The Strategy of Paula
The Second of a New Series of Bright Love Stories
Ethel Watts Mumford
LITTLE Mrs. Challoner sighed thoughtfully. The first chapter of her career as a chaperone had closed abruptly with the high-handed high-seas marriage of her charge. That her losing struggle against Cupid should have met with applause was wholly a fortuitous accident. Cupid had laughed right in her face, as from time immemorial he has laughed at locksmiths and others of the Guild of Restraint. And now her struggle with the little pink god was to be resumed —the prize, in this case, to be Paula Folsome. Mrs. Folsome and her elder daughter still lingered in Paris. Paula had been permitted to remain with friends in Harley Street until Mrs. Challoner could pick her up on her arrival in London.
In her grey and pink suite in the Savoy, the chaperone was now savoring a few moments of freedom from responsibility. Her recent ward and the ward’s newly ac-
quired husband on the floor below were no longer vital concerns of hers; rather, an amusing diversion.
The telephone sounded. Taking down the receiver she acknowledged the “Are you there?” which always made her feel intensively Englandy.
“Lady Cuthbridge to see you, Madame."
“Oh,” exclaimed Mrs. Challoner. “Ask her to come up.”
An awed voice replied, after a moment, that “Her Ladyship” would be conducted at once to the apartment.
“Vi, you dear! I’m so glad to see you,” cried Mrs. Challoner after a breathless exchange of greetings. “But who in the world told you I was here?”
Lady Cuthbridge laughed.
“ ‘Peerage Pete,’ of course. The modern Sam Pepys saw you last night, and all London knew by ten o’clock this morning. But,my dear!”—she pronounced it de-ah— “it’s so good to see you! We’d all heard
such sad gossip, we began to fear we weren’t to lay eyes on you this season.” Mrs. Challoner's eyes darkened. “Vi,” she said, “all the awful things you heard are perfectly true. I’m a penniless widow, chaperoning for a living—see how white my hair has turned!—and I’ve got a duck of a little millionairess to seize upon tomorrow; while right in this hotel is another who eloped the moment I turned my back. Oh, I’m an unqualified success!” She laughed ruefully.
Viola Cuthbridge’s fine, eyes drew together in a quaint furry squint. “A duck of a millionairess, you say? Tell me something about her. Is she—er—well, a probable sort of young person?”
“Ra—ther!” exclaimed Mrs. Challoner. “A beauty, and well born, too—snobette, that you are! — and as for money! — I’m too stupid to think in so many figures.” Lady Vi’s expression became positively
conspiratorial. “Cyril----” she said, and
■‘Mrs. Folsome is ambitious,” Mrs. Challoner remarked, looking anywhere but at her visitor. “In fact, she is rather counting on me to provide the entree where—such a-”
“Exactly,” nodded Lady Cuthbridge. “And I’ll not conceal from you that Cyril has got to do something—soon. The old place is shockingly run down—and fancy! He had to let the Morayshire shooting last year. Cuthbridge won’t allow me to give Cyril a Teg up’; says he’s old enough to take care of himself, which he is.” After which burst of confidence she paused, opened her gold bag and administered a fresh coat of powder to her aristocratic
“I haven’t met Cyril, you know; he was in India all the time,” said Mrs. Challoner. “What’s he like?”
“Oh! goodish looking chap,” his sister admitted. “Well set-up, sort of general yellowish color, like all of us Middletons —uppish a bit, swears that young things bore him. Oh! we shall have to snare him, my dear. I say! can’t you bring Miss —er—Folsome over to Cuthbridge House to-morrow for tea? I'll have Cyril there. I’ve asked Diana De Mall and Evelyn Manners. Cyril likes Diana, but, poor dear! she’s got to marry money, too. Yes,” judicially, “if this millionairess ducky of yours will do at all-” her mel-
low voice trailed into silence, as she arose from the settee with languid grace. “Tomorrow, then, Jeanne, my love, at five and the golden gosling—c’est entendu?"
“This very afternoon,” affirmed Mrs. Challoner, “the gosling shall be rounded up. Good-bye, Vi, dear.”
The door closed upon Lady Cuthbert’s mauve draperies, and Mrs. Challoner executed a joyous pas seul.
T ATER that afternoon she found herself before the neat door of a neat house in Harley Street. She was ushered into a heavily furnished Victorian sittingroom, and left to contemplate its ponderous mahogany and virtuous gloom. The tortured volutes of a marble-topped console had hypnotized her attention, when a slight sound aroused her. Standing between the dark tapestry curtains at the door was Paula Folsome. There seemed something spirit-like in the sudden appearance of the girl. She was so airy, so dainty! Rossetti might have painted her; yet his full-throated, rose-mouthed, blessed damozels seemed as passion flowers beside this lily maid. BurneJones might have caught her elfin beauty, yet his opaque browns and blues couid never have transferred to canvas her delicate radiance of color. The soft oval of her face had the golden pink of the Killarney rose. Her wide grey eyes were changeful as the sea—now green, now blue. Her hair, brown and gold and bronze all at once, rippled about her ears in virginal bandeaux.
Mrs. Challoner gave a little gasp of admiration. “Why, Paula!” she exclaimed,
T didn t know you were there; you quite startled me!”
The girl advanced smiling. She had correctly interpreted the gasp, and was pleased.
“It’s so nice of you to come,” she said. “Mrs. Mortimer has been longing to meet you—and here she is.”
The curtains parted once more to admit an effusively cordial little woman, who had evidently found her ideal mate in a
rising young doctor and her perfect setting in Harley Street Victorianism.
“So you’ve come to steal Paula,” she bubbled. “And I shall be quite lost without her. The little witch has Dr. Mortimer and me quite at her feet, you know."
Mrs. Challoner made just the proper response, both of regret and of tempered pleasure; and presently tea was served from a colossal silver service that taxed the strength both of the maid and the tea wagon. The wicker “curate” groaned under its load of large, well-browned buns, toast, muffins, tea cakes, and jam, a feast at once Victorian and Gargantuan. Mrs. Challoner arose as soon as politeness permitted and made her adieux.
“I shall expect you, then, Paula, tomorrow morning—or, better still, I’ll come for you. I’d ask Mrs. Mortimer to tea with us, but I’ve made engagements. Perhaps a little later in the week, then— charmed, I’m sure—and au revoir."
Once in the open air she gave a sigh of relief. The combined weight of rosewood, mahogany, silver, and the late lamented Queen Victoria's substantial shadow, seemed to be> lifted at once from her shoulders and her spirit.
TA ULY the next day Paula arrived, bags, trunks, boxes, and Maltese poodle. Mrs. Challoner was more and more captivated.
“Probable young person, indeed! Just let Vi see for ;
At the appointed hour the wrought iron gates of Cuthbridge House opened to admit them.
Paula looked with grave delight at the formal garden that stretched between the smoke-darkened facade of the mansion and the high grey wall that défi e d rabble curiosi ty. She seemed '■ perfectly a t -ZZeZ'-?*’ ease in the , ‘
pompous presence of a powdered footman, and quite at home in the great resounding drawing-room they crossed before reaching the cosy little yellow and white salon, where Lady Cuthbridge entertained her intimates. Four or five girls were lounging in the comfortable, somewhat worn, Empire chairs. A tulipwood table that would have graced a Musée de Meubles bore a slim, Georgian tea-service and cups of white eggshell porcelain. Without effort Paula Folsome fell into the new groove. She was simple, charming, naive, without being awkward. Lady f uthbridge gave the chaperone a glance of meaning. “Isn’t it too provoking,” she exclaimed, "Cyril went back on u>,^ and Captain Maglan, too. Something’s tfoin# on up the river.”
“Or somebody,” interjected the Honorable Evelyn Manners.
Oh, no! Lady Cuthbridge hurried to explain, “It’s the semi-annual something Sc °í^cr *-he Seventeenth Lancers.” She helper! herself to a wafer, signing to the very large footman to place the very small cakes within reach, and retire. The Honorable Diana, a tall girl, with the
physique of a guardsman, laughed mirthlessly.
“Vi, dear, what’s the use! The men won’t follow us—that’s all. Which explains so many militant suffragettes in ‘Merry’ England. By the way, did you see the last Pankhurst manifesto?”
The manless argument became heated, and it was growing late when the party separated.
“She’s perfect,” Lady Cuthbridge murmured to Mrs. Challoner. “And so alive, my dear. Now, if only—I’ll arrange for Cyril and tea on the Terrace to-morrow.”
THE morrow and Lady Cuthbridge produced the promised tea, and an elderly representative from Yorkshire. Paula was enabled to gaze with ,
admiration at both of these national ex-> / . hibits, and also at /
stately river and the historic Houses °f Parliament from the exclusive vantage-ground of its own Terrace — but of Cyril’s manly attractions naught was to be seen. He had executed a masterly retreat, and the attacking party, finding nothing to attack, retired in confusion.
“Jeanne,” wailed the match-making conspirator, “I forbid you to let anyone else see the bewitching treasure.”
“My dear,” grieved Mrs. Challoner, sympathetically responsive, “you needn’t worry. Nobody seems to be able to rope a really eligible man these days. Bee Benton says they’ve all emigrated.”
The conversation took place the following day in the pink and grey salon of confidences.
“Which prompts one to inquire,” observed Lady Cuthbridge, “where is the treasure to-day?”
“Off with a schoolmate, my dear, a Mrs. Hasbrook, who is living at Victoria Mansions, and of whom she’d been seeing a great deal before I came. Paula asked me for permission to spend the day with her, motoring; so I let her go. To-morrow we are down to Maidenhead for the day, at the Gorham-Wells’.”
Lady Viola looked up eagerly.
“Now don’t let Paula get interested in
Budge Wells; Cyril simply must-”
A knock at the door interrupted the
sentence, and the smiling subject of discussion appeared, her eyes shining, her crinkly tri-colored hair blown in tendrils from under the pink mushroom of her motor bonnet.
“Oh, such fun!” she exclaimed. “Such a good time—twelve of us in three motors —and we went, and went, and had luncheon at such a wonderful old inn. And Mabel has asked me to punt with her to-morrow. A friend of hers is going to show us how. You don’t mind, do you, Mrs. Challoner?”
“But, my dear,” Mrs. Challoner objected, “you musn’t make positive engagements without consulting me. I’m afraid, Paula, you will have to telephone and decline. There are other plans, you see.”
The girl looked up, a shade of disappointment in her face; but it passed like the shadow of a summer cloud, and she laughed quickly: “Oh, well, all right. I’ll—I’ll tell them now. You’ll excuse me.” And leaving the two conspirators to their chat she entered her room.
Lady Cuthbridge arose. “It’s too provoking!” she exclaimed. “Nothing could be more suitable for Cyril—and I can’t get hold of him; he wont listen. Aren’t men stupid, though?”
Lady Cuthbridge sighed, opened her lips as if to say something further, closed them again with a think-better-of-it expression, and prepared to leave. Mrs.
Challoner accompanied her to the elevator, and returned to find Paula in négligée, extended full length on the settee.
“Mabel is such a pretty girl,” chatted Paula; “and she’s so popular. She always has crowds of men around her. There were at least a dozen more for tea— waiting till we came home. Think of that.”
“Indeed,” said Mrs. Challoner, piqued. The remark seemed a reflection, but the girl continued ingenuously: “And there was a perfectly splendid chap, named ‘Bim.’ I liked him best of ali. I was in his car with Mabel and a Mr. Wroxham.”
“Wroxham?” murmured Mrs. Challoner. “The Wroxhams of Surrey?” Paula nodded. “I suppose so. He and Bim are forever chivvying each other about Surrey and Yorkshire.”
“A splendid family, the Wroxhams,” observed the elder woman approvingly. “That’s the Earl of Mordon’s family name, you know.”
Paula, it seemed, did not know, but appeared duly impressed.
“What is Bim’s name?” Mrs. Challoner queried.
“They just call him Bim,” the girl replied, a furtive smile hovering about her
“Goodness!” exclaimed Mrs. Challoner. “Now I know what became of the Mona Lisa. She wasn’t stolen—you just got up and walked out of the Louvre, my dear.”
THE gardens of Villa Sylvia were terraced to the edge of the river. On the end of the little dock, beside which a motor launch, a shell, a punt and a canoe internationally fraternized, stood Paula. Her gown of cornflower colors and her floppy hat laden with forget-me-nots toned softly to the dusty azure of the sky, and the limpid blue of the Thames—but all these Olympian tones paled to wanness beside the sapphire of her eyes. So thought the young man seated in the punt, as he gazed up at Paula in fascinated silence, while an unheeded damsel in pink laughed and chatted at his side.
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The Strategy of Paula
Continued from paye 37
“Why, Mabel!” Paula exclaimed. “Isn’t this funny, running across you here!” “Funny nothing,” gurgled the girl in the punt, her voice, though carefully anglicized, ringing with unmistakable over-sea tones. “You and Bim had it framed. He dragged me up here just for a sight of you; and, of course, by chance you wander picturesquely to the landing at 4.15 precisely. Oh! 1 know.”
Bim flushed till his deeply tanned face became the color of mahogany, contrasting oddly with the sun burned gold of his hair. Paula lowered her eyes and smiled the smile of Da Vinci’s lost love, as she murmured, “You are horrid! Don’t you know you might make me self-conscious?” “You!” exclaimed the vision in pink. “Not on your life! By the way, why don’t you both lunch with me day after to-morrow, you and Bim? I take my music lesson at twelve, so make it half after one; and don’t either of you say I’m not amiable."
“I’d love to,” said Paula, still with lowered eyes. “I suppose Mr. Wroxham will be there?”
Bim made a curious throaty noise that might be variously interpreted, while Mabel slowly lowered a flawless left lid over a dewy hazel orb.
“If you wish, Paula, dear—of course.” Pauia’s smile became more cryptic. “If Mrs.—if my chaperone hasn’t made other engagements for me, I’ll be delighted.” “All right! then,” laughed Mabel with a flourish of her parasol. “That’s a go. And now, Bim, having so bounteously feasted your eyes, kindly punt me back. I’ve got to be at V.M. by six you know.” The man reluctantly obeyed. Not, however, before he managed to articulate: “May I come for you to-morrow, Miss Folsome?"
Paula hesitated. “I’ll telephone," she called. “I don’t know, of course.”
“Oh, nonsense!” exclaimed Mabel. “Bim will bring you. That’s settled.”
The eddies caught the punt and swung it out into the current. The tall, athletic figure of the man silhouetted sharply, as he vigorously plunged the pole and sent the little craft forward, not, however, before turning to look back with a world of reluctance in his eyes.
«Tir IIY, Paula!" It was Mrs. ChalVV loner’s voice. “Who—who have you been talking to?”
“That’s Mabei Hasbrook,” said Paula. “Isn’t she pretty?”
Mrs. Challoner shifted her parasol, and
gazed with interest. “She’s very pretty, indeed, very!” she acquiesced. “I wonder where I’ve seen her before—her face is very familiar. Is she related to the Baltimore Hasbrooks?”
Paula waved a slender, ringless hand at the departing visitors. “I really don’t know,” she said hastily.
“I’m sure I’ve seen her before,” ruminated Mrs. Challoner. “And who’s the young man?”
“That’s Mr. Bim,” said Paula, and waved her hand again.
“But, Paula, my dear, you musn’t run off from your hostess like this. It’s not good form, you know.”
“Really? I am sorry!” exclaimed the culprit, looking the picture of contrition. “I didn’t realize. I—I’ll try to be very, very nice and make up for it.”
And very nice, indeed, she was, so irreproachable that her request to lunch again with Mabel met with no opposition. Mrs. Challoner, in fact, was delighted with the arrangement, the impromptu bride and groom having implored her to be with them for their first meeting with the new-made father-in-law, due to arrive that morning. The Gerald Gaineses felt that Mrs. Challoner’s presence might ease the strain and help to palliate the crime of elopement.
MRS. CHALLONER realized, with a little thrill, that Benjamin Loomis owed her some apologies. Light-heartedly she bade Paula “have a good time,” and advised calling a taxi. She did not see “Mr. Bint's” big chocolate-colored car receive her charge. Instead she sat smiling and expectant in Mrs. Gaines’ sittingroom, and just at the moment when Paula, her hand in Bint's, alighted before Victoria Mansions, she was surrendering her own little hand to the cordial pressure of Benjamin Loomis, the Powder King, and listening to the big good-natured boom of his voice.
The reunion was a pronounced success. Everybody was delighted. The spirit of celebration seized upon them all.
“I’m off on a holiday!” thundered Mr Loomis. “And you’re all my guests. Bring your girl along, Jeanne—I mean Mrs. Challoner. I'll look her over for you; and I’m a connoisseur.”
Mrs. Challoner blushed, hesitated, and accepted. Mr. Loomis was not to be denied.
All the afternoon father-in-law shopped with an utter disregard of cost, assembling wedding presents for his runaways. It was a hilariously happy party.
Paula had not returned when Mrs. Challoner entered her apartments, but she was too full of her own concerns to note the delay; and when a moment later she found a small sealed parcel directed to her lying on her dressing-table, she was even less susceptible to the lateness of the hour. The white paper disclosed a cream kid box, around which a sealed envelope was fastened with an elastic band. She opened it and read: “A medal for the best little chaperone at large.” It needed no signature. There was no mistaking that handwriting. Mrs. Challoner opened the case. From a delicate platinum-chain swung a glittering diamond plaque.
“The very idea!” she exclaimed. “The impertinence!” She thrust it back, laughed again, and swung it over her neck, watching “the medal” sparkle on the black velvet of her dress.
Paula softly entered. There was a look of trepidation in her eyes, of guilt
in her face. Indeed, the hour was quite unexplainably late, but the chaperone greeted her absently.
“Run and dress quickly, dear. We dine and go to the play with Mr. Loomis and Mr. and Mrs. Gaines.”
Paula’s was truly a lightning change. It seemed only a moment when she rejoined Mrs. Challoner, to be subjected to the promised “looking over,” which Mr. Loomis did very thoroughly; and as they moved through the coffee-room on their way to dinner, he announced a disquieting decision.
“Little chaperone,” he whispered, “that Paula girl of yours is ten thousand years older than you are!”
Mrs. Challoner turned inquiring eyes. The big man laughed. “You’re a babe, and she’s your nursie. Oh ! that’s all right; you needn’t be peeved; but your Uncle Dudley’s wise.”
The “little chaperone” felt vaguely unhappy; but the feeling wore off in the exhilaration of the moment. They took in the Empire, enjoying themselves, and attracting quite as much attention as the performance.
“And now,” announced their host, as the curtain descended, “Romano’s*for us, none of your Ritzes and things. It’s me for the look in at the professional beauty show. Guess we can put their eye out. What do you say?”
They said “yes” quite readily except Paula, who blushed, hesitated; there was something pathetically girlish in her protest.
“Romano’s—Oh! no, do you think?” Benjamin Loomis revolved slowly toward her.
“I guess,” he grinned, “a chaperone, a married couple, and an old chap like me, can manage to appease Mrs. Grundy. No? Let’s be going.”
WITH much stir they found a table in the famous after-theatre restaurant; the somewhat dingy simplicity of whose interior is atoned for by the nightblooming series of stage beauties. Mrs. Challoner looked about her with quickened curiosity. She was not disappointed. Leading lights shone at every angle.
Paula, after a hasty survey of the room, settled herself demurely, looking neither to the right nor left, as, beginning with pink shrimps and champagne, Mr. Loomis began to order through the menu. Momentarily her glances were directed toward the door.
All at once there was a craning of heads, a general turning. A group of late comers was being escorted down the
“Ah!” exclaimed Mr. Loomis. “There’s Mabel Delorme, the American girl who’s made such a hit here in musical comedy. By Jove! Why didn’t I think to get tickets for to-night?”
Mrs. Challoner turned, frankly staring with the rest of the crowd. Then her mouth and eyes opened simultaneously, her lorgnette dropped unheeded. With a blank look she turned to Paula, who was studying the pattern of her plate with suspicious concentration. The party passed them, laughing and chaffing, and were seated at a table just beyond. No wonder Mabel Hasbrook’s face had seemed familiar! No wonder! And the Bim person, doubtless her leading man, was there in attendance, with two other women and three men. So this, then—Mrs. Challoner controlled herself with difficulty, and drained her glass of champagne. When
her eyes cleared again, and she could bear to gaze at the Hasbrook party, she discovered the gaze of the Bim person fastened with adoration on her charge. Mrs. Challoner sat speechless, as in an evii dream. The dreadful moments passed. Suddenly the lights winked out and up again, the first warning to the revellers that the closing law must be obeyed. There followed a hurried settling of checks, and a general rising, amid the usual buzz of objections and regrets. A moment later and the throng was moving toward the door. Paula became unaccountably separated from her party. A gross person had elbowed her aside; several gross persons followed suit! Strangely enough, Bim found himself at her side. He bent down, searching her face earnestly.
“You will let me come for vou tomorrow, won’t you?” he begged. '
Paula looked up at him, her great eves swimming, her tender mouth quivering. Uh, I m afraid,” she murmured. “You see, my chaperone has found out to-night who Mabel is—on the stage, you know; and I m sure she’ll forbid me. At home they re so prejudiced. I—I didn’t even tell mother, when I wrote her that Pd í ^ schoolmate—and—I suppose it was awful of nie; but I m so fond of Mabel ” Bim said something under his breath. His hungry eyes were on the lovely upturned face at his shoulder. “But,” he protested, “why should that bar me?" "aula turned away.
hr,3°“ u’11 tayred with the same MahnI “e! ?ald’ Sad,y“l VO“ With
Mabel. She s seen you here to-night. 1 know I won’t be allowed_”
#i,n *fln she,lifted her eyes to his soul so full of regret, yet so full of promise. He caught his breath and his heart beat pain• «"I went the lights again. For Ä ,sf°nds were plunged in hlrfi n th.au n?Pment he bent and kissed tifr n°n lips; and it was as if all the thrills of all lovers had been melted and run together for that one instant.
witwifihe«Srald’ and his voice shook with feeling, I m coming for you to-
witWh Wlth.t,he car at ten ” He bowed with the courtly grace of one saluting his Queen of Love and Beauty.
It was Mr. Loomis’ firm hand that reached and caught his little guest and drew her toward the entrance, where the others waited.
io,7iftvv°Ung chap, that,” he said gen• . ,7• chaPei-one didn’t see who you were talking with either." y
Paul8 Razed at him tremulously.
I m afraid Mrs. Challoner won’t_”
But she got no further. The party had secured their taxis, and Mr. Loomis, the last to enter, was addressing a question to the starter, and receiving an answer that evoked a chuckle.
THEY reached the Savoy in portentous silence, but Mrs. Challoner was too weary and distressed to take up the cudgels that night. Morning found Mrs. Challoner ready for the fray, and dressed with an eye to dignity. It also found Paula in her motor hat and coat, quietly leaving her room, after a solitary breakfast. She had been gone but a moment when Mrs. Challoner entered and emmediately noticed the absence of the automobile accessories from the open hanging closet. She flew to the door leading to the corridor, and was just in time to sec her charge disappear in the elevator, which in its next descent carried her in hot pursuit. In the lobby she paused, and, looking about anxiously descried Paula near the reading room entrance—with the discredited Bim. Anger and resentment added sudden inches to her stature. She descended upon the culprits, her face all stretched to speak in no uncertain tones of reprimand.
“Paula!” she exclaimed.
The girl turned with a little frightened cry. Instinctively and with an air of protection, Mr. Bim swung toward the girl. "Paula!” Mrs. Challoner began again. An exclamation behind her in Vi’s familiar voice, petrified her into stonv silence.
“Why, Cyril! What in the world are you doing here!”
“I have the honor to be engaged to Miss Folsome. Paula, this is my sister, Ladv Cuthbridge.”
“Your sister!—Lady Cuthbridge! Then —why—I didn’t know!”
He grinned. “Bim’s just a pet name,’’ he said, “for Harold Deneland Middleton, Lord Ormond of Cavanagh, and — Vi’s brother—I-”
“But where did you meet him?” Lady Vi’s curiosity got the better of her man-
"With Mabel-” Paula began.
“With the future Lady Wroxham, Countess of Morden,” answered Bim. “Oh!” came the chorus of surprise. “Delighted — congratulations!” The great, warm voice of Benjamin Loomis sounded. They turned to find him standing behind them with the chuckle that seemed to be habitual. “I’m going to kiss the bride,” he announced. “You overdid the surprise act, you minx,” he whispered as he bent close to her blushing cheek. “You knew perfectly well who he was, and —you knew the right hunting ground all right.”
No one had overheard, but Paula glanced about with apprehension.
He studied her quizzically, and she could not meet his eyes. Still laughing, Benjamin Loomis turned to Mrs. Challoner, to whom animation was slowly returning.
1( "Little Chaperone,” he rumbled kindly, ‘somebody owes you another medal.”