You Are Young Only Once
Margery was embarrassed, at first, because her fiance wore overalls instead of a "tux,” but there came a time when this became an asset rather than a liability. There was strong conflict between love and jealousy, but the verdict came suddenly — and satisfactorily.
ENGAGEMENT rings, though they be fashioned of platinum and set with the most enduring of gems, can yet prove as slippery as the stuff dreams are made of. An engagement ring can, indeed, be slipped off more easily than it is slipped on. But Margery North had that yet to discover when, at Christmas, Jimmy Norris fumbled with her ring, all but placing it on the second finger instead of the third, because the light in her eyes dazzled his. And she had laughed at his awkwardness, but breathlessly, and with that throat-tightening tenderness that, an God is good, comes once to every woman.
No one could have doubted then that her love for him was true. As she held her hand out, in the immemorial gesture, to let the glory of the ring fill her eyes, she looked more like a rosy angel with wings than one hundred and twenty-two pounds of five feet two, dynamic young femininity.
“Oh Jimmy!” she gasped. “It's too wmnderful for words!”
And then she threw her arms about his neck and kissed him, standing on her tiptoes the while he bent his head and crushed her to him.
This all took place in the reception hall of the example of architectural misanthropy that, to Marge, had been home ever since she could remember. She had recognized Jimmy's touch on the door-bell and had rushed to meet him. Now, the ring in its place, she helped him out of his great coat and drew him unresisting into the living-room, where the tree was alight.
"Look!” she commanded of the assembled family.
They looked. And even her sister Barbara, aged seventeen, was impressed. Then her mother kissed her and her father solemnly shook Jimmy’s hand and offered him a cigar from the box the firm had given him for Christmas. Marge's father had worked for the same firm for twenty-eight years. In recognition of long and faithful service they now paid him thirty-five dollars a week and gave him a box of cigars every year come Christmas.
Once, like Jimmy, he had been young and full of that ambition that is youth’s crown of glory. When he had
become engaged to Marge’s mother, he had been studying double entry bookkeeping. That was to be the sword which was to pry open his oyster, the world.
"The boss told me that if I’d study he’d give me a chance as bookkeeper,” he had assured Marge’s mother, who had been but nineteen then. “One of these days I'll be in the firm—and you’ll have everything.”
“I want only you,” she had assured him with all sincerity.
But the little gods who play jests had seen that she had more than just him. Two girls, of whom Marge was the older, and a boy had come to keep them company. And so it was, with one thing and another, that long before this Christmas, John North’s shoulders had taken on a middle-aged droop.
“I’m lucky to have a job these days,” was now his attitude toward the wrorld he had once_ dreamed of conquering.
Yet, as Marge’s ring caught the light, some of the years fell from him and he found his wife’s hand in his. In Marge’s young radiant ecstasy, they glimpsed again their own.
They weren’t at all surprised, however. Jimmy had been a fixture around the house ever since Marge returned from her vacation. She had met Jimmy then.
TT WASN’T that he w-as awfully good looking, in a
movie actor way, because he wasn’t. But she liked his eyes, brown and steady, and the way his hair grew back from his forehead. And his purposefulness and, beyond, that quality she could not analyze but which perhaps the word sincerity sums up. And he hadn’t tried to kiss her. He even started and blushed and ooked apologetic if his hand so much as brushed hers.
And she, being a woman, liked him the more for that.
The permission to call that he had asked was not
withheld. And very soon the family began to ask questions about him.
“What,” her father had demanded, “does this young Norris do?”
“He works in a garage,” Marge had answered, conscious of a treacherous surge of color—what Jimmy did made no difference to her, but she realized that she was on the defensive.
“In a garage!” echoed her father. “Not—you
don’t mean a mechanic?”
Even in this Dominion of ours, where all men are born free and equal, there are
Castes to be considered. John North might realize that he was a failure, and yet, as an office manager—for such was his title now—and the wearer of a white collar, he had his pretensions. The man who delivered ice at the back door might make forty a week and have a vociferous car, but John North could not have brought himself to change places with him.
And so he stared at Marge, speechless through a silence that Barbara—seventeen and one of the belles of her class at high school—broke first.
“Do you mean that he wears overalls?” she demanded.
“Would you expect him to wear a dress-suit at the garage?” retorted Marge, icily.
“Good night!” groaned Barbara. “What did you pick a lemon like that for? If the other girls hear about it I—oh, life won’t be worth living. And Ted Stanley will give me the go-by.”
“I think the less you have to do with Ted Stanley and his kind the better,” Marge had advised, meaningly.
“But,” her mother began, “I never thought, Marge—”
Marge could stand no more.
“1 don’t care what you thought,” she retorted, goaded to it. “I hate people who judge everybody by their clothes—and what they do!”
“Marge!” commanded her father, forgetful for the moment that Marge was twenty-two and that, as a public stenographer, she made almost as much as he did.
But Marge had marched out and slammed the door behind her.
In her own room she clenched capable looking young hands into capable looking fists.
“Snobs!” she had said, disdainfully.
From outside, through the August dusk, there had come the toot of the horn attached to Jimmy’s Triton Six. An ancient Triton—1912 model to be precise—but the engine purred in a manner that would have made many a millionaire, possessor of the latest Triton, turn green with envy. And if even Marge sometimes wished that Jimmy would spend a little less time keeping
the engine in condition and a little more in painting the body, she had not told him so—then!
Anyway, the merciful dusk had hidden the car’s outlines, as she, with a dab at her eyes to freshen them, flew down to join him. And off they sped. “I think it s great of you to go with me,” he had said presently and awkwmrdly. “Some girls wouldn’t—”
She knew what he meant and, knowing her sex, she did not deny it. Instead:
“I think you’re dead right,” she assured him, a shade too aggressively.
“I simply couldn’t work in an office,” he enlarged. “And I like this work. It’s like being paid for what is fun for me. And whenever there’s a spare moment I work on that carburetor idea, you see.”
To Jimmy, the carburetor idea was what the Grail was to Sir Galahad. To Marge, it was all pure Greek. Being feminine, she pretended to understand it perfectly, but what .she really saw when she said “I see!" was how his eyes narrowed and became almost mystical, and the grim determination of his young mouth. The most she actually understood was that gasoline nowadays was low-grade and that the carburetor, designed to handle this defect in a way that would increase mileage, was expected to bring Jimmy fame and fortune.
This Marge, being as practical as a hard-headed young business woman should be. had her doubts about.
In her heart, indeed, she more than half agreed with the girl who attended the switchboard in that very exclusive hotel in which Marge rented desk room. The latter had evinced a feminine curiosity as to who it was she had seen Marge with in the ancient bus of a Sunday.
“Oh, he’s an—inventor,” Marge had answered.
“An inventor?” the inquisitor had echoed. “No
wonder he drives one of the two cars Noah took into the ark. They’re all nuts! But the bug has bit him young, hasn’t it? Inventors are usually old, I thought. Believe me if I had your chances I’d be riding in a good car. Don’t tell me that you haven’t had invitations enough,
with some of these rich guys just making up letters so as to get acquainted.”
“I can see my finish if I ever' started in with them,” Marge had retorted. “All they are out for is a good time.”
“I’d rather have Jimmy and his dreams than all the rest of them put together,” she thought.
OF THE family, Marge’s brother Jack alone viewed Jimmy with unqualified enthusiasm. But then Jack was a savage of twelve and blind to social distinctions, if not to material advantages.
“Say,” he had demanded of Jimmy, holding out a picture clipped from a Sunday supplement. “Do you think you could show me how to build a car that would go like the one these kids built? They just used odds and ends.”
They began building it in the cellar. There after five o’clock of a November afternoon, Marge had found them absorbed in the task.
“A big washer?” Jack was saying, oblivious of Marge’s approach. “I’ll get one—there’s a box of ’em-up-stairs.” Jimmy had glanced up at her. And the look of tense absorption giving his young face an overlay of strength had been eclipsed by an expression she loved still more —as if her coming had lighted a thousand candles in him.
They were engaged, but it was to be kept a secret. From all save those who had eyes to see, ears to hear. They were to be very sensible. They were not even to dream of marriage yet. In the meantime Jimmy would work harder than ever. And save harder, too.
“I may need money to market the carburetor,” he had explained. “I’ve got a thousand saved.”
“I’ve got three hundred and forty-eight dollars myself. And I-”
“I,” he assured her huskily, “don’t think there ever was a girl like you. I wouldn’t touch a cent of your savings, but”—he paused and kissed her—“believe me,
I’ll hold on to every nickel from now on just as tight as—I'll hold you!”
The ring at Christmas was a lapse from that high resolve, but Marge did not so remind him. After he was gone that night, she fled to her room and stood admiring it at this angle and at that. And then she kissed it. And when she finally dropped off to sleep it was tucked up against her cheek. And in the morning it was still there, proving that it hadn’t all been a dream. . . .
But this was only an interude. They had agreed to be sensible. And sensible they became, straightaway again.
“Sold the bus to-day,” announced Jimmy one night in mid-January. “Got four hundred and fifty for it. Moriarty is going to put a truck body on it.”
“Oh, Jimmy!” protested Marge, for she knew that he loved the ancient Triton as an Arab is reputed to love his horse.
“Do me good to walk,” he assured her stoically.
They were in the parlor, which they had pre-empted as by divine right. She left him while she sped up stairs, to return bearing a straw turban.
“See that?” she demanded. “Well, that used to be my last year’s hat, but when I get through with it it’s going to be the cutest little this year’s hat you ever saw. No new spring bonnet for Marge—not with Jimmy walking to save money.”
ND so, through the late Winter, ran a passionate competition in niggardliness. They made a little god of their determination to be sensible and to it they sacrificed every normal craving youth knows.
No more movies; no more candy. Even a college ice was taboo. The more sensible they were about such things the sooner they would come to the goal which—must not be even thought of. Except at such moments as when Jimmy would murmur:
“A palace is what you ought to have by rights.”
“A cottage will do, if you’re there too!” she assured
Even to her family, the harshest of critics a mortal knows, Marge was an enigma these days. She wore, at times, an almost consecrated look which moved the unregenerate Barbara to fury.
“She’s just plain nutty,” Barbara assured the family. “I can see myself going crazy over a piker like him. What’s the good of being engaged—if you don’t get anything out of it? They might as well be married!”
“Barbara!” said her mother, reprovingly. “You mustn’t say such things!”
Yet in her heart, her mother felt the same.
“It’s all right to be sensible,” she told Marge’s father that night, “but Marge is overdoing it. She needs a new spring suit but she fairly snapped my head off when I suggested it. I don’t know what’s come over her.”
The truth was, of course, that Marge was in the grip of one of the oldest, deadliest of human emotions. The spirit of self-sacrifice was upon her.
In February it drove her to forswearing even Jimmy for more than one night a week. She did not believe that Jimmy’s invention would ever amount to anything. That would be too good to be true. Yet she knew that next to her it lay closest to his heart. And of late there had been fresh perplexities, disheartening to him and leaving him subject to fits of preoccupation, even when he was with her.
And so, like a Spartan mother, she had sent him forth.
“I’ll understand,” she promised. “I know you can’t get it out of your mind even when you are with me. Be sensible—and kiss me, Jimmy!”
As if the two could go together!
Yet Jimmy kissed her—and acquiesced. Better would it have been had he been foolish and assured her that all the inventions in the world were not worth her little finger. Or even if he had told her, as was the truth, that the trouble with him was that he thought of her so much that he could no longer concentrate on the carburetor. But he was not so articulate. And so, as the March winds began to blow, the rations of their romance were further reduced, that Jimmy might start a new schedule.
But man, as somebody has remarked, is a complex beast. Through the hours he should have spent with Marge, Jimmy sat and glowered at a model that baffled him, until he felt like taking a hammer and smashing it to bits.
“I’m licked,” he admitted finally to himself. “I might as well admit it. The idea never was any good and never will be.”
The depths which creative artists know at odd moments closed over him then. The window beside him was open, for though it was only March the wind was from the west and warm; the night with its hint of spring and the eternally disturbing, might have been in May.
In New Brunswick, where he had come from, they would have said he had spring fever and dosed him with sulphur and molasses. But what ailed him was spiritual, not physical.
To Marge, working late this same night, there had come that samedeeling. The nebulous longing, the undefinable unrest, that spring ever distils. But of this undercurrent there was no indication in her activity. In the glow of her desk lamp she was typing a score of letters which, when finished, would bear the signature of one Edward Dodge, a client of long standing whom she liked and thoroughly esteemed.
Esteemed was precisely the word. When the switchboard operator tried to jolly Marge about Edward Dodge she got no rise out of her.
“He’s a cagy old bird,” she had assured Marge, she being disrespectful by nature as well as profession. “But I’ll bet if you played your cards right you’d get him!”
“I wouldn’t play my cards to get any man,” Marge had retorted. “Besides, he’s old enough to be my father.”
Nevertheless, though she scoffed at it, the idea that Edward Dodge—well, esteemed her too—did not displease her. He kept an apartment in the hotel the year around, though he was often away. He had a correspondence that opened many vistas — picturesque, imagination-quickening addresses like the one she was now typing, “Hasley House, Red Lion Square, London, W.C. 1.” She had had glimpses of his apartment—he occasionally telegraphed asking her to get some book and send it to him—and she knew, from the many casual signs of luxury, that he had money enough to finance many whims.
AND—there is no denying it—there were moments, even after she met Jimmy, when she pictured herself sitting in one of the luxurious leather chairs beside the reading table, or in the window embrasure. But never in her wildest dreams did she suspect that he had occasionally pictured the same thing.
And so now as she saw him coming toward her, just as she drew the last of his letters from the typewriter, she smiled, cordially and without coquetry.
“I’m sorry to have kept you,” he apologized, in his nice voice. “It was good of you to push the work through.”
He seated himself at her desk. At the temples, his hair was as gray as her father’s. But there all resemblance ended. Edward Dodge’s head was lean and soldierly, as was the man himself. He reached for a pen and the only jewelry he wore—a seal with a deep-cut crest, on the little finger of his right hand—flashed in the light. The crest always fascinated her, suggesting as it did family, money, ancestry and an assured background.
He ran through the letters, signing them. Finished, he smiled up at her. His face was not young, yet there was a lingering boyishness in it that added charm to a carefully schooled manner.
“I’ll seal and mail them,” he assured her. “I shan’t keep you for that.” The hall clock in the foyer chimed melodiously, and then sounded the hour. “Eight o’clock!” he exclaimed. “I’m ashamed of myself. I think it only right that I send you home in a taxi. Please don’t refuse—it’s only your due! And I’ll feel less conscience-stricken.”
Ever so briefly Marge hesitated, then “Thanks,” she said, gratefully. “I am tired. It’s been almost as warm as spring to-day, don’t you think?” The taxi was no broken-down limousine, but a sleek-motored, luxurious affair. The sense of swift, silent movement soothed her, and to it she relaxed.
“This,” thought she, “is the life!”
From that point her thoughts dodged haphazardly about, without continuity. She thought of Jimmy, probably working hard. She pictured him so, but somehow he did not fit her mood to-night. . . . Just to think there were people like Edward Dodge to whom taxis were as common as street-cars to other people! Oh gosh, if Jimmy’s carburetor would only carbúrate— or whatever a carburetor was supposed to do! . . . Some men would have said they’d see her home. But Edward Dodge was nice. She’d hate to have him see her hornet They were almost there now; the taxi turned into the familiar, shabby street.
The chauffeur twisted his head inquiringly.
“Second house to the right,” she told him.
The taxi stopped. Marge stepped out, slowly, regretfully. It had been so perfect . . .
The chauffeur thrust in his gears.
“Oh, wait a minute!” begged Marge. “My handbag.”
Poised on the curb, she thrust head and shoulders through the door to retrieve her handbag. All, of course, with never a thought that anybody so seeing her would be so mean and nasty as to imagine that she waswell, getting something else.
This, however, was exactly as mean and nasty as Jimmy at once became. Exasperated by the very sight of the darn carburetor, he had thrust it back into his trunk and started for Marge’s house. She would be surprised to set' him, he knew, but he would cut that short.
"I'm no good,” he would tell her, "and I'll never be any good The sooner you drop me overboard the better
HE ACTUALLY believed he meant this. He believed.
too, that should she protest, he would stand firm, assuring her that it was for the best. He was nothing but a measly garage mechanic and he always would be.
The truth, nevertheless, was that he wanted her to tell him that she loved him and always would love him and that he was a silly-billy and that she was sure the carburetor would be a success and that she didn't care if it wasn't. And that she’d like to see him try to get rid of her!
Instead, he saw a taxi stop in front of her house. And a second later he saw red. green, and purple. Jealousy strikes as swiftly as lightning and as devastat -ingfy.
“So that,” he thought, "is what she’s up to!”
Let those who condemn him for a iack of faith pause and consider. He was in that darkest mood when the worst that fate can deal its victim is not only to be feared, but tobe expected.
Of his proximity, Marge, wetching the taxi disappear, had not the slightest premonition.
“Oh!” she cried,
"I could learn to love you all right!”
This was addressed to the taxi.
And as it turned the corner, she threwan impulsive kiss after its tail lights.
“Who,” demanded Jimmy, without preface, “was in that car?”
Marge jumped, then turned on him indignantly.
“Why, Jimmy Norris!” she snapped. “Don't you ever creep up in back of me like that again. You startled the life out of me.”
“I’ll say I did,” he agreed misanthropically. “Had no idea I was around, did you?
No wonder you put me on the shelf! ‘You work on your invention,
Jimmy.’ ” HÍ3 voiee pitched to savage mimicry.
“ T won’t mind, dear.’ I’ll say you don’t!”
Marge stared at him, her eyes at their widest. "Why, Jimmy Norris! Have you gone out of your senses?” "No, I’m just coming to them, thank you! Go on! Explain! 1 suppose 1 didn’t see you put your head in so that he could kiss you!”
"Kiss me!” The light cast by the street lamp shone on her utter bewilderment.
“You do it well! But I tell you I saw you!"
"You’re crazy!” was all that she could gasp.
"I’ve been crazy, you mean. Crazy enough to work night and day while you play around with somebody else. Well, I’m through!”
This was not as he had intended to say it, but at least it was the substance. As for Marge, her eyes dashed the while her pretty lips tightened. Abruptly, she realized she didn’t love him. The only feeling she had for him was the desire to hurt him, horribly. And so, controlling herself, she spoke with misleading sweetness.
"You’re right,” she acquiesced. “We’ve both been crazy. 1 thought that you and that old carburetor might amount to something. But I know better now.”
And then the engagement ring slipped off her finger, slipped off more easily than it had slipped on. Jimmy blinked, then swallowed as it dropped in his hand. "Good-by, Jimmy,” Marge added, over her shoulder she was ascending the front path. “And better luck next time.”
The front door slammed behind her. And Jimmy,
with gritted teeth, glared at it almost as viciously as if it were the lady he loved.
“Oh, is that so!” he remarked aloud. “The carburetor will never amount to anything, you say! Well, I’ll show you where you’re wrong!”
And, turning, he went back to the house where he lodged, and up to his room. There he flung open his trunk and drew from its depths the carburetor Marge scorned.
“You’ll work,” he assured it grimly, “if it takes my last breath to make you!”
As for Marge, she told her mother that she had had her dinner, which was a lie, but weighed less than a grain on her conscience, and sought sanctuary in her room. There she faced herself, as reflected by her mirror dry and angry of eye.
“T wouldn’t marry him now if he had a million,” she informed herself. “Not if he came on his hands and knees to ask me to.”
And she meant it, absolutely . . . Toward morning, when everybody in the world was asleep but her, she remembered that Jimmy was awfully stubborn and that he’d never make the first advance. Well, neither would she!
Nor did she.
“Where is Jimmy these days?” her mother asked, when his absence finally percolated. “It seems to me that I haven’t seen him around here this week.”
“I haven’t the slightest idea where he is and I don’t care,” Marge assured her icily.
“ Please never mention his name to me again.”
Her mother stared incredulously. And said later, to Marge’s father, “I can’t make her out. She was crazy about him only a while back.” Being wise in their generation, they said no more about Jimmy. But Jack said much, and with bitterness. The car that Jimmy had toiled over was yet to be finished and he wanted .to know what had become of him.
“I can tell you,” announced Barbara, too smugly. “He was at the movie last night with Mabel Edmunds. He’s got a new car too—a peach. Not like that awful thing he used to have.”
THAT was true, all of it. The new car had been bought by Jimmy in a dark moment when he pictured Marge riding around in taxis with persons ■— as the police say — unknown. The car had classy lines and he could tune the engine up. Anyway, it was a bargain—and he'd show Marge. And if, as was possible, he used Mabel Edmunds to the same ends, why—weH, Mabel was the sort that grabs every man in sight and so her feelings were not to be considered.
The very day Continued on page 58
You Are Young Only Once
Continued from page 14
after Barbara bore news of him Marge saw Jimmy, the new car and Mabel Edmunds, all together.
And she wished, mightily, that there had been somebody in the taxi that night and that she had kissed him.
Of one thing she was sure. Jimmy had departed from her life forever. Mabel Edmunds could have him and welcome.
The next day at noon she crossed to the bank where she deposited.
“Two hundred, if you please,” she said to the paying teller, thrusting her pass book at him. And added, with a smile, “Nice new bills, please. I’m going shopping.”
“I get you!” grinned the paying teller, who was married and thought he understood.
But he didn’t fully. In Marge was epitomized the answer to those who decry the material waste the changing fashions represent. Clothes may not make the man, but they make any woman feel better.
“Well, will you look who’s here!” exclaimed the switchboard operator, later that same day. “Say, girlie, when you threw over that inventor I thought you were headed for an early decline. But signs of life? I’ll say so. Where did you get that hat and that—”
But Marge ignored her. Edward Dodge, she saw, was hovering uncertainly about her desk.
“How do you do,” she said breathlessly. “Were you looking for me? You’ve been away, haven’t you?”
“I am looking for you,” he acknowledged. “And I have been away. I went the morning after I overworked you so mercilessly. And I’ve wondered since how you survived.”
“Oh, that was nothing,” Marge reassured him. “The taxi more than made up for it!”
The taxi that had cost her Jimmy! But she was not thinking of him then. In Edward Dodge’s eyes there was something new, something that made her pulse quicken and her breath come a bit quicker.
“It’s the hat,” she surmised shrewdly. “Do you know—you look like Lady Patricia,” remarked Edward Dodge suddenly and for him impetuously. “Has anybody ever told you so?”
No one ever had, she confessed. Nor had she, she admitted, noticed any such resemblance herself. She had not indeed even seen “Princess Patricia.”
She turned to take off her hat. As she faced him again he said:
“I wonder if I couldn’t persuade you to come with me some evening to the theatre—with your mother, of course.” The invitation surprised him as much as it did her.
SHE had been about to refuse, but she paused for second thought. And— well, second thought may be wise, but its results are not commendable. For Marge, reconsidering, remembered Jimmy — Jimmy, who was running around with Mabel Edmunds. If Jimmy thought she cared, she’d show him. And here was her chance.
“I think,” she finished, “that it’s awfully good of you and I’ll be glad to.” Let those who would throw the first stone at her for that, hold their hands. The temptation was great. Probably—or rather surely—Edward Dodge would call for her and return her home in a taxi. And if Jimmy should happen to hear of that— Jimmy heard, all right!
And never did he doubt but what the magnificent stranger was he by whom Marge had been brought home on that fatal night— the man she had kissed. He had money, that was evident. The second time he appeared— for there was a second visit, shortly after the theatre episode— the taxi waited for him outside Marge's home for over an hour. Also, observed of all the street, a messenger boy had appeared, bearing a long box obviously containing long-stemmed roses, which he had delivered at Marge’s door.
The roses, it appeared, had been sent not to Marge but to her mother.
“He’s a perfect gentleman,” Marge's mother remarked. “But 1 can’t say I feel comfortable with him. Of course, he’s got money.”
“Of course,” agreed Marge’s father, without enthusiasm.
The truth, though he wouldn’t admit it, was that Edward Dodge made him uncomfortable, too. As for Edward Dodge, he also had been uncomfortable, though nobody guessed that.
“Why,” he demanded, when he returned to his perfectly appointed apartment, “does a girl like that have to have a family anyway?”
From which even the least analytic can surmise what was happening to him. Against that he fought. He was forty-five, as he reminded himself. He could name a hundred reasons why it was folly for him to let himself think of marrying Marge. Her family, the difference in age—■
“The best thing for me is a trip to Europe,” he thought.
Yet he lingered, even while he assured himself that things couldn’t go on this way.
In April, Jimmy apparently came to the same conclusion. He had been in the background of late. Such time as he had to spare was spent on his first and only love, the carburetor. He worked over it sometimes until two or three in the morning. It was that, without doubt, that left him a bit haggard these days.
So he looked when he planted himself squarely in Marge’s path one soft April evening as she came up the street, homeward bound.
“I want to ask you just one question,” he announced forthrightly. “Are you going to marry that man or aren’t you?”
His young voice, hard as his eyes, struck answering flint in her.
“Is that any of your business, Mr. Norris?” Marge demanded.
“I suppose not,” he admitted. And added, suddenly and surprisingly, “But this is your last chance.”
“Last chance at what?” she demanded flippantly. And then anger flamed in her. She was not to be treated in this cavalier fashion. “You think a lot of yourself, don’t you, Jimmy Norris? He’s a darn sight nicer to me than you ever were and if he asks me to marry him I’ll—I’ll be the happiest girl in the world.”
Ever so fleetingly the tight line of Jimmy’s set mouth quivered. But there was no sign of that in his voice as he delivered his final shot.
“For his money, I suppose,” he flung at her. “Well, all I’ve got to say is that you’ll be sorry the rest of your life!”
AND so he left her, wondering just - what he meant.
The next night Edward Dodge proposed. They had been to the theatre. By tacit agreement the chaperonage of Marge’s mother had been done away with, of late. They were in a taxi and for a time he had been silent.
Now they were almost at Marge’s door. He turned towards her. The light of a street lamp touched her face fleetingly as, conscious of his gaze, she glanced up at him, her lips a little parted.
An exquisite moment, somehow, that stirred him through and through.
“Marge,” he broke out, impulsively as twenty-two might have, “do you know how adorable you are?”
She could guess. She had deliberately manoeuvred to the end he should know it. He was nice and she liked him. A lot. Of that she made much in her mind. And he could give her everything. Travel and luxury. As for the cottage she had told Jimmy she would share with him, she was older and wiser now! Why be foolish?
“It wouldn’t be a cottage anyhow, but some dark, miserable little apartment,” she had reminded herself. “And if we had children we’d be just like mother and father—old and worn out at forty!”
And so she had played her cards, like a sensible little girl. And played them well. For:
“Oh, Marge, my dear!” added Edward Dodge, curiously husky.
As he spoke his fingers found hers. One arm went around her waist, he drew her toward him. A little spasm ran through her. But, closing her eyes, she deliberately lifted her face and . . .
IN A garage, but two blocks removed, Jimmy stood with his back to a bench upon which, contrary to the practice observed at other benches, the tools were laid out with orderly precision. This was one of his nights on duty. At midnight he would be through. Forever. He had made his plans, saying nothing to anybody save for the giving of his notice a week before.
Everything was settled. He would travel far—and forget. But at the moment his spirits were as deep in gloom as his hands were in his pockets.
Except for him the garage was deserted. It was the zero hour in business as well as for him. Presently he glanced at the clock. He might as well wash up, lay aside khaki shirt and overalls and—
He turned, startled. Before he could recover himself, or even believe it wasn’t all some dream, Marge’s arms were about his neck. And she kissed him, firmly and with finality. And her eyes weren’t closed either.
“I couldn’t, Jimmy, I couldn’t!” she babbled. “I—oh, Jimmy, will you ever forgive me?”
“Forgive you?” he echoed bewilderedly, but with his arms about her.
“I thought I could forget you—and marry him,” she rushed on. “I really thought I could until he—kissed me. And then I knew. He was so sweet and so nice about it, Jimmy. He—he forgave me. If you will—”
“You mean you turned him down?” demanded Jimmy, striving to get it straight.
“I’m a horrid, hateful thing,” she went on, unheeding, the mood for self-abasement strong on her. “But—oh, Jimmy, I don’t care if it’s the meanest little flat in the world. I’d rather have it with you than a palace with anybody else. Do you love me a little still?”
To her it seemed as if the world stood still while she waited his answer. But he had something else on his mind.
“You haven’t heard—anything, have you?” he demanded, his eyes searching hers.
“Heard anything?” she repeated. “Oh Jimmy”—her voice broke pitifully—“you aren’t engaged to—to somebody else?”
“I should say not!” he exploded. And drawing her close again added, “There couldn’t be anybody else for me, Marge. I just wondered if—”
She didn’t care what he wondered. “You might kiss me as if you—meant it,” she suggested reproachfully—yet hopefully.
Neighboring church spires tolled the hour of midnight and five minutes more passed into eternity. Then Marge half freed herself.
“I simply couldn’t go to bed without making it up with you,” she explained. “I —I spent most of my savings, Jimmy. For clothes. But I’ll start in again harder than ever.”
THERE was a smudge on one of her cheeks, presented by Jimmy; the grease from his hands had ruined her frock. But she did not know that. Nor would she have cared if she had.
“Save!” said Jimmy. “I guess you won’t say anything about saving when you take a squint at this!”
“This” proved to be a document which he, still holding her fast, drew from his pocket.
“What is it?” she demanded, more interested in him than it.
“Contract!” explained Jimmy succinctly, but with a note of triumph vibrant in his voice. “Drawn up by a real lawyer—believe me I didn’t take any chances on a cheap man. This is ironclad.”
“Contract? For what?”
“Why, the carburetor, of course. I put it across, by golly. And I’m going to buy you a house, a regular house! And a car all your own and everything else.”
“Jimmy Norris!” gasped Marge. “Are —are you crazy?”
“Crazy! I guess not. I’ve got an initial payment of twenty thousand cool bucks to my credit. They’re going to manufacture the carburetor on a royalty basis. And I’ve got a basic patent. Any idea what that means?”
Marge hadn’t. Her ideas were all mixed up anyway just then.
“They’ve got to come to me, all of them,” he explained. “And as to money, it may mean ten thousand, twenty thousand a year—anything!”
“Oh, Jimmy!” faltered Marge. “I’m scared! I wouldn’t have dared to come if I had dreamed. I—you know it was just you, Jimmy? You and nothing else?” “Sure,” said Jimmy, his arms tightening again. “But I’ll bet you won’t kick at the money at that.”
Again he searched his pocket. And a second later the engagement ring slipped on once more in a way that indicated he
had had practice. But as long as it had been on her, Marge didn’t mind.
“I’ve told myself every day I’d sell it, but 1 never could,” he confessed. “I’ll get you a better one later. A real ring.”
“I don’t want you to!” protested Marge. “I couldn’t bear to have you. It’s my own ring and I love >t. But, oh, Jimmy! Let’s not be so—so sensible this time. Let’s be—oh, foolish sometimes. I think that was the whole trouble before. We were so darn sensible!”
“You said it!” affirmed Jimmy, with utter conviction.