The Saturday Evening Post, July 5, 1924
HOWEVER true it may be that action is the spice of life, there is no denying that an occasional dose of the soothing sirup of tranquillity makes a pleasant change. And so, after the scenes—always restless and bordering at times on actual violence—which, in order to keep the records straight, the historian of the fortunes of Bill West has just been compelled to describe, it is agreeable to turn aside and relax for a while in an atmosphere of cloistered and scholastic calm. About a month after the departure of Flick Sheridan from Southampton we find ourselves once more in the home of Mr. Cooley Paradene at Westbury, Long Island, in a small upper room looking out over the sunlit garden. It is the room dedicated to the studies of Mr. Paradene’s adopted son, Horace. And at the moment when we enter it the hard-boiled lad is receiving a lesson in the French language from Mr. Sherman Bastable, his tutor.
Yes, still his tutor. It is true that a few weeks ago Mr. Bastable definitely announced that not even so substantial a sum as a million dollars would be sufficient to induce him to continue his duties; but the statements a man makes in the first flush of realization that the inside brim of his hat has been doctored with glue are not always carried out when scissors and warm water have done their work and reason resumed its sway. Scarcely half an hour after the hat had been clipped and scoured off his forehead, Mr. Bastable, who had begun by sneering at a cool million, had reduced his terms so considerably that he actually consented to remain in office for a mere additional fifty per month. We find him, consequently, still doing business at the old stand.
But the Sherman Bastable who was now endeavoring to teach Horace French was a very different man from the genial and juicily enthusiastic young fellow of a few weeks back. He was now a soured and suspicious despot, who, fortified by instructions from his employer to stand no nonsense from his little charge, had taken on a cold implacability which was having the gravest effects on the latter’s comfort.
Of this change in his disposition he gave proof at this very moment. Seeing that Horace, like the room in which he sat, was looking out over the sunlit garden, he banged the table with a forceful fist.
“Attend, can’t you?” he cried. “You aren’t listening to a word I’m saying!”
“All right, all right,” said Horace plaintively.
These passages were beginning to irk him more and more. A free child of the underworld, he had taken unkindly to discipline; and it seemed to him sometimes as though Mr. Bastable had developed all the less amiable characteristics of the late Simon Legree. He removed his gaze from the shady lawn and gaped cavernously.
“Don’t yawn!” thundered Mr. Bastable.
“Oh, all right.”
“And don’t say ‘All right!’ ” boomed the tutor, who had a retentive memory and could never look at his little charge even now without a twinge across the forehead. “When I speak to you, say ‘Yes, sir,’ smartly and respectfully.”
“Yes, sir,” said Horace.
A purist might have criticized the smartness and respectfulness of his delivery, but the actual words were up to sample and the tutor appeared satisfied. At any rate, he returned to the task in hand.
“Indefinite articles,” said Mr. Bastable, resuming. “ ‘A’ or ‘an’ is translated into French by ‘un’ before a masculine noun, as, for example, ‘un homme, a man; un oiseau, a bird——’ ”
“There’s a boid on that tree,” interjected Horace, switching abruptly from foreign languages to nature study.
Mr. Bastable favored him with a basilisk glare.
“Attend to your work!” he growled. “And don’t say ‘boid.’ It’s a bird.”
“Well, it’s making a noise like a boid,” argued Horace.
“And ‘une’ before a feminine noun, such as dame,” proceeded the tutor. “ ‘Une dame, a lady; une allumette, a match; une histoire, a story; une plume, a pen.’ Do you get that?”
“I suppose so.”
“What do you mean, you suppose so?”
“Well,” said Horace candidly, “it sounds to me a good deal like apple sauce. Seems like there ain’t no sense in it.”
The tutor clutched his thinning hair and groaned hollowly. That extra fifty dollars a month had raised his salary to a very respectable figure, but it frequently occurred to him that he was receiving but trivial payment for what he had to endure.
“ ‘Seems like there ain’t no sense in it!’ ” he echoed despairingly. “Can’t you see that’s not grammar?”
“I don’t know about its being grammar,” retorted Horace with spirit. “It gets across, don’t it?”
“Sir,” prompted Mr. Bastable automatically.
“And don’t say ‘Don’t it.’ Say ‘doesn’t it’ or ‘does it not.’ ” He eyed his pupil wanly. The weather was warm and the strain beginning to tell on his sensitive nerves. “You’re incorrigible. I don’t know what’s to be done with you. You take absolutely no interest in your work. I should have thought that you would have some sense of your position, your chances and opportunities.”
“Oh, I know,” said Horace wearily. “One ought to grasp one’s opportunities and try to improve oneself—at least oncet!”
“Don’t say ‘oncet.’ ”
“Oh, all right.”
“Yes, sir!” amended Mr. Bastable, eying him balefully.
The tutor flung himself back in his chair, which creaked protestingly.
“Do you realize that yours is a position which thousands of boys would give their eyes to be in?”
“Can’t you see that’s not grammar?” said Horace. Much as he disliked these séances, it happened now and then that bits of them stuck in his mind. “Oughtn’t to end a sentence with ‘in.’ You put me right, so I don’t mind puttin’ you right. Had you that time. Hot dog!” he said with a complacency which made the tutor feel—not for the first time—that his favorite character in history was Herod the Great. “You wised me up to that yourself.”
Every tutor is a statesman at heart. He has to be. Mr. Bastable, prudently realizing the danger of his position, instituted a counter attack by assailing his pupil’s pronunciation.
“I wish you would learn to speak properly,” he said with hauteur. “Your accent is abominable. Here!” He pulled out a massive book. “It’s no good trying to teach you French till you can talk English. Read a page or two of this aloud. And try to do it like a human being and not”—he searched his mind for an adequate simile—“and not like a caddie at a third-rate golf course.”
“What’s wrong with caddies?” demanded Horace, who was intimate with several and in leisure moments had occasionally done a bit in that line himself.
“Go on. Don’t waste time,” said Mr. Bastable, refusing to be diverted. “Begin at the top of page 98.”
Horace took the book—it was entitled Beacon Lights of History, Vol. II, The Middle Ages—with a disrelish which he made no attempt to conceal.
“ ‘It was at this perriod——’ ” he began sourly.
“ ‘It was at this period, when the convents of Yurrup——’ ”
“I said Yurrup,” protested Horace, aggrieved. “ ‘It was at this period, when the convents of Yurrup rejoiced in ample possessions, and their churches rivaled cath-e-drals——’ ”
“ ‘——in size and magnificence, that Saint Bernard——’ ” He broke off, mildly interested for the first time. “Say, I knew a gink that had a S’n’ Bernard. Big, hairy dawg with red eyes.”
“Get on,” said Mr. Bastable coldly.
“ ‘——Saint Bernard, the greatest and best rep-res-en-tat-ive of med-i-e-val mon-as-ti-cism——’ Gawd!” said Horace under his breath, tenderly massaging his aching jaw. “ ‘——was born, 1090, at Fontaines, in Boigundy.’ ”
“ ‘Boigundy. He belonged to a noble family. His mother had six sons and a daughter, whom she early con-se-crated to the Lord. Bernard was the third son, a beautiful, delicate, refined young man, tall, with flaxen hair, fair complexion, and blue eyes from which shone a superhuman sim-plic-ity and purity.’ ”
He stopped, revolted. He did not know much about saints, but he knew what he liked, and something told him that he was not going to like Saint Bernard.
“Sounds like a cake eater,” he sniffed.
Mr. Bastable was just drawing himself together for a Legreelike reproof, when there was a gentle tap at the door.
“Pardon me for interrupting, sir,” said Roberts, the butler, hovering delicately on the threshold.
“You haven’t made me mad, Bobby,” Horace assured him gratefully.
“What is it, Roberts?”
“Professor Appleby has called to see Master Horace, sir. Mr. Paradene would be glad if you would allow him to step down to the library for a moment.”
His announcement evoked universal enthusiasm. Horace beamed upon him as people must have beamed on the man who brought the good news from Aix to Ghent. Nor was Mr. Bastable displeased. He was conscientious and had been prepared to continue his task for another hour, but the thought of being relieved of Horace’s society gave him the sensations of a reprieved convict.
“Certainly, certainly,” he said.
“I’m not goin’ to put up any stiff argument, neither,” declared Horace.
He trotted joyfully out of the prison chamber. Mr. Bastable, with the air of one from whose shoulders there has been removed an intolerable weight, lit a cigarette and put his feet on the table.
THE arrival, some ten minutes before, of the venerable Professor Appleby had surprised Mr. Paradene at his customary occupation of fiddling about with the books in his library. He had just scuttled up the ladder to one of the top shelves and dumped on his already congested table a pile of moldering volumes when Roberts brought the news of the visitor’s advent.
For a moment Mr. Paradene felt a little like a dog who has been hauled off a bone, but his native courtesy asserted itself, and it was with a cordial smile that he greeted the professor when he made his entry.
“Nice of you to look in,” he said.
“I chanced to be in the neighborhood,” said Professor Appleby, “and I thought I might venture to call and inquire after the little lad. He is busy at his studies, no doubt?”
“I imagine so. Won’t you take a seat?”
“Thank you, my dear Paradene, thank you.”
Professor Appleby relaxed in a chair with the contented sigh of a man who is not in the best condition. He tapped his domed brow with a silk handkerchief and combed out his white beard with a delicate forefinger. He was looking more like a benevolent minor prophet than ever. His mild eyes wandered to the bookshelves, and there came into them a sudden predatory gleam, which vanished almost instantly, to be replaced by their habitual expression of calm good will.
“A warm day,” he observed.
“Very. Do you find it close in here?”
“Not at all,” said Professor Appleby, “not at all. I enjoy the peculiar and distinctive scent of old books. I never find it stuffy in a library.”
This was so exactly what Mr. Paradene felt himself that his affection for his visitor deepened.
“And how is Horace?” inquired the professor.
“Physically,” said Mr. Paradene, “he could not be better. But——”
Professor Appleby raised a deprecating hand.
“I know what you are going to say, my dear Paradene. I know just what you are going to say. It was on the tip of your tongue to tell me that the little lad is not taking kindly to his studies.”
“Not very kindly,” admitted Mr. Paradene. “Mr. Bastable, his tutor, reports that it is difficult to get him to take a real interest.”
“I expected as much. No enthusiasm?”
“It will come,” said the professor. “It will come. We must have patience, Paradene, patience. We must emulate the assiduity of the polyp that builds the coral reef. I had anticipated this. It was on my advice that you adopted a totally untutored lad, a child of the people, and I still maintain that I was right in giving you that advice. How much better, even though progress may at first be slow, to have a boy like this to work upon; a boy whose mind is not a palimpsest that has been scrawled over by other hands. You have nothing to worry about. It would have been perfectly easy, no doubt, for you to have adopted a son from some family of the gentlefolk; but in my opinion—and I know I am right—the results would have been far less satisfactory. Horace is virgin soil. He has not been plowed by others. Sooner or later you will find that you will reap your reward. Sooner or later—I say it confidently—you will find that by the mere process of living in your home the little lad is beginning to imitate your mental processes, to acquire your own tastes.”
“It’s odd that you should say that,” said Mr. Paradene thoughtfully.
“Not odd,” corrected the professor with a gentle smile. “I based my observation on a knowledge of psychology which has rarely led me astray. But why did it strike you as peculiar? Am I to infer that he has already begun to show signs of this?”
“As a matter of fact, he has. It is a remarkable fact, Appleby, but the only thing outside his meals in which Horace shows the slightest interest is this library of mine.”
The professor coughed a gentle cough and gazed at the ceiling with a far-away look in his eyes.
“Indeed!” he said softly.
“He is always pottering in here and wanting to know which of my books are the rarest and most valuable.”
“The dawning intelligence, the dawning intelligence. The little mind begins to expand, to develop. Like a plant groping out for the sunshine.”
“It makes me feel that there may be hope for him.”
“I,” said the professor, “have great hopes of Horace. I had right from the beginning.”
“Perhaps after he has had a year or two of school in England——”
“What?” cried Professor Appleby.
A moment before, it would have seemed impossible that anything could disturb the calm serenity of this venerable man. But now he was sitting forward on the edge of his chair, staring at his host in the most manifest concern. His lower jaw had fallen and his white beard wabbled agitatedly.
“You are not sending him to school in England!” he gasped.
“Taking him,” corrected Mr. Paradene. “I am sailing in a few days to pay a long-delayed visit to an old friend of mine—Sinclair Hammond. I intend to take Horace with me and enter him at one of the large English schools—possibly Winchester. Hammond was at Winchester.”
“But is this wise? Is this prudent?”
“Well, I’m going to do it,” said Mr. Paradene with a touch of that belligerent manner which had so often caused comment in the family.
Professor Appleby pulled at his beard. His discomposure was plain. Mr. Paradene, looking at him, was conscious of a passing wonder as to why he should take the news so hardly.
“But the education a boy gets at these English schools! Surely it has become a commonplace that it is too superficial, too machinelike. Read all these novels of the younger English writers——”
“I never read novels,” said Mr. Paradene with a slight shudder.
“And then again—this visit to England—— Are you not afraid to leave your books here—your priceless books—entirely unguarded?”
Mr. Paradene uttered an amused laugh which sounded to his visitor like a knell.
“You talk as if I had never left the house before. I’m always traveling. I was traveling when I met you. And besides, if you think I leave my books unguarded, try to get through the steel shutters over those windows. Yes, and try to pick your way through that door. I had this room specially constructed. It’s like a safe.”
“I see,” said Professor Appleby unhappily.
“In any case, my library is insured, and I’m taking all the most valuable of my books with me to England.”
“Eh?” cried the professor, starting as if the fingers combing his beard had suddenly encountered a snake. “Taking them with you?”
“Yes; Hammond is a collector too. He will be just as excited over these books as if they belonged to himself.”
“Will he?” said the professor, brightening like a summer sky when the sun comes out from behind a cloud. “Will he, indeed?”
“Yes; he’s that sort of man; one of those rare collectors who have no small jealousies.”
“He sounds delightful.”
“Yes, you would like Hammond.”
“I am sure I should. . . . Of course, when you are in England you will keep these books at some bank or safe deposit?”
“No, I see no reason for that. Books are not like jewelry—their value is not obvious to the lay eye. If any burglar invades Hammond’s house at Wimbledon he would hardly have the intelligence to take away what to him would be merely a bundle of dilapidated books.”
“I shall keep them in my bedroom in an ordinary suitcase.”
“An excellent notion. . . . Ah,” said the professor, breaking off, “here is our young friend. Well, Horace.”
“Hullo,” said that youth.
Professor Appleby glanced at his watch.
“Good gracious! I had no idea how time had flown. I ought to go immediately. I shall just be able to catch a good train. Perhaps the little lad might be spared from his studies to accompany me to the station? Thank you. Get your hat then, Horace. We must be hurrying.”
In spite of the statement that he had need for haste, it was at a leisurely pace that Professor Appleby started down the drive. He walked as if troubled with corns, and as he went spoke earnestly to his young companion.
“Kid,” said Professor Appleby, “it’s a lucky thing I happened to look in this afternoon. Do you know what’s happened? That old June bug back there doesn’t seem able to stick in one spot for a coupla days on end. He’s taking you over to England right away.”
Horace stopped in his tracks, displaying as great a concern at the news as the professor himself had shown a short while back in the library.
“Takin’ me to England? What for?”
“To put you to school over there.”
“Well, wouldn’t that jar you!” cried Horace in deep disgust. “I might have known there was a catch to this thing of gettin’ me adopted. It’s bad enough here, with everybody pickin’ on me and me havin’ to spend all day learnin’ French and everythin’; but, gee, I’d always got my get-away to look forward to. But goin’ to school!” He frowned resolutely. “Say, listen! I ain’t goin’ to no school. See? I ain’t goin’ to no school, not in England nor anywheres. I——”
“You talk too much,” said Professor Appleby curtly. “If you’ll give me a chance to get a word in I’ll tell you something. You won’t have to go to any school. The old man’s going over to England to visit another book-collecting nut, and he’s taking a stack of his best books with him. You’ll be able to make a quick clean-up and fade-out. He’s going to keep the stuff in his bedroom in a suitcase.”
“Yes, he is!” said Horace derisively. “That’s likely, ain’t it, when he locks the things up here as if they was gold dust.”
“He is, I tell you. He told me so himself. He thinks there’s no chance of anybody trying for them when he’s there. And why should they? No ordinary yegg who happens to blow into a house is going to load himself up with a bunch of books.”
“Something in that,” agreed Horace.
“I’ll have Joe go over the same time you do, and you and he can get together and fix things.”
“All right,” said Horace. “Say, that’s a pretty girl.”
The object of his commendation, a slim girl with fair hair and a boyish figure, was walking rather wearily up the road that led from the station. He eyed her critically as she passed, and so confirmed in his good opinion was he by this closer inspection that he stood gazing over his shoulder at her receding form, and was awarded by his austere companion a disciplinary thump on the head.
“You’ve no time for rubbering at girls,” said Professor Appleby like a minor prophet rebuking the sins of the people. “You just listen to me when I’m talking to you. I want to get this thing straight in your ivory skull.”
“Oh, all right,” said Horace.
THE girl who had so pleased Horace’s critical eye walked on till she came to the gate of Mr. Paradene’s grounds, then turned in and proceeded down the drive toward the house. This was familiar territory to her. She was surprised to find how clearly she remembered all the various landmarks. There was the funny old shingled roof, there the window of her bedroom, and there through the trees gleamed the lake. Her eyes dimmed and she caught her breath with a little gasp as she saw the lake. The two dressing sheds were there, also the diving board—all just the same as they had been centuries ago when she was sixteen, skinny and freckled.
She walked on and rang the bell. And presently Mr. Paradene, once more up his ladder, was aware of Roberts the butler on the floor below him.
“Eh?” said Mr. Paradene absently.
“A lady wishes to see you, sir.”
Mr. Paradene almost slid down the ladder. It was a rare, almost an unprecedented occurrence for ladies to wish to see him.
“Who is she?”
“A Miss Sheridan, sir.”
There had been no affecting reunion between Flick and Roberts. To each the other had appeared as a stranger. Flick remembered that on her visit to this place five years ago there had been a butler, but the personality of Roberts had not stamped itself on her mind. As for Roberts, if he recalled the small girl who had stayed at the house in the third year of his butlership he did not associate her with this attractive young person.
“Did she say what she wanted?”
“Where is she?”
“I have shown her into the morning room, sir.”
“I suppose you had better ask her to come up here.”
“Very good, sir.”
The uneasy suspicion which had disturbed Mr. Paradene’s mind that his visitor had come to collect funds for some enterprise of the community church vanished as she entered the room. The community church, when it made its periodical assaults on his purse, did so through the medium of females of a maturer vintage. He looked at her inquiringly, so obviously puzzled that Flick, though she was far from being in a cheery frame of mind, smiled faintly.
“You don’t remember me, Mr. Paradene?”
“Why—er—to be frank——”
“Well, it’s quite a long time since we met. I stayed here five years ago with my uncle, Sinclair Hammond.”
“Good heavens!” Mr. Paradene, who had contented himself so far with a wary bow at long range, sprang forward and shook her hand warmly. “I’d never have known you. Bless my soul, you were quite a child then. I remember you perfectly now. Bless my soul, yes. So you’re back in America, eh? Do you live here now? Marry an American, eh?”
“No, I’m not married.”
“Just visiting? Well, well! I’m delighted to see you again, my dear. You caught me just in time. Oddly enough, I’m on the very eve of sailing for England to stay with your uncle.”
“I know. That’s why I’ve come here. Uncle Sinclair wants you to take me back to England with you. You’ve had his cable?”
“Cable?” said Mr. Paradene. “I remember no cable.” He rang the bell. “Roberts, has a cable come for me recently?”
“Yes, sir. One arrived yesterday. If you remember, sir, I brought it to you in this room. You were busy at the bookshelves at the moment, and instructed me to place it on the table.”
The table was covered with a deep top-dressing of books and papers. Mr. Paradene rummaged among these and presently came to the surface bearing triumphantly a buff envelope. Roberts, vindicated, left the room.
“I really must apologize,” said Mr. Paradene. “I have a bad habit of snowing my correspondence under. All the same, Roberts should have reminded me. Cables are important things.” He opened the envelope and read its contents. “Yes, this is the one. Your uncle says you will be calling on me and will I bring you over to England. Of course. Only too delighted. Where are you staying? With friends in New York?”
“No, I’m all alone.”
“Alone!” Mr. Paradene replaced his rimless glasses, which had fallen off, and stared at her. “You don’t mean to say your uncle let you come over here all alone?”
“I ran away,” said Flick simply.
“From home. And now,” she said with a crooked smile and a little lift of her shoulders, “I’m running back again.”
Even with the aid of his glasses Mr. Paradene seemed to find it hard to inspect her as closely as he wished. He came a step nearer, peering at her, bewildered.
“You ran away from home? But why?”
“They wanted me to marry somebody I found I didn’t want to marry. Uncle Sinclair,” she went on quickly, “hadn’t anything to do with it, poor dear. It was the others—Aunt Frances and Uncle George.” Mr. Paradene would have liked footnotes explaining these two new characters, but he hesitated to interrupt the flow of a narrative which was gripping him strongly. “Things,” continued Flick, “got rather unpleasant, so I ran away and came over here. I thought I could get work of some kind.”
“I never heard of such a thing!”
“That’s practically what everybody said whom I asked for work. I never dreamed anybody could be so little wanted as I was. I had a certain amount of money when I got to America, and I supposed it would last ever so long, but it seemed to melt away. And one night I had my bag stolen, with almost every penny I possessed in it. That finished me. I stuck it out for another couple of days, and then I spent my last two dollars on a cable home.”
Mr. Paradene, though capable on occasion of behaving like a volcano, was a soft-hearted and romantic man. Flick’s story touched him.
“I got a cable back telling me to go to you and you would look after me and bring me back to England.”
“My dear child, of course I will, of course. Your room shall be got ready at once. The same one you had five years ago.”
“I’m afraid I’m an awful nuisance.”
“Nothing of the kind,” said Mr. Paradene heatedly. “How dare you say you’re a nuisance? You’re nothing of the sort. Would you like some tea?”
“I should, rather, if it’s not giving too much trouble.”
The ringing of the bell did Mr. Paradene the service of helping him cover his embarrassment. There was to him something poignantly pathetic in this meekness on the part of a girl who only a short time back had on her own showing been so abundantly equipped with spirit as to run away from home and cross the Atlantic to try her luck in a foreign land. Until the tea arrived he moved about the room with his back turned, fussing over his books.
“But if you go home,” he said, when Flick had drunk a cup of tea and seemed the better for it, “you will have to marry this man you dislike.”
He realized that it might be tactless, this harping on a delicate subject, but curiosity overcame delicacy. He was feeling like a child being told a story.
“Oh, I don’t dislike him,” said Flick tonelessly. “I’m very fond of someone else, who isn’t fond of me, so I’ve decided I might just as well marry Roderick as do anything. Trying to live in New York on nothing has changed my views of life a good deal. It has made a comfortable home and lots of money seem more attractive. One has got to be practical, hasn’t one?” She got up and began to walk about the room. “What a lot of books you have!” she said. “Ever so many more than Uncle Sinclair.”
“He has some I should be very glad to own,” said Mr. Paradene handsomely.
He would have liked to hear more of this man whom Flick was fond of but who was not fond of her, but he gathered that she looked upon her narrative as completed and would resent further questioning. He followed her across the room and touched her shoulder with an awkward little pat of condolence. She looked round at him and he saw that her eyes were misty. There was a momentary pause, tense with embarrassment, and he covered it by picking up the photograph at which she had been looking. It was a full-length snapshot of a burly young man in football costume, staring out of the picture with the doughy stolidity habitual to burly young men in football costume.
“That is my nephew William,” said Mr. Paradene. Flick nodded.
“Of course, yes,” said Mr. Paradene. “He was staying here when you and your uncle visited me, wasn’t he?”
“He looks very strong,” said Flick. She felt that she must say something.
“He is strong,” said Mr. Paradene. “And,” he added gruffly, “he is an idle, worthless young waster.”
Flick uttered a sharp exclamation.
“He isn’t! Oh, I beg your pardon,” she hurried on. “What I meant was that I don’t think you know how hard he is working now to try to find out what is wrong with your London business.”
“Hello!” Mr. Paradene put up his glasses. “How do you know anything about that?”
“I—I met him.”
“Over in London?”
“That’s odd. Where did you run across him?”
“Er—in our garden.”
“There!” said Mr. Paradene. “What did I say? He spends his time fooling around at garden parties.”
“It wasn’t exactly a garden party,” said Flick. “He really is trying his hardest to find out why those profits have fallen off so much.”
“Oh, but he is!” insisted Flick. She refused to allow herself to be intimidated by the old man’s gruffness. The fact that he still kept Bill’s photograph in his library, that holy of holies, must surely be significant. “I’ll tell you something he’s found out already. He discovered that Mr. Slingsby is selling nearly all your wood pulp to a firm named Higgins & Bennett at a very small profit, when he has had much better offers elsewhere.”
“It’s quite true. I think—we both think—that Mr. Slingsby isn’t very honest.”
“Nonsense! As straight and able a man as I ever met. And I’m a judge of character.”
“You can’t be a very good judge of character if you think Bill is an idle waster,” said Flick warmly.
“Hello! You seem very friendly toward him.”
“Why, you hardly know him!”
“I’ve known him for years.”
“Yes, I suppose you have, if you like to put it that way. This is interesting, what you tell me about those sales. I can’t understand it. Did William tell you how he found out?”
“No. But he’s awfully clever.”
“H’m! I never noticed it.”
“Well, he is. And I’m sure that if you would take him into your business and give him a fair start he would do wonders.”
Mr. Paradene chuckled.
“If I ever think of founding a William-boosting club I shall know where to go for a president.”
“I think he’s rather hurt that you haven’t sent him a word since he got to England, asking him how he’s getting on.”
“I’ll bet he hasn’t given me a thought since he landed,” said Mr. Paradene callously. “Still, if you think he’s so sensitive, I’ll send him a wireless from the boat and arrange a meeting.”
“I wish you would.”
“But I don’t even know where he is.”
“Nine, Marmont Mansions, Prince of Wales Road, Battersea Park, London,” said Flick glibly.
“Good gracious! How do you know that?”
“He told me.”
Mr. Paradene looked at her curiously.
“I don’t know how long you were talking in this garden of yours,” he said, “but there doesn’t seem to have been much that he didn’t tell you. I suppose he roasted me, eh?”
“He said you were a perfect darling,” said Flick, “who tried to make people believe you were a terror and didn’t deceive anybody.”
She stooped and bestowed a swift kiss on the bald spot in the center of Mr. Paradene’s mop of stiff white hair.
“I’m going out into the garden,” she said. “I want to see if you’ve been and changed everything since I was last here. If I find you have I’ll come back and smack you.”
Mr. Paradene followed her with a round-eyed gaze as she left the room. His thoughts strayed back to the story she told him and he gave a discontented sniff.
“A man who isn’t fond of that girl,” he mused, “must be a fool!”
He picked up the photograph of Bill and looked at it, a rather wistful smile curving his lips. An idle young hound, William, but not unattractive. By no means unattractive.
He put the photograph down and toddled off to his ladder.
HIS long form draped in a flowered dressing gown, Judson Coker sat breakfasting in the dining room of Number 9, Marmont Mansions, Battersea. A gentle breeze, floating in through the open window, brought pleasant spring scents from the park across the road to blend with the robuster aroma of coffee and fried bacon. Propped up against the coffeepot was a copy of the New York World, which had arrived that morning by the American mail. The hour was 10:30.
A strange sense of well-being filled Judson. He took another mouthful of bacon and marveled, as he had been in the habit of marveling lately, how extraordinarily fit he felt these days. It seemed to him that this mystery of his glowing health was one that would interest doctors—achieved, as it had been, in spite of the fact that for nearly two months now he had been deprived of that regular stimulus of alcohol so highly recommended—indeed, insisted upon—by the medical profession. He was in tremendous shape. Why, back in New York he would have shied like a startled horse if anyone had suggested that he should wrap himself round half a dozen slices of bacon at daybreak like this; whereas now he was in two minds whether or not to send out to the kitchen for a further supply.
He came to the conclusion that it must be something to do with the London air. It probably possessed curious tonic properties. And having decided definitely that another order of bacon was essential, he went down the passage to the kitchen to put it in commission. When he came back he found Bill West staring moodily at the laden table.
“Hello, Bill, o’ man,” said Judson buoyantly. “Come to join me in a bite? Sit down and draw up a chair—I mean, draw up a chair and sit down. A relief expedition is on its way with more food.”
“I had my breakfast hours ago,” said Bill with gloomy unresponsiveness. “Haven’t you finished yet? I want to use the table to write a letter.”
The champagnelike air of London, which had brought new youth to Judson, seemed to have missed Bill when distributing joy and elasticity about the metropolis. For the last few weeks Bill had been restless and subject to sudden fits of irritability—a fact which had disturbed Judson not a little.
Filled as he was nowadays with an almost maudlin benevolence toward all created things, Judson wanted to have smiling faces around him.
“You’ve all day before you,” he pointed out. “Park yourself on a chair and watch me eat. Shan’t be long.”
“There’s a letter for you in the sitting room,” said Bill. “From Alice.”
“Yes?” said Judson with a brother’s indifference. He scanned his paper. “Listen to this: ‘Broadcasts his love; sweetheart muffs it. Wellington, Mass. Miss Luella Phipps of this city took her ear from her radiophone at just the wrong time last night, for she failed to hear her sweetheart’s voice in Forest Hills, New York, announcing their engagement. James J. Roper, of Forest Hills, New York, is the lucky man and is a radio expert. It occurred to him to let his fiancée hear his voice tell the world the glad tidings of their approaching nuptials——’ ”
“Why do they print drivel like that?” said Bill sourly.
“Don’t you think it’s rather touching?” inquired the Pollyanna behind the coffeepot. In his sunny mood he was prepared to find heart interest everywhere.
“Oh!” Judson returned to his literary research. “ ‘Would match Miss Bauer against men swimmers,’ ” he proceeded, having now meandered onto the sporting page.
“It just says ‘would.’ Her pals, I suppose. During the recent six-day swimming carnival Miss Bauer hung up four new world’s standards and two new American marks.”
“What of it?”
Judson turned the pages.
“Here’s a good one,” he said, chuckling. “Girl tries to get into a taxi. Taxi man says, ‘I’m engaged.’ ‘That’s fine,’ says the girl. ‘I hope you’ll be very, very happy.’ ”
He gazed wistfully at his companion, but Bill’s face remained coldly unresponsive. And Judson, having now tried him with heart interest, sporting gossip and humor, gave the thing up and looked at him with concern.
“What’s the matter, Bill, o’ man?”
“Nothing’s the matter.”
“Oh, but there is. You’ve become a regular gloom. All the time these days you’re acting like a wet Sunday in Pittsburgh. I believe you’re sickening for something.”
“How do you know you’re not?” said Judson earnestly. “You’ve got all the symptoms. You’re jumpy and restless and you haven’t smiled since six weeks ago last Wednesday. I’ll tell you what it is, Bill, o’ man. I’m becoming more and more convinced that we ought to keep a little brandy or some other healing spirit always in the house in case of sickness.”
“You are, are you?”
“I’ve heard of fellows who were saved from the tomb by a tot of brandy administered at just the right moment. Dozens of them. Absolutely snatched from the undertaker’s grasp. We could keep it in here,” urged Judson; “in that closet. It wouldn’t take up any room.”
He scanned Bill’s forbidding features for a moment with a hope that swiftly ebbed.
“Oh, very well,” he said stiffly; “I was only suggesting it for your own good.”
The second installment of bacon had arrived and he attacked it with an offended aloofness. Presently, having finished his meal, he took himself off to the sitting room, and Bill, clearing a space on the table, sat down to write.
BILL’S days for writing to Alice Coker were Tuesday and Friday. Today was Friday, and it was consequently to compose a letter of love that he was now addressing himself. One would have supposed that with such a treat before him his eye would have gleamed with a tender light. But no, it was dull and fishy; and after he had written half a dozen words he stopped and began to chew his pen drearily.
Literary composition can often be a slow and painful process, but if there is one occasion when a writer should surely find the golden sentences bubbling up without an effort it is when he is inditing a letter to the girl he loves. The fact that for some time it had been getting harder and harder to think of things to fill up the pages on these occasions was beginning to weigh upon Bill’s spirits. Impious as it was to entertain even for an instant the supposition that writing letters to Alice could have become a bore, honesty compelled him to admit that his primary motive in routing Judson out of the room at this early hour had been the desire to tackle the task and get it finished and off his mind.
He ran his fingers through his hair. It was no good. Words would not come.
What made it all the more strange was the fact that in the earlier days of his sojourn in London he had handled these bi-weekly prose poems with an absolutely inspired ease. His pen had started racing the moment he sat down. Phrases of the most admirable and pulpy sentiment had leaped into his mind so quickly that he could not keep pace with them, and stuff that you could have bound up in mauve covers and sold a dozen editions of had cost him practically no effort at all. And here he was now without an idea in his head.
He got up and went into the sitting room. If anything could give him inspiration it would be those twelve photographs of Alice that smiled down with such queenly sweetness from the mantelpiece, the whatnot and the console table. He was inspecting the one third from the left on the mantelpiece, dully conscious that it was giving him no kick whatever, when a grave voice addressed him from the depths of the armchair.
“Bill, o’ man.”
Bill turned sharply.
“What’s the matter now?” he snapped.
It was wrong, of course, of him to speak so curtly to his faithful friend, but one cannot deny that he had a certain amount of justification. Judson was eying him with a peculiar and inscrutable expression on his face, goggling at him in an indescribable sort of sad, leering way that crashed into his nerve centers like a bullet. To a man in his condition of irritable despondency the spectacle of Judson’s face even in its normal state was hard enough to bear. With this peculiar expression added, it had become intolerable.
“What are you looking at me like that for?” he demanded.
Judson made no direct reply to the question. Instead, he heaved himself up from his chair, and stalking to Bill, patted him gently on the shoulder. Then he grasped his hand and shook it for a few moments; and finally, having patted him on the shoulder once more, resumed his seat.
“I’ve got news for you, Bill, o’ man,” he said in a hushed voice.
“Bill, o’ man,” said Judson solemnly, “you were wrong just now. Believe me, you were wrong. In the attitude you took up about my suggestion that we should keep a little brandy in the place, I mean.”
“What is this news of yours?”
“Anybody,” said Judson, “is liable to get ill at any moment. And every house, therefore, should have its supply, however small, of brandy or some other healing spirit always ready, so that you can get at it at a moment’s notice. I’ve been reading up about brandy, Bill, o’ man. It is employed a great deal medicinally as a food capable of supplying energy in a particularly labile form to the body. It is also a very valuable stimulant, carminative and hypnotic. Well, I mean, that shows you!”
“Will you stop driveling about brandy and tell me——”
“There have been thousands of cases where the sudden breaking of bad news has caused apparently healthy people to keel over and faint, and if there hadn’t happened to be somebody in the offing with a nip of the right stuff their name would have been mud. If you’ll give me the money, Bill, o’ man, I’ll be only too glad to pop round the corner to a pub and get a pint or two.”
“What is this news?”
“I heard my father say once that when he got badly hammered in the panic of 1907—— No,” said Judson carefully, “I’m lying to you. It wasn’t my father; it was a pal of his. This bimbo was ruined in the panic, and he went straight home and opened up a bottle and took a couple of good strong snifters quick, and before he knew where he was he was feeling like a two-year-old again. And what’s more, those drinks gave him an inspiration which enabled him to pull half his fortune out of the wreck—more than half. . . . It’s not far to the pub. I can get there and back in ten minutes.”
“Look here,” said Bill tensely, “if you don’t tell me what this news of yours is I’ll step on you!”
Judson shook his head sadly. He seemed to be deploring the headlong impetuosity of youth.
“All right,” he said, “if you must have it. Alice has gone and got engaged to a bird in the steel business with pots of money. She asked me to break it to you gently.”
BILL stared dumbly. The fateful words sank slowly into his consciousness.
Judson nodded a deathbed nod.
“To a fellow in the steel business?”
“Absolutely in the steel business, o’ man.”
There was a long silence, and suddenly Bill became aware with a sort of shock that his only clearly defined and recognizable emotion in this stupendous moment was a feeling of intense relief at the thought that now he would not have to finish that letter. All the morning it had been pressing on him like some heavy weight; and try as he would, he could not check a horrible sense of exhilaration.
He realized dully that it was all wrong to be feeling like this. It was shameful that a man in his position, confronted with the wreck of all his hopes and dreams, could find nothing better to do than to stand congratulating himself on having got out of writing a difficult letter. Besides, the letter ought not to have been difficult. All the evidence, in short, appeared to point to one conclusion—that he was utterly lacking in the most rudimentary spirituality.
Presently, as he stood there trying not to feel gay and light-hearted, he perceived that the heir of the Cokers was behaving in an odd manner. Judson had risen once more from his chair, and now, sidling up, he was thrusting into Bill’s hand a sheet of paper. As the latter’s fingers closed over this he sighed, patted him on the shoulder again and began to steal softly toward the door. Pausing on the threshold, he nodded twice with extraordinary solemnity. Then he slid out. It was only after he had been gone some moments that it dawned upon Bill that this was Judson’s idea of handling a delicate situation with gentlemanly tact. There are times, Judson seemed to consider, when the strong man prefers to be left to wrestle with his grief alone.
Left thus alone, Bill endeavored to carry out his part of the program. He glanced at the document in his hand. Recognizing Alice’s handwriting, he deduced that this must be the letter which had brought the news. Presumably Judson had intended him to read it. But what was the use? Once a man has grasped the essential fact that the girl to whom he was under the impression that he was betrothed has gone and got engaged to birds in the steel business with pots of money, treatises on the subject are superfluous. He put the letter down on the table unread.
There now came to him a pleasing theory that seemed to offer an explanation of his strange lack of decent sorrow. Men who are shot frequently feel no immediate discomfort beyond a dull shock. This, he came to the conclusion, must be what had happened in his case. His faculties must have been stunned. Later on, no doubt, the agony would commence.
Feeling considerably relieved by this reflection, he decided to go out and grapple with his tragedy in the open air. Dimly remembered novels whose heroes had received the same sort of blow suggested that this was the correct course for one in his position to pursue. In those novels, he recalled, shepherds, tending their flocks on the wind-swept hills, used to be startled by the swift passing of tall, soldierly men with pale, drawn faces, striding through the storm with mouths set like bars of steel, and eyes, glittering like flames, staring sightlessly out from under the peaks of their caps. He put on his shoes and was about to go in search of his hat, when suddenly there presented itself the problem of the photographs.
Those twelve photographs! What to do with them?
In the matter of the faithless one’s photographs, two plans of action are open to the jilted swain. He can either lay them up in lavender and live out his lonely life brooding over them as his hair gradually whitens, or he can do the strong, manly thing and destroy them out of hand. It came as a further shock to Bill when, after five minutes’ tense thought, he decided on the latter course, to realize how little anguish the prospect caused him. He made his decision without a tremor and did the photographs up in a brown-paper parcel with as little remorse as a grocer wrapping a pound of tea. Undoubtedly his faculties must have been stunned.
It was Bill’s intention to get rid of these mementos of a dead past somewhere in the great outdoors. For over a week now the weather had been too warm for fires, which prevented one handy way of disposing of things; and it was obviously impossible for a sensitive man to tear them up and put them in the waste-paper basket where Judson would see them. Bill wanted no jarring comments on his action. He was grateful now for the other’s indifferent attitude toward all photographs of his sister. Judson was not an observant young man, and the odds were that the novel bareness of the walls and mantelpiece would entirely escape him.
It is one of the defects of London, from the point of view of a man whose heart has just been broken, that it is practically devoid of wild spots in which to stride with a sightless stare. The nearest thing it seemed to provide to the wind-swept hills was Battersea Park; and thither Bill betook himself with his parcel, stepping lightly down the passage to the front door in order not to be intercepted by Bob the Sealyham, who, if aware that one of the gang contemplated going for a walk would, he knew, show a disposition to count himself in. And much as Bill respected and liked Bob, he had no wish for his company now. The Bobs of Battersea are not permitted inside the park’s exclusive boundaries unless attached to a leash; and it seemed to Bill scarcely decent that on this supreme occasion he should be hampered by a wriggling dog. Any moment now the agony might be beginning, making solitude essential. He tiptoed out and hurried down the stairs.
It was a lovely morning. Comment has already been made in these records on the callousness of Nature in times of man’s distress, and it is enough to say that on this occasion Nature more than lived up to her reputation. It was the sort of day when even Queen Mary would have left her umbrella at home; and Bill, wandering through the green avenues and listening to the merry cries of children sporting in the sunshine, continued to have that peculiar illusion of light-heartedness. If he had not known that such a thing was impossible he would have said that his spirits were rising higher and higher every moment. The way he jerked his wrist when, having reached a spot secluded from human eye, he threw the brown-paper parcel containing the photographs from him was positively rollicking. He heard it flop behind him without a pang and was caracoling gayly on down the path, when a shrill voice spoke in his ear.
So unexpected was this voice that it had for one brief instant an uncanny effect of being the voice of the brown-paper parcel. A moment before Bill had been convinced that there was not a soul within a hundred yards. But it is a peculiarity of the London parks that no spot in them is ever really secluded from the human eye; and now there had sprung up—apparently through the asphalt—a small and grubby girl in a print frock.
She was trotting toward him, her face beaming with helpfulness and good will. With her left hand she dragged along a small male relation, who in his turn dragged a still smaller male relation; with her right she waved the brown-paper parcel.
“You dropped this, mister.”
Bill was a kind-hearted young man and he shrank from wounding the child. He took the parcel with as much gratitude as he was able to summon up on the spur of the moment, and with a smile a little too mechanical to be really brilliant handed over sixpence as a reward. The family melted away.
Bill walked on. The episode had had the effect of shaking his nerve; and though he passed several deserted nooks which might have been constructed by the London County Council with the sole purpose of acting as dumping grounds for the photographs of girls about to marry into the steel business, he made no use of them. And presently, roaming aimlessly, he found himself on the edge of a large sheet of water. Here, like Alastor on the lone Chorasmian shore, he paused.
The margin of the pool was fringed with children and dogs, the latter held in leash by nurses or tied to benches. The nurses exchanged dignified confidences one with another, the children sailed toy boats, the dogs barked continuously. In the trees on a small island in the middle of the water a colony of rooks cawed in raucous competition with the dogs. It was a jolly spot; but to Bill its chief charm lay in the fact that every individual present, whether nurse or child or dog or rook, appeared to be intensely occupied with his own affairs and consequently in no position to observe and comment upon the strange behavior of any well-dressed young man who should stroll up and start throwing brown-paper parcels into the depths. It seemed too good a chance to miss.
With an abstracted eye on the rooks, he sent the parcel spinning through the air, and was just turning away, humming a careless air, when the splash was followed by another of such magnitude that he thought for a moment that the rather stout child who had been trimming the sails of his yacht close by must have fallen in. And it is shameful to have to record that the first emotion that came to Bill—a man with one life saved from drowning already to his credit—was a feeling of regret at the prospect of having to go in after the little chump.
But he had wronged the stout child. There he was, still safely on the water’s edge. The creature that had caused the splash was an enormous dog with long black hair and an expression of genial imbecility which was now swimming vigorously out to where the brown-paper parcel floated. And even as Bill looked he snapped it up between two rows of sharklike teeth and started for the shore. A moment later he had laid it at Bill’s feet, shaken himself like a shower bath and was gazing up into his playmate’s face, his idiot grin urging him as plainly as if he had made a set speech to keep the fun going by throwing the thing in again.
Bill picked up the parcel and hurried away. He was now in a mood of acute exasperation. It was not the fact that he was quite noticeably wet that infuriated him; nor was his indignation due to disapproval of the phenomenon of an unleashed dog where, according to the park’s clearly printed by-laws, no unleashed dog should have been. What was gnawing at his vitals was a dull hatred of this brown-paper parcel and all it stood for. It amazed him now that he could ever have supposed himself in love with Alice Coker. Apart from anything else, apart altogether from her evil habit of going about marrying birds in the steel business, there must be a curse of some sort on a girl whose photographs were so impossible to get rid of. It was with all the depression of a Eugene Aram that he strode from the pond and buried himself in a quiet, leafy byway.
If anything could have soothed Bill’s mood of raging fury, this murmurous lane with its fringe of tall trees in which he now found himself should have done so. Even more than any of the other nooks through which he had passed that morning, it seemed apart from the world of men. Birds sang in the branches to his left, and in the flower beds to his right bees were buzzing happily. It is proof of the shattered state of Bill’s morale that the solitude of this sylvan retreat did not encourage him at once to drop his parcel. He was in the grip of a sort of superstitious coma. He had a presentiment that, solitary though the place seemed, he would not be alone for long, and a moment later his presentiment was fulfilled. Round the bend in the walk, concealed until they were almost on him by a large bush, came pacing slowly a young couple, a man and a girl.
The girl was trim and pretty, but it was the man who arrested Bill’s attention. He was a tall young man with brown eyes and chestnut hair, of an aspect rendered vaguely artistic by a long and flowing tie of mauve silk. And the thing about him that enchained Bill’s notice was his oddly familiar look. Somewhere, he felt, he had met the fellow before.
The man looked up, and as he did so there came into his face an expression which Bill could not interpret. It was recognition—that was clear enough—but it was also something more than recognition. If the idea had not been so absurd he would almost have said it was fear. The brown eyes widened, and a breeze rippling through the chestnut hair—he was carrying his hat in his hand—gave it a momentary suggestion of standing on end.
“Hullo!” said Bill.
He could not place the fellow, but it was plain from the other’s expression that they must have met.
“Hullo!” said the young man huskily.
“Nice day,” said Bill.
The observation seemed to have a reassuring effect on the other. It was as if he had expected hostility from Bill and was pleasantly relieved by the cordiality of his tone. He brightened visibly.
“Beautiful,” he said. “Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful!”
Each having shot his conversational bolt, there followed one of those awkward silences. And then Bill, acting automatically under the influence of a powerful urge proceeding he knew not whence, extended his hand.
“Here!” he said briefly.
And thrusting the brown-paper parcel into the other’s grasp, he walked rapidly away. He was conscious, as he went, of a whirl of mixed emotions; but the one that stood out above all the others was a stupendous feeling of relief. A memory of his boyhood came to him, of the time when he had first read Stevenson’s Bottle Imp. It must have been quite a dozen years ago, but he could still recall the exquisite exultation he had felt on reaching the passage where the hero gets rid of the fatal bottle to the drunken sailor. It was exactly so that he was feeling now. His recent acquaintance might—probably would—think him mad, but the chances were all against him running after him to tell him so and to force the parcel back upon him. If he did it would be necessary to take firm steps.
Bill stopped. His train of thought had just been jarred violently off the rails by the sudden discovery of the reason why the man’s face had been familiar. He knew him now, and he remembered where it was that they had last seen each other—in the garden of Holly House, Wimbledon, when he, Bill, had chased him hither, thither and roundabout through the darkness with the intent to do violence upon his person. It was the man Roderick Pyke!
Bill smiled grimly. Roderick Pyke! No, there was no likelihood of Roderick Pyke running after him with parcels.
And then his thoughts began to flow in such a rapid stream that he could not keep up with them. The discovery that this man was Roderick Pyke immediately caused him to wonder what on earth he was doing, strolling about Battersea Park with a girl. Why, by all the laws of romance and even decency he should have been brooding forlornly on his vanished fiancée! It offended Bill to think that a man who had so recently lost Flick should be behaving so callously.
And then his thoughts shot off at another tangent, and this time they were such weighty thoughts that he was obliged to sit down on a handy bench to grapple with them.
Flick! Of course, he had never actually forgotten Flick for an instant; but it was certainly true that his meeting Roderick had brought her into his mind with a curious vividness that had all the effect of making her seem like something suddenly remembered. Flick! He could see her now as clearly as if she were standing before him—Flick, happy and smiling; Flick, tired and tearful; Flick, frightened and looking to him for support—a whole gallery of Flicks, each more attractive than the last. And quite suddenly, as if he had known it all along, Bill realized that he loved Flick.
Of course! He was a fool not to have guessed it earlier. Judson had accused him of being like a wet Sunday in Pittsburgh. Quite justly. He had been like a wet Sunday in Pittsburgh. And why? Because the withdrawal of Flick from his life had made that life seem so empty and unprofitable. This was what had been troubling his spirit all these weeks.
Bill got up. He was glowing now with that fervor which comes upon men in their hour of clear vision. He felt in his pocket for his pipe—the situation was distinctly one that demanded a series of thoughtfully smoked pipes—and found that he had left it in the flat. It being obviously impossible to think coherently without it, he returned home.
Judson, that model of tact and delicacy, was still out, and Bill was glad of it. He wanted solitude. He found his pipe where he had left it in the dining room, beside that scarcely begun letter to Alice Coker, and proceeded to the sitting room.
A marconigram was lying on the table. Bill opened it, hoping faintly that it might be from Flick, and experienced disappointment on discovering that it was from his Uncle Cooley. Uncle Cooley, said the marconigram, was due to dock at Southampton on the following morning. He hoped that Bill would meet him at the Antiquarians Club in Pall Mall at three in the afternoon.
It was news to Bill that Mr. Paradene was on the ocean at all, and his immediate feeling was a regret that he had not more stimulating news to give him of his activities in connection with Mr. Wilfrid Slingsby. Yes, on the whole, it was a nuisance that Uncle Cooley had chosen just this time to come over.
However, being here, he could not be ignored. Bill came to the conclusion that it would be more respectful and would make a better impression if, instead of waiting till three o’clock, he went to Waterloo Station on the morrow and met the boat train. Having made this decision, he sat down and plunged into pleasant, roseate dreams about Flick.
IT WAS with a light and jaunty step that Bill strode over Chelsea Bridge next morning on his way to Waterloo. There had been a time in the silent watches of the night when, lying in bed reviewing the position of affairs, he had had certain uncomfortable doubts as to the stability of his character. Was not a man, he asked himself, who could so swiftly rebound from one love to another incapable of love in its deepest sense? Was not such a man incurably shallow and trivial and worthy of nothing but contempt? From 12:30 till a quarter to two he had been inclined to answer these questions in the affirmative; but at 1:45 precisely there had slid into his fevered mind the consoling recollection of Romeo.
Now, there was a chap. Generations of lovers had taken him as the archetype of their kind; and yet on Shakspere’s own showing the fellow had been a perfect byword among his friends up till, say, 9:30 p.m. one night for his hopeless adoration of Rosaline, and it couldn’t have been much more than 9:45 the same night before he was worshiping Juliet. And certainly nobody had ever accused Romeo of shallowness and triviality.
No, everything was absolutely all right. All that had happened was that the scales had fallen from his eyes, if you liked to put it that way; and that was the sort of thing that might happen to anyone. With each step that took him nearer to his destination Bill became more whole-heartedly convinced that Flick was the only girl in the world for him. What he had felt for Alice Coker had been the mere immature infatuation of a lad with no knowledge of life. He looked back to himself as he had been two months ago and seemed to be contemplating another being.
In addition to having settled this soul problem, he had also got the practical side of the thing straight. As soon as there was a boat he must go over to America, find Flick and pour out his heart. Every moment that he spent three thousand miles away from her was a moment irreparably wasted.
And somehow the thought of pouring out his heart to Flick affected him with none of that nervous paralysis which had come upon him on the occasion when he had—mistakenly—revealed his emotions to Alice Coker. Flick was different. Flick was—well, she was Flick. She was a pal. By the time Bill reached Westminster Bridge he was smiling at passers-by and telling policemen it was a nice morning, and in York Road he went so far as to give a hawker half a crown for a penny box of matches, thereby converting one who had always been a stubborn skeptic to a belief in miracles. He entered the bustling precincts of Waterloo at a sort of joyous trot, which increased to a gallop when a porter informed him that the boat train was even now discharging its passengers at Platform 13.
Bill had no difficulty in finding Platform 13. The march of progress has robbed Waterloo Station of its mysteries. Once it used to be a quaint, dim Wonderland in which bewildered Alices and their male counterparts wandered helplessly seeking information of officials as naïvely at sea as themselves. But now it is orderly and efficient. Bill, not having known it in the days of its picturesqueness, had no sense of romantic loss. Yielding up a penny for a platform ticket, he charged past the barrier into the swirl of the crowd.
The platform was full of travelers and their friends and relatives. His native shrewdness telling him that Uncle Cooley would probably be at the far end of the train looking after his baggage, Bill wasted no time. It was his intention to show zeal, to save his uncle trouble and annoyance by attending to the baggage himself, and incidentally to reveal himself in the light of the capable young man of affairs. He brushed aside a boy who was trying to sell him oranges and chocolates and sped upon his way, and was rewarded by the spectacle of Mr. Paradene hovering on the outskirts of the crowd like an undersized sportsman trying to get a glimpse of a dog fight.
“Hullo, Uncle Cooley! How are you? Have a good voyage? Shall I get you a porter?” said Bill efficiently.
“Why, William!” said Mr. Paradene, turning, and speaking with an agreeable cordiality. “I never expected to see you. Nice of you to come and meet me.”
“Thought I might save you trouble with your trunks.”
“Very good of you. But I’ll look after them myself. I’ve got some valuable books I want to keep an eye on. I’ll meet you down the platform. You’ll find Horace there.”
The prospect of a chat with Horace did not cause Bill any noticeable elation; but Mr. Paradene, who had now intercepted a passing porter and was pointing out trunks to him in the manner of a connoisseur exhibiting the gems of his collection to a sympathetic fellow enthusiast, seemed anxious to be alone.
“Go along and talk to him,” he said. “That big one, that little one, and there are five more,” he added to the porter. “You’ll find another friend of yours with him. At least she said she knew you.”
“Girl named Sheridan—Felicia Sheridan. Niece of Sinclair Hammond, the man I’ve come to stay with.”
Waterloo Station is always in a seething and effervescent condition when a boat train comes in; but to Bill, as he heard these words, it seemed to boil and bubble like a caldron. Travelers, travelers’ friends, travelers’ relations, porters, paper boys, station masters and the persevering lad who was still trying to sell him oranges and chocolates danced before his eyes in a weird saraband. The solid platform seemed to heave beneath his feet. The whistle of an engine sounded like a scream of joy.
“Flick!” he gasped. “Is Flick here?”
But Mr. Paradene was too busy to reply. Accompanied by the porter, he was now in the center of the maelstrom, burrowing after trunks like a terrier in a rabbit warren. Bill, though he would have liked to ask a number of questions, respected his uncle’s preoccupation and, drawing a deep breath, plunged down the platform with as much direct forcefulness as if he had been in sight of the enemy’s goal line with a football under his arm. Indignant humanity scattered like smoke wreaths before him. And presently, after causing more hard feelings among his fellow creatures than a judge at a baby contest, he came to a space that was comparatively open. And there, her hand in the uncouth paw of the boy Horace, stood Flick.
IN A WORLD full of people who, happening upon Horace, immediately wished him elsewhere, nobody had ever wished him so far elsewhere as did Bill at that moment. Not even Mr. Sherman Bastable in his least affectionate mood could have found the boy’s society more distasteful. His mere presence was bad enough, but far worse was that look of sardonic scorn on his freckled face—a look that seemed to ridicule all romance and wither it with a chilling blast. For an instant Bill had a sense of defeat. There was something hideously immobile about the boy’s attitude that seemed to suggest that nothing could shift him. “Come one, come all, this platform shall fly from its firm base as soon as I,” his demeanor said, and Bill was at a loss to know what to do about it, till suddenly an inspiration came to him. Few boys are averse to a quiet snack at any hour, and Horace was probably no exception to the rule.
“Hullo, Horace,” he said. “You’re looking tired and thin. Take this. You’ll find the refreshment room down there through those gates.”
The words acted like some magic spell. Horace’s stomach had that quality which optimists try to persuade us belongs to the ladder of fortune—there was always plenty of room at the top. Without a word—or, indeed, any acknowledgment, unless a sharp grunt was intended for a speech of thanks—he seized the money which Bill was thrusting upon him and hurried off. Bill turned to Flick, who during this brief business interview had been drinking him in with round and astonished eyes.
“Flick!” said Bill.
“Bill!” said Flick.
“You darling!” said Bill. “I love you, I love you, I——”
“Oranges and chawklits,” said a dispassionate voice at his elbow. “Oranges, sengwidges and chawklits.”
With prismatic dreams of murder filling his mind, Bill turned. Apart from the fact that any interruption at such a moment would have affected him like a blow behind the ear from a sandbag, he had supposed that in his previous conversations with this lad he had disposed once and for all of this matter of oranges and chocolates. It was a perfectly straight issue, to settle which both sides had only to show a little reasonableness and intelligence. The boy thought Bill wanted oranges and chocolates. Bill did not want oranges and chocolates, and he had said so perfectly plainly. Yet it seemed now that they had been shouting at one another across seas of misunderstanding.
“I don’t want any oranges,” he said tensely.
“Chawklits?” suggested the boy. “Chawklits for the lidy?”
“The lady doesn’t want chocolates.”
“Buns, sweets of all descriptions, chawklit, nut chawklit, sengwidges, oranges, epples, Banbury cikes and bananas!” chanted the lad lyrically. He had a clear, tuneful young voice and he chirruped like a thrush in Maytime. The thing only needed music by Jerome Kern to be a song hit.
Bill grasped Flick’s arm and hurried her along the platform. It is supposed to be a universal illusion on the part of the young, when in love, that they are entirely alone in the world; but Bill, great though his passion was, could not achieve this state of mind. Waterloo Station seemed to him absolutely congested. How there were enough people in London, large city though it was, to fill it up to such an extent amazed him. The entire population of the British Isles, together with visitors from every part of America, seemed to have banded together to prevent him getting a quiet word with Flick.
“Ever since you went away,” he resumed, coming to a halt behind a luggage-laden truck, “I——”
The truck became suddenly endowed with movement. It thrust itself between them like a Juggernaut. And when it had passed and he was about to speak again a finger tapped him energetically upon the shoulder.
“Pardon me, sir,” asked a voice in rich Minnesotan, “but could you di-rect me to the telegraph office?”
Adversity makes strategists of us all. Bill grasped the other’s arm and whirled him round.
“I don’t know myself,” he said, “but that boy over there could tell you. The one with the orange-and-chocolate tray.”
“Thank you, sir. Thank you.”
“Don’t mention it. Flick darling,” said Bill, “ever since you went away I’ve been perfectly miserable. I couldn’t make out at first what was the matter with me. Then I suddenly realized. I’ve got to talk quick, so get this: I love you. I—— I beg your pardon?”
He broke off icily, turning as he received a sharp prod in the ribs from what felt like the ferrule of an umbrella.
The stout woman with the brown veil flying from her hat repeated her question.
“Where can you get a porter?” Bill spoke in an overwrought voice. What there was about him that made all these people flock to him as to some human information bureau he was at a loss to understand. Goodness knew, he had been trying to make his face look forbidding enough, and yet they kept surging up to him in their thousands as if he were their guardian angel. He began to feel like one of those “Ask Mr. Halleran!” men whose cheery advertisements dot the roadsides throughout Long Island.
“Anywhere round here. They are popping about all over the place. There’s one over there, standing by that boy with the chocolate-and-orange tray.”
“I don’t see him.”
“He was there a moment ago.”
The stout woman wandered away discontentedly, her veil flying behind her. Bill turned to Flick again.
“By your leave, sir.”
A porter this time with a truck. The irony of the situation afflicted Bill. Here was a porter interrupting him, doubtless in search of stout women with baggage, and a moment before the stout woman had interrupted him in search of a porter. It would have been a kindly act on his part to bring these kindred spirits together, but he was otherwise occupied.
“I know what you’re saying,” he resumed. “You’re saying ‘What about Alice Coker?’ Never mind about Alice Coker. That was a mere infatuation. Simply an infatuation. I love you and only you and I believe—I honestly believe—I’ve loved you from the very first moment we met.”
Amazing how easy it was to talk to her like this. The mere sight of her encouraged him to eloquence. She radiated confidence and comfort. It was as simple as telling an old friend that you were glad to see him. No trace now he felt of that fluttering self-consciousness which had set him stammering under the queenly gaze of Alice Coker. Silly nonsense that had been, imagining for a single moment that he could be in love with a girl who made him self-conscious. The whole essence of love—and Bill now considered himself an expert on this subject—was that it made you feel at home with a girl, happy with her, at your ease with her, just as if she were a part of you.
“Flick, darling,” he said, “let’s go out and get married—quick!”
Her eyes were smiling up into his, the brightest, bluest eyes that had ever danced in human face; and Waterloo Station seemed to blaze with a brilliant and unearthly light. It soothed every nerve in his body, that smile of hers. It set him aglow with a happiness beyond all dreaming. It was like a lighted window welcoming a weary traveler home across the snow. And, taking advantage of the fact that this delightful station was full of people who were kissing one another, he bent over with no more words and kissed Flick; and the kiss seemed like nothing so much as the formal affixing of a signature to a document whose pleasant terms had long since been agreed upon and settled. It was so entirely simple, so perfectly natural and in order. And somehow it seemed to put matters on such a sound and satisfactory footing that for the first time since she had come to him out of this whirl of restless humanity he found himself able to talk coherently and conversationally.
“What are you doing over here?” he asked. “I was just coming over to America to find you.”
“I ran short of money and I had to cable home, and they cabled back that I was to go to your uncle. He has brought me over.”
“But didn’t Alice Coker look after you?”
“I never went near her.”
“Why not? Why, of course you wouldn’t,” said Bill with a flash of belated intelligence. “What a consummate fool I was ever to think you would! The more I look back at myself, the more it seems to me that of all the hopeless fools in the world I was the worst.”
“I was. Taking all that time to realize that I loved you! Do you really love me, Flickie?”
“Of course I do. I always have.”
“I’m hanged if I can see why,” said Bill candidly. “I know you do. I can feel it in my bones. But why?”
“Because you’re the most wonderful man on earth.”
“By Jove, I believe I am! Anyway, I feel I am when you look at me like that.”
Flick squeezed his arm.
“Bill, darling, what are we going to do?”
Bill looked at her in astonishment.
“Why, get married! As soon as ever we can! That reminds me. I shall have to be looking for work. Can’t live on nothing. But that will be all right. I have a hunch that Uncle Cooley will come out strong. All I need is a start.”
“It’s going to be very difficult.”
“Not a bit. Watch me!”
“I mean, about me. I’m supposed to have come back to marry Roderick.”
“What? You don’t mean to say,” demanded Bill with honest amazement, “that that silly business is still on? Do you mean to tell me that in this twentieth century people still think they can force a girl to marry someone she doesn’t want to?”
“When you get a man like Uncle George and a woman like Aunt Francie making up their minds it doesn’t matter what century it is,” said Flick simply.
“You wouldn’t do it?” said Bill with a sudden swift spasm of fear.
“Of course I wouldn’t,” said Flick stoutly. “But, oh, Bill darling, we’ve got to hurry up and do something! After what has happened, I know as well as I know anything that I shall be a sort of prisoner at Holly House. I’m in disgrace. I’m like a convict that has tried to escape. I daren’t risk running away again until everything is quite settled. You must let me know the moment you’re ready for me.”
“I’ll write to you.”
“No, don’t. They might see your letters, and then it would be more difficult than ever.”
She broke off. Bill, whose eyes had never left her face, saw her start.
“What is it?” he asked.
“Bill,” said Flick quickly in a low tone, “don’t do a thing. Just stand where you are and try to look as if you were perfectly ordinary. Aunt Francie is coming. I might have guessed that she would be here to meet me.”
The woman advancing up the platform was so exactly what Bill would have imagined any sister of Flick’s Uncle George that he had a feeling almost as if they were old acquaintances. Nevertheless, he was far from being at his ease. Aunt Francie was finding some difficulty in navigating round a truck, and Flick seized the opportunity for further counsel.
“Stay where you are. She’ll think you’re somebody I met on board.”
“How am I going to let you know?” said Bill hurriedly as the enemy appeared round the truck. “I’ve got it! What paper do you take in the morning?”
“The Daily Record. It’s Uncle George’s paper.”
“Watch the Agony Column,” whispered Bill.
Flick nodded briefly and turned to greet her formidable aunt.
“Aunt Francie!” she exclaimed.
There was a noticeable chill in the bearing of Mrs. Sinclair Hammond as she pecked at the cheek of her erring niece. Mrs. Hammond had much to say to her of a nature that could not well be said in front of strangers. The lecture of a lifetime hung on her firm lips, only waiting for Bill’s departure to be released. Flick turned to Bill.
“Good-by, Mr. Rawlinson,” she said brightly, extending her hand. “Thank you so much for looking after me.”
Bill took his cue. With a courteous bow in the direction of the more than ever formidable Aunt Francie, he moved off down the platform. He had, as he went, something of the emotions of a knight of old compelled by other engagements to ride off and leave a maiden at the mercy of a dragon.
THE waiter, having brought coffee and cigars, retired; and Bill, leaning across the table, spoke in a low and confidential voice.
“Juddy,” he said, “I’ve got something I want to tell you, old man.”
Several times during the meal which had just come to a conclusion he had been meaning to speak, but on each occasion the orchestra of the Regent Grill Room, which has a nasty habit of bursting at unexpected moments into La Bohême and even louder classics, had been seized with a spasm which had rendered low-voiced confidences impossible. This had caused Bill a good deal of annoyance, for the necessity of confiding his affairs to a sympathetic ear had become imperative. A week had elapsed since his momentous meeting with Flick at Waterloo Station, and all through that week he had been going about laden down with a secret which it had grown more and more irksome to keep to himself. The time had arrived when he simply had to talk about it to someone, and in all this great city there was no one except Judson whom he could elect to the position of confidant.
Judson puffed comfortably at his cigar.
“Spill it,” he said amiably.
He looked at his companion with friendly eyes. Apart from the fact that, having a pleasant secret of his own tucked away in his bosom, he was feeling well disposed toward all humanity, he felt particularly genial toward Bill. During this past week all his old affection and esteem had returned. Bill, for so long a blighted flower, had suddenly revived as if someone had poured water on him.
He had gone whistling about the flat, and tonight had reached such heights of jovial camaraderie as actually to suggest a dinner at the Regent followed by a visit to the Alhambra revue. Judson thoroughly approved of the change.
Bill looked about him cautiously. The waiter had disappeared. The nearest diners were out of earshot. The orchestra, its fever passed, was convalescing limply and seemed incapable of further noise for quite a time. He felt justified in continuing.
“I wonder,” he said, “if you’ve noticed that I have seemed somehow different these last few days.”
“I should say so!” assented Judson cordially. “Much more the little ray of sunshine.”
“Well, I’ll tell you why. Juddy, old man, I’ve discovered what love really means.”
“What, again?” said Judson.
Bill frowned. Confidants ought to be more tactful.
“If you’re thinking of Alice,” he said, “that was just an infatuation.”
“This time it’s the real thing.”
“What do you mean, ‘Ah!’ ” demanded Bill. He was sensitive.
“Nothing, o’ man, nothing. Just ‘Ah!’ Surely,” said Judson, who came of a free race, “a fellow can say, ‘Ah!’ ”
“You said it as if you thought I wasn’t serious.”
“Not a bit of it, not a bit of it. I was only thinking——”
“Well, isn’t it a bit rapid? I mean to say, a week ago you were raving about Alice, and it seems to have taken you just seven days to forget her and tack onto someone else. Not that I’m blaming you, mind,” said Judson handsomely. “I admire a quick worker.”
Bill knocked his cigar ash against his coffee cup. He was wishing that he had not been so peculiarly situated as to be compelled to waste his finest thoughts on a fellow like Judson. No soul. There you had Judson Coker in two words. All right within his limitations, and a pleasant chap to exchange trivialities with—but no soul.
“I don’t know what you mean by a quick worker,” he said.
“Perhaps it doesn’t seem quick to you,” said Judson pacifically.
“I’ve known Flick for years.”
“Ah, Flick,” said Judson with enthusiasm. “Now, there’s a girl in a million. If you’d been in love with Flick——”
“I am in love with Flick.”
“Now let’s get this thing straight,” said Judson. He drank coffee to clear his mind. The entertainment had been on a strictly teetotal basis, but nevertheless he was feeling slightly foggy. “A week ago you were crazy about my sister Alice. Then you switched to this other girl you’re telling me about. And now you say you’re in love with Flick. I don’t get it, Bill, o’ man; I don’t get it. Sounds to me as if you were headed straight for bigamy. Not,” he added broad-mindedly, “that I’ve anything personally against bigamy. Must be nice to have two homes to go to.”
Bill groaned in spirit. Better to have poured out his heart into a listening-in device than to be squandering words on this poor worm.
“If you had twice as much sense you’d be half-witted,” he said sourly. “Can’t you understand that I’ve been talking about Flick all the time?”
“You mean Flick’s the girl you’re in love with?” groped Judson. “The second girl, I mean, not the third girl?”
“There isn’t any third girl,” said Bill between his teeth.
“But you said there was.”
“I didn’t. I should have thought that anyone with one ounce more brains than a billiard ball could have understood. I’ve suddenly realized that Flick is the only girl I have ever loved.”
“Ah, now I see! Flick is the only girl you have ever loved? Well, it’s a pity you didn’t find it out before you let her go off to America.”
“If she hadn’t gone to America, I might never have known what I felt.”
“Well, what are you going to do? Send her a cable?”
“Yes. I found her at Waterloo last Saturday when I went to meet my uncle.” Bill’s voice shook. “I told her I loved her, Juddy, and she said she loved me.”
“What she can see in me,” said Bill, “I can’t imagine.”
“No,” assented Judson heartily. “No.”
“But there’s a difficulty. You see, she has come back to marry that man Pyke.”
“Not the fellow who said it was Toddy van Riter who founded the Silks? Good Lord, Bill, you must stop that! That would never do. I’ve nothing against Toddy—Toddy, I may as well tell you, has come out of the business extremely well. I had a letter from him this morning—but this bird Pyke is one of the worst. On no account must you permit a corker like Flick to marry him.”
“I won’t,” said Bill firmly. “But you see the position. She got broke in New York, and was scared, and cabled her people that she wanted to come home. They fixed it up for her to come home, but naturally it was on the understanding that she went ahead and married the fellow Pyke.”
“The world’s worst,” said Judson. “The world’s very punkest. It must not be.”
“It isn’t going to be,” said Bill impatiently. “But you see the difficulty. Obviously she can’t run away from home again until she is quite certain that I can look after her. And just at present it’s difficult to see how I am going to be able to look after her unless I get in really strong with my uncle.”
“You want to expose that crook Slingsby, and then he would eat out of your hand.”
“But how do we know he is a crook?”
“He is, Bill, o’ man—he is,” said Judson earnestly. “I didn’t tell you before, but I went to get a drink out of him one night, and he palmed off a cup of cocoa on me, saying that it contained nourishing fats.”
“And now Flick writes and tells me that they are trying to rush this wedding through,” said Bill. “I’ve been putting messages in the Agony Column of the Record every day, so we’ve kept in touch, and this morning I get a letter from her saying that they want to have the wedding come off next week. I seem to see myself letting them do it!” growled Bill. “If they try to start anything like that I’ll take Flick away and marry her and get a job of some kind—any sort of job; just something that will carry us along till I make good.”
“H’m—yes,” said Judson doubtfully. “The only trouble is, Bill, o’ man, when it comes to getting jobs I should imagine that you’re a sort of Halfway Henry.”
“A Halfway Henry?”
“A fellow with not enough brains to own streets and too much to sweep them,” explained Judson.
“I’ll sweep ’em, if it comes to that! You don’t know what love is, or you would realize that a man will do anything for the girl he wants to marry.”
The butterfly existence of a bachelor suited Judson so perfectly that this sort of thing was rather above his head.
“Can’t say I’ve ever wanted to marry myself,” he mused. “Still, I suppose there’s something to be said for it. Must make a fellow feel pretty good, I imagine, to get up and say, ‘No more, boys! Not any more for me! Got to be going now. Little woman waiting for me at home!’ ”
“Exactly,” agreed Bill, pleasantly surprised at this evidence of sentiment in one whom he had supposed incapable of the finer emotions.
“But then,” proceeded Judson thoughtfully, “there’s the other side of the picture—when you sneak home at three in the morning and tiptoe up the steps and shove the key quietly into the keyhole, which you carefully oiled the day before, and turn the lock without a sound—only to discover that she has put the chain on the door. You’ve got to look at it from every angle, Bill, o’ man.”
Bill beckoned to the waiter, who had reappeared and was hovering in a meaning manner about the table. He was too revolted for speech. Once more he was regretting that necessity had compelled him ever to make a confidant of such a man.
He paid the bill in silence and rose from the table.
“One thing I’ve thought of,” said Judson, trotting in his wake down the aisle. “You’ll have to get a license. Suppose you have to make a quick job of it, you’ll need a license. Can’t get action without a license.”
“I’ve got a license,” said Bill coldly, and spoke no more till they were in their seats at the Alhambra. And then it was only to say, “Shut up!” to his companion, whose researches in the program had caused him to start babbling excitedly.
“But it must be the same,” Judson was arguing with animation, thrusting his program into Bill’s face and indicating the name of one of the personnel of the ensemble with an eager finger. “Prudence Stryker—such an unusual name. Must be the same girl I used to know in the Follies back in New York. I’ll tell you in a second directly the chorus come on. . . . Yes! There she is! Second girl from that end. Well, I’m darned! Fancy her being over here!”
He relapsed into a momentary silence, only to emerge once more with a long and rambling story, told in a hissing undertone, about the night when he and Jimmy Boole and Freddy Osgood and Miss Stryker and a pal of Miss Stryker’s whose name was on the tip of his tongue and a pal of Miss Stryker’s pal whose name had sounded like Biscuit, only it could hardly be that—anyway, something that had sounded very like Biscuit—had gone to celebrate Jimmy’s birthday down at that place in Greenwich Village and Freddy had got so plastered and tried to play the trap drums, though in his calmer moments, mark you, Freddy would have been the first to admit that he knew about as much about playing trap drums as——
“Shut up!” said Bill.
“Oh, all right,” said Judson, aggrieved. “Anyway, it’s the same girl.”
There is a brisk delirium about a modern revue which, though entertaining to the carefree mind, has the unfortunate effect of irritating the man on whose soul anything in the nature of a deep problem is weighing. It was not long before Bill, rendered distrait by thoughts of that letter from Flick, began to regret that he had been foolish enough to suggest this expedition. The blare of the music and the restlessness of the chorus afflicted his nerves. By the time the curtain fell at the end of the first portion of the entertainment he was convinced that he could endure no more.
What he wanted was a long walk.
“I’m going home,” he announced.
“Going home!” gasped Judson. “But look here——”
“You needn’t come if you want to sit out the rest of it. I want to get away and think.”
“Oh, think? All right then. See you later.”
Bill left the Albambra, and, crossing Leicester Square, wandered aimlessly in the direction of Piccadilly. After the heat and turmoil of the theater, the cool night air was like a caress. The sky was a deep and mysterious blue, picked out with little stars that winked down at him as he walked as if they knew how he felt and would have liked to do something to help. It was a night for lovers to stand beneath their ladies’ windows and——
Bill stopped so abruptly that he was nearly run down by a taxicab. He wondered he had not thought of that before. Obviously there was but one place for him on such a night. He hailed the taxi, which, after some slight eloquence on the part of its driver, was about to move on.
“Wimbledon Common,” he said.
This serial episode corresponds to Chapters XII through XV in the book editions. Annotations to the book are elsewhere on this site.