Short Stories
All Titles

In Association with Amazon.com

Home > Authors Index > Browse all available works of George V. Hobart > Text of You Should Worry About A Tango Lesson

A short story by George V. Hobart

You Should Worry About A Tango Lesson

Title:     You Should Worry About A Tango Lesson
Author: George V. Hobart [More Titles by Hobart]

The idea originated with Bunch Jefferson. You can always count on Bunch having a few freak ideas in the belfry where he keeps his butterflies. Bunch and his wife, Alice, live out in Westchester County, about half a mile from Uncle Peter's bungalow, where friend wife and I are spending the winter.

The fact that Uncle Peter and Aunt Martha had decided to give us a party was the inspiration for Bunch's brilliant idea.

"Listen, John," he Macchiavellied; "not one of this push out here knows a thing about the Tango. Most of them have a foolish idea that it's a wicked institution invented by the devil, who sold his patent rights to the Evil-Doers' Association. Now, I'll tell you what we'll do, John: we'll put them wise. We'll take about two lessons from a good instructor in town and on the night of the party we'll make the hit of our lives teaching them all to Tango--are you James to the possibilities?"

"It listens like a good spiel," I agreed; "but will a couple of lessons be enough for us?"

"Sure," he came back; "we're not a couple of Patsys with the pumps! We can learn enough in two lessons to make good in this Boob community. Why, we'll start a Tango craze out here that will put life and ginger in the whole outfit and presently they'll be putting up statues in our honor."

Well, to make a long story lose its cunning, we made arrangements next day with Ikey Schwartz, Dancing Instructor, to explain the mysteries of this modern home-wrecking proposition known as the Tango, and paid him in advance the sum of $100.

It seemed to me that a hundred iron men in advance was a nifty little price for two lessons, but Bunch assured me the price was reasonable on account of the prevalence of rich scholars willing to divide their patrimony with anybody who could teach their feet to behave in time to the music.

We made an appointment to meet Ikey at his "studio" for our first lesson the following afternoon. Then we hiked for home on the 4.14, well pleased with our investment and its promise of golden returns.

That night Bunch and Alice were over to our place for dinner. After dinner Bunch and I sat down by the log fire in the Dutch room, filled our faces with Havana panatellas, and proceeded to enjoy life in silence.

Into the next room came Alice and Peaches and sat down for their usual cackle.

Bunch and I started from our reveries when we heard Alice say to Peaches, "You don't know what a source of comfort it has been to me to realize that Bunch doesn't know a blessed thing about the Tango or any of those hatefully intimate new dances!"

"The same with me, Alice," friend wife chirped in. "I believe if John were to suddenly display the ability to dance the Tango I'd be broken-hearted. Naturally, I'd know that he must have learned it with a wicked companion in some lawless cabaret. And if he frequented cabarets without my knowledge--oh, Alice, what would I do?"

I looked at Bunch, he looked at me, and then we both looked out the window.

"For my part," Alice went on, "I trust Bunch so implicitly that I don't even question his motive when he telephones me he has to take dinner in town with a prospective real estate customer."

"And I know enough of human nature," Peaches gurgled, "to be sure that if either one of them could Tango he would be crazy to show off at home. I think we're very lucky, both of us, to have such steady-going husbands, don't you, Alice?"

At this point Aunt Martha buzzed into the other room and the cackle took on another complexion.

In the meantime Bunch and I had passed away.

"It's cold turkey," I whispered.

"I've been in the refrigerator for ten minutes and I'm chilled to the bone," Bunch whispered back.

"Can we get our coin away from Ikey?" I asked.

"We can try," Bunch sneezed.

The next afternoon we had Ikey Schwartz for luncheon with us at the St. Astorbilt. The idea being to dazzle him and get a few of the iron men back.

"Leave everything to me," Bunch growled as we shaved our hats and Indian-filed to a trough.

"A quart of Happysuds," Bunch ordered. "How about it, Ikey?"

Ikey flashed a grin and tried to swallow his palate, so it wouldn't interfere with the wet spell suggested by Bunch.

Ikey belonged to the "dis, dose and dem" push.

Every long sentence he uttered was full of splintered grammar.

Every time Ikey opened his word-chest the King's English screamed for help, and literature got a kick in the slats.

He was short and thin, but it was a deceptive thinness. His capacity for storing away free liquids was awe-inspiring and a sin.

I think Ikey must have been hollow from the neck to the ankles, with emergency bulkheads in both feet.

His nose was shaped like a quarter to six o'clock. It began in the middle and rushed both ways as hard as it could. One end of it ducked into his forehead and never did come out.

His interior was sponge-lined, and when the bartenders began to send them in fast, Ikey would lower an asbestos curtain to keep the fumes away from his brain.

Nobody ever saw Ikey at high tide.

There was surely something wrong with Ikey's switchboard, because he could wrap his system around more Indian laughing-juice without getting lit up than any other man in the world.

But Ikey was the compliments of the season, all right, all right.

Ikey had spent most of his life being a Bookmaker, and when the racing game went out of fashion he sat down and tried to think what else he could do. Nothing occurred to him until one day he discovered that he could push his feet around in time to music, so he became a dancing instructor and could clean up $1,000 per day if the bartenders didn't beckon too hard.

The luncheon had been ordered and Bunch was just about to switch the conversation around to the subject of rebates when suddenly his eyes took on the appearance of saucers, and tapping me on the arm he gasped, "Look!"

I looked, and beheld Peaches, Alice and Aunt Martha sailing over in our direction.

With a whispered admonition to Bunch to keep Ikey still, I went forward to meet friend wife, her aunt and Alice.

They were as much surprised as I was.

"It was such a delightful day that Aunt Martha couldn't resist the temptation to do a little shopping," Peaches rattled on; "and then we decided to come here for a bit of luncheon--hello, Bunch! I'm so glad to see you! John, hadn't we better take another table so that your friendly conference may not be interrupted?"

I hastened to assure Peaches that it wasn't a conference at all. We had met Mr. Schwartz quite by accident. Then I introduced Ikey to the ladies.

He got up and did something that was supposed to be a bow, but you couldn't tell whether he was tying his shoe or coming down a stepladder.

When Ikey tried to bend a Society double he looked like one of the pictures that goes with a rubber exerciser, price 75 cents.

After they had ordered club sandwiches and coffee I explained to Peaches and the others that Mr. Schwartz was a real estate dealer. Ikey began to swell up at once.

"Bunch and I are going in a little deal with Mr. Schwartz," I explained. "He knows the real estate business backwards. Mr. Schwartz has a fad for collecting apartment houses. He owns the largest assortment of People Coops in the city. All the modern improvements, too. Hot and cold windows, running gas and noiseless janitors. Mr. Schwartz is the inventor of the idea of having two baths in every apartment so that the lessee will have less excuse for not being water broke."

Ikey never cracked a smile.

"In Mr. Schwartz's apartment houses," I continued, while Bunch kicked my shins under the table, "you will find self-freezing refrigerators and self-leaving servants. All the rooms are light rooms, when you light the gas. Two of his houses overlook the Park and all of them overlook the building laws. The floors are made of concrete so that if you want to bring a horse in the parlor you can do so without kicking off the plaster in the flat below. Every room has folding doors, and when the water pipes burst the janitor has folding arms."

"Quit your joshing, John! you'll embarrass Mr. Schwartz," laughed Bunch somewhat nervously, but Ikey's grin never flickered.

"Is Mr. Schwartz deaf and dumb?" Peaches whispered.

"Intermittently so," I whispered back; "sometimes for hours at a time he cannot speak a word and can hear only the loudest tones."

Aunt Martha heard my comment on Ikey's infirmity and was about to become intensely sympathetic and tell him how her brother's wife was cured when Bunch interrupted loudly by asking after Uncle Peter's health.

"Never better," answered Aunt Martha. "He has spent all the morning arranging the program of dancing for our little party. He insists upon having the Virginia Reel, the old-fashioned waltz, the Polka and the Lancers. Uncle Peter has a perfect horror of these modern dances and Peaches and Alice and I share it with him." Then she turned to Ikey: "Don't you think these modern dances are perfectly disgusting?"

Poor Ikey looked reproachfully at the old lady a second, then with gathering astonishment he slid silently off the chair and struck the floor with a bump.

Aunt Martha was so rattled over this unexpected effort on Mr. Schwartz's part that she upset her coffee and Ikey got most of it in the back of the neck.

When peace was finally restored the old lady came to the surface with an envelope which had been lying on the table near her plate.

"Is this your letter, John?" she asked, and then, arranging her glasses, read with great deliberation, "Mr. I. Schwartz, Tango Teacher, care of Kumearly and Staylates' Cabaret, New York."

Peaches and Alice went into the ice business right away quick.

Aunt Martha, in pained surprise, looked at me and then at Bunch, and finally focused a steady beam of interrogation upon the countenance of Mr. Schwartz.

Ikey never whimpered.

Then Bunch took the letter from the open-eyed Aunt Martha and leaped to the rescue while I came out of the trance slowly.

"It's too bad Mr. Schwartz forgot his ear trumpet," Bunch said quickly, and Ikey was wise to the tip in a minute.

Peaches sniffed suspiciously, and I knew she had the gloves on.

"Mr. Schwartz's affliction is terrible," she said with a chill in every word. "How did you converse with him before our arrival?"

"Oh! he understands the lip language and can talk back on his fingers," I hastened to explain, looking hard at Ikey, whose masklike face gave no token that he understood what was going on.

"I thought I understood you to say Mr. Schwartz is a real estate dealer!" Peaches continued, while the thermometer went lower and lower.

"So he is," I replied.

"Then why does his correspondent address him as a Tango Teacher?" friend wife said slowly, and I could hear the icebergs grinding each other all around me.

"I think I can explain that," Bunch put in quietly. Then with the utmost deliberation he looked Ikey in the eye and said, "Mr. Schwartz, it's really none of my business, but would you mind telling me why you, a real estate dealer, should have a letter in your possession which is addressed to you as a Tango Teacher? Answer me on your fingers."

Ikey delivered the goods.

In a minute he had both paws working overtime and such a knuckle twisting no mortal man ever indulged in before.

"He says," Bunch began to interpret, "that the letter is not his. It is intended for Isadore Schwartz, a wicked cousin of his who is a victim of the cabaret habit. Mr. Schwartz is now complaining bitterly with his fingers because his letters and those intended for his renegade cousin become mixed almost every day. These mistakes are made because the initials are identical. He also says that--he--hopes--the--presence-- of--this--particular--letter--in--his--possession--does--not--offend-- the--ladies--because--while--it--is--addressed--to--a--tango-teacher-- the--contents--are--quite--harmless--being--but--a--small--bill--from-- the--dentist."

Ikey's fingers kept on working nervously, as though he felt it his duty to wear them out, and the perspiration rolled off poor Bunch's forehead.

"Tell him to cease firing," I said to Bunch; "he'll sprain his fingers and lose his voice."

Ikey doubled up all his eight fingers and two thumbs in one final shout and subsided.

"I'm afraid we'll miss the 5.18 train if we don't hurry," said Peaches, and I could see that the storm was over, although she still glanced suspiciously at poor Ikey.

"And, Bunch, you and John can come home with us now, can't you?" Alice asked as they started to float for the door.

Then Ikey cut in as we started to follow the family parade, "I'm hep to the situation. It's a cutey, take it from little Ikey. I'll have to charge you $8 for the sudden attack of deafness; then there's $19 for hardships sustained by my finger joints while conversing. The rest of the 100 iron men I'm going to keep as a souvenir of two good-natured ginks who wouldn't know what to do with a Tango if they had one."

As we pulled out of the Mayonnaise Mansion I looked back at Ikey to thank him with a farewell nod.

He was halfway under the table, holding both hands to his sides and making funny faces at the carpet.

[The end]
George V. Hobart's short story: You Should Worry About A Tango Lesson