Crash and Carry
Grover’s invention was a good one—but not in the way he anticipated
LOUIS ARTHUR CUNNINGHAM
AT THE AGE of seven, Grover Wilkins took the kitchen clock apart and put it together again— almost. There were a few wheels left over. His mother said then he would be a mechanical genius, but his father said he’d be merely a mechanic, remembering what had happened to his car while in the repair shop the week before. At fifteen Grover learned the saxophone— pretty well. His mother said he’d be a great bandmaster; his father said he’d be murdered. At twenty Grover was working as a clerk in the downtown branch of the Corner Chain Groceries, Cash and Carry, but the seeds of greatness were still in him and the light of genius still burned, however many bushels it might have been under.
Grover stood on the threshold of greatness. So he thought. Actually he was standing on the threshold of J. K. McPeake’s office. J. K. was the president of the Comer Chain. Grover worked for him. J. K. had brows like black mustaches. He wriggled them at Grover and said:
“Well, come in, young fellow. What’s on your mind? You work in the downtown branch, don’t you?”
“Yes, sir. Grover Wilkins is the name. Has it ever occurred to you, Mr. McPeake how many dozens of good fresh eggs are smashed in a year in your stores?”
J. K. grunted and laid his hand on the typewritten sheet on his desk.
“Got the figures on it here.” He scowled at the sheet. “And I notice that you’ve broken more than anybody else in the city.”
“That day,” said Grover calmly though his heart thudded a little and his Adam’s apple bobbed slightly, "is now over.” With these words. Grover unwrapped the oblong parcel he had in his hand and laid it on J. K.’s desk with the air of the magi bearing gifts.
“What 's this?" J. K. picked up the black rubber box and opened it. “A muffin pan?”
"No, sir. It’s the Wilkins Egg Preserver. It’s made of rubber. It’s inflated. The eggs fit snugly in the compartments, and if perchance a careless hand should let it drop, no harm is done. 1 have here”—Grover produced a bag— “a dozen of eggs. I put them in so.”
J. K. pulled out a cigar and bit the end of it while Grover set the eggs in their little nests and shut down the top. “Now !”
Grover picked up the box, held it above his head and let it drop on J. K.’s desk. Something clutched at his heart in
tliat moment and warned him.....but too late. The box
came down with a crash, fell open and strewed sticky whites and yellow yolks all over J.K.’s |xtd. Something was rotten. Grover’s mouth hurigoixm.
“Gosh, Mr. McPeake, I’m sorry. It never went that way before. I assure you. It must have been ”
“You had better go,” said J. K. in a low and level tone. “Quickly."
"But there’s one thing more, Mr. McPeake—have you ever thought of giving a half-dozen cans of soup and a tin opener to all the new brides in your districts? It would be grand advertising and—”
Mr. McPeake had risen. Títere was some egg on his vest. There was a queer gleam in his eye. Grover left his egg preserver and started for the door.
“One thing more, Wilkins," said Mr. McPeake in that same level tone, “if I have any further bad reports of you. out you go. Keep your mind on your work. That’s what you’re paid for.”
SILENT AND CHAGRINED, Grover rode down to the street and walked listlessly toward the restaurant where he ate lunch. Half of his period was gone. He didn’t care. His great chance had come and some evil fate had interposed to make everything go wrong. His faith in the Wilkins Egg Preserver was weakened. The very thought of it made him ill.
He sat down at his favorite table and covered his face with his hands. He had looked forward to this day, had pictured a triumph. He had visioned J. K. McPeake patting him on the back, handing him a good cigar and
saying: “My boy, I congratulate you. Your fortune is
Ah, well. Grover took his hands away and looked up. He sat up. Across from him, at another table, was a girl with soft brown eyes. They were looking into his with a wistful and concerned expression. Grover, feigning nonchalance, toyed with the saltcellar and gazed out the window. The top of the thing came off and spilled salt all over the table, but Grover merely smiled, as if he’d done it on purpose.
From time to time, during the tasteless meal, Grover glanced at her and she at him. Nice-looking girl, he decided. It seemed as if he had seen her before. Probably had, and failed to notice her sufficiently to recall her now. His mind was filled with thoughts in which women had no place. The egg preserver had fallen down on him, but there was still the Wilkins Tractor Shovel—that masterpiece of mechanical genius which would revolutionize the fine art of excavation and make the name of Grover Wilkins known and honored
wherever a sod was turned. The tractor shovel was his big bet. The plans and the model were finished now, safely locked up in the attic room which Mrs. Kelly, his landlady, had kindly lent him for a workshop. He had written to various engineering firms, describing his invention. It would be only a matter of days until something came of it.
The tractor shovel cheered him up immensely, and when the brown-eyed girl smiled at him as she was leaving the restaurant he smiled back. Perhaps, he mused dreamily, when the royalties were pouring in, when he had a gleaming motor and servants and a swell apartment, he would look her up and tell her how, when he was in despair, when his faith in his great future had begun to be undermined, her smile had cheered him and given him new hope. He w'ould take her hand and smile gently. “Ah, those,” he would say, “were dark days, before the Wilkins Tractor Shovel—”
He looked at the clock and leaped for his hat. After all, a job was a job while waiting for the shovel to make good. If he were late, it might get to J. K. McPeake’s ears and all
would not be well. Coupled with his record as champion egg-breaker of the Corner Chain Groceries, a few mon tardy marks would do the trick.
He got there on time. He concentrated all afternoon on the ignoble chore of selling bread, biscuits, fruit, potatoes and sugar. He was careful with the eggs. He didn’t drop one. He would show J. K. McPeake that he was as great a man in the small things of life, in menial tasks like this, as in wondrous and mammoth inventions. He could see the words, the printed page in his biography: “Even in the lowly capacity of grocery clerk, Grover Wilkins showed genius. While his mind was busy with the intricate workings of his colossal machines, his hands were deftly employed in dispensing groceries. True greatness, this, for genius, as the great French philosopher says, is only an infinite capacity—”
“Fetch that basket of eggs, Grover!” The voice of Mr. Gottlieb, the manager, broke in like a discord. Grover moved mechanically, picked up the wire basket, turned and saw the brown eyes again.
The girl who possessed them had come into the store and was smiling at him. He looked at her and smiled. A crate of oranges in his path meant nothing at the moment. Politeness was the thing. He saw the smile in her eyes turn to a look of horror as he tripped. In that dizzy moment he did not again look at her, and he thought as he surveyed the gooey chaos that he would never care to face an egg again.
Well, what was two weeks notice? Probably, by that time, some big firm would have taken hold of the tractor shovel and he would be on Easy Street. Doubtless there would be some letters for him at his boarding-house. This was all for the best. Sooner or later, he would have had to leave his lowly calling anywray.
“I got the air,” muttered Grover. “But I still think I have set a mark which is something to drop eggs at. Well, there are other things—” Across the screen of his mind, like an army of tanks, endless and steadily moving, passed a gorgeous red-and-green cavalcade of Wilkins Tractor Shovels. “Other things, ” he repeated softly.
THERE WERE LETTERS from all his prospects. He gathered them up from the hall table and rushed upstairs, feverish with impatience. He could see nothing, not even the steps he walked on—certainly not the girl who dodged out of his way on the landing and whose eyes, large and brown and wondering, followed with their gaze his retreating form. Twice before, in Mrs. Kelly’s boarding-house, Grover had passed Kitty Lee, unseeing. That was quite a shock to
her, since men usually stopped and stared or insisted that they had met her somewhere before.
In the intimacy of his room. Grover sat'down on the bed and opened the letters with eager, clumsy fingers. One by one he let them flutter to the floor, even as in the street below his window the dead leaves fluttered down in the wind. Dead leaves, dying hopes. He sat with drooping shoulders, staring into the grey dark beyond the windowpane.
Then, before his eyes, appeared a page of his biography: ”... in that darkest hour, when all hope seemed gone, when his genius was scorned and flouted by the very men who in after years were the first to seek the opportunity to shine in his reflected light in that darkest hour, did Wilkins give up? No !”
Grover stood up. his jaw set grimly. Lord, it was a hard and bitter struggle, this attempt to climb the heights of greatness. It was a man’s fight. You had to do it alone. You had to face defeat, discouragement, despair. You had to have the courage of a lion, the strength of steel. How many other great men, he thought, had stood like himself in moments like this, filled with darkness, with no single ray of hope, and vowed tt> the gods that they would not give in—that they would fight while in them remained an ounce of strength wherewith to struggle, a drop of blood to shed.
But he could not go near the tractor shovel tonight. He felt toward it something of that same emotion that had turned him against the egg preserver. He shouldn’t, he knew. The tractor shovel was in a class by itself. It was superb. Long and patient were the hours he had spent on it, and it was a joy. a triumph. Why, just to watch it work — the neat model he had made—to see it scoop up stones and sand and nails and bolts from the table, was a delight, an ecstasy that in itself was the reward of labor and the laurel of his genius. Just wait. Those snooty engineers would be made to swallow their stupid words about freak inventions and the like. They would feel the flush of shame when, in all its mammoth magnificence, the Wilkins Tractor Shovel rumbled upon the world.
Grover could see it—the first one—fresh from the factory, towering above the pigmy men who, in awed silence, surrounded it. Beautiful in red and green paint, with gold trim and his name in great gold letters, across the world it would roll, scooping and lifting and dumping—through Europe, through Asia, into darkest Africa, shedding light and carbon monoxide.
The music of a piano, of a soft, full-toned contralto, came up to him. The sweetness of that voice calmed him and the words of the song:
“I’ll be loving you always,
When the things you’ve planned Need a helping hand,
I will understand always.”
Grover listened, enraptured. Somehow, that goofy song made him believe once more in his visions. Somehow, it helped him. Dreaming again. He bit his lip. All his life had been spent in dreaming. Perhaps, as some people had insinuated, he was just a nut, and his inventions were all goofy. Perhaps he would have done better to stick at his job and not go around breaking eggs and getting fired.
HE SHOOK his head. He didn’t want to give in. You had to be bold, to put a brave face on things. He opened the door and wrent downstairs. He stopped in the hall to listen to the music. He wondered who the girl was. Certainly someone new at Mrs. Kelly’s. He knew all the other voices. He wondered if she was alone, and when she stopped and said, “How do you like it, Xerxes?" he knew she was, for Xerxes was Mrs. Kelly’s cat and girls don’t, as a rule, consult cats when there are humans present.
So he strolled into the living room after straightening his bow tie and his spectacles. She looked over her shoulder at him and smiled a welcome. Grover stared at her, not rudely, but with sudden delight. “That,” he mused, “is the face that smashed a thousand eggs. And why not?”
“I knewr I’d seen you before.” he said. “I felt positive of it. Right here at Mrs. Kelly’s.”
“Yes,” she said. “I came a few days ago. My name is Kitty Lee. I—I hope you didn’t get into any trouble over the eggs you broke.”
“Oh, no,” said Grover. “I just got fired.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“It’s all right.” Grover smiled with a cheerfulness he did not quite feel. “I love your music. Mind if l listen to some more?”
“I’d like you to. What shall I play? There is a new number, an impressionistic piece that brings in the things of modem life—the rush of traffic, the sound of rivetters, the clank of steam shovels—”
“Play that.” said Grover. “Please.”
He listened, enraptured, to the crashing, jangling, tumbled chords, the melody of the modem world, the symphony of steel. It was vast and thrilling. It spurred him on. He would be a part of it—he and his invention. He looked fondly at Kitty, at the thick masses of her hair and Continued on page 49
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the beauty of her profile. He would be a great man and maybe she would share his greatness, and when they were together they would look back on this quiet horntogether as the beginning of their love. They would laugh about it, about the old piano, so battered and out of tune, the awful wall paper, the tinted photos of the Kelly family—Michael in his policeman’s uniform and hat, Mrs. Kelly in her bridal veil, and the kids all ready to start for a picnic. Pleasant memories . . .
“I suppose you’re thinking of your work?” “Eh!” Grover started. The music had ceased moments ago, and the brown eyes were studying him with a look of understanding.
“You weren’t, listening to me.”
“I heard all your music. Truly I did. It — it made me dream.”
“Of—-oh, of many things.”
“Of your invention, I bet. I’d love to see it. Mrs. Kelly told me you were an inventor.”
Grover blushed. “I’ll show it to you some time.”
“Sold it yet?’
Something in his tone, some lack of its wonted buoyancy, made her look at him with sudden concern. He wasn’t looking at her. His face was red. He tapped with his fingers on the arm of Mrs. Kelly’s rocker.
“I’m sure you’ll make a lot of money on it. I’ll bet it’s good.”
“I—well, thank you for saying so. Would you—it’s a kind of lonely night—would you like to go to a show and have a bite to eat?” “I’d love it.”
HPHE PICTURE was all about the world a hundred years from now. There were some swell steam shovels in it, and Grover, with Kitty Lee sitting very close to him in the darkness of the theatre, felt improved and uplifted, and his faith in his tractor shovel was strengthened and renewed. It had to succeed.
But when he wa9 again alone in his room, that fullness of belief had passed from him and hopelessness returned. All very well to dream and hope. But that didn’t help matters, didn’t bring fulfillment to these new dreams in which Catherine Lee now played a leading part. She believed in him. She thought him a great man.
As the days of his two weeks flitted by, he began to realize how strong was her belief that he would succeed.
“I know you will,” she insisted when he sought to discourage her. “I’m sure of it, and I hope when you are a great man you’ll remember how happy were these times we had together."
“I could never forget,” said Grover. That was the first time he squeezed her hand. And that night he kissed her.
But he would net tell her about the tractor shovel. He wanted, when he did show it to her, to be able to tell her that it was sold, that he had money for it, that he wanted her without any further delay to marry him right there and then.
Only once in those weeks did he go to the attic. He gazed with question, with a faint ~ fear, at his model. He had enamelled it in green and red with gold trim and his name on it. He had put a little man in the controlcab, but it was the turning of a simple handcrank that actually made it work. He turned the crank, the wheels whirled, the crane lifted and dipped, the shovel caught up its load of sand and nails—all as smooth as clockwork.
“It’s good,” he muttered. “It will astonish the world.”
rT'HE NEXT NIGHT he took Kitty Lee out to dinner at a downtown restaurant. His days at the Comer Chain were almost over and he had no idea where to find a new job. But he forgot his troubles in her company. He smiled into the brown eyes across the table and saw that she was worried.
“What’s the matter, Kitty?” He laid his hand on hers and was thrilled and proud when the small fingers caught his, firmly. “Do you like me, Grover?”
“I—you know I love you, Catherine. I do love you. I adore you and we’re going to get married as soon as I sell my invention.” “And you wouldn’t be angry with me if—?”
“Not for anything.”
“Well—” She took a deep breath. “I have seen your invention—the tractor shovel.”
“You have! When?”
“You’re not angry at me, then? I couldn’t help it. You see, Mrs. Kelly put some of my boxes in the attic. And I had to get some things from them, so she gave me the key. And I saw the tractor.”
Grover laughed. Silly child. Making such’ a fuss over that. He should have told her about it, showed it to her, long ago; only that the secrecy, the sensitiveness of the creator about his creation had made him shy.
“Why, that’s nothing, dear,” he said. “I don’t mind. I should have shown it to you long ago. What do you think of it. Some machine, eh?”
“It’s—it’s gorgeous! I—there’s more to tell, Grover. I told my boss, Mr. Romberger, aboutit. He was keen to see it. You’ll think I’m a terrible sneak, but we’re only a small firm and I was afraid you wouldn’t deal with us. Well, I begged Mrs. Kelly to let Mr. Romberger and myself into the attic and we saw it and he was wild about it. He’s prepared to give you a big price for it.” “He—Kitty, are you serious? He will buy my invention! You’ve done all this for me.”
“He will give you a big advance and a royalty. That’s the way we do. But he says your tractor shovel will go all over the world. It will make a fortune for you. Will you deal with him?”
“Will I? Lead me to him. Where is he? Can we find him now?”
“I told him I would bring you to the | office tonight.”
“Let’s go. Never mind the food. I can’t believe—I simply can’t.” Grover jumped up and put his hat on backward. His eyes shone as he clutched Kitty’s hand.
It was only a few blocks. They raced breathlessly. The office suite was dark except for one square of frosted glass that said:
S. Romberger. President.
S. Romberger was waiting and ready with a cheque that made Grover gasp and cling tight to Kitty’s arm; ready with the papers that gave him the right to manufacture and sell the Wilkins Tractor Shovel in all the countries of the globe.
“You will see it,” said S. Romberger, who was short, round and dark, “from here to Kamchatka before Christmas.”
“Christmas!” said Grover. He grasped Kitty’s arm still harder. This was fulfillment. He visioned the Wilkins Tractor Shovels—hundreds, thousands of them— resplendent in red and green, rolling across tundras and through mountain passes, scooping the world away.
; “Yes,” said S. Romberger, tilting his cigar skyward, “Chinese, Swede, Dutchman, Spaniard—it don’t matter what nationality a kid is, he’ll just love to dig into the sandpile with a toy tractor shovel like that. ”