In a town like Chippewa, Wisconsin—or in any other sort of town, for that matter—a prosperous garage knows more about the scandals of the community than does a barber-shop, a dressmaker-by-the-day, or a pool-room habitue. It conceals more skeletons than the catacombs. Chug Scaritt, had he cared to open his lips and speak, might have poured forth such chronicles as to make Spoon River sound a paean of sweetness and light. He knew how much Old Man Hatton’s chauffeur knocked down on gas and repairs; he knew just how much the Tillotsons had gone into debt for their twin-six, and why Emil Sauter drove to Oshkosh so often on business, and who supplied the flowers for Mrs. Gurnee’s electric. Chug didn’t encourage gossip in his garage. Whenever possible he put his foot down on its ugly head in a vain attempt to crush it. But there was something about the very atmosphere of the place that caused it to thrive and flourish. It was like a combination newspaper office and Pullman car smoker. Chug tried to keep the thing down but there might generally be seen lounging about the doorway or perched on the running board of an idle car a little group of slim, flat-heeled, low-voiced young men in form-fitting, high-waisted suits of that peculiarly virulent shade of green which makes its wearer look as if he had been picked before he was ripe.
They were a lean, slim-flanked crew with a feline sort of grace about them; terse of speech, quick of eye, engine-wise, and, generally, nursing a boil just above the collar of their soft shirt. Not vicious. Not even tough. Rather bored, though they didn’t know it. In their boredom resorting to the only sort of solace afforded boys of their class in a town of Chippewa’s size: cheap amusements, cheap girls, cheap talk. This last unless the topic chanced to be of games or of things mechanical. Baseball, or a sweet-running engine brought out the best that was in them. At their worst, perhaps, they stood well back in the dim, cool shade of the garage doorway to watch how, when the girls went by in their thin summer dresses, the strong sunlight made a transparency of their skirts. At supper time they would growl to their surprised sisters:
“Put on some petticoats, you. Way you girls run around it’s enough to make a person sick.”
Chug Scaritt escaped being one of these by a double margin. There was his business responsibility on one side; his very early history on the other. Once you learn the derivation of Chug’s nickname you have that history from the age of five to twenty-five, inclusive.
Chug had been christened Floyd (she had got it out of a book) but it was an appendix rather then an appellation. No one ever dreamed of addressing him by that misnomer, unless you except his school teachers. Once or twice the boys had tried to use his name as a weapon, shrieking in a shrill falsetto and making two syllables of it. He put a stop to that soon enough with fists and feet. His virility could have triumphed over a name twice as puerile. For that matter, I once knew a young husky named Fayette who—but that’s another story.