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by Sewell Ford



  I GOT to say this about Son-in-Law Ferdie: He's a help! Not constant, you know; for there's times when it seems like his whole scheme of usefulness was in providin' something to hang a pair of shell-rimmed glasses on, and givin' Marjorie Ellins the right to change her name. But outside of that, and furnishin' a comic relief to the rest of the fam'ly, blamed if he don't come in real handy now and then.

  Last Friday was a week, for a sample. I meets up with him as he's driftin' aimless through the arcade, sort of caromin' round and round, bein' bumped by the elevator rushers and watched suspicious by the floor detective.

  "What ho, Ferdie!" I sings out, grabbin' him by the elbow and swingin' him out of the line of traffic. "This ain't no place to practice the maxixe."

  "I — I beg — oh, it's you, Torchy, is it?" says he, sighin' relieved. "Where do I go to send a telegram?"

  "Why," says I, "you might try the barber shop and file it with the brush boy, or you could wish it on the candy-counter queen over there and see what would happen; but the simple way would be to step around to the W.U.T. window, by the north exit, and shove it at Gladys."

  "Ah, thanks," says he. "North exit, did you say? Let's see, that is — er ——"

  "'Bout face!" says I, takin' him in tow. "Now guide right! Hep, hep, hep — parade rest — here you are! And here's the blank you write it on. Now go to it!"

  "I — er — but I'm not quite sure," protests Ferdie, peelin' off one of his chamois gloves, "I'm not quite sure of just what I ought to say"

  "That bein' the case," says I, "it's lucky you ran into me, ain't it? Now what's the argument?"

  Course it was a harrowin' crisis. Him and Marjorie had got an invite some ten days ago to spend the week-end at a swell country house over on Long Island. They'd hemmed and hawed, and fin'lly ducked by sendin' word they was so sorry, but they was expectin' a young gent as guest about then. The answer they got back was, "Bring him along, for the love of Mike!" or words to that effect. Then they'd debated the question some more. Meanwhile the young gent had canceled his date, and the time has slipped by, and here it was almost Saturday, and nothin' doing in the reply line from them. Marjorie had thought of it while they was havin' lunch in town, and she'd chased Ferdie out to send a wire, without tellin' him what to say.

  "And you want someone to make up your mind for you, eh?" says I. "All right. That's my long suit. Take this: 'Regret very much unable to accept your kind invitation' — which might mean anything, from a previous engagement to total paralysis."

  "Ye-e-es," says Ferdie, hangin' his bamboo stick over his left arm and chewin' the penholder thoughtful, "but Marjorie 'll be awfully disappointed. I think she really does want to go."

  "Ah, squiffle!" says I. "She'll get over it. Whose joint is it, anyway?"

  "Why," says he, "the Pulsifers', you know."

  "Eh?" says I. "Not the Adam K.'s place, Cedarholm?"

  Ferdie nods. And, say, it was like catchin' a chicken sandwich dropped out of a clear sky. The Pulsifers! Didn't I know who was there? I did! I'd had a bulletin from a very special and particular party, sayin' how she'd be there for a week, while Aunty was in the Berkshires. And up to this minute my chances of gettin' inside Cedarholm gates had been null and void, or even worse. But now — say, I wanted to be real kind to Ferdie!

  "One or two old friends of Mariorie's are to be there," he goes on dreamy.

  "They are?" says I. "Then that's diff'rent. You got to go, of course."

  "But — but," says he, "only a moment ago you ——"

  "Ah, mooshwaw!" says I. "You don't want Marjorie grumpin' around for the next week, do you, wishin' she'd gone, and layin' it all to you?"

  Ferdie blinks a couple of times as the picture forms on the screen. "That's so," says he. "She would."

  "Then gimme that blank," says I. "Now here, how's this, 'Have at last arranged things so we can come. Charmed to accept'? Eh?"

  "But — but there's Baby's milk," objects Ferdie. "Marjorie always watches the nurse sterilize it, you know."

  "Do up a gallon before you leave," says I.

  "It's such a puzzling place to get to, though," says Ferdie. "I'm sure we'd never get on the right train."

  "Whadye mean, train," says I. "Ah, show some class! Go in your limousine."

  "So we could," says Ferdie. "But then, you know, they'll be expectin' us to bring an extra young man."

  "They needn't be heartbroken over that," says I. "You didn't say who he was, did you?"

  "Why, no," says Ferdie; "but ——"

  "Since you press me so hard," says I, "I'll sub for him. Guess you need me to get you there, anyway."

  "By Jove!" says Ferdie, as the proposition percolates through the hominy. "I wonder if ——"

  "Never waste time wonderin'," says I. "Take a chance. Here, sign your name to that; then we'll go hunt up Marjorie and tell her the glad news."

  Ferdie was still in a daze when we found the other three-quarters of the sketch, and Marjorie was some set back herself when I springs the scheme. But she's a good sport, Marjorie is, and if she was hooked up to a live one she'd travel just as lively as the next heavyweight.

  "Oh, let's!" says she, clappin' her hands "You know we haven't been away from home overnight for an age. And Edna Pulsifer's such a dear, even if her father is a grouchy old thing. We'll take Torchy along too. What do you say, Ferdie?"

  Foolish question! Ferdie was still dazed. And anyhow she had said it herself.

  So that's how it happens I'm one of the chosen few to be landed under the Cedarholm porte-cochère that Saturday afternoon. Course the Pulsifers ain't reg'lar old fam'ly people, like Ferdie's folks. They date back to about the last Broadway horse-car period, I understand, when old Adam K. begun to ship his Cherryola dope in thousand-case lots. Now, you know, it's all handled for him by the drug trust, and he only sits by the safety-vault door watchin' the profits roll in. But with his name still on every label you could hardly expect the Pulsifers to qualify for Mrs. Astor's list.

  Seems Edna went to the same boardin' school as Marjorie and Vee, though, and neither of 'em ever thinks of throwin' Cherryola at her. And as far as an establishment goes, Cedarholm is the real thing. Gave me quite some thrill to watch two footmen in silver and baby blue pryin' Marjorie out of the limousine.

  "Gee!" thinks I, glancin' around at the deep verandas, the swing seats, and the cozy corner nooks. "If Vee and I can't get together for a few chatty words among all this, then I'm a punk plottist!"

  These country house joints are so calm and peaceful too! It's a wonder anybody could work up a case of nerves, havin' this for a steady thing. But Edna and Mrs. Pulsifer acted sort of restless and jumpy. She's a tall, thin, hollow-eyed dame. Mrs. Pulsifer is, with gray hair and a smooth, easy voice. Miss Edna must take more after her Pa; for she's filled out better, and while she ain't what you'd call mug-mapped, she has one of these low-bridge noses and a lot of oily, dark red hair that she does in a weird fashion of her own with a side part. Seems shy and bashful too, except when she snuggles up on the lee side of Marjorie and trails off with her.

  The particular party I was strainin' my eyesight for ain't in evidence, though, and all the hint I gets of her bein' there was hearin' a ripply laugh at the far end of the hallway when she and Marjorie go to a fond clinch. That was some comfort though, — she was in the house!

  As I couldn't very well go scoutin' around whistlin' for her to come out, I does the next best thing. After bein' shown my room I drifts downstairs and out on the lawn where I'd be some conspicuous. Course I wa'n't suggestin' anything, but if somebody should happen to see me and judge that I was lonesome, they might wander out that way too. Sure enough somebody did, — Ferdie.

  "I thought you had to take a nap before dinner," says I, maybe not so cordial.

  "Bother!" says he. "There's no such thing as that possible with those three girls chattering away in the next room.

  "Well, they ain't been together for some time, I expect," says I.

  "It's worse than usual," says Ferdie. "A man in the case, you might know."

  "Eh?" says I, prickin, up my ears "Whose man?"

  "Oh, Edna Pulsifer's absurd ditch digger," says Ferdie. "He's a young engineer, you know, that she's been interested in for a couple of years. Her father put a stop to it once; kept her in Munich for ten months — and that's a perfectly deadly place out of season, you know. But it doesn't seem to have done much good."

  I grins. Surprisin' how cheerful I could be so long as it was a case of Miss Pulsifer's young man. I pumps the whole tale out of Ferdie, — how this Mr. Bert Gilkey — cute name too — had been writin' her letters all the time from out West, how he'd been seized with a sudden fit, wired on that he must see her once more, and had rushed East. Then how Pa Pulsifer had caught 'em lalligaggin' out by the hedge, had talked real rough to Gilkey, and ordered' him never to muddy his front doormat again.

  "And now," goes on Ferdie, "he sends word to Edna that he means to try it once more, no matter what happens, and everyone is all stirred up."

  "So that accounts for the nervous motions, eh?" aays I. "What does Pa Pulsifer have to say to this defi?"

  "Goodness," says Ferdie, shudderin'. "He doesn't know. No one dare tell him a word. If he found out — well, it would be awful!"

  "Huh!" says I. "One of these fam'ly ring-masters, is he?"

  "That was it, and from Ferdie's description I gathered that old Adam K. was a reg'lar domestic tornado, once he got started. Maybe you know the brand? And it seems Pa Pulsifier was the limit. So long as things went his way he was a prince, — right there with the jolly haw-haw, fond of callin' wifey pet names before strangers, and posin' as an easy mark, — but let anybody try to pull off any programme that don't jibe with his, and black clouds rolled up sudden in the West.

  "I do hope," goes on Ferdie, "that nothing of that sort occurs while we are here."

  So did I, for more reasons than one. What I wanted was peace, and plenty of it, with Vee more or less disengaged.

  Nothin' could have been more promisin' either than the openin' of that first dinner party. Pa Pulsifier had showed up about six o'clock from the Country Club, with his rugged hand-hewed face tinted up cheery. Some of it was sunburn, and some of it was rye, I expect, but he was glad to see all of us. He patted Marjorie on the cheek, pinched Vee by the ear, and slapped Ferdie on the back so hearty he near knocked the breath out of him. So far as our genial host could make it, it was a gay and festive scene. Best of all too, I'd been put next to Vee, and I was just workin' up to exchangin' a hand squeeze under the tablecloth when, right in the middle of one of Pa Pulsifer's best stories, there floats in through the open windows a crash that makes everybody sit up. It sounds like breakin' glass.

  "Hah!" snorts Pulsifer, scowlin' out into the dark. "Now what in blazes was that?"

  "I — I think it must have been something in the kitchen, Dear," says Mrs. Pulsifer. "Don't mind."

  "But I do mind," says he. "In the first place, it wasn't in the kitchen at all, and if you'll all excuse me, I'll just see for myself."

  Meanwhile Edna has turned pale, Marjorie has almost choked herself with a bread stick, and Ferdie has let his fork clatter to the floor. Ma Pulsifer is bitin' her lip; but she's right there with the soothin' words.

  "Please, Dear," says she, "let me go. They want you to finish your story."

  It was a happy touch, that last. Pa Pulsifer recovers his napkin, settles back in his chair, and goes on with the tale, while Mother slips out quiet. She comes back after a while, springs a nervous little laugh, and announces that it was only the glass in one of the hotbed frames.

  "Some stupid person taking a short cut across the grounds, I suppose," says she.

  Didn't sound very convincin' to me; but Pulsifer had got started on another boyhood anecdote, and he let it pass. I had a hunch, though, that Mrs. Pulsifer hadn't told all. I caught a glance between her and Edna, and some flashes between Edna and Vee, and I didn't need any sixth sense to feel that something was in the air.

  No move was made, though, until after coffee had been served in the lib'ry and Pa Pulsifer was fittin' his fav'rite Harry Lauder record on the music machine.

  First Mrs. Pulsifer slips out easy. Next Edna follows her, and after them Marjorie and Vee, havin' exchanged some whispered remarks, disappears too. Maybe it was my play to stick it out with Ferdie and the old boy, but I couldn't see any percentage in that, with Vee gone; so I wanders casual into the hall, butts around through the music room, follows a bright light at the rear, and am almost run down by Marjorie hurrying the other way sleuthy.

  "Oh!" she squeals. "It's you, is it, Torchy? S-s-s-sh!"

  "What you shushin' about?" says I.

  "Oh, it's dreadful!" puffs Marjorie. "He — he's come!"

  "That Gilkey guys" says I.

  "Ye-e-es," says she. "But — but how did you know?"

  "I'm a seventh son, born with a cowlick," says I. "Was it Gilkey made his entrance through the cucumber frame?"

  It was. Also he'd managed to cut himself in the ankles and right wrist. They had him in the kitchen, patchin' him up now, and they was all scared stiff for fear Pa Pulsifer would discover it before they could send him away.

  "He'll be a nut if he don't," says I, "with all you women out here. Your game is to chase back and keep Pulsifer interested."

  "I suppose you're right," says Marjorie. "Let's tell them."

  So I follows into the big kitchen, where I finds the disabled Romeo propped up in a chair, with the whole push of 'em, includin' the fat cook, a couple of maids, and the butler, all tryin' to bandage him in diff'rent spots. He's a big, gawky-lookin' young gent, with a thick crop of pale hair and a solemn, serious look on his face, like he was one of the kind that took everything hard. As soon as Marjorie gives 'em my hint about goin' back to Father there's a gen'ral protest.

  "Oh, I can't do it!" says Edna.

  "He would notice at once how nervous I am," groans Mrs. Pulsifer.

  "But you don't want him walking out here, do you?" demands Marjorie.

  That settled 'em. They bunched together panicky and started back for the lib'ry.

  "I'll stay and attend to the getaway," says I. "Nobody'll miss me."

  "Thank you," says Gilkey; "but I'm not sure I wish to go away. I came to see Edna, you know."

  "So I hear," says I. "Unique idea of yours too, rollin' in the hotbeds first."

  "I — I was only trying to avoid meeting Mr. Pulsifer," says he; "exploring a bit, you see. I could hear voices in the dining-room; but I couldn't quite look in. There was a little shed out there, though, and by climbing on that I could get a view. That was how I lost my balance."

  "Before you go callin' again," says I, "you ought to practice roostin' in the dark. Say, the old man must have thrown quite a scare into you last time."

  "I am not afraid of Mr. Pulsifer, not a bit," says he.

  "Well, well!" says I. "Think of that!"

  "Anyway," says he, "I just wasn't goin' to be driven off that way. It — it isn't fair to either of us."

  "Then it's a clear case with both of you, is it?" says I.

  "We are engaged," says Gilkey, "and I don't care who knows it! It's not her money I'm after, either. We don't want a dollar from Mr. Pulsifer. We — we just want each other."

  "Now you're talkin'!" says I; for, honest, the simple, slushy way he puts it across sort of wins me. And if that was how the case stood, with Edna longin' for him, and him yearnin' for Edna, why shouldn't they? If I'm any judge, Edna wouldn't find another right away who'd be so crazy about her, and anyone who could discover charms about Gilkey ought to be rewarded.

  "See here!" says I. "Why not sail right in there, look Father between the eyes, and hand that line of dope out to him as straight as you gave it to me?"

  He gawps at me a second, like I'd advised him to jump off the roof. "Do — do you think I ought?" says he.

  I has to choke back a chuckle. Wanted my advice, did he? Well, say, I could give him a truckload of that!

  "It depends," says I, "on how deep the yellow runs in you. Course it's all right for you to register this leader about not bein' scared of him. You may think you ain't, but you are all the same; and as long as you're in that state you're licked. That's the big trouble with most of us, — bein' limp in the spine. We're afraid of our jobs, afraid of what the neighbors will say, afraid of our stomachs, afraid of to-morrow. And here you are, prowlin' around on the outside, gettin' yourself messed up, and standin' to lose the one and only girl, all because an old stuff like Pulsifer says 'Boo!' at you and tells you to 'Scat!' Come on now, better let me lead you out and see you safe through the gate."

  Course that was proddin' him a little rough, but I wanted to bring this thing to a head somehow. Made Gilkey squirm in his chair too. He begins rollin' his trousers down over the bandages and struggles into his coat.

  "I suppose you're right," says he. "I — I think I will go in and see Mr. Pulsifer."

  "Wha-a-at?" says I. "Now?"

  "Why not?" says he, pushin' through the swing door.

  "Hey!" I calls out, jumpin' after him. "Better let me break it to 'em in there."

  "As you please," says Gilkey; "only let's have no delay."

  So I skips across the hall and into the lib'ry, where they're all makin' a stab at bein' chatty and gay, with Pa Pulsifer in the center.

  "Excuse me," says I, "but there's a young gent wants a few words with Mr. Pulsifer."

  "What's that?" growls Adam K., glarin' about suspicious at the gaspy circle. "What young man?"

  "Why," says I, "it's ——" But then in he stalks.

  "Oh, Herbert!" sobs Edna, makin' a wild grab at Marjorie for support.

  As for Pa Pulsifer, his eyes get stary, the big vein in the middle of his forehead swells threatenin', and his bushy white eyebrows seem to bristle up.

  "You!" he snorts. "How did you get in here, Sir?"

  "Through the kitchen," says Gilkey. "I came to tell you that ——"

  "Stop!" roars Pulsifer, stampin' his foot and bunchin' his fists menacin'. "You can't tell me anything, not a word, you — you good-for-nothing young scoundrel! Haven't I warned you never to step foot in my house again' Didn't I tell you ——"

  Well, it's the usual irate parent stuff, only a little more wild and ranty than anything Belasco would put over. He abuses Gilkey up and down, threatens him with all kinds of things, from arrest to sudden death, and gets purple in the face doin' it. While Gilkey, he just stands there, takin' it calm and patient. Then, when there comes a lull, he remarks casual:

  "If that is all, Sir, I wish to say to you that Edna and I are engaged, and that I intend to marry her early next week."

  Wow! That's the cue for another explosion. It starts in just as fierce as the first; but it don't last so long, and towards the end Pa Pulsifer is talkin' husky and puffing hard.

  "Go!" he winds up. "Get out of my house before I — I ——"

  "Oh, I say," breaks in Gilkey, "before you do what?"

  "Throw you out!" bellows Pulsifer.

  "Don't be absurd," says Gilkey, statin' it quiet and matter of fact. "You couldn't, you know. Besides, it isn't being done."

  And it takes Pa Pulsifer a full minute before he can choke down his temper and get his wind again. Then he advances a step or so, points dramatic to the door, and gurgles throaty:

  "Will — you — get — out?"

  "No," says Gilkey. "I came to see Edna. I've had no dinner either, and I'd like a bite to eat."

  Pulsifer stood there, not two feet from him, glarin' and puffin', and tryin' to decide what to do next; but it's no use. He'd made his grand roarin' lion play, which had always seared the tar out of his folks, and he'd responded to an encore. Yet here was this mild-eyed young gent with the pale hair and the square jaw not even wabbly in the knees from it.

  "Come, Edna," says Gilkey, holdin' out a hand to her. "Let's go into the dining-room."

  "But — but see here!" gasps Pa Pulsifer, makin' a final effort. "I — I ——"

  "Oh, hush up!" says Gilkey, turnin' away weary. "Come, Edna."

  And Edna, she went; also Mrs. Pulsifer; likewise Vee and Marjorie. Trust women for knowin' when a bluff has been called. I expect they was wise, too or three minutes before either me or Gilkey, that Pa Pulsifer was beat. I stayed long enough to see him slump into an easy-chair, his under lip limp and a puzzled look in his eyes, like he was tryin' to figure out just what had hit him. And over by the fireplace is Ferdie, gawpin' at him foolish, and exercisin' his gears, I expect, on the same problem. Neither of them had said a word up to the time I left.

  It took the women half an hour or more to feed Herbert up proper with all the nice things they could drag from the icebox. Then Mother Pulsifer patted him on the shoulder and shooed Edna and him through the French doors out on the veranda.

  And what do you guess is Mrs. Pulsifer's openin' as we drifts back towards the scene of the late conflict?

  "Why, Deary!" says she. "You haven't your cigars, have you? Here they are — and the matches. There! Now for the surprise. Our young people have decided — that is, Edna has — not to be married until two weeks from next Wednesday."

  Does Pa Pulsifer rant any more rants? No. He gets his perfecto goin' nicely, blows a couple of smoke rings up towards the ceilin', and then remarks in sort of a weak growl:

  "Hanged if I'll walk down a church aisle, Maria — hanged if I do!"

  "I told them you wouldn't," says Ma Pulsifer, smoothin' the hair back over his ears soothin'; "so they've agreed on a simple home wedding, with only four bridesmaids."

  "Huh!" says he. "It's lucky they did."

  But, say, take it from me, his days of crackin' the whip around that joint are over. I'm beginnin' to believe too how some of that dope I fed to Herbert must have been straight goods. Vee insists on talkin' it over later, as we are camped in one of them swing seats out on the veranda.

  "Wasn't he just splendid," says she: "standing up to Mr. Pulsifer that way, you know?"

  "Some hero!" says I. "I wonder would he give me a few lessons, in case I should run across your Aunty some day?"

  "Pooh!" says Vee. "Just as though I didn't go back to see if he'd gone and hear you putting him up to all that yourself! It was fine of you to do it too, Torchy."

  "Right here, then!" says I. "Place the laurel wreath right here."

  "Silly!" says she, givin' me a reprovin' pat. "Besides, that porch light is on."

  Which was one of the reasons why I turned it off, and maybe accounts for our sudden break when Marjorie comes out to tell us it's near twelve o'clock.

  Yes, indeed, though he may not look it, Ferdie is more or less of a help.



Page 94.

(End of chapter five.)

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