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Rain In The Doorway
THE KIARIANS CONTINUE
ALMOST coincident with the collapse of the excellent W.C., as that gentleman was commonly called, was the arrival of Honor, or Satin, Knightly. As she walked the length of the hall the eloquent sheen of her frock quoted faithfully the lines of her body. And by the time she had seated herself at a small desk near the speaker's table there was not one of those Kiarian boys who had not committed sin in his heart save, perhaps, W.C., who was muttering things in his beard.
Having been penned up with this girl at close quarters, Mr. Owen now had the opportunity to study her from a distance. He found Satin exceptional in every detail. To be too close to the girl destroyed one's critical faculties. At such times there was room in the masculine mind for the entertainment of only one thought. And Satin herself did not make things any easier. She was far too vividly aware of herself and her quarry for relations in the abstract. She had her lips and her eyes and various other things. They were at their tireless best now. Why let them go to waste? Why let time gather in an unused credit? Satin saw no reason. She was also convinced that her creator never had any reason in mind.
As Mr. Owen studied the girl he felt as if he were wandering through the fragrance of an old lost orchard in search of the shadow of his youth still lurking among the trees. He could appreciate keenly what the years of soured domesticity had done to him by the very freshness and harking back of his present vision. Old scenes, old songs, and lost impressions came welling up from some long-neglected depth of his being. At the moment the desire to be loved was more urgent than to give it. He had done enough of that and found it unrequited. This had left him somewhat uncertain of himself in the role of a lover. He needed to be convinced, and he had a strong, happy conviction that Satin Knightly could be most convincing when once she set her mind on it. He had begun to feel that falling in love was a sort of automatic process that functioned only when one was young. He had doubted up to now the recapturing of those poignant, all-enveloping emotions, those sensations that seemed to be tangled up with every reaction to one's surroundings, one's private thoughts and aspirations.
Now he was not so sure. Satin was working strange magic in him. And if it chanced to be black magic, he did not greatly care. He felt all the better for it—all the younger. He wished, however, that she was not in the Pornographic Department. In such surroundings it was difficult to sustain for long the preliminary stages of romance on a decently exalted plane. In the Pornographic Department they began low and ended even lower. He doubted if there were any preliminary stages in Satin's conception of courtship. She seemed to believe that a lavish display of skin constituted the normal wooing. Should it prove too difficult to guide the young lady's conduct into the channels of conventional decency, he would be forced to conform to hers, which, when all was said and done, amounted to the same thing. As for his partners, they were simply animals. He liked them, but could find no good in them. They were animals, simple and impure, and would always remain animals. He pitied them a little in the generosity of his newly born emotions.
In the meantime the animals were enjoying themselves according to their fashion. The senior partner had collected the ashes of W.C.'s beard into a neat pile which he now scraped into an envelope and politely offered to their rightful owner.
"Wouldn't you like to keep these?" he asked in his suavest tones. "They're the ashes of your beard—about a foot's worth in all."
"Take 'em," Mr. Dinner urged. "You're about one-tenth cremated already, you know."
"Sure thing," contributed the Major. "He should send them to the family vault as a sort of first shipment. The rest of him can come along later, either whole or part by part."
"I want to be an urn when I die," declared Mr. Dinner. "Can I be an urn?"
"No," replied Mr. Larkin. "You'd go much better as a flask or a cocktail shaker."
"Let the Major be a cocktail shaker," the little fellow pleaded. "I want to be an urn, a nice urn in a niche."
"You won't make enough ashes to use up a thimble," Major Barney remarked.
"All right," declared Dinner. "I don't care. Just tuck me in a thimble and stick that in an urn, because that's what I want to be, an urn—" then he added thoughtfully—"in a niche."
"I do wish you'd stop repeating that word over and over again," came the gloomy voice of the advertising man. "I don't know why they ever placed me at this table. The lot of you are no better than idiots."
"You can't be any better than an idiot, can you?" asked the Major. "Unless, of course, you're a maniac, and they're just plain crazy."
"I wonder what he'd like to be?" continued Mr. Dinner, pursuing his mournful topic. "Ask him if he'd like to be an urn along with me. I don't care what company I keep once I'm safe in an urn."
"I don't think W.C. wants to be an urn," put in the senior partner consideringly. "I have a feeling that he'd rather go as a gas tank or even a bathtub. Either would be more suitable for a public character."
"Then why not let him go as an ash can or just simply as a kitchen sink?" persisted Mr. Dinner.
"By God!" cried W.C. "I'll not stand for that. No, sir, I won't. You're irreverent, sacrilegious vulgarians. I'll not sit another minute at this table. Let me out of here."
The great man rose unsteadily, stepped on the plate of soup Mr. Larkin had thoughtfully placed on the floor, then staggered away to the speakers' table, where a place was quickly made for him.
"I guess he didn't want the soup anyway," said Mr. Larkin, looking thoughtfully at the mess on the floor. "It was all full of beard."
Mr. Owen shuddered fastidiously. The partners obviously were not at their best at meal times.
"Wonder how soup would go with beard?" wondered the inquiring Mr. Dinner. "I shouldn't think I'd like it."
"Not with that beard in it," agreed the Major.
"I don't think I'd care for soup with any beard in it," vouchsafed the senior partner.
"You haven't seen all the beards in the world," Dinner shot back in a challenging tone of voice.
"I don't care to taste any," Mr. Larkin replied with dignity. "I am not a beard taster."
"Is there such a thing as a beard taster?" asked the Major, who was easily interested.
"I don't see why there shouldn't be," Mr. Larkin replied with more confidence than he felt. "There are coffee tasters and tea tasters and wine tasters. It seems only reasonable there should be beard tasters."
"It may seem reasonable and all to you," Mr. Dinner persisted, "but what I want to know is, what do they want to taste these beards for?"
"They might not want to taste the beards," replied Mr. Larkin. "They might have to taste the beards."
"Why?" asked Mr. Owen, drawn in, in spite of himself. "Why should any man be forced to taste beards?"
"Simply as a means of livelihood," said the senior partner triumphantly. "Necessity—economic necessity."
"You mean as professional beard tasters?" the astonished Major demanded.
"I can't think of anyone being mean enough to beard-taste for pleasure," replied Mr. Larkin. "That would be the same as taking the beard out of honest men's mouths."
"I'm an honest man," Mr. Dinner declared, "and I'd consider it a favour if anyone yanked a beard out of my mouth."
"No self-respecting man would let you taste his beard," replied the senior partner cuttingly.
"Oh, I don't know," retorted Dinner. "I guess I could taste a beard as well as the next."
"But what I don't understand is," deliberated the Major, "what's to be gained by tasting a lot of beards?"
"There you have me," agreed Mr. Larkin. "That's the one weak point in the argument."
"Not at all," cried Mr. Dinner, suddenly switching to the side of the beard tasters. "A man might want to have his beard tasted for any number of reasons."
"Name me one," demanded the Major.
"Well," replied Dinner, floundering a little, "it is easily possible that a man might like to have his beard tasted to see if it's getting brittle or to see if it's getting tough or to remind him of what he had for the previous meal or to discover lost collar buttons and neckties and other misplaced articles——"
"Men with beards don't have to wear neckties," the Major interrupted.
"Men with short beards do," argued Dinner.
"They can claim they're wearing bow ties," shot back the Major.
"Ah, Dinner," interposed the senior partner. "He has you there. A very good point."
"Of course, if they want to lie about it they can," said Mr Dinner moodily.
"May I ask," put in Mr. Owen, "what in the world is all this coming to?"
"We don't know," replied the Major, "but don't interrupt."
"I feel I'd be neglecting my duties if I didn't," said Mr. Owen. "You'll go clean off your heads if this keeps up much longer."
"Nonsense," snapped Dinner impatiently. "We often go on for hours like this at the office."
"When there's too much to do," Mr. Larkin explained.
Mr. Dinner's flask, which had been going the rounds during this conversation, was now empty. Accordingly, Mr. Larkin produced his and passed it to Mr. Owen.
"Drink some of that," he said, "and everything will seem much clearer."
Mr. Owen drank and discovered to his delight that Mr. Larkin had spoken the truth.
"I defy Dinner to tell me," resumed the Major, "of one single instance where beard tasting has served a useful end."
Mr. Dinner took a pull at the flask and pondered over this challenge.
"I can conceive of a case," he declared at last, "where an especially adept beard taster simply by tasting a beard could tell whether it was going to rain or not."
"Brilliant!" exclaimed the senior partner. "Dinner, that was brilliant—oh, very good. Very good indeed."
The Major looked momentarily discomfited. He turned hatefully upon his small antagonist.
"Where would you find such a sensitive beard?" he growled. "One so delicately attuned to nature."
"On a prophet," retorted Dinner without batting an eye. "You know, one of those birds that never shaved."
"You mean a rabbi," snorted the Major. "Who'd want to taste a rabbi's beard?"
"Maybe some especially devout member of his congregation," replied Mr. Dinner. "Who knows?"
"You don't, for one," said the Major. "And I don't care."
"Then," Mr. Larkin suggested smoothly, "it's about time to change the subject. Perhaps we may be able to annoy a few of these damn Kiarians."
Big Boy Crawly, the chairman, was once more on his feet. He was preparing to launch himself forth on a wave of oratory having to do with the character and accomplishments of the speaker of the day, a powerful figure in the automobile world, an entire trade journal in himself, not to mention a couple of house organs.
"Kiarians!" cried Big Boy Crawly. "Need I introduce to you the speaker for to-day?"
"Not so far as we're concerned," the senior partner consented agreeably, rising to his feet and confronting the room. "And besides, I have a few words to say myself."
"Mr. Larkin," replied Mr. Crawly, the smile flickering on his face, "you are out of order, I fear. The questions and discussions come after the speech."
"Please sit down," said Mr. Larkin in a pained voice. "You know how I am about interruptions. They make me veer most noticeably—fairly spin on my axis. Already I feel like a revolution. I might even do a little foaming on the side. You look as if you were going to do considerable foaming yourself, Big Boy. Do sit down." He paused, then continued rapidly, as if fearing another interruption. "Kiarians! " he suddenly bellowed in a fair imitation of the great voice of W.C. "No one regrets more than I do that a familiar landmark has to-day been destroyed before our very eyes."
"Please sit down," cried Mr. Crawly.
"Be still, you," shouted Mr. Larkin, "or I'll cut your smiling heart out. This is sacred. Kiarians!" he unleashed again. "No one regrets more than I do, and in this I include my slightly drunken partners——"
The enthusiastic quacking of a duck greeted this pronouncement.
"No one regrets more than we do," continued the senior partner, "that the magnificent beard of W.C.—the only beard we had among us—should have taken it upon itself to catch fire and burn up, virtually in our laps. I would suggest that in future our great advertising play boy, instead of depending entirely on soup, be provided with a neat pocket fire extinguisher of his own, suitably engraved with the Kiarian emblem and some nice little sentiment such as, the Beard that Burns at Banquets Lights the World."
"Oh, for goodness sake," cried Big Boy Crawly, "Mr. Larkin, won't you please sit down?"
"No, I won't," snapped the senior partner. "I won't sit down. I'll veer round this room like a jolly old whirling dervish. By rights you should be doing what I'm doing for you—saying a few kind words about that poor, dear beard of our excellent W.C. You all seem to have got used to addressing him that way. As for me, I frankly confess I still feel a little embarrassed when I have occasion to say it. You know what I mean. However, I'm nearly finished now, anyway. I merely wanted to say it was a good beard, but better soup. The soup was delicious. It was better than the beard because it put the beard out. Anyone can see that."
Dignified Kiarians in various parts of the room were now on their feet. Why had not the Lord God of Business and Boosting struck this man dead as he blasphemed? "Sit down! Sit down!" they hurled at the senior partner as he calmly stood his ground and with a coy, friendly hand waved back to them.
"You Kiarian boys are acting simply childish," he chided them gently. "Do keep still. I want to talk about this beard. For some reason, to talk about this beard fills a fundamental craving in me. I'm frantic about it. Never did I see anything work so perfectly. It was splendid. You know, I'm told that when that beard was quite itself W.C. used to use it to measure the length of advertisements. He'll use it thus no more I fear, unless on very small advertisements. And right here and now I suggest we give a standing vote of thanks to W.C. and his beard for the splendid entertainment they have provided. You will forgive me if I don't join you in this, because I'm dying on my feet. I thank you."
The senior partner sat down amid a profound silence, which was rudely broken by the din raised by the members of his party. Mr. Owen and the duck led all the rest.
"You certainly are a pretty talker," Major Barney assured Mr. Larkin heavily. "All those words—all spoken aloud. Think of it."
"This isn't a bad luncheon," Mr. Dinner observed, apropos of nothing. "I find I'm actually enjoying myself. I hope you all realise that I've been doing the duck."
"No!" cried the senior partner delightedly. "Have you been, now? Splendid! Major, you kiss him. You're sodden with drink. No fooling, though, I'm glad you can do a duck. I wish you could do a braying ass for the benefit of our next speaker."
Mr. Crawly was on his feet, but his smile seemed to have slipped, giving him something of the appearance of a saint with a tilted halo.
"Kiarians!" he bawled. "Now that I've been informed that Mr. Larkin was trying to be funny—I mean, to amuse us—I am sure we will all forgive the high spirits of one of the most influential merchants in our city."
"Sure they will," interpolated the cynical Mr. Dinner. "They still owe us for their drawers."
"Knowing that you agree with me in this," the speaker continued, "I will now give you one whose vision, whose courage, whose industry have placed his name among the leaders of our great progressive nation. With such a stout defender of our time-honoured traditions in our midst, the snarling wolf of communism can go and—and——" the speaker paused in search of something sufficiently painful and demeaning for the communistic wolf to do. "Sit on a tack," suggested the Major. "Exactly," agreed the speaker lamely, "that's what it can do. Kiarians, I give you that great man of wheels— that automotive giant, Thomas W. Spratter of Sprattsburg, Sprattsylvania!"
The lull was filled with a deafening din as Mr. Spratter arose. It was plain to see that these men were basking in his success and power, that they were hoping to grab off a little of their own simply by being in the same room with him. Later they would refer to him casually as, "My old friend Tom Spratter."
"Why doesn't someone laugh?" Mr. Owen asked most surprisingly. "Now, I think that's funny. That man has a funny name, and he comes from a lot of funny places."
"At last Owen has joined us," observed the senior partner complacently. "He too is a little drunk. Soon he'll become disorderly."
Mr. Spratter, too, was a large, square man, and everything about him was square, save, perhaps, his dealings. He had a square head and a square chin and a square carriage at his shoulders. He stood squarely on his feet and looked his inferiors squarely if arrogantly in the eye. Few persons on seeing him for the first time would have suspected that here was the greatest trafficker in muscle, brains, and souls the world had ever produced, a man who would have sent Attila home in tears to rock the cradle, an almost omnipotent enemy of the spiritual and intellectual life and aspirations of a nation. Even had the observer known all this, it would not have greatly mattered. The man had made good. What more need a man do? And then, of course, he was very rich. That was nice, too.
"Gentlemen," began Mr. Spratter, in a voice like a rough, square brick, "I will not mince matters."
"There," exclaimed Mr. Larkin nervously. "I knew he wouldn't mince. That's bad. That's very, very trying. He should mince a little, if only for my sake. I don't know how people get through the day without mincing a lot."
"Are there voices in this room?" demanded Mr. Spratter.
"If the speaker is hearing voices already," Mr. Larkin called back with the utmost urbanity, "I fear he will be seeing things soon. Mental cases usually do, you know— angels and what not. Let's stick to burning beards. That's preferable to madness."
If anything, the rugged industrialist settled on his track more firmly. There was a nasty smile on his lips.
"I'll handle this," he said. "If the communist or the socialist or even the single taxist who has just spoken will step up here, I shall take pleasure in knocking him down."
No sooner was this invitation released than the four partners, led by Mr. Larkin elaborately pulled the tablecloth over their heads and sat crouching beneath it.
Frightened cries mingled ironically with the vociferous lament of a duck.
"Gentlemen," continued Mr. Spratter, utterly unperturbed, "my subject is Progress and Prosperity as opposed to Economics and Science."
The burst of approval that greeted this was loud and universal save for the four drunken partners and the duck.
"Gentlemen," resumed Mr. Spratter, "I think at my time of life I have the right to say I have toiled mightily and wrought in full measure." Mr. Spratter's publicity man had a forgivable yen for the Bible. "Yet in all the years of my struggling and success," the square voice went on, "never once have I lowered the knee to the narrow, unpatriotic dictates of science and economics. Gentlemen, do you know who the greatest scientist is, who the greatest economist is, who the greatest philosopher is?"
In the rhetorical pause that followed, Mr. Owen's timid voice made itself heard. "Professor Snozzle Durante," he offered. "What!" thundered the automobile man scornfully. "That murderer! That monster! That socialist! Never! The greatest of them all is Old Man Common Sense. Hear me, everybody! Old Man Common Sense—horse sense, if you like."
"I think of the two," vouchsafed the senior partner, poking his head out from under the tablecloth, "I like horse sense the better. It's more playful, but I bet you'd have said best, and you'd have been wrong, as usual."
"Yes, sir," went on the great man, ignoring this interruption. "Old Man Common Sense can chop a lot of kindling and make the chips fly."
"There's something infinitely precious to me about dear old homely language," said Mr. Dinner affectedly. "Let's spit and swap horses. We'll make believe the horses."
"I wouldn't take all the Stuart Chases in the world, all the John Deweys, all the Thomas Hunt Morgans," cried Mr. Spratter, "for one grain of common sense." "Where wouldn't you take them?" the Major wanted to know. "And how do you know those lads would go with you?"
"Shut up!" cried Spratter. "Gentlemen! These men would deny that our great spirit of rugged individualism, our hail fellow, knock-down game of competition, our inherent confidence in the survival of the fittest have produced a race of industrial giants and two-fisted business getters."
"This makes me sick," said a voice that sounded surprisingly like Hector Owen's. "Give me another sip before I kill that butcher in human guise."
"Gentlemen, I say," the great voice boomed on, "rather than knuckle under to the findings of modern science, the advice of malicious economists, and the destructive drive of red-tainted philosophers, rather than do that, let's turn back the hands of the clock! Let's turn 'em back, I say!"
"Oh, good! " cried Mr. Dinner. "That's something to do. Let's all turn back the hands of the clock and keep on turning and turning until they come off."
"No!" protested Mr. Larkin. "Don't let's turn back those hands until after he's finished talking. He's simply trying to trap us into giving him more time."
"If I had those interrupters out at my plant," shouted the speaker, "I'd starve them into submission and——"
"Sell their families into slavery," Mr. Owen helped out.
"Can John Dewey build an automobile?" the speaker wanted to know. "Can Stuart Chase quell a mob of infuriated workers? Can——"
"Can you do card tricks?" demanded Mr. Dinner.
"That's a logical critical method," put in Mr. Larkin. "Let me ask one. Could Abe Lincoln change a tyre? No. Very well, then. The man was a washout."
"Silence!" roared the speaker, "or I'll have you jailed for disorderly conduct."
Once more the four partners sat huddled at their table, Dinner quacking pitifully in a subdued voice.
"Men," continued Mr. Spratter, "the Spratters have been fighters from way back."
"Right!" once more Mr. Owen interpolated. "From way back behind the lines."
"During the last war," the great man snarled at his tormentors, "the Spratter poison dart killed more men, women, and children than any other offensive weapon used."
"On which side?" someone wanted to know.
"On both!" retorted Spratter, forgetting himself for the moment.
"Wish I had one now," said Major Barney.
But Mr. Spratter had no intention of letting the discussion be taken out of his hands.
"Kiarians," he broke in, "I am the guest of your loved and respected W.C."
"You should be," said the Major disgustedly.
"And an insult to me," boomed Spratter, "is an insult to him."
"Which is a convenient and time-saving arrangement," commented Mr. Owen who felt himself getting better and better.
"I will not let anyone insult our W.C!" cried Spratter doggedly. "Therefore I'll ignore these ruffians. And now, men, now, Kiarians, now I come to the burden of my message. Prosperity is with us here and now! She has always been with us! The dear little lady has never left our side. She is waiting for us all both individually and collectively. Her arms are wide open. On her lips there is a smile. Invitation glows in her eyes."
"Wow!" exclaimed the licentious Major. "This is getting good. Wonder what part of her he's going to take up next?" "Yes, sir," the speaker went on gloatingly. "There she lies, the——"
"He's got her down now," muttered Mr. Dinner in a voice loud enough to be clearly heard, and it must be said for the credit of the Kiarians that a few of them giggled nervously, as they contemplated the recumbent figure of the lady in question.
"Yes, sir," repeated Mr. Spratter with passionate conviction. "There she lies, ready and waiting. All you need to do is to step up and tinker with her engine——"
"What!" cried out the senior partner. "My God, what a thing to suggest!"
"I said tinker with her engine!" Mr. Spratter shouted back.
"I know you did," replied Mr. Larkin, getting control of himself. "That's just the trouble. Don't you realise what a terrible thing you've said?"
"I find the word tinker especially objectionable," put in Mr. Owen with legal distinctness. "I suggest the speaker be requested to moderate his language."
"Sounds fairly brutal to me," observed the Major. "Not a thing to do to a lady."
"Nonsense!" cried Mr. Spratter. "There she lies, I tell you. All you need to do is to——"
"I can't stand looking at her," wailed Mr. Dinner, putting his hands over his eyes. "The poor, poor thing. What is he going to do to her now?"
"I will speak," thundered the automobile man. "All you need to do is to tinker with her engine—a slight adjustment here and there—and then step on her gas. Put your foot down hard."
The last words were said in a voice of grating triumph. Once more the senior partner was on his feet
"Step on her gas," he repeated in a voice trembling with incredulity. "Am I hearing his words aright? Does he really suggest that?"
"Why not?" demanded the manufacturer. "Why not step on her gas?"
"Why not?" cried Mr. Larkin witheringly. "Are you so utterly lost to chivalry and common decency to ask me that?"
“How would you like to have someone step on your gas?" asked Mr. Dinner. "Put their foot down hard, as you said?"
"I don't need to have anyone step on my gas," Mr. Spratter retorted proudly. "I'm always pepped up."
"May I ask," demanded Mr. Larkin coldly, "if myself and my partners are to be debased by such bawdy proceedings? We have stood for having her engine tinkered, but, by God, as a loyal Kiarian, I will not allow anyone to step on her gas—to put his foot down hard."
"Who is this woman, anyway," asked a kindly old gentleman, "to whom all these things are going to be done? I'm afraid I'm a little deaf."
"I've forgotten, myself," called Mr. Larkin, "but it doesn't matter who she is. It's a damned dirty trick."
"The woman is Prosperity!" called Thomas W. Spratter, grimly sticking to his unhappy personifications. "That's who she is."
"I know," persisted the old gentleman, not knowing at all. "But what is she going to be doing about it all the time? Won't she act up and call for help?"
"You don't understand," cried Mr. Spratter. "She isn't a real lady at all."
"She wouldn't be," observed the old fellow, "if she let you do all those things to her."
"Nevertheless, I protest," put in Mr. Larkin. "On behalf of myself and my partners, I protest. Just because a woman isn't a lady, I see no reason why she should be stepped on and tink——I just can't say it," he broke off.
"If the rest of you want to do it," he added, "I can't stop you, but we will have no part in such ungentlemanly conduct."
"All I said was to tinker with her engine and to step on her gas," said Mr. Spratter, feeling rather hopeless about it all. "You'd think I was suggesting a crime."
"Oh, yes," retorted Mr. Owen with fine irony. "To you it may be an everyday occurrence. To you, Mr. Thomas W. Spratter of Sprattsburg, Sprattsylvania, it may come under the head of pleasure. All this stepping on and tinkering with ladies may be your quaint idea of fun, but, answer me this—what would your wife say? What would any decent woman say? You may get away with it in Sprattsburg, but I dare you to try it out here."
"Gentlemen," called Mr. Spratter, appealing to the room. "My time is greatly limited. This fruitless argument has taken nearly all of it. Soon I must hurry with our excellent W.C."
"I can't stand any more of this," Mr. Dinner complained to Mr. Owen. "I'm going to put an end to it all."
And with this he bent over and struck a match to the nearest portière.
"Sheer genius," murmured the Major, setting fire to the tablecloth. "I'll forgive you, Dinner, for that beard-tasting fiasco."
Mr. Owen, not to be outdone, ignited his napkin and tossed it under the nearest table, where it started to burn merrily among the frantic feet of the Kiarians. Mr. Larkin promptly lost interest in speaking in the face of this fresh diversion. Taking an envelope from his pocket, he lighted it with great care and deliberately held it to another hanging. Then he arose and calmly addressed the assembled Kiarians, who were already uneasily sniffing smoke.
"I'm afraid we'll all have to go," he said. "It seems that some sparks from the late beard of our excellent W.C. have been smouldering in the hangings and things for some time. Emulating his spectacular example, the room has broken out into fire in several places. It's no longer a question of whether Mr. Spratter needs to go or not. He'll damn well have to go. Sic semper tyrannis! I am greatly pleased."
It is doubtful if the Kiarians either heard or cared about how much Mr. Larkin was pleased. By this time the room was filled with smoke and flames. It was not so well filled with Kiarians. Mr. Spratter evidently had needed to go because his square figure led all the rest. In their anxiety to depart, the business getters had overlooked the fact that a woman was in their midst. Hector Owen, however, had not been so forgetful.
"I'm going to save Satin!" he shouted, staggering among the tables.
"We'll all save Satin," boomed the voice of the Major.
"My God, yes," cried Mr. Larkin. "She has the most thorough knowledge of indecency of any woman in our Pornographic Department."
Together the four partners laid violent hands on the young lady and, using her as a battering ram, drove their way through the milling Kiarians.
"Don't worry," Mr. Owen told her. "We'll get you out unharmed."
"And also undressed," she responded. "There's little under my skirt, but what there is I'd hate to show in public."
However, she had spoken too late. In their anxiety to do the right thing the four partners were tugging altogether too hard for the resistance of light summer attire. As a result, their burden's garments parted in various quarters so that when the partners passed through the lobby of the hotel they gave the appearance of four gentlemen diligently engaged in carrying away a naked but unprotesting woman. Once on the street they set her on her feet and started to brush her off here and there, as men will.
"Heavens!" exclaimed the senior partner. "What's happened to her clothes? She didn't come like this, I hope."
"You have part of my skirt in your hand," Satin casually observed. "The others have other things."
"Put them on, my dear child, at once," continued Mr. Larkin. "It's a sight to make one veer. Besides, this is no place for frivolity. The hotel is on fire. We can't drop back in there. A taxicab would do nicely at this moment."
The Major stopped a cab, and the partners piled in behind the thinly disguised Satin.
"We'll all be late at the store," lamented the senior partner. "It always happens this way. Something inevitably breaks out and this time it was a fire. I like a good fire. We'll be able to watch it from the roof."
As the taxi turned a corner it nearly ran into a fire engine. There were much cursing and shouting and clatter.
"I'd love to be a fireman," Mr. Dinner observed wistfully.
"So would I," agreed the senior partner. "The engines seem to veer nearly as much as I do."
There was a smothered scream from Satin. "Why, Mr. Owen," she said. "I'm more surprised than insulted."
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