Short Shift for Thrift
Pokey finds a Rummage Sale a new medium to Peter's heart— and purse.
NORMA PHILLIPS MUIR
"WHAT do you think of your old man, now?” asked Peter as he preened before the mirror. “If I could see you in the same position for two consecutive seconds I might be able to judge,” I remarked. “All I can see is a moving picture of a man in stripes.”
“Honestly, Pokey, do you like it?”
“It depends,” I temporized.
“What on?” asked my lord.
“The price,” I said.
“Sixty iron men,” said Peter, “and I ask you— feel it!”
“Don’t come near me,” I warned. “Don’t ask me to feel it. I’d be liable to try and sell it for a few dollars.”
“Now, Ruth,” he began.
“Ready-made or made to order?” I asked.
“The latter,” he admitted. I knew then there was no hope of taking it back.
“If you’d paid half as much for the suit and the rest for olive oil it would do you more good,” I said. “What you ought to wear is plaids—plaids or stripes going around—you’re too svelte for vertical stripes.”
“S’pose if you’d had the picking of it you’d have come home with something neat in polka dots,” he snapped.
“At least polka dots would be something definite. In this spiritually-striped creation they’ll merely think they are seeing a shadow between two poles.”
“Well,” said Peter cuttingly, “I’d rather throw a shadow like a pole than one like the side of a barn.”
And that ended conversation for the moment.
It really was a lovely suit, an Oxford grey with a broken hairline stripe in white. Peter looked stunning. The only trouble was that I wanted a new suit, too, and had had my eye on a Patou model in grey which, while I didn’t actually need it, called to me as a whangydoodle calleth to her young.
“What do I wear when I go out with Beau Brummel?” I said with cloying sweetness.
“My darling,” said Peter, shying from my delicate hint, “you look sweet in anything you wear. I am always proud of your appearance; in fact it was because I wanted to do you and our children justice that I purchased this suit.”
“Beside you the snake that turned Adam and Eve out of the garden was a guileless fish worm,” I snapped.
“Meeting adjourned,” stated Peter, as he removed the coat and vest and put them, with tender hands, upon the hanger.
“The reason we don’t go out oftener is because it takes you so long to decide what you’ll wear,” he remarked.
“That’s always a moving picture,” said Peter. “Have a look now,” and he gave me the momentary benefit of a full front view—“say, does it wrinkle across the shoulders?”
“Certainly when you twist your neck as though you thought you were a swan with a pivot,” I said in exasperation. “Stand still! Don’t hunch up your shoulders like that. Stand still!”
“Are you giving a monologue or are you admiring my new suit?” asked Peter belligerently. “I’m not a child to be yelled at.”
And he took on a pose with thumbs under the arm of his vest.
“I recognize Jo. Chamberlain, dear,” I said, beaming; “now try Napoleon, and after that let’s see you walk like Charlie Chaplin.”
“I thought you said the meeting was adjourned,” I just reminded him.
"^■EXT day I got Peter’s new suit out and looked at it in daylight. It certainly was a lalapalooza! “He’s simply got to wear a mauve shirt and purple socks and tie with that,” I decided, forgetting how mad I’d been about the price. Then, because I knew Peter would never buy himself a tie and socks and shirt to match, I began to think of ways and means. “Hurrah,” I cried as a bright idea struck me.
Pansy came on the run and skidded on the rug as usual.
“Pansy Evangeline,” I said, clutching the foot board of the bed to save myself from going down, “if you don’t learn to walk I’ll fire you.”
“Yessm’,” she grinned. “I’m gonna put gum on me boots; whatcha want?”
“Put the Bits in their carriage and go to the drug store for me, please. I want three packages of dye, one of mauve and two of purple.”
“So often the dark colors, diluted, don’t make pretty pastel shades,” I soliloquized as I rummaged through Peter’s drawers for a pair of whole white silk sox. I found them, and a pair of grey ones that had begun to look as though they had pernicious anaemia. Then I located two shirts, one plain and the other with dark blue stripes. “That blue’ll take purple sure, if I dip it in mauve,” I gloated, “so he’ll have a plain mauve and a mauve with purple stripes—two shirts as good as new.” Searching for the shirts, I located two silk handkerchiefs, a grey knitted tie and a faded silk muffler. I decided to clean up on any old thing that came handy.
Peter is so dark that purple and mauve look wonderful on him. It gives him a devil-may-care, gypsyish appearance which is most intriguing.
When I went to put his suit back in the closet I noticed that the silk dressing gown his mother had given him when we were married—a sort of Copenhagen blue brocaded affair—was looking rather draggled. So,
while Pansy and the twins were gone, I put it in the boiler with a little javel water and, by the time Pansy had arrived with the dye, the dressing gown had boiled out almost white.
T CERTAINLY had wonderful luck with them all. The socks, muffler, ties and handkies I left in a long time, and they came out royal purple, without a spot or smudge. The shirts took a wonderful shade of mauve—that soft sweet-pea shade, so lovely that I decided to have the dressing gown the same color. It “took” perfectly. I did the cord that went with it purple, and when everything was ironed and spread on the bed they looked like King Tut’s trousseau.
Unfortunately I had forgotten to wear rubber gloves and my hands looked as though mortification had set in. Of course Peter had to notice it.
“Ruth! what have you done to your hands?” he exclaimed.
“Nothing,” I said, looking at them, unconcernedly. “I’m cold, that’s all.” “Cold,” yelled Peter, “with the thermometer at 90 odd. If you’re cold you’re sick, and if you’re not sick you’ve been up to something. By the way, what makes you stop being cold just at the wrists?” “Will - power,” I said, quietly.
As a matter of fact I was sort of cold; only it was with nervousness. One never knows which way Peter will jump and I just began to wonder if he’d mind my dyeing his things.
“What sort of shirt were you planning to wear with your new suit, dear?” I asked, carelessly.
“I can’t make up my mind between a pink georgette embroidered in blue forget-me-nots, and a black one with red polka dots,” he said, clasping his hands in mock ecstasy.
“If you talked in public like you do at home, you’d be in exclusive possession of a nice room with bars for doors and mattresses for wall paper,” I announced.
“And if I, and the crowd at our wedding, had known you for what you are, I’d have been arrested for committing moral suicide,” retorted Peter. “How’s the score now?”
“You’re one up on me,” I said. “In five minutes I’ll even the scores. Come on upstairs.”
“What for?” suspiciously.
“I’ve something to show you,” I said mysteriously. “If you’ve been buying any more clothes . . .” he began.
“Let you’re Scotch mind rest in peace,” I said. “I haven’t been buying any clothes.”
We went into the bedroom and I shut the door. “First of all, bring me my bedroom slippers, will you, dear?” I asked, wishing Peter to open the closet door himself.
HE DID—threw it open and at the same moment the lower hinge of his jaw gave way. He stood there with his mouth open.
Before him, arranged on hangers, were the fruits of my toil.
He gasped, “Who’s dead?”
“Dead?” I cried.
“Isn’t somebody dead?” he demanded suspiciously. “Certainly not,”
“Sure the King’s all right?” he insisted.
“Peter, what’s the matter with you?” I begged.
“If nobody’s dead, who’s going to die?” he inquired;
“and if death isn’t hovering, what’s the idea of the funeral rig?”
“Funeral,” I reiterated. “Mauve isn’t for funerals. I thought it would look lovely with your new grey suit.” “Oh, you did, did you,” snapped Peter. “Well, if mauve and grey isn’t the accepted mourning, I’ll eat my shirt—not that one—I’d die of ptomaine if that ever got down my gullet.”
“Peter,” I sniffed. “I think you’re . . .”
“That’ll be about enough,” he said. “What I think of you wouldn’t go into anything but a dictionary without being banned. My gosh, Ruth, how’d it happen?” and he collapsed on the bed, which he knows he is never allowed to do.
“Peter,” I cried, “jump!”
“Yahyahaaa,” he yelled, leaping into the middle of the floor.
“Whasamatter?” he cried. “Whasamatter, I ask you?” “You were sitting on the bed,” I said coldly, “and besides, you were creasing that”—and I pointed to his new mauve brocaded dressing gown.”
PETER took one look. I waited to see what he was going to do, but was quite unprepared, for Peter, with a whoop like an Iroquois brave, fell face downward on the bed—on the dressing gown, and lay there, feet beating the air, shoulders racked with convulsive sobs.
“Peter, I didn’t mean to make you feel bad,” I began, tremulously, “don’t feel so awful, dear—I thought you’d 'ike it. Oh Peter,” I sobbed, “I can’t stand this —I can’t stand it.”
“Can’t stand what?” came Peter’s agonized voice.
“I can’t stand it to see a strong man torn with sobs,” I cried, dramatically. Then I caught my breath and felt my face getting red as Peter sat up on the crumpled dressing gown and wiped his streaming eyes.
He broke into another spasm of uncontrollable gasping mirth.
“All I need’s a crepe band and a top hat,” he gargled. “If I went out in those,”—a weak hand gesticulated toward the closet—“if I went out in those without a hearse in sight I’d be on my way to the booby hatch. Put a single rose in my hand and drape the living-room with these garments and you can collect my insurance. If . . .”
“Oh, put on a new needle, the record’s getting scratched,” I snapped. “What do you think I spent the morning over a hot dye bath for, and ruined my hands and—”
“Incidentally my entire wardrobe,” interjected Peter. “I can still play Pollyanna, darling, and thanks be to the gods you’re fancy isn’t for red!”
“Get off that bed,” I said. “I’m gonna get in it.” “Shut that door first, please,” said Peter weakly. “I couldn’t stand up with that staring me in the face. I think I’ll go to bed too—I’m not feeling very strong.” “I’m going to read,” I warned him, “and the light isn’t going out for ages and ages, so if it’s sleep you want you’d better go to the living-room.”
“Sleep nothing—I was given two new books today. I’m gonna read too,” he announced, and went for his books. When he came back up I was in bed.
He handed me a box of chocolates and the two books to look at.
“One’s a detective story.
I think I’d like that,
Pokey,” he intimated a moment later, but 'I had already read the first two pages, so I merely gave him a hurt look and went on reading.
'T'HERE was a' short silence, broken by a hoarse roar from Peter. I had entirely forgotten about his pongee pajamas which I had dyed mauve.
“Heavenly Hannah,” he shouted, dancing about with them in his hands. “Enough is too much sometimes.
I’ve even got to mourn in my sleep. I tell ya it’s all wrong. Somebody’s got to die to justify all this.
Where’s my purple underwear? When I mourns I mourns proper. Haven’t you any purple laces for my boots? What’s the matter with a purple hat1 band? How’d you miss my
panama hat; here’s a pair of grey silk gloves y’over-, looked.
“Peter ...” I pleaded.
“Didn’t your dye hold out till you were through?” he chattered. “How about decorating one room as a background for me—didn’t ya think of that?”
“Peter—” I tried, again.
“Use ditto marks,” and he began to throw everything out of his chifforobe onto the floor.
“Peter . . .”
“Have a record made,” he added, tersely. “I’m gonna see just how far this mauvomania has gone.”
“That’s all there is,” I said, faintly.
“There isn’t any more?” he said, sarcastically, stuffing things back, any old way. “Well—from now on I shall fear dyeing more than death.”
I had on a crepe, de chine nightie which I had tinted a heavenly shade, but when Peter went into the bathroom I changed it for a white one. As a matter of fact I had also done his bathing suit and changed it from scarlet to a rich plum color. But I thought there was lots of time for him to discover that.
We read a while and then put out the light. I was nearly asleep when, suddenly, Peter sat up in bed as though he’d been stabbed. Clutching me by the shoulder he gave vent to a blood-curdling yell.
“Police,” I yelled, thinking we were being burgled.
“Shut up,” hissed Peter. “Tell me this—did you dare to dye my golf breeks—the linen ones?”
“No,” I said. “But if you don’t forget it and go to sleep I’ll practise batik on them.”
“Just one thing more,” he said, relief in his voice. “You have exactly one day to get those out of my sight. Burn ’em, sell ’em, have a rummage sale—but don’t let me see them again.”
'T'HAT’S why I insist that Peter is to blame for the A whole disastrous affair. He put the idea in my head. If it had not been for him I would never have thought of it, but he did, and I did, and—it certainly was a soul-searing experience. I decided on a rummage sale.
The cellar was full of stuff which I knew would be of use to somebody, and I was sure that with the help of Betty and Marion I could make a little money out of the junk. On the wave of optimism I ordered the Patou model.
“We’ll have the sale in our garage,” I planned, “and instead of putting up any signs like they do outside churches, I’ll just advertise it in the announcements’ column of the woman’s pages. We’ll open it about ten o’clock; that will give Peter time to get away before the people begin to straggle along.”
I grew enthusiastic as I mentally arranged everything to my satisfaction.
After breakfast I telephoned the girls and invited them for lunch. By three o’clock even the most minute detail had been planned.
“What’s Peter think about it?” asked Betty.
“He’d have velvet kittens with cotton tails if he knew. Don’t you even breathe it to the boys.”
“Some day,” said Betty, “Peter’s going to carry out his threat and spank you. Bob says if you were his wife he’d be a gibbering idiot.”
“That would be painting the lily,” I remarked, sweetly, but Betty thought it was a compliment and, as I needed her help, I did not press the point.
“Having it on a Thursday morning means that we can meet here to mark the stuff on Wednesday night,” I said. “That’s Lodge night and Peter and the milkman arrive together. As we get the things marked we’ll sort them into various groups and arrange them on the plank counters in the garage. In the morning all we’ll have to do will be to sell ’em, take the money, and wrap ’em up.”
“It’ll be heaps of fun,” enthused Marion. “I’ll ask mother for the barrel of stuff she was saving for the missionary bale, and Aunt Ellen always has oodles of clothes that aren’t half worn out.”
“Several of the women at the church have stuff saved for the bale that was to be sent to China,” broke in Betty. “But I think charity begins at home. Poor people near us are certainly our first responsibility.” “Dare to be a Daniel,” I thought to myself, for I had told the girls all the horrible details of the straits to which were reduced the poor family in whose interest we were having the sale. I did know of such a family, too, and I intended that they should profit by the sale.
“Well, I guess everything is settled, isn’t it?” I said. “We are each to make out a bunch of ten, fifteen, twenty and twenty-five cent tickets, about twenty of each, ten fifties, ten thirties, ten forties and thirty fives. When you come next Wednesday night bring with you a paper of pins, scissors on a tape, and a ball of twine. I’ll provide the wrapping paper and pay for putting the ad in. Try to have the people send their stuff here before five o’clock. Don’t, whatever happens, let anything come after six.”
“Don’t open anything until we come, will you, Ruth?” pleaded Betty as they left.
“All right,” I promised, “and if there’s any little old thing any of us fancy, we’ll take turns in choosing. There are likely to be some things sent in that we couldn’t sell to the class of women who would come to a rummage sale—you know.”
SO IT was arranged—very simply, and easily. If I do say it myself I certainly have executive ability. Peter says I’m troubled with hind-sight, but I couldn’t think of anything I had overlooked.
Each of us three girls were to telephone ten friends and ask them to send us bundles not later than the day before the sale. I was to have the ad. inserted in the paper every day for a week, and then, all we’d have to do would be to let the people in and take their money. At least that is what I thought. I wished afterward that I had asked Peter’s advice about it but I knew he’d only raise a dust, and then, too, he had suggested it, so he couldn’t blame me past a definite limit. Of course I had to take Pansy into my confidence
“ Hully Gee!” cried Pansy. “I’ll take me afternoon off and invite me me mother and sisters and their bunch to be on the job fer the sale.”
I telephoned my quota that day and they all promised to do their best for me. Some promised articles of clothing only. Others made it clear that I was to accept anything they saw fit to send, and when the stuff began to arrive I nearly died.
Betty happened to be over for the afternoon when Mrs. Manson’s donation came and we nearly passed out at sight of the ton truck, apparently loaded.
“Old cat!” I said. “She’s taken this opportunity to clean out her cellar. Where in the name of goodness will we tell the man to put it? Peter’d see it in the garage.”
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“The cellar’s the only place,” giggled Betty, as the man placed an antiquated wicker cradle on the sidewalk, and grinned toward the house. “Put it all in the cellar. I’ll help you cover it or—something.”
“Something’s good,” I snorted. “My word, he’s got a melodeon and a platform rocker. I’m going to telephone that woman that we’re having a rummage sale not a junk collecting spree.”
Betty was rolling about the chesterfield in spasms of mirth, but I didn’t see anything funny in it. Peter might take it into his head to come home early. If he did we’d certainly be sunk.
It took the man half an hour to unpack.
Our lawn and walk looked liked a moving day in the foreign quarter. There were the articles I have mentioned, two three piece toilet sets which Mrs. Manson must have imported from the farm. One set was trimmed with bleeding hearts and pansies, the other with forget-me-nots and bachelors’ buttons. There was an old trunk hanging together by the giddy paper lining, and it was filled with a motley collection of clothes. There was a pink glass lemonade set, two silver condiment cruets, an eight day clock which had lost its memory and six flat irons.
“What I can’t understand is where the spinning wheel and the buffalo rug are,” I remarked to Betty. “She’s also forgotten
the old set of harness and a couple of sleigh bells. A horse block and a couple of mottoes are all we need to set up as a ‘Back to the Land pageant’.”
“That cradle, enamelled, and mounted on legs, would make a nice bassinette,” said Betty thoughtfully. “What do you think, Ruth?”
“I’m not interested in bassinettes,” I said, pointedly. “If you are, take it with my blessing. For myself, I think this old rosewood monstrosity could be made into a ducky spinett desk. What do you think?” “I’ve got a desk,” murmured Betty, absently, walking about the cradle; “take it if you like.”
“Guess I will,” I decided. “We’ll put them both in at fifty cents, Betty, and that’ll make the deal strictly honest.”
WE DID not have time to go through the trunk, but we decided to sell the toilet sets in three pieces, at ten cents a throw, making the lot worth sixty cents with the lids thrown in. After Betty had gone I discovered the soap dishes wrapped carefully in Mrs. Manson’s pink bathing suit. I marked them five cents and decided not to look any further. Betty had helped me and with the aid of two pairs of sheets we had been able to cover the entire exhibit. I trusted that Peter wouldn’t notice it at all. My trust was misplaced!
I was reading when Peter left the living room for a moment and didn’t hear him go downstairs. There was a sudden thud, and then a roar fit for the bull ring.
“Peter,” I hollered, rushing down, “what’s wrong?
“I’ve ruined a perfectly good knee cap,” he groaned. “What the Sam Hill are you playing? Morgue?” and he waved an angry hand toward the sheet shrouded collection.
“Oh, that—” I said airily, “that’s just a little surprise.”
“Well, it won’t be long,” he warned me. “Surprises in this house generally mean trouble. I’m not optimist enough to think this is an exception. Tell me what is under those sheets!”
“I won’t tell you,” I said, “and if you try to find out I’ll never forgive you, never. It isn’t ripe yet.”
“Asparagus?” he suggested, sarcastically, rubbing his knee. “You tell me what’s in the wind.”
“Can’t you trust me, darling,” I pleaded. “It’s just something I’m—I’m doing for you. If you know it’ll spoil it all.” I was doing it for him too—to save him paying for that Patou model I wanted.
“My heart says do, but my head hollers don’t,” stated Peter. “I think you’d better tell me, Ruth.”
“Very well,” I said letting my voice tremolo. “I’m having the kitchen redecorated, and this is the stuff—and now you’ve spoiled it all.”
“Bless you’re generous little heart,” said Peter, softly. “I’m sorry. By the way,” he added suddenly, “who’s paying for this surprise?”
“Why I am,” I sniffled. “I saved enough out of my allowance.”
“And all this time I’ve been thinking you were extravagant,” he said remorsefully. “Forgive me, dear.”
I bowed gravely and went toward the stairs. Peter took two steps after me, and then there was a sound of sudden revelry, a muttered cuss or so, and Peter went down with a thump on the cement floor.
“What’d I fall over?” he snarled, nursing his knee again and putting a tentative hand to his chin. “My knee cap’s bust and every tooth in my lower jaw jiggles. What’d I fall over?”
“You’re own foot, I presume,” I said coldly. “Control yourself and come upstairs.”
“That wasn’t my foot,” he protested, and before I could stop him he’d made a grab for something, and was dragging the cradle out to the light.
“That’s what I tripped over?” he said, kicking the rocker. “What’s that George Washington heirloom doing here?”
I just looked at him and he stared back and then looked silly.
“Gee, Ruth,” he said, “it isn’t—” “No,” I said, “it isn’t. It’s Betty, and, and—” I had to think quick. “She doesn’t want Bob to know but she’s having her great grandmother’s cradle made into a bassinette and enamelled white. The men are going to do it here when they do the kitchen.”
“Oh!” said Peter, flatly, “well, I’m glad she didn’t take a fancy to have her grand-
father’s sailing vessel done here, that’s all!’ ’ and he limped upstairs.
“What’d you go down the cellar for anyway?” I asked.
“Not for what I got,” he intimated, and closed the conversation.
I FOUND out later that he was going on a two day fishing trip with several of the boys, which would bring him home the day after the sale. I was so relieved that I won his heart by my plans for getting everything ready for him.
“That’s what you went down the cellar for—your tackle bag.”
“Mrs. Sherlock Holmes,” he grinned. “And then I forgot to get it.”
There was a moment’s silence in which I thought of the sale and of how Peter’s absence simplified matters.
“What are you planning to have?” asked Peter.
“Everything we can get in the way of clothes and—” I began and then stopped.
“What—?” he said, “I asked you what you were planning to have in the kitchen.” “Oh, yes,” I said, brightly, “I hadn’t really decided until I could consult you. What do you think?”
“I think you’re crazy,” he said. “One minute it’s all to be a surprise and the next you haven’t decided until you consult me.”
“That’s all right. No discrepancy there,” I said, coolly. “I have made all arrangements and planned to have it done as a surprise, but I was going to have you meet me and pick out the paper the day before the men come. I know how much to get.”
“I see,” he said, “and what had you thought of?”
“Well, I’d like that beaver board tiling up to four feet above the baseboard, and then paint the wall a soft green from there up.”
“Where’d the paper come in?” he suggested.
“Oh, the paper,” I said, “the paper— let me see—why the ceiling, Peter, of course.”
“And I was to meet you to pick out ceiling paper?” he asked.
“Yes, and the paint too, dear,” I said. “I wouldn’t think of getting it without you.”
“There’s something funny going on,” remarked Peter. “You’re drunk or delirious; come here ’til I smell you’re breath.”
“My breath’s my alibi,” I said going over to Peter.
Peter reeled to my dressing table and sniffed eagerly of my perfume.
“Good gosh,” he said, “what iß it?” “Cheese and Spanish onions,” I said. “I left yours on the kitchen table.”
Peter went out, muttering something about self defence, but I noticed in the morning that he had cleaned his plate.
TWO days later he went away, and that night the girls came over for the final work. The sale was to be the next morning and we had all the stuff to price, tag, and carry out to the garage.
“My eyes are dizzy,” I said, as I glanced at the kaleidoscopic collection in the cellar.
' “If colors and articles could talk, the tower of Babel’d be as quiet as an empty church in comparison,” said Marion.
“If these things could talk I bet we’d get enough gossip to start a scandal sheet,” I remarked. “I’ll bet that junk from Mrs. Manson’s could tell a pretty tale of humble beginnings.”
Betty and I confessed about the melodeon and cradle, but as Marion had failed to send over a chair which she had been given and which was discovered to be of genuine walnut, she didn’t have anything to say about our graft.
“For two cents I’d keep this picture frame and have a mirror put in it,” said Betty, gazing at an oil painting of Niagara Falls. *•
“Keep it,” I said, “but don’t ever put a match near it. There’s enough oil on it to make the Atlantic look like a mill-pond.’’ “Who painted it I wonder?” giggled Betty.
“Somebody’s mother,” I said absently. “Say, girls, these rag rugs Mrs. Manson sent are genuine B.C.’s.”
“What do you mean, B.C.’s” asked Marion.
“Before Congoleum,” I giggled. “Well —we’re done, praise be—nothing left but to carry the stuff out. We’ll get Pansy to help us.”
Pansy’s raving over the junk was worth
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an admission price. But we weren’t properly appreciative, as we were all tired.
“Don’t forget to set your alarm clocks, girls,” I warned. “We’re tired enough to sleep like Rip Van Winkle,” and with vows to rise early and be with me by half past nine the girls went home.
Pansy awakened me at seven-thirty. “S’time to get up, M’m,” she said. “I’ve got the coffee all perked and I made yuh some muffins to fortify yuh. Will yuh have bacon or marmalade?”
“Both,” I said, firmly.
By nine o’clock the breakfast was over and the twins bathed and dressed. Pansy had the dishes done and was ready for the children, and by the time the girls arrived I had the children and Pansy in the sunroom at the back of the house, where they could watch the fun.
“Isn’t it awful?” gasped Betty, as she fell in the house with her hat over one eye and her coat belt in her hand.
“I wish we had a man here,” whined Marion. “I don’t like the looks of things.” “If either of you could get sufficient courage to tell me the bad news,” I suggested, “I would be glad to get it over with.”
“Look out the front window,” said Betty. “It’s easier seen than told.”
1 RUSHED to the front window and beheld a mob of women, from the drive way to the road and spread across the lawn. Some were sitting on the verandah steps, and wore a grim, graband-get look which I hadn’t thought of as attendant upon a rummage sale.
“It certainly pays to advertise! There’s one thing sure, girls, we’ll have to keep cool. How about only allowing ten in at a time?”
“From the looks of them I’d say that was nine too many,” said Marion. “I wish it was over.”
“I’ll be door keeper,” I said, thinking swiftly. “You two can manage to serve ten if I keep the others back. Put a green pencil cross on your parcels Betty. Marion, you mark yours with red. I won’t let anyone out unless her parcel is marked. Pansy could help us later on and one of you girls rest and keep an eye on the twins. Shall we go now?”
When we appeared, a dull roar went up from the women and they surged forward as though we were royalty.
“The doors will open in three minutes,” I announced. “And ten will be allowed in at a time. They may only stay five minutes and then the next ten may enter.”
We managed to get in through the oneman entrance at the side of the garage, but they rushed us when they saw we were making for that door, and we just got in and got the door bolted.
“I'm scared,” said Marion.
“We’ve got to go through with it,” I said. “Just think how much depends on it for those poor needy souls.”
The girls took their places and I took mine, and precisely at ten o’clock I swung the door open part way.
“Just ten, please,” I said. “One, two, four—eight—twelve—get out you, can’t you count?—sixteen—seventeen—help!” I yelled, for those outside had swung the door completely back, and the horde descended upon us.
“I had that hat—let go. I tell you I had it,” called a raucous voice.
“Just try to make me!” came the answer. “I say, lady, how much for these?”
“Everything is marked,” I shrieked above the din. “Pay the sales ladies—get your parcels marked and pass out this way, please.”
“Ruth,” called Betty, “you’ll have to sell too; we can’t manage.”
“I gotta watch the door,” 1 called back. “Here you—didn’t I say to have your parcel wrapped and marked?”
“The lady said she didn’t have time,”, was the answer. T paid her.”
“Betty, did this woman pay for all these things?” I called.
“Not unless they’re wrapped and marked,” came the answer, and I fixed the woman with a glassy eye and took her casual collection from her to appraise it.
“Where are the price tags?” I moaned. “What did you do with .the price tags?” “Didn’t have none,” came the ready answer, “but that other lady said I could have the lot for a quarter.”
“Well, this is my sale,” I said, hotly, “and I think you and Saphira are now cousins. Why this silk dressing gown was
marked seventy-five cents, for I marked
“Here, where are you going?” I cried, turning as I felt someone pushing past me. “You’ve gotta pay for those things. Marion,” I yelled, “bring me the cash box and some change. You and Betty come here and help me and we’ll make them pay as they go out. It’s the only way. Betty, you take the left hand side of the door, Marion the right, and I’ll stand on this table and see that they don’t fill their pockets.”
“This is awful!” groaned Betty, fighting her way to me, “I wish—-”
“Help,” I shrieked, as the table tottered—“help—Marion, they’re going out the side door—snap the padlock!” Marion left the front door to secure the other, and with her went a portly female wearing an old straw hat of mine, and carrying Betty’s old fox muff.
“Come back,” I yelled—“hey—Winter and Summer-—pause a moment.”
SHE didn’t though, and as I leaned to shake a menacing fist at her the table went over. For a moment I knew what it would feel like to argue with a centipede whose legs were arms.
“Tell them Caesar shall not go forth to-day,” I cried as I shifted from shoulder to neck and from neck to shoulder.
Suddenly the women decided to omit the honors and let me walk. I went down to the floor with a thud, landing on one elbow and one knee. I heard a rip and, when I essayed to stand up, I felt something give. But I was too busy to pay much attention.
“Let me out!” I cried, shoving some hair out of my eyes. “Give me air.”
“Give ’er air, pore thing,” said a woman, who evidently took me for one of the bargain seekers—“She’s faint—give ’er air.”
“Give me liberty or give me death,” I giggled, as I reached the door.
“Orf ’er chump,” said the woman, pityingly. “No wonder—h’i never saw such a blinkin’ sale.”
“I feel funny,” said Betty, as I reached her.
“You’ll feel funnier yet, before this is over,” I prophesied. “You and Marion watch gap—I’m going to send for the police,” and I rushed for the house. “Pansy,” I gasped as I reached the sunroom, “telephone quick and tell the police to come here on the jump. Then come out and help. Hurry!”
“Yess’m,” cried Pansy, skidding to the phone.
I only waited to be sure the Bits were safe, then I ran back to the garage in time to advise Betty and Marion to let the woman with the two flatirons in her hand have them without paying.
The drive-way was a solid mass of seething female flesh, all with the scent of bargains in their noses—all intent upon reaching the Mecca of our humble garage.
“I’m glad it’s brick and not frame or we’d have a modern revival of Samson’s adventure in the temple,” I stated, as I watched a battle between a woman coming out and one going in. “As far as I can see you both have the right of way,” I said judicially, “but if one of you took a pace to the right and the other a pace to the left, you’d both have room to go forward.”
“Ruth, I don’t see how you can do it,” said Betty. “I don’t think it’s funny.” “Neither do I,” I said, “but there’s no use in making them mad; the police will be here soon and they’ll make ’em step lively and pay their accounts. What the Sam Hill’s going on at the side door?” Betty, Marion and Pansy guarded the other entrance and I ran to the side to find that two women were trying to force the door open from the inside by the primal method of busting the lock.
“Beat it to the front,” I hissed through the crack, “the entrance and the exit are twins.”
I was so excited I hardly knew what I was doing or saying. I was conscious of a deep thankfulness that Peter was away and need never know about the row. As I ran to the girls I noted that every house within sight had transformed its demure back windows into frames for faces. But before I had time to address the gallery my attention was claimed elsewhere.
ANEW note in the symphony of sound came to my ear. Above the dull din of the woman came the heart-stilling shrill of the siren, and the clang of the bell on
the fire-engine. It came nearer and nearer. Suddenly I seemed to be swallowed up in the noise. The women who packed the driveway were rudely pushed back while helmeted men in rubber coats surged through the crowd dragging heavy hose.
“Where’s the trouble?” called the foremost fireman, and before I thought I waved a hand toward the garage.
“Any one in there?” he asked.
“Not more than a couple of hundred,”
I said weakly.
He yelled. “Boys, get that other door open quick! . . .”
In a second they had swept us back and, with the hose aimed at the doorway, swung the doors wide open.
At the moment the doors opened the woman nearest the entrance caught sight of the fireman and the reels in the distance, and with a wild yell of “Fire” she threw the soap dish one way and Peter’s pyjamas the other and plunged out. There was a general stampede. Most of the women were not empty handed.
“There’s no fire,” I yelled, “but don’t let those women get away—it was the police we sent for.”
“Well, they’re on their way too from the sound of things,” said the fireman. “Here, fellows-—keep those women from getting away. I don’t know what’s up. but—”
New sounds began to seep through the general din; more clanging, and suddenly black helmets mingled with the red. A moment later there was a deep silence, as a big sergeant of police and the district chief of the fire department forced their way through the crowd and faced me.
“What is the meaning of this?" asked the district chief.
“That’s what I want to know,” echoed the sergeant.
“Count me in on the conference,” I said brightly. “You see—it is all this child’s fault, and I dragged Pansy forward. “We were having a rummage sale in the garage and the women became unmanageable. I told my maid to telephone for police aid—and here you are. That’s all.”
“Is that so?” asked the district chief. “Well, someone sent in a general fire alarm as well as one for reinforcements of police, and we’re all here.”
“I’m sure that’s very kind of you,” I said. “I-”
“Ruth,” came an agonized voice from within the garage, “send those men away and help me. Betty’s fainted or
THE sergeant and I stepped into the garage and then the sergeant stepped quickly out again. Marion, her eyes wild, her hair hanging about her face, met me in the door way. Evidently Marion and Betty had been caught in the stampede. One of Marion’s sleeves was gone entirely; the other hung from the shoulder; one stocking was hanging about her ankles. Behind her Betty was draped across the table, shrieking with hysterical laughter.
“Shut up and get up,” I said. “This is no time to be funny.”
“Funny?” said Marion. “Funny! Merciful heaven!”
“Certainly it’s merciful,” I said. “You might have lost your other sleeve.” Suddenly I stopped—I heard a voice, and turning swiftly I caught one glimpse of Peter’s ashen face as he forged through the mob.
“The jig’s up,” I said dully. “In a moment or two I might have thought of something, but now-—Peter’s here.” “I wish he’d never gone away,” moaned Betty.
I gave myself one swift downward look and approvingly appraised my ruin. I could feel my hair straggling about my face, my skirt was torn, one sleeve was missing, and one arm was bleeding where I had caught it on the nail which ripped my sleeve off.
I heard Peter cry: “Are my wife and children saved?” .
“No lives lost, sir,” said the chief ironically.
I burst out of the garage, and threw myself into Peter’s arms. Then I winked pleadinglv at the two men.
“Ruth, my darling,” said Peter tremulously.
“There, there, dear, I soothed. “Everything’s all right.”
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“How did it happen?”
“Such a simple little thing started it,” I said, “but Peter, let us dispel this rudely gazing throng.”
Peter gazed at me gravely for a moment and then I saw suspicion dawn in his eyes. He turned to the chief and the sergeant. “Can you tell me what has happened?” he asked civilly. “My wife seems to be unstrung.”
“Undone would be nearer right,” I muttered.
“Just a misunderstanding, sir,” said the sergeant. “These women tried to pull a bit of rough stuff at your wife’s rummage sale, and she sent for some police support. Some way the lines got mixed and there was a general fire alarm sent in, too. We arrived just in time to prevent the women getting away without paying for their goods. No damage done.”
Peter passed a hand over his eyes. Betty and Marion staggered out of the garage.
“Sacred Susie,” he gasped. “Are there any more in there like those?”
“No,” said Betty, faintly, “we’re all there is.”
“I’m thankful for small mercies,” intimated Peter. “Ruth, could we go in the house and have a little dish of conversation?”
“Business before pleasure, dear,” I reminded him. “Girls, did anybody pay for anything?”
“Not a copper so far,” said Marion in a still hollow voice.
“Who’s got the cash box?” I asked. “Search me,” said Betty. “I lost everything but my mind in the first ten seconds.”
“Ruth!” began Peter.
“You do a fade away for a few minutes,” I said concisely. “You haven’t any right to be here, anyway, busting up my sale.”
“Somebody’s blooey and I’m not it,” stated Peter. “Say”—turning to the
Police and Fire departments—“can you help me get this mob outta here?”
“Not with our stock,” I objected. “Listen, make them go through the garage—in one door and out the other and deposit their ill-gotten gains. If you could put an officer at each door,” and I smiled at the policeman, “they’d be afraid to take anything with them, and they could just pass through and out that side gate to the other street.”
“Splendid!” said the policeman. “You go in and rest, ma’am; we’ll see that they don’t get away with anything.”
PETER shook hands gravely withjthe two men and stalked ahead of me to the house. Betty, Marion and Pansy brought up the rear.
“Peter, wait, and it’ll look like a wedding procession,” I pleaded, but he gave me a nasty look. Suddenly he saw the gallery of neighbors. He almost ran to the house.
“Hey,” I called, suddenly. “The woman tenth in line has a lot on under that dressing gown!” The policeman grinned and spoke persuasively to her.
“Now, girls,” I said when we were inside, “I’ll order a taxi for you; you’re too young to hear what’s on the program for me. Call me up to-night. If you don’t get an answer try the hospitals, and if you don’t locate me there, order your wreaths. I’m going to join my husband in the study.”
“I’m just about fed up with t uis sort of thing,” said Peter.
“I’ll go you one better—I’m entirely fed up,” I said brightly. “Now suppose--”
“Suppose you answer my questions,” said Peter.
“Suppose you remember that in British law every one is presumed innocent until proved guilty.”
“I don’t require further proof,” said Peter. “My eyes—•—”
“Look a bit glassy,” I said. “These fishing trips . . . now you listen to me. You started this thing. You bought a suit. You didn’t like the shade of the accessories I provided; you told me to burn them, give them away or have a rummage sale. I merely obeyed you.” “Sufferin’ Saints,” yelled Peter, “I didn’t mean it. Not literally.”
“A babbling tongue is a bane and a trap for fools,” I said.
“Caught one this time,” stated Peter, impartially. “May one ask to whom the proceeds were to go?”
“Tô a needy family,” I said; “at least mostly.”
“What do you mean mostly?” asked my husband.
“Well, I ought to have some compensation for my trouble,” I said.
Peter looked at me sternly. I knew it was time to do a little weep.
“I didn’t mean to do anything wrong,” I sobbed.
Peter was adamant.
“And I was going to use my share to replace the things I dyed,” I sniffled.
“And—and I got a beautiful rosewood melodeum for fifty cents-—and a steel casting rod for ten,” I added, and then broke down entirely.
“Where is it?” asked Peter putting his arm around me.
“W-w-what,” I asked tremulously.
“The rod,” he said.
“On the bookcase,” I said, and as Peter turned to get it I began to sob harder.
“What’s eating you now?” he asked, twisting about to see the rod.
“I can’t be happy when you’re mad at me,” I said. “I did it all for yoù, and it wasn’t stuff for the kitchen down
cellar—it was—the rummage sale—and I’m so miserable.”
PETER comforted me and forgave me and I dried up gradually as I saw his satisfaction in the rod.
“There’s no damage,” I hiccoughed.
“ ’Sail right, I tell ya, ’sail right,” soothed Peter, “there isn’t a thing wrong with this rod, kid.”
“ ’N I thought maybe I’d have enough left out of the sale to buy me decent suit,” I said, drawing a last sobbing breath.
Peter dropped the rod and took me by the shoulders.
“After this when you want anything, you tell me, see? Don’t try to earn the money, or steal it, or—or anything you might think of that no other human being ever would. Just ask me.”
“Yes, Peter,” I said meekly, “I’m asking you now. I want a Patou model suit.”
Peter threw up his hands, and then he stared hard at me.
“Have you got it?” he asked.
“I have,” I said. “That is . . .”
“You may,” he said.
And that’s that.