Liberty, September 25, 1926
“SIGSBEE H. WADDINGTON,” said Hamilton Beamish, “is one of those men who must, I think, during the formative years of boyhood, have been kicked on the head by a mule. It has been well said of Sigsbee H. Waddington that, if men were dominoes, he would be the double-blank. One of the numerous things about him that rule him out of serious consideration by intelligent persons is the fact that he is a synthetic Westerner.”
“A synthetic Westerner?”
“It is a little known, but growing, sub-species akin to the synthetic Southerner—with which curious type you are doubtless familiar.”
“I don’t think I am.”
“Nonsense. Have you never been in a restaurant where the orchestra played Dixie?”
“Well, then, on such occasions you will have noted that the man who gives a rebel yell and springs on his chair and waves a napkin with flashing eyes is always a suit-and-cloak salesman named Rosenthal or Bechstein who was born in Passaic, New Jersey, and has never been farther South than Far Rockaway. That is the synthetic Southerner.”
“Sigsbee H. Waddington is a synthetic Westerner. His whole life, with the exception of one summer vacation when he went to Maine, has been spent in New York State; and yet, to listen to him, you would think he was an exiled cowboy. I fancy it must be the effect of seeing too many Westerns in the movies.
“Sigsbee Waddington has been a keen supporter of the motion pictures from their inception; and was, I believe, one of the first men in this city to hiss the villain.
“Whether it was Tom Mix who caused the trouble, or whether his weak intellect was gradually sapped by seeing William S. Hart kiss his horse, I cannot say; but the fact remains that he now yearns for the great open spaces and, if you want to ingratiate yourself with him, all you have to do is to mention that you were born in Idaho—a fact which I hope that, as a rule, you carefully conceal.”
“I will,” said George enthusiastically. “I can’t tell you how grateful I am to you, Hamilton, for giving me this information.”
“You needn’t be. It will do you no good whatever. When Sigsbee Waddington married for the second time, he to all intents and purposes sold himself down the river. To call him a cipher in the home would be to give a too glowing picture of his importance. He does what his wife tells him—that and nothing more. She is the one with whom you want to ingratiate yourself.”
“How can this be done?”
“It can’t be done. Mrs. Sigsbee Waddington is not an easy woman to conciliate.”
“A tough baby?” inquired George anxiously.
Hamilton Beamish frowned.
“I dislike the expression. It is the sort of expression Mullett would use. Nevertheless, in a certain crude, horrible way it does describe Mrs. Waddington. There is an ancient belief in Tibet that mankind is descended from a demoness named Drasrinmo and a monkey. Both Sigsbee H. and Mrs. Waddington do much to bear out this theory. I am loath to speak ill of a woman, but it is no use trying to conceal the fact that Mrs. Waddington is a bounder and a snob and has a soul like the under side of a flat stone. She worships wealth and importance. She likes only the rich and the titled. As a matter of fact, I happen to know that there is an English lord hanging about the place whom she wants Molly to marry.”
“Over my dead body,” said George.
“THAT could no doubt be arranged. My poor George,” said Hamilton Beamish, laying a dumb-bell affectionately on his friend’s head, “you are taking on too big a contract. You are going out of your class. It is not as if you were one of these dashing, young Lochinvar fellows. You are mild and shy. You are diffident and timid. I class you among Nature’s white mice. It would take a woman like Mrs. Sigsbee Waddington about two and a quarter minutes to knock you for a row of Portuguese ash-cans—er, as Mullett would say,” added Hamilton Beamish with a touch of confusion.
“She couldn’t eat me,” said George valiantly.
“I don’t know so much. She is not a vegetarian.”
“I was thinking,” said George, “that you might take me round and introduce me. . . .”
“And have your blood on my head? No, no.”
“What do you mean, my blood? You talk as if this woman were a syndicate of gunmen. I’m not afraid of her. To get to know Molly,” George gulped—“I would fight a mad bull.”
Hamilton Beamish was touched. This great man was human.
“These are brave words, George. You extort my admiration. I disapprove of the reckless, unconsidered way you are approaching this matter, and I still think you would be well advised to read The Marriage Sane and get a proper estimate of love; but I cannot but like your spirit. If you really wish it, therefore, I will take you round and introduce you to Mrs. Sigsbee H. Waddington. And may the Lord have mercy on your soul.”
“Not tonight. I am lecturing to the West Orange Daughters of Minerva tonight on The Modern Drama. Some other time.”
“Then tonight,” said George, blushing faintly, “I think I may as well just stroll round Seventy-ninth Street way and—er—well, just stroll round.”
“What is the good of that?”
“Well, I can look at the house, can’t I?”
“Young blood!” said Hamilton Beamish indulgently. “Young blood!”
He poised himself on his No-Jars, swung the dumb-bells in a forceful arc, and departed.
* * *
“Mullett,” said George.
“Have you pressed my dress clothes?”
“And brushed them?”
“My ties—are they laid out?”
“In a neat row, sir.”
“You recollect the little chat we were having just now?”
“About the young lady I—er——”
“Oh, yes, sir.”
“I understand you have seen her.”
“Just a glimpse, sir.”
George coughed again. “Ah—rather attractive, Mullett, didn’t you think?”
“Extremely, sir. Very cuddly.”
“The exact adjective I would have used myself, Mullett!”
“Cuddly! A beautiful word.”
“I think so, sir.”
George coughed for the third time.
“A lozenge, sir?” said Mullett, solicitously.
“No, thank you.”
“Very good, sir.”
“I find that Mr. Beamish is an intimate friend of this young lady.”
“Fancy that, sir!”
“He is going to introduce me.”
“Very gratifying, I am sure, sir.”
George sighed dreamily.
“Life is very sweet, Mullett.”
“For those that like it, sir—yes, sir.”
“Lead me to the ties,” said George.
* * *
At the hour of seven-thirty, just when George Finch was trying out his fifth tie, a woman stood pacing the floor in the Byzantine boudoir at No. 16, Seventy-ninth Street, East.
At first sight this statement may seem contradictory. Is it possible, the captious critic may ask, for a person simultaneously to stand and pace the floor? The answer is yes, if he or she is sufficiently agitated as to the soul. You do it by placing yourself on a given spot and scrabbling the feet alternately like a cat kneading a hearth-rug. It is sometimes the only method by which strong women can keep from having hysterics.
Mrs. Sigsbee H. Waddington was a strong woman. In fact, so commanding was her physique that a stranger might have supposed her to be one in the technical, or circus, sense. She was not tall, but she had bulged so generously in every possible direction that, when seen for the first time, she gave the impression of enormous size. No theater, however little its program had managed to attract the public, could be said to be “sparsely filled” if Mrs. Waddington had dropped in to look at the show. And when she went to Carlsbad or Aix-les-Bains to take the waters, the authorities huddled together nervously and wondered if there would be enough to go round.
Her growing bulk was a perpetual sorrow—one of many—to her husband. When he married her, she had been slim and svelte. But she had also been the relict of the late P. Homer Horlick, the Cheese King, and he had left her several million dollars. Most of the interest accruing from this fortune she had, so it sometimes seemed to Sigsbee H. Waddington, spent on starchy foods.
Mrs. Waddington stood and paced the floor, and presently the door opened.
“Lord Hunstanton,” announced Ferris, the butler.
THE standard of male looks present up to this time in this story has not been high: but the man who now entered did much to raise the average. He was tall and slight and elegant, with frank blue eyes—one of them preceded by an eye-glass—and one of those clipped moustaches. His clothes had been cut by an inspired tailor and pressed by a genius. His tie was simply an ethereal white butterfly, straight from heaven, that hovered over the collar stud as if it were sipping pollen from some exotic flower. (George Finch, now working away at number eight and having just got it creased in four places, would have screamed hoarsely with envy at the sight of that tie.)
“Well, here I am,” said Lord Hunstanton. He paused for a moment, then added, “What, what!” as if he felt that it was expected of him.
“It was so kind of you to come,” said Mrs. Waddington, pivoting on her axis and panting like a hart after the water-brooks.
“Not at all.”
“I knew I could rely on you.”
“You have only to command.”
“You are such a true friend, though I have known you only such a short time.”
“Is anything wrong?” asked Lord Hunstanton.
He was more than a little surprised to find himself at seven-forty in a house where he had been invited to dine at half-past eight. His dressing had been interrupted by a telephone call from Mrs. Waddington’s butler, begging him to come round at once; and, noting his hostess’ agitation, he hoped that nothing had gone wonky with the dinner.
“Everything is wrong!”
Lord Hunstanton sighed inaudibly. Did this mean cold meat and a pickle?
“Sigsbee is having one of his spells!”
“You mean he has been taken ill?”
“Not ill. Fractious.” Mrs. Waddington gulped. “It’s so hard that this should have occurred on the night of an important dinner-party, after you have taken such trouble with his education. I have said a hundred times that, since you came, Sigsbee has been a different man. He knows all the forks now, and can even talk intelligently about souffles.”
“I am only too glad if any little pointers I have been able to . . .”
“And when I take him out for a run he always walks on the outside of the pavement. And here he must go, on the night of my biggest dinner-party, and have one of his spells.”
“What is the trouble? Is he violent?”
Mrs. Waddington’s mouth set in a hard line.
“Sigsbee is pining for the West again!”
“You don’t say so?”
“Yes, sir, he’s pining for the great wide open spaces of the West. He says the East is effete and he wants to be out there among the silent canyons where men are men. If you want to know what I think, somebody’s been feeding him Zane Grey.”
“Can nothing be done?”
“Yes—in time. I can get him right if I’m given time, by stopping his pocket-money. But I need time, and here he is, an hour before my important dinner, with some of the most wealthy and exclusive people in New York expected at any moment, refusing to put on his dress clothes and saying that all a man that is a man needs is to shoot his bison and cut off a steak and cook it by the light of the Western stars. And what I want to know is, what am I to do?”
Lord Hunstanton twisted his moustache thoughtfully.
“I thought if you went and had a word with him . . .”
“I doubt if it would do any good. I suppose you wouldn’t dine without him?”
“It would make us thirteen.”
“I SEE.” His lordship’s face brightened. “I’ve got it. Send Miss Waddington to reason with him.”
“Molly? You think he would listen to her?”
“He is very fond of her.”
Mrs. Waddington reflected.
“It’s worth trying. I’ll go up and see if she is dressed. She is a dear girl, isn’t she, Lord Hunstanton?”
“I’m sure I’m as fond of her as if she were my own daughter.”
“Though, of course, dearly as I love her, I am never foolishly indulgent. So many girls today are spoiled by foolish indulgence.”
“My great wish, Lord Hunstanton, is one day to see her happily married to some good man.”
His Lordship closed the door behind Mrs. Waddington and stood for some moments in profound thought. He may have been wondering what was the earliest he could expect a cocktail, or he may have been musing on some deeper subject—if there is a deeper subject.
Mrs. Waddington navigated upstairs, and paused before a door near the second landing.
Mrs. Waddington was frowning as she entered the room. How often she had told this girl to call her “mater”!
But this was a small point, and not worth mentioning at a time like the present. She sank into a chair with a creaking groan. Strong woman though she was, Mrs. Sigsbee Waddington, like the chair, was near to breaking down.
“Good heavens, mother! What’s the matter?”
“Send her away,” muttered Mrs. Waddington, nodding at her stepdaughter’s maid.
“All right, mother. I shan’t want you any more, Julie. I can manage now. Shall I get you a glass of water, mother?”
MOLLY looked at her suffering step-parent with gentle concern, wishing that she had something stronger than water to offer. But her late mother had brought her up in that silly, stuffy way in which old-fashioned mothers used to bring up their daughters; and, incredible as it may seem in these enlightened days, Molly Waddington had reached the age of twenty without forming even a nodding acquaintance with alcohol. Now, no doubt, as she watched her stepmother gulping before her she regretted that she was not one of those sensible modern girls who always carry a couple of shots around with them in a jeweled flask.
But, though a defective up-bringing kept her from being useful in this crisis, nobody could deny that, as she stood there half-dressed for dinner, Molly Waddington was extremely ornamental. If George Finch could have seen her at that moment— But then if George Finch had seen her at that moment, he would immediately have shut his eyes like a gentleman; for there was that about her costume, in its present stage of development, which was not for the male gaze.
Still, however quickly he had shut his eyes, he could not have shut them rapidly enough to keep from seeing that Mullett, in his recent remarks on an absorbing subject, had shown an even nicer instinct for the mot juste than he had supposed. Beyond all chance for evasion or doubt, Molly Waddington was cuddly. She was wearing primrose knickers, and her silk stockinged legs tapered away to little gold shoes. Her pink fingers were clutching at a blue dressing-jacket with swan’s-down trimming. Her bobbed hair hung about a round little face with a tip-tilted little nose. Her eyes were large, her teeth small and white and even. She had a little brown mole on the back of her neck and—in short, to sum the whole thing up, if George Finch could have caught even the briefest glimpse of her at this juncture, he must inevitably have fallen over sideways, yapping like a dog.
Mrs. Waddington’s breathing had become easier, and she was sitting up in her chair with something like the old imperiousness.
“Molly,” said Mrs. Waddington, “have you been giving your father Zane Grey?”
“Of course not.”
“Quite. I don’t think there’s any Zane Grey in the house.”
“Then he’s been sneaking out and seeing Tom Mix again,” said Mrs. Waddington.
“You don’t mean . . . ?”
“Yes! He’s got one of his spells.”
“A bad one?”
“So bad that he refuses to dress for dinner. He says that if the boys”—Mrs. Waddington shuddered—“if the boys don’t like him in a flannel shirt, he won’t come in to dinner at all. And Lord Hunstanton suggested that I should send you to reason with him.”
“Lord Hunstanton? Has he arrived already?”
“I telephoned to him. I am coming to rely on Lord Hunstanton more and more every day. What a dear fellow he is!”
“Yes,” said Molly, a little dubiously. She was not fond of his lordship.
“I suppose so.”
“I should be very happy,” said Mrs. Waddington, “if a man like Lord Hunstanton asked you to be his wife.”
Molly fiddled with the trimming of her dressing-jacket. This was not the first time the subject had come up between her stepmother and herself.
A remark like the one just recorded was Mrs. Waddington’s idea of letting fall a quiet hint.
“Well—” said Molly.
“What do you mean, well?”
“Well, don’t you think he’s rather stiff?”
“Don’t you find him a little starchy?”
“If you mean that Lord Hunstanton’s manners are perfect, I agree with you.”
“I’m not sure that I like a man’s manners to be too perfect,” said Molly meditatively. “Don’t you think a shy man can be rather attractive?” She scraped the toe of one gold shoe against the heel of the other. “The sort of man I think I should rather like,” she said, a dreamy look in her eyes, “would be a sort of slimmish, smallish man with nice brown eyes and rather gold-y, chestnutty hair, who kind of looks at you from a distance because he’s too shy to speak to you and, when he does get a chance to speak to you, sort of chokes and turns pink and twists his fingers and makes funny noises and trips over his feet and looks rather a lamb and . . .”
MRS. WADDINGTON had risen from her chair like a storm cloud over a countryside.
“Molly!” she cried. “Who is this young man?”
“Why, nobody, of course! Just someone I sort of imagined.”
“Oh!” said Mrs. Waddington, relieved. “You spoke as if you knew him.”
“What a strange idea!”
“If any young man ever does look at you and make funny noises, you will ignore him.”
Mrs. Waddington started.
“All this nonsense you have been talking has made me forget about your father. Put on your dress and go down to him at once. Reason with him! If he refuses to come in to dinner, we shall be thirteen, and my party will be ruined.”
“I’ll be ready in a minute. Where is he?”
“In the library.”
“I’ll be right down.”
“And when you have seen him, go into the drawing-room and talk to Lord Hunstanton. He is all alone.”
“Very well, mother.”
“Mater,” said Molly. She was one of those nice, dutiful girls.
In addition to being a nice, dutiful girl, Molly Waddington was also a persuasive, wheedling girl.
Better proof of this statement can hardly be afforded than by the fact that, as the clocks were pointing to ten minutes past eight, a red-faced, angry little man with stiff gray hair and a sulky face shambled down the stairs of No. 16 East Seventy-ninth Street, and, pausing in the hall, subjected Ferris, the butler, to an offensive glare. It was Sigsbee H. Waddington, fully if sloppily dressed in the accepted mode of gentlemen of social standing about to dine.
The details of any record performance are always interesting, so it may be mentioned that Molly had reached the library at seven minutes to eight. She had started wheedling at exactly six minutes and forty-five seconds to the hour. At seven fifty-seven Sigsbee H. was fighting in the last ditch; and at seven fifty-nine, vowing he would ne’er consent, he consented.
Into the arguments used by Molly we need not enter fully. It is enough to say that, if a man loves his daughter dearly, and if she comes to him and says that she has been looking forward to a certain party and is wearing a new dress for that party, and if, finally, she adds that should he absent himself from that party, the party and her pleasure will be ruined—then, unless the man has a heart of stone, he will give in. Sigsbee Waddington had not a heart of stone. Many good judges considered that he had a head of concrete, but nobody had ever disparaged his heart. At eight precisely he was in his bedroom, shovelling on his dress clothes; and now, at ten minutes past, he stood in the hall and looked disapprovingly at Ferris.
SIGSBEE WADDINGTON thought Ferris was an over-fed wart.
Ferris thought Sigsbee Waddington ought to be ashamed to appear in public in a tie like that.
But thoughts are not words. What Ferris actually said was:
“A cocktail, sir?”
And what Sigsbee Waddington actually said was:
There was a pause. Mr. Waddington, still unsoothed, continued to glower. Ferris, resuming his marmoreal calm, had begun to muse once more, as was his habit when in thought, on Brangmarley Hall, Little-Seeping-in-the-Wold, Salop, England, where he had spent the early, happy days of his butlerhood.
“Ferris!” said Mr. Waddington at length.
“You ever been out West, Ferris?”
“Ever want to go?”
“Why not?” demanded Mr. Waddington belligerently.
“I understand that in the Western States of America, sir, there is a certain lack of comfort, and the social amenities are not rigorously observed.”
“Gangway!” said Mr. Waddington, making for the front door. He felt stifled. He wanted air. He yearned, if only for a few brief instants, to be alone with the silent stars.
It would be idle to deny that, at this particular moment, Sigsbee H. Waddington was in a dangerous mood. There is no man so terrible in his fury as the henpecked husband during his short spasms of revolt. Even Mrs. Waddington recognized that, no matter how complete her control normally, Sigsbee H., when having one of his spells, practically amounted to a rogue elephant. Her policy was to keep out of his way till the fever passed, and then to discipline him severely.
As Sigsbee Waddington stood on the pavement outside his house, drinking in the dust-and-gasoline mixture which passes for air in New York and scanning the weak imitation stars which are the best the East provides, he was grim and squiggle-eyed and ripe for murders, stratagems and spoils. Molly’s statement that there was no Zane Grey in the house had been very far from the truth. Sigsbee Waddington had his private store, locked away in a secret cupboard, and since early morning Riders of the Purple Sage had hardly ever been out of his hand. During the afternoon, moreover, he had managed to steal away to a motion-picture house on Sixth Avenue, where they were presenting Henderson Hoover and Sara Svelte in That L’il Gal from the Bar B Ranch. Sigsbee Waddington, as he stood on the pavement, was clad in dress clothes and looked like a stage waiter, but at heart he was wearing chaps and a Stetson hat and people spoke of him as Two-Gun Thomas.
A Rolls-Royce drew up at the curb, and Mr. Waddington moved a step or two away. A fat man alighted and helped his fatter wife out. Mr. Waddington recognized them. B. and Mrs. Brewster Bodthorne. B. Brewster was the first vice-president of Amalgamated Tooth Brushes, and rolled in money.
“Pah!” muttered Mr. Waddington, sickened to the marrow.
The pair vanished into the house, and presently another Rolls-Royce arrived, followed by a Hispano-Suiza. Consolidated Pop-corn and wife emerged, and then United Beef and daughter. A consignment worth on the hoof between eighty and a hundred million.
“How long?” moaned Mr. Waddington. “How long?”
AND then, as the door closed, he was aware of a young man behaving strangely on the pavement some few feet away from him.
The reason why George Finch—for it was he—was behaving strangely was that he was a shy young man and consequently unable to govern his movements by the light of pure reason. The ordinary tough-skinned everyday fellow with a face of brass and the placid gall of an army mule would, of course, if he had decided to pay a call upon a girl in order to make inquiries about her dog, have gone right ahead and done it. He would have shot his cuffs and straightened his tie and then trotted up the steps and punched the front doorbell.
Not so the diffident George.
George’s methods were different. Graceful and, in their way, pretty to watch, but different. First, he stood for some moments on one foot, staring at the house. Then, as if some hand had dug three inches of a meat-skewer into the flesh of his leg, he shot forward in a spasmodic bound. Checking this as he reached the steps, he retreated a pace or two and once more became immobile. A few moments later, the meat-skewer had got to work again and he had sprung up the steps, only to leap backward once more.
When Mr. Waddington first made up his mind to accost him, George had begun to walk round in circles, mumbling to himself.
Sigsbee Waddington was in no mood for this sort of thing. It was the sort of thing, he felt bitterly, which could happen only in this degraded East. Out West, men are men and do not dance tangos by themselves on front doorsteps. Venters, the hero of Riders of the Purple Sage, he recalled, had been described by the author as standing “tall and straight, his wide shoulders flung back, with the muscles of his arms rippling and a blue flame of defiance in his gaze.” How different, felt Mr. Waddington, from this imbecile young man who seemed content to waste life’s springtime playing solitary round-games in the public streets.
“Hey!” he said sharply.
The exclamation took George amidships just as he had returned to the standing-on-one-leg position. It caused him to lose his balance, and if he had not adroitly clutched Mr. Waddington by the left ear, it is probable that he would have fallen.
“Sorry,” said George, having sorted himself out.
“What’s the use of being sorry?” growled the injured man, tenderly feeling his ear. “And what the devil are you doing anyway?”
“Just paying a call,” explained George.
“Doing a what?”
“I’m paying a formal call at this house.”
“This one. Number sixteen. Waddington, Sigsbee H.”
Mr. Waddington regarded him with unconcealed hostility.
“Oh, you are, are you? Well, it may interest you to learn that I am Sigsbee H. Waddington, and I don’t know you from Adam. So now!”
“You are Sigsbee H. Waddington?” he said reverently.
George was gazing at Molly’s father as at some beautiful work of art—a superb painting, let us say—the sort of thing which connoisseurs fight for and which finally gets knocked down to Dr. Rosenbach for three hundred thousand dollars. Which will give the reader a rough idea of what love can do; for, considered in a calm and unbiased spirit, Sigsbee Waddington was little, if anything, to look at.
“Mr. Waddington,” said George, “I am proud to meet you.”
“Proud to meet you.”
“What of it?” said Sigsbee Waddington churlishly.
“Mr. Waddington,” said George, “I was born in Idaho.”
Much has been written of the sedative effect of pouring oil on raging waters, and it is on record that the vision of the Holy Grail, sliding athwart a rainbow, was generally sufficient to still the most fiercely warring passions of young knights in the Middle Ages. But never since history began can there have been so sudden a change from red-eyed hostility to smiling benevolence as occurred now in Sigsbee H. Waddington. As George’s words, like some magic spell, fell upon his ears, wrath melted from his soul like dew from a flower beneath the sun. He beamed on George. He pawed George’s sleeve with a paternal hand.
“You really come from the West?” he cried.
“From God’s own country? From the great wonderful West with its wide-open spaces where a red-blooded man can fill his lungs with the breath of freedom?”
It was not precisely the way George would have described East Gilead, which was a stuffy little hamlet with a poorish water supply and one of the worst soda fountains in Idaho, but he nodded amiably.
MR. WADDINGTON dashed a hand across his eyes.
“The West! Why, it’s like a mother to me! I love every flower that blooms on the broad bosom of its sweeping plains, every sun-kissed peak of its everlasting hills.”
George said he did, too.
“Its beautiful valleys, mystic in their transparent, luminous gloom, weird in the quivering, golden haze of the lightning that flickers over them.”
“Ah!” said George.
“The dark spruces tipped with glimmering lights! The aspens bent low in the wind, like waves in a tempest at sea!”
“Can you beat them!” said George.
“Say, listen,” said Mr. Waddington. “You and I must see more of each other. Come and have a bite of dinner!”
“Right this very minute. We’ve got a few puny-souled Eastern millionaires putting on the nose bag with us tonight, but you won’t mind them. We’ll just look at ’em and despise ’em. And after dinner, you and I will slip off to my study and have a good chat.”
“But won’t Mrs. Waddington object to an unexpected guest at the last moment?”
MR. WADDINGTON expanded his chest and tapped it spaciously.
“Say, listen—what’s your name?—Finch?—say listen, Finch, do I look like the sort of man who’s bossed by his wife?”
It was precisely the sort of man that George thought he did look like, but this was not the moment to say so.
“It’s very kind of you,” he said.
“Kind? Say, listen. If I was riding along those illimitable prairies and got storm-bound outside your ranch you wouldn’t worry about whether you were being kind when you asked me in for a bite, would you? You’d say, ‘Step right in, pardner! The place is yours.’ Very well, then!”
Mr. Waddington produced a latchkey.
“Ferris,” said Mr. Waddington in the hall, “tell those galoots down in the kitchen to set another place at table. A pard of mine from the West has happened in for a snack.”
The perfect hostess never displays discomposure. In moments of trial she aims at the easy repose of manner of a Red Indian at the stake. Nevertheless, there was a moment when, as she saw Sigsbee H. caracole into the drawing-room with George, Mrs. Waddington indisputably reeled.
She recovered herself. All the woman in her was urging her to take Sigsbee H. by his outstanding ears and shake him till he came unstuck, but she fought the emotion down. Gradually her glazed eye lost its dead-fishy look. Like Death in the poem, she “grinned horrible a ghastly smile.” And it was with a well-assumed graciousness that she eventually extended to George the quivering hand which, had she been a less highly civilized woman, would about now have been landing on the side of her husband’s head, swung from the hip.
“Chahmed!” said Mrs. Waddington. “So very, very glad that you were able to come, Mr.——”
She paused, and George, eying her mistily, gathered that she wished to be informed of his name. He would have been glad to supply the information, but, unfortunately, at the moment, he had forgotten it himself. He had an idea that it began with an F or a G, but beyond that his mind was a blank.
The fact was that, in the act of shaking hands with his hostess, George Finch had caught sight of Molly, and the spectacle had been a little too much for him.
Molly was wearing the new evening dress of which she had spoken so feelingly to her father at their recent interview, and it seemed to George as if the scales had fallen from his eyes and he was seeing her for the first time.
Before, in a vague way, he had supposed that she possessed arms and shoulders and hair, but it was only at this moment that he perceived how truly those arms and those shoulders and that hair were arms and shoulders and hair in the deepest and holiest sense of the words. It was as if a goddess had thrown aside the veil. It was as if—well, the point we are trying to make is that George Finch was impressed. His eyes enlarged to the dimensions of saucers; his nose quivered; and unseen hands began to pour iced water down his spine.
No melancholy days in autumn when you have Wodehouse to read. Next week the fun in this story gathers volume like a snowball going downhill.
Printer’s errors corrected above:
Magazine had “ash-cans—or, as Mullett”; corrected to “er” as in books and UK magazine.
Magazine had “my big—great dinner-party”; corrected to “biggest” as in other three sources.
Magazine had “Little-Sleeping-in-the-Wold”; corrected to “Seeping” as in other three sources.