FICTION

Kack High

J. RAE TOOKE May 15 1933
FICTION

Kack High

J. RAE TOOKE May 15 1933

Kack High

FICTION

J. RAE TOOKE

I KNEW there was going to be trouble the minute I seen them high-heeled red shoes stepping down on to our depot platform.

She was a regular knock-out all right, but shoes was all I could see at first for the swarm around her conductor putting and blowing, a butter-and-egg man with gold teeth flashing, and two or three of the station help pushing their-selves in to get a hand at helping her off the train.

When 1 did get a look well. 1 went clean up to the |*>stoftice with my wheelbarrow empty and left the mail laying there on the platform, and me doing the job for fifteen years and never even late onct.

There was going to be trouble all right, for it was September and there was “Sadler’s Summer Songfest’’ printed clean across a ml valise she was carrying. Red. mind you. and Jim Mahafïcy otherwise Doctor Mahalfey, our Jim -liking red the way a bull does.

She wore a fawn suit and a fur hanging over one shoulder, and her face well, it set me thinking of cream and roses and things. She had no dimples though, and a gxl square chin which only made the situation harder. She’d stand about five-foot-live with spike heels off. and was trim as a racing gelding. But it was her laugh that did it, for after I’d seen her tilt her chin and heard that laugh trickle out like a meadow lark’s song. I understood why the butterand-egg man forgot to get back on the train and liad to run to the water tank for it.

You see. our town Roseland, best town in the West — had never had one of these here summer songfests. Maybe we w-ould have liked it. but to get it started they always sent around something with hardly any skirt or eyebrows.

and it didn’t go over with us. With Jim Mahaffey, I should say. for he always seemed to make our minds up for us. and him only thirty at that.

Mostly these dames could breeze into a town, flick a smoky eyelash and take the country storekeepers over the hurdles, one. two. three. They did it in our tow n. too. but sooner or later they run up against Jim, and a rouged lip never went over with him.

You see. Jim belonged to us or us to him or something. Most of us called him "son." It had been like that ever since he was a nipper in shrunken breeches when he’d helped his mother run the boarding-house and saved most of our lives with the best biscuits and raisin pies ever eaten in the West.

Six-foot-one he is, and lank as the prairie grass. A little round-shouldered, but just enough to go with his drawl. He was usually in his bare head all summer, and his hair in a dark point over his forehead like a kid’s. Lean face, blue eyes with nearly always a smile in them except when there is a painted woman around. He can’t go them. Maybe because his father run away with a Cupid’s

bow that laid off here from a circus once, and left a look in Jim’s mother’s face that never come off as long as she lived. Jim never saw^ them unless they bothered him, but if they did, a ridge tightened along his jaw and he was real declamatous when he got to orating.

So for three years them songfest dames had left us alone. That’s why the red shoes, valise w'ith the printing, plucky chin that landed along with them this September morn, told me that the barometer was all set for rough weather.

I would have gone round and put Jim on his guard, but he’d been called ten miles other side Buffalo Coulee in the early morning and wasn’t back yet. Thought of going to the hotel and advising the kid to change her mind about our towrn but was sure I’d bungle it worse, so just moseyed off up to the Chink’s restaurant ’cross from the hotel, sits down on the doorstep and waits.

It was a real fall day, the smell of chaff was in the air. You could hear the “putt" of a gasoline engine threshing in a neighboring field. But I wasn’t thinking of any of that this fine morning.

About ten-thirty she come out. She had on the same outfit, and it

sure brightened up our front street some. I seen her consult a bit of paper she took out of a red purse and then head

west on the south side of the street. ,

"Summerville’s store for the first encounter, thinks I, and decides to get myself a new' pair of shoe laces.

BRIG SUMMERVILLE, ratty sorrel hair on end, was waiting on old Mrs. Olsen when I come in. Miss Joyce —I forgot to tell you that was her name, Jacqueline Joyce - was fingering a web of print, waiting for him to get through. Brig had to roll the parcel three times before he got it. I sat on an apple-box pretending I wasn t looking.

"Yes. miss,” he says, leaning forward more than necessary.

"You are Mr. Summerville, are you not?” It was the tone that goes with raised brows and a pout. I thought Brig was coming right over the counter.

"I am,” he beams.

“I’m Miss Joyce and I just want to talk to you for a few minutes.” She moved closer. “You are an intelligent man, Mr. Summerville, or you wouldn’t be the head of a fine business like this.” Her eyes danced from the webs of goods over the shelves of cans. "That’s why I’ve come to speak to you, Mr. Summerville. It takes people to make business and you, as a man of business, know that anything that

draws crowds to your town creates that desirable state.”

Big words and straight from the shoulder. No tweedle-dee about her tone either, and standing firm on them red shoes of hers. Her finger tapped a web of cloth. Brig sat there sort of dazed and nodded his head.

"I guess I shouldn’t say anything that brings people. Rather, something that attracts them and proves itself as an attraction as well. Something that you establish, that becomes part of the town’s growth, so to speak. Men who back a thing of this sort win the confidence of the people. You know, of course, what that means to a man in business, Mr. Summerville.” Brig w'as drinking it all in and coming out like a repaired flat under the pressure pump.

"Yes, yes, Miss Joyce.” He ran his hand over his head and coughed importantly.

"Well, I have come to solicit your support for just such a

venture. A six-day songfest in your town next year in the lull between haying and harvest. The liest there is in entertainment and education. The Ix-st attraction. The liest spirit-raising get-together that anyone ever had to offer. Here is the programme that we put on all across the country this summer.”

I seen Brig’s face drop when she come out with the name of the thing, but she’d spread a pictured pa|x*r out on the counter and their heads were together over it. It was the first time I ever envied a storekeeper.

Well, there was a lot more talk about music and lectures and things, and then she takes out a white sheet of paper.

"I’m giving you the chance of heading the list of promoters, Mr. Summerville.”

You’d have sworn by her tone that she was handing him the crown jewels gratis. He squirmed off the counter and took the pen she held out. 1 gets up, stretches and says:

"Haven’t seen anything of Jim around this morning, have you, Brig?”

I felt like I was springing the trap on an innocent victim when I said it, but I had to do it to bring Brig back conscious. It worked. He straightened. I íe looked his age again and his voice w'as natural. Brig loves Jim.

"I’m sorry, Miss Joyce. I believe there is something to be said for establishing this thing in our town, but I’ll have to give it a little more thought. I’d like to talk it over with Jim—that is, Doctor Mahaffey and some of the others first.”

That was the first time she heard Jim’s name. It wasn't the last by any means. I guess she heard it every place she went that afternoon. At that she was making headway.

By three o’clock she had Carson of the hardware, Paterson the postmaster, Herrity who runs the theatre, and she'd arranged for a meeting in the picture house that night.

By four she was driving a blue coupé from Davidson’s garage with "Sadler’s Summer Songfest” across the spare tire, and I ’ll swear by the way Davey was buzzing round like he had high blood pressure that he'd given her the car for use for nothing.

Jim wasn't home yet. I knew by that he was on a bad

case.

I was lounging round in the hotel about four-thirty when Miss Joyce bubbles in. She pulled off her liât, shook out her hair and cooed over the desk to the clerk:

"Will you please tell me who the lord high executioner is in this town they call Mahaffey?”

"Why that's Jim, our doctor.” the clerk answers surprised.

“Oh. I’ve heard that much before,” she says short and dick-clacks up the stairs.

It was a bad case all right that Jim was on. A little lad, walking in his sleep, had fallen down stairs and fractured Continued on page 51

Continued on page 51

Continued from page 13

his skull. Jim had stayed with them nearly all day, afraid of a hemorrhage.

I was out in front of his office about five when I heard him coming. Up over the hill at the west end of the street he rattled, swung round in the middle of the street and stopped with a jerk. I came round as he was dangling out over the door of the old touring car with his satchel. He spoke as he opened the office door.

“It’s a great life if you don’t weaken, ! j dad, ’ he drawled good-naturedly, sliding the ! I satchel on the desk and slapping the dust ! out of his grey suit.

“Working overtime today, ain’t you. son?” I says, following in and leaning up against the open door.

He slumped on the desk and started combing his fingers through his hair. 1 waited for a while and then I said:

“Say, Jim, there’s one of them Songfest girls in town.”

His hands hesitated a second, then went on again. He didn't look up.

“She’s a knock-out.”

He looked up then, gave me a sideways grin, then lanked over the desk to a swivel chair by the window. He put the tips of his fingers together and got that consultation look on his face.

“Peroxide or henna, dad?”

I knew he was laughing at me, but just then I caught sight of that garage car nosing up to the sidewalk. I scuttled round behind Jim.

“Here she is.” I nudged him.

He moved the curtain a bit and we could see out. There she was, pulling up her car lever, her chin determination overproof. 1 was just going to say something about her being different when she perked her face up to the mirror and started dabbing something on her lips. I think I groaned. She flipped the red purse under one arm and outdid a hosiery ad. getting out. I could tell by Jim’s ears that he was grinning. There was a rat-a-tat on the door and she peeked in.

“Is Doctor Mahaffey in?” she pipes gaily.

“Come in,” he says. “Will you sit down?”

She ignored the chair and came for him. He sat there looking half-baked, with his hair on end.

“I’m Jacqueline Joyce; Jack to my friends.”

There was a funny sound from Jim. I ! know what it’s like to feel awkward and say the wrong thing, but I knew what he was thinking. She may have been the jack, but to him she was just the deuce in the bottom of the deck.

“And what is it you want, Miss Joyce?”

I íe raised his brows.

“I want you to say one word and the ' whole town is ready to back one of the biggest projects they ever supported. It is Sadler’s Summer Songfest, one of the cheapest forms of education and entertainment any town ever put on.” j She plucked the pictured thing out of her purse and spread it before him. His eyes ; rested on it casually while she scampered on j through the glories of the thing. I think he was beginning to listen to her when she said :

“Everyone seemed to want to talk it over ! with you first. It must be wonderful to be so important.” She leaned forward with a | i walk-into-my-parlor smile just ruining that I face of hers.

I know what it is like to have someone’s name dinged into your ears until you just want to do something desperate, but I sure was sorry then that someone had not put her wise that she couldn’t ogle this son , of the West. Jim’s ears clicked back into | place. The chair rasped as he got to his feet, smoothing his hair.

“Since you know so much of my importance, you will realize that my time is j precious.”

The knuckles of one hand were tight against the desk, the others bulged in his pocket. That last sentence of hers—what a boner to pull on a guy like Jim Mahaffey!

! But I told you before about that chin. This kid was no quitter.

“Then you will want to sign this list without any more lost time.”

She dug the white sheet out of her purse and held it out to him. He went on gathering papers off his desk, then turned and pulled down the blind.

“Of course, you mean to support it,” she smiled.

“I’m afraid I do not, Miss Joyce.” His drawl was even.

She faced him as he came round the desk. With her hair in curly {joint round her hat, she looked like a saucy terrier facing a quiet greyhound.

“The meeting to organize is in the picture house tonight at eight o’clock,” she j challenged.

“I think I’ll be there.” The words came ! slow but darn sure. The fight was on.

A BOUT SUPPER TIME that night the / \ weather begun to look nasty. Black clouds threshing round in the west, the wind whistling in the wires. By seven it looked like we was in for a bad night.

At eight-fifteen there was still only about a dozen at the picture house. Hogarth and Paterson were in one row of chairs, discussing something. Herrity and Carson had their heads together in a back comer. Davidson from the garage was puffing around in a big way, rattling chairs and so on, his gold chain glinting on his vest. When Jacqueline come in he met her at the door and armed her up to the front, talking nearer than was good for her with the kind of reputation he’s got. There was no sign of Jim.

At eight-thirty Jacqueline stood up in the front row of seats. She had on a black dress with fussy stuff at the neck and wrists, but the same red hat and purse. She ran the point of her tongue along her lips and broadcasted a smile that drew us all in to attention.

“You all know what this meeting has been called for,” she says, dropping her eyes to the point of her shoe. “Seeing that I have not yet been arrested as a public nuisance, I am assuming that you see wisdom in what I have been trying to put over to you today. Sadler’s Summer programme is everything I’ve told you and a great deal more, as you will realize when you have it.”

She smiled and we all smiled with her. Carson asked some questions and the meeting got going. There were plenty of things asked, but she had the answer to them all. It sure was the king pin to everything, to hear her tell it.

Outside, the wind was slapping in waves against the building. The lights shook every time the thunder struck. Things were working up inside, too. Brig Summerville was beginning to yes things, and even Hogarth was nodding, agreeable.

Then there was a gust of wind from the door and in slips Jim, hair on end, collar of his old gabardine turned up. He lanked into a chair at the back beside me. Jacqueline didn’t see him, for just then Davey was bending over her. He spoke in her ear a I moment and then straightened and started to make a speech, turning the locket back ¡ and forth on his chain. His words were the girl’s line down pat. Jim grinned. Davey ! ended with a flourish and says:

“And now that we have thoroughly discussed this thing, we are ready for the vote.”

"Just a minute,” says Hogarth. “I’d like to hear what Jim has to say.” Hogarth never forgets the time Jim sat up four nights running to pull his lad through a bad ! accident.

Jacqueline looked round at this suggestion ; and sees Jim. In fact, everybody had their eyes on him. Still he hesitated, and Davey jumped up.

“We’ve spent enough time already discussing this thing. Let’s have the vote.”

Jacqueline slid Jim a look that paid one hundred cents on the dollar. It was enough, and Jim got up. There was silence. He flattened his hair, the other hand gripping a chair back.

“I’ve missed most of the discussion tonight, and I’ve no doubt I’ve missed a lot.”

He cleared his voice and stroked his chin. You can’t get Jim excited. "There may be something to be gained by establishing this thing in Roseland, though we seem to have struggled along to a fair stage of civic development without it.”

His eyes wandered to her. There she was, squinting into the glass in the flap of her purse, unconcerned as you please. Jim finished faster than I ever heard him speak before.

“But until these companies take their soliciting more seriously and attempt to put this thing over in a businesslike way, I can’t see my way clear to support it.” He sat down sideways in his chair and he sat down hard.

There was bedlam then, I can tell you— Davey, Carson and Brig all talking at once; Herrity waving and asking for order. Jim sat there, his arm along the chair, as cool as a rock in the middle of rapids. Finally Davey got his voice above the rest and moved that the thing be considered. Somebody seconded.

“In favor?”

Six hands went up.

“Opposed?”

Herrity counted out loud.

“One, two, three, four, five, six—seven.” Jim hadn’t voted.

There was silence for a split second while it come to us what had happened. Then a gust of wind, and the telephone boy noised in and over to Jim.

“There’s a call for you, doctor, from the place you were at this morning. They want you in a hurry.”

Jim started out.

“I’ll go along for company, son,” I says, grabbing my coat.

At the door he turned to motion to Hogarth that he had to go. Jacqueline smiled.

“She may be down,” thinks I, “but she’s miles from being out.”

I ’LL NEVER forget that night. I told you I before how Jim drives. Well, before I got my coat buttoned we was out a mile and ripping it off west along that new gravel highway. I wanted to say something about the meeting, but couldn’t for keeping my eyes on the road and my hat on. Wind was blowing a hurricane, sky like ink, with thunder and lightning slicing round too close for comfort.

It was seven miles out that it happened.

A bang, a lurch one way, a swing back, and over we went—three times by the feel of it. I picked myself out of a pile of sods. The car was upside down across the ditch, quiet and dark. When I got to it, Jim was crawling out. We felt each other in the dark.

“Lord, we’re lucky,” breathed Jim, shaky.

We sat quiet on the edge of the ditch awhile, to get our wind. In a flash of lightning I seen Jim was nursing his left hand. I touched it and he near jumped over me.

“Got the old wrist, I’m afraid. Tie it up, will you, dad.”

He dragged out a handkerchief. Elis teeth grit as I tied.

The car was a goner and no mistake—tire blown off, back wheel in splinters, radiator in a knot. Jim looked down at her awhile, then gave her a farewell, affectionate kick.

“She was a good old wagon. But say, we’ve got to get to that lad. Whereabouts are we?”

We talked it over a bit and had about decided to walk the two miles to Allison’s and phone town for a car, when a light popped up over the hill from town way. It divided in two as the car got nearer. Jim was in the middle of the road, one arm out when it drew up and stopped. There was a flash of red and out stepped Jacqueline.

Jim’s arm went down like a pump handle when the valve blows. The girl stepped round into the light, rubber coat and bareheaded. Eler glance took in the situation.

“Well, well,” she rippled, rocking back and forth on her heels and mimicking Jim’s drawl to perfection. “Anything I can do for you?”

His tone was murder in the first, second and third degree as he looked down at her.

“How do we happen to have this surprise, Miss Joyce?” *

“Oh, I wanted a tussle with the elements or something after our nice little gathering tonight. I'm glad I chose this road. Tell me what I can do for you.” Her eyes twinkled.

“You could go back to town and send Davidson out with another car, please,” he said too politely.

Both bareheaded and in belted raincoats, they faced each other, and I couldn’t help thinking what a pair they’d make.

"It’s an old Spanish custom of mine never to turn back, but I'll help you on your way, Doctor Mahaffey.” She motioned toward the coupé. Jim looked round, helpless a second, but she had the half-nelson on him proper. He had to get to the boy. Y'e ended by getting into the cou]>é, satchel up at the back. He tried to get me into the middle, but I balked at that. We hadn’t got started yet when she spotted the bandaged wrist.

“Oh, you’re hurt, doctor.”

“Nothing at all,” says Jim, short.

She laughed softly and spun the starter. Just then the rain started.

That was some ride. For miles nobody spoke. We were on the road and off it, going sideways part of the time. I could tell by the way Jim winced on a bad skid that that wrist of his was no sleeping powder.

I won’t try to tell you how we got across the coulee. If I have any more grey hairs than I had a year ago, I got them all that three-quarter mile of narrow clay ridge. Jim offered to drive once but she ignored him, and he didn’t try again.

THE RAIN had stopped when we pulled up to the farmhouse. Jim reached for his satchel and got out. The girl followed. He turned to say something to her, but just then the farmer’s wife opened the door and we all went in.

I stayed in the kitchen, but I could see into the bedroom. It was a low room with whitewashed walls. There was an iron bed with patchwork quilt sagging off it. Jim stooped in the door, the girl at his heels, the woman behind twisting her hands in her apron. On the pillow, a little bandaged head tossed and moaned. A big cat come out of the room, meowing as though he knew something was wrong.

Jim had forgotten everything but the lad. His face had on that look that we all love him for, as he bent over the lied.

“The ice pack and a hypnotic, doctor?” The girl had thrown off her hat and coat and was at his elbow. Jim turned as her words came to him, quiet and confident like. Her face was serious as she looked up at him, but that didn’t spoil her looks none.

“Yes, yes,” he said, turning back to the boy.

Jacqueline turned to the woman gripping the foot of the bed.

“Have you any ice at all?”

“Yes, we got some at the neighbors. The doctor told us to, if this started.” They come out one behind the other, the woman still talking. “But he’s tossed so, and my husband has gone for my sister.”

I caught the last words as she hurried in from outside with a dish of ice. The girl had it on the table, breaking it into pieces and putting it into white cloths the woman handed her, before you could say Jack Robinson. She pushed the lamp back so the spatters wouldn’t hit it, and worked away. Jim came to the bedroom door.

"A basin and some warm water, please.” The girl was into the room with it in a jiffy.

A hemorrhage is a messy job, I guess, but she never hesitated. Jim reached in now and then with his good hand. She didn’t encourage him. She talked to the little lad.

and her tone was soothing. Her face was hot j and (lushed, her cuffs and collar bedraggled, but she worked away.

The mother come out and they closed the door. I don’t know' what happened next, but in a while the moaning got lower and lower. When it was just a sleepy drone, the girl come out. She tipped round with ice bags, emptying water and such like. The woman followed at first, but Jacqueline pushed her down into a chair.

“You rest. Let me get a little exercise, won’t you?”

After awhile Jim come out and sat down. His ear was to the bedroom door. He didn’t know’ how gingerly he was holding the hurt wrist. Jacqueline went to him with a basin of water.

“I’ll bathe that wrist now’, doctor,” and she began before he got his breath.

The only sound in the house was the child's even breathing and the water trickling in the basin. The woman was forward on the table, fast asleep.

MILKY LIGHT was stealing into the mist of morning as w’e come out of that house. The sister had arrived, the lad and the mother were still asleep. Jacqueline stood by the coupé. It w’as a sorry mess of mud and slush. Jim come out after giving his last orders. He came to her.

“I’ll (ix this with Davidson; it’s a mess, isn’t it?” He motioned to the car.

Her hand was on the car door. She looked round at him.

“You don’t need to bother. The car is mine, bought and paid for. And my luggage is in the back. You won. If it is any satisfaction to you and it should be, I was on my way to Raymuir last night, where I hope they will appreciate my methods of doing business.” A red spot came out on each cheek.

Jim come closer.

“How did you know all that?” He nodded back to the house, but his eyes were quiet on her face.

“Surprised to find I know’ something you think is worth while, aren’t you? I spent three years nursing. It was too heavy, that’s all.” He went to say something. She (lipped open the flap of her purse. “Please don’t try to be polite now. I’ve still the same idea about doing business that I had twenty-four hours ago.” She glanced into the mirror. “Miss Joyce. I--”

“Don’t.” She palmed him off and opened the car door.

“Will you drive us back to Roseland, Miss Joyce?” And if ever a man’s voice swept the dust, Jim’s did then.

WE HAD our summer songfest the next year in the lull between haying and harvest. It sure was the clear McCoy, especially them grass skirts from the Hawaiian Islands. I sure liked it. But something else amused me about as much, and that was the sight of Jim Mahaffey lanking into the same seat about every performance.

It was after the last night’s show that I was passing the little tent where they kept the babies in the afternoon and where Jacqueline, as superintendent, hung out most of the time. Out at the corner of the tent, dark against the light inside, they stood, him and her, close together. I was just round a bit, stooping to tie my shoe when I hear Jim’s voice warm and husky.

“You know Roseland isn’t such a bad place to live in, JacquJack.”

“No. Jim. In fact I’m sure it isn’t, now that they have Sadler’s summer programmes.”

Her laughter trickled out like a meadowlark ’s song, but ended in a sort of smothered tone as their heads went closer in the dusk.