The street down which Mr. Topper strolled was a nice street. No
one needed to feel ashamed of it. No one did. And the people who
lived on this street had nice homes; nice, neat homes with
well-groomed lawns, well-shingled roofs and well-stocked larders.
The style of architecture showed a sincere desire to impress the
eye favourably. The effort had been based more on hope than on
inspiration. The houses could have been—and frequently were—termed
"homey," "quaint," and "comfortable," but after these terms had
been exhausted little remained to be said save, perhaps,
Mr. Topper and his neighbours were quietly proud of this street,
and had borne their assessments as a tolerant father bears the
extras of an extravagant son at college. One could bring one's
friends from the city to this street and let it speak for itself,
which one seldom did. Sewerage, real estate and the cost of
building were subjects far too fascinating to be left to the
imagination. So the visitors from the city heard all about these
things, and were not amused.
Being on a slightly higher elevation than the rest of the town,
the street was happily called "Glendale Road." It is rather
terrifying to think that the real estate promoter responsible for
this name is perhaps still unhung and busily engaged in giving
equally stultifying names to other nice little streets in other
nice little towns situated in other nice little localities
throughout the United States.
"You know that swamp?" he is, perhaps, saying to his wife at
this very moment as he lights his cigar.
"Which one, my dear?" she asks. "You've bought so many
"And sold 'em, too," he replies with a boyish chuckle. "But the
one we drove by last week. I pointed it out to you. It was where
they found the body of—"
"Oh, yes," his wife exclaims, "the rag picker's wife! They had
to vacate their shack, didn't they?"
"Well, that doesn't matter," replies her husband rather quickly.
"I've decided to run a drive through it. What do you think would be
a good name?"
Deep silence for several minutes. Her husband watches her
anxiously. She reads a lot of books. Good things, books.
"Mayblossom Drive," she murmurs at last, with a dreamy look in
her eyes. "That would be charming. Let's call it that."
Business of writing name down on back of soiled envelope.
Husband departs for development in car and another street has come
Nevertheless Glendale Road was really a nice street. It was wide
and well paved. There were trees on it at orderly intervals. And,
now that June was here, there were leaves on the branches of the
trees and there were birds among the leaves. For some reason Mr.
Topper's mind was not occupied to-day with thoughts of sewers, real
estate or building costs. Community pride was absent from his mood.
He heard the birds chirping and listened to them intently. How many
of them there must be and what a great to-do they were making.
Little birds were always so excited. He had held a sparrow in his
hand once and felt its heart beat. Somehow it had made him feel
like crying. The little thing had been so excited, so bent on
living. Life to the little sparrow had seemed so necessary and
important. Topper had released it immediately. How busily it had
flown away. Well, these chaps up in the tree were having a good
time just the same. They never needed a change. They could come and
go as they pleased. A nest here and a nest there. A family hatched
and a family fledged. Fresh branches in new lands. Adventurous
flights in pursuit of the sun. Not a bad life, that. Be a bird and
see the world.
Topper smiled and stopped in front of a public garage. He was
now on a side street of the town proper, but Mr. Topper was not
altogether sure as to how he had got there. He had been flying in
pursuit of the sun, and on the following day, after church, two
ladies protested to Mrs. Topper that he had looked right through
them. What had they done to be so dreadfully treated, and what had
come over her husband, who was always so polite to the ladies?
"Sparrows," said Mr. Topper at this point, and walked away,
leaving his wife to explain as best she could the meaning of his
Seeing Mr. Topper smiling at him, the owner of the garage rested
from his labours and called out an enthusiastic greeting.
"Isn't it lovely?" he asked, pointing to the machine on which he
had been working.
Impressed by the man's earnestness, Mr. Topper approached the
car and surveyed it with the vague gaze of an amateur.
"Really lovely," he said, looking hopefully at the man. "A
really lovely car, Mark."
"It's the coyest little car in the town," he declared, "and it's
carried more than gasoline in its time, though it is only this
"Bootlegging?" asked Mr. Topper, deciding, now that he came to
consider it, the car did have rather vicious lines. Too much nickel
and a trifle too low to the ground.
"No, victims," said Mark. "There was a bottle in every flap when
they found it."
"Then did the car manage to get lost?" Mr. Topper asked with
"Wrecked," replied Mark briefly. "Head on to a tree. I've
practically rebuilt it, but the motor's good as new."
"It's had rather a sad life for such a young car," remarked
Topper. "Whose is it?"
"Mine," replied Mark with pride. "But it did belong to George
and Marion Kerby. You remember. Both killed three months back. The
estate owed me money so I took the car in settlement."
Mr. Topper now looked at the automobile with unfeigned interest.
Surely he remembered George and Marion Kerby, the fastest young
couple in town. At least, they had been. People had always
predicted that they would come to some such end. Kerby had never
worked. No sedentary work for him. Rich young devil. And he and his
wife had been laid to rest to the tune of "I told you so." Kerby's
wife, a slim girl, good-looking, quick in her actions, a mocking
sort of a creature. Then, like brushing against a cobweb on a dark
woodland path, Mr. Topper's thoughts were suddenly arrested by
little dinging threads of memory. Marion Kerby's eyes? Ah, yes, he
remembered them. The Kerbys had not belonged to his set, the solid,
substantial, sedentary set, but had gathered round them, from all
parts of the country, a group of irresponsible spirits, who would
suddenly appear in a swarm of motors, riot around the town and
countryside for a few days, and then as suddenly disappear in a
cloud of dust and a chorus of brazen horns. No one had really known
the Kerbys, that is, no respectable, accredited member of the
community. But Topper had seen them often enough as they darted
through the streets of the town, and once he had met Marion Kerby
at the dedication of the new twenty-thousand-dollar-fire-house.
"Comic operas cost more and are less amusing," she had remarked,
with a smile, then asked in a serious voice: "Do all white duck
trousers have to look so self-conscious?"
Mr. Topper, being a charter member of the organisation, had
loyally donned his outfit and joined the ranks of his fellow
fire-fighters. Now, at the question, he looked down at his ducks
and blushed. Marion Kerby mingled with the crowd, but she left
behind her the seeds of rebellion in Mr. Topper's mind. He had
never felt in sympathy with white duck trousers, and now he
actually hated them. They did look self-conscious, but it showed
poor community spirit on Marion Kerby's part to ridicule the
uniform. What would a fire company do without white duck trousers?
Evidently she was one of those modern young women who had no
respect for tradition. Furthermore, nice women did not talk about
trousers on such a slight acquaintance.
A few days after this he had encountered Marion Kerby on the
morning train. She had nodded to him and smiled, and somehow her
smile had seemed to convey the impression that they shared between
them an unholy secret of a most delicious nature. Marion Kerby's
smile had caused Mr. Topper to feel much less married. He had
puzzled all the way in that morning about her eyes. He had found
himself unable to place them. They were never quite the same.
Thoughts danced behind them like fountains in the sun, hiding their
liquid depth in a burst of dazzling spray.
And now as Mr. Topper stood in the glittering presence of the
car in which Marion Kerby and her husband had met their death, he
remembered her eyes and felt dismayed that their light had been
snuffed from the world. A June heaviness settled down on Mr. Topper
and he became conscious of his stomach. It was too large. Indecent.
Yes, he was certainly in need of a change.
Mark's monologue swam in on his ears.
"They were a wild pair, Mr. Topper," the man was saying, "but
nice people at that. The nicest couple I ever knew. One minute
they'd be fighting with each other like a pair of wildcats and the
next they'd be getting along like two tramps. Why, the way they
went on would make you think of a couple of kids. They were always
arguing about who was the best driver and often they'd ask me to
decide. There'd be tears in their eyes, they were so in earnest.
You'd have thought it was a matter of life and death with
"That's about how it was, Mark," said Mr. Topper thoughtfully.
"A matter of life and death. A gay life and a quick death."
"What's the odds," replied Mark, with a shrug. "They liked it
that way and they got what they wanted."
"I've a feeling they got just a trifle more than they wanted,"
said Mr. Topper. "They didn't look like a pair that were extremely
anxious to die. They were too crammed with life."
"But that's the way it goes," continued Mark, waxing
philosophic. "There are lots of people in town I'd rather have seen
get in trouble with a tree."
This remark made Mr. Topper feel a little uneasy. He realised
that he had never enriched Mark's coffers with the purchase of
gasoline or automobile parts. To Mark he was perfectly useless, a
fit subject for a tree.
"They had good stuff," Mark went on reminiscently, "and they
were generous with it, too. I always had a drink whenever they came
in the place. We used to have regular little parties in my office
Mr. Topper walked deliberately to Mark's small office and peered
through the door. In his mind's eye he could see Marion Kerby
seated at the desk. He had a remarkably vivid picture of her. It
was almost as if he had been present at the parties himself. There
she sat, her slim ankles crossed, her mad eyes dancing beneath the
brim of a smart little hat, and her lips parted in a sarcastic
smile. In one hand was a glass which she was holding on high and in
the other a cigarette. "Truly an unedifying sight," thought Mr.
Topper, and yet he was fascinated by it. He dwelt on the delicate
lines of her face, the small impertinent chin and the fine lips
curved in a roving, debonair smile. Then he returned to her eyes
and became lost in contemplation.
"They were mad," he mused to himself. "They could laugh the
Fearing that that was what they were probably doing at the very
moment, Mr. Topper turned away from the door and looked at Mark,
who was in the act of hanging a "For Sale" sign over the radiator
cap of the automobile. The deed done, Mark stepped back and
surveyed his handiwork ecstatically, head on one side and hands on
his hips. "Here," thought Mr. Topper, "is a master craftsman, one
who loves his work for its own sake."
"So you're going to sell it," he said, walking over to the
bewitched garage man.
"Certainly," replied Mark. "And cheap too. Couldn't get anyone
to believe she's sound. But she is, every nut and bolt in her. The
Kerbys themselves wouldn't know the difference except that she's
quieter now. They always kept the old car rattling."
"Well, they rattled their toy once too often," remarked Mr.
Topper, looking moodily out at the street. "I hope the next owner
will have better luck."
"Lightning never strikes … "
"Twice in the same place," interrupted Mr. Topper. "I know,
Mark, but an automobile can, and if it isn't the same place it's
some place equally unyielding."
With a nod to Mark and a lingering look at the automobile, Mr.
Topper left the garage and walked slowly down the street to the
main thoroughfare of the town, where he stopped and looked with
unseeing eyes into a butcher's window. Behind him a steady trail of
automobiles passed by. He was dimly aware of their swift, hissing
tyres whirling evenly over the smooth road. They were all going
somewhere, he thought to himself, without troubling to look around,
all out for a good time—a change. Some of them were going to new
places, no doubt, places miles and miles away, possibly as far off
as the coast. People did such things, camping at night by the
roadside or putting up at inns.
Presently he became aware of the fact that he was looking a leg
of lamb full in the face. There the thing was, hardly a foot from
his nose. Back at home its mate was probably sputtering in the oven
by this time. And Mrs. Topper was twittering about preparing new
fields for indigestion while the cook struggled to swallow her
spleen. It was appalling. Mr. Topper considered the lamb with
smouldering eyes, but the lamb held its ground, and for a moment
they confronted each other like two antagonists. Then Mr. Topper,
at last outfaced by his less sensitive opponent, whirled about and
walked back to the garage, this time with purpose in his step. But
as he approached the garage he became troubled in his mind, and
this trouble made him shuffle slightly in his gait. He had no doubt
as to the ultimate outcome of his visit, but how to get it over
with was what dismayed him, forcing him to drift about uneasily in
front of the garage like a criminal released from the gates of
durance. The sight of the "For Sale" sign on the glittering object
of his quest stimulated him to action. He lifted his head and
walked casually up to the car. Mark, emerging from the shadows like
a proud but jealous god, greeted Mr. Topper with a slight show of
"How does the thing start?" asked Topper, without any
"How?" repeated Mark dumbly.
"The automobile," said Topper. "How do you start the damn
"Oh!" exclaimed Mark, now sparklingly alive to the situation.
"Why, it starts like any other automobile. Put your foot on it and
off she goes."
"Interesting if true," thought Mr. Topper. Nevertheless he
regarded the starter with a contemplative eye.
"Is it hard to learn how to work them?" he continued. "I mean
for a person like myself?"
"Why, Mr. Topper," Mark admonished, "there are bigger boobs than
you messing up the roads everywhere."
"You shock me," remarked Topper, "but don't let's dwell on it.
Now what is this thing for?"
"That's for the ventilator. It lets in the air."
"On your feet."
"An unpleasant inference," murmured Mr, Topper, "but I dare say
the thing has its advantages. And this?" he added aloud.
"That lights your cigars."
Mr. Topper produced a cigar. Mark spoke the truth.
"A nice thing," said Mr. Topper, a little more at ease now that
his lungs were refining smoke. "A handy thing, that. Very nice.
Clever, too, isn't it?
Mark, becoming more than serious, agreed that it was.
"Yes, yes," continued Topper, sliding into the front seat of the
automobile as if he were not thinking of what he was doing. "A
convenient little gadget. Adds to the pleasure of driving. Now come
here, Mark, and show me what you do to make the old car go, but
first take that invitation off the front of the car. Some woman
might come along and buy me. How about that, Mark?"
"Ha! Ha!" laughed Mark, whose false mirth was arrested by a
sudden slap on the back.
"Take the damn sign off, Mark," commanded Topper, a new light
gleaming in his eyes.