Turnabout - Thorne Smith - ebook

Turnabout ebook

Thorne Smith



Another magical, mischievous Thorne Smith classic. Though Thorne Smith’s most popular works involve elements of fantasy and science fiction, the clever novel „Turnabout” takes his penchant for incorporating supernatural and magical themes in his work and puts one such plot twist to use as a comedic tool. A classic battle of the sexes, it was published in 1931 and follows a married couple who fall prey to the tricks of an Egyptian idol who grows weary of the seemingly never-ending spats between the Willows and causes them to switch bodies. As you might expect, hilarious hijinks ensue. The novel also inspired the last episode of the original series Star Trek, Turnabout Intruder.

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Liczba stron: 415

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Clad in a fragile but frolicsome nightgown which disclosed some rather interesting feminine topography, Sally Willows sat on the edge of her bed and bent a pair of large brown eyes on her husband. This had been going on for some minutes–this cold dispassionate appraisal. At the present moment a growing sense of exasperation was robbing it a little of its chill. Warmth had crept into her eyes, making them even more beautiful and effective, but still they were not pleasant. Far from it.

As yet, however, Mrs. Sally Willows had denied herself the indulgence of speech. For this she is to be commended. It was a piece of self-discipline she seldom if ever inflicted on her tongue. She was waiting, waiting for that sock to come off, hoping against hope that the crisis would pass and the evening remain calm if dull.

Meanwhile she was content to sit there on the edge of her bed and silently consider her husband. At the moment she was considering him as she would have considered a mere thing, or some clumsily animated object that forever kept knocking about her private life and getting in the way. Terribly in the way.

Five years ago everything had been so different. Then she never would have looked at Tim Willows as she was looking at him now. In those early marital days this man creature had never been in her way, could never get in her way too much. Naturally. That had been before he had become a mere thing in her eyes. Also, that had been before her own personal experience, enhanced by the vicarious liaison dished up by the high priests of Hollywood, had given her a true appreciation of men, had shown her how really attractive and devastating men could be and yet retain a quality so charmingly boyish and unspoiled ... great, silent, passionate men with whimsical eyes and just a shade of helplessness ... men who could find a taxicab when no taxicabs were to be found and who could purchase first-night tickets or reserve an illimitable vista of rooms on the le de France–never forgetting the flowers and a trick toy or two–with admirable precision and dispatch and without the slightest display of nerves. Whenever her own husband attempted similar operations, on a much smaller scale, of course, he invariably returned unsuccessful, a nervous wreck bitterly complaining about the chicanery of mankind and the complexity of modern existence. Why, the poor beast could hardly make change without becoming so helplessly entangled that he was forced to turn to her with trembling hands. Frequently she feared the man would begin to chatter instead of talk.

As she sat there on the edge of the bed, a trim, sleek, wholly desirable figure with a smartly tailored head of glossy black hair, Sally Willows could think of at least a couple of dozen men more appealing to her than her husband, more worthy of her favors. When she had married Tim Willows she had not sufficiently appreciated her own possibilities or the possibilities of others. Idly she wondered how it would feel to be kept by a gloriously wealthy man who would give her everything she wanted, including unlimited freedom to exercise her charms on other men perhaps a trifle younger. Like most women who permit themselves to think at all she felt at times that she had it in her to become something pretty good in the line of a demi-monde, one in a position to pick and choose her votaries, even to command them. Nothing sordid, of course.

And at that moment, sitting on various beds in various parts of the world, innumerable wives were thus considering their wretched husbands and thinking the self-same thoughts. Who can blame them?

Yes, things were a good deal different now from what they had been five years back. For some time past–ever since she had danced with Carl Bentley, in fact–she had come to regard her husband as being just an animal about the house, an animal of the lower order that had been thoughtlessly endowed with the gift of speech and an annoying ability to reason rather trenchantly. It had to be fed at certain times, kept clean and profitably employed. In a way she was responsible, and it was all so very tiresome. Occasionally she still found this animal useful, extracted from it a certain amount of physical satisfaction. It brought home money and did things to the furnace. Sometimes it even made her laugh and feel unexpectedly tender. But romance–where was romance? Deep, vigorous, headlong passion–what had become of that? Had the cinema screens absorbed that precious commodity as blotting paper absorbs ink? And why did this animal fail to arouse in her that deliciously meretricious feeling that lent such zest to her flirtations with other men ... with Carl Bentley, especially?

All of which goes to show that Sally Willows was in rather a bad way. The girl stood sadly in need of a friendly but invigorating kick in her spiritual step-ins. But who was going to confer this favor upon her? She was worth it. She really was, for fundamentally Sally Willows was a good sort. One of the best. And at twenty-eight even a modern woman still has a lot to live and learn as well as to forget.

Cheerfully unconscious of his wife’s protracted scrutiny, entirely ignorant of her state of mind, Mr. Willows, his slender body plunged in a deep armchair, was dreamily engaged in removing his socks. That is not quite accurate. The man was not actually removing his socks, but rather working himself up gradually to such a pitch that he would be forced to take some decisive action about his socks, one way or the other. It was almost as if he entertained the mad hope that the socks, once having ascertained his purpose, would obligingly remove themselves. From the expression in his rather dim, dissipated-looking eyes one would have been led to believe that he was enmeshed in the web of some mystic ritual of transcendent loveliness.

After thirty-five years of hostilities the man was still at war with himself and the world in general. So many men are, and like Tim, not altogether without reason. He had not succeeded in getting himself anywhere in particular, and he rather more than half suspected he never would. Somehow he could not bring himself to care greatly about it. That is bad, the very antithesis of the red-blooded, two-fisted, he-man attitude that invariably leads to success. He was too erratic ever to establish himself securely in the advertising agency that tolerated his presence. Also, he was far too brilliant. Brilliance in business as distinguished from cleverness is a disturbing factor. It is slightly immoral and always subject to change.

Underpaid although frequently patted on the back, he was nevertheless held suspect by the powers that were. An accusing aura of cynical detachment seemed to surround him. He was unable to shake it off, unable to conceal it. From somewhere within his being emanated a spirit of unorthodoxy. At times in his presence his superiors experienced a vague feeling of insecurity and for the moment even suspected the efficacy of their most dependable platitudes. Even while they were showering praise upon him for some brain wave they seemed to realize that in Tim Willows they did not have a willing worker for whom the honor and the glory of the Nationwide Advertising Agency, Inc., trod hot upon the heels of God and country, so hot, in fact, that at times both God and country were left a trifle winded.

From his point of vantage on a nearby bookcase Mr. Ram, in his turn, considered both husband and wife.

Mr. Ram was a small Egyptian statue. Old, ages old. The wisdom of the powdered centuries lay behind his eyes. He was a colorful little figure and quite authentic. Mr. Ram through the sheer charm of his persuasive personality had established himself as a household deity from the first days of the Willowses’ joint experiment. He had moved with them from house to house, traveled with them over land and sea and shared in the ebb and flow of their never opulent fortunes. During those five years he had observed much and thought more. Whatever detractors might say about Mr. Ram they could not accuse him of having failed to take seriously his responsibilities to Tim and Sally.

Tim was more fortunate than he realized in possessing the casual affection of a globe-drinking uncle beside whom the blackest of sheep would have appeared pallid. Dick Willows, so far as the family had ever been able to ascertain, had only two aims in life: to keep bartenders on the alert and to ward off the pangs of solitude from as many lonely ladies as time and nature would permit. Upon the occasion of his nephew’s wedding this amorous philanthropist had from some corner of Egypt dispatched Mr. Ram to the young couple, together with an indelicate note in which he suggested that the little man be appointed chamberlain of the ceremonies of the nuptial couch, adding that Mr. Ram was that sort of little man and that his presence would banish the last shred of decency as was only right and proper at such a time.

From the first Tim and Sally had been drawn to Mr. Ram. He, on his part, was attached to them both, although of late their constant bickerings had worn a trifle on his fine Egyptian nerves. He was beginning to suspect that perhaps a little something should be done about it.

To-night as he considered the pair there was something inscrutable in his beady, black little eyes. Although time meant absolutely nothing to Mr. Ram he could not figure out for the life of him why Tim was consuming so much of it in the removal of his socks. They were not such remarkable socks. Just the opposite. They were the most infamous-looking socks, an unsightly hole disgracing each crumpled toe. And as he watched and waited on the bookcase a suggestion of gathering purpose touched the usually benign features of the colorful little idol. Most assuredly, something should be done.

Apparently Sally felt somewhat the same way about it. She fixed her bemused husband with an unadoring gaze and gave utterance to a single word which sounded strangely cold and hostile in the silence of the room.

“Well?” she said.

Across vague leagues of nebulous speculations Mr. Willows’s eyes sought Sally’s.

“Huh?” he inquired inelegantly. “You said what?”

“The sock,” she went on in the level tones of one exerting the utmost self-restraint. “Does it come off?”

Slowly and uncomprehendingly, Tim’s eyes journeyed down the long reaches of his thin leg until they rested broodingly on his sock. Gradually intelligence dawned.

“Oh,” he exclaimed, a pleased expression animating his face. “It’s the sock. How stupid of me, Sally. It comes off. In fact, I’m going to take it off myself.”

“That’s good of you,” said Sally Willows. “I would.”

And he did.

He took the sock off, then sank back in the chair and regarded his liberated foot with an expression of mild surprise, as if trying to remember where he had last seen the thing. Then he indulged in a display of sheer animalism which his wife found exceedingly trying to bear. With a sigh of almost voluptuous contentment he deliberately wiggled his toes, some of which in the process gave tongue to a crackling sound.

“Don’t,” was all she said, slightly averting her gaze. “Please.”

“What’s that?” demanded Tim, who under the fascinating spell of his toes was rapidly receding into a vast expanse of fresh speculation.

“Don’t wig –” Mrs. Willows began, then hesitated. “What you are doing,” she continued with dignity, “is both revolting and extremely childish. Don’t do it.”

Tim Willows stilled his agitated toes and thoughtfully considered the surprising request.

“Can’t see anything wrong in a man wiggling his toes a bit,” he observed at last. “Good thing to do. Good for the toes ... for the entire foot, for that matter. Why don’t you wiggle yours? Exercise ‘em.”

“There’s only one place where I’d like to exercise my toes,” replied Sally.

Mr. Willows disregarded this ruthless ambition and pondered a moment more.

“You know,” he offered in a confidential voice, “I’ll bet that almost everyone wiggles his or her toes at one time or another. It’s not nice to think of Keats or Shelley or Lord Byron doing it, but they must have done it. Even that sloppy movie hero of yours. I’ll lay odds he wiggles his priceless toes.”

“Perhaps he does,” conceded Sally, “but he doesn’t explode a bunch of writhing firecrackers virtually in his wife’s face.”

A smile slowly arranged itself on Tim’s lips and became fixed in a grin.

“I’m different,” he declared irritatingly. “Bigger than he is. I take you into my confidence.”

“There are certain little intimacies which even after five years of married life might just as well remain unrevealed,” replied Mrs. Tim. “I don’t like toes and never have. Can’t bear the thought of toes, much less the sight.”

“But I didn’t ask you to think of my toes,” observed Tim, in one of those gently reasonable voices that drive wives mad. “I can jolly well think of my own ten toes.”

“How can I help it when you’re waving the horrid things before my eyes?” A tragic note had crept into Sally Willows’s voice.

“Trouble with you,” continued Tim reflectively, “is that you’ve got a phobia against toes. You allow them to dominate your mind. They get the best of you. Now, take these toes, for instance. Look at ‘em.”

“I won’t take those toes,” Sally protested passionately. “You take those toes and get them out of my sight. Cram them into your slippers. And, furthermore, I have no desire to get into a long, involved argument with you about toes or any other part of your miserable anatomy. Is there no fragrance in life? No romance? Must I be compelled to sit here all night with my thoughts no higher than your crablike toes?”

“Oh, all right. All right,” Tim hastily agreed, realising from past experience that the breaking point was dangerously close at hand. “We’ll say no more about toes.”

He snapped off his other sock, thrust his feet into his slippers, struggled out of the chair and strayed off nakedly about the room.

“I say, Sally, seen anything of that shirt?” he called out after he had succeeded in methodically disarranging the contents of the closet and knocking down several of his wife’s dresses, which he gropingly retrieved and blindly flung back in the general direction of their hangers. “Wonder why women invariably hang up their things in such a hell of a way,” he continued irritably. “No brains at all. Now where could that shirt have got itself to? Just where? Tell me that.”

“I just saw you taking it off,” replied Sally, ice edging her words. “For goodness’ sake cover your nakedness. You’re unlike anything in heaven above or the earth beneath or the waters under the earth.”

Mr. Willows allowed this remark to pass unchallenged, but stuck gamely to his aimless quest.

“I don’t mean that shirt,” he explained. “I mean that long voluminous garment I bought in Paris.”

“When drunk,” supplied his wife, then asked in a rather hopeless voice, “Aren’t you ever going to use your pajamas, Tim–the bottoms as well as the tops? Is it essential to your happiness that you rig yourself up in these weird costumes and go trailing about the house like some anemic beach-comber? Are you so physically different from all other adult males of your species that you must flaunt the lower half of your body in the eyes of the world?”

“I keep telling you,” Tim retorted with weary patience, “that I can’t stand pajama bottoms. It’s like toes with you. And I don’t know anything about other men. I don’t go around investigating. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. If the Lord Himself appeared before me at this very moment clad in a pair of favors bottoms I could only find it in my heart to feel sorry for him. The damn things get in my way. They roggle up. They–they choke me.”

“You needn’t trouble yourself to make it any plainer,” said Mrs. Willows with some attempt at dignity. “Don’t give me a demonstration. Just the same, I’m sure other women’s husbands must wear the trousers of their pajamas.”

“Sure, a lot of lizzies,” proclaimed Mr. Willows derisively. “Real men take their pajama trousers off when they go to bed.”

“Don’t be vulgar,” said Mrs. Tim.

“Well, we won’t go into that,” he remarked, turning to a bureau drawer and pawing through its contents. “I’m different, as I told you before,” he went on. “Much franker. I take you into my confidence–entirely.”

“You’re altogether too frank for decency.”

He dragged several yards of material from the drawer and finally succeeded in draping it over his body. Above this tentlike arrangement his face emerged with a triumphant expression. The remainder of him was far from lovely.

“I imagine the reason the French build their shirts like this,” he observed, “is because they’re constantly running in and out of doors with husbands and wives and entire hotel staffs running after them. It must be that.”

“I’m not interested,” returned Sally, “but I do know that that atrocity you’re wearing is neither one thing nor the other. There’s too much of it for a day shirt and too little for a night. It’s simply an unsatisfactory compromise.”

“Well, at any rate,” replied Tim thriftily, “I’m not letting it go to waste. I’m getting my money’s worth out of it like any French gentleman would do.”

“I’d even pay good money to have you take it off,” said Sally.

“Oh, my dear!” her husband murmured, looking at her archly.

“Shut up,” interrupted Sally. “You’re not amusing. Is there no romance anywhere in that feeble frame of yours? Must I spend all my nights with a comic-strip character–a clown?”

Tim looked thoughtfully down at his wife.

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