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Topper Takes A Trip
AT THE HÔTEL SPLENDIDE
Mr TOPPER was as good as his word. He met George Kerby at his hotel, the Splendide. He did even better than that. He actually took up his temporary abode at that luxurious establishment. This radical alteration in his manner of living was made for rather than by Mr Topper. He had no choice in the matter. Marion Kerby, in the course of a stolen conversation, had made it clear that she would not consider his occupying the villa alone with that good-looking French trollop whose amorous nature was as easy to arouse as it was difficult to curb. Consequently, soon after Mrs Topper's abrupt departure through the back door, the master of the villa requested Félice to carry on like a good and beautiful young thing for a while and in patience to await his return. Félice, in turn, had assured him that he could find her alone in the villa at any hour of the day or night. This, Topper frankly doubted. Nature had never created Félice for the impalpable arms of solitude.
'And if you attempt to sneak back to that place alone,' Marion had assured him with every indication of sincerity, 'I'll burn it down to the ground and quench your spluttering cinders in the sewer.'
Topper was not at all particular about what Marion did with his spluttering cinders once he had arrived at that unfortunate stage, but he did most definitely object to the cinder-producing process itself. Moreover, he presumed that the excellent Monsieur Grandon, the owner of the villa, would prefer to retain it intact for the comfort and entertainment of future generations of American visitors. Mr Topper had discovered to his sorrow that French property owners had strongly fixed ideas about such matters, the cracking of an already chipped teacup being sufficient to cause them to send their eyes rolling in consternation to heaven in search of their thrifty God.
For the past fortnight now Mr Topper had been a modest, self-effacing part of the social life of the Hotel Splendide. During all of that time he had unrelentingly sought the company of George Kerby. So assiduously had Topper dogged the footsteps of George that George had become quite fed up with Topper. Marion's jealous young husband had become convinced that if he never saw Cosmo Topper again on any plane whatever, still he would have seen too much of him. He even began to feel sorry for his wife when he saw her listening, with an expression of hopeless dejection, to one of old Topper's interminable disquisitions on the theory and practice of banking or the dangers of an over-abundant gold reserve. No danger there for Marion, Kerby further decided. He had greatly overestimated Topper. The man was merely a rich, good-natured bore, getting well along in years. George little realized that in the person of Cosmo Topper the stage had lost an actor of considerable tenacity, if not ability.
To Topper alone was due the honour and the glory of eventually relieving the situation by ridding the party of the disturbing presence of Mr Kerby. George literally flung himself into the arms of a rich South American widow and begged her to take him away from Topper for an indefinite stay on her palatial yacht, a request the South American widow was not at all backward in granting. Topper had the deep satisfaction of seeing them off on their cruise. He even tossed in a casual reference to the beauties of the west coast of Africa, of which he knew nothing, and the thrills of big-game hunting, of which he knew even less. The idea of knocking a lion for a loop strongly appealed to the volatile nature of George Kerby if not to his companion, who, nevertheless, insisted that lions were an old South American dish.
Immediately upon the departure of George, the Colonel and Mrs Hart began to do some pretty tight moral eye-closing, a feat which they found not at all difficult to perform. In fact, they became morally blind, always having had a tendency in that direction. This gentle failing made possible certain desirable rearrangements of sleeping quarters, which made things more convenient for all hands. Soon Topper and Marion Kerby were living together under circumstances of the most cheerful licentiousness, while the Colonel and Mrs Hart, according to a long-established custom, occupied adjoining rooms. In other words, the four of them merely adapted themselves to conform with the charming convention of the Riviera. And as for the dog, Oscar, he slept wherever he found a safe anchorage for his rump.
The little party was now seated comfortably on the lawn of the Hotel Splendide. In four brown hands sparkled four tall glasses of equally brown ale shot with the golden glow of the dropping sun. Topper had been playing tennis at the club with no less a person than Mr Keith Sutton-Trevor, whom he had roundly defeated. In the past two weeks Topper had roundly defeated the best players the club could send to the front. Topper's success at the sport had become a sensation that threatened to develop into a scandal. The members of the club had never before seen such peculiar tennis played. This semi-stout American, unheralded and unsung, had virtually revolutionized the game. His racket appeared to be all over the court — frequently not even in his hand at all. His opponents to a man complained that something interfered with their rackets whenever they needed a point, and that not infrequently in decisive rallies they were pushed, tripped, slapped, and subjected to even more humiliating indignities. However, as none of these so-called indignities were visible to the eyes of the judges, these gentlemen were reluctantly forced to ascribe the objections of the defeated players to bad sportsmanship.
Marion greatly delighted in gently flipping a player's racket whenever he attempted to serve. This inevitably led to the player's serving doubles and thus presenting Topper with a point. On the other hand, Mrs Hart found it more amusing violently to push a player whenever he was off balance, a piece of ruthlessness which resulted in numerous painful falls. The Colonel had a habit of seizing the ball in the player's court as it rebounded from Topper's service and putting it through the most baffling twists and dodges. To the spectators it frequently looked as if Mr Topper had nothing at all to do with many of his best passing shots and returns. He could even turn his back on his opponent and still win. There were times when the onlookers received the distinct impression that the tennis ball was being personally conducted from Mr Topper's court and deposited in some unattainable spot in that of his adversary. On several occasions a ball from Topper's racket had been seen to poise itself alluringly — some said, tauntingly — before a player, and to remain suspended there until the infuriated man was driven to smash at it, only to discover that the ball had cleverly dodged round him and was continuing merrily on down the sideline for a well-earned point in Mr Topper's favour. It was the consensus of opinion that this mild-mannered American player could do things with a tennis racket and ball that had never before been accomplished or even attempted by man. His habit of maintaining a low-pitched, scolding conversation with himself was considered slightly odd, but then his whole game was slightly odd. Had the spectators known it, Mr Topper was merely protesting against being slapped encouragingly on the back and in other ways fondled by Marion Kerby and her friends. After one of these one-sided matches Topper's three companions were invariably as weary and thirsty as he himself.
As the Colonel sat delicately sampling his ale he was thinking of how best to turn Mr Topper's remarkable ability to his own financial advantage. Thoughts like this were frequently in this enterprising gentleman's mind. There had never been enough francs printed to satisfy the Colonel's requirements. The overhead, or, rather, down the throat, upkeep of Mrs Hart was terrific. That dear lady was so extravagant that, although stockings were noticeably absent along the Riviera, she wore holes in hers, nevertheless, in the privacy of her room. It outraged her ideas of a woman's rights to keep the same stockings in her bureau drawer for more than a week. What were a pair of legs coming to if men get to taking them for granted? Mrs Hart had no intention of letting the Colonel forget hers. Therefore, it was quite pardonable for the Colonel to gaze unseeingly at the cool blue reaches of the Mediterranean and to evolve plans for making money from Mr Topper's tennis, which, in full truth, belonged to them all. His game was a joint effort, Topper being merely the play instead of the lay figure.
'Topper,' he began with tentative indifference, as was his wont when approaching delicate matters, 'the three of us could make you the champion tennis player of the Riviera — of the world, for the matter of that — if you'd let us.'
'God, no!' exclaimed Topper. 'You've done too well already. May I ask what was the idea in dragging the trousers of Sutton-Trevor down round his ankles this afternoon? That isn't a tennis stroke.'
'A mistake,' said Marion briefly, pulling off her béret and shaking out her curls until she looked nice and wild and untidy. 'My hand slipped. I was trying to yank him over backwards.'
'To begin with,' admonished Topper in a gentle, reasonable voice, 'you shouldn't yank gentlemen over backwards, and in the second place, it isn't quite nice to pull their trousers down.'
'Shut up, or I'll pull yours clean off,' Marion told him, the added thoughtfully, 'drawers and all.'
Realizing that Marion could be even better than her word when the mood was on her, Topper remained silent. He had no desire to appear with the wrong half of him unclad before the guests of the Hotel Splendide now assembled on the lawn.
'Of course,' continued the Colonel, not to be deflected from his subject, 'if we took up the idea seriously, the ladies would have to restrain their natural inclinations.'
'Whattayoumean?' demanded Mrs Hart in a lazily hard-boiled voice.
'I mean, my dear,' replied the Colonel, completely immune to her tone, 'that you and Marion would have to abandon your practice of endeavouring to undress the players. If we can make our opponents give the appearance of being slightly — er — fuddled, it would be to our advantage, of course.'
'Fuddled,' said Marion sarcastically. 'I'll make the beggars look frantic.'
'And we should always remember our audiences,' resumed the Colonel, bending a dignified eyebrow in Marion's direction. 'We must endeavour to keep them diverted.'
'At my expense, Colonel?' Mr Topper suggested easily.
'Certainly not,' replied the Colonel. 'By no means, my dear sir. At the expense of your competitors.'
'Am I going to play more than one at a timer asked Mr Topper, not quite so easily.
'You might,' said the Colonel thoughtfully. 'It's an idea. With our help you could play ten men at the same time and win in straight sets.'
'Sure,' agreed Mrs Hart, 'but we'd be busier than a rabbit at a dog show.'
'Not so busy at that,' observed Marion. 'We could trample half of them underfoot and get the others fighting among themselves.'
'I realize that,' said Mr Topper. 'The trouble is, you all make me do things that are humanly impossible. That little idea of having the ball sail out of bounds, then suddenly duck back when my opponent isn't looking is simply more than the public can bear. It's silly. I even feel silly myself. Besides, it's a dirty trick.'
'Oh, dear me, Mr Topper,' drawled Mrs Hart, 'we don't mind that in the least. A super-player like yourself cannot afford to be too finicky.'
'Well, I'm not going to play one man,' retorted Mr Topper, 'let alone ten.'
'Then,' said the Colonel, as if it did not really matter, 'there's the financial aspect of the thing. On side bets alone we could clean up enough money to endow an orphan asylum.'
'Occupied exclusively by the products of your own folly,' dryly observed Mrs Hart. 'In all sizes, shapes, and shades.'
'Mrs Hart!' objected the Colonel, bending two dignified eyebrows upon that lady. 'If you please.'
Mrs Hart whispered something to Marion, after which both of them glanced at the Colonel and giggled.
'Most annoying,' complained the Colonel to Mr Topper. 'And most unjustified.'
'Oh, quite,' replied Mr Topper. 'I cannot imagine you in connexion with any slight irregularity of conduct, Colonel.'
'That feeling is entirely reciprocated, I assure you,' returned the Colonel heavily.
'They think they're a couple of other guys,' Marion informed Mrs Hart.
'I don't know about Topper,' declared Mrs Hart, 'but that alcoholic ward of mine can convince himself at times that the bloom is still on the rose.'
'Oh, I say!' expostulated the Colonel. 'You are actually over stepping the bounds of decency.'
'Overstepping 'em,' said Mrs Hart jeeringly. 'We looped-the-loop over those bounds years and years ago.'
'That's neither here nor there,' resumed the Colonel impatiently. 'I wish you would refrain from introducing purely irrelevant subjects at this particular moment. Where were we, Mr Topper? Oh, yes — the financial aspect.' The Colonel paused and drew thoughtfully on his cigar. 'Topper,' he continued abruptly, 'man to man, I want to tell you it irks me to be short of funds. I am much too great-hearted to be without money.'
'You mean, Clara Harted,' put in Marion.
'How clever you are,' that lady murmured.
'Ignore them, Topper,' continued the Colonel. 'They are as savages or children. To resume. Although I have the greatest reliance on your generosity, still it is not meet and fitting for me to depend entirely on it.'
'Oh, no,' agreed Mrs Hart. 'Mr Topper might die or lose his mind or fancy another pretty face.'
'If he takes a fancy to another pretty face,' Marion Kerby said with painful distinctness, 'he'll both lose his mind and die.'
'I'm trying to listen, Colonel,' put in Topper. 'Go on. Let's waive those last two remarks of the gentle ladies.'
'Well,' said the Colonel, importantly, clearing his throat. 'Because of the various little services we have been able to render to you in the past — small but invaluable attentions —'
'Such as?' suggested Topper.
'We won't go into that now,' said the Colonel hastily, 'but because of one thing and another, I feel — and I believe my companions will back me up in this — that it would sit ill on you not to become the tennis champion of the Riviera.'
'Is that your case?' asked Mr Topper.
'In a nutshell,' replied the Colonel.
'Then,' said Mr Topper, 'you can take your case, place it in your little nutshell, and do whatever you think most definitely negative with it.'
'I could offer a suggestion here,' interrupted Marion.
'Don't,' replied Mr Topper. 'My fortune is at your disposal, Colonel, but I'll be damned if I came to the Riviera to live on a tennis court, as you suggest. If you have a yen for making money why not try Monte Carlo, Nice, or Cannes? I'll stake you to a stack.'
'I have a grand idea,' spluttered Marion, exhuming an ale-flecked nose from her glass. 'The races are on to-morrow. We could do well with horses, Colonel.'
Colonel Scott gazed thoughtfully at Marion for a full minute. Then he nodded his massive head three times.
'My dear child,' he observed benignly, 'we could do more with horses than even the people who ride them. Shall we discuss this little matter later? There is no need to bother Mr Topper with our plans.'
'Don't,' said Mr Topper. 'I prefer to retain my peace of mind. And if the races become a riot, you can't blame me. I am not a party to any funny business.'
'But you will join us?' inquired the Colonel.
'I'll do better than that,' replied Topper, who in spite of himself was fascinated by the idea. 'I'll charter a car and drive you there myself.'
'Magnificent man,' murmured Mrs Hart.
'Pure cane sugar,' commented Marion. 'A trifle too refined.'
'Looks more like beet than cane,' the other lady observed.
'That's the ale,' said Marion.
'We'll need plenty of ready money,' the Colonel dropped suggestively. 'It's a commodity that seems to be growing increasingly more unfamiliar to my touch.'
'For this unholy enterprise,' said Mr Topper, 'you can depend on me for financial backing.'
'Good man!' exclaimed the Colonel.
'Positively lordly, say I,' from Mrs Hart.
'What a lover!' put in Marion. 'Mine, all mine.'
'I am doing this,' continued Mr Topper, choosing to ignore these unnecessary remarks, 'for two reasons. I know very well you would steal all my money if I didn't give it to you willingly; then again, I have every confidence in the ability of Colonel Scott to make the crookedest track turn in his direction. Anyway, I feel that it would be an act of divine justice to get a few francs back from the French for a change — honestly, of course.'
'That last bit goes without saying,' piously observed the Colonel.
'Also without believing,' Mr Topper added. 'For the moment I'm going to tear myself away from your depressingly strait-laced company. Perfect all necessary arrangements, then look for me in the bar.'
As Topper walked away, the three of them followed him with expressions of respect and admiration.
'He would go far as a low plane,' Colonel Scott observed.
'That's an idea, too,' said Marion in an odd voice. 'He has no human contacts to keep him officially alive. His cat — she's almost human — is about the strongest tie he has. One can always do things to Scollops.'
'Who can always do things to Scollops, and how?' asked Mrs Hart.
'Well,' replied Marion reflectively, 'we could settle for all time that controversy about the nine lives.'
'Giving us three whacks at the beast apiece,' observed the Colonel.
'Let's wait till the weather gets a little cooler,' suggested Mrs Hart.
'Of course,' agreed Marion. 'I didn't dream for us to dash off at the minute and fall upon the poor cat. It was merely a passing fancy.'
The Colonel and Mrs Hart looked thoughtfully at their companion. Marion, her small chin resting lightly on the rim of her empty glass, was gazing enigmatically out to sea. As the Colonel considered the determined line of the girl's firm jaw he privately decided that if he were a life insurance agent he would stay clear of Cosmo Topper and his cat. Both were bad risks.
At dinner that night nothing untoward occurred, that is, nothing especially so. The Colonel's mind was still engaged with matters of high finance.
'Do you know what the trouble is with Americans on the Riviera?' he inquired.
'You tell us, Colonel,' answered Marion. 'I'm weary of the subject. The only trouble I can find with them is merely that they are on the Riviera. And that holds for nationals of all countries.'
'Yes,' agreed Mr Topper, relieved that everything was going so nicely. 'The greatest trouble with Americans on the Riviera is to be found in books about Americans on the Riviera. I once knew a dog who sucked one egg — just one egg — and to his dying day that dog was known far and wide as an egg-sucking dog. As a matter of fact, he was nothing of the kind. He merely tried one egg and found he didn't like them that way. Scrambled, yes.'
Marion was regarding the speaker pityingly.
'Your Hoosier philosophy appals me,' she said. 'Why don't you take up whittling sticks and sitting on fence rails? We'll build a fence for you, if you have any special preference; then we can knock you off when you get too awful.'
'Don't mind her, Mr Topper,' put in Mrs Hart, placing an affectionate hand on his. 'I understand perfectly what you meant about that poor dear dog and the one egg he unfortunately sucked. You are trying to tell us nicely that all Americans on the Riviera are suckers, and you nearly succeeded.'
'I wasn't trying to do anything of the sort,' Mr Topper retorted uncomfortably as he noticed Marion's glittering eyes fastened on the hand that was holding his. 'I was simply stating a fact — drawing a parallel.'
'I used to draw the sweetest flowers when I was a girl,' said Mrs Hart moistly. 'All wild. Ah, youth, youth, and the patter of bare feet.'
'Whose bare feet?' asked Marion. 'I'll bet they weren't your husband's.'
'I was speaking symbolically,' murmured Mrs Hart. 'My first husband always wore slippers — the cutest things — plush. We could never hear him coming.'
'Who's "we"?' demanded the Colonel.
'None of your business,' replied Mrs Hart. 'Those slippers cost me a comfortable home. Ask the waiter to pour.'
'Isn't this terrible?' the Colonel inquired of Mr Topper.
'No, Colonel,' Topper replied, smiling sympathetically. 'I find it rather sad. Mrs Hart had a hard life.'
'You mean, she led a hard life,' declared Marion. 'She was a trull before she could toddle.'
'Oh, Marion,' Mrs Hart protested. 'What will poor Mr Topper ever think of me? I was never really a trull, dear. Merely a practical amateur.'
'Ladies,' broke in the Colonel, 'let us return to my original question.'
'I didn't find it original,' commented Marion.
'But my answer is,' replied the Colonel. 'The trouble with Americans on the Riviera is that there are no speakeasies. They can't accustom themselves to getting drunk lawfully.'
'But they can with the "l" left off,' remarked Marion.
'Very clever, my dear,' said the Colonel, looking as if each word hurt him. 'Now my idea is —'
'Isn't he gay!' broke in Mrs Hart. 'He wants us all to get awfully drunk.'
'That is not my idea at all,' objected the Colonel. 'You're that way already. Now, my idea is —'
'Oh, I know!' cried Marion. 'He wants to get a law passed. Isn't that it, Colonel?'
The Colonel looked at Marion for fully half a minute, during which time his heavy eyebrows struggled furiously to establish contact with his even heavier moustache.
'Oh, Colonel,' the girl murmured admiringly. 'They almost meet.'
'Bah!' exploded that gentleman. 'This is too much. Mr Topper, my idea in a nutshell is —'
'Remember what happened to that last nutshell,' said Mrs Hart warningly. 'Why not put this idea in something else?'
'A safe, for instance,' suggested Marion. 'Or put it out of your mind.'
'Or in moth balls,' added Mrs Hart.
'I was thinking,' began the Colonel, 'of opening — '
'Pardon me, Colonel,' said Mr Topper politely. 'I must have a word with the waiter.'
While Mr Topper held a protracted debate with the waiter regarding the low state of coffee in France, a debate, by the way, in which he came out second best, the Colonel looked wearily round the dining-room, his fingers drumming patiently on the table. He could not bring himself to look on the faces of the two ladies. To do so would have released the terrific pressure he was placing on his emotions.
'Now, Colonel,' continued Mr Topper affably, 'why are you so hesitant about giving us your idea? Let's have it, man. No need to beat about the bush, you know.'
Colonel Scott gasped.
'Beat about the bush,' he got out. 'These women have erected a soundproof wall between themselves and intelligent conversation. Anyway, my idea doesn't seem so good to me now. Much of its freshness has worn off. In fact, I'm sick of the damn thing.'
'I'll bet he wants to open up a chain of speakeasies along the Riviera — basement rooms and grilled doors and the inevitable Tony,' broke in Marion. 'Wasn't that it, Colonel?'
The Colonel turned away, his face filled with pain. Speechlessly he nodded.
'In a nutshell,' he said at last in a faint voice.
'Why this frantic scramble for money?' Mrs Hart inquired. 'Do you want to buy France? I understand that lots of these Continental countries are going for a song — the Bankers' Blues, they call it.'
'Would you like to be barkeep, Topper,' asked Marion, 'or would you rather play Tony and peer through the grille?'
'I'd rather play the part of an unlawful drinker,' Mr Topper replied.
'If you would be courteous enough to allow me to explain,' the Colonel essayed.
He was never allowed.
The manager approached the table. In the background lurked a gendarme.
'There is a formality in progress,' the manager apologized suavely. 'It is necessary to borrow the passports of all guests but recently arrived. There are certain cards — you understand?'
'Certainly,' replied the Colonel courteously. 'Is that distinguished-looking gentleman back of you the Mayor of New York, or is he a prominent gambler?'
Even as the manager turned, the Colonel began to fade. Soon he was entirely gone.
'That gentleman —' began the manager, turning back, then hesitated, a look of blank amazement overspreading his face. 'But the Monsieur is gone,' he explained to Mr Topper. 'Yet how could he have gone?'
Mr Topper laughed unnaturally.
'Ha! Ha!' were the sounds that Topper made. 'How could he have gone? He mustn't have been here at all. That's all there is to it. Frankly, I was wondering to whom you were talking.'
'But the plate!' exclaimed the manager. 'There has been a fourth present.'
'Oh that,' replied Mr Topper, fighting for time. 'That plate. Who can that person be?'
Once more the old dodge worked. As the manager turned to look behind him, Marion, at a signal from Topper, whisked the plate from the table and hid it in her lap. Mrs Hart deftly tidied up the place where but a few moments ago the cowardly Colonel had sat. When the manager turned back, Mr Topper pointed to the empty space.
'Are you jesting with us?' he asked the manager. 'There has been no fourth — merely these two ladies and myself. We are three.'
At this moment the plate slipped from Marion's lap and crashed to the floor. There was the clatter of knives and forks. The manager was more than surprised. He was startled. He hesitated; then, sacrificing dignity to wonder, he stooped down and peered under the table. When he arose, the table was empty save for a considerably disturbed Mr Topper. The manager had time to catch a glimpse of two plates bearing eating tackle hurrying down an aisle in the direction of a tray. Several waiters also witnessed the progress of the plates. The entire dining-room heard the shattering sound they made as they dashed into the tray.
'Now why did they go to all that trouble,' Mr Topper wondered, despite his preoccupation with other things, 'only to break the damn plates at the end? Perhaps they became nervous or tried to make a race of it. I'm nervous as hell myself, and I'd certainly like to make a race of it.'
When the manager had mastered the emotions caused by the self-removing plates he turned back once more to Mr Topper.
'You have seen?' inquired the manager.
'Nothing,' replied Mr Topper coldly, 'except your rather unusual conduct, m'sieu. You come to my table and demand a fourth. You start. You peer. You — you — er — fidget. In short, you spoil my dinner. You call me a recent arrival when I have been your guest for days —'
'But your friends?' the manager craftily interrupted.
'I have no friends,' replied Mr Topper, not to be outcrafted. 'Furthermore, you have already seen my passport. I shall expect some explanation.'
He rose from the table.
'It shall be forthcoming, m'sieu,' replied the manager, 'if any explanation can be found, a development which to me seems exceedingly unlikely.'
In the lounge of the Splendide, Mr Topper was joined by the ladies. Taking him by either arm they led him rapidly up to a large screen through which they apparently passed, leaving him standing with his nose practically pressed against it.
'God bless my soul and body!' exclaimed a gentleman with white hair and a red face. 'I've just seen the most peculiar thing. But, tell me first, is that man actually smelling the screen? And where are the two ladies who were with him only a moment ago?'
'I don't know about the two ladies,' a large woman at his side replied, 'but if I ever saw a man smelling a screen — which I don't think I ever have — that person is certainly smelling that screen. Actually sniffing it.'
Several persons were regarding both the screen and Mr Topper attentively. One man went so far as to walk across the room and look behind the screen. Then he reappeared and stood looking at Mr Topper. Mr Topper felt the man's eyes curiously studying his face. He resorted to a weak subterfuge.
'Near-sighted,' he muttered as if to himself yet loud enough for the man to hear. 'So damn near-sighted. Lost my glasses. I'd love to examine this screen. Looks interesting.'
To make good the deception Mr Topper fumbled between the chairs as he hoped a near-sighted man might fumble, and slowly made his way from the room.
'Poor chap,' thought the man. 'He must be nearly blind, or else I'm seeing too well.'
On the lawn Topper was once more joined by the ladies. 'I want to talk to both of you,' he began.
'So do we,' said Marion, hanging affectionately on his left arm.
'We want to know if you'll buy us a couple of little drinks.'
'Count me in on that,' said a deep voice from nowhere.
'But —' protested Mr Topper.
The ladies hustled him through the pleasant evening while the Colonel did helpful things in the rear.
'All right,' said Topper. 'Don't push, and quit tugging. I'll buy the drinks if you'll only not tear me to pieces.'
'Do you hear?' said Marion happily. 'He likes to be with us.'
'Now about that chain of speakeasies,' began the Colonel, returning in person to life.
Several strollers stopped to listen to Mr Topper. He was hurling horrid words at someone who must have been standing far away on the unseen African shore.
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