MARY E. LOWREY
I AM beginning with Miss Fothergill because, while she is not the heroine, she happens te come first in the story.
Of all the girls in Dean College, Miss Fothergill possessed perhaps the largest proportion of what a well-known playwright describes as “that dem’ charm.” Tradition holds that she averaged two proposals a week during the academic year, but in matters of this sort tradition is usually inclined to be generous. Also that she had only to assume one of a dozen Decoming attitudes and regard her victim with an indifferent yet somehow provocative eye and the mischief was done— facilis descensos A vomi. It is certain that any one of her affairs, successfully launched, proceeded to its climax with a speed and smoothness which caused girls whose gifts lay in other directions to regard her with a wonder that was little short of superstition. There were those who claimed that to accomplish all this Miss Fothergill depended solely upon her undeniable looks; being, in fact, so beautiful that she didn’t find it necessary to be entertaining or sympathetic or even goodnatured. But this scarcely seems likely, for certainly the average young mar. will not remain content indefinitely with the contemplation of his mistress’ eyebrow, and plenty of average young men took a great deal of pleasure at various times in Miss Fothergill’s society. No, it must have been something more,—an extraordinary flair for romantic entanglements; a sort of rare acquisitiveness where men were concerned that did not depend entirely on mere pulchritude. Take the case of Charles Clark Williams.
Charles fell into the basilisk toils one evening at the close of the Michaelmas term. It was on the night of the Senior Dance, and the night of the Senior Dance was the one night of the year when Dean College set itself resolutely to prove to the world that it was a democratic institution. Everyone came to the Senior Dance—the girls who came to college exclusively for the sake of education and the ones who came exclusively for the sake of co-education; the serious young men who usually spent their evenings reading Catullus in small back bedrooms, and the splendid idlers who never dreamt of reading Catullus until the second last week of the term. Everyone came and there was a great deal of crowding on staircases and jostling in corridors and confused conversation and good-natured discomfort.
/'"''HARLES was a senior at this time; a large, ^ pleasant young man of twenty-two, with the sort of manners that established him at once with older people and an air of engaging shyness that was nothing less than a social endowment. On this occasion someone, bent upon upholding the democratic tradition of Dean, had seized upon him early in the evening and had introduced him to a large number of the socially obscure girls who emerged from their academic retreat once only during the year and who persuaded themselves that they were quite content just to sit and look on. And Charles accepted this disposition of his evening with his usual amiability until, happening to glance across the room, he caught, for the flicker of an eyelid, the indifferent glance of Miss Fothergill, who had just come in.
The glance. While indifferent, held a hint of invitation, a faint significance. It was at once casual and compelling—an unreadable glance. Unreadable, that is, to Charles, who was only twenty-two, and had no means of knowing that behind it Miss Fothergill, quietly vigilant, had marked him for her own. Hastily rescuing his programme he made his way across the room and in five minutes had secured an introduction and the only remaining number on her card.
It was the fifth number, but when it came they did not dance. Under the staircase was a retreat, dimly lighted, lavishly cushioned, and thither Miss Fothergill led him in. And there she seated herself, crossed her silken ankles (this was in the remote period when the majority of girls went to parties unostentatiously shod in lisle), rested her elbow on her knee and her chin on her hand and regarded him with an eye that was indifferent yet distinctly provocative.
Charles was enchanted. From the far-away world outside came the faint sweet stirrings of the orchestra, harp, violin .and' bassoon engaged in heavenly harmony; came also the hum of gay voices and the pleasant sliding of feet along the polisher! floor; came later—much later—“Ham” Allan, justly incensed, to claim Miss Fothergill.
“Two dances and an intermission!” said Ham indignantly, “I don’t see what they see in you, Charlie.”
TTAM bore the lady away and Charles stepped blinking into the outer world. Not until then did it occur to him that he had in the meantime defrauded some other girl of a dance. On consulting his card he discovered the other girl to be a Mary Brown. And as he did not
as he did not know Mary Brown, he had noted after her name, for her future identif i c a t i o n : “Dark brown dress, beads.” He did now w'hat a wiser man would not have done —set out conscientiously to “make things right” w i t h Mary Brown. And he had no difficulty in finding her, for in all that gay assembly she was the only person wearing either a dark-brown dress or beads. She was discovered to be a quiet little thing of the type that is invariably described by other girls
as “not pretty exactly” and she had a manner that was shyer than Charles’ own. The natural result of his making things right was that Mary Brown was strengthened in the conviction that had been growing upon her ail evening: viz., that she was a social and sartorial impossibility, and that she had better go home and devote herself exclusively hereafter to the study of English and Political Economy (with Classic Option). She faced him, however, smiling brightly and steadily above the confusion of his apologies; and then went back to her boarding-house and cried herself to sleep. '"pHIS was the beginning of Charles’ enslavement. — From that moment he had eyes for no other than Miss Fothergill. It was the real thing, he told himself. It was love at first sight; the passport to all the glory and romance that life would ever hold, absolutely non-transferrable and no stop-overs. But while pleasurably exciting it was not an entirely satisfactory affair. For, if he was unhappy when he was away' from her, he was often acutely uncomfortable when he was with her. And this was because—curious affliction in a lover—he never could find anything to say to her. I do not want you to think of Charles as a dull person. He was indeed more than ordinary full of enthusiasm and pleasant spirits. But in Miss Fothergill’s presence he was no better than a pricked balloon. He was self-conscious and inarticulate. When he meant to be funny he was ponderous and when he meant to be serious he was sometimes rather funny. Ilis mind worked backward or it did not work at all, and he could no more control its involuntary mechanism than he could the process of his own digestion. Miss Fothergill in the meantime, while regarding him with a total lack of interest, did not altogether discourage him; for-Charles was recognized as a “nice young man” and there are plenty' of uses for nice youhg men besides marrying them. As for Charles, he had a romantic conviction that her indifference was no more than a high hedge that stood between the sleeping princess and the world; the enchanted princess who would wake some day to life and warmth -with the releasing kiss. In pursuance of this theory, and in a spirit of pure investigation, he did kiss her one evening shortly after they became acquainted, and then stood back and watched expectantly to see her flush to life. But the experiment had proved disappointing after all; Miss Fothergill merely' withdrawing herself at once and remarking dispassionately that of course if he were going to start that sart of thing. . . . THEN he w-as away from her he got along on the whole very much better. For then his fancy transformed her into a being possessing the most extraordinary qualities of heart and imagination; a hypothetical lady whom he had evolved out of his own inner consciousness and to whom he wrote letters so unlike the Charles she knew that Miss Fothergill was
convinced that he had them out of a book. She did not understand him in the least, and he never succeeded in pleasing her. When his letters came they annoyed her because they were not like himself; and when he appeared himself she was frequently disappointed because he was not more like his letters. Charles in the meantime continued to cling doggedly to the ideal he had created, and was constantly' grieved and surprised because his Galatea refused to take on life. The affair was the most famous of the college y'ear, and was spoken of long after they had both left Dean, which they' did that spring; Charles graduating in June, and Miss Fothergill dropping out very quietly at the end for reasons best known to the examining board. After that their paths began to diverge a little, Charles going on a newspaper which absorbed all his days and most of his nights, and Miss Fothergill travelling her tranquil way with an eye single to Society'. He continued to see her as frequently, as possible, but little by' little he was finding the glory of his romance beginning to fade. And already he had begun, sub-consciously, to suspect the real reason that he could find so little to talk to her about. Namely, that Nature, that admirable fairy godmother, while endowing Miss Fothergill lavishly with beauty, had sought to balance matters by' limiting her mind. It never occurred to him to lay the heart more or less definitely rejected by Miss Fothergill at the feet of a less cai&ious young woman. And this was partly because’hér indifferences stirred some stubborn quality in his spirit, and partly because she had by this time become a habit with him. He argued that the affair, having proceeded so far, might well proceed a little farther. Crudely expressed, he had put a good deal of time on this girl, and it would be a pity to begin the expensive experiment over again. It would seem, indeed, that romance was already’ dead in Charles’ heart. He proposed to Miss Fothergill at frequent intervals (usually because he couldn’t think of anything else to say to her), and Miss Fothergill, while placing no insurmountable barrier in the way of his declaring himself as often and as eloquently as he chose, always contrived, with a sort of masterly ambiguity, to cloud the issue so that the subject could be re-opened on a subsequent occasion. And while part of Charles rebelled against this humiliating state of affairs, part, of him, of which he was only vaguely and fitfully aware as yet, drew a deep, quiet comfort from the fact that he was still his own man. 'T'HIS was the situation one week of a flaming August, when, at the invitation of Miss Fothergill, he went to take his vacation at the Royal Pines, Sunset Harbor. Sunset Harbor is the most exclusive resort in the northern lakes and Royal Pines its most expensive hotel. “Here,” runs the prospectus, “you may find, on any summer day. one hundred and fifty happy people who, escaping from the blinding glare and breathless
heat of city life have found in this spot a place of refuge? and enchantment.”
Charles, setting forth to join himself to the hundred and fifty happy people, encountered at the station Ham Allan, who also wore a holiday air.
“Hello, Charlie,” said Ham, “going to see Alice?”
It seemed that Charlie was. Was Ham?
“Uh-huh,” said Ham, good-temperedly, “I’m going to marry Alice one of these days, Charlie. I’m getting tired of seeing you round.”
They climbed aboard, found a seat and settled down together. And as the train swept them through the breathless country side toward Sunset Harbor, place of refuge and enchantment, they chatted in friendly fashion (for they were on excellent terms in spite of the long rivalry that existed between them) of many things; chiefly of the things that concerned Ham. Ham had acquired a large brokerage business and considerable success since leaving college and he thoroughly enjoyed talking about it.
“I always get what I go out after,” he said contentedly. “Don't know how exactly. I’m like that, I guess.”
There was a hearty egotism about Ham which no one ever thought of resenting. Charles listened interestedly and reflected in a detached and speculative rnannei' that it was true; Ham always had acquired what he had gone out after. Only what he went out after was not invariably good for him. He had acquired all the best offices at college and had had to repeat his course. And since college he had acquired prosperity and was already beginning to exchange his ruddiness for floridity and his youth for girth. No doubt in the end he would acquire Miss Fothergill. . . . Being, nominally in love with Miss Fothergill himself Charles did not push the analogy any further (unless indeed, in that hidden and subsconscious part of his being to which I have somewhere else referred), but sat and listened good-naturedly, throwing in a monosyllable now and again, but lazily content, for the most part, to let his companion bear both ends of the conversation.
Arriving about ten o’clock that night, they parted at the hotel desk.
“Well, good luck, Charlie,” said Ham with a grin.
“Good luck,” Charles answered heartily and followed the boy to his rocm.
If, after travelling one hundred and fifty miles to see the lady of your affections, you can go to bed without so much as a glimpse of her and sleep very comfortably almost half way round the clock; and if on getting up in the morning you are able to order a breakfast beginning with oatmeal porridge and two fried eggs and extending over practically the whole range of the menu, then you may be sure that there is something the matter somewhere, the measure of true love being the degree to which it affects one’s sleep and digestion.
Something of the sort occurred to Charles the following morning. He was verslate in getting down to breakfast, though five minutes in advance of Miss Fothergill.
And having had himself directed to her table, had just got as far in his order as the oatmeal porridge and the two fried eggs when she appeared.
“Hello, Alice,” he said, looking up from the menu and returning to it immediately.
“Hello, Charles,” replied Miss Fothergill without warmth. “When did you get here?”
“Last night,” answered Charles, and added merely as a matter of habit: “Thought
I’d run up and see when you were going to marry me.”
Miss Fothergill regarded him with a complete lack of interest.
“If you’re going to start being silly the very first thing!” she said.
“All right, we won’t mention it,” said Charles amiably. “It just happened tc occur to me.”
Miss Fothergill was stirred by a faint sense of annoy-
ance. To tell the truth she sometimes thought that Charles bore his lot with a shade too much philosophy. She did not exoect him to make a scene in a room full of strange people, but it seemed to her as though a little urgency at this point might not have gone beyond the limits of good taste. One expects the least impetuous of lovers to show signs of suppressed emotion at times, and Challes never did. He sat now quite unmoved, and bis expression denoted nothing but a lively expectation of the oatmeal and the two fried eggs.
“I don’t believe you’re in love with me at all,” she said with sudden sharpness.
Charles did not reply. It occurred to him at that moment that Miss Fothergill was not quite so beautiful as he had expected. He wondered whether it was because a little of the sharpness of her voice had crept into her eyes and about the corners of Vier mouth ; or whether it was merely because she was wearing a hair net. He detested hair nets.
Very slowly, no larger at first than the palm of a man’s hand, a doubt began to grow and spread across his mind.
TV/flSS Fothergill divided her day meticulously into three parts. The mornings she devoted to Charles, the afternoons to Charles and Ham, and the evenings to Ham. And she introduced them both to a number of “awfully nice” girls of carefully reckoned attractive power.
Charles was made aware of this arrangement the morning after his arrival. After breakfast he and Miss Fothergill went sailing; and she was a very good sailor—much better than Charles, to whom she gave a great deal of very good advice, which he listened to politely and carefully avoided following. In the afternoon the three went round the golf course. But after dinner Miss Fothergill and Ham retired definitely to a far corner of the verandah and Charles was left to his own devices.
He wandered rather disconsolately down to the lake ; wandered back to the hotel and into the big livingroom, where he danced for awhile with two of the “nice girls” who happened to be there; wandered finally through one of the open French windows and down a path that wound away from the hotel through the thin starlit woods; a tiny path that did not appear to be going anywhere but kept on winding just the same.
It did go somewhere, however. Very abruptly he emerged at a little dock on the edge of the lake. And on the dock sat a girl in her bathing suit, washing her hair.
He had never seen a girl washing her hair before, and he stood and watched her interestedly. She
rubbed it vigorously with soap and presently she began to grope about for the towel which lay at the other side of the dock. And, just as Charles was preparing to withdraw, he was halted by an unexpected voice.
“Would you mind finding my towel for me?” said the voice, “My eyes are full of soap.”
lie advanced and handed her the towel, ami she thanked him and dried her eyes. Then she stood up, flung back her hair, and tipping her palms together above her head, disappeared into the water with scarcely a splash.
She emerged a dozen feet away.
“Please come back,” said Charles pleadingly. “You haven’t had a chance to see whether you like me or not.”
She faced him, treading water.
“I like you very much,” she said politely. “I can see you quite nicely from here.”
TT E went and sat down ,on the edge of the dock, swinging his feet just above the level of the water.
“Do you always come here to swim?” he asked, “all by yourself, ‘at the moth hour of eve?’ ”
“ ‘At the moth hour of eve,’ ” she repeated after him. And she had the pleasantest voice he had ever listened to—a voice that lingered continually on the edge of laughter. “That is very pretty, isn’t it? Is there more of it?”
It seemed that there was more of it. He had always been a little ashamed of his fancy for poetry, but here apparently was someone who would not think any the less of him for it.
’And the moth hour
"And stars began to peep.
They slowly into millions grew.
The leaves stirred in the wind.
And God covered the world with shade.
And whispered to mankind” ....
She seemed to have forgotten him altogether. (But she hadn’t, you may be sure). She lay floating quietly in the path of the moon, her eyes on the wide silent peace of the evening sky.
“Do you come here every night by yourself to swim by the light of the moon?” Charles went on patiently. “Please pay attention, the gentleman is asking you a question.”
He could not see her face very clearly, but the faintly discernible curve of her cheek was reassuring.
“Every night,” she answered dreamily, “ ‘at the moth hour of eve.’ And sometimes I float about on a strip of moonlight and watch the stars grow out of the sky—millions and millions of them— and sometimes I sit on the shore and improve my shining tail—you probably didn’t observe that I have a tail; and sometimes strange young men come down and recite poetry to me—”
“You are trifling with me,” said Charles with dignity, “when all I wanted to know was whether you are likely to be here every night at this time. Because if so,” he went on, raising his voice as she began to move slowly downstream, “if so, I thought I might—”
“No,” she said, looking back over her shoulder and shaking her head at him. “Ne, I think you’d better not.”
“I’m coming back anyway,” he replied, undiscouraged, “and if you aren’t here to-morrow night I’ll come the next night, and if you aren’t here the next night I’ll come the n—”
“Good-bye,” she called softly. She had reached the bank a little farther down and she turned and waved a gay hand in farewell. The next moment she had vanished in the darkness.
Charles, twice abandoned, returned sadly to the hotel and went to bed.
IT must be admitted that Miss Fothergill’s success with the admiring sex made her a little careless at times. And certainly her neglect of Charles at this time was a piece of gross mismanagement. The fact was that it never occurred to her to look upon him as a likely subject for romance. She had known him so long that she had grown to regard him with the confidence that usually comes after a protracted and uneventful period of matrimony. Indeed it was this quality of premature Continued on page 67
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domesticity in him that made it easy for her not to fall in love with him. He wasn’t exciting. He wasn’t the sort of young man that broke your b^art and rode away; he was the sort of young man that called for you on rainy evenings with your rubbers. He was “safe.”
But Charles wasn’t. He was as romantic as a sixteen-year-old school girl, and a touch of moonlight, a touch of mystery and pretty voice with a hint of laughter in it had stirred in him such a pleasant sense of excitement as he had not known in years. He was quite confident that he would know the girl again if he were to see her, and he watched for her patiently all the next day; and at night when there was still no sign of her he took the little winding path down to the lake. But the wharf was deserted, and the lake silent, the placid moonlight lying in an unbroken path across the water.
Bv the next night he had quite given her up. Almost simultaneously he decided to go home. Miss Fothergill was becoming more and more absorbed in Ham; they had disappeared together without explanation immediately after dinner. There was nothing for him to do and nowhere to go. He might have sought out one of the “nice girls” and taken her out on the lake, but be wouldn’t have known what to talk to her about. He r.ever knew what to talk about to them. He saw clearly now what he had long suspected—that he was a person consistently shunned by womankind. Rather than endure an evening of his society they went off with vulgar dollar baiters like Ham Allan. They jumped off the docks and climbed banks to avoid listening to his conversation......
He wandered down to the Post Office in the far end of the building and secured the evening mail—a morning paper three days old and a picture postcard from his married sister. Emerging disconsolately he was just beginning to retrace his steps towards the hotel when he happened to glance ahead along the path that led to the lake; and the second part of the adventure began. For there not fifty feet ahead of him was the girl of the little dock.
JUST how he recognized her it would he hard to say, for she was dressed exactly like any one of the fifty girls who might have been seen about the hotel at that hour, in a white skirt and a gay colored blazer. But it was she, and when he came up behind her ar.d
spoke to her, his heart in his mouth, she gave him a friendly smile of recognition.
“Please don’t run away this time,” he said pleadingly. “If you knew the time I’ve had finding you—”
But she did not seem inclined to run away. She made room for him on the narrow path that ran down from the post office, and Charles, immeasurably grateful, fell into step beside her.
It was not quite dark and just beyond the tall trees at the end of the path beamed faintly the twilit water of the lake. And presently he gathered courage to point out that it was still early and it would be very pleasant to get a canoe and go out and float about for a while in the path of the moon.
Her face showed that she thought it would be very pleasant too. But she hesitated a little.
“It will be perfectly safe,” urged Charles. “If you find yourself in danger you have only to scream and a hundred people will rush to your rescue—a hundred and fifty people,” he corrected himself, recalling the prospectus.
Perhaps she shouldn’t have gone. She had never been introduced to him, and everyone knows that every young man to whom you have not been introduced is potentially a wolf in sheep’s clothing. But she did. She glanced at the twilit water and back at Charles’ shy but ingenuous face, and evidently quite reassured by what she saw there she consented without further hesitation. So they went down and found a canoe and slid out presently into the starlit silence of the lake.
SHE was the most satisfactory person that Charles had ever met. He realized this within the first five minutes of the adventure. Not only was she joyous and foolish and young herself, but she revealed him to himself as a person joyous and foolish and young as well. It was quite startling; like coming sharply about a corner and confronting yourself as someone else, in an unexpected flattering mirror.
He made a brilliant discovery. “There are two kinds of people in the world,” he said. “The kind that make you afraid you really may be the sort of a person you have sometimes thought you are, and the kind that make you think you really are the sort of person you have sometimes hoped you may be.” He was enjoying that rarest and pleasantest of human experiences—the sensation of being thoroughly appreciated. He had always been secretly
afraid that he was a rather dul! person. But here was someone who was openly and frankly convinced that he was nothing of the sort; someone to whom it was not necessary to propose marriage at frequent intervals in order tc maintain the conversation; who un(ierstood what he meant to say almost before he had finished saying it; and— which was better still—-did not try to say it first herself.
“How old are you?” he asked sud denly.
She was twenty-one, and he sighed t;» tliink of the years fie had missed knowing her.
“But I’ve been writing you letters for a long time,” he said.
“Letters?” she repeated surprised. “Dozens of them,” he assured her, “Only I always sent them to the wrong address.” And then he told her about Miss Fothergill.
He told her a great many things that night. It was a beautiful clear night of stars, with no spectator but a broad and benevolent moon, and no sound ex cept the sound of their own voices. So no doubt that was why he was able to talk to her about things he could never have talked about to anyone else— except perhaps the hypothetical lady of the letters. They talked about life, and how' one must not expect it to be alto gether perfect, but it could be made very pleasant if one lived with exactly the right sort of people; and about the moon and stars; and about Amy Lowell’s poetry; and how the most delightful friendships are the ones that come when you least expect them—friendships that you stumble upon wdthout warning on starlit nights in out-of-theway-places, and about how' dreadful it must he to marry for anything but love......
And after a while it was so late that there was nothing for it but to go home.
Charles turned the canoe reluctantly toward the little dock. He was to leave her there, and she wras quite obstinate about refusing to let him come any further.
“But when am I to see you again?" he asked, when she stood there finally, bidding him good-night.
She looked up with a sudden unreadable smile.
“You see me every day, she said, “only vou will never look at me.
I stood right behind you this morning -vou even made a remark to me.”
He pretended to take this statement seriously. Was it a personal remark? N—. Humorous then? Scarce] y that. Sentimental, perhaps? Oh, no indeed !
“It might be described,” she said after a period of reflection, “as a gastronomical remark.”
She stood at the entrance to the little path, a vague white blur against the soft blackness of the trees. He could not see her face but he knew that she was laughing at him. She quite frequently laughed at him, but she laughed with him at the same time so that he had a friendly sense of having a hand in the joke.
“The remark,” she said, “was patmeal, please, and two fried eggs.’ ”
And vanished into the darkness.
/^HARLES climbed back into his canoe V-J and turned it thoughtfully toward the middle of the lake.
If you had grown accustomed^ to thinking of romance as something glittering and mysterious and remote, and then suddenly discovered it to ,be friendly and intimate and as comfortable as an old shoe, you might understand his feelines at that moment. Comfort: that was the feeling she eave one; the comfort of pleasant fires, or cheerful laughter or sunny weather. She was gay without being provocative and merry without being scornful; she was his hypothetical lady come true at last.
To be sure his hypothetical lady was only a waitress at a summer hotel. But Charles was a sensible young man, and this did not detract in the least from the value of his discovery. Only _ it struck him as a piece of monstrous iniustice that she should be expected to accept the haughty orders of Miss
Fothergili and the bland ignoring of Ham Allan; and to be grateful, perhaps, for the society of unworthy people like himself; for the left-over privileges of other girls, crumbs from the
tables of the rich......
Pondei-ing many thing he drifted about on the still star-pointed water. The lights in the distant hotel went out one by one and the broad, benevolent moon grew brighter and brighter and higher in the western sky. And every human sound died away leaving nothing to break the stillness but the cry of a whip-poor-will on a far away shore.
And still Charles drifted about the lake and pondered this new and extraordinary experience......There had
been a time—how long ago it seem-ed !— when he had been secretly grateful because he was still his own man. He knew now that he would never be his own man again......
\/OU may be sure he was very late in getting to sleep that night. And you may be equally sure that he was ;n the dining-room as early as possible next morning; so early in fact, that there was no one there but the waitresses who were busy setting the tables for breakfast.
She was at a distant table, laying out knives and forks, and straightening menus and filling water glasses, and she smiled at him gaily across the sunny dining-room. And presently she came and stood beside his table.
She was a small person with brown hair and a clear brown skin and bright brown eyes that looked out observantly upon the world behind her glasses. 'Yes, she wore glasses; and if you believe that it is impossible ¡to wear classes and be pretty at the same time, that is simply because you have never met the heroine of this story).
“Will you have cereal—?’’ she began. Charles shook his head.
“I don’t want anjahing to eat,” he said. “I just came to talk to you.” “I’m very busy,” she replied regretfully, but with an air of finality. I’m afraid I haven’t time to talk to you. . . . You will have oatmeal, won’t you? And two fried eggs?”
But Charles would not entertain the thought of food.
“Will you be busy all day?” he asked. She would be busy all day long. She appeared to be a person entirely absorbed by her work.
“But I’ve got to see y7ou sometime,” said Charles. “If I were to bring the canoe around to the little dock about eight o’clock to-night—”
But she only shook her head and replied that she thought he had better not.
“A young man can’t be too careful of the company he keeps,” she pointed out sententiously. “Table help-—” “Table help,” said Charles, “is the nicest company in the world.”
And at that she laughed outright. “Why7 you don’t, even know my name!” she cried.
And no more he did. He had never even thought of it until that moment.
“Oh well, what’s a name between friends?” said Charles. “It’s the least important thing about you. As long as you’re a real person it doesn’t matter whether your name is Mary Plantagenet or just Mary Brown.”
“It is Mary Brown,” said Mary Brown and gave a sudden little laugh.
“I’m very glad to meet you, MaryBrown,” said Charles gaily.
AT the next table a large family party who had just come in gave unmistakable signs of wondering when the waitress meant to get through with her conversation and attend topbusiness. Large family parties always think more highly of breakfast than of other people’s romances.
“If I were to bring the canoe around to the little dock about eight o’clock—” persisted Charles.
She picked up her tray7 and set it down again. She had forgotten all about the large family party7. At twenty-one, you see, one finds romance a great deal more absorbing than other people’s breakfasts.
“Please,” said Charles.
Of course she said she would in the
end, after hesitating just sufficiently long to let him understand that she had been carefully7 brought up and understood that the proceeding was irregular. And then suddenly7 remembering the family7 party7, (who would have undoubtedly have been hammering their plates with their breakfast knives by this time if they hadn’t been carefully brought up too), she gathered up her tray and vanished.
\ND now everything was as it should have been and Charles ought to have been entirely happy. And undoubtedly he would have been had it not been for Miss Fothergili.
Miss Fothergili held the curious theory that the rejection of a proposal of marriage did not necessarily7 terminate or even interrupt the course of a love affair. Thus, in proposing to Miss Fothergili, you practically7 mortgaged your future to her. And while she might have no idea of stepping in eventually and foreclosing the mortgage she would continue to regard you for all time with the eye of ownership.
She was certainly7 dreadfully spoiled, thought Charles, studying her resentfully that, night at dinner as she sat opposite him, disdainfully attacking her second helping of baked lake trout and browned potatoes.
She glanced up suddenly7 and caught his eye.
“Goodness, Charles!” she said, “What are you glaring at me like that for?” Charles replied rather stiffly that he hadn’t been conscious of glaring. But Miss FotheTgill had her own interpretation for most things and she smiled at him with sudden graciousness.
“I’m afraid I’ve been neglecting you rather badly7 lately,” she said. “However, I’m not going to run away from you to-night. I’d like to talk to yrou on the verandah for a while after dinner, Charles. There was something— rather important—I wanted to say to you.”
Charles, regarding her warily, wondered what Alice was up to now. Disciplining Ham no doubt, and using him as the instrument of punishment. Poor old Ham! Well, she would have to make it very7 short. He had a rather important engagement himself to-night.
A QUARTER of an hour later, when he found himself alone on the verandah with her, he felt his sense of resentment toward her rising to a sudden exasperation. One of the appalling silences that always descended upon these two when they were left alone together had fallen upon them and wrapped them round; and he felt an overwhelming desire to he through with Alice altogether. He was tired of being ill at ease; tired of constantlydragging his mind for ideas, and bringing up the same old water-logged banalities.
“Nice place,” said Charles, after some moments of silence.
Miss Fothergili nodded absently, regarding him only with her outward eye, her inward eye being obviouslytinned upon the thought in which he had no share.
“Nice evening,” said Charles, after another long pause.
Miss Fothergili shifted her eyes from her companion to her lap. This time she did not think it worth while to answer at all.
“Nice sunset too,” went on Charles, beginning to take a certain solitary en ioyment cut of the situation. “Awfully nice view from the—”
“I think it’s only fair to tell you, Charles,” said Miss Fothergili, turning her attention to him at last, “that I’m engaged to be married.”
Charles stared at her for some moments in silence. Then, when the significance of the information dawned upon him, he jumped up warmly to congratulate her. And then he recollected that that wouldn’t do at all, and sat down again rather foolishly.
“It’s Ham,” said Miss Fothergili, nnd her eyelids fluttered slowly down, “I think it’s always been Ham,” she added softly7.
But she could not resist an oblique
upward glance the next moment to see how he was taking it. And Charles, having had time to recover himself, was taking it very well indeed, his expression denoting quiet grief balanced by manly resignation.
And then a rather curious thing happened. One of those rare gleams of self-illumination that touch at times the most complacent of us, seemed to come to her for a moment, and she raised her eyes to Charles with more of honesty and understanding in them than he had ever encountered in Miss Fothergill’s eyes before.
“I think you’re rather well rid of me, Charles,” she said. “I’m afraid I haven’t treated you very well.”
Charles had never been less in love with her than he was at that moment. But perhaps he had never come quite so close to liking her. He got up and stood looking down at her, half regretful, wholly friendly.
“That’s all right; don’t worry about me, Alice,” he said, because he couldn’t think of anything better to say. And then—because he couldn’t think of anything better to do—he leaned over rather awkwardly, and kissed her good-bye.
AND that was why Charles was a quarter of an hour late for his appointment with the girl at the little dock. When he paddled up at last she was there waiting for him (Miss Fothergill would never have been guilty of that), sitting on the edge of the little dock, her chin on her hand, her tranquil gaze on the deepening twilight of the lake.
“I don’t know what you’ll think of me for being late,” said Charles anxiously. “Someone delayed me just before I started—”
She regarded him interestedly.
“Was it Miss Fothergill?” she asked. Charles admitted as much, and suddenly her smile grew mysterious and reminiscent.
“It sounds like something that happened once before,” she said. “It was quite a long while ago at a dance. There was a girl there in an ugly brown dress, and a nice young man asked her for a dance; which was very gratifying, because only two other men had asked her, and one was only seventeen, and the other a divinity student who didn’t dance. When his dance came, though, the nice young man didn’t appear—
men are such forgetful creatures!—But afterwards he came up and explained; which was very nice of him I think, don’t you?—”
She paused at the sight of his stricken face.
“Why I didn’t want you to feel badly about it!” she said. “It was a long time ago—And I didn’t mind it a bit— really—”
That wasn’t quite the truth. She had minded a good deal. But she never could bear to see people uncomfortable.
“But why—but what are you—” began Charles, recovering himself after a while.
“Earning money,” Mary Brown explained promptly. “I have to put myself through another year at Dean yet. . And next year,” she added proudly, “next year I expect to graduate in English and Political Economy with Classical Option.”
CHARLES climbed out of the canoe and sat down on the dock beside her. He was filled at that moment with an immense and tender enthusiasm for Mary Brown, but he could not find the words to tell her so. He could only sit and watch her as she sat with her eyes on the lake, and her chin in the cup of her hand. And once he reached over to take the other hand, but drew back; perhaps because one hesitates to take the hand of a young woman about to graduate in English and Political Economy (with Classical Option).'
“I have to work for my living, you see,” went on Mary Brown after a
while. “I’m a Saturday’s Child......
But I’m not ashamed of it,” she added sturdily.
“Ashamed of itF’ 'echoed Charles, “Oh, my dear!”
And then—because there wasn’t anything in the world he wanted to do quite so much—he took the hand after all. And presently he turned her face up to his and kissed it.
*«T TOLD him,” said Miss Fothergill, a A month later, restored to town and to her fiancé, “that I was awfully sorry— you know I hadn’t meant to encourage him. Anything I felt was—just friendliness. And within a week he went and got himself engaged to the most awful girl—one of the waitresses at the hotel !” “Poor old Charlie!” said Ham gaily. “Isn’t it funny the things a fellow will do when he’s disappointed in love!”