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Topper Takes A Trip


Thorne Smith



THE little inn was left behind — Monsieur Poccard, Monsieur Poccard's son, petite Colette, Monsieur Dalmas, the brave cook — all were left behind. Sun filled the arms of the little cove, and waves washed therein, but Marion Kerby's slim form and Topper's rather stout one sported there no more. The last drink at the café had gone the way of all drinks, good and bad alike. The patron's hand had been shaken. All hands had been reshaken. A final, final drink was suggested. And the whole thing began over again with even more elaborate flourishes and expressions of even deeper mutual admiration. The American couple were gone. A fine couple, free with francs. No airs. No harsh orders and superior criticism. An exemplary couple. But mad. Mad as only Americans can be mad. Mad in an inexplicable, altogether mad manner. They arrive. They settle down. They are here, they are there. One never knows. Then suddenly they depart. One begins to doubt if they had ever been there at all. And why they had ever arrived or why they had ever departed remain twin mysteries of equal magnitude. Some things are known about God. Even more can be devised. About Americans — no. Never. Nothing can be known about them — nothing even suspected. One thing, perhaps, yes. They drank like the veritable poissons, and they drank all wrong. Hein! How could it be otherwise when their own President himself had locked up all their cellars? What a man! What a perfect demon of a President! However, the Mayor of New York — or was he the Duke of New York — he was a gallant, a true brave, a type, that one. He alone would save the States United and bring fresh prosperity to French vineyards. Alors! One must return from the dusty white road down which the American couple had but since departed. Time to sell cheese and other provender and perhaps a few bocks. The American invasion was at an end. Francs now would be even more difficult to find.

Meanwhile Mr Topper and Marion, in a hired car, were being driven back to their original point of departure, the little fishing village where, in Topper's villa, perhaps lurked a pregnant Scollops, a cat who had betrayed her trust. Topper had decided to drive there first to discover if Marion's fearful suggestion had proved a shameful reality. Perhaps both Scollops and the maid Félice herself were a little bit that way. He would not have been surprised. No. If both had escaped scot-free the coincidence would be even more surprising. Topper could but wait and hope that only one of them was pregnant. Idly he speculated as to which one he preferred to be that way. It was hard to decide. Both were of a type. With the playful Monsieur Louis hanging about his garden, his wicked old eyes following every woman within sight and divining the presence of those outside his range of vision, it was a wonder the whole neighbourhood was not with child. No good there. A thoroughly bad old fellow, that Louis person. Was Louis his first or his last name? And if it was his last name, why was it his last name? Topper never found out.

It was a hot day. A dry day. The road was dusty. Topper was in one of his farewell moods — triste, the French called it. Not a bad word, that. Less silly than most French words. He was absent-minded, spiritless, drifting. Marion was a little difficult. There was much she disliked about everything. There were many things she threatened to do. One of these things she actually did. For a long time the dust had been bothering her. She coughed with unnecessary bitterness, thought Topper. Dust was drenching her hair, lungs, and eyes, she complained. In fact, she was simply dust. A large, uncomfortable particle. She would retire her head from contact with the dust. That, at least, she would save. In spite of her bitter, complaining mood she was as close to Topper as she could well wedge her small body. She was leaning as heavily against him as she could — leaning aggressively, hoping to make him uncomfortable. Topper paid little attention to the lady. His eyes were on the road and the sea. Occasionally they studied the unpleasant back of the chauffeur's neck. Occasionally they caught a glimpse of the chauffeur's casually lascivious eyes in the driving mirror. Gradually, one might say cautiously, Marion's small comely head withdrew into the void. The rest of her body remained leaning against Topper. The effect was that of a gentleman nonchalantly cuddling the body of a headless woman. Had Topper been aware of this effect he would not have been quite so nonchalant. However, he was not aware, and time continued to march. Also, the machine. The road, now so familiar to Topper, twisted its mad way along beside the sea, but for the most part high above it. Villas one would love to own and to live in appeared in the distance, approached, momentarily held one's attention, then dropped behind — a moment of quiet beauty lived and left. Other motors passed in both directions making sure not to sound their high French horns until their sound was quite uncalled for — in fact, insulting. Time kept on marching, the road winding, and the dust rising.

Suddenly Topper caught a fresh glimpse of the chauffeur's eyes in the mirror, and as much as he shrank from these furtive yet strangely intimate contacts with the man, his, Topper's attention was thoroughly engaged this time. There was an expression in the driver's eyes that aroused something more than interest. Just what was that expression, Topper wondered. Was it horror? Was it repulsion? Was it dread? Certainly the soul that dwelt behind those eyes was not at peace with his God. No, far from it. Had the man run over a child or a stray cat? No. The owner of such a face would not be moved by an incident so trivial. He had doubtless run laughingly over scores of both. There was another reason. Topper's eyes searched the road ahead in hope of finding the cause of the man's disquietude. Perhaps a flood was doing, or an earthquake. More likely a landslide. The road appeared to be no more terror-evoking than usual. No extra special danger seemed afoot. Yet the man was undoubtedly in the clutch of fear. Topper peered back into the mirror. This time Topper was sure the man was looking at him as one would look at a murderer immediately after an especially revolting piece of work. As if fascinated, the driver's eyes first rested on Mr Topper's face, moved downward to his shoulder, momentarily fluttered there, then moved away and fixed themselves on the road. Perhaps it was only a vagrant indisposition, hoped Mr Topper, a passing mood, some congenital eccentricity wished upon the unfortunate chap by his indubitably criminal parents. Topper decided to put the unpleasant incident from his mind. He tried but did not succeed.

'I feel quite ill,' said Marion in a decidedly accusing voice. 'Anyone would feel the same in my position.'

The erratic driving of the man at the wheel prevented Mr Topper from replying to Marion's lament. He fixed his eyes on the man, only to find the man's eyes fixed on him, but this time the gaze was direct instead of reflected from the mirror.

'Turn round and look where you're going,' Mr Topper commanded. 'Do you want to kill the three of us?'

'There are only two left to kill,' replied the man. 'You, m'sieu, have seen to that.'

Topper's nerves were not good, neither was his temper.

'If you don't turn your head to the road,' he gritted, 'I'll knock the damn thing off.'

'As you did the other one,' muttered the man. 'Morbleu! I must get out of this.'

And he did. Stopping the car by the roadside he got out of it and ran rapidly down the road. Mr Topper, slightly dazed, looked stupidly after the man.

'Now why did he want to do that?' he asked.

'Perhaps he needed to,' Marion replied lazily.

At this moment an automobile that had appeared from the direction in which the chauffeur had vanished drew up beside them. The serious faces of two respectable-looking American gentlemen peered out of the car in the rear of which were a couple of less respectable-looking American ladies.

'Any trouble here?' inquired one of the gentlemen of Mr Topper. 'We saw a chauffeur running —'

He stopped suddenly and looked incredulously at Mr Topper. Then he blinked rapidly and nudged his companion.

'Do you see what I am seeing?' he asked in a low voice.

His companion leaned far out of the car and looked with increasing horror at Mr Topper, who under the combined scrutiny of the two gentlemen was beginning to feel decidedly uncomfortable.

'No,' he told the gentlemen with a certain show of dignity. 'There's no trouble here. Why should there be?'

There was a short pause during which the two gentlemen endeavoured to get a grip on the situation.'Well,' said one of them at last, 'a man in your position should consider himself in a lot of trouble unless he is used to the thing.'

'What do you mean?' demanded Topper. 'And why, may I ask, are you acting so funny? Have you both lost your heads over something?'

At this last question the two gentlemen shrank back a little and looked away from Mr Topper.

'No,' answered the spokesman slowly. 'We haven't lost our heads, but we know who has. Did the chauffeur do it?'

'What a question to ask,' exploded Mr Topper. 'How do I know whether the chauffeur has done it or not? I'm not interested.'

'He's a cool customer,' observed the second American. 'Wonder how he did it? With his bare hands, perhaps. Yet I see no signs of bl—'

At this moment one of the women shrieked, then became deathly still. The other woman started in to babble while pointing at Mr Topper.

'What's wrong with her?' demanded Topper. 'Is this a car full of lunatics? Or are you all drunk?'

'Murderer!' cried the woman, suddenly finding words. 'Jack-the-Ripper — Strangler Lewis.'

'Not Strangler Lewis,' corrected one of the gentlemen. 'He at least allowed his opponents to live.'

'Are these people all nutty?' asked Mr Topper, glancing down for the first time at his headless companion and grasping the fact with a start of horror himself. 'What the hell —' he began, but the woman cut him short.

'You may well ask,' she cried in a nasty, hysterical voice. 'First you ruin the poor creature, then you-twist her head clean off her neck, then you take a drive with her body. Of all the nerve! What did you do with the head? Tell us that.'

'You're perfectly right, madam,' came Marion's voice from nowhere. 'He did all those things and worse, and then he loses my head. Make the brute find my head for me, or I'll never rest in peace. Fancy he chucked it somewhere. Murderers usually do that with heads.'

The four occupants of the other car were speechless. So was Mr Topper. Indignation robbed him of words.

'The voice from the grave,' the woman murmured at last. 'The poor headless soul.'

'Hardly from the grave,' one of the gentlemen again corrected.

'Make him find my head,' urged the voice. 'I'm in a hell of a fix without a head. Just fancy my position. To lose one's hon—'

'Shut up, you!' cried Mr Topper, also getting hold of some words of his own. 'If I could only get my hands on your head I'd damn well twist it off.'

'My God!' breathed one of the men. 'Did you hear that? What callousness! He actually wants to do it again.'

'I know,' replied the correcting gentleman. 'They're like that. They enjoy it.'

'Certainly I enjoy it,, retorted Topper in a grim voice. 'I'd like to twist all of your heads off — every damn head.'

'Better look out,' warned Marion. 'He'll do it. He threatened me more than once, but I never believed a man could be so mean. Then suddenly he ups and does it.' Here she made a horrid noise, then added, 'Just like that — no head. Zingo!'

The people in the car did not know whether to be more appalled by Marion's description of her death than by the horror of the act itself. They swallowed hard and took counsel among themselves. Here they had an obvious murderer and a loquacious murderee on their hands, and they had no ideas as to what to do about it all. The entire situation seemed palpably impossible, yet the plain facts of the case spoke otherwise. Here was a headless woman describing with revolting noises her terrible loss, and here was her murderer not only glorying in his ghastly deed but also fervently wishing he could repeat it. The fellow was actually threatening them with like treatment. An end was put to their indecision by a sudden act on the part of Mr Topper. He pushed Marion violently from him.

'What? At it again?' her voice came querulously as her body slumped over on the seat. 'I should think you'd be tired. I know I am.'

'This is all wrong,' said one of the gentlemen. 'It just can't be so. I say, let's shove off.

'Keep an eye out for my head,' called Marion. 'An eye for a head instead of tooth for a tooth. Ta, ta, my braves.'

A shriek of chilling laughter followed the departing motorists down the road.

'God!' breathed one of the gentlemen. 'I'm glad Mary there didn't hear any of that. It might have brought her out of that faint, and I need some time for thought.'

'But aren't you going to do anything about it?' demanded the one who had not fainted. 'Tell a policeman or something?'

'Something,' replied the other. 'I'm going to tell it to a couple of stiff drinks at the nearest bar. That would be a pretty little bedtime story to slip across in French to a gendarme. We'd be the ones to get locked up.'

Meanwhile Mr Topper, with more agility than grace, had climbed over into the front seat and blasphemously sent the automobile on its way.

'That was a pretty thing to do,' he shouted furiously over his shoulder. 'A hell of a thing to do — a typical Marion Kerby trick.' No answer.

'I suppose you think you're funny,' he flung back hopefully. 'Make a murderer of me, will you — a Strangler Lewis, a Peep the Tommer?'

'Please, mister,' said a small voice beside him. 'There's nobody back there now, not even a head. And Strangler Lewis is, or was, a wrestling gentleman, and the other one's name is Tom the Peeper.'

'What do I carer snapped Topper. 'I wish I were Strangler Lewis and I had you on the mat.'

'Oh, Mr Topper, what a thing to say. And in front of all those people. Madison Square Garden, no less.

'For God's sake, be still,' muttered the defeated man. 'You should be ashamed of yourself.'

'But not all Toms are Peeping Toms,' continued Marion, returning in person to herself. 'Never make that mistake. Some are mere Thumbs while others are no more than Cooks. Then there was a Tom who was the son of a piper and another—'

'Childish drivel,' snorted Mr Topper. 'Wonder where that damn chauffeur has got himself to? Can't blame him much for running, considering what he saw.'

'Yes,' replied Marion. 'You sadly misjudged the poor man's intentions.'

Topper smiled slowly, reluctantly, then shrugged away his gloom entirely. The atmosphere seemed to have been cleared. There was even less dust, as both were riding in the front seat now, and protected by the windshield.

'You didn't disabuse my mind any,' he said. 'Oh, well, it's just another one of those things. Another little joke at my expense.'

'You were far less upset than the others,' Marion reminded him. 'In fact, you came off quite well. Too bad you didn't meet the Widow.'

'What widow?' demanded Topper.

'The one that chops your head off and drops it in a basket,' Marion replied serenely.

'I've had enough of heads for one day,' Topper told her.

'You mean you've not had enough,' said Marion brightly. 'By one.'

'I hate smart people,' was Topper's reply to this. 'You know — the ready retort.'

A few miles farther on they came upon the chauffeur sitting dejectedly by the roadside. At the approach of the car he rose wearily and started to run, but the man must have been sadly out of training, for he soon abandoned the attempt. Probably he decided that if he had to lose his breath one way or another he might just as well get it over with here and now, thus sparing himself the exertion of running himself to death.

The spent man and the automobile stopped side by side, and the spent man turned to be murdered. Much to his surprise and gratification he was confronted by the alluringly smiling face of Marion. Carefully scrutinizing her tender neck to see that her head was conventionally joined to her shoulders, he was able to produce an exhausted sigh of relief.

'See,' offered Marion reassuringly, pointing to her head. 'I have it, my friend, la tête complète.'

'Madame,' stammered the man, 'from where did it come, that head there?'

'Had it all the time,' said Marion. 'I was merely hiding it. Monsieur had said something — oh, such a wicked thing. Didn't you ever hide your head, my brave?'

'Madame,' replied the man earnestly, 'I have wanted to with all my heart. But a moment since I would have hidden it in the jaws of a lion enraged.'

'I can well understand that,' said Marion. 'But have no fear, my friend. Monsieur is a bad, bad man, but a woman's head is always safe in his hands. He can see that. You comprehend?'

Perfectly, madame,' replied the chauffeur, smiling for the first time as he gazed with admiration upon the annoyed face of Mr Topper. 'I myself am not unlike Monsieur. L'amour is my one —'

'But I am not at all like that,' broke in Mr Topper. 'Let me assure you —'

'You are like that,' declared Marion. 'And I love it. We are wasting time for no good end. Mount into the back, my old, and Monsieur himself will show you things — manoeuvres you never thought possible except in an aeroplane.'

The chauffeur mounted accordingly, and the car resumed marching. He decided that Mr Topper, in spite of his agreeable qualities, would be safer by far with both hands engaged at the wheel. So Mr Topper drove over bridges spanning the tracks of the P. L. M. until his sense of the fitness of things could bear it no longer.

'Why does this road cross these tracks so damn many times?' he inquired. 'It seems such a waste of effort and material, not to mention time.'

'M'sieu,' said the chauffeur rather timidly, 'it is not the road that crosses the tracks, but it is the tracks themselves that undermine the road.'

Mr Topper was still trying mentally to digest this one when they drove into Cannes and met life in one of its pleasantest aspects. 'Food,' observed Marion.

'And drink,' agreed Topper.

The chauffeur beamed. This Monsieur was supremely human after all.

They drove along the Croisette, shops and hotels on one side, the beach and sea on the other. Mr Topper looked at the women on the beach, and Marion sat quietly observing Topper.

'You know,' she said, 'I can read you like a book, and every page is vile.'

Topper was mildly offended. He dearly loved to look at women either beautifully clad or unclad. It was one of his amusements, a quiet, harmless pleasure on which he could depend. Inasmuch as thought transference was not among his accomplishments no lady's sense of propriety was outraged. Although, if the truth must be known, if only a small percentage of the ladies Topper admired had been able to read his thoughts he would have been an extremely busy man.

'I don't see you blushing,' he observed.

'I seldom blush in the customary manner. Mentally, I am suffused.'

They dined at the Palm Beach Casino, and also danced. Marion insisted on this slight recognition of her sex. Topper was at all hours of the day or night perfectly willing to recognize sex with the utmost cordiality, but dancing was hardly his idea of the proper way of expressing his recognition. However, he enjoyed dancing with Marion. Also, he enjoyed the knowledge that he, Topper, was actually dancing without being stoned by observers or booed off the floor. Generous applications of wine that also danced increased his dexterity and daring. Often, during the dull, comfortable monotony of his married life, Topper had wanted to dance. Often he had danced, but always in the seclusion of his own room and alone or, at best, with a chair for his partner. If little can be said in favour of Marion Kerby it must be acknowledged at least that she was woman enough to understand the man in Cosmo Topper, although she took unpardonable liberties with her knowledge. She was taking them now, as she circled round the floor. Marion was actually floating. Her feet never touched the floor. Topper, holding her in his arms, was unable to see that he was carrying about with him only the upper half of a woman. Marion to obviate interference and to allow free play for her partner's feet had thoughtfully withdrawn the lower half of her body from circulation. So strongly had the idea appealed to her that she had entirely overlooked its possible effect upon observers unacquainted with his intentions.

Topper, to some of the diners, gave the impression of a man dancing alone but with a surprising display of enjoyment. As a matter of fact, so realistic was this impression that one man remarked to the lady sitting opposite him: 'That man must either be the greatest egoist in the world or its greatest mimic. Never did see a chap derive so much enjoyment from his own company.'

From another point of vantage Topper looked for all the world as if he were carrying round in his arms the upper section of a smartly clad display figure abstracted from the window of some fashionable shop along the Croisette. Numerous spectators were of this belief until they discovered that the thing not only talked and smiled, but actually turned its head.

'My God,' said an American visitor, breaking into a gentle sweat, 'that must be Madame Tussaud herself!'

The girl with him was clinging to his arm.

'Oh, look,' she kept saying. 'Look at her now. No bottom part at all.'

'Like a mermaid without a tail,' another girl remarked.

'Or a woman similarly disqualified,' said her escort.

This remark started an argument as to whether a woman with only the upper half of her body present were disqualified or not.

Meanwhile, a drunken gentleman rose from his chair and began to follow Mr Topper about the floor. The drunken gentleman had no intention of being offensive, but he did want to find out about all this. He even went so far as to pass his hand thoughtfully through sections of air which rightfully should have been displaced by Marion's body. Then he manoeuvred himself into a position in which he was able to peer closely into Marion's face. Mr Topper took exception to this.

'Go away,' he said quietly. 'Far away.'

Marion merely winked her left eye slowly.

The man stepped back and placed a steadying hand on Mr Topper's shoulder. Mr Topper was not offended. He did not belong to the type that when sober finds cause for either amusement or scorn in the actions of others drunk.

'What's the matter, old man?' he asked.

'Look,' was all the man could say, making a floor-sweeping gesture. 'Down there. Look. There's nothing at all down there, nothing at all. No feet, no ankles, no legs, no — no —just nothing,' he concluded lamely.

Mr Topper looked and turned red.

'Do something quickly,' he whispered furiously. 'This morning it was your head, and now —'

'Heads I win. Tails you lose,' Marion replied smilingly.

'Well, for God's sake, produce the latter and the other parts that go with it,' Mr Topper pleaded.

'I'd hate like the deuce to argue like that with only half a lady,' the drunken gentleman announced to the crowd of dancers and diners that had gathered round.

Mr Topper had an inspiration. He would pretend he was a professional magician.

'Meet me in the car,' he whispered in Marion's ear. 'Now, get the devil out of here.'

He made a few Svengalian passes in the air, and Marion, having enjoyed her moment, had the grace to vanish entirely. There was a burst of applause. Topper bowed several times, then with great dignity returned to his table, paid his bill, and left the Casino. Marion was waiting for him in the automobile. Luckily for her the chauffeur had returned from his regal repast. Topper was unable to give expression to his emotions. Favouring them both with a sick smile, he climbed into the back of the car and motioned to the chauffeur to drive. He was through for the day. Once he viciously pinched Marion, causing her to emit a plaintive little shriek which was pleasant to hear, but when he caught in the mirror the expression of leering tolerance on the face of the driver, and when Marion called him a naughty man, he desisted from further hostilities and contented himself with dark looks and even darker oaths. It was dark, too, when they drove through the quiet streets of the little fishing village and stopped on its outskirts in front of Mr Topper's pallid villa. They sat in the car and looked up at the windows of the place. Topper experienced a feeling of the ending of things. The interlude was nearly over. At his left the night surf came driving in upon the sands of Monsieur Sylvestre's so-called tranquil beach. Clouds were scudding across a moon that had nearly reached the full. On one side of his villa the home of the reprehensible Monsieur Louis lay in darkness, its owner probably at play — up to his old tricks. On the other side the villa occupied by that beastly old woman who watched at her window was in a similar condition of quietude. But was it? Certainly not. A faint light shone in one of the rooms, outlining against the window curtain the figure of a woman — the woman, the woman who in Mr Topper's eyes symbolized all the malignant prudery, the narrowness and prurient curiosity that next to actual warfare did more than anything else in life to destroy the happiness, self-respect, and freedom of action of humanity. She stood for the type that stolidly claimed the woman was always wrong. And like the type she represented, she callously closed her eyes on the evil conditions in her own home only to peer into the windows of her neighbours. She represented bigotry, oppression, and ignorance, that old woman behind the window. Topper had seen it at work in offices, homes, and communities.

'The horrid old bitch,' he muttered under his breath. 'God deliver all the bad women from the tender mercies of the alleged good ones. And that includes you,' he added, taking Marion's small, firm hand in his.

'Listen,' said Marion. 'Of course, it's none of my business, but doesn't it strike you as a bit odd that your villa should be so well lighted during the absence of its lord and master?'

Topper looked at his villa and noticed with a start of alarm that both upstairs and down the lights were gaily gleaming. It had seemed so natural at first that its true significance had not penetrated his brooding mind.

'Good God, don't tell me my wife has returned?' he burst out.

'Not from the nature of the sounds I hear,' said Marion. 'That is, not unless she has changed very much for the better.'

It was true indeed. The sounds of disorganized revelry were issuing from the villa. Snatches of indecent song, small shrieks and deep vulgar laughter mingled to make a symphony of life in full foam.

Topper turned a pair of puzzled eyes on his companion. She was smiling up at him maliciously.

'Dear, dear,' he observed. 'I was expecting to find a pregnant cat, but it seems that the house itself is pregnant.'

Suddenly the French windows on the ground floor burst open, and a flock of men and women poured out into the night led by the Colonel, clad only in his drawers.

'He seems to affect that costume,' Marion observed quietly.

'What goes on here?' Mr Topper asked in a daze.

From the merry rout Mrs Hart emerged, dragging a semi-clad Félice with her. In the moonlight she confronted the Colonel.

'An unfortunate misunderstanding, my dear,' the watchers in the car heard him say in his suavest accents.

'That's one of the few actions in life,' replied Mrs Hart, 'that denies a double interpretation. Colonel, I hate to say it, but you're nothing better than an exceedingly lousy liar.'

'My dear,' began the Colonel, then spying the tense figure of the woman at the window he seized upon her as a God-sent diversion. 'Look!' he cried, waving one bare arm dramatically towards the window. 'Behold, old evil eye! A filthy hypocrite hiding behind her inability either to give pleasure or to attract it. See! I do this!'

And the Colonel did just that. He tossed a champagne bottle through the window with the accuracy of a man trained in warfare. The crash of glass was followed by another one. Soon the whole disorderly party was hurling bottles, stones, gravel, and even the personal attire of its members through the windows of the villa. Marion was greatly pleased. She looked questioningly at Topper. There was a strange expression on his face, a sort of pleasurable excitement inevitably produced by the sound of crashing glass.

'Shall we join the party?' she asked in a low voice.

'It looks like an open break with law and order,' he replied thoughtfully, 'and as much as I deplore this sort of thing, I would like for once in my life to register my violent objection to worm-eaten but organized and well entrenched joy killing.'

He paid the frightened chauffeur far more than enough for his mental anguish and professional services; then, with Marion's hand in his, he left the car.

'My old and rare,' she whispered with unaffected admiration. 'In moments of crisis you rise to true greatness.'

They mingled with the seemingly maddened throng and began throwing whatever object came nearest to hand in the general direction of the besieged villa. Soon Mr Topper and Marion were as dishevelled, dirty, and demented as the rest of the strange people milling about them. It was a scene of epic action, of large ruthlessness and vast enjoyment. It was one of those things that in idle moments one dreams of doing, but which one never does except at seats of learning where such things come under the head of education. Topper was suddenly entangled and tripped. He found himself on his own back on his own ground. There was no comfort in this. A large, naked gentleman was tugging at his shoe.

'Pardon me,' came the courtly voice of the Colonel, 'but I have no shoes of my own, and there is nothing left to throw.'

'Hi, there, Colonel!' cried Mr Topper. 'Lay off my foot.'

'My friend!' exclaimed the Colonel joyfully. 'My crime mate. Here, take your shoe. I wish I had more to offer you. Congratulate us, Topper. We have been keeping your home intact for you during your protracted dalliance. But first let me help you to rise.'

The Colonel pulled Topper to his feet just in time to meet the assault of the united gendarmes of the district. Oaths, blows, and imprecations now became general, yet above them all, loud and clear boomed the voice of the Colonel.

'Cinquante-cinq!' he shouted. 'Quatre-vingt-dix!'

'You're not cursing, Colonel,' cried Topper. 'You're counting.'

'What the hell do I care?' bellowed the Colonel. 'It sounds good and fulsome. Cinquante-cinq! Tear the beggars up!'

Topper was now assaulted from all sides. He wondered where Marion was. Then he caught a momentary glimpse of her. What he saw did not augur well for the future happiness of a certain gendarme.

'Marion!' shouted Topper.

'With you, boy!' called Marion. 'As soon as I ruin this lad.'

'We have no fight with the gendarmes, Colonel,' said Topper, seizing the man's arm just as it was about to polish off a member of the force.

'Looks mighty damn like a fight to me,' replied that man of brawn. 'Not that I haven't been in worse.'

'Then call off your crowd,' said Topper, pushing a gendarme in the stomach.

'Shall we take you with us!' asked the Colonel.

'God, no!' cried Topper. 'All the trees in France wouldn't hold me after insurrection.'

The Colonel issued a command, and a great silence fell upon the scene. Topper stood alone — alone, that is, save for the presence of a great multitude of gendarmes. The gendarmes looked at Topper, and Topper looked back at the gendarmes. Then all of them looked around.

'M'sieu,' said an officer, stepping forward and clipping a pair of handcuffs on Mr Topper's wrists, 'your friends, where are they?'

A voice from the air answered for Topper, and even as the voice boomed out Topper felt a small hand slipped into his imprisoned ones.

'We are gone,' intoned the deep voice. 'We are those good Americans who come to Paris when they die. See you later, Topper.'

Evidently the Colonel and Mrs Hart had collected a flock of low-plane spirits during Mr Topper's absence and had been entertaining them at his expense. The magnitude of the Colonel's cool effrontery appealed to Mr Topper.

'Better one bird,' said the officer philosophically, 'than no bird at all. This affair is strange passing all belief. Perhaps you, m'sieu, will elucidate it for us before Monsieur le commissaire himself, is it not so?'

'But yes,' replied Mr Topper. 'It is not so.'

And all the way to the place whereat Monsieur le commissaire held court, Mr Topper felt an unseen presence marching by his side. The heart of the man was gay and devoid of alarm, although filled with a multitude of rapidly crystallizing lies for the special edification of Monsieur le commissaire himself.

'A break like this just had to happen,' said Mr Topper to himself. 'A person can't live peacefully on one plane and associate with the denizens of another.'

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