GIRLS WERE ANATHEMA
A perfectly foolish story about a foolish young man who tried to fool himself into thinking that women were made to be ignored and that only fools believed in love at first sight.
TO MAKE Bill into a combination of Don Juan, Casanova, Valentino and the Prince of Wales—in fact, the kind of a man whose mother-|in-|law might admit her offspring could have done worse! Peter Nixon looked at his chum wearily and Bill, twisting his hair into tragic tassels, agreed it would be “blamed difficult."
Bill and Peter lived in a bachelors’ apartment; a pink-complexioned, desolate, brick building with a sign, inside the door, proclaiming that dogs and pedlars were not allowed.
Until recently they had hoped that some day they would possess homes on “The Hill.” In Bill’s dreams of the future there had always been Bill—Bill interestingly older, Bill better dressed. Bill a member of the most exclusive clubs, Bill successful—but always Bill. In Peter’s dreams of the future there had been a dark-eyed bit of femininity and little Peters and Peterettes. But now the bomb had exploded! To be a really successful barrister, it seemed, it was not enough to work and have dreams. One must also have what the older generation termed “the social graces”—to be more exact Bill must have the social graces.
To date, Bill hadn’t missed the social graces. He hadn’t even thought about them. They were not necessary in the apartment. In a heavy, ponderous, middle-aged sort of way the men in the building were a merry lot of bachelors. They revelled in the “liberty” of their four walls; were boastful of hearts unattached, smug in the comforts of fat, padded chairs, individual baths, reading lamps and rows of books.
They were glad of the distinctive cigar smell and proud of the high, gilt lettering, in front of their abode, which proclaimed them bachelors.
Neat, short whiskers were prevalent in the house. There was talk of politics, horse racing, prohibition, automobiles and actresses. Bill and Pete, being the youngest bachelors by some twenty years, were not accepted unreservedly by the old-timers. It was subtly intimated that they were probationers. Only the thin, susceptible housekeeper was sweet to them.
They found peonies on their table when other roomers found laundry slips. They got the new towels and the bright curtains. In the odd moment the housekeeper, in tones of profound admiration, confided to the bewhiskered boarders that the cherubic lawyers did not complain when socks came back undarned from the laundry; that they never lost their latchkeys and that Bill, at least, did not do lengthy romancing over the telephone.
Until to-night they had seemed to be more or less happy and secure in their profession. True, they were often overlooked by undiscriminating, possible clients in favor of older, more experienced lawyers. At first they had expected that. Just a little time and they would be in the front rank of legal advisors. Now, however, Pete had made it very plain that the fact that girls were anathema to Bill was beginning to cramp their business success. Invitations to social events were falling off. Pete figured that if they didn’t stand in with the people they knew socially, they were going to stand little chance of having them come to their office with legal matters.
Pete, sitting on the bed engaged in the absorbing task of transferring his cuff links from an old to a new violet-striped shirt, looked up disgustedly.
“I met Alice Nelson to-day, and what do you think she said?”
“Haven’t a glimmer of an idea.” “To’d me she couldn’t invite me to her dance to-night because of you. Said the way you hi-hatted frivolity at her last party gave her an inferiority complex which cramped her Charleston, and that, since you and I were inseparable, she’d have to count me out this time, too. And Alice and I used to make mud pies together—” he finished miserably.
Bill’s voice came in a hoarse whisper. “It certainly looks serious. I’ll do anything you suggest, even to the extent of marrying two or three of your girl friends —Alice, for instance.”
“That will do,” said Pete, sternly. “I don’t mind telling you that I’m considering marrying Alice myself. Besides I have no intention of letting you turn youiself into a Mormon.”
There was a long silence while the youthful lawyers contemplated each other gloomily.
Finally, the gloom was shattered by an explosion from Pete. “I have it,” he cried excitedly. “Why not feature a different girl each evening for a month? Take them to shows, dances, motoring, dinner— the usual, you know. Be so nice they’ll hate themselves for ever being dumb enough to overlook you when they needed an extra man for bridge.”
Bill made an effort to speak, but Pete was not to be stopped.
“It’s a wow of an idea—even allowing for the fact that I originated it,” he added modestly.
“You’ll find out something about women—and you sure need to. The variety will pep you up. It’s safe, too—a different girl every night won’t tie you up with any one. Start to-morrow; make out a timetable for yourself—to-night.”
“But, but, Pete, I don’t know that many girls—er_ well enough—”
“Oh, yes, you do! You’ve met dozens of them, only they didn’t register.”
Despite Bill’s bewildered protests, Pete continued to outline plans; impatient that the words could not tumble out faster to get the idea across to his skeptical roommate. At last Bill looked up piteously.
“All right, old chap. I’ll do it—for the sake of our future.”
“You’ll find a bunch of score cards and addresses and stuff that may help you, in my top drawer,” said Pete. “So long! I’m going over to the library for a couple of hours!”
When Pete returned a few hours later he found Bill sitting at his desk a woeful Bill, but a Bill hard at work.
All about him on chairs, table and floor were papers of various sizes, dance programs, invitations to parties, pictures of fascinating young ladies, an open telephone book.
For a brief moment Peter looked at his friend incredulously.
“My word, I had no idea it was to be such a tremendous undertaking. You realize, of course, that only the portion of the world in our immediate vicinity will be shaken?”
“Get out of here!” cried Bill, picking up a substantial volume and swinging it around his head. “Go for a walk, anywhere, but for the love of Harry get out of here! I’m busy.” Pete went.
AT SEVEN o’clock next morning Pete awoke to the sound of rain beating a steady tattoo on the window. Bill was still sleeping peacefully. Pete looked at his chum pityingly.
“Poor old Bill,” he whispered. At that moment “poor old Bill” opened his eyes.
“Time to get up?” he mumbled. “You bet!” was the answer. “Too bad it’s such a dismal day for the beginning of your campaign, eh?” “Beginning of my what?” gasped the sleepy young man. “Oh, yes,” as he recalled the events of the night before. “You don’t suppose it’s a premonition, do you?”
“Might be,” was the comforting answer. “You left to-day’s time table on your desk. I looked at it last night. She really isn’t a half bad little scout, I—”
“Who isn’t?” interrupted Bill irritably.
“The girl you are going out with to-night. Y ou phoned her last night, didn’t you?”
Bill nodded. “I felt like a silly ass,” he admitted. “I found your program from Alice’s last dance and said ‘Eeny meeny’ down the list. It happened to be ‘Flossie Costain.’ I couldn’t remember her at all, but I figured she must be one of the Costains on Silver Plains Road so I ’phoned and got some woman whom I asked to accompany me to the theatre to-night.”
Pete chuckled gleefully. “Imagine Flossie agreeing to put up with you for an evening!”
Bill looked very stern and dignified. “I, I really don’t see why that should cause you to break forth into such idiotie mirth. I can’t see that Miss Costain is to be specially commiserated. After all, you know, I’m not so bad.”
Pete continued to chuckle. "Well, the thing for you to do is make yourself so attractive she'll be wild to go out with you again. Incidentally she throws the snappiest parties of anybody I know. Of course it will be mighty hard to get any girl to fall for you, but do your best. I think-"
think—” Bill regained speech sufficiently to stop his chum’s flow of language by inquiring timidly, “What does she look like?”
“Some little lady!” was the enthusiastic answer.
A groan escaped the victim.
YOU’LL do,” said Pete that evening as he surveyed his friend, dressed in his newest and best clothes.
Even in overalls Bill would have attracted attention.
His well - shaped head was topped with coal-black hair and the whimsicality in his brown eyes contradicted his reputation for being a grouch. His tall figure conveyed an impression of strength rather than weight. Pete, who was inclined to be overly stout for his height, secretly admired his friend’s physique.
Fifteen minutes later Bill was standing in front of the home of Miss Costain, deciding whether he would ring the doorbell or make a quick escape down the street, letting Miss Costain wait indefinitely for his arrival. After careful consideration he decided to ring the bell. He arrived at his decision chiefly because he had come in a taxi which was still standing in front of the house. It was just possible that the driver might notice his hurried departure and chase him down the street for his fare. That would prove embarrassing. He rang the bell.
The maid asked him to step into a reception room to his right. Miss Costain would be “down directly.” She wasn’t—so Bill had plenty of time even then to reconsider going on with the campaign. He thought of Pete. What was it Pete had said? Oh, yes, “Of course it will be mighty hard for you to get anyone to fall for you—” He’d stick! Just then Miss Costain appeared.
She was very small, very fair and very pretty. She wore a violet-colored dress with lots of tucks and lots of frills and lots of ruffles. Her hair, which hadn’t been cut, was softly waved. Her eyes were the violet kind. Her fragility was like old lace. Bill felt quite absurd standing beside her. He was much more at ease when she sat down and asked him to be seated. She started to talk—and she talked and she talked. All the time the word “fluffy” kept running through the man’s head in the most ridiculous fashion: “Fluffy, fluffy, fluffy!”
“It was sweet of you to ask me to go to the theatre,” she was saying; the words coming like bits of thistledown. “I know I’ll adore the play-—I always adore plays. I was so surprised when you ’phoned! Why it must be a year since I’ve seen you.”
He remembered her now—at a house party Peter had dragged him to.
“I didn’t think you were a bit interested in me. I’m such a poky, old-fashioned person. I simply can’t be a flapper or a modern. They seem so—well—obvious.” “Applesauce, applesauce, applesauce!” started to chase “fluffy” through Bill’s head. “Fluffy, applesauce, gush!” She was still talking, an expression of baby-like candor upon her exquisite little face; small white hands fluttering to emphasize her remarks. Such a tiny person but such a volume of language!
Sooner or later they had to go to the theatre. As he wrapped her up in a rose-colored cloak with soft, white r about the neck Bill had a vision of a horrible future consisting of an endless chain of curly-haired girls singing, “Fluff, fluff, fluff!”
ELL?” Peter Nixon asked sleepily when his chum VV reached home that night. “How goes the jolly old war?”
It was on the point of Bill’s tongue to say, “Awful, couldn’t have been worse,” but he reconsidered when he remembered Pete’s recent wise cracks. The answer came grimly: “All right.”
Pete laughed gleefully. “So I thought. I’ve been in bed more than an hour. You must have had a few things to say to each other after the show?”
“She did,” said Bill, ungrammatically. He undressed and went to bed. Five minutes later a voice rumbled out of the darkness.
“Say, Bill, isn’t she the kitten’s ears?” There was a dead silence for a few minutes, then, “Yes, I suppose so.”
“So pretty and frilly—all that sort of thing—sort, sort of a relief after the epidemic of boyish bobs,” continued the voice sleepily.
“Yes, decidedly frilly,” was the answer. “But Pete, I hope there are not many like that. I, I’m not awfully keen about the er—fluffy type.”
“No?” Pete passed into unconsciousness.
Next day, business did not claim Bill’s attention in the way it should have done. In spite of himself he kept thinking of that girl. How he hated women!
He was still thinking of her when he reached the apartment for dinner. He hated women more than ever.
“Good for you, old top. You’re coming on fine.” Pete had arrived home ahead of him.
“Why the sudden outburst of joy?” asked Bill dourly. “On which of my recent brilliant achievements are you congratulating me?”
“All of ’em—all last night’s,” was the enthusiastic answer. “How did you do it? She’s mad about you, absolutely mad. I met her to-day and she ‘confided’ in me. Of course she wouldn’t want you to know, but I feel you need a little encouragement.”
Bill sat down weakly on the bench of the hall hat rack; wiped his forehead with a distracted air—and his handkerchief—surveyed his friend in amazement.
“You don’t mean that Fluffy—1 mean, you don’t mean that Miss Costain is, is—what you said?”
“Atta boy! I’m proud of you, Bill.”
“Well,” was the lofty reply, “I certainly know my carrots.”
That evening Bill took Miss Emily Robb to a dance. She was visiting Alice Nelson. By being extremely diplomatic Bill had impressed the young ladies with the fact that they were missing the opportunity of their lives if they refused to let him assist Pete as escort. He winced as he remembered how difficult it had been.
Miss Robb, a tall, dark, graceful girl with startlingly black eyes, had a preoccupied air. She gave the impression that her thoughts were mystically removed from the people with whom she came in contact.
She said little to Bill until after the first dance; then, he led her onto a balcony, placed her in the most comfortable chair he could find, seated himself a reasonably safe distance away, and hoped devoutly that she wouldn’t talk.
For three dances they sat on the balcony. Miss Robb said she would rather talk than dance. They discussed psycho-analysis, Eugene O’Neill and Divine Healing. Bill discovered the girl was capable of forming her own opinions but she insisted upon monopolizing the conversation. Manlike, he resented that. It was a relief when other partners claimed her. For the first time inhislifehe was glad to return to a dance hall.
“Bill Stevenson actually looks cheeri ■. ful to-night,” was heard in various parts of the room. Alice smiled inscrutably.
“Miss Robb was a dream, wasn’t she?” probed Pete, as they started back to the apartment after leaving Alice Nelson’s home.
“Yes.” The answer lacked enthusiasm. “I’m not keen about girls who are too obviously literary.”
“Well, what kind of a girl do you like?” asked Pete impatiently.
“I told you before,” was the calm response. “I don’t like girls—any kind.”
“Are you going to fall down on your campaign?’’ questioned Pete suspiciously.
“Oh, no,” was the comforting answer. “I’m going through.”
There was a short silence, then, “I don’t mind telling you I’m going to feel sorry for you to-morrow night.”
“Because the girl you’ve signed up for the evening never says a word when she’s alone with a man.”
“Praise be!” sang Bill.
It was rather nice next evening. Bill was able to do alt the talking, but by ten o’clock he found he had exhausted his small talk. He didn’t know what to begin on next— so he said good-night and went home.
As he reached the apartment he took a notebook from his pocket and ran his pencil through the third page.
“That’s that!” He breathed a sigh of relief. “Still one never knows about women. Some day she may want a divorce from her husband. We must do well in divorces.”-
THE month was nearly up. Not a word of complaint had been heard from Bill. After the demure Anne Middleton, he fell into the clutches of Aurora Mearns. Aurora, seductive and modern, with a penchant for jazz, took him driving in her high-powered motor and raced: with a speed cop on a memorable occasion which landed them both in the police station. The adventure meant a loss of a few dollars which Bill considered well spent.
“A girl like that is sure to need a lawyer's services often,” he reflected.
Soon after this Bill developed into a most amiable young man, so far as women were concerned. Pete thought he rather overdid it. As for the objects of the campaign—they were fairly deluged with invitations. Bill was “the rage.”
Girls were still anathema to Bill, however—so far as individuals were concerned.
“You make me sick," said Pete. “Wait until you fall in love, old man.”
“I won’t!” grimly.
“Oh, yes, you will! She’ll get you yet.” “Who will?” suspiciously.
“Oh, I don’t know,” vaguely. “Some female! There are at least two dozen ready to grab you up; numbers increasing daily. What they see in you is beyond me; also the way you can be so deucedly nice to them, feeling the way you do.”
“Well, it’s all on account of business. You surely know it isn’t my idea of a good time.”
TWELVE o’clock midnight and pouring rain. Bill had waited fifteen minutes for a car at his last transfer corner and finally decided he would save time by walking the six blocks to the apartment. He was whistling cheerfully and walking briskly when he noticed a dark object ahead of him. As he got nearer he could see it was crouched down over something. Perhaps someone was hurt! He quickened his pace to a run. The dark object raised itself. He saw that it was a girl; the object engrossing her attention was a white, friendly-looking dog of doubtful origin.
‘.‘Poor doggie,” she was whispering, “a sore leg and no home isn’t so good. Never mind; you’re coming home with me.”
It was on the point of Bill’s tongue to remark, “Lucky dog!”—which shows how far he had progressed towards the social graces. Instead he said:
“Pardon me; you are getting wet. Won’t you come under my umbrella?” The girl turned in surprise but her refusal changed into an amused “Thank you,” as she looked attentively into his face. “I don’t mind for myself but I shouldn’t like the pup to get cold.”
‘‘Shall I carry him?”
“No, thanks.” She put up a small hand in protest. “He’s my dog—until I find his owner.” Bill smiled.
They walked on in silence. Bill stole an occasional glance at his companion. She was wearing a tweed suit and walking shoes with low heels. Under a plain black hat he caught glimpses of bobbed chestnut hair.
When they reached his apartment Bill was amazed to hear the girl say,
“This is where I live. Thank you very much.”
“But, but you can’t live here! This is a bachelors’ apartment. You must have made a mistake.”
The girl’s laugh tinkled merrily. “How funny you are—as if I don’t know where my home is. Of course I live here! Thanks so much again. Good-night!” “But, but, I live here,” Bill spluttered.
“Really? Isn’t that funny—then we both live here.” She started to go in, murmuring. “It is queer when one comes to think of it that you should live here, too.”
“It’s not half so queer as for you to live here,” Bill insisted.
“Well, good-night!” repeated the girl marching in through the big door with its supercilious gilt lettering. Along the hall there was a sign emphatically declaring “No dogs!”
“Funny sign!” gurgled the girl, giving it a vicious little dig as she passed.
Bill, now thoroughly alarmed, raced after her along the hall.
“Can’t, can’t I take you to your home or an hotel?” he pleaded.
“Funny man!” said the girl. “Didn’t I tell you I am home?”
Everything was funny to her, the young man thought miserably. It wouldn’t be so funny if some of the bewhiskered bachelors appeared right now.
“Where are you going?” Bill returned to the attack.
“Well, if you must know,” she answered mildly, “I’m going to the kitchen to see if I can find anything for the pup to eat; then I’m going upstairs to my room. Good-night.”
“Good night!” returned Bill helplessly. He went to his room—but not to sleep. His mind became very agile as it turned cart wheels around recent events.
What was it about that girl? She was just a girl, wasn’t she—a very audacious, ordinary girl?
Another part of his brain got in operation. Audacious? Yes, maybe audacious but not ordinary—oh, horrid thought, not ordinary. Her voice—a sweet voice, yet it held a challenge—a seeking voice! He hadn’t realized it before but voices had always affected him powerfully—and her voice was unlike any he had ever heard before—the sweetness of it—and the humor. He chuckled now as he reviewed the encounter. She appeared guileless yet sophisticated. It gave a fellow a queer feeling to be bowled over like this. What on earth had she done to him?
WHAT’S the big idea?” asked Pete the next morning as Bill tumbled out of bed fifteen minutes earlier than usual.
“Don’t want to be late for breakfast,” was the answer.
“Breakfast? You know perfectly well you haven’t eaten breakfast a dozen times in this apartment since we’ve been here.” “Well,” firmly, “I’m going to now. I don’t think it is good for me to go out without eating in the morning.”
Several of his fellow bachelors looked up in astonishment when Bill entered the dining room.
“Good-morning, everybody!” he said amiably as his eyes traveled over the half dozen men who were at his table. She wasn’t among them. There were two smaller tables in the room. She wasn’t at either of them. The present was dark but he had hopes for the future.
“No, thank you, I don’t care for sugar on my grapefruit,” he remarked aimlessly to the table in general as the fat little bookkeeper on his right reached for that addition to the first course.
“Well, I do,” said the little man viciously.
Bill kept his eyes upon the door but finished his breakfast unrewarded. He got up gloomily. Upon reaching the door he met a trim little figure in blue. In her arms she carried—a friendly-looking dog of doubtful origin.
Just then Mrs. Kennedy, the emaciated housekeeper, appeared.
“Really, Miss Betty,” she said frigidly. “It is impossible for me to permit you to bring a dog into the dining room. In fact dogs are not allowed in the house at all. While we are glad to have you here—” “But, Kennekins, he’s a lost dog,” the girl pleaded. “I’ll find his owner to-day. He was sick last night but he’s a lot better now.”
“The fact remains, Miss Betty; you may not take him into the dining room,” was the firm reply.
At that moment the girl caught sight of Bill. There was a mischievous twinkle in her eyes as she said,
“Ah—good morning, Mr.—”
The man responded eagerly, “Good morning, Miss —ah”
“Oh, so you know Miss Cole, Mr. Stevenson?” The landlady’s face underwent a complete change. The words dropped like threads of syrup.
“Urn, well, yes. He met me last night. We have a mutual friend. Here,” her blue eyes met his brown ones, “hold him for a few minutes. I’m starved.”
She tripped gaily into the dining room leaving an amazed lawyer in possession of the animal. After a second’s hesitation he took him to the back of the house and, by bribing the cook, managed to secure a plate of food. When the dog had eaten well, if not wisely, he and Bill returned to the door of the dining room.
Miss Cole was still at breakfast, carrying on an animated conversation with a sprightly old fellow sitting next to her. The other bachelors were paralyzed in their alarm at the event of a woman in their inner circle. Bill scowled and wondered what the sprightly old fellow would take to forget where he sat at dinner time.
Five minutes later Pete appeared. Bill just had time to dart behind a huge rubber plant. The unsuspicious Peter walked out of the apartment, looking neither to the right nor to the left. Bill, feeling a bit foolish, came out from behind the plant.
“Oh, Mr. Stevenson!” cried a sweet, young voice. “Give me the dog. A thousand thanks for being such a dear about keeping him. I hope I haven’t inconvenienced you any?”
“Not at all,” murmured Bill, already three quarters of an hour late for the
PETE, who had been calling on George Wilson, a client, swung aboard the same car as his chum going home from the office that evening.
“Hello, Bill!” was his genial greeting. “Hello,” was the somewhat disinterested reply.
“Good day?” asked the undaunted Peter.
“Heard a funny thing this afternoon. Remember that pretty little steno who left us to work for Wilson? Well, she eloped last week with Denson and Brigg’s representative; met him in the office three days before. They said it was ‘love at first sight’—feature that!”
For the first time Bill showed interest, enthusiasm!
“Gosh, that’s romantic!”
Pete looked at his friend in amazement: “But ‘love at first sight,’ old man!” “Well, I’m a firm believer in it myself,” announced Bill calmly.
“Who is she?” gasped Peter. “She is the most wonderful—”
“Yes, yes,” Peter interrupted impatiently. “They always are. Come on; this is where we get off.” Then he howled with laughter.
“You, you of all people!” He chuckled as he slapped Bill on the back. “Where is she?” “Wait until dinner time,” said Bill, mysteriously.
As the young men entered the dining room that evening Bill gave his pal a dig in the elbow and whispered, “There she is.” Pete, however, failed to collect this valuable bit of information and darted through the room to Miss Cole’s table. Then, to Bill’s horror, he greeted the girl with the familiarity of an old and dear friend.
Bill put his hand out timidly and touched the nearest chair. Yes, it was real. He rubbed his eyes; looked again. Everything was real. This wasn’t a nightmare. How in thunder did Pete know that girl? How well did he know her? What business had he knowing her at all? He sat down glumly. Pete returned.
“Such luck!” he babbled. “Betty is back!” Bill swore softly so he called her “Betty,” eh?
“You know," Peter continued, quite unconscious of his friend's lack of rei sponse, “she told me to come to thsj apartment. That's the main reason w ®.ra here.” Bill thought it was an excellent reason for being anywhere. "She's just come from visiting my folks in the old town.”
Bill’s heart sank. They were on intimate terms. “Funny thing,” Pete continued, “I think more of her than of any other cousin I have.”
“Any other what?” cried Bill.
“Cousin, you boob! Do you think she is my great uncle?”
“I’d hate to,” was the reply. “She’s the girl!”
Bill explained very gently. “The one I told you about on the street car.”
“No?” incredulously. Then a smile flitted across Pete’s face.
“That’s funny! She has one of your pictures; gyped it when she was visiting my folks a few years ago.”
By this time Bill was in that blissful state that made him totally unconscious of what he was eating. He listened with eyes fixed upon a demure young lady. She wore a dress of blue with flounces and frills. He had thought her the tailored type but to-night she was decidedly “fluffy.” He didn’t care. She was even more desirable than she had been— which was saying a great deal.
After dinner Bill sauntered into the lounge; a place he usually avoided. Torchlike flames from the huge fireplace threw fantastic shadows upon the dimly illuminated walls. There was a faint suggestion of cigarettes in the air but the distinctive cigar smell was not so distinctive as usual. A surprising number of bachelors appeared to be spending the evening at home. Two were disposing of the political issues of the day; a couple discoursing on the relative values of the cars they hoped to own at some future day; a few bored or amused bachelors were watching the others; four were playing bridge. Bill was trying to decide in which particular group or nongroup he would appear to best advantage when Miss Cole entered the room.
Her arrival was the signal for a decided falling off of interest in the harmless pursuits of bachelordom. There was an almost-organized movement in her direction. Bill rushed forward simultaneously with the sprightly old fellow of the breakfast table.
“Oh, Miss Cole,” he implored, “won’t you please play a Charleston for us?” “Yes, please do,” chimed in Bill, wondering what in the world the old fellow would do with the Charleston when he got it.
Miss Cole smiled. “Why, certainly, if you would really like it.” Then she addressed Bill.
“By the way, Mr. Stevenson, I found the pup’s owner. I’d like to tell you about him, some time, if I may?”
“Í hope you will,” he answered eagerly. As the strains of the Charleston filled the room a heavy hand was placed on Bill’s shoulder.
“Come on, Bill,” said a masculine voice. “You have a date for to-night. Remember your month isn’t up until to-morrow!”
“But, but—” he faltered.
“Come on,” was the firm order.
Bill meekly followed his commander out of the room.
BILL experienced a strange sensation of joy upon awakening the next morning. At first he could not account for it. Then his brain commenced to function. He realized his month was up. His campaign at an end! He whistled as he dressed; rushed down to breakfast. Luck was with him! Miss Cole was just sitting down in her usual place when the maid came to Bill and asked him if he would mind changing his place for one meal and sitting next to Miss Cole. Mind! With a few flying leaps he reached the table; sat down beside the young lady with a bright, “Good morning, Miss Cole!” “Good, good morning, Mr. Stevenson,” said the girl faintly. “You, you startled me; you were so ah—sudden.”
“I’m sorry; guess I did come a bit that way.” He grinned. “This is going to be sudden, too.” He bent his head until his eyes were on a level with hers. “Miss Cole, Betty, will you marry me?”
“Wh—what?” gasped that astonished young person.
“I said,” repeated the young man fervently, “will you marry me? You must know I love you.”
“Mr. Stevenson,” said the girl haughtily, “I think I can appreciate a joke, but this is carrying the joke too far.”
“Joke?” cried Bill flushing. “I, I never was more in earnest in my life.”
“But Mr. Stevenson, how absurd; you hardly know me.”
“A day, an hour—what does it matter? Why I never even fancied myself in love before.”
There was a sparkle in the girl’s eyes when he had finished.
“Well let us forget about love for awhile and think about ham and eggs,” she said roguishly.
“I will if you’ll promise to go to the theatre with me to-night?”
She-frowned slightly. “I half promised to go with Mr. Watson this evening.” Mr. Watson was the sprightly bachelor. Bill cordially wished him in hades.
“You’re going with me,” he said roughly.
“Oh,” was the startled reply, “am I?”
“\\ 7HERE are you going to-night, VV Bill?” Pete enquired that evening. “I am taking a young lady to the theatre,” was the dignified reply.
“Is she on your program?” asked Pete slyly. “Has someone started you on another campaign?”
“I don’t need any help in this campaign,” was the unruffled answer.
“Ah!” said Pete, as if unearthing a deep secret. “Your heart is in the work. Well, good luck to you boy! Who is she?” “Why, Betty, of course.”
“Yes, yes, of course, of course,” mumbled Pete with mock seriousness.
“Say, Bill,” Pete renewed the conversation as his chum was about ready to leave. “Didn’t it strike you as funny that Betty should be staying in a bachelors’ apartment — especially this bachelors’ apartment?”
Bill frowned a little. “Yes,” he admitted. “It struck me as being almost too funny the first night I met her. Since then I’ve been thinking so much about her I forgot all about the strangeness of that. It is unusual, though, now that I come to think of it again. It’s a wonder the men accept her so willingly. Of course they couldn’t help admiring her but I don’t think any other woman could get away with staying here.”
“Well, I think, if you have time, I’ll tell you a little about Betty,” Pete said slowly. “You might as well know the worst.”
“Stop right there!” cried Bill heatedly. “There can’t be anything unfavorable connected with Betty.”
“Well it just depends upon how you look at these things. You know I’m fond of Betty, and her Uncle Ned, who raised her since she was a baby, idolizes her— but we, in company with all the other relatives, admit she’s queer.”
He stopped short at Bill’s enraged look and the tigerish movement in his direction.
“The truth of the matter is,” he wound up quickly, “she writes. She’s worked on newspapers all over the country since she was eighteen.”
“Well?” Bill’s voice was cold.
“Well, recently she’s been doing a series of articles on man’s reaction when woman, uninvited, invades the places he had hitherto believed providence mapped out with only him in mind—the business office, the barber shop, the golf club, the bowling alley, the knicker counter, etc. Then, for a grand finale she conceived the quaint idea of writing one called “Shock Immunity”—the gist of it being that to-day’s man wouldn’t be surprised to find to-day’s woman any place. He might be annoyed but never shocked. Her uncle owns this apartment and Mrs. Kennedy is her old nurse so she chose it as the ideal place to prove her theories. So far our beloved brethren have done nothing but shoot holes in her suppositions and Mrs. Kennedy remains hopelessly mid-Victorian regarding the scheme but Betty’s doting uncle is persuaded that the only way she can do the thing up right is by living here for a couple of weeks.” “The darling! Of course it is.”
There was an expression of profound perplexity upon Pete's face as Bill left the room.
Betty and Bill spent a wonderful evening at the theatre. Coming home they discussed Bernard Shawr, Chekhov and Dreiser. Somehow. Bill felt that he had always liked women who weresort of “literary.”
The next evening they went dancing. She danced divinely. Somehow Bill felt that he had always liked girls who danced divinely.
The evening after they went dancing again. She was very fluffy and lovable to-night. Bill longed to tell her how much he had always liked “fluffy” girls—such a relief after the epidemic of boyish bobs. 1 As they entered the apartment they met Peter coming out. He glanced from one to the other and his voice, when he said “Good evening,” did not sound like Peter’s voice. He assumed an air of mystery; put his fingers to his lips; shook his head; turned right around and—went into the apartment.
“What do you suppose is the matter with him?” Betty was distressed. Bill looked worried, too: “Haven’t any idea.”
They sauntered slowly along the corridor. When they reached the lounge they found, to their unexpected joy, that it was deserted, although the distinctive cigar smell hung over everything and there was a curious scuffling sound in the direction of a door which opened on to the | back hall.
“Won’t you play something, Betty, please?” Bill asked, leading her to the I piano.
“If you wish,” she answered willingly.
Softly, she began to finger the keys. “What would you like?” she whispered.
His eyes were fixed on her face. “You were such a long time coming,” he said unsteadily.
“I don’t know it—” she said; a little catch in her voice.
Just then Mrs. Kennedy appeared at the door opening onto the back hall.
“Oh, good-evening, Miss Betty! Goodevening, Mr. Stevenson! I just wanted to see if there was anybody here. I can’t understand Mr. Nixon. He has all the men in the house down in the basement playing ‘Follow the leader’; says they need exercise. Do you suppose he’s been imposed upon by a bootlegger, sir?”
“Oh, I don’t think so,” Bill assured her seriously. “He is just trying to do his friends a good turn.”
“I’m so glad, sir! Thank you, sir!”
As she left the room Bill turned to Betty, whose desire to laugh was almost uncontrollable.
“We mustn’t disappoint Pete,” he said. “I love you Betty, dear.”
T, I love you too,” she confessed. “Isn’t it foolish?”