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The Nightlife Of The Gods
THE GODS LEAVE TOWN
'SO this is the home of our host,' observed Bacchus, gazing placidly from the Emperor at the gracious lines of Hawk House. 'We should do very nicely here. Did you say there was a cellar? A cellar with wine and things?'
'One of the most business-like in many miles around,' Hunter Hawk assured the god. 'My father and his father before him drank on a generous scale, but fortunately for us their flesh failed before their thirst.'
Mercury was taking the lie of the land with a practical and swift shifting eye.
'I notice,' he said, 'you have a high and comfortable protective wall on three sides of the place but none in front. Why is that?'
'Never got round to it,' Hawk briefly replied. 'Intended to some day, then forgot all about it.'
'Walls not only protect but also conceal,' the light-fingered god observed significantly.
Mr Hawk grinned. 'Had I known sooner that you Olympians were going to visit me I'd have had one thrown up if only for the sake of concealment.'
Mercury hummed a thoughtful snatch of a song he had heard at some night club.
'The man across the way has a nice stone wall,' he remarked. 'The stones are well selected. You see,' he added, 'I know quite a lot about stone walls. I've climbed over so many of them.'
Blotto, like a red mouth shot from hell, hurled himself into the car. So furious and inclusive were his emotional demonstrations that Mr Hawk, for the sake of convenience, momentarily turned him to stone.
When the Olympians piled out of the automobile, Alice and Alfred Lambert, ably assisted by Junior, were entertaining some friends on the veranda. Alice had just been telling them that she had recently received a letter from her brother, announcing his intentions of living in Japan. His unexpected arrival with a flock of boisterous men and women did not work in so well with her story. Her face grew set and determined. Something would have to be done to put an end to this. A certain detective by the name of Griggs was still interested in the movements of her brother. Perhaps a telephone call might—
Her thoughts were interrupted by the Olympians as they came charging noisily up the steps.
'Hello, all,' said Venus, including Mr and Mrs Blythe-Brown and Miss Amelia Blythe-Brown, age thirty-eight, in her genial greeting. 'Not drinking, I notice. We'll have to remedy that. Hey, there, Mr Hawk, how about some grog?'
'Betts is already mixing them,' shouted Meg above the racket. 'He went round the back way. Hebe went with him.'
Alice Pollard Lambert, in spite of the healthy dread in which she stood of her brother, could not bring herself to receive his disorderly guests with any display of cordiality. Junior was openly snobbish, while his father, Alfred, stood by, speechlessly humiliated. The Blythe-Browns, of course, did not quite know what it was all about, but they were secretly delighted, for radically different reasons. Mr Blythe-Brown hoped to get a drink; Mrs Blythe-Brown to get a fresh scandal. Miss Amelia Blythe-Brown hoped—and how she hoped—to get an introduction to any one of the stalwart gods. Thirty-eight years is a long time for a girl to keep her patience. Amelia had recently decided after a private inventory of her rapidly fading allurements that her supply of patience was just about exhausted. She was out for business now, and she did not intend to be finicky any longer about partnership arrangements.
Strangely enough, Perseus took an immediate liking to Amelia. Perhaps something told him she was a woman in distress. He worked quickly and smoothly. After a brief conversation the two of them retired indoors. In the general confusion their absence was not noticed except by Mrs Lambert and the eagle-eyed Mercury, who smiled cynically to himself.
'Keep your places,' Mr Hawk courteously begged his sister and her company. 'I'm going to show my friends over the house a bit.'
'How is dear Reverend Dr Archer's case of squats getting on?' Meg asked sweetly from the doorway. Receiving no reply, she added a little less sweetly, 'I hope it doesn't strike any members of his flock.'
'We'll slide you out a bucket of cocktails,' Venus called clubbily over Meg's shoulder. 'Just keep your shirts on. Pip! Pip!'
Alice Lambert's face looked frozen. She was fairly snorting from injured dignity, but she was keeping a strong check on herself.
'What were you saying, dear?' she inquired, touching Mrs Blythe-Brown's black satin dress with the tips of her carefully manicured nails. 'Oh, you weren't saying anything. Then if you'll excuse me for just a moment I'll run in and telephone. Some man is so anxious to meet my brother. He would never think of doing it himself. Lost in his science.'
At that moment her brother was lost in something a great deal more interesting than his science. His face was partially submerged in a glassful of cocktails, and the Olympians were cluttering round him. The kitchen presented a homelike scene. In one corner old man Lambert was seated in Mrs Betts's own rocking chair. Near him stood the maid Stella, to whom he had been telling some particularly spicy stories gleaned from the unedifying recesses of his wicked old memory. Mrs Betts was examining her husband with impersonal disgust. Daffy and Cyril Sparks, with Blotto dangling his tongue between them and trying to give the impression that he had arranged everything, were seated on the kitchen table. Grandpa Lambert was waving a half-empty glass in his clawlike hand.
'And since you went away,' he was saying, 'this has been the only comfortable place in the house to sit. Mrs Betts has been very kind to Daffy and myself. The boy Sparks is always hanging about. I think he wants to marry her or something.'
'Probably something,' put in Venus,'if he's like the boys I used to know.'
'You're wrong,' declared Daffy. 'I've already suggested something, but he insists on leaving me untaken-advantage-of.'
'My poor dear child,' said Venus sympathetically. 'What a rotten shame. I'll have to have a talk with him.'
'Don't let her,' warned Diana. 'He won't be the same man.'
'Betts,' said Mr Hawk, 'take a shaker full of cocktails to the veranda and see that that Blythe-Brown party transfers its contents to his skin. He's a sadly over-wifed man.'
When Betts had departed on his delicate mission, the scientist led the Olympians to his partly demolished laboratory. Cyril Sparks took Bacchus and Neptune aside, while Mr Hawk was explaining to the others scientific apparatus in which they displayed a polite but wavering interest. Cy took down several bottles and mixed a synthetic highball. Its effects on the two gods completely revolutionized their conception of drinking. After that powerful drink the fish and grape fanciers wandered round the room looking speculatively at the shelves filled with jars. They were thinking dangerously. If a mere mortal could mix such a drink as that, what couldn't they accomplish if they set their minds on it? Stimulated as never before by the drink now leaping inside them, and fired with ambition for the drink yet to be created, these two ample gods discussed in undertones the possibility of various jars containing liquids of unknown potency.
While Mr Hawk was becoming more hopelessly tangled in the intricacies of the generator of the atomic ray, or whatever the remarkable gadget was called, Neptune and Bacchus sought a quiet corner of the laboratory and there prepared to mix themselves what they fondly hoped would prove to be the strongest drink ever sampled by man or god. Each selected a jar of liquid which for some reason appealed to them; then together they selected a third. Pouring the first two liquids into a large container they sniffed the results delicately.
'It's going to be good,' murmured Bacchus.
'Shall we keep it to ourselves or whack it up?' asked Neptune.
'Pour in that other stuff, and we'll find out,' replied Bacchus.
When this was done the sea god's question was immediately answered, immediately and unequivocally answered. The drink they had mixed so expectantly in the innocence of their godlike hearts turned out to be one that they could not keep to themselves. Whether they liked it or not, that drink was whacked up not only among those in the laboratory but also among persons some distance removed from the immediate neighbourhood.
After picking themselves up from their overturned chairs on the veranda, the Lamberts and the Blythe-Browns, with the exception of Mr Blythe-Brown, rushed to the scene of the explosion. The exception remained behind comfortably seated in his chair. In one hand he held the cocktail shaker, in the other a large goblet. In his eyes was a gleam of deep satisfaction. Explosions were rare occurrences, but a shaker full of powerful cocktails was rarer still and should not be neglected.
Betts, closely pressed by the others, was the first to reach the smoke-filled laboratory. He was armed with a fire extinguisher which he began to play indiscriminately about the room.
'For God's sake,' came the voice of his master. 'Isn't it bad enough to be blown to hell and gone without having a heaping portion of chemicals squirted in one's eye?'
'Pardon me, sir,' Mr Betts replied, politely addressing the smoke in the direction whence the voice had sounded, 'I suppose there's a bit of a fire about.'
'I suspect so, too, Betts,' Mr Hawk answered gloomily. 'I seem to have sat on much of it.'
'But not all,' came the voice of Meg. 'Not all, my good man. My sitter is quite singed.'
'Where are we?' demanded the voice of Neptune.
'I don't know and I don't care,' was Mr Hawk's heartfelt reply.
'If the lady who is sitting on my face would move about three inches to the right,' observed Mercury from the far end of the room, 'I'd feel a little less destroyed.'
'Sorry,' said Diana calmly. 'I thought it was a piece of glass.'
'That was my teeth,' said Mercury.
'Where's that head?' demanded Apollo out of the gloom.
'Whose?' asked Meg.
'Medusa's,' the god replied. 'Perseus asked me to hold it for him.'
'Now, who the hell cares about that?' asked Mr Hawk. 'Where's my dog?'
'I have him,' called Daffy. 'Right in the pit of my stomach. He made a fair landing and has remained there ever since, together with the heel of a certain Mr Sparks.'
'Sorry, Daffy,' was the conventional retort of Cyril. 'It's twisted.'
'What? My stomach?' exclaimed Daffy. 'You would complain.'
'No. My ankle,' said Cy.
'Well, keep on twisting it off my stomach,' replied the young lady. 'That fair region has troubles enough of its own.'
'Mr Betts,' asked a faint voice which sounded as if it belonged to a terribly enfeebled Bacchus, 'would you mind squirting that stuff in another mouth for a few minutes? I can't swallow another drop right now.'
'How's that?' inquired Mr Betts. 'You're bathing my eyes now,' said Bacchus.
'Any better?' asked Mr Betts, changing the direction of the stream.
'Not so good!' shouted Neptune. 'My left ear is sinking.'
'Better take it away, Betts,' advised Mr Hawk. 'Your efforts are not appreciated. Let the house burn a little, and do something about all this smoke.'
In spite of this illogical suggestion the smoke eventually did drift unfragrantly through the shattered windows, leaving the Olympians disclosed in shreds. The Lamberts and Blythe-Browns gave off a series of shocked gasps when their eyes fell on the denuded gods. Megaera, looking at the smoke-blackened faces in which glittered large questioning eyes, began to laugh softly.
'Looks like a minstrel show,' she said to Mr Hawk. 'The poor dears have never seen one.'
'I see nothing to laugh at,' declared Mrs Lambert cuttingly. 'Neither do I, lady,' agreed Bacchus, a fair portion of whom had been blown through the wall of the house and was now dangling over the lawn. 'Life to me at present is a very earnest affair.'
'Hunter,' went on Alice Lambert, ignoring the fat god. 'This is really too bad.'
'It will be a damn sight worse,' snapped Hunter, 'if you don't pipe down.'
And strange to say, as he finished speaking, the situation did get worse. That is to say, another complication was added to it. From the already weakened ceiling large slabs of plaster began to descend with increasing weight and rapidity upon the inquiringly upraised faces of the gods. Thrusting themselves weirdly through a white powdery cloud, the four legs of a bed hesitated modestly above them a moment, then continued to the floor of the laboratory with a crash. From one side of the bed Miss Amelia Blythe-Brown, clothed in little more than confusion, was bounced to the floor. From the other side Perseus rose and fell and then remained, thoughtfully clutching a pillow to him.
'What happened?' demanded Mrs Blythe-Brown, when she had recovered a little from the shocking revelation.
'Nothing,' replied her daughter with a discouraged droop to her shoulders. 'Absolutely nothing.'
'Then how did you get into bed with that man?' the mother continued. 'Surely not for nothing.'
'I didn't say that,' said the girl wearily. 'You asked me what happened and I told you. Nothing happened. But,' added the young lady, a reckless light in her eyes, 'if it hadn't been for that explosion—'
Perseus made a frantic gesture intended as a plea for caution.
'This lady,' he said hastily, 'was blown into that bed and I was blown after her. From the violence of the blow both of us lost much of our clothes, as apparently did everyone else.'
'Very nice and neatly put,' drawled Venus. 'That explains everything.'
'Why does he have all the breaks?' protested Bacchus. 'He gets blown into bed with a woman while I get blown through a bed of stone.'
'You were merely on the wrong end of that ill wind you've heard so much about,' Mercury explained.
'I'm not quite satisfied about all this,' Mrs Blythe-Brown said in a puzzled voice.
'Neither am I,' answered Amelia. 'It seems as if fate were against me. If someone will toss me a sheet I'll withdraw and let you figure it out for yourself.'
'There wasn't any hole in that ceiling when we came in,' the mother of the girl mused aloud, lines of perplexity still wrinkling her face.
'You couldn't see the ceiling when she came in,' retorted Mr Hawk. 'They were the very first to go up.'
'Seems odd,' continued the woman, 'that the rest of you should have conveniently remained behind.'
'Are you deliberately trying to make your daughter a loose woman?' demanded Meg.
'Certainly,' replied Mrs Blythe-Brown in a surprised voice. 'Wouldn't you? She's thirty-eight as it is, and this is the nearest she's come to it yet. Never did have any get up and go. She's just like her father. I wish you'd postponed your explosion, Mr Hawk, for at least fifteen minutes.'
'My watch was fast,' explained Mr Hawk in a tone of apology.
'I'm afraid that doesn't help Amelia very much,' replied the mother.
'Why, my dear Mrs Blythe-Brown!' Mrs Lambert exclaimed in a shocked voice. 'Can I believe my ears?'
'Not if they're like your tongue,' the lady replied. 'Catch you waiting thirty-eight years. Why, you wouldn't wait thirty-eight minutes.'
The Olympians to a god looked up at Mrs Lambert with awakened interest not unmixed with approval.
'I'm sure I don't know what you mean,' began Alice Lambert, but was interrupted by the rushing appearance of Stella.
'Mr Blythe-Brown, Stella,' Mrs Lambert corrected.
'Well, whoever he is,' continued the girl, 'he's just knocked a man down on the veranda who says his name is Griggs. He's got an awful-looking badge on his vest, Mr Hawk.'
'My family seems to be going to hell,' Mrs Blythe-Brown remarked complacently.
'My brother's going to jail,' announced Mrs Lambert with equal complacency. 'That man's a detective. He's been here several times.'
'If I do,' replied Mr Hawk, 'I'll turn you and your family, with I the exception of Daffy and the old man, so solidly to stone you wouldn't even melt in hell.'
Alice Lambert turned white.
'Stella,' continued Mr Hawk, 'you go back and tell that guy to get up and that we'll deal with him in a minute.' He paused and looked about the room. 'There's a man out there who wants to lay violent hands on me,' he went on. 'He's a dumb, self-important detective, and he might have his gang with him. Will you gods stand by me?'
Loud cries from the gods and goddesses alike.
'Yank me out of this hole,' shouted Bacchus. 'I'll pound the beggar to pulp as if he were so many grapes.'
Bacchus, together with a circle of adhering bricks, was hauled into the room, and a motley crew of dishevelled figures rushed from the laboratory to interview the already assaulted Griggs. Before the grim advance of the Olympians the detective stepped back a pace and dropped his hand to his pocket.
'I don't want any more trouble,' he said warningly. 'This drunkard has already knocked me down once.'
'And he'll knock you down again,' Mr Blythe-Brown replied thickly from his chair. 'Have a drink, somebody—I mean, everybody.'
'What in hell do you want here?' demanded Mr Hawk. 'You'd better get out now, while you're well and healthy. We don't like you worth a damn.'
'I'll go all right,' replied Griggs, 'but Mr Hunter Hawk goes with me. I've a warrant here for his arrest, and I'm going to serve it before I leave this house.'
'Do you mean me?' asked Mr Hawk, stepping towards the man.
'No, I don't mean you, and you know it,' answered the detective. 'Don't try to pull any of that stuff on me. You know who I mean just as well as I do.'
'You're mad,' said Mr Hawk. 'If you don't mean me, whom do you mean?'
Griggs laughed nastily and turned suddenly on the amazed Neptune.
'It's no use, Mr Hawk,' he said. 'The game's up. You can't fool me. I know you were wearing a false beard.'
Before the great sea god had a chance to know what was happening to him, the detective reached up and gave a violent tug at his beard, several tufts of which came away in the dumbfounded man's hands. With a roar of rage and pain Neptune flung himself upon detective Griggs and whirled him about in the air; then, as if not knowing what else to do with him, he released his hold on the man and allowed his limp figure to loop through the air and land on the gravel path. Neptune in all likelihood would have let matters stand at that had it not been for the excessive merriment of the Olympians, not to mention the group of mortals, among whose loud laughter the whoops of the drunken Mr Blythe-Brown led all the rest.
Seizing his long trident, the bearded god charged down the verandah steps. Griggs, observing the terrifying spectacle, bounded to his feet and sprinted down the drive, his flat feet spraying out gravel behind him in the face of the pursuing god.
Neptune had never boasted of his speed on land. Had this scene been enacted in the Atlantic or Mediterranean it would have perhaps had a more tragic and satisfactory ending. As it was, the detective gained the security of his waiting automobile and drove off at top speed amid the cheers of the delighted company assembled on the verandah.
'I'll be back,' Griggs shouted at Neptune. 'The boys will drag that funny-looking beard off your ugly face then.'
The god, with a scream of baffled fury, hurled his trident at the moving car. The spare tyre on the back popped, but the detective did not stop to find out what had happened.
Picking up his trident, the god returned to the house, tenderly stroking his beard and planning the death of Griggs and the various indignities he would practise on his remains. By the time he had reached the house he had become quite cheerful again.
The gods, though intellectually juvenile, had facile minds and were especially quick at picking up new methods of torture and mutilation in connexion with their enemies. Formerly they had considered it no end amusing to change their victims into cows, dogs, snakes, Harpies, Gorgons and such like, but of later years such relatively painless retaliations had begun to pall on them. No mortal had yet pulled Neptune's beard and gotten away with it. Neptune, one of the kindest-hearted gods that ever drew breath, when not crossed, had thought up some pretty mean things to do to Mr Griggs, if and when their paths ever crossed. As he heaved himself up the steps he overheard Mr Hawk saying to his grimy and tattered guests: 'Take my word for it, he'll be back with his gang before morning.'
'Damned if I would,' said Mr Blythe-Brown decidedly. 'Not after such a reception as he got. What's this I hear about my daughter being blown into bed with a man? Where's this explosion, anyway—it might do something about me? I'd stand for a lot of blowing if that half-clad lady over there would get in on the blow.'
He waved the cocktail shaker at Venus, who dropped her eyes girlishly.
'Oh, Mr Blythe-Brown,' she gushed, 'what things you say!'
'Put down that shaker, you decrepit old lush,' came the calm voice of his remarkable wife. 'It's empty.'
'That can be rectified, my dear,' he told her. Betts removed the shaker from the waving hand and hurried into the house. Hebe hurried after him, gathering glasses on the way. Mrs Betts had taken a fancy to the cup-bearing goddess. Stella was not so fond of her. Hebe was usurping her place. Suspecting this reaction on the part of the maid, Hebe asked her to share in the bearing and immediately won her heart. She had already opened tentative negotiations with Mercury, who had always had a weakness for domestics, and now fair Stella wanted to perfect them.
At the moment Mercury was holding forth. 'What we need,' he said, addressing his remarks to the Olympians, 'is a high stone wall. I know all about such matters, and if you'll all bear a hand we can throw one up in no time.'
The deliberations following this proposal exhausted the contents of three shakers, after which the gods and goddesses alike hurried enthusiastically to the uncompleted section of the wall. Sand and cement were brought from the work sheds, and rocks were collected with feverish energy. The gods were good workers once their minds had been set on a task to accomplish. Mr Betts, realizing the futility of mixing drinks in a shaker, began to use a bucket which Hebe carried along the line of activity whenever she saw an Olympian's ambition flagging through lack of fuel. Mr Hawk regarded the whole affair as being quite in keeping with the unstable enterprise of the gods, but as it kept them happy and out of other and perhaps more disturbing pursuits, he gave them a free hand.
It was pleasant to sit on the veranda with Meg, Blotto, Daffy, and Cy Sparks, and observe the labours of the Olympians. Not every man could boast of having a bunch of real authentic gods build a stone wall for him. True enough, Mr Hawk never expected to see the wall finished, but the idea was refreshing. They seemed to be happy in their occupation, for the deep booming bass of Neptune harmonized agreeably with Apollo's ringing tenor as they sang some unintelligible song, probably dealing playfully with bloodshed, pillage, and rape, pastimes in which they were chiefly interested.
'They're a great crowd, your gods,' remarked Cyril Sparks rather wistfully. 'Wish human beings could be more like that.'
'Go ahead and invent a new economic system,' said Mr Hawk, 'and you can have your wish. How can a man be happily irresponsible or develop the really charming possibilities of his character when the fear of losing his job through no fault of his own is constantly in the back of his mind? A man who gets up in the morning, washes his face, kisses his wife, and catches his train is not nearly so interesting as the man who gets up around noontime, mixes himself a cocktail, kisses someone else's wife, and misses his train. Yet under our present economic system the train misser loses out unless he is privately endowed or subsidized.'
'Does a man necessarily have to kiss someone else's wife to be interesting?' asked Daffy, not without a thought to the future.
'By no means,' replied Hunter Hawk. 'I'm glad you checked me up on that. As a matter of fact, the man who kisses someone else's wife is hardly interesting at all, because he is usually following the line of least resistance. A large quantity of married women are much easier to kiss than single ones. Although most women seem to make no objections to getting married, a whole lot of them hate to withdraw permanently from competition, and one of the most practical methods of getting the best of her unencumbered sisters is to offer a little more and to suggest a great deal more. That type of woman isn't interesting either, although she has her uses.'
'Seems to me you're talking a hell of a lot,' cut in Meg. 'To what nurses' weekly do you subscribe? Don't think I've forgotten your conduct with that Brightly woman. You weren't following the line of least resistance then. Oh, no, dearie. You were following the line of no resistance, you big stiff.'
'A mind so steeped in depravity as yours,' replied the scientist, 'can put but one interpretation on that unfortunate occurrence. You can neither understand nor appreciate a really pure-minded man, you common thief.'
Meg grinned. 'Listen, my good man,' she said, 'I'm probably almost everything, but I won't admit to being common about anything, and most emphatically not, when it comes to thieving. In that I know from experience that I'm a really exceptional woman.'
'Are you proud of it?' asked Mr Hawk.
'Naturally,' answered Meg. 'Can you pick a pocket as clean as I?'
'My ambitions have never led me in that direction, thank God!' said Mr Hawk.
'And if they had,' Meg retorted scornfully, 'your victims would have sounded like sleigh bells, your hand would have shaken so.'
'Shall we take a walk to the village?' asked Mr Hawk, dismissing Meg with a lordly gesture that was especially irritating to her. 'I have a little business with my lawyer I'd like to put through before I make my last stand and leave the field to the train catchers and window watchers and mirth controllers, and all the rest of the filthy, criticizing, vice-coveting tribe that at present sets the standard of life.'
Both Meg and Daffy looked up at the lengthy man who had risen from his chair and was gazing unseeingly at a very busy and none too sober group of gods. In his words the girls had detected a note of bitterness. If such a thing were possible, Hunter Hawk was an idealist in loose living and straight thinking, and such a person is almost as difficult to bear as an idealist in anything else.
'Why don't you call them lousy and save yourself a lot of words?' asked Daffy.
'It's too fashionable,' replied Hawk. 'And I hate conformity. Before the word was taken up, so to speak, and made smart, I used to get a great deal of comfort out of it. Now the damn thing's been ruined for me, and I can't think up another.'
'You have a terrible time of it, don't you?' asked Meg, sarcastically sympathetic.
'I do,' said Hawk briefly.
'Well, if you ask me,' she continued, 'you're just a pair of stilts in human form.'
'I don't ask you,' Mr Hawk snapped back. 'Shake a leg there and let's get started. I can't leave those gods by themselves too long, or they'll be swarming all over the countryside, leaving ruin in their wake.'
At this moment Mercury was questioning Mr Betts closely regarding the possible whereabouts of the owner of the wall across the road.
'His name is Mr Shrewsberry,' said Betts, 'and he's on the Continent, I think. The house has been closed all summer.'
'It's a nice wall, Betts,' remarked Mercury.
'Yes, sir. It's a nice wall. Certainly is.'
'Do you see that sort of peculiar shaped, reddish rock in it, Betts?' continued the god, gently edging the old man across the road.
'My eyesight is not as good as it was,' replied Betts. 'You'd better point it out to me with that sledge-hammer, sir.'
'I mean this rock, Betts,' explained Mercury, bringing the great hammer against the side of the rock with a smashing blow. 'Why, the damn thing's fallen inside!' exclaimed the god. 'I'd better go over and get it.'
Mercury showed his godlike prowess by the ease with which he scaled the wall. Presently he thrust his head through the opening he had made when pointing out the rock to Mr Betts.
'Hand me the sledge, Betts,' he said. 'I can't climb back. It's harder that way. I'll have to tap a small hole in the wall to let myself through.'
'That's the only thing left to do,' agreed Betts. 'Tap yourself a comfortable exit.'
Within a few minutes a considerable pile of choice rocks had fallen at the waiting servant's feet. Through the place where these rocks had once been, Mercury emerged, carrying a rock in one hand and the sledge-hammer in the other.
'Whew, Betts,' he observed. 'Thought I'd never get out. Why, what a lot of rocks! Where did they all come from?'
Mr Betts shrugged his shoulders. 'Must have been lying here, I suppose.'
'How do you think the wall looks now?' asked the god. 'If anything, better,' said Betts.
'I knew you'd say that,' exclaimed Mercury. 'Of course it does. That wall didn't need all those rocks, to begin with. The thing was just full of rocks, quite unnecessarily so.'
'For a rock wall,' agreed Betts.
'Yes,' said Mercury. 'I think you're right. Do you see this one?'
'Don't tell me,' cried the old man. 'I know just what you're going to say. I noticed the spot myself. It would fit perfectly there. Too bad to waste it and these other rocks too.'
As a result of this hypocritical colloquy Mr Shrewsberry's wall eventually was moved across the road and neatly rearranged on Mr Hawk's property. Mercury's bright idea was enthusiastically taken up by the other gods and goddesses and put into execution. Soon they became so adept at wall moving that whole sections of the wall were transferred in a single operation.
'Don't know what use he has for a wall, anyway,' panted Bacchus, 'seeing that his house is all locked up and everything.'
'You're right for once,' agreed Apollo. 'That wall of his was a lot of unnecessary ostentation.'
'A vulgar pretence,' grinned Neptune.
'Yes,' remarked Diana, her hands resting lightly on her beautifully moulded hips. 'Mr Shrewsberry certainly has a lot to thank us for.'
'He probably wouldn't,' commented Venus, momentarily lifting her head from the bucket. 'All men are ungrateful.'
'What I'd like to know,' asked Perseus, skilfully balancing a column of well-cemented rocks, 'are we wall movers or wall builders?'
'You would ask a question like that,' observed Mercury. 'But it does raise a nice point. To Mr Hawk, our unexcelled host, we probably appear in the light of wall builders, whereas Mr Shrewsberry might be inclined to call us wall movers or even wall snatchers. It all depends on from which side of the wall you consider the question.'
It really doesn't matter what the gods decided they were. The important fact remains they had arranged a strong protective barrier for their host. If the latter part gave the impression of a wave done in stone or if they did omit the insignificant detail of providing some sort of a way to get in other than by scaling, these slight defects should be laid to the enthusiasm of Hebe and her bucket rather than to the craftsmanship of the stout-hearted Olympians.
On the way back from the village Mr Hawk led his friends past the picturesque rectory of the Reverend Dr Archer. The man himself was sitting on the veranda in some sort of a trick chair. He looked for all the world like a person nerving himself to jump down the steps in front of him to the path below.
'I can't stand that,' remarked Mr Hawk in a low voice, as he considered the man of God from the tail of his eye. 'I'd be a nervous wreck if I had to live in the same house with him.'
'Must have gotten used to it by this time,' said Meg. 'He's been squatting like that for many weeks now.'
'After a life devoted to non-squatting, could you get used to such a posture in a few weeks?' asked Mr Hawk.
'It might be easier for me than it is for him,' replied Meg thoughtfully. 'You see—'
'We won't go into that,' Mr Hawk interrupted. 'Let's call on the Reverend Archer.'
They turned up the path and saluted the afflicted man.
'Pardon me for not rising,' apologised the rector in his beautifully modulated voice, 'but God in his wisdom has seen fit to visit me with this rather unprepossessing malady. I feel no pain, but the mental agony is terrific.'
'The seats of the mighty are sometimes hard,' was Mr Hawk's pious observation.
'That is especially true in this case,' replied the Reverend Archer a little bitterly.
'I wonder what His idea was?' asked Meg innocently.
'My dear,' returned the rector, 'I have sat, or, rather, squatted here for many a long hour endeavouring to answer that question myself. I can only conclude that God has his lighter moments, for surely no deity in a serious mood could wish anything so utterly silly on a man. In spite of the humiliation through which I have passed, it has somehow brought God closer to me. He seems much more human now.'
'That's all pure gain,' Mr Hawk assured him. 'It will probably influence your sermons and your relations with the individual members of your congregation for the rest of your life.'
'It has already begun to do so,' said the Reverend Archer. 'I see many things differently now. In many instances I have completely reversed my attitude. Previously I believed that the majority of the members of my congregation, which is, as you know, a fashionable one, did not need saving. Now I feel that they are not worth saving.' The Reverend Archer consulted the faces of his visitors rather anxiously to ascertain the effect of his words. 'I trust,' he added, 'my opinions do not shock you?'
'Not at all,' replied Mr Hawk. 'I've always felt that way about it myself. But, my dear Dr Archer, are you sure you won't backslide upon the restoration of your middle section to its former flexious condition?'
'Frankly, Mr Hawk,' replied the rector with a charming smile, 'I shall carry on much as usual, but with certain mental reservations, if you get what I mean. My life here is fairly comfortable. I see no reason to change it. No good would be accomplished.'
'And again,' put in Daffy quite calmly, 'after having been deprived of the advantages and slight compensations of a group of important functions, one appreciates them more upon the resumption of their pleasurable activities.'
For a brief moment the Reverend Archer looked, startled, then once more he smiled even more charmingly.
'Admirably expressed, my dear young lady,' he replied. 'I feel somewhat that way about it myself. One should not, so to speak, look a gift horse in the teeth.'
'That's right,' put in Meg. 'Don't pass up a thing.'
'He's a good guy,' muttered Cy Sparks, whose sympathies were easily aroused. 'How about it, Mr Hawk?'
'Right,' replied the scientist. 'I feel that I have accomplished some good in this world after all.'
Slightly altering the position of his left hand, he directed the restorative ray against the mid-section of the Reverend Dr Archer.
'Dr Archer,' he said, 'I have reason to believe that if you rise now from that impossible-looking roost of yours you will find upon closer examination everything is as it should be.'
The delight of the rector was a pleasure to witness. Abandoning for the moment all consideration for the respect due to his cloth, he executed several rather snappy dance steps, the knowledge of which he could not have come by honestly. After this surprising display of gratitude he took his guests into the house and treated them to a couple of stiff hookers of excellent cognac.
'You know,' he announced, when they were leaving, 'I think I'll run over to see dear Mrs Brightly. She'll be so interested to learn that—'
'Your mid-section has been restored,' cut in Daffy. I'm sure it will be an occasion for mutual congratulations.'
Once again it was the turn of the Reverend Archer to look startled; then his smile came to the rescue. 'Prettily put, young lady,' he said, 'but slightly tinged with malice. By the way, does anyone know if Mr Brightly is still absent from his home?'
'I know he is,' replied Meg.
'Good,' said Dr Archer involuntarily. 'I mean, I hope he is having a pleasant vacation.'
So much for the mid-section of the Reverend Dr Archer. The party strolled homeward feeling a little more cheerfully disposed toward life in general. It is always more pleasing to see a good man going wrong the right way than a bad man going right the wrong way.
Immediately upon his return Mr Hawk was surrounded by a noisy group of gods and goddesses all talking at the same time and greatly exaggerating their individual contributions to the building of the wall.
When Mr Hawk made a tour of inspection, the sight of the imposing barrier vaguely reminded him of something he had seen before. When occasionally he paused to examine a weather-seasoned bit of mortar, he noticed a decided tendency on the part of his escort to hurry him past that section of the wall. And when finally he climbed a ladder and looked over the wall, the Olympians made every effort to discourage him.
'It's just the same on the other side,' Mercury suavely explained. 'One rock is very much like another.'
'So true is that,' replied Mr Hawk, as he mounted the ladder being held by Perseus, 'that it really doesn't matter where you pick up your rocks.'
'Makes no difference at all,' agreed Mercury, anxiously watching the expression on Mr Hawk's face.
If the god had expected to see some sudden and alarming indication of the scientist's true feelings, he was quite mistaken. Mr Hawk merely glanced across the road, saw exactly what he had expected to see, then looked down into the innocently uptilted faces of the wall builders.
'There are a couple of good rocks over on Mr Shrewsbury's property you might use if you happen to need them,' he remarked casually. 'Not many, but still you never can tell when a good rock will come in handy.'
'But don't you think he would mind?' asked Mercury.
'No,' replied Mr Hawk with perfect gravity as he descended the ladder. 'I don't think he would mind—now. You see, by the time he's gotten around to missing those few rocks, he'll have become so used to missing rocks—whole walls of rocks—that their absence wouldn't be noticed.'
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