Too Much Glamour
YOU bore me, Steve," Petey said. She said it just like that, calmly, over the coffee. There were no preliminaries.
Steve gazed blankly at her. He’d been telling her about Shanghai before the war, when he’d been flying for the Chinese, and how he chafed now at having to stay in one spot, teaching youngsters how to fly, when there was so much of the world still to be seen. And then, like a bolt from the blue, this. His lips tightened. He said, “I don’t like your hat.” He didn’t know why he said it. He wanted to say something that would sting, and that just popped into his head. It stung, all right.
Petey swallowed. She glanced wide-eyed into the mirrored wall next to the table. The hat was one of those high round things. She wore it with an air, and it made her look like a Russian princess— or, rather, the way a Russian princess would like to look when she wore one of those hats. It was a knockout.
Steve met her stunned eyes in the mirror and shook his head. “Terrible. Don’t you look at things before you buy them? But then, I suppose at these sales you really don’t get a chance to try anything on.”
“Sales!” she breathed. “Why, this hat ... I ... it took me ... I hunted . . . you—you mean you actually don’t like this hat?”
“It looks like a teapot, upside down.”
Petey just sat there and stared at him, dazed. Then her eyelids blinked rapidly several times. Steve knew the signal. He tensed. But the explosion never came. She just stood up, said, “This is the end,” and walked out, hesitating only for short incredulous glances at herself in the mirrored walls.
Steve knew that if he didn’t follow her and try to make it up it was probably the finish, but he didn’t stir. He felt about things that had to do with Petey right down to his as yet unbowed ankles, but he wasn’t chasing after her. The hat wasn’t the trouble. Petey wouldn’t have walked out on him if it were only the hat. Her attitude had been getting queerer and queerer lately, and it was beginning to burn him up.
He’d known Petey just two months. He’d met her at a party to which Gordon Peel had dragged him by the scruff of the neck, insisting that even the chief instructor at a flying school needed some recreation. Petey was a commercial artist who had done quite a bit of work for Gordon’s advertising agency, and Gordon had thought they might like each other. They had. Something had clicked. Steve didn’t know how to explain it, but she had poured into him and stayed there. He hadn’t known what had attracted her to him, though. He thought he was beginning to find out.
It was the buildup Gordon had given him . . . adventurer, world traveller and all that sort of stuff. Well, he had been in a lot of places, but Petey was evidently beginning to realize that it was just dull plodding methodical Steve who had been there, not some dashing D’Artagrmn, He’d done his best, told her all the stories he could think of about the places he’d been—accenting the spy stuff for glamour—and tried as well as he could to feature himself as the main character.
They had worked at first. But, obviously, that was
"I don't like your hat!" Steve said. "This is the end!" said Petey. But it turned out to be only the beginning
before she’d had a chance to observe his actual unglamorous self. The way she’d been acting lately . . . well, everything was definitely dark-brownish around the edges.
GORDON PEEL jolted into Steve’s apartment the next morning about eight-thirty. It was Sunday, the only day Steve could really sleep, and, since his head was a throbbing protest against his unfamiliar attempt of the night before to drown his sorrows, his greeting may have lacked the effervescence due a close friend. But it didn’t do to be subtle with Gordon, who hadn’t the soul of a fried egg.
Steve was in no mood for callers. His stomach felt funny, his back was stiff, and he had a strong suspicion that the girl he loved didn’t love him any more, and that maybe he didn’t love her any more, which was worse. He tossed a book at Gordon, said, “Here, amuse yourself. Or better still, go for a walk. Come back in about four hours. Maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll be up and gone by then.”
Gordon’s eyebrows quirked up. “What do you think you’re going to do?”
“Go back to bed. Good-by.”
Gordon reached for a magazine. “Stop the clowning and make it snappy, will you, Steve? We can’t waste the whole day.”
Steve observed the day through the window. It was that heavy murky grey color, and it looked as though it were going to start being awfully wet any minute. He couldn’t follow Gordon’s reasoning. “Why not?”
Gordon clucked his tongue. “Listen, dim brain, will you stop drooling and got shaved? Wo’ve got quite a drive ahead of us.”
“Drive?” Steve rubbed his chin and tried to concentrate above the noise those people were making banging anvils on his head. Then he remembered. Gordon had been babbling something about a house in the country that he wanted to buy, and they were supposed to go down with him today to help him make up his mind about it. Well, Steve had promised, and he knew there was no use appealing to Gordon’s better nature. Gordon hadn’t any.
Gordon’s voice floated to him under the shower. “Hurry up. Petey’ll be waiting.”
Steve turned the water off, reached for a towel and laughed bitterly.
The door opened, and an anxious face peered in. “What’s the matter? Got a cold?”
“I was laughing.”
“1 knew you’d perk up.”
“I haven’t perked up. I was laughing at your silly remark about Petey waiting. She won’t be. Or if she is, it’s behind the door with a slipper, ready to bounce it off my head.”
Gordon gave him one of those sickening fatherly smiles people reserve for other people who are supposed to he in love. “Bit of a tiff?” he enquired indulgently. Then he ducked, but not quickly enough to escape the towel, which caught him behind the right, ear. Gordon picked up the towel, put it on the rack and looked at Steve keenly. “Oho. Something is up. What goes on?”
“Nothing goes on. It’s all off. Washed up.” “You mean you’ve been deceiving her, and she’s found you out?”
“Found me dull, not out. I bore her. She walked out on me last night for no reason at all.”
“Oh, no.” Gordon shook his head decidedly. “Not Petey. You must have done something.”
“Well ... I did venture a remark about, her hat looking like a teapot.” Gordon regarded him sadly. “You poor fish! Well, come on.”
“But I told you—”
“Petey’s waiting. I phoned her before I came over here.”
She was waiting, all right, but Steve discovered, after two withering sentences, that it was only because
Continued on page 52
Too Much Glamour
Continued from page 11
Gordon had assured her that Steve had called up and told him he couldn’t make it. But because Gordon was a good egg, and you can’t let good eggs run off and buy houses by themselves for fear they’d get soaked the way good eggs generally do, she’d come along. Only for Gordon’s sake—and she made this point very clear—could she endure Steve’s company for the entire day.
Steve said calmly that he was glad she wasn’t wearing a hat, since some people looked so much better without one. That set the pattern for the day.
IT STARTED to rain, finally, and long before they turned off the main road the fresh wet air had washed all the mustiness out of Steve’s head. They bumped along through dripping trees and bushes for about fifty yards and pulled up in front of a small white house. Rain was running off the eaves and dripping from the new green shutters, but there was something about the doorway, with the tiny window in the centre of it, which promised that everything was dry and warm inside. However, he couldn’t quite figure out how a house this size could possibly be laid out the way Gordon had said it was. “Rather small, isn’t it?” he remarked dubiously.
Gordon smiled. “Follow me.” He led the way around to the back, where the trees and bushes vanished suddenly, and a steep grassy slope rolled down to a quiet lake, drowsing in the rain. The house, built on the slope, added another story and a wide terrace to itself in back.
Petey was quiet for a minute. Then she chuckled. “All this place needs is a few chickens and a cow. I can’t imagine you living here, Gordon!” Steve didn’t say anything. He didn’t know what Gordon saw in the place either, but it did something to him. It was the sort of place a man would like to come home to . . . especially a man who spent much time in the air. It was solid, permanently built, the way Steve was built inside.
Gordon seemed anxious. “Well, what’s the verdict?”
“My feet are getting wet,” Petey said.
That was Petey for you. Steve wanted to shake her. He’d known she wouldn’t like it, it being neither an arty little garret apartment nor a sleek penthouse. There had probably never been a murder nor a bad novel committed in it, which would let it out as far as she was concerned. But she might have stretched a point to salve Gordon’s feelings. However, he wasn’t going to stick his neck out to the extent of having her start brushing hay off his shoulders. He merely shrugged. “Let’s see the inside.” Gordon’s good humor seemed damped by their lack of enthusiasm. He banged the knocker.
Petey examined the door. “What kind of a place is this? No bell?” Steve glared at her. Of course there was no bell. He’d known there wouldn’t be a bell as soon as he’d seen that knocker. It was there to be used, not for show. There was something about that house which made you feel it wouldn’t tolerate anything without a purpose. He said, “You don’t need a bell. You just wring the necks of the people who ask about it.”
“Very funny,” Petey said wryly. “I know you thought that one up yourself.”
The door opened. A large woman with a round face peered out at them.
Gordon said, “You remember me, Mrs. Jenkins. I’ve brought these people along to look at the house. Is it all right to come in now?”
The woman looked down. She said, “Wipe your feet!” tersely, and stood out of the way.
They scuffed their shoes on the mat dutifully and entered. The woman, who was evidently the housekeeper, turned to Petey. “Come along, child. I’ll get you something to keep you from catching cold. Driving all the way out on a day like this. You’d think men would have more sense!” And, with the unreasonable inconsistency of women, she turned and glared balefully at Steve, who had nothing to do with it. She led Petey away, leaving the two men standing uncomfortably in the tiny hall.
Steve indicated an open beckoning doorway on their right. “Okay for us to wait in there?”
Gordon nodded. “That’s the living room. I want you to look it over.”
It was a wide room, with windows across the entire back, overlooking the lake. It was light even on that dismal day, and it wasn’t hard to picture the way the sun would stream in, if given half a chance. The fireplace at the front was a wide deep affair, and two huge cherry-red logs warmed its heart. Gordon stirred the glow into flame with a poker. Steve relaxed into the heavy divan angled before it, stretched his legs out to the fire and looked around.
On either side of the fireplace, to the height of the mantel, there were shelves filled with books. The furniture was solid comfortably upholstered oak, and ash trays were splattered where they’d do the most good. It was a room where you could put your feet up without worrying about soiling
anything. Steve sighed—really too good for Gordon, who’d never quite appreciate it. It was just the sort of place Steve liked.
Petey came in, looking a little flushed. Her eyes were sparkling. “Do you know what Mrs. Jenkins gave me? Warm milk and honey. It’s the first time I’ve tasted it since 1 was a child.” She chuckled delightedly. “I can just picture you, Gordon, sitting here in the evening with your needle point, your glass of warm milk and honey at your side. Remind me to get you bedroom slippers for Christmas. What a place! Come downstairs. I’ll show you.”
“Not me.” Gordon slumped into a chair. “There isn’t a possibility about this house I haven’t examined. Take Steve, and the two of you can bring back a report.”
Petey said, “Steve?” vaguely, as though the name had no associations for her. “Oh . . . Steve. All right. But what good his opinion is . . . though I could let him root around for a good place for a bar.”
“You would think of something like that,” Steve muttered.
Petey led the way down the short solid staircase. A wide door on the right opened into the dining room. The floor was smooth very dark wood and was covered with occasional rugs. There were large windows at one end, as in the room above, but these opened onto the stone-flagged terrace. A thick table of tough maple stood in the centre of the room, and the chairs all had arms and character. Wooden beams reinforced the ceiling, but the rich warmth of the panelled walls removed any feeling of crudeness. It was a room in which a thick porterhouse steak would feel like pulling up a chair and staying a while, but there
was nothing to bring the blush to the cheek of a visiting crepe suzette.
Petey said, “Old-fashioned, isn’t it? The whole place is like this. But don’t go popping off about that aspect to Gordon. His heart is set on buying it, and he’d only feel badly.”
“I don’t pop,” Steve said, a little bitterly. “How about showing me the rest of it?”
Well, she did, and it was the same. Everything welcomed him and made him feel as though he belonged. By the time they got back to the living room, and Petey cautioned him again to control his boorishness, if possible, and not show Gordon he didn’t like it, Steve was in love with that house, every inch of it, from top to bottom.
Gordon looked at them expectantly. “What do you think?”
“Oh, we liked it,” Petey said. “We liked it very much, only, of course, not to live in ourselves. You know . . . quaint.”
Steve glared at her. This from the girl who only a moment before had been warning him not even to show in his manner that he didn’t like the place. But Petey didn’t look at him.
“Yes,” she continued, half to herself. “I’ve been noticing that you haven’t been looking so well lately, Gordon. Perhaps this is just what you need. It may be that burying yourself in some such isolated spot as this, and camping out with your fireplaces and stuff, is just the sort of relief from civilized living that will pull you together again.”
“Eh?” Gordon blinked. He looked a little dazed. “Say, I’m all right. I feel fine.”
Petey sighed. “It’s like you not to let your friends know when you aren’t well, Gordon. It’s one of the things one treasures in you. But you can’t fool me. Why, the very fact that you re taking this house . . She seemed unwilling to hurt him by going on.
Steve looked at Gordon. His jaw had dropped, and he was paler than he had been. Steve half-opened his mouth, but the words of reassurance stopped in his throat. He nodded instead, realizing that this was no place for Gordon. “You’re pretty young to be losing your grip on things, my boy. Yes, a house like this may be a good thing for you.” “Good Lord!” Gordon said. With a hand that trembled a little, he reached for a pitcher of milk Mrs. Jenkins had placed on the table, poured himself a glass, eyed it distastefully and drank it all down. He blinked, shuddered, then looked at them defiantly. “There. If I can stand that, I can stand the country. I like this house and I’m buying it!”
(GORDON called Steve at the airy field two days later, and he didn’t seem so sure. “Listen,” he demanded, “do you really think the place is as bad as you looked as though you thought it was when you said you liked it the other day?”
Steve said, “No. Worse.”
There was a short silence at the other end of the wire. Then Gordon’s voice came again, a little reflectively. “Maybe it’s a good thing.”
“Well, they’ve jumped the price on me, you know. It seems that someone by the name of Higginbottom or Wigginbottom or something made them an offer, and now they want more.”
“It’s worth it.”
“How? I thought you didn’t like it.” “I don’t.” Steve could have kicked himself for letting that remark slip out. “What I meant was, lots of trees, lots of wood. Must be worth something. Don’t give it to them.”
There was a short pause. “You know,” Gordon said, “I think you’re
right. It is worth it. Good timber. Well, thanks, old man. I was sort of undecided. Thanks a lot.” He hung up.
Steve hung up too, hoping himself rid of doddering house buyers for a while. But he wasn’t. Gordon called up again, two days later, and started babbling something else about the house right off.
Steve said, “Wait a minute. Turn off the faucet. Now . . . did you buy the place yet?”
“But I just told you.” Gordon’s voice sounded anguished. “They’ve jumped the price again. Somebody by the name of Deever or Cheever or •maybe Cleaver went to the agents with a better offer than the better offer I made them. The price is pretty steep now. I want you to come over, and I’m going to call up Petey and ask her to come over. I’ve got to talk this thing through with somebody, and you two both have seen the place. I don’t want to put all that money into something I’m not going to like.”
Steve scowled. “You don’t seem to understand about Petey and me. We’re washed up—finished. We bore each other. If Petey’s there I won’t come. That’s flat!”
“Oh, all right. I won’t call her. I’ll expect you as soon as you’re through at the field then.”
Familiar with the black workings of Gordon’s mind as he was, Steve should have known what to expect. Petey was there when he walked in, and even a little more shocked and madder at seeing him than he was at seeing her. When things had stopped seething, Gordon, looking a little pale, admitted lie had promised each of them that the other wouldn’t be there. “But,” he added with some agitation, “this isn’t just an ordinary occasion. This is what you might call a crisis!”
“You bet it is,” Steve agreed. “The nearest you ever came to being batted over the head with a bridge lamp.” Petey’s chin went up. “I’ll just take the bridge lamp privileges in this house, if you please. If anyone should be burned up—”
“Take it easy,” Gordon begged. “Remember, even if my head isn’t worth anything, the fixtures are expensive.”
“Well, we’re here,” Steve said. “And now what? I’ve told you before and I tell you again: give up the idea of buying the house. It’s not your type.” “That’s the first sensible remark I’ve heard from Steve in ages,” Petey added. “Yes, Gordon. If I were you I’d just drop the whole thing.”
“Oh no you wouldn’t.” He looked at her and chuckled. “You know very well you wouldn’t.”
Petey’s eyelids flickered. “But I just said I would!”
“I know. But you can’t fool me any more . . . Miss Higginbottom!”
WHAT?” Steve stared at Petey.
She was coloring furiously under Gordon’s steady gaze.
Gordon nodded. “None other. Petey is Miss Higginbottom. Surprises you, doesn’t it? Well, it didn’t me. I suspected her from the beginning, but seeing her come out of the agents’ offices put the lid on it. Telling me I looked pale and should find a quiet spot to spend my declining years! She wanted the house herself and was doing everything she could to discourage me.” “Well, it wasn’t for you!” Petey was defiant. “That glass of milk didn’t fool anyone. You’d be so lonely and bored that you’d be running back to your apartment in a week.”
“Wait a minute.” Steve was coming out of the first shock, but things didn’t make sense. “What’s that you were saying about being bored, Petey? What on earth would you want with
a place away from the city, where the only thing to do at night is go to bed? I was under the impression your aim was a penthouse 30 stories up. I thought you didn’t like the house.”
“I love it,” Petey said. “I love everything about it. I don’t want a penthouse. I hate penthouses. I hope I never see another penthouse as long as I live!”
Steve shook his head to clear it. “Eh?”
She sat down on the edge of the divan, her eyes bright and rebellious. “Now you know it. I’m a fake! I don’t like parties and night clubs, and I don’t like bouncing around to Palm Beach and Palm Springs and—and your terrible Shanghai. You glory in those things, you—you spy ogler. I don’t like them.”
“Let’s get this straight.” Steve was groping, wondering where he’d find a couple of ends that would meet. “How about all that stuff you told me about not wanting to leave a stone of the experience of living unturned—about wanting to be able to say you’d gone everywhere and done everything?”
“I—I was trying to be glamorous. I knew that any man who’d been as many places and done as much as you have wouldn’t be interested in an ordinary girl. But I don’t care now. I just feel silly acting smart and sophisticated. I want a home, not a berth on the tail of a kite. Why, I—I can even knit. I like to knit. You should see the stuff I did for the Red Cross.”
Steve gulped. “Is all this on the level?”
She nodded. “Disappointed, aren’t you?” Her eyes brimmed dangerously. “Well, you can just go jump in the lake! You’d have found me out anyway. I couldn’t go on acting glamorous indefinitely.” She bit her lip. “You
and the beautiful spies you’re always talking about. Well, go on . . . find yourself another one and leave me alone.”
Gordon rose suddenly. He said, “I’ve been acting selfishly. I’d like to let you have the house, Petey. It really isn’t the sort of thing I want. I’d step out of the way in a minute, if it weren’t for this Deever fellow.”
“Cheever,” Steve said.
“Not Cheever, Deever,” Gordon insisted.
“Cheever. I ought to know. I’m him.”
“You’re what?” Petey was staring. Steve nodded. “Cheever . . . and a much better alias than Higginbottom, it I do say so myself.”
“But—but then you must have loved that darling little house too!”
“And I hate bouncing around too. I was only trying to impress you. How was I supposed to know that you were trying to impress me. You’re 10 times as attractive as any spy I’ve ever met.” “Even—even that redheaded one?”
“She had bowlegs.”
“Oh, Steve!” Petey said.
After a minute Steve stopped kissing her and scowled at Gordon. “Why don’t you go home?”
“Not yet,” Gordon demurred. “Overlooking the triviality that this is my home, there’s something about this Higginbottom-Cheever business I want to straighten out. I never wanted to buy that house. I inherited the place. I wanted to sell it. I saw you two nincompoops acting silly, but I know you both and I know what you’re like. I brought the two of you out there because I thought you’d make up, get married and live in the place together. I didn’t expect any Cheevers and Higginbottoms popping bids at me. I won’t sell to Cheever and I won’t sell to Higginbottom, and that’s my last word.”
“How about Mr. and Mrs. Cheeverbottom?” Steve demanded.
Gordon looked rueful. “I can’t sell to them. I’m giving them the place as a wedding present.”