Yet now he lolled back among his pillows, dabbling complacently at the absurd yellow toy. A description of his surroundings would sound like Pages 3 to 17 of a novel by Mrs. Humphry Ward. The place was all greensward, and terraces, and sun dials, and beeches, and even those rhododendrons without which no English novel or country estate is complete. The presence of Chet Ball among his pillows and some hundreds similarly disposed revealed to you at once the fact that this particular English estate was now transformed into Reconstruction Hospital No. 9.
The painting of the chicken quite finished (including two beady black paint eyes) Chet was momentarily at a loss. Miss Kate had not told him to stop painting when the chicken was completed. Miss Kate was at the other end of the sunny garden walk, bending over a wheel-chair. So Chet went on painting, placidly. One by one, with meticulous nicety, he painted all his finger nails a bright and cheery yellow. Then he did the whole of his left thumb, and was starting on the second joint of the index finger when Miss Kate came up behind him and took the brush gently from his strong hands.
“You shouldn’t have painted your fingers,” she said.
Chet surveyed them with pride. “They look swell.”
Miss Kate did not argue the point. She put the freshly painted wooden chicken on the table to dry in the sun. Her eyes fell upon a letter bearing an American postmark and addressed to Sergeant Chester Ball, with a lot of cryptic figures and letters strung out after it, such as A.E.F. and Co. 11.
“Here’s a letter for you!” She infused a lot of Glad into her voice. But Chet only cast a languid eye upon it and said, “Yeh?”
“I’ll read it to you, shall I? It’s a nice fat One.”
Chet sat back, indifferent, negatively acquiescent. And Miss Kate began to read in her clear young voice, there in the sunshine and scent of the centuries-old English garden.
It marked an epoch in Chet’s life—that letter. But before we can appreciate it we’ll have to know Chester Ball in his Chicago days.
Your true lineman has a daredevil way with the women, as have all men whose calling is a hazardous one. Chet was a crack workman. He could shinny up a pole, strap his emergency belt, open his tool kit, wield his pliers with expert deftness, and climb down again in record time. It was his pleasure—and seemingly the pleasure and privilege of all lineman’s gangs the world over—to whistle blithely and to call impudently to any passing petticoat that caught his fancy.
Perched three feet from the top of the high pole he would cling, protected, seemingly, by some force working in direct defiance of the law of gravity. And now and then, by way of brightening the tedium of their job he and his gang would call to a girl passing in the street below, “Hoo-Hoo! Hello, sweetheart!”