FICTION

Dream Acres

CLAYTON HARTSOE December 1 1945
FICTION

Dream Acres

CLAYTON HARTSOE December 1 1945

Dream Acres

CLAYTON HARTSOE

KALEEN hummed a tune as she prepared dinner. She was so excited she could hardly wait. Bob would probably walk in, throw out his chest, hook his thumbs in the armholes of his vest, and announce: “Mrs. Hill, you are now part owner of this Good Earth,” and she’d be thrilled to the tips of her toes.

As she poured water into the coffee maker she heard the front door being closed, and wondered why Bob hadn’t signalled from downstairs. She set the teakettle back on the stove and hurried into the living room.

Bob was in the act of skimming his hat across to the Jove seat. He didn't put hin arms around her and kiss her, although she stood there longing to 1M> kissed. “Get ready to say ‘1 told you so,’ ” he said gruffly. She searched his face for some hint of what had happened, and asked, “What on earth are you talking about, dear?”

“Our land is gone. Sold right out from under our noses!”

“Oh, no, Bob!"

Ho only nodded his head.

“But Mr. Calaban has known for over a year that we wanted to buy it,” she cried.

“That’s what I told him, but he said that good intentions don’t keep a business going.”

“At least he could have called and given us a last chance,” she said. “When was it sold?”

“This morning and guess who bought, it?”

“1 haven’t the slightest idea.”

“That old goat whose dog was digging it up last Sunday."

“Mr. Shaw!” she cried, and timed the shaking of clenched fists with her, "Oo, oo, oo! That makes me so mad 1 could ...” She didn’t finish. She suddenly realized that Bob might think she blamed him for not arranging earlier to borrow the balance they needed for.the land. She quickly changed the subject. “Run along and get ready for dinner,” she instructed. “We’ll talk this over later. There’ll be something we can do yet.”

A big sigh escaped him. His chest deflated like a pricked rubber balloon. “I’m afraid not. I’ve looked into every angle.”

“You’ll see,” she said soothingly. “Now run along.”

Kaleen had fixed an old-fashioned beef stew for their dinner, one of their favorite dishes, but about all either of them did was to move pieces of meat from one place to another like pawns in a chess game.

Finally Kaleen said, “Maybe if we talk with Mr. Shaw' he might sell the land for what he paid for it.” “You don’t really believe that, do you?”

“Well.. . But it’s worth a try.”

“Even if he would sell,” Bob said, “he’ll probably hold us up.”

“He might consider $100 a fair profit on the deal.” Kaleen said. “1 think the place would still be worth that much extra to us. We’d just write it off to experience.”

“I should have my head examined,” Bob moaned, “for not borrowing that money like you wanted me to.” “Don’t blame yourself,” Kaleen said. “1 should have put my foot down. Don’t you think we should talk with Mr. Shaw?”

“I don’t know, baby. He’s such an old crank.”

“I know he made you angry, and he’ll probably do it again. But after doing without things we’ve wanted

for months so we could buy the land, we can’t afford to pass up any chance.

We don’t want our future home to end up by being a ... a beautiful fantasy.”

“I’ll tell you what,” said Bob.

“Suppose we stop by and talk with Leroy Bevins first. He lives near Shaw, and might be able to suggest comething.” *

“A super idea,” Kaleen declared.

“I’ll stack the dishes, and be ready in five minutes.”

A half-hour bus ride brought them in sight of Lake Erie. They got off and walked for 10 minutes toward the water.

Bob took a deep breath. “Smell that fresh air!”

Kaleen inhaled deeply.

“Grand!”

“I used to think it’d be good stuff for Bob Jr. when he came along.”

“It will be yet,” she declared. She slipped her hand from his to run it up beneath his arm as she snuggled close.

“As soon as our house is built!” Her big blue eyes scanned his face eagerly.

Bob refused to look that far into the future. “We’d better get a place to build it on before we talk about that.”

Leroy Bevins came to the door in golf pants and a sweat shirt..

“I wish I’d been expecting you,” he said. “I’d have had something to drink.”

“Oh, please!” said Kaleen. “This really isn’t a social call. We wanted to ask your advice about something.”

“Well, sit down then,” Bevins said, dropping into a chair. “I’m not a lawyer, but if I can help, shoot.”

“What do you think of your neighbor,

Mr. Shaw?” Bob asked.

“Kaleen must leave the room before I give you an honest answer. He’s a stinker.”

“That much 1 know',” Bob declared.

“Do you think a person could reaspn with him?”

“You sound serious,” Bevins said.

“Give!”

“He bought the lot between here and his place.”

“What! The place you were going to buy?” Kaleen nodded her head.

“Wonder why?” Bevins mused. “From what I know about that old skinflint, he’s got something up his sleeve.”

“It was to spite us,” Kaleen revealed. “We were down here Sunday to well, to dream about the beautiful house we were going to build, and . . .”

“The old goat tried to run you away,” Bevins finished. “I heard Jimmie, the boy next door, talking about him shaking his fist in some man’s face. So it was you, Bob?”

“It was, and 1 guess I told him w'here to get off.” “Now you didn’t say much,” Kaleen declared. “I wouldn’t let you.”

“Anyway,” Bob continued, “after what happened, we decided to borrow what money we needed and

buy the place at once. So yesterday I made an application for the loan, and got the money early this afternoon. When I hurried over to the real-estate office they told me the land was sold this morning to Mr. Shaw.”

“Now I’m beginning to get a slant on things,” Bevins said. “You’re w'ondering if Shaw could be talked into selling to you?”

“That’s the question,” Kaleen replied.

Bevins rubbed a thoughtful finger behind his ear. “I hardly know what to tell you kids,” he said after a minute of meditation. “I’d like to be bright and cheerful, but to tell the truth, I can’t see it. Old man Shaw is a . . . a . . . well, you couldn’t call him anything but an eccentric. He’s queer, erratic, and it’s too much to expect that he’ll react as a normal man would.”

“I still think we should try,” Kaleen said.

“Did you ever know a person who would delight in a neighbor’s misfortune?” Bevins asked. “Something serious, I mean?”

Even a dream house needs land to stand on. But to win their lot Kaleen and Bob had to beat a Scrooge at his own game

“Thank goodness, no,” Kaleen replied.

“Well, that’s Shaw. There used to be another lot between his place and the water. Fellow who owned it worked at Keefer’s in town. Let’s see, what was his name?—believe it was Haines—never did get very well-acquainted. Anyway, when we had that big wind storm two years ago the waves washed away the cabin he had there and all but about a 10-ft. strip of his land.”

“And Mr. Shaw was glad about that!” Kaleen couldn’t believe it.

“Tickled pink, because it practically made his place a water-front lot. In fact it wasn’t very long until he extended his lawn to the water’s edge—right on across the 10-ft. strip of land belonging to Haines. He even picked up lumber from the washed-down cabin and put up that pier you’ve seen over there.”

“Imagine that!” said Kaleen. “What did this Haines fellow say about it?”

“I don’t know, but I imagine, nothing. After all, what good is a 10-ft. strip of land? That’ll give you some idea what you’ll run up against over there. But if you still want to talk with him, it can’t hurt.”

Mr. Shaw came in response to the doorbell. He snapped on the porch light, peered out through the door, and said, “Oh, it’s you! I bought that land out there to keep you away from here.”

Bob turned red in the face, but before he could explode, Kaleen gently pushed him to one side. She said, “Mr. Shaw, we came to see if you’d consider selling those lots to us.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” sneered Mr. Shaw. “Didn’t I just finish saying that I bought the land to keep you out? Wouldn’t have anybody about who’d throw rocks at my dog.”

“But the dog was digging holes where we were going to have our lawn, and my husband only threw a stone to frighten it away. He wouldn’t have hit it for anything. We like dogs, 'and if we get this place out

here we’re certainly going to have one of our own.”

“And we’ll keep it home where it belongs,” growled Bob.

“He means that we won’t allow it to bother you,” Kaleen hastened to explain.

“I understand perfectly what he means,” snapped Mr. Shaw. “The hind is not for sale.”

“But, Mr. Shaw,” Kaleen pleaded, “this is such a disappointment to us. We’ve had our hearts set for so long on having a home here—” She was almost in tears—“It just doesn’t seem fair that all of our plans should be destroyed because of a silly misunderstanding.”

Mr. Shaw smiled. “Why blame me?” he asked. “You had the chance to buy the land. Hereafter you’ll know to strike while the iron is hot.”

Bob took Kaleen’s arm. “Come on. Let’s get out of here before I do strike while the iron is hot.”

“You won’t change your mind?” she asked over her shoulder as Bob pulled her along.

Mr. Shaw shook his head.

When they got home Bob offered to help with the dishes, but Kaleen said, “Dishes are a woman’s job. You sit there and talk to me while you smoke.”

He pulled a tobacco pouch from his pocket and idly packed the bowl of his meerschaum pipe, his eyes following her about the kitchen. She swished a fork through her dishwater until the soap flakes had dissolved into millions of little bubbles, then began washing a teacup. Bob wasn’t saying anything, so she looked over her shoulder to say, “I thought you were going to talk to me.”

His head moved as though he had been dreaming. “You kinda magnetize me,” he replied softly. “I guess I could sit and look at you forever without saying another word.”

She smiled, and turned from the sink. As she did the handle of the teacup in her hand grazed the spigot and broke off. “You say such nice things,”

she sighed, then fished the broken piece from the sink. “But I’m afraid you shouldn’t while I’m washing dishes-—” she held out the handle in one hand, the cup in the other “—I goall haywire and break up our china.

See?”

Bob hurried over to Like the parts from her. “Don’t worry your beautiful head about it, baby,” he said, kissing her lightly on the forehead. “I can fix.”

“Drop it right in the garbage, Mr. Fixer, because it won’t stay together.”

“We only have two cups left,” he reminded.

“1 know, and I’m going to buy some nextSaturday.”

“But suppose we have company before then? I have some liquid cement that’s guaranteed to hold together anything but a man and his wife.”

She didn’t insist that he throw the cup away. She thought that while fooling with it he might forget that other matter for a few minutes. But as she watched him puttering around the corner cabinet she knew it hadn’t helped. He was puffing hard on his pipe, which was always a sure sign something was worrying him.

She said, “Bob. Do you believe that things always work out for the best?” He glanced up at her, but she didn’t give him a chance to answer. “You know that’s what I was thinking today, and it made me feel a lot better.”

“There’s no need for a cheering-up routine, baby. I’m all right.”

“I’m serious, Bob. We both feel pretty badly about what happened, but think how we would have felt if we had built our home, then all of a sudden, just like that—” she tried, without success, to snap her fingers “—it was washed away.”

“What in the world are you talking about, girl?”

“It could happen. It happened to Mr. Haines’ place.”

“Who is Haines?” Bob asked, puzzled. “And what happened?”

“Don’t you remember Leroy Bevins telling us about him? He had a house between Mr. Shaw’s place and the water.”

“Oh, yes. The guy over at Keefer’s, (»uess I was thinking too much about our own trouble. I completely forgot his name.”

“What was left of his property wasn’t of any use to him. That could have happened to us.”

“We’d have been farther from the water,” Bob mumbled as he placed the sugar cannister against the cup and the coffee cannister against the handle to hold it tightly until the cement dried. “But it could, I suppose. 1 guess we were lucky at that,” he suid, without conviction.

KALEEN was almost asleep when Bob bolted up in bed to exclaim, “1 think I’ve got it, baby!” “That’s fine, Bob,” she mumbled drowsily.

“Would you be willing to make a gamble on getting our dream acres?”

She became wide-awake. "Do you mean there might

be a chance?”

“A chance, baby, and that’s all I can call it. We might even lose money and not get the place, but it’s worth trying. I’m willing to gamble on it if you are.” She sat up too. “Tell me about it.”

“Not now. I’ve got to work out a couple of points yet. What do you say we sleep on it?”

“But I don’t know what to sleep on,” she reminded. “Then let me sleep on it,” he said, and he pretended to go to sleep.

He was no less secretive about his plan when she pressed him about it at breakfast. “Don’t want to get your hopes up too high yet,” he said. At dinner he still wouldn’t reveal the plan or what he was doing about it. She could tell by his actions, though, that it must be working out pretty well, for he was again his old self; making wisecracks, and eating his food with his usual zest.

She began to grow a bit impatient with him, and said, “Can’t you see I’m dying Continued on page 28

Continued on page 28

Continued from page 17

to know what’s happening? Too much suspense isn’t good for a person.”

He jumped up and hurried out of the kitchen to answer the phone. She could hear his side of the conversation but couldn’t tell by it what both sides would add up to. “Tall posts? . . . Good. Set ’em in deep . . . The signs? . . . Remember ‘under penalty of prosecution’. .. Swell! I can depend on you. . .. Okay. If you say so, I won’t worry. Good night.”

When he returned to the table she said, “You’ve got to tell me what’s going on. I can’t stand it any longer.” “Grit your teeth, baby, and stand it until tomorrow night. If things work out you’ll know all about it. If not, then it’s best that you never know. I’d always feel that you were pitying a poor brainless creature.”

“If I must, I must,” she sighed.

At 10 o’clock next morning the phone rang. It was Bob. “Baby. How would you like to meet your favorite husband at 12.30, see a one-o’clock double feature, and have an early dinner downtown afterward?”

“It sounds wonderful, darling. But don’t you have your days mixed? This is Friday, not Saturday.”

“I know. I’m taking my afternoon off today instead of tomorrow. Don’t want to be around the office if a certain I person calls. Now, how about that i date?”

“Bob. You know I want our dream j acres as much as you. But if you had to ; pull off some shady transaction to get ’em, you know I—” She bit her lip, and immediately wished she hadn’t said j that. It was bound to hurt.

But he didn’t sound offended at all. “I know, baby. It’s all right,” he said. “Now get along, and be here at the office by 12.30 This is our lucky day.” It seemed to Kaleen that both pictures that afternoon were longer than “Cone With The Wind.” But Bob seemed to make up for her lack of enjoyment. Sometimes she thought he would go into hysterics.

After the show they went to one of the best restaurants in town, where soft organ music was played continuously throughout the meal. She almost became angry with herself when she thought what a wonderful respite this should be to any housewife who cooks most meals at home. And here she was, nibbling at her food, feeling as though there were needles and pins in her chair. Bob ate everything, like a starving man.

A cold rain started as they finished

dinner, so they went right home to their apartment.

Kaleen was hanging up their coats when the phone rang.

“Ah-h-h,” said Bob, “I expected that.”

“Shall I answer it?” Kaleen asked.

“Let me. I’m pretty sure it’s an old friend.”

He went into the little nook off the living room, and Kaleen followed to stand in the doorway. “Hello,” he said into the mouthpiece. “This is Hill speaking . . . Oh, yes, I remember you, Mr. Shaw ... You have? Too bad. My wife and I were out all afternoon, taking in the town, you might say . . . I’m sorry, Mr. Shaw, but I never discuss matters like that over the

phone . . . Well, if you insist on talking about it tonight, I’ll be at my home for the next hour. If you want to drop over the address is 3240 Beechwood, apartment 6-B . . . I’ll be expecting you.”

Kaleen’s eyes were wide with surprise. “Mr. Shaw? He’s coming here?”

He kissed her lightly on the lips, said, “It was Mr. Shaw, and he’ll be here within the half hour,” then walked over to put some papers he had taken from his inside coat pocketinto a desk drawer.

Kaleen was right behind him. She waited, with arms folded in front, until he turned. “Now, Mr. Mysterious,” she said, “this is tomorrow night, and you promised ...”

He placed a hand on each of her shoulders. “Know what I’d like to have?” he asked. “One of your good cups of coffee.”

“Let’s not get off the subject, Bob Hill!”

“There’s not a place in the world where they can make coffee like yours,” he said. “When it’s ready, bring it in here. Our friend Shaw should arrive about that time, and I know you won’t want to miss any of the show.”

“Oh, why do I let you wind me around your little finger?” she said, trying to sound disgusted.

“Professional ethics forbids my telling you,” he teased. “Now hurry with that coffee.”

They had hardly taken their first sip before Mr. Shaw arrived. He stormed through the door when Bob opened it.

“Now see ...” he began.

“Nasty night out,” Bob broke in jovially. “Let me have your coat and hat.”

“Won’t be here that long,” snapped Mr. Shaw.

“But the furniture,” Bob said.

“Water on coat messy.”

When Mr. Shaw had passed over his things. Bob said, “Now come on in and sit down.”

The visitor grunted, “Oh, all right,” then moved over to sit in one of the barrel-back chairs. Bob sat in the one across from him. Kaleen hadn’t moved from her place on the love seat, nor did she speak.

“I was anxious to find out if you’re really foolish enough to think you can get away with sticking that fence up on my property.”

“If you didn’t know I could get away with it, why weren’t you out there tearing it down instead of trying to get me on the phone all afternoon?” Kaleen couldn’t believe that it was Bob talking. He hadn’t lifted his voice, and his usual fiery temper seemed under perfect control, even though Mr. Shaw was almost insulting. “I’ll tell you why,” he went on. “Because you learned that I had bought the land you had so conveniently added to your lawn.”

“I’ll get a court order and make you take that fence down!” shouted Mr. Shaw with a trembling voice. “It’s blocking me off from my pier!”

“Your pier, Mr. Shaw! When it’s on my property, with the pilings sunk in my land? Now what did your lawyer tell you about that?”

“You . . . you . . . you . . .” sputtered Mr. Shaw, and Kaleen could hardly keep from laughing at the old man’s discomfort.

“Suppose we lower our voices and talk sensibly,” Bob suggested. “I bought that land from Mr. Haines yesterday; didn’t want any trespassing on it, so I had the fence put there. Whether or not you like it makes no difference.”

“You did it for spite,” Mr. Shaw declared. “There’s nothing you can do with a fiveor six-foot strip of land.” “Ten foot,” Bob corrected, “and there are a lot of things I çan do with it. I could rent space at the pier for tying up and servicing boats this winter. 1 could plant oysters along the shore. I I could haul in several loads of sand and make a bathing beach for our friends and us. They’d be tickled to have a nearby place where they could take their children in the summer afternoons and evenings.”

“A beach full of kids!” There was plain alarm in Mr. Shaw’s voice. “Why, they’d run everybody crazy!”

“Not us,” Bob said. “We love children. We have friends with oodles of ’em.”

Mr. Shaw toned down his voice. “I could still beat you in court, but they’re so slow. Tell you what I’ll do. I’ll lease the land and pier—for a nominal sum, of course.”

Bob shook his head.

“Then I’ll buy it for ...”

“You had a chance to buy it. Why didn’t you strike while the iron was hot?” Kaleen hadn’t been able to resist putting that in for good measure.

“All right. So you’re throwing my own words back into my face,” said Mr. Shaw with an uncomplimentary glance at Kaleen. “Now how about buying the land? I’ll give you what you paid for it.”

Bob said, “It isn’t for sale.”

“I’ll give you ...”

“It isn’t for sale at any price. The only way I’d consider letting it go would be in a trade.”

“For what?” enquired Mr. Shaw suspiciously.

“For those lots you bought the other day.”

“Are you crazy?”

“It depends on how you look at it,” Bob replied. “If you’d rather have those lots than a water-front site, it’s okay with me. And there’s one more

thing before you go. Will you move your two boats from my pier before tomorrow night?”

“1 can’t get to the pier,” Mr. Shaw reminded.

“You can swim,” Bob shot back, raising his voice for the first time. “But be sure you move ’em!”

Mr. Shaw sighed deeply, and his shoulders sagged forward. “I’ve got sense enough to know when I’ve been outsmarted,” he said, then actually smiled. “I’ll trade.”

Kaleen pressed her hands tightly together in her lap, and bit her lip to keep from shouting, “Hurrah!”

Bob remarked, as casually as if he put over big business deals every day, “Now you’re being sensible.”

“I’ll give you my office address,” said Mr. Shaw, “and if you’ll come around tomorrow, between 11 and 12, I’ll have the papers ready to sign.”

Bob stood, and walked toward the desk. “That won’t be necessary,” he said. “I have the papers right here, all drawn up.”

“Well! I must say that for a dreamer you were very sure of yourself.”

“I was more sure of you,” Bob corrected, as he turned away from the desk.

He pulled the coffee table up near Mr. Shaw, and laid some legal-looking papers on its top. “How rude of us!” he said to Kaleen. “We didn’t ask our guest to have coffee.”

“Oh, excuse me,” Kaleen said, and

■ jumped up. “Will you have some, Mr.

: Shaw?”

Mr. Shaw pulled a fountain pen fisom his pocket and unscrewed its top. “Don’t mind if I do,” he replied. “It’s wet and chilly outside tonfght.”

“I’ll bring a cup,” Kaleen said. When she returned to the living i room Mr. Shaw had finished signing the , papers and was returning the pen to his pocket. Bob was saying, “You understand the clause which gives me the right to take up that fence?”

“Yes,” replied Mr. Shaw. “I’ll be glad to have it down.”

“Only wanted to be sure you underÏ stood,” Bob said. “I rented that fence for 24 hours, and the man who owns it will be down in the morning to take it up.”

“Well, I’ll be . . . I’ll be!” sputtered * Mr. Shaw. Then laughing, he said, “I’ve got to hand it to you, young i man.”

> Kaleen filled the extra cup with [ coffee, then poured more into her own and Bob’s. “Sugar and cream?” “Neither,” he declined. “I like it black.” He took the proffered cup and i saucer and said, “So long as we’re : going to be neighbors, we might as well

drink to the future.”

“To the future,” Bob and Kaleen echoed.

They all raised their cups toward their lips. Mr. Shaw almost made it before the handle collapsed between his fingers.