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Tim Tries to be a Lady
AFTER the departure of Sally in what had recently been his body Tim Willows found himself unable to enjoy that nice lazy drowse he had anticipated. He could not even entertain the idea. He got out of bed and forced himself to a shrinking inspection of his newly acquired anatomy.
"If I know anything at all about women," he decided at last, "I certainly am one. There's no getting away from the fact. And the worst of it is I'm supposed to act like a woman. If I fail to act like a woman I'll be disgracing my own name. Too bad I'm so blastedly forgetful. I'm sure to break out at some critical moment and make a mess of it all."
This line of thought naturally brought him to the problem of his voice. At present it sounded like a voice that was still undecided whether to become a grunt or a squeak. It was neither one thing nor the other, being too deep for a woman's and too high for a man's. Sitting on the edge of his bed he industriously practised the art of vocal elevation.
"This is about the silliest thing I've ever done," he observed moodily to himself as he listened critically to the peculiar sounds issuing from his lips.
"Good-afternoon, my dear," he heard himself saying. "What a perfectly sweet dress! It's just simply too attractive. Isn't the weather foul? I loathe foul weather. Simply loathe it! It makes one feel so—so lousy. Oh, hell," he broke off, his voice dropping several degrees, "it's no good. I could never go through with it. Suppose they ask me things, fiendishly personal things? I know women do it. They always do. They have to. It's their specialty."
He shrank within himself and stared bleakly at Mr. Ram, who steadfastly avoided his gaze.
"Wonder if she meant what she said," Mr. Willows continued to muse, his thoughts once more reverting to his wife's parting threat. "Wouldn't put it past her. She's like that. It would tickle her pink to do it. Gad, what a fix I'm in—no knowledge of female wiles."
He went to the bathroom and made a great to-do about water and soap.
"Don't have to shave," he observed, critically surveying his wife's pert face in the mirror. "That's one good thing at least, but I do have to make up a little and arrange my hair some way. How does one manage that?"
But manage it he did. Sighing deeply, he returned to the bedroom and began to rummage through his wife's bureau. A black piece of lace network caught his eye and he became idly interested.
"Guess I'll put this on," he muttered.
For five minutes he sweated over the delicate fastenings of the brassiere, then, admitting himself baffled, he compromised by putting it on backwards. He had not the courage to bring himself to look at the result. After that, he went slinking about the room, furtively getting himself into this thing and that until finally he was fully if not any too securely arrayed. The garters had been a struggle. These, too, he put on backwards and dragged the straps round to the front. This weird arrangement made him feel rather peculiar and uncertain about the waist and upper legs, but he decided it was better than wearing no garters at all. By the time he had finished with himself, virtually every article of wearing apparel his wife had possessed was scattered about the room. Then with a deep sigh he seated himself at the vanity dresser and proceeded to do things to his face.
"I never thought she did this thing right," he said to himself. "Think I'll make a good job of it and make her feel envious when she comes home to-night."
But by the time he had finished with lipsticks and eyebrow pencils and mascara and rouge, there were few women in the world who would have envied him his face. The lipstick was the first difficulty. In endeavouring to achieve a symmetrical and well-balanced effect, he kept adding colour first to one side of his lips and then to another, until at last even he himself grew alarmed at the size his mouth was becoming. Abandoning this feature of his face as hopeless, he applied himself to his eyelashes, with decidedly streaky results which did not add to the neatness of his already untidy face. He then pencilled his eyebrows heavily, unevenly, and, being of an experimental nature, curled them up at the ends.
"The exotic touch," he murmured. "I've always been strongly attracted to exotic-looking women. I'll make an exotic face of it."
However, instead of making his face look exotic, as he fondly believed he was doing, he merely succeeded in making it look chaotic. To be truthful it was about the most chaotic-looking face that had ever been worn by a human being. This became even more apparent after he had liberally applied rouge to his cheeks and sprinkled several beauty spots in what he considered to be appropriate places.
"Must have earrings," he muttered, now thoroughly engrossed in his artistic endeavours. "Got to have earrings and a sort of necklace thing."
After emptying several small boxes of their contents, he found what he wanted and thus further adorned his person. With the earrings he experienced some difficulty, but was finally able to make them stay put. These last embellishments gave to his already miscellaneous appearance the suggestion of a frivolous but slightly smeared gypsy fortune-teller. The general effect was exceedingly confusing. In his absorption in the decoration of his features, Tim Willows had overlooked the point that he was creating a face that was supposed to be worn in a civilised community. If seen at a masquerade at about five o'clock in the morning when everyone's faculties were numbed by over-indulgence, it might possibly have got by, but in a quiet suburban home it was a most astounding face to come upon unexpectedly.
Certainly Mrs. Jennings found it so when Tim, still fumbling with his rebellious garters, descended the stairs and made a rather crablike entrance into the lounge. Tim was no less astounded. To his memory he had never seen this person before. He did not want to see her now. And the look he directed upon her eloquently expressed his feelings.
"Oh, my dear," began Mrs. Jennings, "whatever has happened to your face?"
"Nothing that I know of, madam," replied Tim with deep-voiced dignity. "Is my face in need of a shave or are you under the impression that the thing has slipped?"
Suddenly remembering that this was not at all the sort of answer that was expected of him, he laughed a trifle hysterically, then attempted to look coy.
"I'm practising a part in a play," he told the almost stupefied woman. "Don't know when it's going to be, but it's going to be—that is, I think it is. The part calls for a deep-voiced woman. Don't ask me why. It just does. Did you ever practise being a deep-voiced woman? It's most remarkable what one can do. You should try being deep-voiced, my dear. Really you should. Just excuse me a minute. Be right back."
Tim hurried to the dining-room and, opening a closet in the sideboard, extracted a bottle of rye, from which he drank deeply without even troubling about a glass. Wiping the tears from his eyes together with much mascara, he rang for Peter, and returned coughingly to the lounge once more to confront Mrs. Jennings.
Mrs. Jennings, it developed after much astute fishing, was a neighbour who on the pretext of borrowing a meat grinder had dropped over to exchange a lot of dirt. She was young, attractive, and in every respect desirable, but, handicapped as he was with his present body, Tim did not know what on earth to do with the woman.
"Well, you certainly should have been an actress," Mrs. Jennings observed. "When you first came into the room I could have sworn a man was speaking. Thought perhaps it was your husband, although I've never met him. Only this morning Jack was saying to me, 'Flo,' he said, 'I want you to meet Tim Willows. He's one of the few interesting men in Cliffside.'"
This last declaration of Mrs. Jennings was a great help to Tim Willows. It enabled him to discover that the woman called herself Flo, and by the process of elimination, he decided that her last name could be none other than Jennings. Feeling a little better equipped to continue this unequal contest, he was about to reply to the woman when one of his earrings became detached and slipped down the front of his dress.
"Damn these earrings to hell!" he exclaimed gruffly but sincerely. "Why don't they stay where they belong?"
Snatching irritably at the neck of the dress, he succeeded not only in unfastening his brassiere, but also in ripping open the dress itself. As a result of this, he was almost naked to the waist.
At that moment Peter presented himself in answer to the bell. As Tim turned towards him, that venerable domestic was startled beyond measure. Tim, noticing the old man's embarrassment, hastened to put him at his ease.
"Pardon me, Peter," he said girlishly. "Just a slight accident. You can serve breakfast now."
"Yesem," replied Peter, hurrying from the room and thinking strange thoughts to himself in his flight.
"Of course, you'll stay to breakfast, Flo, dear," continued the spurious Sally. "At least have a cup of coffee."
Flo Jennings stayed. She wanted to talk about Beth Johnson's operation and she intended to talk about Beth Johnson's operation. Nothing was going to stop her. She hoped to be able to talk about that operation for a long time and in great detail.
Meanwhile, out in the kitchen, Mr. Peter Twill was endeavouring to relieve his feelings through the unsatisfactory medium of words.
"All she needs is feathers to make her look like a red Indian," he informed his good wife. "Painted wild like a heathen savage and nearly as naked. Doesn't seem to mind. 'Pardon me, Peter,' she said, as cool as ice, just like it was the most natural thing in the world for a woman to be going about that way. Something's come over her and the master, too. He gave me the coyest look this morning when he asked for a little pick-me-up. Then he said—and very nastily, too—that a woman's place was in the home, but that instead of having a woman we had a lazy bum in bed. He never went as far as that about Miss Sally before."
Dopey, gathering from the excited voice of Peter that rare and interesting developments were afoot, oozily emerged from his box and, pushing open the pantry door, presented himself in the dining-room. The sight of his dog caused Tim once more to forget that he was a lady.
"Come here, you old son of a hooker," he called out in a rough, vulgar voice to the confusion of Flo Jennings. "How's every little thing?"
At the sound of his master's voice issuing from his mistress's body, Dopey stopped dead in his tracks and with reproachful eyes gazed at the speaker. One look at the face sent the hair up along the dog's spine. There was something wrong here, something radically wrong with that face. God knows what it all meant. Unable to trust his legs, Dopey sat down and broke into a gentle sweat.
"Come here, damn your craven heart to hell," grated the painted woman.
The dog could stand it no longer. He elevated his muzzle and pushed through it a howl of sheer bewilderment and mental anguish, then, turning, the great beast endeavoured to crawl away on his stomach. The howl of the dog had already disconcerted Flo Jennings, but that which issued from the madly painted lips of her hostess froze the poor woman in her chair. Already Tim Willows had been through a sufficiently trying morning. He had stood enough for ten men. In the face of overwhelming odds he had done his best to be a lady. It was as if fate had conspired to defeat his efforts. His garters were all wrong and his breasts refused to work. Then this Jennings woman had greatly added to the difficulties of the situation. These things had he stood with fortitude. Even with the threat of motherhood hanging over his head, he had tried to remain calm, but when his own dog turned tail and denied him, Tim Willows went temporarily mad. With a howl even less agreeable to hear than his dog's, Tim sprang from the table and hurled the nearest glass at the busily slithering body. Dopey, still close to the floor, gasped and, looking back over his shoulder with despairing eyes, gave himself up for lost. Then Mr. Willows heaped upon the head of the animal a flood of vile abuse in which he brought to light every defect in the creature's character and every crime he had ever committed. Dopey longed to put his paws to his ears if only to muffle this horrid impeachment, but he was too busy scraping with them on the kitchen door to interrupt his frantic efforts. Succeeding at last in opening this he sneaked from the room.
"No wonder the poor thing is terrified," said Mrs. Twill to her husband. "Hear her swear. Why she's just like a man, she is. Worse."
"Something strange has come over this house," old Peter replied, with heavy assurance.
Dopey fully agreed as he collapsed into his box, where he lay shivering fitfully.
Back in the dining-room Tim was trying to pull himself together.
"It's my temperament, you know," he explained, bestowing a smile of suffering upon his unwelcome companion. "I get this way when I act—lose myself in the part—forget at times who I am. What were you saying, my dear? Something awfully interesting. It was all about Beth Johnson and a lot of knives and blood."
Flo Jennings, vainly trying to understand what had come over Sally Willows, soon lost herself in the ghastly narration of Beth Johnson's operation. Tim, listening with shrinking ears, struggled as best he could to choke down the bacon and eggs which Peter had timidly set before him. The woman went into the most revolting details and dwelt gloatingly on the pain inflicted on what had hitherto been for Tim unheard-of organs of the body. With mounting consternation he wondered if he had all those organs inside him, and if he had, were they all okay. And all the time he was thinking to himself, "Why, this woman is no better than a ghoul—a horrid vulture. And they say men are crude, evil-speaking creatures. This Jennings person here has the worst of us licked. Wonder if she drinks blood instead of orange juice for breakfast?"
When Flo lightly passed on to the subject of cancerous growths and their prevalence among women Tim was reduced to the consistency of a submerged sponge. Rising unsteadily from the table he excused himself for a moment, with a feeble smile of apology. In the kitchen he seized Peter with shaking hands.
"Sneak that bottle out of the sideboard," he told the old gentleman, who was himself beginning to shake. "That woman in there is killing me."
Peter returned with the bottle, and Tim poured himself a stiff bracer.
"Take one yourself," he told Peter, "and give one to Judy. We all need a little something to-day."
When he had returned to the dining-room Mrs. Twill turned to her husband with frightened eyes.
"Sounds exactly like Mr. Tim," she said, "and doesn't look much like Miss Sally."
Peter nodded in silence and swallowed down his rye.
Tim led his guest to the lounge, where he absently selected a cigar from the humidor. After carefully lighting the cigar he politely offered one to the woman, who was looking at him with a peculiar expression.
"I've never smoked a cigar in my life," said Mrs. Jennings in declining the offer.
"Oh, you should, my dear," Tim replied with false sweetness. "George Sand did, and in Germany it's all the rage among smart women. We'll all be doing it soon. That, by the way, is whom I'm supposed to be—George Sand. I've just remembered. Famous writer. Lived with a lot of men. All different."
Flo hesitated. She dearly wanted to be a smart woman.
"I might try," she said at last. "Now that there are no men about to see. Hope it doesn't make me sick."
"What a silly you are, Flo," scoffed Tim as, with grim satisfaction, he selected the blackest cigar he could find and lighted it for the unsuspecting woman.
"You know," said Flo Jennings after she had finished coughing, "what I really came over here for was to borrow your meat grinder."
"That's just what she would borrow," said Tim to himself. "She and a meat grinder should get along splendidly together." Aloud he remarked graciously, "Certainly, Flo. I'd be delighted. What sort of meat are you going to mutilate?"
"Roast beef," replied Flo, struggling with the cigar.
"I'll bet it's nice and rare," said Tim.
"It is," replied Flo with gleaming eyes. "I like it rare."
Tim shuddered and left the room. He was sorry for the roast beef. While getting the grinder he helped himself to another drink, then returned to the lounge. He found Flo Jennings looking very pale and wan. The sight gave him no little satisfaction.
"I think I'll be going," she said weakly. "This cigar seems to have done things to me. Don't feel as if I could ever eat again. Do run over to see me, Sally. It's been such a lovely chat."
"Hasn't it just?" replied Tim. "It was really simply too sweet of you to have let me in on Beth Johnson's operation. Try to dig up another one."
Flo was too far gone to be aware of the irony in Tim's words. She seized the grinder and made a hasty exit. Tim sank down in a chair and broodingly considered his breasts.
That afternoon, a trifle exalted, Tim took a walk, and in his reckless frame of mind allowed himself to be picked up by a couple of passing automobilists. When the machine turned down an unfrequented road and his companions attempted to become forcibly familiar, Tim's immediate reactions both pained and surprised them. Seizing a spanner from the floor of the car he knocked one of the gentlemen out, then incapacitated the other with a well-directed kick. Realising he was no longer welcome, he got out of the car and trudged off down the road. It was five miles to home, and Tim, in his light, high-heeled pumps, felt hardly equal to the task.
"To think that such a thing should ever have happened to me," he mused bitterly. "What a good girl doesn't have to stand for in this world! I'm a damn good girl, myself, but it strikes me that no girl's honour is worth a five-mile walk. On a good road it might be, and in the summer, but not on a road like this."
Thus moralising, Tim continued to plod through the slush and the gathering dusk. Behind him on the road two stricken automobilists were examining the extent of their injuries and radically revising their opinions of the weaker sex.
Gradually Tim began to chuckle.
"I certainly did that beggar dirt," he muttered. "He'll never be any earthly good. Serves him damn well right for trying to get rough with a lady. Hope the other one isn't dead. Anyway, I've still got my honour—whatever that is."
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