The Stray Lamb - Thorne Smith - ebook

The Stray Lamb ebook

Thorne Smith



In „The Stray Lamb”, author Thorne Smith draws inspiration from his most famous works, the beloved Topper series. It follows mild-mannered investment banker, cuckold, ordinary, faithful, and dipsomaniac T. Lawrence Lamb. He is given a new perspective on life through the eyes of many different animals as he assumes the shape of many including a stallion, goldfish, dog, lion and many others. Mr. Lamb gains wisdom, fresh insight, and a new much needed exuberance for life as he exchanges the mundane for the slightly insane. Thorne Smith again shows his mastery of the comic fantasy tale as Lamb lurches from one mishap to another, reeling from his wife’s abandonment and the actions of his headstrong daughter and reveling in the new opportunities that his excursions into animal form provide.

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Liczba stron: 355

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MR. T. LAWRENCE LAMB weaved his long, shad-bellied body down the aisle and, as one sorely stricken in affliction, crumpled into a seat. He hoped prayerfully that the other half of it would remain unoccupied. He hoped even more prayerfully that if it should be occupied it would not be by anyone he knew even remotely. Every evening he hoped this and almost every evening his hope was disregarded.

Mr. Lamb automatically elevated his knees. Out came his paper and off went the train. All set. Another day smeared.

He sighed profoundly. So far so good. No one had yet encroached upon his Jovian aloofness. Perhaps for a change he would get the best of the break. Adjusting his features in what he fondly believed to be a repellent expression he prepared to concentrate his attention on the financial section of his newspaper. His heart was not in it. Neither was his mind. Lamb was in a vagrant mood–misanthropic, critical, at odds with himself.

“Here we sit,” he mused–his eyes darkly contemplating his fellow commuters–“Here we sit, the lot of us, a trainful of spines in transit... so many sets of vertebrae, each curved and twisted according to the inclination of its individual owner.”

His eyes rested unenthusiastically on a man he heartily disliked, Simonds, a purveyor of choice lots.

“Take Simonds there,” he continued to reflect. “That spawn of hell is just a lot of vertebrae all curled up, I myself am scarcely more than a column of vertebrae. And that old lady over there, she’s a repository of vertebrae, old tortured vertebrae, no doubt extremely brittle... museum pieces.”

He sighed morbidly over the great age and brittleness of the old lady’s vertebrae, and rearranged his own, flexing them deftly between the seat and its back. His knees crept up higher in front of him. His head sank lower. He was gradually jack-knifing into his favorite commuting position.

For some inexplicable reason vertebrae this evening seemed unusually important to Lamb. They were almost getting the best of him. The more he thought of vertebrae the lower his spirits ebbed. There were too many commuters, all trying to contort themselves into the most comfortable, the most restful positions–all striving to do well for their backs after the strain of the day.

Tentatively Lamb peered into his newspaper. He fully intended to wash his hands of vertebrae and to study the details of a new bond issue.

There were newspapers everywhere–evening newspapers. Alluring pictures on impartially quartered front pages displayed one pair of robust legs, one good corpse, a sanguinary railway accident, and a dull looking pugilist. What more could a reasonable person crave?

Lamb studied the absorbed readers with detached animosity. Papers were being held at every conceivable angle, some negligently, untidily, others grasped tenaciously as if their owners lived in momentary dread of being deprived of comfort. Some readers scanned their papers from afar. Others approached them secretively, nose touching type.

“Newspapers and vertebrae,” elaborated Lamb, eyeing suspended sheets bitterly. “That’s all we are. That’s all we’re good for.”

In the third seat in front of him sat a dignified old gentleman. He was having though cerebration assimilating the fact that ants greatly deplore the existence of essence of peppermint. For sixty-odd years he had managed to struggle through life without the benefit of this information. Now it had become urgent business with him. He must tell his wife about it the first thing. No more red ants for them. Then he tried to remember if they had ever suffered from red ants.

Farther down the aisle was a man whose expression grew bleaker and bleaker. He was following a comic strip. His concentration was almost pathetic. When he arrived at the grand climax he sat as one stunned, gazing hopelessly ahead of him. One would have been led to believe that he had suddenly received a piece of extremely depressing news.

In another seat, crouched like a dog over a bone, an ingrown-looking individual was enjoying a vicarious thrill from the sex irregularities of a music teacher and a casual man of God. Satisfyingly salacious stuff. Shocking. However, this commuter would not discuss the sordid affair with his wife. Such topics are better left outside the family circle.

Meanwhile the landscape.

Lamb turned to the window and considered a rapidly receding cow. Then his glance ran through the train. Nobody else was considering that cow. Nobody else was considering anything other than newspapers so far as he could discover. Yet the cow had not been without its points... a pleasant, contemplative, square-cut cow. And that brook out there. Lamb wondered idly where it wandered, through whose backyard, through what meadows and woodlands. Lamb himself was wandering now far from the financial section.

No scenery in all God’s world, he decided, was quite so unobserved, left quite so utterly flat and to its own devices as those sections traversed by these hurtling slave galleys of progress. For the commuter, familiarity with the landscape completely skipped mere contempt and passed into the realms of non-existence.

If that proud home-owner laboring out there on his lawn could only realize how unappreciated his efforts were he would not feel so infernally smug about things. Perhaps, thought Lamb, the man would give up gadgeting about with garden implements and devote his time to disguising the flavor of bootleg gin–a far more utilitarian and artistic pursuit.

Especially this evening, Lamb’s thoughts ran on, was the landscape neglected. Eyes looked upon it, but for the most part indifferently, unseeingly. Newspapers were to blame. Lamb worried his own paper. Commuting trains everywhere, he reflected, were more or less spiritually akin. That was the awfulness of it. His feeling of inferiority and sameness deepened. His mood grew more restless. It was gathering in revolt.

What was he himself but a poor doomed commuter, a catcher and quitter of trains? His destiny stood confronting him, smirking at him. Years from now he would be extending a withered feeble hand clutching a commutation ticket to be punched. He wondered if conductors ever died or grew old. They never seemed to, always stayed about the same– loquacious mummies.

A good Grade A, case-hardened commuter, decided Lamb, would experience but scant difficulty in meeting his soul’s brother in any part of the world where commuting trains operated. With this creature he would be able to discuss his favorite topic in his own pet vernacular. Neither of them would give a tinker’s damn about the scenery. They would consider it in no terms other than those of building and real-estate development–investment opportunity. With an inner ear, Lamb hearkened to a hypothetical conversation:

“That’s a neat bit of wooded highland,” observes commuter A covetously.

“Yep,” says B. “It’s just itching to be opened up.”

“Wish I had the ready to go in for a proposition like that,” replies his friend.

“Man alive,” says the other, “if I had the backing, that property wouldn’t stay undeveloped long. Give me just six months, and I’d have a couple of paved streets run through and a row of model homes–”

He pauses and frowns masterfully at the hillside.

“And garages,” adds commuter A, not to be outdone. “Bang-up sewerage and a garbage-disposal plant. That sort of stuff gets the right class of buyer.”

The wooded hillside is doomed. Its trees shiver. Trees have a way of knowing about such things. Soon wayward lovers will be seeking elsewhere for stimulating concealment. A neat little garage will have usurped their bower.

“My God!” muttered T. Lawrence Lamb, now thoroughly in revolt against the ordained measure of his days. “I’m a part of the system. I’m all tied up.”

Then quite suddenly his attention became riveted on an object.

It was an ear.


AN unqualified fact. The object at which Mr. Lamb was gazing with such rapt attention was nothing more nor less than an ear. A small pink ear. A perky shred of an ear. And this ear in turn was ornamenting a small sleek head. Exceedingly black hair, closely trimmed–a severe yet successful bob, becoming only to about one woman in a thousand.

“That’s a mean-looking ear,” mused Lamb. “Looks like a wicked horse’s. Snakish sort of a head too, probably filled with all sorts of schemes and misery.”

Yet, even as he gazed, Lamb attempted to reject the existence of the ear. He was not, he assured himself, actually looking, at it. He was merely resting his eyes. In a moment or so he would return once more to his newspaper. As a matter of fact, his paper was so held as to be ready for immediate action. For instance, if the head to which the ear was attached should chance to reverse its position, Lamb could instantly take to cover. Meanwhile, if the ear happened to cross his field of vision that regrettable circumstance could hardly be obviated. It was not of his seeking. As he had previously done with vertebrae, he now proceeded to do with the ear. He washed his hands of it. He firmly set it aside. That silly-looking ear was really no concern of his.

Unconsciously Lamb found himself wondering just how it would feel to bite that ear ever so delicately–tentatively, so to speak. What would its owner say? What would she do? Bite back most likely. White teeth, small active teeth, somehow went with that ear, A brazen character too, daring and unrestrained. A thoroughly objectionable female type. Even from the little Lamb had seen, he considered the owner of the ear a demoralizing influence.

Anyone observing Lamb would not have suspected him capable of such an odd line of thought. Lamb himself was far from being aware of the fact that he was a thoroughly unmoral man, a sort of warmed-over pagan as judged by all standards of conventional morality. Otherwise that ear would not have disturbed him so profoundly, would not have lured him away from consideration of finance and industry.

When the gods were fabricating Mr. T. Lawrence Lamb they were far from being single-minded about it. There had been a certain divergence of opinion, a lamentable lack of harmony. Some had contended, not without reason, that there were already too many commuters cluttering up the earth, too many hard-headed, conscientious home owners, too many undeviating husbands and proud fathers. Humanity was becoming too stable, too standardized. It needed more highly spiced and less orthodox representatives. Other gods were firmly convinced that in order to allow themselves a few gracious liberties and privileges and at the same time to create a favorable public opinion it would be a far wiser thing to keep humanity more or less at a dead level, to make appetites and desires as orderly as possible, and to reduce imagination to a safe and sane minimum. It is to be remembered that these dissenting gods were the greatest hell-raisers on high and that they brought forward their contentions merely to further their own selfish ends and to assure themselves the unexamined enjoyment of their rather indelicate pursuits.

Unfortunately, though outnumbered, these gods represented a small but active minority, and the result with Lamb was an acrimonious compromise, an incongruous blending of strongly opposed elements. Outwardly Lamb looked and acted like a sober, responsible and respected member of the community– one of its more solid members. Lamb firmly believed himself to be every bit of that. But the inner Lamb, the true Lamb, was not quite so good. There was little conformity in him, scant reverence for the established order of things. Consequently, Lamb, was the seat of much mental and spiritual conflict, of many stray, orphaned thoughts. Within himself he contained an unplumbed reservoir of good healthy depravity that was constantly threatening to overflow and to spill all sorts of trouble about his feet.

Lamb’s face, like his body, was long. His skin was dark and expression somewhat saturnine. His eyes looked out on life always a trifle sardonically. His associates believed him to be a capable, serious-minded man, whereas in reality he was filled with a sort of desperately good-natured irony. For purposes of self-protection he was often brusque and caustic. It was just as well for everybody concerned that many of the remarks that sprang uninvited to his lips were quickly stifled. He had a wife who considered herself both artistic and intellectual. Lamb heartily detested these qualities; little realizing he possessed them himself to a high degree.

He enjoyed sitting with his knees elevated and his arms waving vaguely above his head. In this position he gave the impression of a semi-recumbent cheer leader. It was his most effective pose. He could explain things better that way. When customers came to him for financial advice they usually found him in this position, his desk being used solely for the purpose of supporting his knees. As he talked to them, his hands churning about in the air seemed to be juggling the industries and public utilities of a nation. Fascinated, his callers saw golden opportunity dancing before their eyes. Lamb’s success as a financier lay in the fact that he was often eloquently inarticulate–staccato. When necessary he could be masterfully blasphemous. His selling talks left much to the imagination. An overhead scrambling of the hands, a tortured oath or so, and a lowering scowl were sufficient to crumble the opposition of the most opinionated investor.

In his dress he somehow always managed to be smartly disheveled, always slightly sprinkled with cigarette ashes. His manners were not good. They were natural. At forty, he no longer cared a rap whether or not he ever sold another bond. Like his fathers before him he was the Lamb of Lamb & Co. Exactly who or what the “Co.” represented people had given up speculating. Customers knew that Lamb alone was sufficient. They deferred to his judgment and absorbed his bonds. Lamb had never ceased to be both pleased and surprised by his success. He was conscientious about other people’s money. The well-established reputation of Lamb & Co. had not suffered under his management. He was proud of it, but just a little fed up. This he scarcely realized. Fortunately for the business no one ever sensed the lurking instability of the man, least of all Lamb himself.

His wife found it convenient to regard him as an unimaginative plodder–a money-grubber. Lamb no longer bothered his head about her opinion. In his eyes she had long been a matrimonial washout. Occasionally he found enjoyment in annoying her. For years she had been trying to subjugate him, to mould him to her ways of life. Today he was as inexplicable and as recalcitrant as when he had just married her. He was not a satisfactory husband. He knew this and was pleased. He failed utterly to harmonize with Mrs. Lamb’s background, yet there he was and there probably he would be always with his long legs and mocking face. Mrs. Lamb often wished she had married an unqualified fool instead of this dark, ambling creature on whom she could make no impression.

It was essential to Mrs. Lamb’s happiness that she should always make an impression. She feared Lamb’s unuttered observations and never felt quite securely poised in the presence of his enigmatic grin. Lamb was no household comfort. He cramped his wife’s style dreadfully. His daughter a little more than liked him. Together they considered life critically, cynically, and just a bit coarsely. With the aid of Hebe, Lamb at times became a jovial vulgarian. It was a relief to him, an outlet. With everyone else he automatically acted the part of the conventional, unemotional, complacent business man he fondly believed himself to be.

And for that reason the ear offended him. Lamb disliked philandering, yet for some reason or other, he felt that with very little persuading he could bring himself to philander with that ear. For several weeks he had been observing it in casual, detached way. It was such a ridiculously small ear–the merest pretense of an ear. Why should a full-grown man like himself trouble about such a trifle? He was well past the age of foolishness. His own daughter was nearly as old as the ear. Anyway, the whole idea was out of the question. Yet the ear was undeniably a challenge. And that small sleek head so independently perched on a nice-looking neck, that too, was not without its appeal.

Strange to say, Mr. Lamb had never looked on the countenance of the owner of the ear. He had not even tried to push his investigations that far. He had felt it safer to let bad enough alone. He had ideas about the face, vague speculations, but he did not dwell on them. Why should he? Of what interest was it to him? Rubbish!

The train was slowing down for his station. Experienced commuters were already collecting their inevitable packages from the racks. Mr. Lamb methodically folded his newspapers and dismissed the ear from his thoughts–that is, he half rose preparatory to making his way down the aisle when quite unexpectedly the ear turned, and Mr. Lamb sat down hurriedly like one suddenly atrophied. The man was shocked to the core. He felt himself intimately caressed by a pair of incredibly melting eyes set in a face whose pallor is usually associated with innate vice. There was a mouth too, vivid and terribly defenseless, and at the same time quite capable.

It was one of the most alarming experiences in Mr. Lamb’s life. Those eyes. The languor in them. What a way for a woman to look at a man in public! The only word Lamb would think of in connection with those eyes was “voluptuous”. They, were actually voluptuous eyes, yet, strange to say, they were unconsciously so. The girl did not know what she was doing. She could not possibly know.

“A creature with eyes like that,” thought Lamb, “should be forced to wear smoked glasses.”

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