About a quarter to four Mr. Thayer insisted on taking him around the place and showing him the shrubbery.
"I'll have to go to business tomorrow," said Mr. Thayer, "and you will be left to amuse yourself. I thought you might enjoy this planting more if you knew a little about it. Of course it's much prettier in the spring of the year."
"I can imagine so."
"You must come over next spring and see it."
"I'm usually busy in the spring," said Ben.
"Before we go in," said Mr. Thayer, "I'd like to ask you one question: Do tunes come into your mind and then you write them down, or do you just sit at the piano and improvise until you strike something good?"
"Sometimes one way and sometimes the other," said Ben.
"That's very interesting," said Mr. Thayer. "I've often wondered how it was done. And another question: Do you write the tunes first and then give them to the men who write the words, or do the men
write the words first and then give them to you to make up the music to them?"
"Sometimes one way and sometimes the other," said Ben.
"That's very interesting," said Mr. Thayer. "It's something I'm glad to know. And now we'd better join the ladies or my wife will say I'm monopolizing you."
They joined us, much to my relief. I had just reached a point where I would either have had to tell "Hilda" (Mrs. Thayer) exactly how much Ben earned per annum or that it was none of her business.
"Well!" said Mrs. Thayer to Ben. "I was afraid Ralph had kidnapped you."
"He was showing me the shrubbery," said Ben.
"What do you think of it?"
"It's great shrubbery," said Ben, striving to put some warmth into his voice.
"You must come and see it in the spring."
"I'm usually busy in the spring."
"Ralph and I are mighty proud of our shrubbery."
"You have a right to be."
Ben was taking a book out of the bookcase.
"What book is that?" asked Mrs. Thayer.
"'The Great Gatsby", said Ben. "I've always wanted to read it but never got around to it."
"Heavens!" said Mrs. Thayer as she took it away from him. "That's old! You'll find the newest ones there on the table. We keep pretty well up to date. Ralph and I are both great readers. Just try any one of those books in that pile. They're all good."
Ben glanced them over and selected "Chevrons." He sat down and opened it.
"Man! Man!" exclaimed Mrs. Thayer. "You've picked the most uncomfortable chair in the house!"
"He likes straight chairs," I said.
"That's on the square," said-Ben.
"But you mustn't sit there," said Mrs. Thayer. "It makes me uncomfortable just to look at you. Take this chair here. It's the softest, nicest chair you've ever sat in."
"I like hard straight chairs," said Ben, but he sank into the soft, nice one and again opened the book.
"Oh, you never can see there!" said Mrs. Thayer. "You'll ruin your eyes! Get up just a minute and let Ralph move your chair by that lamp."
"I can see perfectly well."
"I know better! Ralph, move his chair so he can see."
"I don't believe I want to read just now anyway," said Ben, and went to the phonograph. "Bess," he said, putting on a record, "here's that 'Oh! Miss Hannah!' by the Revelers."
Mrs. Thayer nearly leaped to his side, and herded Miss Hannah back into her stall.
"We've got later ones than that," she said. "Let me play you the new Gershwins."
I won't go into details regarding the dinner except to relate that three separate items were highly flavored with cheese, and Ben despises cheese.
"Don't you care for cheese, Mr. Drake?" asked Mr. Thayer, noticing that Ben was not exactly bolting his food.
"No," replied the guest of honour.
"He's spoofing you, Ralph," said Mrs. Thayer. "Everybody likes cheese."
There was coffee, and Ben managed to guzzle a cup before it was desecrated with pure cream.
We sat down to bridge.
"Do you like to play families or divide up?"
"Oh, we like to play together," said I.
"I'll bet you don't," said Mrs. Thayer. "Suppose Ralph and you play Mr. Drake and me. I think it's a mistake for husbands and wives to be partners. They're likely to criticize one another and say things that leave a scar."
Well, Mr. Thayer and I played against Ben.and:Mrs. Thayer arid I lost sixty cents at a tenth of a cent a point. Long before the evening was over I could readily see why Mrs. Thayer thought it was a mistake to play with her husband and if it had been, possible I'd have left him a complete set of scars.
Just as we were getting to sleep, Mrs. Thayer, knocked on our door.
"I'm afraid you haven't covers enough," she called.
"Thanks," I said. "We're as warm as toast."
"I'm afraid you aren't," said Mrs. Thayer.
"Lock the door," said Ben, "before she comes in and feels our feet."
All through breakfast next morning we waited in vain for the telephone call that would yield Irene's message. The phone rang once and Mrs. Thayer answered, but we couldn't hear what she said. At noon Ben signaled me to meet him upstairs and there he stated grimly that I might do as I choose, but he was leaving Liberty Hall ere another sun had set.
"You haven't any excuse," I reminded him.
"I'm a genius," he said, "and geniuses are notoriously eccentric."
"Geniuses' wives sometimes get eccentric, too," said I and began to pack up.
Mr. Thayer had gone to Philadelphia and we were alone with our hostess at luncheon.
"Mrs. Thayer," said Ben, "do you ever have premonitions or hunches?"
She looked frightened. "Why, no. Do you?"
"I had one not half an hour ago. Something told, me that I positively must be in New York tonight. I don't know whether it's business or illness or what, but I've just got to- be ihere!"
"That's the strangest thing I ever heard of," said Mrs. Thayer. "It scares me to death:"
"It's nothing you need be scared of," said Ben. "It only concerns me."
"Yes, but listen," said Mrs. Thayer. "A telegram came for you at breakfast time this morning. I wasn't going to tell you about it because I had promised that you wouldn't be disturbed. And it didn't seem so terribly important. But this hunch of yours puts the matter in a different light. I'm sorry now that I didn't give you the message when I got it, but I memorized it and can repeat it word for word: 'Mr. Ben Drake, care of Mr. Ralph Thayer, Lansdowne, Pennsylvania, In Nile song, second bar of refrain, bass drum part reads A flat which makes discord. Should it be A natural? Would appreciate your coming to theatre tonight to straighten this out as harmony must be restored in orchestra if troupe is to be success. Regards, Gene Buck.
"It sounds silly, doesn't?" said Ben. "And yet I have known productions to fail and lose hundreds of thousands of dollars just because an author or composer left town too soon. I can well understand that you considered the message trivial. At the same time I can thank my stars that this instinct, or devination, or whatever you' want to call it, told me to go home."
Just as the trainsmen were shouting "Board!" Mrs. Thayer said: "I have one more confession to make. I answered Mr. Buck's telegram. I wired him. "Mr. Ben Drake resting at my home. Must not be bothered. Suggest that you keep bass drums still for a week." And I signed my name. Please forgive me if I have done something terrible. Remember, it was for you."
(From "Liberty Hall" by Ring Lardner)