FICTION

CALL ME PIP

JOHN HOLDEN April 15 1934
FICTION

CALL ME PIP

JOHN HOLDEN April 15 1934

CALL ME PIP

JOHN HOLDEN

TORONTO THE GOOD had been good enough to me in the old days, and I’m sorry to leave the bright lights and the blondes. But, gosh, a fellow has to make a living somehow, and after I’d spent three months failing to earn a single commission at my business of selling adding machines I began to suspect that people didn't want to buy adding machines just then and I'd better try something else somewhere else.

So I gas up the old buggy and ramble up the highways and down the byways, still without making any more jack than a necktie salesman in a nudist colony, until presently, quite by accident. 1 find myself in Dumbeetle.

Say, it’s the queerest town! Factories are splattered around like patches on the pants of a poorhouse inmate, but they’re not working. They’re dismantled. Solid brick or stone they are, with plenty light and air, but if they’ve turned a wheel since Premier Bennett rolled a hoop I’m not the guy the girls used to address as Handsome.

I rifile up the dust on King Street and take a look at the buildings. The stores have corner stones chiselled 1850, 18-10, and so on down, and the show windows are little panes of glass, and when I amble into a store after cigarettes a bell jingles ’way back, and out staggers a granny who carries in her hand a half-knitted woman’s stocking.

Next I saunter into a pre-Confederation architect’s dream that has big pillars and a sign,“Queen’s Restaurant,” and right away I get a shock that causes me to miss the hook I toss my hat at.

It’s the waitress. Pretty ! Boy, I’d seen plenty of good lookers during my gay career on Yonge Street but never one like this. With no more make-up than you’d find on a violet, too. She’s shy, of course, and blushes when I give her a grin; and right away, thinks I, I’ll put the old personality to work and pick me a new kind of peach.

And am I surprised when the menu says "Dinner, 25c.” Naturally 1 m looking for a catch in this low price, so when this sweet little hick brings me a big bowl of rich soup I warble:

"Pardon me, I didn’t order any extras.”

"Everything’s included in the dinner.” she says, and. sure enough, it was. Garden truck that never saw a can. hot biscuits and cold butter, pumpkin pie with pumpkin in it, two cups of coffee. And when I tip her a nickel—“Thank you,

sir,” she says and gives me a startled stare that melts into the cutest smile I ever saw.

YWELL, IT SEEMS * * that this simple sister is cashier as well as waitress; and when I lay my second last five-dollar bill on the counter she looks at me full of admiration and don’t trust herself to speak.

“D’ you know, I like this town,” I remark, because it’s way after the feeding hour now and she isn’t busy.

“Some people do,” she replies, and flashes the pearliest row of teeth that ever put dimples in an apple.

“I’m touring the country looking for a place to locate,” I continue. “I’m from Toronto.”

“Yes. I know,” she says, and I give her a sharp look because maybe she’s not so simple as she looks.

"How do you know?” I ask, and then I realize that my suspicion is unfounded, anyone could have seen what she saw.

“That Canadian National Exhibition poster on your windshield,” she explains.

I introduce myself.

“Jerry Pippington; call me Pip.” And then, after she says her name is Mary: “Dumbeetle looks like it was bigger and better once.”

Blushing again, she tells me that way back when her granddaddy played marbles it was bigger than Hurlinghook, the near-by city, but Hurlinghook got railroads and one thing and another and dragged off the Dumbeetle manufacturers.

“A bright girl like you,” I say, “ought to be in a big city where there’s more opportunities.”

“Oh. no. Mr. Pip; there’s more competition too,” she gasps, scared of the mere thought. "Why, I’ve heard that on some streets there’s two restaurants to a single block.”

"Bright people belong in bright places,” I insist.

“Oh, I doubt that. Where everything is bright, one more shiny article doesn’t show up.”

Sweet simplicity! I suggest that she treat herself to a motor ride that evening and show me the burg, but she’s too shy to accept. She invites me to meander around by myself, and remarks that it isn’t the bigness of anything that counts and....

Well, not to dwell on how I practically grabbed off Mary for a sweetie first crack out of the box, I decide, even before I glimpse the grand bedroom on a side street that I can rent for only fifty cents a night, to let Dumbeetle benefit by the temporary presence of a big city business man. That evening I stroll up a tree-bordered street to a park ten times as big as a depopulated town like Dumbeetle needs and study the yokels in their quaint pastimes.

Gosh, how those hicks enjoy themselves! A bunch of them whoop and yip as they pitch horseshoes, and another bunch get as much fun out of a scrub baseball game as if they’d paid a dollar each at the stadium in Toronto.

From there I wander back to the ballroom with a bed in it that the landlady calls a bedroom, and I cock my feet on the windowsill and toss cigarette butts into an undersized park that she calls a lawn, and presently an idea hits me like a brick off the Bank of Commerce Building.

Big cities, where thousands of people are treading on each other’s toes, are the bunk. A small town, where the natives are half asleep, is the place where a go-getter can make good. In this place I ought to stand out like a fiftycent piece in a box of black buttons.

ACTING ON this inspiration, next morning I start out to attach myself to a payroll. I go at it like I’m selling adding machines back in the days when people didn’t kid me by saying they’d have more use for a subtracting machine, starting at one end of King Street and entering every business place.

As expected, I create a sensation. One and all are glad to see me, and how do I like Dumbeetle after Toronto? and what can I do best? and so on. Nobody has a job open just yet, but all tell me to leave name and address and they’ll send for me quick does anything show up.

That goes on till noon. Then I blow into the Queen’s Restaurant after the yokels have gobbled fixxi they couldn’t appreciate; and Mary, in her innocent way, prattles like she’s glad to see me, as naturally she would be.

“Oh?” she says and looks at me kind of queer when I tell her about my original idea of hunting opportunity where ten thousand other smart lads aren’t hunting it too. "Oh?” she repeats when I tell her what I’ve been doing all morning,

and then, after I hand her a little more taffy:

“Since you like Dumbeetle, I hope you’ll find a situation,” she says, demure as that other Mary that had a lamb follow her to choir practice or somewhere.

I tell her how every' man I met practically begged me to leave name and address so he’d have first chance to grab me in a week or two, and she remarks:

“If you had a whole lot of slips neatly prepared with name and address and handed them out, they’d look businesslike, wouldn’t they?”

“Yeah,” I agree, not paying much attention because my mind is on a date. “But, say, Mary, I haven’t seen all the town yet. How about showing me around tonight?”

She blushes and goes shy, and it seems she belongs to a Band of Hope that does their hoping every Tuesday evening—this, by an unfortunate coincidence, being Tuesday. So out I go like I came in, except I’m dizzy on account I know I’ve copped a sweetie now and she’s practically agreed to meet me Wednesday night.

I saunter around a bit to get the old brainpan back on business, and I’m passing a rusty railroad spur from Hurlinghook that isn’t used any more, when, by jinks! I get another idea

that I soon felt was almost as good as the first one I had.

Acting on it with my well-known celerity, I go to the printing shop of The Dumbeetle Bugle and get a hundred cards printed:

Salesman and general hustler I want a job Jerry Pippington (Call me Pip)

7 Elm Street Dumbeetle

XTATURALLY that makes a hit with one and all; but it isn’t till I blow into the Fingerling Hardware Company and hand one to Mr. Fingerling himself that anything resembling immediate employment shows up.

“That card,” says he, looking at it front, back and sideways. “indicates that you possess originality, initiative, efficiency and push.”

“And then some,” I agree.

“I presume you could start work in the morning?” “Right now,” I reply.

“Maybe you’re just the man Dumbeetle has been looking for,” he says. "Cohie into my office.”

He’s a funny old codger like all the other Dumbeetles, with a white goatee that wobbles when he talks, and pants that bag at the knees, but in my shrewd way I suspect he’s not so hayseedy as he looks. I accept the cigar he hands me with gusto and a flourish of my new $1.50 diamond-studded lighter, and listen just like I’m an ordinary job-hunter.

“Do you understand the civic situation in Dumbeetle?” he asks, and quick I reply:

“No, except I been told the mayor is a dumb goat w'ho’s no more good than the rusty railroad spur.”

“Urn, maybe your informant has grounds for his belief,” he admits, “though I blush to say so, being mayor myself. But we’re going to wake up some day.” And then, grinning at my fox-paw, which even the smartest man is liable to make now and then, he goes on to explain how the abandoned factories got that way, adding that the town owns them all on account of unpaid taxes.

“They’ll be put to use again,” he says, "and it might as well be now. British and American manufacturers are starting branch factories in Canada, and Dumbeetle has got everything they need including a railroad spur that can be put in shape again, so all we got to do is attract their attention by showing we’re up to date.”

“I’m to have the job of attracting them?”

"Just lately we tried to get up-to-date by building a new high school,” he g«x's on without answering, "but we got blocked by an ornery old skinflint, drat his hide, who won’t sell us the one big plot o’ ground that’s suitable, for less than twice what it’s worth. I suggest, now, that you might start being useful to Dumbeetle by persuading Pat McGonigle to sell his land for five thousand dollars instead of ten. After that you can talk the railroad into rebuilding their spur and then get some manufacturers in. or get the manufacturers first and then the spur.”

"I can do it,” I reply. "That’s my job, eh?”

“Dear me, no,” the old goat replies. “That’s merely what any loyal citizen of Dumbeetle would be glad to do in his spare time. What I’ll actually pay you for” -he breaks off to call in a guy that looks like a champion wrestler would iChe wrestled sacks of coal “is to relieve Joe of the heavy work fixing stoves and furnaces.”

CURE ENOUGH, next evening Mary is all agog because ^ I’m taking her for a ride. On the outskirts of the town we pass a spooky old mansion in a weedgrown jiasture that was once a lawn, and I ask who lives there.

“Mr. McGonigle,” she says. “People call him Owld Pat.” “The ornery skinflint who wants to sell the high-school ground for twice what it’s worth?”

“I don’t believe Mr. McGonigle is a skinflint at all,” she says.

“The owld boy has a date with me," I reply, "only he don’t know it yet. You think I’m a furnace repair man. Hah ! My real job is to buy Pat’s high-school land for what the town is willing to pay, then get the railroad spur fixed up, then fill the town with manufacturers again.”

"My!” she exclaims, full of admiration, as naturally she would be. "What an enterprising man you are.”

After a while I persuade her to quit tossing bouquets, and then she tells me about Owld Pat. He’s an aged widower who’s suffering from an obsession. He’s going to build a mausoleum for his departed wife and himself that will make a tombstone look like a toothpick and be a landmark to the memory of McGonigle for ever. He’s consulted architects far and wide, but hasn’t decided on anything yet.

“So foolish,” she remarks,” when he could just as well erect a memorial that would be useful."

We stop on top of a hill to admire the view, and if Mary had been any other fluff I’d have made her walk home, if you get what I mean. Still, it’s nice to be writh a girl who knows she knows nothing and is full of admiration, so we say good night on the best of terms.

Next evening I call on Owld Pat.

He’s sitting all alone on his verandah with a big stick beside him when I get there with a bushel of burrs on my legs: and, as expected, he looks like a character in an Old Homestead movie melodrama—face like a burned boot

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that’s grown whiskers, fingers that look like roots and edge over toward the stick as I approach.

“Is it for buying that high-school ground at half price ye came?” he asks with no more politeness than you’d hear at a crap game. “If so, be off.”

“Not at all,” I reply, and introduce myself. “JerryI * * * * * 7 Pippington, call me Pip. What I really came for, Mr.

McGonigle, is to discuss memorials.” The old

boy gets interested at once. “Tell me about them, laddie. What’s the finest kind of memorial a man can build?” Right then an idea that has been lingering around the edges of my mind comes out in the open and hits an awful wallop. Inspired by this latest and best of all my smart ideas, I launch into the kind of talk I used to reel off

in connection with adding machines. “One, sir,” I say, “that doesn’t stand in a cemetery, but on the main street where everyone can see it. One that’ll be a benefit to mankind as well as yourself. One that will carry the fine old name of McGonigle thundering down the ages. One that children as yet unborn will bless you for.” “Childer?” he says in a suspicious tone. “What kind of

memorial would benefit a

child?” “A memorial high school-” “Begone!” he yells, reaching for the stick. “Didn’t I say I wouldn’t be

beat down in me price?”

I retreat a safe distance. “But I’m not talking about price, Mr. McGonigle.

My suggestion is that you should give the

high school as a memo-” Stick in hand, he comes after me. “Scalawag !” he cries. “Me give anything to anybody!

Little do ye know me!” I

hotfoot it through the burrs. “Think it over,” I call back, and

leave him shaking the shillalah. I SAUNTER up the road, sort of wishing that Mary were with me and then deciding that it’s better to be alone, because naturally a businessman can’t be bothered with silly girl chatter all the time. I stroll back, and Owld Pat is hanging over

his gate waiting for me. “Laddie,” he says, “maybe I was a bit hasty when I made ye run like a rabbit. Come

on back to the house.” Thinking he still means to do me dirt, I’m all set for another dive. But no, he invites me to have a chair and he says: “Out o’ the mouths o’ babes an’ sucklings there sometimes comes wisdom. Laddie, ye put an idea in me head. About that memorial ye was mentioning—could it have a big stone over the intrance saying it was give to the childer by Mr. and Mrs. Patrick McGonigle, to whose memory

it’s erected or something similar?” Imagine the glad surprise ! But quickly I reflect that it’s only natural for the man to react like that to my inspired suggestion, and I proceed in my

adroit way to encourage him. “I’ll do it,” he decides finally. “For the sake o’ my dear wife that loved childer and never

had any, I will so.” Naturally I felt like whooping with glee. Erection of a new high school at no cost to the town will be the first step toward putting Dumbeetle back on the map. I picture the grateful citizens falling on the neck of the man who made Owld Pat do it, calling me a hero, giving me a good job and what not. And then the old coot hits me a foul blow. “Of course, young fella me lad, ye’ll not be making mention of how I come to make me gift,” he stipulates. “Niver shall it be said that I was guided by anyone’s advice.” “B-but—” I protest, aghast, because in that case who would

know I was a hero? “ ’Tis settled,” he says, rising. “I’ll see me lawyer in the morning. One word out of ye, however, and I’ll call ye a

liar and change me mind.” Next day Dumbeetle is astounded at the news. Men chatter on comers as if a gold mine has been found, and when McGonigle appears with the mayor he is cheered. While I, who had caused it all, got no more applause than a

man in a bread line. That evening I have another date with Mary. She begins to ask awkward questions until—after she’s crossed her heart and hoped to die if ever she repeats it—I tell her how it is my own idea of persuading McGonigle to erect a useful memorial that

is causing all the hip-hurrah. “How7 smart you are,” she says and goes silent as if she’s

thinking—w7hich, of course, she isn’t. WELL, ON ACCOUNT the mayor and council have already got the high school architected on paper and are afraid Owld Pat may change his mind, things begin to happen fast. Two days later the first sod is to be turned by the owld lad himself, v7ith the whole town present, and reporters from Hurlinghook and others from elsewhere. I give Mary a chance to be seen w7ith me at the ceremony, and what do you

think the vain kid suggests? “Pip, I w7ant you to wear a white

suit that’ll make you conspicuous.” Naturally I know7 what her idea is— make the other girls feel bad because she’s succeeded in grabbing me. When the ceremony is about to take place, there she is with me in the front row7 of spectators, proud as a peacock; and, if I do say it myself, we look like a movie star with his latest bride.

Mayor Fingerling makes a speech. “And the point I wish to make clear,” he ends up, “is that no one suggested to our esteemed benefactor that he should make this wonderful gift. Out of the depths

of his own generous nature—”

“Look atMr. McGonigle,” whispers Mary. I do, and naturally the old codger can't take it. He evades my eye. Ashamed, of course. Then he rises and starts to mumble a reply, and there’s tears in his eyes at the way people

are all agog w7ith gratitude. “But it’s a mistake, me thinking of the idea m’self,” he says after a while. “Here among ye is the bright laddie that put the idea in my mind. Come up here, sonny. . .” Well, I don't need to go into the details of what happened after that. I’m a hero as well as Owld Pat, and as the weeks pass and I capitalize the town’s new spirit of enterprise and get Dumbeetle talked alxnit far and w7ide, people begin to realize

that I am the hero. A Board of Trade is organized and I’m made secretary. As such, I go after the railroad, and sure enough they’ll fix the spur. Then I write letters and go to see the agents of British and American manufacturers. Soon three firms have taken advantage of the town’s offer of free factories if they’ll employ nobody from outside but only Dumbeetles. A soup company needs a sales manager and I agree to help them out by taking the job; and, in recognition of what I’ve done for Dumbeetle, the Board of Trade gives me a send-off in the way of a dinner. They tell me what a grand guy

I am, and I reply. Modesty is my keynote. I remark that they shouldn't praise my smartness too much because, after all, I just happened to be bom that way; and if other clever young fellows would realize that stick-in-the-mud towns like are really the best j fields for enterprise. . . Well, a good j time was had by all, and next day about noon, when I can think clearly again, 1 decide to give Mary the most

eventful evening of her life. I take her out driving, up the very hill where I first got the inspiration about the McGonigle Memorial High School, and I stop

at the most romantic spot. “Mary,” I begin, “I suppose you’ve heard that I've Dumbeetle from a mud-

“I’ve heard that.” she replies modestly. “In a way, I owe it to you, because if you hadn’t made eyes at me in the restaurant I mightn’t have stayed in town.”

“Thank you.”

“So it seems that, when all is said and done, I ought to let you share my success.” "Much obliged.”

"What I mean is, you’re a fine girl in many ways and can probably learn to do me proud, and will you marry me?”

Naturally she goes shy all over. She sighs as any maiden would, and looks out over the scenery, and finally she recovers her self-possession enough to speak.

“Pip,” she says, “in many ways you are a nice man. I like you a lot, but when it comes to marrying you, all I can say is—no.” I gasp and stare at her.

“W-why not?” I stammer.

“Because you are too stupid.”

VY/ELL! Imagine saying a thing like ** that to me. who had just been lauded as one of the brightest young men in the whole Dominion ! And she means it, no fooling. Won’t explain either.

“The mere fact that you don’t understand how you are stupid, proves that you are stupid. Think it over and maybe the answer will come to you.”

There’s only one thing I can do—take her home and then walk around by myself, trying in vain to fathom the meaning of her words. Finally I drop in on my old pal, Pete Fingerling, the mayor, and explain the situation to him and ask if he can figure out what’s in Mary’s mind.

“Tell me the whole story from start to finish,” he suggests, leaving off making out an order that’s big enough to fill a box-car.

I begin with the first time I met Mary. I tell him what I said and what Mary said; and abruptly he stops me.

“So she remarked, when you mentioned that she ought to go to a big city, that there’s more competition in a city, and where everything is bright one more bright article does not show up. I see. Go on.”

He stops me again.

“So she said, before you thought of having cards printed, that if you handed out neatly prepared slips with your name and address on them, it would look businesslike.”

And again:

“Mary said that Pat McGonigle could just as well erect a memorial that would be useful, did she?”

Finally:

“Asked you to wear a white suit and be conspicuous at the ground-breaking, eh? I can add something to that incident. She requested me to bear down heavily in my speech on the point that McGonigle conceived the idea of giving the town a high school without having had it suggested to him.”

I ask what he means by all these queer remarks of his.

“Pip,” says the mayor, “I can see quite plainly, even if your swelled head prevents you from doing so, that not one of your bright ideas was yours at all. Every one of them was planted in your mind by that very clever little lady that you have the cast-iron gall to call dumb. Pip,” he says, “you’re one grand little hustler, I’ll admit, but when it comes to smart thinking, that little girl who’s making a big success of an old rundown restaurant has more brains in her little finger than you’ll ever have in your conceited head.”

AM I MAD! I sail out of there in a 4*hurry, you bet. I can’t trust myself to say one word to the backbiting old fossil, so I just slam the door and go.

And then, as I stride along by myself.it comes to me that maybe there’s an inkling of truth in the mayor’s words. I slow down my pace and think harder. I keep this up for maybe an hour, and then I ring Mary’s doorbell and enter her neat parlor.

“Mary,” I say, “I know now why you called me stupid. You were dead right, too. Every one of my bright ideas was really yours. You even made me conspicuous in front of Owld Pat so he’d give me credit for suggesting a useful memorial to him, after you’d suggested it to me. Mary, I’m a hustler, I’ll admit, but you have more brains in your little finger than I’ll ever have in my conceited head. Can you forgive me for being a fool? Mary, I want you to marry me and make a team—you to do the thinking, me to put the thought into action.”

The little darling starts to cry.

“N-now, you’re giving me too much credit instead of n-none at all,” she says. “M-my ideas were vague. It was y-you who pounded them into shape and t-then carried them through.”

“All right,” I suggest eagerly. “Let it go at that. Wouldn’t we make a swell team?”

She dries her eyes and smiles happily.

“I-I think that maybe we would,” she admits.