The Summer Beau Company, Ltd.
By Elizabeth M. Gilmer in Cosmopolitan
MISS HENRIETTA RENSHAW was a plump little woman, well groomed, well gowned and frankly forty-five. She belonged to that third sex—the business woman—now in process of evolution under our very eyes, and to subtle and intricate feminine intuitions she added a decision of character and a breadth and clearness of judgment typically masculine.
Had it pleased Providence to create Miss Henrietta a man, she would undoubtedly have been a “promoter.” She had a love of trade for its own sake, the drop of gambler’s blood that lures to new undertakings, and, above all, she possessed the prophetic vision that enables one to see the skyscrapers, the crowded streets, and the smoke stacks of a future metropolis in a corn field where two rival railroads cross each other. In a word, she had insight, imagination, enthusiasm, daring—all the qualities that would have rendered her a star in the financial heavens had she been per-
mitted to fulfil the destiny for which she was intended.
Unfortunately, however, there are no blunders more tragical, or more frequent, than those of gender, and Miss Henrietta was a victim of one of these. With all the instincts of a Napoleon of finance she had been thrust by life into the petticoat contingent, whose participation in commercial affairs is mostly by proxy. This hampered her activity, but it did not throttle it. Perceiving that the market report section of the daily paper had more interest for her than the society column, and that no man had ever been able to raise in her breast the genuine heartthrob that she experienced when she executed, alone and unadvised, a neat little coup in real estate, she deliberately espoused a business career instead of a matrimonial one.
This was not because she was under the femininely painful necessity of actually supporting herself. She had inherited from her father a sort of Saturday-to-Monday fortune—the kind of income that enables a single
woman to live luxuriously if she understands the gentle art of eking out her finances by fishing for invitations, and that, if she doesn’t, permits her to exist plainly on bread and butter.
“But why,” demanded Miss Henrietta of those who branded it “new” in a woman to yearn for independence and plenty to eat, “but why should I visit when I loathe it ? And why should I subsist on bread and butter when I have a sweet tooth and a long thrist, and hanker after cakes and ale?”
Nobody being able to supply the answer to this conundrum, she followed her bent, and after having perfected herself in stenography, as offering the closest approach that a woman is likely to get to the commercial whirlpool where big things are evolved, she entered the broking office of Banks & Blanks.
The ensuing years were a time of pure delight for her. The plotting of involved financial campaigns became the very breath of her nostrils. She gloried in the golden battle of the street, where men fought each other with dollars instead of with shot and shell. She had come to her own people, and it was not long before her employers, wearied and disheartened by a long succession of uninterested and perfunctory machine-like secretaries, recognized in her a kindred spirit. They began to confide their plans to her. Then, finding that she had that sixth sense of woman that enable her to take a flying leap at a conclusion and land on it with both feet, they fell into the way of making use of it, and of depending on her divinations of a situation to point the wise course when logic and experience failed to supply the tip as to whether it was better to buy or sell.
Such a life was absorbingly interesting and exciting, but it was also exhausting, and it was Miss Henrietta’s habit to repair each summer for rest to the Purple Sulphur Springs, a delightful and fashionable resort in the mountains, which happily combined the charms of nature and good society. So far as she was individually concerned, this place was ideal, for Miss
Henrietta had reached the time of life when physical comfort had become the standard by which she measured her environment, and the board, the beds, and the baths of the Purple Sulphur were beyond criticism. Moreover, she had also attained the state of grace where she could enjoy the entertaining conversation of a woman quite as much as the dull platitudes of a man, and of agreeable feminine companionship the Purple Sulphur afforded an unlimited supply.
But Miss Henrietta, looking about her, saw that, delightful as she found this summer resort, it presented a far different aspect to the two hundred or more young girls who had gathered there from all parts of the country. For them the trail of the serpent was over it all. It was a place of hopeless striving and struggle, a stream that they whipped in vain for fish, a wilderness in which no game rewarded the chase, for, alas! the Purple Sulphur was an Adamless Eden. Half a dozen senile old gentlemen, galvanized into a sort of spurious animation and gallantry by the presence of so much youth and freshness ; a score of beardless boys, so callow that they seemed just to have been snatched from their perambulators; an occasional flashy drummer who dropped in for the Saturday night ball; with barely one or two eligible males of marriageable age, so frightened at the danger they confronted that they confined their attentions to married women—such as the roster of the sex without whose presence “hops” are as soup without salt, and a summer hotel a barren desert.
“And to think,” reflected Miss Henrietta, “of all this aggregation of youth and beauty and good clothes being wasted on that collection of masculine freaks ! Think of these girls dressing three times a day for doddering old beaus that are too blind to see what they have got on ! Think of these fascinating creatures wasting their smiles and allurements on hobbledehoys that are too inexperienced even to know that they are being flirted with, and don’t know enough to follow a lead when it is given to
them ! Think of the champagne lunches that these devoted mamas are wasting, trying to corral men that they wouldn’t look at through a telescope at home !
“My goodness, it’s pitiful ! it’s tragical ! Here are a lot of girls who have spent hundreds of dollars apiece getting ready to go off and have a good time, and whose fond parents stand ready to spend hundreds more to give them a good time, but they can’t, because there are no men around and there isn’t a bit of use in talking about a girl enjoying herself without a man around handy.
“It’s impossible. It can’t be done. What does a girl care for scenery except as a background for sentiment? Nothing. What does she care for dancing unless there is a man to two-step with her? My soul, when a woman sees two other women waltzing together, she feels like breaking out into sympathetic sobs on the spot. What does a girl care for poetry, or taking walks, or playing golf if she has to do it with another petticoat? She loathes, and hates, and despises them. Of course, sometimes she makes out that she enjoys it, but the pretense is so hollow you can hear it rattle if you get within earshot of it.
“I tell you the great, crying need of this day is for plenty of summer
beaus, -” but at this point Miss
Henrietta interrupted her soliloquy with a gasp, for a bright and daring thought had flashed into her mind. “The people who make fortunes are those who supply a long-felt want,” she said solemnly to herself. “Mr. Rockefeller furnished coal-oil to a world that was reading by candles. Mr. Jones supplied boneless codfish. Mr. Smithers, self-cooking breakfast food. All are multimillionaires. Why shouldn’t I become rich by supplying beaus to the beauless summer girls who want partners to dance with, and men to flirt with, and who have fathers able to pay for all such luxuries?”
All winter the idea germinated in Miss Henrietta’s mind. The more she thought of it the better it looked to
her, and spring found her with her plans perfected and ready to be carried into execution. Accordingly, one day early in May, she presented herself in the office of the president of a small eastern college that is much patronized by ambitious young men who work their way through school by going west to harvest grain, or by becoming waiters and porters at summer resorts during their vacations. Miss Henrietta considered it neither expedient nor necessary to confide her scheme to the president. She merely stated that she proposed to employ some young men for the summer, that she was prepared to pay good salaries, and that the work she wished done was light, honest, and honorable, and entirely aboveboard.
“I want,” she said, “twenty young men. They must be of good character, good looking, with good figures and pleasing address. One of them must have shown some proficiency in the elocution class, and be able to read aloud agreeably, and I should prefer that the rest be men who have taken part in college athletics, and understand outdoor games and sports, though I would be willing to waive this last consideration in favor of a serious young man who dotes on Ibsen and has views on the Higher Life.”
The president, although somewhat mystified, supplied Miss Henrietta with the names of a number of young men who were paying their own way through school, and that night they assembled in her room at the hotel and listened while she unfolded her plans.
“I simply wish you to do for pay,” she said, “precisely what the majority of you would do for fun, if you had the money. If you accept my offer I’ll give you a salary, provide you with the necessary clothes, and pay your expenses at a summer hotel, and in return I shall expect you to promenade up and down the gallery, golf, dance, play tennis, read poetry, walk, ride, or boat with some designated young woman—and even make love to her, if it is desired. There will be nothing dishonorable in your atten-
tions, for the girl and her chaperon will have first arranged the matter with me, and will know that your ‘Oh, Promise Me/ is no more personal than when a paid singer warbles such sentiment over the footlights. I think you will understand the matter more clearly if you will read the little pricelist that I have arranged for confidential distribution, and that I will privately slip into the proper hands.” Thereupon Miss Henrietta gave to each of the young men a little typewritten slip whu:h read as follows:
THE SUMMER BEAU CO., LIMITED.
(Private and Confidential.) Conversation and general attentions from blond young man, Gibson type, or from dark young man, with black mus-
tlache (choice) ...............per hr. $1.00
Promenade up and down gallery of hotel (do. men, choice)...per trip .25 Dancing, walzes (with assorted
men) each dance.........................50
Three for $1. Whole evening. 5.00 Boating (escort in white flannels)
.........................................per hr. 1.50
Golf (chaperon to furnish highballs).................... per hr. 1.50
Reading poetry under trees, Kipling...............*...............per hr. .75
Reading poetry under trees, Swinburne..............................per hr. 1.00
Reading poetry under trees, Browning.................................per hr. 2.50
Moonlight stroll (with appropriate
line of talk).....................per hr. 2.00
Flagging mountain (with athletic youth in knickerbockers)...per hr. 1.75
Mild flirtation ..................per wk. 25.00
Pronounced flirtation......per.wk. 50.00
Mad infatuation...............per wk. 75.00
Steady, effective devotion (guaranteed to make other girls envious)
. ......................................per wk 80.00
Assorted variety of beaus (enough to produce reputation of being a
belle).....................per wk. 100.00
Football heroes, slightly advanced rutes. Fifty per cent, discount on attentions of men over fifty and under twenty years of age.
Absolute secrecy assured.
Under the personal direction of Miss Henrietta Renshaw.
After having perused Miss Henrietta’s little explanatory price-list the young men looked at one another with doubt and hesitation in their faces.
“It seems so odd and unusual,” said one.
“It is unusual,” admitted Miss Hen-
rietta, “but everything is unusual when it is new.”
“I don’t know about making love to a girl by schedule,” objected another.
“It is much less laborious work than cutting wheat on a Kansas farm,” returned Miss Henrietta suavely, “and I should think that it would be much more agreeable to make goo-goo eyes across a hotel table than to stand behind a chair and wait on her.”
“But,” put in a third, “won’t we be objects of derision? Won’t everybody know when we are giving a girl a rush that we are not doing it because we are infatuated with her but because we are paid to do it?”
“Set your mind at rest upon that score,” Miss Henrietta declared with conviction, “because there are two things no woman ever tells anybody. One is her age ; the other is the means she uses to secure a man’s attentions.”
“All right, then, we'll go,” cried the young men with fervor.
The bargain thus happily concluded, Miss Henrietta made an appointment to meet them the middle of June in New York, at a fashionable tailor’s where she would arrange to provide them with suitable wardrobes for the summer campaign. “For,” said she, “even more than in her own adornment, a woman takes pride in the smart attire of the man with whom she is seen in public. More men have won women by the cut of their coats than ever did by their intelligence or morals.”
From the first Miss Henrietta’s scheme worked perfectly, and The Summer Beau Company, Ltd., was a great, if unheralded, success from its very inception. The young men, handsome, agreeable, attentive, all apparently devoted to ladies’ society and all—wonderful to tell—dancing men, created a sensation at the hotel where they had descended like heaven-sent manna. Nor did the miracle stop there. Many a girl who had been languishing, a forlorn wallflower, suddenly burst into bloom as a belle immediately following a twilight stroll that her mother took
with Miss Henrietta, but the onlookers were too dull to put two and two together, and trace effect from cause.
Absolute silence reigned supreme concerning Miss Henrietta’s financial and philanthropic little scheme. No girl lacked for attentions. The ballroom was thronged every night. Never had the hotel known so gay and full a season. And Miss Henrietta remitted checks to her bankers that made their eyes bulge.
It was while everything was at this high tide of prosperity that she had her attention arrested one morning by a moody and discontented young woman, whom she encountered sitting on a bench in a lonely part of the grounds near a bluff that was celebrated as the identical Lover’s Leap from which an Indian maiden had hurled herself to death when forsaken by her lover. The girl was known to Miss Henrietta as Louise Alliway, the daughter of a western millionaire. She and her mother had been at the Springs for something like two weeks, and, from the first, Miss Henrietta . had been attracted to her by her beauty and grace, and by something wistful and sad in her face that did not accord with her youth and all the gifts that fortune had showered upon her.
Miss Henrietta, skilled in reading character and in deducing conclusions from a fitting expression, saw that the girl was fighting with herself some battle of love, or pride, or ambition, and that some days the victory veered one way, and some, another. It was, therefore, with some hesitation that she delicately and tactfully broached the subject of The Summer Beau Company, Ltd., and gently insinuated that Miss Alliway might find that the society of the agreeable young men on her staff would relieve the ennui from which the young lady seemed to be suffering.
“One must be amused on a summer vacation, you know, my dear,” she concluded lamely.
At her first words the girl had flushed crimson with indignation, and her lips trembled with scorn, but before Miss Henrietta concluded her
halting speech a queer look of sudden determination leaped into her eyes.
“I wdll take it all,” she cried fiercely. “I will pay you a hundred dollars a week to be made a belle, and if you will guarantee to make me so howlingly popular that nobody else—no other man that may come to the Springs— can get within a mile of me, I will give you three hundred—four hundred—five—anything you want.”
“Done !” exclaimed Miss Henrietta.
“But why? You are not a girl who cares a fig for the common, vulgar, everyday admiration of every Tom, Dick, and Harry.”
‘T have a reason,” replied Louise Alliway seriously, “and it’s a man. Perhaps I shouldn’t tell you such a story as mine, but I need you to help me play the game, ad so I am going to make a clean breast of it.
“I am engaged to a man named Dick Burton. I have been engaged to him ever since we were children. It’s one of those family affairs that are such suitable matches they never come off. Our fathers are business partners; our mothers are intimate friends. Dick and I have been brought up in the same religion and politics and with the same taste in pie, and it has always been understood that when we grew up we would consolidate the money and social prestige of the two families by marrying, and thus keep everything in the firm, so to speak.
“We have always known that we were destined to marry each other and that we would do it eventually, but its being so settled somehow seemed to take the snap and interest out of it —at least for Dicky. He knew that he could have me any time he wanted me, and it made him feel that he needn’t be in any hurry to foreclose his mortgage. Of course it looks like he isn’t very madly in love with me, but I believe that he cares more for me than he realizes himself. It’s just my misfortune that I have been sort of thrust on him, you know, and there was no difficulty in the way. It’s like having the cooky-jar always standing around where you can reach it too easily. It palls on your palate.
“But I—I—I love him. Yes; with all my heart and soul, and so I have been hanging around waiting for him to come and take me, always ready to see him, happy when he noticed me, miserable when he forgot me, and eager to forgive him when he said he was sorry for neglecting me.
“At last I couldn’t stand it any longer. My pride wouldn’t let me. I made up my mind that I would go away from him, and leave him if it killed me to do it. And I made mama bring me here, where he couldn’t drop in on me when he had nothing else to do, and have me study his moods to soothe him when other people had provoked him. I determined that the next move, if there was any next, should be made by him.
“And it has. When he found that I had gone without weeping at leaving him, or making him promise to write to me every day, he seemed surprised. When the days passed without me, he began to miss me, and for the first time in his life, instead of dictating a line to his typewriter, he has written me long letters with his own hand. I haven’t answered a one, though I have had to wear gloves to keep from doing it. I made mama drop him a note, and lie gloriously in it. She told him that I was having such a hilarious time that I didn’t have a minute to myself, but that I was happy and well. The result came this morning. He wired me that he will be here to-night.
“You see? It’s a poor trick, but when he comes I want him to find me so surrounded with men that are apparently clamoring for my hand that he will feel that he has got to snatch me away from them or lose me. It’s my last throw, and I am going to save my heart, or my self-respect—• one or the other.”
“I am with you, and it’s a go,” cried Miss Henrietta in a voice that united the certainty of one who can deliver the goods with the sympathy of a sister woman. “You’ll win out, or çlse The Rummer Beau Company goes into bankruptcy and shuts up shop.”
She was as good as her word. In
an hour every man belonging to her staff had been detailed to special duty about Miss Alliway, and urged to fervor of effort, and when Mr. Richard Burton arrived, prepared to monopolize his fiancee’s society as of yore, he found himself checkmated at every turn. Did he propose a stroll to her, she was so sorry, but a young gentleman who was a sartorial vision was even then coming up the walk to accompany her to a leafy dell on the other side of the mountain. Did he challenge her to a game of tennis, she couldn’t accept, because a youth in a dream of a blazer was awaiting her on the court. Talk to him? Miss Alliway declared she was desolated that she couldn’t give him even a minute just then, but Mr. Percival Percy was going to finish reading his love-sonnets to her under the trees.
“I’d like to ask you to join us, Dick,” she said, “for Percy—Mr. Percival I mean—reads so divinely; but three’s sort of a crowd, isn’t it, when a poet is reading his own poems? Poetry is so personal.”
. “Don’t mention it. Nothing would induce me to intrude,” returned Dick huffily, and Miss Alliway sailed serenely off, a cheerful light in her eyes.
Matters did not improve when Dick found that night that instead of choosing among her dances, as he was accustomed to do, she had not reserved him a single one. Before the hop opened every dance, and every possible extra, was engaged, and he had no choice but to stand around and watch her floating off in the arms of various immaculate-looking young men.
“Hang it all, Lu,” he cried at last furiously to her, “I don’t like it. I can’t get in a word with you edgeways, and here we are engaged and as good as married, almost.”
“Not at all,” returned Miss Alliway serenely, “and while I have my freedom I intend to enjoy it.”
“Well,” replied Mr. Burton with heavy emphasis, “you’ll have it for a mighty short time, for you have got to marry me next week. I guess that I am man enough to take care of my own,” he added with grim emphasis,
“and if you think that I am going to let any of these measly, little tailor’s dummies win you away from me, you have got another guess coming to you, that’s all.”
Miss Alliway coyly objected, but Mr. Burton was firm, and in the end she allowed herself to be persuaded to return west with him to prepare for a hasty wedding, and as the train thundered toward the setting sun the happy bridegroom-elect congratulated himself upon having snatched the belle of the Springs away from her suitors.
Three months later Miss Alliway’s
fond and indulgent papa, auditing the expense account of his daughter’s wedding, came upon a canceled check for five hundred dollars made payable to the order of Miss Henrietta Renshaw.
“My dear,” he said to beaming Mrs. Burton, who had just dropped into his office in her bridal finery to pay him a morning call, “my dear, what was that for?”
“That,” replied the former Miss Alliway, with a twinkle in her eye, “that was for value received.”