Mr. Drake, a popular composer, is often invited by admirers of his music to itay with them, but Mr. Drake hates visiting. His wife says: "Ben absolutely abhors visiting and thinks there ought to be a law against invitations that go beyond dinner, and bridge. He doesn't mind hotels where there is a decent light for reading in .'bed' and one for shaving, and where you can order meals, with coffee, any time you want them. But I really believe he would rather spend a week in the death house at Sing Sing than in somebody else's home. It was after our visit to an acquaintance of ours that Ben swore he would pay no more visits until he could think up a graceful method of curtailing them in the event they proved unbearable. Here is the scheme-he hit on: He would write himself a telegram and leave it with Irene, the girl-at Harms', his publishers, with instructions to have it sent to him twenty-four hours after we started out. The telegram would say that he must return to New York at once, and would give a reason."
The story is narrated by Mrs. Drake. She is spending a weekend with Mr. and Mrs. Thayers, well-meaning admirers of her husband's music. Mr. Drake is not, there, he is busy rehearsing a new performance.
At dinner on Saturday night, they cross-examined me about our immediate plans. I told them that as soon as the show-was "over" in New York, I was going to try to make Ben stay home and do nothing for a whole month.
"I should think," said Mrs. Thayer, "it would be very hard to rest there in the city, with the producers and publishers, and phonograph people calling him up all the time."
I admitted that he was bothered a lot.
"Listen, dearie," said Mrs. Thayer. "Why don't you come to Lansdowne and spend a week with us? I'll promise you faithfully that you won't be. disturbed at all. I won't let anyone know you are there, and if any of our friends call on us, I'll pretend we're not at home. I won't allow Mr. Drake to even touch the piano. If he wants exercise, there are miles of room in our yard to walk around in, and nobody can see him from the street. All day and all night, he can do nothing or anything, just as he pleases. It will be "Liberty Hajl" for you both. He needn't tell anybody where he is, but if some of his friends or business acquaintances find out and try to get in touch with him, I'll frighten them away. How does that sound?"
"It sounds wonderful," I said, "but -"
"It's settled then," said Mrs. Thayer, "and we'll expect you on Sunday, October eleventh."
"Oh, but the show may not be "set" by that time," I remonstrated.
"How about the eighteenth?" said Mr. Thayer.
Well, it ended by my accepting the invitation. Strange as it might seem, Ben took it quite cheerfully.
"If they stick to their promise to keep us under cover," he said, "it may be a lot better than staying in New York. I know that they wouldn't give me a minute's peace if they could find me. And of course if things aren't as good as they look, Irene's telegram will provide us with an easy way out."
On the way over to Philadelphia he hummed me an awfully pretty melody which had been running through his head since we left the apartment. "I think it's sure fire," he said. "I'm crazy to get to a piano and fool with it."
"That isn't resting, dear."
"Well, you don't want me to throw away a perfectly good tune! They aren't so plentiful that I can afford to waste one. It won't take me five minutes at a piano to get it fixed in my mind."
The Thayers had a very pretty home and the room assigned to us was close to perfection. There were comfortable twin beds with a small stand and convenient reading-lamp between; a big dresser and chiffonier; an ample closet with plenty of hangers; a bathroom with hot water that was hot, towels that were not too new and faucets that stayed on when turned on, and an ash-tray within reach of wherever you happen to be. If only we could have spent all our time in that guest-room, it would have been ideal.
But presently we were summoned downstairs to luncheon. I had warned Mrs. Thayer in advance and Ben was served with coffee. He drinks it black.
"Don't you take cream, Mr. Drake?"
"But that's because you don't get good cream in New York."
"No. It's because I don't like cream in coffee."
"You would like our cream. We have our own cows and the cream is so rich that it's almost like butter. Won't you try just a little?"
"But just a little, to see how rich it is."
She poured about a tablespoonful of cream into his coffee-cup and for a second I was afraid he was going to pick up the cup and throw it in her face. But he kept hold of himself, forced a smile and declined a second chop.
"You haven't tasted your coffee," said Mrs. Thayer.
"Yes, I have," lied Ben. "The cream is wonderful. I'm sorry it doesn't agree with me."
"I don't believe coffee agrees with anyone," said Mrs. Thayer. "While you are here, not doing any work, why don't you try to give it up?"
"I'd be so irritable you wouldn't have me in the house. Besides, it 'isn't plain coffee that disagrees with me; it's coffee with cream."
"Pure, rich cream like ours couldn't hurt you," said Mrs. Thayer, and Ben, defeated, refused to answer.
He started to light a Jaguar cigaret, the brand he had been smoking for years.
"Here! Wait a minute!" said Mr. Thayer. "Try one of mine."
"What are they?" asked Ben.
"Trumps," said our host, holding out his case. "They're mild and won't irritate the throat."
"I'll sample one later," said Ben.
"You've simply got to try one now," said Mrs. Thayer. "You may as well get used to them because you'll have to smoke them all the time you're here. We can't have guests providing their own cigarets." So Ben had to discard his Jaguar and smoke a Trump, and it was even worse than he had anticipated.
After luncheon we adjourned to the living-room and Ben went straight to the piano.
"Here! Here! None of that!" said Mrs. Thayer. "I haven't forgotten my promise."
"What promise?" asked Ben.
"Didn't your wife tell you? I promised her faithfully that if you visited us, you wouldn't be allowed to touch the piano."
"But I want to," said Ben. "There's a melody in my head that I'd like to try."
"Oh, yes, I know all about that," said Mrs. Thayer. "You just think you've got to entertain us! Nothing doing! We invited you here for yourself, not to enjoy your talent. I'd be a fine one to ask you to my home for a rest and then make you perform."
"You're not making me," said Ben. "Honestly I want to play for just five or ten minutes. I've got a tune that I might do something with and I'm anxious to run it over."
"I don't believe you, you naughty man!" said our hostess. "Your wife has told you how wild we are about your music and you're determined to be nice to us. But I'm just as stubborn as you are. Not one note do you play as long as you're our guest!"
Ben favored me with a stricken look, mumbled something about unpacking his suitcase - it was already unpacked - and went up to our room, where he stayed nearly an hour, jotting down his new tune, smoking Jaguar after Jaguar and wishing that black coffee flowed from bathtub faucets.
(to be continued)