from Saturday Evening Post
Dictated to Doris
by Ellis Parker Butler
In his workroom on the second floor of his home in Westcote -- five minutes nearer the heart of New York than the Bronx -- Zerk Clinch was batting out his daily cheerfulness poem on his fifty-dollar typewriter, using two fingers and occasionally hitting the space bar with his thumb; but at the kitchen door, Mrs. Xerxes Clinchfield was having a terrible time with Tony Caruso, the iceman.
Zerk Clinch, who was a man of six feet and two inches, with a plump and happy countenance and a weight of two hundred and thirty pounds, was writing a Don't Worry poem for his syndicate -- the syndicate that sold his poems to five hundred daily papers, and the verse he was writing was this:
When the winter winds are howling
And your undershirt is thin,
And the. anthracite is scanty
In the poor old cellar bin,
Do not worry, do not grumble,
It was not a very good poem, but Zerk Clinch was not much of a poet. In the ranks of the cheer-up poets he ranked about tenth, and he was paid accordingly, but he did have the ability to keep on pounding out be-happy poems day after day, and he had been doing it for years. Probably his poems did a lot of good; they at least fed his family -- wife, Doris and the two boys. He loved to write the poems, and he was having a good time doing this one.
At the kitchen door, Tony Caruso was in the sort of rage that comes to a man who does not know what something means.
He held in his hand a sheet of the pale-gray letter paper Zerk Clinch always used, with "Zerk Clinch, the Happiness Poet, 989 Elm Street, Westcote, Long Island, N. Y.," printed in darker gray in one corner, and he was flourishing it as if it were a stiletto with which he meant to stab Mrs. Clinchfield.
"Whata mean? Whata mean?" Tony Caruso was shouting. "Wanta ice no more? What for no wanta ice? I gotta gooda ice -- besta ice -- colda ice."
"But, Tony," cried Mrs. Clinchfield, who had been trying to get in a word for the last five minutes, "we do want ice!"
"Wanta ice, you getta ice," said Tony, suddenly mollified. "If you wanta ice, whata for da boss writa me da let I don't know what it mean? Longa da let --"
"Let me see the letter," said Mrs. Clinchfield, holding out her hand for it. Tony handed it to her, a sullen look on his usually cheerful face, as if he might be willing to let bygones be bygones but could never forget that he had been needlessly subjected to a dire injury. Mrs. Clinchfield began reading the letter. It was typewritten far more neatly than were the letters Zerk Clinch usually thumped out on his machine, and as Mrs. Clinchfield read it she was herself astounded. The letter said:
"WESTCOTE, LONG ISLAND, N. Y., Aug. 25/25.
"MR. ANTONIO CARUSO,
"1852 JOYCE ST.,
"WESTCOTE, L. I., N. Y.
"My dear Mr. Caruso: Herewith I beg to hand you my check No. 545, drawn on the Bank of Westcote, for Three 64/100 Dollars ($3.64), the same being in full payment of your bill for ice for the month of July, 1925, to the total amount of nine hundred and ten pounds avoirdupois (910# av.) which, I am pleased to assure you, agrees with the figures entered on the ice card hanging on the nail on the southwest (s-w) end of my ice box in the kitchen of my home at the address printed at the top of this letterhead.
"In this connection I may say that you have now been delivering ice to my residence for the past eight years, and this seems a fitting occasion to call your kind attention to a few facts that have some bearing on the matter. I trust you will give them your kind consideration.
"It has seemed to me that the ice you deliver in winter is colder ice than that supplied to me in the summer months, being more durable and less evanescent, and I consider this unsatisfactory. I would greatly prefer to have the colder ice in the summer and the warmer ice in the winter. My house is none too easily heated, and a grade of ice that would be warm enough to assist the furnace in its customary duty would be preferable to that you now deliver. Please give this your attention.
"It has also seemed to me that in delivering the ice you use a similar lack of judgment in slamming the screen door of the kitchen. For the past eight years it has been your custom to slam the screen door in the summer, when my windows are open, thus disturbing me at my work, while in the winter when my windows are closed you do not slam the screen door.
"I would ask you, therefore, Mr. Caruso, from now on to avoid slamming the screen door in the summer and slam it in the winter, when it is not there but stored above the beams in the garage.
"Yours very truly, XC/DC.
"XERXES CLINCHFIELD -- ZERK CLINCH."
As Mrs. Clinchfield read the letter she was amazed that her husband should have written such an epistle to Antonio Caruso. It was, she decided, meant to be funny; but Mrs. Clinchfield had no great sense of humor herself, and she did not think the part about cold ice and warm ice was very funny, and she knew that Antonio Caruso, who took his ice business very seriously, must have thought it an unwarranted insult to his entirely good ice. She frowned as she read the part about the slamming of the screen, feeling that this was the meat in the nut, and that Zerk really was annoyed by the slamming of the screen, but was trying to tell Antonio Caruso in a way that would not seem too severe.
And then she saw the little notation in the corner of the letter -- XC/DC. At this moment the butcher's boy came around the corner of the house with ten lamb chops wrapped in brown paper, and Mrs. Clinchfield hastily tore the offending ice letter into strips.
"It's all right, Tony," she told Mr. Caruso hurriedly. "It doesn't mean anything at all. It's a joke -- Mr. Clinchfield thought he was being funny. Don't think any more about it, Tony. Just bring ice the same as usual. We like your ice. It's all right."
Tony shrugged his shoulders and raised his eyebrows.
"I no like-a da joke," he said. "How much ice you wanta today?"
"Fifty pounds," said Mrs. Clinchfield, and Tony went to get it.
"Say," the butcher's boy said, handing Mrs. Clinchfield the chops, "the boss says to tell you the old man is some joker. He got the letter, you know."
"Oh, yes," said Mrs. Clinchfield hastily. "It -- Mr. Schwartz wasn't offended, I hope?"
"He thought it was a scream; showed it to everybody," said the butcher's boy.
Mrs. Clinchfield closed the screen door and went into the kitchen, holding the chops in her hand. For a moment she stood in the middle of the kitchen, thinking, then she put the chops on the table and took a bottle of milk and a head of lettuce from the ice chamber of the refrigerator, preparatory to the coming of Tony Caruso with the ice. There was no use bothering Zerk about the matter now, when he was probably at work on his daily poem, but she must say something about it at noon -- or sometime. It was all well enough for Zerk to dictate letters to Doris, but she certainly could not have her domestic routine interrupted by such scenes as she had had with the excitable Antonio Caruso.
At noon, as it happened, Mrs. Clinchfield was not at home, it being the day she lunched at Mrs. Fleming's, who had the bridge club that week, and as she won the prize that day she forgot Antonio Caruso entirely.
That afternoon Doris Clinchfield came home about three o'clock, as usual, from the Westcote Business College, where she was taking a commercial course, including stenography and typewriting. She was now an advanced pupil, and as such had a rented typewriter at the house for her use so that she could practice on it during leisure hours. As she came upstairs to take off her street clothes she passed Zerk Clinch's door and saw it was open, the sign that his day's poem task was completed, and she gave him a hello as she passed.
Zerk Clinch was tilted back in his desk chair, with his feet on his desk, smoking a brier pipe and reading for the tenth time Warren's Ten Thousand a Year, which he always insisted was the best novel ever written.
"Papa," called Doris from her room, "got any more letters for me to write? Have you, papa?"
"Well, now, I didn't get any mail to amount to anything today, Dorrie," Zerk Clinch said regretfully.
"Oh, now!" exclaimed Doris, and her tone was even more regretful than Zerk's, but she added hopefully, "Well, haven't you some more bills to pay that you want letters to go with, papa? Haven't you, papa?"
"I guess all the bills are paid, Dorrie," said Zerk Clinch. "All I've got the money to pay anyway."
"Oh, pshaw!" said Dorrie. She came and stood in Zerk's doorway, pulling a smock over her dress. "Well, can't you dictate some letters to me anyway, papa?" she begged. "Can't you, papa? Just make up some?"
"All right! All right!" said Zerk Clinch cheerfully. "Get your stuff and I'll shoot you a few."
"Business letters," said Doris, "not funny ones. I showed Miss Mivis the ones you gave me for the bills and she said I had done them all right, but that what I needed was -- well, she said they were funny, papa, but that businessmen don't write that kind of letters. You know what I mean, papa."
Zerk Clinch grinned.
"Have it your own way, you and your Miss Mivis," he said. "I'll business-letter you to a stand-you-still, if that's what you want. Get your machinery."
The machinery was a notebook and a pencil. Doris got them and drew a chair close to that of her father, at his side and facing him. He tilted back a little farther and clasped his hands behind his head and closed his eyes and dictated.
"Take this, Miss Clinchfield," he said in the approved manner. "'Westcote, August twenty-seventh --'"
"You don't have to give me that, papa," said Doris. " I know that already. I mean I would write that anyway. Begin 'Dear Sir,' or however you want it to begin."
"'Dear Sir,'" said Zerk Clinch obediently.
"Oh, no! That's my mistake, papa. You have to give me the name and address first, of course."
"That might be a good idea at that," said Zerk. "As a hard-boiled businessman -- a one hundred per center -- I would rather like my letters to go to someone in particular. As a poet it don't much matter, but as a businessman there's a good deal to say in favor of having a letter go where it ought to go. As a businessman, interested in rather big affairs, I don't approve of ordering ten gross fresh eggs from the hardware store."
"All right, I'll be serious," said Zerk Clinch. "Take this, Miss Clinchfield: 'Obermann, Welsh & Browning, 978 Main Street, Westcote, Long Island --'"
"One n in Obermann?" asked Doris.
"Two n's in Obermann," said Zerk. "'Gentlemen' -- two n's in gentlemen."
"Why, there's only one n -- oh, I see!" said Doris.
"Caught you that time!" grinned Zerk.
"Yes, but, papa," pleaded Doris, "I know this is only fun for you, but it's serious for me. It's part of my education, you know. Come on, please; just dictate a nice letter, papa."
"Sure I will!" said Zerk.
He looked at Doris a moment thoughtfully. She was a nice kid, if she was his own daughter. A nice kid! None finer! He was proud of her, of the earnestness with which she was going on with the business of being a private secretary. She would be able to choose a good position, Zerk thought, after she had tried out one or two, perhaps, to get accustomed to the work she would have to do. She ought to be able to pick the position she wanted; a girl like Doris would be a find for some big man or big concern.
A great deal can be thought in a moment. Doris, looking at her father and waiting for him to go on with the dictation, thought his nose was like Edward Blane's nose.
"It's a shame I haven't a big heap of money," thought Zerk. "I wish I had the stuff in me to be a big moneymaker and give the kid a thousand-dollar fur coat, and her mom a limousine and all that business. I'd keep Doris at home then -- let her secretary for me, if she wanted to."
"But of course," thought Doris, thinking off at an angle, "he don't know I'm alive."
She meant Edward Blane. Once only, quite a few years before, Edward Blane had held her hand. It was when she was trying to teach herself golf at the country club Zerk had since given up because he could not very well afford it. It was the first time she had ever seen Edward Blane. She was standing at the first tee, trying to get a stance that might result in something worthwhile happening to the ball, when Ed Blane and some companion came to the tee. What he saw was a small girl -- first year in high school, probably -- making an awful mess of her hands on the handle of the golf club.
"Here, you!" he said. "Wait a minute! Just let me show you how we do that little thing."
Doris stood back, thinking he meant that he wanted to drive first and get on with his companion, but he climbed onto the elevation and took her club out of her hands. He was wonderful! He was tall and he was handsome and he looked wealthy and cultured -- as indeed he was, being one of the Blanes.
"Come here now," he said, holding the driver with its head just back of her tee. "Stand here. This foot so. This foot thus." He bent down and arranged her feet, saying "Up!" when he wanted to move her heel an inch.
"Now!" he said, and he went behind her and put one arm on either side of her. Thus he arranged her hands on the club. He placed each finger as it should be, clasping the fingers of her right hand around her left thumb.
"That gives a better grip," he explained. "Now when you raise the club --"
He showed her how to raise the club and how to swing and how to follow through.
"Eyes on the ball; eyes never off the ball," he cautioned her. "Now try it."
She swung, and the ball left the tee neatly and cleanly and went sailing nicely down the middle of the course for -- oh, say, one hundred yards.
"There you are," Ed Blane said. "Now you know how to drive. You don't mind if we drive through? Thank you."
He tipped his hat, perfect-gentleman style, and he and his friend drove through and were soon out of sight around the turn of the second hole. He had never spoken to her again; had probably never recognized her again; had doubtless forgotten she existed. But Doris did not forget. He was her prince after that; she rather more than worshiped him; there was no other man to compare with him; he was the only man.
"'Obermann' -- two n's -- 'Welsh' -- with an s -- & 'Browning,'" dictated Zerk Clinch, "'978 Main Street, Westcote. Gentlemen: It has come to my attention, through the columns of the Westcote Eagle, that you are forming a syndicate to take over the Grace property' -- G-r-a-c-e -- 'on Culver Street just East of Main Street, Westcote.' Period."
"You can go a little faster, papa," said Doris.
"All right -- a little faster," said Zerk Clinch, and he continued to dictate: "'I agree with you that this property seems to offer the best real-estate speculation in Westcote at the present time.' Period, paragraph. 'After giving the matter considerable thought I have decided that it would be advisable for me to become a member of the syndicate mentioned.' Comma. 'And I will do so.' Period."
"You don't need to say the commas," said Doris.
"All right, out with commas," said Zerk Clinch. "Ready? 'Of course,'" he dictated, while Doris' pencil made pothooks rapidly, "'I shall be able to make no cash investment, nor will you probably ask that.' Period. Or, no, Doris, you'd better put a semicolon there. Semicolon. 'My standing in the world of literature is more than money.' Dash. 'I am one of the bright luminaries in the sky of fame.' Semicolon. 'The entire world, including Westcote and the Third Ward, swells with pride to think that Zerk Clinch, the happiness poet, rates on request, is a Westcoter.' Period, but no paragraph. 'In short, gentlemen, my name adds luster to anything with which it is connected, and because of my intense respect for your methods of doing business I have decided to permit you to assign to me, free gratis, $20,000 worth of stock in the aforesaid Grace property syndicate which you are now forming.' Period. 'Yours very truly --'"
"Papa! Ain't you awful!" said Doris. "Do you want to dictate any more?"
"Certainly I do!" said Zerk Clinch. "You don't think one letter is all I have to dictate, do you? I am a man of big affairs, I tell you! Uh -- who's that other concern? Oh, yes! Take this, Miss Clinchfield --"
They had a royal time that afternoon. Zerk Clinch dictated sixteen letters. He dictated three to Westcote real-estate brokers who were getting up syndicates to take over desirable plots, and with each letter he became more extravagantly flowery in praise of his greatness. Then he dictated thirteen more to other real-estate agents, offering to buy this corner and that corner. He might have been a millionaire throwing money into real estate with superb nonchalance. When Doris went to her room she had enough letters to keep her fingers busy until dinner. Zerk Clinch took his long legs from his desk and walked them downtown for a can of tobacco. He got into a pool game at Fritz's. When he reached home the completed letters, all on his gray letter paper, lay on his desk.
Zerk Clinch read the letters while Doris stood waiting to hear his comments. They were brief. Here and there she had made a mistake and he pointed them out and corrected them with his pen, and he signed the letters with his flourishing signature. He folded them and slipped them into the addressed envelopes and dropped them into his wastebasket.
Just before dinner Bobby, the youngest boy, went to Zerk's room to attend to his daily job. It was Bobby's job to see that Zerk's daily poem got safely into the letterbox at the corner in time for the eight o'clock collection. If the poem was not in an envelope Bobby put it in one of the printed syndicate envelopes and sealed and stamped it. If any other of Zerk's letters were lying about Bobby sealed and stamped them too.
In the wastebasket Bobby saw the sixteen envelopes. They looked as if they had slid off the desk somehow; he took them out of the wastebasket, sealed them, stamped them and carried them to the corner letterbox and mailed them.
The next day was Zerk's day in town, and he went to New York on the 9:27. At a few minutes after ten someone called the house on the telephone.
"No," Mrs. Clinchfield said, "Mr. Clinchfield isn't here now; he's gone over to New York. Is there any message I can take?"
"Why, yes, thank you," said a pleasant voice. "I'm speaking for Obermann, Welsh & Browning. We received Mr. Clinchfield's letter this morning and the firm has considered it. We like the idea. Only, I wish you would tell Mr. Clinchfield we don't see our way quite clear to assign him a twenty-thousand-dollar share in the Grace syndicate. We have, however, assigned him a ten-thousand-dollar share, on the terms he mentioned. We expect, of course, to use his name in the advertising, and if he could write us a few lines of poetry -- something we could use -- it would please Mr. Obermann. Will you tell Mr. Clinchfield? Thank you."
Zerk's wife hung up the receiver and she looked frightened. The bell of the telephone rang again immediately.
"Say, is Zerk Clinch there?" a rough voice demanded. "Well, say, this is Drewmore. You tell him, will you, that I couldn't get the Ransome corner for him for thirty thousand dollars, but I got him an option on it for fifteen days at thirty-five thousand dollars. Got that? Goo'-by!"
"Oh, dear!" exclaimed Mrs. Clinchfield, and the telephone bell rang again.
"This 5640 Westcote?" asked a crisp voice. "This is his private secretary speaking for Mr. Vance. Is Mr. Clinchfield there? Then when he does come in, will you tell him, please, that Mr. Vance has received Mr. Clinchfield's letter and has assigned to Mr. Clinchfield a five-thousand-dollar share in the Bonny Hill syndicate? We're writing."
"Oh, my goodness!" cried Mrs. Clinchfield, and the telephone bell jingled.
"Hello! Is that where Zerk Clinch lives? Well, is he in? Well, say, then, you tell him, will you, I bought for him that Zeller corner he wrote about -- twenty-two thousand dollars. I got Zeller to take only five hundred cash, the rest to go on mortgage. And, say, tell him I advanced the five hundred, will you? Tell him to stop in here when he's downtown. What? This is Hertmeier."
"But --" said Mrs. Clinchfield weakly. No one answered. She hung up. The telephone bell immediately rang.
"Oh, how do you do, Mrs. Clinchfield?" said a voice as soon as Zerk's wife said "Hello!" "This is Joe Frane. Is Zerk busy? In town? Well, it doesn't matter. Just tell him, when he comes in, that I said it would be all right about his participation in the Overmeadow syndicate, will you, Mrs. Clinchfield? My father thought it was a bully idea; we're assigning a ten-thousand-dollar share to Zerk, tell him."
"But, Joe --" said Mrs. Clinchfield.
"Now that's all right!" said young Frane. "Dad usually knows what he is doing, I guess."
Mrs. Clinchfield dropped into the chair that was near the telephone and wrung her hands. She looked at the instrument as if it was some horrid thing and -- as if it were indeed some horrid thing, it rang its bell at her.
"'Ello!" said a voice when she had put the receiver to her ear. "Could I -- now -- speak to Mr. -- now -- Zerk Clinch once? Well, when should he be in? Well, listen once. This is Feinstone, you get it? Feinstone, I said it. Yes! You should tell Mr. Clinch I bought it for him that corner from Gregg for only twenty-five thousand, and believe me, if it was ever a bargain he got it. I said a bargain he got it. Yes! And listen now -- by next Saturday he should pay Gregg one thousand dollars, except maybe I could find a buyer before then yet. Because, listen, already since I seen Gregg a feller what I ain't going to tell you his name comes by me to ask about that corner, you understand. Thirty thousand dollars I told it him maybe Clinch would take, you understand? You get me? So if a feller comes to Clinch you should told him he says forty thousand is his least he could take it for that corner. Yes! Goo'-by!"
"Oh, this is awful -- awful!" groaned Mrs. Clinchfield, and the telephone bell rang.
"Is that Mrs. Clinchfield, 989 Elm Street, Westcote?" a voice inquired. "It is? Now, listen, Mrs. Clinchfield, there is nothing to be alarmed about. Mr. Clinchfield has had a little accident, but I can assure you it will not be anything very serious. This is the Emergency Hospital speaking. Mr. Clinchfield was struck by an automobile on Broadway and he is still unconscious, but the surgeon says there is no fracture of the skull. It is only a very severe concussion, and there seem to be no internal injuries, as far as can be told yet only a broken leg and some rather severe contusions of the arms, chest, left leg, hips, neck, and so forth. Nothing to be really alarmed about unless there are complications we cannot recognize at present, but you might come over."
Mrs. Clinchfield immediately began to cry. The telephone bell immediately began to ring.
"Is this the residence of Zerk Clinchfield, the poet?" a voice asked. "Is that you, Mr. Clinchfield? We had the good luck to get that corner plot for you at --"
"Please, please, please ring off!" begged Mrs. Clinchfield. "Mr. Clinchfield has had an accident and I must try to get my daughter."
Doris came home immediately upon hearing from her mother that Zerk was in the hospital. She found the door key under the mat on the front porch and let herself into the hall, where the telephone bell was ringing persistently.
"Yes, what is it?" she asked, when she had put the receiver to her ear.
"Is Mr. Clinchfield there?" asked an answering voice. "This is Ed Blane."
"Papa isn't here," Doris said. "He's had an accident, Mr. Blane, in the city, and mother has just gone over there."
"Say, that's too bad," said Ed Blane. "I wanted to get in touch with him quick. You don't suppose they'd let me talk to him at the hospital?"
"Oh, I know they wouldn't, Mr. Blane -- I'm sorry. He's unconscious, and --"
"Well, I wonder if you know anything about this," said Ed Blane. "I'm with Carlson & Rodgers, the realty agents, and we got a letter from Mr. Clinchfield this morning asking us to buy the Atterman Block for him. The price he gives is eighty thousand dollars, but that's a mistake, of course. What he meant may have been eight hundred thousand dollars, but Mr. Rodgers wouldn't be justified in opening negotiations with Atterman unless Mr. Clinchfield wrote another letter, giving the figure correctly and --"
"Oh! Oh, dear!" breathed Doris.
"I beg pardon?" inquired Ed Blane.
"Oh, it's all a mistake!" cried Doris. "You mustn't buy anything for papa. Please, please just forget all about it. He's in the hospital --"
"Yes, but this letter is --"
"Oh, no! Don't buy anything! You mustn't buy anything!"
"But, see here, who is this talking?"
"It's Doris -- Doris Clinchfield. I'm his daughter, and I wrote --"
"I'll come up there," said Ed Blane.
Ed Blane sat across the living room from Zerk Clinch's amateur private secretary as she explained, with burning cheeks, the way the letter had come to be written to Carlson & Rodgers. She ran upstairs and got her notebook and read the letter to him, to prove that what she said was so, and when he had heard her story he was very nice about it. She said she was just too sorry the letter had somehow got in the mail, and Ed Blane said it did not matter in the least -- they had been puzzled by the price offered. Eighty thousand was so ridiculously low and eight hundred thousand would have been rather high -- five hundred thousand was about right for the Atterman Block, he thought, today, although the way things were booming it would be worth a million before long undoubtedly. So he took his hat and went away, saying he was sorry her father was laid up and urging her to call on him for help if she needed any.
Shortly after noon Mrs. Clinchfield called up and said Zerk was still unconscious, but that everyone said he would probably get well and be all right in due time. She gave Doris some instructions about meals and the house, and then she told her about the telephone messages. She remembered the details of a few of them and gave these to Doris.
When the afternoon mail arrived there were letters confirming nearly everything. It seemed to Doris that her father and she had managed to buy nearly every corner in Westcote, as well as securing assignments of shares in three important real-estate syndicates. In this awful but absurd situation she did not know what to do, until she remembered Ed Blane. She called the office of Carlson & Rodgers and asked for Mr. Blane, and when she had explained a little of what her trouble was he said promptly that he would come up immediately.
Ed Blane laughed when he saw Doris' frightened face.
"Now see here," he said, "don't you worry about this. We can straighten it out. Just suppose you read me the letters you wrote, first, and then we'll know where we're at."
He took the letters that had come by mail and read them.
"Now just what did you write to Obermann, Welsh & Browning?" he asked and when Doris had read what Zerk Clinch had dictated he whistled.
"Happy days!" he exclaimed. "That's one we won't do anything about. All that means is that your father is at least ten thousand dollars better off than he was, and if that Grace property deal turns out the way we all think it will, his participation ought to be nearer thirty thousand dollars than ten thousand. We won't do anything about that one. Your father's name is worth anything Obermann would give for it, that's sure. Your father is known in New York -- all over America, for that matter. And it's a clean deal. Next?"
Doris read the letter to Hertmeier, and Mr. Hertmeier's letter acknowledging the telephone conversation in which he had said he had bought for Mr. Clinchfield the Zeller corner for twenty-two thousand dollars, five hundred dollars to be paid in cash.
"And we won't do anything about that one either," said Ed Blane promptly. "At twenty-two thousand dollars that corner is the biggest bargain in Westcote; I would guarantee to sell it myself for thirty thousand dollars inside of a month."
"But," said Doris with distress, "I don't think papa has five hundred dollars."
Ed Blane frowned.
"Yes, that's one trouble about not having ready money," he said, and then he brightened. "But see here!" he said. "Your father has something just as good as cash -- he has this participation in the Grace property syndication. Now" -- he hesitated, but went on -- "now I don't know whether you know me well enough to trust me --"
"Oh, I'd trust you with anything -- anything!" cried Doris.
"Well, then," said Ed Blane, "your father being laid up and everything, I'd suggest this -- you let me finance this purchase for him and I'll take one-twentieth of his Grace property participation and pay Zeller his five hundred dollars."
"Oh, would you? Do you think that would be the best thing to do?" cried Doris. "I'd be so awfully grateful if you would straighten it all out for me, Mr. Blane."
"Nothing I'd like better," he assured her, and they went on to the other letters.
There was, of course, the fact that anything in real estate in Westcote was worth more today than it was yesterday, and worth more tomorrow than today; but Ed Blane knew Westcote realty thoroughly, and he saw that every piece Zerk Clinch had "bought" was an excellent speculative purchase at the price.
That evening the Westcote Eagle seemed to be mostly about or by Zerk Clinch -- "our esteemed and famous fellow townsman, Xerxes Clinchfield." There was, of course, his syndicated poem of happiness, but there was also item after item of real-estate news. It appeared that Zerk Clinch had bought innumerable pieces of Westcote property, all corners. It seemed that Zerk Clinch was trying to get a corner on corners. It was announced that Zerk Clinch had partaken of the three largest syndications then under way. It seemed that Zerk Clinch had suddenly become the most important figure in Westcote real-estate affairs.
"That means something," said hundreds who did not know what it meant. "Zerk, you know, knows a lot of the New York fellows. He knows something we haven't even guessed yet." And the next day the New York papers took up the news, because everyone had heard of Zerk Clinch. "Poet Becomes Biggest Westcote Property Owner " the headlines said. Prices of Westcote property did a month's jumping in one day.
"I don't know," Doris said when agents called her on the telephone; "you'll have to see Mr. Ed Blane; he's handling father's property for him." And Ed Blane had to come to the house several times a day for hurried consultations. Now and then he came at lunchtime and had lunch there. Mrs. Clinchfield took a room in New York to be near Zerk. It was a full month before Zerk Clinch could be brought home. He was pretty well physically, but his nerves were still jumpy and he seemed greatly depressed, as any poet who writes daily poems is apt to be when he has had to let his syndicate slide for a month without a single poem and has been accumulating tremendous hospital and nurse and doctor bills instead.
"Papa," Doris said when she and Ed stood by his bed in the sunny room, "this is Ed -- Ed Blane."
"Hello, Blane," said Zerk Clinch, holding out a thin hand. "Knew you at the country club, didn't I?"
"Yes, papa," said Doris hastily. "And what I wanted to tell you -- what we wanted to tell you -- is that we're going to be married. I mean, we are if you don't object, papa. Mamma says we can."
Zerk looked up at them.
"It's all jake with me, Dorrie," he said, smiling a little pathetically.
"You dear!" Doris cried, and she kissed him and arose just where Ed's arm was waiting for her. "We're going to be so happy! And, papa --"
"Do you think you're able to dictate a letter to me to Obermann, Welsh & Browning saying you will buy the northeast corner of William and Spruce Street, one hundred by one hundred and eighty, for thirty-six thousand, five thousand cash and balance on mortgage?" Doris asked. "Because Ed thinks it is a wonderful buy, papa."
"You poor kid!" said Zerk Clinch. "Your worthless old father had to go and get himself knocked out and hold up your education."
"What do you mean, papa?" Doris asked.
"You're just where you were," said Zerk Clinch; "taking fool letters from me for practice."
"But I'm not where I was!" exclaimed Doris. "I'm not going to be a private secretary; I'm going to be married. And this isn't a practice letter; it's serious. Ed says you ought to buy the corner."
"Ed," said Zerk Clinch soberly, "I don't want you to have any wrong ideas, no matter where you got them, or how. I'm not worth a cent, and that's a fact."
"Why, papa!" cried Doris. "Hasn't mother told you?"
"I didn't dare," said Mrs. Clinchfield. "I was afraid it would be bad for him."
"Why, papa!" cried Doris again. "You're worth over three hundred thousand dollars! You see --"
It took a long time to explain to Zerk Clinch. He could not believe it even then until Doris showed him his bankbook, but finally he had to believe.
He sat up in bed.
"Take this, Miss Clinchfield," he said gaily. "Ready? 'Obermann' -- with two n's -- 'Welsh' -- with an s -- '& Browning. Dear Sirs: Regarding the property on the northeast corner of William and Spruce streets, one hundred by --'"
"You'll have to go a little slower, papa," said Doris; "I've almost forgotten my stenography."