LORD of the GOOSE CALL
Will E. Ingersoll
MARILYN—who had been adorned with her fanciful name by a movie-loving mother, now gone—was surrounded by the flat, the sordid and the prosaic. In the alkaline Western village of Dick’s Beal, Marilyn sparkled in contrast with the scenery and the villagers, too.She had a serene and small-freckled prettiness. Amid a local womankind built, as their men folk said, rather for si>eed than style, Marilyn had the style as well. Her voice was good, too. In a community that talked and sang flat, Marilyn’s true tone made a music quite unique. And when the hair-bob fashion reached to Dick’s Beal and knobby necks came out into the day, Marilyn W'as almost the sole female who did not look like a cartoon, after the Dick’s Beal barber had tried his hand on the new mode.
Marilyn was the daughter of B. J. Westover, proprietor of the Dick’s Beal hotel—the Commercial Hotel, a flat-roofed frame cube with a verandah and a row of loafing chairs fronting on the street. B. J. was the most talked about man in Dick’s Beal, for three reasons—his habits, his hoard, and his famous goose call.
His habits had to do with liquor, richest of all themes for village gossip. B. J. gave plenty of theme here. For he was no faltering toper. He lived in the Country of Alcohol; abode there, like Solomon’s rod, in pickle, at all hours between the morning horse’s neck and the unchased nightcap at evenfall. B. J. was bleary and covered with what he called growths, with tussocks of hair. When he walked he zigzagged like a
heavy trunk being moved by invisible hands. Exactly like a trunk—for his great, powerful barrel of a body had shoulders rectangularly flat and wide; and thick legs in kx>se trousers completed the trunk silhouette squarely below'. He had always been an exceptionally powerful man and, in spite of his build, quick as a cat. Liquor ad libitum seemed to take nothing from his strength; and as for his s[x.*ed, he could still on any stimulus, outflash lightning. “Likure,” B. J. averred, “is a food;” and he fed on it.
B. J. had accumulated his hoard, the second thing about him on which romance tied, by his horse trading and horse curing rather than by his hotel-keeping. Horse after horse the halt, the wheezy, the fistulous, the outlaw—traded to B. J. for a song, went forth, after a sojourn in the Jubilee Livery Stable, sleek, reformed, a power and transportation unit again, at a price and profit that would have made a pawnbroker blush. B. J. cured the spavin, lanced the lamper, cauterized the fistulous withers, he clipped and currycombed; he broke the cribber from gnawing the manger rail and he made the balker thoroughly ashamed. There were hundreds to attest the approximate revenue that flowed into B. J.’s old billfold from his secondhand horse business. There were also hundreds to check and doublecheck how little of it he spent in Dick’s Beal. And there were the postmaster and the station agent to render a positive report that he had mailed none away. So somewhere about— and it must be on B. J.’s premises—was a treasure like the trove of Kidd.
The fame of B. J.’s hoard travelled beyond the environs of Dick’s Beal. Drummers who had put up at the Commercial Hotel carried the tale of the hoard aboard trains. It was conservatively set at $30,000, though sometimes the smoking-car conversations made it $50,000. “Yessir, that old Tuscarora lias fifty thousand cached in his hayloft.” “Don't trust hanks, uh?” “Naa, that ain’t it; he don’t want it attached for debts, so he puts it where they can't prove he has it.”
But of the three things upon which B. J.’s fame rested, his goose call was the most bizarre. He carried yet on the carbuncular rubicundity of his face certain pittings where he had received a charge of shot for calling too exactly like a goose“which,” said B. J. acidly after the accident, “is supposed to be the foolishest bird there is, but now' and then you find a bird that’s foolisher, and he ain’t always a bird.” There hung above the eight-day clock on the wall of the Commercial Hotel office a spellbindingly mighty waterfowl, a triumph in taxidermy—a great grey goose, called long aforetime to his death in a bulrush-rimmed Northland slough. Sometimes, when telling of this bird’s end, B. J. would electrify his listeners by ventriloquially, with his face as still as water in a well, casting out a weird, loud, reedy call that would twist all heads around irresistibly in expectation of seeing the mate of the mounted gcx>se flap in through the barroom window.
Marilyn would have shone as a cjueen if she had been decked with the $30,(XX) of B. J.’s hoard. But it was never B. J.’s intention to use* the $30,(XX), or any part of it, to deck his daughter. Nor did he intend just to pile it uít and keep it, miserlike. He intended, when his hoard got large enough, to go somewhere and have a splash of spending; a grand spree w'hich he considered he was earning by sending what he was wont to refer to as the best years of his life in Dick’s Beal. Dick’s Beal, so-called because the original settler here had been I lerman Dick, and because I lerman Dick’s brother had once been heard to make the striking remark that the locality looked as though the earth hereabout had "beâled and bust” like an abscess.
BUT MARILYN had not needed any decking out to win the liking of Ernest Lake, the straightbacked and formal 1 y -con versing teacher of Dick's Beal school. Ernest courted Marilyn at about four yards distance, and he carried on his courting in the Commercial Hotel ladies’ parlor; he considered it would have Ix-en highly improper to sit alone with her in any place more private. Ernest was a typical 1 tick’s Bealite. being very meticulous of moral apix*arance.
Courting at twelve feet away is necessarily a slow business but there did come an evening, in the long twilight of the prairie summer solstice, w hen Ernest’s drizzle of talk tailed off into a queer, uneasy silence, and he began to have a sensation as though his lungs were climbing up his windpipe. Presently he was accouched of an infant sentence four words long, thus;
“Will you marry me?”
Having said this, Ernest anchored his glance to a knothole in the fl;x>r and waited.
Now the custom in Dick's Beal was to answ’er "Yes” or “No” pronounced briefly “Null”—though some who wished to be loquacious said “Yes, 1 will,” or “No, I wun’t.” But Marilyn made a novel response—one that filled Ernest with pity for her, although lie intended to give her another chance. She said:
"I’ll never marry till Mr. Right comes along.”
It will lx* appreciated that the novelty of this answer was not in its newness, but in Marilyn’s failure to sec* that Ernest was Mr. Right. Or rather, in her failure to admit it. She must see it. However, he would take her at her word— for the present, anyway. He did so. He suspended courtship of Marilyn, and for a matter of months put his best effort concentratedly into the case of Ernest Lake versus the world.
Marilyn, meanwhile, aided by one Mary, a European, housekept on in the Commercial Hotel for her ever-soused father. Marilyn herself was the only one who never troubled about B. J.’s hoard. She did her duties tranquilly as she found them, humming “Clementine” or "Put on Your Old Grey Bonnet,” and turning a deaf ear and an attractive calico-clad back to the commercial travellers who sometimes sought to establish Marilyn as their girl in this ix>rt.
Ernest continued to let her alone—give her more rope, as he put it - and to attend to business, and hearten himself with copybook maxims of success, and rise by rote, and learn skilfully to use what is sometimes called drag. He
continued also to keep his back straight and his neck stiff and to suffer no one to change his mind for him, and soon he was appointed the first president of Dick’s Beal’s Chamber of Commerce.
This, then,, was the status of things with B. J., Ernest and Marilyn when, one day, there arrived in the Commercial Hotel office a stranger with a suitcase.
IT HAPPENED that B. J. instead of Marilyn was waiting near the hotel register when this young man came in with a queer glittering briskness. B. J. was as little soused as he ever was—it being but the beginning of the day—and, exalted only gently by a John Collins, he was able to notice that the young rr.an eyed him with yearning; a kind of yearning that somehow chilled B. J. a little, though he knew not exactly why.
“Got a room?” The query snapped iike a blacksnake whip. “What do you suppose we’re here for, young fellow?” B. J. countered. He twirled the register, which was on a swivel, dipped a pen, and handed it, with a laconic thumb signal to sign.
With leaning capitals and long letters, the young man set what B. J. called his John Hancock sputteringly in the register. B. J. noticed that his finger ends were stubby and his thumbs small.
"Wliur you frum?” B. J. said. “And why do you print your name ’stead of w’riting it as most folks do?”
“Where’s m’room, dad?” The guest had laid his suitcase on the counter and had warded it with an elbow while he signed his name. “Thirteen, if you got it.”
“Take fourteen,” B.
J. handed him a key with a huge tag dangling. “Thirteen full?”
B. J. made a motion of pondering, although there wasn’t a guest in the house, then he said:
“Gimme, then, gimme. Thirteen’s m’ lucky number."
B. J. handed the key for thirteen. “Got a trunk coming?”
“You pay in advance when you got no luggage.” The guest dipped a hand in his pocket, stripjxd a bill through his fingers, cast it down. A hundred dollars!
“Gosh!” said B. J. sarcastically: "Well, well,
The young man stood, awaiting his change.
B. J. looked out the window. He looked to right, then left, then across-street, to see that no local eyes, eyes of creditors or of those who would inform creditors, were near. Then one strong shoulder heaved up as he put his hand
around behind. The hand returned into view’ with a roll of bills surrounded by an elastic band. B. J. snapped off the elastic and began with a casual expression to thumb the bills. They were all $100 bills. No, there was a $500 one.
If the young man was impressed, he gave no sign. His eyes gleamed with a coldish light as he waited.
“No go,” remarked B. J. "Nothing there to change your greenback, hey? We-ell, try, try again, as th’ feller says.”
The corner of his mouth rose. He sucked his teeth with a sharp “kee-ewick.” He put the roll away with his right hand, and with his left brought another roll into view.
“Now we got some chicken feed.” He stripped off nine bills of the $10 denomination. “How long you stayin’ with us?”
The young man pondered a bare instant. “Maybe a week.”
“Leave another ten on deposit.”
“Okay.” The guest grabbed his suitcase and, moving smoothly and swiftly up the stair, headed for his “lucky” room thirteen.
“I ken flash it too, young feller,” B. J. said into the air, as he helped himself to a horse’s neck. But he felt vaguely unsatisfied. The young fellow’s eyes hadn’t bulged worth a cent. He had seemed cold as a fish to the fact that B. J. had been able to flash $1,927 without going farther than his pants pockets. B. J. finished his soliloquy by saluting the goose as he drank his horse’s neck. Then happened one of B. J’s miracles, with no witnesses this time. The stuffed goose answered B. J’s salute in goose language—a wild marshy call that almost made the Commercial office smell of fish flies and lake weed, a perfect goose call. B. J. always kept his three accomplishments—tippling, bluffing and the goose call—in training. Thus was life in Dick’s Beal made tolerable.
Marilyn Westover, with the window' of the upstairs hall
behind her, stood turbaned in a white duster, a pillow under each arm. She barely turned as the guest, with a strange, quick, noiseless way of putting down his feet, came up the stair.’ Marilyn would not have turned at all, for she had developed a protective distantness toward men guests of the Commercial Hotel, if it had not been that she was curious to see who it was that could come up without making the stair steps creak. This, within Marilyn’s memory, had not been achieved before.
McKinley—that was the name the young man had printed in the hotel register—glanced at Marilyn. Then he looked again. At this second look their eyes met full.
Marilyn felt as though she received, simultaneously with this meeting of her eyes and McKinley’s, a bang in the forehead. Then, though there was actually no outward movement or sign, except perhaps a slight paling and a jerk of her eyes, it seemed in the contortion of her nerves as though her body turned in the air like the revolving bitt of an auger.
Quickly she looked away. Almost blindly, she felt her way into the ladies’ parlor and, in that retreat, fragrant just now of fly spray, she, with a kind of spasm rather than a push, shoved shut the seldom shut door. The squeal of the stiff hinges went through her head like a knitting needle thrust from ear to ear.
Marilyn sat, or rather fell, into the sun-warmed flat lounge, the pillows slipping from her armpits. Then, as she sat there staring with her grey-blue eyes blank, her veins began to tingle, her breast to undulate under the tight calico bodice, and her cheeks to flush. What was this—what was this that had come upon her?
Then the new guest called from his room, succinct and sharp:
"Pillow's here! What the devil. . . He-ey, pillows!” He jerked the door ojxm and repeated: "You in there! A pillow or two, and a little water—if you can stand it.”
It was the call of the guest for service. He must be attended to and at once. Marilyn took hold of herself. She opened the door of the ladies’ parlor. She crossed to McKinley's door with the pillows. She held them out to him, keeping her eyes away.
"Tha-ank you.” He pulled the pillows from her. He waited a second or two, holding the door open. Marilyn knew he was waiting to give her a glance full of the namelessly objectionable. Uncounted horsepower could not have rotated her head.
Then the man shut the door with a staccato click, and Marilyn was again alone with the sensation that had in a matter of moments quickened her to a furious new delight in life—a raging luxury, a biting joy. She sought a name for the sensation. And soon she got one. With a brain-thrill like an inspiration, Marilyn got a name, in Dick's Beal language, for the sensation she felt. Hate at first sight ! As sure as fate. She might not have called it that if he had not shouted for pillows and water and slammed the door in her face.
Any man that would yell at her like a—like a—as though she had been his servant-last-year. And snatch away pillows. And slam the door in her face. . .
"Well, did you fix him up?” B. J. hung on to the counter as he asked it, and stood with his feet braced a little apart, for he had a drink or two more contrived of sundry and shrewd liquors, since McKinley had gone upstairs— McKinley who had printed his name and "didn’t look Micky enough for a McKinley.” B. J. faced Marilyn over the counter, full of alcoholic cantankerousness.
"What’s the matter
with your face?” he demanded.
A queer consternation struck at Marilyn’s heart.
“Dad ! You don't mean to say I've got a dirty face. No wonder he—”
"No wunner what?” B. J. interrogated tipsily: "You got a face like firs’prize beet. Paintin’ up like circus wagon. S'here now. See here. You ain't t(x> big to spank. Mind that, now. Min’ that. Wastin’ my money. . . M oney’ ' the wo r d started B. J. off on a new train of thought—"Sav, do you know, that feller's well heeled.”
This last was not addressed to Marilyn but said in soliloquy, as B. J., his cantankerousness gone for the moment, grinned out into space. By well heeled, B. J. meant well provided with funds. His remark had an implication, but that was not for Marilyn to hear.
B. J. presently let go of the counter cautiously, zigzagged toward the dining-room door, unlocked it and passed in to get his
breakfast. Marilyn went around into the kitchen, where she found the large, square servant bending over a halfhearted green-poplar lire.
"Ihit in some tamarack,” Marilyn directed. “I want a hot grate for making toast.”
B. J. had his particular table in the dining room. Sometimes, when an old-timer entered, B. .1. lifted his big, gartered, horse-smelling shirtsleeve and beckoned the oldtimer over to his table. But he never encouraged strangers to any intimacy.
McKinley, however—whose entrance gave B. J. a slight start as there had been no herald creaking of the stairs — did not wait for any invitation. He slipp'd over and sat down tête-à-tête. He grinned at B. J. in his glittering way and leaned confidentially.
B. J. glanced at him askance. The guest’s quick, lx>ld slits of eyes jumped and scintillated like light on the facets of a diamond. There was affront, or something like it, in those eyes that searched and played over B. J. McKinley leaned closer.
“Ever hear this one?”
The story which followed showed that McKinley was a card player. The story was, in fact, McKinley’s invitation to a two-hand gamble— an invitation which, if he had not given, he would have received from B. J., who had had the matter in mind ever since McKinley had cast down the $100 bill.
B. J. was still laughing at McKinley’s story, his broad shoulders shaking almost convulsively, and the liquorous gust, of his cachinnations making an alcohol-sugar atmosphere all about the table, as Marilyn came in with the two breakfasts.
Marilyn’s nerves tingled as she came near McKinley. She found herself hoping he would stay at the hotel for a time. Sensations were few enough in Dick’s Beal, and Marilyn wanted to protract this one, which she had named hate. She wanted time to luxuriate in this feeling which McKinley had inspired in her.
As she set his plate before him, her wrist touched his. Marilyn had a shock as from a live wire. McKinley (lashed a look at her that was casual and affronting. The comer of his trap of a mouth was pried ojien by a grin and two words:
** ’I.o, Beautiful.”
Marilyn had never previously heard this free translation of "Good Morning.” B. J. drew Iris brows together and ixmred a quelling look ujxtn the guest.
"This is my daughter,” he said. McKinley had evidently taken her for a waitress.
McKinley rescinded with a sudden velvet jxilitencss. "Oh, pahdon me.” He got up and gave a stagey lx>w.
ERNEST had not taken any meals in the Commercial Hotel since he had susjxmded his courting of Marilyn. He was getting his meals at Harriet's, a short-order restaurant recently opened. Harriet, the proprietress, who looked not unlike the bust of Beethoven and had no waist, had given Ernest, as a charter customer, a preferred table from which he could l;x>k straight across I >ick s Beal s main street at the dining-room w indows of the Commercial I Iotel.
A couple of evenings after McKinley s arrival at the hotel Ernest spied Marilyn at the window, drawing down the blind. On an impulse not a wise one Ernest leaned out of Harriet's window and waved his hand.
After a moment, he saw Marilyn dip her head a little and concede the merest flip of a wave. I hat is, she made a motion of her hand that translated itself to Ernest s ego as a wave. Really it was a swijx: at one of the ubiquitous Dick’s Beal bluebottle flies.
Marilyn missed the fly but she got Ernest. Next morning, at breakfast time, he was back at his table in the Commercial Hotel dining room, the Dick's Beal Echo propjxxl against the cruet. Two others were in the room McKinley and B. J. Ernest wondered mildly at seeing B. J. so thick with a stranger and a young man at that. B. J. usually had no light in his window' except for old-timers. 1 hey were talking so chummily that Ernest conceded a second l;x>k at McKinley. McKinley caught this kx>k; he responded with an el aberrate bow, the spirit of which he confuted by a levelbrowed and glittering glance. Ernest turned his back. Some city smart aleck.
Marilyn came in, and Ernest’s attention was so diverted by Marilyn’s actions, that he almost forgot the stranger. For Marilyn began to behave toward Ernest in a way that, while he could not help liking it, was quite unrestrained and
Continued on page 47
Lord of the Goose Call
—— Continued from page 5 —Starts on page 3--
improper. Really, the girl should contain herself. Of course she was glad to see him; and of course Ernest was glad that his course in indifference, which almost never fails with girls, had brought her to time. But was that any reason why she should call “Hello!” to him from right across the nx)m, and push her face close to his, and pretend to lift a hair off the shoulder of his coat when no hair was there? And hover over him and breare down the back of his neck, causing him to quiver and shrug so that a button went somewhere? Honestly, he was surprised. Was this any way to go on in public? Doubtless it meant quite a lot to her that he was back, but what was wrong with exercising a little will-power? Why go crazy over him?
Ernest tried to catch her eye, to remonstrate. But he found it impossible to catch Marilyn’s eye, for the reason that during all this pantomime of affection she never looked at him but kept looking askance toward McKinley. Queer.
Then Marilyn went to the kitchen to bring the dessert of stewed dried apples, and the second cups of tea and the cubes of angel cake. Ernest found himself listening to the conversation of B. J. and McKinley. He gathered, to his consternation, that this McKinley was a tinhorn gambler—all gamblers were tinhorn to a Dick’s Bealite— and that B. J. and McKinley had been gambling all the day before up in the back of the Jubilee Livery Stable hayloft, with a grocery box between them, and two upended waterpails as seats.
“I can still feel them dents in that pailbottom,” McKinley declared. “But I bet you can’t repeat. No, sir, B. J., you can’t repeat today.”
And B. J., with what sounded to Ernest like senile pride—really, tipsy old B. J. should have someone to look after him— promised in his grating burr:
“I’ll clean ye out, the day. Clean ye out, down to your pelt, and I’ll have a lien on that.”
Ernest felt he ought to do something. But it would be risky business, interrupting that card game. He, Ernest, might come down out of the hayloft nose first, with nothing accomplished. So Ernest refrained from any action about the gambling. But there was another matter that he could attend to at once.
That evening Ernest arrived in the Com-
mercial Hotel dining room with the unlocking of its door. He had decided to get Marilyn alone and speak to her quite seriously about the matter of her being so demonstrative in her affection for him. He would make it clear that he was sincere in his intention to confer himself upon her in marriage, but she must act with restraint and not let the prospect go to her head.
Marilyn, however, was not in the dining r;xnn. The place was empty, even of flit's, and smelled pungent ly of flv spray. Ernest went to his table and sat down, his hands clasped resolutely and resting on the table before him.
There was a slow rustle in the kitchen, a flurry without much hurry. In its own time, something approached Ernest from t behind, something like a caterpillar tractor moving on soft ground. Not Marilyn, hut Mary.
“She say,” Mary answered Ernest’s unspoken query as she set down potato salad -cold-boiled potato sour with age rather than vinegar, and an oleaginous piece of cold jx)rk with a snowbank of white fat and a mouse-colored morsel of lean —“she say, ‘I no wait on that him; you go’.”
“Is she sick?” Ernest asked.
“Not sick,” the frank Mary negatived. “I think she’s like lazy. Maybe yes, maybe no, maybe I don’t know.”
Very well. Ver-ry well! Ernest had no theory about what had swung Marilyn to this opposite extreme from incontinent regard and it was beneath his dignity to frame ! a theory, but the case seemed to require I action.
“Take that stuff away,” he said to Mary.
“Maybe you have stew?” Mary suggested. “But no, ” she added. “We give all of that stew on to Rover his dish, for them big flies was breezin’ into it”—Mary meant blowing into it—“and a. . .”
“Give this truck to Rover, too.” Ernest got up with a loud scrape of his chair, pulled his napkin out of his neck, and settled his coat about his shoulders. “I’m going across the street for supper.”
WHEN ANYTHING puzzled Ernest, | his immediate response was a huff. He was still huffy as, sitting before his warmed roast beef with gravy, at his preferred window table in Harriet’s, he stirred sugar savagely into his tea. Glooming across at the Commercial hotel, he saw B. J.
I and McKinley, still apparently as thick as thieves, come out of the Jubilee Stable and go in to supper. He barely noticed them.
But he did notice a couple that, an hour later, came out of the hotel and began to valk toward the Wonder House. The Wonder House was the Dick’s Beal talkie, which alternately bellowed so that the farthest resident could get the vocal part of the programme in his own parlor, and squeaked so thinly as to strain even ears in the baldheaded row.
Couples could not step into the almost pitch-black Wonder House with impunity. Unless both units of the couple were well known, Dick’s Beal began to suppose things; first sollo voce, then aloud, then in a hue and cry. Even well-known couples had to be circumspect. Ernest would not have taken five hundred dollars, w’ith all the uses he had for a sum that size, and taken Marilyn to the Wonder House.
Yet there she was, en route to the place, I with McKinley, the tinhorn gambler!
Ernest jumjx’d to his feet and grabbed for his hat. He would go personally and stop her. Then, after a glance at McKinley’s athletic figure, he checked himself. After all, what was the use? If Marilyn would go to a place like that with a stranger—even unknowing the stranger was a tinhorn gambler—he, Ernest, wras through with her. That was the easiest way out. Through with her ! Yet, somehow, he couldn’t understand. Here was he, President of the Dick’s Beal Chamber of Commerce, all ready to . . . Ernest put his face—pale, greenish and puzzled—against the pane and watched them till the Wonder House swallowed them.
Marilyn herself was a little puzzled to find herself going to the Wonder House with McKinley—perhaps not so much puzzled as a little dizzy. She did not quite know what was happening to her until, as she and McKinley were feeling their way out of the theatre, a supporting arm slipped in a practised way around her. Then Marilyn became sufficiently aware of what was happening to her to relax and let the arm draw her close. And when, still encompassed by darkness, two raspy lips came from somewhere and kissed her twice in the time any other male in Dick’s Beal—Ernest, for instance—would have taken to think about doing it once, Marilyn knew exactly and exaltedly what was happening. She knew that McKinley was Mr. Right.
Ernest continued for two days to have his meals at Harriet’s. Then something suggested to him that he wasn’t getting any; where by this thing of being through with Marilyn and through also with B. J’s hoard. It is only fair to Ernest to say that, although he did figure B. J.’s hoard into his reckoning as Marilyn’s husband, he put Marilyn before the hoard; his attitude being that, in marrying Marilyn, it would be nice to be marrying the hoard too, which of course B. J. would never live to spend. Ernest discovered he had a burning desire to find out just what was going on at the Commercial Hotel.
Shaved, as Dick’s Beal put it, to the blood, and with his sandy hair cowlicked well back, Ernest sat again with the Dick’s Beal Echo propped against the cruet at the Commercial Hotel table. He had made up his mind what he would do. If through any whim—what should a girl’s whims matter ¡ anyway when such as he, Ernest, came ! courting?—Marilyn failed to appear tonight j in the dining room, he would rent a buggy I tomorrow and take her, in old-time courting style, for a Saturday afternoon buggy’ ride.
! Before he returned from that buggy ride, he would have a Yes or a No. And of course it j would be a Yes.
The Commercial Hotel dining room was ¡ empty and silent, but presently footsteps sounded approaching after a lusty swingcreak of the kitchen door. They were not the right footsteps.
"She upstairs,” Mary explained without Ernest asking, "making her face look nice. I geev you supper tonight.” j "All right, all right, go ahead and get it.” i Ernest replied.
Making her face nice, eh? Coming to him after all, eh? Well, he would be a little cool.
The door from the hall opened, and there came in, first B. J. and then, a little behind him, McKinley. Almost immediately, there sounded a flurry of light steps in the kitchen. Marilyn at last!
Ernest heard Marilyn enter. His back was toward the kitchen, but he knew by the stopped creak and the affiation of pan gravy and vanilla sauce for the sempiternal cake pudding, that she was holding the kitchen door open.
“Father,” she said. “Mr. Rogers wants to see you. Right away ! He was over to the stable office three times.”
This was not exactly prevarication, but it was exaggeration. Matt Rogers, the postmaster, who was able to turn much business B. J’s way, had been over at the stable office once.
The “three times” halted B. J. in his tracks.
“I guess I’d better go over and see him right now,” he decided. “Put my supper in the oven.”
With this, B. J. went out into the hall, i caught his faded felt hat from the hook i there, and was off.
Marilyn went into the kitchen, and bobi bed out almost immediately with McKinley’s supper, which had been ready on his plate, fier feet moved toward McKinley’s table with a queer, elated, flitting motion. Then Ernest heard—
Heard something which took his head, as ¡ it were, between strong palms of hands and i twisted it around to verify the evidence of his ears by the testimony of his eyes. For the evidence of his ears was that he had heard kisses three.
i McKinley had not been the donor of the ; kisses three. He had been the recipient, Marilyn had been the donor. Things had ■ got as far as that! Marilyn had kissed McKinley three times and, even as Ernest : looked, was reaching down to kiss him a
• fourth time. Acting as though Ernest were so much air, or the linoleum on the floor, or
• a fly on the ceiling !
SATURDAY morning at ten a. m. found Ernest on his way to the Jubilee livery stable. Not, however, to hire a horse and buggy from B. J., who, with McKinley, had adjourned an hour ago to the loft to continue their apparently endless gamblefest.
Ernest had at last a valid excuse for butting into the card game without danger ; of descending the loft ladder feet last. A rotund man, in shiny black, cigar-smelling clothes, had just disembarked from the local train which arrived three hours late, and had enquired of Marilyn, at the office counter, if a stranger had registered at the hotel. The rotund man had not called Marilyn’s new friend by any name, but had displayed a photograph, somewhat dishevelled but an undoubted likeness. Ernest had glanced at the photograph and then had started off. Neither the round man nor Marilyn had been aware that Ernest had gone to tell McKinley he was wanted.
Ernest’s object was not to oblige McKinley but to get B. J. alone after McKinley had gone to see the round man, in order that Ernest might tell B. J. how Marilyn and McKinley were going on. Ernest knew that B. J. could never have sanctioned the going of Marilyn with McKinley to the Wonder House. Nor had B. J. done so. McKinley had made the proposal to Marilyn while she had been clearing off the supper dishes; B. J. having at the time been in the kitchen, fixing a hole in the dishpan with a twist of cotton. And certainly B. J. did not know of the sequel. A sure way to stop the affair which had resulted, was to tell B. J. about it.
Ernest glanced into the office of the Jubilee Stable. Nothing there but a desk, a dog’s-eared “cash book” and B. J.’s working legend, framed on the wall: “Whip light, drive slow; cash up, or no go.”
Ernest walked on toward the loft ladder. No voices were audible from the foot of the ladder, but when he had climbed to the top, with his head and shoulders in the loft, the voices of B. J. and McKinley were audible from a covert back of the piled hay. Ernest climbed the remaining rungs, stepped to the
loft floor, hesitated, then walked toward the voices, picking his way between the hillocks of bluegrass and timothy.
To the end of his life, the smell of loft hay was henceforth to impart a rising feeling to the hairs on Ernest’s scalp. For, as he stepped over the last of the hay the two voices rose to a pitch that drowned the rustle of Ernest’s nearing boots. First came the grating barrel-chested burr of the -voice of B. J. Then, quick after it, the Spurt of McKinley’s response, succint as a snapped whip.
Ernest had not caught what B. J. said. But he heard McKinley, and all his nerves jumped as one:
“S-stick ’m up!” The “s” whistled like a dart.
B. J., who had held up many in his own mode, namely in a horse trade, had never been held up in any mode. But he had read enough newspaper hold-up stories to know what was wanted. He had developed supreme contempt during these hayloft card games for the “young feller” who, compared to B. J. himself, could not play for sour apples. B. J. had not only cleaned him out of ready cash, but had his note of hand for $1,500. It had been B. J’s refusal to continue the game for an additional note of $1,000 that had brought the climax. B. J. had said:
“No, young feller, I got to get back and tend to business now. I’ve give you nearly a week to lick me, and all you do is get deeper in the hole. I won’t give you no more chances to get your revenge, because when I give ’em you don’t take ’em. I’ll give you a job here in my stable, though, at $30 a month, and you ken clean up what you owe me in four years’ work. Then maybe we’ll have another go at it. But you better learn to play cards in the meantime.”
McKinley’s response had been the command which had just stolen the breath from Ernest’s windpipe. And now Ernest noted that in McKinley’s right hand was a pointing finger with a metal tip, and that from somewhere came a dick like that of a new watch being adjusted.
B. J.’s shoulders rose like lifted shelves His arms made a wide U.
And there, for a second, they stood. Ernest foot fast and nerve tied, thought as he stared that he had never seen such concentration of feeling, with expressions so stony. B. J’s face had in fact no more expression than a huge red carbuncle. McKinley’s profile—eyes levelled, lips in a thrilling sulk, chin compressed till it was puckered in hard furrows—was still as sculpture.
Three words pried out of McKinley’s mouth:
“Whur’s it cached?” He leaned and jammed the metal-tipped finger into B. J’s ribs. “Huh?”
"DOR A SECOND there was silence. Then ■L through the tenseness, there struck upon six ears the last sound imaginable—the crooked and wild and wry ululation of a goose, seeming to come right up from between McKinley’s heels. Sudden and shrill, it came—so startling, shrill and unforeseen that McKinley spun in his tracks to look.
Then something shot out like a red cabbage flung. B. J’s huge red fistulous-witherscauterizing horse-wise hand flashed out, landing upon and clinching and holding as a stallion’s jaws would have held, that part of McKinley’s neck which B. J. would have called the scruff.
McKinley fought. He fought like several kinds of wild things. He tugged and turned his head like a caught weasel. He squirmed like a snake. He would have bitten like a mink if he had not been turned with his face away from B. J. It was perhaps some motion he made like this last animal that caused B. J. to remark to Ernest, whom now he noticed for the first time:
“I got him ! Minks can’t nip you if you get ’em by the neck.”
But human minks could and probably would shoot; and if McKinley could not bring his weapon around to bear on B. J., he could most likely pot someone handier. Ernest, marvelling that he had not thought of this before, ran for the ladder.
“Hang on to him!” he instructed B. J. as he fled over the hay piles. “Hang on to him tight, and I'll fetch Ed Thompson.” Ed Thompson, who was padded out with flesh till he scaled 375 pounds, was Dick’s Beal’s police force.
“Ed Thompson nothin’. Get me a clothesline rope.”
“He might shoot me.”
“I wish’t he would,” was B. J’s unexpected comment, “but he ain’t got nothin’ for to shoot with.”
“What was that in his hand?”
“That was his gun. A vicious-lookin’ outfit too. But I got it now. I can do some of this Jap-wrasslin’ as well as any of ’em if I’m pushed. I use it on the horses. Yes, sir”—B. J’s voice rose like the crow of an old rooster—“I got him bull-dozed. . . Aah, you would, would you, you sassy pup you? Hold still, or I’ll lather you with a pitchfork handle so’s you can’t set down till New Year’s. . . Get me that clothesline rope.”
Descending the ladder from the loft, Ernest met the rotund stranger from the hotel office, coming up like a cat in spite of his plumpness. The round man said no word. As Ernest tried to scrudge down past him, he grabbed Ernest by the coat-collar—he seemed plumped with muscle instead of fat —and plucked him clear of the ladder rungs and dropped him straight down into the stall below.
The rotund man had, however, a more cordial feeling toward Ernest when, a few minutes later he, leading McKinley neatly braceletted and followed by B. J., entered the Commercial Hotel office.
“Pardon me, sir,” he apologized to the President of the Dick’s Beal Chamber of Commerce, “for bein’ a little hasty. But I thought you was tryin’ to help him make a getaway. This one I’ve got here is a pretty tough egg.”
An exceedingly tough egg, to judge by the headline» in the next week’s Dick’s Beal Echo, which had copied extensively from the city papers following McKinley’s capture, or rather recapture, in Dick’s Beal. Hotly pursued after a second or third jail delivery, and having temporarily thrown pursuit off the track, he had heard talk in a branch line smoking car of B. J’s hoard and had dropped off to get it. He had planned to acquire it by the gambling route, which would ensure his getting away with it quietly and unobtrusively. Failing this and having dropped $2,500 in the attempt, he had fallen back on the cruder method, intending to gag and tie B. J. in the loft and get swiftly out of town in a car from the Dick’s Beal Garage.
Ernest, of course, married Marilyn. Already, in a little over two years, she has presented him with two children, and in the fullness of time will bear him at least five, possibly seven more. But at the bottom of her trunk there is a likeness of McKinley, clipped from a newspajx-r. Ernest does not know it is there.
B. J., after Marilyn married Ernest, took the hoard to town, as he had planned, and for a time cut quite a swath. Then, satisfied, he returned to Dick’s Beal with a skittish young thing who had married him—these things do happen—in the sure hope of getting her own way while he lived and becoming his heiress when he ceased to live. But the way she is going in Dick’s Beal is not her own way; it is B. J’s way. She is doing a good job of free housekeeping for him, as he intended, at the Commercial Hotel.