Single to Sicily
THEY MIGHT never have met had not Tonio Tavarsi, a junior customs inspector, been moved without notice from Palermo to Modane, and that only a week after he married Francesca Gaspari, she of the black eyes and raven locks. This sounds far-fetched, but so it stands. The other contributing factor was that Tonio had, the second week after his marriage, been put on night duty by a satirically-minded superior.
Modane in winter time is apt to be a cold comer, and lies at one end of the long tunnel by which the Paris-Rome express leaves France and emerges on the soil of Italy. It is a place remembered with repulsion by thousands of travellers. And tonight, what with a cold wind drifting through the cavernous, stone-walled examining room, and tantalizing thoughts of Francesca’s black hair lying loose on an unshared pillow', Inspector Tonio Tavarsi’s temper was not of the best.
The Rome express makes its halt at Modane in the small hours, and it is the practice of such first-class passengers as have easv consciences in the matter of smuggling to hand their keys to the sleeping-car porter and forget about them till morning. As often as not, the result is quite satisfactory.
On this occasion, however, it was otherwise. Tonio, robbed of his bride, felt definitely vindictive. I lis black eyes were sullen, and when he came to four pieces of British
luggage booked to Taormina in Sicily, the thing became too sharp to bear, and he pounced upon them determined to get some of his own back.
The porter felt a faint surprise when Tonif) snatched at the proffered keys and began to burrow much as does a ferret, w'hen intrigued by the proximity of a palpitating rabbit.
Thus it came to pass that from the first, trunk was jerked forth a succession of dainty and intimate garments that formed a steadily increasing pile from which escaped a faint scent of jasmine. Tonio sniffed. There were lace, silk, filigree things light as gossamer, new shoes without even the scratches with which guileless passengers seek to delude the inspector, chocolates, tea, biscuits and other things all invietato. If in fact the yet unknown owner had set out to transgress regulations she could not have made a better selection.
“Bien alors?" remarked the porter, scenting trouble.
“The lady must come here,” snapped Tonio.
“She is unfortunately asleep.”
“Bacco! Do you sleep, do I sleep? Then let her sleep, but this trunk stays in Modane. She doubtless has a husband. Does he also sleep?”
“It is possible, in fact likely, but she travels alone.” said the porter wearily.
Tonio shrugged, and the porter, after a swift glance at his
dark brows, went off. The husband of Francesca turned grimly to the next trunk, a man’s. lie slid in a key, and heard a click. Experience guided his hand to the ¡xx:kets. Cigarettes compressed in flat, silver-coated packets, a ¡racket in nearly every pocket. More iri the toes of the shoes, in the folds of shirts and pyjamas. Cigarettes in the linings of soft, felt hats. Never had he uncovered so many cigarettes in so small a space before. The thing was an invitation, as well as an insult. He went on, therefore, rummaging dexterously, bringing to light more and more cigarettes, and piling them in a neat little heap beside the pink silk bifurcated things extracted from the other trunk. Thus arranged, the combination looked positively lawless, almost licentious.
He had just straightened his back when the porter came back followed by a young lady tall, brown eyes large with sleep, and a small, rather impudent nose. She wore pink pyjamas under a fur-lined coat, her bare feet, also a little pink, were pushed into ¡rink mules, and her round face, itself flushed toa definite pink, looked definitely hostile.
“Well !” said she. "What’s the matter? Why on earth am I dragged out of bed like this?”
Tonio remained unmoved, for on that particular night he would have dragged any woman except Francesca out of bed. so he did not answer, but jerked his thumb at the leather trunk which lay gaping.
“The gentleman yeshe must come.”
Filled with unspeakable disgust for all international regulations, the ¡xjrter disappeared again, and Tonio looked austerely at the young lady. She wrinkled her nose.
“Well, what about it? You can't charge duty on those things.”
Tonio ¡rushed out his chin and, feeling the need of reinforcement, sent for the interpreter. He gesticulated, he waved his hands, he picked up the most intimate and personal garments, rubbing their texture between hard fingers. He displayed biscuits, tea, and in final triumph brought forth the chocolate.
*T*HE INTERPRETER was thumbing a dirty, dog-eared I list of duty charges, when the three were joined by the porter, shepherding a tall young man with sloping shoulders, humorous blue eyes and a dishevelled appearance. He wore a camel’s hair coat over blue pyjamas, and sheepskin slippers. At the display on the table, his fair brows went up just a shade ; he gave a laugh, and produced a silver-coated ¡jacket of cigarettes. Finally with extreme interest lie examined the fruits of Tonio's activity. The girl watched him out of the tail of her eye.
“Beastly, isn’t it?” said she.
“Oh, 1 don’t know." He was staring at the jasminescented heap as though mesmerized.
“Sorry I thought you were a gentleman,” she snapped. “Lord, no—nothing like that !”
The voice was very amiable, so much so that she gave the ghost of a smile, then instantly became frigid.
“Bit difficult to tell what a man is unless you see the rest of his clothes on him,” he added smoothly. “Perhaps some other
“Not in this case.” she assured him with growing hostility; “so please mind your own
“The lady must pay twelve hundred lire.” broke in the interpreter, whose spine now felt like a column of ice. “Wha-at !” she gasped.
The Fascist Government, she was informed, would be satisfied with nothing else. As an alternative to immediate payment, she might proceed with Jier journey, leave the luggage here, and refer the matter to a higher tribunal.
At this she was quite disconcerted, and stood frowning, moving the tip of her tilted nose in a fashion that the young man found strangely fascinating. Tonio, duty done and reputation sustained, swelled with contentment. The porter sighed with boredom. The interpreter proffered some scribbled hieroglyphics that might have meant anything. The young man shivered slightly, rubbed his right foot against his left ankle, and meantime gazed obliquely at the ¡»ink pile.
“I haven’t got the cash with me,” gulped the girl. “Will you take a cheque?”
The Fascist Government regretted that it did not take cheques under any circumstances whatever.
“If you would allow me to redeem your er your-------”
volunteered the young man, transferring his gaze to the ceiling.
T certainly would not.” she Hashed.
The sloping shoulders lifted a little, and he transferred his attention to his own property. There was a rustle of Italian notes he had a ¡jocketful of them ready and one of the silver-coated ¡jackets for the inspector himself. Tonio, at a gesture, repacked the leather trunk, locked it and returned the key. During this time and it Ux>k several minutes— the young man did not look at the girl. Finally, with an ultimate shudder, he started for the platform.
"I say look here!” she stammered.
He stopped. “Yes, madam?”
“You’re not going off like that !”
"Like you’re going.”
“I don’t know any other way," he said cheerfully.
“Please don’t be an ass."
“Why not an ass and no gentleman at the same moment. It saves time?”
“I’m sorry,” she choked, "but this is all too foul for words.”
Relenting a little, he came slowly back.
“It isa bit thick."
“Then what are you going to do about it?”
“Me! Oh, I thought that well that you, so to speak “Has no one ever called you an ass before? ”
“Multitudes have done so, but 1 was always fully dressed. Is there any way in which I can be of service to modom?” “I’ll catch my death of cold if you don’t get me out of this,” said she desperately. “Will you cash me a cheque? You seem to have lots of it.” Her voice was shaky, her knees knocking together.
“As it happens, we are in funds at the moment. Cash ! Forward, please. Where are you bound for?”
"By an extraordinary concatenation of circumstances, so are we. Look here-you just crawl back into bed, and keep the chill out of your liver. I'll fix this, and the cheque can wait till morning. Pleased to have met you. Scurry now vamocse avanti! Porter, get this young lady two hot-water bottles, and see that the plugs are tight.”
The color flamed into her cheeks, and she was about to
retort, when a blast even more arctic than before whistled through the hall, and that settled it. She marched out. head high. Three minutes later the young man, having examined the name on the steamer trunk, followed her. Came an absurd toot from the guard’s whistle, an answering wheeze from the engine, the rhythmic rumble of revolving wheels, and train tail-lights dwindling toward Turin.
MR. MURRAY BISHOP lay in comfort—he had the compartment to himself—and reflected on life in general. At his birth, which was some nine years before the war, his father, a somewhat overbearing captain of industry, had closely examined the reddish features of his only offspring, then with a feeling of profound disappointment applied himself to his business with even greater assiduity than before. He made a very great deal of money, and then displayed unexampled consideration and passed away in an apoplectic fit. His relict—that is, Murray’s mother was a kindly natured woman animated by an unswerving résolution to arrange her darling’s future life.
It took the form of a girl, a very worthy and well-bred girl with no nonsense about her, selected by Mrs. Bishop as his ideal mate. She hoped—she could say not more than that at the moment—something would come of it.
Murray, who felt pleasingly single and desired to remain so, felt threatened. Now the time had come for escape. Dora was going to Brazil and back with her people. Let her go.
Now he was in his berth in the Paris-Rome express, stretching himself luxuriously, lulled by the click of wheels, and grinning at the remembrance of six hours ago. A nice girl that. He would take the cheque. Also he would doubtless see her in Taormina. But that didn't mean anything.
At the other end of the sleepingcar, the young lady also lay in her berth, reflecting on life, there being several things she recalled with profound disgust. She had made a fool of herself. Also the male stranger had first treated her like mud, then saved a very awkward situation. Finally he had expressed concern for her liver.
This embarrassing sequence filled her with not unnatural rancor, and she felt it unfair that her trip should be thus marred at the very outset. It was a hasty trip, undertaken on impulse, because four days previously she had not dreamed of Taormina, then after a dizzy brain wave found herself thinking of nothing else.
Another fly had become caught in the ointment of life, a fly expressed in terms of Italian currency to the extent of 1,000 lire. This, she had ascertained when the porter brought the hot-water bottles, was the exact amount paid by the male stranger on her behalf. Wrinkling her brows, she took a pencil from her bag and reckoned that at the present rate of exchange it meant about eleven pounds ten. Doing the long division again, she made it ten pounds eleven, then gave it up. All she certainly knew was that it meant a w-eek less in Taormina.
She kicked aside the now tepid hot-water bottles, swung her long legs to the floor, pushed her pink toes into the pink mules, and gave her flexible person a luxurious stretch. Then she snapped up the blind and looked out.
There shimmered the Mediterranean, an intense cobalt blue, alive
with light and flecked with what looked like gigantic snowflakes as far as her eyes could reach. I nder a westerly breeze it sparkled and gleamed. The train was running quite close to the shore. Villas, white-walled, red-roofed and greenshuttered, flashed by, and from the villa gardens came a glint of oranges and lemons.
“My hat,” she breathed, “what a fool I was to hesitate!" At this came a knock at her door, followed by coffee and rolls.
“Oh.” she said, “wait a minute. That gentleman—the one last night what is his name?”
“Monsieur Bishop: Does mademoiselle wish to see him?” “Certainly not; I never want to see him again. Please give him this.” She scribbled:
“Miss Butterworth’s compliments to Mr. Bishop, and does she owe him ten ixmnds eleven, or eleven pounds ten?”
The porter, scenting romance, nodded appreciatively, and disappeared. In three minutes he came back with a note.
“Mr. Bishop's compliments to Miss Butterworth, and he regrets that she is unable to do simple division. The amount paid on her behalf was one thousand lire. The present rate of exchange is 8(5 to the pound.”
She read this, her cheeks flaming.
“Oh !” she exclaimed. “What a beast !”
The porter’s eyes opened wider.
“Is it. possible that I can assist mademoiselle,” he ventured. "The gentleman seemed----”
“Is not a gentleman,” she announced loftily.
“Exactly, mademoiselle; but did he not also say that himself at Modane?”
At this she gulped, choked a little, and seized her pencil:
“Miss Butterworth’s education is not an affair of Mr. Bishop’s, and she would be obliged to know the exact amount she ow-es him.”
“Please take that, and wait for an answer."
In another three minutes it came:
“ 1 .(XX) ¿11.(52
11.(52 - C 11 ((52x2.■Id.) - ¿11. 12. 8.
“Mr. Bishop begs to provide the above very elementary calculation, and to assure Miss Butterworth that her education, or lack of one, is to him a matter of indifference. The class will now dismiss.”
She glanced at this, her eyes snapping, then in a hand shaky with anger wrote a cheque.
"Will you give this to the to Mr. Bishop, and say that that
The voice wavered a little. What should one say? Nothing obviously. One simply cut the person dead.
“Mademoiselle desires me to ?”
“No, I don't; just please give him this. That's all."
The ]xrrter took the cheque to Mr. Bishop, who, still in his pyjamas, accepted it in the most off-hand manner possible, and demanded a second pit of coffee. T he train proceeded, and the porter proceeded with his morning work, charged with human regret that nothing proceeded between compartments two and twelve.
AN HOUR LATER Miss Butterworth, having finished k her last magazine and becoming slightly bored, opened her door and glanced down the corridor. Some thirty feet away lounged the tall figure of Mr. Bishop, his back toward her. He was, as usual, smoking.
She had not long to wait. Mr. Bishop, perceiving her a moment later, bowed distantly, threw his cigarette out of the window, and moved in her direction.
“Miss Butterworth, I believe?”
“Mr. Bishop, I’m afraid.” she said acidly.
“Your premonitions are unfortunately justified. How is your liver?”
“How dare you!” she exploded.
“Howdare I what?”
"Mention my my well, my liver!”
“They’re having it for lunch !” he replied hopefully. “Not yours; some other one. I revel in it.”
“Is it necessary to be so disgusting?”
“Ah, Miss Butterworth, who can answer that? Was I disgusting?”
"Unspeakably. It’son a par with everything else.”
"Just like that?”
"Yes,” she said severely, “exactly. Your behavior last night, for instance.”
“I thought I behaved fairly well, for me. Didn’t you want those things?”
“What things?” she snapped unguardedly.
“The ones that -er—that without going into details I had the privilege of getting released from profaning hands.”
Continued on page 26
Continued from page 7
"There are ways and ways of doing things,” she admitted, relaxing ever sô slightly.
“How true, how very true that is.”
"Mr. Bishop,” she said, “if you will allow me I would like to think better of you than Ido.”
“Same here. Is this your first visit to Italy?”
“Then do you feel those sprouting sensations of emancipation, amounting almost to license, that the Nordic race is stated to experience when reaching this seductive, unbalancing country? Do you still hear the splash of the cable that so recently moored you to the shores of home and duty? Do you get any kick out of this, or are you still as you were before?”
“Where did you find that?” she asked shakily.
“Some of it in a Ixxik, but the last bit is mine.”
“Well,” she conceded with the glimmer of a smile, “I hope to catch some of it. What do you do at home?”
“That, Miss Butterworth, is not quite easy to answer. If you mean do I work, I can only reply that the temptation came some years ago. I struggled with it successfully, and came out on top. I am still there. My youthful memories ol the effect of work on my late paternal relative probably had something to do with it. I deplore the effect it produced on him, but live comfortably on the result, which will jxirhaps give you a lightning glance at my inner self. Now let me ask you something. Are you travelling to something, or running away from it?” “How on earth did you know that?” she exclaimed.
“The natural process of ratiocination.” “Process of what ?”
“Sorry. Why not empty your struggling soul to a total stranger?”
Why not? Mr. Bishop was leaning against the corridor panelling, hands deep in pockets, an expression of engaging simplicity on his youthful countenance. The face was ingenuous, rather ugly, the features, apparently selected at random, did not match, and the nose might have been re-centred with advantage. In spite of this it was quite a nice face. His light grey flannels were above criticism, he wore dark brown suede sluxs, and liad a very straight front.
"Well,” she said, after a pause, “su|>posing 1 have the Nordic reaction you referred to?”
“Why suplióse and not just have it? You'll feel a lot better afterward.”
“Then it’s away from something.”
“I thought so. Is it jx*rmitted to know what?”
“Yes a retired colonel.”
MR. BISHOP, exuding a perfectly formed ring of jiale grey smoke, remained motionless. He did not smile.
‘A "know,” he said presently, “the most interestin’ time in Italy is during the vendange the gathering of grapes, and pressing in those round stone mills. That's one there. 'Hie entire outfit kicks off its sh<x‘s and stockings and simply wades in and stamps about with the juice squirting up between their Ux‘s. Frightfully jolly, all singing, and the best of friends.”
"Yes, really. Would the colonel have enjoyed that?”
"I le would not.”
"Which is just one of the reasons you’re giving him the hoof.”
“Never mind now. And you were to lx* swung off pretty sixin into the new life that is so depressingly old?”
“1 low did you know that?” she demanded, quite startled.
“You’ll see in a minute. At two-thirty this morning I was brought into contact with----”
“You were nothing of the kind.”
“Then I discovered a young lady with
suspicions of tears in her--”
"Tears of anger, Mr. Bishop.”
"Well, at any rate, tears. She was regarding a heap of well-—possessions which the most untrained male could not fail to classify as a trousseau. Where, I asked myself, is the doomed male? I waited. None appeared. What ho! thought I. All these frilleries without the masculine excuse for them! I was attracted, Miss Butterworth, not to you, but the circumstances.”
“Well?” said she in a strangled tone. “Since then I have been asking myself, merely from the biological angle of it, why, when there are two million surplus women north of the chalk cliffs of old England, should any one of them run away from a prospective if elderly groom.”
“They are welcome to him,” announced Miss Butterworth.
"We thank you. Am I to take it that you do not approve of your contemplated marriage?”
"I simply loathe the idea of marriage to anyone,” stated Miss Butterworth with astonishing frankness; "which I hope will be sufficient to make it quite clear that well nothing is farther from my thoughts and intentions from this day forth and for evermore.”
Mr. Bishop drew a breath of profound satisfaction.
“Would it surprise you if I said that no words from your lips could be more welcome? Miss Butterworth, frankly, I begin now to admire you.”
"How excessively kind of you.”
"I feel exactly as you do,” he said peaceably.
“Yes. Call it, for instance, wedlock, and contemplate the last part of that word. Wed lock ! The ‘wed’ portion might be bearable, even enjoyable to begin with before the evil days arrive and the time is far spent, but does not the introduction of the ‘lock’ element put the matter in a depressingly different light? I ask you!”
“1 hadn’t thought of that,” she confessed. "You would after it was too late. Most of them do. And freedom is our most priceless heritage.”
“Thank you so much,” she murmured.
"Messieurs et mesdames, le premier service pour déjeuner. Prenez vos places, s’il vous plait," reverberated a ^netrating voice from the far end of the corridor.
IT WAS just about this time that Colonel I Montague Rivers Pluckett, D.S.O., M.C., O.B.E., late D.A.Q.M.G., emerged from his club, took a commanding look up and down Piccadilly, and started with military precision toward Hyde Park Corner. He step¡x*d exactly thirty inches every time. His hair was iron grey, his suit a sort of grey iron effect, and he wore his regimental tie. The day was unusually fine for England, the pavements lx*ing nearly dry.
"Gad!” said the colonel to himself, “this is the sort of weather 1 like healthy and bracing.”
At Hyde Park Corner he marched down Grosvenor Place, reflecting contentedly that his days of singleness had only one more month to run. He would then be married to a gixxi. sound, sensible girl none of your flibbertigibbets of a gcx)d sound age that is twenty-four with no nonsense about her.
They would live just outside Guildford, where there was decent golf, plenty of bridge, and where he promised to raise fowl.
This programme, frequently rehearsed and always with the same satisfaction, brought him to Eburv Street, where he rang the lx-11 at a small house on the north side, thrust a lean finger under the collar stud that was always fouling his Adam’s apple, and waited with calm expectancy. The door opened.
“I have called for Miss Butterworth.” The maid sent him a very uncertain look.
"Miss Butter — ah — Butter — is —\ “Speak up,” barked the colonel, instantly vexed. "What’s the matter with you?” "Miss Butterworth is—that is—she’s not in, sir.”
"Mrs. Butterworth?” he snapped.
"Oh yes, sir. Will you please draw in the waiting—that is, wait in the draw—— ?” The colonel strode in, arranged his hat, gloves and umbrella on a hall chest as though for kit inspection, and entered the first nxim on the left. It was not until ten minutes later that a middle-aged* lady, greyish as to hair and reddish under the eyes, came in. Seeming very nervous, she put out a hand and instantly drew it back. The colonel’s brows went up.
"What is it, Mrs. Butterworth? Has anything happened?”
"What do you mean? Not Daphne?”
“Yes—Daphne,” she admitted miserably. "Is she ill? She was to lunch with me today.”
"No, she’s not ill, but she can’t lunch with
At this he leaned stiffly forward. "Mrs. Butterworth, what is the matter, and where is Daphne?”
“She—well—she seems to be in Italy, and—”
"Italy!” gasped the colonel. "Has she gone mad?”
"She’s gone, whether mad or not. Can’t you stop thinking about yourself and imagine my own feeling when I got her note? It was posted at Victoria Station yesterday morning.”
“You got a note, and I got none!” he rasped.
She felt in her pocket, then shook her head.
“No, I can’t show it—it was just for me. She's left it to me to try and explain, but of course I can’t.”
The colonel fixed the trembling woman with a glance.
"Mrs. Butterworth, I demand to know just what that note said.”
“You’d better not,” she protested; "you won’t like it.”
In his sinewy throat sounded a very audible gulp.
"Mrs. Butterworth, our engagement is announced and we shall be married in a month, and what concerns her concerns me. Will you please hand me that note?”
“Well.” she stammered, "if you must, you must; but do remember that you insisted.” With this the hapless woman felt in her pocket, put out her hand, and the colonel, with gradually protruding eyes, read as follows:
"When you read this I’ll probably be in the middle of the Channel. I can’t stick things any longer I mean Montague. You were for him from the start and, though I wasn’t, I let myself be persuaded. But it simply can’t be done. Montague isn’t my sort. He lives by rule, and I loathe rules. What brought on this climax was his taking me to see those Red Orpingtons, and I pictured myself cleaning out chicken houses the rest of my life. I don’t want to be married to anyone.
"Don’t worry about me. I’m off for a binge with no male companionship. I’ll come back when my money—I’ve drawn every penny of itruns out,
“I’ve left you a putrid job in breaking the news. I did try to write to him, but gave it up. If he had the very least glimmer of humor. I’d have chanced it. Some men would see the joke in this, but not Montague. Of course, he’ll feel frightfully insulted, more of that than any real sense of loss.
“I’ve got a ticket to Taormina, that lovely and, they say, rather wicked spot in Sicily, so, darling, write to me there Poste Restante. I shan’t be myself till I get a line saying that some time or other you’ll forgive me.
"PS. When you see him please return the cairngorm bracelet he gave me. I haven’t yet decided about the ring, but suppose that will have to go too.
"PPS. What about something in The Times cancelling the engagement? Those notices are often the most interesting part of the whole paper. They do make one think.”
THERE WAS a long, stinging silence, welcomed by Mrs. Butterworth, then the colonel looked down at her—a different colonel, his face mottled, his thoracic area in violent disturbance.
"This letter,” he said raggedly, "is only the product of a temporarily unbalanced mind. Daphne has no doubt been thinking too much about the approaching great change in her life. Poor girl ! She must have been suffering in secret.”
Mrs. Butterworth stared at him in confused astonishment. Was this possible?
“Yes,” she admitted in a tremulous tone, “I’m sure she must.”
"Poor girl poor girl !” murmured the colonel, softening still further. “If she had only confided in me or even you.”
At this Mrs. Butterworths mind became chaotic, and she made a desperate endeavor to think clearly.
"What are we to do?” she ventured.
"I will think that over. Meantime I’ll write at once and do my best to reassure her. Dider did she say anything to you about the Red Orpingtons?”
“Not a word,” lied Mrs. Butterworth stoutly.
"Which confirms my conviction that this is nothing but a slight passing unsettlement. I assume that in childhood she showed no signs of mental —er— mental—?” "Do you mean is there insanity in our family?” retorted Mrs. Butterworth, boiling with resentment.
“Not at all,” he replied hastily, that being exactly what he did mean.
Colonel Pluckett was seething with insult for all his outward calm, and quite determined that no prospective bride of his should play skittles with matrimony in this fashion. When a girl promised to marry a man of his sort, by gad, sir, she married him. That settled, he pictured a recaptured Daphne moving toward the altar, her eyes fixed on him and soft with penitential tears. And at this he felt considerably better.
"My dear lady,” he began, "let us look at this matter in a generous light, and brush such a fantastic epistle aside altogether. To regard it as final would be the greatest mistake. Did Daphne make any real preparation— I mean did she take any part of her trousseau with her, or just throw something into a bag?”
"She took every stitch.”
The colonel, somewhat shaken, dropped another plum into the jug.
“All of it; that is, everything one doesn’t see from the outside, and three new frocks.” “But the cairngorm bracelet apparently she did not take.”
“You see what she says. ”
"It was the favorite ornament of my grandmother, who wanted it buried with her.”
Mrs. Butterworth struggled passionately with her inner self.
“Why wasn’t it?” she ventured.
“My mother thought it a waste, a sentimental mistake, and wore it for another thirty years, when it came to me. Naturally, I gave it to Daphne.”
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Continued from page 26
"Quite,” murmured Mrs. Buttenvorth. "You will also notice what she says alx>ut the ring. She ‘supposes' that will have to go too. The use of the word ‘suppose’ is significant. The child doesn’t know her own mind, but something makes her cling to the ring, and that single point puts the whole affair in a much brighter light. No other man is involved.”
"Oh, no! I’m certain of that.”
"It is hardly credible.”
"Why?” demanded Mrs. Butterworth unthinkingly.
“She could not deceive me to that extent. Not Daphne. May I take this letter with me?”
"It was never meant for you.”
"I quite realize that, and I might as well tell you now that my mind is nearly made up nearly, though not quite."
"All things considered, I expect to find it my duty to go to Taormina and bring Daphne home.”
TAORMINA, some SOO feet up in the air, smiles seductively down at the Ionian Sea. An equal number of feet below, the Ionian Sea smiles back. A few kilometers away, rise the first slopes of Etna, and of all the lovely, languid but this is not a guide b<x;k. Let us be content with stating that the Greeks came here in six;rtive mood, also the Romans, Saracens, Normans, Miss Daphne Butterworth and Mr. Murray Bishop.
Miss Butterworth stood at her window in the Villa Diodoro, gazing at the Ionian Sea, likewise at Etna. Mr. Bishop, at his window in the San Domenico, was doing exactly the same thing. Finally, with practically simultaneous sighs of satisfaction they started for the Corso, and met in the middle of it, the Corso being the spinal thoroughfare of the town. Miss Butterworth displayed a poplin confection. Mr. Bishop, who wore white flannels and a blue blazer, spotted her a hundred yards away.
"What ho, I )aph ! I lave an apéritif?"
"I think that would be very nice.”
Steering her toward a small, round, marble-topped table, he ordered two I >ubonnets, and regarded her with attention. She in turn regarded him. Then they laughed.
"That frock is certainly the cat’s whiskers. Met anyone you know?”
"Not a soul, thank gcx>dness.”
They sipped their apéritifs.
"You seem very cheerful this morning,” Daphne said.
"I am. You ought to be Ux>, instead of having qualms. You’re a fortunate girl, though you don’t seem to know it. Heard from the colonel yet?”
Miss Butterworth sh<x>k her head.
"Not yet, but if mother has given the address, I certainly shall. Boor Montague!” she added, softening a little.
“You never called him Monty?”
"I wonder what he’s calling you now?” said Mr. Bishop reflectively. " Y’know in some ways you’re the most interestin’ girl I ever met. You’ve certainly got the stuff in you. When were you to be married?”
“A month from three days ago, and I think we'd better talk about something else.”
"Why not? But tell me first, will Montague find himself another and more yielding bride?”
"I think it very likely,” she smiled.
“And what would you go back to?”
“A job if I can get one.”
"Have you thought what kind of a job you want?”
This was so flattening that Miss Butterworth felt a chill.
"Please —not today.”
Suddenly Mr. Bishop exclaimed :
"That old bird coming this way! Let’s get—no sit tight— Ux; late she’s seen us.” Fifty feet away there moved toward them a British female of indeterminate age. She wore a light brown linen suit, a black belt, black shoes, white stockings, and a locally
made straw hat. Her eyes were a cold blue, and her cheeks held a touch of frost. She carried a locally made straw receptacle in which were three artichokes, four lemons, a fiasco of native wine, and a copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses. She advanced with her unwinking gaze fixed on Mr. Bishop. Mr. Bishop got up.
“Well, Murray, who would have dreamed of finding you here?”
“Who indeed, Aunt Sophy? Where did you get that Ulysses?”
"I am returning it to a friend as unfit to be read,” she replied acidly. "What brought you to Taormina?”
“Something on wheels, Aunt Sophy. Who did you say was the friend?” he added hopefully.
Lady Thoroughgood took a downward and very searching glance at Miss Butterworth, who, it seemed, was greatly interested in something going on at the other end of the
"I low long have you been here, Murray?”
"I understood you were taking that trip to Brazil with Dora and her people.”
"I thought so, too, for a while, then decided to have a little jaunt by myself before er ”
"By yourself?” She took another glance at I )aphne, who had now moved to a near-by shop window. "In that case, who is your friend?”
"A Miss Butterworth.”
“One of the Dorsetshire Butterworths?”
"Hadn’t you better introduce her?”
MISS BUTTER WORTH was recalled and presented, and Lady Thoroughg(x>d, though somewhat assured by her appearance, still felt deeply disturbed.
The usual exchanges took place, and Lady Thoroughgood enquired how long Miss Butterworth had been in Taormina.
“Just two days,” said Daphne brightly. “Isn’t it perfect?”
This for some reason called forth a penetrating stare, whereat to her intense annoyance she blushed hotly.
"Funny how one day’s just like the next in a place like this,” put in Mr. Bishop rather hurriedly. “Where do you hang out, aunt?”
"I have taken a small villa next the Pancrazio. And you?”
"The San Domenico. Miss Butterworth has dug in at the Diodoro near you. May I have a look at that book?”
Lady Thoroughgood reversed its position so that the title nestled coyly under an artichoke.
“It is not my book, Murray.”
"I tried everywhere, but simply couldn’t get one. Did you find it as well realistic as they say?”
I lis aunt sent him a Ux>k that would have petrified anyone else, and addressed herself to Miss Butterworth.
"You two must have arrived on the same train.”
“I I believe we did.”
"People do,” contributed Mr. Bishop: “they can’t help it. Trains are like that.” Lady Thoroughgood gave the type of snort associated with her station in life.
"I suppose you are travelling with a party?” she hazarded in a tone immediately recognized by her nephew.
"No,” said Daphne, feeling for some reason a shade hostile. “I’m all alone and having a gorgeous time. And I don’t know a soul except Mr. Bishop.”
"Take the weight off your feet, and have a Dubonnet with us. won’t you, aunt?” inter¡x>lated Mr. Bishop, aware that matters were now growing slightly complicated.
"No, thanks, Murray, and I should like you to come and set? me about five this afternoon. It’s the Villa Piccolina. Perhaps we shall meet again, Miss Buttenvorth. G(X>d morning.”
Mr. Bishop, whose features now reflected an unaccustomed gloom, stared after her.
“Can you beat it?” he murmured disgustedly. “Of all people in the world, that it should be that female hound relative of
mine. She has the instincts of a ferret, and the persistence of a bulldog.”
“You speak feelingly.” said Miss Butterworth, watching him rather closely.
“S<; would you if you knew her. I hadn’t an idea she was in Taormina. She’s loaded
with spondulicks, and-”
“Oof — argent — denarii — she’s rich, I mean, but would walk a mile in the blaze of the tropic sun to get a cut price on one lemon. Her chief nourishment is spinach. She knows everybody, and never forgets anything. I w'ouldn’t be a bit surprised if she knew your Montagueor of him.”
“What a mad idea, and how unlikely! Besides, he’s never mentioned her.”
"Why should he? You know why she wants me this afternoon?”
"I can guess now.”
“That’s it—to be pumpedbut I’m not going. As a result there’ll be a note at the Domenico tonight, and I’ll make another bet that she’ll drift into the Diodoro within the next few hours and have a look at the hotel register.”
“What could she get from the register?” “We—ell, it’s not beyond her to suspect that Butterworth isn’t your real name.” “What a horrid woman!” flamed Daphne. “I’m not going to let anyone spoil a minute of my time. It’s too short.”
“A matter of money. I drew my savings, and the Red Orpington fund which was in my name, and——”
“You drew what !”
"You see,” she explained, "Montague was frightfully keen to start with at least forty birds, and suggested that we each put something toward the purchase.”
“You mean,” breathed Mr. Bishop, with a sort of reverence, “that Montague has unwittingly provided a part of your travelling expenses. ”
"I couldn't have got away without it,” she said.
Regarding her now with open admiration, he signalled again to the waiter.
"Miss Butterworth, you are one in a thousand—no, ten thousand. Is there no other agricultural fund you can draw on?” “I’m afraid not.”
"I low long have you?”
"Just a month.”
"Y’know,” said he glœmily, "life is like that: everything blooming in the garden and running like a clock, then some old fool drops a spanner into the machinery, if you follow me. You heard what she said about Brazil?”
“Well, I’m supposed to marry a girl who is taking that trip—which is why I'm here.” "It’s a little difficult to see clearly. I didn’t know you were engaged.”
“Neither did I tillDaph! Tell me
something, will you?”
"I would like to be of assistance,” she murmured.
"How did Montague put the thing when he put it to you? Can you remember?” “Yes, perfectly. He asked me to do him the honor to become his, et cetera,” said Miss Butterworth reflectively.
"I’m absolutely certain I said nothing like that. And what finally broke it up?”
“I think it was the Red Orpingtons. But why should I be discussing Montague and Red Orpingtons with you here in Taormina?” "It's nothing to what they do discuss. I’m told.”
In the small shops that line both sides of the Corso was the sound of chaffing in many languages. The sun continued to shine, and the bells of Santa Caterina suddenly clamored that it was twelve o’clock.
"Well,” said Mr. Bishop, emerging from a profundity of reflection, "I never dreamed that we’d both be making a getaway on this trip. It needs a parlous amount of thought. Have a spot of lunch with me at the Domenico. ”
"Thanks very much, but not today.” "Then climb the Mola after lunch. Everyone has to.”
"I think I'll just loaf about.”
“What’s the matter. Daph—not worrying about my aunt, are you?”
“Partly, and Montague. I feel no end of a
“Was the said Montague thinking about you or himself?” put in the young man shrewdly.
She got up, smiling a little.
“That helps quite a lot. I’m going back to the Diodoro—no—please don’t come.”
I ADY THOROUGHGOOD found herself
I_compelled to think of her nephew.
Mr. Bishop, in describing her as a female ferret, had not been far out. She was lean, sinewy, tireless and of undaunted persistence. She was not interested in ordinary people, nor was her type of imagination attracted by the obviously virtuous, and what really whetted her appetite was contact with those in whom she recognized a certain latitude of view and even practice. When such contact took place, she immediately set to work to ascertain if it hadn’t happened already, or was about to. Should there appear to be no prospect, she moved on to the next victim.
She went on thinking about her nephew. Who was that girl? Butterworth? She did not know the name. A decent sort, one would say, and not that sort. Not pretty, but with Murray one could never tell. Girls, chic girls, petite ones, tall and classical, blonde, brunette, plain girls with millions, exquisite creatures with nothing, landed girls, the huntin’ and shootin’ variety, all had been paraded before him without result, till, when hope had died in the maternal breast, he had said something to Dora, who promptly told her mother, who with equal promptitude telephoned to Mrs. Bishop, who thereupon kissed Murray very warmly and went to Buxton for a rest. But today Murray, instead of being somewhere off the Azores, sat in the Corso guzzling Dubonnet with a strange girl called Butterworth.
Lady Thoroughgood, masticating this surprising fact, reached for a copy of The Times, just arrived. It was two weeks out of date, but that didn’t matter, and she turned at once to the death notices to gloat over the demise of such friends of hers as might be mentioned. Foiled in this, she applied herself to Births and Forthcoming Marriages and suddenly perceived something.
“Colonel Montague Rivers Pluckett and Miss Butterworth
“The engagement is announced between Col. Montague Rivers Pluckett, D.S.O., M.C., M.V.O., O.B.E., late D.A.Q.M.G., and Daphne, only daughter of Mrs. James Butterworth of 60A Ebury Street, London.”
Staring at this with fascinated eyes. Lady Thoroughgood chortled. There is no other word for it -she chortled, pressing her thin lips so that one squirrel tooth gleamed hungrily through the faded pink of the funnel thus formed. Exactly as she suspected. Murray had been at it again, and instead of going on with his own engagement was breaking up someone else’s. Then, just at this point, something suggested that she go warily.
Butterworth? What if the girl were some other Butterworth. Well, there wouldn’t be two Daphnes, so that could be settled at once.
"II premio e pronto, signora.” said a maid at the door.
"Pin tarde." snapped Lady Thoroughgood, and full of the ardor of the chase marched out on the dusty road.
Passing the Pancrazio, she reached in another moment the Diodoro. Here she entered, and fastened hungrily upon the register.
“Daphne Butterworth. 60A Ebury Street. London. British.”
THESE few girlish words, written in a round and rather irregular hand, gave Lady Thoroughgood intense pleasure. She stared at them, nodded, stared again, returned to the Villa Piccolina and ate an excellent lunch. Then she addressed an
Continued on page 30
Continued from page 28
envelope to Mrs. Josiah Bishop in Berkeley Square, seized a pad of paper, and settled down to urgent business.
One of the subjects of her letter was on the wide balcony of the Diodoro that fronts the first floor rooms. She wondered if any other girl had ever visited the Tauromenium under such difficult circumstances. She did not regret coming, but had expected to be able to shake off the immediate jiast a great deal more easily.
What would her mother make of it? What did Mr. Bishop really think of her? Equally, what did I^ady Thoroughgood really think? She decided that she hated Lady Thoroughgood. And what about a job when she got back? She went out and found Murray.
‘‘Look here.” said he. “I’m on my way to the Ferrets’ 1 thought perhaps it would be wiser to go but wanted a few plain words with you first. You are not worrying, are you?”
"Then where can we chin?”
"Come into the garden.”
The garden commanded a noble view, but Mr. Bishop wasted no time on that.
“Why, you shouldn’t regard meas a sort of newly-discovered brother.” he said, "and let me act accordingly till you go off and I go off and no harm done to anyone? I’m an awful ass at putting this sort of thing, but perhaps you see what I mean.”
Miss Buttenvorth glanced at him, and laughed
“That's just what the doctor ordered,” he nodded. “You go on laughing.”
"It seems all wrong, but it sounds very inviting,” said Miss Butterworth dubiously. “May 1 think it——?”
"Believe me, Daph, the things that to the virgin mind seem slightly unjustifiable always turn out to be the most enjoyable. I’ve proved it.”
"We ell," she hesitated, “I’ll think
“ l/na tele gram ma per la signori na,” said a maid at her elbow.
The two exchanged glances, and a chill crept into the Sicilian sunshine.
"Go to it!” said Mr. Bishop with swift encouragement. “It probably isn’t anything you don’t know already.”
Opening the envelope with profound misgiving, she read:
"Montague leaves today Taormina to bring you back. 1 íe forgives you. D>ve.
COLONEL PLUCKETT. boarding the Folkestone-Boulogne lv>at as though he owned it. surveyed a storm-tossed Channel with equanimity.
He was thinking of his dependable stomach, when a voice sounded close by: "Porter, 1 don't know but what we’ll sit right here.”
A nice voice, very clear. The colonel saw a woman of. it might be. forty-five with a flawless skin, small straight nose, bright grey eyes. She wore a mink coat and one of the new hats.
"Put those things right here. Sarah, and camp beside them. Don’t let that satchel out of your sight.”
At this there moved forward the person of a large negress. the most jx'rfectly cylindrical living being the colonel had ever beheld. 11er mouth was a large red gash, her black eyes, the whites of which had a bluish tinge, oscillated in their sockets as though oiled, and her teeth flashed even in the ¡vile light of an English noon. Looking at the sea, then at her mistress, she subsided into a creaking chair.
"Mis’ Sadie, Ah reckon we’s agwine to ketch it.”
The lady gave a shrug, bestowed on the colonel one glance and settled herself beside him.
"You sit right still, Sarah; it’s your only hope.”
Colonel Pluckett, approving this point of view, got up. took a turn round the deck and returned to his seat. Mistress and maid had now closed their eyes.
The American lady displayed symptoms
of extreme lassitude. One arm hung loose, swaying with the wild movements of the ship and her eyes seemed glazed. Next to her, the negress, it appeared, was suffering from a violent attack of jaundice and had turned a greyish yellow.
The colonel, shuddering, peered about with thoughts of escape, but what he saw held him where he was. A giant wave assaulted the Maid of Orleans, tossing her bows high till far beneath ojxmed an enormous cavity of foam-streaked green. The Maid plunged into it. Simultaneously a secondary and closely associated disturbance rose at lier amidships, heaving her on her side in the most drunken fashion imaginable.
This occasioned widespread and regrettable results, but the one that concerns us was that the lady’s chair came into contact with that of Colonel Pluckett, and the negress’s with hers. In the next instant he felt arms around his neck and found a feminine head on his shoulder.
”1 lx‘g your pardon, madam,” said he,
“Don’t move,” she groaned. “I daren’t.
“Just a minute—I’ll get a steward,” said the colonel with unexampled dignity.
“I’m telling you not to do a thing; stay right where you are,” groaned the lady.
"If you stir the least little mite.I’ll-”
Colonel Pluckett, grasping the situation, was horrified.
"Madam, I am not your husband!”
‘T don’t care whose husband you are. Don’t you move,” whimpered the lady, and clung tighter. Her mink collar was tickling the colonel’s cheek, and in the salty air he caught the least suggestion of violets. The negress, a shapeless mass, continued to invoke the help of heaven.
Then, ultimately, the long-drawrn tribulation came to an end. The lady glanced upward, and her lips quivered ever so slightly. Feeling the rough tweed of her savior's coat against her temple, she turned toward the colonel.
"I'd have passed right out if it hadn’t been for you. Fiver so many thanks.”
I le got up, folded his rug, bowed, and was first off the boat. Ten minutes later he occupied his compartment in the Syracuse sleeping car.
The train was thundering through Amiens station when, standing in the corridor, he heard voices.
“The Straits of Messina, Sarah, are only five miles wide and the train goes right on the car ferry, so you couldn’t be sick if you wanted to.”
"Dat’s all right, Mis’ Sadie, but how deep is dem straits?”
The reply came in a lazy, very musical tone, with a sort of freedom about it:
“Well, we’ll see when we get there. Feeling a mite better now?”
“Mis’ Sadie, mah stummick done come right back wheah it was befo’.”
The colonel gave a shudder, and, because he had nothing else to do, continued to listen. There was a short silence, followed by an exclamation.
“My gracious, Sarah, I’ve dropped one of my earrings.”
"Law, Mis’ Sadie, yo’ done los’ it?”
"1 must have! I put it on this morning.” "Yeah, Mis’ Sadie, yo’ suttinly did.”
“1 had it in the train too. I saw it when I did my face.”
“Yaas. m'm, Ah guessdat's right.”
“Get down and look on the floor—under those seats too. It isn't caught in my dress?”
THERE WAS a sound of things being moved, of a human thud, of wheezy grunts, and the colonel waited expectantly.
“Oh, well, I guess it doesn’t matter so much; it wasn't one of the big ones, anyway. Everything else all right?”
"Yaas m'm, it's all right here in yo’ satchel.”
The colonel felt faintly amused. He settled down to think of his errant bride-to-be. and. now that the first shock was over, found himself able to contemplate the matter in a considerably milder light. There was nothing the matter with him—he knew
that -so the fundamental cause must lie with the girl herself.
“By gad!” he ejaculated, “that’s it! What an ass I am !”
Such an admission from Montague Rivers FAuckett meant a great deal, and in this casé implied that he had tumbled over a discovery which a man of his perception should have made long since .The fact, and it now stared him in the face, was that Daphne simply was afraid not of him so much as of matiimony.
The more he thought of this, the more clear it became, and at the same time roused in him a curious little tingle of pleasure.
“Poor little Daphne!” he murmured affectionately. “I must be very gentle with her -very gentle; a sort of harbor of refuge.” “What sote of a place we’s agwine to dis time, Mis’ Sadie?” asked the negress.
“Very lovely, Sarah, and very old. People have been going there for thousands of years.”
“Huh! Ain’t it mos’used up?”
“Such spots don’t get used up,” laughed the lady.
“Yo’ reckon de sun’s gwine to shine?”
“I reckon it will.”
“Sumpin’ lak Cahlinah?”
“A good deal like that; probably more so.” “Any folks dere of mah color?”
“I expect so, probably Senegalese.”
“Don’t worry about it, Sarah; you’ll be all right.”
Colonel Pluckett, absorbing this, frowned a little, then reflected that since the lady had two compartments in the Syracuse sleeping car, it might have been inferred that she was going first to Taormina.
At that moment the call of premier service came down the corridor. Before leaving the compartment, he noticed his overcoat on the seat, and being a man of orderly habits made to hang it up. I>)ing this, he felt under the right lapel, and found, nestling into the rough tweed, something small and hard and round.
It was a pearl earring.
The colonel stared at the thing whose tiny loop of fine wire had hooked itself into the fabric. Putting on his glasses, he loosened and held the feminine trifle in a good light.
Now it happened that he had served for twenty years in the Far East, where he became interested in precious stones, and took peculiar pains to inform himself on the subject. Of pearls, though he possessed but one. he was particularly fond, and had learned a great deal about them. And what now lay in his hand made him whistle.
It was a true Oriental pearl, perfectly rounded, of a soft, creamy pinkish lustre, and about the size of a fat pea. Fingering it with a sort of reverence, lie put it to the tip of his tongue, and recognized the cool, silky smoothness of the real thing. The earring was worth not less than three hundred pounds, probably more. And the lady had said that it didn’t matter much since it wasn’t one of the big ones.
There was, of course, but one thing to do, and he marched forward to the dining car, which was now ven' full. The lady sat facing him at a small table, and, looking up, saw him standing at the door. Immediately she looked down.
With his back more than usually stiff, the colonel approached and laid the earring in front of her.
“This, madam, I believe, is yours.”
She took one glance at it, then at him, made a rhoky little sound, and began to laugh. It was a gay laugh, very natural, very infectious, and penetrated the car, light as wind, free as water.
“Well,” she said shakily, “if that isn’t the funniest thing ever. I guess I know where you found it. I’m just awfully obliged to you. Mr—Mr.--”
“I am Colonel Pluckett,” he put in with monumental dignity.
“Well, Colonel FAuckitt, I don’t know how---”
“—ett, please, not itt.”
“That’s too careless of me. Maybe some day—well—I suppose you know you saved
my life? I’m Mrs. Sadie Höflingen Have you had your lunch?”
“Thanks,” said the colonel, starting for the far end of the car, “I’m just going to. Good afternoon.”
“I guess you aren’t, not on this service, unless you sit right here.”
He looked desperately about. It was quite true. Also he felt exceedingly hungry, and since after the next half-hour he would be able to avoid her altogether—well—why not? So he slid into the only vacant place, and picked up an enormous menu card.
For several moments the lady left him thus, but he was aware that she kept shooting at him quick, curious little glances that seemed of genuine interest. Eventually he felt compelled to speak.
“You know—ah—the continent?” he hazarded.
"Why, no, colonel. Never set foot on it before.”
“Ever been in the States?”
“The Shan States, not the United ones.” She looked up, not a little puzzled, and he observed that she had a very round, white throat. Her dress of dark blue was. he assumed, of silk, and fitted her comfortable figure marvellously well. Her wrists were small, her hands well formed, capable and perfectly kept, her mouth rather large and very flexible, her nose short and straight. “The what States?” she murmured. “Between Upper Burmah and IndoChina,” he said briefly. “You are travelling for pleasure, of course?”
“Why, certainly. You too, I guess?”
“I have been called south on an important matter.” This to him sounded about right, though only relatively true. Who had called him? Certainly not Daphne.
“The first time I saw you I thought it would be something like that. Right through to Sicily?”
“Taormina,” he conceded.
“So am I; perhaps we’ll see something of each other. I haven’t half thanked you yet for that pearl. I’ll put it right back now where it belongs.”
“I’m sorry,” said the colonel, watching with a detached but very accurate interest the curve of arm, shoulder and breast. “I shall only be there for twenty-four hours.” “Is that so! Well, I’m not so surprised after all. Mrs. Pluckitt—pardon me—ett—• isn’t with you?”
“There is not any Mrs. Pluckett,” he answered with dignity, and very nearly added “as yet.”
It seemed that this information set up in the lady’s mind a new train of thought. “You live in England, of course?”
“Yes. I am buying a small place near Guildford, some thirty miles from London.” “Never heard of it. I come from California.”
“A wonderful part of your country, I’m told.”
“That’s what they say in California. I’m a business woman.”
“You are in business!”
“You might call it that; I supply Hollywood with eggs.”
WITH TFIIS announcement, made in a brisk, cheerful voice, and obviously unconscious of the effect it produced, the lady paid her bill and went back to the sleeping car, leaving the colonel hot, angry, intrigued, stimulated, provoked and confused all at once. Why should the lady pull his leg in a crowded dining-car? Was she entirely responsible? How many eggs did Hollywood consume a day?
Confronted with problems such as this, he forged doggedly ahead, but Mrs. Hollinger, absent in the flesh, still seemed to be facing him, and when he returned to the sleeping car and heard again the sound of voices from the adjoining compartment, a shameful curiosity made him pause in the corridor and listen.
“Well, Sarah, that’s all there is to it.” “Yo’ tell me dat’s one of dem English kuhnuls?”
“I’m sure he is. It’s written all over him.” “How many kuhnuls yo’ s’pose dere is in England. Mis’ Sadie?”
Maclean's Magazine, August I, 1933 “Search me.”
“Mo’ dan dere is in Chawlston, South Cahlinah?”
“I don’t believe this one is quite the same kind,” laughed Mrs. Hollinger.
At this point the subject of their conversation experienced a throb of gratitude, and walked on. The train, circling round Paris, made a brief halt at the Gare de Lyon, and he seized the opportunity for a little exercise. His time was about up when he encountered the lady on the platform.
“Colonel, I’ve just got to do something more than say thank you for that earring. Won’t you drink tea with me when we get started?”
“I—er—that is very kind of you.”
“I’m pleased to hear it. We’ll have it
right in the compartment, and-”
A chirrup from the guard’s whistle cut off the rest; the Rome express got into motion, and ten minutes later Colonel Pluckett sat lacing Mrs. Hollinger across a small folding table. The negress had removed herself. Mrs. Hollinger looked at him and smiled. “It’s kind of cosy like this, isn’t it?”
A chill struck into his blood. Here he was in pursuit of a fugitive bride, yet closeted in the most intimate manner with a woman who had crossed the greater part of the Channel with her head on his shoulder. What would Daphne say to this? Nothing —because she would never know. Then he glanced at the lady, and oddly enough his blood lost some of its chill. She was very gay, and smiled as she poured tea. The mink coat hung in the comer, and under the seat were a pair of the smallest slippers he had ever seen.
“I’m kind of glad you’re not married,” she said demurely.
“I should have to apologize to your wife for this morning. But it certainly saved my life. Sugar?”
“No, thanks, and—er—the other thing is quite all right. I—that is—I think I understand.”
"I’m saying you did, because if you’d uttered one single word I’d have—but I guess we can forget that. Now there’s something else.”
“It’s about those eggs. I suppose you thought I was joshing you?”
“You were what me?” stammered the colonel, quite baffled.
“Handing you something—stretching it a bit—but I wasn’t. Look at this.”
She gave him a post card, blank on one side, on the other a colored photograph. He saw a stretch of opulent-looking ground, ringed with trees, and dotted with long, low, one-story bungalows, green-roofed. Around and between these buildings was a vast multitude of fowls, acres of fowls. They concealed the earth, spreading almost as far as the photograph reached. The fowls of a continent might have been gathered here. And they were all snow white.
“What is this place?” he creaked.
“One of my chicken runs. I have six.” The colonel gained at her, but her face was quite calm.
“How many—ah—chickens are there here?” His tone was now very strained.
“I can’t say exactly, but I reckon about twenty thousand.”
His brain began to swim, and his Adam’s apple gave a leap of extraordinary velocity. “You—have—six—like—this !”
“Yes,” she said cheerfully, “that’s about all I can handle—say something like a hundred and twenty thousand birds, of which seven per cent are male. Of course, this doesn’t mean anything to you, but you looked sort of doubtful when I said I was a business woman, so I wanted to prove it. Have I?”
“Mrs. Hollinger, frankly, you amaze me.” “Well, that’s something to start with.” “Your husband is not travelling with you?”
She shook her head.
“Well, colonel, to put you straight right now, we don't travel together any more. That finished two vears ago.”
“It sort of brings in those chickens. He
said to me: ‘Sadie, if you quit now at forty ¡ thousand, which is enough for any woman. I'll stay with you, but if you go higher than that I’m through;’ and in the very next week I had the chance to form a Chicken Trust, i and did, and jumped from forty to a hundred and twenty thousand, and it was too much j for George—that’s him standing in the comer of that card —so he quit. Incompatibility, of course, and it went right through; and he took out his money, which wasn’t much, and went down to San Diego, where he lives now. We’re good enough friends, but I never found him real interesting—sort of slack and careless and never picked up a single thing, and I can’t abide that. Have a chocolate? If I lived in a place like England I’d have kept ducks.”
“THE COLONEL, now in a slightly stupeI fied condition, took a large peppermint cream and glanced at the lady.
“What kind of chickens do you keep, Mrs. Hollinger?”
“White Leghorns—nothing else. Cost more, but better layers.”
“You never tried—er—Red Orpingtons?” At this she turned in quick interest. “Colonel, don’t tell me you keep chickens yourself!”
“No,” he answered hastily, “but I am fairly well informed on the general subject.” “Now isn’t that just like an Englishman! They just sit tight, and don’t say what they know, ever, to start with, and then trot it out when least expected, while we Americans start right off with a lot more than we do know. You go right on, colonel, with the Red Orpingtons. Then I’ll try and tell you.” Having, without a single interruption, emptied his reservoir of what had been pent up there for weeks past, he mopped a brow which had become rather moist, and made an apologetic gesture.
“I’m afraid I was rather carried away. You’ve probably forgotten more than I know.”
“Colonel,” she said reverently, “you’re just wonderful. I’ve got all those chickens, and don’t know a fraction of what you do. I only feed them and clean them, and let instinct and Nature do the rest. Don’t you ever come to California?”
“I have not had that pleasure, Mrs. Hollinger.”
“Is it likely?” she added wistfully. “I’d just love to show you round.”
This hospitable suggestion, made in so candid a tone, gave him a shock. Was it1 perhaps more than hospitable? He thought it was, and his Adam’s apple gave a spasmodic little bounce.
He made a desperate effort to collect himself. What was he up to, anyway? Was Daphne sitting in penitent loneliness among the asphodels, or was she not? She was.
“Come!” he said to himself sternly. “Come—come! Pull yourself together !” Then, glancing at Mrs. Hollinger, he felt less convinced. She happened to be glancing at him, and her expression betrayed the fact that she was a woman, and though he had known this before, he knew it much better now.
He confessed that he ought to tell her— now—at once —before the train covered another rail length, but being a man as well j as an officer he hesitated.
This investigation occupied considerably more than one rail length, but roused no impatience in Mrs. Hollinger. She knew he was thinking. She liked him. He had a natural, and to her rather restful, reserve, save on the subject of chickens, and he did not lose by that exception. She liked his clothes, his shoes, his lean ankles, the concavities at his slightly greying temples. He would never be fat, his shoulder she had found sufficiently wide to be comfortable. J and he would never leave things about.
“Well,” she went on, “it’s too bad you’ve I got such a short time in Taormina. I’m going to lie round for a month or so and think things over in peace. I had a proposal just before I left home.”
“I’m-er—not at all surprised,” said the colonel chokilv.
“That was real nice of you. It was a proposal to buy me out for two million
dollars, cash; and I've got to say yes or no by the first of May.”
"You ah you think you will accept?’’
“That’s just what I don’t know,” said she reflectively. “Of course, it sort of hurts to let all those chickens go. You just send six thousand dozen eggs into Hollywood every morning, and get the cheque seven days i later.”
“Six thousand dozen !’’ he breathed.
"You said it, colonel. What I’m really afraid of is that they’ll get me for keeps, and I’ll aim at making it ten or fifteen thousand, and grow into an old woman who hasn't any concept except eggs. 1 wish there was someone to advise me.”
j Colonel Pluckett was illuminated; a door opened; a charge of dynamite exploded within him. His Adam’s apple, exhausted by much recent activity, could only give a galvanic twitch. But it did that. He had an
awareness of the moment —of two million dollars —of a dwindling perspective of White Leghorns of a very good-looking woman -of another woman, younger, but not so good-looking, who by this time had her face buried in the asphodels -of Guildford—of forty—think of it—forty Red Orpingtons.
“I hardly feel that I would be justified in ——” He heard his own voice.
‘It would be ever so kind of you, colonel. Why not?”
He summoned his failing forces. Something shouted at him to get out of this, get back to his own compartment, and get quickly. But the voice, his voice, went on again :
"Well, since you are so good, I would suggest-----”
"Le premier service pour diner, madame," came another voice at the door.
To be Continued