TAKE IT EASY, EFFYE
MAMMA WAS always saying papa had better make up his mind if he was going to be a racing driver or a respectable doctor like he studied for; but it looked to me like he could be both, because here we were, going on a country call while riding in our new automobile.
Where we met Mr. Buffington’s horse was at the worst place in the whole road to meet anything, with a deep ditch on one side and a stone fence on theother. Mr. Buffington was our Elbernon banker, and I could recognize him from a long way off by his shiny buggy and sorrel horse.
Mostly when we met a horse, why, papa slowed up. Ours was the first automobile ever owned in Elbernon, and not all the horses were used to it yet. Some of them—I was beginning to wonder if they would ever get used to it. Or some of the people, either.
Mamma had ridden in it just once. That was the time it scared Frank Hollis’ horse so it tried to climb the bandstand, with the buggy behind. After
that Mamma wouldn’t set foot in the Autocar, and told papa to cancel t he order for her motoring outfit.
Mr. Buffington and his horse were two of the scariest, and always before, papa would stop and get out and lead that balky sorrel past the automobile and let him smell it, to get him used to it. But it didn’t get him used to it, and I guess papa was tired of trying. Anyway, this morning he held on to the steering handle and kept going licketysplit, with both cylinders banging, and throwing up enough dust to cover a 40-acre field, and he said to me, sadly:
“Walter, mamma says we have to get rid of the automobile. What do you think about that?”
What I thought about it was enough to make me cry from here to Sunday if I had been a girl like my sister, Geraldine, who is starting to go with boys and is very easily upset these days. And now I understood why papa was steering the AutocarRunabout like he wasn’t seeing the road hardly, and getting in a lot of ruts so that my little brother Willie, aged five, and me, and papa’s elbows and his medicine case were all joggled together something fierce.
Papa was sad, that was why, so sad he just didn’t care what happened, because next to mamma and us, he loved the automobile best of anything, the same as I did.
What made us both forget our sadness for a minute was Mr. Buffington’s horse standing up on his hind hoofs between the buggy shafts, and making the buggy wheels go backward toward the ditch.
Mr. Buffington, with his face red from being so scared, was hauling in on the reins and hollering:
You couldn’t hear him above the banging of the automobile, but you could tell what he was saying by how his mouth kept opening like a fish trying to get air, and that was the first time I ever noticed how much Mr. Buffington looks like a fish.
But he looks like a banker too. Not that he has any bigger of a stomach than Fritz Kleuger, who runs Kleuger’s Emporium, or has any more gold on his glasses than old Mr. Farley, who is nearsighted and runs the shooting gallery, or keeps closer shaved or better dressed than the travelling men who are all the time standing around the cigar
Take two rival social queens, one horseless buggy, one smart man. Shake well and you’ve got a hilarious story
case making goo-goo eyes at Gladys Osprey in the Elbernon House, which is not a house but a hotel. No, I don’t know why it is, but just looking at him you would know that Mr. Buffington was one of the main pillars of Elbernon the Beautiful—the fastest growing city of western Ontario as it says on the bank’s calendars—and that he does something important in life, like handling other people’s money.
Right now, though, he could not even handle his own sorrel horse, and if it wasn’t that papa put on the brakes and stopped the automobile, I guess Mr. Buffington’s buggy would have gone in the ditch all right. As often happens when papa puts on the brakes, Willie and me bounced off the seat onto the floor of the Autocar. Willie got his foot caught between some pedals, and by the time I got him loose, squalling, why papa was already out in the road, holding Mr. Buffington’s horse’s bridle and quieting him down, saying:
“Easy boy . . . easy.”
Papa is very good around horses. They trust him, the same way as dogs, babies and sick women.
Mr. Buffington, being a banker, was not so trustful. He jumped heavily over the wheel into dust that squished into his patent leather shoes. More dust from the stamping horse shook back all over his grey, double-breasted, nicely pressed suit— the same kind of suit mamma says she wishes papa would get, though if he would only let her press the one he had, it would help some.
Mr. Buffington’s face was still red, but not from being afraid now—just mad. He straightened from stooping to pick up his straw hat, and he waggled
his finger fiercely under my father’s mustache.
“Dr. Potts,” he said, “this is the last straw! I am going to see if there is not a town ordinance that can be applied to you and your infernal gasoline
“Don’t be a fool, Buffington,” my father said. “You know there is no such ordinance.”
“Then by the Lord Harry I personally will write one and present it at the next council meeting—”
“Buffington,” said my father, hard, like I heard him once when he was pitching for the Elbernon Tigers and the empire was trying to rob him by calling strikes balls, “Buffington, have you got so moss-backed in that bank of yours that you do not know the automobile is destined to become the most dominant force in Canadian life? The time will come when every family will have one, just like now they have a horse. Why, in 10 short years, I predict there will be 100 automobiles right here in Elbernon —”
“In 10 short days," countered Mr. Buffington, “I predict there will not even be one automobile in Elbernon, Dr. Potts. Your infernal machine is not only a public nuisance, it is a jeopardizer of life, limb and property, and I do not stand alone in this belief, as you very well know—”
“Yes, I know,” said my father, thinking maybe of my mother.
Mr. Buffington, though, wasn’t thinking only of my mother, because he said that every parent who valued the safety of his child, every lover of dumb animals, including horses, dogs, and even pigs and chickens, every woman who hung a wash out on the line and desired it to dry without a coating of dust;
all those people, he said, would sign the petition he was going to circulate to disbar papa’s automobile from the public streets. And if that didn’t work, there were plenty of other things—the loan, for instance, that papa had taken out at the bank when he bought the automobile in the first place.
“Listen, Buffington,” papa said, but not hard now, just soft and sadly, “we’re wasting each other’s time. I’ve about made up my mind to sell it anyway. My wife doesn’t like it. Listen, you’re a man who appreciates a bargain; I’ll sell it to you cheap—”
Mr. Buffington recoiled backward like his snorting horse. When he quit being speechless, he said, “You’ll sell me your automobile? Potts, I wouldn’t take it for a gift!”
“Well, I just thought I’d mention it,” papa said.
Continued on page 46
Take If Easy, Effye
Continued from page 17
AFTERWARD, when we were chug.ging along again with the sun in our eyes and the dust in anybody else’s eyes for a mile back, I said, almost with tears, to papa, “You wouldn’t really, would you? Not really?” i “Really what, Walter?”
“Not on your life, son,” papa said.
“But you told Mr. Buffington—” “That was only what you might call a banker’s bluff, Walter. I knew he : wouldn’t buy it.”
“But you told him mamma didn’t like it.”
“Another banker’s trick, Walter. What you might call a hedge. Just in case we really have to sell it, I didn’t want Buffington to think it would be because of him.”
“Might we have to sell it, papa?” Í asked fearfully.
“Not without a good stiff fight, son.” “You mean mamma too?”
Papa nodded, solemn. “Mamma too.”
“Mamma—she’s the worst, isn’t she?”
‘Oh, much the worst, Walter.” One of papa’s hands lifted from the handle and twisted at his mustache, like it does when he is thinking hard. “If we can get around mamma we can take care of Buffington somehow.”
We bounced along 100 yards farther with papa and me thinking, and finally I said, “If we could only get her to ride in it again, she’d change her mind, wouldn’t she?”
“My idea exactly, Walter,” papa said, honking the horn at a cow by the road. “You want to know a secret?” “Sure-Mike.”
“Me too,” said my little brother Willie.
“I’ve got something in the back of the car that’s going to make mamma change her mind.”
“You mean that package you got out of the express office?”
“What is it?”
“You’ll find out later.”
“But it will make mamma want to keep the automobile and ride in it?” j “Absolutely.”
I felt fine after that. It was quite a long call that papa made at Runstead’s farmhouse, and Willie and I had fun sliding down a haystack and wading in the stock pond and sitting on a fence, watching some pigs.
On the way home everything went all right until papa took the turn into the alley by our house. He took it a little
suddenly, and Willie went sailing clear out of the automobile seat onto the ground. Where he fell was in some weeds, and it only went to show something about those weeds. I was supposed to cut them last week, and if l had, then Willie might have been pretty bad hurt, instead of justa few scratches on his face.
We got him stopped crying, and papa said to me, “Walter, today is when mamma is going to have her card party, and you know how little things upset her at a time like that. I don’t think we’d better mention anything about Willie falling out of the automobile, do you?”
“No,” I said, “I don’t.”
We shook hands on it.
The noon whistle at the furniture factory was blowing when we got in the house. Mamma said we would have to eat standing up in the kitchen, because she had the table in the dining room set for the party. It was mamma’s turn to entertain the Elbernon F’ire Ladies. They played five hundred. The one with the biggest score got something like a hemstitched towel or a flower vase.
How mamma got to be a F’ire Lady was because papa was a member of the Elbernon Volunteer F’ire Department. The Fire Ladies were the wives of the firemen. Mamma was the president.
There was another club in F’Jbernon called the Merchants’ Merry Wives. Mrs. Buffington was the president of that. But it was more of an honor to belong to the F’ire Ladies. At least I he F’ire Ladies all said so, and I guess they were right, because I heard a woman in the post office who was not even a member of either club say once that mamma’s position as president was the biggest social plum in Elbernon, bar none. I told mamma what she had said, and later on this woman became a member of the F’ire Ladies too.
Papa brought the express package in and gave it to mamma before he washed up at the sink for dinner. He looked very hopeful at her, hut she just said, “Put it in the corner, Simmie,” and went on quickly stirring the steak gravy on the kitchen range while also turning muffins out of a pan.
She looks very pretty when she has been standing over a hot stove all day, her face pink and her hair soft and falling over her face so that she has to keep blowing it back with her lip. Wedding-ring gold, papa says, is the color of her hair, but it is my sister, Geraldine, whose hair is more nearly real gold. Mamma’s is darker, but sure pretty though, and so much of it that she can almost sit down on it when it is all let out.
When mamma didn’t do anything
about opening the package, papa said, “I’ll open it for you.”
He took out his pearl-handled pocketknife and started cutting the strings, saying offhand, like it wasn’t very important: “Did you read those magazines 1 left on the library table?” “1 looked through them, yes,” said mamma nervously, holding the hot pan handle in her apron and pouring gravy, while putting the steak and potatoes and string beans on the table.
“Chip some ice for the iced tea, Geraldine,” she said over her shoulder to my sister, who was cutting up marshmallows with a pair of scissors to make petals for the daisy salad mamma was going to serve at the party.
Mamma had been going to have Waldorf salad first, but she happened to remember just in time that Mrs. Buffington had served Waldorf salad at the joint meeting of the two clubs. So at the last minute she had to switch to daisy salad. She almost didn’t find any marshmallows anywhere in town, which provoked her plenty.
“If the merchants,”.she said, “wanted you to trade at home instead of at Greenville, then they ought to have what you wanted when you wanted it.” “They didn’t have anything like these either,” papa said, nodding with his mustache at the box he was unwrapping. “About those magazines, Effye”
“Oh, I know what’s on your mind, Simmie,” mamma said, cutting bread and pouring the tea. “And it will take more than an armful of magazines to convince me that the automobile is a socially acceptable vehicle.”
“Why,” papa said, “the Vanderbilt Cup Race is the season’s most —”
“Oh, it’s all right for the Vanderbilts to play around with them. That’s all they are—a rich man’s toy. They belong on the race track, that’s where, and not on the public streets. Snorting, smelly old things —”
“Effye,” papa said firmly, “I have to tell you that the automobile is more than a toy. It is new, of course, and the public’s reaction to anything new is always hostile. But the automobile is destined to become the most dominant force in Canadian life. 1 even venture to say that a person will soon need an automobile just to keep in the social swim. Now you have a chance to be the first woman in Elbernon to ride in one.” “You might as well save your breath, Simmie. It’s enough for you to make yourself the laughing stock of this town, as well as get everybody mad at you— What on earth is that?”
Papa was holding up what was in the box. “It’s from YongeStreet, Toronto,” he told her. “A fashionable linen coat for automobile wear. Dusters, they call them. And this is an automobile hat and a special green automobile veil—”
“Simmie,” mamma said, stamping her foot, “don’t think you can get around me that easy!” She laughed nervously, though. “Men! You think that’s all we ever think about, don’t you—clothes! You think we haven’t a brain in our heads. Well, go over there and eat your dinner and keep out of my way. The ladies are coming in two hours and I’ve got a thousand things more to do—Willie!”
WITH ALL her other worries at party times, mamma never forgets to save us the cake and frosting pans. Now she had just noticed that Willie had his whole head in a pan, licking it, but getting most of it in his hair.
Mamma took the pan away from him and dragged him to the sink to scrub him, with him howling. That was when she noticed it wasn’t all frosting on hls face, but scratches too.
“Willie!” she said, “did you fall out of the apple tree again?”
Papa and I swapped glances of alarm, but before we could think of anything to do, Willie said he fell out of the automobile.
“When it was going?” mamma I gasped.
“Going fast,” Willie said, bragging. Mamma gave papa a look. “Don’t you mention automobile to me one more time! The idea! It isn’t enough just to endanger the neighbors’ children. You have to risk the life of your own child! Well, I won’t let you. He shan’t ride in it any more—”
Willies started bawling again. “I want to ride,” he howled.
Somebody knocked on the screen door, loud above Willie’s noise. It was Mr. Wood, the town constable, who arrests people and puts them in jail even if he only wears a badge and a club instead of a regular policeman’s suit, like in cities.
“Oh hello, Homer,” papa said. “Come in. I guess you rang my office bell and I couldn’t hear it. All this j squalling. Come in. What’s your j complaint? Wife having another one of • her spells?”
Mr. Wood came in. He stood just ] inside the door with his back brushing i it like he wanted to be where he could get out quick.
“Why, no. It ain’t anything about us this time, Doc.” He had his straw hat j in his hand and he was whacking it j against his pants leg. He was nervous, : like mamma. “It’s about you, Doc.” “About me?”
“Yeah.” Mr. Wood had a thin neck that looked like leather, and an Adam’s apple that went up and down. “Like about the bees that time, remember?” “Hum’m; neighbors complaining about my bees again, Homer? Who is it this time?”
“It ain’t the bees this time, Doc. It’s ¡ your automobile.”
“What about my automobile?” papa ¡ said, sharp.
“Frank Hollis has swore out a war; rant agin’ you, Doc. The time you scared his horse so it tried to run up on ; the bandstand, remember?”
“Why, that old rip!” papa said, loud. “Why, great Scott, it only broke one wheel of his buggy. I paid Harry ; Rettburg at the blacksmith shop $4.50 for fixing it—and Frank Hollis owing me $30 in doctor bills for the last five j years—”
“This here is more serious than just a buggy wheel, Doc.” Mr. Wood put his straw hat on the table upside down, and got out a folded paper from Ills pocket and looked at it. “This warrant charges you with felonious assault and attack with a deadly weapon and disturbin’ the peace.”
“Hm’m,” papa said, “what you might call a blanket indictment.”
“Guess so. It also charges mental anguish, and seeks to impound your bank account and automobile agin’ settlement.”
“Oh it does, does it?” Papa’s fingers were twLsting something furious on his mustache, while he thought. Just between you and me, Homer, do you believe Frank Hollis thought up all those high-toned grievances by himself?”
Mr. Wood grinned a little. “I guess we’re both thinkin’ of the same one, Doc. He sure don’t like automobiles, does he?”
Papa was still twisting his mustache. “Well, what are you going to do about it? Put me in jail?”
Mr. Wood looked startled. “Aw, no, Doc. Not till after the trial anyhow—
I mean—well, everybody knows you. i In a case like this a man gives me his ; word he won’t leave town —”
“I promise you I won’t leave town,
Homer,” papa said. “At least not until I punch you-know-who in the nose.”
Mr. Wood grinned again, uneasy though. “He’d just court-case you still more for that, Doc.”
“Maybe,” papa said, reckless, “it might be worth it.”
After Mr. Wood had gone, mamma said, “Well!” and took a very deep breath.
“It’s Ned Buffington’s doings,” papa j said, low-voiced. “Frank Hollis is in I debt to the bank for a farm loan, and he’s got to do anything Buffington tells him. But I’ll show ’em.”
“Just what will you show them?” mamma asked sweetly. “You could run over them with the automobile, maybe, only how could you get out of jail to do it?”
Bapa frowned. “Buffington has a certain influence in this town. This isn’t as funny as it sounds.”
“Funny!” mamma sputtered. “You say it isn’t funny? Why, I was never so mortified in my life! The police calling on my husband! Just as though you were a common criminal!” She blew back the hair from her eyes, and when that didn’t work, batted at it with her hand. “It was bad enough when he came serving papers on you for letting your bees sting everybody in the North End. But this! Just before I’m to have my party! The— the cheap notoriety! Why, Laura Buffington’s been waiting all her life for a chance like this. She’ll spread it all over town. And you don’t care. Just so you have your mechanical plaything. Oh, this is the last straw!” Mamma went out of the kitchen with her skirts swishing. She went upstairs to cry. Geraldine hurried up after her. It left papa and me feeling awful.
“What is?” Willie kept asking, grabbing at me. “What is?”
“What is what?” I asked him.
“The last straw.”
“It broke a camel’s back,” I told him. “What camel?”
“Oh, on a desert,” I said, and that reminded me of the daisy salad—I guess because for a long time I spelled dessert the same as a desert.
1 went and put the rest of the marshmallow petals on the pineapple slices. Mamma says I am very good help in the kitchen. There were some marshmallow petals left, which I and Willie ate. Also a little juice in the pineapple j can and some of the sweet lemon sauce for the middle of the daisy.
Mamma came right down again, because there were still 10,000 things she j had to do before the party. Her eyes j were red, but she was not so nervous now. She made Willie and me go eat dinner. She let us take it up in the apple tree to eat.
A patient came to see papa. They ! always come at dinnertime, because j they can be sure of catching him home j then. Papa wrapped the fashionable j automobile duster and hat and veil up I in the tissue paper and took it in the ; office with him. Willie and I stayed I outdoors after dinner, playing in the j sand pile, and once in a while sneaking I under the grape arbor to watch the Fire Ladies, all dressed up in their flopsy hats and skirts, coming to mamma’s party. The ones from the country came in buggies, and there were enough buggies hitched in front of our house for a funeral or a wedding.
In the middle of the afternoon papa came out with his medicine case and cranked the automobile. It made a bang-bang, bang-bang, bang-bang, as both cylinders caught, and blue smoke started coming out of the back. The horses all pulled at their tie ropes, but none of them ran away like sometimes ; they do. Willie was already in the house, taking hls nap, so he wasn’t there to cry to go. I ran and got in like 1 always do.
As we rode along I kept looking at papa, but he didn’t say much until we got out in the country. “Be not the first, Walter,” he said finally, and honked the horn three times at nothing.
“First what?” I wanted to know.
Papa used to be quite an orator at college, and from how he talked now, deep and sad, I thought this was in one of his orations.
“Be not the first,” he said, “to cast the old aside, nor yet the last by which the new is tried.”
“What’s that mean?” I asked him.
“It means go easy, Walter. You won’t have much fun, and you won’t help the world progress any, but you’ll be safer—with less mental anguish.”
“You mean we’ll have to sell our automobile?” 1 asked fearfully.
“Walter,” papa said, “it looks like we’re licked.”
I just sat speechless and sad, watching the telephone wires go past.
A dog ran out of the hedge and started chasing us. It was Mr. Buffington’s collie. Where we were passing was by Mr. Buffington’s farm. He is not a regular farmer, but he has a house in the country with a dinky fountain and an iron reindeer on the lawn. He moved to the country because of Mrs. Buffington. She wanted to have a bigger place to entertain the Merchant’s Merry Wives. Everybody says she can twist Mr. Buffington around her little finger, even if he is a banker. She has fat fingers with rings.
As luck would have it, when we got opposite the lane, Mr. Buffington was just driving out his sorrel horse. Because of the hedge, we couldn’t see him until we got almost on top of him. By that time the horse was standing up on his hind hoofs just like this morning, and in the buggy you could see Mr. Buffington’s red, scared face.
THIS TIME the horse really did run away. Hecameouton the road, took the turn so fast the buggy keeled way over. It didn’t upset, though. Not quite. It just went wobbling down the road ahead of us, with the horse galloping. Papa followed along at the distance we have found to be best in such casesnot so close as to scare the horse more, or to eat too much dust, but close enough to be of assistance if the buggy should turn over.
A man and woman in another buggy pulled up and watched us pass. They cheered and waved their hands. They thought it was a race between the doctor and the banker, I guess— horseflesh against horsepower, with the banker out in front. What finally happened was Mr. Buffington managed to turn the horse off into a field of corn, and after knocking down quite a few cornstalks the horse got tired of running and quit.
Papa turned off the engine of the Autocar at the switch box, and we got out and entered the cornfield. Well, I never saw a man so unappreciative of neighborly aid. And another thing. You never would imagine that a deacon of the Disciples Church, who took up the collection every Sunday, would know so many swearwords, or utter them so loud in the presence of a young boy.
I remembered then what I once heard mamma say, that after all, the Buffingtons came from pretty common stock, especially Mrs. Buffington. But 1 don’t think even Mrs. Buffington would swear like that.
“Potts,” Mr. Buffington said to my father, in between more swearwords, “this is the last straw!”
Probably because of the swearwords and that I am such a young boy, papa took me aside. He pointed to the other horse and buggy that had stopped by
the cornfield tum-in, with the man and woman stretching their necks to look at us with great interest.
“Walter,” papa said, “I have some business to conduct with Mr. Buffington. I think you had better ride back to town with the Slaughters in their buggy.”
1 didn’t want to go. Heck-fire, I would rather have stayed and seen papa punching Mr. Buffington in the nose. The way it turned out, though, I got home at a very good time—just when the Fire Ladies had finished playing five hundred, and were eating.
I could hear the Fire Ladies talking while they ate.
“We just couldn’t believe it when we heard he was going to sell his horse and get an automobile,” I heard Mrs. Peabody say.
My mother laughed polite, the way she does in company. “He’s just an overgrown boy, really,” she said. “I never know what he’ll do next.”
They should have asked me. I could have told them what he was doing next. Punching Mr. Buffington’s nose, that’s what.
“I should think you’d be a nervous wreck, my dear,” another one of them said, “from worrying about him.”
“He seems to bear a charmed life,” my mother said.
Somehow the talk got switched around to Mrs. Buffington. “ . . . said she was just dying to see you make a spectacle of yourself riding in the automobile in one of those absurd gasoline buggy getups—you know, with the long green veil trailing . . .”
“She needn’t stay up waiting for it,” mamma sniffed. “The automobile is just a toy of the doctor’s, and I think he is about tired of it already.”
“They do say that in Toronto—” “Yes, some of the better people seem to be taking it up—”
“Toronto is not Elbernon,” said my mother firmly. “They have brick roads there and leisure for expensive toys.”
“Mr. Atterbury says, though,” said Mrs. Atterbury, “that he wouldn’t be surprised if eventually the automobile were to seriously challenge the horse.”
“Well, in about a hundred years, maybe.”
All the ladies laughed politely and tinkled their teacups.
By the time papa came chugging home, the party was over. He came straight to the kitchen the same as I had, and started poking around, seeing what there was to eat. There was plenty left over, because mamma always considers the family too at her parties.
I looked at papa to see if he had a black eye or anything. Not that I thought he would have. I figured all the time that he would wind up, like on the ball diamond, and paste old Buffington so fast he wouldn’t know what hit him. Now I was sure I was right, because papa didn’t have a single mark on him. Also he was in such a good humor, chewing up olives, blanched almonds, cookies and stuff all at the same time.
“I’ll get you some ice cream, dear,” mamma said. Then she kissed papa on the cheek.
“Nice party?” papa asked, chewing. “Yes.” She sighed. “But I’m certainly glad it’s over.”
I always wondered why she ever had them, she was always so glad when they were over.
All at once she got in front of papa and looked at him carefully. “What are you looking so impish about?”
Papa was through chewing now, and he took her in his arms. “I have a surprise for you,” he said. “Guess what?”
Continued on page 50
Continued from page 48
Mamma’s forehead wrinkled prettily while she thought. “A new rug for the sitting room?”
“Nope. Guess again.”
“Don’t tell me we’re going to have electric lights in Elbernon!”
Papa shook his head. “Nope. Something you want more than that.” Mamma said, “I give up.”
“I sold the automobile,” papa said. Well, I could understand mamma’s look of wild delight, but 1 didn’t see why papa didn’t look more sorry. I know it was certainly sad, sad news for me.
Mamma hugged papa hard. “Well, that is a surprise! So soon!” She giggled happily. “If you want to know the truth, I wasn’t at all sure you ever would sell it. ” She picked at his tie. “Do you mind so much, dear?”
Papa sighed. “No— now that I’ve got used to the idea.” He turned to eat some more, which I didn’t see how he could do, with the automobile sold. I know my appetite was gone.
“Who did you sell it to?”-mamma asked.
Papa, very casual, said, “Ned Buffington.”
"What!” mamma said.
I didn’t believe him; I thought papa was joking.
But he wasn’t!
“You know how cautious Ned is,” papa explained to mamma. “Well, I quoted him some comment from his own banking magazines, showing that the automobile is here to stay. That being the case, it was easy to convince him it was safer to be in an automobile than a horse and buggy.” Papa chewed noisily on some potato chips.
Mamma pushed at her hair with uncertain fingers. “Somehow it doesn’t seem quite enough to convince Ned Buffington--seeing that Laura is more down on automobiles even than I am. And he always does what she wants—” “Sure-Mike,” papa said. “I had to take that into consideration too.” “You what?” mamma said, sharp. Papa just grinned at her, the way he does to tease her.
Mamma’s toe began to tap. She turned to me. “Walter,” she said, “I think you had better leave the room.” “Oh, all right,” I said. “Who wants to hear your old family fusses anyway?” So I left the room, but I listened through the door crack.
“Don’t make me have to drag it out of you, Simmie,” I heard my mother say. “What are you holding back?”
“Well,” papa said, “it seems that about a week ago Laura Buffington got a letter from that Yonge Street store in Toronto. Ned showed it to me when I stopped in at the bank to close the deal on the automobile. The letter said something like: ‘My
Dear Mrs. Buffington: We have compiled a list of women, leaders of society and fashion in key communities of the province. You, Mrs. Buffington, have been selected as representative of such leadership in Elbernon and environs—’ ”
Mamma said, “Humpf,” and wrinkled her nose, but papa went right on telling her what was in the letter.
“ ‘Under separate cover, therefore, there has gone out to you the complete gentlewoman’s automobile outfit, consisting of linen duster, hat, veil and doeskin gauntlets. This we desire you to accept with our compliments. All we ask is that when admiring friends—and envious social adversaries—express interest in the chic ensemble, that you, Madam, he so gracious as to mention our name.’
Papa paused. Through the door crack I could see him reach for a cupcake with pink icing. “That gives you the main idea,” he said.
“Well, for goodness sake,” mamma replied, frowning. “I never heard of a store doing a thing like that -What made them think the Buffingtons had an automobile anyway?”
“There was a paragraph about (hat in the letter,” papa said. “Let’s see —it ran something like: ‘Of course
the forward-looking family of a woman in your position would be the possessor of an automobile, because we know, dear Madam, you must believe as we do, that the automobile is destined to become the most dominant force in Canadian life—’
“Simmie!” Mamma stopped papa right in the middle of the sentence. Very icily, she asked, “Is it just possible I have a husband who is a-—a forger, and buying clothes for another woman?”
“Now take it easy, Effye,” papa said. “Be calm. It seemed to be in the best interests of a lot of people—” “Then you did write that letter! You did! And sent her the clothes! The idea! Just what did you hope to accomplish by such tomfoolery?” “Why, to get Laura to work on Ted to buy an automobile.”
“And just why did you think you had to sell him our automobile?” “Why, to please you, darling.”
Papa tried to put his arm around her, but she pulled away. “You might have consulted me about it first.”
“I thought I’d keep it for a surprise. I knew how much you wanted to get rid of the automobile.”
“But not to the Buffingtons!” Mamma sounded desperate, like she was about to cry. “Don’t you see
what it. means? Laura has heen taking digs at me, saying things that would get back to me, to make me bat« the automobile more, and to discourage me from appearing in — in automobile apparel like you brought me this noon. I wondered about it. Now’ it’s plain as day. It’s because over since she got your letter she’s been planning to be first, in Elbernon to int roduce a motoring costume. Now she'll be riding in the automobile, nodding in that superior way of hers to everybody in the street. And we —we’ll be tagging along behind in the dust with an old-fashioned horse and buggy. Oh you—you, Simmie! How could you do it? How could you?” There was no doubt about it now;
she was crying all right, with her head on papa’s shoulder while he patted her back.
“Now, now’,” said papa, “let’s see. Well, we could buy us a brand-new automobile I guess, maybe.”
Mamma quit crying and started reaching in papa’s pocket, for his handkerchief. Over her shoulder papa saw me looking through the door crack, and I was about to tiptoe away, but he winked at me.
And that’s how we got our new automobile. Roy! Wc can go right past old Ruffington on a hill like ho was st anding still, and make him eat our dust. And does mamma ever look fine in her linen duster with the long green veil blowing back. iç