An Unconventional Introduction
“SAPPER” H. C. McNEILE
BARROW’S Department Store presented the appearance of an exit from a football ground after a championship game. One of their periodical sales was in
progress, and frenzied women fought furiously over remnants and other things dear to the feminine soul. In odd corners a few unfortunate men who had been lured in, contemplated the scene with terror, while wave after wave of bargain hunters surged past them with the light of battle in their eyes. But it was essentially a female performance, the only function of mere man being to hold the spoils if and when they were obtained.
The tobacco department was a backwater—calm and peaceful, and from it Jim Fairfax surveyed the scene with a faint smile. He had bought the tobacco he wanted, and some cigars for his brother-in-law, and was waiting for his parcel to be done up. And though he was supremely unconscious of the fact, at least two of the girls who assisted in that department were as interested in him as he was in the struggle close at hand.
Sales they had seen often; men like Jim Fairfax very rarely. Brown and tanned with western suns, he had the clear direct look in his eyes which comes only with an open-air life and big spaces. They were very blue and he smiled with them in a way that was wholly charming— at least, so many women had thought and even told the owner—though up to date the information had not affected him greatly. Also he was about thirty-three, which is not a bad age for an unattached bachelor with a
certain amount of money. Added to which his clothes fitted him, and he was as well groomed as a man has any right to be. Small wonder then at the interest of the two assistants.
He turned to the man who gave him his parcel.
“Can one get through?” he hazarded, waving a hand at the mob.
The man grinned. “It has been done, sir. Which department do you want?”
“Jewelry,” answered Fairfax.
“Third to the left, and straight on, sir.”
TT TOOK him five minutes to get there, but at last he arrived gasping. The jewelry department itself was not the scene of much activity, but its position was unfortunate. It lay between the lingerie and the bargains in linen, and two streams of packed humanity were passing ceaselessly through it. And only the fact that a small present to his sister was as invariable a matter of routine on his periodical returns from the West, as cigars for her husband, made him remain at the counter.
“Rings, sir. Certainly.”
The man produced a tray, and Jim Fairfax bent over it. He didn’t want anything too expensive, but he and his sister had been great pals and he had only arrived that morning after three years in Alberta. Something about $100 would do nicely,
he reflected—and at that moment he very distinctly felt a hand come through between his right elbow and his side. In a flash the lazy whimsical look in his eyes had vanished, to be replaced by one that was very different. Behind him the crowd was wedged in a complete block; on the other side of the counter the assistant was bending down for another tray. And in his left hand, gripped tight as a vice was a small wrist.
He swung round and stared over his shoulder—stared into the terrified eyes of a girl. Her face was close to his, and it struck him with a sort of dull amazement that it was one of the loveliest he had ever seen. A thief!
Her breath was coming in little panting gasps, as she struggled for a second or two to free her hand; then with what was almost a sob she gave up trying, and turned her head away.
On the instant he made up his mind. He might be a fool, and he was certainly wrong, but he felt that he could not give this girl away. And so he turned completely round with his back to the counter and faced her. Then he looked down at her right hand.
“Open it, please,” he ordered quietly.
Without a word she did so, and he frowned slightly. Lying in the palm was a ring with a big pearl surrounded by a ring of smaller diamonds. He glanced at her face and it was deathly white; then he looked back again at the ring.
So that is the one you prefer,” he said deliberately He drew her forward nearer the counter, and spoke to the assistant.
“Don’t bother about any more; the lady likes this one.” He held it out, and the man took it to examine the price
him fearfully, as if the
she whirered, at length,
And now the girl was staring thing had got beyond her.
“What are you going to do?” while the assistant was placing the ring in a box.
• “I am going to ask for the pleasure of our compan tea,” answered Jim Fairfax quietly. “They supply it, I believe, upstairs—or they did when I was last in the East and I rather want to talk to you.”
“But I don’t understand,” she stammered, and then fell silent, as watched him pull a roll of bills out of his pocket and hand four “fifties” across the counter. And she was still staring at him half-dazedly five minutes later, as he gave
an order to a waitress for tea.
‘Well,” he said, when they were alone, “would you please explain.”
“You wouldn’t understand if I told you.” She was making a desperate effort to keep her hands from trembling and suddenly Jim Fairfax smiled. She seemed such a pathetic little criminal.
I might make an attempt anyway,” he remarked quietly. “However—leaving that for the moment—might I ask you if you do this sort of thing often?”
TLJER FACE flamed, and then as she met his imper-
1 turbable look, her eyes slowly filled with tears.
I suppose you won’t believe me,” she whispered, “but I’ve never done such a thing before.”
“On the contrary,” he answered “I believe you absolutely. If you will forgive my saying so, you were so incredibly clumsy, that it was obvious on the face of it. If you intend to specialise in the line, you must get much better at it.”
“Don’t ! for God’s sake—don’t !” She wrung her hands together, and tears began to well over. “I was mad— utterly mad; I don’t know what came over me to do such a thing.”
“Pull down your veil over your eyes,” he said gently. ‘The waitress is advancing on us with buttered toast and things.”
He watched her as she poured out the tea, and for a moment the humorous side of the situation struck him.
“Did it strike you,” he continued, as he took the cup she handed him, “that if you had got away with the swag, as I believe they call it, you’d have left me in a rather awkward position of apparently having taken the ring myself?”
The girl stared at him speechlessly. “Oh! no—no,” she said after a little breathless pause. “I didn’t think about that; I didn’t think about
“Except getting the ring,” Jim Fairfax nodded. “I thought that was probably so. “And what did you want the ring for? To wear? Your hands are quite sufficiently beautiful without rings, you know.”
The girl looked at him quickly but his tone was quite imper-
“I didn’t want it to wear; I wanted it to sell.”
“To sell!” Jim Fairfax was intent upon his buttered toast. “To steal a ring and sell it implies poverty—great poverty. And if I may say so, your general appearance hardly gives one the impression of that.” “They’ve gone without meat at home for the last three months' to give me this coat and skirt when I came to Toronto,” said the girl, ip a voice that shook a little.
“It seems a very nice coat and skirt,” he remarked.
“But you can’t go to a dance in a coat and skirt, can you?”
“Not unless fashions have changed in the last three years,” agreed Fairfax. “So you proposed to buy an evening frock with the proceeds. Is that it?”
“Yes,” she whispered. “That’s it.” And then, with a quiet deliberation that seemed oddly at variance with her previous manner, she put both her elbows on the table, and stared at the man opposite. “That’s it. And I suppose to a man like you—obviously wealthy—such a thing is incredible. It would have been to me—until quarter of an hour ago. But before you take whatever steps you are going to take—before you finish this game which I suppose is amusing you—I want to tell you one or two things. They aren’t excuses; they’re facts. My father is the proud possessor of $1,100 a year. On that my mother and I have'to be supported. Some time ago, an old school friend of my mother’s asked if I might come and stay up with her in Toronto for a few weeks. Quite a normal sort of invitation a man would think—very pleasant. I suppose you’ve never had to stop at a house, where you’ve been ashamed of the maid seeing your underclothes.”
Jim Fairfax suppressed a smile. “Go on,” he said quietly.
The girl bit her lip. “It all sounds so petty—so mean. In my heart I knew what would happen; so did my mother. But a man’s different—and my father couldn’t understand my hesitation. I wanted to come, though I knew I’d be miserable if I did. But he—he insisted. He wanted me to meet some men—perhaps get engaged—married. And he couldn’t understand that in that set, a girl must have lots of clothes if she isn’t going to be utterly out of it.”
“May I smoke?” he asked thoughtfully, holding out a cigarette case to her.
CHE shook her head. “Not now, thank you. You ^ go on—but I—I want to try and make you understand. I was asked to dances, of course; I went with my hostess—naturally. And I had two evening dresses— both of them two years old. I wonder if you can realise what that means.”
“Much the same,” said the man gravely, “as it means when a man making $2,000 a year gets in with a set where every man makes $10,000. And there is only one way out for him—to break with the set. •
She gave a weary little laugh.
“Oh, I knew it would sound contemptible to you,” she cried. “I know there is no excuse. But tomorrow night is the last dance I am going to before I go home. It’s not a big one, and all the people I know will be there.
I felt I simply couldn’t turn up in one of my two old rags, and have all of them pointing and whispering. Of course they don’t really point, and they don’t say anything—
but I know what they’re thinking. Why, even the woman I’m staying with asked me this morning if I hadn’t got something else to wear. You see there’s a man going who is—who is rather fond of me, I think: and. .. . and. ...” “And you don’t think he’ll come up to the point of telling you the fact, unless you can stagger him with a new frock!” Jim Fairfax smiled gravely. “A poor specimen if that is the case.
“But, don’t you understand, I wanted to look my best,” said the girl desperately. “And it isn’t only that—a new frock gives you confidence in yourself—makes you more sure. You feel that other women aren’t—aren’t. . . Oh! I don’t know,” she finished wearily. “I can’t explain. I’ve tried to—but a man would never understand.”
Jim Fairfax pressed out his cigarette.
“Tell me one thing,” he said gently. “Do you dress for men, or do you dre.is for women?”
She looked at him in faint surprise.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever really thought about it,” she answered at length. “I think I dress principally for my own pleasure—for the feeling it gives one if one is smart and attractive. A girl wants to be able to stand comparison with other girls. ...”
“Comparison by whom? Men or women?”
“Both, I suppose,” she said slowly. “And if the men don’t notice, the women tell them sharp enough.”
“I see,” said Fairfax. “Well, we’ll let that pass. About this man who is rather fond of you. Do you feel the same for him?”
“I quite like h;m, ’ said the girl slowly.
“ ‘You quite like him.’ Sounds a trifle luke-warm, doesn’t it? Do you want to marry him?” He was staring at her thoughtfully, and after a moment or two she faced him defiantly.
“I’ve got to marry him—or somebody else,” she said, “for my father’s sake. And I like him as well as anybody. You—and people like you—don’t know what life is— what the hopeless, unceasing struggle for mere existence means for people like us—since the war. You simply can’t understand. ...”
“But there is one thing I can understand—there is one thing I do know,” he answered gravely. “And that is this. No marriage embarked on under those conditions is going to help the situation. It may—superficially, for a time; but the last state will be worse than the first. Perhaps through long years on the prairies, I see things a little clearer than the dwellers in the cities; but I know that you’ve got hold of the wrong end of the stick—and it’s the rotten dirty end. ...”
“A thief is pretty rotten.” she whispered.
JIM Fairfax laughed. “I wasn’t thinking of that little episode at all,” he said. “Granted the rest, it isn’t very difficult to see why that followed. It’s the frame of mind that led up to it, that I’m talking about.”
“You mean that you can forgive what I did?” And now she was staring at nim with a great wonder in her eyes. “I feel certain that my sister will approve of your choice, far more than she would have of mine,” he said lightly.
With a whimsical smile he bent forward, and suddenly the girl looked down on her plate.
“Little girl,” he said gravely, “it’s not actions that count so much— it’s motives. It’s the motive that made you do it that I hate. When the right man comes along, he won’t give a damn what you’re rigged out in—not a damn.
Won’t you wait for him—however hard, however impossible and hopeless it may seem?”
And then, because he saw her lips were trembling, he turned away and beckoned to the waitress fohis bill. It was not until they stepped out of the lift on the ground floor, that he spoke
“I’m not going to ask you your name—or where you’re staying,” he said.
“But if you would like to meet me agam—and I’d awfu;iy like you œ like to, Miss Unknown— my name is Fairfax—
Jim Fairfax. And the Varsity Club will always find me. God-bye.”
Without another word
he was gone, and the girl watched his broad figure till it was lost in the crowd. For a while she stood there motionless, and the mob of bargain-hunters jostled ceaselessly past her; then with a faint smile on her face she turned back into the lift.
“The writing room,” she said to the attendant, as they shot upwards.
Still with the same faint smile on her lips she sat down at one of the tables, and pulled a piece of paper towards her. For a moment she hesitated; then she wrote: “Thank you, Jim Fairfax. A very penitent thief thinks you’re rather wonderful. I shall go in one of the rags, and I shall refuse him if he asks me.”
Then she sealed it up and addressed it. And as she slipped it into the box and left the room a cynical man by the door who had watched her come in turned to his companion.
“A love letter of the proper length,” he murmured. “Short and—let us hope—sweet.”
“How do you know it was a love-letter,” said the other lazily. “Generally in that condition it’s written all over the paper too.”
THREE days later Jim Fairfax received another letter in the same handwriting. He had spent the intervening time, alternately cursing himself for not having found out the girl’s name, and prosecuting an aimless and utterly futile search for her amongst his female acquaintances. His sister, marvelling slightly, had told him of two dances to her knowledge that had taken place on the night in question—and had somewhat brutally pointed out that in all probability there had been at least a dozen more of which she knew nothing.
“You can’t even tell me what she’s like, Jim,” she had said plaintively. “And you won’t tell me where you met her—or anything about her—so how on earth you can expect me to help you, I don’t know. Besides, the whole thing is absurd.”
“Of course it is, my dear girl,” her brother had murmured. “That’s why it amuses me. Oh! and by the way, here’s my arrears of Christmas presents. At first I thought of a ring, and then I thought this might be more useful.” He had listened almost unconsciously to her thanks for the gold vanity-bag, and had departed to buy more tobacco at Barrow’s. He already had enough to last him a year, but Barrow’s had seemed the only link with the unknown one.
And now he was staring at another letter from her— longing to open it, and yet dreading that it would give him as little information as the first had done. At last he slit open the envelope, after first carefully examining the postmark. Rosedale was about as helpful as the dozen dances.
“You will be pleased to hear, Jim Fairfax—at least I hope you will—that I refused him last night at the dance. As a result of doing so I have got it in the neck from every-
body, especially my hostess. He—so everyone says— is very nice. As a matter of fact he is. He, so every one says—has pots of money. As a matter of fact, he has. I—so everyone says—am a very stupid little fool. As a matter of fact, I am—Am I? What do you think. Anyway it doesn’t much matter, does it? I’m going back to the country to-day. Good-bye, Jim. Thank you a thousand times. I hope your sister (?) liked the ring.”
He read it over three times, and then he began to laugh Finally he stopped laughing and said “Damn”. After which he finished his breakfast, and went round to his sister’s house. She was nibbling a piece of toast in bed, and regarded him with disfavor.
“My dear Jim”, she remarked, “I’m barely conscious. Not this girl again. ...”
“Tell me, Sylvia,” he said eagerly, “about all the men you know who were refused the night before last. At least all the nice men with lots of money.”
She stared at him speechlessly. “You haven’t a touch of the sun have you or anything? Nice men with lots of money are not refused—ever.”
“A nice man with lots of money was refused at a dance the other night,” affirmed her brother.
“Good Heavens! What paper did you see it in?” “Don’t be cynical, Sylvia,” said Jim Fairfax with a grin. “The girl I am looking for refused a charming man with pots of money. I know it. Therefore it merely resolves itself into finding the charming man. You know all the charming men in Toronto—so it’s just like shelling
“Jim, I think you’d better go back to Alberta. It’s not safe for you to be at large. Give a shout for Bill. He might
“I thought I heard a masculine voice,” said her husband appearing at the door. “Morning, Jim.”
“Bill,” remarked his wife calmly, “get a specialist. Jim’s gone mad.”
“Desist, woman,” laughed her brother. “Tell me, old boy, do you know of any nice man, with ‘pots of money’' who was refused at a dance the night before last?”
“A T7ELL that’s damned funny,” said his brother-ini'V ]aw coming into the room. “As a matter of fact, I do.”
“You do. Why didn’t you tell me?” demanded his wife sitting up in bed. ,
“Young Peter Cardew,” continued Bill, ignoring the interruption, “has been trailing after a girl for weeks. Saw him yesterday in the club, gnawing a cutlet. Devilish despondent. Split a bottle with him and all that. Told me that life was finished as far as he was concerned, and that he was going to take to work—or drink. Forget which.”
“Did he tell you the name of the girl?” cried Jim breathlessly.
“No. He didn’t say, and I didn’t ask him. It’s about his twentieth. Why —what’s all the excitement?”
“The same as before,” said Sylvia resignedly; “Jim’s unknown charmer. I wish you’d both go away; I want to get up.”
“Bill, I shall lunc^ with you to-day,” Jim Fairfax hit his brotherin-law heavily in the chest. “You will also ask your friend, Peter Cardew, and I shall interrogate him.”
“But, damn it, man,” said Bill weakly, “he’s a complete stranger to you. . . .You can’t ask a man you’ve never seen about his love affairs. It’s positively indecent.”1 “Then you snail dO' it for me, old son,” cried the other cheerfully. “And I’ll make notes of his answers. One o’clock sharp at your club.”
The door closed behind him and Bill turned dazedly to his wife.
“My dear,” he muttered, ‘‘it’s preposterous. Peter >s really very cut up about it.”
“Handle him with gloves, hubby,” she said soothingly, “and you’ keep things runr smoothly. But something is donr Jim will be ar put into a lu and I shal'
Continued from page 15
vous breakdown, I’m perfectly certain.” At ten to one Bill made a last despairing effort. The waiter had just brought some “two-per cent” and with his brotherin-law he was standing in front of the Bmoking-room fireplace.
“Supposing it’s not the same girl, Jim,” he began nervously. “I mean Peter’s taste is not at all like yours. . . . ” “Then you’ll have to find somebody else who was refused,” said Jim, calmly. “And we’ll do it all over again....” “Why the devil you didn’t ask the girl at the time beats me,” exploded Bill. “In fact the whole thing is completely beyond me.”
“Same here,” conceded his brotherin-law. “At the time of our—er meeting, my mind was occupied with other things. It was only after I’d left her, that I began to realise that there never could be another. ...”
“Oh! shut up,” grunted Bil'. “Here’s Peter Cardew. “Morning Peter My brother-in-law, Fairfax.”
Cardew nodded gloomily.
“You look pessimistic,” began Jim cheerfully, and the other scowled.
“Peter’s come a cropper,” Bill plunged heroically. “Haven’t you. old man?” “Absolutely crashed.” said Cardew gloomily. “How d’you get to Brampton?” “Brampton?” cried Jim quickly. “By train, I suppose. But why Brampton.?” “That’s where the girl lives,” announced Cardew sii* more gloomily. “She went there yeste c;ay.
“Charming old p ace.” said Jim. “I know it well. I’ll have another ‘Prohibition Brew’, Bill,’ he '-ontinued, and his host meekly complied
“Oh! do you?” Cardew regarded him with increased interest. “Know the local gossip?”
“Every word of it,” answered Jim, and his brother-in-law swallowed twice.
“Well then” said Cardew confidentially. “I wonder if you can tell me whether a most charming girl who lives there—a Miss Deering—is engaged or anything like that—I mean, I know she^s not actually engaged—but I wondered if any of the lads w'ere buzzing around. .”
“There are two families of Deerings,” said Jim thoughtfully.
“Her father is a retired surgeon,” continued Cardew. “Sybil is her Christian
Jim Fairfax bolted his second cocktail, and beamed at Cardew.
“Can’t get near her for the crowd, old boy,” he cried cheerfully. “Absolutely like bees round the honey-pot. You haven’t an earthly.” He smote the outraged suitor heavily on the back, and turned to his brother-in-law. “Completely forgotten till this moment, Bill, that I shan’t be able to lunch after all. Got to see a man on business.”
“About a dog, I suppose,” said Bill ponderously. “I’ll bet you it proves a dud.”
“Take you on even fives,” said Jim from the door.
“Done,” answered Bill, as the other disappeared. “Let’s go and have some lunch, Peter.”
“I say is that beggar quite right in his head?” demanded Cardew, still staring at the door. “What’s he go and rush off like that for? I wanted to ask him a lot more questions about Sybil Deering.” “I wouldn’t bothe-, old man,” said Bill, diplomatically steering him towards the dining-room. “I don’t expect his answers would have been very illuminating.”
GOOD-MORNING, M¡SS Deering.” With a little cry the girl dropped the watering-can and swung round. Then as she saw who it was who had spoken every vestige of color ebbed from her face, leaving it deathly white.
“How did you find me?” she stammered at length.
“With a great amount of trouble, and even a greater amount of luck,” said Jim Fairfax with a faint smile. “Why did you run away like that without telling me who you were?” He was staring at her gravely as he spoke, and after a while the color began to come back to her cheeks, though her lips were still trembling.
"Because I was so ashamed,” she faltered at length. “I never wanted you to know who I was.”
“I don’t think that^was very kind,”
he remarked. “Besides you never thanked me for your tea. Incidentally, I rode off a young gentleman of the name of Peter Cardew a few hours ago. He was on the point of starting for Brampton to see you.” “It was through him, was it? I didn’t know you knew him.”
“I didn’t until yesterday at lunch,” said Jim. “I left him with the impression that any attempt to see you here was doomed to failure.”
“What on earth do you mean?” said the girl with a puzzled frown.
“I was afraid he might get here first you see—and that you might change your mind, and accept him. And if he had I should have lost a fiver.”
“I don’t believe you know what you’re talking about,” cried the girl. “Will you please explain?”
“No—I never explain. Horrible things— explanations. They make things so ordinary. Now, if we don’t bother about what’s gone before—the present situation has great possibilities.”
“But we must bother about what’s gone before,” she answered and her voice was very low.
“I disagree entirely” said Jim quietly. “In me you behold a stranger, standing on the wrong side of a hedge. Ordinary hospitality insists that you should at once invite me to change from that side to the other. ...”
For a moment she hesitated; tffin with her head thrown hack a little she picked her way over the intervening flower bed, and faced him steadily.
“Mr. Fairfax,” she began, and her eye met his bravely “I’m in your power. If you had wished to, you could have given me in charge the other day, and disgraced—all of us here, as well as me. You didn’t; you were very big. I suppose you could still do so, if you wanted to. But from the way you talked to me that afternoon, I’d formed a picture of you— which was rather a wonderful picture. When you went away and left me—and didn’t ask my name or anything, I was just longing to tell you. But I couldn’t speak; there was such—such a lump in my throat. Don’t spoil it all now, Jim Fairfax—please.”
“Spoil it,” stammered the man. "What are you talking about, little girl?”
“You’ve found me—I don’t quite know how,” she went on, not noticing in her absorption the look of blank amazement that had spread over hls face. “I suppose Peter Cardew talked, and you put two and two together. But please don’t spoil it now—please, please don’t.” “You want me to go away,” said Jim Fairfax slowly. “You don’t want to see me. I understand....! was a bit of a fool to think you would.”
“Oh! it’s not that,” cried the girl. “But after what happened!”
“Which I have completely forgotten,” interrupted Jim.
“You can’t forget,” she answered bitterly; “I can’t forget—ever. So won’t you leave things as they are; leave me with that remembrance of you at—at Barrow’s —upstairs?”
JIM FAIRFAX drew a deep breath; at last he was beginning to understand. “The ring,” he announced gravely, “was intended for my sister.”
“I don’t see what that’s got to do with it,” she answered flushing a little.
“I think it’s got everything to do with it,” he remarked. “The point is, can I make you agree with me. My dear,” he went on, and his voice was very tender, “(lid you really think that I was such an unutterable blighter as to seek you out, in order to hold that mistake of yours over your head?” She was silent, and after a moment or two he insisted gently. “You didn’t think that, did you—Sybil?” “I don’t quite know what I thought.” she whispered.
‘I’ve got, that ring in my pocket,” he said, taking one of her hands in his. “And we are in a supremely ridiculous position here. What about that little summer-house affair over there?”
“You’re mad, Jim Fairfax,” she said, staring at him with wonder in her eyes.
“Absolutely,” he agreed calmly. “So let’s go over to it, and sit on the side remote from the house—and see if the bally thing fits..,.”