Before I get into the real story, I have to tell you about the tin can telephone I set up with Buddy Stockbridge, our next door neighbor about a half-mile up the hill.
It took us three hours to wax the eight knotted together balls of string, sitting crosslegged in my barn on a rainy afternoon and rubbing four white dinner candles into articulated bits. It took two more hours to run the string across an asparagus patch, a strawberry bed, two hedges, a pasture an dan apple orchard so that the string hung more or less clear between my bedroom and Buddy's.
After supper we tried it out, I yelled "Hello? Hello? Hello Buddy? Hello?" (pressing the can to my ear for the response). I presume Buddy yelled a lot of hellos back. We never heard a thing.
The second night we were at it for two hours. My family started to complain.
"Stop it, stop it," everyone said. "For God's sake."
We still never heard anything. Not over the string, anyway.
That was in the spring. In the summer my cousin John Rudd and I took up honeymoon bridge. This is the real story, now. Heirs
Honeymoon bridge is a fine game. You lay the pack face down and take turns picking up cards. If you don't like the first card you must take the second. If you pick the first one, you get to look at the second but must reject it. Eventually you and your opponent have 13-card suits, and you bid and play. It is something like playing regular bridge when you are extremely drunk.
John had a tree house in a maple close to his home on the Hamilton College campus (his father was an English professor). I had a tree house near my home. We lived about a mile apart and believed that staying up late was very suave. We were 14 years old.
One July night I hiked through the woods to John's house. He had left a string dangling from his bedroom window, and I was supposed to pull it. It was attached to his big toe, he being at the time a reader of P.G. Wodehouse novels. He opened his window and whispered, "Go the cellar."
The elderly poodle Jallon, blind but intuitive, shrieked. Was let out. John's father appeared on the porch, scanned the night suspiciously. I hid on the cellar steps. After an hour John appeared, and we loped off to his tree house to play honeymoon bridge by the light of the moon. He had a beer. I had a root beer, of which he was quite scornful. We broke up at 5 a.m.
The following week John was to come to my tree house. I refused to do the string-around-the-toe but assured him I would be awake if he called.
It must have been 2 o'clock when he arrived, cards in his shirt pocket and a tall bottle of Fort Schuyler beer jauntily on his hip.
Napoleon my dog heard him scuffing down the pebbly driveway. Napoleon, leggy, longhaired and sophomoric, was not a fighter. But a good barker.
John crept forward past the elm with the swing; Napoleon retreated past the kitchen door and barked. John reached the house and my window ; Napoleon stood far out in the pasture, behind the sleeping form of our cow Millie, and barked and barked.
I heard it all. I knew who was out there. I had a bottle of root beer waiting in the ice box.
I told myself I was still asleep.
John called softly. A handful of gravel hit my window. From teh pasture, Napoleon raged.
I would say I never heard it. It would be easy. I started slipping off again, eyes rolling up shamelessly. The calls faded.
Then, in the kitchen below me, a door creaked open.
R. J. Had to be. I revived instantly. Short, hair parted in the middle, Thomas E. Dewey mustache, checkered shirt. He had come to live with us, he and his wife, who had once been our favorite nurse Miss Sherman had gone home to Pennsylvania and had reappeared married to R.J. He had a shotgun and a temper. Once he took them both to Pennsylvania to find some person he wanted to kill, but my father picked him up before he got out of the county.
Now I could hear R.J.'s slippers shuffling cunningly throughthe kitchen. Trying to get a bead on the shadow that was John Rudd. Any second now, he would stick the muzzle through the window and blast away. John lying in the driveway, beer spilling from his hip pocket, cards everywhere.
Only one thing to do. Leaping from bed, I crawled onto the roof outside my window. Beautiful clear navy blue July night . . . I couldn't see John. Around the corner of the chicken house Napoleon charged, outraged, Frantic. Hysterical with fury.
Beneath me the kitchen screen door eased open with a soft crinching. The shotgun poked out. John I could see now, halfway donw the drive, a black splotch in the darkness, an easy shot.
"Hello?" I shouted. "Hello? Hello? Buddy! Hello?"
The screen door banged shut. R.J., offstage:
"Hey Buddy! You there? Hello? Hello! Hello?"
Oh hell, Oh Damn. Oh boy. Oh for God's sake. Shut up kid."
John took off. Behind the lilac bush at the kitchen door Napoleon rattled off a volley, mad with triumph. Advancing steadily. Naked, furry courage. He would have a sore throat the whole next day.
The rest of us went back to bed.