FICTION

The Girl On the Verandah

Arthur Beverley Baxter May 1 1918
FICTION

The Girl On the Verandah

Arthur Beverley Baxter May 1 1918

The Girl On the Verandah

FICTION

Arthur Beverley Baxter

Who wrote “The Man Who Scoffed,” Mamselle Butterfly," etc.

ON a certain summer night in the year 1916, Lieut. Victor Kilgour of the Canadian Engineers strolled out upon the verandah of the Golf Club in Crowborough and seated himself quite unconsciously very near the sole occupant of the aforesaid verandah. Thus in the gloaming of this particular evening the following situation was created:—

Scene—Golf Club verandah in Sussex, England, deserted by all except Lieut. Victor Kilgour, aged twenty-four years, possessed of brown eyes and an agreeable optimism of manner partly the result of his age and partly the inheritance of the Colonies, and an undeniably attractive young damsel.

Victor Kilgour gazed meditatively over the undulating downs and gorseland that melted in the distance and then, opening a copy of Punch, proceeded to peruse that journal’s contents. On glancing up for the first time he became conscious of the proximity of feminine loneliness. The possessor of the f.l., being engrossed in a volume of “Simon the Jester,” failed to notice the glance. Her long lashes completely obscured her eyes as they rested on the printed word . . which

was just as well, for these particular eyes had played the very deuce with innumerable subalterns already and had been known to cause a major acute melancholia for a month.

Victor Kilgour drank in the delicate softness of her coloring—such hair—such a perfectly rounded chin—and a neck so lovely and graceful that the collar of her mauve blouse seemed to blush at the contact with such beauty.

He forced himself to return to Punch. She read on, her mind never wandering for a moment from its self-imposed task of following the literary vagabondisms of Mr. Locke as exemplified in “Simon the Jester.” Punch failing to supply the diversion that he sought, Lieutenant Kilgour of the Canadians looked squarely at her—then at her book. He was so close that he could see the number of the page was 203—he found he could even read the words. She was reading the page to the right—he read from the middle to the end, then waited, she continued to read. He shrugged his shoulders and read from the top to the middle. He glanced quizzically at her but she remained motionless. With a puzzled look he re-read the entire page then gazed directly at her.

“Pardon me,” he said, “I’m through if you are.”

C HE made no reply—she did not even ^ look up—but a slightly deeper crimson stole into her cheeks and she slowly turned the page.

A cold sweat broke over Kilgour. Good Heavens! What had he done? Probably she was the daughter of a duchess, or J» maid-in-waiting to the Princess Some-

th ing - or -other.

Confound the nobility; why didn’t they wear rank badges showing who they were? At any rate she need not have been offended—she could have been civil without losing her dignity — besides wasn’t he an honorary member of this golf club and didn’t club members fraternize in this place?

They did in God’s Country — God’s Country ! Canada.

With dazzling rapidity his mind denounced England, class distinction,

Imperial politics,

Englishwomen, etc., ad libitum, which shows what a thoroughly typical sort of a Canadian Victor Kilgour was and how incoherent and pugnaciously ingenious was his viewpoint after five months’ residence in England.

He rose.

“Excuse me,” he said stiffly. There was no answer. He paced to the end of the verandah then turned about resolutely-

“Pardon me,” he said—it is difficult to be successfully theatrical if one’s audience takes no notice of the actor. He contemplated flight but it was too ignominious. With an awkward ghrug of his shoulders he started towards her.

“I hope you don’t think,” he stammered, “that—”

The young lady became suddenly animate. She sat up and looked towards the final green.

“Hello, uncle!” she called.

Kilgour went hot and cold. Supposing —but it was too horrible—yet supposing she told her uncle that she had been accosted—he shrank from the word! Probably all his fellow officers would be struck off the honorary membership of the club as a result. He determined there and then to desert the Engineers and enlist as a private in the Infantry.

“Did you have a good game, uncle?” Her voice was rich and sweet, but it failed to produce a thrill in at least one of her auditors. A jovial, grey-haired golfer ascended the outer moss-decked stairs that led to the verandah and nodded to Kilgour.

“How are you?” he said, pleasantly.

The youthful officer surveyed him with a horrified look.

“Good morning,” he said, hoarsely, and retired precipitately down the opposite stairway. He strode back to camp and bursting into his hut, threw himself into

a chair. His room mate, Symonds, nodded without looking up from the novel he was reading.

“I’m a seven horse-power, ivory-headed idiot!” groaned Kilgour. “First I speak to a girl I don’t know—then make a darn fool of myself trying to explain—then— with a sunset right in front of me—I run across her uncle and say ‘Good morning.’ Oh, Lord!”

The studious Symonds blinked sympathetically.

“Light your pipe,” he said soothingly, “And I’ll read you a bit of this—its’s awfully good. By the by, have you read ‘Simon the Jester?’ ”

Victor Kilgour brandished a fist in’ the region of Lieutenant Symonds’ eyes.

“If you want to live,” he said vehemently, “never let me see that book in this room again!”

The astonished Symonds puckered his

“I thought you liked Locke,” he protested. Kilgour’s reply was halted by the bursting open of their door and the appearance of Kirby of the Signallers.

“Kil,” he said, “the agitato wants you in the orderly room toute de suite.”

Kilgour slowly rose to his feet.

“The uncle must have ’phoned,” he said weakly. “Did Aggy say anything: about a court-martial?”

Kirby grunted.

“It’s all very well to be facetious," hfr

growled. “You lucky bounder!—you've been chosen for France and leave here to-morrow.”

Next morning, the ten o’clock train for London sped swiftly into the station of Crowborough and Victor Kilgour, carefully selecting an empty first-class coach, entered it and settled comfortably in the corner. The guard had blown his whistle, the engine had given a single chug when there was the noise of running footsteps.

“Here you are!” called a man’s voice; there was the sound of a hurried kiss and a young lady was half hurled and half lifted into Kilgour’s carriage. She stood for a moment recovering her breath. . . Kilgour rose hurriedly to his feet. It was the Girl of the Verandah.

“Good morning,” he said. “Will you sit down?”

She glared haughtily at him and then —they had both forgotten the sudden curve just out from the station. He dropped into his seat and she collapsed on top of him.

“I’m so sorry,” he said, when the train had straightened out its course and she had taken herself and her belongings to the opposite side and farthest corner of the carriage.

“It was my fault,” she replied.

“Not at all.” It was horribly inane and he had drawled his vowels atrociously. . he felt a renegade to his own country.

A silence fell upon the scene, during which Kilgour surveyed her with frank admiration, not unmixed with a certain trepidation. She was dressed in a deep blue travelling suit with the daintiest of shoes protruding just enough to show a silk-clad ankle. He tried to read the Daily Mirror, then thrust it aside.

“I suppose,” he said, “that I was extremely rude last night.”

The young Girl of the Verandah opened her eyes to their widest and he looked directly into their blue liquid depths. Had a medical board examined his heart and pulse at that particular moment he would have been classed as totally unfit for further military service.

“Have I met you before?” she said, vaguely.

He flushed . . . this was going too

far. It was all very well for her to pose but he wasn’t so commonplace in appearance that she could not remember him for twenty-four hours.

“You were at the golf club last night,” he said, “weren’t you? Of course you were.”

“I was,” replied the young person in blue with the suggestion of a smile playing about her mouth. “My name is Evelyn and I am twenty years of age — any further questions?” And she produced from a bag the volume of “Simon the

Kilgour’s eyes twinkled. After all the whole thing had been rather droll and apparently she had not taken it very seriously. With a chuckle he reached for the Daily Mirror and carefully read that journal’s mysterious hints of intimate secrets almost laid bare by one who if he

could, would-

“Right in here, sir.”

THE train had stopped and the guard was ushering another officer into their little movie drama. The two men’s eyes met and almost as quickly their hands.

“Kill”

‘By Jove—O’Connor!”

“When did you come over?”

“Five months ago—you’re with the Fly ing Corps, eh?”

“You bet—-a gentleman’s life for me while it lasts. I see you are with the Engineers. How’s Canada anyway? I haven’t seen it for a year.”

Kilgour sighed.

“I suppose it’s a case of ‘Breathes there a man’ . . . Well, all I can say is that

from here Canada looks mighty good to

“Moi aussi—where are you off to?” Kilgour glanced out of the corner of his eye and noted that she was reading very earnestly.

“I’m leaving in a couple of days for the front. . . . The —th Field Company

has drafted me.”

O’Connor clapped his hand on the other’s shoulder.

“The best of luck, old boy,” he said. “You must dine with me at the R.A.C. tonight and then we’ll do one of these dismal revues—shall we?”

“Delighted, old sock.”

WHEREUPON Lieut. Charles O’Connor, of the R.F.C., and Lieut. Victor Kilgour, of the C.E., entered upon an animated conversation of personalities and army shop talk. The train was nearing Victoria Station when O’Connor delivered the inevitable question.

“What do you think of the English women?” he said, naively.

Kilgour’s brow puckered and he thrust his hands into his pockets.

“I don’t approve of London women at all,” he said, audaciously. “I consider London distinctly improper. As for the women of the better class, they are not as pretty as ours or the Americans, nor are they as well dressed. Although to all these generalizations there is one wonderful exception-”

“There always is-”

“I have met one girl—at least I have spoken to one who wears mauve delightfully and blue sublimely—blue, my dear O’Connor is the color of inspiration. When I looked into the blue of her eyes for the first time I was almost moved to poetry. I could have sung with Keats those glorious lines:

“ ‘Blue, gentle cousin of the forest

green, married to green in all its-’

Well, I’ve forgotten the rest, but I remember you were plucked on that poem at

Upper Canada--”

“You lie like a cheap watch.”

“There is only one fault in her," Kilgour’s eyes twinkled; “she rather lacks a sense of humor.”

“Awful.”

“Not in a woman. It is regrettable, but traditional. Another thing she does, is to read one page of a book over and over again.” For the second time he chuckled. “And now she has acquired the unfortunate habit of reading novels upside

“Victoria—Victoria."

The guard’s voice trailed off into an incoherent list of London’s geographical charms.

The young lady closed the book with a snap and thrust it into the bag, then turned on Kilgour.

“I think you are an absolute boor,” she said. He bowed.

“I am flattered,” he replied, suavely, “to be thought of at all by you—Miss Evelyn.”

Without another word she left him and as they stood and watched, she paused outside a taxi and entered it.

“Would you mind explaining this thing to me?” O’Connor’s face bore a look of ludicrous perplexity.

“Willingly,” answered the now thoroughly talkative Kilgour. “If there’s one thing I prefer it is explaining. Now

TLJIS words were arrested by the sudden stop of the taxi which had just started, and the sight of a white kid gloved hand beckoning him. In a dozen strides he reached her side and saluted.

A bantering remark was on his lips when she leaned towards him, but he paused at the gentle tenderness of her

“I want to say good-bye.” Her voice

trembled slightly. “Good-bye . . . and God bless you. . . . And bring you

back safely.”

Her fingers broke off a little group of violets from a cluster she had on her blouse. She touched them ever so lightly with her lips and with an impulsive gesture offered them to him.

“For luck,” she said and motioned to the driver. Kilgour went to speak, but the machine staggered forward and was lost in a moment among the traffic.

Dazed and with an uncomfortable sensation in his throat he wandered back, violets in hand, to the waiting O’Connor.

“Who is she?’ asked that young gentleman when Kilgour came up to him.

“I don’t know.”

O’Connor’s eyes rested on the violets.

“Say, are you an utter ass?”

Kilgour started.

“I have often wondered,” he said.

IT wasn’t a particularly important engagement — the newspapers did not even mention it. The Canadians had taken a nasty bit of the Bosches’ trench and Kilgour was sent with a working party to tidy up and rebuild the mud heap according to the wishes of the new owners. It was merely in the work of an ordinary day. To be sure they were shelled and subjected to machine gun fire and perhaps in any other war he would have won a decoration for it.

Kilgour was wounded in the leg and dropped. When he was being carried back to the dressing station he was hit by shrapnel — once in the shoulder and a cruel wound in the same leg. Three of his men were killed and, I suppose, three

women’s hearts were broken in Canada— the official communique said the casualities were negligible.

The —th Field Company, Canadian Engineers, noted that Lieutenant V. R. Kilgour was a casualty. At the dressing station a mud-stained, blood-stained figure with drawn white face limply puffed at a fag and hoped he wouldn’t faint—then he fainted.

It was the 902nd day of the war.

That is, perhaps, as good a description as any.

TWO months later a train steamed swiftly into a quiet station in Shropshire and from his compartment there emerged the pale and limping figure of a Canadian lieutenant. An old man stepped up to him, his ruddy sun-burned face beaming a cheery welcome.

“Mr. Kilgour, sir?”

“Y-Yes.”

“Give me your bag, sir—the fly’s just outside. Pleasant journey, I hope, sir?” A few minutes later the two men were seated behind an antiquated grey horse and were being sedately drawn along one of England’s superb highways, commonplace enough to the Englishman, but wonderfully beautiful to Colonial eyes. Kilgour looked furtively at the old man. “Are you Sir John Tremayne?”

His companion beamed. “Bless your ’eart, no. I’m Thomkins, the combination butler, gardener and coachman—all the others is gone to the war or 'opped the twig to some other estate. Sir John wouldn’t have none of them nohow, locked up his motor car he ’as and sent his ’ole

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The Girl On the Verandah

stable to the army. Finest ’osses in Shroj jda ire they was, too—all but killed hi parting with them ’unters—I ’eard ’i talking to ’is own roan mare and tellir ’er it all for the country; aO patriot is Sir John. Keeps in exercii all the time and sez the army’ll take T yet if ’e ’as to ’list as a buglar . . .

’e will have ’is little joke, will Sir Joh Friend of the family, sir?”

The young officer looked distinctly ui comfortable.

“I don’t know them at all,” he sai “As a matter of fact I feel like a perfe

“Like a what, Sir?”

“Like a boob—butter in—de trop, n poo—get me?”

“I gather you, sir.”

“You see,” continued the youth in a outburst of frankness. “I was plugged i France and got a trip to Blighty to n coup. All I know is that Lady Tremayr used to come into the hospital. Well, sh seemed to take a bit of a shine to me an made me promise to come here for month when I was well enough.”

The worthy Thomkins nodded his heai “They be good homely folk, do Sir Joh and his lady. And ’ow’s the war, sir?” “Very muddy.”

WHEREUPON a profound silence fe upon the pair which was not broke until, turning in at a gate, they drove bí tween two lines of green hedge an

stopped at an old-fashioned English man sion nestling in flowers and ivy. . • .

“ ’Ere we are,” said Thomkins, “wé’r ’ome.”

Kilgour, descending, saw Lady Tre mayne and her husband emerging fron the house. She came with both hands out stretched.

“I’m so happy you have come.” He voice was beautifully low and gracious “I want you to feel that this is you home.” And then she actually kissed him Kilgour smiled faintly.

“Thanks,” he said simply.

“John,” Lady Tremayne turned to he husband forcing back the tears fron her eyes, although they remained in he voice. “This is my boy from Canada.”

“The old squire shook the lad’s ham until he was quite red with exertion. you’ve come, eh. Delighted, my boy simply delighted. You must show me : wrinkle or two on the links.”

“John!”

“I know, my dear, he’s not just in shap: yet, but wait until he’s had a week o' two in this air. Damme, the German: got you, eh? The blackgards! I havi applied a dozen times and the scoundrel: at the War Office won’t have me. I’l write to that little beggar of a Welshmai next; he knows a man when he sees one Here, Lillie, take Mr. Kilgour’s things 0 smiling housemaid with rosy cheek: bustled about). Here, Thomkins—Thom kins, when you give old Ned his feedused to be a horse once, that melancholj beast there—see that you get me a botth of my oldest Burgundy from the cellar Well, my boy, come in, come in. Yov must be tired talking. By Jove, look a: those flowers—there’s a picture for yoi —mow then.”

In his room some violets had beer placed at the window. He stood besid them for a minute, gazing into theii subtle depth of blue when the flowers became blurred and he saw insteadO eyes, far lovelier and of a deeper blue than even the Queen’s of Secrecy. Then he

turned to the more practical pursuit of unpacking his Wolsley.

All of which may seem very sentimental and maudlin, but he was madly in love with a memory which is sometimes far worse than being enamored of a reality.

IT was after dinner and Lady Tremayne and her guest were sitting in the music room. Sir John had not been present at dinner as he had been compelled to go to the station.

“Are you thinking of home?”

He started . . then blushed guiltily. “No—1—I was thinking of—er, that is, I was-”

He paused again and she laughed.

“As if I didn’t know all along,” she said. “That's why 1 put the violets in your

He smiled. “Lady Tremayne, two hundred years ago, you would have been burned as a witch.”

“All women are witches when it comes to guessing love secrets. Tell me about her. A Canadian girl, of course?”

“But she isn’t a Canadian; I don’t even know her name. All I know is that I saw her one day and travelled fifty miles on a train with her next day—and yet out there I could never obliterate the picture of her leaning from a taxi and just touching her lips with her fingers.” He rose and leaned against the piano. “I don’t know why, but ever since I have come here she seems inseparable from my thoughts. It is just a freak of foolish imagination, I suppose.”

“Sometimes it is wise to be foolish.” Lady Tremayne glanced out of the window. “We must advertise in the agony column of the Times for her. Oh. here’s Sir John. He drove to the village to meet our daughter who has been doing V.A.D. work in town. Will you excuse me?"

THE melancholy grey stopped in front of the house and Thomkins hurried out to hold its head (it was a little joke of his own to pretend the grey might bolt), and with much laughing and puffing, Sir John descended from the perch and the doleful quadruped was led away to a well-earned rest. Kilgour heard voices approaching and stood to receive

Lady Tremayne and her daughter entered the room together. “I want to introduce my daughter, Evelyn," said the former, “Mr. Kilgour of the Canadian Engineers.”

The girl offered her hand.

“Mother has told me so much about you, that-”

She went red and he went white—then they reversed and she became white and he flushed scarlet—then they both went crimson and stayed that way.

“Lady Tremayne,” he returned to the bewildered mother, “it, er—it won’t be necessary to use the Agony Column after all!”

“By Jove!” Sir John stamped into the room. “I’m ravenous. Come along, Evelyn, we’ll have a bit of dinner now—” “I’m not hungry, Daddy.”

It may have been that Lady Tremayne saw the longing in Kilgour’s eyes; or perhaps she noticed the downcast eyes of her daughter. At any rate she placed her arm in her husband’s.

“Let me come with you while you have dinner, John. Evelyn, you stay and chat with Mr. Kilgour. Mind you, he’s an invalid and must not talk too much. Perhaps you had better read to him.”

Sir John rubbed his hands together with benign good nature.

“Come along then, piy love. See you later, my boy. Would you believe, my dear, what that scoundrel, Wells, has been writing in the papers—actually advocating a Republic for England and—” His voice trailed off in the distance.

For a moment there was a very tense silence between them. “Your mother has been most kind to me,” he said, finally, “but under the circumstances, I suppose, it will be better for me to leave-”

“Why must you go?” Her voice was.so soft that he wondered if she had really spoken.

“If I stay here I shall make a fool of myself.” He bit his lip. “I am from Canada, you see, and if I live through this war I am going back there. You belong here. You know what I mean.”

He paused. The tableau was broken by a radiant smile that suddenly illumined her face.

“Goodness!” she cried. “You have been standing all this time. Sit down at once, sir. There.” With her eyes dancing with animation, she led him to a sofa and forced him down amidst the cushions which she deftly arranged. “Now, then, let me see—have I taken your temperature?”

“I swear it is one hundred and three.”

“And your pulse?”

“Please take it.”

She tried to look severe.

“You’re doing too much talking by far for an invalid. Oh, of course, I was forgetting; mother said I was to read to

“I would rather you talked to me.” he urged, his eyes hungrily taking in her girlish beauty as she moved about.

“Orders from maternal headquarters, sir.’ She saluted smartly, then turned on her heel and marched to a bookshelf.

“Here is a book!” she cried, returning with a novel in her hand. She sat down beside him and opened it.

“The name of this book is ‘Simon the .Tester’.”

He burst into a laugh. She looked auite

severe for a moment, then once more melted into her dazzling smile. “I shall now read you page 2011, over

and over again-’’ “And upside down—don’t forget." She made a pretence at pouting and then she slowly closed the book. “Tell me about Canada," she said.