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An Inspired Advertisement
SINCE the disorderly incidents last recorded, much bulk had been added to the girth which Tim wrathfully protested belonged to his wife. The social standing of the Willowses in the snooty community of Cliffside had utterly collapsed. It was now lying in a condition of supine indifference. Sinning in Cliffside was about as well established a practice as elsewhere—better than in many places. But a public and noisy demonstration against established convention such as the Willowses had staged on more than one occasion was not to be tolerated. Nice people objected strongly to having adultery, which they considered to be about the best-dressed of all the vices, dragged through the streets in rags and made the butt of indelicate observations. People who took their infidelities lightly—who tossed them off, so to speak—were not to be trusted and were little better than communists. And in Cliffside one had to be much better than a communist to attend even a dog fight. Furthermore, the Willowses, like the suspect Claire Meadows, made a practice of allowing other people to mind their own business, callously disregarding the fact that life in a community like Cliffside would be unbearable indeed unless everybody paid strict attention to everybody else's affairs. The people of Cliffside took their windows seriously. They were made not so much for the purpose of light and ventilation as to enable discreetly curtained observers to keep abreast of the current dirt. For example, it was well known that Mr. Willows, when at home, could be seen at virtually any time clad only in a strange and revealing garment, and that for no apparent reason he was given to sudden bursts of high spirits signalised by grotesque and obscene dances which made his single garment even more revealing. He was suspected of being a little mad. Also, it had been duly noted and recorded that for many months past Mrs. Willows had taken up the practice of smoking her husband's cigars and in other disgusting ways emulating his example. So careless of appearances were the Willowses that their joint existence was much more than an open book. It was a public reading in a loud voice. Consequently Tim and Sally Willows were people to be watched, rather than cultivated. They were much better seen at a distance than heard at close range. Fewer and fewer so-called friends dropped in to visit the Willowses. It was a dangerous thing to do. Some scene of violence and unmannerly conduct usually resulted. So Tim and Sally were left very much to themselves, for which they were heartily thankful. And, even handicapped as they were by their reversed positions, they began to understand, better than they had in years, that they were irrevocably bound to each other as much by their mutual hates as by the interests they shared in common, many of which were deplorably low. No married couple in Cliffside could polish off a bottle of bathtub gin with greater conviviality and enterprise. Having literally spent some time in each other's shoes, they had gained a different perspective both of themselves and of each other, and this had been an incalculable help in the maintenance of congenial relations. The situation was still a trying one for Dopey, but then all situations were trying for that craven-spirited animal. Mr. and Mrs. Twill had philosophically reconciled themselves to a life in which the irrational was the only possible standard of normal conduct.
As for Mr. Bentley, that gentleman had rubbed himself completely off the already smudged face of the social horizon. Few young matrons, no matter how viciously disposed, were quite willing to seek romantic diversion with a gentleman who bounded along public highways in a union suit that flapped in the back. This last little detail lost Bentley many a pleasant interlude.
Claire Meadows had become an accepted influence in the lives of Tim and Sally. She instructed Tim in the rather exacting laws governing the conduct of a prospective mother, and she heartlessly put a stop to his grog. And strange to relate, Sally experienced no feeling of jealousy for what had once occurred. She was much more interested in devising means and ways for the abduction of Claire's own baby from the brute of a husband who had carried his resentment beyond the bounds of human tolerance.
"It wasn't his baby anyway," Claire Meadows had naively explained on one occasion, "although I hardly recall the name of the little tike's father. It was just one of those things that happen when it's raining and you don't feel like reading or going out, and your own husband hates children and wants you to keep your figure."
The Willowses understood perfectly, especially Tim.
Sally and Claire were now discussing various wild projects over a couple of highball glasses, while Tim, casting them envious glances from time to time, was seated at his desk labouring over what he had come to regard as Sally's homework. He was too large now to sit comfortably at the desk, his arms seeming to have grown shorter or the desk farther removed. He found himself unable to concentrate on the business in hand. The advertisement, strangely enough, was about a union suit, the Never Flap Union Suit to be specific, and Tim Willows could not think of union suits without thinking of Carl Bentley, and he was unable to think of that gentleman without becoming somewhat mercurial. Finally he abandoned any attempt at a reasoned presentation of the ineffable charms of Never Flap Union Suits, and wrote the advertisement he had frequently been tempted to write. This finished to his entire satisfaction, he outlined the illustration to Sally and instructed her to see that the advertisement was inserted according to schedule in a popular weekly magazine.
"Let none of the powers that be clap eyes on a proof," he told her. "Fake the damned okays and keep everything under your hat. I want this to come as a complete surprise."
"It will," said Sally, when she had read the copy. "After all, it's your job. I don't mind losing it for you one little bit."
Some time later she was urgently requested to make one of a party that was even at that moment awaiting her presence in the conference room. As she passed through the general office she was impressed by the unnatural hush that lay over the place. Sally could not shake off the impression that numerous stenographers and clerks were looking at her with an expression usually reserved for the contemplation of corpses and motion pictures of devastated districts.
She opened the door and was confronted by every important member of the Nationwide Advertising Agency, Inc. And at the head of the table was Mr. Gibber himself, although he hardly looked it. The man had become the personification of retribution, beside whom an avenging angel would have looked like the very soul of lax indulgence. Sally noticed that among all the faces turned on him, those of Dolly Meades and Steve Jones alone expressed feelings of friendship and admiration. The others looked too scared to register any other emotion.
"This is going to be flower pots," Sally decided, as she closed the door behind her husband's back. "A nice wide-open break." Then she added aloud, also in her husband's voice, "You wanted to see me, Mr. Gibber?"
"Yes," replied that gentleman, "I do. And for the last time."
After such an inhospitable reception, Sally saw no reason for further disguising her own feelings.
"You almost took the words out of my mouth," she remarked, dropping to a vacant chair. "I have long thought that a world without a Gibber in it would be a far, far better place."
Disregarding this open insult, Mr. Gibber thrust out a trembling hand in which was clutched the current issue of the popular weekly containing, among others, the Never Flap advertisement. It occupied a full page.
"Willows," thundered the man, "I hold you and you alone directly responsible for this crime against our high calling. You, like a snake in the grass, have fouled your own nest."
"I was always under the impression that snakes were rather nice about such things," replied Sally. "However——"
She did not finish her sentence, but rose and considered the advertisement with a critical eye. Mr. Gibber, as if hypnotised, held it out for her inspection until she had finished reading the copy and had resumed her seat.
"First time I've seen it inserted," she continued easily. "Rather good position, I think. Very arresting illustration, also. I am pleased."
Mr. Gibber shrank back as if in the presence of some loathsome object. His fingers drummed on the long table as he strove to master his indignation. Sally reached out and drew the magazine to her, then, holding it at arm's length, she studied the illustration with her head slightly tilted to one side. It was, as she had said, an arresting illustration. The artist had caught the spirit of the thing splendidly.
In the foreground an aged and enfeebled gentleman was seated on a piano stool. On his meagre body hung, in limp, dispirited folds, a garment remotely suggestive of a union suit. In an attempt to relieve the feeling of depression created by this obviously world-weary individual, a top hat had been tilted at a rakish angle over his dim right eye. The other one, unobstructed, looked bleakly out on life. An exceedingly decrepit and revolting-looking woman, presumably his wife or mistress, for her shrunken figure was also draped in an ill-fitting union suit, was standing near him, with one arm raised as if it were beating time to a tirade of vile and abusive language. The old gentleman appeared to be already too low in his mind to pay much attention to what she was saying. Somehow he gave the impression that this sort of thing had been going on for years and years. The progeny of this unlovely couple, three boys and two girls, had been no better endowed by nature than their parents. But this was only to be expected. The observer could not conceive of those two human wrecks begetting a normal child. These children, the oldest being no older than fourteen, were pale, emaciated, and ill-tempered, and were clad in oversized union suits. They seemed to be enjoying the worst of bad health and dispositions. The two girls were coughing lustily while the boys stood about in attitudes of pain and dejection. They seemed more capable of raising rickets than rackets like most normal boys. Yet one also gained the impression that very little would be required to precipitate a general row. Taking it all in all, it was a singularly realistic illustration of contemporary home life. Sally admired it immensely. She felt that Tim had struck a new note in advertising.
"I am proud to assume complete responsibility for this," she remarked. "Of course, I didn't draw the illustration, but I suggested the idea. As you would say, Mr. Gibber, it's mine, all mine."
Mr. Gibber choked and snatched the offending magazine from Sally's hand.
"Mr. Gibber!" she said reprovingly. "Don't be rude."
Once more Mr. Gibber choked, then cleared his throat of the vile words he was craving to utter. Like a man convalescing after a long and debilitating illness, he smiled weakly round the table.
"Mr. Willows," he said, "I have no desire to cause you undue humiliation, but I feel that the least you deserve is to hear this advertisement read aloud in the presence of your erstwhile fellow workers."
"Go right ahead," Sally good-naturedly replied. "It will do them no end of good. That piece of copy, Gibber, together with its illustration will start a new school of advertising, most likely."
"Most likely," repeated Mr. Gibber bitterly. "A school of blithering idiots."
Under the stress of his emotions Mr. Gibber was growing almost human. He cleared his throat, elevated the magazine, took a deep breath and started to read. His voice failed and he broke down completely.
"You read it, Mr. Graham," he muttered in a husky voice. "It's too much for me. This incident has made me begin to feel my age at last."
Mr. Graham, a serious youth who eschewed all forms of healthy dissipation in favour of the Message to Garcia and Acres of Diamonds and other such literature, considered himself highly honoured at having been selected to play such a prominent part on this historic occasion. Gratefully he accepted the magazine and began to read in a clear voice and with great determination. Nothing short of death was going to stop him now.
The copy that Tim had prepared for Sally was to this demoralising effect:
"BE OF GOOD CHEER
"My God," came the whispered voice of Mr. Gibber, "what disreputable things was the man hinting at there?"
"I think I understand, Mr. Gibber," Dolly Meades replied.
"Don't explain," said Mr. Gibber hastily. "Hurry on, Mr. Graham."
Mr. Graham read:
"Men who are far from super and women who are perfect frights, attend. In the past you have been shamefully misled by underwear advertisements. You have been given to understand that in order to conceal your nakedness you must belong to clubs, know how to play games including hoop-jumping, riding innumerable horses at once, and mounting on poles to dizzy, not to say dangerous, heights. Stamp these deceptions under your feet whether they be flat or slew."
"Imagine," murmured Mr. Gibber. "Flat or slew. Could anything be more revolting? But go on, my boy, go on. Finish this sacrilege."
The boy went on:
"In the past you have been deluded into believing that you were cut off from the comforts of underwear unless you maintained at least one maid or a gentleman's gentleman.
Indomitable Union Suits
"Unprepossessing under the most ideal circumstances, these union suits nevertheless make you look no sillier than those of another make.
"If you must look silly in something why not look silly in these?"
Long before the finish of this example of sheer lunacy young Graham's voice had taken on a hushed and frightened note. At the end it had trailed away to an appalled whisper. The majority of the faces round the table were grave with consternation. Steve Jones's and Dolly Meades's registered profound approval.
"Were you quite yourself when you wrote that?" Mr. Gibber asked at last. "Quite sober?"
"Quite," replied Sally mildly. "Never more so in my life."
"It can't be true," protested Mr. Gibber. "I am still unable to bring myself to believe that all this is not a terrible dream and that soon I shall wake up and find everything as it was before. Why did you not let someone see a proof?"
"I wanted it to come as a surprise," said Sally innocently.
"Oh, my God!" gasped Mr. Gibber. "Imagine that! He wanted to surprise me. Did you hear what he said? Ha, ha! No, a thousand times, no. He wanted to ruin me. To demolish me. That's what he did."
The eyes that he turned on Sally were pained, heavy, and pleading. For the first time she began to feel a little bit sorry for the man. Mr. Gibber was really suffering.
"Why did you do it?" he asked, almost humbly. "Why did you do this thing? We have been good to you here—given you latitude—excused things. Before you go for good tell me what prompted you to do this mad act?"
"Mr. Gibber," replied Sally, quite seriously, "that advertisement is the inevitable reaction of an experienced copy writer against the school of romance, idealism, and optimism that has emasculated the profession for many years. It is the expression of a fundamental craving for the realities of life. Until recently I could not refer even to such a common article as a fork without calling it the glittering servant of cultured lips or some other such balderdash. It was getting unbearable for my friends." Sally paused and took a deep breath. "Then this reaction set in," she continued. "I made no effort to encourage it. The thing was stronger than I was. That's why I still feel the advertisement we have just been privileged to hear is an inspired piece of work. You see, I suddenly realised that things were things, that a chair, for instance, was in reality a chair and not the comfortable companion of one's leisure hours; that a piano was actually a piano and not the inspired creation of singing souls; that a union suit, whether it flaps or remains discreetly closed, is, after everything has been said and done, merely a union suit instead of the ideal garment for men and women who appreciate the artistry of master weavers." Once more Sally paused and looked hopefully at Mr. Gibber. "Then, sir," she continued, "I had a vision. Suddenly I seemed to be seeing the whole world stripped to its union suit. Mr. Gibber, I saw literally millions of mortals clad only in union suits, some of which flapped coyly while others didn't. But that doesn't matter, although I will say that those whose union suits didn't flap looked much nicer—not quite so helpless and unprotected, if you get what I mean. The lame, the halt, and the blind, the physical wreck and the perfect example of manhood and womanhood passed before my eyes. There were kings in that great procession as well as crooks. There were bishops as well as bouncers, athletes as well as scholars. And, my dear, good sir, every mother soul of them was clad simply in a union suit. It was a horrifying vision of democracy, of stupendous and compelling magnitude. Spellbound, I gazed. And what was my delight and surprise, my dear sir, when who should come puffing and panting up well along toward the rear but you yourself, Mr. Gibber. You were an amazing sight, Mr. Gibber—immense! A figure to give one pause. And I am glad to say your union suit did not flap. Let me describe——"
"Enough!" screamed Mr. Gibber. "Enough! Take this madman from my sight and give him two weeks' extra pay. Give him anything he wants so long as he goes away and never comes back again."
Steve Jones and Dolly Meades escaped from the conference room on the pretext of following Mr. Gibber's instructions. Some minutes later Sally kissed the reception clerk for the last time and departed homeward. Tim, now very far gone, sat, as he had once prophesied, like a jovial Madam Falstaff and listened enthralled to his wife's story.
"That's the first job I ever lost," he observed at last, "and I'm glad of it."
"It's the first one I ever had," replied Sally, "and I hope to God it's the last. It was like dwelling in a world of make-believe—a regular fairy-tale world."
"We've pretty well shattered it, anyway," said Tim. "And you know, Sally, I wouldn't be at all surprised if that advertisement pulled big in spite of Mr. Gibber."
Tim was right again. It did.
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