AS YOU WERE
THE Society of Historians will never send for Jimmy Blair.
For one thing they probably don’t know three rather essential things about him—his address, his name or the fact that he exists. For another thing, history isn’t written that way. If it were— but why this effort to picture the millenium?
One can picture the president of the society thoughtfully stroking his beard, a gray beard, neatly trimmed after the latest mode.
“Blair?” he is saying. “I am rather certain our current records contain no mention of a James Blair. Of course, if his career is of any intrinsic importance we shall have it investigated in due course. But tell me, simply as a matter of—er—personal interest, what has this Mr. Blair done to warrant this inclusion in the annals of our national life? Is it perhaps that he is—er—typical of a large class of citizenry who possibly—er—?”
When Jimmy Blair got out of the army, which was in the early spring of 1919, he spent one memorable day and one still more memorable evening in Montreal. Then, dutifully and somewhat giddily, he boarded a morning train and started home for Carpenterville. Carpenterville is five hours west of Montreal, with a gradual change of lhental outlook with every sliding mile of the way. This change is accomplished automatically under the direction, presumably, of a merciful providence. It is the thing which keeps one from going stark crazy at the end of the trip, traveling in either direction.
Staring out of the' window as the long blue reaches of the river, or the quiet green of fruitful farm lands drifted past his eyes, Jimmy Blair found himself a trifle confused, even ashamed. He wanted to go home; that is he had wanted to go home. He wanted to see his mother and
father and Joe Hollis and the Denisons and all the rest. But gosh—and Jimmy hated to admit it, even to himself —how he actually wished he could stay right on in the big town! It had taken all his will power to keep him from hanging over for at least another day.
JIMMY grimaced and turned doggedly to the pages of a futile magazine. He knew exactly what had happened to him. He could even have put it into music.
In words, he had seen Virginia Westyn again for the first time in fifteen months, and Virginia, as he admitted the fact to himself, had walloped him cold. Jimmy smiled weakly. Virginia had done more than that. She had pasted him straight between the eyes, had sent him to the ropes, hog-tied him, put the Indian sign on him, sewed him up, knocked him for a goal. In other words—Jimmy sought vaguely and vainly for the true English of it—Virginia, who lived in one of those magnificent homes on the hill the value of which ran five figures to the left of the good old decimal point, Virginia could have looked upon him leisurely, and, using all the Latin she knew, could have echoed, with no small truth, Julius Caesar’s famous crack, “Veni, vidi, vici.” Except that in this particular case Jimmy had come, Jimmy had seen— and Virginia had conquered.
That was what troubled Jimmy. He knew it was she
who had done the conquering. The only other thing he knew was that he had at least laid down an effective barrage. But just how he was going to be able to take his objective—that caused him to scowl and to lay his futile maga-: zine aside. Yes, he should have stayed on for another day. Of that much he was sure.
“Steady!” he cautioned himself. Why, he was actually on his way home—actually living the day he’d been dreaming about for nearly two whole years!
He sat back in a sort of guilty daze and settled himself down for the final hour’s run. Hmm! Everything looked just about the same. Yes, just about the same.
YET as Jimmy swung off the train at the dingy old station where long ago he had climbed the forbidden freight cars of boyhood romance, he was conscious of a funny lump that had risen into his throat. Then, before he could look around, he was engulfed by a wave of turbulent humanity, and all at once he was being kissed and thumped and slapped upon the back and held off at arm’s length and kissed again, while a machine gun fire of questions was rebounding from his ear drums. “You old scout,’ you!” he heard. And then his mother was looking up into his eyes.
“Hello, mother!” he said, and hugged her tight. “Gosh, it’s good to be back!”
“You’re going to stay back now, aren’t you, Jimmy? You won’t go away again, will you, dear—ever in your life?”
“Same old goose,” said Jimmy Blair and kissed his mother again. Then: “Why, Mary Denison,” he called over his mother’s shoulder, “I thought you’d be all grown up. Well, I’ll be darned. You look just about sixteen.”
“When they grow up,” Jimmy’s father laughed, “they bob off their hair and suit» off their skirts, and then they have to grow up all over again. Lot of changes since you been away, Jim.”
But Jimmy wasn’t listening. He had caught Mary Denison's hand and pulled her to him, bear fashion, and kissed her. And then he was patting her paternally on the back.
“You look great, Mary, he said. “Gee, it's good to see everybody again.”
IT NEVER occurred to Jimmy that the paternal pat and the casual “everybody” had completely neutralized the kiss—and everything else. How could Jimmy be expected to know that the whether or not of this particular meeting of lips had been the subject of much speculation, and some shame, with little Mary Denison for some twenty-three months past? How could Jimmy know that Mary’s brown velvet eyes had been asking him an exceedingly simple question during the flash of time when she was raising her face to his, and how could he know that in that one flash they had received their answer?
Mary Denison didn’t know Virginia Westyn’s name, or whether Virginia was blonde or brunette or tall or short or French or English or what not; but Mary did know, instantly, that there was a Virginia and that she was a person to be hated.
“Got your trunk check, Jim?” his father was asking. Presently the Blairs and the Denisons and Joe Hollis and the rest were milling around and chattering as they squeezed their prize up the maple-shaded street. Somehow it seemed to Jimmy as if it had all happened before. Funny sensation, he reflected.
Somebody was tugging at Jimmy’s sleeve—a reporter from the Carpenterville Era.
“Just a minute, Captain Blair,” he was sputtering. Jimmy remembered afterward that he must have answered a lot of questions.
By supper time, however, things had rather shaken themselves down. Except for the fact that he was still in uniform, Jimmy was puzzled by the feeling that he had never been away from Carpenterville at all. He had sauntered around all afternoon, shaking hands with every other person he met; he had visited his father’s store; he had been out to the golf course. The place was 'exactly as he had expected it to be; that was the trouble. He felt let down.
LJ E WONDERED, pointedly, what Virginia would A A think of it—the somewhat shoddy streets of gray frame houses, with here and there a slightly more pretentious house of brick, but all architectural first cousins; the two-storied business district with its tobacco bespattered sidewalks; the golf course itself, only nine holes and very seedy; the one white marble building, the bank, at the corner of Park and Main; the two movie houses that smelled of peanuts; the black soot of the freight yards hanging over everything like a pall.
Jimmy pressed his lips together and shook his head. He would have to break it to his mother that he was going back to the city—going back just as soon as he decently could. After supper that evening, he reflected, that was when his father would light up a cigar and sit back and ask him about his plans. That would be the
Yet during the meal itself Jimmy could feel himself weakening. His mother simply beamed. She had prepared grapefruit, and the tomato bisque that Jimmy loved so well; and there was a juicy steak, with baked potatoes and peas and cauliflower; and a salad—and then lemon meringue pie. Mrs. Blair was going through the ceremony of cutting this delight when there came a knock at the door, and Joe Hollis stormed in, with little Mary Denison on his arm, all wrapped in a soft, brown elfin cloak that matched her hair and eyes.
“Can’t leave you alone, you see,” Joe proclaimed. “Mary said we ought to lay off you, but I dragged her along just the same.”
The girl laughed.
“That’s how we women fool you, Joe. As long as Jimmy wouldn’t come to see me, why, I had to come to see him, that’s all. That’s the way girls are nowadays, so they tell us—very forward.” She let her brown eyes rest for an imperceptible second on Jimmy’s face. But Jimmy Blair was laughing without concern, and his eyes were not on hers.
Don t be a goose, Mary,” he said. “Since when have we got so formal and everything?”
"You two sit down,” Mrs. Blair was insisting, “and try a bite of this pie. It’s the first I’ve made in a long time— your favorite, Jim. Then we’ll all pile out in the parlor and sit around and have a good old talk. I’m just going to let the dishes go to-night—so Jim can have all the evening to tell us all about the war.”
“Nothing doing,” Jimmy protested. “I’m fed up with the war, Mother, and I’ll bet you all are too.”
Now Jimmy only half believed this, but he was to find out, .beginning this very evening, that he had spoken
a profound and wholesome trulh. For after the last crumb of pie had disappeared, and they were settling themselves comfortably in the old-fashioned living room rockers, Jimmy’s father, lighting his cigar, asked not about what Jimm;, and some half-a-million other men had done, but about what Jimmy, specifically, was going
“After you get them trick pants off,” the older man said with a grin, “and mind you, Jim, I respect ’em as much as the next fellow, which is quite a lot, what are you going to set. out to do then? Old job or something new?” “Oh, you men!” broke in Jimmy’s mother. “Why talk about jobs when Jim has so much to tell us?”
“Jobs,” said her husband, slowly peeling the band from his cigar, “jobs, Mother, are sometimes finite important. I’d say this was one of the times. Anyhow I’d like to know. Done any figurin’, Son?”
“Why, yes,” and Jimmy shot a glance at his mother. "You see, Dad, my major, a dandy chap named Heshall —he’s a partner in a big brokerage house down in the city, and he sort of thought—”
“City?” asked Mrs. Blair. ‘What city?”
“He means Montreal, Mother,” the boy’s father explained.
“Oh, Jimmy! Way off in Montreal?”
“I’m afraid so, Mother. But you see the chances down there are wonderful—particularly with the social connections I had the luck to establish overseas. It’s the chance of a lifetime, really.”
“But you were doing so well here, Jim.”
“Not very well, Mother, as doing goes. Twelve hundred a year is just a scratch compared to what I can make down there. Besides—”
“'TPWELVE hundred a year is a mighty comfortable inA come,” his mother protested. “What with this home and everything.” She turned impatiently to young Hollis. “Can’t you do anything with him, Joe?”
Joe Hollis laughed.
“It’s a disease,” he stated. “They’ve all got it.”
“What do you mean?” Jimmy demanded. There was just an edge to his tone. Joe Hollis had waited for the draft, and had not been called.
“All you guys,” Joe explained. “You’ve gone and got yourselves big ideas. Half the men that have come back are looking for soft jobs—soft jobs and big money.”
Jimmy smiled wanly. “I could use a soft job,” he said, “and I could use some big money too.”
“Yes,” said Hollis belligerently, “and there are half-amillion other birds just like you. Every man who ever commanded a platoon or a battalion or whatever the word is has a sneaking hunch that he ought to spend the rest of his life in front of a shiny mahogany desk, with plush carpets on the floor and a whole row of push buttons to summon menials in with. This isn’t personal, Jim—but it’s a fact that everybody has noticed and talked about. And money! I’ll say you fellows are no pikers.”
Jimmy Blair leveled his gaze at the other.
“Haven’t your own earnings gone up considerably in the last three or four years?. Haven’t you got a few big ideas yourself? You’ve got a car now. How about that?’ Hollis scratched his head.
“Sounds like an argument,” he said, “and an argument isn’t what I’m after. Still, I suppose you’re partly right, Jim. But you see we’ve actually been doing the work, turning all our spare cash over to the government and carrying bigger loads than I knew a man could carry. Isn’t that so, Mr. Blair?”
“Well, yes,” said Jimmy’s father, “I guess that’s so.”
jD UT suddenly Jimmy felt annoyed. What did all these AA people know about his affairs? How could Joe Hollis or his father or his mother or anybody hope to understand why he absolutely had to be in Montreal, why he absolutely had to make a lot of money and make it quickly? They simply couldn’t, that was all. No wonder he needed to get out of this dump and get located in a place where girls like Virginia and jobs, big jobs, actually grew. He compressed his jaws, and managed to
“How about giving us something on the piano, Mary?” he suggested.
But his mother was studying him.
“Seems sort of funny, Jim,” she observed, “the way you take up for Montreal. And you spent a whole day and a night there, too, when you could have come up on yesterday’s train.”
Mr. Blair, husbandlike, was now seized with a novel
“What’s her name, Jim?” he teased. “Blonde or brunette?”
Everybody roared, for there had been tension. So nobody but Joe Hollis noticed that little Mary Denison, who had never said a word since supper, straightened up ever so slightly on the piano stool and then, after a second, laughed loudest of all.
For only yesterday Mary, very pink, had told Joe as nicely as she could that she liked him a lot, but that she could never, never think of marrying him, and that he
mustn’t ask her any more; and Joe thought he knew the reason why, and the reason worried him. But now, seeing Mary laugh and watching that toss of her bobbed brown curls, Joe Hollis felt much better indeed. Joe was only a
'T'HE very day Jimmy Blair reached the City he called A up Virginia Westyn, only to find that she was all tied up with engagements, but the second day he captured two hours of her time and put her in a taxi and took her to the Ritz for tea; and they danced. And Jimmy, whose mind worked in straight lines more than in circles, told Virginia that his heart or something inside of his chest was dancing much better than his feet. They were facing each other at that moment across a tiny table for two.
Virginia knew just what to do. She turned her cornflower eyes full into Jimmy’s, then dropped them for a second, then raised them and laughed, as they say in books, lightly.
There was only one word that really described Virginia, and it was only reasonable that Virginia herself should know exactly what it was. The word was gorgeous Aside from her eyes, she was possessed of waving, goldfish, fawn-colored hair, which, being bobbed, fluffed out gorgeously as a frame for the gorgeousness of her face. And what did it matter who made the hair wave, as long as it looked that way? Or what did it matter how much time she spent over her complexion, as long as that was gorgeous too, or over her simple little frock, which at that moment was the envy and despair of half the girls in the
“That’s a good line, Jimmy,” stated Virginia, using the slow, soft drawl which had been so expensively acquired at a school in England. “You must have been training with the French.”
“I suppose you don’t think I mean it?” the boy challenged.
“If you didn’t mean it, Jimmy dear, I’d probably never speak to you again.” She stretched forth a perfect hand and brushed one of his as it lay on the table. “You’ll always mean it, won’t you, Jimsy, old thing?’’
“You bet I will,” said Jimmy.
Now Virginia leaned back into her soft furs and half closed her eyes.
“rAO YOU know,” she began speculatively, “you look A-A just adorable in those civilian clothes. I was so afraid you wouldn’t, because you were so wonderful in a uniform. But you’re perfect. I’ll bet you got that suit at Root’s. I just adore Root’s clothes on men. They’re so English and sporty and distinguished.” Virginia seemed to sigh.
Now it was so that Jimmy had bought that particular suit of clothes at Root’s. He had been keeping his ears open during the last two years, and the Root’s tradition was one of the many, many things he had managed to absorb. True, the suit had cost him a hundred and twenty dollars, but now he knew it was worth it.
“Who just said something about handing out a line?” he was retorting. “Funny thing, though,” and now Jimmy was trying to change the subject, “I feel half undressed in these loose things. Particularly my legs! 1 After tight breechesand boots they feel positively naked.” “If that’s how trousers feel,” said Virginia blandly, “you ought to have tried nothing but skirts after bumming around in a Motor Corps uniform. Honestly, I was afraid to move.” She began to laugh, and so did Jimmy, but it came to him swiftly that in this particular laugh he was being left out.
“What’s the joke?” he inquired.
“Don’t you wish you knew?” she mocked and giggled some more. ,
“That isn’t very polite,” said Jimmy.
“I don’t have to be polite,” Virginia Westyn told him. Then she smiled disarmingly. And Jimmy knew that as far as he was concerned she had stated a cold fact.
“As long as it wasn’t something about another man?” he fished lamely.
“Jimmy,” said the gorgeous girl opposite him, “can’t you get it into your head that it’s always another man?” “And always will be, I suppose,” he added, trying to
“I’d like to know why not, Jimmy Blair. Honestly, you’re the seriousest young person I’ve ever met in all my life!”
Jimmy leaned forward.
“I am about you, Virginia—very serious.”
“It doesn’t pay,” she said flippantly.
“Yes, but some day,” he persisted, “some day it’s going to pay.”
YTIRGINIA WESTYN, who lived in a palatial home r and whose simple frock had cost three times the price of Jimmy’s less simple suit of clothes, let her eyes rest soberly upon his.
“Jimmy Blair,” she said, “the night before you went on board, just before you went overseas, do you remember what I told you? I think I warned you that I was an expensive luxury. And I told you I was awfully fickle. I Continued on page 32
As You Were
Continued from page 14
wanted to play square, you know', because we really were awfully crazy about each other then.”
“Aren’t we yet?”
She eyed him speculatively. “Maybe,” she admitted.
“Well, I am,” said Jimmy, “and if you’re not, you’re going to be again.”
“Do you realize,” parried the girl, “that we have seen each other just about five times in our lives? And all the war stuff and everything.”
“Are you in love with somebody else?” Jimmy demanded.
Virginia laughed scornfully.
“You funny boy! Of course I’m not. What would I want to be in love with anybody for?”
“Are you trying to let me down easy, then?” he asked.
“Oh, Jimmy!” Virginia’s blue eyes opened wide. “You know I’m not. I think you’re a dear.”
“But you keep ducking so when I try to pin you down. What’s the point of that?”
Virginia smiled—she had practised it often before her mirror—enigmatically.
“The most desirable fruit,” she paraphrased, “is often not the easiest to shake off the tree.” Suddenly she melted. “Jimmy, dear, don’t let’s be silly and serious any more. Why can’t we just have a good time, the same as everybody else does? Oh, there’s the music! Come on, let’s dance.”
JIMMY danced. He danced then; he danced through the spring. When Virginia went out to “Bluff Point” he followed her there every week-end she would let him—which was about one in three. He followed her to St. Andrews in August. He followed her to St. Agathe in the fall. And he danced.
Not even Virginia’s closest and dearest girl friends questioned the fact that she possessed a genius for attracting men. Some of them—the girl friends—perhaps admitted to one another, in the strictest confidence, of course, that anybody who spent as much thought and time and money on herself as Virginia Westyn did certainly ought to make a splash. It was hinted too, still in confidence, that Virginia’s ethics in the matter of property man being the property under discussion—were not above cavil. But that must be as it may. The simple truth was that Virginia was gorgeous; and she knew it and her girl friends knew it and, so it seemed, half the men east of the Great Lakes knew it.
Virginia liked Jimmy all right. Well, he might come through at that. He was working hard in a mighty good office —though what Virginia probably meant by good was fashionable—and maybe he plight make a killing. And socially lots of people were taking him up; though naturally she herself had helped there. Anyway, and here Virginia would yawn prettily,there was heaps and heaps of time —and there always were heaps and heaps of other men.
There were, too. They bothered Jimmy Blair. For things were not going exactly as he had hoped they would.
For one thing there was the job. It was a perfectly good job, and everybody told him he ought to be tickled to death with it, but somehow it seemed a little bit flat. Not exactlythat,maybe,butsort of—well, flat was the word after all. Selling stocks and bonds! As a matter of fact you didn’t sell anything. You told somebody about something which somebody had told you possessed a certain theoretical value, and you tried to sell that intangible something to the somebody who didn’t want very much to buy it.
Selling a pair of shoes, now—that would be easy. You’d have something in your :hands, and you could say: “These are good shoes. Real leather! Look!” And the other person would look, and if he wanted a pair of good shoes—well, it would be a cinch. But this other thing was not a cinch. How could you know the shoes were good if you’d never even seen them? Yet you gave your word on it, just as if you personally knew. Funny business!
THEN there was the cost of living.
That was another thingtothink about. They paid you what they called a drawing account of sixty dollars a week down there at the office, and that was really your salary. You were supposed to get commissions, and it worked out on paper that you got a lot of them. But you actually didn’t get very many commissions, because nobody much seemed to want to buy shoes he hadn’t seen; and besides, half the neatly pressed young men you saw seemed to be selling the very same things that you were trying to sell.
That was probably because that was the thing to do. Then, too, there was always the chance of big money any minute. But nobody seemed to be making it. Certainly Jimmy’s own companions didn’t.
You got sixty dollars a week; maybe a little bit more. Call it three hundred a month. Well, your room cost you fifty dollars, and your meals cost you at least seventy-five—just your own meals, that was—and you had to have two good suits for the office, and evening clothes and a dinner jacket and a silk hat and all sorts of shoes and shirts and things. And gosh, how you wanted to have a morning coat— a cutaway, that is—which in turn would call for a special pair of trousers! You wanted it, but it would have to wait. Because in addition to all this there was Virginia.
Virginia! Jimmy Blair wiped his forehead.
IF YOU took \ irginia to tea it cost you a couple of dollars. That was easy. But if you took her to dinner, which you wanted to do once in a while, it cost you fifteen dollars before you got through with the taxis and the tips. If you took her to dinner and the theatre—and of course you
had to get decent seats—it would knock a good thirty dollar hole in your wallet. Thirty dollars in one evening. Zip! Just like that! And by the same token, if ycu took her to dinner and the theatre and out to dance afterward—and you just had to do that occasionally—you were mighty lucky if you got out of it for forty-five cool iron men. Jimmy knew. He knew until it hurt.
Goshalmighty! You made thirty-six hundred a year and you stayed in debt every minute. Up in Carpenterville, if you made twelve hundred, it wasn’t a hard job to put, say, two hundred and fifty aside. Jimmy knew that too. Because he had done it.
Just the same, it was worth it. Nobody could tell Jimmy it wasn’t. And Virginia was worth it—you bet she was! There was something about the whole thing that was worth it. And no matter whether you had a date with Virginia or not the world was a great place to be in.
Take to-day, for instance. Jimmy Blair hadn’t sold a single stock, but he had left the office at four-thirty—that was one nice thing about being in the market. It was Maytime, and the town was abuzz with life: real life, not the kind of thing they called life in hick towns like Carpenterville. Imagine living in Carpenterville! Some day, after he’d made his killing, he’d bring his mother and father down here and buy them a snappy apartment Westmount way and give them an idea of what they’d missed all their lives. Yes, he would; just that.
THERE Was a yellow envelope for Jimmy stuck cornerwise in the mirror of the dark entrance hall. He seized it gingerly, tore it open. Telegrams always made your heart stop a little, even though you pretended they didn’t.
This one was from Jimmy’s mother.
“Your father facing operation,” it read. “Not serious but want you home soon as possible.”. „
Jimmy stood there, irresolute. He knew about his father’s operation; the old man had told him six months ago. Just a couple of days in the hospital and then out again. But still! Jimmy scowled. Darn it, he’d been invited to Virginia’s for dinner that evening! And afterwards they were all going to the Ritz. Yes, and that Conrad bird would be there, and Jimmy didn’t trust him a bit. Now what difference would one evening make?
Jimmy looked at the telegram aga'n. Then he shook his head mournfully, went to the telephone instrument that hung on the wall, dropped a nickel into its slot and called Virginia’s number.
Virginia was out—likely enough with that blooming Conrad bird! _
“Please tell Miss Westyn,” said Jimmy evenly, “that I have been called home by a sudden illness in my family. Tell her I’m dreadfully sorry, but I can’t help it. Yes, this is Mr. Blair.”
JUST before he was to be wheeled out to the operating room Jimmy’s father asked to see the boy alone.
“Son,” he said, with a smile that wasn t much of a smile after all, “the doctor has told me about this thing of mine. I’ve known it quite a while. Your mother doesn’t know—not exactly. I’ve got a good chance, they say, but if anything should happen—”
“Rot!” scoffed the boy. “You’re as healthy as a horse. Forget it.”
“—if anything should happen, Jim, I’m depending on you.” The older man hesitated. “Things aren’t in as good shape—financially—as I’d like to have them. But I’ve got you. That’s a— a big relief. That’s all. Call’em in. Jim. So long, old man. Wish me luck.” He grinned again and held out his hand.
Jimmy took his mother downstairs to the waiting room. He was wishing his father did not look so pale. And why did hospitals always have such depressing medical smells?
After what seemed like hours and hours a nurse, all in white, came softly into the room. Mr. Blair was out of the ether, she said, and resting comfortably.
“Thank God!” said Jimmy’s mother, and stood up. “He’s going to live!” she affirmed, her eyes gleaming moist, and clutched for Jimmy’s hand. The nurse smiled and nodded.
But the nurse was wrong.
It was not until the dayafterthe funeral that Jimmy was able to set his thoughts in any kind of order. Somehow he had managed to wire his office to tell them he could not be back for another week at
least. For the rest, lie had arranged the funeral and seen about the cemetery lot and gone through two long talks with his father’s lawyer and held his arm tight about his mother’s shoulders, hour after hour, all in a sort of daze. He remembered that his Aunt Hat had been around, and Mrs. Denison and Mary, all walking softly and talking softly and doing innumerable, incomprehensible things. One of the three, it seemed, was constantly with his mother. That, he knew, was good.
BUT now at last he was seeing clearly again, and thinking clearly, and facing facts. They were not pleasant facts.
First there was his father's store. The books told the tale beyond a question. For four years past the store had been losing money. Jimmy couldn’t believe that until he had gone over the books several times and then talked with the president of the bank. His father had been old-fashioned, he learned—old-fashioned and easy-going—and he had been in competition with three chain stores each one of them run by a local man. They could underbuy him and undersell him, and they had. Only Mr. Blair’s popularity and his name for square dealing had kept him in business at all.
Now the president of the bank frowned. He did not like to say what he was saying, he explained, but it was his best judgment that Jimmy had better take steps to sell the stock on hand and dispose of the lease on the store building. This would give him a few thousand dollars in hand and thereby place him in a position, financially, to meet most, if not all, of his father’s debts.
“Debts?” Jimmy demanded.
Well, yes, there were some debts. The facts of the matter were that Mr. Blair had made a number of investments, on margin, in the hope of recovering some of his recent losses, and the investments had turned out pretty much as everybody except Mr. Blair had predicted they would. The banker coughed deprecatingly.
‘""pH AT was about your father’s only 1 fault, Jim. He never could seem to understand the value of money.”
Jimmy stared moodily at his fingertips. “I guess I don’t either,” he confessed. “Good time to learn,” said the older man not unkindly. “By the way, your father carried a little insurance. That’s intact, as far as I know. I’ve been figuring things up for you, Jim, in a rough sort of way. If you can get rid of the stock on hand down there at the store for a fair price, and get rid of the lease, there’ll be somewhere between fifteen hundred and two thousand dollars left over afteryou’ve called in all the paper yourfather had out. Y our mother will have that and the house. That’s free and clear, you know, except for a three hundred dollarfirst mortgage.” Jimmy continued to stare at his finger-
“Of course,” he said presently, “we can sell the house and I can take Mother to town with me. I’d thought of that a little.” His voice trailed off uncertainly.
The banker laid a large paternal hand upon Jimmy’s knee.
“I’d think about that a long time,” he
“What do you mean?” asked the boy. “From what I know of your mother, Jim, I don’t think she’d want much to go to the city. Carpenterville’s been her home for a good many years. It’s— well, it’s about all she has left now. You’re not old enough to understandthat,maybe. But it’s my opinion that taking your mother to the city—uprooting her right at this time—would just about end her.” “That’s what Aunt Hat says,” Jimmy muttered.
“Well, I’d listen to your Aunt Hat,
Jimmy Blair raised his eyes to those of the man opposite him.
“That means I’ll have to stay here,” he stated dully.
“It does.” The banker nodded slowly. Jimmy shook his head doggedly. “There’s not a salaried job in this town, Mr. Perry—none that I could get anyway—that pays more than twentyfive dollars a week.”
The banker admitted this.
“I can’t see that,” said the boy morosely. “I’ve been earning pretty near four thousand.”
“Yes,” put in the man, “and spending most of it to keep up a front.”
“Most of it,” Jimmy agreed weakly. The banker paused.
“T TELL you, Son,” he finally began. “I A imagine I know about how you feel. Carpenterville don’t look very big to you just now. I don’t know as I blame you. You’ve gone and got yourself big city eyes. But maybe Carpenterville’s a bigger place on the map—and on your map, Jim —than you’d think for offhand. Besides, I’ve got an idea for you.”
“You have?” Jimmy was being polite. He really didn’t much care. Inside of him he felt all torn apart. Wrhy did problems like this have to be put up to a fellow? Why did life have to be all balled up this way? He couldn’t leave his mother now; he knew that. But how, how on earth, was he going to be able to give up Virginia—Virginia and everything she had come to symbolize during this last turbulent year? If only there were some way out of it, some way—!
“My idea’s this,” the banker was explaining. “You know old Jed Fisher? Well, Jed has worked himself up quite a retail creamery business—mostly buttermilk and print butter—covering this whole section of the county. He uses a horse and wagon, but my idea would be for you to use a flivver truck. Cover four times the territory. Well, Jed’s getting pretty well along in years, Jim, and those forty-quart cans are something of a chore to handle—”
“What’s he do?” asked Jimmy impatiently. “Doesn’t he peddle the stuff from house to house? I think I remember him. I don’t want to do that, Mr.
“There’s a whole lot of things in life we don’t want to do Jim, that we do, particularly when we’re responsible for somebody outside of ourselves.” .
Jimmy said nothing.
“Jed’s got a good trade worked up, Jim, and he’s willing to sell. It’s mostly good will, except for his contract with the Cuylerville creamery, but it’s worth quite a lot. He’ll sell, I happen to know, for six hundred dollars, asking price. He’ll take five. Now here’s what I’ll do, Jim. I’ll advance you the five hundred and I’ll advance you the first payment on a flivver truck—and the rest is up to you. But I’ll back you that much.”
“Yes,” said Jimmy wearily. “But I can’t see that it’s much of an opportunity, Mr. Perry.”
“You can’t, hey? Well, maybe it isn’t, but I’m willingtotakea little gambleon it if you are.”
That night Jimmy Blair began at least six different and separate letters to Virginia Westyn. But one by one he tore them up. What could he tell her? He didn’t know. He would try to tell her when he went back to the city to resign his job and get his things.
WELL, he had done it, and here he was at last—a buttermilk peddler, rattling up the road toward the Cuylerville creamery in a dusty truck that had seen many better days. Yes, he had done it—and that last day in the city had seared itself indelibly into his memory.
Resigning his job had been nothing. They did not seem surprised. They did not seem to care. Of course, Major Heshall had been decently sorry and had wished him luck, but scarcely another soul had been interested. There was always a long list of neatly pressed and well-spoken applicants waiting for such jobs. That was one thing about it, Jimmy reflected; if you were in you were in,but if you stepped out you were out, and the city moved on. Well, that was that.
But saying good-by to Virginia had been another story. He had told her that he couldn’t afford a party, so, and it was mighty decent of her, she had met him at the Ritz and they had walked up the street together and then over to her home. And there, seated side by side on a velvet couch, with satin hangings on the doors and an inlaid mahogany tea table before them, he had told her that he was leaving —perhaps for good.
Virginia, gorgeous as always, knew how to be sweet.
“But you’ll come back,” she insisted. “Everybody does.”
He shook his head in profoundest gloom. He would try to get down once in awhile, but for a time he would have to be very careful of every nickel. He laughed to make “every nickel” sound less doleful.
“Oh, I know!” Virginia informed him. “Daddy failed five years ago, and we had to economize like the devil for almost a year. We gave up all but one car and never opened the summer place at all that
summer.” She squeezed Jimmy’s hand. “Don’t think I don’t understand,” she said.
JIMMY told her what he was going to do—that is, he almost told her. He was taking over a big creamery business, he explained, and it would mean working about twenty-five hours a day.
“Isn’t that splendid!” Virginia cooed. “It must be so wonderful to be a man and accomplish things. I’ll never forget you, Jimmy boy,” she added.
After a while he stood up to go.
“Can’t you give me this one evening?” he pleaded, half wistfully. “I don’t start home till the midnight.”
“I'm afraid not, Jimmy dear.”
Just at that moment, as if with dramatic forethought, a maid entered the room.
“The telephone. Miss Virginia,” she announced “Mr. Conrad on the wire.” Jimmy gritted his teeth as Virginia excused herself.
' Conrad this evening?” he asked meaningly when the gorgeous girl came back.
“I’m sorry, Jimsy,” said Virginia contritely, shaking her fawn-colored curls. “If you’d only asked me before.”
“Can’t you break it?” he insisted.
• “Jimmy!” Virginia’s cornflower eyes opened wide. “You wouldn’t want me to break a date with you,would you? Then how could you want me to with anybody else?”
Somehow he managed to say good-by. Something had happened to Jimmy; he didn’t know what. He only wished that it was midnight.
WELL, and that was that. Jimmy laughed harshly as he swung his rattling flivver alongside the loading platform -of the Cuylerville creamery. Wei!—and this was this.
“Eight cans this trip,” he called out as a man’s head appeared in a doorway. “And I’ll be back for another load this afternoon.” He leaped out of the driver’s seat and into the building. Presently he appeared again, trundling the first of the big forty-quart containers.
“Gosh!” he grunted, as he heaved it aboard the little truck. “I don’t blame old Jed Fisher. Wonder to me he had any back left.”
Ten minutes later Jimmy and his flivver were roaring and bouncing down the road toward Carpenterville again. Casually he looked at his wrist watch. It was just quarter past seven—in the morning. But Jimmy grinned. The sun was warm and the leaves were green and the birds were singing by the roadside. And the earlier you got started the more milk
Îou sold, and the more milk you sold'— immy’s right hand straggled into the pocket of his blue overalls, and there sounded a pleasant jingling of small change.
Now he laughed again as he thought of the picture he must make—he, Jimmy Blair., in an old slouch hat and a faded brown flannel shirt and stained overalls, ploughing along as the captain of an exceedingly battered and foul smelling gas wagon, with eight tin cans bouncing and sploshing and gurgling in the back, and qn either side a sign, white letters on a black ground, announcing “Blair’s Buttermilk—Always Fresh.” He laughed, but he did not laugh harshly. After all, life could be worse.
BY THE first of July Jimmy had settled down to a steady schedule. Every morning he got up at five, and by quarter before six he would be away from the house. This brought him to the creamery by quarter past. Here he loaded and set
He had found a small boy who wanted to help him, half for the adventure of the thing and half for the sum of fifty cents a day. When they started to make deliveries the boy would take one side of a street and Jimmy the other, and Jimmy found that this method increased his day’s sales by at least a half. They would rattle into a street and stop, and Jimmy would jangle the old locomotive bell with which he had equipped his car, and straightway the people would swarm out; children with empty bottles, women with quart and two quart and gallon jars. And for every quart, a nickel, cash, went into Jimmy’s pocket.
He was doing a real business now. He had made a new contract with the creamery to take its entire buttermilk output; and as a side line he sold print butter and
honey. Jimmy disliked but.ermilk so much himself that he was always surprised to find out that so many people seemed to enjoy it. On Mondays and Thursdays he covered Tarryton, where he sold gallon quantities to the hotels. On Tuesdays and Fridays he took in Cuylerville itself and certain outlying towns. On Wednesdays and Saturdays he sold his wares in Carpenterville and the country to the south. And on Sundays he rested. He rested as if he had never rested before.
BUT the best time of all was at half past seven of a week-day evening when Jimmy would pilot his little’bus into the backyard of his mother’s house and kill the engine. Then, with the shadows long across the cool, sweet grass of the lawns, Jimmy would unburden his overall pockets of his day’s earnings, throwing bills and coins upon the worn stone kitchen doorstep.
His mother would help him then, and generally Mary Denison, and,side by side they would kneel and count, smoothing the bills out in neat thick piles, stacking half dollars and quarters and nickels and dimes. And Mrs. Blair would beam all over as they tallied the score, and little Mary Denison would literally jump up and down with happiness and excitement. For Jimmy was making money.
He paid sixty-five cents for a forty quart can. Out of that he sold thirtyseven quarts—three quarts were always lost—at five cents apiece. This gáve him a profit of $1.20 on each can. He was selling eighty-five cans a week now, and his profits, with his butter and all, were running over twenty dollars a day. Of course the car and its upkeep was coming out of that, but Jimmy was very well satisfied. In fact he had already arranged with his friend, the president of the bank, to finance a second car and a helper, on commission; for Blair’s Buttermilk was becoming known, and Cohoes and Elindale lay to the East.
But so did Montreal.
Jimmy Blair felt strangely guilty ábout Montreal; he felt, in fact, as if he were being disloyal. He must be lacking, somehow, in stability. For Montreal—and what Jimmy really meant was somebody in Montreal—was not so constantly in his mind as he thought it ought to be.
THEN, out of a clear sky, Virginia’s telegram came, and Jimmy found himself shaking as he read it. That was on July second. She was motoring through tomorrow, she informed him, on her way to her father’s summer camp that was in a little lake region forty miles or so farther on, and she would stop for him at two o’clock and pick him up and take him along for the week-end. Where should she meet him?
“Week-end!” Jimmy laughed. “Fat chance I’ve got, with the Friday and Saturday deliveries. Still I cán see her anyway.” He hurried to the telegraph office and wired his reply. He would be at the .Cuylerville creamery from one o’clock on. Jimmy smiled covertly at his choice of the Cuylerville creamery as a meeting place. Might as well let Virginia think the place was somehow his! Then abruptly he scowled.
Shucks! He’d promised Mary Denison to take her along on the route to-morrow. Mary enjoyed it so, just like a kid, and she’d been helping him a lot. Already she had lined up about half the housewives in Carpenterville as steady customers, and to-morrow she was planning to start in on Cuylerville. Well— he’d have to make some excuse and put it off. He’d tell her most of the truth, that he was expecting some city friends of his to pick him up along the road.
Mary looked at him quite steadily with those soft brown eyes of hers and said, “Of course, Jimmy. What does it matter?” But it made Jimmy feel as if he had cheated.
Jimmy cut his morning deliveries short next day and raced back to the house at noon to change his clothes.
“You’ll ruin-that nice suit,” his mother reproved him mildly. “And how can you handle the cans with that stiff white collar on, Jim? Won’t those city people notice you in your working clothes?”
“Oh, I feel better in these things!” said Jimmy lightly.
But he didn’t. As he drove back up the Cuylerville road, with his empty flivver rattling under him and bouncing behind him, he felt suddpn’y foolish, out of place, nettled. He, Jimmy Blair,
ashamed of the clothes he worked in! He wished hotly that he had left his flannel shirt and stained overalls on.
“If she doesn’t like ’em,” he informed himself, “she can lump ’em, that’s all."
HE REACHED the creamery at one and then he began to wait. One of the men there good-naturedly loaded his truck for him; and that again made Jimmy feel ashamed. He smoked a cigarette and looked at his watch. He smoked another, and another and another. He walked around, sat down,stood up, walked around some more. H° looked at his watch again. Great Scott—half past three! Two hours gone by, and those eight cans to be sold, quart by quart, before nightfall. Jimmy scowled.
AT TEN minutes past four a sleek Delft-blue touring car slid to a halt by the creamery gate. Somebody was peering out, a man and a girl, and the girl’s hand waved. Jimmy Blair ran out.
“Hello, Jimmy, old thing,” said Virginia. She was as gorgeous as ever, her fawn-colored hair fluffing out above a soft, fawn-colored motoring coat.
“Hello, Virginia. Gosh, it’s good to see you! Oh, hello, Conrad! How are you?” Jimmy extended his hand. It surprised him that his feeling toward this quondam rival was, for some reason, quite cordial.
“Hop in,’’the gorgeous girl commanded. “Where’s your bag? We’re two hours late now. Make it snappy, Jimmy.”
“I know darned well you’re two hours late,” Jimmy heard himself saying coolly. “But I can’t go along with you, Virginia —ean’t leave the job. I wired you that.” “Oh, forget it!” the girl directed petulantly. “You and your stupid old job! You make me sick. Come on—we’re going to have a great party. You know the gang.”
“Got a little of the old stuff on the hip, too,” Conrad volunteered pleasantly. “Here!” From somewhere beneath his feet he produced a quart bottle, half full. ‘.‘More where that came from,” he added.
“You tempt me,” laughed Jimmy, “but I can’t. I’m awfully sorry. I hope you didn’t misunderstand my wire, Virginia. I just wanted to say hello.”
“Well, if you can’t give up a blooming old job for me, I’d like to know what good you are anyway,” Virginia stated irritably.
“Can't you see I can’t?” Jimmy pleaded.
THEN suddenly he knew he was angry.
He found himself appraising Virginia almost indifferently. For the first time since he had known her, it occurred to him that she was a spoiled, selfish young person. Her nose, he now noticed, was a trifle wind-blown. It made him want to laugh. What a fatuous boob he’d been! Why, this girl’s world was as far apart from his as—he almost laughed aloud!
She was pressing her foot on the starter.
“I think you’re the most selfish thing I ever knew,” she said as the engine caught.
“I certainly am,” said Jimmy pleasantly. “I certainly am, from the ground up.” Virginia was throwing in the gears. “So long, folks,” Jimmy called. And they were gone.
Jimmy Blair walked slowly back to the creamery!
“Darn fool!” he was muttering. “Well, that’s the way life goes, I guess. Darned good thing.” He scowled. “And to think of me, old Jimmy Blair, falling for a chicken like that—yeh, falling and scraping my nose on the pavement. Why, put her up against a girl like Mary Denison— wait a second, now!”
HE SEATED himself on the splintered, sun-warmed boards of the creamerydelivery platform, and there, for perhaps ten minutes, he swung his legs and alternately frowned and grinned. Then he stood up. shook.himself, and stalked in to the office, where stood a telephone.
“Sell that sour old stuff to-morrow," he murmured cryptically. “To-day goes to profit and loss.” Then he called a Carpenterville number.
“That you, Mary?” he asked. “Say, Mary, wait for me—will you? I’ll be at your place in half an hour.”
Jimmy Blair made it in twenty-two minutes. On the way he rehearsed, over and over, just what he was going to say. He was going to tell Mary about being in the service, and seeing Paris and London, and getting big ideas, and being all cuckoo
and getting all balled up about life and its ramifications; and he was going to tell her —and Jimmy knew it now—that he had been in love with her all the time, which was a fact, and that he hoped—gosh, how he hoped!—thatshe’d let him hangaround and try to show her that he was just an ordinary guy who would try like the dickens to provehimself worthy to kiss the hem of her dress—or something like that, anyway.
But when he pulled up at the Denison house there was Mary at the top of the steps, sort of holding her hands together at her throat and staring at him with that funny question-mark look in her big brown eyes. And she was dressed in that brown and white checked thing that he liked so much, and her brown hair, all
fuzzing out around her face, made her look just like a kid, and the sunlight was throwing leaf shadows across her so that she looked just like the heroine in a play.
Jimmy Blair killed the engine, dead, and jumped out of his flivver and raced up the steps. How was it, now, that he had meant to begin?
Instead, he heard himself stammering, in a husky voice that didn’t sound like his own at all:
“Mary, kid look at meno, look at me, right in the eyes! Say, Mary, do you think you could manage to fall in love with a guy who knows he’s a damn fool?”
And then —now hadn’t he been a fool?-little Mary Denison was leaning against his shoulder and crying and he was patting her on the back.