Topper Takes A Trip
NIGHT THOUGHTS ON A VANISHED MISTRESS
TOPPER is once more on his balcony. This time we have him seated somewhat tenderly on a pneumatic arrangement which he hopes to be able to give soon to some out-of-luck urchin on the beach. It is night now, and the path of the full moon goes glimmering on to Africa. Topper is alone save for Scollops. The cat sits by his chair. Topper is alone, and he fears very much he will always be alone. Marion is gone. George is gone — all of them all gone. Somewhere through the night Mrs Topper is speeding towards her husband. And out there along that moonpath the small figure of Marion Kerby is speeding farther and farther away from him, Topper very much fears.
'Listen, Scollops,' Topper mutters. 'Did it ever get you anything to cry over spilled milk?'
Scollops was not helpful. Cats are not helpful. Their attraction lies in their monumental egotism. This cat yawned and thought prettily about her own affairs — if she thought at all.
'Because if it did,' continued Topper aimlessly, 'I'd flood the sea with tears.'
Félice, looking her prettiest, appeared upon the balcon.
'Bonsoir, m'sieu,' she said in her rich, rather husky voice. 'How goes the little wound to-night?'
'Not so damn bien, Félice,' replied Topper.
'And yourself, m'sieu?' continued Félice.
'About as low as your morals, my girl,' said the man. 'You can judge for yourself how badly I feel.'
At this sally Félice smiled contentedly. Look where she had advanced herself to without the exercise of morals.
'How fortunate,' she murmured, 'm'sieu was inconvenienced from behind.'
Topper looked upon her with mildly disapproving eyes. Félice flexed her torso and withdrew into the room. Topper remained alone, his eyes fixed on the moonpath. Time passed, and the path shifted. Topper remained fixed. Presently he rose and moved over to the railing of the balcony, up to which a few small roses were still struggling. Softly he pounded his fist upon the railing. That nail needed hammering. He noticed that. Topper did not philosophize over the absence of Marion. He was hurt as an animal is hurt, and like an animal he remained dumb. He did not tell him-self in so many words that with the vanishing of Marion also vanished much of himself — that she had carried away with her the glamour and buoyancy of life, its mirthfulness and its romance. Inside him this knowledge was making itself poignantly felt. Topper did not try to analyse it. Topper was not that way.
There he stood, not a large man, but certainly not a small — by no means a small. A little stout, if anything. Commonplace enough, but comfortable looking. He would never set the world afire. A man alone with his thoughts, and he hardly knew what they were. Would Marion ever come back? he wondered. She had not committed herself. That was something. She had backslid once. Why not again? Life was like that, always on the skids, always sliding back. Well, he had slid back, God knows, back into life with a bang. Back with a shot in his trousers.
A low moon now, dropping down and looking wan. Topper's eyes are in shadows. No one will ever know what manner of man looked out of them, what loneliness they held. Slowly his fist beat upon the railing as his darkened eyes followed the path of the moon. Was a small, debonair figure outlined against it? Topper's fist continued to beat, slowly, monotonously pounding. The clenched fingers tightened a little.
A song measured to the cadence of Taps came floating through the night. It was not much of a song, but it got inside Topper. A violin throbbed in the heart of its melody.
'Good night, dear, good night,' came the voice. 'For the last time tonight hold me tight.'
'A cheap thing,' thought Topper. 'Just like all of them.'
But, after all, weren't a lot of real things seemingly cheap, seemingly commonplace, yet real enough? Making love was cheap if considered in a certain light. Everybody did it more or less. And everybody got over it more or less — or did they? Hell, that damn tune with Taps beating through it was getting him. That was it. Taps always did. There was something so final about it. Amending. Lights out. Pipe down. You're through. Stand by for a new day. He smiled grimly as he thought of the new day. He would most assuredly have to keep his face to his wife, especially at unguarded moments. He could never explain away the scar of Marion's bullet.
'A sweet sort of souvenir,' he mused. 'A romantic keepsake. A little reminder of a moment of glorious folly.' Trouble was he almost had to break his neck to see it.
His hand was tired from pounding, and his eyes heavy from watching. Had he been hoping for something? He guessed so. He damn well knew so. Some little sign. A hint, perhaps.
Topper relaxed his fingers and closed his eyes. A little breeze ran through the ramblers. Lips brushed against his. He stood very still, trembling only inside. The throbbing of Taps seemed to mill and flood about him. Words were being sounded upon his consciousness:
'If I ever backslide, old thing, I'll damn well slide back to you.'
A little dog-eared rose all hot and crushed had found its way into his hand. He looked at the ragged petals, and a glint from the dropping moon struck a warm spark in his eyes.
'If I ever backslide, old thing,' he repeated to himself, 'I'll damn well slide back to you.'
Topper smiled. It seemed fairly safe, knowing her as he did.
With this ray of hope in his heart and a small rose in his hand, not to mention a healing wound in the seat of his trousers, Topper turned to the french windows behind which Félice was waiting. She was not. Félice was sound asleep. However ...