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Rain In The Doorway
THE NEW PARTNER
"NO," said Mr. Owen vaguely when he had recovered a little. "I didn't know."
"Neither did we," both Mr. Dinner and Major Britt-Britt said in unison. "Is this man our new partner?"
"Yes," replied Mr. Larkin in the manner of one taking a new automobile out for a spin. "Do you like him?"
Mr. Owen would not have been greatly surprised to hear himself referred to as Model A.
"How did it happen?" he asked.
"Well," began Mr. Horace Larkin, "last night it occurred to me that we could do with a new partner— some congenial chap to share with us our many responsibilities. Do you like my office?"
"What?" gasped Mr. Owen, startled by the abruptness of the question. "Oh, yes. It's lovely."
"I rather fancy it myself," confided Mr. Larkin, gazing appreciatively about him at the huge pillow-heaped divans, the colourful oriental hangings, and the gleaming rug-scattered floor. He even delicately sniffed the scented air. "Isn't that nude stunning?" he continued. "The one with the man."
"They both look nude to me," observed Mr. Owen, glancing at the painting indicated, then hastily averting his eyes in holy horror.
"Yes," said Mr. Larkin simply. "That's what's stunning about it. They're both nude together—mother naked. I do a lot of business here, a lot of interviewing. You understand, with my staff, of course."
"I'm afraid I do," replied Mr. Owen. "If you'll pardon my saying so, there's an unmistakable suggestion in this office of an old-time bar-room."
"Is there now?" said Mr. Larkin, greatly pleased. "Well, isn't that a coincidence? Because this room is literally alive with liquor. Let's all have a drink."
"Would you mind going on about how I became a partner?" Mr. Owen asked. "I can't help feeling curious."
"Yes," rumbled the monumental Major. "How did you pick him out?"
"Pardon me," said Mr. Larkin. "Pardon me. My thoughts veer so, I'm surprised I don't have a stroke. So I just made up my mind that the first likely looking gentleman to enter the store in the morning should be our partner and have the privilege of sharing with us our many——"
"We know," interrupted Mr. Dinner rather cynically. "Heavy responsibilities. That, no doubt, will enable you to devote more of your priceless time to your staff work."
"How did you guess?" beamed Mr. Larkin. "Exactly what I had in mind."
"But wasn't I snatched through a doorway?" pursued Mr. Owen. "Or was I snatched through a doorway?" He was groping desperately in what remained of his memory. "Was it raining when I came in?" he continued. "I'm quite sure I remember the rain—steadily falling rain and a woman with heavy-lidded eyes."
"There was rain out there," Mr. Larkin replied, vaguely waving his hand as if in the general direction of some unknown shore. "But I'm sure I saw no woman with heavy-lidded eyes."
"Lucky for her you didn't," observed the Major, "or you'd have snatched her through, too."
"Is that nice, gentlemen, I ask you?" Mr. Larkin asked in gentle reproach. "I am sorry, however, about this heavy-lidded woman. I am fond of heavy-lidded women. They are born without morals and acquire them very slowly—if ever. Tell me, was she worth while?"
"Seemed like a good sort," said Mr. Owen. "A lonely sort. She was standing out in the rain. I don't think she'd have minded if you had snatched her through. She seemed to be looking for a place to go—a cheerful place."
"We all need cheerful places to go at times," observed Mr. Dinner in an odd voice. "Someone to snatch us out of the rain."
This unexpected contribution from Mr. Dinner gave Mr. Owen to feel that he might just possibly be somewhat dead and standing in the presence of the latest thing in angels. He could not, however, quite accept Mr. Larkin as God. That would be painting the lily.
"What door did I happen to come through?" he asked a little uneasily.
"I don't quite remember which door it was," replied Mr. Horace Larkin, and this time Mr. Owen was convinced that his vagueness was deliberately assumed. "Some door—one we very rarely use. Saw you standing in it looking rather at loose ends so I took the liberty of dragging you through. The door is not an exit."
For a few moments no one spoke. Mr. Owen was wondering with mingled emotions about the door that was not an exit. Did he really want an exit? Was there a single thing to which he cared to return—a single person or place? All washed out with the rain. There was a woman. He could not altogether forget Lulu. No one who had been forced to live with her could altogether forget Lulu. But what he remembered was bitter and distressful. To visit Lulu was an event; to live with her a disaster. She was a woman like that—popular only on occasions one had no desire to recall.
"I'm glad," he said at last, "you did pull me out of the rain. Your intervention was providential."
"Then everything is quite all right, isn't it?" cried Mr. Larkin. "But you haven't told us what you would like to sell. First, however, let me officially introduce you to your partners—our partners." He turned to the two gentlemen and eyed them with a faintly ironical glitter, then turned hastily back to Mr. Owen. "A thousand and one pardons, your name has entirely escaped me. My thoughts veer so it's a wonder I don't have convulsions."
Mr. Owen thereupon designated himself with that self-conscious feeling of deficiency characteristic of men when forced to pronounce their names in public.
"Owen," murmured Mr. Dinner. "That's an appropriate name to add to this firm. It's all we ever do."
"How clever he is," said Mr. Larkin, as if speaking about a dog. "By the way, you won't mind if we tack it on last? It will save us from changing the sign. It will read simply, 'Larkin, Britt, Dinner and Owen.' We'll have to shift the 'and' and squeeze up 'Britt.' He needs a little squeezing. Ha! Ha! It's quite jolly having a new partner. I feel better already."
"You're looking well." observed Major Britt-Britt caustically. "A regular human banquet."
"Do I now? That's splendid," replied Mr. Larkin. "Mr. Hector Owen, this is Major Barney Britt-Britt. He gambled his way out of the army. And this is Mr. Luther Dinner, an odd name and an odder type. He is a younger and, I suspect, an intellectually feebler son. Myself, the senior partner in everything save sin and age, was once in the show business. We won this store at a poker game."
"Then you weren't trained in the business," said Mr. Owen.
"I should think not," replied Mr. Larkin, as if stung by the very idea. "We're really supposed to do nothing, that is, little or nothing. And we don't do much, really. Running a store like this is a very simple matter. Buy and sell, buy and sell. You'll enjoy it."
At this moment a studious-looking individual hastily entered the room and began to speak without ceremony.
"The accountants for our stockholders," he announced, "have uncovered those hidden assets you told me to hold out on them. They're raising hell about it."
"So would I," replied Mr. Larkin in an unperturbed voice, "if I were silly enough to be a stockholder. Don't blame them. Can't you hide those assets somewhere else?"
"You talk as if you could tuck assets up your sleeve like rabbits," complained the man.
"Do I now?" exclaimed Mr. Larkin. "I must be veering again. Anyway, I never knew you could tuck rabbits up your sleeve. Always thought it was hats. Can't these accountants be bribed?"
"They can," answered the man, "but it's too late now. The cat's out."
Mr. Larkin looked surprised.
"The cat's out," he repeated. "What cat? Didn't know we had one. I'm immensely partial to cats."
"I mean everyone knows," the man exclaimed. "There isn't any cat."
"Oh, then there isn't any cat," Mr. Larkin went on in a disappointed voice. "I'm sorry, but you keep talking about cats and rabbits and things until it's really no wonder I veer. Surprised I'm not revolving." He turned abruptly to Mr. Dinner. "Take a note," he said. "Remind me about cats."
Mr. Dinner promptly produced a notebook and stood waiting with pencil poised.
"What shall I remind you about cats?." he asked.
"To have some," said Mr. Larkin Napoleonically.
Mr. Dinner wrote laboriously in his notebook.
"How's this?" he asked, reading aloud. "Remind H. Larkin to have some cats."
The senior partner considered this effort for a moment.
"It's very nice," he said at last, "but it might lead to a misunderstanding in case you were found dead some morning, which I for one hope you are. Change 'have cats' to read 'get cats.' I couldn't very well have cats even if I wasn't so busy. Where were we now?"
"It was about those hidden assets," ventured the man.
"But they're not hidden assets." replied Mr. Larkin, "God pity us all. It becomes harder and harder to get away with a thing. Tell me, don't we owe a number of bills?"
The man merely laughed, but that was as good as an answer.
"I don't see how you can laugh about it," Mr. Larkin complained, "because now we'll have to pay them. Take those unhidden assets and pay a lot of bills. Don't give our stockholders a penny. Ask them if they think this store is a bank, and tell them that once more Horace Larkin has saved them from bankruptcy—no, say, a pauper's grave." Dismissing the man, he turned once more to Mr. Owen, who was looking slightly dazed. "But you haven't told us what you want to sell," continued the senior partner.
"No, I haven't," said Mr. Owen dizzily.
"But you will?" coaxed Mr. Larkin.
Mr. Owen thought rapidly. Toys were rather cheerful things. They might be amusing.
"I might do well with toys," he suggested. "Toys of the mechanical sort."
Mr. Larkin's eager expression fell a little.
"I'm afraid you won't fancy our mechanical toys greatly," he remarked. "Do you want to play with them yourself, or sell them, or does it matter?"
"I don't know," replied Mr. Owen. "Does it?"
"If you want to play with them, it does," said Mr. Larkin. "You see we sell mechanical toys on the theory that they are made to be broken. So we buy only broken ones."
"But what good is a broken mechanical toy?" Mr. Owen protested.
"No earthly good," Mr. Larkin readily agreed. "No earthly good at all, but children seem to enjoy them. However, we can get you some unbroken mechanical toys." He cupped his lips in his hands and suddenly called out, "Horrid! Horrid! Where is that boy? And you, too, Green Mould."
Mr. Owen was certain that the senior partner's mind had slipped completely off its frail hinges until he saw two figures dart into the room from opposite directions and dash up to Mr. Larkin. One was an exceedingly horrid-looking boy and the other was an aged man, strongly suggestive of his name.
"They're mine," said Mr. Larkin with a note of pride, pointing to the pair. "All mine. Nobody else wants them."
Mr. Owen, surveying the unadmirable-looking pair, saw no reason why anyone else should. However, he kept his opinion to himself.
"I can't see that," he replied. "They'd make splendid museum pieces."
"They'd do much better in a graveyard," observed the Major feelingly.
"Or in jail," added Mr. Dinner.
"Give them time," said Mr. Larkin, "and they'll probably be in both. Horrid," he continued, addressing the younger of the two, "I want you to induce Green Mould to go down to the Galleries de la Lune and bring back lots of mechanical toys. Charge them to my account. I buy all my things there, any way. They have better stuff than we have, and the prices are much more reasonable."
Mr. Owen looked at the speaker in amazement. The man was as great a danger to himself and his store when honest as when unsuccessfully hiding assets.
"And Blue Mould—or is it Green? I forget which— don't let the grass grow under your feet," Mr. Larkin continued severely to the old man.
"Wot!" piped up the ancient one in a shrill voice. "Right through the pavements?"
"No," scolded Mr. Larkin, "through the floor of the taxi cab. You're going to ride. Won't that be nice?"
Green Mould considered.
"Oo pays?" he demanded. "Ther last time I took er cab fer you it cost me all me cash. God knows when I'll ever get it back."
Mr. Larkin coughed delicately behind his hand.
"Is this the time to speak of trifles?" he demanded, reverting once more to his Napoleonic mood.
"When is?" asked the old man.
"Not now," Mr. Larkin replied.
"Nor ever," muttered Green Mould, shuffling from the room after his companion, Horrid. "Me own money is trifles. His is worse than counterfeit. It don't exist. Oo ever sees it? Yer can play with false money, but yer can't even smell his."
"This is one of those days," said Horace Larkin sadly, "when everyone in the world wants to take our money away from us. I don't like such days. By the way, my dear Mr. Owen, did you ever work for a living?"
"I'm a lawyer of sorts," Mr. Owen admitted modestly.
"Splendid!" cried Mr. Larkin, immediately regaining his blithe spirits. "Fancy that, a lawyer. You should be able to hide practically all our assets."
"He might even find a few," Mr. Dinner suggested hopefully.
"In the meantime," continued Mr. Larkin, "how would you like to sell some books? That's always fun. You'd be surprised at the great quantity of odd people who read books. Some even buy them. I wonder why? Major, will you take our new partner to the Book Department? Let him knock about there until luncheon."
At this moment there sounded a furious bang on the door. Mr. Dinner moved to open it, but was arrested by the voice of Mr. Larkin.
"If you open that door," he said, "a wolf might walk in—a wolf with a bill in his mouth."
A wolf did walk in, and it was not dressed in sheep's clothing. She was hardly in any clothing at all—a tall, good-looking woman artfully draped in a bolt or so of some clinging material. For a moment she stood arrogantly regarding the partners, who returned her gaze uneasily.
"Am I to fall in a stupor of exhaustion?" she demanded in a deep voice, advancing into the room. "I hope not," said Mr. Larkin nervously. "Are you? I hate stupors of exhaustion. Why not lie down? There's lots of room."
"Nobody else is lying down," retorted the woman.
"Do you want us all to lie down?" Mr. Larkin asked her rather helplessly. "Of course, we all could if it will do anything about that stupor of exhaustion."
"Why should I wish all of you to lie down?" the woman coldly demanded. "All of you?"
"We don't know," replied Mr. Larkin. "Have you any reason?"
"What reason would I have to lie down with all of you?" went on the woman.
"Oh, my God!" exploded the Major, then made a violent sound deep in his throat
Mr. Larkin started nervously.
"Don't be like that, Major," he pleaded. "You veer me." Turning once more to the statuesque woman, he asked, "Have you any reason to want to lie down with all of us?"
"I see no reason why I should lie down with any of you." she replied in measured tones.
"Oh." said Mr. Larkin, a little set back. "You don't? I thought you did."
"Do you realise what you're asking me?" the woman continued inexorably.
"No," answered Mr. Larkin hastily. "Or, rather, yes. But for goodness' sake, don't tell us. I feel quite driven to the wall as it is."
"I'd like to drive you through the wall," the woman replied without any show of feeling.
"Would you now?" asked Mr. Owen, glancing round at the walls as if gauging their resistance. "Through the wall. Fancy that."
"I put it up to this gentleman," the woman cried, advancing languorously on Mr. Owen.
"Don't put it up to me," he protested hastily. "I'm new at this business. And besides, I have a feeling I'm married."
"What's that got to do with it?" the woman asked scornfully.
"With what?" gasped Mr. Owen as the woman draped two arms round his neck and leaned so heavily against him he was forced to brace himself as if slanting against a gale.
"You know," murmured the woman with a feminine sort of leer.
"My God! " cried Mr. Larkin. "She's coming unwound. In fact, she's nearly finished. Gentlemen, you must leave at once. This is a most important interview. I could never sit through that luncheon unless I got this off my mind."
"It seems the senior partner gets all the breaks," Mr. Dinner observed as he and the Major escorted Mr. Owen to the door. "She's the head of our Designing Department. An excellent piece of goods."
Mr. Owen was not sure whether the man was referring to the body or to the material she had been wearing when she had first entered the office. His parting glimpse was epic. Mr. Larkin was holding one end of the material while the lady, now completely herself, was clinging to the other. Mr. Larkin seemed to be veering again, but this time in the right direction.
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