Bill Todd -- Innovative Morality: A Short Novel of the Thirties
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 Chapter 3

Lucy and Ruth

A few days later, Miss Lucy Eliot went to a suburban railway station to meet her friend, Miss Ruth Engler, coming on from New York. While everyone said that Mary Eliot was attractive, her younger sister belonged in an altogether different category. She was, and looked, a champion athlete. On the other hand, people with advertizing or theatrical connections wanted her to be a model. It seemed to be the strong clear lines of her face that suggested to these entrepreneurs, not only that people would want to look at Lucy, but that they would want to wear the same clothes. It was a pity that she usually went around in baggy old slacks and a faded blue jacket.

Lucy now stood at trackside as the great engine of the Limited bore down on her. Most people, frightened by the general violence of a big steam locomotive, stepped back a good ten feet. Lucy seemed to glory in the commotion, even as super-heated steam broke explosively loose in all directions and steel brake shoes were slammed painfully against steel wheels.

Ruth was one of the first passengers down the steps of the first Pullman car, and the two friends embraced before turning to walk up the platform. Since Ruth was six feet tall even without her high heels, and her natural but improbably bright blonde hair always threatened to overwhelm its fetters, she was seldom mistaken for anyone else. Some people did say that she looked like a chorus girl, but, in fact, everything she had on was modest and ladylike. A little surprisingly, Mrs. Eliot approved of her as a friend for Lucy, it perhaps being understood that a girl from even a good New York family would seem a little flashy in Boston.

The two friends together presented a confusing picture. Lucy, full of potential motion, walked easily in clothing that suggested rebelliousness. Ruth walked within the restrictions of expensive feminine clothing, but swung her arms and purse carelessly. Lucy had flattened obnoxious men with a left hook modelled on that of Jack Dempsey. But it was Ruth who had once dropped an inoffensive stranger with an absent-minded swing of a small suitcase that caught him in the genital area.

Once in Lucy's little car, with Ruth's suitcases strapped in the rumble seat, Ruth asked, with a smile,

"Has Mimsy found someone new for you yet?"

'Mimsy' was Ruth's pet name for Lucy's mother, and Lucy replied,

"It's still Sink, and, of course, he isn't at all interested."

"He doesn't let her see that, does he?"

"No. We really are friends, and, if Mom wants to make a big thing of my playing golf with him, that's okay."

"I can see why she wants him for you, though. He's big, fairly good-looking, and a sportsman. He's also an artist, and you are too."

"My sculptures are pitiful compared to his. He's also a mathematical genius, and I can barely add small numbers."

It was a joke between them that they had both done badly in school, and weren't considered very bright. Ruth made an appropriate gesture and added,

"He probably wouldn't care. You have charm and amuse people."

"I could be a hostess and amuse my guests by doing imitations of the other guests who hadn't yet arrived."

"That'd be sensational the first time around."

"There probably wouldn't be a second time."

"Which is exactly what you'd want."

"People are usually mortally offended when I imitate them."

"I enjoy it when you do me."

"The trouble is that I have to get dressed up to do it."

"And then you pick up men."

"I've never understood why you aren't under siege all the time."

"I'm too tall for most men. And I look like a dumb blonde."

Lucy made demurring noises, but Ruth waved them away and continued,

"I do look expensive. The men all look at me, but most don't seem to want a tall expensive dumb blonde."

"You may give them bad looks without realizing it."

Once in traffic, things began to happen. Lucy passed a trolley car on the left, frightening an oncoming motorist. There was then a skillfully executed zig-zag across in front of the trolley before passing another hapless motorist on his right. As they skidded around a corner, the trolley bell clanged furiously and horns honked. With the top down and Ruth's hair flowing in the wind, they laughed delightedly as they continued to confuse and confound the other drivers.

As they neared her home town, Lucy slowed perceptibly. As she said to Ruth,

"I'm now on friendly terms with the local police, and I don't want to strain things."

"If you're friends with the police, they might hire you to be a policewoman."

"I might like that, but they don't have any women."

"I suppose we ought to have careers of some sort and move out of our parents' homes."

"I wonder. I'm pretty comfortable where I am."

"You and Mimsy have some pretty intense fights."

"Almost always over the clothes I wear."

"But it's really more than that."

"Yeah, I guess so. But who in their right mind would hire us? We wouldn't even make good housemaids."

"Yes. We're finishing school graduates, and everyone knows what that means."

"Girls from good families who're too dumb to go to college."

Ruth leaned back in her seat and replied,

"I look for opportunities to tell people that I graduated from Miss Cadwallader's Finishing School for Young Ladies. I don't smile or laugh when I say it, and it's fun to see their reaction."

"You know, you really aren't dumb. You just like playing dumb."

"But I'm not smart either, just average. The same as you."

"Ruthie, if we tell prospective employers that we're not as dumb as we seem, just average, that won't open the doors very wide."

"There was that man in New York who wanted you to be a model, Lu. I bet he could open some doors."

"You can't seriously imagine my being a model, can you?"

"I guess not. But you could be a good saleswoman with a minimal change of attire. And I could sell myself to rich old men without any change of attire at all."

"Except for removing it altogether at the right time, which you'd have trouble doing."

"Yeah, I guess we aren't fated to be the model and the whore. We'll have to think of something else."

Coming to a halt at a traffic light, Lucy pointed out a woman across the street.

"That's Peg Edwards, a member of the golf club. When she was divorcing her first husband, he hired a detective to watch her. When she came out of her house one day, the detective fell out of a tree and hurt himself. She wound up marrying the detective."

"Lu, that's it! We can become detectives."

Lucy started suddenly and didn't slam on the brakes until she had nudged the car in front. As the driver called back angrily, she said to Ruth,

"That's perfect! We can practice by following and investigating people chosen at random."

"The best thing is to burst in on a couple having a secret tryst with a camera and flashbulb. If the man gets shirty, you can knock him down."

"The money my great aunt left me will get us started. We can rent a little office in some big building and put on the door, 'Eliot and Engler, Private Investigations.' "

"Then we'll need to convince some divorce lawyer to send us business. I bet I can do that."

Their arrival at the Eliots' house set off a considerable stir. There were many hugs and kisses, including some for Mr. Eliot, who looked a little abashed, but also pleased. Nothing was said about the proposed private detective agency until after dinner when Ruth, alone with Mary, mentioned it.

No one had ever doubted Mary's intelligence, and she had been doing very well at Wellesley when she eloped with a handsome and exciting, but bad, man. While that decision hadn't been exactly smart, it was so obvious that it had been a matter of overpowering sexual attraction that Ruth, for one, didn't even count it against Mary's practical sense. Everyone, after all, was bound to make at least one serious mistake in a lifetime. In the present case, Ruth knew that it would be better to approach Mary before her mother.

Mary responded with the full-bodied laughter that seemed a little incongruous in one with so much education. She then said,

"It sounds like great fun! It may not make money, but Dad might be got to subsidize it."

"I have a little money, and Lu seems to have inherited some from someone."

"Ah yes. Aunt Mary's bequest. I was named for her in the hope that she'd leave us a whole lot. A young lawyer got her to leave most of it to some charity of his choice, probably himself in the end. But she did leave a few thousand to Lucy and myself. I've already spent my bit."

"Quite apart from money, I'm afraid Mimsy won't like it."

"She's in favor of anything that will make Lucy more ladylike and less like Jack Dempsey. This sounds more like Jack Dempsey."

"I guess it may be the possibility of some rough stuff that does attract Lu."

"But you aren't planning on that, are you?"

"No. Although, if it came down to it, I guess I could bop someone on the head with a nightstick."

"What you need is to present it more as spying. Perhaps with some femme fatale stuff. I've heard Mother speak more or less favorably of Mata Hari. She doesn't think ladies should drop their fur coats and reveal themselves naked in front of the firing squad, but she likes the idea of a glamorous woman making fools of men."

"If Lu could do her detecting in an evening gown with high heels, that would help, wouldn't it?"


"Do you think you could help a little with Mimsy, Mame? It'd mean a lot to us."

"Since my big mistake, my advice isn't much sought after."

"But she does come to you sometimes, Mame. I've seen her."

"I guess I'm trusted in certain areas. As long as I don't compete with Lucy for men and adopt a generally penitent attitude."

"You don't seem penitent to me."

"I only do that when Mother has what she calls a serious talk with me."

"Can you call for a talk, or do you have to wait for her to suggest one?"

"That's iffy. I'm not sure I could just confide, 'There's something that sounds crazy, but might really be good for Lucy.'"

"I bet that would get her attention."

"Oh yes! But it might discredit me in the process. I'll have to think about it."

"Thanks, Mame."

Bill Todd -- Innovative Morality: A Short Novel of the Thirties
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