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Long Distance
Chet Ball was painting a wooden chicken yellow. The wooden chicken was mounted on a
six-by-twelve board. The board was mounted on four tiny wheels. The whole would
eventually be pulled on a string guided by the plump, moist hand of some blissful five-
You got the incongruity of it the instant your eye fell upon Chet Ball. Chet's shoulders
alone would have loomed large in contrast with any wooden toy ever devised, including
the Trojan horse. Everything about him, from the big, blunt-fingered hands that held the
ridiculous chick to the great muscular pillar of his neck, was in direct opposition to his
task, his surroundings, and his attitude.
Chet's proper milieu was Chicago, Illinois (the West Side); his job that of lineman for the
Gas, Light & Power Company; his normal working position astride the top of a telegraph
pole, supported in his perilous perch by a lineman's leather belt and the kindly fates, both
of which are likely to trick you in an emergency.
Yet now he lolled back among his pillows, dabbing 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 sundials, 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 fingernails 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?"