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ALBERT DORRINGTON

THE LIE THAT LEAH HELPED

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Ex Libris

As published in
Freeman's Journal, Australia, 13 December 1917

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version Date: 2020-05-23
Produced by Terry Walker, Gary Meller and Roy Glashan

All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright.

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THE struggle to lie on our office couch was Hindenburgian at times among the foot-weary canvassers and out- of-works who drifted in for a rest during the day. The jewellery hawkers and unemployed journalists were the toughest offenders. Nothing disturbed the tranquillity of their repose once they assumed the horizontal on our chintz-back piece of furniture.

We are conducting the Classic Advertising Corporation; and our belongings consisted of one flat table and typewriter, the couch and about one yard of signboard. My partner, Joe Hart, was three parts Israelite, and the blood-call on his side attracted all kinds of young and old Hebrew park-dossers into the office.

We had endeavoured to insult them separately and in groups, believing at first that a few well-directed cynicisms would hurt more than a fire-hose or a policeman.

The peddlers were mildly impressed by our flow of second-rate satire, but the journalistic Willies refused to be slanged to death by a couple of cold stunt promoters, as they termed Joe Hart and myself.

It all began the day we opened shop, a day of dead and live wires and heart-breaking experiences for my partner. We were seated at our invaluable table waiting for the midday mail when a classic nose obtruded between the jamb of the door and the electric switch. Then came the stertorous breathing of a man who wanted to lie down.

Joe looked up quickly, not unkindly, I thought.

"What do you want, Ikey?" he asked with a strange inflection of the voice.

The face and nose of "Ikey" spotlighted for several moments like a beauty actor in search of home comforts. Then his feet made Chaplinesque movements towards the couch. Everything about him was slack and sub-humorous. In his childlike eye there were nineteen centuries of unfilmed privations. The dust of many suburbs was on his clothes, a box of cheap jewellery was tucked under his arm, and his childlike eyes picked out the office furniture—with mental valuations—until his glance fell on the couch.

"May I, Joe?" he asked tremulously.

"Sure!" Joe nodded gruffly. "But don't mistake this office for a dugout in Palestine," he intimated, as Ikey stretched himself on the sofa and closed his eyes.

We woke him an hour later and he ambled out yawning, his box tucked under his arm. Nine seconds later another nose, silhouetted against a tray-shaped ear, bulged in the doorway. Then a large onion-sized eye began to inspect the office fittings.

"Vere did you get dot sofa, Joe? Cohen ask me to give it der once over. What you say, Joe?"

Joe stifled an exclamation as the long figure of a youthful Hebrew, with a load of ironware and tin junk strapped to his shoulder, sat on the sofa breathing warily. By the time Joe had finished addressing an envelope to one of our clients our visitor was snoring.

It was almost dark when Israel woke up strong and refreshed. Grasping his tinware be dashed downstairs, clanking musically.


NEXT day a tide of visiting hawkers set in. They all knew Joe, and they sat with doglike humility on the sofa waiting for each other to go. Old men and young, poor and well dressed each had a horror of dossing in the park, so long as the Classic Advertising Corporation owned a couch.

After the first week Joe grew hollow-eyed and impatient of the constant influx of idlers who settled like sea gulls on our chintz-covered piece of furniture. The high sign seemed to have gone abroad that the Classic Advertising Corporation possessed a couch of marvellous soothing powers, for once a canvasser stretched his length upon it only the use of a fierce and extensive vocabulary could elevate him into a sitting position.

About Christmas time Joe dragged the couch into the passage and wheeled it into an adjoining room, occupied by an artist named Pietro Delemento. With Delemento Joe had had a long and heated argument concerning the exact size and colour of the couch. Later in the day the Italian entered our office carrying several paint-pots and brushes. For several minutes he stood in the centre of the floor studying the blank wall where the sofa had stood. There was no hurry about Pietro until his agile brain seized the situation and the fires of his pent-up genius turned his dark face to a turkey-red. He made meaningless noises as the idea developed, strange teddy bear sounds indicative of great mental volition and grasp of affairs. Then his long arms swept and measured the wall with lightning skill. The bear-noises ceased as he commenced painting rapidly, his brush-hand making graceful curves and sweeps as it travelled over the calsomined background. Soon the picture of an elegant walnut-framed couch began to stand out from the sky-blue perspective.

Delemento worked vigorously, his brush sweeping with master strokes over the wall until the bulging, soft-curved lines were impressioned like a piece of real furniture. "Et ees a vera goot picture sofa," he declared, after picking up his brushes and cans. "See how it sticks outa from da wall!"

Joe was delighted, and swore that it would deceive a time- payment specialist. He spent nearly an hour adjusting the office curtains to prevent the strong light entering. About mid-day Ike Steiner appeared at the door, a loose vacillating smile on his face.

Joe was addressing circulars to our clients; he looked up at Steiner and frowned. "Ike," he commented slowly, "why don't you hit a medicine cure for this eternal bone weariness? Lying down only seems to make it worse."

Without concerning himself further with our visitor, he continued addressing the pile of circulars at racing speed. Neither of us turned until a thunderous shock rattled the office to its foundations.

"Ike," said Joe, without looking up, "don't come in here smelling of wet stuff. This isn't a booze asylum."

Steiner rose from the floor, adjusted his collar and tie, wiped the dust from his coat, and then passed his hand over the painted sofa. "I thought it had springs in it," he declared acidly. "How much a dozen are they?"

He departed with an affectation of indifference that was distinctly impressive.


HALF an hour later a couple of young Boston salesmen floated down the passage. One of them, Vander Jup Meyer, was distinctly related to a person named Rockefeller. Since coming to Sydney he had drifted into the advertising business. There were times when big things almost happened Jup's way—big contracts that ran into eight figures. Everything about him was big and breezy; his habit of slamming about the office and hurling himself on our couch was terrifying to Joe and myself.

The pair halted outside the door to discuss a two-million- dollar proposition in horsehair which they were hourly expecting to develop. Entering the office boisterously, both took a seat on the couch at precisely the same moment. Vander Jup hit the paint quite boisterously with the back of his head, while his friend appeared to be thrashing the naked wall with his body.

For fifteen seconds a cold, unfriendly silence blew through the office. Vander Jup felt the wall airily, a scoffing light in his unemotional, business eye. His friend merely scowled.

"About time you fellows side-stepped the whisky wagon," Joe volunteered icily. "This office wasn't built to stand heavy gunfire."

Vander Jup regarded the bare wall frostily, and then met Joe's smileless glance.

"I guess you've got more wood in your head, sir, than the painter man put into your blamed sofa. You've just succeeded in making me feel tired."

Joe was silent. He could have said nine things in as many seconds about people with wooden heads. Joe appreciates a bit of silence occasionally, and he has never been known to make gloat noises at an enemy after a fall. Jup and his friend departed talking loudly at each other about the two-million-dollar proposition in horsehair they were placing on the market.


FOR nearly an hour after their departure Joe remained at the table completing his list of circulars for our country clients. Once or twice he glanced sorrowfully at the spot where the horsehair men had flung themselves at Delemento's inspired brushwork. The oppressive silence of the office was soon broken by deep breathing in the passage outside, and we knew that our inseparable friend Carl Schneider was about to pay us a visit.

It was claimed that Schneider was the most immovable of our string of dead-ends, once he was firmly planted on the soft. Other men were content to rest for a brief space and depart in peace, but Schneider clung to the couch with the tenacity of a drowning man in mid-ocean. It was his home, his father and his mother, the moment he sank sighing against its springy cushions. He entered smiling sadly like one who had not known employment for years. There was sorrow in his eyes, the deep unquenchable remorse of the man who had lost his job.

"I haf come to keel meinself, Yo," he began solemnly. "I have lost all hopes of a yob at Yoost and Schloppers."

Joe expressed his regret, but did not venture to look up from his pile of circulars.

"I know you vas sorry, Yo, I know you vas. Dot is why I come here to ixplain my misfortune. I tink I shall feel better ven I lie shoost a leedle whiles on your sofa, Yo."

His two hundred pound bulk quivered for a moment as he stood before us. We hung our heads shamefacedly, but we felt that his incurable sofa-habit would have to be broken. We heard his heavy breathing behind us, the long-drawn sigh that usually escaped him the moment his elephantine proportions reposed upon the springy chintz. The sigh remained unfinished, and in its place was heard a soul-shaking noise that almost wrenched the office fittings from the walls. It was as though someone had deposited a cargo of railway iron on the floor.

Joe sharpened a pencil and glanced sideways at me. "The noise of people falling about this office is getting on my nerves."

Schneider clawed the vacant wall as he scrambled into an upright position. A berserker fury illumined his eyes.

"You vas a blackguard to let me fall like dat, Yo. I shall never speak mit you again." He departed, throbbing from head to heel with indignation. We rarely saw him afterwards, but we learned in a roundabout way that he never ventured near a sofa without pounding it with both fists to make sure that it was solid hair and not the result of an artist's imagination.


AS our business expanded and the fame of our illusive upholstery spread abroad, we discovered that our circle of visitors grew beautifully small. Joe found time to drive to Potts Point of an evening, in spotless clothes and patent leather shoes. I soon discovered that my partner was a frequent visitor to the house of Simon Cohen, a ridiculously wealthy stockbroker who performed sleight-of-hand miracles in the world of finance. By dint of perseverance and a good business card Joseph Hart had managed to impress Simon Cohen, and latterly his somewhat robust and charming daughter Leah. For my part, I had long desired to see my partner married to some lady of his own religion and race. I knew that our business needed only a slight infusion of foreign capital to make it one of the most profitable little concerns in the city. Joe shared my enthusiasm in regard to the infusion of foreign capital, which meant, of course, the diluting of our molten liabilities with Simon's hard bullion on the day that Leah became Mrs. Joseph Hart.

Without attempting the vaguest aspersions upon her Semitic loveliness, I admitted reluctantly that her tilting the beam at one hundred and ninety-five pounds, could only be prevented by someone tying down the scales. In return Joe remarked that his betrothed, in spite of her abundance, was a fine example of the fresh-air girl; he advised me in confidence to choose something heavier than thistledown when the firm's finances permitted me to enter the holy state of matrimony.

I returned to the office one hot day, after beating the district in quest of new business, and discovered my partner pacing the narrow apartment in a condition bordering on insanity. I plied him anxiously with a score of questions before receiving an answer.

With a weary gesture, he flung himself into a chair, his chin resting in his clenched palm.

"Leah called with her father while you were away," he began, in a choking voice. "It was intended as a surprise visit."

"Don't be chicken-hearted," I consoled. "Simon Cohen will understand by the half-furnished condition of the place that we are putting up a fight against overwhelming business odds. This sudden visit is the best thing that could have—"

"Cut it out, for pity's sake," he retorted, "or I shall go mad!" He rocked to and fro in the chair, covering his face with both hands. "Simon and Leah came in here," he went on brokenly, "while I was engaged with a client. My back was to the door, and I supposed they were a couple of hard-shell canvassers who used to wear the life out of us."

Joe paused and held his breath for a moment, like one in whom speech had fallen dead. Slowly, painfully, I caught a glimmering of what had happened. Turning towards the painted couch on the wall, I stared dumbly at the floor where the full-grown Leah had deposited herself. A broken hat-feather and a pair of boot- buttons were the only symbols that remained of the catastrophe. I picked them up sorrowfully.

"They belonged to Leah." Joe addressed me in a smothered voice, scarce daring to meet my glance. "She sat down before I had discovered the ghastly truth; sat on that piece of inspired lunacy painted to deceive my friends."

"And Simon Cohen?" I demanded. "You—"

"I couldn't save him. He's near-sighted, and he piled himself against the illusion like the broken end of a thrashing-machine. He hit the wall five times before settling down on the floor. It was the most awful thing you ever saw. It's blown me over the skyline as far as Leah is concerned. The old man will throw the fire-escape at me if I go near his house again."


LEAH and her father had gone home in a state of bewilderment and hysteria. Luckily my partner had not attempted explanations. He had allowed things to take their dreadful course, trusting to Leah's wit to redeem the dismal consequence.

It did. By a curious process of after-reasoning, she arrived slowly at the conclusion that a runaway motor truck had burst through the office wall at the moment they were about to seat themselves on the couch.

Joe and I admitted to each other that it must have felt like that, so we knocked about a dozen bricks from the wall to support Leah's theory when Simon called again.

It promised to be a gloomy end to my partner's bright career, until by a stroke of fortune we unearthed a drunken motor-driver who swore, in Simon's presence, that he was the person who had driven a ten-ton wagon through our wall. That truck driver would have perjured his soul for half the money we gave him.

Joe has been married about six years now, and although he has won his way to the limits of the game, Leah confesses that her drawing-room still lacks a couch.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.