Topper Takes a Trip - Thorne Smith - ebook
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Cosmo Topper is an average American bank executive on holiday in the French Riveria. Feckless, fun-loving and totally uncontrollable ghosts, George and Marion Kerby and friends – the tortuously crooked Colonel Scott and his companion, the disreputable Mrs. Hart – return to bring chaos and merriment into the life of mild-mannered, stuffy, and somewhat plump, Topper. One of Thorne Smith’s best-loved comedies, it proves once again that he is the undisputed master of urbane wit and sophisticated repartee. His witty takes on modern life, sex, and the supernatural makes his unique style. Written in 1932 as a sequel to the enormously popular Topper novel, „Topper Takes a Trip” takes the reader for another a walk on the wild side. Come join the fun. You’ll be glad you did.

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Liczba stron: 432

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Contents

1. MORNING THOUGHTS ON A GERMAN MODEL

2. MR TOPPER SHAKES HANDS

3. MONSIEUR GRANDON’S VESUVIUS

4. ANIMATED DISCOURSE WITH A FOOT

5. ONE THING LEADS TO ANOTHER

6. UNSEEN AND UNINVITED GUESTS

7. A SELF-TIPPING HAT

8. CASUAL CONVERSATION AT THE ENGLISH BAR

9. ‘ALL GOD’S CHILLUN GOT SHOES’

10. LA PLAGE TRANQUILLE

11. INTERLUDE ON THE ROCKS

12. THE ECCENTRIC BEHAVIOR OF SCOLLOPS

13. A LADY’S LEG BETRAYS

14. AT THE HÔTEL SPLENDIDE

15. SIX WELL-FIXED RACES

16. THE ASCENSION OF COLONEL SCOTT

17. FROM TREE TO TREE

18. THE DISAPPEARING SUICIDE

19. LOOKING AT A LOT OF FISH

20. SANCTUARY

21. THE BROKEN WINDOW

22. THE LAW TAKES ITS CASUAL COURSE

23. AN INVITATION TO BE MURDERED

24. NIGHT THOUGHTS ON A VANISHED MISTRESS

1. MORNING THOUGHTS ON A GERMAN MODEL

There was Topper, and there was the Mediterranean. A magnificent spectacle, that–Topper and the Mediterranean. Kindred spirits well met, contemplating each other across an alluring girdle of sand.

Not a large man, Topper–Cosmo Topper. Nor yet a small man. Certainly not a small. A comfortable man, rather. Slightly plump, if anything, and clad in a pair of blue silk pajamas. And there was the Mediterranean just as it had been there for a considerable length of time –much longer than Mr Topper, for one thing. A vast expanse of cool ocean as blue and virginal seeming as the garments adorning the figure then inspecting it from the balcon of a discouragingly pale stucco villa set in a garden fairly bristling with grass of a repellent toughness– grass so hostilely tough that only a rhinoceros could sit on it with any showing of dignity and aplomb. Unfortunately, as rhinoceroses are rarely if ever encountered in these drab days sitting on Riviera grass in Riviera gardens, this observation must of necessity remain merely one of those vast mental pictures upon which to dwell during the interminable reaches of a family reunion.

On this early morning, one which appeared about as willing to give as to receive of the good things of life, Mr Topper had the Mediterranean very much to himself. In fact, he was quite alone with all that great quantity of water.

There was the man. And there was the ocean. Unique and distinct. One might even choose between them, if suddenly faced with such a disagreeable necessity. However, so splendidly did they go together, so well matched or mated were the two, that most persons of discrimination would have hesitated to separate them. They would have preferred to sidestep the issue and to retain both Topper and the Mediterranean intact. But, of course, there are some who might have wanted the ocean more than the man, or vice versa. Who can say?

We are fortunate in being able to have them both at their best, Topper on his balcon, and the Mediterranean in its bed.

Across the Mediterranean Mr Topper cast an early morning look, and the Mediterranean graciously offered its full-bosomed amplitude to his inspection. And although it has been previously observed that both were of a virginal blueness, it should not be forgotten that either one of them was capable of pulling some powerfully rough stuff when the opportunity offered.

Topper, it is to be learned with some relief, was virginal more through circumstance than choice. This does not imply that his was a low and lecherous nature. Nor does it necessarily follow that he was epicurean in such matters. But he did like things nice that way. Most men do, when and if possible.

Topper had been a banker by profession. He still was a husband–an original error of judgment unrectified by time. Habit is a dreadful thing. Once he had commuted without realizing the error of his ways. Most men commute through necessity. Topper had done so ritualistically. In Glendale, U.S.A., the Toppers had been socially solid. All that had changed, but not through Mrs Topper.

The fact is that rather late in the day Cosmo Topper had been subjected to the ultra-violent rays of a series of amorous and disreputable adventures as incredible as they had been entertaining. These adventures had left his pulse still beating in perfect harmony with the more enjoyable if less laudable preoccupations of life. They had not so much changed his character as ventilated it, given it a chance to breathe good, honest, vulgar, air vitalized by the fumes of grog. As a result, he had succeeded in washing his hands of work, but figuratively women still clung to them. There were times when those hands of Topper’s fairly itched after women, which is the natural state of all healthy and enterprising masculine hands.

Even now, in the innocent face of this clean Riviera morning, the man was actually speculating as to the exact degree of nudity the German model would achieve on the beach a few hours hence. Yesterday, to his almost visible agitation, this lady of wolfish lines had reached what he had every reason to believe to be the absolute limit of anatomical candor. In spite of this awe- inspiring display, something told Topper that this German model, in her relentless quest of a coat of tan, still held a few more cubic inches in reserve which she would willingly sacrifice to the sun. Until she did this there was no peace of mind for any inquiring spirit on the beach. And when this greatly to be desired end had been attained, Topper both hoped and proposed to be stationed critically in the front ranks of a vast, admiring, and cosmopolitan multitude. He owed himself that much. Not that he lusted after the woman, but too long and too patiently had he attended in clinical expectancy to be, at the end, deprived of this point of vantage.

Once she had definitely and conclusively arrived at the climax of her revelations, Topper felt that he would be quite willing to call it a game. He had no desire to pursue his investigations further. All suspense would be at an end. The German model could go her way, while he would go his as if the incident had never occurred. Her crisply burned body would remain in his memory merely as a remarkable phenomenon, something to wonder about, like a landslide, subway rush, or Democratic Convention.

However, until that time Mr Topper’s interests were very much involved. True enough, so gradually had the German model progressed on her way to nudity that much of the shock had evaporated before fresh territory was opened up for inspection, but by the same token, the very deliberateness of the method employed lent to the business an atmosphere of terrific suspense. What the morrow would bring forth, or, rather, off, was the anxious speculation in scores of masculine minds. Women also wondered. Topper suspected several depraved frequenters of the Casino actually of betting on the results of the model’s daily progress. For example, the fifth rib against the diaphragm, heavy odds against a complete torso.

Being bored abroad is one of America’s favorite customs. And not without reason.

Mr Topper held stoutly to the belief that within the short space of several weeks this German model had done more to establish friendly relations –to create a sort of entente intime, in fact–between her country and the Allied Powers than had been achieved by all the diplomatic gestures and disarmament conferences that had supplied the public with dull reading since the Armistice.

‘And not a bad idea,’ he mused, yawning. ‘In fact, a splendid idea. Instead of holding a series of silly disarmament conferences at which everyone gets all hot and bothered and cables home to hurry up with more guns –instead of this, why not institute a set of disrobing conferences? Why not make a clean breast of it internationally? Let us strip ourselves of our all and face each other man to woman instead of man to man. No more beating about the bush or dangerous secret diplomacy. No more old men telling lies to other old men. At innumerable private conferences the idea has worked out not only successfully but entertainingly. Why not try it out on a large international scale?’

He considered his Mediterranean now as if in a trance. Topper was seeing in his mind’s eye the American ambassador to England clad only in a pipe, looking at the German delegate trying to face the world in glasses. He saw a famous old French bargain hunter smilingly surveying the scene protected only by a blue béret–très gentil. And a gentleman from Italy clad only in a neat but shrunken black shirt–what a sight! Mahatma Gandhi taking everything quite naturally, together with a few grains of rice. Then there would be the ladies, supplied probably by an international theatrical committee: Miss America, Mlle France, Señorita Madrid, et al. Altogether a jolly party. A conference that would accomplish some results, at least, no matter what those results might be. Agreeable events would be sure to occur.

The Mediterranean invites the idle mind to do some very curious thinking, and Mr Topper, it seems, had accepted the invitation. And all the while these and other equally unbecoming thoughts were corroding the mind of this erstwhile banker, within the pale villa his wife was sleeping most unpicturesquely yet most thoroughly. In spite of the many sterling qualities of this really admirable lady, one could forgive without too great a struggle her husband for preferring to think of the German model.

There was so much of her worth thinking about and so many choice bits of that so much. And strange to relate, Topper had not the faintest conception of what she looked like–no idea at all of her face. Men are like that. Careless. Just grown-up boys with a few extra tricks tacked on.

He well remembered the day when she had first made her appearance on the beach. Like many successful men and women before her, she had made rather modest and cautious beginnings. Only a scant couple of yards of her were exposed to the avid caress of the sun that day. From that first casual view of her one never would have suspected that there was so very much more of the German model still left unseen. Yet as time went on and vaster expanses became exposed, one came to believe that perhaps this German model would never cease, but like the brook continue on for ever. Now, most fortunately for everyone concerned, there was little left of the lady that remained unexposed. With characteristic Teutonic system and thoroughness she had succeeded in revolutionizing the color of her skin and at the same time hanging up a record for plain and fancy nudity on a beach where such a record was exceedingly hard to make.

She was a good influence, Mr Topper decided, as he stood on his balcon, getting himself together for the day. She was the living symbol of one of the few interests that nations held in common. She drew men together, took their mind off grimmer if higher things. Furthermore, she didn’t give a damn. Topper admired that. All his life he had given damns. Too many of them. For what she was, she deserved all the admiration and encouragement she received, although sweethearts and wives from Bronx Park to Brompton Road publicly denounced her while privately envying her proportions. So much for the German model, thought Topper as he turned to receive Scollops.

Scollops was Mr Topper’s personal cat. She wove herself out on to the balcon and, as her master had done before her, looked the Mediterranean up and down. Then she yawned at it. There was a tongue inside. It was curled like a red-hot spring. Topper, considering his cat’s too knowing eyes, decided that she would go well with the German model. Both should lie in the sand together. They had much in common–everything male.

Mr Topper gathered the cat in his arms and together they considered the day. He had brought this creature, this unregenerate cat, along with him at no little trouble and expense. At first Scollops had not been pleased. Travel had proved too confining, although there had been a moment or two on the ship –the captain’s Tom. Why bring up the past? Why not, thought Scollops? Life was better now–ampler, lazier, sunnier. She found it to her liking, although she had noticed with a sense of alarm that there appeared to be a great many more French dogs than cats, and that these dogs seemed curiously volatile and distrait. It hardly mattered though. One enterprising gentleman cat for everyday company and another just in case were all that Scollops demanded. She had speedily acquired both. Not bad, either. Scollops frankly liked her gentlemen cats ungentlemanly. It would be amusing to present Mr Topper with a litter of Franco-American kittens, amusing but quite a bother.

Had the man holding this godless animal so carefully in his arms even suspected vaguely the nature of her thoughts he would have dropped her like a hot shot, little realizing that his own thoughts were, if anything, less edifying.

Some distance out on the blue a French destroyer went scuttling along to Nice. Probably out of Toulon. She knifed the waters spitefully, as if to remind them that men could hate and kill as well as love and live amiable lives. A subtle, deadly little craft. Neat. From the nearby training station three aeroplanes zoomed in formation through an inoffensive sky, then broke into a stuttering of dizzy spins and loops. Playful little devils buoyantly practicing murder.

Topper raised his eyes to these man-created wasps, then lowered them to the sleek sides of his cat. Far, far better to consider the German model. No foolish ideas there about national prestige, the rights of invasion, or defence of honor. Catch as catch can was her way of looking at life. Live and let live, but preferably with some nice rich man.

Extending a brown hand, Topper gently touched a small pink rose that had crept up on the vine from the veranda below to take a look round. It was jolly up here. Better than looking all day long at that damn tough grass. The air brought to mind pine forests and hidden flowers, also, occasionally, fish. From the little cork factory down the street a fine red powder dusted the light breeze. Scollops sniffed delicately. An inspiriting figure of a French girl, mostly legs of the better sort, as was only right and proper, sped smoothly along a white road. With effortless grace she sent the bicycle ahead. She was singing ‘Ramona’. All French girls were singing ‘Ramona’. And almost all French men. Not singing it any too well, but singing it often and emotionally. Topper had hoped he had left that song far behind in America. Now, right here in France, the populace was breaking its collective heart over it all day long and late into the night. Idly he wondered if the French senate sang it. He grinned indulgently. Probably, if he were French, he too would be vocally breaking his heart over this Ramona trollop and her confounded Mission bells. Thoughtfully his eyes followed the provocative figure of the girl as she sped over the inlet bridge and lost herself in a little crooked street mostly made up at the moment of a donkey and his eternal cart. Whether the girl made it or not Topper never knew. He rather suspected she didn’t, although the donkey remained unmoved.

‘Ma chatte,’ he remarked, thinking to himself what a silly word it was, ‘my little cabbage, let us promenade ourselves.’ For a moment he looked back at the blue ocean. ‘Small wonder,’ he continued to his little cabbage, ‘that that strapping wench Venus, all set for seduction, sprang full blown from the foam of such a sea.’

Leaving the Mediterranean to consider this at its leisure, Topper, bearing Scollops, quietly withdrew into his villa.

The fact was, the man was lonely, excessively lonely, but he refused to admit it even to himself.

2. MR TOPPER SHAKES HANDS

Topper, still doing his best in spite of his blue-silk pajamas, emerged gloriously into his garden. Scollops also emerged under her own power. There did not appear to be much of it because she moved slowly on reluctant feet.

On his way downstairs Topper paused to look at his wife, then hastily followed this uninspiring inspection with a stiff bracer of cognac. As Mr Topper understood it, this clever French distillation was to be considered more in the nature of a tonic than a tipple–when taken properly. Owing to the blessed fact that his wife was a late sleeper, Mr Topper found himself at liberty to take it properly several times in the course of a morning. By rising early himself he could thus extend the length of his morning and accordingly increase the number of cognacs, all of which were taken properly. Husbands have their ways, God help them.

Topper, after looking at his wife, felt that the world owed him at least one drink of cognac properly taken. And he took it. Even in her sleep there had been about Mary Topper a certain grim rectitude which is especially depressing to those whose moral stature is only microscopically visible. Topper needed his cognac. He took his cognac. And although, as a result, his moral stature suffered a severe setback, he felt within himself much closer to God and man. His two favorites, Scollops and the Mediterranean, became even greater favorites.

Mention has been made of a series of adventures in connection with Mr Topper. More should be said. Back in his suburban home Topper had met some exceedingly peculiar characters and enjoyed some equally peculiar adventures. From these adventures he emerged improved in every department. He was, perhaps, the only man of his day and generation who had actually and knowingly had familiar dealings with a spirit, or rather, with a person who, judged by all conventional standards, was entirely non-existent. Topper knew better. However, because of this technical loophole perhaps no black marks can be recorded against him, in spite of the fact that he left behind him, in the course of his adventures, a clearly defined trail of chips from the Commandments he had shattered.

This morning, as Topper strolled along by his garden wall, he was thinking of his brief but lurid past. His thoughts made him restless, filled him with a poignant desire to live a little more amply and to associate again with those extraordinary companions of a vanished summer, especially with one of them, Marion Kerby. If he had her back again he felt that he could indefinitely dispense with the others. As a matter of fact, he would much prefer it. Colonel Scott and Mrs Hart, those suave though disreputable affinities, would be far too expansive and uncontrollable along a coast offering as many opportunities for their failings as the Riviera. Even in the so-called dry States, they had seldom drawn a totally unalcoholic breath. And George Kerby–Topper felt that he could do very nicely without a great deal of George, Marion’s quick-tempered, high-living husband, who was for ever insisting that death did not them part, not by any manner of means. An engaging chap, George, and a delightful companion, if he would only give up claiming such dictatorial sway over the time and actions of Marion.

In his heart Topper knew that Marion was lost to him for ever. She had told him herself that she was passing on to a higher plane, freeing herself at last from the carnal drag of the earth. The jovial Colonel, the languishing yet ever hungry Mrs Hart, and George Kerby would never pass out of the more pleasant influences of the earth. They had no ambitions to refine themselves. Topper felt sure of that. Those three liked themselves as they were, and Topper, thinking back, could hardly blame them. He, himself, had he been given the choice, would have preferred to remain a low-plane spirit, that is, assuming he was officially removed from this world. Then Topper’s thoughts dallied with memories of Oscar, the Colonel’s somewhat eccentric dog, that had only after the greatest patience on the part of his master learned to materialize in whole or in part, according to his mood and fancy. Oscar would have been an unusual companion for Scollops. He would have diverted the cat’s thoughts from certain channels.

A bald head, fringed with a nicely starched ruff of grey, popping up alarmingly from the other side of the wall, brought Mr Topper’s own thoughts back into the present with a snap.

‘Bonjour, mon vieux!’ cried Monsieur Louis. ‘The times make fair, is it not?’

Mr Topper’s hand was suddenly snatched from him and twirled about in the most bewildering manner. In this operation the element of surprise meant all. Topper had no choice. He merely stood by watchfully to see that nothing that could not be mended happened to his hand.

‘You carry yourself well to-day?’ continued Monsieur Louis, suddenly forgetting all about Mr Topper’s hand and dropping it. ‘You promenade yourself a little? Comment?’

Mr Topper hastened to assure Monsieur Louis that he, Topper, was exceedingly well pleased with everything in France, but especially with Monsieur Louis himself; that he, Topper, carried himself tremendously, and that he hoped Monsieur Louis was doing splendidly in the line of self-carrying; that the times had never made any fairer so far as he knew, and that owing to his blue-silk pajamas he was desolated that he could not please Monsieur Louis by projecting himself farther than a very little. And all the while Mr Topper was saying these things he was wondering if Monsieur Louis had actually called him common to his face. It sounded very much like it, that last word. These French could get away with murder if one failed to know their language.

‘Me, also, I am well pleased,’ Monsieur Louis continued like God. ‘Now, behold, I work much. To-night I play. Tout à l’heure, mon ami, Tout à l’heure.’

And with this piece of gratuitous information of a rather personal nature Monsieur Louis ducked down behind the wall, leaving Mr Topper on the other side vainly trying to get the meaning of his parting words.

‘Tout à l’heure,’ considered Mr Topper. ‘What the deuce did he mean by that? Sounds silly to me–all at the hour. What hour? Can’t help feeling a little embarrassed for these Frenchmen when they begin to talk. Seem to lose all control of themselves. He works much now, but to-night he plays, does he? Getting along in years for that sort of thing. And he brags about it, the immoral old devil. Wonder what his wife thinks of that?’

Topper decided that most likely Madame Louis did not mind at all. French husbands and wives were always so busy rushing in and out of the house on the way to and from assignations that they never had any spare time to check up on each other’s movements.

This train of thought naturally brought him back to Marion Kerby. He recalled the day when he had purchased the Kerbys’ car as a result of his exasperation at his wife’s habitual attempts to thrust a leg of lamb down his jaded throat. George and Marion had been killed in that self-same car. A tree had objected to it. He remembered the day, the moment of awe and incredulity when they had first spoken to him out of vast spaces. How upset he had been. And he remembered, too, not without a slight shudder, how shockingly George Kerby had first materialized. What a dreadful sight that had been–a pair of golf knickers gradually taking form, and an inverted head dangling between their legs. At that moment Topper had wondered if George materialized were always going to be like that. Then Marion had made her presence seen as well as felt. He had first caught sight of her draped over a rafter in an old, abandoned inn. She had been about as abandoned as the inn itself. That night she had looked like an angel. There the resemblance had come to an abrupt end.

Once more Monsieur Louis’ popping head shattered Mr Topper’s memories.

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