Coast and start in to work for myself. There are many enterprises .out there—water-power and irrigation projects—and I’m a good enough engineer to fit in, I
think. I’ve been well trained. I’m tired of staying here, working in an office.”
“When are you going?” she asked at length.
“I haven’t decided, but I’ve been thinking of it for several weeks. Why don’t you go West, too?” he added. “You have nothing to keep you and perhaps you’d like the new country better than the city.”
“It’s different for a woman,” she answered. “A woman isn’t so independent. I think I’ll go in now. Thank you for coming.”
“You will come to the park to-morrow evening?” he asked.
She hesitated. “If I’m not too tired.”
“Please do,” he urged. “I want to talk with you about my plans.”
“I’ll see,” she replied. ’“Maybe.”
“I’ll count on you,” he said eagerly. “Please come early.”
She was not as early as he wished, and he walked up and down impatiently until he saw her coming slowly towards him.
“It is going to rain at last, I think," she said, looking not at him, but at the clouds. “Have you decided when you’ll go away?”
He got up and stood before her. His voice was a bit tremulous. “I’ve decided to go to-night if you’ll go with me.”
“Go with you !” she faltered increduously.
“Yes,” he said. “I bought two tickets, and I have the marriage license, and there’s a minister lives near here. I have the addresses of three, in fact.” He took the license from his pocket and dropped it in her lap. She twisted it with trembling fingers and looked up at him, her face scared and white.
“And I have the ring, too,” he added, pulling a box from his pocket.”
“Oh, I can’t, I can’t,” s'he said— “not this way.”
“I know this is abrupt,” he went on. “And I have no reason to believe you care enough for me to do it. If you
don’t, I can’t bear to stay. I’ll have to go alone. If you do, why should we wait ?”
“I care for you a great deal,” she said softly. “But don’t you see?—we can’t be—be—married this way, so suddenly. It isn’t right. And my place, too. And I haven’t any clothes,
and my things aren’t packed, and-
Oh, we can’t !”
“Look,” he said. “To-night it’s going to rain. The weather will change. Let’s go now and keep the memory of these meetings here unchanged. We’ ve been—I’ve been, at least—very happy meeting you here, and I’d like to go away before things are different.”
“I’ve been happy, too,” she said, and took his hand in both of hers. They were trembling, and her voice trembled, too. “Dear, don’t you think we’d better wait? I’ll marry you, truly I will. Give me a few days—give me until to-morrow.”
“I have the tickets in my pocket,” he said resolutely. “And I have here all the money I possess—six hundred dollars. I have sent my valise to the station. It is only eight o’clock, and the train doesn’t leave until midnight. We can be married, and you can pack enough things to take with you. The rest you can have sent along afterwards. Come, dear, there is plenty of time. Won’t you do it?”
She began to cry. “You are so—so persistent,” she sobbed.
He knew he had won as he lifted her from the bench and kissed her. The park policeman politely looked the other way when they went by him. She was dabbing her eyes with a handkerchief, but Beddoes had his arm around her.
The Junior Partner slowly read the last page of the letter before him, and
then as slowly began at the beginning and reread the entire communication. Conflicting emotions were written on his face. Finally he leaned back in his chair, and faced the Senior Partner. “Well, Walter,” he said, “the mysterious disappearance of Beddoes, or the wonderful error of the Errorless Wonder, is explained.”
“Wasn’t sick or hurt, I hope?” said the Senior Partner.
“Beddoes,” explained the J.P., “is married and has gone West to grow up with the country.”
“Whom did he marry?”
“He doesn’t say, but from rumors which have come to me, but which I have not until now repeated, I fancy that she was a dark-eyed stenographer whom he used to meet in the park.”
“The Errorless Wonder!” said the Senior Partner. “The man devoid of sentiment ! The mathematical machine ! Who’d have thought it ! What’s he going to do for a living?”
“Says he’s going to start in for himself on the Coast. He is decent enough to add that he’ll be glad to continue on those estimates for the Pecos ironwork, if by so doing he can be of any service to us. Furthermore, he does not ask for the month’s pay due him.”
“I think,” remarked the Senior Partner, “that Beddoes is a man of possibilities. He has shown himself to be distinctly human. If you’ll toss me the telegraph pad, I'll wire him to go to Portland and look over the ground for us on the Stevens project. Agreed ?”
“Sort of a wedding present,” assented the J.P. “Give him best wishes from me and the office.”