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The Jovial Ghosts
The Misadventures of Topper
Scollops Looks Inscrutable
NOT until the following afternoon, which was Saturday and therefore free, was Mr. Topper able to localise his trouble. The discovery came to him as a shock which gathered intensity as the days passed. It marked an epoch in his life. Even Mrs. Topper, who steadfastly refused to recognise changes taking place around her, detected something new and therefore annoying in her husband. But she reassured herself by believing that all stomachs have their off seasons, and became almost pallidly cheerful when she considered the fact that her stomach's off season was always on—it prevailed the year around. To Mrs. Topper it was an endless source of comfort to be able to trace all mystifying cases of conduct, even her own, to such a tangible and well-established institution as a stomach.
It was Scollops again. . . . Scollops draped on her master's knee with a Saturday afternoon mist swimming in her eyes. . . . Scollops, the inexplicable, narrowing infinity between two orange-coloured slits.
This it was that gave Mr. Topper the shock. For the first time in their four years of companionable association Topper realised that the cat saw nothing, that is, nothing immediate. Although her yellow, searching gaze included him, it passed far beyond him down distant vistas from which he was excluded. Caressing and condoning on their way, Scollops' eyes seemed to be roving through the ages, dwelling on appalling mysteries with the reminiscent indulgence of a satiated goddess.
Looking into Scollops' eyes, Mr. Topper discovered that there were things he did not know, colours of life beyond his comprehension, impulses alien to his reason. With his wife's eyes it was different. He knew their every shade and meaning. Nothing in them lay unrevealed. He was familiar with the direct gaze denoting finance, the confidential gaze denoting scandal, the patient gaze denoting servants, the motherly gaze denoting superiority and the martyred gaze denoting indigestion.
Suddenly Mr. Topper realised what was troubling him. It was eyes. Old familiar eyes. He felt that he knew them all. He knew the eyes at the office, from the president's to the elevator boy's. It was surprising, he thought, how desperately well he knew eyes. Mr. Topper saw eyes. Mr. Topper understood them. And be had an uncomfortable feeling that they understood him.
Now, however, he was alive to the fact that Scollops' eyes escaped all classification. This both pleased and shocked him. He realised that in spite of four years of close companionship he had not the slightest idea of Scollops' private opinion of him, or of anything else, for that matter. To what was going on behind her eyes Topper had no clue.
Mr. Topper found himself thinking that it would be a relief to have someone look at him in the manner of Scollops. Preferably a woman. Not that Mr. Topper was loose, or romantic, or both. He had never loitered to pluck forbidden flowers beside the marital path, but had mechanically kept to his schedule with Mrs. Topper at one end and the office at the other.
Once in his youth he had nerved himself to lurch in reckless pursuit of a shop girl in a skating rink, but the meeting with her had been so sudden and demolishing that when he arose from the dust of the floor he departed with a far sharper pain in his spine than in his heart. After that he confined his amorous pursuits to the nice girls of his own set. He never called on them alone, but always with a jolly company of youths, which gave him a sense of security. Later he had met Mrs. Topper, who had already achieved individuality through smouldering indigestion, and he had decorously followed her through a summer of neat suburban Sundays, after which he had made the arrangement permanent in the presence of an orderly gathering of neat suburban property owners. And that ended that side of Mr. Topper.
Now, however, he was getting along. Nearly forty and acquiring flesh. Ten years married. He neither had to stretch to reach the electric light nor stoop to walk under the bulb. His face was unremarkable save for his eyes, which were extremely blue and youthful, as if the fire in them had been banked for the sake of conservation. His features would have been delicate had his appetite not been so good or his habits less sedentary. Had their union been blessed with issue, one of the children, probably Cosmo, Junior, would have been a sandy blond like his father, for Mr. Topper's hair was of an indifferent shade. But there were no little Toppers. Scollops was undisturbed.
He rose, stretched and walked to the window. Scollops merely stretched and resumed her repose with the austere resignation characteristic of cats when bent on slumber or theft.
"I think I'll go for a walk," said Topper. "I'm in need of a bit of a change."
"There'll be a roast for dinner," replied Mrs. Topper. "Lamb," she added as he left the room. "You like lamb."
Mr. Topper winced as he collected his hat and stick. Why should he be thus openly reminded that he liked lamb? Couldn't a person creep up on a roast and surprise it some time? As a matter of fact he was not particularly lustful for lamb, or at least he would strive hereafter to dissemble his emotions.
But all he said was "Good!" The exclamation point stuck in his throat.
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