The love story of a girl who decided she wanted a man who wouldn’t "tie up nice"
NOBODY ever came in on rainy days but naturally some boob had to hold down the telephone, so that was what Bill Burke was doing that wet, warm afternoon when the girl in blue walked in. She was a very pretty girl, young and straight and slim, and she wore both herself and her clothes with that assured and unconscious jauntiness which the French, having a word for it, call chic. Her little blue hat was snugged down and tiptilted. Her gay blue rubber raincape flowed intriguingly.
She was a girl who would have rated a second look and a long look even on Fifth Avenue, but she got no look at all from Bill because Bill didn’t see her.
For one thing, he was prevented by a simple matter of optics. The showroom was so full of cars—unsold cars, all shiny and new—that Bill couldn’t even see the front door from his seat in the rear. For another thing, Bill was brooding; and brooding called for placing his two feet firmly upon his desk and studying them protractedly through a haze of cigarette smoke. A disordered crumple of newspaper pages —today’s Southfield Standard—littered the floor beside him. So she was back, was she?
Back from the South or some place with her father and mother to open their home on Wolf Den Hill, so that it might be all scrubbed and cleaned and polished and made perfect for her marriage, two weeks hence, to Arthur Arturios Van Stoben, the well-known and popular lumber king.
Bill barked a crisp, private laugh. Well known and popular! About as popular, with the regular gang, as poison ivy. A pestilence. A snake. The kind of ape that wore silk shirts and drove an Italian car and made gaga goofs out of perfectly swell girls. Hmm ! So she had been seen in yesterday
afternoon’s shower wearing a powder-blue raincape and a powder-blue tailored hat! Good enough, decided Bill. Whatever trick color powder-blue was, all he would have to do would be to keep his eye peeled for a girl in a blue hat and coat—and then walk fast in the other direction.
Because he wasn’t going to see her or notice her. Not Bill Burke.
rTWlE GIRL in blue was walking around the front part of the showroom now, peering here and peering there, but Bill was immersed in himself. He was thinking that this rainy-day job of holding down the telephone was just another proof of how life could dig the spurs into you. The boss could go home to play bridge. The other salesmen, being senior, could go to the country club or to the movies or to the nearest beer tavern. No such luck for him.
The only visible person in Bill’s world was Wash. Wash was the colored man whose job it was to dust and polish every outward inch of every car in the place. Today, however, Wash was grouchy.
“Eleven cars on the floor!” grumbled Wash. “Man’d think I didn’t have anythin’ to do but rub and rub and rub.” “That’s what I might think if 1 was in the mood to do any thinking at all,” Bill remarked idly.
Wash glared. “Too many cars on the floor,” he persisted. “It looks like we ain’t doin’ business.”
“Why kick?” said Bill. “You’re doing business and getting paid for it, which is more than I can boast.”
Wash continued to glower. He said presently, between flips of his dust rag: “If some of you high-price salesmen would only stir around some—”
“You flatter me,” said Bill. “I’m not a salesman. I’m an office boy in long trousers. I’m a day watchman. I’m a chair presser. As a matter of fact I’m thinking of running for president of the chair pressers’ union. If you’ll give me a recommendation, Wash—”
Something blue flickered in front of Bill Burke’s eyes. The something blue was glossy and soft and rippling.
First, Bill squinted; then he moved. His feet and legs came slamming off the desk and down to the floor as if they were no part of him. But they must have been because he stood up on them.
Then Bill’s eyes opened wide. He stood rigid. He heard a familiar voice say eagerly, “Bill !”
She was holding out her two hands. Automatically Bill took them in his. Then, grimacing with abrupt recollection, he let them drop. But he did make à noise in his throat. The noise, rather husky, came out. “Polly!”
His eyes were drinking her in. He wanted to turn them away, but he couldn’t. The same curly, reddish-brown hair. The same blue eyes that looked out from under the longest lashes in the world. The same straight little nose. The same perky chin.
She was saying hurriedly: “P'irst I called the place you used to live and then I asked people. That’s how I found you right off. I—you see, I wanted to see you, Bill.” Now, as with an effort, she seemed to gather herself. “I mean I wanted to know what you were doing and everything. Is it really true that you’re selling cars?”
Bill managed a smile. He gripped his fingers into his palms. He said then: “Not so you’d notice it. Take a look at the sales chart in the office upstairs. One thing, though,
I’m consistent. I’ve been next to low man since October.” “But. Bill—”
He was fumbling out for the disconnected parts of himself and forcing them together by main strength into the person who ought to be Bill Burke. Having collected most of the parts he drew himself up. He smiled a better smile and said pleasantly: "How’s Van?”
“Van? Oh, of course! Van’s fine.”
“Is—is he here with you?” asked Bill.
“No, not yet. He’s coming up in a couple of days. I—that is—well, I sort of thought...” Polly let the thought drop, whatever it may have been. Instead of pursuing it she said quickly: “Tell me about you, Bill.” A red flush was creeping up over her face, up into her forehead.
“There’s nothing about me,” Bill assured her. “I mean here I am. The idea being if I can earn my own living for a year, entirely on my own, dad will take me into the factory and put me through the executive training course, such being the hereditary road to a harassed but not uncomfortable old age. You know dad— how he makes a point of no favors to friends or family, particularly family. Getting into that factory of his is harder than getting into the Supreme Court.”
“Are—are you making the grade, Bill?”
Looking past Polly, Bill said calmly to a dark shape that was hovering near: “Wash, your interest is flattering but not, if I may say so, entirely essential to the day’s business of the Lenhard Motor Company. Which reminds me— didn’t I see a sj>eck of dust on that maroon seven-passenger job way over there in the far corner? Ah, thank you, Wash. You’re psychic.” Now Bill grinned at Polly. He said: “Yes, I’m just a little better than making the grade, I guess, but sometimes it’s hard to tell, because so much of my toil consists entirely of sitting in a chair.”
Polly’s blue eyes twinkled. “My, my—think of that!” she exclaimed. "Probably you just have a natural affinity for chairs, Bill. Unless my memory fails me, you spent the whole of last summer at the beach, sitting in a chair on top of a wooden tower and looking majestically out over our well-known waves. ”
Now it was Bill who reddened. “That was my job,” he said defensively. “At least I was doing a job and getting paid for it; and if it kept me there all day and evening, could I help it?” :
“You made a very handsome lifeguard though,” said Polly ruminatively. “You had the best tan.”
“Sure,” muttered Bill, and for an instant his lips pressed together in a straight, thin line. “I was the handsome college lifeguard and another guy stole my girl away.”
“I wasn’t your girl, Bill. I mean, if I had been—well, I’m not the kind that gets stolen away.”
Bill shrugged. “Have it your own way, Polly. After all, it doesn't matter now any more.” No, Bill thought grimly, it didn’t matter any more—just only enough to give him a cold, dead pain down where his ribs stopped being ribs. It was a familiar pain; he had experienced it and lived with it, on and off and in varying degrees of intensity, since last September.
Polly eyed him for a long moment. Then she said slowly: “Bill, what I came here for—I came here to tell you—to ask you—” She checked herself abruptly. Then, with something of a smile: “We’ll let that pass,” she said.
“Anything suits me,” said Bill, who was very much in control of himself by now.
F)LLY brightened. “If anything suits you, how would you like to sell a car? I hadn’t been thinking of a Lenhard, but I sort of like the looks of the one in the window, the yellow convertible with red leather cushions.” Momentarily she hesitated, then: “Van wants me to pick out a car and sort of—sort of break it in. You know, the first five hundred miles that you have to take slow. He—he said I could pick it out.”
“Honeymoon car?” Bill enquired sardonically.
; “W-well, yes.” She stared at him while her cheeks and forehead flooded with pink. She said sharply: “Don’t look at me like that, as if I’d committed a murder or something. Why can’t I go on a honeymoon? Thousands of people go on honeymoons all the time, don't they?”
¡ “You’re asking at the wrong window,” said Bill, his face expressionless. “The honeymoon window is three aisles over and two to the right.”
Polly reached out instinctively with her two hands. She had to blink her eyes fast because her eyes were smarting and blurry. Somehow her two hands caught Bill’s two hands, clung to them. Then all at once she shook herself, literally Shook herself, as a dog does after a bath, and she contrived a smile.
“Bill, I’m sorry. I mean for different things. But I want that car. 1 really do. I mean if you could bring it out to the house and let me try it. You see, if you could bring it out to the house I could sort of try it—you know, try it.”
Bill peered at her soberly. After a little, “Are you going to marry this egg?” he asked.
“Yes—ves, I am.”
“No fooling, Bill. I’m going to marry him. That’s
settled. And final. And everything.”
Bill continued to peer at her. “There’s something poetic about this,” he remarked presently. “Beautifully poetic. He takes my girl. I take his money for a honeymoon chariot. Yes, a beautifully poetic thought.” He roused himself. He said: “Okay, when do you want it demonstrated?”
“This afternoon. Right away, as soon as I can get home.”
“She’s a sweet job,” said Bill, speaking professionally.
And the car was; he knew that. It was a special job, a convertible cabriolet on the long wheelbase, deep yellow with vermilion and black striping, and with vermilion artillery wheels and vermilion leatherwork.
It was agleam with chromium plate and chromium gadgets. It was what the shop called a lemon, not on account of its color, which was more golden than lemon, but because it was a trick job, an almost impossible sale in a conservative town like Southfield. Its price, equipped and delivered, was a flat $200 above the book.
Therefore it carried not only the regular salesman’s commission but a bonus to the lucky man who could move it off the floor.
Bill reflected that he could use both the commission and the bonus. Nevertheless he said to Polly: “The boat is a honey, but you’re paying a big premium for tinsel, you know.”
"I—Van likes them that way,” said Polly.
“Splendid,” said Bill. “Suits me perfectly. I’ll have the crate up at your place in an hour on the dot.”
“Pm afraid we’re all out of dots,” Polly said demurely. “Or were you planning to bring one with you?”
Bill grinned. Miserable or not, he couldn’t help it. He said, as if weighing a problem: “The car isn’t equipped to carry dots. Anyway it’s illegal. I tell you what, though— I can bring it up on time. I have plenty of time.”
“On time is the only way I could buy it,” said Polly. Bill chuckled. “I must be losing my speed,” he conceded. “You’re too fast for me today. I hereby award you the furlined cocktail shaker, Miss Platt, and am only assure
you that I will be up there in an hour without fail.” “Too bad,” said Polly. “That’s really too bad. I was hoping you’d come with fail. All my life people have been coming without fail, but nobody yet has ever come with it.”
SHE MADE her exit then, and Bill went into action. He stalked to the big double doors that led to the service department in the rear, a vast concrete-floored garage packed with cars in all stages of decrepitude and smelling vilely of grease, gasoline, lacquer, rotting rubber and road tar.
“Mike!” yelled Bill.
Then, as a grimy figure backed out from under a car: “Oh, there you are. Listen, Mike. Put the Welsh rabbit on the road—yeah, the yellow knock-down coop. Sure, I know it’s raining but never mind. Wash’ll make it look like
a lily again, and maybe it’s a sale. Five gas, Mike. Check oil and grease and wiring. Strap on dealer’s plates and check twenty-five pounds into the tires. Not thirty. Twenty-five rides softer. Got it?’’
Then Bill stalked back to the telephone and called his boss. “Going out,” said Bill succinctly. “Demonstration, the yellow terror. Get some other sucker to hold down the wire and bite his nails.”
Bill was feeling better. He was doing something, moving. Whether he made a sale or not didn’t matter so much; at least he was moving instead of demonstrating Newton’s law in a chair. As for Polly—well, this was a chance to prove to Polly that he could take it on the chin and take it with a smile; take it grinning instead of the way he had taken it last September, when he had been completely numbed by the shock.
Charlie Harris, summoned by telephone, came in from the country club, openly annoyed. Bill said to Charlie: “Now, little man, suppose you take the death watch. I m going places.”
Bill pranced out to the street. The yellow terror was there, ready and waiting for him.
Wash, standing beside the big car, said plaintively: “Don’t splash her too much, Mister Bill. ’Member, I got to hose her and sponge her and dry her and rub her down. I don’t like these here rainy days.”
“I’m crazy about them,” said Bill.
And he was, today. Maybe Polly had something to do with it, he conceded to himself. Marrying another man or not, she was so completely lovely, so completely Polly— but that was nutty. Morbid. Nutty. Bill let the yellow terror drift along, because he was far ahead of his scheduled time. He pulled up at the Post Road traffic light; gosh, the brakes were swell! Then he gave her the button and she
jumped like a whippet let loose on a dog track. The rain came drizzling down but the twin windshield wipers gave him constant clear vision along the road ahead. The windshield wipers were swell. The car was swell. Almost everything was swell.
With time ahead of him Bill swung into a winding side road, miles longer and probably containing grief for Wash, but enticing on this wet green day. The road twisted, lifted, climbed a hill, dropped, climbed another hill. The whole visible world was wet. The whole lower half of the visible world was green; fields, meadows, pastures, sidehills, woodlands. All green, lush, fragrant with promise of summer.
Funny; it seemed so natural to be with Polly again. Just as if they had never left off. It was one of those things you couldn’t make yourself believe, that she was going to marry somebody else, another man. It just didn’t seem real, even though it actually was. Two weeks from tomorrow, and then she would be Mrs. Arthur Arturios Van Stoben, the most unpleasant thought Bill could think of. Well, it had been coming since September. The thing was to get it over with and forget it. Blank it out. Sponge it out. For ever. Find another girl. Yes, that was the sensible thing; find another girl. Like Polly. Bill, then, began to laugh, not pleasantly.
He thought desperately: “If there was only a chance. .
BUT THERE wasn’t a chance. Bill sensed it and Polly knew it. Polly couldn’t help being in love with Bill, the way she had always been, so it seemed; and she couldn’t help needing to tell Bill—well, nothing disloyal to Van but something just enough to dull the edge of the pain that had kept catching at her heart for months. She simply had to explain to Bill, just as she had tried to explain last fall; only last fall, the way things were, she couldn’t explain a thing.
It couldn’t possibly have been done last fall, but it could be done now. It wasn’t, she told herself, that she wanted to justify herself to Bill. No, it wasn’t that, because she had plenty of justification. And Bill, of all people, would understand about playing square and standing by a bargain. It was just that it would help her—and Bill, too— and make the whole of the rest of their lives happier and easier for them.
Last fall had been pretty bad. While her father was in his mood, or whatever it was, any explaining would have been impossible. You couldn’t explain that you had come upon your father while he was, as he protested later, cleaning his revolver. Only there were no cleaning rags or ramrods or anything. Actually you had come upon him sitting in a chair and looking straight ahead at nothing and balancing the loaded pistol in his hand. And smiling bitterly. And mumbling to himself. So far away was he by then that he didn’t even hear you come in—not till you grabbed the gun and yanked it away from him.
Much later Polly’s father had said something sheepish about life insurance. It seemed he was carrying a rather stupendous policy, and that he had begun to feel he was worth more dead than alive. He wasn’t worth anything alive, he confessed; there simply wasn't any money left. He —well, Polly could understand. For her sake and her mother’s he had been ]x>ndering something that was very distasteful to him.
So Polly, explaining nothing to anybody, simply accepted Van. Van didn’t have millions, but he did have several hundreds of thousands. And then Polly and her mother pawned some rings and bracelets and necklaces and things, and took Polly’s father south. And then Van, slightly prodded, spontaneously offered to put fifty thousand into Polly’s father’s business. The rest, now, was history. Polly’s father was going strong again, and Polly was going to marry Van. Her given word was her given word, and Polly was no welsher.
But she did think that now, with everything all right, she ought to explain to Bill. Last fall she had left Bill flat; fiat and bewildered and very, very angry toward the last. That, she knew now, had been an unforgivable thing to do. Thus the yellow car had come as an inspiration from heaven. To get Bill up to the house, where she could talk to him alone and quietly—in front of a log fire, perhaps—she would buy a yellow car or a pink car with feathers on it. The car, with Van, would be just an incident; one car more or less wouldn’t matter. But it would matter with Bill. It would give her an hour alone with him, and somehow she would find a way to tell him what she had to tell. Tell him and then say a final good-by.
So Polly Platt walked out of the Lenhard automobile showroom and, with a log fire in her thoughts, marched along Owenoke Road toward the taxi stand.
She was alone in town and without conveyance because her parents had driven off to the city in the family car to search out a priceless man and wife who once had worked for them. The servants who had come up with them yesterday had taken one look at the loneliness of the country and given immediate notice, so the servants had been transported to the train, with no blessings. Polly had been dropped off to do odds and ends of marketing, after which she was to take a taxi back to Wolf Den Hill. Her father and mother would be home by six, they were sure.
Polly did not pause to recollect that she had ordered no groceries, done no errands. She had found Bill. He would be with her in an hour.
At first, when the telegraph girl waved at her from the telegraph office window, Polly just took it for a greeting and waved back. But then the telegraph girl came running to the door. It seemed there was a telegram for Polly.
“I tried to get you on the phone,” explained the girl, “but something’s out of order with your line.”
“Just nobody there,” said Polly absently, reaching out for the message. It was from Van.
Plans changed flying north today arriving Southfield
rail will taxi direct to house hour uncertain probably
midafternoon love. A. A. Van Stoben.
POLLY STARED blankly at the typed letters. As if she couldn’t quite believe its import she read the message twice, a third time, a fourth. Then she straightened and said as cheerfully as she could to the operator: Thank you,
Janie. You’ve lost a little weight, haven’t you?”
“Six pounds,” said Janie, beaming. ‘ I m dieting.
Polly turned then. She made straight for the Lenhard automobile agency. The thing to do, the only thing, was to catch Bill lx:fore he started. It would be humiliating to Bill to put him in the embarrassing position of walking in and finding Van sitting there, when Van, by her own statement, was supposed to be miles and miles away. It would be a mess, maybe a bad mess, to have Van walk in and find Bill there with her at the house. Van, who was inclined to be proprietary, could be nasty of tongue, as Polly had learned by being engaged to Van. Let her so much as dance with the same boy twice in an evening, and Van would start his fireworks. Questions. Veiled insinuations. More questions.
Continued on page 38
Continued, from page 9—Starts on page 7
And then later, the next day perhaps, catchquestions. No, Bill would have to be stopped.
Polly wormed her way through the cars in the Lenhard showroom and finally reached the back, where a strange face blinked at her. The strange face said, holding out its hand: “The name is Harris, and is there anything I can do?”
“Yes,” said Polly. “Where’s Bill Burke?” “I—er—Mr. Burke isn’t here at the moment. I imagine I can give you any information—”
Wash sidled up diffidently. “Lady,” said Wash, “Mister Bill left about two minutes ago in that yellow boat. She was all gassed up and ready, and we just rolled her out and checked her and he drove her away. Listen, lady, get him to keep on hard roads, will you? I mean mud this time of year is just awful to hose off. You practically have to pry it off with a stick. Maybe you can catch him on the road out. He said he was goin’ to drive slow.”
But Polly didn’t catch Bill on the road, though her taxi slammed along at top speed. Only when she at length reached the house did it occur to her that probably Bill, with time to throw away, had driven around by one of the longer roads. Remembering Van, now, she said to the taxi man: “Blow your horn, loud.” That, at least, would tell her right off whether Van was here yet or not.
The driver performed a fortissimo upon the horn. He performed again. The noise racketed off into silence.
“I was expecting somebody,” Polly explained. “I guess he isn’t here yet.” She smiled a smile of relief.
“Want me to come in with you?” enquired the taxi man.
“Heavens, no!” laughed Polly. Then she said, because she felt like saying something:
“It’s funny how city people don’t get the country. We brought a man and wife out yesterday—you know, to take care of the place—and they got the heebies because there wasn’t another house in sight. I mean nothing near. They swore they saw a tramp hanging around, when, of course, all they saw was Old Man Jennings cutting across the hill from his woodlot down by the brook.” “There’s been some tramps around this winter, though,” the taxi man conceded. “But they don’t any of ’em plow through the snow this far out.”
‘‘Naturally not,” said Polly. She sent the taxi away, waited till its roar and rattle faded into complete stillness. Then she took a deep breath and lifted her chest, her shoulders, her chin. She smiled happily, because, just for a little piece of a minute, she was feeling happy. She couldn’t help it on this lovely, quiet hilltop. Her first baby steps had been completed here. Her childhood, her growing girlhood, both had been shared with this hill.
rTO THE southeast stretched a long glint A of gleaming water. To the northwest loomed a distant undulating blue shadow of the highlands. All around her, down whatever slope, tumbled friendly green countryside. The house itself, white-shingled on the outside, oak-framed and oak-pegged within, had stood for a century. It—well, it began to seem a little sad that she was going to have to go away; away and apart for all the rest of her days from this enchanting country which for ever and ever, so it seemed, had been weaving itself so sweetly into all the plans and hopes and dreams of the girl— could it possibly be herself?—who in two brief weeks would nevermore be Polly Platt.
Polly straightened abruptly. She said to
herself aloud, “Young woman, you’re getting jittery.” She walked to tne house. She walked in through the front door, which was never locked, day or night, except when the place was completely untenanted.
In the living room she stopped dead. There in a straight chair by the dining-room door sat Van. He was sitting very erect and he was wound about with clothesline, yards and yards of clothesline, and in his mouth was stuffed a gag, a dishtowel tied in back of his head. For a long moment Polly just stared, unable to comprehend what she was sure she was seeing. Then she ran forward.
She started tugging frantically at the hard knot in the dishtowel. Van was shrugging, wriggling, jerking, making grunts in his throat. His eyebrows worked. His eyelids blinked fast. His eyes whipped agonizedly sidewise.
It was then that a bulky shadow hung over Polly. She glanced up to find herself gaping at the hugest and most foul-looking man she ever had seen in her life, a man dressed in filthy rags, a giant of a man, unshaven, unshorn—and smiling an evil smile. The tramp !
“Lay off that,” the man rasped, grabbing Polly’s nearer wrist and twisting it painfully. “He’s my dee-coy, and he stays there— see?”
“Don’t talk that way to me,” snapped Polly, yanking at her wrist. “Let go my hand—do you hear?” Her heart was pounding. She could feel it pound.
“Well, well, well!” said the tramp, towering over her and still holding tight to her wrist. “I’ll say one thing, lady, you got more spunk than this flower had.” He thumbed toward Van, who squirmed in his chair. Now, uproariously, the tramp began to laugh.
“Stop that,” stormed Polly. “You—
you’ve been drinking.”
“Lady, you’re right I been drinking, and plenty. The flower here, he gives it to me. He gives me two bottles out of his suitcase. And look, lady”—momentarily the tramp fumbled with his free hand—“look what else he gives me. He gives it to me for not mussing him up but just sitting him gentle in that chair, like you see him there.”
From coarse and dirty fingers the tramp dangled before Polly’s eyes a fine, beautifully worked platinum chain, a chain studded with diamonds, from which hung as a pendant a single pear-shaped diamond as big as one of Polly’s fingernails. The gem, as it swung back and forth, glittered and glinted with a blue-white fire of its own.
“Not bad,” gloated the tramp. “I don’t have to pinch it, neither. He gives it to me free and clear. It was a present to his girl but now it’s a present to me. He says: Take this, take anythin’, only please don’t clout him—see?”
“I don’t believe you,” Polly said stoutly.
“Ask him,” prompted the tramp, leering.
Polly peered at Van. After a little she said, periodically tugging at her imprisoned wrist: “Of course, Van, this man is telling a lie. You never actually gave him that necklace, did you?”
Van, his eyes holding hers, swung his head vehemently from side to side.
The tramp scowled, took one long step forward. His elbow whipped back, a gigantic fist shot out. Van’s head snapped upward, backward, drooped sidewise with its eyes closed.
“You coward !” breathed Polly. “You drunken coward !”
“Lady,” the tramp said imperturbably,
“I may be drunk and what of it, but I ain’t goin’ to be called a liar by any yellow welsher —see? What I’m telling you is truth. He says lay off him and I say oke. We do business, see? Maybe I stick my thumb in his eye when I’m tyin’ him up—you know, accidental —and that’s when he tips me off to that blind wall safe upstairs that I never knew was even there. In the upstairs hall behind that big picture. He slips me the combination—look, lady !” This time the man produced a soiled and crumpled slip of paper from a fold of his rags and held it forward. “Would you know his writing, lady?”
VIZITH HER free hand Polly slapped the W paper to the floor. She said firmly: “Mr. Van Stoben is my fiancé, and I’ve had enough of your drunken talk.” But then, still facing the tramp, she wilted, sagged. She said, her voice tremulous: “Please!
You can’t take the things that are in that safe. They’re heirlooms. Some of them go back to my great-great-great-grandmother. You can’t take those.”
The tramp laughed harshly. He said: “Thanks for remindin’ me I’m talkin’ too much. That’s the liquor, lady.” He laughed anew. “Me, I take what I can get. I got four bags full and I’m waitin’ for a car. Taxis are no good—the driver’d see me cornin’—but pretty soon your pa and ma will roll in, and that’s when I go. See?” From somewhere in his clothing he produced a bottle, swigged a giant gulp. “Now, lady, do you tie up nice like this flower, or do I sock you?”
Polly tossed her head. “I certainly will not tie up nice,” she retorted angrily, and struck out at the man.
The tramp moved his arm. That was all Polly had time to see.
When at length she came awake her head was aching, her jaw ached, her whole body ached. She got her eyes wide open and discovered that she was lying under the sideboard on the dining-room floor, completely wrapped about with clothesline and with something tight and hurty tied through her mouth. She could wriggle gently; that was all. Well, there was no sense in wriggling.
The tramp appeared in the wide livingroom doorway, black-jowled, filthy, huge. He seemed to fill the doorway as his bleary eyes inspected her. Seeing her eyes open, he smiled his unpleasant smile—then abruptly he cocked his head, listening intently.
Polly, close to the floor, heard it too; the steady, strengthening throb of a motor which meant that a car was coming up the hill. She stiffened into alertness, fought to get her elbows under her so she could raise her head, see a little better. It would be Bill, of course. It would have to be Bill. . . Oh, gosh! If there were only some way in which she could warn Bill!
She saw the tramp tiptoe to one of the front windows, peek out through the glass. She heard the car pull up in front with a swish and crunch of gravel. She watched while the tramp tiptoed back, smirking his anticipation, and she watched while the tramp made himself as small as possible behind the jutting edge of the doorway that separated the dining room from the living room. The tramp, so hidden, was only a pounce from where Van still sat roped and gagged in his chair, a perfect decoy.
Outside a car door slammed. Presently, in the house, footfalls sounded. The footfalls stopped, held silent; then they advanced again. Nearer! Abruptly Bill Burke’s familiar and cheerful voice sang out: “Hey,
where’s everybody? Anybody home?”
It was then that Bill must have seen the figure of Van. The footfalls came banging fast across the living room—and there, in front of Van, stood Bill, his body bent forward, his eyes peering their incredulity.
The giant tramp jumped like a spider.
Lifting herself up higher on her elbows, which required a set-jawed strain against binding ropes, Polly missed what happened first. But it seemed that somehow Bill must have sensed the leaping shadow. Anyway, Bill grunted, ducked, heaved—and the tramp sprawled onward over the corner of Bill’s shoulder.
Then Polly saw a fight.
T IKE A CAT Bill was on top of the tramp,
' pounding, slamming with his fists. Bill was yelling at the top of his lungs. He was yelling unprintable words, yelling them down at the tramp. Then somehow the tramp jerked sidewise, they both slid into a side table which tumbled on top of them with its lamps, books and cigarette box — and now Bill was underneath.
The tramp laughed heartily, held Bill’s chin down with his right hand and slugged Continued on page 47
Continued from page 39—Starts on page 7
it with his left. The tramp now was rasping words out, too; words Polly never had heard. He was calling Bill the words, and holding Bill’s neck down and slugging Bill’s chin and nose and eyes.
So fast that Polly couldn’t follow, Bill did something with one of his knees, and the tramp leaped up and backward. This time the piano lamp crashed down and skidded across the floor. Bill, his face all bloody, was up on his feet again and jamming the giant into the piano comer. The tramp lunged forward.
“Yaa !” yelled Bill, and stepped in. “Lead with your right, will you?” yelled Bill.
The tramp, growling and swinging and striking out, edged around toward the fireplace. He was panting heavily. His eyes were narrow and bitter and mean. They flicked sidewise. Then, still punching with his right, the man picked up the iron firetongs from the hearth corner, whirled them once in air and slammed them full into Bill’s face.
But Bill’s face wasn’t there. It was coming forward like an arrowpoint as Bill, who had crouched for a dive, flung his whole weight lengthwise at the tramp’s knees. This time the Chinese cabinet crashed to splinters, but the tramp didn’t go entirely down. He extricated himself, leaped across tire room, picked up the chair containing the toped figure of Van, lifted it high, and then flung Van and the chair at Bill’s crouched and advancing figure.
Bill, dodging, threw a book-end. It went through one of the end windows with a tinkle of falling glass, and the tramp laughed hoarsely. “Come on !” grunted the tramp. “Before I slam you down, baby, I’ll say one thing—you can take it.” Then the tramp, juggling it, whipped back and threw a jadegreen flower vase.
The vase clipped Bill’s forehead, cut it wide open, but Bill, his eyes gleaming like the eyes of a hunting cat, came on in. “Take that,” blared Bill as the tramp instinctively stepped back. And with all his strength Bill planted a left-right into the pit of the tramp’s stomach.
The tramp opened his mouth wide in surprise. Bill slugged him down, knelt on him slugged him till he was white and absolutely still.
'"THEN SLOWLY Bill Burke stood up, wiped his hand absently across his forehead and peered at the hand in astonishment, finding it dark red with a liquid smear of blood. The whole hand was red, shiny. For a moment Bill blinked at the red hand; then he remembered something. What he remembered was the clothesline tied around
the figure of Van. He got out his jackknife, knelt by Van’s sprawled chair, and by pulling and spinning the chair, with Van in it, got most of the clothesline off. Then, occasionally wiping a darkish, reddish something out of his eyes, Bill tied up the tramp, ankles knees, arms.
“That’s that,” said Bill to himself, eyeing the tramp with satisfaction. He staggered, caught himself.
It was then that he saw Polly in the dining room. He knelt over her, laughing a little giddily. “I didn’t see you,” he said. He kept saying it, over and over: “I didn’t see you.” He slipped as he knelt and had to brace himself. “I guess I’m a clumsy ox,” he said.
As Polly was stumbling to her feet Van strolled into the dining room. With the rope off, he had removed his own gag. He was straightening his clothing, smoothing his jacket, smoothing the crease in his trousers. He held out a hand to Bill. “Thanks a lot, old man,” he said. “It was sporting of you.” “Oh, that’s all right,” Bill said weakly. He was beginning to feel sort of rotten; sickish, sort of. He didn’t know why Van was here. He didn’t care. He just felt bum.
Van addressed Polly. “The only thing I’m wondering,” said Van, “is why Mr. Burke happened to be here so opportunely.” Polly glanced down toward a slip of soiled and crumpled paper that lay upon the floor. She bent, picked it up. studied it. Then she said wonderinglv: “Van, did you truly give away the necklace and the heirlooms? The necklace was yours to start with, but the Platt heirlooms—”
Van stiffened. “What’s money?” he countered. “We can replace anything of value, can’t we? If you think I was foolish in making a bargain with the man, I frankly disagree with you. Would you want me to be all black and blue for the wedding?” Polly looked at Bill, who stood there not quite hearing what was going on. Bill, doing his best to look socially alert, was cut bleeding, dark with puffy bruises. He stood limp. His clothes were tom. His jacket was a sleeve and some ribbons of lining.
Van scowled. He said firmly to Polly: “Polly, I don’t entirely like the way you look at tiffs man. I think I’m entitled to ask what he’s doing here.”
Polly smiled. She wasn’t feeling any too splendid herself, but her smile was a radiant triumph of happiness over muscles. She said in a quiet voice that she hardly recognized: “You’re quite entitled to ask, Van. I have just made up my mind that Bill is the man I am going to marry.”
Bill stared at lier. Then Bill fainted. But he didn’t fall hard because Polly caught him in her arms.