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The Glorious Pool


Thorne Smith



REX PEBBLE had lived far too long and had been told far too many lies to take anyone at his or her own word. The most obvious statement was suspect to him. On the other hand, he had lived quite long enough to know that almost anything was possible, especially when it happened on Fourteenth Street.

Therefore, he did not immediately call Nockashima a liar and a drunkard, although he knew the servant was congenitally both. It was just barely possible that some passing baroness had encountered the dissolute Jap on Fourteenth Street and taken a pot shot at him. Knowing the little man as he did, it struck Mr. Pebble as the most reasonable thing for a baroness to do to Nockashima. Probably the woman had once employed him and become, as a consequence, slightly deranged. Mr. Pebble could well understand that.

Accordingly he greeted Mr. Henry, the non-smelling bloodhound, with a casual nod, then bore down on the wavering Nockashima, whose expression of quiet was immediately replaced by one of protective stupidity.

"Nocka," said Mr. Pebble with friendly incredulity, "do you mean to stand there swaying before me and to tell me to my face that you've actually been shot?"

"Yes, boss," replied Nocka with stolid conviction. "I been shot all right. Through and through. Also," he added, so that there might be no misunderstanding, "up and down."

"Literally riddled," murmured Mr. Pebble. "Sure you're not just half shot, Nockashima?"

"That too," agreed the Jap, visibly brightening. "Half shot—all shot. Leg of the worst. There are holes in it."

"But why a baroness, Nocka?" asked Mr. Pebble.

"Titled ladies like me," Nocka explained.

"So they shoot you out of sheer affection," said Mr. Pebble.

"That's right, boss," replied Nocka. "They shoot me up.

"I'd rather they shot you down," observed Mr. Pebble, "and out. However, one can't have everything. Any blood?"

"No, boss," said Nocka. "Just holes. Blood all gone." "Do you mean to tell me you're bloodless, Nocka?"

"Yes," vouchsafed the servant. "I am without blood."

"How do you keep on living?" asked Mr. Pebble, interested in the Jap's mental processes.

"I don't," said Nocka simply. "I am dying. Soon I will be good and dead."

"You may be dead," remarked Mr. Pebble, "but I very much doubt if you'll be much good."

"Oh, I'll be all right, boss," said Nocka encouragingly.

"I'm glad you take that view of it," observed Mr. Pebble. "Of course, after you're dead we can't keep you on here. What do you want us to do with you?"

"Put me in jug," said Nocka, "and send me home as token."

"What sort of jug, Nocka?" Mr. Pebble wanted to know.

"An ash jug," declared the Jap. "I want to be burned all up."

"Nothing would give me more joy," put in Spray Summers. "If I had my way I'd set fire to you right now."

"Only after I am all dead," said Nockashima firmly. "I burn then."

"You'll burn in hell," Spray assured him, "you black-hearted heathen."

"Don't scold at me, madam," Nocka said quite seriously, "or I'll become nervous breakdown."

"Ha!" cried Spray bitterly. "I like that. You'll become a nervous breakdown. Why, you've made me a gibbering idiot. Go on and die, sottish little ape."

"Soon," said the sottish little ape. "But no words, madam."

"No," retorted Spray. "Just cheers."

Mr. Pebble decided that this sort of thing would arrive at no good end.

"Nocka," he said, shifting his attack, "how old are you?"

"I am of no years," replied the Jap surprisingly. "I am all things to all men."

"You're a pain in the neck to me," cut in Spray Summers. "And elsewhere," she added with characteristic abandon.

"Show me those holes in your leg," Mr. Pebble demanded rather hastily.

"What holes, boss?" asked the servant.

"What holes?" Mr. Pebble repeated. "Didn't you tell me a baroness shot your leg full of holes?"

"You thought I did," said Nockashima, now in his most baffling stride.

A groan of mental anguish escaped Spray Summers' lips.

"He can throw you every time," she told Mr. Pebble.

"The horrid little beetle plays ju-jutsu with the English language."

"Are there no holes at all in your leg?" Mr. Pebble asked a trifle wearily.

"In which leg?" was the cautious answer.

"In any leg," replied Mr. Pebble, who was rapidly losing control.

"In some legs, yes," declared Nocka.

"But not in yours?" insisted Mr. Pebble.

"All gone," replied the Jap. "I am weak from the loss of holes."

By this time Spray was laughing comfortably on the divan.

"My god," she said, "how you two can talk. I don't know which is the most unintelligent. The heathen is weak from the loss of holes, is he? Well, I've got a gun upstairs. Shall I get it and make him strong with holes?"

"I'd like to make him nonexistent with holes," grated Mr. Pebble. "I'd like to make him just one hole in space."

"Like baroness," suggested Nockashima. "Cocktail, boss?"

The servant's question was timed to the exact second. Mr. Pebble checked his mounting wrath and struggled back once more to his poise.

"By all means," he said. "That is the best way out of everything. Are you able also to cook dinner?"

"Shake first, then cook," replied the Jap. "We must all be hungary."

"Go on and shake your head off," Spray flung after him as Nockashima left the room, Mr. Henry acting in the double capacity of guide and support.

When Nocka returned with the frosted shaker all sense of guilt appeared to have departed from his soul. His eyes had lost their expression of protective stupidity. They were now alert and gleaming. He even walked with Mr. Henry as an equal.

"He must have made a good one," Spray observed. "How are the cocktails, Nocka?"

"I am all recovered, madam," replied the Japanese. "I have no years at all."

"I feel somewhat younger myself," remarked Mr. Pebble after he had emptied his glass. "That was an honest cocktail mixed by dishonest hands, which goes to show that through evil great good can accrue. How are your wounds, Nocka?"

"I have no holes either," the small man replied proudly.

"I wouldn't brag about that," commented Spray Summers.

"I suggest we avoid the subject," interposed Mr. Pebble. "These cocktails are actually buoyant, Spray. Have another."

Spray did. Then she offered the slippers to the non-smelling bloodhound. Realizing what was expected of him, Mr. Henry came over to the divan and went through the elaborate pretense of sniffing them.

"Too bad he can't smell," Spray observed sadly. "If he could, the scent of these slippers would so infuriate him he'd tear the things to pieces."

"I wonder why that dog can't smell?" Mr. Pebble wondered without much interest.

"He does smell at times," replied Spray, "but never with his nose. I think his mother dallied with a Pekingese."

'"You can cram more unsavory suggestions in the smallest space," protested Mr. Pebble, "of any woman I know."

"Mist' Henry," put in Nockashima, "him must have smell something very shocking when small babe of pup. It stultify his nose."

"Nothing should be too shocking for a bloodhound to smell," remarked Spray Summers. "That's their sole purpose in life—to take it on the nose, so to speak."

"Not when babe of pup," said Nocka. "When smell is too awful young nose declines to play part. It withers like delicate flower beneath blast of sun."

"That's the way I like to have things put," declared Mr. Pebble, pouring himself another drink. "Fine poetic frenzy evoked by a dog's nose."

"Well, I've lived with that dog and that Jap for five long years," said Spray, "and I defy William Shakespeare to do as much and retain one whiff of poetry in his soul."

She too poured herself another cocktail, and looked defiantly about her. Mr. Henry, as if sensing his defective part was under discussion, put an end to a trying situation by taking the slippers in his mouth and stalking from the room. With a quick bow Nockashima followed the dog.

"Exit three unsightly objects," said Spray with satisfaction, "but of the three those slippers are the worst."

"Sue can think up some dirty tricks," observed Mr. Pebble. "She has a perverted sense of humor."

"I don't mind an occasional dirty trick," replied Spray. "I've pulled a few myself in my time, but those slippers were wicked. It's the first time in twenty-five years she has ever got the better of me."

"Wish I could say the same," responded Mr. Pebble. "She's got the better of me more than once—both of you have."

"Oh, I don't know," said Spray. "You haven't been so desperately treated, considering the chances you took. You've had more than most men—two lovely homes with a lovely woman in each. In addition, you've had the privilege of bringing up another man's daughter and of making a home for your nephew. What more could you ask?"

"I've had more than enough," was Mr. Pebble's enigmatic rejoinder. "Lots more."

"How is Kippie, by the way?" Spray wanted to know. "Haven't seen him for some time."

"He's growing more divertingly worthless every day," said Mr. Pebble. "He's twenty-six now, and in the three years since he left college he hasn't earned an honest dime. As a matter of fact, he's virtually ruined that advertising agency of mine."

"If he ruins only advertising agencies," remarked Spray, "no great harm will be done. Does he stop there?"

"I fear not," said Mr. Pebble. "The other morning I took one of the cars out for an early spin and found myself sitting on a pair of so-called step-ins." He paused and sighed a little wistfully. "Women's undergarments have taken vast strides since our day. There's nothing to them at all now except speed. They're very nice."

"I wear all the latest things," said Spray Summers. "For all the good it does me."

"Or me," added Mr. Pebble.

He rose and, taking up the shaker, went in search of Nockashima. In the kitchen he discovered the Japanese engaged in an odd ceremony. With the slippers in one hand and a large steak in the other he was endeavoring to instruct Mr. Henry in the fine art of smelling. From the tense attitude of the bloodhound's rump Mr. Pebble could see that the dog was taking the situation seriously.

"Sniff hard, Mist' Henry," Nockashima was saying. "Which smell more better, steak or slips? Take good sniff now." Here the little man first passed the steak across the dog's nose and then did the same with the slippers. "Which you like," he demanded, "nice steak or delightful slips?" Apparently Mr. Henry had little preference, or perhaps both steak and slippers were equally revolting to him. With a puzzled expression in his limpid eyes he looked adoringly up at the Jap. "Ha!" cried Nockashima, refusing to be discouraged. "Hard to make up mind, eh? Both so good. Take deep whiff now, then wag for favorite."

Once more the steak and slippers were offered to the dog's nose. The sight was too much for Mr. Pebble.

"Oh, I say," he exclaimed. "I wouldn't do that. Don't let him smell the steak."

Nockashima glanced up with innocent concentration. "Mist' Henry," he said somewhat sadly, "him can't smell steak, I don't fancy."

"Well, I don't fancy him getting his great nose all over it," Mr. Pebble protested.

"Mist' Henry's nose is all right outside," explained the Jap. "Inside not so good."

"Nockashima," said Mr. Pebble severely, "I'm not out here to argue with you about the relative merits of the inside and outside of Mr. Henry's nose. No side of that hound's nose belongs on a steak. I don't even care to discuss it. It's not fitting for animals to smell people's food."

"He can't smell anybody's food," replied Nocka with increasing sadness. "Not even his own food."

"Whether or not that dog can smell his own food is a matter of indifference to me," said Mr. Pebble. "That's his hard luck, but I'll be damned if I'm going to allow him even to try to smell mine."

"I let him smell my food," said Nockashima gently.

"I don't care if he eats your food," replied Mr. Pebble. "You keep that dog's nose in one place and that steak in another."

"Where's good place for dog's nose?" the little man wanted to know.

"What?" asked Mr. Pebble, a little mystified.

"Where I keep Mist' Henry's nose?" replied the Japanese.

"I don't see why either of us should be concerned where Mr. Henry keeps his nose," declared Mr. Pebble, "so long as he keeps it entirely to himself. Furthermore, I'm getting fed up with Mr. Henry's nose."

"You feed on dog's nose, boss?" asked Nockashima, with an expression of horror on his wrinkled face.

"Oh, God!" exclaimed Mr. Pebble. "Don't be a fool, Nockashima. I never ate a dog's nose in my life."

"That's nice," said Nocka approvingly. "That's very good. Tough on dog to feed on nose. I take care of Mist' Henry's nose if you not eat."

"I don't have to promise you not to eat that blood-hound's nose," retorted Mr. Pebble. "More for my sake than his, I wouldn't touch his nose. I have a nose of my own."

"And you eat that?" asked Nockashima, now thoroughly interested.

"Certainly not," snapped Mr. Pebble. "Are you deliberately trying to infuriate me?"

"That's nice," said the Jap. "That's very good."

"Are you telling me it's nice that I don't eat my own nose?" demanded Mr. Pebble, his consumption of cocktails having made him a little childish.

"Don't you think so?" asked the guileless servant.

"I don't even have to think about it," replied Mr. Pebble. "How can a man eat his own nose?"

"With his teeth," said Nockashima quite reasonably, and Mr. Pebble was undone.

He began to tremble so violently that the few remaining ice cubes in the shaker tinkled pleasantly against its sides. The sound automatically attracted Nockashima's attention.

"More cocktails, boss?" he inquired.

Once more the servant's question had been happily timed.

"For God's sake, yes," gasped Mr. Pebble. "Don't say anything more to me. Just make the cocktails, then bring them in. That's all. Just make them and bring them in. No more talk about my nose, or that dog's nose, or of any nose in all the world. Understand that. Just make them and bring them in. That's all."

Still mumbling to himself about what Nockashima should and should not do, Mr. Pebble tottered from the room and sank wearily down on the divan beside his mistress.

"What kept you?" she inquired.

"I think," said Mr. Pebble, "that Nockashima was put on this earth just to torture my soul. He has noses on the brain."

"How do you mean?" asked Spray. "How on earth can a person have a nose on the brain, even such an original type as Nockashima?"

"Are you starting in, too ?" demanded Mr. Pebble. "Or is it a plot to drive me mad?"

Before Spray could answer, the small man entered triumphantly. He was carrying a fresh shaker of cocktails.

"Mist' Henry knows difference now," he announced, happily. "He can smell like regular dog."

"How do you know that?" asked Mr. Pebble, intrigued in spite of his determination never again to discuss any subject with this mad Oriental.

"I taught him," said Nocka proudly.

"Still I don't understand," pursued Mr. Pebble. "He ate steak all up," said Nockashima.

Both Spray and Mr. Pebble gazed in blank astonishment at the Japanese servant. This was indeed a stunning piece of information.

"What?" said Mr. Pebble after a dazed silence. "He ate steak all up?"

"Every bit," replied Nocka in a pleased voice. "All. But not these."

He set the shaker on the table and produced the slippers from his pocket. These he extended to Spray. With a choking sound, she covered her face with her hands.

"Take them away," she moaned.

Mr. Pebble was too stunned to speak. His poise was shot full of holes. With fascinated eyes he watched the Japanese pour two cocktails. What manner of man could this be? Mr. Pebble wondered vaguely. Why did God permit the little man to live? Perhaps there was no God. Perhaps life was just one long dirty trick.

"Mist' Henry knows difference now all right," continued Nockashima cheerfully. "He crunch into steak with great enjoyment, but not slips. They're not so good."

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