FICTION

ANANIAS JUNIOR

There's no denying Jimmy was a teller of tall tales, but he certainly contrived the right ending for this love story

EDWIN RUTT May 1 1944
FICTION

ANANIAS JUNIOR

There's no denying Jimmy was a teller of tall tales, but he certainly contrived the right ending for this love story

EDWIN RUTT May 1 1944

ANANIAS JUNIOR

EDWIN RUTT

There's no denying Jimmy was a teller of tall tales, but he certainly contrived the right ending for this love story

GWEN DALTON eyed her spare bedroom with misgivings. It was a cheerful little room, with bright chintz at the windows, a maroon broadloom, and good pictures. But, thought Gwen doubtfully, would it appeal to a seven-year-old nephew who had been wished on her for the “duration of the duration,” so to speak?

Her brother Park’s letter had come out of British Columbia like a bolt of blue lightning. Its effect was only slightly less devastating.

“Gwen, my dear,” Park had written, “this will probably knock you clean off your feet. But I’m in a spot. Here’s the story; The Government is sending me to Australia, in an advisory capacity. I’m to leave within the next two weeks. And that, naturally, brings up the problem of Jimmy.

“I honestly don’t know what to do with him, Gwen. He’s too young for a boarding school and Estelle’s sister is the only other bet out this way. But she has a houseful of children of her own and I hate asking her to take on another. So ...”

Of course, Park said, if it all sounded too formidable he’d make other arrangements. But if she could possibly see her way clear a Mrs. Partridge was coming east. Mrs. Partridge would undertake to deliver Jimmy, intact, at the Union Station.

Momentarily, the letter did knock Gwen off her slim trim feet. But she made a quick recovery. After all, it was the least she could do for Park. She even began to feel a little guilty for not having offered to take Jimmy three years ago, when her sister-in-law had died. It wasn’t right for the child to be brought up by a housekeeper, careless no doubt, while Park spent practically all his time designing airplanes at the plant near Vancouver.

Gwen didn’t know much about children. The adult portion of her 28 years had been spent in an advertising agency where now, as a copywriter, she drew down a good salary. But she did have this extra bedroom. She also had Mrs. Heyl, her elderly full-time maid.

Mrs. Heyl would be a tower of strength.

Mrs. Heyl had five offspring of her own.

She wired Park. By all means, he was to send Jimmy. She would simply love having him.

And today young James Parker Dalton was due to roll in . . .

Gwen had not seen Jimmy since he was an infant. And when he stepped through the exit gate it was as if her brother, miraculously but neatly shrunk, were coming toward her. True, it was doubtful whether Park, no matter how boiled down, would have quitted the train with a model of a Lancaster in one

(fiat; to the contrary, Jimmy was n dead ringer for his father; the same curly black hair, the quick Puckish smile, and already there was a hint of Park’s restlessness in his big dark eyes. With him was a tall thin woman.

Gwen introduced herself to Mrs. Partridge, then said to Jimmy, “Howdo-you-do, Jimmy? I’m your Aunt Gwen.”

With a certain tolerant dignity he permitted her to embrace him. After which he looked from the smart little blue hat, with the wisp of corn-colored hair creeping from under it, let his black eyes rest briefly on Gwen’s aquamarine ones, then completed the journey down her slim figure. Evidently what he saw pleased him.

“How-do-you-do, Aunt Gwen?” he said. And added unexpectedly, “Why, you’re pretty.”

Gwen smiled, and said to Mrs. Partridge, “It was so sweet of you to bring him. I hope he didn’t give you much trouble.”

“Well,” Mrs. Partridge glanced quickly at Jimmy. That gentleman was lost in rapt contemplation of an RCAF officer who stood near. “Well, really not. But I ought to tell you, Miss Dalton, that the child has a very vivid imagination. He made friends with some of the trainmen and he told them some—well, tall stories.”

“Tall stories?” Gwen was mystified.

“Yes. Mostly about how his father was going to the South Seas to shoot down Japanese airplanes.” “But his father’s a designer now,” said Gwen. “He hardly ever flies any more.”

“It’s difficult, apparently,” Mrs. Partridge informed her, “to get Jimmy to believe that.”

In the taxi Gwen said, “Jimmy, dear, why did you tell all that about your father being a flier? It isn’t true, you know.”

He looked at her in surprise. “But it’s goin’ to be, Aunt Gwen. You wait till my old man gets out there. He’ll show those Japs. He’s the best flier in the world.”

“Why, Jimmy Dalton,” Gwen said, “you mustn’t call your father ‘my old man.’ ”

“But that’s what he calls himself,” Jimmy told her, wide-eyed. “Every night he says to me, ‘How’s the old man’s son been today?’

Gwen kept lier face straight. But she nodded imperceptibly. Park would talk something like that.

“Well, anyhow,” she said lamely, “it isn’t nice. You want to be nice, don’t you?”

“Well, yes,” said Jimmy agreeably.

Jimmy was very enthusiastic about Gwen’s plans for redoing his room. He could have, she promised, wallpaper featuring airplanes if such were obtainable. (That had come as an inspiration in the taxi.)

Her nephew said that the more airplanes zooming about his bedroom, the better.

Two days later Clary Hudson called Gwen at the office. Clary was just back from a month’s business trip and his voice over the wire gave Gwen, if not a definite thrill, a pleasant sensation of the world beginning to click normally again after the advent of Jimmy. Clary desired that Gwen have dinner with him.

Gwen said she’d love to, adding, “But let’s meet at my place. I’ve a surprise for you.”

Clary was duly surprised. His expression upon first viewing James Parker Dalton was compounded of bewilderment and apprehension.

J. P. Dalton, however, was no whit abashed. He eyed Clary and, perhaps, dropped him into the proper bin. About 35, James Parker may have guessed, a successful broker, with a nice smooth-shaven face and brown hair—a steady-going reliable citizen.

Of the two, Jimmy was the more composed. “I come from British Columbia,” he announced, a little truculently. “Where do you come from?”

“Why—er—Toronto,” Clary said. And added, “Did you have a good trip here?”

“Not bad,” said Jimmy negligently. “ ’Ceptin’ for the train robbery.”

Robbery?” Clary started. Gwen made covert pay-no-attention signs.

“Robbery,” confirmed Jimmy. “We was just ridin’ along an’ all of a sudden three men come into the car. They wore masks, they did, an’ you shoulda seen their guns. An’ they took everything offa the passengers, money an’ joolry an’ stuff an’ ...”

“Jimmy,” said Gwen, at this point, “don’t you think you’d better go see what Mrs. Heyl has for your dinner?”

“Okay.” Apparently Jimmy’s heart wasn’t in this particular yarn. He disappeared.

“He— he reads too many westerns,” Gwen said to Clary. It was the best she could think of, offhand.

“Look, Gwen!” Clary’s voice was peculiar. “I appreciate why you’ve done this. But you’re in no position to take on a child.”

“I’m afraid I’ve done it though,” Gwen said. “And what difference can it make to— to us?”

“None at all, of course,” Clary said hastily.

Gwen certainly hoped it wouldn’t. Because she had just about made up her mind. And she didn’t do that lightly.

“I’d like you to be very nice to Mr. Hudson, Jimmy,” she said, when she kissed him good night. “He’s—well, he may be rather important to Aunt Gwen.”

“Okay,” Jimmy promised amiably. “But why ain’t he in the war?”

Gwen didn’t enlighten him about the slight heart murmur that had wafted Clary comfortably into an E category. She said, “We can’t all go to fighting fronts, Jimmy. Some people have to stay home.”

“Not my old man,” said Jimmy, with satisfaction. “If they’s a fight, he’s in it.” Gwen smiled. “I guess you’ve got something there.”

Clary Hudson was, indeed, on the verge of becoming important to Gwen. That being so she wished now that she’d been more negatively definite with Rick Bellamy some six months ago. But it was frightfully difficult to tell a man about to go overseas in the Air Force that you set much store by security, that one day all this excitement would die down and then a good-provider-type broker might be rather nice to have around. And she’d certainly funked

informing Rick that one crazy flier in the family was enough, thank you.

In fact she’d funked telling Rick much of anything, except that she was undecided. And so he had departed with a gleam of hope in his grey eyes. But with Rick gone, and her mental picture of his thick dark hair and lanky figure dimming a little, it was easier to clear one’s mind. To see, for example, that Bay Street would be a going concern long after Hitler, Inc., was only a poisonous memory.

Wherefore it was a bit disconcerting when Rick Bellamy suddenly reappeared in Toronto.

He blew in one night just after dinner. Gwen herself answered the bell and the next instant she was

practically obliterated by six-foot-two of something hard and wiry in uniform. Moreover, she was most effectually kissed.

“Hiya, Toots,” Rick said then. “I couldn’t stop to phone. I was running to get here.”

“R-Rick!” Gwen cried. “What. . . h-how did you get home?”

“Take it easy,” drawled Rick. “I’ve been transferred back, is all. You’re in the presence of a future gunnery instructor, assigned to Fingal.”

“But, Rick . . .” Gwen checked it. James Parker Dalton, accompanied by one of his innumerable airplane models, suddenly decorated the horizon.

“Rick, this is Jimmy.” She explained Jimmy.

Rick said exactly the right thing. “Hello there, flier.”

James Parker regarded him with a mixture of awe and suspicion.

“You a pilot?” he demanded at length.

“Nope,” said Rick. “I’m kind of old for that. (He was all of 30.) “I was a civilian pilot, though.”

Jimmy sniffed. “Well, what are you now?”

“Just a tail gunner. In a Lancaster.”

“Lancaster?” Jimmy restored Rick to grace instantly. “You mean you shoot ’em down?”

“That’s right,” Rick grinned.

James Parker Dalton probed this matter. The

Continued on page 33

Ananias Junior

Continued from page 9

conversation took the following turn: Jimmy: “What do you do when up comes a Messerschmitt?”

Rick: “I go boom.”

Jimmy: “Two Messerschmitts?” Rick: “I go boom-boom.”

Jimmy: “S’posin’ it’s a Focke-

Wulf?”

Rick: “Just the same. Go boom.” Jimmy: “A Heinkel?”

Rick: “Well, Fve got to boom-boom: boom-boom for him. He’s a bomber, you know.”

Together they strewed frightful havoc among the Axis air armadas.

“Great kid you’ve got there,” Rick said, after Jimmy had finally been lured to bed.

“He’s really a lamb,” said Gwen. “And perfectly nuts about airplanes. I’m afraid you’re in for inquisitions, Rick.”

“That won’t make me mad. I like the little chap.”

Nice old Rick, Gwen thought, and made up her mind to keep him in that collie-dog category. But it was sort of hard not to notice that the firm line of his jaw was even firmer, sharper, than it had been months ago.

After Rick left, quite late, Gwen was surprised to get a call to Jimmy’s room.

“I been thinkin’,” he stated. “Why don’t you marry that guy, Aunt

Gwen?”

“Well, I—I ...” She was flustered by this direct approach. “Perhaps he wouldn’t want to marry me?”

“The heck he wouldn’t,” said Jamas Parker positively. “I know. Becuz if I was growed up I’d want to marry you.”

The compliment cancelled the semiprofanity. Gwen laughed and tweaked his ear. “Go on. You’re just an old smoothie. I’ll bet you tell that to all the girls.”

“Sure,” said Jimmy shamelessly. “They eat it up.” And he went to sleep . . .

In the course of time Gwen got Jimmy established in Miss Mather’s Private School For Boys. Here he straightway became a big number, though not academically, and it wasn’t long before a note arrived from the school. Something, it appeared, would have to be done about James.

Gwen went to see Miss Mather. That firm-lipped educator informed her that James was essentially a splendid boy, alert, unusually intelligent. But, said Miss Mather, there was another James.

According to Miss Mather, James wasn’t exactly a fibber. When pinned down to plain “yes” or “no,” he was truthful enough. But, undeniably, James was the greatest seven-year-old fabricator of gory sagas who had ever come to Miss Mather’s attention. The exploits of James and his father, particularly his father, had already become legend in the school. Gently, Miss Mather inquired as to what manner of man Gwen’s brother might be? And was it true that he had once faced a hundred howling savages, armed W'ith nothing but a penknife?

Gwen, a little crimson, said she doubted it. Her brother might have been a trifle wild in his youth, but he’d long since settled down.

Miss Mather seemed relieved. However, James must be talked to. The morale of the Mather School was being undermined. Certain of the brasher souls were becoming disaffected. They, too, wished to ride the mesas shooting j down outlaws, like dogs. They, too,

I were not averse to turning detective,

! like James’ father, and viewing in ghastly morgues still more ghastly i remains. And, to a man, Miss Mather’s

school was highly in favor of spending the time shooting down Japanese Zeros, again like James’ father.

Gwen had a heart-to-heart with Jimmy. “Why you have to tell those children things like that,” she said, in conclusion, “I can’t think.”

Jimmy couldn’t either, apparently. But he said, kicking the rug, “Aw, those dopes believe anything.” He was not the first orator to have contempt for the multitude he addressed.

Then Gwen said, because the interview seemed to need a pay-off, “Listen, Jimmy, I don’t want to make threats. But if it goes on I’m going to—to punish you. Pretty badly.”

He looked at her without undue alarm. For his money, anyone as beautiful as Aunt Gwen couldn’t be very dangerous. He had yet to discover that explosives may be tastefully done up in glamour and red ribbon.

Peace reigned for a time. Then Miss Mather wrote Gwen two notes in quick succession. Her patience was becoming unstuck. But definitely.

In perplexity Gwen consulted the oracle in her kitchen. Mrs. Heyl opined that when gentle persuasion failed, a more drastic course must inevitably be followed. Acting on the Heyl prescription, Gwen bought a small cheap hairbrush. She threw it in her closet and hoped, fervently, that it would do nothing save collect dust.

Some 10 days later a wild telephone call shattered the serenity of her office. The Mather School was on the wire, yammering. Gwen, panicky, gathered that Jimmy and one Buster Spotswood had somehow eluded the vigilance of the school after lunch. The great city had swallowed them. The Mather School had caused a general alarm to be broadcast.

Gwen spent a few hours with her heart in her throat. But at seven that evening James Parker was returned by a policeman. He entered in nonchalant triumph, on the best of terms with the law.

“That’s some kid, lady,” the constable stated. “Was he reely captured by Chinese pirates?”

“Oh, Lord!” Gwen was overwrought. “Of course, he wasn’t.”

“Well, he sure can tell ’em.” The policeman shook his head and, at the door, gave her the details of the roundup.

Gwen’s heart and head had a tug of war then. Her heart favored ensconcing Jimmy in the kitchen and plying him with the fat of the land. But, said the head, this was the moment. For once Gwen listened to her head. She took Jimmy into her bedroom.

“Now, young man,” she said, mouth tight, “let’s hear your story!”

Something told Jimmy that this command performance had better be good. He got off to a flying start.

“Well, Aunt Gwen,” he began, “we was just sorta walkin’ down the street when up comes one of those big shiny lim-o-seens. Well, two fellas—great big fellas, they was, with black beards— jump ...”

“That’s enough,” Gwen interrupted. “I know, from the policeman, exactly what happened. You boys had two sodas apiece and then rode all over town in streetcars. So why tell me a deliberate lie?”

He considered. “Becuz nothin’ happened in the streetcars,” he said at last. “It wouldn’t of been ’citin’ tellin’ about it.”

That did it. Gwen got the hairbrush. She also got J. P. Dalton in an extremely undignified position. Feeling like a composite of Simon Legree, Torquemada and Bloody Mary, she attacked sharply from the rear. She made it brief, but good.

, Jimmy bawled, but without undue

anguish. When vertical again, he j looked at his relative as one might j' regard a daffodil that suddenly comj ports itself like Mt. Vesuvius. There j was much of the I-didn’t-know-it-wasloaded in the look.

“And that,” said Gwen, “is what’ll happen every time you tell a lie. Now go straight to your room.”

James Parker quitted the area in a manner not quite like that of the elephant’s child. He was a little warm, but very much astonished.

When he had gone Gwen threw herself on the bed. She cried worse than Jimmy had.

Rick Bellamy, hearing about the streetcar episode and Jimmy’s attempted explanation, christened Jimmy “Ananias Junior,” laughing uproariously the while. Gwen was not amused.

“That’s the trouble with you, Rick,” she said. “You don’t take anything seriously.”

A shadow flickered across Rick’s grey eyes. “I take you seriously, plenty.”

“I don’t mean me. I mean”—well, what did she mean?—“Life, in general,” she finished.

“Oh, Life?” Rick said negligently.

“Yes, Life. For instance, I’ll bet you haven’t made any plans for yourself. For after the war.”

“You’re right.” He riffled his thick hair. “Of course, though, it’ll be something to do with planes.”

There he went! Airplanes! Always airplanes! Rick, Park, even Jimmy. She was surrounded by wild men who couldn’t keep their feet on the ground. Well, it only strengthened her own intentions. There was much to be said for the ground—and Clary Hudson.

“In case you haven’t noticed,” Rick said, “the airplane has supplanted the horse.” And to show his faith in a coming thing he took Jimmy out to the park to fly models.

The next few weeks were filled with peace and quiet. Rick appeared, whenever he could get leave. Clary was a regular customer. And to complete a serene picture Jimmy, a sobered man, gave no trouble in Miss Mather’s school. Gwen mentally saluted Mrs. Heyl and kept her fingers crossed.

Then she finally told Clary Hudson that she would marry him. They settled it one night in her own living room. Clary said they’d dillydallied long enough. Gwen, brushing a misty picture of Rick Bellamy out of her eyes, said yes, that was so.

It was as simple as that.

On the following week end Rick had leave. He came in Saturday afternoon, full of laughter and general joie de vivre.

Telling him was the hardest job of Gwen’s life. But she managed it, with everything under control except the corners of her mouth.

Rick took it very well. When she finished he said, with the ghost of a grin, “Okay, kid. That’s that. Well, best of luck. But you don’t mind if I take young Ananias to the park once more, do you?”

“Do take him, Rick!” Gwen’s voice shook a little. “He adores you.”

They flew a little model of a Spitfire that day. It flew beautifully. Jimmy was delighted with the model, with Rick.

“Hey, Rick,” he said, going home, “you’re a swell guy.”

“Huh?” Rick sounded far away.

But Jimmy persisted. “You’d oughta marry my Aunt Gwen, Rick. Why”—he lapsed from the technique of the Mather School—“why the heck don’t you?”

Rick kicked at a dandelion. “Look, kid, forget it! Your aunt has other plans.”

“Oh,” said Jimmy, wisely, underi standingly.

But he didn’t understand Rick’s subsequent absence.

“Where’s Rick?” he would ask his aunt.

And his aunt would invariably say, “He’s busy, Jimmy. He can’t be here all the time.”

One Sunday Clary Hudson took Gwen driving. They followed the highway for some miles and then, in the undulating country behind Cooksville, Clary stopped the car suddenly.

“That appeal to you?” he asked.

It was a little white house with blue shutters, and unoccupied. There were evergreens around it; a flagstone walk to the road.

“Oh, Clary,” Gwen exclaimed, “it’s adorable.”

“Suppose we give it the once-over,” said Clary.

Rather to her surprise, he had a key. But she didn’t question this circumstance. She was too overcome. She ran from room to room, oh-ing and ah-ing.

“It’s heaven!” she pronounced, breathlessly.

“Well,” Clary exploded his little bombshell nonchalantly, “I’m glad you like it. Because I’ve got an option on it. For one month.”

“Clary, you darling!” Her mind was busy with future decorative schemes. “This is the answer to something.”

“Sure,” Clary said.

Gwen looked through the dining room window. Greensward, dotted with trees, met her eyes.

“And what a wonderful place for Jimmy,” she said.

“Great for him.” Clary was lighting his pipe. “On his week ends and vacations.”

Gwen started. “Week ends? Vacations?”

“Look, dear,” Clary got the pipe lighted, “I’ve been meaning to talk to you about Jimmy. He ought to be in a good boarding school. Near here. In a hoarding school he’ll get things you can’t possibly give him. He’ll . . . well, develop.”

“But, Clary!” Gwen was strangely aware of her feet. They seemed to be freezing to the floor. “I don’t want Jimmy in a boarding school. He’s too

too terribly young. I naturally supposed that he’d he with us.”

“The younger the schools get ’em,” said Clary, inspecting window screens, “the better.”

Gwen stood stock-still. “Clary, I won’t do it.”

“No?” He smiled tolerantly. “Why can’t you take a sensible viewpoint? A boarding school’s the best place for Jimmy. But, beyond that”—he paused, then plunged—“you wouldn’t expect me to start married life with another man’s child always underfoot, would you?”

Gwen’s ears seemed to have gone hack on her. “Why, why, Clary,” she said slowly, “I didn’t know you felt like that.”

“How else could I feel?” Clary said. “The kid’s a problem. But it’s easily solved.”

Gwen looked at him. And. somehow, it was as if she were looking at a stranger. “I— I think,” she said, in an unsteady voice, “that you’d better take me home. Please! Right now!”

The ride back was a queer performance. Like a dumb show . . .

The apartment, with Jimmy looking at a picture book and Mrs. Heyl rattling away in the kitchen, restored Gwen’s sense of security. She didn’t care, she told herself. She had her home, her job, and Jimmy. For an hour it had seemed as if the world had gone sailing from under her. But now her feeling was almost one of relief. She’d had no idea that Clary Hudson could be so stubborn, so sullen.

Nevertheless she had a perfectly filthy evening. She put Jimmy to bed. She tried to read, and couldn’t. So she wandered around the house, taking herself apart.

She was a very very smart girl, she was. She knew all the angles. She was just so beautifully cagey that she’d closed the gate, forever, on the swellest guy that . . . Something hung on

Gwen’s inch-long lashes and she brushed it angrily away. A fine time to be getting a clear sense of values! Oh, she was smart, all right. Like an ox.

At that point the doorbell pealed violently, three times.

Startled, she flew to answer. Rick Bellamy, wild - eyed and panting, charged in, skidded to a stop at sight of her and gaped, as if she were a ghost..

“Rick!” A poet might have described it as a gladsome cry. “What . . .?”

Rick simply folded her in his arms. Then he became entirely meaningless. “Darling, what happened? Are you hurt much? I . . . ”

“Hurt?” Gwen interrupted. “Why on earth should I be?”

He sank into a chair. “The minute I heard it, I wangled overnight leave and come a-runnin’. Oh, gosh, Gwen, I was scared out of 10 years’ growth. And Jimmy didn’t know what hospital,

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so I had to come ...” He stopped suddenly, a man upon whom light has broken. Then he clapped a hand over his mouth, like one who inadvertently begins to rat on a pal.

But Gwen was shaking his arm. “Rick, what did Jimmy tell you? And how could he tell you anything?”

“Because I called this afternoon.” A little guiltily, Rick let the cat all the way out. “And he said you’d been knocked down by a car and taken to a hospital. Why”—he beamed—“the

little devil! I fell for it hook, line and sinker.”

Gwen put a hand to her head. “For heaven’s sake! But—but why did you call, Rick?”

“Oh,” his eyes strayed, “I sort of had to. To say that I’m still all for a—a certain lady, even if she is engaged.” She swallowed and hoped that the thumping thing in her left side would stop short of rattling the windows. “Rick!” This was hard, almost embarrassing, but so definitely necessary. “If, by any chance, we’re thinking of the same person, she’s . . . well, disengaged. As of this afternoon.”

Rick whirled on her. “HOW’S THAT?”

The roar disturbed a little man who really wasn’t there. A slight whisking noise sounded in the hall between living room and bedrooms. Gwen pounced and came up with James Parker, pyjama-clad.

“Now then,” she said sternly, repressing a desire to kiss him to death, “you seem to have heard. And just what did you mean by telling Rick that, Mist-er Dalton?”

He scuffed bare feet, a man disgraced. “Aw,” he mumbled, “Rick don’t come around no more. So I

thought if I said you was in a horsepital, he—he . . . Well, anyhow, it worked. He’s here, ain’t he?” Jimmy finished on a note of triumph.

“Why,” Gwen demanded, “didn’t Mrs. Heyl hear all this?”

“Becuz the phone’s in your bedroom,” Jimmy pointed out. “An’ she was makin’ an awful lot of noise in the kitchen.”

“This guy,” said Rick, “doesn’t need to go to school. For sheer intellect, he makes Einstein look like the class dummy.’

Jimmy, you little darling, thought Gwen. And then she thought, a little wildly, of what the late Wordsworth was wont to call “stern duty.” If she didn’t dash these stars out of her eyes and steel her soul, if she reneged on her promise, there was no knowing what new prevarication highs J. P. Dalton might set in future.

“Listen, Gwen,” Rick said, “how’s for shoving Ananias back in the icebox and painting the town? This is our night to howl.”

“I’d love it, Rick. But first I’ve got a job to do and how I’m going to hate it!” She felt her soul, steeling. “There’s no alternative though. I told Jimmy that if ever . . .Jimmy!”

The culprit jumped uneasily. “Yes, ma’am?”

“You march right in and get that brush. You know where I keep it. And Rick can look the other way and put his fingers in his ears.” Her lovely eyes slid to Rick’s. One of them winked, to say, “Don’t worry. They’ll be the world’s lightest love taps.”

Jimmy’s face crumpled. But just then a long arm swept him into Rick’s lap.

“Hold everything, Aunt Gwen,” said Rick. “You can’t do that to Ananias. Why, he’s a teller of tales beneath the castle walls, a bard, a wandering minstrel. A man with the true creative urge. Alongside of him, Somerset Maugham is a pulp writer.”

“He,” Gwen said, in the interest of discipline, “is just a plain little liar. No other word for it.”

“Ain’t a liar,” protested the liar in question.

“You know, Jimmy,” said Rick, inspired, “the trouble with these long tall ones you spin now and then is that nobody believes them. Nobody gr°wn up, that is, except me. So how’s for making a deal? Why not just tell them to me hereafter? Nobody else. And if I’m not here . . . well, save them up for me. Because,” said Rick solemnly, “I believe every word you say. Just like I did this afternoon. And maybe, if you’ll agree to that, your beautiful blond aunt will let you off this time.” Gwen said, “We-e-11.” Oh, Rick, you sweet guy.

J. P. Dalton, in a spot, seized upon the out. “Okay, Rick,” he said, “it’s a deal. Just you. Nobody else.” They shook hands with ceremony.

“But you remember, Jimmy!” Gwen trotted out her best courtroom voice. “The first time you slip, I’ll ...” She let it hang, ominously.

“I s’pose you will,” said Jimmy. “But not with that same hairbrush.” “And why not, my good man?” “Becuz,” James Parker Ananias Dalton made his meaning as clear as the celebrated crystal, “I throwed it down the ’cinerator.”

For once, it was strictly the truth.

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