FICTION

EAST WIND, WEST WIND

Hal Pink September 1 1934
FICTION

EAST WIND, WEST WIND

Hal Pink September 1 1934

EAST WIND, WEST WIND

Hal Pink

EAST WIND. Every wind vane in Europe pointed due East had, in fact, pointed thus for six days past while a whistling, knife-edged blast from the frozen steppes of Russia came shrieking across the continent with such vicious intensity that ponds, lakes, trees, rivers and seas winced and shuddered under its icy breath, and the naked trees bowed their branches in silent suffering.

"\\ he-ew !" snarled the East Wind. “Gr-rr!” It brought a silver lash of hail to sting the cheeks and set the eyes watering, pitilessly searching out the chinks in humanity’s armor, goading winter-worn tempers to sudden fury.

OO-OO! Cold, ain’t it?’’ said the Prime Minister’s cook, entering the kitchen with a flurry of wind-blown skirts, slamming the door behind her and making for the teapot.

The Prime Minister's butler, suffering from ¡xx>r circulation and unrequited love, turned a morose eye upon her and sighed.

"As cold as you are to me,” he murmured mournfully. The cook, a plump, rosy-faced little woman, frowned. “Now don’t start that fcxilishness again, Albert.” She jerked her head significantly toward tlx ceiling. " ’Ave they ’ad breakfast?”

The butler nodded.

"Well? 'Ow's th.t' situation between ’im an’ ’er?” "Strained,” said the butler. "Strained."

I THINK it is mean of you,” said the Prime Minister’s wife sulkily. "At least you could take this one night off.” "Mv dear, you simply do not understand,” said the Prime Minister peevishly for the fourth time. He turned in his chair. "Confound that butler! He’s left the window open againand he knows I’ve a stiff neck. The house is full of draughts.”

Closing the window violently, and resuming his seat: "I’ve told you time and time again that I am a public servant. The affairs of state—”

"But it is the anniversary of our wedding,” persisted his wife, ’’and you know you promised to take me to a theatre.”

The Prime Minister choked over his coffee.

"Can’t you realize the nerve strain I am going through, woman? Don’t you understand these are days of crisis? Haven’t you read in the newspapers this morning of the two hundred thousand unemployed men marching to petition me today? And must I repeat again that, due to the bungling of these fools at the Foreign Office, I have to sjx'nd all day trying to talk these Ruvanian emissaries into a peaceable frame of mind lest they plunge us all into war?”

"I realize this much,” was the tearful reply: "I married you for better or worse, John, and it looks as though it is ‘worse.’ Always your career; no time for me.” She burst into tears.

The Prime Minister Hung out of the room.

As he entered his waiting automobile the East Wind pounced upon him with fiendish glee, whisked a glove from his hand and tossed it into a puddle, flashed through the folds of his scarf and gave his stiff neck an extra stiffener.

vates—”

"Who is it?”

"That author fellow. The one you call Hard-up Henry—” “Why couldn’t you say so at first? Give me that telephone.” Into the transmitter: "Listen, you! Yes, yes, I know you are an author with a book about to be filmed— but if you were Bernard Shaw himself you would not get another advance from me. You've had two already, and what have you given in return? Not a single item worth printing! I want neus—see? Something big! And unless you find it you are through—finished—done with!”

"But you must help me,” pleaded the voice in his ear, a voice low and sweet with a catch in it. "Can’t you give me some idea where—”

It was a scowling, fractious man who drove away to wrangle with the bellicose representatives of Ruvania.

WHO?” snarled the news editor. “Why can’t you speak more clearly?”

The sub-editor sneezed.

"Nasal catarrh,” he explained. "This cold wind aggra-

"Listen, you feeble imitation of a junior reporter. Here’s your idea : Get me a line on the Ruvanian situation. Is it peace or war?”

"But your political correspondents will be covering that.”

"I know they will. But there are other angles. Interview the Prime Minister’s wife; get her views. Now that will constitute a scoop,” and slam went the receiver on its hook.

"It will constitute a flaming miracle, if you ask me,” said the sub-editor, and, with an impudent sneeze, left the room.

leaped to a frantic note ol interrogation. Then the financial landscajx? began to slide and fall, a tornado of panic was in full blast, the price of Ruvanian stocks crashed like towers in an earthquake.

Several financiers went home and loaded revolvers.

THE PUBLISHER shook his head.

"Your book is going badly. The libraries have not reordered.”

"But it is a love story,” protested the impecunious author. His voice was low and sweet with a catch in it. "You told me that love stories always sold well.”

"Not this weather,” grunted the publisher. "On cold days like this the public reads stories of war and crime.” "But the film will be trade-shown tomorrow. Surely then—”

STORMY meeting in Cabinet,” quoted the noon editions of the evening newspapers. "Gloomy Outlook for Ruvanian Situation.” On the Stock Exchange a sharp spasm convulsed the share list of Ruvanian Consolidated Oils. Within five minutes the dull noise of the curb-stone market

“The film will not be trade-shown tomorrow. I've just spoken to Superior-Screen Productions, Ltd., on the telephone. There is some trouble—a hitch—actors on strike.

The impecunious author sighed.

“I suppose there is nothing else for it but the Prime Minister's wife,” he said dismally and without hope. As he reached the door:

“Got any money in Ruvanian Oils? asked the publisher.

“No.” , , , .

“You’re lucky.” Grimly. “Between them and your book,

I'm facing bankruptcy.”

The East Wind screamed with laughter as it rattled soot down the publisher s chimney.

HE East Wind, busy torturing a stumbling line of halffrozen sandwich-board men, veered round sharply as the great mob of unemployed marchers, rabbling along under a ragged banner marked “Sons of Freedom,” came pouring down the main street of the city. “Here,” it seemed to shout,” is something more my style.” Leaping up to the scudding cloud-wrack overhead, it whipped down a shower of stinging sleet.

“That,” chuckled the East Wind, “will touch em up a bit.”

It was true prophecy. The mob was hungry, ill-clad, chafing under fancied wrongs. That sleet did all necessary to turn them into a truculent, dangerous army of potential murderers. Police failed utterly to stem the tide as they swept on.

THE managing director of Super-Screen Productions, Ltd., a short, stout, red-faced man known to his intimates as Eight-Reel Jimmy, tramped up and down the office like a demented Napoleon. “Ruin!” he growled.

Yes, sir -one hundred per cent ruin, that’s what faces us! Here s our picture scheduled to be trade-shown tomorrow, contracted for instant release on the Bollinger circuit in seven countries—the final crowd shots to be taken today— and every extra actor out on strike! Unless we keep release dates, our contracts will be worthless. We lose our reputation and connection. Suffering catfish! And I’ve spent weeks risking pneumonia in this outrageous climate!”

The furniture, to which he addressed these remarks, made no reply.

1 here sone thing I can do,” said Eight-Reel Jimmy with sudden resolve, grabbing his hat and coat. “Book myself a passage back to God s Own Country by the next boat out.” Stamping out into the street, he met two things simul-

taneously—the East Wind and the mob. The Elast Wind promptly whipped off his hat and sent it bowling in the path of the advancing horde.

It was a silk hat.

Oh, hated symbol of the capitalistic classes! As EightReel Jimmy darted after his property, two husky "Sons of Freedom" got there first. The hat, ruined, Hew far over the heads of the cheering mob. Grimy, hamlike hands seized the startled film producer and propelled him, bobbing like an indignant cork on a rush of surf, at the head of the hegira now rapidly approaching the Prime Minister’s residence.

Suddenly, a split-second after the first flung stone smashed a window to smithereens, every wind vane in Europe twitched and swung right round from East to West.

WEST WIND: The West Wind, harbinger of spring, arrived like a timid kitten trying to make friends. A few tentative steps forward. Precipitous, headlong flight. Cautious return, Then, with sudden confidence, an ecstatic, tumultuous rush. As though by magic, the clouds fled. Blue sky showed again. The sun beamed cheerfully, and sudden, mild intoxication pervaded the atmosphere.

OH, DEAR!” gasped the Prime Minister’s wife. "Oh, dear !”

She stood at an upstairs window, gazing with horrified eyes at the multitude outside. In all her life, never before had she witnessed a hostile demonstration, never before seen a stone thrown in anger. Now here was the first stone on her doorstep and a second on the drawing-room carpet. “Oh, dear!”

If only John were here—dear John ! She had never realized this was the sort of thing Prime Ministers had to cope with. Remorse for the quarrel of the morning. Fear for her own

safety. Then, as the sun flashed out for the first time in w*eeks, the Prime Minister’s wife saw an amazing thing.

She saw a small, stout man, hatless, perspiring, his eyes gleaming with sudden inspiration, mount to the topmost step of her own portico and hold up his hands for attention. She saw him wave a currency note in the air, saw him gesture wildly, saw* his mouth working furiously as he harangued the multitude. She saw the crowd, scowling, begin to display interest, saw* smiles appear, saw hands and handker-

i «ii

chiefs wave, heard a sudden, friendly cheer. Then, to her astonishment and relief, the mob, with the stout little man strutting in front like a victorious general, went tramping away at a swinging pace.

By the time she liad reached the front door, the street was almost empty. Only a quiet, thoughtful-looking young man stood near her door. She called to him:

“What—what on earth happened?"

"Dear lady,” said the young man, his voice low and sweet, with a catch in it, “your life has been spared by a miracle. I, alone, can tell you why.”

“You?”

I le bowed.

“Had it not been for me, you might have been murdered in your bed,” he admitted modestly. Then he swayed and caught at the railings. “If I might sit down for a few minutes. The strain—”

“Of course, of course!” babbled the Prime Minister’s wife. “Come inside, and tell me all about it.”

As he crossed the threshold the young man’s lips moved . as though in prayer. The West Wind breathed benediction upon the back of his unhallowed head.

Ar THE Ruvanian conference, resumed after lunch, the Prime Minister rose to speak. The sun, streaming through the window behind him, seemed like a healing salve banishing the stiffness from his neck. His short stroll on the terrace in the balmy air, after food, had been most enjoyable.

“Gentlemen,” said the Prime Minister, smiling broadly. “Before we resume negotiations, pray allow me to tell you one of the funniest stories I have heard for a long time. It has the supreme merit of being true—’’and, with a chuckle, he paused to circulate the cigar box.

“Doubtless you are aware of the large and rather ugly demonstration projected against me today by certain agitators. The demonstration occurred outside my house this morning. My wife has just telephoned me that just when things looked blackest, a film producer, urgently in need of crowds to complete scenes for a new production, arrived upon the scene and, at the suggestion of the author who wrote the scenario, offered to hire the demonstrators on the spot at the price of a meal, a packet of cigarettes, and a small honorarium each. The demonstrators jumped at the offer and left their leaders fiat. Ha! Ha! Ha! Excuse me, but it really does seem most amusing ’’ and, unable to restrain himself any longer, he threw back his head and laughed outright.

Lunch, sunshine, a g<xd cigar, a humorous story there is subtle magic in these tilings. The assembly could not help itself; it sluxik with mirth. When s' he could 8|x*ak:

“Gentlemen," said the Prime Minister, wiping his streaming eyes, "I am ha! ha! ha! excuse* me I am delighted to see you all looking so happy. I take it as a gixrtl omen for a happy outcome of

these deliberations with our good friends our very grxxi friends from Ruvania.”

The gfxxd friends from Ruvania—to whom during the luncheon interval had come news of the Stock Exchange slide and a peremptory cablegram regarding same from their alarmed headquarters—said “Hear, hear!” very loudly.

Continued on page 38

East Wind, West Wind

Continued from page 13 Starts on page 12

Five minutes later the Ruvanian troubles were troubles no longer, and the Prime Minister had an inspiration.

"Today, gentlemen, is my wedding anniversary—”

Chorus of congratulation.

"My dear wife and I have planned a little dinner party and a visit to a theatre afterward. Will you honor us with your presence?”

There was no doubt about the answer. The Prime Minister telephoned to his wife.

TAKING him on the staff?” queried the startled sub-editor.

"Certainly,” said the news editor. His usually haggard face was almost genial. “Any man who can get us two scoops like that in one day is worth a staff job. First, he gave us the lunch edition sensation about the unemployed demonstration fiasco. Then be spends the afternoon taking tea with the Prime Minister’s wife and overhears this telephone talk about the P.M. taking the Ruvanian emissaries out to a theatre tonight. Can’t your jxxir, addled brain see what that means—that the trouble is ended? Watch the Stock Exchange report in ten minutes time when our new's is out.” Then, stretching himself luxuriously: "Ixively weather it’s turned out, don’t you think?”

AS ABRUPTLY as it had begun, the ■ crash of Ruvanian Oil shares ended, and they climbed in leaps and bounds to several points above the best previous quotations. Several financiers breathed again, locked away their revolvers and called loudly for champagne.

THE West Wind meandered gently down the streets and roads, whispered through the keyholes of suburban houses, awakened sleeping daffodils with its kiss. Policemen on their patrols threw out manly chests and forgot their fallen arches. Mendicantsj hurled themselves into the task of persuading perfect strangers to contribute to their maintenance with that extra vim which makes all the difference. Elderly spinsters shoved Edgar Wallace and Erich Maria Remarque back on the shelf and hurried to the kxxikshops and libraries for the latest love romance.

Thus the assistants:

“Yes, moddom... a splendid book . . . first edition, of course; likely to be a big run on this author. . . it is being filmed, you know; oh, yes, they are finishing the film today—haven’t you seen the papers?

. . . Yes, quite a romance in itself, wasn’t it? They say the author is taking tea texiay with the Prime Minister’s wife. Good-day, moddom !”

WARM, ain’t it?” said the Prime Minister’s cook. With a giggle: "Think I’ll ’ave to change me underwear.” The Prime Minister’s butler slid a daring arm round her ample waist.

"Change your name as well,” he urged. The kitchen reverberated with the sound of a smacking kiss.

"Oh, Albert!” said the cook reprovingly, but a playful hand crept up to tickle the butler’s ear.

After a while, as came a sudden rustling, chuckling noise from the window curtains: “What’s that?” said the cook.

The butler smiled.

“Only the wind.”