Love Makes Gamblers of Us All
LOW and sweet and infinitely beguiling with the stridencies of lusty young voices muted by distance, the familiar old air drifted up from the campus to where Larry Weston had achieved the solitude he sought. They were singing “Varsity Forever” and though the words were indistinguishable to his ear, his mind supplied them with subconscious precision: the swan song of the seniors, sung with their caps in their hands, their inspired young faces lifted to the soft June stars.
In 1916, as a senior, his voice had blended with the rest. In 1916 —but this was 1924. A glamorous June night, heady with lights and music and laughter—a night on which the grads might recapture their youth. Men of all ages, acting and feeling incredibly boyish. But Larry stood alone, hands thrust into his pockets and a bitter smile twisting his lips.
So it was that Judy Sears discovered him.
Now Judy might have remembered that they had never been formally introduced.
But Judy was seldom formal anyway. She remembered and recognized him at once; for whatever else the years between haddone to him, they had not robbed him of his lithe grace of figure.
Of course she knew he would neither remember nor recognize her; she had been but twelve the last, and only, time he had ever seen her. At twelve there hadn’t been so very much of Judy, but what there had been had run mostly to legs and arms. She had seemed incredibly well supplied with them then—and quite conscious of the fact herself.
This had been Larry’s first impression of her. It would have remained his only one had not Dicky Smith poked him and, indicating the limousine
They—Larry and Dicky Smith—had been seniors then ; big men in a small college. The sort of college that never achieves national prestige until suddenly a little group of athletic stars causes it to flash brilliantly ÍD the football firmament. They had had such a group that year.
The eleven on which Larry had played right half had beaten Drake six to nothing. That had been only the beginning. It was no flash in the pan. Editors of the sporting pages began to anticipate scores such as this:
Varsity 31—Langton 0 Varsity 46—Trinity 3 Varsity 13—Muloch 12
Larry was first marshal of his class that year. Dicky Smith. Varsity quarter and catcher and captain of the nine for which Larry had pitched, had been the second mar shal.
That was their big hour. They felt it. Yet something had stirred, half anticipatory, half apprehensive, as they took in Johnny Sears’s limousine. Every Varsity man knew Johnny Sears. He was not only one of Varsity’s legendary athletes, but he was Varsity’s only millionaire. In 1916 he had yet to see forty but he was already a member of one of the world’s noted banking firms.
The kid in Johnny Sears’s chariot, Larry had realized, must be Johnny’s daughter. It was as such that he had accorded her a second glance. He had seen then that she not only had the extremities of a baby calf but that her nose was freckled and her mouth too big. For the rest, her hair was obviously red — and bobbed. It had occurred to him then,that whatever Johnny Sears might have achieved in other directions he could not point with pride to his achievements in pa ternity.
BUT that had been in 1916. In 1924 . . Eight years. No more than an infinitesimal moment, as a scientist computes time. But as a man reckons existence it remains a not inconsiderable span. In it much can be achieved—or not. Men who were outstanding
of power and price in which she sat—it shone with much brass work as was the fashion in 1916—said: “See that chariot of gold over there—the one' with the kid in it? That belongs to Johnny Sears. Think we’ll ever come back to class day in anything like that?”
in college can sink into obscurity. Ugly little girls of twelve can—if you believe all you read—become miracles of loveliness. The truth usually lies somewhere in between. This much is certain. Of his own volition Larry would not have returned to Varsity had he not encountered Dicky Smith in Montreal. The latter took it for granted that Larry would want to go back for class day. “You won’t know the old place,” he had added. “All under new management. Johnny Sears is president now, you know.” Larry did. He had nodded and Dicky had run on. “He’s out to get a million for Varsity, and believe me he will. Better conceal your assets before Johnny gets his hands on you. He’s got most of the alumni on the verge of bankruptcy. I’ve envied you at times, way off in China—”
“I get mail even there,” Larry had cut in with a transient grin. The grin had been reminiscent of the Larry of other days and it had made Dicky realize suddenly some subtle change the years had wrought. He had given Larry a swift, keen glance. He found him lean and lithe, bronzed and fit looking. But something seemed to have gone out of him—the old, irrepressible audacity that had carried him through
Varsity, and after that the war, as it had carried D’Artagnan through the court of France. ,/■
“How did you leave the Celestial Empire?”
Dicky had demanded abruptly.
“P. and 0. liner—I know of no better way.”
“You’re about as communicative as a Chinaman. You’ve been away almost five years—long enough to grow a queue. How about those little Celestial Yums-Yums with almond eyes? Don’t tell me that there hasn’t been at least one in your life!”
“Oh, one has been very much in my life.
Only her name isn’t Yum-Yum and her almond eyes are embellished with horn spectacles. She was my stenographer—I believe she called herself my private secretary—and she has been observed to powder her Celestial nose and I suspected her of chewing gum.”
“You’re shattering all my young illusions,”
Dicky had protested. “I’ve been picturing you all these years leading the life of colorful adventure and you show up dressed—and talking—like a tired business man. Well—at Varsity we’ll renew your youth.”
This Larry doubted—but privately. He knew that he was not meeting Dicky halfway, but he could not help it. He wore his reticence like a protective armor.
They had come back to Varsity toward twilight the day before. As Dicky had said, the place was changed. The old charm was ^ still there, but there was a crispness to it.
Varsity had been rejuvenated. Even the old elms around the campus had taken a new lease of life. Tree surgery had achieved for them what modern business methods were striving v to achieve for the college itself. At a financial sacrifice that the statistically inclined could —and did—compute, Johnny Sears had returned to his alma mater to perform a service of love. Every newspaper in the Dominion had featured the news.
THESE newspaper stories had caused Judy much diversion. “I don’t know how all this is affecting you,” she had said to her father, “but my head is completely turned. This is the fourth time I’ve found myself referred to as your beautiful and talented daughter. I’d begin to believe it myself if I hadn’t a mirror—and a sense of humor!”
“I suppose,” he had admitted honestly,
“you aren’t exactly beautiful but—”
“But me no buts! I haven’t pyorrhea—
Doctor Clinton assured me so solemnly the other day. So I’m not one of the'fatal four in five. And I don’t think I have halitosis. Although the insidious thing about that is that one can never be sure.
Even your best friends--”
“You haven’t!” he had cut in, shocked.
“Well—I’m often a bridesmaid but never a bride! Explain that if you can.”
She had given him the opportunity but instead he
had kissed her. “I know,” he had begun, “that--”
“That God and my father love me? Well, that’s something.”
“I know that you are an incorrigible tease—and that somebody is going to be mad about you some day.” “Who?”
“I don’t know—and you haven’t met him yet. Because if you had you’d have him on his knees--”
“Gracious! I’m not only beautiful but a vamp as well. A rag and a bone and a hank of hair—red, and not very much of a hank!”
And that was true. At twelve her hair had been short. It still was. “Shingled” had come into the language. She had fewer freckles and her arms and her legs had become properly apportioned segments of her anatomy. She was indeed slim and graceful, but otherwise time had achieved no miracles for her.
Elan she had, of spirit and expression as well as of body. Beauty she knew was denied her. What she did not realize was that others might see in her what she never saw in herself. And that was charm. Her father saw it always.
“You’ll see!” he had prophesied with a tug at his heart—of fear.
“I wonder! But what I am worrying about now is the shock the young men at Varsity are going to get!”
The young men at Varsity had sustained the shock
to Larry as a cheer went up for Johnny Sears. “He’s got a siren’s voice.”
Then Johnny Sears had begun to speak. To him, what he said must have been “old stuff” as it was to many of his hearers. But he put into his plea the same intensity and power that Booth brought to his hundredth performance of Hamlet. His picture of Varsity and its needs was a canny mixture of sentiment and hardheaded business. He had swayed them powerfully. And then abruptly he had paused.
“Well?” he had demanded—just that.
And briefly Larry had recaptured his youth. “You can put me down for five thousand,” he had said.
The impulsive old Larry who had flamed his way through Varsity, that. He had taken their breath away for a moment. And then they had cheered him.
The cheers had reached Judy waiting in her father’s car outside. She was acting as his chauffeur, whisking him from one class dinner to another.
“Were all those cheers for you?” she had demanded when her father appeared.
“No—they were all for Larry Weston. I don’t suppose you remember him—he was captain of the eleven back in 1916.”
nobly. As hostess in her father’s home, Judy had had to steer a devious course. As Johnny Sears’s daughter she was naturally part of the golden legend. And besides she was the new Principal’s daughter. The undergraduates did not know just how to treat her. Judy settled that for them. She treated them-like an elder sister. They said she was a good egg. Now and then some of them became sentimental. She supposed this was inevitable. But she saw to it that they got over it as soon as possible. This she conceived as doing her part as her father was doing his.
He had thrown himself into the rehabilitation of Varsity with all the intensity and energy that had won him international repute among financiers. Varsity was on the verge of bankruptcy. It needed capital and this he set himself out to get.
Larry had seen him in action for the first time at his own class dinner earlier this evening.
“Put cotton in your ears,” Dicky Smith had whispered
REMEMBER him? Judy’s heart had given a sudden little jump. She could close her eyes and see Larry. As he had looked in football togs and, on that day when she was twelve, in his cap and gown. She could even have told her father what Larry’s years, weight and height had been then: “Weston L H B 23 161 5-10.” “This,” her father had added, “is the first time he’s been back to Canada since after the war. He went out to China, you know.”
Of course he had not really believed that Judy knew that. But she did. She had seen Larry’s name in the alumni directory: “Laurence Weston, Branch Manager, International Export Company, Shantung, China.”
“Why were they cheering him?” she had asked.
“Because my silver-tongued—or perhaps I might even say my golden-tongued— oratory wooed five thousand out of him.” “Five thousand! Gracious—he must
have taken your breath away.”
“He did, rather. I—hope he has it.” “What an idea!” she had protested. “Of course he has.”
The class of 1916 had not doubted it. The dinner after Johnny Sears had quitted it had become an ovation to Larry. The old gang had pummelled him boyishly— and enviously.
“Let’s all go out to China!” Dicky Smith had suggested.
They had driven Larry almost to the point of confession—but not quite. Instead he had escaped them at the first opportunity and now, towards midnight, he found himself alone on the “Rez.”
Once when Varsity was young the Rez had been distinctly utilitarian, a small sheet of water serving the college. Now it was preserved as a tradition. Here annually freshmen were ducked for the good of their souls. And here usually trysting couples might be found. But now it was deserted.
From the hill top it crowned one could look down on the campus, gaily lighted, and beyond this, in the distance and lower still, the lights of a city.
A glamourous June night, soft-starred and heady with music and laughter. A night to bring back youth—but Larry had lost his again. They had cheered him, flattered him. What would they say if they knew the truth? That he was a four-flusher? He winced. At least he was not that. His gift had been impulsive and unconsidered, but he had been sincere. He had wanted to give . . .
And so Judy discovered him. “Oh!” she exclaimed, breaking in on his thoughts. “It’s—why, it’s Mr. Weston, isn’t it?”
Larry turned. He did not know her from Adam— which was odd, as she did not at all resemble the latter. This she sensed.
“I’m Judy Sears—daughter of Johnny,” she told him, smiling up at him. “You’ve heard of him—if not of me.” Then before he could speak she added: “I often come up here the last thing at night; it gives one a feeling of peace, don’t you think?”
Larry nodded assent, though he had not found peace here.
“But how,” she demanded, “did you manage to
T IKE every Varsity man Larry knew of Johnny Sears’s place at Hamilton. It was a show-place among show-places. A week-end bid there was akin to an accolade and in his case it was based, Larry believed, on the sort of a background his five thousand dollar gift to Varsity must suggest to Johnny Sears.
From that thought Larry recoiled. “I’m sorry,” he
said to Johnny Sears, “but--”
“It’s got to be an awfully good excuse,” Johnny Sears warned him. “Almost impregnable, in fact.”
To confess there and then might have been wiser. But Larry was human enough to try instead to evade. As a result he found himself the following Friday swinging off the train at Hamilton.
In a smart roadster sat Judy waiting for him. This was the first time he had seen her since 1916, for to see her that night on the Rez had been impossible. So until she smiled greeting, he was not quite sure it was she. Then he realized that she hadn’t changed unrecognizably since she was twelve. She was essentially the same and yet it did not occur to him, as it had the other time, that Johnny Sears’s daughter was nothing to write home about.
“Just a bag?” she asked. “Put it in back, please—I’m driving you up.” They sped over beautiful winding roads.
“I’m afraid,” she remarked, “you won’t find us so very gay. We’re quite alone except for a few of father’s old cronies. Do you play golf?”
“It depends,” he replied, “on what you call golf.”
Judy smiled, in the unself-conscfous way that made various young Varsity men realize that she was not only a good egg but a darn desirable little egg as well.
“Father,” she told him, “said something about a potential foursome before dinner. I feel quite sure you are elected.” Larry was. One of Johnny Sears’s cronies was a great banker. The other, paired off with Larry, was a still greater banker. Larry knew them by their aweinspiring names. He found them personally simple, unaffected gentlemen whose game was as wretched as his— and he had not touched a club in months. They played for a dollar a hole. Larry and his partner won six dollars apiece. His partner was as gleeful as if he had made a million.
“Straight and short and sure—that’s the way to play ’em,” he exulted. And turning to Larry added: “These chaps who try to hit the cover off the ball are always in the rough. They play golf as if--”
“As if it were a sporting proposition,” cut in Johnny Sears. “Not as if it were making loans at six per cent.—after carefully examining the security. Your game may win you a few dollars now and then, Sam, but you’ll never break a hundred.”
“There is something in your head. Tell me what you have in mind,” he pleaded.
Judy hesitated. Then: “Do you believe in feminine intuition?”
“I believe that like masculine hunches feminine intuition is right—well, perhaps fifty per cent, of the time.”
“This is the fifty per cent, that is right, then. I— promise you won’t tell?”
He promised. And she told him what intuition had told her.
“But-” he protested.
“This week-end,” she commanded firmly. “Alive or dead!”
And so Larry found himself invited to Hamilton.
THEN after dinner Judy claimed Larry. They drove off together to another show-place where a dance was on. The younger set now—sleek, wellgroomed young men with a McGill crew captain and a champion tennis player among them; assured, audacious girls, beautifully appointed and swift at pert parry and impertinent thrust.
They all accepted Larry as casually and unquestioningly as had Johnny Sears’s friends. The prettiest girl, an over-the-border visitor from Vassar, who
escape? Don’t you know that you are the hero of the hour? Everybody is talking of your gift—and father is as pleased as Punch!”
“It’s very little compared to what he has given,” protested Larry.
“Oh,” she flashed impulsively. “But the widow’s
mite--” There she paused abruptly. “Do forgive
me,” she said, “for being so seemingly tactless. It’s no more a mite than you are a widow and”—she smiled —“although we are sure it’s generous, we do hope it’s not all!”
Larry smiled, a mere flicker of his lips. “It’s no more than I ought to give,” he answered evasively.
To his relief she let the matter rest there.
“I suppose this is a vacation—of sorts—for you?” “Of sorts,” he assented.
To tell her the truth—on top of his gift—was impossible. It would have left her speechless, he believed.
He did not know Judy—yet. Nor did he know that he was to know her very well before he was much older. But Judy had already so decided. Although she would have put it that she had decided to know him better. She had made up her mind to that when, with a glance at her wrist watch, she said good-night to him.
HANDS thrust back in his pockets, his thoughts flowed again through dark channels.
This was his second visit to Varsity in eight years. And, he believed, his last. The year after the war ended—1919—he had been glad to get back for class day. He had come through the war with distinction, adding a bit to his own reputation and to Varsity’s. Even old Prof. Bell, whom Johnny Sears had succeeded, had referred to his war record that other June night in 1919.
A gentleman and a scholar—old Bell; a Greek scholar, for the classics were his passion. He had been president of Varsity for almost forty years when, in 1922, he had died. From under bushy eyebrows his wise old eyes had regarded Larry—keen, yet kindly.
He had had the appearance customarily of keeping himself aloof. Yet there were moments when he could be extra ordinarily human and even intimate.
To Larry he had proved himself so.
“I hear,” he had announced, “that you won the war—or most of it. What do you plan to do now?” That had been like old Bell, pricking the bubble vanity with an air of detached amusement.
“I’ve got a chance to go out to China,” .
Larry had answered.
“China,” Bell had repeated reflectively.
“I suppose the ends of the earth must always allure such as you.”
“But this is straight business,” Larry had protested. Nevertheless the swift glance Bell had given him had caused him to flush.
“Are you sure?” Bell had demanded.
“Oh, don’t bother to answer me— answer yourself. But be quite sure you’re being honest—with yourself.”
“I don’t quite understand.”
Bell had put a hand on Larry’s shoulder. “I watched you, Weston, all through college. And I’ve heard more or less of your exploits since. And it’s my belief that you are a born gambler. I’m not referring to cards but to your attitude towards life. So far life has been very kind to you. You have taken chances always. And you’ve got away with them—that’s the phrase, isn’t it?”
“Yes, sir! But--”
“Have you ever in your life consciously played safe?”
“It’s a virtue I suggest you acquire. If you will make an honest effort to, I’ll be much surer than I am now of your ultimate success. That’s all.”
of man who could make so princely a gift eight years out of college. But when the truth leaked out the cheers would turn to jeers. He had cut himself off from Varsity.
So he believed. But again he reckoned without Judy.
“I discovered Varsity’s latest benefactor up on the Rez,” Judy was informing her father at that precise moment.
“On the Rez? What was he doing there?”
“I didn’t ask him. Perhaps he was repenting his rashness and contemplating suicide.”
Johnny Sears had smiled at that. “I rather wanted to see him myself,” he remarked.
“You’re going to. He's going to spend the week-end with us at Hamilton.”
“You’ve invited him?”
“No—I thought the invitation had better come from you. It occurred to me that as I’ve never been introduced to the man--”
“Why this sudden interest, then?” he demanded.
“How do you know it’s sudden? I may have been nourishing a secret affection in my heart for him for years.” Her voice was never so light, but in spite of herself she colored.
“Why—you’re blushing!” he accused her.
“You’re enough to make me blush—putting such thoughts in my head.”
NOW the dear old prof, was no more.
But what he had said then had made a profound impression on Larry, who knew how many men, prominent in college, had drifted into obscurity afterwards. Even old Bell might have been surprised if he had realized how much Larry had taken to heart what he had said, how hard he had striven to profit by it.
And—to what end?
To Varsity he had returned defeated. And here, this night, a sudden flash of his old impulsiveness had betrayed him. His classmates had cheered, he realized, not so much the man who had given five thousand dollars to Varsity as the manner
had flirted with first the McGill crew captain and then the tennis player, apparently found him game as fair when it came his turn to dance with her.
“You aren’t,” she protested plaintively, “one of those horribly strong, silent men, are you?”
They had been dancing for all of twenty seconds then. Larry glanced down at her pretty face. Her eyes met his, wide and candid, yet deliberately beguiling.
“I’m afraid I dance like one,” he said. “I’m rather out of practice.”
“Oh, that’s it!” she said. “I had hoped it was my effect on you. I sometimes have it on the most finished performers—they are so overcome by the precious privilege of dancing with me that they forget all they know.”
Larry smiled. “I can imagine it.”
“Imagine it—but not feel it yourself. Are you in love with Judy?”
“What?” gasped Larry.
“There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be,” she retorted calmly. “And that would explain your immunity to me. Would it be too much to ask you to hold me a little closer?” Then before he could recover she launched a fresh audacity. “Judy is a dear,” she remarked. “Isn’t it too bad she has no sex attraction? Oh, don’t look so horrified! Or as if you thought I was being catty. I am just repeating what she herseif says. I tell her all she needs is a line. Do you like mine?”
In spite of himself Larry smiled. “I think it suits you better than it would Miss Sears,” he replied.
“Naturally—mine matches my tip-tilted nose and the come hither in my eyes. Judy’s would be different —strongly maternal, perhaps. She’s the mother type. Stray cats and slightly damaged young men have an irresistible appeal for her.”
Once Larry would have merely grinned at this, but now for a horrible instant he suspected malice. He was seeing himself subjectively, as an outsider and rank impostor, and it did not occur to him that she, seeing him objectively, might get quite a different impression of him. The truth was that he had the poise and the assurance of a man who has lived in strange places and she found in this both a certain allure and a challenge. She was simply doing her darnedest to put a dent in him.
LARRY, murmuring an apology for the step he had J involuntarily missed, tried to smile. “I’m not a
stray cat,” he remarked, “so I suppose--”
“Oh, I don’t mean that you are the least bit damaged,” she replied. “Only unresponsive to my best efforts. That’s why I asked if you were in love with Judy.” Larry simply smiled again. He wasn’t, of course. The idea had never occurred to him. But on the way home it did occur to him that some man might well be in love with Judy. Almost any man, in fact, save himself.
The more he saw of Judy during the next few days the more firmly founded that belief became. He did not see such an awful lot of her, it is true, for golf intervened— more auriferous foursomes, three parts gold and one part alloy. But in between there were moments with Judy— Judy, who wasn’t at all beautiful but who strangely enough began to seem so to him.
Now, of a Sunday morning, they sat wet and glistening on the edge of the raft that was moored off Johnny Sears’s private bathing beach. Larry wore one of Johnny Sears’s suits; Judy wore her own. This, of unrelieved black, suited her marvelously.
“Aren’t you ever going to tell me anything about China—or your adventures there?” asked Judy abruptly.
The question to Larry was like the intrusion of a serpent into an Eden of sorts. “I told a friend of mine a little about China as I found it,” he evaded, “and he asked me to spare his illusions.”
“But,” she protested, “China sounds so interesting. Do—” There she stopped short. A veil had fallen over his eyes.
“I’ll race you ashore,” she challenged and dove off at once. They emerged together from a smother of surf. She faced him, lithe and alive and—adorable! As his eyes met hers they were no longer veiled. It was her eyes that became suddenly veiled. They were both young; as he had torn ashore in pursuit of her, something inextinguishably male had been aroused in him. This she saw and thrilled to before a wave swept upon them, caught them unsuspecting and thrust them shoreward. They recovered themselves laughingly but her eyes still evaded his.
“We must hurry,” she said, “or—we’ll be late for dinner.”
And she set him an example by hurrying off to her dressing-room. But once there she seemed to forget the need of haste. Anyway she stood for an appreciable interval still in her bathing suit, with her lips a little parted and in her eyes the expression of one who listens. Judy was listening. To a little song her heart was chanting shamelessly, exultantly, ceaselessly.
“He does. He does. He does!” it sang.
But Larry! He was like a man who has~ventured unwittingly into a trap with no realization^ his danger
until the trap suddenly snaps shut. He might have so excused himself. But he didn’t. His heart was singing no little song.
“You’ve made forty different kinds of a fool of yourself,” he was assuring himself, “and you’d have probably made the forty-first if she hadn’t saved you.”
So he interpreted Judy’s sudden withdrawal—she had sensed his momentary madness and fled forthwith. Well, he was glad of that. Darán glad! He told himself so.
There was just one thing for him to do now.
“What time can I get a train this afternoon?” he asked at luncheon. This was addressed to Johnny Sears. Larry had not even looked at Judy; his eyes were steadfastly avoiding her. And so he did not see her swift, startled glance of protest.
“This afternoon?” protested Sears. ' “Why, I’m going over the road myself in the morning. Can’t you wait until then? I wish you would; I haven’t had a chance to talk to you about China and I want to.”
China was the last thing Larry wanted to discuss with Johnny Sears. Yet: “I think,” he heard himself saying steadily, “that there are some things I should tell you about China.”
“That will give us a Chance for one more foursome this afternoon,” approved Johnny Sears with the swift cordial smile that was in a masculine way as charming as Judy’s own. “We’ll have a chance to talk to-night aftér dinner.” “And after that—the dark!” thought Larry.
THE moment came. He and Johnny Sears, leaving the others, moved on to the library. There a humidor containing cigars was thrust toward him. He did not accept one. His lips and throat felt dry.
“Are you going back to China?” began Johnny Sears between puffs of his own cigar. And when Larry shook his head he added, “Have you any plans?”
Again Larry simply shook his head. He was thinking of Judy—Judy who had said: “You’ll find me on the east terrace when this momentous conference is ended. And please remember that even at the risk of seeming more than femininely curious, I shall want to know what it’s all about.”
Larry had managed a smile. But he had felt quite sure that it would be her father, and not he, that would tell her. He had discovered for himself that there was a late train that night and this he intended to take—after he was through with Johnny Sears.
“Fine,” Johnny Sears’s voice was announcing now. “Because I have an idea that I have just the opening for you you may be looking for. I’m always interested in Varsity men, you know—glad to see them successful and, when I can, help them to be more so.”
Larry moistened his lips. And then deliberately forced the truth through them. “I left China,” he said, “a flat and absolute failure. I think that it is best you know that before you say any more.” As he finished he came to his feet involuntarily.
“Sit down!” said Johnny Sears quietly. “You say you left China a flat and absolute failure. Yet you gave Varsity five thousand dollars. I don’t quite understand. You have it, of course—”
“Thank you,” said Larry. “I have it—and I am very glad to give you now a check for the amount.”
JOHNNY SEARS took the check and held it between his fingers without a glance at it. “Five thousand dollars,” he commented, “is a considerable gift for a man who says he left China a flat and absolute failure.”
“I may as well be honest with you,” said Larry. “When I left China after buying my transportation and traveler’s checks, I had a bank balance of exactly five thousand and nine dollars. I still have the bank balance of—nine dollars.” Johnny Sears might have spoken, but he gave him no chance. “I am telling you this because I feel I should. I do not regret the gift. I cannot explain why I made it. I felt, while you were speaking, as if I mustgive all I could. I don’t think I was trying to impress you or anybody else. I—well, call it an impulse—”
“Are you given to acting on impulses?” interrupted Johnny Sears.
Larry smiled wryly. “It was the first one that had got away with me in five years.”
“You mean that—you never took a chance all the time you were in China?”
“Never—knowingly. That—was what got me, I
suppose, though it seems funny, everything considered.” Larry paused.
“Please go on!”
“I’d been—well, trying to straddle a gap between the two rival political factions out there. You know China and how much of a part political conditions there play in business? Well, 1 simply couldn’t bring myself to go in with either faction. Bristol, my assistant—he’s a Varsity man class cf twenty-one; you know him of course.” “Quarter-back on the Varsity,” said Johnny Sears. “Go on.”
“Bristol wa crazy to take a chance. I wouldn’t. And then I went ofi my pins—the strain got me, I suppose— and had a touch of fever. I was out of my head for several days and more or less out of touch with the office for a
couple of weeks. Bristol was in charge. He kept telling me things were going great.”
“They were,” said Larry grimly. “The minute I passed out of the picture Bristol plunged in and took the chance I wouldn’t. Things happened fast and he picked the winning side just in time. Gambled on it and came through.”
“And took the credit for it?” suggested Johnny Sears. “No—not Bristol! He was white clean through. Tried to persuade me that I would have done the same thing if I hadn’t been taken sick. In fact he was pretty well cut up when I insisted upon resigning.”
“You resigned, then? Of your own volition?”
“What else could I do?”.demanded Larry, wide-eyed. “The International people wrote me a letter of congratulation and gave me an increase in salary—when it was all Bristol’s doing! I’d have felt yellow clear through if I hadn’t told them so—and resigned.”
“You are absolutely sure that you wouldn’t have done the same thing if you hadn’t been sick? There’s such a thing as being too quixotic, Weston.”
LARRY merely shook his head. Johnny Sears said J nothing for a moment. Then: “I got both you and Bristol your chances to go to China,” he announced abruptly. “I imagine that surprises you, but as a matter of fact I usually am instrumental in placing several Varsity men every year. They are taken on my recommendation by friends of mine.”
He paused there, but Larry was too surprised to speak. “I followed you in college,” Johnny Sears went on, “and I knew of your record. I had an idea just what your liabilities were and what might be counted on as assets. The one thing that never occurred to me was that you would ever play safe. You must have changed. What happened to make you?”
The light shed by the massive table lamp shone directly on Johnny Sears’s face, shrewd, yet not unkind. But Larry hardly saw him. This interview, working out so differently from anything he had previsioned, had him at sea.
“Why—I suppose it was what old Prof. Bell said,” he began and paused.
“Go on,” said Johnny Sears. “I think you owe me an explanation.”
That Larry recognized the justice of. And so he repeated in substance what the old principal had said.
“Good Heavens!” murmured Johnny Sears when he had finished. “So that was it!” From the humidor he took a fresh cigar and held it unlighted in his fingers. “Larry,” he said, “old Prof. Bell was the salt of the earth. He is one of Varsity’s best traditions. But—he was a living tradition before he died. I say that with all kindness and with a full appreciation of all he did for Varsity. But, Larry, he was very much like a hen who occasionally hatched out ducklings. I was a duckling. So-were you. Bristol was another. We worried him. We didn’t do things his way. We took chances. We filled his kindly old heart with horror. He was forever foreseeing disaster for us. This has become clear to me now. I remember he spoke to me once, but mildly. I think that what he said to you was from his heart—that perhaps you were dearer to him than the other ducklings he had fretted over.” “Why,” protested Larry bewilderedly, “that was the only time he ever—”
‘»‘Let it pass. There is no question anyway but what he wanted to do you a service. Instead he harmed you— harmed you damnably. Put it this way. Men like yourself and Bristol are as different in breed from old Bell as a Winston Churchill was from an Asquith. Old Bell was born to be what he became—a dyed-in-the-wool conservative. He couldn’t have become anything else—a pioneer, for instance, because a pioneer must take chances. I, certainly, would never have recommended that a man of old Bell’s type be sent out to China. I recommended you because you were of the breed that is born to take chances. You took them in sport—and during the war. You took them naturally, in a way old Bell never could. With an inborn confidence and a swiftness of decision that is more than half the battle. If you came a cropper you were up again and at them. Do you see what I’m driving at?”
“Yes, sir,” said Larry, though his head whirled.
Johnny Sears leaned toward him. “Supposing,” he suggested, “that instead of telling you what I have had in mind for you I say simply this—will you take a chance on it, sight unseen?”
Larry’s head cleared, though the blood still pounded in his ears. “Yes,” he said, at once and with finality.
“Think twice! Even though I am mostly president of Varsity these days I still have many irons in the fire. And some of my agents travel to places where I myself would prefer not to go. Pestilential places, where they must act swiftly and take a chance every minute— everything from malaria to poisoned arrows. You are quite sure you understand how much of a chance you are taking?” Larry merely nodded, but in his eyes now was the look of the old Larry who had once flown high and free over enemy lines. Continued on page 72
Love Makes Gamblers of Us All
Continued from page 1 ¿
“By George, I do believe you are hoping it’s some place just like that,” said J ohnny Sears. Dryly he added, “I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I intend for the present at least to use you right here in the Dominion of Canada. But I can assure you that you will have to take plenty of chances of a sort.” He came to his feet and so did Larry. “Shall we shake on it?” he asked, offering his hand.
Larry shook on it. With fervor and gratitude, yet apologetically. “I still feel like an impostor,” he explained.
“You mean,” Johnny Sears suggested, “because you think you misled me by the size of your gift to Varsity?”
“Yes,” said Larry.
Johnny Sears smiled. “Do you know what Judy said to me that night after class day was over? She said to me, ‘Johnny Sears, I’ll bet you’ve beguiled that young and impulsive man to contribute almost the last cent he has in the world toward your old million dollar fund.’ ”
“Judy said that?” gasped Larry. “Why —how could she know that?”
Briefly Johnny Sears hesitated. Love may be blind but fathers are not. Against this paternal instinct were pitted the habits of a lifetime. The habit of swiftly and accurately judging men; of generosity, and of that fine sportsmanship that had made him give so much of himself to Varsity.
They swung the scales.
“You might ask her yourself,” he replied, his lips smiling though his heart still protested. Then as Larry stood as one still dazed he gave him a little push. “She’s on the east terrace, you know.”
After which Johnny Sears, being human, experienced certain inevitable regrets. But he fought against them manfully.
‘‘He took his medicine like a white man —and a Varsity man,” he assured himself stubbornly. “And he’s learned his lesson.”
The east terrace looked out to the lake. One who saw Judy there might have believed her lost in the beauty of the
night, unaware of Larry s ¡tppiuacu. uui then one would not have known how tightly her hands were clenched.
“I won’t look around,” she was telling herself. “I won’t—I won’t!”
But she did, in spite of all her promises. As their eyes met, they both started to speak, then paused. It was their eyes that spoke for them.
They stood so for a breathless second— the daughter of Varsity’s richest son and Larry who, at that moment, was probably Varsity’s poorest. He might well have paused to consider that the world would regard him as poorly equipped financially to take a chance with love—and Johnny Sears’s only daughter.
But if matrimony is a gamble, it is love that makes gamblers of us all.
So instead he took Johnny Sears’ daughter in his arms and kissed her as Adam kissed E\e when the world was still young and Eden was yet Eden. Second thought did presently suggest a question to him, but even that was no more than any lover, conscious of good fortune beyond his desserts, might impetuously phrase.
“You—really mean it, Judy?” he demanded. “It isn’t just because I’m* damaged?”
“Damaged?” she echoed, wide-eyed at any such a suggestion.
“That girl at the dance the other night —the pretty one that flirted so—said that all stray cats and damaged men had an irresistible appeal for you.”
“Are you hinting,” she broke in, “that I am given to repairing damaged men this way? Because if you are—”
‘‘You know I’m not!” he protested hastily.
“Damaged?” she teased.
“Or damaged either,” she assured him ’ staunchly. “You’re-—”
But he gave her no chance to finish— because at last he was conscious of the wisdom of his immediately taking a chance whenever one offered.
As one obviously did.