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H. M. Pulham, Esquire
By John P. Marquand
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1941 John P. Marquand and Adelaide H. Marquand
All rights reserved.
Play Up — and Play the Game
Ever since Bo-jo Brown and I had gone to one of those country day schools for little boys, Bo-jo had possessed what are known as "qualities of leadership"; that is to say, he had what it takes to be the Head Boy of the School. Thus when we went on to St. Swithin's it was almost inevitable that Bo-jo should end up in his last year as Head Warden, whose duty it was to administer the rough-and-ready justice of that period. They say that they don't paddle recalcitrant boys as hard as they used to in our day, but then perhaps the younger generation doesn't turn out such strong boys as Bo-jo.
I heard him make some such remark himself on one of those numerous occasions when our college football team was not doing as well as one might have hoped.
"The trouble with kids now is," Bo-jo said, "they suffer from moral and mental hebetude."
Of course he knew perfectly well that none of us knew what "hebetude" meant — Bo-jo always had some trick like that up his sleeve.
"My God," Bo-jo said, "don't you know what 'hebetude' means? You took English, didn't you? If you don't know, look it up in the dictionary."
It was safe to assume that Bo-jo hadn't known what "hebetude" meant either, until he had read it somewhere a night or two before; but Bo-jo always had a way of using everything, because he had the qualities of leadership. That was why he became one of the marshals of the Class at Harvard and why he married one of the Paisley girls — and of course he didn't have to worry much after that. He naturally became the president of the Paisley Mills in time.
Some of the boys used to say Bo-jo was conceited, but Bo-jo was always able to do everything he said he could. He could walk up and down stairs on his hands, for instance, and he could memorize whole pages out of the telephone directory. It was only natural that he should have had his name on the Humphrey I. Walker silver cup for THE BOY WHO MOST NEARLY TYPIFIES THE IDEALS OF ST. SWITHIN'S — and he could have had his name on other cups in later life, if they had given cups like that.
I wondered occasionally why it was, as time went on, that there seemed to be quite a clique that did not like him. It certainly is a fact that when Bo-jo used to come around, five or six of us would always get into a corner and say things about him. Bill King, for instance, always used to say that Bo-jo was a bastard, a big bastard. Perhaps he meant that Bo-jo sometimes threw his weight around.
"Some day," Bill said, "someone is going to stop that bastard." But then Bill never did like Bo-jo and Bo-jo never liked him either.
I remember when Bill discussed him once at a big dinner party where everybody got swept together from odd corners and all the men were in the library and didn't seem anxious to join the ladies. Bo-jo was telling what was the matter with the football team and what was going to happen to Electric Bond and Share, so you can guess the date, and I was sitting next to Bill, listening to Bo-jo's voice.
"My God," said Bill, "I don't see how you stand him."
"Bo-jo is all right," I said.
"Well," Bill said, "it's my personal opinion he's a bastard."
"You said that before," I said. "As a matter of fact, there're lots of nice things about Bo-jo."
"The trouble with you is," Bill said, "you always play the game."
"Well, what's wrong with playing the game?" I asked.
"Because you're old enough not to be playing it," Bill said.
I knew what he meant in a way, because Bill came from New York and he had a different point of view.
"Now, here's one instance," Bill said, "that brings out my point. What does everybody keep calling him Bo-jo for?"
"Everybody's always called him that," I said.
"That's it," Bill said. "As a matter of fact, his name is Lester — Lester Brown — and as you say, everybody has always called him Bo-jo. And I can imagine who called him Bo-jo first. His mother did. Probably the first thing he ever said was Bo-jo. Now, don't you frankly think that's perverted? If he had ever had a good kick in the pants —"
"You never did like him," I said.
"He's a bastard," Bill said, "and he's never had a kick in the pants."
"Well, if you only tried to know him —" I said. "If you only tried to like him, there are lots of nice things about Bo-jo. After all, he does a lot for the Class."
"My God," said Bill, "what's that got to do with it? Just because I was thrown by accident with six hundred people into an institution of learning why do I have to be loyal to the Class?"
"You don't really mean that, Bill," I said.
"Are you being serious?" Bill asked.
"Well, more or less," I said. "Of course it all was an accident, but the Class means something to a lot of people. A lot of people have got a lot out of it."
"What have they got?" Bill asked.
"Well, I don't know exactly," I answered, "but we shared a common experience."
"And what sort of an experience?" said Bill. "And why should anyone be any better for sharing an experience with Bo-jo?"
"Well," I said, "you're different. I've known Bo-jo almost all my life. He can be awfully nice when he wants to. I think a good deal of what you don't like in his manner is because he's shy."
"That's the excuse they always make about snotty people," Bill said. "They're always shy. He ought to get a kick in the pants."
"You said that before," I said.
"And I'll say it again," said Bill, "because I like to say it. It gives me solid satisfaction. Someday he's going —"
"No," I said, "I don't believe he will, and if it ever happened, he would be too tough to feel it."
Bill began to laugh. It always pleased me when I made him laugh. He laughed so that his shirt bulged out in front and several people stopped talking.
"Hey," Bo-jo called across the room, "what's the joke?"
"Harry said your behind's so tough you wouldn't feel a kick in the pants," Bill answered.
Bo-jo thought it over for a second and then he began to laugh too.
"You have to get on with people if you've known them all your life," I told Bill, "and if you're living in the same town and if their wives went to school with your wife, and besides we both belong to the same Lunch Club."
Bo-jo and I never ate at the same table at the Lunch Club, because he usually sat with old Mr. Blevins, who ran the Lowe Street Associates. Sometimes, however, we would find ourselves side by side at the row of washbasins downstairs.
I don't exactly know why I keep bothering so much about Bo-jo Brown. The reason must be that he signifies something which in some way explains a good deal about Bill and me. I was certainly surprised and pleased when he called me up and asked me to the Downtown Club for lunch, because nothing like that had happened for a long while and there was no reason why it should.
We had called him Bo-jo so long that I did not know who he was when Miss Rollo told me that there was a Mr. Brown on the Number 3 extension.
"I think he wants to speak to you personally," Miss Rollo said.
This sounded a good deal like Miss Rollo. She had been in the office for fifteen years, came from East Chelsea and lived with her mother, but sometimes she still got confused by the telephone.
"Did he give any other name," I asked, "besides Brown? There are lots of Browns."
Miss Rollo put her finger up to balance her pince-nez, which always had a way of slipping down the bridge of her nose.
"I'll ask him what his name is," she answered.
A minute later Miss Rollo was back. I had almost forgotten about the telephone call when she returned, because I was busy going over Mrs. Gordon Shrewsbury's investment list, and I was wondering whether it would be better to sell out her Atchison. Rodney Graham only yesterday had said that they were selling out all their clients' Atchison — not that there was anything bad about it, but that it was obvious that railroads no longer had any future.
"The name is Lester," Miss Rollo said.
"I don't know him," I said. "What does he want?"
"He wants to speak to you personally," Miss Rollo said. "He seems to know you, Mr. Pulham. Perhaps he's someone you play squash with."
"What?" I said.
"Someone you play squash with," Miss Rollo said. "Someone in the bumping tournament."
"Never mind," I said. "All right. I'll speak to him."
I walked across the room to the desk which had the Number 3 extension.
"Hello," I said. "Who is it?" And then I heard Bo-jo's voice.
"Is that you, Harry?" he called. "What's the matter with you? It's Bo-jo, Bo-jo Brown."
"Why, yes," I said. "Hello, how are you, Bo-jo?"
"What the hell's the matter with you?" Bo-jo asked. "Are you so busy you can't talk?"
"No," I said. "There was just a little mix-up here. They didn't give your name right. How are you, Bo-jo?"
"Fine. How are you?"
"Well, I'm fine too," I said.
"Everything going all right?" Bo-jo asked.
"Yes," I told him, "everything is swell."
"Well, I haven't seen you for quite a while. Why don't you ever call me up, Harry?"
"Well, you know the way it is," I said.
"Yes," Bo-jo said, "that's the way it is with me too. I'm so pushed around I never see the people I want to see. We ought to get together more often, shouldn't we?"
"Yes," I said, "that's right, Bo-jo."
"You and Kay must come out to dinner sometime."
"Yes," I said, "that would be swell, Bo-jo."
"Well," Bo-jo said, "we'll have to fix it up. We don't see enough of each other, do we?"
"No," I said, "not nearly enough."
"Well, that's the way it is," Bo-jo said. "Now, we've got to stop it, Harry."
"That's right," I said. "We've got to stop it, Bo-jo."
The corners of my lips hurt and I discovered that they were twisted into a mechanical, cordial smile. I was rather touched by his just thinking of me and picking up the telephone, and I wondered why I never did things like that.
"Well," Bo-jo said, "I've been meaning to get hold of you for a hell of a long time. What are you doing for lunch today, Harry?"
"For lunch?" I said. "Why, nothing, Bo-jo."
"Well," Bo-jo said, "that's swell. How about coming up to the Downtown Club where we can talk? Let's see — it's twelve now. Twelve-thirty, how about it?"
"Why, thanks, Bo-jo," I said. "I'd love to."
"Twelve-thirty," Bo-jo said, "sharp."
I hung up the telephone and looked out of the window at the parking space opposite, where the office building had been torn down on account of taxes, and at the policeman in his white pulpit directing traffic. The sky was blue and cloudless, a clear April day. I was pleased that Bo-jo had called me up, but the idea of talking to him for an hour at lunch struck me as a little difficult.
"Miss Rollo," I said, "I'm having lunch with Mr. Brown at the Downtown Club. That was Bo-jo Brown, All-America tackle. We went to college together."
"Oh," Miss Rollo said. "When will you be back, Mr. Pulham? Mr. Waterbury is coming to see you at two."
"Well, if I'm late tell him to wait," I told her. "Or if he can't wait, all the names for the bumping tournament are in the right-hand drawer of my desk. And if Mrs. Pulham calls up tell her I won't be able to take Gladys home from dancing school this afternoon. Is there anything else, Miss Rollo?"
Outside in the hallway the rear elevator came down very slowly. Once it had made me impatient to wait for it and once we had even complained about the service, but now its deliberation was not annoying. It was better to take things easily. The elevator was like a London lift. It was somewhere up above me, moving down in its iron-grilled cage with the marble staircase twisting about it. First there came a network of steel cables, looped beneath the car, and when they disappeared the car was there. The woman who ran it was in soiled gray with an overseas cap and she looked something like a hostess in the old American Expeditionary Force. Her name was Tilly and that was all I knew about her. Except for Tilly the elevator was empty.
"Hello, Tilly," I said.
"Good morning, Mr. Pulham," Tilly said. "It's a nice morning, or afternoon — rather."
"That's so," I said. "It is afternoon."
"I see you and Mrs. Pulham was in Cohasset for the week end," Tilly said.
"How did you see that?" I asked.
"In the paper," Tilly said. "I always follow all the tenants in the building in the paper. It's like a game, kind of."
Outside on State Street it was warm and the traffic was thick. Washington Street was the way I had always remembered it, except for the jam of automobiles. There were a great many newsboys calling out headlines about Czechoslovakia and the crowd moved very slowly, as it always did when I was in a hurry. Out by the Common an old lady was feeding bread crumbs to the pigeons out of a paper bag and some sailors were standing by the subway entrance. As long as I could remember there had always been someone standing watching someone feed the pigeons.
I was not a member of the Downtown Club, but the doorman seemed to be expecting me.
"Mr. Brown is in the back room," he said, "he and his party."
This was a little surprising, because I had understood that Bo-jo and I were going to have lunch alone. I walked past the cigar counter and past the billiard room, which had been redecorated since the days of Prohibition, and down at the end of the back room I saw Bo-jo Brown, sitting at a table with four other people. At first I thought he must have met them there accidentally, and then their faces took on a sort of pattern. They were all members of our Class at Harvard, but not the ones whom Bo-jo Brown would ordinarily have asked to lunch. They were Curtis Cole, who was in his father's law office down on State Street, and Bob Ridge, who sold life insurance, and Chris Evans, who I had heard was on the Boston Globe, and Charley Roberts, who had something to do with the Eye and Ear Hospital. Bo-jo saw me right away and got up.
"Harry," he said, "it's swell to see you."
"It's swell to see you, Bo-jo," I said.
"You know all these boys, don't you?" Bo-jo asked me.
"Yes," I answered, "I've known them for quite a while."
"For damned near twenty-five years," Bo-jo said.
"How do you mean?" I asked. Bo-jo began to laugh.
"Now, listen!" he said. "Did you boys hear that one? Harry doesn't know what's going to happen a year from June."
Then everyone else began to laugh.
"Oh," I said, "you mean it's our Twenty-fifth Reunion."
"What you need is a drink," Bo-jo said. "What do you want — an old-fashioned or a Martini?"
"I've got to get back to the office after this," I said, "but you boys go right ahead."
"Oh, hell," said Bo-jo. "Forget the office. This is an occasion — an important occasion. We don't see much of each other, do we — not nearly as much as we ought to. William, get Mr. Pulham an old-fashioned. I remember how you used to drink them at the Westminster, Harry. Do you remember downstairs in the Westminster freshman year?"
"Oh yes," I said, "the Westminster."
"William," Bo-jo said to the club attendant, "get two old-fashioneds for Mr. Pulham, and then a round of the same for everybody else. Harry had better start catching up with us."
"That's right," said Curtis Cole. Bo-jo sat down again and I drew up a chair between Curtis Cole and Chris Evans, and no one spoke for a moment.
"Have a cigarette?" Chris asked me, and he glanced at me sideways. The sleeve of his coat was frayed and his forehead was lined with wrinkles, and I tried to think of something to say to him. I tried to pick up some thread of the past, but I could not remember much about him.
"I haven't seen you for quite a while," I said.
"No," Chris said, "not for quite a while. How's it been going, Hugh?"
"Harry," I said.
"Oh, yes," Chris said, "Harry. God, I must be losing my mind! How's it been going, Harry?"
"Fine," I said.
"Well, that's great," said Chris, and I turned to Curtis Cole.
"Curtis," I asked, "do you still play golf at Myopia?"
"Myopia?" said Curtis.
"Yes," I said. "I always associate you with golf at Myopia."
"It must be someone else," said Curtis. "I don't play golf."
"Oh, yes," I said. "I don't know what's the matter with me."
"I sail," said Curtis, "whenever I have any time. In the S Class. I wish you'd come out in the boat someday."
"That'd be swell," I said. "What do you suppose we're here for?"
"Damned if I know," said Curtis.
"Well, it's swell to see you," I said. "I haven't seen you for quite a while."
"Hurry up there, Harry," Bo-jo called. "You're one behind us."
I turned back to Chris again, trying to think what it was I remembered about him.
"Chris," I said, "what's the latest news from Europe?"
"It looks bad," said Chris, "but you can't tell."
"Do you think there's going to be a war?" I asked.
"What's that?" called Bo-jo. "What are you saying, Harry?"
"I was asking Chris if he thought they were going to fight," I said.
"Now, listen," said Bo-jo, and he moved his hands quickly. "I can tell you something about that. I had New York on the private wire just before we came up here. We're nearer peace this moment than we have been for the past five years. Sorry that's all I can tell you, fellows, but you remember what I said. Peace nearer than it's been in the last five years."
"I suppose you mean that Chamberlain's going to welsh again," Charley Roberts said.
Excerpted from H. M. Pulham, Esquire by John P. Marquand. Copyright © 1941 John P. Marquand and Adelaide H. Marquand. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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