Love and the Locksmith
The First of a Series of Love Stories
Ethel Watts Mumford
MRS. CHALLONER glanced nervously at her reflection in the long, old-fashioned pier glass, and perceived a small, dainty figure surmounted by a youthful face in a frame of prematurely white hair. The face was piquant and vivacious, set, as with jewels, with two eyes of sapphire blue, whose black lashes made the silver hair more startling by contrast. Mrs. Challoner was about to show herself "on approval,’ and was consequently apprehensive and self-conscious. Left a widow, and suddenly thrown on her own resources, she had faced the menacing future with a challenge. She had but one asset. She was well connected both at home and abroad. A thorough linguistic education and years of care-free lounging about Europe had given her an intimate knowledge of many capitals, and a really enviable entrée therein. She had capitalized the capitals, and was to sail shortly, to be received in London by her old friends, the Folsoms and Twinings, who would entrust to her shepherding three charming girls for a prolonged stay on the continent. Her entree had won for her a sufficiently exorbitant retainer to enable the chaperone to live luxuriously and still provide for the proverbial rainy day. And, now, a new piece of luck had be-
Mr. Loomis—Benjamin Loomis, the multi-millionaire powder manufacturer— had sent her a polite note requesting an interview, concluding with an invitation to luncheon at his residence for the purpose of meeting his daughter. Elida, whom it was his intention to confide to her care for a half year of foreign excursioning. Hence, the nervous glance of Mrs. Challoner at her really charming reflection in the old-fashioned hall mirror of her boarding house. The puce-colored limousine palpitated at the foot of the step, waiting to take her, yet she hesitated. Rumor had it that the lovely Elida was difficult—what the mothers of the last generation would have called notional.
For the first time in her life Mrs. Challoner feared disapproval, as she settled back in the deep cushions with a sigh of comfort. It was like old times, when she rode in her own lavishly appointed car, without a thought for to-morrow, save for the gowns wherewith to grace the whirling round of pleasure. The first sigh was
of physical satisfaction, the second, wistful; the third, as she alighted before the huge white facade of the Loomis mansion, trepidation. Could she have divined the respectful admiration of the chauffeur and the footman she might have been reassured. They knew quality when they saw it. A moment later she was ushered into a large and magnificently comfortless Louis XVI. drawing-room, which proclaimed with all the vociferousness of inanimate objects, the hand of the interior decorator in the House of the Widower. A disorderly pile of tango music on the white and gold of the piano, gave the only personal note. One welcomed the gaudy cover designs and the staring lettering of such classics as “The Robert E. Lee" and “Come, Hug Your Mama, Baby Boy,” as a relief to the general saccharine perfec-
A HEAVY step in the hall announced the coming of her host. She turned guiltily from her contemplation of the efforts of “Up-to-Date Calliope,” and saw before her a thick-set, heavy-jowled man of fifty, with hair still thick and black, whose eyes, blue as her own, were fixed upon her in frank appraisal.
“Glad to see you, Mrs. Challoner,” he rumbled in a heavy bass, that seemed to threaten the stability of the Sèvre vases and Dresden groups. “I must say, you don’t look a match for my daughter.”
Mrs. Challoner blushed peony-pink at this abrupt frankness. “Oh,” was all she could say, mechanically surrendering a gloved hand.
“You see,” he continued, “she needs a firm rule, Elida does. You’ll have to be severe with her, mark my words, and she’ll stand watching, too. Not that she isn’t a perfectly honorable, respectable sort,” he added quickly.
This extraordinary resumé of a daughter’s peculiarities further disconcerted Mrs. Challoner, who contributed a strangled, “Indeed.”
“Yes,” he boomed. “I had hoped you were as big as a policeman, and old enough to bark like a mastiff. But I guess you’ll do all right, if you are warned. Lay down the law to her; and don’t be too sympathetic. You see, she has had a painful love affair; broke her engagement with a young chap—my partner’s son, Gerald Gains. He’s treated her abominably. I’ve quite approved of her chucking the sculpin. But he may try to reach her either by letter or otherwise. Remember, it’s my special wish that she shall be protected from him.”
“Yes,” she assured him, recovering her dignity and self-possession. “I quite understand. But since Miss Loomis has broken the engagement, I feel sure she will be free from intrusion.”
“Now, as to terms,” he continued, “anything you say suits me. Just make me out some sort of statement; I’ve taken the liberty of securing the suite I always have on the Cwmparania, which sails Thursday. You’ll find it very comfortable. And, by the way, you aren’t to deduct the transportation from your bill. By jove,” he added, with clumsy admiration, "I begin to wish I were going, too.
And now, if you’ll come, we’ll have lunch. There’s Elida now.”
'T' HE long glass doors opened to admit -*■ a vision of loveliness. Mrs. Challoner looked and felt that the austere demeanor required of her was an impossibility. Who could discipline Cupid himself — roguish, charming, endearing even in his follies—and this surely must be Cupid’s sister. From under Elida’s little trotteur hat escaped rings of shining gold. The perfect oval of her face was pure and transparently lovely as a pink pearl. Her eyes, slightly up-tilted, were as twin turquoises. One lost in the extraordinary perfection of the features and coloring, the determining factor of that apparently artless face, a very firmly moulded mouth and a well-constructed chin. That almost imperceptibly aggressive touch accounted for a certain faint resemblance between the otherwise contrasting father and daughter. There could be no doubt about it, they could both be determined and resourceful. Elida smiled—a smile of beguiling witchery, and Mrs. Challoner capitulated.
“I understand,” she said, cordially, "that you are to be my charge, Miss Loomis.”
The girl’s smile had faded, leaving a wistful look.
“Yes, indeed,” she responded cordially. “I know I need a change; it will do me good. And it’s very kind of you, Mrs. Challoner, to take me under your wing—”
“That is enough,” interrupted Mr. Loomis. “I’m dying of hunger; besides, I’ve got to get back to the office.”
A ND seated presently at the extravagantly appointed table, they were served a Gargantuan meal. Mr. Loomis ate ravenously, but Mrs. Challoner noticed that Elida scarcely touched her food. There was a moment’s pause in the conversation when, “What’s your little name?” the host demanded abruptly.
“Jeanne,” said Mrs. Challoner, nonplused.
“Good,” he laughed. “I’ve been looking at you and I couldn’t for the life of me imagine what sort of a little name you would have. Well, boys and girls, I’ve got to leave you now. Perfectly delighted
to have had the pleasure of knowing you —and—and, well—you may have heard me called the Powder King,” he chuckled, “but, believe me, that over there,” indicating his daughter, who cast him a protesting glance, “that’s dynamite. So don't let a spark get near it—you’re warned Good-bye.”
He was gone. His departure seemed to leave a hole in the air. so dominant and solid was his personality. Elida leaned her elbows on the lace table-cloth.
“You mustn’t mind father,” she said, dimpling. “I’m sure I don’t know why he wanted to frighten you. But he’s really an old dear, you know.”
Politely, but with mental reservation, Mrs. Challoner agreed. But when she took her leave it was with mixed feelings of pleasure and foreboding.
A week passed, a hurried week of preparation. Twice during that time Mr. Loomis sought her, bringing the future arbiter and her charge together for a hurried luncheon or an elongated dinner. Always he was disconcerting, abrupt, almost terrifying. Certainly she was far from earning his disapprobation, but she begun to fear that if she ever did, something awful, possibly an explosion, must
SAILING day arrived at last. She found the most costly and luxurious suite on the costly and luxurious liner. There were many gifts and remembrances from many affectionate and sympathetic friends, but they were lost in the smother of American Beauties with which Mr. Loomis showered their departure. As the siren blew, he left them at the gangplank.
“Well, Childie,” he said, kissing hiB daughter loudly, "you’re a sensible girl to kick that chap out and put the seas between you. And, mind, if he writes, don’t you dare open his letters—understand?” Elida blushed scarlet and glanced at Mrs. Challoner.
Her father guffawed. “That’s all right. She knows; has my instructions—so that's all right. Good luck to you. Little Chaperone.”
Mrs. Challoner would have resented the "little,” but she did not have time—he was gone. The ship warped along her giant pier, and presently swung into midstream, headed and tailed by panting trgs. The voyage had begun.
DOWN the great river they crept, elbowing the Battery, with its extraordinary silhouette of impossibly tall towers, out through the Narrows and away to a grey, ever-receding horizon. The older woman had been lost in reminiscences. Under what different circumstances she had last stood at the rail and watched America fade in the distance! She shook self-pity from her with a firm little shrug, and turned a bright glance at her companion.
Elida’s face was tragic, with the despairing, concentrated tragedy of extreme youth. The Chaperone opened her mouth to question, then wisely forebore. She turned away tactfully, pretending to watch the goings and comings of their fellow passengers. Then, excusing herself, she sought the deck steward, arranged for chairs, and selected strategic positions. She even took a turn or two about the deck before returning, but when at last she rejoined Elida the girl’s face had not relaxed nor had her position changed.
The fact was that Miss Loomis, for once
in her life, was introspective, and selfstudy, while enlightening, proved to be discomforting. For the first time since she and Gerald had quarrelled, she began to question whether she had been wholly right after all. Her absolute conviction that she had been justified in the violence of her resentment and anger began to ebb away.
Mrs. Challoner could not
divine the nature of the distress, but it hurt her to see the lines of pain on that unclouded brow.
“Come to the cabin, and let’s read for a while,” she advised sympathetically. “We are both dead tired, aren’t we?”
Mechanically Elida lifted her head from her hands and her elbows from the rail, and followed to the stateroom. The sofa was piled high with flower and candy boxes, and mysterious bundles of suggestive shapes which they had not yet had time to investigate. Mrs. Challoner “made herself comfortable,” which process also made her even more daintily attractive, and began an ordered investigation—opening parcels addressed to her, and placing the others together.
All at once her charge flushed. Her eye had caught the end of a familiar beflowered carton affected by the florist, whose specialty—gardenias—Gerald was wont to lavish at her shrine. She “hoped Gerald wouldn’t dare,” and the next moment hoped against hope that he had remembered her. Gerald had dared, not only to “remember,” but to write. A thick envelope lay among the blooms. She crushed back the cover and thrust the box aside.
TT OW supremely impertinent! But he -*H. was suffering—deservedly, no doubt, but suffering. Perhaps—oh, a very fdbnt perhaps—she had been unjust in refusing an interview, an explanation. Her father had seemed to feel that way—at first; but then had he not become so convinced that she had been ill-treated, that he forthwith forbade her to speak to Gerald again—son, though he was, of his old friend and partner? He certainly had. And to touch that thick letter lying there
surrounded by gardenias—like a corpse of dead love! Even to open it would be disobedience, flat disobedience! With a nonchalant gesture she leaned forward, picked up the box, and extracted the letter. She glanced guiltily at Mrs. Challoner; but that lady was busy with her own concerns. Murmuring something unintelligible, the girl crossed the little sittingroom to her own stateroom. Of course, she must tear the letter up unread. Once in her own sanctuary, however, she began to waver, then, with sudden decision, she opened the envelope, and greedily mastered the contents. The first page left her deliriously happy, the second furiously angry, the third developed a new desire to be reasonable and logical, as he implored her to be. She acknowledged to herself that hers was a real temper—not a bad temper, but quick, “because she was sensitive.” Her mind clutched at the excuse which Gerald had tactfully put forward—but he had woefully hurt her feelings — he acknowledged it himself. She tossed the missive on the bed and began to feel very lonely. She was surprised to find how much she missed her father. Yes, without a doubt, she was homesick. And, besides, Gerald was a brute to have written her that way. The more she thought, the greater grew the feeling of homesickness—it surely must be that—and then self-pity came in an overwhelming rush — tears, real tears, were imminent.
She was so lonely — so lonely! She longed for her father. She had been selfish to leave him. She was a dreadfully selfish girl anyway. Oddly enough it was not the familiar face and form of her de-
serted and perfectly self-sufficient parent that intruded before the eyes of her imagination, but the strong face and athletic proportions of the young man who had written her with such detestable frankness.
She closed her eyes once more and strove to gain calm and selfcontrol. It was perfectly ridiculous to feel tWs way when she was doing just what she wanted to do. She ought to be delighted with everything and looking forward to the trip with eager excitement and anticipation—but-
She sighed and opened her eyes to meet those of the sympathetic chaperone.
“Poor darling!” she heard, vaguely. “You don’t feel well. I’m afraid. I’ll tell you what we’ll do. We’ll have our dinner on deck in the good fresh air.”
The patient shook her head. She did not care to explain that the location of hçr ailment was the region of the heart.
“I’ll just stay here—I’d rather. I'll be quite all right in the morning. I was up very late last night, you know—I guess I’m tired. But thank you so much; you’re so good to me.”
Two white arms drew Mrs. Challoner’s face down.
“You’re awfully sweet—and I am all right, I only feel a little upset. Please go in to dinner. I’ll call the stewardess if I need anything—and—and—I just want to be alone.”
Switching off the electrics as she went, Mrs. Challoner retired. She knew from experience that quiet was the one thing desirable for mal-de-mer. She went in alone to dinner.
ELIDA remained quite still for some time hearing the music of the bugle echo in the passages, the bustle of dinnerward turned voyagers, then the tinkle of trays being carried to the incapacitated. She became nervous, restless, twitching, unable to lie still. After all, that suggestion of the deck chair might be a good one. She rose, wrapped herself up, sought Continued on page 104
Love and the Locksmith
Continued from page 28.
herself in the most sheltered place, where friendly -darkness surrounded her. The sounds of wind and water were soothing. The mauve-grey sky was pricked with quiet stars—peace extended healing wings above her. She became aware that someone else had sought this silent time and place for recreation or contemplation.
A tall man in a long ulster was pacing back and forth, pausing now and then to lean upon the rail and watch the gurgling water overside. Idly at first she observed his coming and going. There seemed something familiar in his walk the bulk of him, as he silhouetted against the sky— even the whiff of tobacco smoke that was wafted to her nostrils as he passed, evoked something sweet and companionable. The man was smoking a pipe, a stubby pipe, such as Gerald used. Now he passed quite close to her. Elida gasped, her eyes opened wide, her heart stopped beating. It was—it couldn’t be—it was!
She leaned far forward, throwing aside the rug that covered her. The light from a state-room porthole fell on her golden hair, gave a revealing, glistening curve to her round, firm cheek and chin. The man stopped short; the pipe fell unheeded tothe deck.
“Ellie!” he exclaimed. “Ellie! I couldn’t stand it—I couldn’t let you go! I came aboard at the last minute—forgive me!”
But Elida’s feelings had undergone a change, sudden as magic. She no longer wished to be reasonable. “What do you mean?” she demanded furiously, “by writing me such a wicked, cruel letter? How
dare you come near me? You ought to be ashamed of yourself.”
She rose with iron haughtiness, drew her veil about her head, and turned to go.
But he was beside her, holding her back, his strong hands on her slim young should-
“No, you shan’t go, Elida. You’ve treated me abominably,” he exclaimed. “You are angry because I told you you were stubborn—that’s what's the matter with you now. But I don’t care—so am I, stubborn as a yellow mule, and 1 love you just the same. I’m not going to let yqu go away from me. I’m not going to let you put the world between us. Look me in the eyes and dare tell me you don't love me?”
HER resistance was melting like snow in the sun. But another angle of offence appeared to her. How dare he come, with the charm of his presence and the music of his voice, to blind and bind her just indignation !
“You’re cruel! You’re unfair!" she wailed. “What right have you to follow me and talk me into forgiving you! — I hate you !”
He laughed happily—a joyous laugh of
With a sob of fury at her own weakness she broke from him, and ran toward the companion way and the sanctuary of her state-room.
But he caught up with her, and in the dark, where the light from the salon entrance made the shadows denser, he held her rapturously to his breast, and kissed
She was almost voiceless with emotion. Her heart beat frantically, her breath seemed to wrench itself from her panting body. But she was not her father’s daughter for nothing. Controlling herself with a mighty effort, she freed herself from his embrace.
“I will listen,'” she said indignantly, “to what you have to say in explanation of your conduct.”
MRS. CHALLONER on leaving the dinner table went at once to Elida’s room. The nest was empty. Mrs. Challoner smiled and nodded to herself, and sought the cool of the deck. Elida’s rug lay in a heap on the foot of her chair. But Elida was nowhere to be seen. Mrs. Challoner made a hasty tour of inspection—the reading and writing salons, the upper deck, even the café and lounge. She returned fluttering to the leeward deck. Not daring to ask for help in ho»search, she frantically ransacked the ship again. No Elida ! Memories of the girl’s tragic face came to her. It couldn't be possible that in a moment of depression!—no—no—of course not—nonsense! But fear lent her wings. Back and forth she fluttered, trembling, up and down corridors, around every remote corner of the decks, peering, wide-eyed, into strange, surprised
All at once there appeared before her, leisurely descending the companion ladder from the boat deck, the object of her frightened search hanging upon the affectionate assistance of a young man. “Elida!” almost screamed Mrs. Chal-
The culprit was completely self-satisfied, even radiant. Her eyes shone, two deep dimples enriched her cheeks, the golden head was all but pillowed on her companion’s shoulder.
“This is Mr. Gains, Mrs. Challoner,” she introduced, a challenge in her tone.
“Gerald Gains, you know. Father spoke to you about him.”
“He did, indeed ! I understood that Mr. Gains has forfeited his right to be called your friend. I am, therefore, at a loss to explain his presence here.”
The youth was unabashed.
“I’m awfully sorry,” he began, smiling in a most disarming manner. “The truth is, I sneaked aboard at the last minute. I hadn’t had an opportunity of putting things right with my—with Miss Loomis, and I made up my mind that the ship was the one place where I had her trapped— so here I am.” He said it as one expecting congratulations.
Mrs. Challoner remembered the injunction, “be firm,” and her words came cleanminted. stamped with determination and conviction.
“Mr. Gains, I place you on your honor. You will please not attempt to communicate with Miss Loomis. Miss Loomis is in my care. I have her father’s minute instructions with regard to you. I stand in a position of absolute authoritv. Come. Elida.”
At the tone of command the girl flamed.
“I will not!” she said with finality. “If you are my chaperone, Mrs. Challoner, you have no more authority over me than my own father. And he has none. I am twenty-two years old, and free and white.”
The blood receded from the older woman’s face. She was about to answer the defiance with severity, when Gerald spoke.
“Elida, Mrs. Challoner is in an awful hole. She’s been made your boss for the time being anyhow; there’s no use in being unkind.”
The girl reluctantly assented.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Challoner,” she apologized, “I’ll come with you of course, Goodnight, Gerald.”
The group dissolved. Elida turned toward her cabin. Gains bowed and retired in the direction of the smoking room.
“And now what’s to be done!” cried little Mrs. Challoner in dismay.
As if in answer to her question the voice of a wireless messenger calling a name came to her. Of course! A wireless message to Mr. Loomis’ Mrs. Challoner’s soul quailed. She wished, indeed, that she had been “big as a policeman and old enough to bark like a mastiff.” Good heavens; how should she tell him? His dominating personality rose before her, his mighty voice raised in words of warning and command sounded in her frightened ears. But she must. She would be firm. She would justify his trust in her.
She sought the wireless house and with trembling fingers wrote out her S.O.S.
THE next day dawned pale gold and rose pink, with a splash of deep bronze-red on the horizon. Mrs. Challoner knew, because she saw it, after a sleepless night, haunted by visions of irate parents and heartless ogres who ate little girls. Armed neutrality existed between her and her charge. She arose early and tramped the deck. Almost the first round brought her face to face with the disturber of her peace.
Gains, with his most seductive manner, requested an interview during the morning.
“Certainly not!” she replied and passed on, praying for a reply to her wireless appeal.
She breakfasted with Elida in the sitting-room of their suite, without mentioning the incident of the meeting. The mutineer looked too disarmingly alluring in
her little mobcap, and the engaging intimacy of her balanced blue negligee. How could any healthy-minded man fail to succumb to such a lovely example of feminine charm? She began to sympathize with Gerald. She realized her own short-comings as a Gorgon, as guardian of such treasure she was a hopeless failure. She wondered how two and a half pairs of parents had ever been so blind as to trust her in that capacity.
A knock on the door startled them. A stewardhanded in a wireless message, which Mrs. Challoner scanned with a beating heart.
“Forbid that young man to speak to my daughter on any pretext—Benjamin Loomis.”
The recipient quailed, but now at last the way was clear. She passed the telegram to Elida, and remained standing while she read it. The girl’s mouth tightened, her eyes snapped sparks.
“Of course,” she said slowly, “you will have to do what you think is your duty. But I warn you now—and I shall notify my father, too—I accept no orders. I will see Gerald in any way I can, anyhow, anywhere.”
She had had no such intention until then. Gerald had still much to explain, much to apologize for. She had been by no means prepared for any such stand. But her spirit rose in instant revolt at sight of that peremptory order.
“I’m sorry,” Mrs. Challoner said, sadly, “but you see I have no choice.”
Elida rose from the little settee, picked up her wraps, and stood for a moment hesitating.
“I’m afraid it’s my own fault that Papa is so bitter,” she parleyed. “But just because I was foolish, he needn’t be!”
“My dear,” Mrs. Challoner strove to keep her fear out of her voice. “I shall expect you to obey me absolutely. You are not to see that young man.”
For answer Miss Loomis drew her blue draperies about her and crossed haughtily to her stateroom.
MRS. CHALLONER picked up a book and sought to concentrate her thoughts thereon. But she could not. She was restless and nervous. An hour passed. She began to wonder how in the world she was to get through this most dreadful of all voyages—storm, wreck, life rafts— anything but this. Suddenly she became aware of a subdued sound. For a moment she could not fix its origin. It came at intervals. Then she realized that some one was speaking in the next room. Was Elida asking for her? Was she too timid to come in to apologize? Mrs. Challoner crossed quickly to the door and threw it open. She was in time to see the rebel guiltily hanging up the telephone receiver.
“You will force me to have that connection out," she said icily.
“It was foolish of me not to lock the door,” was the cool retort.
Mrs. Challoner rang for the steward. She still stood on the door sill.
“Will you please have the bolt taken off this door?” she said.
The steward looked surp ised, but went to the carpenter, and a monent later the bolt was unscrewed.
The prisoner sat, a book in her hand, apparently unmoved. The jailer was on the verge of tears.
“You make it very hard for me,” she
“How about me?” queried Elida, a sob in her voice.
“But your father—” began Mrs. Chal-
"Oh, bother father!” slamming down the best seller. “Father’s an old goose!”
The Chaperone sighed and retired. Then followed a long period of quiet—a too quiet quiet; uneasiness gripped her suspicious soul. More weary hours dragged by. Restlessly the Chaperone pushed back the sliding windows opening on the deck. The noise seemed to startle someone near by. She looked and beheld the "objectionable young man" in the act of withdrawing his head from the adjoining window. She was too incensed to speak.
“I didn’t promise I wouldn't talk to Elida,” he reminded her quickly.
Passing groups of promenaders added to the difficulties of the situation. Mrs. Challoner withdrew her head, and, picking up her book, entered and accosted Elida.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “but you compel me to intrude. I shall simply have to stay with you.”
“It’s no use in the end, Mrs. Challoner, I love Gerald."
And Gerald, his handsome face still framed in the window, beamed with happiness. This was the first time since their quarrel that he had heard that statement from the lips he adored.
Mrs. Challoner crossed to the window and slid it shut, the prisoner offering no objection. She smiled with dreamy happiness. How she had enjoyed sayine those almost forgotten words! Although she had had no intention of saying them just then, with a glow in her heart and in her lovely face, she arose.
“Let’s dress, Mrs. Challoner,” she beamed, “and have just a turn or two on the deck before luncheon.”
Surprised and delighted, the other agreed, and they tramped contented and unmolested till the bugle called. Elida chatted brightly during luncheon, and that afternoon lounged, apparently untroubled, in her steamer-chair by the side of her chaperone.
At tea time she arose for a moment as the deck steward approached, and, with graceful solicitude, tendered Mrs. Challoner her cup. Mrs. Challoner did not see the note under the cake plate the steward laid on the adjoining chair, or she would not have so enjovecl her fragrant beverage. Elida's acceptance of the communication savored of prestidigitation, and not till she was wholly secure from observation, during the mystery of dressing for dinner, did she venture to read it. Whatever the message, its effect seemed beneficial.
Mrs. Challoner was lulled into fancied security by her charge’s perfect behavior, and by the fact that Gerald in no way intruded. They listened to the after-dinner music with due attention, and Elida herself proposed early retiring. Mrs. Challoner was only too glad. She had not slept on the previous night, and the day had been a strenuous one.
With the door of both bedrooms reassuringly open into the sitting-room where the electrics were left turned on full, the Chaperone felt secure—and nothing was ever so grateful as the touch of the cool pillow, or half so soft and luxurious as her narrow bed. Sleep caught weary body and overtaxed nerves in its soothing embrace the instant her head found its resting place.
She awoke with a start, and caught a glimpse of blue negligé followed by
a framed full length of Elida, as she stood in the doorway, a coffee cup in her hand. The girl was laughing. “I got so hungry,” she apologized, “and I thought you’d never wake up.”
Mrs. Challoner dressed hastily, ordered her own coffee, and, refreshed and cheerful, faced the new day without a tremor. Elida she felt to be well in hand, and Gerald, was, after all, a gentlemanly young man—witness his tactful absence when firmly discouraged. Consequently she was filled with pained surprise when a knock on the salon door was followed by the appearance of Gerald in an immaculate morning suit, and smiling. “May I see you a moment?” he begged.
Reluctantly she nodded, and Gerald entered, closing the door softly, noting that they were alone. He blushed furiously, shuffled a moment, and blurted out: “We were married last night—I thought you ought to know—”
“Married!” Mrs. Challoner could not believe her ears, “Married!” she echoed, “but that isn’t possible!”
“Yes,” he insisted, recovering his equanimity. “The Captain—”
“But the Captain can’t marry you—he runs the ship?” she cried interrogatively.
“Oh. yes, he can,” Gerald insisted. “He’s all the authority, once at sea. In fact, I wouldn’t have known it myself, but he came to me and told me; said he’d heard all about things from the wireless man and the steward, and offered to do the trick. We were married at midnight last night. I sent a wireless to Dad Loomis, saying we were going to—so you see that lets you out of all responsibility.”
Mrs. Challoner burst into tears.
“Oh, what have you done!” she wailed. “What shall I do? How can I ever explain? Oh, poor Mr. Loomis! and he’s been so good to me! Go this instant to the Captain, and tell him I’ve got to see him —tell him he must be stark, staring mad! He’ll have to reckon with me—you bad, ungrateful, miserable, wicked boy—go!” “I’m sorry; but really I couldn’t help it,” the offender murmured in contrition, as he beat a hasty retreat.
MRS. CHALLONER threw herself among the cushions of the settee, and gave way to frightened weeping. She heard a door close, and divined that Elida had made her escape. But what did it matter now !
To a knock on her door she refused an answer. She was drowned in woe, no comfort could lie in any one’s coming. She had been fooled and duped! She had betrayed the confidence reposed in her! The knock was repeated. At last she gave a gulp, and rising, went to the door.
A Marconigram of unusual bulk was placed in her hand, at which she stared dully.
“Congratulations,” it read. “On getting your good news, telegraphed Captain, who knows me well, to suggest high sea marriage, but keep it quiet—you, especially. Been trying to fix it with those children for months. She’s like her old dad—stubborn. Am wiring forgivenness and love. Of course, you draw for her outing just the same. Best regards. Opposition is the surest persuasion, but don’t let them know—I’m joining you in Lon-
“Well—of all-” A smile dawned
through tears that turned to laughter in her eyes. “I think,” she said aloud, “I’ll go and find that young man, and present him with my condolences.”