Grand Magazine, September 1922
CHAPTER XIV (Continued)
“NO!” said Ginger.
Sally looked at him with exasperation. “Ginger, I’d like to slap you,” she said. It was maddening, this intrusion of sentiment into business affairs. Why, simply because he was a man and she was a woman, should she be restrained from investing money in a sound commercial undertaking?
“I can’t take five thousand dollars off you,” said Ginger, firmly.
“Who’s talking of taking it off me, as you call it?” stormed Sally. “Can’t you forget your burglarious career for a second? This isn’t the same thing as going about stealing defenceless girls’ photographs. This is business. I think you would make an enormous success of a dog-place, and you admit you’re good, so why make frivolous objections? Why shouldn’t I put money into a good thing? Don’t you want me to get rich, or what is it?”
Ginger was becoming confused. Argument had never been his strong point.
“But it’s such a lot of money.”
“To you, perhaps. Not to me. I’m a plutocrat. Five thousand dollars! What’s five thousand dollars? I feed it to the birds.”
Ginger pondered woodenly for a while. His was a literal mind, and he knew nothing of Sally’s finances beyond the fact that when he had first met her she had come into a legacy of some kind. Moreover, he had been hugely impressed by Fillmore’s magnificence. It seemed plain enough that the Nicholases were a wealthy family.
“I don’t like it, you know,” he said.
“You don’t have to like it,” said Sally. “You just do it.”
A consoling thought flashed upon Ginger.
“You’d have to let me pay you interest.”
“Let you? My lad, you’ll have to pay me interest. What do you think this is—a round game? It’s a cold business deal.”
“Topping!” said Ginger, relieved. “How about twenty-five per cent.?”
“Don’t be silly,” said Sally quickly. “I want three.”
“No, that’s all rot,” protested Ginger. “I mean to say—three! I don’t,” he went on, making a concession, “mind saying twenty.”
“If you insist I’ll make it five. Not more.”
“Well, ten, then?”
“Suppose,” said Ginger, insinuatingly, “I said seven?”
“I never saw anyone like you for haggling,” said Sally, with disapproval. “Listen! Six. And that’s my last word.”
Ginger did sums in his head.
“But that would only work out at three hundred dollars a year. It isn’t enough.”
“What do you know about it? As if I hadn’t been handling this sort of deal all my life. Six! Do you agree?”
“I suppose so.”
“Then that’s settled. Is this man you talk about in New York?”
“No, he’s down on Long Island at a place on the south shore.”
“I mean, can you get him on the ’phone and clinch the thing?”
“Oh yes. I know his address, and I suppose his number’s in the book.”
“Then go off at once and settle with him before somebody else snaps him up. Don’t waste a minute.”
Ginger paused at the door.
“I say, you’re absolutely sure about this?”
“I mean to say——”
“Get on,” said Sally.
a girl against the world
THE window of Sally’s sitting-room looked out on to a street which, while not one of the city’s important arteries, was capable nevertheless of affording a certain amount of entertainment to the observer, and after Ginger had left she carried the morning paper to the window-sill and proceeded to divide her attention between a third reading of the fight report and a lazy survey of the outer world.
She had not been at her post for many minutes when a taxi-cab stopped at the apartment house, and she was surprised and interested to see her brother Fillmore heave himself out of the interior. He paid the driver, and the cab moved off, leaving him on the footpath casting a large shadow in the sunshine. Sally was on the point of calling to him when his behaviour became so odd that astonishment checked her.
From where she sat Fillmore had all the appearance of a man practising the steps of a new dance, and sheer curiosity as to what he would do next kept Sally watching in silence. First, he moved in a resolute sort of way towards the front door; then, suddenly stopping, scuttled back. This movement he repeated twice, after which he stood in deep thought before making another dash for the door, which, like the others, came to an abrupt end as though he had run into some invisible obstacle. And finally, wheeling sharply, he bustled off down the street and was lost to view.
Sally could make nothing of it. If Fillmore had taken the trouble to come in a taxi-cab, obviously to call upon her, why had he abandoned the idea at her very threshold? She was still speculating on this mystery when the telephone-bell rang, and her brother’s voice spoke huskily in her ear.
“Hullo, Fill. What are you going to call it?”
“What am I—— Call what?”
“The dance you were doing outside here just now. It’s your own invention, isn’t it?”
“I—er—I was coming to have a talk with you, Sally——” Fillmore’s voice trailed off.
“Well, why didn’t you?”
There was a pause—on Fillmore’s part, if the timbre of his voice correctly indicated his feelings, a pause of discomfort. Something was plainly vexing Fillmore’s great mind.
“Sally,” he said, at last, and coughed hollowly into the receiver.
“I—that is to say, I have asked Gladys—Gladys will be coming to see you very shortly. Will you be in?”
“I’ll stay in. How is Gladys? I’m longing to see her again.”
“She is very well. A trifle—a little upset.”
“Upset? What about?”
“She will tell you when she arrives. I have just been ’phoning to her. She is coming at once.” There was another pause. “I’m afraid she has bad news.”
But Fillmore had rung off. Sally hung up the receiver thoughtfully. She was puzzled and anxious. However, there being nothing to be gained by worrying, she carried the breakfast things into the kitchen and tried to divert herself by washing up. Presently a ring at the door-bell brought her out, to find her sister-in-law.
Marriage, even though it had brought with it the lofty position of partnership with the hope of the American stage, had effected no noticeable alteration in the former Miss Winch. As Mrs. Fillmore she was the same square, friendly creature. She hugged Sally in a muscular manner and went on into the sitting-room.
“Well, it’s great seeing you again,” she said. “I began to think you were never coming back. What was the big idea, springing over to England like that?”
Sally had been expecting the question, and answered it with composure.
“I wanted to help Mr. Faucitt.”
“Well, the trip’s done you good,” said Mrs. Fillmore. “You’re prettier than ever.”
There was a pause. Already, in these trivial opening exchanges, Sally had sensed a suggestion of unwonted gravity in her companion. She missed that careless whimsicality which had been the chief characteristic of Miss Gladys Winch and seemed to have been cast off by Mrs. Fillmore Nicholas.
“What’s the bad news?” asked Sally, abruptly. She wanted to end the suspense. “Fillmore was telling me over the ’phone that you had some bad news for me.”
Mrs. Fillmore scratched at the carpet for a moment with the end of her parasol without replying. When she spoke it was not in answer to the question.
“Sally, who’s this man Carmyle over in England?”
“Oh, did Fillmore tell you about him?”
“He told me there was a rich fellow over in England who was crazy about you and had asked you to marry him, and that you had turned him down.”
Sally’s momentary annoyance faded. She could hardly, she felt, have expected Fillmore to refrain from mentioning the matter to his wife.
“Yes,” she said. “That’s true.”
“You couldn’t write and say you’ve changed your mind?”
Sally’s annoyance returned. All her life she had been intensely independent, resentful of interference with her private concerns.
“I suppose I could if I had—but I haven’t. Did Fillmore tell you to try to talk me round?”
“Oh, I’m not trying to talk you round,” said Mrs. Fillmore, quickly. “Goodness knows, I’m the last person to try and jolly anyone into marrying anybody if they didn’t feel like it. I’ve seen too many marriages go wrong to do that. Look at Elsa Doland.”
Sally’s heart jumped as if an exposed nerve had been touched.
“Elsa?” she stammered, and hated herself because her voice shook. “Has—has her marriage gone wrong?”
“Gone all to bits,” said Mrs. Fillmore, shortly. “You remember she married Gerald Foster, the man who wrote The Primrose Way?”
Sally, with an effort, repressed a hysterical laugh.
“Yes, I remember,” she said.
“Well, it’s all gone blooey. I’ll tell you about that in a minute. Coming back to this man in England, if you’re in any doubt about it—I mean, you can’t always tell right away whether you’re fond of a man or not. When I first met Fillmore——”
Sally stopped her.
“No, it’s no good. I don’t want to marry Mr. Carmyle.”
“That’s that, then,” said Mrs. Fillmore. “It’s a pity, though.”
“Why are you taking it so much to heart?” said Sally, with a nervous laugh.
“Well——” Mrs. Fillmore paused. Sally’s anxiety was growing. It must, she realised, be something very serious indeed that had happened if it had the power to make her forthright sister-in-law disjointed in her talk. “You see——” went on Mrs. Fillmore, and stopped again. “Gee! I’m hating this!” she murmured.
“What is it? I don’t understand.”
“You’ll find it’s all too darned clear by the time I’m through,” said Mrs. Fillmore, mournfully. “If I’m going to explain this thing, I guess I’d best start at the beginning. You remember that revue of Fillmore’s—the one we both begged him not to put on? It flopped.”
“Yes. It flopped on the road, and died there. Never got to New York at all. Ike Schumann wouldn’t let Fillmore have a theatre. The book wanted fixing and the numbers wanted fixing and the scenery wasn’t right; and while they were tinkering with all that there was some trouble about the cast and the Actors’ Equity closed the show. Best thing that could have happened, really, and I was glad at the time, because going on with it would only have meant wasting more money, and it has cost a fortune already. After that Fillmore put on a play of Gerald Foster’s, and that was a frost, too.”
“But——” Sally tried to speak, but Mrs. Fillmore went on.
“Don’t talk just yet, or I shall never get this thing straight. Well, you know Fillmore, poor darling. Anyone else would have pulled in his horns and gone slow for a spell, but he’s one of those fellows whose horse is always going to win the next race. The big killing is always just round the corner with him. He thought he could get it all back by staging this fight of his that came off in Jersey City last night. And if everything had gone right he might have got afloat again. But it seems as if he can’t touch anything without it turning to mud.
“On the very day before the fight was to come off, the poor mutt who was going against the champion goes and lets a sparring-partner of his knock him down and fool round with him. With all the newspaper men there, too! Well, that killed the whole thing. The public had never been any too sure that this fellow Bugs Butler had a chance of putting up a scrap with the champion that would be worth paying to see; and, when they read that he couldn’t even stop his sparring-partners slamming him all round the place they simply decided to stay away. Poor old Fill! It was a finisher for him. The house wasn’t a quarter full, and after he’d paid these two pluguglies their guarantees, which they insisted on having before they’d so much as go into the ring, he was just about cleaned out. So there you are!”
Sally had listened with dismay to this catalogue of misfortune.
“Oh, poor Fill!” she cried. “How dreadful!”
“But The Primrose Way is a big success, isn’t it?” said Sally, anxious to discover something of brightness in the situation.
“It was.” Mrs. Fillmore flushed again. “This is the part I hate having to tell you.”
“It was? Do you mean it isn’t still? I thought Elsa had made such a tremendous hit.”
“Yes, she made a hit all right,” said Mrs. Fillmore, drily. “She made such a hit that all the other managements in New York were after her right away, and Fillmore had hardly sailed when she handed in her notice and signed up with Goble & Cohn for a new piece they are starring her in.”
“Oh, she couldn’t!” cried Sally.
“My dear, she did! She’s out on the road with it now. I had to break the news to poor old Fillmore at the dock when he landed. It was rather a blow. I must say it wasn’t what I would call playing the game. I know there isn’t supposed to be any sentiment in business, but, after all, we had given Elsa her big chance. But Fillmore wouldn’t put her name up over the theatre in electrics, and Goble & Cohn made it a clause in her contract that they would, so nothing else mattered. People are like that.”
“But Elsa—she used not to be like that.”
“They all get that way. They must grab success if it’s to be grabbed. I suppose you can’t blame them. You might just as well expect a cat to keep off catnip. Still, she might have waited till the end of the New York run.” Mrs. Fillmore put out her hand and touched Sally’s. “Well, I’ve got it out now,” she said, “and, believe me, it was one rotten job. You don’t know how sorry I am, Sally. I wouldn’t have had it happen for a million dollars. Nor would Fillmore. I’m not sure that I blame him for getting cold feet and backing out of telling you himself. He just hadn’t the nerve to come and confess that he had fooled away your money.”
Sally was silent. She was thinking how strange it was that this room in which she had hoped to be so happy had been from the first moment of her occupancy a storm-centre of bad news and miserable disillusionment. And, in this first shock of the tidings it was the disillusionment that hurt most. She had always been so fond of Elsa, and Elsa had always seemed so fond of her. She remembered that letter of Elsa’s with all its protestations of gratitude. It wasn’t straight. It was horrible. Callous, selfish, altogether horrible.
“It’s——” She choked, as a rush of indignation brought the tears to her eyes. “It’s—beastly! I’m—I’m not thinking about my money. That’s just bad luck. But Elsa——”
Mrs. Fillmore shrugged her square shoulders.
“Well, it’s happening all the time in the show business,” she said. “And in every other business, too, I guess, if one only knew enough about them to be able to say. Of course, it hits you hard because Elsa was a pal of yours, and you’re thinking she might have considered you after all you’ve done for her. I can’t say I’m much surprised myself.”
Mrs. Fillmore was talking rapidly, and dimly Sally understood that she was talking so that talk could carry her over this bad moment. “I was in the company with her, and it sometimes seems to me as if you can’t get to know a person right through till you’ve been in the same company with them. Elsa’s all right, but she’s two people really, like these dual identity cases you read about. She’s awfully fond of you. I know she is. She was always saying so, and it was quite genuine. If it didn’t interfere with business, there’s nothing she wouldn’t do for you. But when it’s a case of her career, you don’t count. Nobody counts. Not even her husband. Now, that’s funny. If you think that sort of thing funny. Personally, it gives me the willies.”
“What’s funny?” asked Sally, dully.
“Well, you weren’t there, so you didn’t see it, but I was on the spot all the time and I know as well as I know anything that he simply married her because he thought she could get him on in the game. He hardly paid any attention to her at all till she was such a riot in Chicago, and then he was all over her. And now he’s got stung. She throws down his show and goes off to another fellow’s. And she’s got stung, too, in a way, because I’m pretty well sure she married him mostly because she thought he was going to be the next big man in the play-writing business and could boost her up the ladder. And now it doesn’t look as though he had another success in him. I hear he’s drinking. Somebody who’d seen him told me he had gone all to pieces. You haven’t seen him, I suppose?”
“I thought maybe you might have run into him. He lives right opposite.”
Sally clutched at the arm of her chair.
“Lives right opposite? Gerald Foster? What do you mean?”
“Across the passage there,” said Mrs. Fillmore, jerking her thumb at the door. “Didn’t you know? That’s right, I suppose you didn’t. They moved in after you had beaten it for England. Elsa wanted to be near you, and she was tickled to death when she found there was an apartment to be had right across from you. Now, that just proves what I was saying a while ago about Elsa. If she wasn’t fond of you, would she go out of her way to camp next door? And yet, though she’s so fond of you, she doesn’t hesitate about wrecking your property by quitting the show when she sees a chance of doing herself a bit of good. It’s funny, isn’t it?”
The telephone bell, tinkling sharply, rescued Sally from the necessity of a reply. She forced herself across the room to answer it.
Ginger’s voice spoke jubilantly.
“Hullo! Are you there? I say, it’s all right. About that binge, you know.”
“That dog-fellow, you know,” said Ginger, with a slight diminution of exuberance. His sensitive ear had seemed to detect a lack of animation in her voice. “I’ve just been talking to him over the ’phone, and it’s all settled. If,” he added, with a touch of doubt, “you still feel like going into it, I mean.”
There was an instant in which Sally hesitated, but it was only an instant.
“Why, of course,” she said, steadily. “Why should you think I had changed my mind?”
“Well, I thought—that is to say, you seemed—oh, I don’t know.”
“You imagine things. I was a little worried about something when you called up, and my mind wasn’t working properly. Of course go ahead with it, Ginger. I’m delighted.”
“I say, I’m awfully sorry you’re worried.”
“Oh, it’s all right.”
“Nothing that’ll kill me. I’m young and strong.”
Ginger was silent tor a moment.
“I say, I don’t want to butt in, but can I do anything?”
“No, really, Ginger, I know you would do anything you could, but this is just something I must worry through by myself. When do you go down to this place?”
“I was thinking of popping down this afternoon, just to take a look round.”
“Let me know what train you’re making and I’ll come and see you off.”
“That’s ripping of you. Right-o. Well, so long.”
“So long,” said Sally.
Mrs. Fillmore, who had been sitting in the state of suspended animation which comes upon people who are present at a telephone conversation which has nothing to do with themselves, came to life as Sally replaced the receiver.
“Sally,” she said, “I think we ought to have a talk now about what you’re going to do.”
Sally was not feeling equal to any discussion of the future. All she asked of the world at the moment was to be left alone.
“Oh, that’s all right. I shall manage. You ought to be worrying about Fillmore.”
“Fillmore’s got me to look after him,” said Gladys, with quiet determination. “You’re the one that’s on my mind. I lay awake all last night thinking about you. As far as I can make out from Fillmore, you’ve still a few thousand dollars left. Well, as it happens, I can put you on to a really good thing. I know a girl——”
“I’m afraid,” interrupted Sally, “all the rest of my money is tied up.”
“You can’t get hold of it?”
“But listen,” said Mrs. Fillmore, emphatically, “This is a really good thing. This girl I know started an interior decorating business some time ago and is pulling in the money in handfuls. But she wants more capital, and she’s willing to let go of a third of the business to anyone who’ll put in a few thousands. She won’t have any difficulty getting it, but I ’phoned her this morning to hold off till I’d heard from you. Honestly, Sally, it’s the chance of a lifetime. It would put you right on easy street. Isn’t there really any way you could get your money out of this other thing and take on this deal?”
“There really isn’t. I’m awfully obliged to you, Gladys, dear, but it’s impossible.”
“Well,” said Mrs. Fillmore, prodding the carpet energetically with her parasol. “I don’t know what you’ve gone into, but unless they’ve given you a share in the Mint or something you’ll be losing by not making the switch. You’re sure you can’t do it?”
“I really can’t.”
Mrs. Fillmore rose, plainly disappointed.
“Well, you know best, of course. Gosh! What a muddle everything is, Sally,” she said, suddenly, stopping at the door. “You’re not going to hate poor old Fillmore over this, are you?”
“Why, of course not. The whole thing was just bad luck.”
“He’s worried stiff about it.”
“Well, give him my love and tell him not to be so silly.”
Mrs. Fillmore crossed the room and kissed Sally impulsively.
“You’re an angel,” she said. “I wish there were more like you. But I guess they’ve lost the pattern. Well, I’ll go back and tell Fillmore that. It’ll relieve him.”
The door closed, and Sally sat down with her chin in her hands, to think.
MR. ISIDORE ABRAHAMS, the founder and proprietor of that deservedly popular dancing resort poetically named “The Flower Garden,” leaned back in his chair with a contented sigh and laid down the knife and fork with which he had been assailing a plateful of succulent goulash. He was dining, as was his admirable custom, in the bosom of his family at his residence at Far Rockaway. A genial, honest, domestic man was Mr. Abrahams, a credit to the community.
“Mother,” he said.
“Pa?” said Mrs. Abrahams.
“Knew there was something I’d meant to tell you,” said Mr. Abrahams, absently chasing a piece of bread round his plate with a stout finger. “You remember that girl I told you about some time back—girl working at the ‘Garden’—girl called Nicholas, who came into a bit of money and threw up her job——”
“I remember. You liked her.”
“Everybody liked her,” said Mr. Abrahams. “The nicest girl I ever hired, and I don’t hire none but nice girls, because the ‘Garden’s’ a nice place, and I like to run it nice. Everybody liked Sally Nicholas. Always pleasant and always smiling, and never anything but the lady. It was a treat to have her round. Well, what do you think?”
“Dead?” inquired Mrs. Abrahams, apprehensively. The story had sounded to her as though it were heading that way.
“No, not dead,” said Mr. Abrahams, conscious for the first time that the remainder of his narrative might be considered by a critic something of an anti-climax and lacking in drama. “But she was in to see me this afternoon and wants her job back.”
“Ah!” said Mrs. Abrahams, rather tonelessly. An ardent supporter of the local motion-picture palace, she had hoped for a slightly more gingery dénouement, something with a bit more punch.
“Yes, but don’t it show you?” continued Mr. Abrahams, gallantly trying to work up the interest. “There’s this girl, goes out of my place not more’n a year ago with a good bank-roll in her pocket, and here she is, back again, all of it spent. Don’t it just show you what a tragedy life is, if you see what I mean, and how careful one ought to be about money? It’s what I call a human document.
“Well, she wanted her job back, and I gave it to her, and glad to get her back again. There’s class to that girl. She’s the sort of girl I want in the place. Don’t seem quite to have so much get-up in her as she used to—seems kind of quieted down—but she’s got class, and I’m glad she’s back. I hope she’ll stay. But don’t it show you?”
“Ah!” said Mrs. Abrahams, with more enthusiasm than before. It had not worked out such a bad story after all. In its essentials it was not unlike the film she had seen the previous evening—Gloria Gooch, in “A Girl Against the World.”
luring you on
THERE is in certain men—and Bruce Carmyle was one of them—a quality of resilience, a sturdy refusal to acknowledge defeat, which aids them as effectively in affairs of the heart as in encounters of a sterner and more practical kind. Although Sally had refused his offer of marriage quite definitely at Monk’s Crofton, it had never occurred to him to consider the episode closed. All his life he had been accustomed to getting what he wanted, and he meant to get it now.
He was quite sure that he wanted Sally. There had been moments when he had been conscious of certain doubts, but in the smart of temporary defeat these had vanished. That streak of Bohemianism in her, which from time to time since their first meeting had jarred upon his orderly mind, was forgotten, and all that Mr. Carmyle could remember was the brightness of her eyes, the jaunty lift of her chin, and the gallant trimness of her. And quietly and methodically, like a respectable wolf settling on the trail of a Red Riding Hood, he prepared to pursue her. Delicacy and imagination might have kept him back, but in these qualities he had never been strong. One cannot have everything.
His preparations for departure, though he did his best to make them swiftly and secretly, did not escape the notice of the family. In many families there seems to exist a system of inter-communication and news-distribution like that of those savage tribes in Africa who pass the latest item of interest from point to point over miles of intervening jungle by some telepathic method never properly explained. On his last night in London, as he stooped to place the final collar in the last suit-case, there entered to Bruce Carmyle, at his flat in South Audley Street, the family’s chosen representative, the man to whom the family pointed with pride, Uncle Donald, in the flesh.
There were two hundred and forty pounds of the flesh Uncle Donald was in, and the chair in which he deposited it creaked beneath its burden. A superstition, cherished from early schooldays, that he had a weak heart had caused the family’s managing director to abstain from every form of exercise for nearly fifty years; and, as he combined with a distaste for exercise one of the three heartiest appetites in the south-western postal division of London, Uncle Donald at sixty-two was not a man one would willingly have lounging in one’s armchairs.
Uncle Donald’s walrus moustache heaved gently upon his laboured breath, like seaweed on a ground-swell. There had been stairs to climb.
“What’s this? What’s this?” he contrived to ejaculate at last. “You packing?”
“Yes,” said Mr. Carmyle, shortly. For the first time in his life he was conscious of that sensation of furtive guilt which was habitual with his cousin Ginger when in the presence of this large, mackerel-eyed man.
“You going away?”
“Where you going?”
“When you going?”
“Why you going?”
This dialogue has been set down as though it had been as brisk and snappy as any cross-talk between comedians, but in reality Uncle Donald’s peculiar methods of conversation had stretched it out over a period of nearly three minutes.
“You’re going after that girl,” said Uncle Donald, accusingly.
Bruce Carmyle flushed darkly. And it is interesting to record that at this moment there flitted through his mind the thought that Ginger’s behaviour at Bleke’s Coffee House on a certain notable occasion had not been so utterly inexcusable as he had supposed.
“Will you have a whisky and soda, Uncle Donald?” he said, by way of changing the conversation.
“Yes,” said his relative, in pursuance of a vow he had made in the early ’eighties never to refuse an offer of this kind. “Gimme!”
You would have thought that that would have put matters on a pleasanter footing. But no. Having lapped up the restorative Uncle Donald returned to the attack, quite unsoftened.
“Never thought you were a fool before,” he said, severely.
Bruce Carmyle’s proud spirit chafed. This sort of interview, which had become a commonplace with his cousin Ginger, was new to him. Hitherto his actions had neither courted criticism nor been subjected to it. “I’m not a fool.”
“You are a fool. A dam’ fool,” continued Uncle Donald, specifying more exactly. “Don’t like the girl. Never did. Not a nice girl. Didn’t like her. Right from the first.”
“Need we discuss this?” said Bruce Carmyle, dropping, as he was too apt to do, into the grand manner.
The head of the family drank in a layer of moustache and blew it out again.
“Whatch doing it for? Whatch doing it for? That’s what I can’t see. None of us can see. Puzzles your Uncle George. Baffles your Aunt Geraldine. Nobody can understand it. Girl’s simply after your money. Anyone can see that.”
“Pardon me, Uncle Donald,” said Mr. Carmyle, stiffly, “but that is surely rather absurd. If that were the case, why should she have refused me at Monk’s Crofton?”
“Drawing you on,” said Uncle Donald, promptly. “Luring you on. Well-known trick. Girl in 1881, when I was at Oxford, tried to lure me on. If I hadn’t had some sense and a weak heart—— Whatch know of this girl? Whatch know of her? That’s the point. Who is she? Wherej meet her?”
“I met her at Roville, in France.”
“Travelling with her family?”
“Travelling alone,” said Bruce Carmyle.
“Not even with that brother of hers? Bad!” said Uncle Donald. “Bad, bad!”
“American girls are accustomed to more independence than English girls.”
“That young man,” said Uncle Donald, pursuing a train of thought, “is going to be fat one of these days if he doesn’t look out. Travelling alone, was she? What did you do? Catch her eye on the pier?”
“Really, Uncle Donald!”
“Well, must have got to know her somehow.”
“I was introduced to her by Lancelot. She was a friend of his.”
“Lancelot!” exploded Uncle Donald, quivering all over like a smitten jelly at the loathed name. “Well, that shows you what sort of a girl she is. Any girl that would be a friend of—— Unpack!”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Unpack! Mustn’t go on with this foolery. Out of the question. Find some girl make you a good wife. Your Aunt Mary’s been meeting some people name of Bassington-Bassington, related Kent Bassington-Bassingtons—eldest daughter charming girl; just do for you.”
Outside the pages of the more old-fashioned type of fiction nobody ever really ground his teeth, but Bruce Carmyle came nearer to it at that moment than anyone had ever come before. He scowled blackly, and the last trace of suavity left him.
“I shall do nothing of the kind,” he said, briefly. “I sail to-morrow.”
Uncle Donald had had a previous experience of being defied by a nephew, but it had not accustomed him to the sensation. He was aware of an unpleasant feeling of impotence. Nothing is harder than not to know what to do next when defied.
“Eh?” he said.
Mr. Carmyle, having started to defy, had evidently decided to make a good job of it.
“I am over twenty-one,” he said. “I am financially independent. I shall do as I please.”
“But consider!” pleaded Uncle Donald, painfully conscious of the weakness of his words. “Reflect!”
“I have reflected.”
“Have you considered,” said Uncle Donald, portentously, “that you owe a duty to the family?”
Bruce Carmyle’s patience snapped, and he sank like a stone to absolutely Gingerian depths of plain-spokenness.
“Oh, damn the family!” he cried.
There was a painful silence, broken only by the relieved sigh of the armchair as Uncle Donald heaved himself out of it.
“After that,” said Uncle Donald, “I have nothing more to say.”
“Good!” said Mr. Carmyle, rudely, lost to all shame.
“ ’Cept this. If you come back married to that girl I’ll cut you in Piccadilly. By George I will!”
“take me out of this”
“AND after all I’ve done for her,” said Mr. Reginald Cracknell, his voice tremulous with self-pity and his eyes moist with the combined effects of anguish and over-indulgence in his celebrated private stock. “After all I’ve done for her she throws me down.”
Sally did not reply. The orchestra of the Flower Garden was of a calibre that discouraged vocal competition; and she was having, moreover, too much difficulty in adjusting her feet to Mr. Cracknell’s erratic dance-steps to employ her attention elsewhere. They manœuvred jerkily past the table where Miss Mabel Hobson, the Flower Garden’s newest “hostess,” sat watching the revels with a distant hauteur. Miss Hobson was looking her most regal in old gold and black, and a sorrowful gulp escaped the stricken Mr. Cracknell as he shambled beneath her eye.
“If I told you,” he moaned in Sally’s ear, “what—was that your ankle? Sorry! Don’t know what I’m doing to-night—if I told you what I had spent on that woman, you wouldn’t believe it. And then she throws me down. And all because I said I didn’t like her in that hat. She hasn’t spoken to me for a week, and won’t answer when I call up on the ’phone.”
Sally uttered a stifled exclamation as his wandering foot descended on hers before she could get it out of the way.
“You’re different. I could see that directly I saw you. You have a sympathetic nature. That’s why I’m telling you all this. I’ve done everything for that woman. I got her this job as hostess here. You wouldn’t believe what they pay her. I starred her in a show once. Did you see those pearls she was wearing? I gave her those. And she won’t speak to me. Just because I didn’t like her hat. I don’t know what to do. I come here every night.”
Sally was aware of this. She had seen him often, but this was the first time that Lee Schoenstein, the gentlemanly master of ceremonies, had inflicted him on her.
“I come here every night and dance past her table, but she won’t look at me. What,” asked Mr. Cracknell, tears welling in his pale eyes, “would you do about it?”
“I don’t know,” said Sally, frankly.
“Nor do I. I thought you wouldn’t, because you’re a sensible, broad-minded—I mean, nor do I. I’m having one last try to-night, if you can keep a secret. You won’t tell anyone, will you?” pleaded Mr. Cracknell, urgently. “But I know you won’t, because you’re a sensible—I’m giving her a little present. Having it brought here to-night. Little present. That ought to soften her, don’t you think?”
“A big one would do it better.”
Mr. Cracknell kicked her on the shin in a dismayed sort of way.
“I never thought of that. Perhaps you’re right. But it’s too late now. Still, it might. Or wouldn’t it? Which do you think?”
“Yes,” said Sally.
“I thought as much,” said Mr. Cracknell.
The orchestra stopped with a thump and a bang. Leaving Mr. Cracknell clapping feebly in the middle of the floor, Sally slipped back to her table. Her late partner, after an uncertain glance about him as if he had mislaid something but could not remember what, zig-zagged off in search of his own seat. The hot, close air was full of voices; and Sally, pressing her hands on her closed eyes, was reminded once more that she had a headache.
Nearly a month had passed since her return to Mr. Abrahams’s employment. It had been a dull, leaden month, a monotonous succession of lifeless days during which life had become a bad dream. In some strange nightmare fashion she seemed nowadays to be cut off from her kind. It was weeks since she had seen a familiar face. Fillmore, no doubt from uneasiness of conscience, had not sought her out, and Ginger was working out his destiny on the south shore of Long Island.
She lowered her hands and opened her eyes and looked at the room. It was crowded, as always. The Flower Garden was one of the many establishments of the same kind which had swum to popularity on the rising flood of New York’s dancing craze, and doubtless because, as its proprietor had claimed, it was a nice place and run nice, it had continued, unlike many of its rivals, to enjoy unvarying prosperity.
There had been a time when Sally had liked it, too. In her first period of employment there she had found it diverting, stimulating, and full of entertainment. But in those days she had never had headaches or, what was worse, this dreadful listless depression which weighed her down and made her nightly work a burden.
The orchestra, never silent for long at the Flower Garden, had started again, and Lee Schoenstein, the master of ceremonies, was presenting a new partner. She got up mechanically.
“This is the first time I been in this place,” said the man, as they bumped over the crowded floor. He was big and clumsy, of course. To-night it seemed to Sally that the whole world was big and clumsy. “It’s a swell place. I come from up-State myself. We got nothing like this where I come from.” He cleared a space before him, using Sally as a battering-ram, and Sally, though she had not enjoyed her recent excursion with Mr. Cracknell, now began to look back to it almost with wistfulness. This man was undoubtedly the worst dancer in America.
“Give me li’l old New York,” said the man from up-State, unpatriotically. “It’s good enough for me. I been to some swell shows since I got to town. You seen this year’s Follies?”
“No. I don’t go to many theatres.”
“You go! It’s a scream. I been to a show every night since I got here. Every night regular. Swell shows all of ’em except this last one. I cert’nly picked a lemon to-night all right. Thought it would be something to say, when I got home, that I’d been to a New York opening. The Wild Rose, they called it,” he said, satirically, as if exposing a low subterfuge on the part of the management. “The Wild Rose!”
Something stirred in Sally’s memory. Why did that title seem so familiar? Then, with a shock, she remembered. It was Gerald’s new play. For some time after her return to New York she had been haunted by the fear lest, coming out of her apartment, she might meet him coming out of his, and then she had seen a paragraph in her morning paper which had relieved her of this apprehension. Gerald was out on the road with a new play, and The Wild Rose, she was almost sure, was the name of it.
“Is that Gerald Foster’s play?” she asked, quickly.
“I don’t know who wrote it,” said her partner, “but let me tell you he’s a lucky guy to get away alive. Why, before the second act was over, the people were beating it for the exits, and if it hadn’t been for someone shouting: ‘Women and children first!’ there’d have been a panic.”
Sally found herself back at her table without knowing clearly how she had got there.
She started to rise, and was aware suddenly that this was not the voice of duty calling once more through the gold teeth of Mr. Schoenstein. The man who had spoken her name had seated himself beside her, and was talking in precise, clipped accents, oddly familiar. The mist cleared from her eyes and she recognised Bruce Carmyle.
“I CALLED at your place,” Mr. Carmyle was saying, “and the hall-porter told me that you were here, so I ventured to follow you. I hope you do not mind. May I smoke?”
He lit a cigarette with something of an air. His fingers trembled as he raised the match, but he flattered himself that there was nothing else in his demeanour to indicate that he was violently excited. Bruce Carmyle’s ideal was the strong man who can rise superior to his emotions. He cast a sideways glance at Sally, and thought that never, not even in the garden at Monk’s Crofton on a certain momentous occasion, had he seen her looking prettier.
There was a pause. Mr. Carmyle, having lighted his cigarette, puffed vigorously.
“When did you land?” asked Sally, feeling the need of saying something. Her mind was confused. She could not have said whether she was glad or sorry that he was there. Glad, she thought, on the whole. There was something in his dark, cool, stiff, English aspect that gave her a curious feeling of relief. He was so unlike Mr. Cracknell and the man from up-State and so calmly remote from the feverish atmosphere in which she lived her nights that it was restful to look at him.
“I landed to-night,” said Bruce Carmyle, turning and facing her squarely.
“We docked at ten.”
He turned away again. He had made his effect, and was content to leave her to think it over.
Sally was silent. The significance of his words had not escaped her. She realised that his presence there was a challenge which she must answer. And yet it hardly stirred her. She had been fighting so long, and she felt utterly inert. She was like a swimmer who can battle no longer and prepares to yield to the numbness of exhaustion. The heat of the room pressed down on her like a smothering blanket. Her tired nerves cried out under the blare of music and the clatter of voices.
“Shall we dance this?” he asked.
The orchestra had started to play again, a sensuous, creamy melody.
“If you like.”
Efficiency was Bruce Carmyle’s gospel. He was one of those men who do not attempt anything which they cannot accomplish to perfection. Dancing, he had decided early in his life, was a part of a gentleman’s education, and he had seen to it that he was educated thoroughly. Sally, who, as they swept out on to the floor, had braced herself automatically for a repetition of the usual bumping struggle which dancing at the Flower Garden had come to mean for her, found herself in the arms of a masterful expert, a man who danced better than she did, and suddenly there came to her a feeling that was almost gratitude, a miraculous slackening of her taut nerves, a delicious peace. Soothed and contented, she yielded herself with eyes half closed to the rhythm of the melody, finding it now robbed in some mysterious manner of all its stale cheapness, and in that moment her whole attitude towards Bruce Carmyle underwent a complete change.
The conclusion of this splendid story will appear in our next issue.
Printer’s error corrected above:
In Ch. 15, magazine had “MR. ISODORE ABRAHAMS”; amended to “ISIDORE” as the name is spelled twice in Part 7, for consistency. (In Collier’s and the book version, the spelling is “Isadore”)