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Ring Lardner and the Other$

Douglas Robinson

Print publication date: 1993

Print ISBN-13: 9780195076004

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195076004.001.0001

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(p.226) (p.227) Appendix A Ring Lardner, “Who Dealt?”

(p.226) (p.227) Appendix A Ring Lardner, “Who Dealt?”

Source:
Ring Lardner and the Other
Publisher:
Oxford University Press

You know, this is the first time Tom and I have been with real friends since we were married. I suppose you’ll think it’s funny for me to call you my friends when we’ve never met before, but Tom has talked about you so much and how much he thought of you and how crazy he was to see you and everything—well, it’s just as if I’d known you all my life, like he has.

We’ve got our little crowd out here, play bridge and dance with them; but of course we’ve only been there three months, at least I have, and people you’ve known that length of time, well, it isn’t like knowing people all your life, like you and Tom. How often I’ve heard Tom say he’d give any amount of money to be with Arthur and Helen, and how bored he was out there with just poor little me and his new friends!

Arthur and Helen, Arthur and Helen—he talks about you so much that it’s a wonder I’m not jealous; especially of you, Helen. You must have been his real pal when you were kids.

Nearly all his kid books, they have your name in front—to Thomas Cannon from Helen Bird Strong. This is a wonderful treat for him to see you! And a treat for me, too. Just think, I’ve at last met the wonderful Helen and Arthur! You must forgive me calling you by your first names; that’s how I always think of you and I simply can’t say Mr. and Mrs. Gratz.

No, thank you, Arthur; no more. Two is my limit and I’ve already exceeded it, with two cocktails before dinner and now this. But it’s a special occasion, meeting Tom’s best friends. I bet Tom wishes he could celebrate too, don’t you, dear? Of course he could if he wanted to, but when he once makes up his mind to a thing, there’s nothing in the world can shake him. He’s got the strongest will power of any person I ever saw.

I do think it’s wonderful, him staying on the wagon this long, a man that used to—well, you know as well as I do; probably a whole lot (p.228) better, because you were with him so much in the old days, and all I know is just what he’s told me. He told me about once in Pittsburgh—All right, Tommie; I won’t say another word. But it’s all over now, thank heavens! Not a drop since we’ve been married; three whole months! And he says it’s forever, don’t you, dear? Though I don’t mind a person drinking if they do it in moderation. But you know Tom! He goes the limit in everything he does. Like he used to in athletics—

All right, dear; I won’t make you blush. I know how you hate the limelight. It’s terrible, though, not to be able to boast about your own husband; everything he does or ever has done seems so wonderful. But is that only because we’ve been married such a short time? Do you feel the same way about Arthur, Helen? You do? And you married him four years ago, isn’t that right? And you eloped, didn’t you? You see I know all about you.

Oh, are you waiting for me? Do we cut for partners? Why can’t we play families? I don’t feel so bad if I do something dumb when it’s Tom I’m playing with. He never scolds, though he does give me some terrible looks. But not very often lately; I don’t make the silly mistakes I used to. I’m pretty good now, aren’t I, Tom? You better say so, because if I’m not, it’s your fault. You know Tom had to teach me the game. I never played at all till we were engaged. Imagine! And I guess I was pretty awful at first, but Tom was a dear, so patient! I know he thought I would never learn, but I fooled you, didn’t I, Tommie?

No, indeed, I’d rather play than do almost anything. But you’ll sing for us, won’t you, Helen? I mean after a while. Tom has raved to me about your voice and I’m dying to hear it.

What are we playing for? Yes, a penny’s perfectly all right. Out there we generally play for half a cent a piece, a penny a family. But a penny apiece is all right. I guess we can afford it now, can’t we, dear? Tom hasn’t told you about his raise. He was—All right, Tommie; I’ll shut up. I know you hate to be talked about, but your wife can’t help being just a teeny bit proud of you. And I think your best friends are interested in your affairs, aren’t you, folks?

But Tom is the most secretive person I ever knew. I believe he even keeps things from me! Not very many, though. I can usually tell when he’s hiding something and I keep after him till he confesses. He often says I should have been a lawyer or a detective, the way I can worm things out of people. Don’t you, Tom?

For instance, I never would have known about his experience with those horrid football people at Yale if I hadn’t just made him tell me. (p.229) Didn’t you know about that? No, Tom, I’m going to tell Arthur even if you hate me for it. I know you’d be interested, Arthur, not only because you’re Tom’s friend, but on account of you being such a famous athlete yourself. Let me see, how was it, Tom? You must help me out. Well, if I don’t get it right, you correct me.

Well, Tom’s friends at Yale had heard what a wonderful football player he was in high school so they made him try for a place on the Yale nine. Tom had always played half-back. You have to be a fast runner to be a half-back and Tom could run awfully fast. He can yet. When we were engaged we used to run races and the prize was—All right, Tommie, I won’t give away our secrets. Anyway, he can beat me to pieces.

Well, he wanted to play half-back at Yale and he was getting along fine and the other men on the team said he would be a wonder and then one day they were having their practice and Tex Jones, no Ted Jones—he’s the main coach—he scolded Tom for having the signal wrong and Tom proved that Jones was wrong and he was right and Jones never forgave him. He made Tom quit playing half-back and put him tackle or end or some place like that where you can’t do anything and being a fast runner doesn’t count. So Tom saw that Jones had it in for him and he quit. Wasn’t that it, Tom? Well, anyway, it was something.

Oh, are you waiting for me? I’m sorry. What did you bid, Helen? And you, Tom? You doubled her? And Arthur passed? Well, let’s see. I wish I could remember what that means. I know that sometimes when he doubles he means one thing and sometimes another. But I always forget which is which. Let me see; it was two spades that he doubled, wasn’t it? That means I’m to leave him in, I’m pretty sure. Well, I’ll pass. Oh, I’m sorry, Tommie! I knew I’d get it wrong. Please forgive me. But maybe we’ll set them anyway. Whose lead?

I’ll stop talking now and keep my mind on the game. You needn’t look that way, Tommie. I can stop talking if I try. It’s kind of hard to concentrate through, when you’re, well, excited. It’s not only meeting you people, but I always get excited traveling. I was just terrible on our honeymoon, but then I guess a honeymoon’s enough to make anybody nervous. I’ll never forget when we went into the hotel in Chicago—All right, Tommie, I won’t. But I can tell about meeting the Bakers.

They’re a couple about our age that I’ve known all my life. They were the last people in the world I wanted to see, but we ran into them on State Street and they insisted on us coming to their hotel for dinner and before dinner they took us to their room and Ken—that’s Mr. Baker—Ken (p.230) made some cocktails, though I didn’t want any and Tom was on the wagon. He said a honeymoon was a fine time to be on the wagon! Ken said.

“Don’t tempt him, Ken,” I said. “Tom isn’t a drinker like you and Gertie and the rest of us. When he starts, he can’t stop.” Gertie is Mrs. Baker.

So Ken said why should he stop and I said there was good reason why he should because he had promised me he would and he told me the day we were married that if I ever saw him take another drink I would know that—

What did you make? Two odd? Well, thank heavens that isn’t a game! Oh, that does make a game, doesn’t it? Because Tom doubled and I left him in. Isn’t that wicked? Oh, dearie, please forgive me and I’ll promise to pay attention from now on! What do I do with these? Oh, yes, I make them for Arthur.

I was telling you about the Bakers. Finally Ken saw he couldn’t make Tom take a drink, so he gave up in disgust. But imagine meeting them on our honeymoon, when we didn’t want to see anybody! I don’t suppose anybody does unless they’re already tired of each other, and we certainly weren’t, were we, Tommie? And aren’t yet, are we, dear? And never will be. But I guess I better speak for myself.

There! I’m talking again. But you see it’s the first time we’ve been with anybody we really cared about; I mean, you’re Tom’s best friends and it’s so nice to get a chance to talk to somebody who’s known him a long time. Out there the people we run around with are almost strangers and they don’t talk about anything but themselves and how much money their husbands make. You never can talk to them about things that are worth while, like books. I’m wild about books, but I honestly don’t believe half the women we know out there can read. Or at least they don’t. If you mention some really worth while novel like, say, “Black Oxen,” they think you’re trying to put on the Ritz.

You said a non-trump, didn’t you, Tom? And Arthur passed. Let me see; I wish I knew what to do. I haven’t any five-card—it’s terrible! Just a minute. I wish somebody could—I know I ought to take—but—well, I’ll pass. Oh, Tom, this is the worst you ever saw, but I don’t know what I could have done.

I do hold the most terrible cards! I certainly believe in the saying, “Unlucky at cards, lucky in love.” Whoever made it up must have been thinking of me. I hate to lay them down, dear. I know you’ll say I ought to have done something. Well, there they are! Let’s see your hand, Helen. Oh, Tom, she’s—-but I mustn’t tell, must I? Anyway, I’m dummy. (p.231) That’s one comfort. I can’t make a mistake when I’m dummy. I believe Tom overbids lots of times so I’ll be dummy and can’t do anything ridiculous. But at that I’m much better than I used to be, aren’t I, dear?

Helen, do you mind telling me where you got that gown? Crandall and Nelson’s? I’ve heard of them, but I heard they were terribly expensive. Of course a person can’t expect to get a gown like that without paying for it. I’ve got to get some things while I’m here and I suppose that’s where I better go, if their things aren’t too horribly dear. I haven’t had a thing new since I was married and I’ve worn this so much I’m sick of it.

Tom’s always after me to buy clothes, but I can’t seem to get used to spending somebody else’s money, though it was dad’s money I spent before I did Tom’s, but that’s different, don’t you think so? And of course at first we didn’t have very much to spend, did we, dear? But now that we’ve had our raise—All right, Tommie, I won’t say another word.

Oh, did you know they tried to get Tom to run for mayor? Tom is making faces at me to shut up, but I don’t see any harm in telling it to his friends. They know we’re not the kind that brag, Tommie. I do think it was quite a tribute; he’d only lived there a little over a year. It came up one night when the Guthries were at our house, playing bridge. Mr. Guthrie—that’s A. L. Guthrie—he’s one of the big lumbermen out there. He owns—just what does he own, Tom? Oh, I’m sorry. Anyway, he’s got millions. Well, at least thousands.

He and his wife were at our house playing bridge. She’s the queerest woman! If you just saw her, you’d think she was a janitor or something; she wears the most hideous clothes. Why, that night she had on a—honestly you’d have sworn it was a maternity gown, and for no reason. And the first time I met her—well, I just can’t describe it. And she’s a graduate of Bryn Mawr and one of the oldest families in Philadelphia. You’d never believe it!

She and her husband are terribly funny in a bridge game. He doesn’t think there ought to be any conventions; he says a person might just as well tell each other what they’ve got. So he won’t pay any attention to what-do-you-call-’em, informatory, doubles and so forth. And she plays all the conventions, so you can imagine how they get along. Fight! Not really fight, you know, but argue. That is, he does. It’s horribly embarrassing to whoever is playing with them. Honestly, if Tom ever spoke to me like Mr. Guthrie does to his wife, well—aren’t they terrible, Tom? Oh, I’m sorry.

She was the first woman in Portland that called on me and I thought it was awfully nice of her, though when I saw her at the door I would (p.232) have sworn she was a book agent or maybe a cook looking for work. She had on a—well, I can’t describe it. But it was sweet of her to call, she being one of the real people there and me—well, that was before Tom was made a vice-president. What? Oh, I never dreamed he hadn’t written you about that!

But Mrs. Guthrie acted just like it was a great honor for her to meet me, and I like people to act that way even when I know it’s all apple sauce. Isn’t that a funny expression, “apple sauce”? Some man said it in a vaudeville show in Portland the Monday night before we left. He was a comedian—Jack Brooks or Ned Frawley or something. It means—well, I don’t know how to describe it. But we had a terrible time after the first few minutes. She is the silentest person I ever knew and I’m kind of bashful myself with strangers. What are you grinning about, Tommie? I am, too, bashful when I don’t know people. Not exactly bashful, maybe, but, well, bashful.

It was one of the most embarrassing things I ever went through. Neither of us could say a word and I could hardly help from laughing at what she had on. But after you get to know her you don’t mind her clothes, though it’s a terrible temptation all the time not to tell her how much nicer—And her hair! But she plays a dandy game of bridge, lots better than her husband. You know he won’t play conventions. He says it’s just like telling you what’s in each other’s hand. And they have awful arguments in a game. That is, he does. She’s nice and quiet and it’s a kind of mystery how they ever fell in love. Though there’s a saying or a proverb or something, isn’t there, about like not liking like? Or is it just the other way?

But I was going to tell you about them wanting Tom to be mayor. Oh, Tom, only two down? Why, I think you did splendidly! I gave you a miserable hand and Helen had—what didn’t you have, Helen? You had the ace, king of clubs. No, Tom had the queen. Or was it spades? And you had the ace of hearts. No, Tom had that. No, he didn’t. What did you have, Tom? I don’t exactly see what you bid on. Of course I was terrible, but—what’s the difference anyway.

What was I saying? Oh, yes, about Mr. and Mrs. Guthrie. It’s funny for a couple like that to get married when they are so different in every way. I never saw two people with such different tastes. For instance, Mr. Guthrie is keen about motoring and Mrs. Guthrie just hates it. She simply suffers all the time she’s in a car. He likes a good time, dancing, golfing, fishing, shows, thinks like that. She isn’t interested in anything but church work and bridge work.

“Bridge work.” I meant bridge, not bridge work. That’s funny, isn’t it? And yet they get along awfully well; that is when they’re not playing (p.233) cards or doing something else together. But it does seem queer that they picked each other out. Still, I guess hardly any husband and wife agree on anything.

You take Tom and me, though, and you’d think we were made for each other. It seems like we feel just the same about everything. That is, almost everything. The things we don’t agree on are little things that don’t matter. Like music. Tom is wild about jazz and blues and dance music. He adores Irving Berlin and Gershwin and Jack Kearns. He’s always after those kind of things on the radio and I just want serious, classical things like “Humoresque” and “Indian Love Lyrics.” And then there’s shows. Tom is crazy over Ed Wynn and I can’t see anything in him. Just the way he laughs at his own jokes is enough to spoil him for me. If I’m going to spend time and money on a theater I want to see something worth while—“The Fool” or “Lightnin’.”

And things to eat. Tom insists, or that is he did insist, on a great big breakfast—fruit, cereal, eggs, toast, and coffee. All I want is a little fruit and dry toast and coffee. I think it’s a great deal better for a person. So that’s one habit I broke Tom of, was big breakfasts. And another thing he did when we were first married was to take off his shoes as soon as he got home from the office and put on bedroom slippers. I believe a person ought not to get sloppy just because they’re married.

But the worst of all was pajamas! What’s the difference, Tommie? Helen and Arthur don’t mind. And I think it’s kind of funny, you being so old-fashioned. I mean Tom had always worn a nightgown till I made him give it up. And it was a struggle, believe me! I had to threaten to leave him if he didn’t buy pajamas. He certainly hated it. And now he’s mad at me for telling, aren’t you, Tommie? I just couldn’t help it. I think it’s so funny in this day and age. I hope Arthur doesn’t wear them; nightgowns, I mean. You don’t, do you, Arthur? I knew you didn’t.

Oh, are you waiting for me? What did you say, Arthur? Two diamonds? Let’s see what that means. When Tom makes an original bid of two it means he hasn’t got the tops. I wonder—but of course you couldn’t have the—heavens! What am I saying! I guess I better just keep still and pass.

But what was I going to tell you? Something about—oh, did I tell you about Tom being an author? I had no idea he was talented that way till after we were married and I was unpacking his old papers and things and came across a poem he’d written, the saddest, mushiest poem! Of course it was a long time ago he wrote it; it was dated four years ago, long before he met me, so it didn’t make me very jealous, though it was about some other girl. You didn’t know I found it, did you, Tommie?

But that wasn’t what I refer to. He’s written a story, too, and he’s sent (p.234) it to four different magazines and they all sent it back. I tell him though, that that doesn’t mean anything. When you see some of the things the magazines do print, why, it’s an honor to have them not like yours. The only thing is that Tom worked so hard over it and sat up nights writing and rewriting, it’s a kind of a disappointment to have them turn it down.

It’s a story about two men and a girl and they were all brought up together and one of the men was awfully popular and well off and good-looking and a great athlete—a man like Arthur. There, Arthur! How is that for a T.L.? The other man was just an ordinary man with not much money, but the girl seemed to like him better and she promised to wait for him. Then this man worked hard and got money enough to see him through Yale.

The other man, the well-off one, went to Princeton and made a big hit as an athlete and everything and he was through college long before his friend because his friend had to earn the money first. And the well-off man kept after the girl to marry him. He didn’t know she had promised the other one. Anyway she got tired waiting for the man she was engaged to and eloped with the other one. And the story ends up by the man she threw down welcoming the couple when they came home and pretending everything was all right, though his heart was broken.

What are you blushing about, Tommie? It’s nothing to be ashamed of. I thought it was very well written and if the editors had any sense they’d have taken it.

Still, I don’t believe the real editors see half the stories that are sent to them. In fact I know they don’t. You’ve either got to have a name or pull to get your things published. Or else pay the magazines to publish them. Of course if you are Robert Chambers or Irving R. Cobb, they will print whatever you write whether it’s good or bad. But you haven’t got a chance if you are an unknown like Tom. They just keep your story long enough so you will think they are considering it and then they send it back with a form letter saying it’s not available for their magazine and they don’t even tell why.

You remember, Tom, that Mr. Hastings we met at the Hammonds’. He’s a writer and knows all about it. He was telling me of an experience he had with one of the magazines; I forget which one, but it was one of the big ones. He wrote a story and sent it to them and they sent it back and said they couldn’t use it.

Well, some time after that Mr. Hastings was in a hotel in Chicago and a bell-boy went around the lobby paging Mr.—I forget the name, but it was the name of the editor of this magazine that had sent back the story, Runkle, or Byers, or some such name. So the man, whatever his name (p.235) was, he was really there and answered the page and afterwards Mr. Hastings went up to him and introduced himself and told the man about sending a story to his magazine and the man said he didn’t remember anything about it. And he was the editor! Of course he’d never seen it. No wonder Tom’s story keeps coming back!

He says he’s through sending it and just the other day he was going to tear it up, but I made him keep it because we may meet somebody some time who knows the inside ropes and can get a hearing with some big editor. I’m sure it’s just a question of pull. Some of the things that get into the magazines sound like they had been written by the editor’s friends or relatives or somebody whom they didn’t want to hurt their feelings. And Tom really can write!

I wish I could remember that poem of his I found. I memorized it once, but—wait! I believe I can still say it! Hush, Tommie! What hurt will it do anybody? Let me see; it goes:

  • “I thought the sweetness of her song
  • Would ever, ever more belong
  • To me; I thought (O thought divine!)
  • My bird was really mine!
  • “But promises are made, it seems,
  • Just to be broken. All my dreams
  • Fade out and leave me crushed, alone.
  • My bird, alas, has flown!”

Isn’t that pretty. He wrote it four years ago. Why, Helen, you revoked! And, Tom, do you know that’s Scotch you’re drinking? You said—Why, Tom!