FICTION

JOHN MULLOY COMES HOME

If April and Johnny weren’t engaged, they should be. And if they were it would make a hot story for the Chronicle. A kid reporter doubles for Cupid

HENRY BEETLE HOUGH September 15 1945
FICTION

JOHN MULLOY COMES HOME

If April and Johnny weren’t engaged, they should be. And if they were it would make a hot story for the Chronicle. A kid reporter doubles for Cupid

HENRY BEETLE HOUGH September 15 1945

JOHN MULLOY COMES HOME

FICTION

HENRY BEETLE HOUGH

BRIAN FULLER, uniformed and carrying a portable typewriter, was advancing over rough terrain on an island which was something like Guadalcanal and vaguely like Mindanao—vaguely, because Brian did not even know how to spell Mindanao—casually flushing out Japs from tropical thickets as he ambled to an advanced post with his big story. This, of course, was in the spirit. The actual Brian sat at a desk in flu* office of the Griffin Centre Chronicle, published each Friday, and groped with one foot for the first rung of the journalistic ladder. He was recalled fully from his anticipation of the future by the arrival of Old Sandy Garrison, editor and publisher of the Chronicle, who was carrying a satchel.

Old Sandy had been called to Montreal as a delegate to something or other in the interest of the party of progress, family morality, human rights and low taxes. The summons was such that he felt: constrained to be absent from the Chronicle office over a press day, and it seemed to him that the paper might go to the devil while he was saving Canada from a like fate. That he chose Canada even over the Chronicle was a tribute to his devout patriotism.

“You!” he said explosively, fixing Brian with an accusing eye. “You! How are you going to put in your time?”

Brian started guiltily, and the frightened Japs took cover again. “Why, just the way you told me. The fact is, I know where I can get a good story.”

“What story?” demanded the old editor suspiciously.

“Well, I hear the lake trout are biting. Now everybody around here is interested in lakers, see? I’ve been thinking how I can go out to the grounds and catch a few, and then.”

“Thunder!” ejaculated Old Sandy. “I might have known. You’ve got less chance of being a newspaperman, young fellow, than I have of being a Buff Orpington.”

“You told me to pick up something the subscribers would want to read in the Chronicle,” Brian said weakly. “You told me to have an eye out for things people are doing.”

“Forget it,” snapped Old Sandy. “Don’t you leave

this office, do you understand, unless the fire whistle blows or Meletiah sends you after the mail.”

“Then what do you want me to do?” asked Brian.

Mr. Garrison spoke with the resolution of a quick decision. “Come in here,” he commanded, leading the way into his more or less private corner office. “You can overhaul this stuff—that is, when you aren’t, needed to read proof. See these clippings and so on? Straighten ’em out. You know your alphabet, don’t you? Well, put it all in order. Use paper clips, use envelopes, use your head. Do you think you can do that?”

“Yes, sir,” said Brian.

The editor turned away, looking for Meletiah Hamlin, foreman of the Chronicle, to issue last minute warnings and instructions. Meletiah inhabited that pleasant region where the ink smelled strongest, the linotypes clicked, the jobber paced the business needs of the town, and papers of a decade drifted on the floor. Brian sighed in his exile. How could he be a reporter with all the odds against him? He was stuck again, while the warmth of early fall flooded the whole town outside.

THE duty assigned to him was the overhauling of the morgue. A newspaper morgue is not a repository of bones and other mortal remains, but of clippings, often yellow and torn. As known in the metropolitan branches of the profession, it comprises rows of filing cases in which are put away fragments which may one day be added together fo form obituaries of citizens who have risen to the importance of print. The Chronicle, however, kept its morgue not even in one filing case, but under the large blotter and pad on Old Sandy’s desk. That it should be overhauled was now fairly urgent because the blotter was getting humpy.

The clippings seemed to have spawned, for whenever Brian lifted a layer he found more underneath. In addition he observed many scraps of paper with jottings in ink or pencil, a few old match books, a silk handkerchief, the finger from an ancient kid glove, a flattened snuffbox, at least a dozen pencil stubs,

several railroad timetables, one for the year 1903, and a ticket in a Lodge raffle of 1928.

All rubbish, Brian thought, all rubbish. He sighed the heartrending sigh of the thwarted young male. This was not the trade of the newspaperman. Oid Sandy had no confidence in him, no confidence at all. He couldn’t see what was wrong with his idea of writing up the lake trout fishing after he’d caught a few. Reluctantly he examined the clippings, and at length he came to one which was particularly rusty and brittle.

“John Mulloy came home yesterday afternoon,” he read. He was startled because he knew Johnny Mulloy—Sergeant Johnny Mulloy—and it was true that Johnny had come home not long ago after a couple of years in Europe. “What’s all this?” ho inquired aloud. He read the clipping through.

John Mulloy came home yesterday afternoon, and everybody on Main Street had a handshake for this local boy who fought at Paardeberg and sustained a serious wound. Regardless of what Mulloy’s activities may have been before the present war, he was received warmly into the heart of the community and was congratulated by one and all on his almost complete recovery. A reception is being arranged in his honor at Corinthian Hall, the catering to be done by Ezra Bates, who will supply some of his special coconut cakes and root beer.

Later: It appears that Mulloy, to the regret of all, returned to his old habits last night, and after celebrating in a manner well remembered in this vicinity, was accidentally shot through the shoulder while resisting efforts to remove him from Abel Henshaw’s chicken yard. The reception will not be held, but any persons wishing to obtain some of Ezra Bates’ coconut cakes and root beer may do so by private arrangement.

Brian had discerned immediately that this

If April and Johnny weren’t engaged, they should be. And if they were it would make a hot story for the Chronicle. A kid reporter doubles for Cupid

was not the contemporary Johnny Mulloy.

Joined to this first clipping was a second and slighter one, a paragraph:

Miss Agatha Henshaw has left for an indefinite visit with her aunts in Wollaston. Mrs. Fred Dunbar will substitute as teacher of the first grade in the town school until the end of the year.

Brian saw no connection, but he did wonder about the old Johnny Mulloy who had fought at Paardeberg instead of Ortona, Caen, and places like that. He was still wondering half an hour later when Meletiah Hamlin yelled to him to hump it down to the post office to get the mail.

He would have time, Brian thought, to take a turn around the Castello house and see if Ivy was home. With this in mind, he cut through Mrs. Amos Bartlett’s yard, but instead of being closed tight, the ell of her house was open and she was standing in the doorway. He did not know Mrs. Bartlett well; in fact, about all he knew of her was that she was an old lady and a recluse.

“Who are you?” she enquired. Brian told her. But she wasn’t cross because he was cutting through her yard. She seemed to be looking for someone. “I’m 86 today,” she said. “Quite old, but I don’t feel it . . . I wonder where Agatha Henshaw is. She hasn’t been to see me. She always comes on my birthday.” “I guess you mean April Henshaw,” said Brian.

“That’s what I said, April Henshaw. What other Henshaw girl is there since Agatha passed away?” She hadn’t said it, but very old people are funny that way, live a lot in the past. Brian continued on his course, vaulting the back fence. He saw Ivy Castello at an upstairswindow, but his timing was not especially fortunate. She seemed to be washing her hair. He gave her the old high sign anyway, and as an afterthought swung back to the post office for the Chronicle mail. It was certainly curious that Mrs. Bartlett should have mentioned Agatha Henshaw so soon after he had come across the name in that clipping! He looked in on his return trip, and the old lady was still in the doorway.

“Was Agatha the daughter of Abel Henshaw?” Brian inquired.

“Of course she was.”

“Well, did she have anything to do with John Mulloy? Not the Johnny around here now, but the one who was shot in the Henshaw chicken yard?”

“She should have married him as she wanted to do,” said Mrs. Bartlett firmly. “Anyway, who says he was shot in the chicken yard? I know a thing or two, and I always say, what if he was put in the chicken yard after he was shot?”

With that she went into the house and closed the door. The whole thing was curious, Brian thought. At the Chronicle office he handed the mail to Meletiah.

“I suppose,” he said, “there’s no news in something that happened a long time ago.”

“You suppose right,” Meletiah told him shortly. “There isn’t.”

“That’s what I thought,” Brian said, and dismissed the entire matter from his mind.

rP WAS irksome working over the dry relics of the past, but he stuck at his task until the first stroke of 12. At the second stroke he was halfway down the block. He walked past the Castello house again and whistled a couple of times for Ivy, but she was either not home or deliberately unresponsive. He proceeded to the dog-wagon and bought himself a couple of hamburgers with everything, a cup of coffee and a wedge of apple pie. This stowed away, he ambled down to the water front and looked around enviously to see who had come in from the reefs with lake trout. Everyone seemed to be still out. Probably the fish

were biting like Old Harry! It was just his luck to be missing the sport.

“Hello, Hawkeye,” said a lanky old-timer who was sitting near the end of the town dock, whittling. “Hawkeye” was Brian’s current nickname in the village.

“Hello,” said Brian.

“Looking for news, I ’spose,” said the old-timer. “Heard about the town hall being sold for a filling station?”

“Aw, nuts!” said Brian.

“Better look into it. Quite a story.”

“I believe everything I’m told,” said Brl.

“Seen Johnny Mulloy?”

“No, but 1 hear he’s back.”

“Better get hold of him, Hawkeye. Ask him about his engagement.”

“Who to?”

“One of the most prominent belles of this her. community.”

“Aw, nuts!” said Brian.

“All right, if you’re so smart. Let folks read all about it in the Globe.”

Brian pretended to be oblivious, but he was considering earnestly. The Globe was the competing daily city paper of which Old Sandy was fanatically resentful. There might be something in this particular matter, because most of the servicemen did get engaged either while they were away or as soon as possible after reaching home. A prominent belle of the community . . . who could it be? One name came into his mind by instant association—April Henshaw. The parallel of history for a second time—no, really a third. But it was nonsense to think of April, daughter of the first family of Griffin Centre, so deeply entrenched in position and pride, marrying a nobody like Johnny Mulloy. Before the war Johnny had been a terror to the police. Yet the old John must have been a nobody too, and evidently Agatha had wanted to marry him. April and Johnny, April and Johnny; no other possibility seemed to fit.

Brian walked away nonchalantly, and as soon as he had turned into Main Street he became the brisk young reporter. He soon found Johnny Mulloy in Tony’s Place, alone at the counter with a coke. Johnny greeted him in friendly fashion.

“I’m working Continued on page 30

Continued from page 9

for the Chronicle now,” Brian said. “Sorry,” said Johnny, “no soap.” “What do you mean?”

“I don’t want to talk about it, that’s all. I want to forget it. After all, I’m home now and what does it matter? I plugged a lot of villages and did what I was told, and you saw it all in the newsreels.”

In that moment Johnny became Brian’s idol. If Brian could have been so lean and brown, looking distantly yet keenly through narrowed eyes, if he could have made that renunciation of adventure and romance which was in itself the highest romance of all, he would willingly have traded every other prospect of life. This Johnny lounging moodily with his elbows on the counter was a man. He was quite a man.

“Oh, I wasn’t going to bother you with a lot of fool questions,” said Brian. “I know better than to ask you about any of that. What I was going to ask you was about your engagement.”

“My what?”

“Well, that’s what I heard. I heard you were engaged.”

“Who to?” Johnny watched him intently. Johnny was sounding him out. Brian figured it was worth taking a chance.

“April Henshaw.”

“Oh.” Johnny’s expression did not change.

“Can I print it in the Chronicle?” “Well, I’ll tell you. Maybe you got something there, young fellow, but I don’t guess you better print it without confirming it.”

“You mean, ask her? Ask April?” “That’s generally how you confirm an engagement. Only if you spill one word to a third party or on the street, I’ll have to take it out of your hide.” “Sure,” Brian said, and waited to see if Johnny would say anything more. He seemed to be considering.

“Would you say the old town’s about the same?”

“Just the same.”

“I don’t think so,” Johnny said. “I think it’s all different. Never mind, skip it. You wouldn’t understand. Say, kid, do you remember when I threw the baseball into the town clock on a bet?” “That was funny.”

“It wasn’t funny at all. It was a fool thing to do. One time I helped let the air out of all the tires on Church Street.

That wasn’t funny, either. Was it?” “Sure — at least I thought so, Johnny.”

“You don’t see what I mean. The town’s all changed.”

BRIAN had to go. He took just time enough to walk past the Castello house on his way back to the office. Ivy was in the yard, but he couldn’t stop. He waved his hand and proceeded, under forced draught. By good luck he caught Meletiah Hamlin in a mellow mood before the afternoon routine began, and asked him about the John Mulloy who fought in the Boer War.

“He was quite a character,” Meletiah said. “He came to town as a coachman for the Corsons but he never kept one job long, mostly on account of liquor. He was handsome, black Irish, a great one with horses and ladies, and the cockiest daredevil I ever saw. Why, I remember him galloping his horses right down the middle of Main Street, making the whole town scatter. Let’s see ... he was a great-uncle of young Johnny. Young Johnny is a lot like him.”

“What was it about his getting shot?”

“Well, he got back from the war, and there was a hot time in the old town. I wasn’t here that night. He celebrated, and one thing led to another. I forget the details.”

“But he was going to marry Agatha Henshaw.”

“There was talk of it, but nothing serious. No, the Henshaws wouldn’t have stood for it. He was kind of a war hero, but he was the same old John.” “Then Agatha went away to forget.” “What’s all this? • Agatha was a happy old maid as far back as I can remember, and she never had any difficulty in forgetting anything except her appetite.”

But Brian in his wisdom knew differently.

For the next couple of hours he was submerged with proofs which had to be read. But when the time came to get the afternoon mail he sacrificed a chance to pass the Castello residence; and headed instead for the Henshaw mansion at the other side of town, among the horse chestnuts and elms which testified to the age and dignity of the neighborhood. Once the Henshaw place had been grand but now its cupola and portico seemed mostly quaint. Moss grew on the roof shingles and the corner boards of the portico Continued on page 32

Continued from page 30

yawned apart where the sun had baked

them. It was impoasible to keep up a

big house nowadays.

Brian clanged the brass knocker, and presently the door was opened by April’s father, Leonard Henshaw, a thin, fussy man with a waxed mustache and pouches under his eyes. His hair was grey and sparse, and his skin pale except for small brown spots on his cheeks.

“What’s the matter?”

Brian realized he had been staring. “Nothing,” he said. “Is April here?” “Not just now. I believe she went over to see Mrs. Bartlett. Can I do anything for you?”

“Well . . .”

“Come in, my boy. Come in.”

A little reluctantly Brian followed Mr. Henshaw into the high-ceilinged living room. Of course he had been told not to make talk about the engagement except with April herself, but he reflected that a newspaper reporter has a right to ask questions. And maybe April’s father could con firm the story.

“What I wanted to know was abou April and Johnny Mulloy. I mean, arc t hey engaged or aren’t they?”

“What’s that?” said Mr. Henshaw quickly. The light struck his glasses in a peculiar way, his thin lips were moist and shiny. “That’s a new one on me. Mulloy hasn’t been to the house since he got back. Who told you?”

“Nobody, exactly.”

“Well, I wouldn’t take anything for granted. No, no. I’d be pretty careful.” Brian noticed what he had not taken in before, that Mr. Henshaw had spread newspapers over a table and was cleaning and oiling his shotgun. Instead of seeming an ordinary thing, since the upland game season was to open in a few weeks, this struck Brian as an enormity. He did not like Mr. Henshaw’s catlike movements.

“Of course Mulloy came here a good deal at one time, but that was before he went overseas. Some months before. So you see . .

“Well, I just asked,” Brian said.

“I think you can forget about it.” “Okay.”

WHEN Brian went out, he took the trouble to inspect the rear of the Henshaw premises. The chicken yard was still there; at least he supposed it was the same chicken yard. What had happened, exactly, on that night so long ago when John Mulloy of Paardeberg had celebrated prematurely and too well? If Abel Henshaw had owned a shotgun, perhaps the same old 12gauge his son Leonard was now cleaning, he might very easily have taken a pot shot at John Mulloy, and claimed afterward that Mulloy was in the chicken yard. That would have been a small thing if it prevented the union of a Henshaw and a Mulloy.

Thus the power of suggestion and the sense of parallels worked in Brian’s stimulated mind. He was not concerned with logic but with what seemed to him immediate realities. He headed directly for Mrs. Bartlett’s house and met April just coming away.

“You’re out of breath,” she said. “Where’s the fire?”

“What? Oh, there isn’t any. I just want to ask you something. Is it true you and Johnny Mulloy are engaged?” “Who on earth told you that?”

“I was just asking.”

“But it’s so ridiculous. I don’t understand. I haven’t seen Johnny since . . . since . . . well, anyway, he hasn’t been to the house since he got back.”

Then Brian’s course lay in either of

two ways; he could drop the whole

thing, deflated by April’s quick dis-

avowal, or he could look deeper, and

go on. He looked deeper, still goaded

by his instinct that the renewal of an

old tragedy impended. After all, April

was acting queerly. She looked fallish

in a tan wool jersey and plaid skirt,

with a leaf-brown hat. Something

about her slightly austere eyebrows

and delicate nose matched the author-

ity in Johnny Mulloy’s firm chin and

Continued on page 34

Continued, from page 32

level eyes, but like him she was

troubled.

“Maybe he can’t come to the house,” Brian said.

“Why not?”

“Maybe it isn’t safe.”

“What nonsense are you talking? Why shouldn’t it be safe?”

“Remember your Aunt Agatha? No, never mind. What I mean is, April, how about you and Johnny meeting somewhere outside, right away, tonight?”

“Certainly not!”

“Johnny’s a swell guy.”

“I don’t care how swell he is, he can’t . . . well, I don’t like all this mystery. Where does he want me to meet him?”

Brian looked around desperately and his eye fixed upon Mrs. Bartlett’s yard. “How about Mrs. Bartlett’s grape arbor? At eight o’clock.”

“All right, but there’d better be a good explanation for this funny business.”

“Oh, there is.”

Brian sneaked into the Chronicle office with the mail, but nobody noticed that he was late. He found an opportunity to get Johnny Mulloy on the telephone and tell him to be in the Bartlett grape arbor at eight sharp. Johnny couldn’t understand why, and in the end Brian had to whisper April Henshaw’s name. That fixed it, of course. But after he hung up, Brian said to himself, If they're engaged, why don't they know they're engaged? That troubled him until he remembered the light on Leonard Henshaw’s glasses, his shiny lips, and the catlike expression. Naturally Mr. Henshaw had been keeping them apart.

Brian had to telephone Ivy Castello and tell her he couldn’t take her to the movies on account of an important story. It was so important he couldn’t say anything about it. He had to go home for supper, but at quarter of eight he was waiting near the rendezvous.

TTE HAD no intention of eaves11 dropping, or even of being seen, but as it turned out he could not help overhearing what April and Johnny said when they met.

“What’s all this about?” April said. “I don’t know. What is it about?” Then April’s voice was entirely different. “Oh, Johnny, is it really

you?”

“Same old hard guy.”

“Johnny, you’re not!”

“Funny thing is, I got harder instead of softer. I got hard like nails.”

“It isn’t the same, though, is it? Is it, Johnny?”

“I’m just the same. Everything else is different.”

“You mean everything else is the same. You’re different!”

■ “Is that possible? I’ve been wondering. You tell me, April, I’ve got to find out.”

That was all Brian heard, but by now he knew that April and Johnny were engaged, or would be any minute. He sat on Mrs. Bartlett’s fence, thinking, and it was no surprise to him when Mr. Henshaw came along. The sinister parent following . . .

“Hello,” Brian said.

“Oh, so it’s you. Have you seen April? I suppose not. I thought perhaps she was with Mrs. Bartlett again, but I don’t see any light in the house. I was sure she came this way.” “I guess Mrs. Bartlett has gone to bed.”

“Yes. By the way, what gave you that idea about April and Johnny Mulloy?”

“I get around. I hear things,” said Brian, deliberately leaving out credit to the Chronicle morgue.

“I hope you’ll forget it. It would be different if Mulloy wasn’t a hoodlum. April had to tell him not to come to the house any more. You wouldn’t know, of course. You’re much too young, but there was a family scandal years ago about a different Mulloy, his name was John, too, and my sister, Agatha. She would have married him, but he came home from war wilder than he went away. I’ve always understood my father had to take steps.”

“But if Johnny was changed?” said

Brian. “If he came back a swell guy?”

“Oh, well! But I’m afraid things like

that don’t happen. Hoodlums are

hoodlums, and wars are pretty much

the same. No, I don’t believe I can let a

Continued on page 36

Mulloy come to the house. If you see April, tell her to come home at once.”

“I don’t guess I’ll see her,” said Brian.

Old «Sandy returned on the afternoon train the next day and reached the Chronicle office soon after the paper was printed. In due course Meletiah pointed out Brian’s two important stories on page one—Mrs. Bartlett’s birthday and the Henshaw-Mulloy engagement. Mellow with the good work accomplished for the party and the nation, and relieved that the Chronicle had come out on time, the old editor turned an appreciative gaze upon the green reporter.

“Boy,” he said, “I wouldn’t wonder if you’d make a newspaperman after all.”

But Brian, for the first time, was not so sure. It seemed to him that something was incomplete, something was missing. He was uneasy as he thought of the roots of the past still buried in the ground—but something that

happened a long time ago was not news, was it?

He took up his post at a desk in the front office, his hat within easy reach, waiting for the hand of the clock to advance. In 10 more minutes he would be free. I don’t care about the old lake trout, he thought, but I hope I don’t have to fool with those clippings any more. There’s nothing in that.

As soon as he got out he would dash over to Ivy’s. He had .seen her only six times today. It was beautiful but terrible to be the slave of a grand passion.

The clock ticked slowly. His eye remained fixed on the minute hand. He was translated magically to that Pacific island, a Canadian correspondent with the guerillas who were to spearhead the invasion. At noon on D-Day he would broadcast from the field . . . “This is Brian Fuller speaking, bringing the war to you from a battle-scarred slope on the road to Tokyo . .