The Strand Magazine, July 1920
“HER eyes,” said Bill Brewster, “are like—like—what’s the word I want?”
He looked across at Lucille, his sister, and at Archie Moffam, her husband. Lucille was leaning forward with an eager and interested face; Archie was leaning back with his finger-tips together and his eyes closed. This was not the first time his brother-in-law had touched on the subject of the girl he had become engaged to marry during his trip to England. Indeed, Brother Bill had touched on very little else in the course of the past week, and Archie, though of a sympathetic nature, was beginning to feel that he had heard all he wished to hear about Mabel Winchester. Lucille, on the other hand, who was now getting her first instalment of it, was absorbed. She was devoted to Bill, and his recital had thrilled her.
“Like——” said Bill. “Like——”
“Stars?” suggested Lucille.
“Stars,” said Bill, gratefully. “Exactly the word. Twin stars shining in a clear sky on a summer night. Her teeth are like—what shall I say?”
“Pearls. And her hair is a lovely brown, like leaves in the autumn. In fact,” concluded Bill, slipping down from the heights with something of a jerk, “she’s a corker. Isn’t she, Archie?”
Archie opened his eyes.
“Quite right, old top!” he said. “It was the only thing to do!”
“What the devil are you talking about?” demanded Bill, coldly. He had been suspicious all along of Archie’s statement that he could listen better with his eyes shut.
“Eh? Oh, sorry! Thinking of something else.”
“You were asleep.”
“No, no, positively and distinctly not. Frightfully interested and rapt and all that, only I didn’t quite get what you said.”
“I said that Mabel was a corker.”
“Oh, absolutely in every respect.”
“There!” Bill turned to Lucille triumphantly. “You hear that? And Archie has only seen her photograph. Wait till he sees her in the flesh!”
“My dear old chap!” said Archie, shocked. “Ladies present! I mean to say, what!”
“I’m afraid,” said Lucille, “that father will be the one you’ll find it hard to convince.”
“Yes,” said her brother, gloomily.
“Your Mabel sounds perfectly charming, but—well, you know what father is! It is a pity she sings in the chorus!”
“She hasn’t much of a voice,” argued Bill, in extenuation.
“All the same——”
Archie, the conversation having reached a topic on which he considered himself one of the greatest living authorities—to wit, the unlovable disposition of his father-in-law—addressed the meeting as one who has a right to be heard.
“I wouldn’t for the world say anything derogatory, as it were, to your jolly old pater, but there’s no getting away from the fact that he’s by way of being one of the leading man-eating fishes. I mean to say, he’s a pretty tough nut. And what makes it worse than it might be is that, ever since Lucille brought me in and laid me on the mat, he’s been looking to you to restore the good old family prestige, if you know what I mean. He thinks Lucille let the proud name of Brewster down a bit, don’t you know.”
“Don’t be silly!” said Lucille. “You know quite well that you’re a perfect little angel and that anyone would be lucky to get you for a son-in-law.”
“Ah, but does he? Has that thought ever entered the parental bean? No! I fear me, no! Every time I get hold of a daisy, I give him another chance, but it always works out at ‘He loves me not!’ Very well then, laddie! It comes to this, that he’s looking to you to marry someone pretty special, and I’m sorry to have to say it, old bird, but, if you come bounding in with part of the personnel of the ensemble on your arm and try to dig a father’s blessing out of him, cold reason suggests that he’s extremely apt to stab you in the gizzard with the pickle-fork.”
“I wish,” said Bill, annoyed, “you wouldn’t talk as though Mabel were the ordinary kind of chorus-girl. She’s only on the stage because her mother’s hard-up and she wants to educate her little brother.”
“I say,” said Archie, concerned. “Take my tip, old top. In chatting the matter over with the pater, don’t dwell too much on that aspect of the affair. I’ve been watching him closely, and it’s about all he can stick, having to support me. If you ring in a mother and a little brother on him, he’ll crack under the strain.”
“Well, I’ve got to do something about it. Mabel will be over here in a week.”
“Great Scot! You never told us that.”
“Yes. She’s going to be in the new Billington show. And, naturally, she will expect to meet my family. I’ve told her all about you.”
“Did you explain father to her?” asked Lucille.
“Well, I just said she mustn’t mind him, as his bark was worse than his bite.”
“Well,” said Archie, thoughtfully, “he hasn’t bitten me yet, so you may be right. But you’ve got to admit that he’s a bit of a barker.”
“Really, Bill, I think your best plan would be to go straight to father and tell him the whole thing. You don’t want him to hear about it in a roundabout way.”
“The trouble is that, whenever I’m with father, I can’t think of anything to say.”
Archie found himself envying his father-in-law this merciful dispensation of Providence; for, where he himself was concerned, there had been no lack of eloquence on Bill’s part. In the brief period in which he had known him, Bill had talked all the time and always on the one topic. As unpromising a subject as the tariff laws was easily diverted by him into a discussion of the absent Mabel; and finally Archie had given up trying to change the conversation.
“When I’m with father,” said Bill, “I sort of lose my nerve, and yammer.”
“Dashed awkward,” said Archie, politely. He sat up suddenly. “I say! By Jove! I know what you want, old friend! Just thought of it!”
“That busy brain is never still,” explained Lucille.
“Saw it in the paper this morning. An advertisement of a book, don’t you know.”
“I’ve no time for reading.”
“You’ve time for reading this one, laddie, for you can’t afford to miss it. It’s a what-d’you-call-it book. What I mean to say is, if you read it and take its tips to heart, it guarantees to make you a convincing talker. The advertisement says so. The advertisement’s all about a chappie whose name I forget, whom everybody loved because he talked so well. And, mark you, before he got hold of this book—‘The Personality That Wins’ was the name of it, if I remember rightly—he was known to all the lads in the office as Silent Samuel or something. Or it may have been Tongue-Tied Thomas. Well, one day he happened by good luck to blow in the necessary for the good old P. that W.’s, and now, whenever they want someone to go and talk Rockefeller or someone into lending them a million or so, they send for Samuel. Only now they call him Sammy the Spell-Binder and fawn upon him pretty copiously and all that. How about it, old son? How do we go?”
“What perfect nonsense,” said Lucille.
“I don’t know,” said Bill, plainly impressed. “There might be something in it.”
“Absolutely!” said Archie. “I remember it said, ‘Talk convincingly, and no man will ever treat you with cold, unresponsive indifference.’ Well, cold, unresponsive indifference is just what you don’t want the pater to treat you with, isn’t it, or is it, or isn’t it, what? I mean, what?”
“It sounds all right,” said Bill.
“It is all right,” said Archie. “It’s a scheme! I’ll go farther. It’s an egg!”
“The idea I had,” said Bill, “was to see if I couldn’t get Mabel a job in some straight comedy. That would take the curse off the thing a bit. Then I wouldn’t have to dwell on the chorus end of the business, you see.”
“Much more sensible,” said Lucille.
“But what a deuce of a sweat,” argued Archie. “I mean to say, having to pop round and nose about and all that.”
“Aren’t you willing to take a little trouble for your stricken brother-in-law, worm?” said Lucille, severely.
“Oh, absolutely! My idea was to get this book and coach the dear old chap. Rehearse him, don’t you know. He could bone up the early chapters a bit and then drift round and try his convincing talk on me.”
“It might be a good idea,” said Bill, reflectively.
“Well, I’ll tell you what I’m going to do,” said Lucille. “I’m going to get Bill to introduce me to his Mabel, and, if she’s as nice as he says she is, I’ll go to father and talk convincingly to him.”
“You’re an ace!” said Bill.
“Absolutely!” agreed Archie, cordially. “My partner, what! All the same, we ought to keep the book as a second string, you know. I mean to say, you are a young and delicately nurtured girl—full of sensibility and shrinking what’s-its-name and all that—and you know what the jolly old pater is. He might bark at you and put you right out of action in the first round. Well, then, don’t you see, we could unleash old Bill, the trained silver-tongued expert, on him, and have him weak in no time. Personally, I’m all for the P. that W.’s.”
Lucille looked at her watch.
“Good gracious! It’s nearly one o’clock!”
“No!” Archie heaved himself up from his chair. “Well, it’s a shame to break up this feast of reason and flow of soul and all that, but, if we don’t leg it with some speed, we shall be late.”
“We’re lunching at the Nicholsons’,” explained Lucille to her brother. “I wish you were coming too.”
“Lunch!” Bill shook his head with a kind of tolerant scorn. “Lunch means nothing to me these days. I’ve other things to think of besides food.” He looked as spiritual as his rugged features would permit. “I haven’t written to Her yet to-day.”
“But, dash it, old egg, if she’s going to be over here in a week, what’s the good of writing? The letter would cross her.”
“I’m not mailing my letters to England,” said Bill. “I’m keeping them for her to read when she arrives.”
“My sainted aunt!” said Archie.
Devotion like this was something beyond his outlook.
“THE Personality That Wins” cost Archie two dollars in cash and a lot of embarrassment when he asked for it at the store. To buy a treatise of that name would automatically seem to argue that you haven’t a winning personality already, and Archie was at some pains to explain to the girl behind the counter that he wanted it for a friend. The girl seemed more interested in his English accent than in his explanation, and Archie was uncomfortably aware, as he receded, that she was practising it in an undertone for the benefit of her colleagues and fellow-workers. However, what is a little discomfort, if endured in friendship’s name? Archie left the book at Bill’s club, and went his way with the consciousness of a good deed done.
Some days later, Lucille, returning one morning to their mutual suite, found her husband seated in an upright chair at the table, an unusually stern expression on his amiable face. A large cigar was in the corner of his mouth. The fingers of one hand rested in the arm-hole of his waistcoat; with the other hand he tapped menacingly on the table.
Lucille was aware of Bill’s presence. He had emerged sharply from the bedroom and walked briskly across the floor.
“Father!” said Bill.
“Well, my boy,” said Archie, in a rasping voice, frowning heavily over the cigar. “What is it? Speak up, speak up! Why the devil can’t you speak up? This is my busy day!”
“What on earth are you doing?” asked Lucille.
Archie waved her away with the large gesture of a man of blood and iron interrupted while concentrating.
“Leave us, woman! We would be alone! Retire into the jolly old background and amuse yourself for a bit. Read a book! Do acrostics! Charge ahead, laddie!”
“Father!” said Bill, again.
“Yes, my boy, yes? What is it?”
Archie picked up the red-covered volume that lay on the table.
“Half a mo’, old son. Sorry to stop you, but I knew there was something. I’ve just remembered. Your walk. All wrong!”
“All wrong! Where’s the chapter on the Art of Walking? Here we are. Listen, dear old soul. Drink this in. ‘In walking, one should strive to acquire that swinging easy movement from the hips. The correctly-poised walker seems to float along, as it were.’ Now, old bean, you didn’t float a dam’ bit. You just galloped in like a chappie charging into a railway restaurant for a bowl of soup when his train leaves in two minutes. Dashed important, this walking business, you know. Get started wrong, and where are you? Try it again. . . . Much better.” He turned to Lucille. “Notice him float along that time? Absolutely skimmed, what?”
Lucille had taken a seat, and was waiting for enlightenment.
“Are you and Bill going into vaudeville?” she asked.
Archie, scrutinizing his brother-in-law closely, had further criticism to make.
“ ‘The man of self-respect and self-confidence,’ ” he read, “ ‘stands erect in an easy, natural, graceful attitude. Heels not too far apart, head erect, eyes to the front with a level gaze’—get your gaze level, old thing!—‘shoulders thrown back, arms hanging naturally at the sides when not otherwise employed’—that means that, if he swings on you, it’s all right to guard—‘chest expanded naturally, and abdomen’—this is no place for you, Lucille. Leg it out of earshot—‘ab—what I said before—drawn in somewhat and above all not protruded.’ Now, have you got all that? Yes, you look all right. Carry on, laddie, carry on. Let’s have two-penn’orth of the Dynamic Voice and the Tone of Authority—some of the full, rich, round stuff we hear so much about!”
Bill fastened a gimlet eye upon his brother-in-law and drew a deep breath.
“Father!” he said. “Father!”
“You’ll have to brighten up Bill’s dialogue a lot,” said Lucille, critically, “or you will never get bookings.”
“I mean, it’s all right as far as it goes, but it’s sort of monotonous. Besides, one of you ought to be asking questions and the other answering. Bill ought to be saying, ‘Who was that lady I saw you coming down the street with?’ so that you would be able to say, ‘That wasn’t a lady. That was my wife.’ I know! I’ve been to lots of vaudeville shows.”
Bill relaxed his attitude. He deflated his chest, spread his heels, and ceased to draw in his abdomen.
“We’d better try this another time, when we’re alone,” he said, frigidly. “I can’t do myself justice.”
“Why do you want to do yourself justice?” asked Lucille.
“Right-o!” said Archie, affably, casting off his forbidding expression like a garment. “Rehearsal postponed. I was just putting old Bill through it,” he explained, “with a view to getting him into mid-season form for the jolly old pater.”
“Oh!” Lucille’s voice was the voice of one who sees light in darkness. “When Bill walked in like a cat on hot bricks and stood there looking stuffed, that was just the Personality That Wins!”
“That was it.”
“Well, you couldn’t blame me for not recognizing it, could you?”
Archie patted her head paternally.
“A little less of the caustic critic stuff,” he said. “Bill will be all right on the night. If you hadn’t come in then and put him off his stroke, he’d have shot out some amazing stuff, full of authority and dynamic accents and what not. I tell you, light of my soul, old Bill is all right! He’s got the winning personality up a tree, ready whenever he wants to go and get it. Speaking as his backer and trainer, I think he’ll twist your father round his little finger. Absolutely! It wouldn’t surprise me if at the end of five minutes the good old dad started jumping through hoops and sitting up for lumps of sugar.”
“It would surprise me.”
“Ah, that’s because you haven’t seen old Bill in action. You crabbed his act before he had begun to spread himself.”
“It isn’t that at all. The reason why I think that Bill, however winning his personality may be, won’t persuade father to let him marry a girl in the chorus is something that happened last night.”
“Well, at three o’clock this morning. It’s on the front page of the early editions of the evening papers. I brought one in for you to see, only you were so busy. Look! There it is!”
Archie seized the paper.
“Oh, Great Scot!”
“What is it?” asked Bill, irritably. “Don’t stand goggling there! What the devil is it?”
“Listen to this, old thing!”
REVELRY BY NIGHT.
SPIRITED BATTLE ROYAL
AT HOTEL COSMOPOLIS.
THE HOTEL DETECTIVE HAD A
GOOD HEART BUT
PAULINE PACKED THE PUNCH.
The logical contender for Jack Dempsey’s championship honours has been discovered: and, in an age where women are stealing men’s jobs all the time, it will not come as a surprise to our readers to learn that she belongs to the sex that is more deadly than the male. Her name is Miss Pauline Preston, and her wallop is vouched for under oath—under many oaths—by Mr. Timothy O’Neill, known to his intimates as Pie-Face, who holds down the arduous job of detective at the Hotel Cosmopolis.
At three o’clock this morning, Mr. O’Neill was advised by the night-clerk that the occupants of every room within earshot of number 618 had ’phoned the desk to complain of a disturbance, a noise, a vocal uproar proceeding from the room mentioned. Thither, therefore, marched Mr. O’Neill, his face full of cheese-sandwich (for he had been indulging in an early breakfast or a late supper) and his heart of devotion to duty. He found there the Misses Pauline Preston and “Bobbie” St. Clair, of the personnel of the chorus of the Frivolities, entertaining a few friends of either sex. A pleasant time was being had by all, and at the moment of Mr. O’Neill’s entry the entire strength of the company was rendering with considerable emphasis that touching ballad, “There’s a Place For Me In Heaven, For My Baby-Boy Is There.”
The able and efficient officer at once suggested that there was a place for them in the street and the patrol-wagon would soon be waiting there: and, being a man of action as well as words, proceeded to gather up an armful of assorted guests as a preliminary to a personally-conducted tour into the cold night.
It was at this point that Miss Preston stepped into the limelight. Mr. O’Neill contends that she hit him with a brick, an iron casing, and the Singer Building. Be that as it may, her efforts were sufficiently able to induce him to retire for reinforcements, which, arriving, arrested the supper-party regardless of age or sex.
At the police-court this morning Miss Preston maintained that she and her friends were merely having a quiet home-evening and that Mr. O’Neill was no gentleman. The male guests gave their names respectively as Woodrow Wilson, Grover Cleveland, and William J. Bryan. These, however, are believed to be incorrect. But the moral is, if you want excitement rather than sleep, stay at the Hotel Cosmopolis.
Bill may have quaked inwardly as he listened to this epic, but outwardly he was unmoved.
“Well,” he said, “what about it?”
“What about it!” said Lucille.
“What about it!” said Archie. “Why, my dear old friend, it simply means that all the time we’ve been putting in making your personality winning has been chucked away. Absolutely a dead loss! We might just as well have read a manual on how to knit sweaters.”
“I don’t see it,” maintained Bill, stoutly. Lucille turned apologetically to her husband.
“You mustn’t judge me by him, Archie, darling. This sort of thing doesn’t run in the family. We are supposed to be rather bright on the whole. But poor Bill was dropped by his nurse when he was a baby, and fell on his head.”
“I suppose what you’re driving at,” said the goaded Bill, “is that what has happened will make father pretty sore against girls who happen to be in the chorus?”
“That’s absolutely it, old thing, I’m sorry to say. The next person who mentions the word chorus-girl in the jolly old governor’s presence is going to take his life in his hands. I tell you, as one man to another, that I’d much rather be back in France hopping over the top than do it myself.”
“What darned nonsense! Mabel may be in the chorus, but she isn’t like those girls.”
“Poor old Bill!” said Lucille. “I’m awfully sorry, but it’s no use not facing facts. You know perfectly well that the reputation of the hotel is the thing father cares more about than anything else in the world, and that this is going to make him furious with all the chorus-girls in creation. It’s no good trying to explain to him that your Mabel is in the chorus but not of the chorus, so to speak.”
“Deuced well put!” said Archie, approvingly. “You’re absolutely right. A chorus-girl by the river’s brim, so to speak, a simple chorus-girl is to him, as it were, and she is nothing more, if you know what I mean.”
“So now,” said Lucille, “having shown you that the imbecile scheme which you concocted with my poor well-meaning husband is no good at all, I will bring you words of cheer. Your own original plan—of getting your Mabel a part in a comedy—was always the best one. And you can do it. I wouldn’t have broken the bad news so abruptly if I hadn’t had some consolation to give you afterwards. I met Reggie van Tuyl just now, wandering about as if the cares of the world were on his shoulders, and he told me that he was putting up most of the money for a new play that’s going into rehearsal right away. Reggie’s an old friend of yours. All you have to do is to go to him and ask him to use his influence to get your Mabel a small part. There’s sure to be a maid or something with only a line or two that won’t matter.”
“A ripe scheme!” said Archie. “Very sound and fruity!”
The cloud did not lift from Bill’s corrugated brow.
“That’s all very well,” he said. “But you know what a talker Reggie is. He’s an obliging sort of chump, but his tongue’s fastened on at the middle and waggles at both ends. I don’t want the whole of New York to know about my engagement, and have somebody spilling the news to father, before I’m ready.”
“That’s all right,” said Lucille. “Archie can speak to him. There’s no need for him to mention your name at all. He can just say there’s a girl he wants to get a part for. You would do it, wouldn’t you, angel-face?”
“Like a bird, queen of my soul.”
“Then that’s splendid. You’d better give Archie that photograph of Mabel to give to Reggie, Bill.”
“Photograph?” said Bill. “Which photograph? I have twenty-four!”
ARCHIE found Reggie van Tuyl brooding in a window of his club that looked over Fifth Avenue. Reggie was one of the first friends Archie had made on his arrival in America. He was a rather melancholy young man who suffered from elephantiasis of the bank-roll and the other evils that arise from that complaint. Gentle and sentimental by nature, his sensibilities had been much wounded by contact with a sordid world; and the thing that had first endeared Archie to him was the fact that the latter, though chronically hard-up, had never made any attempt to borrow money from him. Reggie would have parted with it on demand, but it had delighted him to find that Archie seemed to take a pleasure in his society without having any ulterior motives. He was fond of Archie, and also of Lucille; and their happy marriage was a constant source of gratification to him.
For Reggie was a sentimentalist. He would have liked to live in a world of ideally united couples, himself ideally united to some charming and affectionate girl. But, as a matter of cold fact, he was a bachelor, and most of the couples he knew veterans of several divorces. In Reggie’s circle, therefore, the home-life of Archie and Lucille shone like a good deed in a naughty world. It inspired him. In moments of depression it restored his waning faith in human nature.
Consequently, when Archie, having greeted him and slipped into a chair at his side, suddenly produced from his inside pocket the photograph of an extremely pretty girl and asked him to get her a small part in the play which he was financing, he was shocked and disappointed. He was in a more than usually sentimental mood that afternoon, and had, indeed, at the moment of Archie’s arrival, been dreaming wistfully of soft arms clasped snugly about his collar and the patter of little feet and all that sort of thing. He gazed reproachfully at Archie.
“Archie!” His voice quivered with emotion. “Is it worth it? Is it worth it, old man? Think of the poor little woman at home!”
Archie was puzzled.
“Eh, old top? Which poor little woman?”
“Think of her trust in you, her faith——”
“I don’t absolutely get you, old bean.”
“What would Lucille say if she knew about this?”
“Oh, she does. She knows all about it.”
“Good heavens!” cried Reggie. He was shocked to the core of his being. One of the articles of his faith was that the union of Lucille and Archie was different from those loose partnerships which were the custom in his world. He had not been conscious of such a poignant feeling that the foundations of the universe were cracked and tottering and that there was no light and sweetness in life since the morning, eighteen months back, when a negligent valet had sent him out into Fifth Avenue with only one spat on.
“It was Lucille’s idea,” explained Archie. He was about to mention his brother-in-law’s connection with the matter, but checked himself in time, remembering Bill’s specific objection to having his secret revealed to Reggie. “It’s like this, old thing, I’ve never met this female, but she’s a pal of Lucille’s”—he comforted his conscience by the reflection that, if she wasn’t now, she would be in a few days—“and Lucille wants to do her a bit of good. She’s been on the stage in England, you know, supporting a jolly old widowed mother and educating a little brother and all that kind and species of rot, you understand, and now she’s coming over to America, and Lucille wants you to rally round and shove her into your show and generally keep the home fires burning and so forth. How do we go?”
Reggie beamed with relief. He felt just as he had felt on that other occasion at the moment when a taxi-cab had rolled up and enabled him to hide his spatless leg from the public gaze.
“Oh, I see!” he said. “Why, delighted, old man, quite delighted!”
“Any small part would do. Isn’t there a maid or something in your bob’s-worth of refined entertainment who drifts about saying, ‘Yes, madam,’ and all that sort of thing? Well, then, that’s just the thing. Topping! I knew I could rely on you, old bird. I’ll get Lucille to ship her round to your address when she arrives. I fancy she’s due to totter in somewhere in the next few days. Well, I must be popping. Toodle-oo!”
“Pip-pip!” said Reggie.
IT was about a week later that Lucille came into the suite at the Hotel Cosmopolis that was her home, and found Archie lying on the couch, smoking a refreshing pipe after the labours of the day. It seemed to Archie that his wife was not in her usual cheerful frame of mind. He kissed her, and, having relieved her of her parasol, endeavoured without success to balance it on his chin. Having picked it up from the floor and placed it on the table, he became aware that Lucille was looking at him in a despondent sort of way. Her grey eyes were clouded.
“Halloa, old thing,” said Archie. “What’s up?”
Lucille sighed wearily.
“Archie, darling, do you know any really good swear-words?”
“Well,” said Archie, reflectively, “let me see. I did pick up a few tolerably ripe and breezy expressions out in France. All through my military career there was something about me—some subtle magnetism, don’t you know, and that sort of thing—that seemed to make colonels and blighters of that order rather inventive. I sort of inspired them, don’t you know. I remember one brass-hat addressing me for quite ten minutes, saying something new all the time. And even then he seemed to think he had only touched the fringe of the subject. As a matter of fact, he said straight out in the most frank and confiding way that mere words couldn’t do justice to me. But why?”
“Because I want to relieve my feelings.”
“Everything’s wrong. I’ve just been having tea with Bill and his Mabel.”
“Oh, ah!” said Archie, interested. “And what’s the verdict?”
“Guilty!” said Lucille. “And the sentence, if I had anything to do with it, would be transportation for life.” She peeled off her gloves irritably. “What fools men are! Not you, precious! You’re the only man in the world that isn’t, it seems to me. You did marry a nice girl, didn’t you? You didn’t go running round after females with crimson hair, goggling at them with your eyes popping out of your head like a bulldog waiting for a bone.”
“Oh, I say! Does old Bill look like that?”
Archie rose to a point of order.
“But one moment, old lady. You speak of crimson hair. Surely old Bill—in the extremely jolly monologues he used to deliver whenever I didn’t see him coming and he got me alone—used to allude to her hair as brown.”
“It isn’t brown now. It’s bright scarlet. Good gracious, I ought to know. I’ve been looking at it all the afternoon. It dazzled me. If I’ve got to meet her again, I mean to go to the oculist’s and get a pair of those smoked glasses you wear at Palm Beach.” Lucille brooded silently for a while over the tragedy. “I don’t want to say anything against her, of course.”
“No, no, of course not.”
“But of all the awful, second-rate girls I ever met, she’s the worst! She has vermilion hair and an imitation Oxford manner. She’s so horribly refined that it’s dreadful to listen to her. She’s a sly, creepy, slinky, made-up, insincere vampire! She’s common! She’s awful! She’s a cat!”
“You’re quite right not to say anything against her,” said Archie, approvingly. “It begins to look,” he went on, “as if the good old pater was about due for another shock. He has a hard life!”
“If Bill dares to introduce that girl to father, he’s taking his life in his hands.”
“But surely that was the idea—the scheme—the wheeze, wasn’t it? Or do you think there’s any chance of his weakening?”
“Weakening! You should have seen him looking at her! It was like a small boy flattening his nose against the window of a candy-store.”
Lucille kicked the leg of the table.
“And to think,” she said, “that, when I was a little girl, I used to look up to Bill as a monument of wisdom. I used to hug his knees and gaze into his face and wonder how anyone could be so magnificent.” She gave the unoffending table another kick. “If I could have looked into the future,” she said, with feeling, “I’d have bitten him in the ankle!”
IN the days which followed, Archie found himself a little out of touch with Bill and his romance. Lucille referred to the matter only when he brought the subject up, and made it plain that the topic of her future sister-in-law was not one which she enjoyed discussing. Mr. Brewster, senior, when Archie, by way of delicately preparing his mind for what was about to befall, asked him if he liked red hair, called him a fool, and told him to go away and bother someone else when they were busy. The only person who could have kept him thoroughly abreast of the trend of affairs was Bill himself; and experience had made Archie wary in the matter of meeting Bill. The position of confidant to a young man in the early stages of love is no sinecure, and it made Archie sleepy even to think of having to talk to his brother-in-law. He sedulously avoided his lovelorn relative, and it was with a sinking feeling one day that, looking over his shoulder as he sat in the Cosmopolis grill-room preparatory to ordering lunch, he perceived Bill bearing down upon him, obviously resolved upon joining his meal.
To his surprise, however, Bill did not instantly embark upon his usual monologue. Indeed, he hardly spoke at all. He champed a chop, and seemed to Archie to avoid his eye. It was not till lunch was over and they were smoking that he unburdened himself.
“Archie!” he said.
“Halloa, old thing!” said Archie. Still there? I thought you’d died or something. Talk about our old pals, Tongue-tied Thomas and Silent Sammy! You could beat ’em both on the same evening.”
“It’s enough to make me silent.”
Bill had relapsed into a sort of waking dream. He sat frowning sombrely, lost to the world. Archie, having waited what seemed to him a sufficient length of time for an answer to his question, bent forward and touched his brother-in-law’s hand gently with the lighted end of his cigar. Bill came to himself with a howl.
“What is?” said Archie.
“What is what?” said Bill.
“Now listen, old thing,” protested Archie. “Life is short and time is flying. Suppose we cut out the cross-talk. You hinted there was something on your mind—something worrying the old bean—and I’m waiting to hear what it is.”
Bill fiddled a moment with his coffee-spoon.
“I’m in an awful hole,” he said at last.
“What’s the trouble?”
“It’s about that darned girl!”
“That darned girl!”
Archie could scarcely credit his senses. He had been prepared—indeed, he had steeled himself—to hear Bill allude to his affinity in a number of ways. But “that darned girl” was not one of them.
“Companion of my riper years,” he said, “let’s get this thing straight. When you say ‘that darned girl,’ do you by any possibility allude to——?”
“Of course I do!”
“But, William, old bird——”
“Oh, I know, I know, I know!” said Bill, irritably. “You’re surprised to hear me talk like that about her?”
“A trifle, yes. Possibly a trifle. When last heard from, laddie, you must recollect, you were speaking of the lady as your soul-mate, and at least once—if I remember rightly—you alluded to her as your little dusky-haired lamb.”
A sharp howl escaped Bill.
“Don’t!” A strong shudder convulsed his frame. “Don’t remind me of it!”
“There’s been a species of slump, then—yes?—no?—in dusky-haired lambs?”
“How,” demanded Bill, savagely, “can a girl be a dusky-haired lamb when her hair’s bright scarlet?”
“Dashed difficult!” admitted Archie.
“I suppose Lucille told you about that?”
“She did touch on it. Lightly, as it were. With a sort of gossamer touch, so to speak.”
Bill threw off the last fragments of reserve.
“Archie, I’m in the devil of a fix. I don’t know why it was, but directly I saw her—things seemed so different over in England—I mean.” He swallowed ice-water in gulps. “I suppose it was seeing her with Lucille. Old Lu is such a thoroughbred. Seemed to kind of show her up. Like seeing imitation pearls by the side of real pearls. And that crimson hair! It sort of put the lid on it.” Bill brooded morosely. “It ought to be a criminal offence for women to dye their hair. Especially red. What the devil do women do that sort of thing for?”
“Don’t blame me, old thing. It’s not my fault.”
Bill looked furtive and harassed.
“It makes me feel such a cad! Here am I, feeling that I would give all I’ve got in the world to get out of the darned thing, and all the time the poor girl seems to be getting fonder of me than ever.”
“How do you know?” Archie surveyed his brother-in-law critically. “Perhaps her feelings have changed too. Very possibly she may not like the colour of your hair. I don’t myself. Now, if you were to dye yourself crimson——”
“Oh, shut up! Of course a man knows when a girl’s fond of him.”
“By no means, laddie. When you’re my age——”
“I am your age.”
“So you are! I forgot that. Well, now, approaching the matter from another angle, let us suppose, old son, that Miss What’s-Her-Name—the party of the second part——”
“Stop it!” said Bill, suddenly. “Here comes Reggie!”
“Here comes Reggie van Tuyl. I don’t want him to hear us talking about the darned thing.”
Archie looked over his shoulder and perceived that it was indeed so. Reggie was threading his way among the tables.
“Well, he looks pleased with things, anyway,” said Bill, enviously. “Glad somebody’s happy.”
He was right. Reggie van Tuyl’s usual mode of progress through a restaurant was a somnolent slouch. Now he was positively bounding along. Furthermore, the usual expression on Reggie’s face was a sleepy sadness. Now he smiled brightly and with animation. He curveted towards their table, beaming and erect, his head up, his gaze level, and his chest expanded, for all the world as if he had been reading the hints in “The Personality That Wins.”
Archie was puzzled. Something had plainly happened to Reggie. But what? It was idle to suppose that somebody had left him money, for he had been left practically all the money there was a matter of ten years before.
“Halloa, old bean,” he said, as the newcomer, radiating good will and bonhomie, arrived at the table and hung over it like a noon-day sun. “We’ve finished. But rally round and we’ll watch you eat. Dashed interesting, watching old Reggie eat. Why go to the Zoo?”
Reggie shook his head.
“Sorry, old man. Can’t. Just on my way to the Ritz. Stepped in because I thought you might be here. I wanted you to be the first to hear the news.”
“I’m the happiest man alive!”
“You look it, darn you!” growled Bill, on whose mood of grey gloom this human sunbeam was jarring heavily.
“I’m engaged to be married!”
“Congratulations, old egg!” Archie shook his hand cordially. “Dash it, don’t you know, as an old married man I like to see you young fellows settling down.”
“I don’t know how to thank you enough, Archie, old man,” said Reggie, fervently.
“It was through you that I met her. Don’t you remember the girl you sent to me? You wanted me to get her a small part——”
He stopped, puzzled. Archie had uttered a sound that was half gasp and half gurgle, but it was swallowed up in the extraordinary noise from the other side of the table. Bill Brewster was leaning forward with bulging eyes and soaring eyebrows.
“Are you engaged to Mabel Winchester?”
“Why, by George!” said Reggie. “Do you know her?”
Archie recovered himself.
“Slightly,” he said. “Slightly. Old Bill knows her slightly, as it were. Not very well, don’t you know, but—how shall I put it?”
“Slightly,” said Bill.
“Just the word. Slightly.”
“Splendid!” said Reggie van Tuyl. “Why don’t you come along to the Ritz and meet her now?”
Bill stammered. Archie came to the rescue again.
“Bill can’t come now. He’s got a date.”
“A date?” said Bill.
“A date,” said Archie. “An appointment, don’t you know. A—a—in fact, a date.”
“But—er—wish her happiness from me,” said Bill, cordially.
“Thanks very much, old man,” said Reggie.
“And say I’m delighted, will you?”
“You won’t forget the word, will you? Delighted.”
“That’s right. Delighted.”
Reggie looked at his watch.
“Halloa! I must rush!”
Bill and Archie watched him as he bounded out of the restaurant.
“Poor old Reggie!” said Bill, with a fleeting compunction.
“Not necessarily,” said Archie. “What I mean to say is, tastes differ, don’t you know. One man’s peach is another man’s poison, and vice versâ.”
“There’s something in that.”
“Absolutely! Well,” said Archie, judicially, “this would appear to be, as it were, the maddest, merriest day in all the glad New Year, yes, no?”
Bill drew a deep breath.
“You bet your sorrowful existence it is!” he said. “I’d like to do something to celebrate it.”
“The right spirit!” said Archie. “Absolutely the right spirit! Begin by paying for my lunch!”
Next month: “Washy Makes His Presence Felt.”
Printer’s error corrected above:
Magazine had “Listen, deal old soul”; amended to “dear”