Grand Magazine, April 1922
an heiress entertains
SALLY looked contentedly down the long table. She felt happy at last. Everybody was talking and laughing now, and her party, rallying after an uncertain start, was plainly the success she had hoped it would be. The first atmosphere of uncomfortable restraint, caused, she was only too well aware, by her brother Fillmore’s white evening waistcoat, had worn off; and the male and female patrons of Mrs. Meecher’s select boarding-house were themselves again.
At her end of the table the conversation had turned once more to the great vital topic of Sally’s legacy and what she ought to do with it.
“Let me tell you what I’d do, if I were you,” said Augustus Bartlett, who occupied an intensely subordinate position in the firm of Kahn, Morris & Brown, the Wall Street brokers. “I’d sink a couple of hundred thousand in some good, safe bond issue—we’ve just put one out which you would do well to consider—and play about with the rest.”
Elsa Doland, the pretty girl with the big eyes, had other views.
“Buy a theatre, Sally, and put on good stuff.”
“And lose every bean you’ve got,” said a mild young man with a deep voice across the table. “If I had a few hundred thousand,” said the mild young man, “I’d put every cent of it on Benny Whistler for the heavyweight championship. I’ve private information that Battling Tuke has been got at, and means to lie down in the seventh——”
“Say, listen,” interrupted another voice, “let me tell you what I’d do with four hundred thousand——”
“If I had four hundred thousand,” said Elsa Doland, “I know what would be the first thing I’d do.”
“What’s that?” Sally asked.
“Pay my bill for last week, due this morning.”
Sally got up quickly, and, flitting down the table, put her arm round her friend’s shoulder and whispered in her ear:—
“Elsa, darling, are you really broke? If you are, you know, I’ll——”
Elsa Doland laughed.
“You are an angel, Sally. There’s no one like you. Of course, I’m not broke. I’ve just come back from the road, and I’ve saved a fortune. I only said that to draw you.”
Sally returned to her seat relieved, and found that the company had now divided itself into two schools of thought. The conservative and prudent element had definitely decided on three hundred thousand in Government Stock or some safe estate; while the smaller, more sporting section, impressed by the mild young man’s inside information, had already placed Sally’s money on Benny Whistler, doling it out cautiously in small sums so as not to spoil the market.
It seemed to Sally that the time had come to correct certain misapprehensions.
“I don’t know where you got your figures,” she said, “but I’m afraid they’re wrong. I’ve just twenty-five thousand dollars.”
The statement had a chilling effect. To these jugglers with half millions the amount mentioned seemed for the moment almost too small to bother about. It was the sort of sum which they had been mentally setting aside for the heiress’s pin-money.
“Well, I’ll tell you exactly what I’m going to do,” said Sally. “I’m going to start with a trip to Europe, France especially—I’ve heard France well spoken of—as soon as I can get my passport, and after I’ve loafed there for a few weeks I’m coming back to look about and find some nice, cosy little business which will let me put money into it and keep me in luxury. Are there any complaints?”
At the far end of the table there was a stir, a cough, and the grating of a chair on the floor; and slowly, with that easy grace which actors of the old school learned in the days when acting was acting, Mr. Maxwell Faucitt, the boarding-house’s oldest inhabitant, rose to his feet.
“Ladies,” said Mr. Faucitt, bowing courteously, “and gentlemen. I feel that I cannot allow this occasion to pass without saying a few words.”
His audience did not seem surprised. From the start of the meal they had felt that it would be optimism run mad to expect the old gentleman to abstain from a speech on the night of Sally Nicholas’s farewell dinner-party. A movement on the part of the Marvellous Murphys—new arrivals, who had been playing their equilibristic act at a local music-hall—to form a party on the extreme left, and heckle the speaker, broke down under a cold look from their hostess. Brief though their acquaintance had been, both of these lissom young gentlemen admired Sally intensely.
And it should be set on record that this admiration of theirs was not misplaced. He would have been hard to please who had not been attracted by Sally. She was a small, trim wisp of a girl, with the tiniest of hands and feet, the friendliest of smiles, and a dimple that came and went in the curve of her rounded chin. Her eyes, which disappeared when she laughed, which was often, were a bright hazel; her hair a soft mass of brown. She had, moreover, a manner, an air of distinction lacking in the majority of Mrs. Meecher’s guests. And she carried youth like a banner.
“I have been asked,” proceeded Mr. Faucitt, “though I am aware that there are others here far worthier of such a task—Brutuses compared with whom I, like Marc Antony, am no orator—I have been asked to propose the health of our charming hostess—(applause)—coupled with the name of her brother, our old friend, Fillmore Nicholas.”
The gentleman referred to, who sat at the speaker’s end of the table, acknowledged the tribute with a brief nod of the head. It was a nod of condescension, the nod of one who, conscious of being hedged about by social inferiors, nevertheless does his best to be not unkindly; and Sally, seeing it, debated in her mind for an instant the advisability of throwing an orange at her brother. But she restrained herself.
She leaned back with a sigh. The temptation had been hard to resist. A democratic girl, pomposity was a quality which she thoroughly disliked; and, though she loved him, she could not disguise it from herself that, ever since affluence had descended upon him some months ago, her brother Fillmore had become insufferably pompous. If there are any young men whom inherited wealth improves, Fillmore Nicholas was not one of them. He seemed to regard himself nowadays as a sort of Man of Destiny.
“Speaking,” said Mr. Faucitt, “as an Englishman—for, though I have long since taken out what are technically known as my ‘papers,’ it was as a subject of the island kingdom that I first visited this great country—I may say that the two factors in American life which have always made the profoundest impression upon me have been the lavishness of American hospitality and the charm of the American girl. To-night we have been privileged to witness the American girl in the capacity of hostess, and I think I am right in saying, in committing myself to the statement that this has been a night which none of us present here will ever forget. Miss Nicholas has given us, ladies and gentlemen, a banquet. I repeat, a banquet.”
Mr. Faucitt paused to puff at his cigar. Sally’s brother Fillmore suppressed a yawn, and glanced at his watch. Sally continued to lean forward raptly. She knew how happy it made the old gentleman to deliver a formal speech; and, though she wished the subject had been different, she was prepared to listen indefinitely.
“Miss Nicholas,” resumed Mr. Faucitt, lowering his cigar. “But why,” he demanded, abruptly, “do I call her Miss Nicholas?“
“Because it’s her name,” hazarded the taller Murphy.
Mr. Faucitt eyed him with disfavour.
“Yes, sir,” he said, severely, “it is her name. But she has another name, sweeter to those who love her, those who worship her, those who have watched her with the eye of sedulous affection through the three years she has spent beneath this roof—though that name,” said Mr. Faucitt, lowering the tone of his address, and descending to what might almost be termed personalities, “may not be familiar to a couple of acrobats who have only been in the place a week-end, and, thank Heaven, are going off to-morrow to infest some other city. That name,” said Mr. Faucitt, soaring once more to a loftier plane, “is Sally—our Sally! For three years our Sally has flitted about this establishment like—I choose the simile advisedly—like a ray of sunshine. For three years she has made life for us a brighter, sweeter thing. And now a sudden access of worldly wealth, happily synchronising with her twenty-first birthday, is to remove her from our midst. From our midst, ladies and gentlemen, but not from our hearts. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you our hostess, Miss Sally Nicholas, coupled with the name of our old friend, her brother Fillmore.”
Sally, watching her brother heave himself to his feet as the cheers died away, felt her heart beat a little faster with anticipation. Fillmore was a fluent young man, once a power in his college debating society, and it was for that reason that she had insisted on his coming here to-night. She had guessed that Mr. Faucitt, the old dear, would say all sorts of delightful things about her, and she had mistrusted her ability to make a fitting reply. She knew Mr. Faucitt so well. He looked on these occasions rather in the light of scenes from some play; and, sustaining his own part in them with such polished grace, was certain to be pained by anything in the nature of an anti-climax after he should have ceased to take the stage. Eloquent himself, he must be answered with eloquence, or his whole evening would be spoiled.
Fillmore Nicholas smoothed a wrinkle out of his white waistcoat, and, having rested one podgy hand on the tablecloth and the thumb of the other in his pocket, glanced down the table with eyes so haughtily drooping that Sally’s fingers closed automatically about her orange as she wondered whether even now it might not be a good thing to throw.
“I’m sure,” said Fillmore, “you don’t want a speech. Very good of you to drink our health. Thank you.”
He sat down.
The effect of these few simple words on the company was marked, but not in every case identical. To the majority the emotion which they brought was one of unmixed relief.
Far different was it with Mr. Maxwell Faucitt. The poor old man was wearing such an expression of surprise and dismay as he might have worn had somebody unexpectedly pulled the chair from under him. And Sally, catching sight of his face, uttered a sharp, wordless exclamation, as if she had seen a child fall down and hurt itself in the street. The next moment she had run round the table and was standing behind him with her arms round his neck. She spoke across him with a sob in her voice.
“My brother,” she stammered, directing a malevolent look at the immaculate Fillmore, who, avoiding her gaze, glanced down his nose and smoothed another wrinkle out of his waistcoat, “has not said quite—quite all I hoped he was going to say. I can’t make a speech, but”—Sally gulped—“but—I love you all, and, of course, I shall never forget you, and—and——”
Here Sally kissed Mr. Faucitt and burst into tears.
SALLY had just finished telling her brother Fillmore what a pig he was. The lecture had taken place in the street outside the boarding-house immediately on the conclusion of the festivities, when Fillmore, who had furtively collected his hat and overcoat and stolen forth into the night, had been overtaken and brought to bay by his justly indignant sister. Her remarks, punctuated at intervals by bleating sounds from the accused, lasted some ten minutes.
“What have I done?” demanded Fillmore.
“Do you want to hear all over again?”
“No, no,” said Fillmore, hastily. “But, listen, Sally. You don’t seem to realise that all that sort of thing, all that boarding-house stuff, is a thing of the past. One’s got beyond it. Be fair. Look at it from my view-point. I’m going to be a big man——”
“You’re going to be a fat man,” said Sally, coldly.
Fillmore refrained from discussing the point. He was sensitive.
“Anyway, what I mean is, I don’t see why, just because one has known people at a certain period in one’s life when one was practically down and out, one should have them round one’s neck for ever,” he said. “One can’t prevent people forming an I-knew-him-when club, but, darn it, one needn’t attend the meetings.”
“Oh, friends,” said Fillmore. “That’s just where all this makes me so tired. One’s in a position where all these people are entitled to call themselves one’s friends, simply because father put it in his will that I wasn’t to get the money till I was twenty-five, instead of letting me have it at twenty-one like anybody else. I wonder where I should have been by now if I could have got that money when I was twenty-one?”
“In the poor-house, probably,” said Sally.
Fillmore was wounded. “Ah! You don’t believe in me,” he sighed.
“Oh, you would be all right if you had just one thing,” said Sally.
Fillmore passed his qualities in swift review before his mental eye. Brains? Dash? Spaciousness? Initiative? All present and correct. He wondered where Sally imagined the hiatus to exist.
“One thing?” he said. “What’s that?”
Fillmore’s sense of injury deepened. He supposed that this was always the way, that those nearest to a man never believed in his ability till he had proved it so masterfully that it no longer required the assistance of faith.
“I shall find my place in the world,” he said, sulkily.
“Oh, you’ll find your place all right,” said Sally.
“And I’ll come and bring you jelly and read to you on the days when visitors are allowed—— Oh, hullo!”
The last remark was addressed to a young man who had been swinging briskly along from the direction of Broadway and who now, coming abreast of them, stopped.
“Good evening, Mr. Foster.”
“Good evening, Miss Nicholas.”
“You don’t know my brother, do you?”
“I don’t believe I do.”
“He left the underworld before you came to it,” said Sally. “You wouldn’t think it to look at him, but he was once a prune-eater among the proletariat, even as you and I. Mrs. Meecher looks on him as a son.”
The two men shook hands. Fillmore was not short, but Gerald Foster, with his lean, well-built figure, seemed to tower over him. He was an Englishman, a man in the middle twenties, clean-shaven, keen-eyed, and very good to look at. Fillmore, who had recently been going in for one of those sum-up-your-fellow-man-at-a-glance courses, the better to fit himself for his career of greatness, was rather impressed. It seemed to him that this Mr. Foster, like himself, was one of those who get there.
There was a few moments’ desultory conversation, of the kind that usually follows an introduction, and then Fillmore, by no means sorry to get the chance, took advantage of the coming of this new arrival to remove himself.
Sally stood for a moment, watching him till he had disappeared round the corner. Then, turning to Gerald Foster, she slipped her arm through his.
“Well, Jerry darling,” she said. “What a shame you couldn’t come to the party. Tell me all about everything.”
IT was exactly two months since Sally had become engaged to Gerald Foster, but so rigorously had they kept their secret that nobody at Mrs. Meecher’s so much as suspected it. To Sally, who all her life had hated concealing things, secrecy of any kind was objectionable; but in this matter Gerald had shown an odd streak almost of furtiveness in his character. An announced engagement complicated life. People fussed about you and bothered you. Such were his arguments; and Sally, who would have glossed over and found excuses for a disposition on his part towards homicide or arson, put them down to artistic sensitiveness.
There is nobody so sensitive as your artist, particularly if he be unsuccessful; and when an artist has so little success that he cannot afford to make a home for the woman he loves, his sensitiveness presumably becomes great indeed. Putting herself in his place, Sally could see that a protracted engagement, known by everybody, would be a standing advertisement of Gerald’s failure to make good, and she acquiesced in the policy of secrecy, hoping that it would not last long.
“The party,” said Sally, “went off splendidly.” They had passed the boarding-house door, and were walking slowly down the street. “Everybody enjoyed themselves, I think. Mr. Faucitt made a speech, and I made a speech and cried, and—oh, it was all very festive. It only needed you.”
“I wish I could have come. I had to go to that dinner, though, Sally!” Gerald paused, and Sally saw that he was electric with suppressed excitement. “Sally, the play’s going to be put on!”
Sally gave a little gasp. She had lived this moment in anticipation for weeks. She had always known that, sooner or later, this would happen. She had read his plays over and over again, and was convinced that they were wonderful. Of course, hers was a biassed view; but then Elsa Doland also admired them, and Elsa’s opinion was one that carried weight. Elsa was another of those people who were bound to succeed suddenly. Even old Mr. Faucitt, who was a stern judge of acting, and rather inclined to consider that nowadays there was no such thing, believed that she was a girl with a future, who would do something big directly she got her chance.
“Jerry!” She gave his arm a hug. “How simply terrific! Then Goble and Kohn have changed their minds and want it after all? I knew they would.”
A slight cloud seemed to dim for a moment the sunniness of the author’s mood.
“No, not that one,” he said, reluctantly. “No hope there, I’m afraid. I saw Goble this morning about that, and he said it didn’t add up right. The one that’s going to be put on is The Primrose Way. You remember? It’s got a big part for a girl in it.”
“Of course. The one Elsa liked so much. Well, that’s just as good. Who’s going to do it? I thought you hadn’t sent it out again.”
“Well, it happens——” Gerald hesitated once more. “It seems that this man I was dining with to-night—a man named Cracknell——”
“Cracknell? Not the Cracknell? The man they call the Millionaire Kid.”
“Yes. Why, do you know him?”
“He was at college with Fillmore. I never saw him, but he must be rather a painful person.”
“Oh, he’s all right. Not much brains, of course, but—well, he’s all right. And, anyway, he wants to put the play on.”
“Well, that’s splendid,” said Sally, but she could not get the right ring of enthusiasm into her voice. She had had ideals for Gerald. She had dreamed of his invading Broadway triumphantly under the banner of one of the big managers whose name carried a prestige, and there seemed something unworthy in this association with a man whose chief claim to eminence lay in the fact that he was credited by metropolitan gossip with possessing the largest private stock of alcoholic liquor in existence.
“I thought you would be pleased,” said Gerald.
“Oh, I am,” said Sally.
With the buoyant optimism which never deserted her for long, she had already begun to cast off her momentary depression.
“Who will play Ruth?” she asked. “You must have somebody wonderful. It needs a tremendously clever woman. Did Mr. Cracknell say anything about that?”
“Oh, yes, we discussed that, of course.”
“Well, it seems——” Again Sally noticed that odd, almost stealthy embarrassment. Gerald appeared unable to begin a sentence to-night without feeling his way into it like a man creeping cautiously down a dark alley. She noticed it the more because it was so different from his usual direct method. Gerald, as a rule, was not one of those who apologise for themselves. He was forthright and masterful, and inclined to talk to her from a height. To-night he seemed diffident.
He broke off, was silent for a moment, and began again with a question:—
“Do you know Mabel Hobson?”
“Mabel Hobson? I’ve seen her in the Follies, of course.”
Sally started. A suspicion had stung her, so monstrous that its absurdity became manifest the moment it had formed. And yet was it absurd? Most Broadway gossip filtered eventually into the boarding-house, and she was aware that the name of Reginald Cracknell, which was always getting itself linked with somebody, had been coupled with that of Miss Hobson. It seemed likely that in this instance rumour spoke truth, for the lady was of that compellingly blonde beauty which attracts the Cracknells of this world. But even so——
“It seems that Cracknell——” said Gerald. “Apparently this man Cracknell——” He was finding Sally’s bright, horrified gaze somewhat trying. “Well, the fact is, Cracknell believes in Mabel Hobson—and—well, he thinks this part would suit her.”
Could infatuation go to such a length? Could even the spacious heart of a Reginald Cracknell so dominate that gentleman’s small size in heads as to make him entrust a part like Ruth in The Primrose Way to one who, when desired by the producer of her last revue to carry a bowl of roses across the stage and place it on a table, had rebelled on the plea that she had not been engaged as a dancer?
“Oh, Jerry,” she said again.
There was an uncomfortable silence. They turned and walked back in the direction of the boarding-house. Somehow Gerald’s arm had managed to get itself detached from Sally’s. She was conscious of a curious, dull ache that was almost like a physical pain.
“Jerry! Is it worth it?” she burst out, vehemently.
The question seemed to sting the young man into something like his usual decisive speech.
“Worth it? Of course it’s worth it. It’s a Broadway production. That’s all that matters. Good heavens, I’ve been trying long enough to get a play on Broadway, and it isn’t likely that I’m going to chuck away my chance when it comes along, just because one might do better in the way of casting.”
“But, Jerry! Mabel Hobson! It’s—it’s murder! Murder in the first degree.”
“Nonsense. She’ll be all right. The part will play itself. Besides, she has a personality and a following, and Cracknell will spend all the money in the world to make the thing a success. And it will be a start, whatever happens. Of course it’s worth it.”
Fillmore would have been impressed by this speech. He would have recognised and respected in it the unmistakable ring which characterises even the lightest utterances of those who get there. On Sally it had not immediately that effect. Nevertheless, her habit of making the best of things, working together with that primary article of her creed that the man she loved could do no wrong, succeeded finally in raising her spirits. Of course, Jerry was right. It would have been foolish to refuse a contract because all its clauses were not ideal.
“You old darling,” she said, affectionately, attaching herself to the vacant arm once more and giving it a penitent squeeze, “you’re quite right. Of course you are. I can see it now. I was only a little startled at first. Everything’s going to be wonderful. Let’s get all our chickens out and count ’em. How are you going to spend the money?”
“I know how I’m going to spend a dollar of it,” said Gerald, completely restored.
“I mean the big money. What’s a dollar?”
“It pays for a marriage licence.”
Sally gave his arm another squeeze.
“Ladies and gentlemen” she said, “look at this man. Observe him. My partner!”
“an absolute topper”
SALLY was sitting with her back against a hillock of golden sand, watching with half-closed eyes the denizens of Roville-sur-Mer at their familiar morning occupations. Whiskered fathers of families made cheerful patches of colour in the foreground. Their female friends and relatives clustered in groups under gay parasols. Dogs roamed to and fro, and children dug industriously with spades, ever and anon suspending their labours in order to smite one another with these handy implements. One of the dogs, a poodle of military aspect, wandered up to Sally, and, discovering that she was in possession of a box of sweets, decided to remain and await developments.
Sally’s vacation had been a magic month of lazy happiness. She had drifted luxuriously from one French town to another, till the charm of Roville, with its blue sky, its Casino, its snow-white hotels along the Promenade, and its general glitter and gaiety, had brought her to a halt. Here she could have stayed indefinitely, but the voice of America was calling her back. Gerald had written to say that The Primrose Way was to be produced in Detroit, preliminary to its New York run, so soon that, if she wished to see the opening, she must return at once. A scrappy, hurried, unsatisfactory letter, the letter of a busy man, but one that Sally could not ignore. She was leaving Roville to-morrow.
To-day, however, was to-day, and she sat drowsily watching the bathers until she was aroused by voices close at hand. There were many voices on the beach, both near and distinct, but these were talking English, a novelty in Roville, and the sound of the familiar tongue jerked Sally back from the borders of sleep. A few feet away two men had seated themselves on the sand.
The first of the pair did not attract her. He was a tall, dark man, whose tight, precise mouth and rather high cheek-bones gave him an appearance vaguely sinister. He had the dusky look of the clean-shaven man whose life is a perpetual struggle with a determined beard.
“Hard,” diagnosed Sally. “I shouldn’t like him. A lawyer or something, I think.”
She turned to the other, and found herself looking into his eyes. This was because he had been staring at Sally with the utmost intentness ever since his arrival. His mouth had opened slightly. He had the air of a man who, after many disappointments, has at last found something worth looking at.
“Rather a dear,” decided Sally.
He was a sturdy, thick-set young man, with an amiable, freckled face, and the reddest hair Sally had ever seen.
“A temper, I should think,” she meditated. “Very quick, but soon over. Not very clever, I should say, but nice.”
She looked away, finding his fascinated gaze a little embarrassing.
The dark man, who, in the objectionably competent fashion which, one felt, characterised all his actions, had just succeeded in lighting a cigarette in the teeth of a strong breeze, threw away the match, and resumed the conversation which had presumably been interrupted by the process of sitting down.
“And how is Scrymgeour?” he inquired.
“Oh, all right,” replied the young man with red hair, absently. Sally was looking straight in front of her, but she felt that his eyes were still busy.
“I was surprised at his being here. He told me he meant to stay in Paris.”
There was a slight pause. Sally gave the attentive poodle a piece of nougat.
“I say!” observed the red-haired young man, in clear, penetrating tones that vibrated with intense feeling. “That’s the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen in my life.”
AT this frank revelation of the red-haired young man’s personal opinions, Sally, though considerably startled, was not displeased. A broad-minded girl, the outburst seemed to her a legitimate comment on a matter of public interest. The young man’s companion, on the other hand, was unmixedly shocked.
“My dear fellow!” he ejaculated.
“Oh, it’s all right,” said the red-haired young man, unmoved. “She can’t understand. There isn’t a bally soul in this dashed place that can speak a word of English. If I didn’t happen to remember a few odd bits of my French, I should have starved by this time. That girl,” he went on, returning to the subject most imperatively occupying his mind, “is an absolute topper! I give you my solemn word, I’ve never seen anybody to touch her. Look at those hands and feet. You don’t get them outside France. Of course, her mouth is a bit wide,” he said, reluctantly.
Sally’s immobility, added to the other’s assurance concerning the linguistic deficiencies of the inhabitants of Roville, seemed to reassure the dark man. He breathed again. At no period of his life had he ever behaved with anything but the most scrupulous correctness himself, but he had quailed at the idea of being associated, even remotely, with incorrectness in another. It had been a black moment for him when the red-haired young man had uttered those few kind words.
“Still, you ought to be careful,” he said, austerely.
He looked at Sally, who was now dividing her attention between the poodle and a raffish-looking mongrel who had joined the party, and returned to the topic of the mysterious Scrymgeour.
“How is Scrymgeour’s dyspepsia?”
The red-haired young man seemed but faintly interested in the vicissitudes of Scrymgeour’s interior.
“Do you notice the way her hair sort of curls over her ears?” he said. “Eh? Oh, pretty much the same, I think.”
“What hotel are you staying at?”
“The ‘Normandie.’ ”
Sally, dipping into the box for another chocolate cream, gave an imperceptible start. She, too, was staying at the “Normandie.” She presumed that her admirer was a recent arrival, for she had seen nothing of him at the hotel.
“The ‘Normandie’?” The dark man looked puzzled. “I know Roville pretty well by report. I’ve never heard of any Hotel Normandie. Where is it?”
“It’s a little shanty down near the station. Not much of a place. Still, it’s cheap, and the cooking’s all right.”
His companion’s bewilderment increased.
“What on earth is a man like Scrymgeour doing there?” he said. Sally was conscious of an urgent desire to know more and more about the absent Scrymgeour. Constant repetition of his name had made him seem almost like an old friend. “If there’s one thing he’s fussy about——”
“There are at least eleven thousand things he’s fussy about,” interrupted the red-haired young man, disapprovingly. “Jumpy old blighter!”
“If there’s one thing he’s particular about, it’s the sort of hotel he goes to. Ever since I’ve known him he has always wanted the best. I should have thought he would have gone to the ‘Splendide.’ I’d like to see him again. Ask him if he will dine with me at the ‘Splendide’ to-night—say, eight sharp.”
Sally, occupied with her dogs, whose numbers had now been augmented by a white terrier with a black patch over its left eye, could not see the young man’s face; but his voice, when he replied, told her that something was wrong. There was a false airiness in it.
“Oh, Scrymgeour isn’t in Roville.”
“No? Where is he?”
“Paris, I believe.”
“What!” The dark man’s voice sharpened. He sounded as though he were cross-examining a reluctant witness. “Then why aren’t you there? What are you doing here? Did he give you a holiday?”
“Yes, he did!”
“When do you rejoin him?”
The red-haired young man’s manner was now unmistakably dogged.
“Well, if you want to know,” he said, “the old blighter sacked me the day before yesterday.”
THERE was a shuffling of sand as the dark man sprang up. Sally, intent on the drama which was unfolding itself beside her, absent-mindedly gave the poodle a piece of candy which should by rights have gone to the terrier.
“Do you mean to tell me,” demanded the dark man, “that, after all the trouble the family took to get you what was practically a sinecure with endless possibilities, if you only behaved yourself, you have deliberately thrown away——” A despairing gesture completed the sentence. “Good God! You’re hopeless!”
The red-haired young man made no reply. He continued to gaze down the beach.
“It’s maddening! What are you going to do? What do you expect us to do? Are we to spend our whole lives getting you positions which you won’t keep? I can tell you we’re—— It’s monstrous! It’s sickening! Good God!”
And with these words the dark man, apparently feeling, as Sally had sometimes felt in the society of her brother Fillmore, the futility of mere language, turned sharply, and stalked away up the beach.
He left behind him the sort of electric calm which follows the falling of a thunderbolt; that stunned calm through which the air seems still to quiver protestingly. How long this would have lasted one cannot say, for towards the end of the first minute it was shattered by a purely terrestrial uproar. With an abruptness heralded only by one short, low, gurgling snarl, there sprang into being the prettiest dog-fight that Roville had seen that season.
There is about any dog-fight a wild, gusty fury which affects the average mortal with something of the helplessness induced by some vast clashing of the elements. And this was no ordinary dog-fight. It was a bird of a mêlée. From all over the beach dogs of every size, breed, and colour were racing to the scene; and while some of these merely remained in the ring-side seats and barked, a considerable proportion immediately started fighting one another on general principles, well content to be in action without bothering about first causes.
Sally was frankly unequal to the situation, as were the entire crowd of spectators who had come galloping up from the water’s edge. She had been paralysed from the start. Snarling bundles bumped against her legs and bounced away again, but she made no move. Advice in fluent French rent the air. Arms waved, and well-filled bathing-suits leaped up and down. But nobody did anything practical until in the centre of the theatre of war there suddenly appeared the red-haired young man.
From the first moment of his intervention calm began to steal over the scene, until presently all that was left of Armageddon was one solitary small Scotch terrier, thoughtfully licking a chewed leg.
Having achieved this miracle, the young man turned to Sally. Gallant, one might say reckless, as he had been a moment before, he now gave indications of a rather pleasing shyness.
“J’espère,” he said, having swallowed once or twice to brace himself up for the journey through the jungle of a foreign tongue, “J’espère que vous n’etes pas—oh dammit, what’s the word?—j’espère que vous n’etes pas blessé?”
“Yes, blessé. Wounded. Hurt, don’t you know. Bitten. Oh, dash it. J’espère——”
“Oh, bitten!” said Sally, dimpling. “Oh, no, thanks very much. I wasn’t bitten. And I think it was awfully brave of you to save all our lives.”
The compliment seemed to pass over the young man’s head. He stared at Sally with horrified eyes. Over his amiable face there swept a vivid blush. His jaw dropped.
“Oh, my sainted aunt!” he ejaculated.
Then, as if the situation was too much for him and flight the only possible solution, he spun round and disappeared at a walk so rapid that it was almost a run.
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 lift-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 that night, found the little hall dim and silent. Through the iron cage of the lift one faint bulb glowed; another, over a desk in the far corner, illuminated the upper half of Jules, slumbering in a chair.
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. Turning, she 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 neighbourhood of the lift, now threw back the cage with a rattle.
“It’s a shame to have woken you up,” said Sally, commiseratingly, stepping in.
Jules did not reply, for the excellent reason that he had not been woken 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 rope, 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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
“Stop him!” said Sally, firmly.
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 schooldays. 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.
“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 a corner of the lift 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. But nobody yet has come forward with practical advice as to the correct method of behaviour to be adopted when the lift-man starts crying. And Sally and her companion, 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. “It will be something to do.”
“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 realise 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 realise that we’re practically castaways on a desert island? There’s nothing to do till to-morrow but talk about ourselves. I want to hear all about you, and then I’ll tell you all about myself. 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.
“That’s awfully good of you.”
“Not at all.”
“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!”
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 one’s 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 Fil——”
“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 ball-room dancing, so I ball-room danced. I got a job at a place on Broadway called ‘The Flower Garden,’ as what is humorously called 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.”
“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 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’m sure the last dweller under this roof came in hours ago. We shall be here till morning.”
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.
“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.”
“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 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 devilling. 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 less 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, shrivelled-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.”
“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 vigour 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 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.
A rapid-fire dialogue having taken place between Jules and the new comer, the keys were handed through the cage, the door opened, and the lift 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.
a good word for ginger
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 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 seven-fifteen 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. 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.
It is the big Casino Municipale, 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 entrenched behind an opulent-looking mound of square counters; and, even as Sally looked, a wooden-faced croupier shoved a further instalment across the table to him at the end of his long rake.
The croupier gave his moustache a twist with his left hand, and the wheel a twist with his right. 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 worshippers 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 colour, a shuddering groan ran through the congregation. More glances of reproach were cast at Sally. It was generally felt that her injudicious behaviour 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.
“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 ante-room 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,” explained 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?”
SALLY stared at his vermilion profile in frank amazement. Ginger, she had realised by this time, was in many ways a surprising young man, but she had not expected him to be as surprising as this.
“You know what I mean.”
“Well, yes, I suppose I do. You allude to the holy state. Yes, I know what you mean.”
“Then how about it?”
Sally began to regain her composure. Her sense of humour was tickled. She looked at Ginger gravely. He did not meet her eye, but continued to drink in the uniformed official, who was by now so carried away by the romance of it all that he had begun to hum a love ballad under his breath.
“But isn’t this—don’t think I am trying to make difficulties—isn’t this a little sudden?”
“It’s got to be sudden,” said Ginger Kemp, complainingly. “I thought you were going to be here for weeks.”
“But, my infant, my babe, has it occurred to you that we are practically strangers?” She patted his hand tolerantly, causing the uniformed official to heave a tender sigh. “I see what has happened,” she said. “You’re mistaking me for some other girl, some girl you know really well and were properly introduced to. Take a good look at me, and you’ll see.”
“If I take a good look at you,” said Ginger, feverishly, “I’m dashed if I’ll answer for the consequences.”
“And this is the man I was going to lecture on enterprise!”
“You’re the most wonderful girl I’ve ever met, dash it!” said Ginger, his gaze still riveted on the official by the door. “I daresay it is sudden. I can’t help that. I fell in love with you the moment I saw you, and there you are!”
“Now, look here, I know I’m not much of a chap and all that, but—well, I’ve just won the deuce of a lot of money in there——”
“Would you buy me with your gold?”
“I mean to say, we should have enough to start on, and—of course, I’ve made an infernal hash of everything I’ve tried up till now, but there must be something I can do, and you can jolly well bet I’d have a goodish stab at it. I mean to say, with you to buck me up and so forth, don’t you know. Well, I mean——”
“Has it struck you that I may already be engaged to someone else?”
“Oh, golly! Are you?”
For the first time he turned and faced her, and there was a look in his eyes which touched Sally, and drove all sense of the ludicrous out of her. Absurd as it was, this man was really serious.
“Well, yes; as a matter of fact, I am,” she said, soberly.
Ginger Kemp bit his lip, and for a moment was silent.
“Oh, well, that’s torn it!” he said, at last.
Sally was aware of an emotion too complex for analysis. There was pity in it, but amusement too. The emotion, though she did not recognise it, was maternal. Mothers, listening to their children pleading with engaging absurdity for something wholly out of their power to bestow, feel that same wavering between tears and laughter. Sally wanted to pick Ginger up and kiss him. The one thing she could not do was to look on him, sorry as she was for him, as a reasonable, grown-up man.
“You don’t really mean it, you know.”
“Don’t I?” said Ginger, hollowly. “Oh, don’t I?”
“You can’t! There isn’t such a thing in real life as love at first sight. Love’s a thing that comes when you know a person well and——” She paused. It had just occurred to her that she was hardly the girl to lecture in this strain. Her own love for Gerald Foster had been sufficiently sudden, even instantaneous. She found this recollection damping to her eloquence, and ended by saying, tamely, “It’s ridiculous.”
Ginger had simmered down to a mood of melancholy resignation.
“I couldn’t have expected you to care for me, I suppose, anyway,” he said, sombrely. “I’m not much of a chap.”
It was just the diversion from the theme under discussion which Sally had been longing to find. She welcomed the chance of continuing the conversation on a less intimate and sentimental note.
“That’s exactly what I wanted to talk to you about,” she said, seizing the opportunity offered by this display of humility. “I’ve been looking for you all day to go on with what I was starting to say in the lift last night, when we were interrupted. Do you mind if I talk to you like an aunt—or a sister, suppose we say? Really, the best plan would be for you to adopt me as an honorary sister. What do you think?”
Ginger did not appear noticeably elated at the suggested relationship.
“Because I really do take a tremendous interest in you.”
“That’s awfully good of you.”
“I’m going to speak words of wisdom. Ginger, why don’t you brace up?”
“Yes, stiffen your backbone, and stick out your chin, and square your elbows, and really amount to something. Why do you simply flop about and do nothing, and leave everything to what you call ‘the family’? Why do you have to be helped all the time? Why don’t you help yourself? Why do you have to have jobs found for you? Why don’t you rush out and get one? Why do you have to worry about what ‘the family’ thinks of you? Why don’t you make yourself independent of them? You’ll never get anywhere by letting yourself be picked up by the family like—like a floppy, Newfoundland puppy, and dumped down in any old place that happens to suit them. A job’s a thing you’ve got to choose for yourself and get for yourself. Think what you can do—there must be something—and then go at it with a snort, and grab it, and hold it down, and teach it to take a joke. You’ve managed to collect some money. It will give you time to look round. And, when you’ve had a look round, do something! Try to realise you’re alive, and try to imagine the family isn’t!”
Sally stopped and drew a deep breath. Ginger Kemp did not reply for a moment. He seemed greatly impressed.
“When you talk quick,” he said at length, in a serious, meditative voice, “your nose sort of goes all squiggly. Ripping, it looks!”
Sally uttered an indignant cry.
“Do you mean to say you haven’t been listening to a word I’ve been saying?” she demanded.
“Oh, rather! Oh, by Jove, yes.”
“Well, what did I say?”
“You—er—— And your eyes sort of shine, too.”
“Never mind my eyes. What did I say?”
“You told me,” said Ginger, on reflection, “to get a job.”
“Well, yes. I put it much better than that, but that’s what it amounted to, I suppose. All right, then. I’m glad you——”
Ginger was eyeing her with mournful devotion.
“I say,” he interrupted, “I wish you’d let me write to you. Letters, I mean, and all that. I have an idea it would kind of buck me up.”
“You won’t have time for writing letters.”
“I’ll have time to write them to you. You haven’t an address or anything of that sort in America, have you, by any chance? I mean, so that I’d know where to write to.”
“I can give you an address which will always find me.” She told him the number and street of Mrs. Meecher’s boarding-house, and he wrote them down reverently on his shirt-cuff. “Yes, on second thoughts, do write,” she said. “Of course, I shall want to know how you’ve got on. I—— Oh, my goodness! That clock’s not right?”
“Just about. What time does your train go?”
“Go! It’s gone! Or, at least, it goes in about two seconds.” She made a rush for the swing door, to the confusion of the uniformed official, who had not been expecting this sudden activity. “Good-bye, Ginger. Write to me, and remember what I said.”
Ginger, alert, after his unexpected fashion when it became a question of physical action, had followed her through the swing door, and they emerged together and started running down the square.
“Stick it!” said Ginger, encouragingly. He was running easily and well, as becomes a man who in his day has been a snip for his international at scrum-half.
Sally saved her breath. The train was beginning to move slowly out of the station as they sprinted abreast on to the platform. Ginger dived for the nearest door, wrenched it open, gathered Sally neatly in his arms, and flung her in. She landed squarely on the toes of a man who occupied the corner seat, and, bounding off again, made for the window. Ginger, faithful to the last, was trotting beside the train as it gathered speed.
“Ginger! My poor porter! Tip him. I forgot.”
“Look after yourself, and death to the family!”
The train passed smoothly out of the station. Sally cast one last look back at her red-haired friend, who had now halted and was waving a handkerchief. Then she turned to apologise to the other occupant of the carriage.
“I’m so sorry,” she said, breathlessly. “I hope I didn’t hurt you.”
She found herself facing Ginger’s cousin, the dark man of yesterday’s episode on the beach, Bruce Carmyle.
(Another instalment of this thrilling story will appear in our next issue.)