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The Glorious Pool
JUST A DIP AT TWILIGHT
SPRAY SUMMERS looked with large eyes at the pedestal upon which the wench Baggage had once stood so gracefully poised, then she sniffed with all the righteous indignation of the most moral woman in the world.
"Good riddance of bad rubbish," she said. "What was she doing?"
"As far as I could find out," replied Mr. Pebble, "she was trying to drag my trousers off."
"What for?" demanded Spray.
"How should I know?" asked Mr. Pebble innocently.
"Who should know better than you?" snapped the woman. "If a man started in to drag off my pants I'd ask as a matter of interest exactly what he was after."
"I was a little afraid of the answer," said Rex Pebble.
"You needn't have been," observed Spray, witheringly. "She must simply have wanted a pair of pants. That's the most you could offer the hussy."
"Isn't that quite enough?" asked Mr. Pebble.
"Empty pants never meant much in my young life," said Spray, dropping wearily to the bench. "From the way that woman was tugging at you it looked to me as if she was after a great deal more than your pants."
"It would look that way to you," remarked Rex Pebble. "Aren't you the least bit interested in the disappearance of the statue?"
"Oh, I don't know," replied Spray, passing a hand across her eyes. "Odd happenings seem to be the natural order of events this evening—such as Mr. Henry eating the steak and Sue sending me slippers and you fighting with a naked woman for possession of your pants. I feel a little odd myself. It might be the cocktails, but I haven't felt like this for years."
Rex Pebble took her hand in his.
"I know how it is," he said. "Almost anything might happen. But," he added with a shrug, "nothing ever does. We just sit here growing older like a pair of spectators waiting after the curtain has dropped. There's nothing more to see and no place new to go, yet here we sit, you with your tired feet and me with my bad heart."
"You were wrestling with a naked woman only a minute ago," said Spray. "Isn't that enough for one evening?
"No," replied Mr. Pebble decidedly, "it is not."
"How about that precious soul of yours?" asked Spray Summers. "What's become of that?"
"I'm afraid it never clicked," said Rex Pebble. "Just a string of long words. Certainly, I don't care for you with my soul, because now that you're old I think you're pretty awful."
"And I think you should be chloroformed," retorted Spray. "You sit there brooding over the past like an old buzzard on a dead cow."
"Prettily turned," said Mr. Pebble. "And quite right, too, but one can't wrestle with a nude girl, even at my age, without feeling somewhat aroused."
"It would only make me feel tired," observed Spray.
"Obviously," said Mr. Pebble, "but you're not a man, and I am."
"You're merely the crumbling ruins of a man," said Spray, pressing the hand that was holding hers, "but I like you just the same. You're still so much of a fool."
"But you don't care for me with your soul?" continued Mr. Pebble. "Don't tell me that."
"No," she said. "That sort of talk has always been 'way above my head. I don't understand it. If I were a young girl and I came upon you here, I know jolly well I wouldn't fall in love with a white-haired man of sixty, no matter if I was fairly bursting with soul. I just couldn't do it. And now I'm an old woman I don't love you for what you are so much as for what you were—what we were together."
"That's it," said Rex Pebble. "That's it exactly. I keep calling on you and listening to your banalities not for what you are now, but because of old associations, for the things we've done and seen together, the good times we've had and the bad ones we've shared. Like the memory of a dead child, the past holds us together."
"Beautifully but depressingly put," murmured Spray. "The past is the only child I've ever had."
"He was a lusty little devil," said Mr. Pebble. "I wish we had him back."
"Yes," agreed Spray sadly. "He was a very amusing child and always up to mischief." Cupping her mouth in her hands, she turned her head toward the house and shouted, "Nockashima, you heathen! We want cocktails!"
"If he isn't singing aloud to Mr. Henry," said Rex Pebble, "as is his custom, it's barely possible he may have heard you."
As if by magic Nockashima appeared, hurrying busily across the grass. On a tray he was carrying the silver shaker and two long-stemmed glasses.
"That's a real pretty sight," remarked Spray, growing a little esthetic at the prospect of a drink. "The white jacket, you know, and the silver shaker and the green grass and all. Only the man is vile."
Collecting a red metal table on the way, the little servant deftly placed it before them; then, with a clever flourish, he deposited the tray on the table.
"I had drink all mixed," he announced with satisfaction. "Nice evening, madam, for drink. Wine go good with dinner."
"Damn me if I know how you're still able to walk," said Spray, "let alone to think, but for this service, Nocka, I freely forgive you the steak."
Nockashima giggled his pleasure, gave several quick, ducking little bows, and was about to withdraw when his eyes chanced to stray across the pool. For a moment he stood staring with foolish astonishment at the vacant pedestal, then looked inquiringly from his mistress to Mr. Pebble.
"Naked lady all gone?" he asked in a hushed voice. "She no more be with us here?"
"I'm afraid not, Nocka," said Mr. Pebble. "The naked lady seems to have taken flight."
"Too bad," said the Japanese sorrowfully. "She pretty good, I thought. She very nice." Once more he was about to turn away, and once more he stopped as if remembering some trivial incident, "I saw naked lady on next lawn," he announced quite casually. "She look like our one only this naked lady all flesh and no stone."
"What was she doing on the next lawn?" asked Spray Summers, always alert for a little scandal.
"Oh, she just attack chauffeur," explained the Jap indifferently. "Chauffeur called Alfred. Naked lady very determined. She get Alfred down right on grass——"
"Pretty," interrupted Spray sardonically. "And only next door. Go on, Nocka."
"Then Alfred spring up," said Nockashima, "with big howl but no pants. Just drawers for Alfred."
"The poor chap seems to have escaped not entirely without honor," observed Mr. Pebble, "although it was just drawers for him. Were they long, Nockashima, those drawers?"
"Yes, boss, with bags," said the Jap. "Quite funny."
"She may have been naked," put in Spray, hoping to cast a feeble beam of morality into the darkly unmoral jungle of her little servant's mind, "but she was far from being a lady. She actually attempted to take off Mr. Pebble's pants."
"Yes, madam," agreed Nocka sociably. "I saw that, too. Very active occasion. She pretty good."
"Nocka," put in Spray severely, "you can take yourself off without any more personal observations, or I'll chuck you out on your ear."
"Yes, madam," murmured the small man, with one of his quick bows.
This time, when Nocka withdrew he made no attempt to turn back. He had read correctly the danger signals sparking in the eyes of madam.
"That naked lady doesn't seem to be having much luck," observed Mr. Pebble, looking with a faint grin after the retreating figure of the little Jap.
"She's making progress," replied Spray. "She succeeded in getting your shirt tails out and the chauffeur's pants off. Anything may happen when her technique improves. Still, I contend her methods are too disconcerting. They tend to make the subject forget the object of the assault."
"Exactly," agreed Rex Pebble. "A man is accustomed to take the initiative in such affairs."
"But they don't take it often enough," replied Spray Summers. "There should be an open season for unmarried women over a certain age."
"From the little I've been able to observe of the modern young woman," said Mr. Pebble, "assault seems no longer necessary. I have an idea there should be a closed season for men."
"You don't have to worry about that," replied Spray. "Your season is closed for good."
"Yes," said Mr. Pebble regretfully. "My hunting days are done."
"And I am no longer hunted," added Spray. "All I am is an old abandoned quarry whose feet have been run ragged."
"I tell you' what let's do," said Mr. Pebble, seized by a sudden impulse. "Let's strip off our clothes and take a dip in the pool."
"Are you craftily trying to get me to help you look for that naked lady?" demanded Spray Summers. "We haven't been in the pool for years. The shock might kill us."
"What if it does kill us?" replied Mr. Pebble, now reckless from many cocktails. "It would be as good a way to go out as any. My heart is ready to call it a day at the slightest provocation. Let's take a chance. The cool water might soothe your tired feet."
This last possibility did much to break down the woman's resistance, which at best had never been strong.
"Give me another cocktail," she said, "and I might consider it, although I think the idea is perfectly mad." She accepted the proffered glass and polished off its contents with professional celerity. As the potently stimulating concoction was assimilated into her system the idea lost some of its madness and her mood became more yielding. "Your suggestion has its points," she resumed, breaking the short silence. "It might be fun at that. We'll take our last swim, and if we do die it will save us a lot of time and trouble."
"You always were a game kid," said Mr. Pebble approvingly. "Especially where foolishness was concerned. Come on, let's strip."
"I'd like to be foolish again," replied Spray. "And this certainly seems foolish to me."
A few minutes later two mother-naked figures were standing on the edge of the pool. Had Nockashima been watching—as he probably was—he would have found the occasion highly diverting. The years had added flesh to Spray Summers' body and removed it from Mr. Pebble's. Of the two it was the man whose figure appeared the more youthful. Spray was fat and flaccid, given to sagging here and there and bulging in various places. When she had finished with her body she had shamefully let it down, and now it was taking its revenge. Rex Pebble still remained as straight and slim as a boy, but a great deal more knobby.
"I hate you," declared Spray Summers, regarding him enviously. "You remain the same from year to year while all I do is get fatter and more jellified. It isn't fair. I hate my body."
"See that scar," said Mr. Pebble, pointing to a long white line on his right leg. "I got that twenty years ago when you pushed me into the fireplace. The andirons did it. It doesn't seem all that time ago, does it?"
"No," replied Spray. "Look at this one." She lifted her left foot and displayed a wicked scar. "That came from stepping on a broken glass during one of my less responsible moments. It seems only yesterday. I can even recall the doctor's face and how I accused him of not knowing his business. That was a wild party."
"Just a couple of old battlers," said Rex Pebble with a grin. "Weather-beaten and dishonorably scarred."
"I've got some on my head," replied Spray Summers.
"I was always knocking it against things that refused to budge."
"You were terribly unfortunate that way," agreed Mr. Pebble reminiscently. "Always being patched, or stitched, or turning blue in places."
"I bruised so easily," replied Spray, "and you could never learn to keep your great hands to yourself."
"In those unregenerate days," said Mr. Pebble, "your body attracted my great hands like a magnet."
"Excuse please," a voice broke in behind them. "I catch sight of unfrocked bodies, so I bring towels."
With admirable presence of mind Spray Summers and Mr. Pebble snatched the towels from the Japanese and draped them about themselves to the best advantage. "You think of everything, don't you?" said Spray, in an evil voice. "If I wasn't so busy hiding my person I'd like to break your neck!"
"I not think of this," declared Nockashima. "This occasion too much for me. When I see boss and madam without stitch, I think naked lady come back and take clothes. I bring towels so not catch cold."
"I'm the only naked lady around here," said Spray Summers tartly. "Who's this person?"
"I beg your pardon," said a tall elderly gentleman, emerging from a clump of bushes. "I really wasn't going to make my presence known under the circumstances, but seeing you don't seem to mind——"
"Who told you that?" demanded Mr. Pebble. "I mind a lot."
"What were you doing in those bushes?" Spray Summers put in. "Do you happen to be a Peeping Thomas?"
"Far from it," replied the stranger. "I was merely trying to spare your feelings, but as I said, seeing you don't seem to mind——"
"I do wish you'd stop telling us we don't seem to mind," Spray interrupted impatiently. "If it wasn't for this towel I'd be groveling on my face in an agony of embarrassment."
"Will you be so good as to state your business," said Mr. Pebble, "and then clear out? This isn't a permanent exhibition, you know."
"Most assuredly," replied the gentleman politely. "An off moment, so to speak. It occurred to me in passing that you might be interested in some old and rare."
"Are you the man with the steak?" asked Spray Summers, out of a clear sky.
"I beg your pardon," said the old gentleman. "Where does steak come in?"
"I don't know that it does," replied Spray. "I just thought you might be trying to interest us in some old and rare steak. Mr. Henry ate ours all up."
"That was too bad of Mr. Henry," said the old gentleman with vague insincerity, looking reprovingly at Mr. Pebble.
"I didn't eat the steak," Mr. Pebble told him. "Mr. Henry is a bloodhound. That's a dog. Just who and what are you?"
"Look!" cried Nockashima. "Fifi, she come, too."
The group turned and watched the excited approach of Spray Summers' dangerously pretty French maid. What with her high-heeled shoes, her undulating hips, and the mincing steps she took, the girl was literally tripping across the grass.
"My word," observed the purveyor of old and rare. "This begins to look more and more like a musical comedy."
"All we need is a chorus of neighbors," said Mr. Pebble bitterly.
"Madam!" exclaimed Fifi. "What can one do? This is an affair of love. Privacy is most important at such times. These men are not amiable thus to delay your pleasure."
`°My God," breathed Mr. Pebble. "Are all women indecent? This maid of yours has put us on the spot."
"A thousand pardons!" cried the elderly gentleman. "I had no idea I was interrupting a——"
"Shut up!" shouted Mr. Pebble.
"It's quite all right, Fifi," said her mistress. "We can control ourselves. But I don't know what's come over everybody. Nockashima wants to keep us from catching cold; you want us to do something altogether different and better; this man keeps mouthing about old and rare, and we want to go swimming. Everything's all mixed up. Why don't you take them away and stop trying to memorize every joint in Mr. Pebble's enfeebled body?"
"Some are not present," said Fifi.
"That's just too bad," flung back Rex Pebble. "They're present but concealed."
"My word," murmured the Old and Rare. "This is better than a musical comedy. It's more like a burlesque."
"That monsieur I will take away," declared Fifi, "but not the unclean Japanese. He made a lewd suggestion a little while ago, then with a grip incroyable in one so small followed it up with a pinch." Here Fifi patted herself with a gentle but unabashed hand. "And, madam, I bruise so easily. There will be a spot on that place there."
"So do I," said Spray sympathetically. "I sometimes wonder if that isn't why we are built so large. You know —just to have room for the pinches of unclean men. And the more unclean they are the more pinches we get."
"A small pinch, yes," replied Fifi. "One can understand —one can even enjoy. That is a friendly thing and to be expected. But that man there, he has the fingers of steel. His clutch is like a trap. He makes me push a great cry even when Madam entertains."
"The wicked little beast," said Spray. "It seems to be a habit with him."
"It is, madam," replied Fifi, elevating her round tragic eyes. "It is a mania—a depravity. Pinch, pinch, pinch, all the time it's pinch. I get no rest, and sit down only with groans of distress. The small man with the talons, he is making my life miserable. I grow old from his fingers."
"If I not pinch," put in Nockashima, "Fifi get glum. Then she flaunt it and get it in way of work. I pinch and Fifi curse, then start sing so happily about la-la-la.. Who is this la-la-la?"
"Not now, Nockashima," protested Mr. Pebble. "We will go into la-la-la later. Everything will be explained, including the technique of pinching evil-thinking French maids."
"I pinch baroness," replied Nocka. "She not cry. She giggle like girl."
"Then shoots your leg full of holes," put in Spray Summers.
"Ha!" cried Fifi, completely forgetting herself. "So the depraved one not content with mine also pinches those of others. He is a dirty cow and his mother never said no to a sailor. Upon the occasion of his next attempt, me, I will bite off his fingers."
With a flip toss of her pretty head Fifi, the fair product of France, swayed gracefully across the lawn, her flexible torso keeping rhythm with her emotions. Nockashima looked after her undecidedly, quite obviously disturbed by some inner conflict.
"Why should my mother say no to a sailor?" he asked
Mr. Pebble. "That girl not know my mother. She crazy."
"Don't worry, Nocka," said Mr. Pebble. "I don't understand her either. There's no reason in the world why your mother should have said no to a sailor. There's no reason why your mother should have talked to a sailor at all."
"I go find out," replied Nockashima.
With an extra quick duck of his head the little Jap spell across the grass and overtook the French maid. Hurling the mangled remains of the English language at each other they disappeared from view behind the garden gate, from the other side of which Fifi promptly pushed a great cry.
"He's at it again," said Spray Summers darkly.
"At what?" asked Mr. Pebble.
"Do you want me to show you?" she demanded.
"You're showing the world already," he answered briskly, then addressed himself to the elderly gentleman. "They're all gone except you," he said. "When are you going?"
"As soon as we've settled this little business of the old and rare," replied the gentleman.
"Listen, mister," said Spray Summers. "I'm old, but I'm not so rare. If you don't clear out pronto I'm going to get tough as hell."
"You are," replied the elderly gentleman, but whether it was a question or a simple statement of fact neither Spray nor Mr. Pebble could decide.
"Couldn't you dignify this discussion," Mr. Pebble suggested rather hopelessly, "by giving yourself some sort of name?"
"Heaven strike me pink!" the old gentleman exclaimed. "I entirely forgot my letter. I have one, you know, but so much has been going on—what I mean to say is, I already feel a part of the family."
"Then don't," said Spray crudely.
The letter he gave to Mr. Pebble read as follows:
The individual who hands you this note seems to enjoy being known as Major Lynnhaven Jaffey. I doubt if he remembers his real name, having had occasion to change it so often. He has been everything from a soldier of fortune to a high-class swindler. I know he's a first-rate forger because he raised a check on me quite successfully.
However, he's a diverting rogue, and in view of his unique qualifications I thought he might be ideally fitted for the advertising profession. I am sure you will have much in common. He is all yours if the police don't get him first.
"That's very nice," said Mr. Pebble with a false laugh when he had finished reading the letter. "He speaks quite highly of you, Major Jaffey."
"He should," replied the Major enigmatically. "Now if you would care to give me a small check for a few items I should——"
"Skillfully make it a large one," Mr. Pebble finished for him. "Don't go on. I know all about it, Major. Why don't you toddle back to the house and call aloud for a long drink? We'll talk the matter over later."
For a fleeting moment the Major permitted himself to look slightly distressed; then the bland smile returned to his not unhandsome face.
"A thousand thanks," he replied. "A small drop of something would not be entirely unwelcome." Here he bowed gallantly to Spray Summers. "In the meantime," he continued, "I hope you enjoy your swim or whatever it was you were about to do."
He turned on his heel and strode across the lawn, which was just as well for all concerned, because Spray had it on the tip of her tongue to call the Major a big bum. Instead, she contented herself by sitting down on the flags and dipping her feet in the water. Rex Pebble sat down beside.
"That old man," she observed, "has a very bad mind."
"According to Tom's letter," said Mr. Pebble, "he's a very bad old man all over. I like bad old men."
"You should," commented Spray. "That's why you're so fond of yourself. What an odd sort of evening it's been. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if a couple of lions came bounding across the lawn and tearfully pleaded to be allowed to listen to Little Orphan Annie."
With the utmost conservatism Mr. Pebble lowered himself into the pool until he was standing on the bottom waist high in water. Turning to Spray he was surprised to see her examining her foot with an expression of profound astonishment.
"What's up now?" he inquired. "Feel any better?"
"Look at them!" Spray cried, holding out her feet to him. "And take a look at those legs. They couldn't be prettier if they belonged to a girl of twenty."
Mr. Pebble looked at the proffered legs and even went so far as to feel them.
"They look swell," he admitted, "and they feel even better. What's happened to them?"
"I don't know," replied the delighted Spray. "It just happened. Maybe it's the water. If it is, you should be fixed up fine by now. Are you?"
"What do you mean?" asked Mr. Pebble.
"Come here a second," said Spray.
"Nothing doing," replied Mr. Pebble. "I don't like the look in your eyes."
He turned his back to his mistress, peered eagerly down in the water, then took a quick jump. With an incoherent cry of exultation he flung himself on his face and began to swim the crawl with the vigor of a man far younger than his sixty years. Spray watched him with growing astonishment as his long arms cleft the water; then, breathing a silent prayer, she slipped into the pool. The moment the water closed over her head a feeling of buoyant happiness flooded through her. The blood in her veins grew strong with life, and weariness fled from her eyes. When Rex Pebble swam back to her from the other end of the pool he found a beautiful young woman looking down at him from the flags, a woman he had not seen for years save when memory had evoked her vision from the past.
"Hurry!" cried the woman. "Get out of that water quick, or you'll drop below the age of puberty."
"That would never do," said Mr. Pebble, springing from the pool.
It was a fine figure of a man who took the woman in his arms.
"What a kiss!" murmured Spray. "What a kiss. Do you remember how! Tell me, Rex, is my face burning? How old do you think I look?"
"Not a day over twenty-five," he declared. "Has anything happened to me?"
Spray inspected the length of the long, lean body, hesitated a brief moment, then politely averted her eyes.
"I should say it has," she announced decidedly. "Why, Rex Pebble, I haven't seen you like that for years." She paused for a moment, then added demurely, "I mean your white hair is all gone. You might be thirty-five, but I doubt it."
Mr. Pebble looked both proud and embarrassed.
"I say," he said, "what do you think has happened to us?"
"Darned if I know," replied Spray, eagerly examining various points of interest about her body. "I haven't had time to think. With a figure like mine I doubt if I ever will."
"I put it down to Baggage," said Mr. Pebble. "The contact of her body has fired this pool with vitality."
"Make it your business to see that her contact is confined to the pool," Spray Summers warned him, then added with a mocking smile, "Mr. Pebble, don't you think we are wasting a lot of time?"
"I think so," said Mr. Pebble.
Once more he took her in his arms and held her there for a long time.
"Thank God," murmured Spray piously, "it's quite dark now."
"Yes," replied Mr. Pebble, "it covers a multitude of sins."
"I could stand a multitude of sins," said Spray. "You see, I've been born again, and I have no sins left."
"Something should be done about that," said Rex Pebble, "or you'll fall into the error of self-righteousness. I wonder if the door to the pavilion is locked?"
"If it is you can break it down," replied Spray. "What does a small door mean in our young lives?"
"It might mean quite a lot," observed Mr. Pebble.
As they walked down the path in the direction of the pavilion Spray began to laugh softly to herself.
"What's it all about?" Mr. Pebble wanted to know.
"This," replied Spray, "is just about going to burn Sue up."
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