FICTION

An Eye on Beulah

Trouble on the home front between the Army and the Navy. The reason? You guessed it-a girl

ROBERT DENNIS April 1 1943
FICTION

An Eye on Beulah

Trouble on the home front between the Army and the Navy. The reason? You guessed it-a girl

ROBERT DENNIS April 1 1943

PRIVATE William G. Waterbury, Rocky Beach, British Columbia.

Dear Billgywater:

In your last letter you got funny and addressed me as Dear Hughey-darling. All right, so I am calling you the nickname which you do not like either. I may have to stand being called Hughey-darling by my mother, who does not understand how embarrassing it is to a fellow, but I do not have to take it from my future-brother-in-law. And if you do not cut it out, I will not keep an eye on Beulah for you, because keeping an eye on your own sister is no fun anyway, and I will not borrow my father’s portable typewriter to write you any more home reports. Then all you will know about Beulah is what she thinks won’t hurt you to know, and as you said in your letter this morning, she has not mentioned any sailor she is writing letters to down in Quarry Cove, whose name like I told you she picked out of a hat with some other girls who are writing letters to cheer up our fellows in the uniform of their country.

Of course you are not worried about Beulah— oh, no, not much—and you do not think out of her sight is out of her mind because you and she are different, even if you have noticed that her last two letters to you were only ten pages long on both sides of the sheet, instead of sixteen pages, and that it burns you up for Beulah to divide her letters between you and Able Seaman Aaron Dill of the R.C.N.V.R.

That is his name. I found it out when I was looking for a stamp to mail this in Beulah’s dressing table, which is a mess because that is where she keeps her face powder, her cold cream and bobby pins and all her writing things and everything else, and I accidently read a letter from him to her. He says he is very glad she wrote to him because he is a very lonely, underscored, sailor, and he wants to know if she is a blonde or a brunette.

I am having trouble running my father’s portable typewriter today because I have a bum finger from almost catching Pinky Davis in study period this morning, only he had a book under his coat, the drip, when I went to poke him in the ribs.

I was only trying to get even with Pinky Davis for what he did to me last week when he clipped me over the ear with the back edge of his hand between periods in high school when I was bending over the drinking fountain in the hall. My upper front tooth that hit the thing that squirts the water is still sore when I wiggle it. That is one trouble with the Junior Commando course Mr. Poole is teaching us. Even a fellow’s best friend cannot be trusted not to try to commando you if you are not looking.

But I will get Pinky Davis yet, who is not my best friend by any imagination, and I will show Lil Freeman, who thinks everything he does is so funny, that he is not so smart. Lil Freeman is the prettiest girl in our class, so I cannot understand why she is so impressed with a fellow like Pinky Davis, and is always hanging around where he is, or vice versa, unless it is because his father gives him an allowance every week, and he takes her to the Maplecrest Soda Shoppe every afternoon after school as long as it lasts.

Tuesday afternoon—I did not get a chance to finish this letter yesterday because my father came home early and almost caught me using his portable typewriter, which he says will never last as long as the duration if every Tom, Dick and Hughey uses it.

Mr. Poole who is making us into commandos says the first object of a gorrilla fighter is to intercept communications, and so I practiced it some more today, and I intercepted a new letter to Beulah from Aaron Dill, A.B. Of course I did not ambush Mr. Pauley, who is our postman, because that is against the law. However, I do not know of any law against looking for three-cent stamps in my own sister’s dressing table, as long as she does not catch me at it.

This Dill is still very lonely, and he is glad Beulah is a blonde because he says he likes blondes better than almost any other kind of girls, and that if he is ever near Storyville he will give her a ring.

He would only be a passing-through acquaintance, however, which is not serious enough for you to worry about much, unless of course he is a very fast worker. But on the other hand, Beulah maybe is no brighter mentally than Lil Freeman who is a blonde too, and is impressed with the wrong kind of fellows. Sometimes I think it is a tie between Beulah and Lil Freeman who is the most skitty-witted, though Lil is younger and has not had as much practice.

Beulah bought herself a new hat today in one of her lightheaded moments, which she said was too really devastating to pass by. I said, “All of your hats devastate me, they are so crazy.” She said, “You are such a drool humorist.” I said, “You mean droll.” And she said, “Applied to you, I mean drool,” which is a pretty good crack to come from your own sister, but which I did not take seriously, of course, considering the source.

As ever,

Your-future-brother-in-law,

Hughey J. Wilson, Jr.

Storyville, New Brunswick.

PRIVATE William G. Waterbury,

Rocky Beach,

British Columbia.

Dear Bill:

All right I will not call you Billgywater any more since that is a nickname you would rather not have follow you into the Army as the fellows there have not thought of it themselves yet, and I am glad you will forget the Hughey-darling stuff, and I am not mad at you and am still keeping an eye on Beulah for you.

I have intercepted another communication from Aaron Dill, A.B., who has been keeping Mr. Pauley, our postman, busy since I last wrote to you. This Dill is still about the loneliest sailor you every heard of, but he also says that there is a faint ray of hope that he may go through Storyville soon, and will be stationed somewhere along the coast near here, although it is a military secret where, and he hopes to see Beulah often. He will have her show him all of the high spots, he says, because he is a man of action and likes to go places.

Ha. Ha. Beulah will have a hard time finding any high spots to show him in Storyville outside of the Maplecrest Soda Shoppe and the movie theatre, so I would not worry much about it if I was you. Speaking of the theatre, there is going to be a swell picture there tomorrow night, which is on Tuesday, and I would like to see it.

However, I think I will save the dollar old Mrs. Donner paid me last Saturday afternoon to pile wood in her cellar and buy war stamps with it, because there is no sense in asking Lil Freeman to go to the movie with me when she is already telling everybody that Pinky Davis asked her first. I wish I knew how a drip like Pinky Davis gets his father to give him an allowance . . . Oh-oh, my father just drove into the drive, and what he will give me will not be an allowance if he catches me using his typewriter (to be continued) . . .

Wednesday—two days later: I could not finish this letter to you yesterday because I was kept too busy keeping an eye on Beulah for you. Out of a clear sky yesterday afternoon, which was on Tuesday, while I was looking for the key to my father’s portable typewriter in the new place he always hides it, the telephone rang.

“Answer it, please Hughey-darling,” my mother called to me from the kitchen, because Beulah, who jumps when the telephone rings because she egotistically thinks every call is for her, was up in her room fixing her face.

So I said “hello” into the telephone, and a fellow’s voice said “hello” back. “Does Miss Beulah Wilson live there?”

And I said, “That is a mute question because the party you refer to is in and out of the house so much that my father says he often wonders if he has a daughter, or if she is only an active roomer that has been circulating around the town the past nineteen years. Who is calling?”

“This is Able Seaman Aaron Dill,” he said.

“Dill?” I said, almost unable to believe my ears. “Like in pickle?”

But I did not hear what he said to that because Beulah was making a lot of noise with the heels of her slippers coming down the stairs fast. “You will have to talk louder,” I said, “because there is a team of mules galloping downhill in this direction,” and that is all I had a chance to say.

It is a good thing you are getting tough in the Army, because you are going to have to be tough to hold your own with Beulah when you are my future-brother-in-law. She is very stubborn, even for a girl, and absolutely ignorant of the rules of fighting fair, as you would realize if you had been my ear that she used to get me away from the telephone. You would have thought she was a fragile defenseless creature, however, from the sweet way she said “hello” into that telephone, like it was maple syrup she was pouring into a pitcher.

Oh, I will not bore you with all the conversation, because I would not have time to do that and also tell you the rest of my report before my father gets home from watching for airplanes at the observation post, which he does every Wednesday after work. I will just tell you that from what I could hear, Aaron Dill was only in town this trip between trains until one o’clock a.m., and would she meet him at the Maplecrest Soda Shoppe after dinner and maybe go to a movie with him and get acquainted. And she said she would, and hung up.

My mother, who was in the hall kitchen door listening, made Beulah tell her who Aaron Dill was, and immediately she said what made Beulah think she would let her keep a date with a young man she had only met by mail, in a public place like the Maplecrest? And what would the neighbors say when they found it out? And they would.

“Besides,” my mother said, “what about Bill Waterbury?” Meaning you.

And Beulah said, “Am I doomed to live the clustered life of a hermit while Bill Waterbury is miles away going to dances with all kinds of girls? Besides I do not know where Aaron Dill is, so how can I call him to break the date even if I wanted to?”

And guess what my mother made me do. She made me ride all the way uptown on my bike to find this lonely sailor and invite him to dinner at our house, so she and my father could decide if he was someone it would be all right for Beulah to go out with.

Well, Able Seaman Aaron Dill did not look like a very lonely sailor to me when I found him at last sitting up at the counter in the Maplecrest Soda Shoppe. He was in front of a sandwich and a cup of coffee, and talking and laughing with Mary Gaylor who works there, and who always hands the older fellows a line, as you know. Especially if they are tall and dark and extra good looking, which she acted as if she thought he was. And he acted as if he thought so too.

But I told him, anyway, that my mother wanted him to come to our house for dinner. And he said, “What time?” And I said, thinking fast, “half-past seven,” because you know how mad my father gets when he can not start eating on the dot of seven o’clock, and what a low opinion he has about anybody who is late to meals. And Aaron Dill said, “I will be there. In fact, let anybody try to keep me away!” which was almost as if he was reading my mind.

Just then I saw Lil Freeman walk past out of the corner of my eye, and I wondered if she was still going to the movies with Pinky Davis. So I went out, but she said she still was.

Beulah was waiting for me when I got home. “What does he look like?” she said, meaning Aaron Dill. “Is he handsome?” And I said, “Mary Gaylor seemed to think so.” And Beulah said, “Oh, she does, does she!” and we dropped the subject which suited me because I had other things on my mind.

Mr. Poole who is showing us how to be commandos in high school, says a good gorrilla should harass any invader and break down his morals. A sailor is not exactly an invader, especially one that has been invited to your house for dinner, but I imagined you would look at it different, from how you write about him. And I say that if a fellow is going to have a future brother-in-law some day, he should have a little something to say about who it is to be, and I would rather have somebody I am better acquainted with, like you, than a fellow my sister has only met by mail, and who should be discouraged if it is possible.

So I was out by the front porch in the dark when it got to be almost half-past seven, which was better than hearing my father growl because it was getting late and he was hungry. And in a little while Able Seaman Aaron Dill came walking up the street very proud of himself in his uniform, and looking at the numbers on the houses, and I got down quick in those evergreen bushes beside the front porch steps. He came up the steps looking like he thought it was his lucky day on account of meeting Beulah and getting a free home-cooked dinner at the same time, and that is when I pulled on the trip-rope I had strung between the posts on the porch. It is a commando trick Mr. Poole says is very discouraging to an invader, and it really works.

I thought every window in our house was going to shake loose when Aaron Dill’s foot caught on the rope, and oh boy I would hate to be one of those U-Boat Nazis and have a sailor land on me as hard as he landed on our front porch.

Mr. Poole is right. A good harassing sure lowers the morals of an invader. Aaron Dill got up brushing his uniform that he acts so proud of, and said things in sailor language that would have got his mouth washed out with laundry soap if my mother had been listening. Mr. Poole is also right when he says it is good advice to be miles away when the invader gets over his surprise, because Aaron Dill found the rope and traced it to my end of it, and before I knew it I was yanked by the back of my coat up over the porch railing face to face with a very much upset sailor. I am glad to report that just then the front door opened in the nick of time.

And there was Beulah and my mother and my father standing in the hall with their eyes big and wondering if an earthquake had hit the house. “Whatever on earth—?” my mother started to say, and then she remembered her manners. “Oh, you are Mr. Dill,” she said to this lonely sailor, “aren’t you? Well, I am Mrs. Wilson, and this is my husband, Mr. Wilson, and this is my daughter, Beulah. Of course, you have already met Hughey-darling.”

“Yes, indeed,” he said, letting go of me and paying his main attention to Beulah. “I certainly have met Hughey-darling, but I am really glad to meet the rest of the family.”

I thought dinner had sort of a warmed-over taste to it, and my father noticed it too, from the expression on his face. Aaron Dill did not notice anything except the food and Beulah, and Beulah pretended not to notice she was being noticed, and only nibbled at her dinner like a canary to make the impression that she is a delicate creature. Which I know better because I know who always manages to get the biggest piece of cake or pie, and because of which she is always having to watch her weight in the wrong places.

Beulah and Able Seaman Dill did not go to the movies right away because it was too late to go to the first show after dinner, and besides my father got into a more human mood after being fed, and started asking a lot of questions about what it was like to be a sailor, but I did not get a chance to hear much.

I do not know why my mother does not put the dirty dishes in the sink and just leave them there after dinner when something interesting is going on, but no. And last night, to my horror, she made me wipe the dishes for her because Beulah was busy. Beulah always is too busy to help her mother, if she can get out of it. She is not very well house-trained, as you will find out when you are my future-brother-in-law. You do not need to think you will be through with fatigue duty when you get out of the Army, not if I know Beulah.

Nobody suggested that I go to the movies with Beulah and Able Seaman Dill, even after all I did to help them to be properly introduced. In fact, I was almost utterly ignored by everybody, except when Aaron Dill put on his hat to go to the second show, and Beulah put on her new hat to wear it for the first time, and he said to me, “Good night, Hughey-darling,” in an unpleasant tone of voice. “Do not wait up for us with any more rope tricks.”

Well, I did not intend to wait up for anybody, because it is impossible to keep an eye on Beulah by staying home. I had some argument with my father about going out, but in the interest of his own peace and quiet evening at home, he said, “For heaven’s sake, good-by,” and I went.

I had to run almost two blocks up Elm Street before I caught up with who I thought was Beulah and her lonely sailor. These nights with the street lights dimmed out you can hardly tell who is who until you are almost on top of them, and so it wasn’t them, but only Pinky Davis and Lil Freeman on their way to the second show also. It seemed that everybody had somebody to go to the movies with last night except me, and if anybody had a right to feel lonely it was not any sailor from Quarry Cove.

I was feeling so lonely for myself as I walked past Pinky Davis and Lil Freeman, that I gave him an extra hearty slap on the back as I passed that made him grunt and sort of knocked his hat down over his eyes.

“I’ll get you for that,” Pinky said.

“I was only trying to be friendly,” I said back from a little distance, “because that is what this world needs today, a little more friendliness.”

Lil Freeman giggled which did not make Pinky feel better. “I will return your friendliness,” he said, “with a good poke in the eye.” And he started after me, and I ran and he ran, but he stopped chasing me when I caught up with Beulah and Able Seaman Dill in front of Doc Bender’s house.

“Where did you come from?” said Beulah, stopping.

“Yes, and where do you think you are going, Hughey-darling?” said her lonely sailor in a cold tone of voice.

“To the picture show with you,” I suggested. “And you do not need to worry that I will not pay my own way in, because I still have that dollar old Mrs. Donner paid me to pile wood in her cellar.”

“Go home,” said Beulah.

And Able Seaman Dill said, “Yes —shove off, Hughey-darling, and by the way that is a terrible name for somebody like you. Scram. Take a powder. Beat it.”

And they walked away, leaving me walking along to the picture show all alone, with Beulah and the lonely sailor in front, and with Pinky Davis and Lil Freeman coming along in behind me and talking to each other and nobody with a friendly word for me in between in the dark. Only Pinky Davis talks so loud I heard him start telling Lil Freeman how Mr. Poole had taught us commandos in high school how to throw a hand grenade with an overhand swing.

“Like this,” Pinky said, as if he had found something to throw.

For some sudden reason for which I am thankful, I sidestepped and got behind that first big maple tree in front of Charley Becker’s house, just as something whizzed by in the dark, so close that I know, and Pinky Davis knows, it would have been no accident if it had hit me. I did not tell you that it had rained while we ate dinner, because the weather is a military secret, but it had stopped so I can tell you now. Anyway, this thing like a rock whizzed by and stopped with a large plop like it had landed in a puddle of water.

Beulah let out a squeak. “My new hat!” she hollered. “Hughey Wilson, Jr., you splashed muddy water on my new hat!”

“My clean uniform!” said Able Seaman Dill in a loud growl. “This is the last straw I will take from anybody’s little brother.”

Just then Pinky Davis and Lil Freeman came up even with the big maple tree where I was, and they stopped suddenly. And to show you what a guilty conscience does to a fellow, Pinky turned around quick and suddenly started to run. And one jump behind him came Aaron Dill. And two jumps behind him came Beulah, holding her skirts down and her hat on with both hands, and yelling, “Come back and do not bother with my brother. He does not not know any better.”

It is nice to hear your own sister is interested in your safety, but it sounded even better to me when I heard Pinky Davis let out a squawk like Able Seaman Dill had caught him. So I came out from behind the tree and said, “hello” to Lil Freeman who had been left behind in the dark. “Imagine finding you here alone, Lillian,” I said. “Where is your friend, Pinky Davis?”

It was only a useless question to be polite, because anybody could hear where Pinky was from the sounds like somebody beating the dust out of a carpet, and which could easily be heard over and above the yelling Pinky was doing. As Mr. Poole would say, Pinky Davis was in contact with the invader, and in a very painful spot for him, from the sound of it, and which he had coming to him.

“Let us stroll back,” I said to Lil Freeman, “and see what all of the excitement is about, without getting too close.” Which is what we did.

Beulah was pulling at the lonely sailor and saying, “You stop mauling my little brother.”

“I am only showing him what happens to anybody who gets fresh with the Navy,” A. B. Dill was telling Beulah.

And just then Pinky Davis yelled, “But I am not her brother.”

Able Seaman Dill said, “Huh?” and he looked close, and sure enough it wasn’t me. The lonely sailor was so surprised to find out that he had been dusting a total stranger to him that he let go of Pinky, and I will say this for Pinky Davis, he can run faster than a jeep. I will certainly know better than to give him an even chance to get away the next time he gets fresh with me.

“The idea,” Beulah said, “of making me a ridiculous spectacle in front of all the neighbors.” She sounded mad. “Because everybody on Elm Street is looking out of their houses to see what is going on.” And I looked and everybody was. “What will they think of me,” she said, “being seen in company with somebody who picks on little boys only half his size?”

“It is dark,” said Aaron Dill. “How could I tell he wasn’t Hughey-darling?”

“Oh, so I suppose it would have been all right if it had been my little brother?”

“It would have been all right with me,” he came back.

And Beulah said, “I am beginning to understand why you wrote me you were so lonely—it is on account of your disposition which you cannot control even when you are out with a lady. You can take me home to my door, if you please.”

“Okay,” said Able Seaman Aaron Dill. “I will gladly take you home. I would rather be lonely than show a good time to a girl who is convoyed by a wild hyena of a little brother. Besides, I will still have time before I catch the train to make a sortie after that little Mary Gaylor fifi at the Maplecrest Soda Shoppe, because if there is any kinds of girls I like better than blondes, they are redheads.”

“Oh!” said Beulah, almost exploding, and she started walking toward our house, with Able Seaman Dill walking after her about two steps behind. And I would have followed to keep an eye on Beulah, except that I did not know what to do with Lil Freeman, so I compromised and asked her if she would change her mind and go to the picture show with me instead of Pinky Davis, because it did not look as if Pinky was coming back anyway.

And Lil Freeman said she would adore to, and that she thought it was wonderful to find somebody like me who did not lose his head in an emergency.

I am beginning to wonder if girls are as dizzy as I thought, after seeing two girls on the same night admit they have been wasting their time on the wrong sort of fellows. Besides, when a girl is as pretty as Lil Freeman and has the same common taste in moving pictures as I have, and who makes a fellow feel so dizzy himself just by being with him, she can be forgiven a lot of things. Which no doubt must be the way you feel about Beulah, and which explains a lot of things I have never really understood before.

When I got home feeling pretty good after taking Lil Freeman to her house after the picture, I hung up my hat and said to my mother who was reading up late, “Is Beulah home yet?” Just as if I didn’t know.

“Why, yes, Hughey-darling,” my mother said. “Strangely enough she has been up in her room for hours writing a long letter to Bill Waterbury, and I wish I knew why Mr. Dill brought her home so early.”

And my father, who was also reading, said, “You did not have anything to do with it, did you, Hughey?”

“No, sir,” I said, and it was the truth, because it was Pinky Davis who threw that rock, and not me.

So everything turned out all right last night after all, only I wish you would hurry home and keep your own eye on Beulah, because I am going to be busy the big majority part of my time from now on keeping an eye on Lil Freeman for myself even if she did say she would never speak to Pinky Davis again. So, since you do not have to worry about Beulah for the moment, please hurry up and win the war as quick as you can and come home and take the worry of my sister off of my hands.

As ever,

Your future brother-in-law,

Hughey J. Wilson, Jr.