The Coming of Bill by P.G. Wodehouse
Chapter XIII. Pastures New
Steve had arrived at the Connecticut shack in the early dawn of the day which had been so eventful to most of his friends and acquaintances. William Bannister's interest in the drive, at first acute, had ceased after the first five miles, and he had passed the remainder of the journey in a sound sleep from which the stopping of the car did not awaken him.
Steve jumped down and stretched himself. There was a wonderful freshness in the air which made him forget for a moment his desire for repose. He looked about him, breathing deep draughts of its coolness. The robins which, though not so well advertised, rise just as punctually as the lark, were beginning to sing as they made their simple toilets before setting out to attend to the early worm. The sky to the east was a delicate blend of pinks and greens and yellows, with a hint of blue behind the grey which was still the prevailing note.
A vaguely sentimental mood came upon Steve. In his heart he knew perfectly well that he could never be happy for any length of time out of sight and hearing of Broadway cars; but at that moment, such was the magic of the dawn, he felt a longing to settle down in the country and pass the rest of his days a simple farmer with beard unchecked by razor. He saw himself feeding the chickens and addressing the pigs by their pet names, while Mamie, in a cotton frock, called cheerfully to him to come in because breakfast was ready and getting cold.
His sigh turned into a yawn. He realized with the abruptness which comes to a man who stands alone with nature in the small hours that he was very sleepy. The excitement which had sustained him till now had begun to ebb. The free life of the bearded farmer seemed suddenly less attractive. Bed was what he wanted now, not nature.
He opened the door of the car and lifted William Bannister out, swathed in rugs. The White Hope gurgled drowsily, but did not wake. Steve carried him on to the porch and laid him down. Then he turned his attention to the problem of effecting an entry.
Once an honest man has taken to amateur burgling he soon picks up the tricks of it. To open his knife and shoot back the catch of the nearest window was with Steve the work, if not of a moment, of a very few minutes. He climbed in and unlocked the front door. Then he carried his young charge into the sitting-room and laid him down on a chair, a step nearer his ultimate destination--bed.
Steve's faculties were rapidly becoming numb with approaching sleep, but he roused himself to face certain details of the country life which till now had escaped him. His earnest concentration on the main plank of his platform, the spiriting away of William Bannister, had caused him to overlook the fact that no preparations had been made to welcome him on his arrival at his destination. He had treated the shack as if it had been a summer hotel, where he could walk in and engage a room. It now struck him that there was much to be attended to before he could, as he put it to himself, hit the hay. There was the White Hope's bed to be made, and, by the way of a preliminary to that, sheets must be found and blankets, not to mention pillows.
Yawning wearily he set out on his search.
He found sheets, but mistrusted them. They might or might not be perfectly dry. He did not care to risk his godson's valuable health in the experiment. A hazy notion that blankets were always safe restored his spirits, and he became cheerful on reflecting that a child with William Bannister's gift for sleep would not be likely to notice the absence of linen in his bed.
The couch which he finally passed adequate would have caused Lora Delane Porter's hair to stand erect, but it satisfied Steve. He went downstairs, and, returning with William Bannister, placed him carefully on it and tucked him in. The White Hope slept on.
Having assured himself that all was well, Steve made up a similar nest for himself, and, removing his coat and shoes, crawled under the blankets. Five minutes later rhythmical snores proclaimed the fact that nature had triumphed over all the discomforts of one of the worst-made beds in Connecticut.
* * * * *
The sun was high when Steve woke. He rose stiffly and went into the other room. William Bannister still slept.
Steve regarded him admiringly.
"For the dormouse act," he mused, "that kid certainly stands alone. You got to hand it to him."
An aching void within him called his mind to the question of breakfast. It began to come home to him that he had not planned out this expedition with that thoroughness which marks the great general.
"I guess I'll have to get out to the nearest village in the bubble," he said. "And while I'm there maybe I'd better send Kirk a wire. And I reckon I'll have to take the kid. If he wakes up and finds me gone he'll throw fits. Up you get, squire."
He kneaded the recumbent form of his godson with a large hand until he had massaged out of him the last remains of his great sleep. It took some time, but it was effective. The White Hope sat up, full of life and energy. He inspected Steve gravely for a moment, endeavouring to place him.
"Hello, Steve," he said at length.
"Where am I?"
"In the country. In Connecticut."
"This is. Where we are."
"Where are we?"
"Here. In Connecticut."
Steve raised a protesting hand.
"Not so early in the day, kid; not before breakfast," he pleaded. "Honest, I'm not strong enough. It ain't as if we was a vaudeville team that had got to rehearse."
Steve changed the subject.
"Say, kid, ain't you feeling like you could bite into something? I got an emptiness inside me as big as all outdoors. How about a mouthful of cereal and a shirred egg? Now, for the love of Mike," he went on quickly, as his godson opened his mouth to speak, "don't say 'What's shirred?' It's something you do to eggs. It's one way of fixing 'em."
"What's fixing?" inquired William Bannister brightly.
Steve sighed. When he spoke he was calm, but determined.
"That'll be all the dialogue for the present," he said. "We'll play the rest of our act in dumb show. Get a move on you, and I'll take you out in the bubble--the automobile, the car, the chug-chug wagon, the thing we came here in, if you want to know what bubble is--and we'll scare up some breakfast."
Steve's ignorance of the locality in which he found himself was complete; but he had a general impression that farmers as a class were people who delighted in providing breakfasts for the needy, if the needy possessed the necessary price. Acting on this assumption, he postponed his trip to the nearest town and drove slowly along the roads with his eyes open for signs of life.
He found a suitable farm and, applying the brakes, gathered up William Bannister and knocked at the door.
His surmise as to the hospitality of farmers proved correct, and presently they were sitting down to a breakfast which it did his famished soul good to contemplate.
William Bannister seemed less enthusiastic. Steve, having disposed of two eggs in quick succession, turned to see how his young charge was progressing with his repast, and found him eyeing a bowl of bread-and-milk in a sort of frozen horror.
"What's the matter, kid?" he asked. "Get busy."
"No paper," said William Bannister.
"For the love of Pete! Do you expect your morning paper out in the woods?"
"No paper," repeated the White Hope firmly.
Steve regarded him thoughtfully.
"I didn't have this trip planned out right," he said regretfully. "I ought to have got Mamie to come along. I bet a hundred dollars she would have got next to your meanings in a second. I pass. What's your kick, anyway? What's all this about paper?"
"Aunty Lora says not to eat bread that doesn't come wrapped up in paper," said the White Hope, becoming surprisingly lucid. "Mamie undoes it out of crinkly paper."
"I get you. They feed you rolls at home wrapped up in tissue-paper, is that it?"
"Same as crinkly. Well, see here. You remember what we was talking about last night about germs?"
"Well, that's one thing germs never do, eat bread out of crinkly paper. You want to forget all the dope they shot into you back in New York and start fresh. You do what I tell you and you can't go wrong. If you're going to be a regular germ, what you've got to do is to wrap yourself round that bread-and-milk the quickest you can. Get me? Till you do that we can't begin to start out to have a good time."
William Bannister made no more objections. He attacked his meal with an easy conscience, and about a quarter of an hour later leaned back with a deep sigh of repletion.
Steve, meanwhile had entered into conversation with the lady of the house.
"Say, I guess you ain't got a kid of your own anywheres, have you?"
"Sure I have," said the hostess proudly. "He's out in the field with his pop this minute. His name's Jim."
"Fine. I want to get hold of a kid to play with this kid here. Jim sounds pretty good to me. About the same age as this one?"
"For the Lord's sake! Jim's eighteen and weighs two hundred pounds."
"Cut out Jim. I thought from the way you spoke he was a regular kid. Know any one in these parts who's got something about the same weight as this one?"
The farmer's wife reflected.
"Kids is pretty scarce round here," she said. "I reckon you won't get one that I knows of. There's that Tom Whiting, but he's a bad boy. He ain't been raised right."
"What's the matter with him?"
"I don't want to speak harm of no one, but his father used to be a low prize-fighter, and you know what they are."
Steve nodded sympathetically.
"Regular plug-uglies," he said. "A friend of mine used to have to mix with them quite a lot, poor fellah! He used to say they was none of them truly refined. And this kid takes after his pop, eh? Kind of scrappy kid, is that it?"
"He's a bad boy."
"Well, maybe I'd better look him over, just in case. Where's he to be found?"
"They live in the cottage by the big house you can see through them trees. His pop looks after Mr. Wilson's prize dawgs. That's his job."
"What's Wilson?" asked the White Hope, coming out of his stupor.
"You beat me to it by a second, kid. I was just going to ask it myself."
"He's one of them rich New Yawkers. He has his summer place here, and this Whiting looks after his prize dawgs."
"Well, I guess I'll give him a call. It's going to be lonesome for my kid if he ain't got some one to show him how to hit it up. He's not used to country life. Come along. We'll get into the bubble and go and send your pop a telegram."
"What's telegram?" asked William Bannister.
"I got you placed now," said Steve, regarding him with interest. "You're not going to turn into an ambassador or an artist or any of them things. You're going to be the greatest district attorney that ever came down the pike."