Practically all Branton Hills was talking about Councilman Simpkins; for Councilman Simpkins just didn’t look natural; and Councilman Simpkins didn’t act natural. In fact, Councilman Simpkins was crawling out of his old cocoon; and, though an ugly, snarling dowdy worm had lain for so long, shut up in that tight mass of wrappings around his brain, now a gay, smiling moth was coming out; for Councilman Simpkins was “dolling up!”
If Bill Gadsby was known as a “tailor-shop’s outdoor part,” Old Bill was not a part. No, Old Bill was that tailor shop—outdoor, indoor, or without a door. In fact, Councilman Simpkins now had “it,” such as our films talk about so much today.
But Simpkins’ outfit was not flashy or “loud.” Suits of good cloth, hats of stylish form, always a bright carnation “just south of his chin,” boots always glossy, and a smart, springy walk, had all Broadway gasping as this Apollo-vision swung jauntily along. Nancy, happy, giggling Nancy, was “all of a grin” about this magic transformation; and, with that old, inborn instinct of womanhood, told Lucy:—
“You just watch, and mark my word. A woman is in this pudding! Old Bill just couldn’t boom out in such a way without having a goal in sight; and I’ll put up a dollar on it.”
And Lucy, also a woman, said smilingly:—
“And I’ll put up a dollar and a half!”
But His Honor and Lady Gadsby, at such talk would look skyward, cough, and say:—
“Possibly a woman; and a mighty young woman, at that.”
Now, if anything will “warm up” a public, it is gossip; particularly if it is about mystifying actions of a public man; and this had soon grown to a point at which a particularly curious man or woman thought of going to Old Bill and boldly asking: “Who is it?” But, as I said, what Councilman Simpkins would say to such “butting in” was known to all Branton Hills. No. Councilman Simpkins could doll up and trot around all that that portly Solon might wish; but, so to say, a sign was always hanging from his coat front, saying:—
Nina Adams and Virginia sat on Gadsby’s porch with Nancy and Kathlyn; and Old Bill was up as a topic. Virginia, constantly smiling and inwardly chuckling, hadn’t much to say about our frisky Councilman; and Nancy and Kathlyn couldn’t fathom why. But Nina, not so backward, said:
“Pffft! If a man wants to throw old clothing away and buy stylish outfits, what affair is it, but his own? It isn’t right so to pick out a man, and turn him into a laughing stock of a city. Old Bill isn’t a bad sort; possibly born grouchy; but if a grouchy man or woman, (and I know a bunch of that class in this town!) can pull out of it, and laugh, and find a bit of joy in living, I think it is an occasion for congratulations, not booing.”
“Oh,” said Kathlyn, “I don’t think anybody is booing Councilman Simpkins. But you know that any showing of such an innovation is apt to start gossip. Just why, I don’t know. It, though, is a trait of Mankind only. Animals don’t ‘bloom’ out so abruptly. You can hunt through Biology, Zoology or any similar study, and find but slow,—awfully slow,—adaptations toward any form of variation. Hurrying was not known until Man got around.”
“My!” said Nancy, gasping, and not giggling now, “I wish that I could know all that you know, Kathy. As our slang puts it, ‘I don’t know nothin’.’”
“But, you could,” said Kathlyn, “if you would only study. All through our young days, you know, with you and Bill out at a card or dancing party, you in flimsy frills, and Bill swishing around in sartorial glory, I was upstairs, studying. And so was Julius.”
“That’s right,” said Nina. “I wish Virginia would study.”
“Oh, I am!” said Virginia, all aglow.
“You? Studying what?”
“Aviation! Harold is going to show—”
“Now, Virginia, Harold is not!” and Nina Adams’ foot was down! “It’s not so bad for a man to fly, but a girl—”
“But, Mama, lots of girls fly, nowadays.”
“I know that, and I also know a girl who won’t!and, just as Lucy has always known that Old Tom Young’s ‘no’ was a no, just so had Nina Adams brought up Virginia.
“But,” said Kathlyn, “this sky-shooting talk isn’t finding out anything about Councilman Simpkins;” and Virginia said:—
“Possibly Old Bill wants to ‘fly high.’ I think I’ll ask Harold about taking him up for a jaunt.”
This, bringing a happy laugh all around, Nina said:—
“Now don’t jolly poor Bill too much. I don’t know what, or who, got him to ‘going social. ” And Nancy, giggling, said:—
“I put up a dollar, with Lucy’s dollar-fifty that it’s a woman.”
“Oh, I don’t know, now,” said Nina. “A man isn’t always trotting around on a woman’s apron strings,” and, as it was growing dark, Nina and Virginia got up to go.
Passing down Gadsby’s front walk, a soft night wind brought back to that porch:—
“Now, Virginia, quit this! You will stay on solid ground!”
“Aw, Ma! Harold says——”
But a big bus, roaring by, cut it short.
Just a month from this, His Honor, sitting on his porch with his “Morning Post” ran across a short bit, just two rows of print, which had him calling “Hi!” which Lady Gadsby took as a signal for a quick trip to that porch.
“All right, Your Honor! On duty! What’s up?”
Gadsby, folding his “Post” into a narrow column, and handing it to that waiting lady, said nothing. As that good woman saw that paragraph, Gadsby saw first a gasp, following that, a grin, and finally:—
“Why! Of all things! So that’s Nina—”
That row of print said, simply:—
“By Pastor Brown, on Saturday night, in Pastor’s study, Nina Adams and Councilman Simpkins.”
“Why!” said Lady Gadsby, laughing, “Nina sat on this porch only last month, talking about Old Bill, but saying nothing about this! I’m going right around to hug that darling woman; for that is what I call tact.”
So, as Nina and our Lady sat talking, Nina said:
“You know that Bill and I, growing up from kids in school, always got along grandly; no childhood spats; but, still it was no ‘crush’ such as Youth falls into. As Bill got out of high school, I still had two rooms to go through. You also know that I wasn’t a ‘Miss’ for long from graduation day. But Irving Adams was lost in that awful ‘Titanic’ calamity, and I brought up my baby in my widowhood. Bill was always sympathizing and patronizing, though all Branton Hills thought him a cast-iron grouch. But a public man is not always stiff and hard in his off hours; and Bill and I, slowly but gradually finding many a happy hour could—”
“All right, you grand, luscious thing!!” and Lady Gadsby and Nina sat laughing on a couch, as in old, old school days. “And,” said Nina, happily; “poor Bill’s upstairs, now, putting his things around to suit him. Living for so long in a small lodging all his things staid in a trunk. A lodging-room always has various folks around, you know, and a man don’t lay his things out as in his own room. So—”
“Nina,” said Lady Gadsby; “do you know what brought him out of his old shut-in way of looking at things?”
“From just a word or two Bill drops, occasionally, I think that a child is—”
And Lady Gadsby, said; “You know our Good Book’s saying about; ‘And a tiny child shall——”