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Two Letters and a Crisis
IT is difficult to say whether or not his past association with Mr. Ram influenced Richard Willows, Tim's uncle, to intervene at this critical moment in the affairs of his terrifically metamorphosed young nephew. The fact remains that this staunch defender of the unfaithful, and protector of women's more intimate rights, did intervene most effectively and in so doing radically altered the course of the Willowses' misdirected days. Dopey was also affected by this sudden change no less than were the Twills themselves, the craven beast's last hope in the immutable order of things.
The sad truth is that since Sally had been discharged from Tim's job these two irresponsible young persons had found themselves in water of an alarmingly rising temperature. They were very much with child—at least Tim was—but depressingly without work.
"We have an overabundance of the one and not nearly enough of the other," remarked Tim, ruefully surveying his vast proportions in the mirror. "Something tells me on good authority that it won't be long now."
"Too much baby has made Daddy a big girl," replied Sally, looking up from her sewing. She was making baby things and finding it rough sledding with Tim's fingers. "A conservative estimate would place it somewhere in the neighbourhood of a quartet."
"Why not make it a glee club and be done with it?" was Tim's morose response to this.
What money remained to them in the bank did not overtax their mutual inability to add, or rather, in this case, to subtract. The answer to their problem was rapidly approaching zero. For once they found arithmetic too simple for their comfort.
"If I wasn't so confounded large," observed Tim, "I'd try the badger game, but no man would let himself be lured by this figure."
"You might tell your victim you were concealing a jug of wine," suggested Sally, seriously considering the possibilities of working the badger game on the local banker.
While this unholy session was in progress Mr. Ram from his perch on the bookcase sorrowfully regarded Tim and Sally and racked his brain for some solution of their problem. He did not approve of the badger game. Never had. He had always considered it a particularly dirty trick. It had been played on several prominent members of his family in centuries past and had set all Egypt chuckling. Why was it, he wondered, that these two young persons always thought of low devices? There was no pleasure to be had in losing one's moral values if the values themselves were negligible. What Mr. Ram liked was the gradual dissolution of a person's moral structure over a period of years. It should be done artistically so that a few untried vices were left to comfort one's declining years.
The little idol was in a quandary. The situation for which he was responsible had become more complicated than he had anticipated. It had contrived to get itself out of even his fine Egyptian hand. When he had first become aware of Tim's pregnancy he had been highly amused, but as the months passed and Tim gave no indication that he was ever going to stop getting larger Mr. Ram's feelings underwent a gradual change. He began to regard his victim's bulk with a shocked and sympathetic eye. After all, was not he, Mr. Ram, a man at heart? Did he not entertain himself all of man's narrow prejudices against bearing children? Mr. Ram was sincerely sorry for what he had done. Not only had he established a dangerous precedent, but also let Tim in for what at best was a most disconcerting ordeal. However, too many inches had already been added to Tim's girth for Mr. Ram to take any definite action. Therefore, Mr. Ram was no less delighted than were Tim and Sally when the letter that follows was received from the former's uncle and the little idol's best friend. Sally brought the letter up from the dining-room and gave it to Tim. He read it aloud to her to prevent her from leaning too heavily on his shoulder, or rather, on her own shoulder.
"MY DEAR BOY [the letter began]:
"According to my last information from you, some member of your household was going to have a baby. Whether it was you or Sally or your dog or one of the Twills I was unable to decide. If it is you, all I will say is that I am not a bit surprised. America has been responsible for some remarkable innovations. I have long suspected that this would happen. Once begin to share your rights with a woman and you'll very speedily find yourself left without any rights to share."
"True talk, that," remarked Tim, looking up from the letter. "My uncle is a man of great merit and wisdom."
"True talk, me eye," said Sally, inelegantly. "That uncle of yours is a libidinous old associate of scarlet women."
Tim looked pained and resumed reading.
"As your inordinately nosey wife has probably already noted the postmark [continued the letter] I have at last brought my aged bones and depleted seraglio to rest on the meretricious shores of the Mediterranean, the happy expiring ground of expatriated physical wrecks and moral lepers, to both of which classes I now definitely belong.
"It has taken me years of the most exacting debauchery to achieve my present rank of distinction. Yet even while I am being almost literally carried along on my daily walks by two of my most indomitable mistresses, I feel that the sacrifices I have made for women have not been made in vain.
"The trouble is that these two Jezebels detest each other so thoroughly that at times I become a little nervous lest they drop me in order to indulge in violence. Once I attempted a wheel chair. Never again. The two ladies fought so actively for the privilege of pushing me over a cliff that the chair itself was spun like a top and all of the cocktails I had ever taken seemed to wake up and confront my already weakened system.
"It is not nice. I am still filled with awe and wonder whenever I think of Solomon and all the mistresses he had and the honourable years he attained. Compared with his, my life has been a failure. I have merely skimmed the surface. However, I have done my best, than which I am told angels can do no more, although there is no evidence that they ever tried. But then, I know little about angels save that they seem to have spent most of their time singing, attending, and avenging, one of their number having originated the business of professional bouncing.
"But I run on and already I hear the sounds of female voices raised in high discord in the next room. Among these unpleasant voices by all odds the highest and most furious is that of a Russian countess who unfortunately escaped the firing squad of the usually painstaking Bolsheviks, the only fault I have to find with the Soviet régime. Why should it expect me to shoot its confounded countesses?
"I have another mistress whom I suspect not only of having poisoned an English army officer in India, but also of entertaining the most fantastic hopes of being able to play the same low trick on me.
"Both of these ladies fight so violently with each other all day long that at night they are so spent with fury I am forced to put the poor old things to bed. This is no way. They are mistresses in name only.
"There is another lady attached to my establishment who has recently become paralysed in every limb. So you see, my boy, I am really defeating my own ends. What was once an active and flourishing harem has become an old ladies' home. I often think of chucking the lot of them out and treating myself to a new deal, but somehow I never get round to it. Some of these women have been with me for years. We've become used to each other and we understand our various little likes and dislikes, only with the women it seems to be mostly dislikes. Anyway, I figure it out that it's better to be poisoned by an old and tried mistress than ruined by a new one.
"As a matter of fact I have a feeling that everything would be quite comfortable if they would only give up their eternal battling and quit stealing my grog. There is no logical excuse whatsoever for this last failing. With an abundance of wine and spirits on all sides of them they nevertheless have the puerile idea that mine might be just a little bit better or stronger or something. Perhaps they do it for the malicious joy they take in irritating me, or because they hope to get each other into trouble. I don't know.
"We see a good many tourists here—trippers, I believe they are called by superior persons who have been for a week on the Continent. You may be surprised to learn that I am not at all unfavourably impressed by the American contingent. True enough, they manage to get themselves remarkably drunk, but I see no reason to blame them for putting into practice what Europeans defend in theory. Then again, they buy an alarming quantity of useless things quite cheerfully, although no one realises more keenly than they that they are being thrice cheated as well as despised by the sycophantic, franc-frenzied vendors, who fawn in their faces and sneer behind their backs. And I find American women entirely charming. They have lovely feet and legs as a rule and a refreshing capacity for enjoyment. Which reminds me I should be doing a little something about attaching an American example to my international collection of female ruins. Perhaps you might bring one over with you when you come. There I go forgetting again, I overlooked telling you that as soon as whoever's going to have that baby has it, I want you to transfer your entire household to this address. Don't forget Mr. Ram. There are some matters I would like to take up with him.
"One of the reasons for this summons is that I'm seriously considering getting out a book—Miserable Mistresses, or some such title—and I am depending on you to do the writing. It will be an education in itself. In return for this service I will support both you and yours in relative luxury, and when I die I shall leave you not only lots of money but also all of my mistresses who have not already preceded me to the grave.
"How is that for a generous uncle? On second thoughts you can burn the residuary mistresses with my body. This, I think, would by far be the wiser thing to do. They are very noisy.
"I am, my dear boy, your expectant uncle, or to make it clearer, your mother's husband's brother,
And in this letter there was wealth—wealth enough to maintain the Willows establishment, including its bootlegger, for a couple of years. This wealth was in the form of a draft, one of the handsomest bits of paper Tim had ever been privileged to behold. Uncle Dick, true to his prodigal nature, had been more than lavish. Tim passed the draft to Sally.
"That," he observed, "is sufficient to take the whole lot of us round the world."
"Without the necessity of drawing a sober breath," replied Sally. "Wish you'd hurry up and do that baby into English."
"Well," said Tim, "this gives me something to work on. It almost reconciles me to my unfortunate position. What's that other letter?"
"Oh, this," answered Sally. "It's nothing. Some old letter from our one-time job."
Tim opened the envelope, looked dumbly at another scrap of paper, unfolded the letter and read
"MY DEAR WILLOWS:
"I am enclosing your regular salary cheque for the past few weeks just as if nothing had ever happened to interrupt our mutually pleasant and profitable relations.
"You had hardly left the office before I realised the true significance of your advertisement. However, I kept this knowledge to myself and awaited results.
"True enough, my perspicacity once more justified my patience. Our advertisement, Willows, has proved a huge success. You may think this remarkable, but then, of course, your experience is not nearly so vast as mine. I can say with truth that I suspected what would happen all the time. However, as I have already said, I kept this knowledge to myself.
"I am now prepared to share the honours of success with you. Of course, you were hardly aware of the true value of this advertisement, but you were in a sense responsible for its creation. I wish to be entirely fair. Therefore, I suggest that you report to this office at the earliest possible moment. We shall have a conference then with a view to creating an entire campaign along the same lines. I shall be glad to incorporate your ideas with mine should they prove of any value.
"I am sure we should both of us feel highly gratified at the results of our mutual efforts.
"HORACE GIBBER, President.
"P.S.—For some reason the staff has got the idea that you have asked to be reinstated. To avoid confusion I have made no effort to alter this impression, which in a sense is nearly the correct one. However, it makes no difference.
"Well, for heaven's sweet sake," said Tim. "That tears it. I'm going to have a baby. I'm so damn mad I can't think of anything else to do. The old son of a mother who never rejected an improper suggestion. I'm going to have that baby. I'm going to have it almost immediately."
He rushed to a table and, seizing a pen, wrote on a piece of paper, "To hell with you, Gibber." After this he signed his name and thrust the sheet into an envelope, which he addressed to Horace Gibber at the Nationwide Advertising Agency, Inc.
"Post this as soon as you can," he told Sally, "but not before you have cashed his cheque. Remember that. Get the money first, then send the letter. Now for that baby. Hurry, Sally. For God's sake, do something. I am brought to bed with child. I am accouching. Take me somewhere. Quick."
"Where do you want to go?" asked Sally, becoming excited herself.
"Where?" repeated Tim indignantly. "In the middle of Times Square, of course, or some other equally appropriate spot. Take me anywhere you feel like. I've got to lie-in."
"Now don't get all flustered," pleaded Sally. "Be calm about this matter. Where would you like to lie-in? We have the money now."
"In the Bide-a-Wee Home, of course," chattered Tim bitterly. "With the rest of the dogs. Be a little more helpful. I daresay you won't actually believe I'm going to have this baby until I hand it to you all tied up in a nice, neat package."
"You run on so," complained Sally. "What makes you think you are going to have this baby, anyway?"
"There are certain things, Sally," said Tim, with great dignity, "that are revealed only to a prospective father. That baby is on the way. Don't ask me why."
Suddenly Sally had a bright idea. She hurried to the telephone and buzzed the operator.
"Where's a good place to go when you want to have a baby?" asked Sally when she had succeeded in attracting that young lady's straying ear.
Tim emitted a groan of disgust.
"I don't want to have a baby," said the operator. "But if I was in your place I'd go into hiding. Shall I give you Information!"
Sally hung up and looked fearfully at Tim.
"The operator doesn't seem to know," she said.
"Then call up a preacher or a druggist," suggested Tim. "Maybe the police station could give us a hint."
"We've had enough to do with the police," said Sally resolutely. "They'd probably lock both of us up for disorderly conduct. Be calm, Tim. I'm thinking."
"And in the meantime I'm childbearing," her husband shouted. "Do you want me to whelp my young single-handed like a wolf of the fields?"
"God helps those who whelp themselves," Sally observed briskly as she once more hurried to the telephone.
"Think you're funny, don't you?" cried Tim. "I swear to God if you don't do something I'll have this child right here on your hands."
This time Sally called up the nearest hospital and made all the necessary arrangements.
"Why didn't you do that in the first place?" Tim demanded.
"Didn't occur to me," she answered, "but I'll remember it the next time."
"The next time?" cried Tim, grabbing up a handful of cigars and making for the door. "Don't be foolish. The next time I have a baby you can ..."
The end of this declaration was muffled by the clatter he made on the stairs, but Sally did not need to be told. Motherhood had done little to elevate Tim's choice of expressions.
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