The Return of Peter and Pokey
L' Enfant Terrible returns to the slaughter with a new set of capers disturbing to the sharks of the great open spaces
NORMA PHILLIPS MUIR
IF PETER hadn’t forgotten the fundamental difference between being a bachelor and having a wife, twins, a maid and a pooch, life wouldn’t have become so suddenly complex.
But he did and it did, although when everything was over we agreed that all’s swell that ends swell.
When I got off the train at the junction of a milk can and a telegraph pole and saw' Peter and Sam, our temporary factotum, gathered with our junk at the river, I suddenly knew that life held a new experience for me.
“Kiss me again, dear,” I pleaded. "I’ve a feeling that by bedtime wre may not be on speaking terms.”
"If ya watch your step we’ll be okay,” Peter said menacingly. “And if ya don’t Anyway, here’s the general idea.” "Looks like general debility to me,” I groaned.
“If you’re goin’ to start wisecrackin’,” he began.
“If I’ve got to be serious about what the near future holds, you’d letter start for a booby hatch with me right now,” I told him. “Have you named the boat yet?”
“No, nor the point nor the separate planks nor the gasoline stove,” he snapped. “Think we’ve had nothing to do but go into committee on christening? Think if we name the cussed stuff and tell it what to do, it’ll obey? Think if we number the boards from the right, they’ll hop to it and form a raft all by their little selves? Think—"
“It isn’t catching, Sam,” I interrupted. “Yell ‘Here, here’ once in a while and you and the Czar here will get along fine.”
“That'll be enough,” decided Peter, glaring at me. “Ha-ha and ho-ho.” I told him; and I w-ent and sat on a rock and sang “Beautiful Isle of Somewhere” until Peter came and smothered me with a pillow à ia Othello.
r I '’HERE is narrative nourishment in the next few hours, but I prefer to diet. It is sufficient to say that when the moon came up we were under canvas, under fed, and under no delusions about our respective dispositions, present or future. Our supplies were covered with tarpaulin and we were covered with blankets. Nothing mattered.
“In a coupla days everything should be running smoothly here,” Peter said complacently next morning, his stomach full of bacon and eggs, toast and coffee. “Then I’ll go fetch Van and the missus
“And leave me alone?” I asked with ominous quiet.
“Just for one day and night, dear, and after all—” “After one solitary day and night in the great open spaces, you can stop with your offspring at one of the institutions for the mentally afflicted and watch me do the nance of the dymphs,” I said. “Forty days and nights could
not do more to me than one. so write for your reservation now and advertise for a housekeeper who’ll be kind to little children. Get me a room with a southern exposure, for I’ll have the shivering jitters. Get the attendant to put in a monkey and spray the place with essence of burned cabbage, so I won’t miss the skunks. Buy him a dictionary so he can learn the word ‘efficiency’ and make me feel at home. Give him a raspberry and I’ll have the rash—”
“Fer cat’s sake, will ya shush,” he hollered. “Whatcha think you are? A broadcasting monologuist? A matured woman working up a temperature over one night in an electrically lighted, modem camp, not half a mile from human contacts—”
“Ya, but half a mile’s a heckuva jump, even for a champeen,” I told him.
“Who’s talking about jumping championships?’’ he howled. “Who knows what we’re talking about? We won’t discuss it. I ’ll give you gin pills and paregoric and laudanum on sugar, and you won’t know I’m gone until I’m back.”
Peter began to look like apoplexy, so I dropped the matter and suggested a lesson in motor-boating.
“You gotta get the theory first, to work it intelligently,” Peter explained.
“I don’t want theory and intelligence, I want speed. Show me the starter, the brake and the accelerator, and that’ll be plenty.”
“I oughtta have known it was plenty when I was introduced to you,” roared Peter. “If I’d known then what I know now—”
"Make it double,” I said. “I’ve learned a lot since I gave up my desk droop for a sink stoop, and my salary for a sappy little budget box. I’d like to rent Dorothy Dix’s desk just for one day, and what I’d tell romantic youth about cooking three meals a day for life, bringing up twins, smoothing sheets and tempers and wiping shaving soap splashes offa the bathroom mirror every daymy gosh!”
Anyway, I draw' an asbestos and soundproof curtain over the ecstasy of learning to run a motor boat. It is sufficient to state that I did it, and that at the end of the seventh day Peter and Sam departed for the city and left me alone.
“You can run us over.” Peter said.
“You can paddle, swim or sink, and see if I care.” I told him. “I’ll not run you over and have you bellowing last thoughts about departing from the observation car. I ’ll go over later and bring the canoe home.”
So they left, and, while Peter didn’t say much, I knew I had him worried, for when he pushed off I was sitting in the geometrical centre of the clearing, my hair done à la Pocahontas and with his rifle across my knee. You know— pioneer stuff. Keeping the camp safe for Sunday, etc.
That day dragged, after all the excitement of the past week, but I ate early and often, went in for a dip, read, took the Tut-Tut out for a trial spin and got back without
running it on a rock; then decided I’d go to bed early and read.
TT COULDN’T have been more than ten o’clock w'hen I
put the light out and wrapped my feet lovingly about I key—the hot water bag I take to bed on chilly nights. Certainly it was only half after eleven when I awakened suddenly w’ith an uncanny feeling that all was not well in Ronald’s Renting.
I held my breath; and then I nearly bit my tongue in half to keep from yelling, for a circle of light suddenly began to play on the wall of the sleeping tent and I knew that I had company. Gandhi, the pooch, slept soundly beside the bed, and it was only by kicking I key out so that it landed on him that I managed to waken him. I shoved my feet into shoes and grabbed the rifle. I shimmied to the flap, untied it with icy fingers and stepped outside, Gandhi beside me.
I was right. We weren’t alone. On the rock we used for a landing-place, silhouetted against the sw'eep of water, stood what apparently was the figure of a man, his flashlight playing carefully over our clearing. Gandhi growled menacingly, and at that moment the flashlight picked us out. I swung up my rifle and fired.
My gosh! If you coulda heard the holler! The next instant the intruder took one flying leap backward, out of range of the spit of flame from the rifle, and hit the water with more force than finesse.
I yelled, too, and ran. Inconsistently, I grabbed the life belt from the bough w'here Peter had hung it, and threw' it at the splashes. There w-ere a few more glub-glubs, and then the figure began to make for shore.
“Don’t try to land,” I yelled, raising the rifle again.
“I’m—I’m—” The figure clung to the side of the rock and I turned my flashlight on it.
“My sainted Susie,” I screamed, and then I made a beeline for that rock and tried to haul out of the water the wife of the New' York representative of Peter’s firm, Mrs. Vanasterisk Gibbons, for whose gracious presence we had planned so luxurious a camp.
“I guess that’s tom it,” I worried as, sprawled on my tummy. I got one arm under her shoulder and the other under her middle as she came broadside of the rock. “I’ll pull and you heave.” I said brightly. “I didn’t know you were coming, and I never thought of you when I saw the pants. Maybe if you’d swing out a bit and gimme a leg hold, I could pull you up,” for she was acting as though she was a suction pump that’d been hollow w'hen it hit the water. “Come on, don’t stick around looking for Excalibar,” I said, getting winded but showing her that I knew my classics. “This isn’t an arm clothed in w’hite Samite, mystic and wonderful; it’s Peter’s pyjama coat, with me in it. Are you coming out, or shall I join you?” I tried to be nonchalant and to remember that I was a lady, but she wasn’t
trying to help herself a bit. She actually acted as though she had a grievance.
Finally I managed to get a good hold on her wrists, and I wrapped one leg -mine—about a handy stump and pulled. She screamed and chittered at me like a monkey who's lost his cocoanut, but I didn’t have any wind for conversation. I just keel-hauled her up the side of that rock, and when she was safe I plopped down beside her, breathless and more than a little angry.
“What did you shoot at me for?” she asked furiously, as she rubbed soothing hands across her diagram.
“What did you sneak up on me in the dead of night for?” I asked back.
“You knew I was coming,” she cried.
“Eventually, but not now,” I said. “If you hadn’t had pants on, I wouldn’t have shot at you.”
“I sent you a message that I was being driven as far as Martin’s Landing and would paddle the rest of the way,” she said. "If Van hadn’t given me explicit directions I’d never have recognized the point.”
POR a minute I didn’t say anything, then I suggested that we go up to the tent, get into dry duds and have a hot drink. I thought a lot, though. How was it that Van. her husband, who was supposed to be coming up for the first time with Peter, able to give her directions so explicit that she could find the place at night with only a halfhearted moon to help her? There was something funny about that. Van, according to Peter, was not only thè representative of the company in New York but pulled down a fat retainer every year for acting as legal adviser to a big real estate firm. Yes, decidedly it had a snoof.
“If I’d known you were such a little thing,” Mrs. Van began next morning, and I think she just stopped short on the word ‘pudge’, “I would have tackled you when you threw that rifle up. But in the dark—”
“And if I’d seen your feet first, I’d never have had the strength to fire.” I giggled. “Gee, wait till Peter pipes ’em.” For she was wearing sandals without stockings, and her toe nails were glassily scarlet; the exact shade of the ribbon she wore with girlish abandon about her blonde head.
“If high hats are in, I can raise my crown,” I muttered later, as she talked about her frock from Tappé and her cuçtom-built beret. Then she spoke of her penthouse.
“We don’t raise pigs ourselves,” I said seriously; “we buy our chops and sissages.”
She lopked at me funnily and changed the subject.
"I suppose you own this point?” she asked.
“We considered building this year,” I evaded, “and then we thought it would be fun to camp for a season.”
“Ra-ther,” she agreed. “Being at the union of the two main channels, all the boats have to pass quite close, don’t they? Is there any golf course near by?”
"Not yet, but I heard Peter ...” I stopped suddenly, and did some fast thinking. “I heard Peter say that if a golf course were possible, this would be the logical answer to the question of week-end motor trips. Too bad there is so much rock, it isn’t feasible.”
I was watching her narrowly, and I thought she looked crestfallen.
“Still one can always play at the country clubs. And up here the bathing, boating and fishing, the great open spaces ...”
“Where men are men and mosquitoes know their onions,” I interrupted, laughing.
“That’s what I tell Peter—that a cultivated course up here would be as incongruous as beach pyjamas in Iceland.
“When I’m not scared to death by being shot at first.”
I ignored that and asked if she was fond of fishing.
“No, but Van adores it,” she said. “I just can’t bear to put the poor little worms on a hook, and when Van lands a fish and hits it
on the head I scream. Positively. It nauseates me.”
“That’s the way I feel if I eat salmon sandwiches and bananas,” I said. “Guess I’m callous, for I love fishing. And the fish we get up here!” I lied. “ ‘Lunge and bass and pickerel and minnies . . . But no sharks. You can depend on that.”
She beamed as though she’d made the fish. “Ruth,” said I to myself, “there’s a chocolate-colored gentleman loitering near the wood pile. There’s dirt in Denmark, and all is not well along the Hellespont.”
“Wasn’t it lovely, driving right to the water’s edge at Martin’s Landing and just paddling ofï?” I enthused.
“Perfect, utterly perfect,” she said; and then I knew she lied, for you can’t get a car within half a mile of the water at that point.
She suggested a nap that afternoon, but I went for a run in the launch. Something moved me to go up the outer channel and drift for a while. I saw her scouting about the place as curious as Pandora, so before I came home I decided to see Mr. Jackson, who owned the point, and have a bit of chatter with him. Later, at supper, she suggested a run into Sharbot as she wanted to wire Van for a larger flashlight.
“Suits me,” I agreed. “I’ve got to send a night letter to Peter about supplies.”
nrilE run in was delightful, although nothing happened except the scenery. When we reached the general store my girl friend sent off her wire, leaving me to send mine while she gave the town the once over. I bought bait and steel wool and wieners—and then it happened. There was only one sheet left on a pad of blanks, and Imogene’s pencil must have been very sharp for her message had cut into that sheet as plainly as though she had used a carbon.
“Everything okay spring water wonderful fishing
and bathing stop located clearing for flying pills rush it
“She oughtta used a cipher or a dither or something.” I soliloquized. I wrote my message on a new pad, and had it finished and on the wire before she got back.
I gave her the bait to carry, hoping the worms would get out and smear themselves all over her, but when she pleaded to steer Tut-Tut I hadn’t any logical reason for refusing, so I agreed.
The water was plenty deep enough at the wharf for the big boats to come in. but the channel was not very wide. Because it had suddenly become shallow near the oposite shore, it had been dredged and a cement retaining wall had been erected.
I left her in the stem and tried to start the engine, but it developed temperament and several efforts netted me nothing but a sceptical expression on my guest’s face. We had drifted away from the dock by this time and were almost in midstream.
“Are you sure you’re doing it right?” she asked sweetly.
“Are. you sure you can steer us away from the wall if she does start?” I countered.
She shut up. and Gandhi gave me a sympathetic look and sat down beside me.
I kept on trying, and suddenly the motor caught, and after that things happened quickly. We were headed straight for that cement wall.
“Tum it.” I yelled. “Turn it, you idiot!”
“We’re going to hit,” she hollered, standing up and dropping the rope. “Stop us! Turn us off!”
“Pull on that rudder rope, you fool!" 1 shrieked as I bent and switched the engine off.
It was too late.
We hit that rock wall like nobody’s business, and the air about us thickened suddenly as Gandhi described a perfect parabola in the air, followed by the cheese, the bait and the wieners. There was a wild screech and an awful splash, and when I lifted my head to see whether I was in heaven or Muskoka, it was to see Gandhi, wearing a hurt and surprised expression, on the back seat, and Mrs. Vanasterisk Gibbons coming gracefully up from the bottom of the channel.
"Once,” I said to myself, recollecting that she said she could swim.
“H-help,” and she bubbled down again.
“Twice,” I giggled ; but when she came up again and I caught the stark terror in her face I went suddenly cold.
“Help.” she cried feebly, and if she’d been in a pool of cream she’d have had butter churned in about three minutes, the way she thrashed around. I suddenly realized that if she went down again it would likely mean a coroner’s inquest and what not, so I reached over the side and grabbed her by the hair.
Did she yell? Well, call it that, or caterwauling, or what have you. It was anything but close harmony, and the louder she howled the more joy it gave me to edge her along the side by that taffy-colored topknot of hers.
A boat had put out from the dock, and I managed to prevent her capsizing the launch by keeping her hair at arm’s length until the skiff came close enough for the man in it to stretch an oar from the skiff to the gunwale of the launch, and she clung to that.
“You get over to the other side of the launch and keep it balanced, and I’ll help the lady in,” he offered.
I did as I was told, and tried to look worried while he struggled with her. Finally he forgot she was a lady and grabbed her by what on a gentleman would have been the slack of his pants, and hoisted her into the boat and let go.
For a while she just lay there and glared and gargled, then she sat up and began to tell me off.
“Just a minute,” I interrupted her fluency. “If you’d have drowned, it would have been your own fcx>l fault. You don’t know the difference between a rudder rojx* and the painter, and it was the painter you were trying to steer with. See? Now lay off the recriminations and find yourself a seat.”
SHE went to Ixxi as sixm as we got back to camp, and I wasn’t long in following her. Cares that infested the day failed to slop over into the night, but next day we both knew what it felt like to be marooned with a bitter enemy, and I was glad there wasn’t any prussic acid in camp. I could have ground up the glass from the olive bottles, but she wasn’t worth the bother. So we ate together, and read, roamed and reviled in secret.
About nine o’clock that night she declared for bed, and soon afterward the camp wfas dark and silent. But not for long. Slumber was ripped into violent awakening by a wild salvo of honks, yells and whistles, and we hit the fkxjr at the same time.
“I-Indians?” chattered Imogene interrogatively.
“S-sounds like M-murdering Manchurians,” I stuttered. “Let’s get outta here, quick.”
Continued an page 43
Continued from page 13
We plunged out of the tent, and were immediately caught in a headlight beam which picked us out from the opposite shore.
‘‘Good gravy, it’s the boys!” I gasped, waving a feeble arm. “Do you suppose we gotta go over for them in the dark?”
“With their headlights and the light on the launch—” she began coldly.
“And your experience and Gandhi’s instinct,” I added. “Oh, well, let’s get going.”
We put coats over our pyjamas, got the Tut-Tut into action, and the first thing that adenoidal moron did was to turn the light so far she dislocated the cord and left us in the dark. And the boys’ headlight was no good as a shoal protector.
“Guess it was loose from the jar of yesterday,” she said.
“Say, sister, if ya wanta go home whole, you’ll keep quiet about running us into that cement sideboard,” I told her. ,
“Are you threatening me?” she asked.
“Nope, I’m just telling you,” I said.
Anyway, for gall, wormwood, epsom salts and beer bitterness, nothing can be compared with that night. We turned off the engine and decided to row. Imogene got excited when it thundered and lost her oar, and we were an hour and a quarter reaching that beautiful shore where our frothing husbands awaited us.
"If you’ve any complaints, put them in writing,” I said succinctly as we grounded. “In the interests of peace and purity I’m not talking tonight.” And I didn’t, though Peter got nasty in our tent, and the Gibbons gibbered in theirs.
Next morning the Gibbons took the canoe and went for a paddle, while Peter and I worked.
“How do you like Mrs. Gibbons?” he asked.
“Like strawberry rash or ptomaine,” I said.
“Say on,” I interrupted him. “but don’t mumble sweet nothings about that hussy.
I shot at her the first night and missed. Two days later I tried to drown her, and if she doesn’t go home tomorrow I’ll chase her to Haileybury and back.”
“They’re on the make,” I told him, but he was furious with me for even suggesting such a thing, and as I’d had enough war for awhile I let it drop.
But it bounced up again in about fifteen minutes. The Gibbons arrived back in camp about that time, and they were furious.
“What do you know about Jackson, the fellow who owns this point?” Van asked Peter.
“Decent old rube,” said Peter through his pipe.
"Decent old skinflint!” snapped Van. "What’s the trouble, old chap? How’d you happen to have a run in with Jackson?” asked Peter.
Suddenly he looked at me, and I just grinned.
“Well -uh—you see, Imogene and I fell in love with this point and we thought we’d like to—ah-acquire it. We paddled around to Jackson’s place—”
“How’d you know the way?” I asked. “How’d you know Jackson owned it?” “We—we passed a boat and asked, and they knew,” Van lied.
“How fortuitous,” I said. “You didn’t think to ask us about Jackson, or if we’d planned to buy it, did you?”
“Well, we’d fallen in love with it and—” “All’s fair in love and war,”I laughed. "Not that it matters. Peter hadn’t thought of buying it, had you, dear?”
“N-no,” stammered Peter. “But still. Van, it seems to me the decent thing would have been to find out what our plans were.” “I just never thought of it that way,” Van said. “Sorry, old chap. Anyway, we’ve nm into a sort of snag.”
"Has Mr. Fortman changed his mind?” I asked.
"DETER and Van both whirled on me. and Van went a sort of pea-soup green, while Peter opened and closed his mouth like a fish on a dock.
“Your mouth is open, dear,” I told him gently.
“What do you know about Mr. Fortman?” asked Peter.
“Why, nothing much, except that he had been making enquiries for a site suitable to build a hotel on; some place where boats
J would pass.” I looked at Imogene. “A place with a clearing which might be developed into a not-too-rough golf course.” “B-but,” yammered Peter.
‘‘This point was suggested to a Mr. V. Gibbons, who said he was acting as Mr. Fortman’s agent—or so I was informed,” I said. ‘‘Naturally I concluded that Mr. Gibbons was looking after Mr. Fortman’s interest in the matter.”
Peter looked Van in the eye, and Van ; sort of wilted.
‘‘You louse," said Peter earnestly.
“Why, Peter, I’m surprised at you,” I said. “You and Mr. Gibbons are friends.” “I suppose I am correct in surmising that our real estate department doesn’t know anything about this little deal?” asked Peter quietly.
“Well, and why should they?” asked Van insolently. “I’m not tied hand and foot to your firm, Ronald.”
"You can take it from me you’re not tied to our firm at all,” Peter told him. “Any hijacker who tries to slip a fast one over on us like that—acting as our representative and deliberately planning to put through a deal on the side—Fooey!”
I had been backing away, for at the edge of the clearing I had seen a stirring and I knew there was business for me to attend to. In about ten seconds I was in the woods, and Mr. Jackson and I were in conference.
“He won’t do it, Mrs. Ronald,” he said. "Five is his limit.”
“He’ll do it and like it,” I said grimly, “Get seven-five, and you can keep twofifty of it.”
“That’s final,’’ I said. “I know what I’m doing. Wait half an hour or so, then paddle : around or come in your put-put.”
It was a long half hour. The Gibbons were packing, but not too fast. Pete didn’t want to talk to anybody, but Gandhi and I went sorrowfully about the business of getting lunch, for which no one had any appetite but me.
Then Jackson put-putted into sight, and in his eagerness Van almost fell into the water.
"Well, well?” he asked impatiently.
“I can get it, but it'll cost you plenty,” said Jackson.
“How much for the option?”
“One thousand iron men.”
"Good gosh!” groaned Van. “How much for the land?”
“Seven thousand, five hundred,” stated Jackson unctuously.
Van teetered on the edge of the rock, and I hoped for the best but he saved himself.
"All right,” he said through set teeth. "Fetch the vendor here as quick as you can and we’ll settle this thing. I wanta get away.”
“Naturally,” said Peter.
“Get going, Jackson,” said Van savagely. Jackson coughed, and I came out of the wings, so to speak, and walked to centre stage.
“You want to buy my point?” I asked sweetly.
AT THAT moment Van’s mildest symptom seemed to be strangulation, while Pete Silt down suddenly on the hard, hard rock.
“Your point?” said Vanasterisk Gibbons weakly, clinging to Imogene. “Your point?” “Exactly," I smiled. “My point. Mr. Jackson has told you my price. It goes up a dollar an acre every five minutes, no foolin’.”
“Ronald, talk to her,” said Van. “She’s crazy in the head.”
“Like Henry Ford she is,” said Peter, grinning.
I unclasped my watch.
“It's robbery, that's what it is! Robbery and dirty—”
Peter got to his feet with a leisurely air that didn’t fool Van.
“Are you intimating that Mrs. Ronald —” His tone was dangerously deliberate.
“Four minutes,” I said.
In half an hour the deal was put through, and before the hour was up Jackson was taking the Gibbons and their canoe across to where their car was parked.
“Pokey,” began my husband, “lej me tell you—”
"Ladies first,” I said, and I told him how Imogene’s first break had aroused my suspicion, of how I had seen her telegram, had sent off one of my own, and had seen Jackson twice, first to kid him along a bit and get the option, which he thought was an easy way to make a little money ...”
“How much did you pay for the option?” interrupted Peter.
“Ten dollars, and then —”
“Holy jumpin’ catfish ! Nine hundred and ninety dollars profit,” he shrieked.
“Then the answer to my wire came, care of Jackson. I’d asked Jim Malcolm to find out who’d been enquiring about this sort of point up here, told him to query the Crown Lands Department and the Publicity Commission. He drew both Fortman’s name and Gibbons’, and then I knew I was right. The rest was perfectly simple.”
Peter just stared at me.
“What price did your option on the point call for?” he asked.
“Eighteen hundred,” I giggled.
“My soul ! And you nicked him for seven thousand, five hundred,” he breathed. “Pokey, you’re the eighth wonder. You’ll have to offer the commission to the office,” he added.
“Offer’s right,” I said, “But I’ve a feeling that Heaven will protect this woiking girl.”
“What would you like to do to celebrate, little woman?” he asked tenderly.
“Something I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” I said softly. “It won’t cost anything, Peter dear, not a single cent.”
“Hey! Just a minute, just a minute!” he yelled, but he was too late. That “little woman’’ stuff had tom it. Before he could sidestep I had given him one push, and with a yowl he shot backward off the rock and into the drink.
“Yes, we shall gather at the ri-ver, the bee-oot-i-ful, the beee-oooo-u-t-i-ful . . . the 1 river,’’ I sang as he came up. “Peter, don’t you dare ...” As he clambered up the j rock, dark purpose in his eyes, I took to the ! woods. But at the edge of the clearing he j caught me and hugged me until I was as ' wet as he.
“Imagine my embarrassment,” I panted as I fought free. "You’re not at home, I Peter. This isn’t Ronald’s Renting any longer. It’s Fortman’s Folly.”