Previous ChapterContentsNext Chapter



Thorne Smith


A Man in Body Only

WHILE Tim Willows was having his day, such as it was, Sally was also having hers in full measure. The poor girl was doing her best to be a gentleman. In this she succeeded only spottily. There were moments when she was quite good and others when she was very poor indeed. Her trip into town, for instance, was most unfortunate. Especially for Mr. Carl Bentley.

Sally should never have taken that pick-me-up from old Peter. It did more harm than good. Dashed down as it had been on an empty stomach it seemed only to make her disinclined to remember for any length of time the reversed position she was now so amazingly occupying. She preferred to be herself.

And, of course, she should never have sat down in the train beside Mr. Carl Bentley. This was a mistake. Almost anyone who sat down beside that insufferably boring gentleman anywhere was making a mistake, as was very speedily and painfully realised, but for Sally, in her mood of reckless elevation, the mistake could easily have proved disastrous. As it was, the young lady in her excited condition completely lost both poise and perception, and for an apparently case-hardened commuter conducted herself completely unlike the accepted conception of that unblessed creature.

Carl Bentley himself did a little long-distance poise-losing. The moment he became aware of the fact that he was going to have as a seat-mate the man who of all men he most desired to avoid, he became demoralised in all departments. Turning slightly he viewed with alarm the features of the bogus Mr. Willows. Carl's temerity was rewarded by a smile of infinite tenderness as he looked for a startled moment into his companion's brimming eyes.

"Good-morning, dear," fell lightly from the other's lips.

Mr. Bentley started and then tried to convince himself that he had both heard and seen wrong. He fervently hoped he had. If Tim Willows wanted to be friendly, so much the better, but there was no need for him to be gushing about it. Mr. Bentley felt called upon to make some sort of reply.

"We seem fated to be thrown together," he observed a little resentfully as, with great ostentation, he unfolded his morning paper.

"Lucky fate!" exclaimed Sally with a rush. "You great big beautiful man."

Carl Bentley blushed to the roots of his hair even while his blood ran cold. This is an extremely unusual feat and very difficult to do. But Carl Bentley, so great was his perturbation, achieved it with remarkable ease.

"I said," continued the voice, this time a little louder, "you great big beautiful man."

"Don't keep on saying it," Mr. Bentley pleaded earnestly. "People might begin to talk."

With this he plunged his head in his paper and gave himself up to bitter thoughts. Was this man put on earth merely to torture him? Just because he, Bentley, had tried to dishonour the creature's home, was that sufficient reason for carrying the feud into public life? Funny thing, too, he had never noticed before that Tim Willows had such a shockingly effeminate voice. It was either that or else the man was displaying the worst of bad taste in trying to be funny in such a questionable manner.

"What do I care how people talk?" he heard his companion proclaiming. "What do we care? For the first time in my life I am enjoying complete sexual freedom. I recognise no barriers."

Sally was beginning to enjoy the situation hugely. All women are born with a well-developed desire to make men feel uncomfortable whenever possible. This retaliatory impulse compensates them in part for the long years of oppression heaped upon them by the self-satisfied male. It gave Sally infinite delight to make this large man squirm. And this feeling did not at all conflict with the fact that at the same time she found him passably attractive. For this reason her conversation was half in earnest and half in play, a most unfortunate combination for the peace of mind of Carl Bentley.

"Perfect sexual freedom," she repeated defiantly. "Sex without let or hindrance. Everything! All!"

Carl Bentley shivered.

"Practise your freedom with someone else," he told her in a low, hurried voice. "Don't try to drag me down with you. I wish for neither everything nor all!"

"You're right," continued Sally resolutely. "It's time we stood back to back and faced the world—threw our love in its ugly snoot. Why should we hide our guilty secret? I fear nothing, sweetheart, with you at my side."

"I fear everything with you at my side," groaned Mr. Bentley. "Won't you go away from it?"

"All the seats are taken. All the seats are taken," sang Sally in a happy voice. "It's just as you said, Carl, dear. Fate has conspired to keep us inseparable."

It was remarkable how uncannily the man could imitate his wife's voice. It was terrible. Carl Bentley looked furtively about him and was convinced that his eyes encountered the amused and scornful glances of his fellow commuters. In particular he noticed a pretty stenographer who was looking at him in a most peculiar way. Then, for the first time, he realised that the heavy fragrance he had been smelling ever since he had boarded the train emanated from his companion. It was true. While shifting into her husband's clothes Sally had been unable to resist spraying on herself a dash of her favourite perfume. It had been an instinctive action, a long-established habit, but Carl Bentley did not take this into consideration. He was very much upset.

"Why in heaven's name did you put that stuff on you?" he demanded. "You smell like the loosest of women. People will begin to suspect me."

"Let 'em suspect," retorted Sally. "Why shouldn't I perfume my body? I'll anoint the damn thing with oils if I want to. I tell you I'm free—free!"

She tried to fling an arm round his neck, and for a moment they struggled unbecomingly together, to the delight of several spectators.

"I want to hug you," gritted Sally through her husband's teeth as she struggled manfully back. "Come on, handsome. Let me give you a hug."

In the small turmoil arising from Sally's amorous efforts she succeeded in yanking Mr. Bentley's tie out from under his vest and in completely upsetting his carefully arranged hair. The man was in a pitiful condition, almost on the verge of collapse. Sally might have felt sorry for him had it not been for the fact that the drink was dying on her, and she could feel sorry only for herself. Recklessly she tossed discretion to the winds.

"You weren't so backward the other night," she flung at the discomfited Mr. Bentley as he struggled to rearrange himself. "You were only too anxious then to have me put my arms round your neck. Don't try to deny it. You've been after me for weeks."

"What!" gasped the stricken man. "Me after you? Are you mad or am I?"

He slumped down in the seat and buried his head in the newspaper.

"I'm mad about you," he heard the soft voice say as its owner slipped affectionately down beside him and made a snatch at one of his hands. Then he became horribly aware of the conductor looking down at them both with ill-concealed distaste. What was the man thinking? Probably the worst.

Sally seemed to be the first to recover her poise. She realised that here was a situation in which she might as well act as a man.

"Hello, there," she said in the voice of Mr. Willows, thereby driving Bentley into even greater confusion. "How are you to-day, officer? Meet my boy friend."

The conductor punched the extended commutation ticket, then transferred his attention to Carl Bentley, and to that gentleman's horror addressed him in a ladylike voice.

"Will you please show me your ticket, miss?" said the conductor to Carl Bentley. "I hope you won't think me bold."

Mr. Bentley guiltily held up his ticket with a trembling hand, and so great was the power of suggestion that when he tried to answer the man his voice cracked on a high note and he was forced to abandon the attempt. Well pleased with the success of his humour, for Sally had laughed heartily and deeply at the conductor's words, the man passed on and, bending low over the passenger in the next seat, whispered a few sentences, then chuckled coarsely. Mr. Bentley felt sure the man must be pointing at him. He sank even lower down in the seat and became completely hidden by his paper.

"You've ruined me," he muttered. "I'll never be able to live this down. It was a sad day when I first laid eyes on your wife."

"Oh," replied Sally, lapsing into her feminine way of speaking. "Well, I'll try to make it up to you for her."

Bentley made no reply to this, and for several blessed minutes he was allowed to read his paper in quiet if not in peace. His respite was shortlived. From the tail of his eye he presently made out the face of Tim Willows peeking coyly round the edge of the paper. Then the face giggled and spoke and a long finger pointed at an advertisement.

"How'd you like to see me in those step-ins?" asked the face. "Wouldn't I look cute?"

Carl Bentley shrank back, nearly overcome by his emotions.

"Wouldn't I?" persisted the face. "Tell me, Carl, or I'll make a scene."

"Oh!" gasped Mr. Bentley. "This is too much. This time you've gone too far—overstepped all bounds."

He tried to rise, but Sally clung desperately to the tails of his coat. Mr. Bentley, as he sank back, decided that this was one of life's most embarrassing moments. People were looking at him, going out of their way to look at him. They were bending out into the aisle, peering over the backs of seats.

"Say yes," continued the hateful voice. "If you don't I'll break into tears. I'll sob. I'll moan. I'll growl."

The thought of occupying a seat with a sobbing, moaning, growling Tim Willows completely cowed Carl Bentley. He would submit to any form of torture rather than have that occur.

"You would," he managed to get out, nearly sobbing, himself. "You'd look just dandy. Here, you take this paper and read it to yourself."

"You're so sweet," murmured Sally. "But I already have a paper."

"Then for God's sake read it," snapped the baited Mr. Bentley. "Do you intend to drive me mad?"

Sally burst into a fresh, girlish laugh.

"Now you're joshing me," she said, slapping him playfully on the cheek with her husband's gloves. "You tried to crawl into my bed the other night, didn't you? What a bad, bold maa you are."

Bentley gathered himself for action, then, before Sally had time to realise what he intended to do, he sprang from the seat and sped down the aisle. For a moment she looked after him, then she, too, sprang up and hurried in pursuit, imploringly calling his name. Sometimes she called him by both names as if to make sure that the whole trainload of commuters should know all about Carl Bentley. She was still dogging his footsteps when the train pulled in at the station. Bentley was the first to alight, and as his feet hit the long ramp they instinctively started to run. So did Sally's. The man fled through the gate to the huge waiting room and streaked across the floor. For a time Sally hung on, then decided it was hardly worth while. The last Mr. Bentley heard of the voice that had made him an outcast among men was, "Good-bye, dearie. Don't do anything I wouldn't do myself." This parting shot lent speed to his already flying feet.

Sally turned and was immediately disconcerted by the suspicious scrutiny of a policeman. At that moment a man she knew only slightly was so unfortunate as to pass by. Sally slapped him so violently on the back that the cigar he was smoking popped out of his mouth with such speed that for a moment the man thought his assailant had snatched it. Seizing the stunned man's hand Sally pumped it vigorously.

"Hello, Jennings!" she cried in a deep, masculine voice. "How are you, old scout? Well, good-bye."

And with that she swaggered off, leaving the old scout and the policeman feeling that a few words of explanation were due them both. When she stood before the door of the Nationwide Advertising Agency Sally braced herself and prepared for the worst. She realised that now or never she must act the part of a perfect gentleman. Then Tim's admonition to be nice to the girl at the desk returned to her. She thrust open the door and stood for a moment studying the girl's face. Sally's first glance was sufficient to assure her that few men would find it a difficult task to be nice to this fair creature. She was a luscious specimen of womanhood, fresh and in full bloom. Looking at her Sally gained the impression that the girl was wasting her time most shamefully when not engaged in amorous occupations. She was that type of girl.

"Good-morning, young man," said the girl to Sally. "Why the enraptured gaze?"

"I'm looking at you and running a temperature," replied Sally, in a fair approximation of Tim's voice and manner. "You're such a warm number you make me feverish."

"What!" exclaimed the girl. "At this time of day?"

"Grandpa Willows was just that way," explained Sally. "I've an uncle who's even worse."

Sally thought the responsive glow that sprang to the girl's eyes should be prohibited from public demonstration. It was a menace to mankind.

"All of which, I presume, is leading up to the fact that you'd like your morning spot," said the girl. "Tell me if I'm wrong."

"I have nothing to say," replied Sally. "Come over here," commanded the girl as she deftly filled a paper cup with a stiff drink from the seemingly inexhaustible flask in the desk drawer. "Toss that off and beat it."

Sally tossed it off, then stood swaying slightly on her feet as the tears streamed from her eyes and strange sounds emerged from her throat.

"Very old and rare," she gasped. "The person who drinks that should never suffer from baldness of the chest."

"I don't suffer from that disease," the girl replied. "I glory in it."

Sally, now invigorated by what she had received, felt truly thankful. She walked back to the desk and, bending down over the girl, neatly kissed her on the mouth, and was surprised to discover that she was more of a man than she had thought possible. In spite of her surprise the girl responded avidly. And this was what Mr. Gibber saw when he arrived at his office that fine, bright morning—his reception clerk being roundly kissed by one of his most troublesome copy writers.

"Mr. Willows!" snapped Mr. Gibber.

"It's himself," muttered the girl.

Sally was surprised at the sound of her own voice, or rather, Tim's voice. It was deep, cool, and collected as she replied to Mr. Gibber.

"One moment, sir," she protested, painfully pressing a thumb into the girl's right eye. "I think I've got it. No, that's odd. It was there a moment ago. Does it hurt much?" This last to the girl.

"Too much," came the feeling reply.

"I'll bet Mr. Gibber's eyes are sharper than mine," Sally announced, straightening her husband's body. "Look, Mr. Gibber, the poor girl's eye is all inflamed. There's a cinder in it or something."

"It's a thumb," said the girl under her breath.

"I'm sorry," replied Mr. Gibber, as he examined the girl's eye, which by this time was quite convincingly inflamed. "I misunderstood the situation, perhaps. You must be terribly nearsighted, Mr. Willows, or were you trying to bite the cinder out?"

"Ha, ha!" laughed Sally falsely, "you jest, Mr. Gibber, you jest."

Leaving Mr. Gibber with the girl's eye, Sally escaped from the reception room, and after wandering experimentally along various halls and passageways eventually located Tim's office by seeing his name on the door.

No sooner was she seated at the desk than a man walked briskly in and brought a hand down crashingly on her back. Sally pitched forward on Tim's face and lay among the pencils and pads.

"Morning, you sot!" cried the man. "How do you come up and fall off to-day?"

"I fall off," said Sally feebly, "but I don't come up. My good man, you've ruined me."

Sally felt convinced this would be Steve Jones. No other man would take such a chance with Tim. She knew how he objected to back-slapping both in theory and in practice.

"What's wrong with you?" demanded the man. "Are you weak to-day?"

"Very," replied Sally. "Very weak to-day, Steve. Help me to resume the sitting posture you so brutally interrupted."

When Sally was once more erect in her chair she looked at Steve with tears in her eyes. Stev^ was a likeable enough looking chap—dark, stocky, and with alert black eyes bright with bad thoughts.

"You owe me two dollars," he announced happily. "Gold Heels lost."

"I'd like to check that with Tim," she began, then quickly checked herself and drew two bills from her pocket. "Here's your dishonestly won spoils," she hurried on. "You'll excuse me, I trust, if I seem to dash away? That blow on the back did terrible things to me."

"Double or quits," Steve Jones suggested, flipping a coin in the air.

"What do you mean?" asked Sally, pausing on her way to the door.

"You know," the other replied. "Don't be dumb."

And because Sally did not know she nodded vaguely and, taking a coin from her pocket, flipped it into the waste paper basket.

"Does that win?" she asked hopefully.

"Wait!" cried Steve. "Don't touch it. I'm matching you."

He flipped his coin again, caught it dexterously as Sally watched with admiring eyes a little tinged with envy, flattened the coin on the edge of the desk, then peered greedily down into the waste paper basket.

"Ah!" he exclaimed. "Good! It's heads. You owe me another two dollars."

Sally's, or rather the face she was wearing, grew blank.

"What?" she demanded. "Already?"

"Don't stall," said Steve, "you big stiff."

"All right," replied Sally. "Seems very strange to me. I'll have to owe it to you. Is that all that we do, or is there more?"

"Not unless you want to double it or nothing," observed Steve.

"Let's play nothing," said Sally. "I really must be going."

As she absently made her way to the ladies' rest room she decided that hereafter she would shun the company of Steve Jones.

"It cost me just four good dollars," she thought to herself, "to get pounded on the back. That's not as it should be."

The ladies' room when she found it was a place of many partitions, which arrangement accounts for the fact that at first the presence of one they had good and sufficient reasons to believe to be a man was not noticed by several girls busily engaged in tightening their stockings upon their well-turned limbs. The conversation of these girls interested Sally and made her still further forget herself. It had to do with the price and quality of stockings and the best places to purchase them. So interested did she become, in fact, that she innocently approached the girls and attempted to join in the conversation.

"My dears," she began in the most friendly of feminine voices, "where do you buy your——"

Her question was neither finished nor answered. Never before had Sally realised that women could work up so much noise at such short notice. The air was pierced by a series of ear-splitting shrieks. Partition doors slammed and the figures of frantic women dashed clutchingly about the room. Sally stood appalled as she saw these figures break for the exit and heard excited voices carrying the name of Mr. Willows to the nethermost recesses of the Nationwide Advertising Agency. It was only a matter of moments before she had the room to herself, or nearly to herself.

"Oh, God, I've done it now," she groaned. "I'll never be able to live after this. What happens next?"

Unable to bear this thought she dragged at a partition door, only to have her efforts rewarded by a fresh outburst of shrieks and lamentations.

"Be quiet!" gasped Sally. "I'm a woman myself at heart."

"Oh, what a liar," came the voice. "You're just a nasty man and you should be ashamed of yourself."

Sally threw open another door, jumped in and snapped the catch just as Miss Reeder, the president's personal secretary, bounced into the room with an expression of set purpose solidifying the wrinkles on her sharp, faded face. At the moment she was in her glory. She was hounding a man. At last she had the goods on one of the members of the sex that had neglected her for so many barren years.

"Mr. Willows," she called in a harsh voice.

"He's not here," said Sally from her place of concealment.

"Oh, he is so," cried the girl in the other compartment. "Make him go away, Miss Reeder."

"I know where he is," replied Miss Reeder complacently. "I can see his big feet. You might as well come out, Mr. Willows."

"I can't come out," said Sally sadly.

"And why not, pray?" demanded Miss Reeder.

"I don't feel like it," replied Sally desperately. "Can't you see I don't feel like it."

Then followed a period of silence which was even more unnerving than the shrieking of many voices.

"Well, Mr. Willows," came the voice of Miss Reeder presently, "are you ready to come out? I'm waiting."

"I'm never coming out," declared Sally.

"Then I'll send some men in," said the determined woman. "They'll break the door down and drag you out."

The prospect of being besieged in a ladies' rest room proved too much for Sally. She opened the door and with great dignity walked past Miss Reeder and out of the room where an informal reception committee was awaiting her arrival. Disdaining any words of explanation Sally averted her gaze from the faces of the interested group and walked slowly back to her husband's office while the eyes of all the stenographers and clerks in the world seemed to be following her progress with hideous concentration. A memorandum was waiting for her on the desk. She picked it up mechanically and read:

Mr. Gibber will continue his talk on Brevity at 10.30 a.m. in the conference room.

Signed: G. M. REEDER, Sec'y.

By the time Sally had located the conference room the chairs at the table were nearly all occupied. Sally's belated arrival created no little interest. The distracted girl in man's image was painfully aware of the amused glances of numerous pairs of eyes. Mr. Gibber himself regarded Sally with a stern, censorious eye as she found a chair next to Steve Jones and sank down on it.

"What's the matter?" Steve demanded in a low voice. "Are you turning into a nasty old man or did losing all that money temporarily derange you?"

"Don't ask me now," pleaded Sally. "I can't bear to talk about it yet. Maybe I've gone mad. I don't know."

"Gentlemen," began Mr. Gibber, "yesterday, as you doubtless remember, I was discussing the subject of brevity."

"Yes, sir," put in Dolly Meades helpfully. "You had just got to pith."

"I had left pith," replied Mr. Gibber, looking at the young woman reprovingly. "And I do not intend to return to it. In other words, we'll waive pith." He squared his shoulders, then leaning over the table, made a fresh start. "Gentlemen," he said, "do you want to know something?" From the indifferent expressions on the faces of the gentlemen addressed it was only too apparent they had no desire to know anything.

Sally felt that some answer should be made to Mr. Gibber's neglected question, but as no one seemed to give a hang she answered it herself.

"Yes, Mr. Gibber," she said. "Go right ahead. I'd like to know something."

"What do you want to know?" asked Mr. Gibber suspiciously.

"I haven't the vaguest idea," replied Sally. "Whatever you were going to tell us."

"The question was merely rhetorical," said Mr. Gibber.

"Sorry," answered Sally. "I thought you were speaking on brevity. One can hardly be brief and rhetorical at the same time."

Mr. Gibber's face turned dangerously red and his eyes looked dangerously angry. Nevertheless he got hold of himself and made his third attempt.

"Boys," he called them this time, "this is what I want you to know. It's easy enough to write words, beautiful words. It's as easy as falling off a log. It's a joke. Any one of us here could sit right down now and dash off a novel or a play. We all could do it. And why don't we? I'll tell you—we have more important things to do with our words. I know it, because I have done it. Not a year passes that doesn't see a new book or a play or sheaf of verse that has been turned out by my pen. Why do I do it?"

"Yes, Mr. Gibber," asked Dolly. "Why do you do it?"

"Just for fun," thundered Mr. Gibber. "Just for a lark. I never even take the trouble to let a publisher have them."

"A business, a man, or an idea that can be put on a paying basis must be fundamentally sound, must be essentially moral. But the vast majority of writers—these poets, playwrights and novelists—are not on a paying basis. Therefore they are neither sound nor moral. Some of them offend us while others amuse. All very good in their way, but after all, just froth—lightweights. We read them. We use them. We dismiss them. There's no money in that sort of writing. They never get out of the red. Froth." Once more a portentous pause. "Now, boys," he continued, gaining inspiration from the sound of his own voice, "get this fact through your heads: we are the people. It is we who create the literature of progress and plan the campaigns of commerce. Right here in this quiet, gorgeously appointed conference room with my old golf trophies around us and souvenirs of the hunt looking at us from the wall——" Here Mr. Gibber interrupted himself to point at the moth-eaten head of a misanthropic-looking moose gloomily surveying the people.

"He doesn't seem to be tickled to death to see us, that silly-looking old moose doesn't," observed Miss Meades. "What has the moose got to do with this discussion?" demanded Mr. Gibber.

"I don't know, Mr. Gibber," replied Dolly sweetly. "You seemed to be presenting him to us or us to him, so I thought——"

"Don't," broke in Mr. Gibber. "What I was saying, gentlemen, is that right here in this room, moose or no moose, we are the people who are doing the real writing to-day, the real inspired creative work."

"Hear! Hear!" cried Sally enthusiastically. "You're dead right, Mr. Gibber. That's exactly what my husband always tells me. He says that a copy writer must get along on less facts than a writer of fairy tales."

"Your wife you mean, Mr. Willows," corrected Mr. Gibber, highly pleased to be supported from such an unexpected quarter. He forgave Tim Willows much.

"Of course, of course. How foolish of me." Sally's blush spread over her husband's face. "Naturally, my wife."

"Gentlemen," went on Mr. Gibber, plunging his right fist into the palm of his left hand. "It's up to us to write words that sell rather than words that please. And that's hard, gentlemen, damned hard. That's real writing. I admit it. I have done it. The famous Bingo Reversible Puppy Biscuit Campaign, one of the outstanding successes of modern advertising, was mine, all mine. But it called for work, men, work before words, push before phrase, concentration before copy. That's what I mean. That's what I mean exactly. That and more. We who are gathered here together in the presence of——"

"The moose," suggested Miss Meades.

"—are carrying on a great work," continued Mr. Gibber, brushing interruptions aside, "are shouldering a heavy responsibility. It devolves upon us to protect American capital and American industry from the insidious inroads of the deadly Red Blight. It is up to us to keep American labour contented and where it belongs—obediently on the job. It is my privilege, gentlemen, to be at the head of this splendid organisation which I have created. Nay, it is my duty. I must face it. I must face it like an experienced field marshal standing in a—a—a——"

"A field, perhaps," suggested Sally. "That's where he should stand by rights."

"No, not a field," gritted Mr. Gibber.

"In a daze, maybe," put in Dolly Meades, not to be outdone in helpfulness.

"In neither!" cried Mr. Gibber. "Like Marshall Field standing—ha! Where am I? Oh, yes. Like a field marshal standing before the mast, one hand grasping the helm, the other one heaving the lead——"

"A considerable stretch, that, Mr. Gibber," observed the accurate Miss Meades. "Especially for a field marshal who is much more at home on a horse. Now if you had said, 'Like a field marshal clinging to his horse, one hand grasping his tail, the other one holding his tooth——'"

Sally laughed scornfully.

"Do you mean to say that that field marshal's horse had only one tooth?" she demanded.

"No, not necessarily," retorted Dolly Meades hotly. "It might have had two teeth. Then again, it might have been an old horse—a toothless horse."

"They never send a toothless horse to the front," replied Sally.

"Just a minute! Just a minute!" cried Mr. Gibber.

"We've got to settle this, Mr. Gibber," said Dolly Meades. Then, levelling her gaze on Sally, she continued. "Why not?" she demanded truculently. "Why not send a toothless horse to the front? Horses are not supposed to eat the enemy."

"I know," replied Sally. "But it's the looks of the thing I'm thinking about. Not nice to see a lot of toothless horses knocking about the front. Should retire the poor things on half pay."

"I don't see that at all," Miss Meades objected. "If Marshall Field happens to like a toothless horse I see no reason why he shouldn't ride one."

"Who is this Marshall Field, anyway?" asked Sally. "I don't seem to remember him, or is he a place where you play games?"

"I haven't time! I haven't time!" Mr. Gibber protested, looking considerably dazed. "We'll drop Marshall Field——"

"And his toothless horse," added Sally.

"Anyway, you know what I mean," Mr. Gibber struggled on.

"I don't," spoke up Sally unhelpfully, but fortunately for this victim of Mr. Ram's caprice Mr. Gibber did not hear her.

"And there's money in it," he continued. "Good money. Big money. Money enough for us all."

Mr. Gibber pronounced the word "money" so succulently his listeners could almost taste it.

"Not now, perhaps,"—and here Mr. Gibber held up a restraining hand, fearing he had awakened false hopes in the breasts of his listeners. "Not now, of course, but later. For everyone in this room who devotes his entire time, thought, and energy exclusively to the best interests of this great organisation there is sure money ahead. I have your welfare at heart. I think you know me well enough to trust your futures to me. Your interests are my interests. Your hopes and aspirations are dearer to me than my own. I am satisfied to be of service to mankind. Only two things do I ask—loyalty and hard work. If you give me those you need have no fear. I will carry each one of you with me along the highroad of prosperity to a happier and fuller life." Apparently overcome by the thought of the terrific task he had set himself, Mr. Gibber walked emotionally to a window while his prospective burdens, obviously much depressed, sat and gazed down that highroad where good money, big money, was never now, but forever and forever and for always just a little bit ahead.

Turning abruptly from the window through which he had apparently tossed his emotions, Mr. Gibber once more became his usual brisk, urbane self.

"So that, gentlemen," he clipped out, "is what I mean by brevity. I thank you. Remember!"

"Thank you," spoke up Dolly Meades sweetly. "We'll never forget."

While the conference, feeling rottenly let down, was slothfully disintegrating, Mr. Gibber was earnestly questioning Sally in a far corner of the room.

"How on earth did you manage to do it?" he asked, for Mr. Gibber was sincerely bewildered by the various stories he had heard.

"I didn't try to do it, if that's what you mean," said Sally, equally in earnest. "I didn't sneak in or plan to sneak in or await an opportunity. Can't understand it myself. I was thinking of something—oh, yes—that chain store account. Had a swell idea and just didn't pay any attention to where I was going."

"But I'm told you approached some girls and tried to engage them in conversation," Mr. Gibber continued. "Why did you do that? Why didn't you make haste to leave after you'd discovered where you were?"

This was a very embarrassing question. Sally felt her nerve slipping.

"Still thinking about that chain store account," she answered. "Wanted to get the girls' reactions to a few questions."

"You pick out a somewhat singular place for your investigations, I must say," observed Mr. Gibber.

"No time like the present, I always say," was Sally's lame defence. "And of course legs mean nothing to me. I'm a married woman, Mr. Gibber, like yourself."

"I'm not a married woman," Mr. Gibber stoutly protested.

"Aren't you?" replied Sally, genuinely surprised. "Funny. I always thought you were. Then you must be a merry widow or a divorcee."

Sally smiled at the man archly and his face grew blank with amazement.

"I'm neither," he said at last.

"Then all I can say," replied Sally, "is that you must have a rather peculiar nature."

Mr. Gibber almost swooned at this. His face grew red with indignation and Sally began to fear that his body was going to pop at any minute.

"I tell you, young man," he thundered, "I have no relations with men."

"I can't help that," said Sally calmly. "It's your loss, not mine."

"But I don't want to have relations with men," said Mr. Gibber in a tortured voice.

"All right," replied Sally soothingly. "No one's going to force you. How did we get where we are, anyway?"

"You said you were a married woman," said the badgered Gibber, "and claimed that I was one."

"Oh!" exclaimed Sally, suddenly seeing the dawn. "Of course I meant man. How perfectly absurd!"

"You seem to be having trouble with your genders," said Mr. Gibber, a trifle mollified, but still suspicious.

"My genders?" cried Sally in alarm. "Why, Mr. Gibber! I'm sure I don't know what you mean. Do I show any symptoms of gender disease? Is it fatal, Mr. Gibber?"

"I mean you're getting your sexes mixed," the man explained wearily.

"Oh, that," replied Sally, feeling greatly relieved. "Sex makes no difference to me. Man or woman—all the same. I'm practically sexless myself."

Mr. Gibber received this gratuitous piece of information in a state of stupefaction.

"Listen," he said at last. "I don't want to talk with you. I can't stand it. The things you say revolt me. They do indeed. But I will say this, and you can thank your stars it isn't more serious. Keep out of the ladies' rest room. I feel very sorry for you but more sorry for your wife."

"You should feel sorry for her," replied Sally feelingly. "She's having a tough time of it."

"I'm glad you realise that, at least," said Mr. Gibber. "You may go."

Sally went and had a solitary luncheon. The rest of the day she spent rehashing Tim's advertisement of the Ducky Chain Stores, incorporating some ideas of her own. These advertisements were later okayed without a change and Tim Willows's stock as a copy writer continued to rise.

Sally arrived home in time to find Tim tenderly nursing his feet, or rather the feet that had once been hers.

"I got these saving your honour," he growled. "And I'm not going to do it again."

"Well, I just about ruined yours to-day," replied Sally in a pleased voice. "I forgot myself and barged into the ladies' rest room."

Tim became interested, indignant, then amused.

After dinner that night they compared notes, and because they both felt strange and lonely they occupied the same bed.

Previous ChapterContentsNext Chapter