Lady in the Lake

As a suicide Miss Susan was not a howling success but—she had her points

JOHN HANLON October 1 1927

Lady in the Lake

As a suicide Miss Susan was not a howling success but—she had her points

JOHN HANLON October 1 1927

Lady in the Lake

As a suicide Miss Susan was not a howling success but—she had her points

JOHN HANLON

THE surface of the glass globe dimpled with ripples, and pop-eyed, chiffon-tailed Meander hid beneath his castle of pebbles; but the water was not being changed—the ripples were caused by the pelting tears of his owner, Miss Susan LaJolie. She was crying because, in the course of her seventy-odd years, she had never felt so depressingly useless, and therefore.^unhappy,, as she did this August afternoon.

The morning had brought three cruel and unexpected blows to her self esteem. In the fijst place, Cousin Clara, who had enjoyed ill health an ministrations for years, had at 1, nurse. Actually, it was because jected to her imposing upon th Miss Susan, but the latter 1 trained nurse as a personal refl mustard poultices. I Miss Susan’s bedside 1st employed a traîne^ other relatives hj^íMíoftged, thoud^fíergetic, .terpreUji"the :tion*t;fpon her

in ose nursery 3ng place, had ( children any dim and tired uggestion as a Then Amy, her great-niece, was Miss Susan’s happiest par^ requested her not to read to more. Actually, it was to s eyes, but Miss Susan took th criticism of her choice of ju\^r ile literature—

Milne meant nothing to Miss fu an and Mother Goose much, while Amy wasJon > of those moderns who considered MothesGc ose immoral.

Thirdly, Miss Fuller, natrAn of the Old Ladies’ Home, where Miss LaJolie contentedly resided when she was not vpitingykinsfolk, had asked her to do no more dirning and mending for the other guests of thq institution. Miss Fuller intended to be kind, to save Miss LaJolie from being taken advantage of, but Miss Susan interpreted the well-meant hint as a tyrannical and meddling restriction. She felt herself useless, unwanted, she whose cheeks had been kept fresh and whose eyes had been kept dancing by an almost Rotarian zeal for service. {

The climax of her misery had been the luncheon prunes, which designated Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, in the Home, as arbitrarily as any calendar. The LaJolies were a long-lived race and the prospect of prunes for lunch for fifteen years to come was more than Miss Susan could stoically endure. So she wept into Meander’s globe. He needed her to change his water and shred rice paper on the surface—that was some consolation.

^ et she could not go on this way, a parasite, a superfluity. Something must be done. But what? A tattered paper-covered book on the table suggested a solution by conjuring up a procession of the pale, persecuted, and pretty heroines of Charles Garvice and Laura Jean Libby. In novels, when ladies grew old and friendless, they spent their last dollar on a bunch of lilies of the valley and turned on the gas.

But there was no gas in the Old Ladies’ Home and, besides. Miss Susan had always detested the smell of it. Meander’s limpid depths came to the rescue. Drowning—that was just as genteel and literary, and the lake in the park across the street was so convenient; and there were golden-hearted lilies there, which one might clutch as one sank for the third time, since lilies of the valley were out of season.

Miss Susan nodded to Meander. Soon people would be sorry they had not wanted her, and Cousin Clara might hang her crayon enlargement next to the oil painting of Grandfather LaJolie. She hoped her funeral would be as big as Cousin Adolphus Thompson’s had been. Miss Susan, spurned by the world, was resolved and resigned to death.

NOT for an hour, though. There were so many last things to be done. The pink bootees for Amy’s newest baby only needed two rows to finish them, and there were the dried rose leaves on the window sill to be added to the pot-pourri jar for Cousin Clara. Also, the black silk dres3, which the rules of the Home required her to be buried in—although she would have preferred grey georgette—needed lengthening to be fashionable. She was so engrossed that only the plup of Meander, leaping for a fly, reminded her of her ghastly decision.

Self-extinction seemed somehow less attractive, but the lingering savor of prunes upon her palate steeled her; she hoped that the ambrosia of the next world would _ bear no relation to prune whip. Leaving a generous tip for the chambermaid, she hastened her departure from the Home and the mortal coil by comparing the effect

ofjthree bonnets in the mirror. Finally she chose one trimmed with violets as the most becoming. Life had denied her the pageantry of a wedding, and so she wanted to look as well as possible at her funeral. If only water wouldn’t make the violets run ... At last "she was ready.

“Good-bye, Meander!” she declaimed, cheerfully trying to be tearful.

His reproachfully goggling eyes made her halt, conscience stricken. She could never abandon her onl; friend and dependant. A splendid idea came to hei Emptying a jar of pickled melon rind, a gift from Cpifsin Clara, she filled it with water, wrapped a nejwstpaper around it, and deposited Meander therein. Shjg^ould not desert him, they would plumb the depthsjofihe lake together, Meander for freedom, Miss Susan for peace.

ENTERING the park, she chose the longest way around to her objective, chiefly because she had heard that the display of dahlias was especially magnificent and she wanted to observe for herself: she had a sneaking fear that the exotic gardens of Paradise might be barren of such humble occidental bloom.

The newspaper effectively concealed Meander, but the shape of the package was most suggestive, and a bibulous gentleman, who sat on a bench because he could not stand, winked knowingly. Miss Susan pitied him for his St. Vitus’ dance.

The dahlias lived up to advance notices, although the grouping of the red shades was clashing, and she decided to speak to the head gardener about it to-morrow. Then she remembered that she would not be alive to-morrow and hoped that the head gardener could be instructed through a ouija board.

She reached the wind-dimpled water and circled the shore to a secluded, viny summer house of rough timbers, jutting into a cove, which was hidden from the more open and frequented spaces by clumps of willows. Here, where there was privacy enough for a dozen murders, a single suicide should be a simple matter

She unwrapped Meander, who was nuzzling an irritated nose around his new prison.

“Good-bye, darling!” she mourned, enjoying her own morbidity; and was just about to pour him into the lake, when a drifting crimson leaf glanced from her bonnet and danced before her eyes.

•"»'Shg^righted the bottle. A prematurely crimson leaf! Yet, inVmonth, the park would blaze with crimson, the lawns would heap with brown ; in three months the ruffled blue would flatten to the silver monotone of ice. What would poor Meander do then, with no flies to catch and nobody to shred rice paper for him?

Could she condemá her friend to starvation,—and. possible pneumonia, Mn ce he was born in southern waters? Never! Shewould take him back to the Home and leave him to Miss Fuller, an unwelcome legacy which conscience v*>uld oblige the matron to accept. But it was too fine api afternoon to hurry about anything, even dying; and sof Miss Fuller settled on a bench in the summerhouse to enjoy the warm sweetness of the August air.

In five minutes she had decided to postpone her suicide. That head gardener really must know than red dahlias could not be placed next to crimson ones; maybe those bootees for Amy’s newest ¡were not quite roomy enough for growing toes; and, moreover, Thursday, while it mean/ prunes for luncheon, also meant chicken and i’ce cream for dinner. After all, the lake was alw/ys available! On Friday, perhaps, to escape the inevitable codfish cakes.

Evading the aged and crippled park policeman, the bibulous gentleman hove uncertainly i/to view. He was following the path which circled the lake, under the impression that it was a straight road leading to the exit. He /sighted Miss Susan, saw the glimmer of the unƒ wrapped bottle.

ƒ “Even the old ones,” he grieved. “This prohib-prphibishun . . . Hie?”

Miss Susan did not notice him, for her sanctum had. been/suddenly and unceremoniously invaded by a very young and good-looking man. Miss Susan liked young men; especially young men whose auburn hair rebelled at vaseline and decked their forehead with insurgent curls.

“Nice day ...” she encouraged, as the young man joined her on the bench.

f‘B-r-rump!” he growled contradict-

i|)y.

HQuite warm for August,” she persevered.

The young man deliberately turned hjs back upon her, but she had glimpsed 'Is grey eyes, and their wretchedness exlained and excused him. Miss Susan,

ho hated to see people wretched, especially young and comely people, experienced the first symptoms of an attack of being helpful.

She studied him quietly. His face was straight-forward and generous as well as handsome. The chin was firm and the brow was capable. The mobile, full mouth was easily eloquent of emotion, and its present emotion was tragic desperation.

Fingers, so strong while so beautiful that they must have belonged either to an artist or a physician, were torturing a silver belt buckle.

Feet, that matched the height and breadth of him, tapped viciously against the timbered floor. A tinkle aroused Miss Susan.

“My gracious!” she gasped, “You’ve you’ve kicked Meanderover.” “I’ve what?” The voice was musical, even when it was surly.

“My goldfish.” She righted the bottle. Meander was

tact, if indignant.

“I’m . . . I’m sorry,” he muttered. A proper apology seemed to demand more. “You caught him?”

“Dear me, no,” when she laughed she was adorable, and could not be snubbed. “He’s from Japan, or Milwaukee ... or somewhere. I was going to put him in the lake.”

“Give him a bath?” absently, “But he’s a fish. You got tired of him?”

“Certainly not. I . . . I wanted him with me.”

“In the lake?” grey eyes were bewildered, “You were going swimming?”

“I ... I was going to drown myself ...” The confidence was out before she realized what she was saying, but he neither laughed nor gaped. Instead he said darkly:

“Good Lord, is suicide in the air? But I’m going to jump into the railway cutting ... or drink carbolic. Never could stand cold water.” His face proved that he was not jesting.

“You mustn’t,” she fluttered. “It’s wicked even to think of such things.”

“You were thinking of them.” He was no longer aloof. He had edged nearer, interested in her—as an audience.

“But you’re young, handsome, useful; you’ve everything to live for.”

“Like hell I have! ... I beg your pardon.”

“I often say ‘darn’ myself,” she reassured him. “But why do you want to die?”

He devoted all his attention to the belt buckle.

“Tell me,” she urged tenderly.

“Why shouldn’t I tell her?” he inquired of a dragonfly; “let her have a good laugh too.”

y'“I toi# ¡her it took more nerve to tell a / dyingíhan the truth than it'did to face / \

bay#hets. But she wouldn’t listen. Then her mother hjftted in—the old hellion never liked me anyw’äyy-because my father’s a butcher—a dam fine butcher—and beeaiise I’m just a young M.D. with no money and not much practice.”

“I shan’t laugh, really. Has she ... ?”

“How did you guess?” His dropping jaw advertised his dentist’s handiwork.

“I didn’t guess; I knew.” She giggled triumphantly. “You’re so attractive, it couldn’t have been anything else.”

“Well, she’s bust up our engagement.”

“Oh, how could she do anything so dreadful!” News of sudden death could not have produced a more toned pain or expression; his confidence was won completely.

“And just three days before the wedding! The invitations were out and I’d . . . I’d bought the presents for the bridesmaids and the ushers—silver vanity cases and pencils.”

“Surely the shop will take them back?”

“They’ll need a dredge,” he laughed bitterly. “I threw them in the lake ten minutes ago.”

“Solid silver pencils?” lamented Miss Susan, who had always coveted one. “Why did she break the engagement?”

“Because I wasn’t a soldier.”

“Didn’t she know that when she got engaged to you? Is she one of those flibberty-gibbets who want to marry brass buttons and make their husband’s batman shovel the snow?”

“Because I wasn’t a soldier during the war.”

“You weren’t old enough.”

“Yes, I was,” the ebbing flush returned, “but I was going to medical school and we were all exempted. They needed doctors worse than privates. When I graduated, the darned war was over, thank goodness!”

“If they wouldn’t let you be a soldier,” reasoned Miss Susan, “how can she blame you because you weren’t one?”

“Last night we went to a movie—a war picture, with a star, who dodged the draft, taking squads of Germans single-handed.

Afterwards I was a boob and blurted out I was glad I couldn’t get over. I meant it —explosions terrify me. She said it was a cowardly thing to say .

“Enjoying war doesnTSSSHBSiMlIl^a hero, it’s braver

“Shirley do.esrf'f' see it that way. She said I was^r^lacker, and worse. T#pst my tempegÿf^. . I ... I always swearYvhpn I lose my temper

‘You would have sworn much worse, if you had been overseas, young man. My great niece was a Red Cross nurse. She

“Maybe there’ll be an epidemic,” soothed Miss Susan. “Besides butchering should help one to be a doctor . . . And you’re so handsome and sympathetic. I’ll tell my Cousin Clara about you; she hasn’t changed doctors for more than six months.”

“I might as well be dead!” Even a new customer would not console him. “Her mother’s taking her off to Florida on Monday—so she won’t have a nervous breakdown . . . Bah, she wants to marry Shirley off to some millionaire from Iowa!”

“Your Shirley wouldn’t ever ...”

“She’d eat hairpins before she’d admit she wasn’t right.” He gave the belt buckle a vicious jerk. “We were to have been married on Monday and now she won’t even come to the telephone when I ’phone her. It’s hell! . . .

—I, bea your pardon,” for Miss Susan häd“öttereda shrill cry.

“Oh, it isn’t your language, but you’ve kicked Meander over again and there isn’t any water left.

Would you-please fill it up? Don’t let him wriggle out.”

The bibulous gentleman, making his fourth circuit of the lake path, saw a young man leaning over the summer house railing and clutching an empty bottle.

“She looked too respec’able to be a bootlegger.” he groaned, moistly disillusioned with humanity. His own hip was still stocked, however, and so he continued his promenade. v

The young man, placing Meander in the safety of Miss Susan’s lap, sank into #ioody melancholy, to observe presently : \.

“I proposed to her on this, very bench. That’s why I came to sit on it for the last. time. She’s wonderful if she is stubborn. Her eyes are like that clump of iris, and her hair ...” He paused.

“Do go on,” purred Miss Susan, but his poetic catalogue was punctuated by an explosive oath and he leapt to his feet. “What . . . what is it?”

“It’s . . . it’s ...” He collapsed dejectedly. “Her ...”

Not she?” but she did not mean to correct hls Eng; “not your Shirley?”

Across the cove there ...” His healthy cheeks

were crimson.

ON A bench across the inlet was a slim, blonde, viyuj, —.

young woman. She sat erect and seemed engrossed in tne acrobatics ot a flock of-ducks and it was impossible

to tell that her eyes, beneathqüPirmgTÿ^Ssiïnulating lids, were focussed intently upon the occupants of the summer house. Shirley had also come back to sayfare-

Continued on page 61

Continued from page 9

well to the scene of past romances.

“Run ’round and speak to her,” panted Miss Susan. Laura Jean Libbey had never been half so exciting.

“What use?” Athletic shoulders sagged surrenderingly. “She told me never to speak to her again, and I wouldn’t speak to her unless she begged me to . . . Besides . . . besides, I just did bow to her and she cut me dead! But I’m going to stay right here. She shan’t know she’s got me fussed.”

“Dear, dear,” mused Miss Susan. He was such a nice youth, and she hated to see two young people wreck their lives over a war that was remembered only in Armistice Day speeches.

What could she do? Again memory helpfully recalled an incident in one of her beloved novels. She placed Meander beneath the bench and, most astonishingly, began to climb the railing of birch logs.

“Good grief!” the lethargic young man was suddenly awake, “what are you going to do?”

Miss Susan straddled the top bar indecorously.

“The main thing, young man, is what you are going to do . . . And please . . please don’t knock Meander over again. He might flop after me ...” A polite scream, a swishing splash concluded her injunction.

For an instant he stared after her, dazed by the knowledge that he had been sharing his woes with a lunatic. Then he ran to the railing. Miss Susan was threshing about in the water and squealing. Reluctantly he removed his coat.

The girl across the inlet had risen. She was calling, loudly, shakily!

“Don’t, Willis . . . You can’t swim . . . Oh, don’t . .

'T'HAT settled the matter for him.

There was a second splash as he joined Miss Susan, frantically hoping that other and better equipped rescuers would hear the commotion, but, to his amazement, he felt the soft squashiness of mud beneath his feet. The water was barely waist high.

“Duck down,” he heard Miss Susan puff, as she threshed her arms out; “pretend you’re swimming, pretend you’re saving me. Don’t let her know I could walk out.” Only half understanding, he obeyed her. Seizing Miss Susan by the collar, he made motions with his free hand, and advanced towards the shore on his knees.

As they reached the bank, the young woman was breathlessly waiting for them.

“Willis . . . oh, Will, you saved her, you risked your own life ...”

He had been supporting Miss Susan, but released her so abruptly that she sat down in the shallows. Wet and dripping as he was, he crushed the girl

in his arms, his streaming hair staining her light-colored dress.

“I won’t let you go,” he was sobbing. “I won’t let you go, dammit!”

“We both made fools of ourselves, Will . . . But it’s all right ... I wouldn’t let mother tell anybody that the engagement was broken.”

Miss Susan coughed: “I was reaching for that water-lily,” she explained chatteringly, for the bath had been chilly. “He saved my life, how can I ever thank him?”

Their silence, while it injured her feelings, suggested that absence might be the truest expression of gratitude, and Miss Susan made herself scarce. Drenched petticoats clinging to thin legs, her bonnet discolored and shapeless, she cut a ridiculous figure as she encountered the still circling bibulous gentleman.

“Shouldn’t drink this bum new hooch,” he sympathized.

“Drink?” she bridled indignantly.

“Sure . . . bottle ...”

“Goldfish,” she haughtily set him straight.

“Ain’t ever heard of that brand ...”

But Miss Susan had turned in her tracks. She had suddenly remembered Meander, languishing and alone beneath the summer house bench.

But the young people were still occupied and she did not feel like intruding. She waited a moment, coughed discreetly. Then, even as they turned towards her, an awful and unexpected thing occurred.

Down the bank of the cove clambered a tall man, wearing hip rubber boots and carrying a miniature yacht under his arm. Into the water he waded and, standing erect, at the exact spot of the recent rescue, he proceeded to anchor his tiny craft.

The young man’s face was a blank, the young woman’s questioning and ominous. Miss Susan, on the point of tears, had a sudden intuition.

“The idea was all mine,” she quavered. “He didn’t know that I was going to jump in—and I didn’t know it was shallow until I sat on a sharp rock ... I made him do the pretending, honestly.”

The young woman stared at her, her lips were tight, but suddenly they loosened in a peal of laughter, of cheerful, forgiving happy laughter.

Clasping Meander, Miss Susan left them at last, but only after she had promised to attend the wedding. Despite her damp clothing she was as glowing as the August afternoon. Her escapade would mean a scolding from the matron, aspirin, bed, rheumatism, but it was worth it. She had brought two foolish but charming youngsters together. She was useful again, had no thoughts of suicide now. She wanted to live to be a hundred.