The gang said he was the dumbest dumbbell that ever hit town but they never dreamed he'd do the fool thing he did
IT WAS the only thing you could have called him. He was the darnedest, dumbest, most exasperating fool that ever struck our town, and that’s putting it mildly. Why old Vicars, the druggist, ever brought in a kid like that for assistant when he could have had his pick of likely local boys, was a never-failing source of wonder. 1» was something to do with a salesman’s recommendation -and it certainly aroused our ire on the question of imported products, right from the start.
His name was Calvin Davis. That might have passed except for his way of saying. “Hey. fellows, call me Cal.’’ the second minute of acquaintance. Two minutes of acquaintance were no inspiration for a third; instead of “Cal" he got "Calvin” with a vengeance, and with all the dignity a bunch of near-matriculants could muster. You see the trouble was, he’d set his fool mind square on crashing our particular gang. Our gang, without conceit, considered itself tops in town. That alone was reason for a variety of trouble.
More than that, he set his eye on Kay Martin. She was the doctor's girl -one of these dark, vivacious bits of femininity that do things to the male heart. Her rate was A plus with us all. That piece of nerve on Calvin’s part didn’t help matters any.
I remember the first day we piled into the soda fountain after school, and found him there. We sat down in a row and stared as he mishandled a pile of sodas in a way you wouldn’t think was possible. Weedy—that’s what you’d call him. He was maybe six foot one, although he wasn’t over seventeen, and with the darnedest mass of flaming red hair. It seemed to spill over his face in all directions, so lie was forever jerking his head back like a startled horse. He had light blue eyes, big ears, and freckles so close together you could only just see how unnaturally white his skin was underneath. He wore a light grey jacket which fitted him something like a sack, and his hands were so large and clumsy he was forever dropping things. Once a glass of water went slithering out of his grasp along the counter, and landed on Don Martin’s knees. Don was Kay’s twin, and there was no mistaking the fact that he had a heart-throb physique. He kxiked up at Calvin as he set the glass back on the counter, and reached out for some paper napkins.
“Say, pal, do you have to?” he asked mildly. For all his l(X)ks. Don wasn’t one to make a guy feel embarrassed. That was before we knew what a limpet Calvin Davis was going to prove himself to be.
That was the first time. too. we knew for sure he was a fool. If he had acted straight, and made some crack about knowing he was a ham-handed nitwit, we’d have tolerated his mismanagement without much thought. Hut no. Nothing like that for "Call me Cal!” He was flustered enough, and he gave Don a towel but he tried to put it over with a bit too much comradely spirit.
“Sure. Cal’s the name,” he said, grinning back at Don. I lis voice was the best part of him. It was sort of deep and soft. Hut we weren’t in any frame of mind to appreciate fine vocal qualities. "I’m pleased to meet you. fellows,” he went on in chatty vein. “This old fountain’s not so modern. I’m not used to small-town ways, and things keep me guessing.”
HTHAT WAS the first intimation we had that he wasn’t a hayseed, for he had all the earmarks of the genuine, primitive article. Hut he came from the city and he wasn’t slow in letting us know it. While Green Bend may be small town, we’re not so small we’re rustics, and we’ve turned out some citizens we’re proud of. I guess Calvin Davis couldn’t have said a thing better calculated to start him off all wrong.
He babbled on about the city, and we just pulled at our and said to each other sideways that it was a pity he hadn’t stayed there. Just then the door opened, and Kay Martin rush«! in with a couple of her pals. They were all excited. and Kay went straight to Don. She slipped her hand through his arm, and rubbed her dark curly head against his shoulder in a way that looked positively seductive.
"Darling, darling, darling.” she said, and threw a wealth of caress into her voice which we all knew she’d never triixl on any other fellow. There’d lx* no holding him on earth if she did. “How much do you love your precious pet today?”
I caught a glimpse of Calvin. He was staring, openmouthed; and I came to the conclusion that even in his precious city he wasn’t acquainted with young ladies quite so openly alluring. And naturally, to a stranger, it would seem as if Kay was just another girl who’d gone a bit haywire in the sweet name of love.
Don grinned over Kay’s head and said. “Unhand me. brat. I don’t love you my last dime’s worth this afternoon. Anyway. I’ve just spent it." Which was another way of saying he wasn’t one to lx* fooled by her wiles.
“Don. you couldn’t be so mean!” She looked at him reproachfully. “I’ve just seen them.” she waxed enthusiastic. “They’re stockings. You know, the knee-high kind, and they’re the most divine color. It’s the only pair they have just like them, and I II die if they go! Dad’s not up in his office. So just a little dollar until Saturday, sweet.”
“Stockings!” The gang broke into a roar, half amusement, half disapproval. “A dollar!” To any of us a dollar was a fortune not to be wasted on such frivolity. Some things about women still didn't make much sense. But we all dived into our pockets quickly. After all, we’d known Kay from the time we sat in the baby class at Sunday school, and the Martin kids were scrupulous about paying up their debts. Doctor Martin may have brought them up without a mother—she didn’t even live to see them—but he’d made a job of them that was worth noticing.
That was the second time Calvin was to prove himself an all-fired fool. We’d counted up to eight cents with a lot of talk and laughing, when the fellow had the actual nerve to lean right through our midst with a crisp paper dollar in his hand.
“Here, miss,” he said. “I’ll be glad to loan you this!”
Well. Kay’s reaction to that should have made a crack in any chopping-block skull. She drew herself right up and looked at him, and then she looked at us as if to say what sort of beetle’s this, why don’t you squash it. someone. Even that did not suppress him.
“It’s all right,” he insisted amiably. “These fellows here all know me.”
Kay looked at the dollar bill as if it might jump up and bite her. “I don’t know you, and that’s what counts with me!” she said crisply. Kay certainly knew how to keep a fellow in his place.
Only this fool didn’t seem to know his place. He couldn’t keep his eyes turned away.
“I’m willing that you should know me," he said, as if he was conferring a favor.
This was too much, and Don stood up with a hand on Kay’s arm. “Listen, you lug, this girl's my sister,” he said softly.
I guess Calvin didn’t understand that sort of softness. In fact, the guy looked positively pleased. “You don’t say—” he began.
"I do say—and I'd advise you to lay off!” Don looked him up and down in a way that shouldn’t have been encouraging.
Kay wasn’t one for making public scenes, and she jerked Don with her elbow. “Come on. let’s get out of this.” she said, low voiced. Hut I guess the appearance of old Vicars in the back of the store was what really stopped it. We got out and the last we saw of Calvin was as he straightened and put the dollar bill back in his pocket, and got busyclearing up the dirty glasses. Even then, the way he start'd after us. gave us something to talk about all the way home.
Y\ TV. WERE still talking at dinner. Being Don’s pal and always glad of a chance to hang around Kay, I ate over there as much as in my own place. We discussed Mr. Calvin Davis in no uncertain terms. And we all opened our eyes when Doctor Martin broke into the conversation.
“You mean that drugstore lad? He strikes me as a good, bright sort of boy."
Gtxxi bright boy! Well, any of us would have died for Doctor Martin he was that sort of man. Hut this was too much to stand in silence.
“Dad, we know you’ve got a heart a mile wide.” Don said pityingly when the commotion subsided. “But you're going just a bit too far. That fellow’s got a hollow cavern underneath his dome.”
“Well. now. I wouldn’t say just that.” Doctor Martin looked as if Don’s expression of pity amused him. which may have been good reason why they all got on so well
together. There wasn’t much bullying either way. He went on talking about Calvin Davis. “He’s one of a large family, and I fancy they’ve had quite a struggle. This boy is keen on chemistry, and he wants to study until he can take exams, and be a full-fledged dispenser.”
We gasped. “Then heaven help your patients, dad.” Kay looked pious, and we just about exploded. The doctor did not deliver his parting shot until he was finished, and nearly at the door.
“By the way,” he said pleasantly then, “you’ll be interested to know' your friend Calvin will be dropping around here on Sunday afternoon.”
“What !” That was a fervent cry.
Doctor Martin pulled out his watch, as if he must rush away. “Yes. He was asking about some science books this afternoon, and when I said I’d let him see what I had, he asked if he could call around.”
“What time was this?” Don demanded with dark suspicion.
“Oh, around six. I fancy. I went in there on my way home from the office.”
“Then that’s it !” Don banged his fist down on the table. “I knew he was a dirty little chiseller. Didn’t I tell you he had his eye on Kay !”
“I’ll black it out,” I murmured gallantly. Kay flashed me a look, half amusement, half despair. Kay never was one tp take my devotion seriously.
“Don’t trouble, Pug.” she said kindly. “I’m no Helen of Troy.” She forgot me at once. “Daddy, you’re dumb,” she wailed. “You might have known the fool kid was up to tricks.”
The doctor retired with dignity. “Well, well,” he said, and vanished.
That got him out of it neatly, but it left us staring. We didn’t blame Kay’s father, really. It was just a case of too much philanthropy. But where did it put us?
It put us right on the premises on Sunday afternoon. If Calvin Davis had ideas, we weren’t going to miss a chance to see them sprout.
HE CAME, precisely at two, all in his best. His best took in a greenish suit, a spotted tie, gaudy checked socks, and a slick grey hat set at a racy angle on his flaming head. We sat on the steps and watched him over the top of the week-end comics. Kay caught my hand and pressed it to her brow.
“Feel my temples hum,” she murmured. “That’s the pulse of true emotion. I’ve just gone and lost my sweet girlhood heart.” Then she rose.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Davis,” she said sweetly and coolly. “Dad’s waiting for you. He’s not busy, so you can have a nice long talk all afternoon.”
We all conceded the guy put on a swell act of innocence. He opened his mouth at Kay and gaped. “Gosh! You mean you’re Doctor Martin’s daughter?”
“I am,” Kay agreed. “And it’s nice to know that you and dad have so much scientific interest in common.” I guess we were all dubious about that dispensing gag.
Calvin stared some more. I íe tcx)k off his hat and twirled it around on his finger. With his other hand lie did abrupt things to his necktie.
“Well, it’s nice to know he feels that way about me,” he
admitted modestly. We caught each other’s eye. and nearly cracked wide open. Calvin knew more answers than we expected. But we felt jubilant to see him caught in a trap of his own making. We knew what Doc Martin was when he got wound up on his pet theories.
“Come on,” said Don. “I’ll show you in.”
He came back, and we sat awhile and chuckled. Then Kay decided to do some gardening. She went down on the path, and started poking with a trowel. She wore a bright flowered smock, and her hair was caught back with a narrow strip of red ribbon. She looked so alluring I forgot Calvin and lost myself in dreams.
After‘a while. Doctor Martin hurried out with his bag. “These babies; they must come and disturb the Sabbath peace,” he grumbled. “I tell you, that boy’s got brains. Leave him alone. He’ll browse around in there a while before he goes.”
"Oh. yes,” said Don with sardonic humor. “Oh, yes,” I echoed a few minutes later as the object of our thoughts appeared.
“Hello, fellows.” He smiled as if we were long-lost brothers. “Seeing so many books at once kind of gave me a headache.” He said that seriously, as if he expected us to believe him. “So I thought I'd pass the time with you awhile. I don’t get much time to make acquaintances.”
He sprawled down on the step as if he didn’t notice we received the idea like clams. I lis hair came tumbling down across his face, and he flung it back to look at Don. “Your dad’s certainly great, isn’t he?” he said, as if he’d discovered something we didn’t know.
“Naturally.” Don wasn’t going to be lured by that.
Calvin continued to beam.
“I guess I’m lucky, getting right in with a bunch like you,” he went on blithely. “Maybe you can show me round a bit. I can’t get used to small-town ways all in a minute.”
“You will,” Don promised grimly, and buried himself in the paper.
Presently even Calvin’s dense brain must have felt the chill, for he shook himself up and ambled dow’n to Kay. She was putting in bunches of roots some neighbor had brought over. Calvin stirred them with his foot. “What're they called?” he asked chummily.
Kay had no mean knowledge of gardening. She could lx: dumb to perfection when she wanted, but right now she rattled off a pile of Latin names that left him staring.
"Gosh, you know plenty—for out in this part of the country,” he said in an awed way.
Kay looked daggers. “Don’t flatter me.”
The daggers might have been Cupid’s arrows by the way he took it. He knelt down beside her and commenced to dig holes.
“Do you like gardening?” he pursued.
“Doesn’t it look like it?” “Would you like me to bring you some roots and things?” he enquired hopefully.
Don Uxiked at me and w’inked. “Pal, you're sunk,” he said. “What a technique!”
Kay sat back on her heels and stared. “Where do you propose to get roots and tilings?” she asked. Her tones increased our inward humor.
“Oh, I don’t know*. Sometimes I take walks by myself and look at tilings,” the indefatigable imbecile declared.
“That’s a gixxi idea,” said Kay, and it was obvious she wasn’t referring to the roots.
Calvin didn’t seem quite sure. But when it finally percolated that she wasn’t to be lured by converse, he rose. “I guess I’ll get my hat and go,” he said. No one tried to stop him. When he came out to the stej>s again, he kxiked at Don. “You’ve got a pretty place,” he offered.
“Oh, not a patch on the city,” Don returned politely. As it happened, the Martin garden Continued on page 39
Continued from page 17 Starts on page 16
was so cool and colorful in summer, tourists often stopped to look. More than once its picture had been published in the gardening magazines.
“Oh well, it’s easier to get good gardeners and things there." Calvin said kindly. “You ought to see the men working in the city parks. They know their stuff!” His eulogy on the men in city parks was not received with open arms, and presently he twirled his hat some more. “Well so long, folks, I've got to rush,” he said, and looked at Kay’s back hopefully. The back did not move. “Maybe I'll see you at the store tomorrow.”
Don watched him gangling down the road, and Don looked sore. “I wish the fool wouldn’t look at me like that!” he finally exploded.
I knew what Don meant. Fool was right—for no one but a fool would look at Don as if he liked him, when he was shrouded in his chill exterior. “I’d like to sock him,” he growled, and I understood that too. It seemed as if Calvin had the jxnver to get your back up more ways than one.
'“THE CLIMAX to that visit came two dvenings later. Our gang was sitting on the Martins’ front verandah, when who should saunter up the path but “Call me Cal.” He had a paper parcel underneath his arm. He had the look of somebody about to spring a rare surprise.
“Hello.” He gave the impression of a pup that wants to wag its tail. He pushed the bundle at Kay. “Here’s a kind of pretty plant I found, you might like to have.”
Kay looked as if she didn’t know how to take it. Then she opened up the parcel— and disclosed a perfect specimen of a skunk cabbage in full bloom. The girls around her took one look, and giggled with an elaborate display of nasal delicacy. We caught the infection, and our guffaws joined their sweet girlish laughter. But just at first Kay looked up at Calvin as if she were sort of startled. And, if you’d believe it, sort of pitying too; as if she was wondering how she could protect this babe in arms against the rude howls of his fellows.
For obviously the fellow was either the biggest fool let loose to roam in civilized company, or else he wanted to be funny. We took the latter view when, after gaping at our mirth, he threw back his head and laughed in company. Maybe he laughed because he thought it was the smart thing to do. But it dispelled Kay’s pity in an instant.
She drew' a deep breath. “Mr. Davis, you may think it’s funny to come here and be insulting, but wre don’t! You’d better take your cabbage somewhere where your wit won’t be wasted.”
Calvin stared. “Cabbage! Say, I know'a cabbage. Down at the city markets—”
Our roar drowned him out. All except Kay. She didn’t laugh, she just looked. This time you could see the red come up all over his face and down his neck. And for the first time we really noticed the long white scar.across his forehead. He looked as if he’d like to smash something hard. Then he reached down and grabbed up that cabbage in a wild sort of way.
“Is your dad in?” he asked Don.
“Sure.” Don waved a hand and suppressed a choke. Don’s humor had risen above brotherly protection at the sight of Kay’s face. “Go on in.”
He went, and stayed maybe an hour before he took his leave from a side gate. We kept the joke up for some time. But after the others left, we w'ere curious enough to seek the doctor in his study.
“What did that fellow want?” Don demanded.
Doctor Martin looked up from his desk, and you knew at once there w'ere some
things he wasn’t telling. Maybe his eyes twinkled a bit.
“A little botanical knowledge, that was all. He'd been out gathering specimens—”
“Never mind that.” Don’s eyes narrowed. “What did the little rat tell you?”
Doctor Martin looked Don in the eye. “He didn’t mention any of you,” he replied, and you could tell he spoke the truth. “We were looking up some information. Just what have you been up to?”
This time I guess the color came to all our faces. “Oh, never mind,” Don said, and we walked out. But somehow the joke about the cabbage had fallen fiat.
That didn’t get away from the fact that Calvin continued to be an exasperating fool. He joined the choir because Kay was there. The younger generation swelled the congregation just to see his lank form in his surplice, and to hear his bass txx)k rolling in all w'rong. Kay said it made her jittery' because we watched him stare at her. Maybe our razzing made her extra biting the night he asked to see her home.
“Why won’t the nitwit pick some friends to suit him?” she said afterward, as if the whole thing had her raging. “He’s making himself such an idiot trying to crash our set, no one will w'ant him soon.”
“Why should you care?” I challenged. Crazy as it seemed, that rage made me suspicious.
“Care!” She took my arm as we crossed a street. “Pug, how did you guess? I’m desolated.” Then she giggled. The giggle restored my tranquillity.
'T'HEN two things happened that must have given Calvin the idea his charms had kindled Kay’s susceptible young heart. The first was one afternoon when we were quenching our thirst at the soda fountain and we turned to see a dirty-faced girl kid of maybe four passing the store. She was tagging after her indifferent big brother, howling because her legs were all tied up in fallen underclothing. Before even Kay had grasped the situation, Calvin was out of that store, and he had yanked the ankle-draping garment up in place, and had secured it with a pin. Then, having sent the unattractive damsel on her way, he strolled back without a blush. He came just in time to hear a crack that escaped me. It couldn’t have escaped Kay, for she wheeled about.
“Yes, you can laugh, but I’ll bet you’re sore because you didn’t get there first,” she challenged. Calvin stopped short, and looked at Kay as if he was so surprised he didn’t know how to take it. Evidently he’d had some rebuffs in the past that had made him wary. What surprised us most was when she looked right back at him and smiled. It was the smile that made her famous. You could tell it did things to Calvin right away.
“Oh, that’s nothing. I’ve got six kid sisters, and I could do that with my eyes shut,” he declared. He was all set to talk about his sisters right away.
“Goodness,” said Kay crisply. “Don. what’s the time? I’ve got to rush.” 1 guess she realized at once that she’d erred in that defense of Calvin, and her smile. The smile died out of Calvin's face as he saw her go. But honestly, it was the onlyway you could treat such a guy. Give him an inch and he simply didn't have the faintest notion where to stop.
The other time was something we didn’t see. We only had Kay’s tale to go by. It seems she’d gone into the drugstore one evening, and had found him there alone, scared stiff because he’d sent out some pills with a wrong label. Well, Kay didn’t waste time telling him it was the sort of dumb trick you’d naturally expect of him. She just got a list of places to which prescriptions had been sent and went right out after them on her two feet. And in an hour she located the pills and
smoothed down a startled housewife in j such a way there was no fuss.
“Well, to see that would have been a picture.” Don looked regretful. “What a guy! I'll bet you gave him a sweet piece j of your mind at the conclusion.”
For a minute Kay didn’t answer. We were on the verandah, and she lay in the hammock with her hands behind her head. When she sjxike, she sounded kind of ! impatient.
“How could I —the way he took it?”
“How did he take it?” I demanded. I Again I had the uneasy feeling that her | impatience didn’t sound so good. “Did he fall down on his knees and kiss you?”
“Don’t be a simpleton,” said Kay. Just as I was feeling better she spoiled things with an exasperated sigh. “He did worse than that. 1 le—he looked at me and said I was an angel.”
Don gave a shout. “Hold me up before I faint. Say, can’t you see the halo? What a storyr !”
I guess I laughed. I couldn’t help it. I could just see Calvin standing there, with his hair falling across his face, staring at her with that dumb, crazy worship in his eyes. Then I didn’t laugh as Kay sprang up. One could see she was mad clear through.
“You keep quiet about tonight, the pair of you, or you’ll be sorry !”
Don stillgrinned. “Pug, when a girl starts going all protective and motherly, you’ve got to watch out.”
“Motherly!” Kay looked as if she contemplated drastic action. “He’s a fool— and so are you !” Her glance included me.
“Aw, Kay, listen.” I half rose as she started to leave us. She wheeled about.
“Don’t talk to me,” she said, and vanished.
Don raised his eyebrows. “How would you take that?” he enquired.
Well, when I cooled down, I took it the only sensible way—that Kay had only done what anyone would do to help a fellow, however dumb, in trouble. It was evident enough that Calvin had fallen hard for her. But you couldn’t take that seriously.
About that time, our young people at the church had a basket social. You know the kind—one of those old-fashioned ideas they revive from time to time. The girls fix up baskets of tempting edibles, and the fellows bid for them, with the owner thrown in as supper partner. I knew a half dozen who were going to make a bid on Kay’s, and I felt secure because I’d liad a profitable birthday.
r_PHE evening came. I had Kay’s basket ' Jall marked out, and so had the others. The bidding was getting fast and furious when all at once we heard a bid that left us staggered.
We turned and gasped. The bidding was over with a crash, and all we could do now was gape and glare. Sure, you’ve ' guessed it. It was Mr. Calvin Davis in person. He stood back against the door, l(X)king half scared but determined at his own temerity. Apparently he’d just come in, and he was breathless, as if he’d run for fear of missing something. He wore his best, excepting that his tie was mild and brown instead of sotted, and he'd had a haircut. Mad as we were, admittedly that haircut made him look almost human.
The auctioneer looked as blank as we were feeling. “Did someone say seven dollars?” he asked in an apologetic way. He acted as if ready to retreat if contradicted.
“I did.” Calvin walked down the room, suddenly quite bold. He pulled the money from his pocket and handed it over with a flourish. He took the basket and turned to smile at Kay.
Kay looked as if she didn’t know where to put herself. Her cheeks were flaming, and she was conscious of the way everyone was silent and staring. Fun was fun, and charity was a virtue, but we all knew this wasn't any joke. No girl wanted a sevendollar gate-crasher who thought a big piece
of show would take him right into the inner circle. No girl like Kay wanted to be made so darned conspicuous. That was where Calvin proved himself the biggest fool of all.
But what was Kay decently to do? The fellow had put seven dollars in the coffers of the church, and the highest bidder got the girl. He took Kay into a comer. We glared some more and agreed it was the biggest piece of nerve we’d ever had to handle, and he should be put in his rightful place for good.
Soon it was evident things in the corner weren’t going well. Calvin obviously didn’t know what to say. and Kay wouldn’t help him. She kept giving us imploring glances. We decided we couldn’t ignore them any longer and we’d take our baskets over and form a supper circle. The unspoken idea was to make Mr. Calvin Davis feel he was something that had got into our midst by most unpleasant accident.
It’s a funny thing. Even when you hate a guy, there’s something about making him feel small that gets you down. Not that we’d have admitted it. We just went on talking as if he weren’t even there. At first he looked at us in a pleased sort of way, as if he thought we welcomed him for his bold generosity that night. Then he looked more doubtful as his observations simply didn’t get noticed. Finally he didn’t try to talk at all. He just sat, still smiling a bit, looking from one to another, as if he was wondering what it was all about. Yet we had a feeling that there was something underneath that knew quite well what it was all about. The conversation began to drag. More than once someone looked in a covert sort of way at Calvin, as if wondering just how things were going to end.
After a while we got to talking about a hike we planned to take next Saturday. Something made Don look straight at Calvin.
“I guess you didn’t do much hiking in the city?” he observed.
Calvin looked surprised at being asked a question. “Gosh, no,” he said, and for a minute he seemed to hesitate. “I never had a chance to do things like that. And since I was able to work, I’ve spent my spare time in libraries trying to learn things.”
That was one time when I honestly don’t think Calvin was trying to be smart. But you could hardly blame the kids for taking it up the wrong way. It sounded a bit as if he were trying to impress us with the fact that he didn’t waste his time.
“Sure, I guess you need to learn things, like putting labels on pills,” someone said, kind of low. I looked over quickly. It was one of Kay’s rejected bidders, and as it happened, the very son of the woman who’d got the pills which Kay had retrieved. So probably he thought he had a right to make that crack. But somehow, little as we thought of Calvin, it didn’t sound so good right then.
Calvin heard him. and just for a second he sat absolutely still and looked at Kay. The color came with a rush to Kay’s cheeks. It was as if she wanted to deny she’d been the one to spread the tale, and knew this was no time or place. So she just looked back at him. sort of startled, and said nothing at all. Then Calvin looked at the wisecracker, and there was no trace of smile left on his face then. There was only a savage sort of fury, like in an animal that has been prodded and poked a bit too long. And once again we noticed how that scar stood out, long and white, across his forehead.
He lunged out across the circle, and the fellow ducked. Calvin stumbled, and his (1st went wild. It went straight into Don, just above the stomach, and all of Calvin’s weight followed. Someone hauled Calvin back to his feet, and Don slumped down in the chair with a gasp. He was white as a sheet and completely winded. You never saw a fellow’s face change as quick as Calvin’s when he saw what he’d done to Don. In a minute he had Don by the shoulders, and he looked so scared it had us all on edge.
"Cosh. Don. you know 1 wouldn't have done that to you!” he gasped. The queer thing was we knew he wouldn’t, not even if Don had made cracks twice as dirty. That was the thing that had completely infuriated Don all along.
"DUT IT was no time for meditation. In U a second Kay was beside Don. and she pushed Calvin back with no uncertain touch. “Get out of the \v#y.” she said in a low sort of voice that would have made a strong man’s blood run cold. “You’ve done nothing but insult us ever since you came to this town.”
For a minute Calvin looked at Kay as if he was dumbstruck. Then he made a move as if to push back the falling hair that wasn’t there.
“I guess I’d better go.” he said hesitantly. “I mean.” he went on. when no one spoke, “get right out of this town.”
“It’s a certainty no one will stop you,” Kay shot back. She was so worried about Don she didn’t care how hard she hit. I guess the shot penetrated. Without another word Calvin went, pushing his way through the gathered crowd. He’d hardly got outside when Don pushed back the glass of water somebody was offering and tried to rise.
“Tell that fellow—” He stopped to get another breath, “there’s nothing wrong with me!”
“Oh, yeah.” I said and pushed him back. “Sit down and shut up.”
“I mean it,” Don persisted. “You can’t send a guy out, looking like that.” We overruled him. We certainly could do that very thing, when Don still looked as if he were half ready to pass out. But after a while, as we went on with our interrupted supper, the basket on the empty seat beside Kay got on our nerves. Seven dollars for that ! Kay didn’t look at the basket; and she didn’t eat anything else either.
“It seems dumb,” some wit said finally and laughed, “to see all that go to waste. Maybe Kay ought to take it down to him.” Kay looked up. “Maybe Kay—” she began fiercely—and stopped short as we heard the siren of the town fire engine. That turned us out. Don included, with a rush. We went racing through the streets to the downtown section. Already smoke and (lames were rising high, and a crowd had assembled.
“It’s the drugstore!” someone shouted. “No, it’s the Marshall block !”
“Holy cats!” Don whistled. “Dad’s office!”
“Don!” Kay rushed past me and clutched his arm. “Dad said he might go down and do accounts tonight. Maybe he’s in there now !”
“Don’t be dumb.” Don snapped, and took a flying leap ahead. We weren’t far behind.
Just as we reached the crowd, Kay gave a scream. She pointed where the others were pointing—up at a second-story window lighted by the blaze. Across that window we could see in bold black letters, Dr. D. C. Martin. And behind the glass was a figure !
“Dad!” shrieked Kay. We caught her back. At the same moment the window crashed. I felt Don’s hand on my arm. “Look, it’s Calvin!”
We stared. It couldn’t be. That wouldn’t make sense.
But it was. He had his hand up across his eyes, and he was leaning against the ledge as if he could hardly stand. Then he leaned out, and he was shouting.
“No! No! He isn’t in here!”
We heard another shout, and then more shouts from all around. There was Doctor Martin himself, pushing through to our side. “What fool told him I was up there? That light I left—for heaven's sake, get those firemen busy !”
There was no need to tell them that. The ladder was going up full speed against the wall. We all stood breathless, knowing (litre was nothing we could do hut wait. Evidently the (ire had started in the basement, and the ground floor was all blazing.
Calvin had certainly taken his life into his hands when he had dashed upstairs.
Kay and Don were motionless. There was something about Kay’s face - -so white and horrified in the glow of those devilish flames - that was unforgettable.
Just as the first man reached the window, something happened. Calvin was there, still clinging to the side, when the floor beneath must have started to give way. For suddenly he threw up both his hands and vanished. All I remember then w'as the way Kay slipped down in a heap among the crowd—and the way Doctor Martin caught Don by both arms.
“Don’t be a fool ! You can’t do a thing. If they get him’’—the “if” loomed dark
and deep in everybody’s mind......“then
I’ll do everything I can ...” Not one of us there thought that he would ever have the chance to try.
'"THAT’S where w'e were wrong:' They did get him. Doctor Martin did do everything he could, and he took a long time doing it. There were eight of us who waited downstairs at the hospital, and it was no use them telling us to go. Most of the time no one said a word. But every now and then someone would make an observation that didn’t help.
“I guess it was his way of bragging got us. But I guess we’d brag about Green Bend ourselves, if we were outside—until someone knocked it out of us.”
“Sure; I guess it’s natural, hanging onto what you know, in a strange town. Maybe he got the idea that small towns have a reputation for being friendly.”
“Oh, shut up, don’t we know all that,” said Don. No one had thought it out before, but we did know now. We knew a whole lot. Maybe Doc Martin had left the light on in his office. Maybe some wellmeaning fool had told Calvin he was still up there. Maybe we could split the blame a dozen ways: But we’d been responsible for driving him out on the streets that evening. And the fact that we’d felt we had every reason to, didn’t seem to help us now.
But we didn’t know everything until the doctor came down. He came very' quietly, and he just stood inside the door and looked at us, as if he were almost too tired to move. We drew back, too scared even to ask.
“Don’t worry too much. He’ll pull through,” he said quite gently then. He spoke to all of us. but he looked at Kay and Don. For naturally, seeing how their own father was involved, they had the biggest load on their minds.
“Yes, he’ll pull through,” he repeated as we gave a united gasp of sheer relief. “The only thing is,” he spoke more slowly, “we can only hope it won’t affect his eyes again.”
We caijght on to that one word “again.” You heard it go in a low note, all around the room. Every face was turned to the doctor.
Doctor Martin nodded. Then he spoke quietly. “I suppose he never told you he was in a big apartment-house fire seven years ago. when he wasn’t quite eleven. He got three sisters out by himself, and then a blazing beam fell right across his head.”
I think we all thought of the same thing then that long white scar that showed up when his face was red with fury. We were brought back sharply by the doctor’s next words.
“It was nearly six years before he could see properly again.”
“Dad!" Kay spoke first. She went right up to him and shook his arm. “You knew that—and you never told us! You just let us go on . . . ” She broke off with a sort of choke. And 1 guess we all knew how she felt.
“lie didn’t want anyone to know. He was afraid it might interfere with his chances of working, when he was anxious
to make good. Also I think he was selfconscious; just because he’s young and a bit foolish, and doesn’t know a great deal about other young people. I only knew the details myself the other day. He came to me, scared to death, because there’d been a mistake about some labels. He was afraid his eyes were playing tricks on him, and that he might have to give up that sort of responsible work.”
“Dad !” Kay saiçl again, and gripped his arm more tightly. I don’t think anyone else could have said a word.
Doctor Martin went on slowly, as if there was so much he felt and couldn’t say. “His eyes weren’t playing tricks, as it happened; the mistake had been his employer’s. Organically now, Calvin’s eyes are fairly sound. The trouble is chiefly functional, when his nerves get the better of him. A lack of co-ordination when he gets excited. He’s had to put up with a good deal of pain and illness, and he knows himself that he has to take things easily. That’s chiefly why they got him out to this town; where he’d lead a quiet, healthy, smoothly running life.”
And how we’d helped to make that life run smoothly ! I think that once again we were all seeing the same thing—the fumbling hands of a kid who had been excited at the thought of making new friends; a kid whose difficult, isolated sort of life hadn’t taught him what devils other kids his own age could be. And we were seeing a boy who could look after six kid sisters, sisters we wouldn’t even let him talk about. And who had made a crazy seven-dollar gesture because he knew he was nearly beaten, and didn’t know how else to try and make the grade. And perhaps, more than anything else, we were seeing a kid who had nearly lost his life in one fire and yet had had the courage to rush headlong into another for the sake of a man who had been decent and kind to him.
“Dad, I guess you know we’ve given him a raw deal.” Don sat staring at the floor, with his hands between his knees, and you could see how shaken and trembling he was. Don and Kay easily felt the worst—but, all said and done, they were the ones who had acted the most humanly all through.
If the doctor did know, he wasn’t going to rub that in.
“Well, I’m sure he’ll be glad to know how you all feel now—when he’s able to take things in again,” he said in that quiet, understanding way that made him what he was in our town. Then he put out his arm and held Kay close, as she turned and dung to him.
“Oh, dad!” she sobbed. “I was so awful to him, because he called a skunk cabbage a pretty flower. I guess to him it nas a pretty flower.”
They let Kay and Don see him first; and Don told me when he came out, there was no fear of him not being able to see Kay. He’d looked at her as if he could never see his fill.
“How was he? What did he say?” I asked.
We walked down the street, and Don did not look at me when he answered. “He said, T guess you can laugh plenty now— at me going up after someone who wasn’t even there !’ I guess that was one time we didn’t laugh.”
After a while Don said conversationally: “Kay’s still with him.”
I drew a deep breath. “That’s swell,” I said.
Don shot me a sideways glance. Then presently he punched me lightly inthearm. “You should worry. There are plenty of other girls.”
“Sure.” I grinned. I knew darned well there weren’t any other girls. Not like Kay. But then —crazy fool kid or not— maybe there weren’t other fellows just like Cal.