Previous ChapterContentsNext Chapter

Rain In The Doorway


Thorne Smith



"WHAT on earth are we ever going to do with this whale?" Mr. Larkin asked a shade nervously as the truck rolled along through the streets of the slumbering city.

"Search me," replied Mr. Dinner. "What on earth does one do with whales? I never had a whale."

"I never owned even part of a whale," put in Major Barney. "I'm too astonished to think."

"Imagine," said Mr. Larkin. "Just imagine. Here we've gone and saddled ourselves with a whale—life is difficult enough as it is, without the added complications of a whale."

"If," observed Mr. Owen thoughtfully, "if forty-eight hours ago my closest friend should have assured me I was going to own one-fourth of a preserved whale, I would have laughed at him tolerantly and invented a pretext to shamble away."

"Life is so full of queer little twists," said the senior partner, gazing moodily back at the partly opened mouth of Minnie. "Our whale," he murmured. "Think of it. All that fish."

"I never owned so much of anything before," commented Mr. Owen. "Too bad it has to be whale."

"The question still remains," quoth Mr. Larkin. "What disposition are we going to make of the body and person of this female sperm whale, Minnie? We can't dedicate our lives to her."

"No," agreed Mr. Dinner. "A flock of merchant princes can't very well serve as nursemaids to a whale."

"Why not put her in dead storage?" suggested Honor Knightly.

"How?" asked the senior partner.

"Why not take Minnie to a garage," explained the girl, "and put her in dead storage?"

"She belongs in dead storage," Mr. Owen contributed. "Properly speaking, the whale should be buried."

"With full honours," said Major Barney.

"Couldn't we give Minnie to someone?" asked Mr. Dinner. "Someone wanting a whale."

"Who wants a whale?" demanded Mr. Larkin. "One can't walk up to any Tom, Dick, and Harry and say, 'Drop round to my house this evening and I'll give you a preserved whale.' People would veer off. They wouldn't come. They'd try to be polite about it, but they'd invent some excuse. 'You're so generous,' they'd probably say, 'but we're not quite fixed for a preserved whale. We have no shut-off room.'"

"I hate to admit it," declared the Major, "but already I'm sick of the very sight of Minnie."

"So am I," agreed Mr. Dinner.

"Driver!" cried the senior partner. "We're sick of this sperm whale. Drive to the nearest garage."

The driver obeyed, and Mr. Larkin descended from the truck. He approached the garage, hesitated, and came back. He wanted Miss Honor Knightly to accompany him. A woman, especially a pretty woman, might succeed in obtaining a haven for the whale where a mere man would fail. They found the garage in darkness, its doors closed. Mr. Larkin applied a finger to the night bell until a man appeared who looked upon the late callers with no show of favour.

"Good evening," began Honor Knightly winningly. "Will you take our whale into your garage?"

"No, I won't take your whale into my garage," the man snapped back in a disagreeable imitation of Satin's dulcet tones.

Mr. Larkin laughed as if he knew perfectly well the man did not mean a word he said.

"We have the whale with us," he told the man. "Perhaps if you looked her over you might take a fancy to the poor beast. Name of Minnie."

"Mean ter say," grated the man, "you want me to turn my garage into a bloomin' aquarium?"

"Not at all," replied Mr. Larkin. "This whale is quite dead. It's preserved, or embalmed, or something."

"I see," said the man nastily. "You want to make my place a mortuary for dead fish."

Satin felt that she had listened to just about enough of this sort of thing.

"Do you want that whale or don't you?" she demanded. "Answer yes or no."

"Don't fly out at the man," interposed Mr. Larkin. "After all, it's his privilege not to want a whale."

"How do I know whether I want a whale or not?" the man asked petulantly. "It's not a thing you can decide offhand. I've never thought about whales, and it's no time of night to begin thinking about them now." The man turned on his heel and walked back to the door of the garage. "Besides," he said surprisingly, "you've been drinking. Like father like son."

He disappeared.

"Now what did he mean by that?" asked Satin. "I can't be a father."

"I can," admitted Mr. Larkin. "Most disastrously, I can. But I don't quite see where his remark fits in. The man must have been somewhat mad from the loss of sleep."

Once more they climbed into the truck and started off down the boulevard.

"Wouldn't the man take the whale?" asked the Major.

"No," replied Mr. Larkin. "The man didn't want a whale."

“Isn't there any place in our great social organisation for a preserved whale?" Mr. Dinner demanded. "Surely one would think it would fit in somewhere."

"A whale out of water is a square peg," observed Mr. Owen. "It's not unlike a bull in a china shop."

At this moment an individual came staggering out of the shadows. Unsteadily he attached himself to the rear of the truck and wobbled along after it. With his free hand he made mysterious gestures over his shoulder. Obviously the man had been drinking. Mr. Larkin bent down to hear him.

"You're being followed," whispered the man, pointing over his shoulder. "Pursued."

"What?" demanded the senior partner.

"You're being followed," whispered the man once more. "A great beast is stalking you on no legs at all."

"Oh," said Mr. Larkin, "I see. That isn't a beast. That's a whale."

"Worse and worse," the drunkard hurried on in a low voice. "It might be Moby Dick, and you wouldn't like that."

"Don't worry, old chap," replied Mr. Larkin, patting the man on the shoulder. "That whale's name is Minnie. You wouldn't like to take her home by any chance?"

The man looked bleakly over his shoulder into the half-open mouth of the whale.

"God, no!" he muttered. "I don't think I'll take up whales, but I've tried everything else. Forgive me if I stop off to catch a drink. The sight of that monster is driving me sober."

The man veered off and disappeared into a near-by café. The truck and trailer with its amazing burden continued their stately progress down the street. When they came abreast of Mr. Owen's hotel they were once more halted, this time by another policeman.

"What you got there?" the policeman demanded.

"Only a bit of a fish, officer," Mr. Larlcin told him. "A whale, you know. It's a sperm."

"Is it stuffed?" demanded the officer.

"What bearing has that on the question?" inquired the senior partner. "As a matter of fact, it is stuffed, or preserved, or pickled. You know how whales are."

The officer's eyes were popping out of his head. He had removed his hat and was diligently mopping his brow.

"This is the damnedest thing I ever saw," he declared at last. "You should have better sense than to go knocking about the streets with a mighty creature like that at this time of night. I've a good mind to run you in."

"Whale and all, officer?" Satin sweetly inquired.

The officer was stumped.

"No," he reflected. "The chief would never be the same. He's a nervous wreck as it is. The sight of that horrid creature would drive him mad. But, just the same, you've got to do something about that whale."

"What do you do with whales?" asked Mr. Owen, thrusting his head from the truck.

"Damned if I know," replied the officer. "I never had to do with a whale before, but if you don't get this one off the streets I'll have to run you in."

"Listen, officer," said Satin persuasively. "Can't a lady buy a bit of fish in this town? You can't eat meat all the time."

An expression of revulsion took possession of the officer's face.

"You're not going to eat that thing?" he got out in a strained voice. "God, lady, don't tell me that?"

"Why not?" replied Honor Knightly. "It's merely an overgrown bloater."

"Then, will you go away somewhere else," the police-man pleaded, "and eat it by yourself? I can't bear the thought."

"Very well," the girl replied. "An occasional chunk of whale never did anyone any harm. Drive on, driver."

The policeman gulped as the truck got under way. For half an hour or more they drove undecidedly through the streets, the whale following after. Honor and her companions had seated themselves on the floor of the truck. They were weary and discouraged. Life to them seemed to consist entirely of whale. Far away in the east the sun was beginning to do things about a new day. Five pairs of moody eyes were fixed on the flanks of Minnie. They tried to avoid the mouth as much as possible.

"I can't imagine whatever possessed us to purchase that whale," observed the senior partner "Had it been a goldfish it would have been different. But of all things, a whale."

"I know a red-headed man who bought a circus once," contributed Mr. Dinner. "He was drunk, too,"

"Don't tell us about it," said the Major. "Haven't we enough troubles of our own?"

Suddenly Mr. Larkin rose with an air of determination and called to the driver to stop. Bidding Mr. Owen to accompany him, he descended from the truck. "What are you going to do?" asked Satin. "I'm going up to that house," replied Mr. Larkin, pointing to a modest dwelling set back on a lawn, "and ask if they want a whale."

"Nobody wants a whale at this hour of the night, or rather, morning," declared Mr. Dinner.

"Nevertheless, I'm going to ask," replied the senior partner. "Some people will say yes to anything if you let them go back to bed."

Followed by Mr. Owen, the senior partner approached the house and rang the bell resoundingly. Presently a man appeared to them with an expression of great annoyance on his face.

"Good evening," said Mr. Owen easily. "We thought that perhaps you might like a whale."

"It's a sperm," added Mr. Larkin.

"What would I want a whale for?" asked the man in a harsh voice.

"We don't know," came the hopeless voice of the senior partner. "What do people want whales for, anyway? They must be good for something."

"A whale is good for nothing," growled the man.

"Hen!" called a woman's voice from the darkness of the hall. "What do those men want?"

"I can't make out," replied Hen over his shoulder. "One of them seems to want to give me a whale."

"Tell them we don't want a whale," came the woman's voice meditatively. "We already have a canary."

"Madam," called Mr. Larkin. "Why not have a whale and a canary too? They don't clash, you know."

"What do you say, Father?" said the slow voice of the hidden speaker. "Do you think we should have a whale?"

"It would make an imposing lawn decoration," put in Mr. Owen.

"Say, mister," called the woman. "Do whales eat grass?"

"She wants to know if whales eat grass," said Mr. Larkin to his partner in a low, nervous voice. "I haven't the vaguest idea what the horrible creatures eat. You tell her something, like a good fellow."

"Not this one, madam," replied Mr. Owen. "This whale has been preserved."

"I do very well with peaches," the voice of the woman informed them, "but I'd hate to try a whale. I don't think we would like a preserved whale. Father, do you?"

"I'd hate one," he replied. "I'm dead set against that whale, Mother. You've enough things to dust off already."

"Guess you're right, Hen," replied the woman. "Dusting all day long. Just tell the gentlemen we're not fixed for whales and shut the door. It's draughty in the hall."

"We're not fixed for whales," said Hen, and slammed the door in the partners' faces.

"Who is?" asked Mr. Owen bluntly, scanning the closed door.

"We're not," said Mr. Larkin. "Offhand, I can't think of anyone who is fixed for whales. That's just the trouble. Whales are so unexpected."

They returned to the truck and bade the driver to move on. In one corner Mr. Dinner, his small body curled like a dog's, was sleeping gently. The Major was nodding, his back against the side of the truck. Mr. Owen sat down, and Satin put her head on his knee. She looked up at him dreamily out of her great, deep eyes; then lashes slowly fringed them.

"I don't care where I am," she murmured, "as long as I'm with you."

After that effort she slept. Mr. Owen gazed down at the girl's face and felt himself compensated for the presence of the whale. Then he raised his eyes and gazed at the whale's face. It was remarkable, he reflected, how different faces could be. He wondered who thought them up. He glanced at Mr. Larkin. That gentleman was standing with arms folded across his chest. About him hung the brooding dignity of Napoleon.

"If I don't get rid of that whale soon," he said, "I think I'll go mad and fling myself upon it the way you did to that bear."

"That's an idea, too," remarked Mr. Owen. "We might have to dismantle Minnie. Take her apart rib by rib."

"It would be better to blow her up," commented Mr, Larkin. "More fun."

The truck was now rolling along through the spreading' dawn. They were in open country with the sea only a mile or so away. Through the fresh morning air, birds flew down to look at Minnie. Some of the more daring perched upon the whale and made up songs about her. The road was steadily winding upward. An unusually enterprising farmer, his small truck laden with vegetables, tried to pass, then thought better of it. Throwing his gears into reverse he backed through a fence with the utmost expedition. With his eyes still riveted to the great fish on the trailer, he continued on backward down the field. The last glimpse they caught of him he was crashing through a corn field in the direction of a small forest.

"Probably," observed Mr. Owen, "that man will never get up early again for the remainder of his days."

"He certainly didn't want a whale," replied the senior partner. "I can understand that, though. It must be frightfully discouraging to see so much of anything at this time of day."

A man with a hoe hailed them from the roadside.

"Hi, mister," he called, "what you got there?"

"A very nice whale," Mr. Larkin told him, a spark of hope in his voice. "Would you like it?"

"Nope," replied the man. "I don't hold with whales, but it sure is a dandy. It's a big whale, ain't it?"

"Whales are big," said Mr. Larkin wearily.

"Yes," agreed the farmer cheerfully. "Seems like they run to flesh. Well, so long. I've got some pertaters to hoe for Mrs. Mumpford. This is her farm. I only work here."

"It's amazing how much personal information one can pick up," observed the senior partner, "when one really doesn't want it."

"You know," replied Mr. Owen, "if we didn't want to give this whale away, if we had our hearts set on this whale, people would beg us for it with tears in their eyes."

"Perhaps you're right," commented Mr. Larkin, "but I'm so fed up with that whale I'd cross the street to avoid her."

Gradually they approached the sea. The road was now sloping steeply. Less than a quarter of a mile away a white beach lay gleaming beneath the slanting sun. Suddenly Mr. Larkin clutched his partner's arm.

"I have it!" he cried, "I have it! We'll launch this infernal whale back into the deep."

He shouted to the driver to stop. Everyone woke up and swarmed out of the truck. Stones were placed under the wheels of the trailer until the truck could draw out of the way. Ahead of them the road ran straight to the sea. A small wooden house was the only dwelling in sight. It stood by the roadside. There was a feeling of tenseness in the air as the partners rolled the stones away from the wheels of the trailer.

"Good-bye, Minnie," murmured Satin, and waved a crumpled handkerchief.

The trailer gathered headway and rumbled down the road. Straight to its course it held, until it came to the house. Here it swerved horrifyingly from the road and bounded forward. There was the crash of snapping timber, and Minnie's great head disappeared from view through the walls of the frail structure.

"It veered, my God, it veered!" sobbed the senior partner on Mr. Owen's chest. "Oh, what a whale! I'd like to take a stick and beat it within an inch of its life."

"What's that?" asked the voice of a sleepy woman within the wooden house.

Her husband opened his eyes, then snapped them shut with a click.

"Don't say a word," he whispered. "Perhaps it hasn't seen us."

"What hasn't?" asked the woman.

"The whale," replied the man, his head buried under his pillow.

"The whale," replied the woman. "Since when have whales taken to prowling round the countryside? Something's got to be done about all this."

"Well, don't ask me to do it," came the muffled voice of the man. "One look at that face and all ambition fades."

"Just to think of it," continued the woman. "Whales bounding about on land and visiting decent people in their beds. It's an outrage."

"It wouldn't be any less surprising," replied her husband, "if they bounded about the country and visited indecent people in their beds." The woman opened her eyes and looked reprovingly at Minnie.

"It's a whale all right," she said at last. "A great huge whale, but the blow must have killed it. There's a glassy look in its eyes."

"That whale has nothing on me," replied her husband. "My eyes are burned out like a couple of bulbs, and it took only one good look to do it."

"To be awakened at dawn by a whale," mused the woman. "Who says that all the novelty has gone out of life?"

"You seem to take that whale with the utmost equanimity," remarked the man, nerving himself to withdraw from his place of concealment beneath the pillow. "What are we going to do with the brute? Is it going to become a member of the household? Is it going to remain in our bedroom, watching our lyings down and gettings up? I'd hate like hell to undress myself before the critical gaze of those glazed eyes."

"If we remove the whale," said the woman, "we remove one side of our little home. Our bedroom stands disclosed to the world. The general public will be able to bear witness to our habits."

"That would be almost preferable to the scrutiny of that monster of the deep," observed the man.

"We could hang a sheet over its face," suggested his wife.

"Two sheets," amplified the husband. "One on either side."

"There's another thing to be said in favour of that whale," went on the lady on the bed. "It will effectively keep from the house our old and rare relations."

"I wish we could have Uncle Alfred down here and show him to that horrible head," the man advanced suggestively. "One look, I think, would do the trick. His heart isn't strong. We'd be on easy street then."

"And it wouldn't quite be murder," added the woman. "Not quite."

"Exactly," agreed the husband. "All the old boy needs is a bit of a shove. That whale would do the trick."

"One man's whale is another man's poison," observed the woman, yawning daintily. "The wonder of it all, if not the beauty."

"I fear we won't sleep very soundly under the prow of that monster," remarked the husband. "Our dreams won't be so fragrant."

"No," replied the woman. "I must confess I hardly admire the perfume it is using."

"I dare say," her husband remarked, turning over on his side, "that one grows accustomed to almost anything in time."

From the crest of a distant hill came the chanting of several voices. It was the triumphal song of the partners, reinforced by Satin. Farmers in the field paused at their honest labours as the truck rolled along in the direction of the town.

"You must all dine at my house to-night," Mr. Larkin was saying in his great-hearted manner. "We want you to meet our wives."

"Didn't know you had wives," replied Mr. Owen. "You act less married than any men I ever knew."

"Isn't it awful?" agreed the senior partner in a voice touched with sorrow. "From one excess to another— bounding always. The truth is, we're miserable with our wives. How glad we would be to change them. You see, they don't understand us, especially when we relax."

"With a crash," added Mr. Owen.

The senior partner endeavoured to look pained.

Previous ChapterContentsNext Chapter