Paging Andy Sears
FRANK LEON SMITH
HIS SERVICES no longer needed, the master of ceremonies conducting the dreams of young Mr. Anderson Sears gave way to the day man. Andy opened his eyes and before he could moisten his lips he heard a little chorus: “Another day, darn it all! Just another grey day full of ashes.”
Andy had drawn a room with twin beds, a west room so the morning sun couldn’t pester his slumbers. On the other bed was the book he had been reading the night before. “Tom Sawyer.” Andy thought: “Why did I have to wake up? I dreamed I was doing something. I dreamed I was whitewashing a fence, on a bicycle, going like the wind and making marvellous turns and painting high and low.”
He did his yawning, and not fully awake, he barged against an open wardrobe trunk on his way to the shower. The trunk was plastered with steamship and hotel labels that overlapped. When he was ready to dress he delved for clothes in a closet that was stacked with bags, similarly labelled. Presently, in tan slacks, white shirt and blue pullover, he went down—just a lad of twenty-six; a millionaire at ten. double that at twenty, more than that now, and sorry he still wasn’t painting a phantom fence from a dream bicycle.
He breakfasted alone at the end of a table that would seat twenty. Through French doors and a sun-porch he could see a high blue sky and white clouds, and the waves of wooded mountains that began across the valley. There was the pleasant sound of a motor lawn mower, and of one shoved by hand and foot power. He stood, with his coffee, to contemplate the two fortunate young men who managed these implements.
Andy Sears wasn’t lazy. He had tried bonds, insurance, real estate, advertising. Inspired by the murals of Diego de Rivera and terribly misled by their simplicity, he had set up a studio, an expensive studio, only to learn that nobody owning a building—unless perhaps an obscure Chinese gentleman, far up the Yalu River—would want on his walls the kind of murals Anderson Sears could do.
The maid who served his breakfast was conversational, and why not, since Andy was a good-looking, friendly fellow? But he wasn’t interested in knowing that Miss This and Miss That were at the pool, Miss Whosit and Mr. Whatshisname were having a spot of tennis, while the others were down at the horse pasture practising jumps. Andy
didn't want to play. He wanted to howl: “Isn’t there something I could do around here? Couldn't I polish brass for you. or something?”
Seemingly content, because his pipe was drawing well, but feeling especially worthless, he went outside. In addition to the two grass cutters there were two gardeners working at floral borders, and one trimming hedges. /\ footman was fixing a screen door so it wouldn’t bind at the bottom, and a cheerful handyman was loading a light truck with empty boxes, cartons and weekly newspapers with whole sections unopened. Andy envied the toilers, but he felt if he should approach them they would pull away and glare over their shoulders like small boys refusing to share favorite bats, balls and gloves with a stranger.
He was sighted from the pool and from the courts, and to friendly shouts of invitation he returned amiable semaphores. He went to the handyman—a carefree fellow who had choked his vehicle and still had more things to load. Andy began jumping on cartons, flattening them, folding them and shoving them into the truck—and as he lost caste in the handyman’s scale, he gained in friendship.
“I got twenty-two trout yesterday.”
“You did? That’s great. Good-sized ones?”
They talked fishing until the truck was loaded, then Andy said:
“I haven’t fished in years. Like to take a crack at it.” “Got your license? You have to see the town clerk. He runs the hardware store in the village.”
HALF AN hour later, Andy stood at a desk in the rear of the store, waiting for a man with lopsided steel spectacles to find the proper blanks. Already he felt better. The place was stuffed with wonderful things -tools, lanterns, paints, gun cabinets—and fascinating double-bitted axes with handles tipped with red so they could be spotted readily when the lumberjacks stood them in the snow and went to the cross-cut saw. He wanted to buy one of those axes, but he thought: “You seldom see one on a grand piano, or in the comer of a drawing-room. So what?”
The spectacled man cleared his throat importantly. “Well, sir, I can give you this passport to all our streams, but I can’t gar’ntee you any fish. Heli, heh, heli ! What’s your name?”
Andy told him. He was leaning on the desk at the moment, looking toward the front of the store. A girl charged in, her fists full of letters, her arms cradling
parcel post packages. At first she was silhouetted against the light from outside, but he liked the silhouette, and the grace and ease and surety of her movements, and then he liked other things about her—in fact, everything.
She was a tall blonde girl, a stunning-looking girl with a striped jersey tucked into khaki slacks that were belted to a trim waist; and when she spoke, her low, cheerful, clear voice shot through him, rousing to activity his long dormant department of thrills. She said to the clerk who advanced to meet her:
“I need two more kegs of twenty-penny nails, ten pounds of red lead—and where’s my dynamite?”
Dynamite ! That’s what she was to young Mr. Sears, who gaped at her as though he had come miles to see her—as indeed he had. Twenty-six years full of miles.
“How tall?” The town clerk poised a crusty pen.
‘‘Around five feet, seven,” muttered Andy. “Oh—er— make it six feet, one.”
The man looked up at him.
“No; more the color of a new bamboo pole—or ripe wheat.”
“Heh, heh. Guess you mean the color of a crow, flyin’ over that wheat field. Let’s see—complexion—ruddy.” “Like a peach. No; more like a luscious pear, with red on it.”
“Sissy,” thought the man, and asked: “Eyes?”
“A dollar gets you a thousand they’re blue—blueberry blue.”
The man threw down his pen.
“Nothin’ to me, one way or the other, if I make out this license. Your eyes are brown, Mister Man, ’case you never noticed.” He looked sharply at Andy. “Them eyes—say, ain’t I seen you before, somewheres?”
“What do you think?” Then he said: “Sorry. I wasn’t trying to kid you. Just thinking of something else.” Mollified, the man picked up his pen.
“I can’t remember a name, but I always forget a face. Heh, heh, 1 made that up! There; that’ll cost you a dollar, and you have to wear this button't all times when you’re afishin’. And let me tell you—I never forget a pair of eyes.” Andy leaned over the desk confidentially.
“None of my business—but what does she want dynamite for?”
“Who?” The man craned to look past Andy. “Oh—her? Her name’s Shepherd. She’s remodellin’ the old Ridge Hill Tavern. Bossin’ the whole job herself. She’s from the city.” If it wasn’t rage that surged through Mr. Sears, it was a near relation to it. Bossing the job, and she couldn’t be as old as he. Only a girl, and yet a boss ! Dam the luck—where had he been while other people were getting to be so smart and enterprising? The town clerk’s next word« made him feel better.
“The old shebang’s been goin’ to rack and ruin for years, then her uncle up and bought it and she’s in full charge— archyteck, head carpenter, chief cook and bottle washer.” “Hah,” thought Andy. “Just another society girl, with a rich uncle who buys her something to play with.” A thought that served to smooth the ruffled nap of his vanity, and had nothing to do with the interest he was taking in her.
Now she added carelessly to her armload the three sticks of dynamite the store clerk had fetched from the powder house, deep in a knoll in the rear. The clerk opened the door and she hurried out wfith a friendly, “’Bye!”
Andy went to the door. He saw' her put her things on the floor of an old sedan and drive away.
The store clerk rushed to the door.
“She get aw'ay? She’s gone and forgot her fuse and caps!” Inspired, Andy said quickly.
“Say, I’ll be glad to take ’em to her. I’m just going out that way.”
“You got room for the nails and the red lead, too? It’ll save us a trip.”
Andy drove the length of the main street and turned a comer before he stopped to ask how to get to Ridge Hill Tavern.
Back at the store, the proprietor-town-clerk was saying: “That young feller’s crazyern a water-bug. Paid for his license, tried to get me all snarled up makin’ it out, and now he’s gone away wfithout it. Guess he couldn’t ’a’ w'anted to go fishin’ so bad. Now w'here’n time have I seen that feller before?”
AND Y LEFT the highway for a side road that crossed a noisy creek three times as it climbed. He was beginning to think he had picked the wrong mountain when he came out on a plateau—and pounded the steering wheel for joy. It was a perfect, storybook set-up.
Mountains, covered wfith pine, hemlock, oak, maple, bass and birch, rose from all sides of the clearing except w'here the end of a long lake came in. Overlooking the lake, at the far side, was the reconditioned hotel—a monster building but so nicely proportioned that it concealed its size. It was brave and glistening in fresh w'hite paint, its top studded with wide red chimneys, the kind that indicated fireplaces upstairs and dowm, and it had a swinging signboard—and in his mind Andy could see a dusty old stage coach rolling up. Men were at work mending roads, sw'amping brush, rolling
new tennis courts, building a pier and boathouse. Two empty lumber trucks were leaving and a loaded one wras coming in by a road that led out at the other side of the clearing.
Andy attracted no attention in the old utility phaeton he had borrowed from his host’s garage. He parked with a lot of other cars, and looked about with the most eager interest he had known in years.
From behind the hotel came the steady racket of a welldriving rig, and near the rig he could see men working in an excavation, probably for a pump house and the two huge pressure tanks dumped nearby. Perched on a boulder in the hole, a man held and turned a drill while tw'o others swung at it with sledges. On an impulse Andy peeled off sweater and shirt, his singlet exposing powerful brown arms and shoulders. He went over to the excavation wfith the coil of fuse and box of caps and asked for Miss Shepherd.
“You can take that stuff back,” said one of the men aggrievedly. “If she don’t send me a battery and wire and electric caps, she can get somebody else to do her blastin’.” “Where’ll I find her?” Andy asked.
“In the house.”
By the time Andy located her, he learned from stencillings on crate slats and boxes that her name wras Martha Shepherd. She wras in an upper room kneeling on the floor in front of a fireplace, sawring with an old butcher knife at the thick cords that bound a bundle, and beside her stood a man in paint-stained overalls who held three pieces of board daubed with color samples.
As Andy watched from the doorway she sat back on her heels, tapped one of the boards and said cheerfully:
“Now don’t argue wfith me. I w'ant that squash color on all the porch floors downstairs, and I want the apple green on the upstairs porches.”
“But, Miss Shepherd, I don’t think them colors will wear.” She grabbed up the knife, holding it like a dagger, her thumb at the end of the handle, and said, laughing:
“Get along with you or I’ll have your scalp!”
The painter went away. Andy came up behind her, reached over her shoulder, and as she looked up at him, astonished, he turned the knife in her hand.
“Hold it with the back toward your forearm,” he said. “If you held it with the sharp edge along your arm, and it w'as shoved against you, you’d get cut, in a fight.”
“Gracious ! What a terrible idea !”
“I’m just full of ideas. Any chance for a job?” He knelt at the other side of the bundle, and to give her a moment to get used to him, he took the knife from her, cut the cords, peeled back the heavy paper and excelsior buffers. “Gosh, what gorgeous tiles! All different designs! Going to lace this fireplace wfith them? Great !”
They looked at each other across the bundle of tiles. He said:
“Not blueberry blue, at that—but sea blue.”
She tried for a stem, executive manner, failed, and laughed —two deep dimples and some very white teeth making themselves suddenly evident.
“What on earth are you talking about?”
“Oh—the tiles—the tiles. Say—these are French, and very old. Much too good for just a hotel bedroom.”
“This is going to be my room—I hope.” She blushed, and said hurriedly: “But if you call that old porcelain-blue a sea—”
“Look, here’s one wfith a stage-coach. Ha! Hola! ‘The night is late—we dare not wait—the wfinds begin to blow—” “Help, help!” she said faintly. “Must you sing?”
He finished: “And do I get the job—or do I have to go?” “Are you being serious?”
TT WAS HARD for her to be businesslike with him. She felt embarrassed, as though she w'ere the new teacher facing for the first time the biggest boy in school. She said: “What can you do?”
“Madam, I do all things—but sloppily. I fear I am not very thorough, only I’m terribly ambitious. Now I wouldn’t wish to put another fellow out of work—so on my way into your handsome hostelry—”
She interrupted, but he held up his hand.
“By the way, permit me to compliment you for your work of restoration. Not only have you preserved all its original simplicity of design, but by certain cunning touches— —notably those splendid pillars in front and the colonial treatment of the entrances—you have given it a beauty it didn’t know it had.”
“I thank you kindly, sir.”
“To resume: On the way in, I
picked for myself a task that has been
neglected. I observed tw'o unsightly young mountains. One composed of plaster, no doubt ripped from these ancient walls. The other consists of old broken furniture, rugs, carpets and hangings. I can help to enhance the charm of your premises by removing these, together wfith sundry crates, fragments of lumber and whatnot. May I apply for the position of scavenger and incinerating engineer?”
She shook her head in mock awe and w'onder. She regarded him steadily, smilingly.
“I do believe you are the answ'er to a prayer. The grounds look terrible—and my uncle is coming to make an inspection—and I want to make a good appearance. I don’t like to take any of the other men from their w'ork—and so—and so you are hired, mister—mister—”
He said gravely:
“Throughout the simple fishing village and e’en in the moors beyond, he w'as know'n to one and all as Andy. I thank you, lady, and—er-—business of touching the forelock in respectful salute.”
He got to his feet, held out a hand to help her rise, but she ignored it. He flushed and said hastily:
“If you only knew how glad I am to have this job, Miss Shepherd.”
“That’s all right—er—Andy. And now if you’ll excuse
“Certainly. I too, am busy. If I don’t hurry I shall be late for a bit of demolition practice.”
He bow'ed and rushed out. She stared after the eccentric lellow she had hired, and for a long moment she was lost in a day dream. She came out of it to find herself twisting a ring she wore on her left hand, an engagement ring, wfith the stone turned in to shield it from hard knocks. She blushed hotly. She thought: “What’s the matter with me? Have I gone crazy? Why, he’s just another college smarty, or a farmer’s son who’s been to agricultural school and come home too full of words.” And then she thought: “He is not! He’s nice!”
With every circumstance of concentration and industry she flew at the tiles, unpacked them, spread them and made herself believe she was deciding which tile should go where. What she was trying to do w'as remember what “demolition” meant. “Oh dear, it’s like doing a cross-word puzzle; you know the w'ord but just can’t hit on it.”
Twenty minutes later, it came to her. “To demolish! Of course—and he must have meant blasting!”
She crossed the upper hall quickly and looked out a side window. She saw Andy in the excavation w'here the boulder now w'as covered with a matting of logs and brush. The hole was fringed wfith workmen, and Andy was saying, “What’s the matter with you birds? Using ten feet of fuse for one little shot!” He knelt, out of her vision, then reappeared and threw a length of fuse out on the ground, and snapped a knife shut against his leg. The men scattered from the hole.
She saw Andy scratch a match, kneel—for a very long time, it seemed—then he leaped lightly out and walked away, looking back over his shoulder. She wanted to scream, “Andy! Look out!” The other men had taken cover like Indians. There w'as a sharp detonation, the logs and brush heaved and stone fragments whistled. She saw Andy’s trouser legs flutter in the breeze that shot along the ground.
He glanced up, saw her watching, grinned, and stopped himself in the act of waving to her. She moved away from the window and went back to sorting tiles. “He knows about knives, and now he’s giving blasting lessons. Who in the w'orld can he be?”
ANDY QUIT at five when the others did, and he went - aw'ay so dirty he had to stop, peel off and bathe in the creek, before going on through the village and to the house
he was visiting: He had worked steadily without lunch, and he was tired and hungry but very happy. His mind was made up, but as he changed and packed he considered angles.
He had a shipboard acquaintance with his host and hostess. He had the luncheon and dinner friendship of the other guests. With none of them had he talked anything but the abstractions of people who hadn’t pondered a vital problem for generations. None of them really knew him. None cared whether he stayed or went.
He said his good-bys to the guests, gave his thanks to his hostess and his tips to the servants, and drove away in his own car.
Beyond the village he hired a rexim at a farmhouse, ate with the farmer’s family in the kitchen, then went back to the village. He bought an alarm clock, a hatchet—and the double-bitted axe he craved. He bought a dinner pail—he’d always wanted an old-fashioned dinner pail—and he bought overalls and working gloves and shirts, and brogans that squeaked importantly.
The next morning he had forgotten the alarm clock, and at the ringing reached sleepily for a non-existent bedside telephone. Then he thought, “This whole business is very silly,” and decided to have another nap. But, his mind clearing, he thought: “This is the chance of a lifetime, Mr. Sears. Don’t quit now.”
That morning he located, near the hotel, an old quarry where he could burn things. He borrowed a light truck and went to work. By noon he had hauled off the heap of old furnishings. He sat with the other men as they ate their lunches, and responded to their joshing about his shiny new dinner pail—new, though it had stood for a generation on a back store shelf.
He hadn’t seen Miss Shepherd, but she had seen him, and when he came to her, after lunch, she gave him a friendly smile.
“You made quick work of that trash heap—but who is the farmer who is hauling off that old mortar?” Andy beamed.
“I board with him. I was telling him last night about that big heap of plaster. He got very cagey and sounded around as to how much you’d want for it. He said, ‘Would she take twenty-five cents a load?’ and I said, ‘Yes, but you’ll have to do the hauling.’ So, instead of having to pay for removal, you’ll make a few dollars on it.”
She looked at him. She said suddenly: “Shake, Andy.” They
shook hands gravely. She said: “You’re the first man here who’s tried to save me money instead of wasting it. But what can he do with old plastering?”
“I asked him if his land wasn’t sour. I saw old lime used once. Don’t know how good it is, but he seemed to think it a grand idea to bust up those old chunks and sprinkle it over his acres.
She said abruptly:
“Andy, who are—I mean, do you live here?”
“I do, now.”
“You’ve lived here long enough to be as evasive as the other natives.”
He seemed shocked.
“Oh, no, Miss Shepherd. I’m not evasive, or mysterious or anything. I’m just a guy who’s going to ask about the
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east end of the cellar—for kindling wood, I mean.”
“You’ve got a hotel full of fireplaces. You can always use kindling. I don’t want to burn all those fine crates and boxes and lumber ends in the quarry. I want to split it and stack it in the cellar where it’ll keep dry, and be out of your way till you use it.” “Why, that sounds wonderful.”
“And one thing more, before we go out of conference. I’m no cabin boy peddling tales from the crew to the captain—but what are you paying your well drillers?”
“Four dollars a foot.”
“They’d have been glad to take threefifty. They’ve struck water already, all the water you’ll need, at a hundred and sixtythree feet, but they’ve gone down fiftyseven feet more, and they’ll keep on drilling without saying anything—”
“They will, eh!” Her eyes flashed. So did something else; something that for a second took the stiffening from Andy’s spine and almost made his knees buckle. A diamond, in an engagement ring.
He mumbled, “Well, guess I better get to work,” and he rushed away, leaving their conversation on a note neither had expected would be the one to finish it.
NOW WHAT?” she thought, then looked at her left hand with which she had gestured in impatience with the well drillers. Reconstructing that last scene, she visualized Andy staring, almost as though the dotted lines of the cartoonist had gone from his eyes to that ring.
Goodness, could it be that this strange youth was in love with her? Ridiculous! Why, she didn’t even know him, didn’t know his last name, had never seen him before she hired him yesterday. She remembered that yesterday she had had the stone turned in. She remembered that when he left her just now, he had a hurt, surprised look; the look that had prompted these reflections. She glowed, and hated herself for glowing, but it was nice to be loved.
“Well, if I’m not a ninny wasting precious time, with all I have to do !” But before she went back to her work, she stole a glance at Andy. With savage zeal he was smashing boxes with his new axe, and breaking the pieces into the right length for the fireplaces.
She couldn’t know the torment his mind was in. One little faction was telling him: “What’s the use? Don’t be a sap. There’s nothing here for you but blisters and bruises. Why don’t you quit now? Whatever made you think a fine, handsome girl like her would go unnoticed until a fat-headed loafer like you came along?”
Voices more insistent, if calmer, said: “All right, quit, just as you have quit on every other proposition you’ve tackled. This is fun, and you know it, and if you can’t marry your boss, that’s just too bad. You can’t have everything, and right now you’re having more fun than you ever thoughtof.” It began to rain, just at closing time. All the other men ran to their cars and hustled away. Andy saw Miss Shepherd standing on the lower porch, looking off over the lake where sheets of rain were greeting the little cones rising to meet them.
“Just a shower,” she said, “but for heaven’s sake come up here before you get soaked !”
He stood beside her, and they watched, silently, until the shower was over and the sun burst out. He looked toward the east.
“Where’s the rainbow? Do your rainbows here work on standard time or daylight saving?”
Without looking at him, she said:
“You are not from this vicinity, Andy?” “No, Martha—I beg your pardon. That slipped.”
She laughed and turned to him.
“Make it Martie, Andy. Martha means —ruler of the household—so I’m saving that until I merit it.”
For a time he didn’t answer, then he said softly:
“Gosh, it’s so beautiful here.”
‘I love it. It may sound silly to make a positive, definite statement, but I honestly believe I could spend the rest of my life here and love every moment of it.”
“Gee, do you feel that way—too?” Then he flushed. “I mean—I can’t tell you what it did to me when I first drove into this clearing, and saw the lake and the hotel, and everything. The lake sweeps out and around the comer of that mountain, and it’s got all the lure of a winding river, where you never know what you’ll see around the next bend. Gosh, wouldn’t it be great to build a swell raft and play Huckleberry Finn?”
She whispered, “Oh—dam.”
“What? Oh, excuse me. I thought. . . Oh, while I have a chance to ask, may I burn all those brush heaps for you? You said about your uncle coming, and I can get a permit from the fire warden tomorrow— and it sure will make the whole front approach look nicer to get it out of the ’way.” “Well, if you’re not the—” She caught herself, recalling that the husky, fine-looking chap beside her with a blue jumper thrown over his bare shoulders was, after all,-an employee. “I mean—I would appreciate it, and it’s thoughtful of you to—” “Not at all.” His voice was different now, not so confident and assertive as—could it be only yesterday? He went on quietly: “This whole place appeals to me. I suppose you’ll think I’m crazy. Miss—Martie, but if I were running a hotel, d’you know what I’d do?”
“Lots of times hotel guests have to leave in a hurry. No chance to dry bathing suits properly. I’d give every one of them a little waterproof bag, with the hotel name in tiny neat lettering. Cost little but make a good impression. Nice ad.”
“That is an idea !”
“And I’d have the clerks watch out— guests checking in, with tennis rackets—I’d have a package—three new balls delivered to their rooms—compliments of the Ridge Hill Tavern.”
“That’s a hunch !”
“Those with golf clubs—a couple of darned good golf balls sent to their rooms, compliments of the hostelry again. I know it may sound foolish, Martie, but no matter how wealthy a golfer might be, he’d remember some free golf balls for a long time—and brag about them !”
“And those who ride—you’d send a free horse?”
“Now you’re kidding, and I realize all my
ideas are about something to give away. But think of the impression on your departing guests!” fie thought a moment, then said, “Hah!” and nudged her. “For the horsey people—they always have trouble with riding bootsgetting them on and off. Supply their nxims with bootjacks and boot hooks and powder. Nothing like talcum powder for making ’em slip on easy. Then I’d train some nice, polite bellboy to get expert, pulling boots off. I’ve known girls to be late, dressing for dinner, because neither they nor their maids could pull off boots.”
“You win, Andy—and next you’ll have hints for those who come by airplane— great day !”
This last was prompted by the arrival of a huge, heavy yellow roadster that was dip; ping and rising across the clearing like a ship ! in head seas. It made a least series of short bounces, and stopped with a flat tire.
“Oh dear, he’s got a fiat !” she said.
Andy rushed off to the yellow car. A huge, handsome, red-headed fellow, with, as Andy thought, a permanent sneer that would curdle a custard pie, was leaning out, looking at a deflated rear tire. Before Andy could volunteer assistance, the red-headed youth said:
“What is this—a plot? Strewing nails to make business for the hotel garage? Here you, change this tire for me and make it snappy !”
Andy looked at him. He looked toward the hotel. Martie Shepherd was waving, and the red-headed fellow was waving back. “Oh well,” Andy thought, and when the man leaped out, Andy rummaged for tools. He found the jack and tire wrenches, and glanced at the hotel just in time to see the red-headed fellow embrace Martie Shepherd in a way that didn’t identify him with any of her immediate family.
Andy threw down the wrenches opposite the rear tire, and went behind the car with the jack. “This rounds out the day beautifully ! Business of changing tires for ye hated rival! Gosh, I’d like to wipe those grooves off his sour mush with two fast ones, dead centre !”
It took him some time to change the tire, for he had to move the car twice to find ground hard enough to hold the jack. When the owner came back he was in an ugly mood.
“What do you mean, moving my car all over the lot? Trying to puncture all the rest of ’em?”
Andy said nothing. The man jumped aboard his car so viciously he made it rock. He leaned over to dip a wallet from a rear trouser pocket.
“Well, well; come on, George. Speak up. How much do I owe you? And don’t try to put the gyp on me just because you country smart Alecks think—”
“This is all you owe me!” Andy reached in, got the man by the coat, yanked him out, all standing, in one move. Then he doubled him with a stiff jolt to the midriff and straightened him with a hook to the jaw. “I ought to fix your face, but your friends would never know you without that sour pan !”
The red-headed fellow waved his hands futilely, and with a frightened look at Andy, got into his car, made his motor roar, and drove away in an arc that would take him back to the road, his side door flapping until he was lost to sight.
THOROUGHLY ashamed now, Andy looked quickly back at the hotel. He had dropped his jumper on the porch, and nowT he walked back for it. He defended his conduct by thinking. “He was grouchy and thought he’d take it out on me. Well, I’m grouchy too, and 1 beat him to it. What’s he doing with a red head? He hasn’t the spunk of a bug. If he’d only mixed with me, he maybe could have smeared me.” And he dreaded what Miss Shepherd might say.
Fortunately she hadn’t seen the encounter. Andy picked up his coat, and was turning away when she came out of the hotel. She pulled back when she saw him. but it was top late. Obviously, Miss Martie Shepherd had been crying. Andy made a long business
of lighting his pipe, and without looking at her, he said:
“Just got another hunch. No hotel is complete without a garage.”
She said, now that she could use her voice. “I’m going to remodel that old red barn near the quarry for a garage. It’s just far enough from the hotel.”
“Look, Miss Shepherd—I guess you’ve had enough of me around here. I—I just socked that red-headed fellow.”
Handkerchief poised, she stared at him. “Why—my fiancé! I mean—he was my fiancé!”
Andy stared at her. “Oh, my gosh!”
“He was furious when I told him I wanted to stay here. He insisted I go right back to the city with him, and to a house party at Murray Bay and move in the circles in which I belong.’ He said he’d put up with enough of this—this nonsense. Is this hotel job nonsense, Andy?”
Andy realized it was only because she was upset—because they were alone out here— because she had to have someone to talk to. He said quickly:
“Look, Martie—” and then he paused, for he saw she no longer wore the ring on her left hand. “I mean, I know I may sound fresh, but please take pity on a poor farm hand. It just so happens that my father lets me use his car, and he also gave me just the right amount of money for just the kind of dinner we both could use. What say you?” She smiled faintly.
“I’ve never had the pleasure of knowing your father, and don’t spend all your patrimony on me—but—but—let’s go!”
They went, after he had changed at the larmhouse, and after she had changed, at her boarding place in the village. They drove miles, to a quiet place with nice music, and they talked of all the things that one might read in recent newspapers, and of this and of that, but nothing personal. And when he left her, he said, “Miss Boss—you’ve given me a gorgeous evening—and please, tomorrow, may I bum your brush?”
She said, “Good night, engineer in charge of conflagration operations. I’ll appreciate anything you can do in that regard. I have learned that my uncle is coming day after tomorrow, so let’s present a smiling exterior.”
A LL THE next day, which was cloudy and rainy, Andy was busy burning brush. He didn’t go near the hotel and he didn’t see Martie Shepherd.
On the day following, she came to him as he was busy with his kindling wood, in which he was taking monstrous pride. She admired the pile he had created, and then she said:
“Yesterday I was watching you. What on earth were you doing with all those old automobile tires?”
“Take a look—see any brush anywhere? Any signs of it but ashes? The idea is, you throw an old shoe on the ground, pile your brush on top of it, and as she burns, keep shoving the butt ends in and she all bums up clean. The tire rubber burns all day, or at least long enough to do the trick.”
“Well, I’m awfully grateful. This is the day of the big inspection, you know.” “You’ve got nothing to worry about. It looks great, inside and out. You’ve done wonders.”
“I hope my uncle thinks so.”
After lunch he saw three cars come in, with her uncle and a party of friends. He saw them in and about the hotel, as Martie guided them on their tour, and that evening, as he stood by his own car, pulling on a shirt, he saw the inspecting party come from the hotel; saw a stout man, the uncle, kiss Martie and join the others. They met at the cars. The uncle said to a man in the first car:
“Well, how about you, Arthur?”
The man called Arthur said:
“Well, how about you?”
The uncle chuckled, looking back at the hotel.
"Everything’s got a price. Name it; and if it’s my price, the place is yours, lock, stock and barrel—hotel, waterfront rights, live
hundred acres—the works. And listen, you mug, don’t you think you're going to get it for nothing, now that I’ve found it and improved it so any dumbbell could see its possibilities.”
“I’ll let you know, in the city,” said the man, Arthur. The cars drove away as Andy finished tucking in his shirt.
“Why, you fat old frog!” thought Andy. “After your niece has done all the dirty work! Why, you’d sell your grandfather’s monument! We’ll just have to see about you.”
He felt like rushing to Martie, to hear what she had to say about it. He made an errand to the hotel. She came out, radiant, ready to go home. She said :
“Andy! Isn’t it wonderful? My uncle is so pleased—and they all had such nice things to say. They all think it’s going to be just the smartest place—and a big success when it’s done and ready for business.” “Well—well, they ought to. Well, good night, Martie.”
He hustled to his car and drove away, leaving her surprised, disappointed, for she had wanted to talk.
FOR A WEEK he avoided her. He plugged steadily at his woodpile, for every day brought new crates, new boxes. The place was finished inside and the furnishings were arriving. One day he came to her as she was arranging chairs in the room where he had first talked to her.
“Gosh, this room of yours is grand ! That fireplace looks swell, now with all the tiles in place.” Then he stopped abruptly, for she had dropped into a chair and was crying. He fidgeted and said: “Here’s a package I found tied to one of the empty crates. Must be hinges or screws or castors for some furniture—what’s the matter, Martie?”
He dropped on his knees beside her and took her free hand. She was dabbing at her face with a handkerchief held in the other. She wouldn’t look at him. She said brokenly.
“Oh, Andy ! I can talk to you, somehow, because I think you love it here, just as I do.”
“You’re darned right I do. Come on; what’s wrong? Want me to slug somebody?” “Oh, gracious, no. But—but I broke my engagement, because I—well, he broke it because he said I liked it better here than in the city. And Andy—oh, Andy—this will never be my room now. My uncle has sold the hotel.”
“Who to?” Andy demanded.
“I got a telegram this morning. It’s been bought by the Ridge Hill Tavern Association, Incorporated.”
“Good!” Andy shouted. “That’s great! I hadn’t heard, myself, but—oh, boy!” “What are you saying? Do you know this association, or whatever it is?”
“I sure do. I ought to. It’s us, Martie.” She stared at him, regardless of tears. “Us?”
“Yup. Us, whether you marry me or not. But, oh, Martie darling, it’ll be so much nicer if you do marry me.”
“Why, Andy—Andy—what on earth is your last name, anyway?”
“Sears. Anderson Sears.”
“But I still don’t know—only I did know you were not what you seemed. That car of yours—and you’ve not collected your first week’s salary yet, and—”
He slid an arm around her.
“Look, sugarcane, I mean, whole jungles of same and forests of everything that’s wonderful. I love you—and for that reason alone I want to marry you and have you marry me. Don’t you love me even a little hit?”
She said softly:
"Andy, I must be horrid—but even when I knew 1 was engaged, I loved you that first day when you knelt here and said you wanted a job.”
She turned swiftly to him, put her arms
around him. She kissed him—and then somebody knocked discreetly at the open door. Andy got up, and Martie rose. A workman said:
“The hardware man wants to see you, Miss Shepherd.”
Andy and Martie went downstairs. The man with the lopsided spectacles stood on the porch, grinning. He said:
“I was coming out this way, Miss Shepherd, so I fetched along a dispatch for a Mister Anderson Sears, addressed care of you. Know the feller?” he finished, looking at Andy, his eyes twinkling.
Andy took the wire, opened it.
“Hooray! This is from my brokers in the city. This confirms the sale. The place is ours, for ever and aye !”
The hardware man poked Andy’s chest. “You’ve changed and so’s your face, but eyes never can. Today it come to me all of a sudden. Didn’t you used to be Buddy Sears, young feller?”
Martie looked swiftly at Andy. He blushed, but, grinning, he said to the man: “My public! You’re right—but don't tell anybody unless you feel you must. Thanks for the wire. We’ll give you all our hardware business if you keep your mouth shut about me. Come on. Martie !”
He grabbed her hand and raced her back upstairs to the room with the tiled fireplace. He shut the door, kissed her very vigorously, then made her sit down. He pulled up another chair, took her hands. She said: “But, Andy, darling—who on earth is, or was. Buddy Sears?”
“What price glory and fame! Listen, sweet: Fifteen years ago, and five or six
years before that, I was a child movie star. Made plenty of money for myself and my guardians—they’re dead now, but they were wonderful to me, and they invested well ; so well that for years I have been trying to find something to do. But what can a guy do when his career is behind him, at twentysix?”
“Why, Andy Sears! How wonderful! But why didn’t you go back to motion pictures?”
“Me an actor? Don’t make me laugh! What’s being a kid star got to do with acting? All kids can act—but when you’re older, it’s different. Anyway, for years I've been banging around, trying to get interested in something I could do. In the movies I learned the damdest hodge podge of useful and useless things—but I never had a chance to be a real kid. That’s why I’ve enjoyed being here, swinging an axe and blowing up stones and things. Why, just think, honey — here I’ve had my very first bonfires!”
She was looking at him with so much awe and wonderment, and love and admiration that he put his hands over her face.
“Quit it. will you, and promise me you won’t rub it in? I don’t want to be the former Buddy Sears. I want to be Sears, the hotel man, who’s going to make a thousand high-powered friends pay well to come here; who’s going to charge your uncle ten times as much as anybody else; who’s going to put in a lot of guest cabins and cottages in the woods, all designed by his handsome and talented wife; who’s going to have a hundred canoes and rafts for kids to play on; who’s going to—”
“Buddy Sears! Could I have seen you on the screen and not known—”
“Listen; don’t try to kid yourself or me. The first guy I’ve met in years that remembered me was that old hardware fellow—and I’ll have to shoot him to keep him lrom bragging about it. Buddy! How I hate that name !”
She put her arms around him, pulled him close.
“Could I call you—Buddy—when nobody else could hear?”
“You sure could — Martha — meaning, ruler of the household !”