FICTION

PRACTICALLY MENTAL

Rebecca Stevenson August 15 1934
FICTION

PRACTICALLY MENTAL

Rebecca Stevenson August 15 1934

PRACTICALLY MENTAL

FICTION

Rebecca Stevenson

SHAFTS of moonlight, splintering against a tall fir tree, fell in fragments on the dark lawn. A small breeze, lifting the wisteria, indolently loosed it again. On the verandah, the coal of a cigar and the tip of a cigarette gleamed fitfully, and the swing creaked under the negligible burden of a yellow dress. The cigarette belonged to Gordon Fentriss, the cigar to James Brice, and the yellow dress to his black-eyed daughter, Polly, resentfully simmering in the shadows. Gordon and her father

were, as usual, absorbed in their own interests, and if they glanced at her at all it was with the attention vouchsafed little rabbits. She considered their attitude difficult to admire.

A fantastic shadow darkened the silver floor of the adjacent lake, and querulous thunder shook the foundations of the tranquil shore. James Brice identified the disturbance as the Steams whelp in his new boat, and expressed a wish that the whelp might drown himself.

Fentriss predicted that if Steams did, his soul would go reverberating on.

‘I grow fonder of Freddie Steams every day,” declared Polly hopefully.

"Don't let me notice it," snorted her father.

He continued his criticism of the city administration, and Gordon Fentriss resumed his listening. He was a good listener. That was the trouble with him.

When, bronzed, tempered and engaging, Fentriss had first come out of the Orient, Polly had marked him for her own. He was eleven years older than she, and, newly burdened with the responsibilities of his father’s shipping line, occasionally twenty years g-aver or shyer. In the beginning, all had gone breathlessly well. His voice had warmed and his glance kindled at the sight of her, but nothing ever came of it. He strolled nightly through the hedge which separated their country houses to talk with her father in an unchanging emotional calm which Polly considered highly repugnant. Perhaps, she thought wryly, his sterling character secretly shrank from the taint óf flippancy in her nature, the underlying hussy. Nothing site did could alter Fentriss’s temperate course, not even her recent display of Freddie Steams. Her parents considered Freddie a form of plague and Polly was beginning to do so herself, but for tactical reasons she could admit it to no one but Freddie himself.

Her father's voice Ixxmied forth anew, predicting the Shore Club carnival the following evening would net a large deficit and denouncing the conduct of Amanda, the Brice cook. After twenty years of perfect soufflés, Amanda had introduced disorder into a rational household through a violent addiction to numerology.

First thing I know, our omelets will be vibrating around

the place on three eggs,” said Brice with ill-hidden disgust.

Fentriss, amused, didn’t think they could travel far on that number.

”1 think I’ll go out with Freddie,” Polly said. Slim and elfin in the moonlight, she ran across the lawn and out on the little pier. Soon Freddie’s boat roared out of the bright foam to claim her.

C1NCE he had failed to ruffle the Fentriss composure, ^ Polly considered Freddie a dismal waste, and his unexpected matrimonial aspirations in her direction were extremely annoying. Usually he confined such interests to ladies of the ensemble, where Polly privately thought they belonged. She had now come out to tell him so, at a safe distance from other masculine ears, and to end his raucous gambolling about the premises, but it was some time before she had a chance to speak.

"You may be a great muscular success, Freddie, but you’re nothing to me,’’ she concluded. “I just came out to remind you of that. And 1 don’t intend to see you again until you can talk of something besides eloping with me.” “Oh, you’ll be seeing me,” Freddie promised, unimpressed. Even in the dusk she was aware of the stubborn weight of his chin and the sulky glitter of his unblinking eyes. “I don’t let little girls tell me what to do. What’s your objection to me, anyhow? I’ve got money and time—”

“And too much noise in your system.” She repeated firtnlv that lie couldn’t come to her father’s house again until his emotions were more agreeable to her.

"Who do you think you’re talking to Dird Fentriss?” he demanded, visibly affronted by the idea. "That’s the sort of thing he’d swallow, but I'm a different boy.”

“I wish Mr. Fentriss did have some of your positive qualities,” she said. “I wonder if it could be contrived?” By the time she had prevailed upon Freddie to take her home, she felt a mild gratitude toward him because of what he unwittingly had suggested.

^ Her father was alone in the library, bent over a book. From the safety of an upstairs telephone, Polly called her friend, Joan Tasker, and told her that, through the mighty force of numerology, she desired Gordon Fentriss transformed into a roaring lion. Joan, in order to be a stellar

attraction at the Shore Club carnival, had delved deeply into the science ot numbers, but her knowledge of sorcery was elemental. She said so with instant lack of enthusiasm.

“But he doesn’t know a thing about it,” argued Polly determinedly. "You can tell him anything. Palmistry, chemistry, Deuteronomy. I 11 come over tomorrow morning and help you work it out—something to convince him he ought to be more dominant and flagrant, especially with women of the brunette type.”

It required skill and the bribe of a red evening dress to overcome Joan’s resistance, but it was accomplished at last. Polly was confident that, with her knowledge of Fentriss and Joan’s of numerology, something could be concocted. Not that she hoped for drastic results, but she was in a state of mind to welcome any change in the man’s attitude toward her.

When the carnival opened, Polly settled down on Gordon Fentriss with the lightness and apparent aimlessness of a butterfly. He smiled on her admiringly and pronounced himself ready to play in the fishpond or do what she wished. So she ushered him into Joan’s little tent with a knowing gleam in her eye, and bade him come and dance with her later.

She returned to the clubhouse to be suitably popular until lie rejoined her, and was surprised to see him walk past her presently without a sign of recognition.

Want this dance? she called after him, airily disregarding her own partner.

“No,” replied Fentriss, and strode into the bar.

Polly scowled. She moved about watchfully, ready to pounce when he returned, but it took her half an hour to find him -down on the lake shore in the midst of practically all the pretty girls who were selling things. She sheared through their ranks by divine right of arrogance and slipped her arm through his, persuasively.

"I ve just got to know what Joan told you,” she said with her most effective smile.

Joan, he answered soberly, had pretty much ripped the veil from the mysteries. He was, henceforth, a changed man.

‘A ou’ll notice it,” he promised, his glance passing over her to lose itself in a grove of firs. “My first task is to

Polly made it clear that she would drive herself home and rejoin Freddie when, where and how she pleased. Without demur, Fentriss had a car brought up for her and helped her into it politely. When it was out of sight, he dripped his way to the nearest telephone and called her father. Polly he explained ruefully, after tumbling into the lake, had hurried off home alone.

“She’s pretty damp and all that, but she swims too well to get hurt. I fancy she’d better not go out again, however.”

"She won’t.” Aroused paternal instincts shook the line. “Not if there’s anything in brute force!”

Polly remained at home.

develop my personality,” he explained after a moment. “Would you like to go out on the lake while I discuss it?”

HTHEY GOT into a canoe, and he headed it through the

quiet waters toward the beckoning moonlight. Behind them, clubhouse and grounds swam in an opal sea of radiance. The slow dip of paddles stole out from the treeshadowad shore. Magic whispered.

“I am more practically mental now' than ever before in my life,” announced Gordon Fentriss. “It’s an eight personal as well as eight universal year. If I can dominate minor situations as they arise, nothing is beyond me.” Conviction lay in his voice, but w'hat lurked in his soul was problematical.

“Could you start a good war?” asked Polly, not to commit herself. She gathered that he hoped to begin more inconspicuously. Polly asked him on what. He said the first thing w’hich demanded it. His executive gifts required constant exercise. The canoe passed silently through a few dark ripples of water.

I ve got to meet Freddie,” said Polly, arriving at a sudden decision. “This is nice, but I can’t stay. Freddie and I are going up to the Thieves’ Den on the mountain road. Amusing place.” Notorious was the more accurate adjective, and Freddie’s last visit to it had resulted in some highly publicized breakage and an enforced departure. Moreover, Freddie at the moment was well on with his tippling. Any gentleman, she thought, would try to save her from herself.

Fentriss told her that he didn’t think she should go.

I am going,” declared Polly with the right degree of stubbornness.

“You will not.”

Polly tilted her dark head into an irresistible challenge and spoke so that no syllable was w’asted.

\\on t I, though! I’d like to see you stop me!”

Was susPended in the air for an instant. Would you. asked Fentriss quietly. The paddle described a wide arc. The canoe, spinning inshore convulsively, eveloped acute submarine complications. Polly found herself waist deep in water, choking with equal parts of d fresh, cold lake. Fentriss righted the canoe and s oved it up on the bank while she made an unassisted landing. Sand got in her shoes, and the limp folds of her dress hampered her.

\ou did that on purpose!” she raged, shaking ou drowned organdie ruffles. “I’ll g0 now if I have i transported by a whole fleet with an admiral driv I^entnss tliat Freddie wouldn’t take her ir bedraggled state.

“Of course if you want to splash into the clubhoust yell tor him, he can dnve you home while you change.’

THE NEXT DAY,

belatedly following Fentriss’s advice, she embarked on some practical meditating.

The result of it was

that she decided she needed a clearer insight into his numerical fervor before starting her reprisals. It was all so new. She hoped something useful would result from Fentriss’s regular call, but Freddie Stearns was the only caller of the day. He came three times to invite her to go to Alaska with him and fish for a few weeks. The first time she sent him away herself, and later the servants told him she was out. Fentriss strolled in his own garden with his mother.

Foreseeing the ]x>ssibility of prolonged evasion, Polly resourcefully dug up most of the Brice garden and carried it over to Mrs. Fentriss late the next afternoon. Polly loved Mrs. Fentriss and deplored the subterfuge, but it couldn’t be helped.

“Father sent you these,” she said glibly when she found her in the sunroom. “He remembered you had no yellow ones.” She held out the mass of blossoms and the small, brisk woman accepted them with a charming smile.

“You’re most forgiving, my dear. After my son threw you in the lake. He told me about it.”

“It was only a mental transport,” said the girl cryptically, and then proceeded to lx; as pleasant as she knew' how to be. It was easy to prolong her stay until she heard a car in the driveway, and to be at the door, prettily taking her leave, when Gordon Fentriss appeared. Ilis unconcern was layers deeper than hers, and not a trace of remorse filtered through it. Before Polly was ready to speak effectively, he bent and kissed his mother and then with confident and clinical thoroughness, kissed Polly.

Mrs. Fentriss broke the ensuing silence.

“Are you concealing something from me that a mother should know, you two?” she asked in pleased surprise. “Could I give blessings or . . .?”

“It doesn’t mean a thing,” answered Fentriss composedly. “Just a five day. The senses are apt to predominate.”

“If any!” gasped Polly, politely managing to sw’allow' the rest of her sentiments. Mrs. Fentriss, observing the warm color in her face, began discussing the roses. She asked Polly to convey her thanks to her father.

“I’ll stroll over and put in a w'ord myself,” volunteered Fentriss obligingly.

“He isn’t home.” Polly moved hastily toward the steps.

“He just came in,” Fentriss contradicted, strolling along with her. “Probably waiting for a few simple words of gratitude now'.” He crossed the lawn at her side, and his easy smile only deepened when Polly wheeled on him w'rathfully at the foot of the steps.

“Never mind speaking to father. The idea was mine. I thought the flowers would divert your mother’s attention w'hile I poisoned your toothpaste.”

“And you couldn’t find it.” He was nicely concerned. “Would you like me to mail it to you?”

When Polly saw' Fentriss again he sat in his customary chair on her father's verandah and wfas telling the latter all about Captain Hanson. It seemed that Captain Hanson, satisfied with the way his personal experience had ripened and his temper shortened under the guidance of the elder Fentriss, was acidly suspicious of the younger.

“Just tell him all about your personality,” advised Polly, materializing radiantly in the doorway. “Better still, kiss him !”

Fentriss accepted her suggestion gravely.

“It would have the element of surprise,” he conceded.

Possessed of the information that he was to metit his captain at eleven in the morning, Polly crossed the lake to the city on an early ferry, committed to a shameless errand. After some searching, she found what she wanted—a photograph of a young woman who wore a wisp of chiffon. Polly inscribed it, “To Angel Boy from Dottikins,” and entrusted it to a messenger boy with instructions to deliver it into Mr. Fentriss’s own hands at ten minutes after eleven o'clock. She hoped the unamiable Captain Hanson was present when it was opened.

That evening she listened to the familiar masculine voices on the verandah from the comfortable obscurity of the living-room curtains. Gordon Fentriss said the day had been, on the whole, satisfactory. Polly decided not to appear.

In the morning at half past six, some hours before she planned on waking, she received a telephone call from Fentriss and Company which she refused to answer. Word was left for her to call back. At noon she did and had difficulty in making his secretary, Miss Sims, understand what possible business she could have with Mr. Fentriss.

“Just tell him Miss Brice finds she cannot marry him this

Continued on page 43

Continued To page 9

SIaTIS O?Z I)a~c S

afternoon at three o’clock,” Polly said. "She has some shopping to do.”

In five minutes Miss Sims called her back. “Mr. Fentriss’s apologies, but he fears there has been a mistake. He finds he has no appointment to marry you and can't understand how you made the error." Before Polly could answer, the thin accents of disapproval pressed on. “Mr. Fentriss also wants to know if you can send him some more pictures. He finds they materially increase his employees’ respect for him.”

POLLY’S findings were that numerology was not only treacherous but innately sordid. She rang up Joan Tasker, demanding to know what the latter had told Gordon, but learned nothing to confirm her ungrateful suspicions. At least, she could be glad that he was eleven years her senior. It might take her eighty more to get the best of him, but the odds were in her favor.

Or so she thought until Freddie Steams admitted himself through the dining-room window late that afternoon, and came upon her as she was ripping up an evening dress all over her father’s library. Freddie’s failure at all the doors had inflamed his obstinacy, and his uncle’s wine cellar had done the rest. Feet apart, arms akimbo, he confronted Polly and belligerently voiced his grievances.

“You don’t get by with that ‘not-at-home’ stuff with me,” he threatened.

“I suppose this is one of your special disturbances,” Polly retorted, viciouslyslicing into a fold of satin. “I like MickeyMouse better.”

The danger signals in his face had no effect either on her scorn or her discretion. Hot words shot like sparks into the air and ignited a ready explosive. Freddie seized her, and got kicked, slapped and scratched for his audacity. Polly lost her breath, acquired some minor bruises and had her face smothered against an obnoxious chest. While it remained there, another influence entered the scene.

“Do I intrude?” asked Gordon Fentriss politely.

Polly almost toppled over in the suddenness of her release. When she regained her balance, Freddie lunged out, Fentriss courteously making way for him.

Polly’s hair was tousled and her black ey-es blazing in a white and rigid face. Gordon Fentriss’s strangely fixed smile and his oppressive silence were as maddening to her as Freddie’s conduct. She would have blighted him with surplus fury had not a soberer thought arrested her. He must have mistaken the war for a romantic pleasantry popular with the younger set, or he wouldn’t have been so stationary, there at the door. Once he had deliberately thrown her into the lake because she suggested going to a roadhouse with Freddie. What would he do if she threatened to marry Freddie?

“We were just discussing our elopement,” she explained as calmly as she could. “Some time this week. Freddie wants to go to Alaska and fish.”

“Got plenty of angleworms?” asked Fentriss, coming in slowly.

She could learn nothing from his expression, and concluded that he did not believe her in earnest. Freddie was impatient of delays and interruptions, she said; had flung off before their plans were complete. She mentioned her father’s opposition.

The man’s face was inscrutable, his voice without emotion.

“Do you mean this?” he asked, coming a little closer.

Without perceptible hesitation, Polly answered that she did. She said that if he would keep her father occupied that evening, she would meet Freddie quietly and complete their plans. “We w-ant to get off this week.”

TN THE taut silence, Polly glimpsed the steel behind Fentriss’s clear grey eyes, and her own dropped before it.

“I’ll settle this,” he said evenly, “and it will stay settled." He strode from the room and across the lawn, and swiftly got into his car. Assailed by sudden fright, the girl watched him from the window as far as she could see. She knew a dread of what she had started, and tried to excuse herself on the grounds that she so desperately needed help with Freddie. To appeal to her father or have him learn it by chance, would be to invite results noticeable on all seismographs.

Forty minutes later Gordon Fentriss telephoned her to announce that he had indeed settled it.

“I’ve just seen Freddie. We’ve fixed everything,” stated his competent voice. “You’ll leave tomorrow, which is a one day7 and good for beginnings. You are to meet at four o’clock at Pier 6—six is good domestically—catch the Alaska boat and be married in Victoria.”

Completely7 stricken, Polly was powerless to halt the terrible sentences. They ran on, saying he would arrange transportation in the morning and would keep her father occupied in the meantime. When he did give her an opportunity to speak, she was unable to cope with it.

“But—I mean—oh, you didn’t—y7ou ! couldn’t—”

“Not at all,” interrupted the assured accents. “Glad to help. Sorry I can’t see you off, but our new freighter, the Charles, sails tomorrow. Good luck. Hope you catch a whale.” Some time later, Polly noticed uninterestedly that she was still clutching the deserted telephone.

When her father returned, he found her, pale and clouded of face, having her dinner in bed. No, she explained to his clumsy concern, she wasn’t overdrawn or anything. She had a headache and wasn’t seeing people for the time being.

“Daddy,” she continued persuasively, “can I go to Honolulu?”

“You cannot,” said her father instantly. “When do you want to go?”

“Tomorrow,” she said. “Boat sailing at noon. I must have a change, and I can stay with the Chatfields. It would be good for me.”

Her father was of the opinion that the Chatfields wouldn’t be good for anyone.

“And the Stearns miasma would sail on all the next boats. There wouldn’t be any change in that.”

Polly, with touching meekness, offered to give up Freddie immediately, but her father was adamant. The utmost he would concede was a trip the following winter when he would go along and do himself some good.

“We’ll go in one of Gordon's boats. The Charles or the James. They’ve both got owners’ suites which no one uses much.”

A deep, brooding gravity filled Polly’s eyes.

“All right, daddy,” she said submissively.

SHE DID not attend her elopement the following afternoon at Pier 6. Instead, she sat on the edge of a chair in the owner’s suite of the Prince Charles at Pier 13 and prayed that no one would discover her. It had been quite simple to go aboard with the family pass and drift around like a visitor until there was an opportunity to conceal herself. If she encountered Fentriss, she meant to tell him that Freddie was loitering lovingly around the docks and presently they were going to Siam instead of Alaska. Once beyond the harbor, she defied numerology to touch her, or Freddie to climb through windows and pull her hair.

As for being a stowaway, no one could be unpleasant to James Brice’s daughter and her father might even, after suitable blasphemy, send her some money when she reached Honolulu. The one inconvenience was in having to travel with no equipment save what could be crowded into a handbag.

When she heard the rattling and creaking and shouting which proclaimed the Charles’s

departure, lier heart beat so loudly she feared it would drown competitive sounds. But no one came to put her off. Long piers receded, harbor buildings diminished and harbor traffic fell back in a broad wake. There was still a period of waiting before she could feel reasonably secure, and she used it to wonder if Fentriss had really planned with Freddie as he said he did— calling her game to the limit. Of one thing she was sure, she couldn’t play any more until she had a nice long rest. She tried to have a nap on the spot, but it was difficult. At last, made restless by hunger, she approached the windows, puzzled over getting herself discovered, since no one was attending to it for her.

A thin star shone above the embers of the sunset. A solitary gull wheeled in the ashen sky overhead. Outside the door, two men silhouetted against a fading horizon. One of them was Gordon Fentriss.

With a long, spent sigh, Polly quietly unlocked the door, seated herself in the most comfortable chair, and waited for him to come and find her.

When he did, he stood looking down on her without surprise or interest. One glance told her that this was not the neighbor who sat nightly on her porch, nor anyone she had known. This was a hard-eyed stranger whose rights she had usurped.

“Good evening,” she said experimentally. “Are you going my way?”

“It would be more accurate to say that you’re going mine,” he said enigmatically.

Hoping that he would make no mention of Freddie, she explained hastily that she was just running over to Honolulu for a swim, but under the circumstances would now get off at Victoria. To her complete dismay, he informed her in an inflexible voice that the boat didn’t stop at Victoria. Honolulu was the first stop.

She strove for greater impressiveness.

“Then, naturally, I shall jump overboard.”

"Not on my ship. It’s bad luck.” He lighted a cigarette, belatedly offered her one and looked around him reflectively. “I fancy we can make out all right here, but it’s going to be crowded.”

"Crowded !”

He had, he stated crisply, no intention of pacing the deck all the way to Honolulu, nor did he suppose she wanted to. There were no passenger accommodations, and he, for one, was prepared to accept the alternative in his stride.

Polly understood the design back of his words. They were intended to force an unconditional surrender. When she had begged to be put ashore with sufficient humility, he would acquiesce and be himself again. She wasn’t ready to yield.

“What do you think my father will do to you?” she temporized.

"Probably want me to marry you,” he answered, unmoved. “Yes, I’m convinced he’d prefer it. But at the moment, 1 don’t.”

She scowled at him for an instant. •

“My secrets of conquest,” she jeered suddenly. “Or how numerology made me popular again.”

Fentriss seated himself and regarded her with more interest.

“Am I to understand you don’t care for rnv interpretation of the dominant male, after you went to all the trouble and expense of planning it?”

Though she had suspected it all along, Polly could not hide her chagrin over the disclosure.

“Did Joan ... ? You knew?”

He nodded. “Your little friend let you down. Broke under the questioning, as it were. Oddly enough, I am not a fool.”

“Oh.” She subsided into a silence which thickened like fog. Through it his voice came thinly, saying he would have her dinner sent up.

“The less the crew sees of you the better, under the circumstances.” At the door he turned to say that if she locked him out, he would smash his way in.

T EFT alone, Polly stared blindly through the windows. Nothing to look at but a lot of water anyway. On the way home from Victoria, she would plan Joan’s punishment. The problem was to get to Victoria with honor. She knew more about yachts than freighters, but she supposed all boats called there. Tired of the windows, she looked around the charming little salon with acute distaste. At last her aimless glance reached the telephone and clung. She crossed over to it and studied the directory. The chief engineer would probably have a good number. She tried it. Instantly a bluff voice bellowed, “Hello!”

"This is Miss Brice,” she said distinctly. “In Mr. Fentriss's cabin. What time do we reach Victoria?”

“Midnight, miss. Lay over until morning.” The speaker was obviously in a hurry. “Anything else, miss?”

“Not for the time being,” said Polly.

Gordon Fentriss. Expert Liar and Numerologist ! Social Attention to Naughty Little Girls. Polly’s smile was diabolical. It didn’t wholly disappear the while she ate an excellent dinner brought up by a cabin boy, nor through the tedious time that she was left entirely alone. Fentriss did not return until eleven o’clock. When he did, her meagre possessions were scattered around the room with authentic casualness and she was posed before the mirror, doing something with the waves of her hair. Seeing his tall reflection, she bent closer to the glass, apparently studying hei own face. Ilis might be the greater delicacy, but she was after results, let technique fall where it would.

“To think I shall soon be a fallen woman,” she breathed. “I’ve been meditating about it all the time you were gone.”

A single glance was sufficient to tell her that she had struck tinder at last.

“I know how you meditate,” he said shortly. “I’ve seen you at it before. Sorry, but I can’t permit any more of it tonight.”

“But I must,” she insisted, turning from the mirror. “Some things have got to be considered. For instance, I don’t approve of large families under the circumstances.”

“You grieve me.” His voice was steady, but something told her she had better speak fast. Thunder was in the room and the core of it was his darkening face. She hurried on.

“But in the event of twins, say, we could christen them Mauna Loa and Waikiki. Distinctive—and they wouldn’t need another name.”

The storm struck with lightning speed, seizing her and shaking her until the walls and ceiling swam mistily before her eyes.

“You benighted little vixen!” cried Gordon Fentriss roughly and shook her again. “You disgraceful little cannibal! How much more of this do you think I’ll stand before I choke some civilization into you?”

She was limp and unresisting in his arms. Her eyes, wide and expectant, clung to his face. Relaxing his grip, he continued in a quieter tone:

“I was mad about you when I first saw you, and you knew it. I was so much older that I was afraid of your youth, and you took every advantage of it, like the young head hunter you are. But I kept on hoping I’d grow younger, or you’d grow up, or had a heart and not just a fancy face. I even undertook to teach you a few pertinent lessons. But Freddie yesterday was too much. It may interest you to know that I gave Freddie a hiding no liniment will make him forget.”

“Does interest me,” said a small voice.

“I intended leaving you at Victoria,” Fentriss went on, unheeding. “I came away to be free of you. But I’ve changed my mind. I’ll marry you instead, if it kills me. I’ll take you to Honolulu with me, and if I have to beat you every foot of the way I’ll make a lady out of you yet.”

All the brittle young challenge slipped from her face like a mask, and only a vestige of it lingered in her voice.

"An honest woman will be sufficient,” she said happily.