WE'D ALWAYS sorta figured our town, Roseland, about the best town in the West till the Drysdales moved in from the city and began right off to show us we’d been doing everything wrong from the start.
It was just like a cyclone had struck us then.
I’ve been carrying the mail for fifteen years and never late once, so I was at the depot the day they were due to arrive. As I sat on my wheelbarrow, looking up the track, I was thinking.
I'd heard our new bank manager was to be a Mr. S. Drysdale, and I knew it must be Sylvester Drysdale--old Syl we’d called him even as a kid back in Shakespeare, Ontario. I’d known his wife, too. She was Lizzie Tuttle, daughter of old Abe and Jennie Tuttle who’d lived down by the tracks. None of the Tuttles knew beans, but when Lizzie got going with Syl and him a bank clerk as he was then, the whole family started in clipping big words out of the newspaper.
Syl and Lizzie moved west to Winnipeg after they married, and when I come out to Roseland I used to hear news of them once in a while.
Through all the years Syl just managed to keep a couple of jumps ahead of the bailiff, but Lizzie had what she thought was antiques, did pink teas and said “dawnce” and "Oh, my deah,” along with the big words she’d memorized.
I was smiling to myself about this as the train pulled in that day.
Syl was loaded down like a packhorse when he scrambles off, so I couldn’t see much what he was like but Lizzie! She looked taller and thinner than ever, was dressed up like a Christmas tree, and I could tell by the way she tilted that long nose of hers and kept one hand raised with the little finger sticking out like they do at tea parties, that she figured she was giving our town its first real treat.
There was a daughter along, too.....a timid, sweet young thing that sorta clung to her father.
The other manager was still there and talking to them as I stepped up, dusting my hands on my trousers. Syl seemed real pleased to see me and I was just going to say, “I guess Lizzie don’t remember me," sorta polite like, when he says: "You remember my wife, Beth, I presume?"
Beth? Holy swill barrels! And I’d just about called her Lizzie !
I could tell by the way she nodded and turned her back quick that she wasn’t mistaking me for the Duke of York or anything like that.
Well, they’d no sooner got settled above the bank than she put on a reception.
From that day on, there was no peace for us men. The afternoon rummy games was completely shot. There wasn’t enough fellows turned up at the back room of the Chinaman’s to make a jackpot for a flea. Their time was all taken up hanging new curtains or hunting round for something that might do for an antique.
That was in November.
The winter was about the busiest Roseland ever had. Things sure buzzed. Course, some of the folks just sat back and let Lizzie spread herself, but for the most part the disease was catching. Joe Buckley had to tear out the wall between his dining room and parlor to make a living room to hold the bridge club. The Hansons bought $75 worth of glass stuff—crystal they call it—and didn’t know how to use it.
By spring half the folks in town wasn’t speaking to each other.
"DAD,” ONE OF THE BOYS says to me one afternoon along in March as we’re shuffling the cards in the Chink’s and hoping somebody else would drop in, “we’ve got to do something about this. Are we going to let this woman run the town or aren’t we?”
“Well,” I says, laying down a five-card sequence, “Lizzie Drysdale hasn’t got me drinking pink lemonade yet, but I’ll see what I can do for the rest of you.”
It was after that I got noticing the daughter particular. I had taken to her from the start. Don’t know what it was about her, for she was just another girl, fair and slim like dozens the beauty shops turn out every day, and yet she was different. A bit shy and wistful, I think they call it. Away from her mother, she talked and was real friendly. Betty Marie was her name, and it suited. She’d soon got a chum, and round the post-office called me “dad.”
I was behind the wicket the day she met Kerry Dawson. That was the week after we men had been talking in the Chink’s. Kerry had been away all winter, taking some course or other.
The girl come in with her chum to post some letters this day, and they were just going out when in comes Kerry with mail from the Mercantile where he works.
Kerry’s always been ace-high with me. A hard-working chap with something about him that makes me think of a South Sea islander with his face to the sunrise.
“Betty Marie, this is Kerry Dawson,” the other girl says off-hand, the way they do nowadays.
Betty Marie had to tilt her chin to look up into his face. Their eyes met and the trick was done. Right then I could see Lizzie tighten her eyelids and say, “How much a month does he make?”
“Well, I’ve done something about it,” I says next afternoon in the Chink’s.
“Something about it?” they asked.
“The girl has met Kerry Dawson,” I says.
“What have you got to do with that?”
“Well, I’ve been carrying the mail for fifteen years and they met in the post-office didn’t they?” I says and dealt three hands.
They didn’t see how Kerry was going to make any difference, so I had to stop and explain.
“He only makes ninety dollars a month, tie’ll do better than that later on and he’ll always be steady and the best fellow in the world to live with, but he’ll never be wealthy. If that girl ever really falls in love with him, Mrs. Drysdale will pack her up along with the antiques and beat it.”
They laughed, and that sorta got me riled.
“See here,” I says, laying down my cards, “I’m betting on that.” I got up. “I’m so dead sure that Kerry Dawson will have something to do with it that until you fellas find out that I’m right I’m off rummy.”
They tried to coax me to sit down and to change my mind. They know how I like the game. I knew I’d gone too far, but I stuck to my guns.
“It may take a year,” I says, “or longer, but have a good jackpot ready the day the Drysdales leave town, for I’ll be seeing you.”
THINGS WENT as usual for a while, with no real rest or peace for any of us. I seen Betty Marie and Kerry at the pictures several times and out walking of a Sunday, but Lizzie was too busy to take notice.
One Saturday afternoon toward the end of April, I was in Summerville’s store getting some tobacco when Lizzie come in on the drygoods side. While she had the clerk pulling down most of the stuff off the shelves, two other women come in and got talking.
“Did you hear that the Saltelles are moving back from Saskatoon next week into Judge Elain's house?” one woman said. “They’ve bought their son Wilfred a big car of his own, and he’s motoring.”
I could see Lizzie prick up her ears.
Old Ike Saltelle had bought cattle and swindled the farmers long and hard enough to have a car for every day in the week. I thought we’d got rid of them when they moved away two years ago.
And Wilfred--dear little Wilfey!
They’d tried to make a lawyer out of him, they’d tried to make a musician, but all they succeeded in doing was to make a jackass. At that, he was an improvement on the old man.
Lizzie went out of the store right afterward, and I could tell by the look on her face that she was heading straight for the bank ledgers.
It happened just like I was afraid it would.
The Saltelles hadn’t been home more than a week when I seen Wilfey in his big red-and-fawn roadster, his fair hair greased back, pull up to the bank one evening, and Betty Marie come down and drive off with him.
The next day I saunters round to Davidson’s garage.
“Davey,” I says, "I want to buy a car.”
“So you’ve come round to it at last. Well, I have some real bargains out here on the lot.”
“Bargains and lot be danged. Let me see your catalogue,” I tells him.
There were some beauties in that book, but what took my eye was a green sport model about two blocks long and all garnished up with nickel and stuff.
“How soon could you get that laid down here?”
He looks at me queer out of them puffy eyes of his.
“You sure step handsome when you start, don’t you, dad? I could get that one out from Saskatoon by the end of the week.” And he looks important.
“Order it,” I says and walks out.
That night I seen Wilfey and Betty Marie out driving again. They passed me and she waved, but there was a look on her face that showed she wasn’t happy about it. It was just as I thought. Lizzie had her eye on the Saltelle bank account.
Later in the evening I meets Kerry wandering down Railroad Street. I falls in step with him and we start talking.
“I got a proposition to put up to you, Kerry,” I says. “I’m buying a car.”
He looked at me funny.
“I don’t know the first thing about running one and I’m not quick about machinery. You used to run the Mercantile truck and know a lot about cars, so I wondered if you’d learn me to drive the thing when it comes.”
“Sure thing, dad.”
“How much a lesson will it be?”
He laughed at this. I knew he would, but that wasn’t what I wanted.
“See here, young fella,” I says sharp, “I’m darned independent. If you won’t take pay, the deal’s off. I’ll get Davidson.”
He said I ought to know he wouldn’t charge me, so i says: “Well, if you won’t take money maybe you’ll take the car once in a while, say a couple of nights a week to do with what you like.”
"Well, I’ll do that, dad, if you insist.”
So it was fixed. I knew he wouldn’t have taken it any other way.
FIRST WEEK in May, the car arrived. It sure was some swell phaeton. The first time Kerry and me drove down Front Street we had half the town running behind to get a look.
I fumbled with it for a couple of days, with him trying to show me, and then I says:
“Better take her out yourself tonight, boy, and let her stretch her legs. Perhaps the kid from the bank would like a ride.”
His eyes shone.
“I’ll call her right now from the phone in your room if you don’t mind.” And we went in behind the post-office to where I hang out.
“Hello, is that Mrs. Drysdale? This is Kerry Dawson speaking.”
“Yes,” I heard, and the word was froze stiff.
“May I speak to Betty Marie?”
“Betty Marie is occupied at present, Mr. Dawson, and I may as well tell you now that I prefer you not to call her again.”
Just like that! Lizzie Tuttle handing it out to a prince like Kerry Dawson. I could have eat the shirt right off my back there and then, but I slaps him on the back.
“You lucky tyke. That just makes it a good fight.”
“I love her, dad,” he says quiet, and I could have cheered for the iron there was in that brown jaw of his.
“Well, your little scheme isn’t percolating so good, is it, dad?” one of the boys says to me next night at the depot.
“Some kettles takes longer to boil but they hold the heat a darned sight better,” I answers over my shoulder.
“Did you hear that Mrs. Drysdale and Mrs. Saltelle are giving a big ’do’ together in the bank next week?” he asked.
“Let them ‘do,’ ” says I.
“It looks propitious to me.”
I turned round at this. I always figured this guy should have gone into politics the way he handles them three-story words, but I wanted to know what he meant this time.
“I think they are concocting some scheme for the amalgamation of the jurisdiction,” he says, looking mysterious.
I spit hard and straight. I never was no good at crossword puzzles.
In no time it was out. Mrs. Drysdale was entertaining, assisted by Mrs. Saltelle--old Carry--can you beat it! Everybody that was asked was told not to tell, so by night everybody knew and there was more hard feeling. It was to be a Thursday. All the best people was invited, and that didn’t include a lot of us.
Wednesday afternoon I saunters into the bank.
I had to shut my eyes quick to keep them from popping clean out of their sockets. Everything movable in the place had been shifted. Syl, the stenographer, and both bank boys were bustling round like a swarm of bees, only not so contented looking.
"House cleaning?” I asks.
Syl coughed and ducked into his office. One of the boys comes up to the cage. He casts his eyes upward, indicating the living quarters.
"That isn't good enough for the affair tomorrow night,” he says. "It's going to be pulled off down here.”
“You mean she’s going to use the bank?” I asks in a low voice, my eye on Syl’s door.
The boy nodded and turned to help the other chap with a big desk he was trying to shift.
Using the bank for a party ! Holy cats, what wouldn’t that woman do? No wonder Betty Marie had to give in to her. She could even have managed that Hitler fella. And poor old Syl! I went out shaking my head.
Two fellas, carrying a rug, met me at the door. All afternoon and evening there was furniture dodging in and out: even the piano was brought down from the suite upstairs. The Governor-General himself couldn’t have caused more stir than that party was doing.
The beauty shop did a land-office business all that day; and you should have seen some of the things that come out of there thinking they were improved.
It was some surprise to me that afternoon when I gets a letter out of the mail with my own name on it. It was from Syl. He said that as I was an old acquaintance, perhaps I would like to drop in next night when some of the men who didn’t play bridge were dropping in for some lunch and music.
It was genuine all right as far as Syl was concerned, but I figured Lizzie had made him leave it late enough in the week so that I wouldn't come. Well, I made up my mind to fool her. I decided to see the show. I can balance a china cup as well as the next one if I have to.
That evening I went out for a driving lesson. Kerry had had the car the night before, but had taken one of the girls from the Mercantile.
I puttered around with the thing on one of the side streets for a while, but my mind wasn't on my work. I couldn' t help seeing the look on the lad's face.
“You take the wheel, boy." I says after nearly ripping the gears out three or four times, "and drive round by the court house.”
I have a little cottage on that street and I wanted to have a look at it. The tenants had moved out and I was having it painted up a bit.
We stopped out front. I just sat there a minute, looking. The lilacs were in bloom around the door and the sweet william was coming on. It looked real cozy and friendly.
“Wish I knew a nice young couple that could use a place like this, reasonable," I says.
"Wilfey Saltelle will likely be needing one soon," he says, hard.
“No, it wouldn't do for Wilfey. There ain’t a thistle on the place and jackasses thrive on ’em.”
He threw back his head and laughed. It was good to hear him again. It seemed like a good time to bring up the other matter.
“I'm going to the circus tomorrow night,” I begins, nodding toward the bank.
"So am I."
"Yes, I had a written invitation from Mrs. Drysdale the other day.”
“Does that make us dukes or earls?” I asks, pretending to adjust an eyeglass.
“Ducks and geese I think, dad.” And we both laughed.
“Give the bus a real chance now,” I says, motioning toward the highway.
Passing the Chink’s, I sees a couple of the fellas going in. My fingers itched for the feel of cards, but I just nodded to them and told Kerry to step on the gas.
It was a swell night in early June and the green car seemed to know it. The highway stretched away toward Buffalo Coulee, straight and inviting.
Thirty--forty--fifty--I watched the speedometer climb. Kerry’s eyes were cool and steady on the road. When it touched seventy, he eased off a bit.
“She’ll do a lot better than that when she's broken in a little more,” he sings out, his face all lit up. I sat tight, dropped back to forty I says:
“Believe you could beat that black Saltelle wagon with this?”
His cheek ridged but he said nothing.
A STRANGE MAN got off the early train next morning. He didn’t look like the ordinary salesman and he didn’t speak to nobody. I watched him go into the Windsor Hotel and register, but his name signified nothing when I looked it up after he’d went upstairs. And in the fun of watching the people buzzing round getting ready for the party that night. I forgot all about him.
It was after ten when I got into my go-to-meeting togs and saunters off toward the bank. I'd always heard it was style to go late anyway. I'd been doing a lot of thinking during the day, too.
Me invited and Kerry, too. What was this affair anyway? It begun to look sorta funny to me.
The bank was sure titivated up to perfection......rugs, chesterfields and chairs, fancy lamps, little tables all round. Everything in use except the vault, and at that I had a hunch Lizzie used it for a refrigerator.
I didn’t recognize half the folks the way they was got up.
Lizzie herself had on something red with nothing at all on her back. Carry Saltelle was frizzed and powdered, but her face was the same old raisin—guess there’s a limit to what these beauty shops can do. The news had passed round that her dress cost $75 though, and that would have set her up with Lizzie any time.
Syl and Ike Saltelle were in cutaway coats. Can you beat it ! Joe Buckley was slowly strangling inside a stiff shirt.
The bridge was over when I got there, and there was talk and laughing that hinted there’d been a snort or two of liquor among the men at least.
Wilfey had on a dress suit too, and it wasn’t the tailor’s fault that he still looked like a dizzy jellyfish. Betty Marie was like a prairie bluebell in a dress that came right down to the floor: her face just pretty and quiet, her hair making you want to lay your hand on it. Don’t know how she escaped getting frizzed or whatever you call it. I seen her look when she shook hands with Kerry. Guess Lizzie saw it too, for she lost no time in asking the girl to run along and see that Mrs. Somebody had something or other not necessary at all. Kerry turned to another girl, but I don’t think he knew much what he was saying to her.
Lizzie was having the time of her life showing off the antiques and telling how much they cost her picked up in this little corner and that little shop, as though she’d travelled a lot. She even held up the lunch while she had Syl ransack the unpacked trunks in the basement and all the drawers for a couple of fancy things she called Indian tree doilies to put on the cake plates. Syl hunted all right, but I don’t figure he knew an Indian tree doily from an airplane any more than anybody else there.
Well, they were found and the feast was spread—pickey stuff that you didn’t know whether to spoon or fork, but all out of the latest woman's magazine, I imagine.
Between courses Wilfey played on the piano. That is, he wiggled round on the stool and made a lot of noise, but from the way it sounded his left hand had no idea what his right hand was doing.
Lunch over, I seen Lizzie nudge Syl. He gets up, pulling at his waistcoat, and everybody quiets down.
“Friends, we have a little announcement to make at this stage."
He looks over his bosom. Lizzie pulls back her lips in what passed for a smile. It was a prod to Syl.
“I take great pleasure in announcing to you the engagement of our daughter. Betty Marie, to Wilfred Saltelle, who is a product of your own good city.” Everybody clapped; some more hearty than others.
I shot a look at Kerry. He sat with his arm along the back of Joe Buckley’s chair, his face quiet and set. I swore to myself.
There was bedlam then for a while, everybody shaking hands with Betty Marie and Wilfey. The two Stuart girls, hired to serve, brought in some glasses and the health of the young couple was drunk in some fancy decoction. Wilfey whinnied like a colt every time anyone congratulated him.
“I guess you’ll be playing tiddlywinks for the rest of your natural days, dad,” I hears at my shoulder, and turns to find one of the rummy players grinning into my face.
By midnight the dancing was in full swing. At least they call it dancing. It looks to me like they just take turns pushing each other backward around the room. I got a lot of fun watching some of the old girls trying to pretend their new shoes wasn’t hurting.
There’d only been one other drink in the open, but I’d seen Wilfey slip outside a couple of times. A third time I follows, and finds Kerry sitting by himself in the moonlight on the back steps of the bank.
“Seen Wilfey come out?”
“Saw him come out all right, and saw him go in, too.” He nodded toward old Pete La Rue’s dive across the lane.
“So that’s where he’s getting his personality, eh?”
“Huh,” was all Kerry said, but there was plenty punch in it.
“You know, lad,” I says, sitting down beside him, “I don’t hold with all this fuss about a little thing like a couple getting engaged. It ain’t good society nowadays. Why, I was reading just the other day how even the nobility are slipping off and doing their marrying on the quiet. That’s the way I’d do it if I was a young fella, and spend the money fixing up a house or little cottage somewhere.”
I caught myself looking up at the moon like a silly galoot. His eyes were glued to the grimy light across the lane.
“Yes, sir,” I went on, “I’d do it like that fella in the old school readers who come out of the west, and picked the girl right off the altar and carried her to the preacher’s himself.”
"I'll twist the nose clean off Wilfey’s face if he tries any monkey business tonight,” Kerry says, staring into the air.
I spoke the next sorta to myself. “It’s tough sometimes getting the card you need for your sequence, but there’s more ways than one of getting the other fella to play it.”
“I’m going in there to dance with her,” he says, and was off toward the front door.
I MUST HAVE sat there half an hour longer, listening to the music and wondering what it would be like to be young and in love and that rot, when it suddenly come to me that there were men’s voices coming from a back window of the bank just over my head. I wasn’t interested till I heard:
. . . .“you realize, Sylvester, that you could be discharged.... contrary to regulations using the bank for things like this .... didn’t come here to spy .... heard about it as soon as I got to the hotel this morning . . .
My ears set straight up.
The stranger I’d seen getting off the train ! So he was a bank inspector or something. Holy mackerel !
They likely knew Lizzie, and figured Syl might need a little directing. But to catch him like this!
“. . . . if I go back and tell what has happened tonight it will put the affair entirely out of my hands. They might be persuaded to give you back your position at head office, which of course is a demotion, but I really like you, Drysdale, and I’d like to see you get another chance on one condition . . . .”
I’d have given a lot to have heard what that condition was, but they’d moved from the window and their voices didn’t come so clear. I had a hunch Lizzie was coming in for it though. I did hear:
“. ... you’ll let me know in the morning then, which you decide to do.”
A door banged, and I figured they’d gone downstairs.
A few minutes later I slips round and in the front door. The music was whining and groaning in great style. Kerry was dancing with Betty Marie, and by the way they looked into each other’s face it didn’t take no second sight to learn how they felt about it.
The dance ended and he was leading her to a seat when Wilfey swaggers in, a cigarette stuck behind one ear. He went straight over and took the girl by the hand. Her father was standing near.
“All right if we go for a little spin, father?” he says, hooking his thumb into his vest pocket and trying to look like a movie actor. Calling Syl father, too !
Syl hesitates and Lizzie speaks up, trying to pout that face of hers:
“You naughty children, wanting to run off by yourselves. Well, away you go, but not for long. There will be plenty more evenings now.” And she patted them with the hand that had most rings on.
“I’d much rather stay and dance,” the girl said, her eyes straying over her shoulder to where Kerry stood, his hands tight in his pockets.
“Come on, woman, and do what your old man tells you,” Wilfey whinnies and pulls her out.
I followed, and as they’re getting into the car Kerry says in my ear:
“Let us take a ride too, dad.” And we hit for the green machine.
“This is crazy, I guess, us tagging along,” I says, “but that crazy puppy has had just enough of buckeye and popularity tonight to need a little chaperoning of the old-fashioned kind.”
“You’re telling me?” he says, grim.
We dangled along for four or five miles, and then Kerry stopped a car we was meeting.
“Did you see anything of a black roadster out this way?”
The fella laughed.
“You mean little Wilfey Saltelle? Sure; he turned off the highway out there a bit and headed south. He’s got a dame with him, too.”
The green car nearly jumped from under us as Kerry stepped on her.
“He’s maybe taking her to that roadhouse out Raymuir way,” he says against the noise of the wind in the shields. I gripped the side of the door.
Pretty soon we sees a tail light. We fairly leaped on to it. It was Wilfey parked in the middle of the road. We jumped out. Wilfey was pulling at the girl and trying a little rough stuff. She turns right to Kerry as he steps up and begins to cry.
"Take me home, Kerry, please.”
He opened the door and she slips out, Wilfey after her, still hanging on. He gave Kerry a push:
“Run on home, office boy, and put the canary to bed. It’s after twelve o’clock,” he sniggers.
Kerry struck his hand from Betty Marie.
“Come on. I’ll take you back,” he says quietly.
“Oh, no, you don’t.” Wilfey hit out.
Kerry made a couple of passes and Wilfey was sputtering on the ground. A dash and Kerry and the girl were into the green car. They called me, but I seen a car coming down the road.
“Go on,” I says, “I’ll get a ride back.”
A roar and they were off. Wilfey scrambled into his bus and the chase was on.
“Unless he can do better than a hundred, he may as well save his gas,” I mumbles to myself as I hailed the car coming along.
I GUESS I was still smiling in my sleep the next morning when it dawned on me that someone was knocking at the door of my room.
“Come in,” I yells, scrambling into my trousers, and in walks Syl Drysdale.
“Where’s my daughter?” he demanded.
I guess my mouth dropped open a foot; and just then, believe it or not, the telephone rings.
“Just a minute,” and I takes down the receiver. It was Kerry’s voice.
“This is young Lochinvar speaking, dad. Out of the west and into the city, and married half an hour ago. Betty Marie is just phoning her mother.”
“Say that again,” I says, and slips the thing to Syl’s ear.
His face went white, then changed from winter to summer as the message came over. I took the receiver back quick and turned my back on him. Kerry was mentioning the car.
“Drive it to Jerusalem,” I tells him, “and the cottage will be ready when you come back in a week or so.”
He bursts in with his thanks and ends up: “We’ve got the card we needed for our sequence, dad, and she’s the queen!”
Central cut off. Syl stood looking out the window. There was a smile on his face. I was imagining what Lizzie’s face was like.
I WAS AT the train the night the Drysdales were leaving town.
It was just as I expected. The blow was too much for Lizzie. She’d chosen the city job rather than face it out. I hadn’t squeaked about that conversation I’d overheard, but as I sat on my wheelbarrow that morning looking up the track. I was getting a kick out of the yarn she was spinning.
Dressed up as usual, little finger still sticking out, she was talking to one of the women while Syl fussed around the platform with the baggage.
“Betty Marie is like her father’s people,” she was saying. “Not overly fastidious about some things. Personally I couldn’t think of settling permanently in a bit of a cottage in a small town like this.”
Her nose circled over us all.
“And anyway my husband couldn’t think of refusing the promotion offered him back at head office.”
The train pulled in and she stepped up like she was ascending the throne. I nudges one of the fellas as I’m loading up the mail bags:
“Round up the gang,” I says, nodding toward the Chink’s, “for I’ll be seeing you.”