Collier’s Weekly, October 15, 1921
BEDTIME at Roville is an hour that seems to vary according to one’s proximity to the sea. The gilded palaces along the front keep deplorable hours, polluting the night air till dawn with indefatigable jazz; but at the pensions of the economical like the Normandie early to bed is the rule. True, Jules, the stout young native who combined the offices of night clerk and elevator boy at that establishment, was on duty in the hall throughout the night, but few of the Normandie’s patrons made use of his services. Sally, entering shortly before twelve o’clock on the night of the day on which the dark man, the red-haired young man, and their friend Scrymgeour had come into her life, found the little hall dim and silent. Through the iron cage of the elevator one faint bulb glowed; another, over a desk in the far corner, illuminated the upper half of Jules, slumbering in a chair. Jules seemed to Sally to be on duty in some capacity or other all the time. His work, like woman’s, was never done. He was now restoring his tissues with a few winks of much-needed beauty sleep. Sally, who had been to the Casino to hear the band and afterward had strolled on the moonlit promenade, had a guilty sense of intrusion.
As she stood there, reluctant to break in on Jules’s rest—for her sympathetic heart, always at the disposal of the oppressed, had long ached for this overworked peon—she was relieved to hear footsteps in the street outside, followed by the opening of the front door. If Jules would have had to wake up anyway, she felt her sense of responsibility lessened. The door, having opened, closed again with a bang. Jules stirred, gurgled, blinked, and sat up; and Sally, turning, perceived that the new arrival was the red-haired young man.
“Oh, good evening,” said Sally welcomingly.
The young man stopped and shuffled uncomfortably. The morning’s happenings were obviously still green in his memory. He had either not ceased blushing since their last meeting or he was celebrating their reunion by beginning to blush again, for his face was a familiar scarlet.
“Er—good evening,” he said, disentangling his feet, which in the embarrassment of the moment had somehow got coiled up together.
“Or bon soir, I suppose you would say,” murmured Sally.
The young man acknowledged receipt of this thrust by dropping his hat and tripping over it as he stooped to pick it up.
Jules, meanwhile, who had been navigating in a sort of somnambulistic trance in the neighborhood of the elevator, now threw back the cage with a rattle.
“It’s a shame to have waked you up,” said Sally commiseratingly, stepping in.
Jules did not reply, for the excellent reason that he had not been waked up. Constant practice enabled him to do this sort of work without breaking his slumber. His brain, if you could call it that, was working automatically. He had shut the gate with a clang and was tugging sluggishly at the correct rope, so that the elevator was going slowly up instead of retiring down into the basement, but he was not awake.
Sally and the red-haired young man sat side by side on the small seat, watching their conductor’s efforts. After the first spurt, conversation had languished. Sally had nothing of immediate interest to say, and her companion seemed to be one of those strong, silent men you read about. Only a slight snore from Jules broke the silence.
At the third floor Sally leaned forward and prodded Jules in the lower ribs. All through her stay at Roville she had found, in dealing with the native population, that actions spoke louder than words. If she wanted anything in a restaurant or a store, she pointed, and when she wished the elevator to stop she prodded the man in charge. It was a system worth a dozen French conversation books.
Jules brought the machine to a halt, and it was at this point that he should have done the one thing connected with his professional activities which he did really well—the opening, to wit, of the iron cage. There are ways of doing this. Jules’s was the right way. He was accustomed to do it with a flourish, and generally remarked “V’la!” in a modest but self-congratulatory voice as though he would have liked to see another man who could have put through a job like that. Jules’s opinion was that he might not be much to look at, but that he could open an elevator door.
To-night, however, it seemed as if even this not very exacting feat was beyond his powers. Instead of inserting his key in the lock, he stood staring in an attitude of frozen horror. He was a man who took most things in life pretty seriously, and whatever was the little difficulty just now seemed to have broken him all up.
“There appears,” said Sally, turning to her companion, “to be a hitch. Would you mind asking what’s the matter? I don’t know any French myself except ‘oo la la!’ ”
THE young man, thus appealed to, nerved himself to the task. He eyed the melancholy Jules doubtfully, and coughed in a strangled sort of way. “Oh, esker—esker vous—”
“Don’t weaken,” said Sally. “I think you’ve got him going.”
“Esker vous— Pourquoi vous ne—I mean ne vous— that’s to say, quel est le raison—”
He broke off here because at this point Jules began to explain. He explained very rapidly and at considerable length. The fact that neither of his hearers understood a word of what he was saying appeared not to have impressed itself upon him. Or, if he gave a thought to it, he dismissed the objection as trifling. He wanted to explain, and he explained. Words rushed from him like water from a geyser. Sounds, which you felt you would have been able to put a meaning to if he had detached them from the main body and repeated them slowly, went swirling down the stream and were lost forever.
“Stop him!” said Sally firmly.
The red-haired young man looked as a native of Johnstown might have looked on being requested to stop that city’s celebrated flood.
“Yes. Blow a whistle or something.”
Out of the depths of the young man’s memory there swam to the surface a single word—a word which he must have heard somewhere or read somewhere: a legacy, perhaps, from long-vanished school days. He examined the word, and it was a pippin.
“Zut!” he barked, and instantaneously Jules turned himself off at the main. There was a moment of dazed silence, such as might occur in a boiler factory if the works suddenly shut down.
“Quick! Now you’ve got him!” cried Sally. “Ask him what he’s talking about—if he knows, which I doubt—and tell him to speak slowly. Then we shall get somewhere.”
The young man nodded intelligently. The advice was good.
“Lentement,” he said. “Parlez lentement. Pas si—you know what I mean—pas si dashed vite!”
“A-a-ah!” cried Jules, catching the idea on the fly. “Lentement. Ah, oui, lentement.”
There followed a lengthy conversation which, while conveying nothing to Sally, seemed intelligible to the red-haired linguist.
“The silly ass,” he was able to announce some few minutes later, “has made a bloomer. Apparently he was half asleep when we came in, and he shoved us into the lift and slammed the door, forgetting that he had left the keys on the desk.”
“I see,” said Sally. “So we’re shut in?”
“I’m afraid so. I wish to goodness,” said the young man, “I knew French really well. I’d curse him with some vim and not a little animation, the chump! I wonder what ‘blighter’ is in French?” he said meditatively.
“It’s the merest suggestion,” said Sally, “but oughtn’t we to do something?”
“What could we do?”
“Well, for one thing, we might all utter a loud yell. It would scare most of the people in the hotel to death, but there might be a survivor or two who would come and investigate and let us out.”
“What a ripping idea!” said the young man, impressed.
“I’m glad you like it. Now tell him the main outlines, or he’ll think we’ve gone mad.”
The young man searched for words, and eventually found some which expressed his meaning lamely, but well enough to cause Jules to nod in a depressed sort of way.
“Fine!” said Sally. “Now, all together at the word ‘Three.’ One-two— Oh, poor darling!” she broke off. “Look at him!”
In the corner of the elevator the emotional Jules was sobbing silently into the bunch of cotton waste which served him in the office of a pocket handkerchief. His broken-hearted gulps echoed hollowly down the shaft. . . .
IN these days of cheap books of instruction on every subject under the sun, we most of us know how to behave in the majority of life’s little crises. We have only ourselves to blame if we are ignorant of what to do before the doctor comes, of how to make a dainty winter coat for baby out of father’s last year’s undervest, and of the best method of coping with the cold mutton. But nobody yet has come forward with practical advice as to the correct method of behavior to be adopted when the elevator man starts crying. And Sally and her companion, as a consequence, for a few moments merely stared at each other helplessly.
“Poor darling!” said Sally, finding speech. “Ask him what’s the matter.”
The young man looked at her doubtfully. “You know,” he said, “I don’t enjoy chatting with this blighter. I mean to say, it’s a bit of an effort. I don’t know why it is, but talking French always makes me feel as if my nose were coming off. Couldn’t we just leave him to have his cry out by himself?”
“The idea!” said Sally. “Have you no heart? Are you one of those fiends in human shape?”
“Oh, well, if you put it that way!” He turned reluctantly to Jules, and paused to overhaul his vocabulary.
“YOU ought to be thankful for this chance,” said Sally. “It’s the only real way of learning French, and you’re getting a lesson for nothing. What did he say then?”
“Something about losing something, it seemed to me. I thought I caught the word perdu.”
“But that means a partridge, doesn’t it? I’m sure I’ve seen it on menus.”
“Would he talk about partridges at a time like this?”
“He might. The French are extraordinary people.”
“Well, I’ll have another go at him. But he’s a difficult chap to chat with. If you give him the least encouragement, he sort of goes off like a rocket.” He addressed another question to the sufferer, and listened attentively to the voluble reply. “Oh!” he said, with sudden enlightenment. “Your job?” He turned to Sally. “I got it that time,” he said. “The trouble is, he says, that if we yell and rouse the house, we’ll get out all right, but he will lose his job, because this is the second time this sort of thing has happened, and they warned him last time that once more would mean the push.”
“Then we mustn’t dream of yelling,” said Sally decidedly.
“It means a pretty long wait, you know. As far as I can gather, there’s just a chance of somebody else coming in later, in which case he could let us out. But it’s doubtful. He rather thinks that everybody has gone to roost.”
“Well, we must try it. I wouldn’t think of losing the poor man his job. Tell him to take the car down to the ground floor, and then we’ll just sit and amuse ourselves till something happens. We’ve lots to talk about. We can tell each other the story of our lives.”
Jules, cheered by his victims’ kindly forbearance, lowered the car to the ground floor, where, after a glance of infinite longing at the keys on the distant desk, he sagged down in a heap and resumed his slumbers.
Sally settled herself as comfortably as possible in her corner. “You’d better smoke,” she said.
“And now,” said Sally, “tell me why Scrymgeour fired you.”
LITTLE by little, under the stimulating influence of this nocturnal adventure, the red-haired young man had lost that shy confusion which had rendered him so ill at ease when he encountered Sally in the hall of the hotel, but at this question embarrassment gripped him once more. Another of those comprehensive blushes of his raced over his face, and he stammered: “I say, I’m—I’m fearfully sorry about that, you know!”
“You know what I mean. I mean about making such a most ghastly ass of myself this morning. I—I never dreamed you understood English.”
“Why, I didn’t object. I thought you were very nice and complimentary. Of course I don’t know how many girls you’ve seen in your life, but—”
“No, I say, you know, don’t! It makes me feel such a chump.”
“And I’m sorry about my mouth. It is wide. But I know you’re a fair-minded man and realize that it isn’t my fault.”
“Don’t rub it in,” pleaded the young man. “As a matter of fact, if you want to know, I think your mouth is absolutely perfect. I think,” he proceeded a little feverishly, “that you are the most indescribable topper that ever—”
“You were going to tell me about Scrymgeour,” said Sally.
The young man blinked as if he had collided with some hard object while sleepwalking. Eloquence had carried him away. “Scrymgeour?” he said. “Oh, that would bore you.”
“Don’t be silly,” said Sally reprovingly. “Can’t you realize that we’re practically castaways on a desert island? There’s nothing to do till to-morrow but talk about ourselves. If you feel diffident about starting the revelations, I’ll begin. Better start with names. Mine is Sally Nicholas. What’s yours?”
“Mine? Oh, ah, yes, I see what you mean.”
“I thought you would. I put it as clearly as I could. Well, what is it?”
“And the first name?”
“Well, as a matter of fact,” said the young man, “I’ve always rather hushed up my first name, because when I was christened they worked a low-down trick on me!”
“You can’t shock me,” said Sally encouragingly. “My father’s name was Ezekiel, and I’ve a brother who was christened Fillmore.”
MR. KEMP brightened. “Well, mine isn’t as bad as that. . . . No, I don’t mean that,” he broke off apologetically. “Both awfully jolly names, of course, and—”
“Get on,” said Sally.
“Well, they called me Lancelot. And, of course, the thing is that I don’t look like a Lancelot and never shall. My pals,” he added in a more cheerful strain, “call me Ginger.”
“I don’t blame them,” said Sally.
“Perhaps you wouldn’t mind thinking of me as Ginger?” suggested the young man diffidently.
Jules stirred in his sleep and grunted. No other sound came to disturb the stillness of the night.
“You were going to tell me about yourself?” said Mr. Lancelot (Ginger) Kemp.
“I’m going to tell you all about myself,” said Sally, “not because I think it will interest you—”
“Oh, it will!”
“Not, I say, because I think it will interest you—”
“It will, really!” Ginger protested.
Sally looked at him coldly. “Is this a duet?” she inquired. “Or have I the floor?”
“I’m awfully sorry.”
“Not, I repeat for the third time, because I think it will interest you, but because if I do you won’t have any excuse for not telling me your life history, and you wouldn’t believe how inquisitive I am. Well, in the first place, I live in America. I’m over here on a holiday. And it’s the first real holiday I’ve had in three years—since I left home, in fact.” Sally paused. “I ran away from home,” she said.
“Good egg!” said Ginger Kemp.
“I beg your pardon?”
“I mean, quite right. I bet you were quite right.”
“When I say home,” Sally went on, “it was only a sort of imitation home, you know. One of those just-as-good homes which are never as satisfactory as the real kind. My father and mother both died a good many years ago. My brother and I were dumped down on the reluctant doorstep of an uncle.”
“Uncles,” said Ginger Kemp feelingly, “are the devil. I’ve got an—but I’m interrupting you.”
“MY uncle was our trustee. He had control of all my brother’s money and mine till I was twenty-one. My brother was to get his when he was twenty-five. My poor father trusted him blindly, and what do you think happened?”
“Good Lord! The blighter embezzled the lot?”
“No, not a cent. Wasn’t it extraordinary? Have you ever heard of a blindly trusted uncle who was perfectly honest? Well, mine was. But the trouble was that, while an excellent man to have looking after our money, he wasn’t a very lovable character. He was very hard. Hard! He was as hard as—well, nearly as hard as this seat. He hated poor Fill—”
“I broke it to you just now that my brother’s name was Fillmore.”
“Oh, your brother. Oh, ah, yes.”
“He was always picking on poor Fill. And I’m bound to say that Fill rather laid himself out as what you might call a pickee. He was always getting into trouble. One day, about three years ago, he was expelled from Harvard, and my uncle vowed he would have nothing more to do with him. So I said, if Fill left, I would leave. And as this seemed to be my uncle’s idea of a large evening, no objection was raised, and Fill and I departed. We went to New York, and there we’ve been ever since. About six months ago Fill passed the twenty-five mark and collected his money, and last month I marched past the given point and got mine. So it’s all ended happily, you see. Now tell me about yourself.”
“But, I say, you know, dash it, you’ve skipped a lot. I mean to say, you must have had an awful time in New York, didn’t you? How on earth did you get along?”
“Oh, we found work. My brother tried one or two things, and finally became an assistant stage manager with some theatre people. The only thing I could do, having been raised in enervating luxury, was ballroom dancing, so I ballroom-danced. I got a job at a place on Broadway called ‘The Flower Garden’ as an ‘instructress’; as if anybody could ‘instruct’ the men who came there! One was lucky if one saved one’s life and wasn’t squashed to death.”
“How perfectly foul!”
“Oh, I don’t know. It was rather fun for a while. Still,” said Sally meditatively, “I’m not saying I could have held out much longer. I was beginning to give. I suppose I’ve been trampled underfoot by more fat men than any other girl of my age in America. I don’t know why it was, but every man who came in who was a bit overweight seemed to make for me by instinct. That’s why I like to sit on the sands here and watch these Frenchmen bathing. It’s just heavenly to lie back and watch a two-hundred-and-fifty-pound man coming along and feel that he isn’t going to dance with me.”
“But I say! How absolutely rotten it must have been for you!”
“Well, I’ll tell you one thing. It’s going to make me a very domesticated wife one of these days. You won’t find me gadding about in gilded jazz palaces. For me, a little place in the country somewhere, with my knitting and an Elsie book and bed at half past nine. . . . And now tell me the story of your life. And make it long because I’m perfectly certain there’s going to be no relief expedition.”
“I really think we had better shout, you know.”
“And lose Jules his Job? Never!”
“Well, of course, I’m sorry for poor old Jules’s troubles, but I hate to think of you having to—”
“Now get on with the story,” said Sally. . . .
Ginger Kemp exhibited some of the symptoms of a young bridegroom called upon at a wedding breakfast to respond to the toast. He moved his feet restlessly and twisted his fingers.
“I hate talking about myself, you know,” he said.
“So I supposed,” said Sally. “That’s why I gave you my autobiography first, to give you no chance of backing out. Don’t be such a shrinking violet. We’re all shipwrecked mariners here. I am intensely interested in your narrative. And, even if I wasn’t, I’d much rather listen to it than to Jules’s snoring.”
“He is snoring a bit, what? Does it annoy you? Shall I stir him up?”
“You seem to have an extraordinarily brutal streak in your nature,” said Sally. “You appear to think of nothing else but schemes for harassing poor Jules. Leave him alone for a second, and start telling me about yourself.”
“Where shall I start?”
“Well, not with your childhood, I think. We’ll skip that.”
“Well . . .” Ginger Kemp knitted his brow, searching for a dramatic opening. “Well, I’m more or less what you might call an orphan, like you. I mean to say, both my people are dead, and all that sort of thing.”
“Thanks for explaining. That has made it quite clear.”
“I can’t remember my mother. My father died when I was in my last year at Cambridge. I’d been having a most awfully good time at the varsity,” said Ginger, warming to his theme. “Not thick, you know, but good. I’d got my Rugger and Boxing blues and I’d just been picked for scrum half for England against the North in the first trial match, and, between ourselves, it really did look as if I was more or less of a snip for my international.”
SALLY gazed at him wide-eyed. “Is that good or bad?” she asked.
“Are you reciting a catalogue of your crimes, or do you expect me to get up and cheer? What is a Rugger blue, to start with?”
“Well, it’s—it’s a Rugger blue, you know.”
“Oh, I see,” said Sally. “You mean a Rugger blue.”
“I mean to say, I played Rugger—footer—that’s to say, football—Rugby football—for Cambridge against Oxford. I was scrum half, you know.”
“And what is a scrum half?” asked Sally patiently. “Yes, I know you’re going to say it’s a scrum half, but can’t you make it still easier?”
“The scrum half,” said Ginger, “is the half who works the scrum. He slings the pill out to the fly half, who starts the three-quarters going. I don’t know if you understand?”
“It’s dashed hard to explain,” said Ginger Kemp unhappily. “I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone before who didn’t know what a scrum half was.”
“Well, I can see that it has something to do with football, so we’ll leave it at that. I suppose it’s something like our quarter back. And what’s an international?”
“It’s called getting your international when you play for England, you know. England plays Wales, France, Ireland, and Scotland. If it hadn’t been for the smash, I think I should have played for England against Wales.”
“I see at last. What you’re trying to tell me is that you were very good at football.”
GINGER KEMP blushed warmly. “Oh, I don’t say that. England was pretty short of scrum halves that year.”
“What a horrible thing to happen to a country! Still, you were likely to be picked on the All-England team when the smash came? What was the smash?”
“Well, it turned out that the poor old pater hadn’t left a penny. I never understood the process exactly, but I’d always supposed that we were pretty well off, and then it turned out that I hadn’t anything at all. I’m bound to say it was a bit of a jar. I had to come down from Cambridge and go to work in my uncle’s office. Of course I made an absolute hash of it.”
“Why of course?”
“Well, I’m not a very clever sort of chap, you see. I somehow didn’t seem able to grasp the workings. After about a year my uncle, getting a bit fed, hoofed me out and got me a mastership at a school, and I made a hash of that. He got me one or two other jobs, and I made a hash of those.”
“You certainly do seem to be one of our most prominent young hashers!” gasped Sally.
“I am,” said Ginger modestly.
There was a silence.
“And what about Scrymgeour?” Sally asked.
“That was the last of the jobs,” said Ginger. “Scrymgeour is a pompous old ass who thinks he’s going to be prime minister some day. He’s a big bug at the bar and has just got into Parliament. My cousin used to devil for him. That’s how I got mixed up with the blighter.”
“Your cousin used—? I wish you would talk English.”
“That was my cousin who was with me on the beach this morning.”
“And what did you say that he used to do for Mr. Scrymgeour?”
“Oh, it’s called deviling. My cousin’s at the bar too—one of our rising nibs, as a matter of fact. . . .”
“I thought he was a lawyer of some kind.”
“He’s got a long way beyond it now, but when he started he used to devil for Scrymgeour—assist him, don’t you know. His name’s Carmyle. Bruce Carmyle, you know. Perhaps you’ve heard of him? He’s rather a prominent Johnny in his way.”
“Well, he got me this job of secretary to Scrymgeour.”
“And why did Mr. Scrymgeour fire you?”
GINGER KEMP’S face darkened. He frowned. Sally, watching him, felt that she had been right when she had guessed that he had a temper. She liked him none the worse for it. Mild men did not greatly appeal to her.
“I don’t know if you’re fond of dogs?” said Ginger.
“I used to be before this morning,” said Sally. “And I suppose I shall be again in time. For the moment I’ve had what you might call rather a surfeit of dogs. But aren’t you straying from the point? I asked you why Mr. Scrymgeour dismissed you.”
“I’m telling you.”
“I’m glad of that. I didn’t know.”
“The old brute,” said Ginger, frowning again, “has a dog. A very jolly little spaniel. Great pal of mine. And Scrymgeour is the sort of fool who oughtn’t to be allowed to own a dog. He’s one of those asses who isn’t fit to own a dog. As a matter of fact, of all the blighted, pompous, bullying, shriveled-souled old devils—
“One moment,” said Sally. “I’m getting an impression that you don’t like Mr. Scrymgeour. Am I right?”
“I thought so. Womanly intuition! Go on.”
“He used to insist on the poor animal doing tricks. I hate seeing a dog do tricks. Dogs loathe it, you know. They’re frightfully sensitive. Well, Scrymgeour used to make this spaniel of his do tricks—fool things that no self-respecting dog would do—and eventually poor old Billy got fed up and jibbed. He was too polite to bite, but he sort of shook his head and crawled under a chair. You’d have thought anyone would have let it go at that, but would old Scrymgeour? Not a bit of it! Of all the poisonous—”
“Yes, I know. Go on.”
“Well, the thing ended in the blighter hauling him out from under the chair and getting more and more shirty, until finally he laid into him with a stick. That is to say,” said Ginger, coldly accurate, “he started laying into him with a stick.” He brooded for a moment with knit brows. “A spaniel, mind you! Can you imagine anyone beating a spaniel? It’s like hitting a little girl. Well, he’s a fairly oldish man, you know, and that hampered me a bit, but I got hold of the stick and broke it into about eleven pieces, and by great good luck it was a stick he happened to value rather highly. It had a gold knob and had been presented to him by his constituents or something. I minced it up a goodish bit, and then I told him a fair amount about himself. And then—well, after that he shot me out, and I came here.”
Sally did not speak for a moment. “You were quite right,” she said at last in a sober voice that had nothing in it of her customary flippancy. She paused again. “And what are you going to do now?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” said Ginger.
“You’ll get something?”
“Oh, yes, I shall get something, I suppose. The family will be pretty sick, of course.”
“For goodness’ sake! Why do you bother about the family?” Sally burst out. She could not reconcile this young man’s flabby dependence on his family with the enterprise and vigor which he had shown in his dealings with the unspeakable Scrymgeour. Of course he had been brought up to look on himself as a rich man’s son, and appeared to have drifted as such young men are wont to do, but even so— “The whole trouble with you,” she said, embarking on a subject on which she held strong views, “is that—”
HER harangue was interrupted by what—at the Normandie at one o’clock in the morning—practically amounted to a miracle. The front door of the hotel opened, and there entered a young man in evening dress. Such persons were sufficiently rare at the Normandie, which catered principally to the staid and middle-aged, and this youth’s presence was due, if one must pause to explain it, to the fact that, in the middle of his stay at Roville, a disastrous evening at the Casino had so diminished his funds that he had been obliged to make a hurried shift from the Hotel Splendide to the humbler Normandie. His late appearance to-night was caused by the fact that he had been attending a dance at the Splendide, principally in the hope of finding there some kind-hearted friend of his prosperity from whom he might borrow.
A rapid-fire dialogue having taken place between Jules and the newcomer, the keys were handed through the cage, the door opened and the elevator set once more in motion. And a few minutes later Sally, suddenly aware of an overpowering sleepiness, had switched off her light and jumped into bed. Her last waking thought was a regret that she had not been able to speak at length to Mr. Ginger Kemp on the subject of enterprise and a resolve that the address should be delivered at the earliest opportunity.
BY six o’clock on the following evening, however, Sally had been forced to the conclusion that Ginger would have to struggle through life as best as he could without the assistance of her contemplated remarks, for she had seen nothing of him all day and in another hour she would have left Roville on the 7.15 express, which was to take her to Paris, en route for Cherbourg and the liner whereon she had booked her passage for New York.
It was in the faint hope of finding him even now that, at half past six, having conveyed her baggage to the station and left it in charge of an amiable porter, she paid a last visit to the Casino Municipale. She disliked the thought of leaving Ginger without having uplifted him. Like so many alert and active-minded girls, she possessed in a great degree the quality of interesting herself in—or, as her brother Fillmore preferred to put it, messing about with—the private affairs of others. Ginger had impressed her as a man to whom it was worth while to give a friendly shove on the right path, and it was with much gratification, therefore, that, having entered the Casino, she perceived a flaming head shining through the crowd which had gathered at one of the long roulette tables.
There are two casinos at Roville-sur-Mer. The one on the Promenade goes in mostly for sea air and a mild game called boule. It is the big Casino Municipale, down in the Palace Masséna near the railway station, which is the haunt of the earnest gambler who means business; and it was plain to Sally, directly she arrived, that Ginger Kemp not only meant business but was getting results. Ginger was going extremely strong. He was intrenched behind an opulent-looking mound of square counters; and, even as Sally looked, a wooden-faced croupier shoved a further installment across the table to him at the end of his long rake.
“Epatant!” murmured a wistful man at Sally’s side, removing an elbow from her ribs in order the better to gesticulate. Sally, though no French scholar, gathered that he was startled and gratified. The entire crowd appeared to be startled and gratified. There is undoubtedly a certain altruism in the make-up of the spectators at a Continental roulette table. They seem to derive a spiritual pleasure from seeing somebody else win.
The croupier gave his mustache a twist with his left hand and the wheel a twist with his right, and silence fell again. Sally, who had shifted to a spot where the pressure of the crowd was less acute, was now able to see Ginger’s face, and as she saw it she gave an involuntary laugh. He looked exactly like a dog at a rat hole. His hair seemed to bristle with excitement. One could almost fancy that his ears were pricked up.
IN the tense hush which had fallen on the crowd at the restarting of the wheel, Sally’s laugh rang out with an embarrassing clearness. It had a marked effect on all those within hearing. There is something almost of religious ecstasy in the deportment of the spectators at a table where anyone is having a run of luck at roulette, and if she had guffawed in a cathedral she could not have caused a more pained consternation. The earnest worshipers gazed at her with shocked eyes, and Ginger, turning with a start, saw her, and jumped up. As he did so the ball fell with a rattling click into a red compartment of the wheel, and, as it ceased to revolve and it was seen that at last the big winner had picked the wrong color, a shuddering groan ran through the congregation like that which convulses the penitents’ bench at a negro revival meeting. More glances of reproach were cast at Sally. It was generally felt that her injudicious behavior had changed Ginger’s luck.
The only person who did not appear to be concerned was Ginger himself. He gathered up his loot, thrust it into his pocket, and elbowed his way to where Sally stood, now definitely established in the eyes of the crowd as a pariah. There was universal regret that he had decided to call it a day. It was to the spectators as though a star had suddenly walked off the stage in the middle of his big scene, and not even a loud and violent quarrel, which sprang up at this moment between two excitable gamblers over a disputed five-franc counter, could wholly console them.
“I say,” said Ginger, dexterously plucking Sally out of the crowd, “this is topping, meeting you like this. I’ve been looking for you everywhere.”
“It’s funny you didn’t find me, then, for that’s where I’ve been. I was looking for you.”
“No, really?” Ginger seemed pleased. He led the way to the quiet anteroom outside the gambling hall, and they sat down in a corner. It was pleasant here, with nobody near except the gorgeously uniformed attendant over by the door. “That was awfully good of you.”
“I felt I must have a talk with you before my train went.”
Ginger started violently. “Your train? What do you mean, train?”
“The puff-puff,” exclaimed Sally. “I’m leaving to-night, you know.”
“Leaving?” Ginger looked as horrified as the devoutest of the congregation of which Sally had just ceased to be a member. “You don’t mean leaving? You’re not going away from Roville?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“But why? Where are you going?”
“Back to America. My boat sails from Cherbourg to-morrow.”
“Oh, my aunt!”
“I’m sorry,” said Sally, touched by his concern. She was a warm-hearted girl and liked being appreciated. “But—”
“I say—” Ginger Kemp turned bright scarlet and glared before him at the uniformed official, who was regarding their tête-à-tête with the indulgent eye of one who has been through this sort of thing himself. “I say, look here, will you marry me?”
Parlez lentement. Pas si vite!: “Speak slowly. Not so fast!”
perdu; partridge: Perdu means “lost”; the French for partridge is perdrix.
Elsie book: A series of 28 novels by Martha Finley (1828–1909) beginning with Elsie Dinsmore (1867) and continuing through 1905; the popular series dealt with a young woman’s relationships to her extended family over the course of her life and with her religious faith. Article and list of books at Wikipedia; Martha Finley books online at Project Gutenberg. Wodehouse mentions the character again in the magazine serialization of Laughing Gas, in which Mae West’s portrayal of Elsie Dinsmore is a successful reaction to Hollywood’s purity drive (replaced by Alice in Wonderland in the longer book version).