The fattening calf
THE FATTENING CALF
IN MY childhood I was informed from a source which I then believed to be reliable that sometimes the telling of lies was not only permissible but even desirable. However, it seemed that the lies must be of a certain brand in order to get by, and the trade-mark which they bore was "White."
The source was my father and the occasion for this explanation arose immediately after my having overheard him tell a friend that there was no more liquor in the house, whereas I was positively aware of the existence of a full quart in the bathroom medicine chest, and in my childish innocence had not shown sufficient reticence about displaying my knowledge.
Now I do not make this statement with any desire to mislead the reader in regard to my age. No, there is no intention on my part to pose as an infant prodigy who broke into print at the age of two, as this seeming reference to prohibition would imply. It is merely incidental to my theme to show the interesting fact that in our part of the world liquor was rare even in those long enough past days of my infancy. So were bathrooms to keep it in, for that matter, the neighbors mostly using the same tub Saturdays and Mondays; or so they claimed. I can only vouch for the Monday part.
But to return to my father. I made the bad break of persistently and audibly calling his attention to this error of his, and when Mr. Butternut had gone away cackling with amusement my parent explained to me the difference between lies and white lies. I will not attempt to give this dissertation to you in detail—but the sum and substance of his discourse seemed to be that if the other fellow told it it was a lie, but if you told it yourself it was a white lie. There was no reason, he further explained, why my father should have shared his expensive bottle of rye, which had cost him one whole dollar, with Mr. Butternut, who had no claim on it beyond being father's best friend. At least that's how I doped out what he told me.
I am under the impression that my interview with my father is more or less typical, and if so it undoubtedly explains many things. For instance, it probably explains lawyers, salesmen, real-estate operators, motion-picture salaries and automobile insurance agents. But it does not and never can explain the lies which two people who are struggling against matrimony tell to each other.
Of course after father set me right I came to realize how a few white lies would help to make the operation of the burglary business, the sale of oil stock and other difficult units of our social structure a whole lot nearer to painless. So far so good. But we are an immoderate race; we never know when to quit. We go to such extremes! Why, for example, should we carry the idea into our courtships? And yet it is just there that the lily lie flourishes like a new Western city.
Positively, when I remember some of the things I said to George out in the hammock up at Lake Merrihaha that summer I weaken about my disbelief in that hell stuff, honest I do! Gosh! Wouldn't it be awful if it turned out there was such a place, after all? The only consolation I get out of the thought is that, of course, George would be there, too, and I'm sort of used to George now, and would miss him in spite of everything. And that is no white lie told for the benefit of the audience like some of the things I say about him to my women friends on Bridge Thursday. As for what George says of me—well, I know he claims he's got the finest little hard-working, savingest little wife in the world, by Jove, who does her darndest on his miserable little salary. At least he tells the boss so round the first of every year, and it's worked twice, so far. And, of course, I won't say he's wrong. But no matter what George says about me nowadays, he can't make me forget the white lies he slipped to me personally in that hammock.
When I think of them I wonder the hammock stood the strain. They hadn't invented eighty-dollar cretonne upholstered swinging couches in those days, and it was an old-fashioned affair with something resembling a coat hanger in each end to keep it open, and even casual acquaintances just naturally gravitated together as soon as they sat down in it. Well, anyway, the biggest strain it underwent was probably when George said that he would love me just the same if I was to get old and fat and gray. Excepting perhaps when I told George that I would never do any of those things. This rash covenant was made fully six months before I jogged his memory up about getting the license, and also before we had even thought of an automobile as one of the necessities of life, or of the difficulties incident to getting a good butler, or how to exist in such cramped quarters as ten rooms and twelve baths, or taken to getting our chief exercise in roller chairs at Atlantic City.
One reason for our pathetic condition as above stated was that the money we got married on wouldn't have paid for a flivver, much less for a car or for a general house worker, much less a butler. You see, George and I were deeply in love, and so we were content to marry on really very little. Not like young people nowadays. I suppose the mere writing of those sentences is a confession of approaching senility. At any rate I remember considering it a sign of age when my father said it to us. Yet we thought we did a fairly bold thing in tackling the big job on forty dollars a week plus what little my mother could snitch out of her housekeeping allowance; but then, of course, she and dad had started on fifteen. I expect that my son, as soon as he exchanges long dresses for long pants, will begin to talk about marrying on two hundred a week, or some such ridiculous sum, and that I in my turn will swipe something out of the grocery account to make it possible, the same as mother did. And heaven only knows what my grandson, if grandsons ever come into style again, will think he needs for a starter!
Well, anyway, we took the plunge on forty per, and thanks to the same I kept my promise to George. Of course, being of a, for a wife, pretty equable disposition, I didn't grow old and gray any faster than the years demanded; and anyhow why grow old and gray when the beauty parlors need to earn their living the same as anybody else?
Neither did I grow fat. I took a lot of coaling-up exercises, with a scuttle for a dumb-bell, and kept my arms shapely by the use of an old home remedy known as the broom. When I went anywhere short of Buffalo I walked, and at home I used more elbow grease than I did cold cream. Sugar being only five cents a pound we didn't think enough of it to use very much, and as for an elevator in our flat house—why, elevator apartments with gas stoves in 'em cost seventy dollars a month or more, and we never even thought of such a thing. We lived up four perfectly good flights of stairs and I used to go down them and hold vulgar converse with the butcher and the grocer each day, and then had to climb up again before I could cook what I had bought.
These stairs had their disadvantages, it is true, but they were an excellent test of friendship. In fact in those days the test of friends was whether they would climb stairs I see you, not whether they would stay away now that the booze was all finished up.
We had our innocent diversions though. Don't get away with the idea that ours was a life of toil alone George would sometimes give me the novelty of a ride in the open trolley, and then again we would climb two flights of stairs to the gallery of a theater; or maybe on the night when George was playing poker I would climb four flight in the Metropolitan Opera House, because those were flights which George never cared to take. Or on a Sunday evening we would walk down to Washington Square from a Hundred and Twentieth Street along with another couple of typical Greenwich Villagers from our block, and blow ourselves to a forty-cent table d'hôte "with." Yes, they used to throw it in! Remember? Oh, boy! Not a nickel more if you took the ink, and your choice of red or white—and fifteen cents extra if you had a second bottle, which we generally did, adding ice water thereto and nursing it along far into the Bohemian night, despite the disgusted looks of Tony, the waiter, who wondered anxiously if we were saving out enough to tip him.
Well, those shameful days of economy, hard work and inexpensive amusement eventually became a disgraceful forgotten past. But only after I had worked and saved and mended our hosiery instead of throwing it away, and trimmed my hats and scrimped to add to the little old savings account, and helped George in every manner that a truly womanly woman could. And what was the result of all this conscientious effort, eh? Watter you think? Way, we got prosperous, that's what; and then, lo, as the cashier says, came a slow change.
I didn't realize at first what our altered condition was going to mean to me, and I actually enjoyed moving into an apartment with three elevators. At the time there seemed nothing symbolic to me in this surplus of elevators. Nor in the installation of a telephone which brought my marketing to my bedside. Even having a hired girl to do my exercises for me appeared in a false light at the beginning. Of course, though, we had bought a vacuum cleaner instead of a mere broom, and had a self-starting Swede to do the washing by electricity. So the maid and the houseman, whom I called a butler until my friends saw him, were not exactly overexercised.
I certainly thought George was being awfully good to me. And the crowning goodness, the pink penultinate act of husbandly kindness was when he succumbed to two months of nagging and bought a car.
Of course he didn't exactly buy it—nobody does quite that, do they? But he signed a check and six notes, and they delivered the bus. And as heaven is my witness, at the time I thought he was doing me a favor—indeed I did.
Well, it seems that when we approximately bought his car it was just like anything else that inexperienced buyers buy—full of additional payments which the salesman had been glad not to trouble us with the mention of; and anyone who can remember buying their first automobile, house or installment piano will at once understand me only too well. After a while a person gets hep to transfer taxes, back interest, direct tax, state tax, luxury tax, insurance and the spare tire. But at the first whack all you seem to think of is the price in the catalogue and you congratulate yourself on your acumen in noting that it is subject to change without notice. Even the mystic f. o. b. is mistaken for a harmless trade-mark by many a novice. And the item we overlooked on our first car was the insurance.
This was not true, however, of the insurance men in our neighborhood. I don't know if insurance men have an extra sense or a fourth dimension or what, but I'll say they know with unerring certitude when anybody in the vicinity buys a new car. Why, we didn't really know it ourselves until after the salesman from whom we bought our Climber had shoved a form in George's way and murmured a hypnotic "Just sign here." But by the time we reached home, all fluttery and proud, yet anxious over our purchase, the insurance men knew the truth.
Yet on my word George hadn't told a soul up to then except the elevator boy; we hadn't seen anybody else whom we knew well enough to mention the fact to in a casual manner. And I don't think the elevator boy spilled it, because our phone rang on the first call before the elevator could have got downstairs.
There is certainly something uncanny about how they do it; probably every live insurance agent has a partner in the spirit world, and as soon as anybody buys a car the office boy sticks his head in the door and says, "Mr. Hoosis, you're wanted on the ouija board."
Well anyway, they know; that's a cinch. And pretty soon one had George in his power. By gollies, how I hated that man. He could think of more ways to get our money than a Federal income-tax clerk, and he took the last of George's ready cash in return for a bunch of papers that looked a whole lot more like a summons than a bond.
I recall how this agent's words shamed us into coming across on every count, though, of course, we secretly believed ourselves to be the exceptions that proved the average motor-vehicle court's rulings.
"Of course you want fire and theft," said the agent, not meaning that at all, but you get him, and so did we. "And loss of use and liability."
Acccording to him we were planning rather a poor time for ourselves.
We agreed to all these catastrophes, however; but when he shot the next one we balked. "How about collision?" he said.
"Well, how about it?" asked George. "I don't want any collisions."
"Well, you'd better," said the agent. "You see you only pay us about half the price of the car in advance, and then if you break a two-dollar lens and report it at once, why, we replace it for you free. It's a very good thing."
He didn't explain just whom it was so very good for, but George was ashamed to say no. That insurance man had a casual manner of assuming that we wanted only the best and that if we didn't he was mortified for us but wouldn't for the world say so—he would only let us see it plainly; and this manner of his had just the effect he thought it would. So we took collision. And then after he had evidently decided there wasn't anything else he could remember to charge us for he took up his plush hat, made a rapid calculation on his notebook and said two-twenty-five would be right. Of course he didn't mean that either. He meant two hundred and twenty-five, but he was trying to soften the blow, I suppose. I'll give him credit for that. He would have made a fine head waiter or train robber if his talent had not led him elsewhere. And then he went away. He left us the car, however.
"I suppose it's ridiculous to spend all that money on insurance," said George. "Because if anything ever happens to us it is sure to be the other fellow's fault, and he'll pay for it!"
"Well, nothing will happen while I'm driving," I assured him. "Because I mean to drive like a human being, not like a road hog."
"Great heavens, do you intend to learn to drive?" my husband shrieked. "Call back that insurance man. I want to put on another couple of hundred."
But just the same, I learned. I'll say it took courage, because I am by nature more of the porch type of girl. Sort of a short vamp. Well anyway, I just naturally knew that unless I intended to get my outings exclusively by sitting outside of places where George had business I would have to learn to drive, and at the end of three weeks the instructor went to a rest cure and I went down the Avenue alone.
And nothing happened—that is, nothing aside from my arriving safely. That terrible car, which had tried to go in every direction but the one I desired; which had made strange impolite sounds and stopped unexpectedly; which had leaped at baby carriages and small boys on bicycles in direct opposition to my will; and stubbornly refused to go into high without grinding its teeth in prehensile rage—was conquered. I could drive without killing either the pedestrians, myself or the engine; and this amazing fact, gradually merging into a form of subconscious activity, opened up a new world to me.
Gradually I came to realize that I could not walk. Distance and time took on new proportions. For instance, I always used to walk the five blocks to the Periscope Picture Palace, but after I got the car—nothing stirring, except on four wheels! As for going downtown on foot, or even over to Cousin Mary's on Ninety-sixth—well, what does a person have a car for anyway?
On Sundays, holidays and election days, instead of ferrying over to the Palisades and walking ten miles or less, as we used to before we could afford not to, we got out the bus and crowded our way into the procession which packed the main road to the most expensive roadhouse, and having eaten thereat we would climb back into the car and take an hour's healthy exercise riding over the bumps of the state highway. And so forth and so on.
On is right. But at the very first I didn't realize it; no, not even when I got out a wash dress that I hadn't worn in some time and it mysteriously refused to meet round the waist, and pinched me in the armholes, and choked me round the neck.
"George," I said. George was lacing his shoes at the time and grunting at each tug. Gosh, if they only wouldn't! I mean husbands. Well anyway, "George," I said, "this dress has shrunk frightfully!"
"Urgh!" said George. You know the way men are.
And it wasn't until the bill came in that I realized the dress had, in common with most modern wash dresses, been dry-cleaned, and that it hadn't shrunk, but that I had stretched. I had lied to George about never getting fat; I was getting all right, all right. In point of fact a woman friend might possibly say I had got fat.
Like all persons to whom Nature has been more lavish in this respect than anybody asked her to be, I ignored the tendency as long as was possible. I kidded myself with corsets and deceived myself with dresses cut in that skimpy way which is supposed to be misleading. Nevertheless, I was fast approaching the point where I turned hastily from the page where the snappy stouts were advertised. I could not endure to look at them. But for all that I was getting by with myself pretty well, and as a consequence I thought I had George fooled too.
But I might have known better. And it was about then that I got wise to the fact that George had told a lie—white or not, it's all one to me—he had told a lie when he said he would love me no matter how much I changed.
The scene of the dramatic moment of my realization was laid out at the New Jersey estate of my father's friend, old Mr. Butternut, who has grown immensely rich quite recently, he being in the boot and shoe manufacturing business and making splendid legs to his riding boots. He has developed quite a trade in them, though I believe they are now used more on trains than on horses. Well, at any rate, George and I were down there on a visit and I couldn't help but notice that George often referred to a chicken who was also visiting there—a silly young thing, without any meat on her bones—in a tone which was intended to imply that I should share his elderly attitude of admiring the young folks.
But he didn't get away with that elderly stuff. I read the alarm code, all right, and when he added that my new gown made me look quite young I got a fearful chill and beat it out into the back yard—I mean sunken garden—and mooned round, feeling about as sunken as they come, myself, and face to face at last with the horrid truth that I was—well, growing plump.
There was a statue in the middle of the garden, a famous Venus—"Venus Among the Mosquitoes" I think it is called. You know the one I mean. And it's a good thing they had her in that New Jersey garden, and not that other Venus—I mean the one without arms—because they don't wear much, you know; and personally I nearly scratched myself to death, and I had on a heavyweight georgette waist!
However, I knew this statue was a copy of a great classic and an ideal model of beauty and all that, and I'll say she must have weighed almost as much as I did. But, of course, I realized, too, that George didn't really care for or admire statues, much less classic ones. The only kind of sculpture that ever interests George is running up to Canada to do a little bar-relief.
Well anyway, I sunk down in the sunken garden until the realization of my increasing avoirdupois had sunk in thoroughly, and I had resolved to get thin—really get thin.
The situation had become acute. If I didn't slim down and do it now George and I would both be proven liars and I would become a mere wife, instead of a sort of standardized best girl as heretofore. Action was the word, and I decided to act.
Will anybody tell me how men get away with it? I mean fat. Of course I know that nobody loves a fat man, but still and all a good many women seem happily married to them. Of course it's just barely possible that if they were thinner it would be even happier, if you get the idea. But it's a fact just the same that men get by with more pounds and less hair than any woman would dare attempt even if the money was mostly hers. Perhaps it is true that comparatively few girls genuinely adore a fat man, but they at least put up a pretty fair imitation of it, whereas if a woman slips from a ninety-eight-cent girdle to a twenty-dollar Number Thirty corset she may as well get interested in bridge, because the new dance steps are going to remain a mystery to her.
But there is one thing to be said for stout men—they generally admit their condition. True, the admission is usually made to some female with ulterior motives who is in prudence bound to deny the suggestion promptly.
On the other hand the fat girl is the only person who denies her increasing weight. Her husband, if she has one, her brothers, her father—become mercilessly truthful. Her only solace will be derived from some woman friend, who may minimize the terrible truth; or from the observing of an even stouter woman. Nobody loves a fat man; but the subject doesn't even come up about a fat girl.
Once this had registered thoroughly with me my resolve was made. I would get thin, absotively! And having resolved I felt several pounds lighter already. It is quite possible that you have experienced the same sensation. But I didn't stop at that. Not this time, what with George taking a fatherly or artistic or something kind of notice of a fool girl who ought to have been in short dresses—and was. Only they were not of the sort I mean.
No, sir-ree! I wasn't going to let a few pounds stand between me and my happiness, not at the rate of exchange, and we had plenty of money to reduce on. I was going to get slim and lose no time in doing so, but I wanted to do it with as little trouble as possible. I didn't intend exerting myself any more than was absolutely essential, and with the money I was prepared to spend I didn't really see why any exertion was necessary at all.
It was reasonable to suppose that there must be on the market some magic method of reducing without effort, provided especially for the convenience of us wealthy classes. With all the inflated millionaires round it seemed as though there must be a good many who were inflated in the personal sense and who would pay well to be deflated, as it were. And I was right. The very first fashionable magazine I picked up confirmed my suspicion of the existence of such.
I have, of course, always known that the true optimists of the world wrote for the advertising pages, but I had never before felt inclined to credit all they wrote. But this time it was a case of just as the wish is bent, belief's inclined. And, believe me, in the rear and front pages of the intellectual publication to which I referred above, I found no less than six diverse methods by which I could, for a consideration, fade to a mere shadow, or as mere a shadow as I desired, wholly without dieting, exercise, medicine or apparently any effort on my part beyond reaching for my check book. My only quandary was which advertisement to answer first. Even then I said "first" advisedly. I am not a woman to overlook any contingency, and I had a sneaking suspicion that the first method might not be the last.
There was a fascinating sort of mystery attached to some of these ads. Indeed so subtle was their wording that they might almost have been taken for clairvoyant notices, being full of "sealed correspondence in a plain envelope," "strictly confidential" and things of that sort. Perhaps they were run mostly by ex-secret-service people; there must have been a lot of them thrown out of irregular employment since the war broke up. At any rate that's what I thought when I was offered "strictly private interviews for special treatments" or the opportunity to "reduce secretly by mail. What they intended to reduce was not always stated, as the author of that last pointed out to me when I called her attention to the fact that she had succeeded in reducing nothing about me except my bank account.
But after looking over "Slimlin, the Physician's Pellette, Three a Day Took My Flesh Away," which touching line was garnished with two pictures of the same lady—both of her in one of them and only one of her in the other, if you understand me; and a period of flirting with "Gallup's Glands. They Are the Harmless Result of Prof. Bonehead's 30 Years' Time"—locality unstated—I finally concluded to "Eat Beastly Buns and Be Thin."
Trembling with excitement I wrote a letter to the Beastly Company at its lair, and with surprising and gratifying promptness I received a reply in the very plainest envelope imaginable. Also in the plainest language, it stated that if I would send them ten dollars in cash or money order—checks not accepted—they would return me Ten Beastly Sawdust Buns and their invaluable booklet entitled Banting and How to Buck It. All I had to do, outside of sending the ten, was to eat the buns and follow the booklet. This didn't seem hard, because I didn't expect to follow the booklet far; in point of fact I intended parking it in my top bureau drawer or bureau top drawer under my et ceteras where George wouldn't know about it; and this seemed so simple that I let the ayes have it, and pretty soon the package came.
I hustled it out into the coat closet and shutting myself in with my secret I undid the string. Revealed lay ten objects which I at first mistook for specimens of copper ore and thought I must have made the mistake of opening something from downtown intended for George. But there was also the Bally Banting Booklet, and in it I read the great secret for which I had loosened ten one-dollar rugs. I was to eat one specimen of corrugated solid-cast bun a week for ten weeks, and refrain from taking any other food at meal times, and to take absolutely nothing between meals.
That was all. It certainly was simple, but the booklet neglected to add anything about omitting flowers.
Of course having spent the double-five spot I felt obliged to try it, and so I did. The box came at eleven-thirty a.m. and I tried it until lunchtime that day. But it wasn't exactly a big success.
Glands and other portions of the anatomy of the lower animals which the butcher was in the habit of discarding made no appeal to me at all. Somehow it seemed as though if the butcher couldn't use 'em, neither could I, and so I let them alone, though if a doctor had been willing to prescribe them for me I would have taken them. But our doctor had got so mean lately he wouldn't prescribe us a thing—not even a half pint—and so I didn't suggest it to him. You know the way doctors are—always trying to keep you healthy, and not a bit interested in any reducing methods except dull, troublesome stuff like walking.
Well, I let the glands stay right in the pigs or cows or wherever they were, and tried to stick to the line which was featured as "Nature's method." Of course as far as I could see it was Nature's method to put on flesh instead of taking it off, at least in most cases. For most of us are born fat, lots acquire fatness, and some say they try to thrust fatness upon themselves. But I doubt that last. Every time some skinny person starts to wail to me about vainly drinking milk and eating puddings and longing—simply longing, my dear!—to put on a little flesh, I look them in the eye and know that they are either fools or liars or both. And if they ever succeeded in getting fat they would know it too.
Howsomever, the geological buns having proved to be the bunk, I, being literary, both by profession and intention, was next attracted by a volume that was being widely exploited under the title of Feed and Fade Away.
At first I could not understand why this book was advertised among the fiction, but that was before I had bought it. Not but that perhaps if I had lived with it as my culinary Bible I might have grown slimmer. As a matter of truth I should probably have become a skeleton at the end of a month, because we wouldn't have had a nickel left after the end of the first week, and it would have been a case of starvation unless the state did its duty.
You see this book explained that bread and potatoes and rice and milk and corn and spaghetti and cereal and bananas and all the other fillers which go to make the biggest and cheapest part of any meal were entirely at odds with a youthful and sylph-like form after the growing age. And yet, the clever author went on, one must eat to live, and eat enough. But enough of what? Why, caviar, of course; and broiled duck and pomegranates, with a few honey-dew melons or a pickled lark's tongue now and then by way of a relish. This might be varied by broiled chicken, lobster or jellied quail.
Quail is right. That's what I did before it. I'll say that the meals I got a glimpse of for a dollar-twenty-five—the initial cost being all that I allowed that book to set me back—were an eyeful. But it didn't go below the eye. It couldn't. We hadn't the price, nor the cook, nor the taste. That volume was fitted only for use in a skilled mechanic's home. We simply couldn't afford it. So I gave it to our laundress, who was getting six dollars a day and had a son in a boiler factory, and I believe they have found it quite useful but limited. They have added hothouse grapes and mushrooms to the diet, and would do well on it, only she can't resist the three meals she gets free at our house, and so isn't losing as fast as she otherwise would.
Well anyway, being a fiction writer myself I ought to have known better and let books alone in the first place. And when a lady belonging to an exclusive club which I was anxious to get into asked me to join a class in classic dancing with her I saw at once that art and Terpsichore and reducing were to be one with her and me and my nomination. Not that I really and truly in my heart cared much about belonging to the West Side Ladies' Whist Association, but I cared more about not belonging to it. You probably know how it is with the exclusive clubs in your own town. And so I agreed to try putting some class into classic dancing.
Well, it didn't last long. To begin with, when I saw the costumes I felt shy about having anybody, even if they were only other girls, know that much about me, not to mention the teacher, who was called a maîtresse—which translated meant five dollars extra. Just plain mattress would have satisfied me perfectly, especially at the end of the first lesson; and I expect that the rest of the tonnage in the class felt the same. Anything to lie down on and cover our nakedness would have been welcome, and if you have ever tried to feel at your ease and cosmopolitan, clad only in a piece of Turkish towel and doing a Greek dance under the instruction of a Russian dancer, while but a plain American of the simpler sort by habit, you will sympathize. If you haven't tried it, don't. Personally I took my clothes and went home, stopping only to put them on, because if I wanted to make a show of myself in public and a brief costume—why, I could do it cheaper at Coney Island.
And all this while I was not losing anything but time; in fact the scales actually sneaked up on me a little. And then one day I struck something really good.
A friend of mine whose husband is in the tire business but makes other things out of rubber as well put me wise to it.
"Why, of course they do!" she whispered. "Think of what a rubber band does to your finger if you keep it on long enough!"
"And all you do is just wear it—them?" I responded eagerly.
"Why, you can sleep in 'em!" my friend declared.
But she was wrong there. You couldn't. Neither could you walk in 'em or go to a matinée in 'em or dance in 'em; but you did. And all the while you felt like a raw oyster on the loose. You sank into your seat with a gurgle which sounded as if you were going down for the third time, and you arose sticking to yourself, if you know what I mean. You sloshed about on your daily shopping, and squelched through dances. You were a sort of human sieve when you were not a vast sticking plaster. That was me all over. Or at least all over except my hands and face. But the thing I lost most of was temper; in other words I lost more poise than avoirdupois.
Eventually I lost that rubber outfit though, including the manufacturer and his wife—the one who had pretended to be my friend. I sent all but the last mentioned to the Serbian Relief Committee, and it certainly was a relief to me, all right, along with some satin stays which were now too small, and a couple of ostrich-feather hats that had gone out of style. I hope they relieved the Serbians, poor creatures. I like to do these thoughtful little things whenever I can remember to think of them.
It was immediately after this that I succumbed to one of those lapses which occur in the best regulated banting. I had the what-is-the-use-of-it blues. True, I had lost an ounce or two now and again, but it was mostly again. Was it not perhaps easier after all, I mused, to attempt the concealment of my personal architecture? And as a result of this philosophizing I went to a famous specialty shop to buy a reducing corset.
It was an old established house, very old; in fact I have every reason for believing that it dated back to the days of the Inquisition. The founder probably stood in strong with the medieval church and was chummy with the early kings of Spain. And nobody except the original proprietor could have invented the thing they sold me. I haven't the faintest doubt but that it was concocted from the original old home recipe that made the firm famous in the first place.
It had a pleasant, utterly misleading covering of pale pink satin brocade, and cute little flat bows of ribbon adorned the dangling instruments which jingled so musically from its sides, front and back, when the head torturer held it up for my inspection. You would have thought it a handsome boudoir ornament, intended possibly for a lamp shade. Lamp shades are so original nowadays, being designed to do everything but let the room light up. Well, anyway, it might easily have been one; or then again it might have been something to stand round a telephone. You perhaps have noticed that of late telephones have come to be regarded as something immodest, and that in the best families they are usually draped or screened or something. I suppose this sense of immodesty is in part due to the language which even the most refined people are sometimes driven to use over them.
But the object to which I have been referring was designed for no such innocent purpose as a telephone container or bonbon screen. In fact it wasn't in the Christmas-present class at all. It was intended to be fastened about the female form in such a fashion that it placed the stomach where the chest ought to be, and kept it there. It probably had a splendid effect on early Christian martyrs and recalcitrant members of the other political party during the elections of 0291, but after a brief trial I concluded that a female voter of 1920 had no need for submitting to any such torture, the political situation being in itself torture enough.
Of course I realize that there are still many Christian martyrs going about in those corsets, but the next time I'm willing to suffer that much in order to take off my hips I'm gonner use a knife; it's quicker. After three days of it I decided that if it was a choice between losing that corset or my husband's love I'd have to take a chance on George.
Somehow it seemed as if the more money I spent on reducing the fatter I got. I used to doze on the day bed for hours at a time, considering the matter. But no solution offered itself except the salt solution, which I abhorred.
And then at last the electric roller was introduced to me. This was a form of massage and was guaranteed to take 'em off without any exertion except on the part of the operator, and all she had to do was press a button and turn on the current.
Now of course I was familiar with farcical massage, having gone occasionally, when I couldn't think of any other method of spending money, to a face manicurist who pinched and punched my face in a way which would have caused me to draw a hatpin on any other woman.
When she got through punching she would push a piece of ice all over my map and make cold-cream pies on it, and apparently enjoy herself generally just as if she were a child once more, talking all the while with the fluency of a dentist, and me in a similar chair and situation, without a comeback, only of course comparatively without pain.
I don't know that this ever reduced my face any, but it was an expensive method of whiling away the time and I enjoyed it, and if I had had wrinkles in my face it would have removed them. But I haven't any lines in my face as yet. That's where we plump ones have it on the skinny ones, eh, girls?
But this Swift Kick Electric Roller stuff was different from ordinary massage. Instead of putting on cold cream you put on a union suit. Modesty compels me to turn off the switch at this point, but I will say this much—that the class in classic dances had very little on the Holy Rollers.
As for the mechanical part of it—if you have ever seen a modern bookbinder and reaper in full action you will have some idea of what happened. I was the book, needless to say.
Well, it certainly took me down and off and everything. I'll say it did. But just to prove that we don't allow any free ads in this publication let me hasten to tell you that it all came back. I mean that I came back; in both senses—quality and quantity. And it wasn't very long before the dressmaker was again saying, "Let us have it so, madam! It makes madam quite slim draped in that way! " You know how they talk. They are so hateful when they are trying not to be nasty. The it-makes-you-slim cut to a dress is the unkindest cut of all.
There was, of course, left to me that ancient and honorable method of reducing which was so popular with our grandmothers; I refer to horseback riding. But along with ducking stools, spinning wheels, Indian raids, and a lot of other period stuff which our grandmothers indulged in, I do not care for horseback riding. Somehow I never could learn to change gears properly on a horse. He is always running in low when I'm in a hurry, or I step on the accelerator unintentionally but with disastrous effect, or else get to running along in high and can't work the brakes. Besides, one-horse power isn't enough to a modern speed houndess who is accustomed to twenty-two and would like forty-four. Believe me, I don't think those old Roman circus riders who handled three were so very much.
So that let the horse out. And then, just as I was in despair, I discovered a way to get thin.
Indirectly it came about through that automobile-insurance agent whom I had so misjudged, but it was really due in the first place to George's accident. I say George's because strictly speaking it is George's car, and I merely happened to be driving it at the time. George was with me, however, and a mighty good thing, too, as he at once pointed out, because we could both of us stick to the same story, and two white lies are better than one, especially on the witness stand.
You see George and I were awfully interested in a view of an old distillery at the time this thing happened. It was such an interesting antique ruin, and so picturesque, being literally covered with pictures of chewing gum, musical comedies and spark plugs. To be exact, it was the spark-plug paper on the south wall which had caught our eye. And as we were discussing it the car somehow got on the wrong side of the road, and another car came round the corner unexpectedly and our car acted just like a horse, because the foot brake didn't work but the accelerator did. I can't think why, because that wasn't in the least what I intended. But need we dwell unnecessarily upon so painful a subject?
After it was all over including the exchange of numbers and we were in the train on the way home, George took charge of the situation in that wonderful masterly way of his which annoys me so.
"We must get in touch with the insurance people at once!" said George.
And he did, with the result that one of them came right round and George told him all the actual facts and just how everything had occurred.
"We were coming slowly round the curve," said George, "keeping well on the right side and blowing the horn. We weren't going over fifteen miles an hour, and this other fellow was going like a bat out of Hades and never put his hand out when he turned—see? Then our clutch slipped and we couldn't get by him, understand? And it will have to be paid for, that's all! Isn't that so, Nina?"
Well naturally I said it was, and of course they would—or will—have to pay for it. I suppose that is what George meant.
But be that as it may, this smash-up which that careless driver had wished on us, and which put our car into the hospital for over two months, was only the first of a long series of misfortunes that came right on top of it.
The very next day after the crash both our servants left, and I haven't seen either them or any others since. And then we had to move. We had been living in one of those fool's paradise apartments that haven't any lease, and the landlord sold the blamed thing from under us. I'll bet I walked one thousand miles looking for another, and then had to end by taking what is known in the real-estate trade as a Coldwater-Walkup. It was fierce, but the best we could do, and I didn't mind its being small, as, of course, I was doing my own work, the servant problem continuing the same with rain and cloudy predicted for to-morrow. And meanwhile the big insurance dispute which arose out of the other fellow's actually pulling exactly the same story that we had kept our car where the tires wouldn't wear out.
But before long a strange metamorphosis began taking place in me. At least I think that's what it was. At any rate it's a good word, so let it stand. What I mean to say is that I grew thin again. Well then, if not exactly thin, let us say about a thirty-six, which is thin enough for any married woman. And after about two months the reason for this began to dawn upon me. But I'm not going to tell you what it was. Not free, that is. No, sir-ree! Not after all the money I've paid out for fat cures! I've discovered a way to pick up an addition to my income during my spare time. I'm going to start a company to put a new reducing method on the market by mail and call it the "Shanksmare, Inc. We Guarantee to Make You Slender. Do it in Your Own Home." I calculate it ought to bring in at least five berries a victim.
And after all, why not? It's only a white lie!