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The Glorious Pool


Thorne Smith



QUIET had returned to the garden. the grass and bushes were powdered with silver dust. Moonlight and starlight sifted through the air. A pale unearthly radiance lay over all things save where the tracery of trees tossed weirdly beautiful tapestries across the close-cut lawn. In a near-by bush a fastidious wing fluttered impatiently with a little drumming sound, momentarily ruffling the silence which was lulled again to tranquillity by the subdued chirps of drowsing birds. Far below in the dark oblivion slashed by the winding valley the lights of the little villages winked vaingloriously back at the stars. Lite an urgent summons from a lost world the rhythmic thrumming of a train rose on the still air, and the pain-edged voice of its whistle filled the night with a restless loneliness. Then silence again and enchantment, as the stars cast coins in the pool.

And into this silvery silence two white figures emerged from the small pavilion and mingled with the night. The silence was rudely shattered by the vulgar sound of a hand slapping bare flesh. No chance now for enchantment. They were back again, those two mortals, and with them they had brought a lusty love of life.

"Well, Dame Quickly," exclaimed Mr. Pebble with unwonted commonness as he briskly whacked his mistress on the flank, "there's life in the old mare yet—what?"

,"Ouch!" protested Dame Quickly. "Can't you ever learn when it's time to let a lady alone? What a way for a man to act."

"You should consider your self flattered," responded Rex Pebble.

"Flattened would be more like it," observed Spray Summers.

"You're upset," said Mr. Pebble with unruffled urbanity. "Listen, Spray, I can scarcely realize we're young again."

"If you can't realize that," Spray retorted with unnecessary significance, "I can't think of any new way to make the fact clear."

"Let's turn to athletics," Mr. Pebble hastily suggested. "Come on old darling, I'll race you to the other end of the pool."

"I will if you give me half a chance," Spray told him. "No monkey business in the water."

For a moment they stood poised on the edge of the Pool; then, like two living spears, cleanly sheathed themselves in its star-plunged depths. Behind them a trail of sparkling drops fell and twinkled in the moon-light. By the time the swimmers had reached the far end of the pool two years had been subtracted from their respective ages. And when Spray's gleaming body slipped sinuously from the wayer she stood revealed in the silvery light a beautiful girl of twenty-three. Although her figure was full blown and luxurious with all the approved pneumatic features, still it carried the speed and lith, sleek grace of a soft-footed cat of the jungle. An instinctive temptress was Spray, as are most women, which is just as well for the good of the species. Long lashes, wet from the pool, half veiled her large, dark eyes which were very wicked and charming. Her full lips, a trifle slack, were parted in an indolent smile. Hers was the fascination of youth made dangerous by a world of experience. There were two small ears, a short, selfish nose, and a wilderness of copper-colored hair, now matted to her head and spangled with drops of water.

The man who stood beside her was no mean companion, although it would never have occurred to an artist to single him out for a model for an epic advertisement of drawers, cigarettes, or motorcars. Ten years the senior of his mistress, he had an attractively knit body, long of limb and loosely jointed. And his muscles were not of the knobbily obtrusive variety, being of the sinewy pattern that told of a flowing continuity of endurance rather than brute strength. Yet in spite of his youthful appearance some traces of the man of sixty still lingered in his face. Unlike the more volatile Spray, he had not lightly cast aside the disillusioning knowledge of a past which had now so strangely become the future. His clear blue eyes were as wise and defensively skeptical as they had been, and the deep lines that cleft his cheeks gave an odd effect of maturity. His hair was rather silly, sandy colored and too finely spun. It did much to destroy the natural dignity of the man's expression. Beneath the eyes the cheek bones were harshly prominent, and the skin that slanted down to the chin had a firm, hungry leanness. His long thin face bore a stamp of distinction, a patrician type, the strong, aquiline nose made somewhat less formidable by the mouth beneath it, with the slow smiling lips a little bitter yet wholly pleasure-loving. It was a difficult face to read, so marked was it with conflicting characteristics—the face of a man who could scale the loftiest heights or else take a tremendous tumble down them with an equal thoroughness of purpose. One thing was fairly certain, Rex Pebble would never stand still in the same place long.

"You know," remarked the girl, lazily flexing her body, "if we keep fooling round this pool we'll be getting childish next."

"Even that," observed Mr. Pebble, "would be preferable to senile decay."

"I like us just as we are," declared Spray, "with a few cocktails tossed in just for good measure. Are there any left?"

Rex Pebble tested the shaker, then filled two glasses and extended one to Spray.

"Here's to that lush nymph, Baggage," he said, flooding his drink with moonlight, "a fair, virile wench with a bountiful disposition."

"You better lay off that supersexed wanton," Spray Summers warned him. "No one yet has ever accused me of being stingy. Furthermore, there's your old wife to be considered. What are you going to do about her?"

"Great guns!" exclaimed Mr. Pebble, suddenly concerned. "My wife! What is she going to do about me? is a lot more like it. I'll still carry on, of course. There's such a thing as loyalty. A chap can't very decently abandon a legitimately old wife simply because he happens to have suddenly grown backwards."

"Perhaps she'll die soon," said Spray consolingly. "It's almost time she did."

"God!" ejaculated Mr. Pebble in a shocked voice. "What a thing to suggest! Would you like to have me murder her, perhaps?"

"Not immediately," she replied calmly. "I want my revenge first. When she sees me all dolled up in the latest and most youthful styles she'll probably be glad to die."

"I hope you won't rub it in too much," Rex Pebble told her.

"Don't worry about me," said Spray. "You have quite enough to worry about as it is. There's your business connections, for example. Do you think people are going to believe you when you tell them you're Rex Pebble?"

"I don't care how passionate a woman may be," Mr. Pebble declared in a disgusted voice, "the practical side of her nature is sure to crop out at the wrong moment." Thoughtfully he sipped his cocktail, then resumed: "Indubitably there are going to be no end of embarrassing complications, but on this happy occasion I steadfastly refuse to anticipate them. Trouble can find its way about without my assistance."

"Here comes a compact little chunk of it now," observed Spray Summers, hastily snatching up a towel. "That runt of a heathen is running as if his heart would break, if he had one. Wonder what's taken possession now of his undeveloped mind?"

In a condition of mental and physical demoralization, Nockashima arrested his mad progress and stood scrutinizing the two nude figures, his small, rapidly blinking eyes generating hopeless bewilderment.

"This night," he announced at last, "the nakedest I recall. No clothes for anybody. Maybe I take off mine too."

"No," said Mr. Pebble hastily. "Don't do that. Someone must stay dressed."

"Perhaps yes," agreed the little Jap. "You see two other naked bodies knocking about? Old naked bodies—not so good."

"The parchment-faced little ape," muttered Spray Summers. "I like his nerve."

"Listen, Nocka," said Rex Pebble. "Those old bodies you referred to so offensively are new again. Here they are, standing right before you. Don't you recognize our voices?"

Nockashima received this startling information with truly admirable self-control.

"How nice," he said approvingly. "Hot stuff now."

"Just what does he mean by that?" inquired Spray. "Is there no bottom to his depravity?"

"Don't ask him to elaborate," replied Mr. Pebble.

"Voices just same," continued the grinning servant, "but bodies quite different. Very rapid improvement. Boss look similar to young nephew, Mist' Kippie. Madam some wow. Look like naked lady. Madam have every-thing. Pretty good, I, think."

"Only pretty good," put in Spray tartly. "They don't come any better. I'm the swellest-looking naked lady you ever clapped an eye on, you squat myopic dreg."

"Madam look like naked lady on next lawn," declared the myopic dreg as if he had not heard. "You know, boss—pants snatcher."

The little man's eyes were not as myopic as Spray had told him. She did look remarkably like the nymph, Baggage. Her half-parted lips had the same provocative smile, and her body the same brazen challenge.

"You do look a lot like Baggage," remarked Mr. Pebble, regarding her curiously. "I knew there was something just a little different about you. Every now and then I've had a feeling she was looking out at me through your eyes. I hope it isn't a case of atavism. If she has merged her peculiar talents and disposition with yours there won't be a pair of trousers left in the countryside."

"How come you and Madam so much younger, boss?" Nockashima wanted to know. "Big surprise to me. Head take spin. Very strange thing, this. Very strange."

"It is," agreed Mr. Pebble. "And it has to do with magic. Some day, Nocka, I'll tell you all about it."

"Magic," repeated the Japanese. "You believe magic, boss?"

"I'm afraid there's no way of getting around it," replied Mr. Pebble.

"I know man who got around magic," declared Nockashima. "He Japanese fella, too."

"How do you mean?" asked Spray Summers, interested in spite of herself.

"By squeeze," replied the servant.

"What did he squeeze?" demanded Rex Pebble, then hastily added, "Think well before you answer."

"Well," vouchsafed Nocka, his eyes growing even more animated, "this man I know meet fox once. Fox suddenly turn into beautiful naked lady. By and by man and lady go sleep. When man wake up fox sleep on pillow beside him. Man nudge fox. 'Where my beautiful naked lady?' he ask. 'I that beautiful naked lady,' declare fox, much amused. 'Maybe yes to another fox,' say man all excited, 'but you great disappointment to me.' Here man squeeze down own throat of fox. Fox turn into big snake. 'Goodness gracious,' says man, 'this get worse and worse. This quite impossible now.' He keep on with squeeze, and snake turn into little flea. 'What idea?' demand man. 'Little flea not help matters any. Only small strand of patience remain.' Flea only giggle with rage-provoking mirth. 'You do that on other side of face,' grit man, and with both hands squeeze down on neck of little flea."

"How in God's name," demanded Spray in a thoroughly exasperated voice, "could that friend of yours squeeze down with both hands on the neck of a little flea? A flea hasn't got any neck to speak of—not even a big one. You're just telling us a long string of tiresome lies. How did it turn out?"

"Well," resumed Nockashima, drawing a deep breath, "flea make great moan and groan, then utter piercing scream and turn into lobster, and lobster turn into sheep. 'Getting close,' say man, 'but not quite.' He squeeze some more, and sheep turn into naked lady. 'Hullo,' say man. 'Where you been?' 'I been in trouble,' say naked lady, very hoarse. 'No more choke now, if please.' So man take hand from throat of naked lady and place elsewhere. Naked lady giggle just like flea. 'Suppose I turn into angry tiger?' she ask. 'If do,' say man, `you have to hurry like hell."'

"He did?" said Spray, now deeply interested. "And what did the naked lady do?"

"She not turn into angry tiger," replied Nockashima. "She give up."

"It was about time she did," declared Spray. "Just imagine, going through all that for no earthly reason. She should have given up in the first place. The man must have been frantic."

"That man my cousin," the small servant concluded proudly. "He quite fond of magic."

"He had every reason to be," said Mr. Pebble. "I'm quite fond of magic myself."

"Would you mind telling me," Spray Summers unamiably demanded of the little yellow man, "if you came streaking across that lawn like a bat out of hell for the express purpose of telling us a long, lying, and very dirty story about fleas, foxes, and naked ladies, not to mention your lecherous cousin?"

Nockashima's expression underwent a sudden and startling change. His features were twisted into lines of consternation.

"Goodness gracious!" he exclaimed. "So sorry, madam. Bad business back at house. We are all very deep in trouble."

"I knew it," declared Spray in tones of deep conviction. "I knew it from the moment he opened his lying mouth. That old and rare major has either walked off with all the silver or else set fire to the house. Which is it, Nocka?"

"You quite right, madam," said the servant, gazing with surprise upon his mistress. "House on fire all right, but not like you say."

"What do you mean?" demanded Rex Pebble quickly knotting the towel round his waist. "Speak up, you graven image."

"It was steak," spoke up the graven image obediently.

"I see it all now," said Spray with suppressed fury. "The steak got loose and went dashing about setting fire to the house. It's all very clear." She was silent a moment, then suddenly shouted at the startled Jap, "Be quick, weazened little liar of a man, what did the steak do this time?"

"Oh well," said Nockashima, a little sadly. "You know how it is, madam. Steak catch fire and burn oven up and oven catch fire and burn room up and room——"

"I know how it is," cried Spray in a wild voice. "And room catch fire and burn house up. We could play this game indefinitely. Come on, Rex, let's run like hell."

Following the example Mr. Pebble had set with his towel, Spray raced across the lawn, the sketchily draped Mr. Pebble at her heels, and the weazened little liar of a man, thoughtfully carrying the cocktail shaker, making scrambling noises in the rear while idly toying with the idea of suicide.

A few minutes later the three of them burst into the kitchen, which was filled with smoke and overflowing with firemen. Water applied with indiscriminate generosity composed the third and most disturbing element save one. That element was Fifi, the French maid. She was pushing both cries and firemen about with impartial zeal.

"Malheureuse!" she was lamenting as the group arrived. "This is conduct of the most furious. Madam will be decomposed. Allez-vous en, soiled cows! Vien vite."

"What kind of lingo is that broad gargling?" a fire-man was asking his chief when the voice of Spray Summers cut through the smoke and confusion.

"Nocka, you rat!" she cried. "What have you done with that steak? I'm going to have my dinner if I have to eat it on the lawn."

"Too crisp, madam," protested Nockashima. "Steak start all the trouble."

"Then fill that shaker," she snapped. "I'll drink my damn dinner. Where did all these silly-looking men come from? Tell them to clear out."

Fifi gave a small shriek that sounded more pleased than embarrassed.

"There are two nudes!" she exclaimed. "Regardez-la."

"Say, Chief," demanded the inquisitive fireman, "what kind of a house is this anyway? A sporting house?"

"You ask too many questions," retorted the chief. "Do you know where the fire is? I can't find a flame."

Upon the entrance of Spray and Mr. Pebble the business of fighting fire had been brought to a sudden and complete stop. The firemen were now standing about, their expressions registering emotions running from profound disapproval to open admiration, according to the characters of their individual owners.

"Say, sister," a voice sang out, "have you been playing strip poker?"

"Listen, lady," another voice called, "you're a big girl now. Why don't you hide your shame?"

"Hey, buddy," a third voice inquired. "Who do you think you are—Strangler Lewis?"

"Tell him for me," said another, "his cute little towel isn't on straight."

Nervously clutching his sole claim to decency, Mr. Pebble turned to confront his tormentors, then the hopelessness of the situation overcame him.

"Nockashima," he said wearily. "Are those cocktails finished yet?"

"Gord amighty!" observed a fireman in an awed voice. "With the house burning down around them all those two seem to care about is eating and drinking and carrying on foolish. I can't figure these society birds out."

"I could carry on foolish myself," contributed a brother-in-arms, regarding Spray Summers with unconcealed admiration. "That dame is making me downright silly."

At this point the chief decided it was high time to intervene.

"Say, lady," he said, stepping up to Spray. "You'd better run upstairs and put on some clothes. My men can't keep their minds on their work with you sticking around. I'm sort of slipping myself."

Spray laughed softly.

"What about the fire?" she asked.

"We're looking for that now," said the chief, scratching his sorely perplexed head. "There's got to be a fire somewhere, what with all this smoke, but damn me if I can find a single flame."

An anguished cry burst from Mr. Pebble, and the assembled firemen broke out into a chorus of coarse laughter. Spray turned quickly and looked at her companion in nudity, then added her voice to the chorus. Mr. Pebble's towel lay uselessly at his feet. Furiously he wheeled about and confronted the small French maid. This one, after a rapid survey, raised her wild eyes to heaven.

"This," she said in a voice choked with emotion, "is far more than I asked. M'sieu is too impulsive. We are not alone."

"Why did you take my towel off?" demanded Mr. Pebble.

"I wanted to fix him," exclaimed the maid. "It, as you say in your language."

The laughter of the firemen increased in volume. "It?" repeated Mr. Pebble, in a shocked whisper. "It? Just what do you mean, Fifi?"

"That!" cried Fifi, pointing, and Mr. Pebble shrank back from the unabashed finger. "The towel, m'sieu. Me, I want to fix that towel. It was about to descend."

Here she stooped suddenly and deftly flipped the towel. round Mr. Pebble's waist.

"Here! Here!" he exclaimed, seizing the towel with both hands. "Don't do that, Fifi. I can manage it." Thinking Mr. Pebble was endeavoring to toss the towel aside, Fifi struggled all the harder.

"But M'sieu should wear at least a little something," she protested. "These firemen, they have no appreciation."

"Take your hands away from that body," Spray Summers broke in angrily as she strode across the room. "Your appreciation is altogether too personal."

But the little French maid was not to be so easily turned from her purpose. Not recognizing her rejuvenated mistress, she clung gamely to her end of the towel while Spray snatched the other from Rex Pebble's nerveless grasp. Once more he was bereft of adornment.

"Oh, I say," he protested, dancing agilely after the hotly contested towel in the vain hope of obtaining some small degree of protection from it. "Can't you two women settle this matter amicably? Why not give me the towel? I'm still quite old enough to know what to do with it, and," he added earnestly, "I want to do it very badly."

"Assuredly, M'sieu has sufficient age," said Fifi. "I could see that at a glance."

"Did you hear that, Rex?" cried Spray. "This product of the Parisian boulevards has been giving you the once over."

"So has everyone else," said Rex Pebble in a hopeless voice. "Where the hell is Nockashima? Hey, Nocka, bring me a tablecloth or anything else that's handy. I'd be glad to get even a doily."

There was the sound of a great deal of china falling crashingly to the floor. This was almost immediately followed by the lurching entrance of the Japanese, negligently trailing a tablecloth. It was plain to see that the little man was far gone in drink.

"Here is, boss," he announced thickly. "I snatch off table plenty quick."

"So we heard," said Mr. Pebble dryly as he took the tablecloth and draped it round his body in a sketchy imitation of a Roman toga.

"That right, boss," said Nockashima approvingly. "All things concealed from prying eye now. You look so nice. Just like long-dead statue."

In the meantime, Spray, in trying to gain possession of Mr. Pebble's abandoned towel, stood in imminent peril of losing her own. Preferring to retain her dignity rather than to win a hollow victory, she suddenly relinquished her hold on the towel, with the result that Fifi was sent hurtling through space into the arms of the little Jap, who clung to her for a moment, then carried her with him to the floor from which she promptly began to push a series of frantic cries.

Upon this scene of utter confusion a third nude figure entered and stood peering down with polite interest on the two struggling bodies. This third nude figure was also draped in a large bath towel. And the figure, such as it was, belonged to Major Lynnhaven Jaffey.

"I was taking a bit of a shower," he explained to the room in general, "when, hearing a great commotion, I thought that possibly something might be wrong. Apparently there is."

"Everything is wrong," replied Spray Summers. "Every damn thing."

"I see," said the Major suavely. "This has all the ear-marks of a very low stag party. How I enjoyed them in my youth—the lower the better. I hope I'm not interrupting the entertainment."

"Not at all," Mr. Pebble assured him. "Nothing seems to be able to interrupt this entertainment. And in the meantime the house is afire."

"Great heavens!" exclaimed the Major, nervously fingering his towel. "My old and rare will burn."

"Your old and rare what?" demanded the chief in an uncompromising tone of voice.

"Never mind," said the Major firmly. "Never mind. I must protect my old and rare."

And with this he quickly departed,

"Damn me," said the chief, greatly puzzled, "if I can see why his old and rare should burn any faster than the rest of him. This is the craziest house I've ever been in. What's wrong with all you people, anyway?"

"I've got it, Chief," declared the inquisitive fireman. "We've been lured to a nudist colony."

"Oh, yeah?" cried Spray Summers in a nasty voice. "I wish someone would lure you to a graveyard! I'm getting sick of this. Come on, Rex, let's go upstairs." At the door she paused and looked back at the little Jap upon whose deflated chest Fifi was now sitting. "Nockashima," said Spray severely, "stop pinching that French trollop and snap to it with those cocktails. This smoke has made me thirsty."

"I not pinch French trollop," said Nocka, in a weak voice. "She sitting on it, madam, and me, too."

"Let the little drunkard up, Fifi," continued Spray.

"And give those dull-looking firemen something to drink. It might sharpen their wits a bit."

"Madam," said Fifi, looking curiously at the woman standing in the doorway, "who are you?"

"I'm your mistress," replied Spray coolly. "I've had my face lifted and everything else, too."

"And the M'sieu," asked the maid, "is he a new one, madam, or is he the old?"

"He is the old," answered Spray. "And was he lifted, too?"

"Entirely out of himself," said Spray, "but remember this, Fifi, just what was lifted should be no concern of yours."

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