THE CONTRIBUTORS’ CLUB
IN the interest of conserving needless waste of energy, one does not trouble to encase the predicate in quotes when observing that before his accident Parker was a damned old sorehead.
For, literally, everybody postulated this of Parker— his wife, his son William, his daughter Susie, his office-staff, his business associates, his clients, his man-servant, and his maid-servant; and doubtless, if the Parkers had maintained an ox and an ass, even they would have refused to speak in his defense.
As for the naughty word predicated of Parker, it is to be doubted if such thin insulation as the quotation marks which this magazine affects would materially decrease the dangers incident to the use of a word carrying so high a voltage. The zippy little adjective no longer shocks us, however, now that our minister is back from France. Indeed, his frequent homiletic use of it has almost ruined it for such pursuits as golf, furnace-tending, and the U-chiffonier campaign for the lost collarbutton.
Parker then, was a sorehead — sullen at breakfast, surly at dinner, quarrelsome in the office, crusty on the street, a bear at the party, a hog on the road, a fly in the ointment.
His wife was afraid of him, the children were afraid of him, his clerks were afraid of him; the very porter on the Pullman was afraid of him. Why, he was so mean that he even refused, on Thanksgiving Day, to hold one end of the dining-table for Patsy, the maid, when she asked him if he would help her insert the guest-board. Parker was a grouch.
One night, about 2 A.M., Parker rose, grumblingly, to fasten a flapping shutter. En route to the window, he emitted a yelp of distress that brought all hands on deck. When they turned on the lights, Parker was discovered sitting on the floor, tugging at something imbedded in the sole of his left foot. Presently, it let go; and Parker held up half of a needle! It was a pretty clear case that the other half had remained in his system.
The family was drowsily sympathetic, but confident that the doctor would find the broken needle in the morning with a magnet. Parker slept but little during the remainder of the night, fearing blood-poisoning. Immediately after breakfast he sought the family physician, who, after patient investigation, assured him that he must have stepped on an already broken needle, for there was no fragment of the steel to be found.
But, Parker knew that he was carrying in his body a deadly thing that undoubtedly had started upon its fatal mission. He left the office early that afternoon, and went home, surprising Mrs. Parker with a display of more tenderness than she had observed in him since their honeymoon, which had long ago passed into total eclipse. At dinner he appeared greatly interested in the conversation of Bill and Susie about the High-School party. He patted Rags, the dog, who surveyed him for some moments with an open-mouthed expression of undisguised incredulity, before retiring to the hearth to reflect upon the mysteries of the relationship of humanity and caninity.
All that night Parker lay awake, preparing for the speedy wind-up of his terrestrial affairs. He reviewed the stories he had heard and read of similar cases — how the needle traveled through the whole body of its victim till the heart was reached, and — pouff! — just like that! He saw himself sitting about the house, in dressing-gown and slippers, his elbows on his knees, his head in his hands, waiting for the fatal moment. Before the dawn, however, he had resolved to face the uncertainty of the future like a gentleman, a decision which brought him a warm glow of pride.
At breakfast he bewildered the household by encouraging a conversation concerning other interests than his own. Whenever he had condescended to have speech with them, previously, it was always about himself, his plans, his problems. Just now his plans seemed very foolish and futile. He began to find a new interest in the plans of other people who, because they had no needles in them, might reasonably speak of their fut ure with some assurance. Indeed, he deported himself at breakfast with such attentive interest in the welfare and happiness of the family, that Susie even dared to kiss him good-bye when she started to school.
At the office curiosity reigned supreme, and unsated. The rabbit-faced clerks asked each other what the deuce had come over the Old Man. Jones, on leaving the private quarters of the erstwhile sorehead, remarked to his partner, ‘Bob, we’ve misjudged old Parker. Why, he has a heart in him as big as an ox!’
When he went out for lunch, Parker gave a blind man a quarter, and bought a War Cry of a Salvation Army lassie. In the afternoon, he called up one of the trustees of the Children’s Hospital, and inquired how they were getting on with the fund for the new ward. It appeared that he had decided to add a cipher to his previous subscription. In spite of the needle, it was a fine day. And that evening the whole Parker family went to the show.
Within six months, all the people who knew the old chap had recovered from their bewilderment about him; that is, they had ceased to make their curiosity articulate. Parker had found himself; his business was doubled, his home was a temple of affection and contentment, the local papers were speaking of him as ‘one of our leading citizens,’ and he had been asked to respond to a toast at the Chamber of Commerce banquet, which invitation he declined on the ground that he might not be in town that day.
The shadow never lifted, but it was not an unpleasant shadow: its cast did not make him morbid, but forced him to generate more light. Every night, when he went to sleep, he bade himself good-bye, for the chances of his being alive in the morning were just as remote as they would ever be. In the morning, he rose, saying to himself, ‘Perhaps this is the last day. I must pack it brimful of the things that are most worth doing.’ Parker had accidentally achieved salvation.
Sometimes his eyes grew moist and his throat ached when he reflected upon the deeply sympathetic understanding of his wife, who studiously avoided any reference to his impending tragedy, and who, in spite of her secret sorrow, acted up to the situation in manner heroic. Whenever she pressed his hand, or patted him on the cheek, it was her way of saying, ‘It’s better we shouldn’t talk about it, dear!’ She was a good sport, mused Parker.
The fact that Mrs. Parker, while moving the rug in her husband’s room on the Friday morning following the accident, discovered half of a needle — the point driven firmly into the floor — may also have vouchsafed her courage to see the terrible thing through with cheerful resignation,