THE roses were pink and full blown, tied with luxurious silver ribbons. Jennifer regarded them with a small and perplexed frown. The frown, need it be said, was not for the roses, since who would frown upon roses in June, but for the name scrawled across the card. For flowers, sent by the undesired, might as well be cabbages.
“Poor dear Ronny,” Mrs. Phippen’s tone was like slowly dripping honey, “he’s so generous. So kind.”
T wish he wouldn't be kind to me,” Jennifer declared emphatically. “I wish he wouldn’t send me flowers.” Jennifer’s stepmother sighed and looked at Jennifer with sorrowful reproach. And the burden of her thought was that a mop of blown gold, a pair of sherry-colored eyes and a very persuasive little mouth did not indicate that the possessor of these should be amenable to reason.
“Poor Ronny. He does try so hard to please you. He’s head over ears in love, and you treat him so abominably. Couldn’t you be the least bit kinder? Couldn’t you, at least, write him a nice note and let him imagine you’re grateful.”
“Oh, I’ll write, I suppose. I’ve got to. But I think it would be best if I were to tell him not to send any more
“Darling!” It was a cry of consternation and alarm.
“They’ve got to be hurt someday if that’s going to burr them. I never intend to marry him so he might as well know how I feel. You see,” and the sherry-colored eyes were raised to ?vlrs. Phippen’s carefully tinted face, “every time I say anything I really mean, you tell him that I'm shy because I was educated in a convent—that I don't mean what I say—that I’m simply being coy—
and ne believes you! Don’t you think-”
“Dearest!'' Oh, such troubled tones, “Promise me you won't be too unkind. Ronny is like my own son.”
those ‘dearests’ and ‘darlings’! Oh those sugary tones! Y ere she to write to Ronny the way she had interned t: write there would be such an outcry, such a wan of sorrow and grief. She would end, of course, by writing the bind of note her stepmother wanted her to
write, because she could not bear days of tears and reproaches and a general atmosphere of dampness and moist handkerchiefs.
She sat down at the desk and picked up a pen and looked at the tip musingly. In the long run, it would mean, if she went on giving in, that she would find herself one of these days married to Ronny Tanner. The idea was abhorrent. Ronny, large and pink and blonde, filled her with excruciating distaste. Moreover, he kept her in a constant state of alarm. She was uneasy whenever she was left alone with him; uneasy when there were people about since he showed so plainly in every word he spoke, his possessiveness towards her.
“You’ll write him a nice note won’t you, dearest?” went on Mrs. Phippen who was lifting the despised roses out of the box, “and I’ll send the chauffeur with it.” Jennifer thrust her pen into the ink with a gesture of defiance mixed with exasperation.
‘Dear Ronny,’ she wrote, ‘Thank you for the roses. They are lovely. I wish you wouldn’t send them. Yours truly, Jennifer Phippen.’
“Jennifer dearest,” and there was a thread of hardness in Mrs. Phippen’s voice as she stood behind Jennifer’s chair and looked down at the few words in the large childish writing, “you’re never going to send such a note to Ronny. It sounds—oh, it sounds—simply dreadful.” Jennifer cast her eyes over what she had written, sighed, and drew a fresh sheet of note paper from the blotter. “What do you want me to say? I hate getting
flowers from people I-”
“Try and appear grateful, darling. At least say they’ve given you pleasure. And don’t sign yourself as though you were writing a business letter.”
Jennifer took up her pen wearily.
‘Dear Ronny—The flowers have given me a great deal of pleasure. You are very kind. Jennifer.’
She turned and passed the ink wet note to her stepmother. Mrs. Phippen’s mouth was like a scarlet thread across her face. That mouth showed at the moment that beneath all the honeyed words there was a will that would not be thwarted,
“Will that do?” inquired Jennifer, curiously at that thread of scarlet.
“It sounds like a telegram, of course,” Mrs. Phippen said, forcing a smile, “but I suppose it’s the best you can do. I should have thought you could have written such a sweet little note. If
anyone had sent me such beautiful roses--”
A slight shrug and then heels clicking sharply on the polished floor as she went out of the room carrying the note and the roses.
Jennifer cupped her round chin in her small hand and stared out of the window. Her mind was turbulent with disturbing thoughts and Ronny Tanner was the centre of the disturbance.
_ . fti
(YNLY six months since she had left the convent, but those six months had been more filled with experience than all the former eighteen years of her life. Could she have told dear Mother Therese of the Sacred Heart all she had learned during those six months, Mother Therese would have expressed astonishment. For you had only to listen to the conversations that rippled to and fro in her stepmother’s charming black and silver drawing room to learn that knowing how to put beautifully fine stitches into fine linens, to play melodious tunes on the piano and to paint delicate water colors, were but the very beginning of knowledge. She had been making an effort to educate herself to fit into her new surroundings. She had spent several days poring over Michael Arlen’s ‘Young Men in Love’ trying to see in it something either to interest her or to entertain. Failing, she had wondered whether the deficiency was in herself.
Had her father lived, of course, everything would have been different. It was clear that she did not fit in with either her stepmother or her stepmother’s friends. These were for the most part middle aged women with faces like roses four days old, slightly crumpled, wilted, faded. It was hard for Jennifer to decipher the meaning of most of their remarks.
There was the Count, so angular that he resembled a pair of scissors. There was the man they all called ‘Sammy’ who had multiple chins and a large assortment of stories, supposedly witty. Then there was Ronny— oh, above all there was Ronny! and the dread never left her by night or day lest some day she should find herself securely married to Ronny Tanner.
It appeared inevitable; it loomed before her young eyes, portentous and awful. For struggle as she might, protest as she did, each time any question came up, her stepmother managed to win her own way. Jennifer had no recourse against that dripping sweetness; no recourse against those pleading, sugared tones.
JENNIFER escaped from the drawing-room where the tea table, laden with a bountiful supply of little cakes and the thinnest of sandwiches, was surrounded by Mrs. Phippen’s friends. She managed, moreover, to escape unnoticed since Ronny, at the moment, was busy with a cocktail shaker at the far end of the long room.
Running quick-footed across the lawn she sat down beneath an orange and white striped parasol, that was poised like an enormous toadstool in the centre of the garden and let her head rest against a jade green cushion that did bewildering things to the blown gold of her hair.
It was heavenly in this retreat after that room, so filled with cigarette smoke and meaning laughter. She felt as though the cool, cool breeze was washing her cheeks, blowing the smoke from her hair. A gold haze hung like thin gauze across the distances of green lawn through which white butterflies drifted or hung sus. pended on motionless wings above the rose bushes.
Puffs of white cream, supposedly clouds, floated across the blue, and there was a little, gentle, sighing
sound of wind in the taller trees. Relaxed, she sat trying to let all memory of that smoke filled room drift from her mind, but steps on the verandah recalled her from her brief and happy sojourn with sky and cloud.
Ronny! It was, a quick glance over her shoulder told her, Ronny coming in search of her, Ronny distressingly pink. Her breath came in a quick, quick flutter and she stifled an impulse to get up and run. For where should she run?
“Is this where you are?” Ronny, exceedingly large and quite luridly pink, straddled a chair and looked at Jennifer with his most possessive air. It seemed to Jennifer as though it would say, ‘Well, you delicious little morsel, I’ve come to gobble you up.’
Since it was evident that this was where she was, Jennifer had nothing to say to this remark. She looked down at her hands, studying them pensively.
“Why did you run away?
Were you dull? Bored? I’d have been with you in a minute.”
“It seemed nicer out here,”
And then after a momentary pause, “I wanted to be alone.”
This remark was wasted on the young man. “I’m glad you liked the roses. But perhaps you would have rather had sweets. Little convent girls--”
“It’s some time now since I left the convent,” said Jennifer; “I’ve rather lost my fondness for sweets. I think I’d prefer pickles—”
Ronny laughed enormously at this. When his laughter died the conversation languished like a spent breeze.
He tilted his chair at a perilous angle towards her while his manner underwent a
change. It was developing every moment a steady increasing degree of intimacy.
“I’ve been having a nice talk with your stepmother,” he said, looking at her very intently.
“Yes. She said that she’d welcome me as a son-inlaw.”
“A son-in-law.” Consternation in Jennifer’s voice; a stricken look in her eyes. “But you see,” she began stammering,” that would mean—and of course—”
“Yes, it would distinctly mean--”
And now his chair rocked so close that Jennifer in horrible alarm sprang to her feet. In an instant she perceived that it had been an unwise move. She had been safer protected by the arms of her chair. For Ronny, too, was instantly upon his feet and before she could turn, even before she could manage a sound of protest, his arms, thick and strong, were wrapped around her, holding her so close she could not stir. Forcing up her face his mouth found hers, clinging to it, until she felt as though every breath was slowly being sucked out of her body; every scrap of color drawn from her mouth.
It seemed an eternity before that awful grasp loosened; before she was able to back away from him, one hand pressed tightly against her mouth, while she strangled back a sob, a scream, a wild desire to break into a storm of protesting, angry tears. She was so much overpowered by these emotions that she did not hear, at first, the outbreak of laughter from the verandah, did not see the group of her stepmother’s friends, who, on the point of leaving, had witnessed the little scene on the lawn.
In another instant she and Ronny were surrounded. Women with ... . ;
crumpled faces; men with nasty smiling ones; all talking; all of them laughing at once. And what they were saying at last managed to pierce to Jennifer’s consciousness with overwhelming force. She protested wildly.
“But we’re not engaged,” she cried, paling at the idea, looking desperately from one crumpled face to the other, “indeed—indeed we’re not.
How ridiculous! Oh, how very absurd that you should think such a thing! “And she turned to her stepmother to back her up in this statement, “Tell them,” she pleaded.
“But how could we think anything else, darling child,” and her stepmother slipped an arm about Jennifer, “you see, dearest, you’re not
the sort of girl to let a man kiss you unless there was an engagement. Of course we all know you’re shy—but even shy little girls don’t let men kiss them unless—”
“I didn’t let him,” valiantly returned Jennifer on the point of tears, “I didn’t let him—”
Her protests were engulfed in a sea of animated conversation. No one was listening to her; no one gave the least attention to her remarks: Mrs. Phippen had already told them what was taking place; she had already informed them how delighted she was to have Ronny for a son-in-law.
The Count was shaking Ronny’s hand with fitting energy. All the crumpled faces were smiling, each one of them vicariously enjoying Jennifer’s love affair. Sammy made a remark which caused a tornado of laughter to sweep over the group. Mrs. Phippen had the air of being immensely pleased. “I’m so delighted, darling, ” she murmured to Jennifer, “Ronny has always been like my own son.”
Jennifer gave up in despair. It was not until all the vociferous group had departed that she protested.
A’m not going to marry Ronny Tanner. You know I have no intention of doing any such thing.”
There were angry sparks in the sherry-colored eyes. Mrs. Phippen received this statement with sweet complacency.
“Don’t look so sulphurous, darling. If you don’t want to marry the poor boy, of course, you can break it off. Isn’t it rather soon to change your mind?”
“There’s nothing to break off,” cried Jennifer, feeling much like a bird caught in a net, beating vain wings in an effort to escape, “and you know there isn’t. If a man—
if Ronny simply heaves himself on top of me--”
“Dearest, I scarcely think Ronny would do such a thing. You must admit, whatever you say against him, that Ronny’s a gentleman. He certainly wouldn’t force his attentions where they were unwelcome. The poor boy must have thought—you must have led him to believe-”
“I led him to believe nothing,” cried Jennifer in desperation. Mrs. Phippen led Jennifer gently up the path between the herbaceous border trying to soothe her as though she were a mental case, to be cajoled and placated.
“Ronny will be very patient, I’m sure.
He’ll quite understand that the idea of marriage may seem a little alarming to you just
“It would always be alarming with Ronny Tanner,” Jennifer exclaimed and Mrs. Phippen allowed this remark to pass unnoticed.
THAT evening Ronny appeared and with mock cere -mony presented Jennifer with a small blue velvet case. “See how this suits you,” he said with boisterous good humor.
Jennifer made no move to open it. She objected to the idea of Ronny giving her small blue velvet cases; objected to the way in which his eyes bored through her w'hile he waited with obvious impatience for her to give expression to surprise and delightful anticipation.
“See what it is, dearest,” Mrs. Phippen said persuasively from the black lounge in the corner, banked high with silver cushions, “do open it. I’m dying of curiosity—”
Urged to do so, Jennifer pressed the spring and a hoop of diamonds sprang into view. Jennifer held the little box away from her as though it held fire that burned the tips of her fingers.
“But Ronny,” she stammered hot and yet at the same time shiveringly cold, “this is an engagement ring. We’re not engaged. We’re never going to be.”
He was not at all taken aback by this cool little remark. Instead he appeared to see humor in it. “Going to be some day,” he announced complacently, “might as well be ready.”
“But I’m not—we’re not—”
“Jennifer darling,” broke in Mrs. Phippen's sweetest tones, “don’t be silly and little girlish. Don’t you think that after all the trouble dear Ronny has taken that you might at least say ‘thank you.’ ”
“But it’s an engagement ring,” Jennifer^
“and really Ronny—”
“Then shove it away out of sight if wear it,” said Ronny, still amiable, stîïï“
humors, “but don’t ask me to take it back. I'd look a fine fool wouldn’t I, returning it?”
“Of course, she’s going to wear it, Ronny,” interposed Mrs. Phippen. “Jennifer always needs so much coaxing. She’s still such a little, little girl.”
The ‘little, little girl’ shot a look towards the lounge in the corner that wras neither as soft nor as yielding as Mrs. Phippen would have liked to see emanating from those sherry-colored eyes. It caused a sigh to flutter from Mrs.
Continued on page 65
A little love, a little kiss— what a difference a young man makes!
Continued, from page 9
Phippen’s lips and she looked for sympathy to Ronny who looked back at her reassuringly. Everything was as right as it could be, that look answered Mrs. Phippen. He wasn’t troubled in the least by Jennifer’s whims. In time she would get over them.
As she dragged the silken coverlet over her shoulders in bed that night, Jennifer shivered although the night was warm, for vividly she saw herself, clad in frosty white satin with a long, tulle veil, walking up the aisle of a church towards Ronny, whose large, pink face seemed to fill the entire church.
Before she was wholly awake the following morning Mrs. Phippen came into the room, trailing a scarlet chiffon negligee behind her like a sun-dyed cloud.
“Dearest,” she said, crossing to the window and pushing wide the shutters, “that poor boy has telephoned already this morning to know whether you would let him take you for a long drive in the country. He suggested having lunch at the Red Robin Inn. Such a lovely spot! I said, I didn’t believe for a moment you would go, but I’d do my best to persuade you. Oh, what a day it is,” and the scarlet chiffon negligee billowed behind her in the soft breeze that came through the window, heavy with the scent of apple blossoms, of roses and lilacs, “what a day to be out in the country,” and her stepmother turned andsmiled at Jennifer, sitting up in bed, her eyes still filled with dreams, her hair tossed into a halo of bright gold, “what it is to be young and in love.”
“But I’m not in love,” stated Jennifer deliberately, “and I don’t think I care to go driving with Ronny, if you don’t mind.”
Mrs. Phippen sighed.
“I was going into town and had told the maids they could have a picnic. Of course, if you won’t go, they’ll have to give up their picnic to get lunch for you. And I’ll have to tell dear Ronny—well, what shall I tell him, dearest? It’s so hard for me to have to make up these excuses all the time."
“Why didn’t he call me up. I could have told him.”
“I suppose he thought I might be able to persuade you. Well, dearest, then I’ll tell the maids to stay at home and—”
“Oh, I’ll go,” cried Jennifer, “if it’s going to make so much trouble—”
Undoubtedly, it was a day for lovers. The air was as soft as a maiden’s sigh and filled with singing notes as though each bright moment had its own particular note. Had it not been for the fact that it was Ronny Tanner who was sitting beside her, Jennifer’s spirits would have reacted to the day. But Ronny, engaged in putting behind him the greatest possible number of miles in the fewest possible minutes, paid small attention to the quiet little figure at his side. And that was what Jennifer would have wished. Altogether the morning passed with only one remark from Ronny to mar its brightness.
“This is what we’ll do on our honeymoon, isn’t it? How would you like to tour through France?”
Jennifer caught her breath sharply.
“There isn’t going to be any honeymoon, Ronny. You know quite well— I’ve told you over and over again that I can’t marry you.”
“A woman’s no means yes,” said that imperturbable young man, pressing a substantial foot on the accelerator, leaping the car forward like a frightened thing to speed down the long, level stretch of road.
As Mrs. Phippen had said, the Red Robin Inn was a lovely spot. Some repairs, however, were being done and guests apparently were not desired or expected. Inside, in the long dining room the tables were herded together like a flock of sheep; chairs were piled one on
top of the other while painters were busy in the hall with pots and brushes.
“We can’t have lunch here,” said Jennifer with a sort of relief, for driving with Ronny was better than a tête-a-tête luncheon.
“Oh, yes we can,” remarked Ronny. “I’ll go and see about it. I’m just as glad to have it to ourselves, ” and he went off in search of someone, to whom to state his requirements.
And in no time a small table was drawn up beside an open window while a black and white frilled maid wrote down his order.
“We’re in luck,” he said to Jennifer as the maid departed, “I hoped there wouldn’t be a crowd. ” He laid a large hand possessively on top of Jennifer’s small one resting on the table. “Well, little sweet,” he murmured, “are you enjoying yourself?”
Jennifer was not enjoying herself in the very least. At any moment, she felt Ronny might attempt to kiss her again and if he did this time she felt she would die of shame. He was looking at her in a fashion that made her heart flutter into her throat with fear. She drew her hand from beneath his as the maid tripped back with a tray and placed rolls and butter on the table. Jennifer gave her an anguished glance which the maid apparently misunderstood for she tripped lightly and quickly away.
“What will you have to drink?” Ronny inquired; “we must have something better than water.”
Jennifer shook her head.
“Not for me.”
“Well, I’m afraid water doesn’t appeal to me very much,” and Ronny rose to his feet. “I’ll be back in a moment. I’ll go and see what they have.”
JENNIFER watched Ronny’s broad, J retreating back with eyes that were filled with a growing alarm. Ronny, at any time, was alarming; but Ronny, after he had indulged in a cocktail or two, was more than alarming. She looked despairingly around the large deserted room. No chance of anyone coming in; no chance of the maid remaining in the room while they partook of their lunch. And that meant that at any moment Ronny might enact again the scene of yesterday. Her throat felt parched; her mouth stiff; her hands trembled.
And then inspiration came to her assistance. With a sudden impulse to hide herself away from Ronny’s sight she slid from her chair, and lifting the long, draping folds of the table cloth, too big for their small table, crouched on the floor under the table. Here she was satisfactorily hidden for the moment. And, she conjectured, it was not at all likely that Ronny would look for her here. She waited breathlessly, crouching and trying to occupy the smallest possible space.
In another moment or so, she heard Ronny’s footsteps returning. He was half way across the room before he appeared to notice that the table was empty. An exclamation of surprise broke from him. Jennifer could see his white tennis shoes pausing irresolutely in the centre of the room.
She held her breath and waited in agonized suspense. Every moment she expected to see his hand on the table cloth, dragging it aside to reveal her hiding place. She pressed one hand above her heart to smother its quick beat. The white tennis shoes crossed the room to the window.
“Jennifer!” called Ronny in stentorian tones, “I say, Jennifer!”
As there was no response to this cry he rang the bell. The quick, light-footed maid appeared almost instantly. Jennifer could see her neat black slippers slipping over the polished floor.
“Where’s the lady I was lunching with?” inquired Ronny, “I left her here a moment ago—”
“I don’t know, sir. I haven’t seen lier—”
“Well you might see if you can find out where she went,” and the white shoes started a prowl around the room while the neat black slippers tripped away. In a few moments back they tripped.
“She’s not anywhere around, sir. Perhaps some friends went by in a car—”
“Nonsense. She was having lunch with me. She must be somewhere about. If you’d have another look—”
The next time the black slippers tripped back, a pair of squeaky black boots accompanied them. A man’s throaty voice remarked, “What’s this, sir? I hear that the young lady who was with you is not to be found.”
“She’s got to be found,” Ronny’s voice sounded extremely irritated. “Have you looked up stairs.”
“Yes, sir. She’s not anywhere around the place. We’ve looked.”
“But this is arrant nonsense.” said Ronny, plainly angry. “Send out and search the grounds. I’ll go and see if she went to the car,” and to Jennifer’s relief white tennis shoes, squeaky, black boots, and trim black slippers retreated.
She took a long breath. Minutes slipped by and no one returned to the dining room. She could hear Ronny calling her name with increasing exasperation apparent in his tone. Several times his shadow crossed the window. Murmured conversations took place between the man with the throaty voice and the neat maid. They were too far away for her to hear what they were saying. She wondered if Ronny would call in the police to search for her. She couldn’t stay hidden here for very long. If only Ronny would go home then she would be afcle to come out of her hiding place. She could go back in a bus. She was more and more determined every minute that she would not come out from her hiding place until Ronny had departed.
After an interminable time she heard Ronny’s car starting. She gave a long sigh of relief. She was terribly cramped. Her legs ached from remaining so long in such a huddled position. And then, as she was preparing to slip from her hiding place, there came the sound of a car approaching the inn. Perhaps this was Ronny returning. Patiently she settled herself to wait.
Steps sounded on the gravelled path outside the window. In a moment more, a pair of brown brogues crossed the room, the black slippered feet of the trim maid tripping in advance of them.
“If you wouldn’t mind sitting at this table, sir. I’ll have it cleared in a moment. As you see we’re having some repairs done and—”
“This will do splendidly,” broke in a pleasant voice. The tan brogues came within an inch of Jennifer’s knees and she crouched back and eyed them warily. If they moved forward ever so little they would touch her. She tried to make herself grow smaller and yet smaller. If she only had some of that magic bottle with which the immortal Alice so easily altered her dimensions.
“Just a slice of cold beef and a cup of coffee,” said the cheery masculine voice. It sounded to Jennifer like a young voice; the feet looked like young feet. And yet, he might be another Ronny. At that thought she shrank back farther away from those brown brogues.
The trim, black slippers disappeared and silence fell over the room. It was becoming very uncomfortable sitting so long in that position. One of her feet prickled while the other ankle ached. A slice of beef and a cup of coffee might not take very long to consume. But still, her ankle throbbed unbearably. By this time at any rate, Ronny was far away from the inn.
With a soft movement she gathered her legs slowly from under her; lifted the
long, draping folds of the tablecloth and poked out her head.
A mop of blown gold hair the next instant appeared above the edge of the table. The young man might well be pardoned the start of surprise; the look of incredulous amazement that broke over his face.
“Great Heavens!” he exclaimed and stared at Jennifer in bewilderment. Nice blue eyes then flickered into laughter and Jennifer perceived with overwhelming relief that this young man was as different from the Ronnys of this world as night from day. She flopped into the chair opposite him and smiled ingenuously.
“I couldn’t have stayed under the table another moment. My feet are all pins and needles,” she explained cheerfully, for it was amazing, suddenly, how cheerful everything had become. “You didn’t see a large pink man around anywhere, did you?” she questioned him still with a small alarm, “Ronny Tanner—”
“Ronny Tanner,” said the pleasantly smiling mouth of the young man, “Yes, I did see Ronny Tanner tearing along the highway as though all the furies were after him. But, if I may ask, what has Ronny Tanner got to do with you?”
“Nothing,” she said, “only he doesn’t know it. He won’t believe it. I—I—” she paused and looked at the young man from beneath a fringe of stiff black lashes. Her impulse was to open her mind to him as she might have opened a box of trinkets and asked him to look inside. But she had scarcely known him more than a matter of seconds, if you could call it knowing him. That she should have felt she had known him for ages the very first moment his eyes smiled into her own was of course altogether absurd.
And then the maid opened the door from the pantry and stood for a moment staring at Jennifer in plain bewilderment. Collecting herself she came forward carrying her tray, with eyes still fixed upon Jennifer in amazement. Jennifer disregarded that look. She planted her elbows on the table giving all the appearance of lunching quite calmly with the young man opposite her.
“The gentleman you were with was looking for you, miss,” the maid murmured as she placed the plate containing the slice of cold beef before the young man, “he went off in his car—”
“I heard him,” she said sunnily; “I heard him drive off quite a while ago.”
“What are you going io have?” inquired the young man as casually as though he had invited Jennifer to have luncheon with him; “those oyster patties might be good. There’s ice cream and, of course, coffee. What about a tomato salad?”
Jennifer nodded. She was hungry. The maid scribbled the order on her pad, still appearing slightly mystified, and departed with her little black tray.
The young man was looking at Jennifer, looking at her very steadily with frank observing eyes. And as he looked he thought of white crocuses with gold hearts; he thought of white and gold lilies; and he thought of nameless wild flowers growing on the hillsides and in the woods in early spring.
“And what business have you to be careering around the country with the Ronny Tanners of this world,” he said. “I know Ronny by repute. Whoever let you start off expeditioning with Ronny? Why, with a face made for starlight do you go about the country with Ronny Tanner and his kind?”
Jennifer twisted the diamond hoop on her finger that her stepmother had insisted she should wear to-day, until his eyes caught the gleam of it. He appeared so crestfallen that Jennifer laughed half in embarrassment, half in delight.
“You’re never going to tell me,” he implored in very actual dismay, “that you’ve already come to the third act. Surely, oh surely the right man hasn’t sneaked in ahead of me. If he has, then we’ve got to put on another act, that’s all.
You know I’m firmly convinced that somehow I’m going to be inextricably mixed up in your future.”
It didn’t seem to matter that she had known him for only a matter of moments; it appeared that with some people it was not a question of how long you had known them as how far you had gone in that length of time. And Jennifer felt they had gone an immeasurable distance in so short a space of time.
By the time the oyster patties had arrived, she had told him most of what there was to tell about Ronny, omitting for sheer embarrassment, what had occurred the previous afternoon. But she had told him ample to bring a scowl into his face and an exclamation to his lips.
“Damn Ronny Tanner,” said this very vehement young man, “what are they all thinking about?”
By the time the ice cream had arrived, she had told him most of the outstanding events of her life. All in all, there did not seem to be many events of much importance until this present moment.
Neither did the young man seem to have much to tell beyond the fact that his name was Michael Hays.
“And you might as well begin calling me Michael at once since you’ll have to very soon,” he said. “And I don’t know that there’s very much more to tell except that I live in a house with blue shutters about ten miles from where you live, with an Aunt Mary. You’ll love Aunt Mary,” he went on, “she’s the sort of aunt you read about and never see—the sort who likes nothing better than to make people comfortable and to concoct home brewed drinks for chills and fevers. She’ll tuck you into bed the very first cold you get,” he promised her, “and you won’t dare to stir a finger unless she tells you that you can.”
Jennifer opened her eyes wide.
“But it’s not at all likely that I’ll ever see your Aunt Mary,” she protested, “it’s very, very unlikely.”
“And isn’t it always the unlikely that happens,” Michael pointed out to her. “Now what would be more unlikely than that I’d find you underneath a table in a country inn. Never would I have thought of looking for you in such a place. If I had set out to look for you I would have started out early in the morning and looked for you in the dew; or I might have looked to find you dancing under the moon; or again I might have thought to find you in some old garden at twilight. But never, no never, would I have looked to find you underneath a table in a stupid country inn.”
And that seemed reasonable enougtyto prove his theory of the unlikely.
HTHE luncheon dishes at last were cleared away and then Michael suggested that he should smoke a cigarette before they were on their way. And after he had smoked one it was very natural that he should feel an urgent need for a second, and then for a third. And by the time that the last one was taken from his case quite obviously it was time to order tea and muffins. There was no sense at all in starting on a long drive Michael explained, without a good cup of tea. And that seemed after all a very sensible idea.
What was not so sensible, or at least did not appear so at the moment, was that when Jennifer ran out to the motor an hour later she should slip on some paint that had been dropped on the flag stones by a careless workman. And when Michael lifted her up an excruciating pain shot through one ankle that brought the tears to her eyes. And the pain grew steadily worse in spite of all Michael could do, so that by the time they arrived at a long low white house with noticeably blue shutters, her thin silk stocking felt like a casing of steel. Michael insisted that they should stop and have a doctor bandage the ankle before he drove her home.
And Aunt Mary, whom Jennifer saw at once was just as Michael had pictured
her, immediately took affairs into her own very capable hands.
“You poor blessed infant,” she crooned over Jennifer, whom Michael had laid on a broad soft sofa in a room that was filled with the scent of apple blossoms, the glint of old silver, the shine of old copper and the satin smooth gleam of old polished wood, “you poor baby. You’re never going to motor another ten miles to-night. Michael go and send a wire. Did you say it was your stepmother, dear? Say that her ankle is sprained and that she’s staying the night with Miss Hays at the Larches. I’ll tuck you into bed in the room next to mine, dear child and then if you should wake in the night and want anything I’ll be right there.”
The ankle after all turned out to be not much more than an excuse to lie on that soft, broad sofa all evening while Michael sat on a chair beside her, and Aunt Mary came in occasionally to croon a few words over Jennifer and to arrange the pillows behind her head. There was a delicious dinner brought to her on a tray with delicate old china and heavy old silver, and Michael insisted upon helping her to eat it until Jennifer was forced to protest that it was her ankle and not her wrist that was sprained.
And once, only once during the evening a flash of light gleamed on the ring on her finger and she hid her hand under a fold of her dress. She knew that to-night was only a dream, a dream she must live to the full, since she would wake tomorrow to Ronny Tanner again, and tonight would be only a niemory; something to put away in lavender and to take out and look at again when she was quite old and tired and full of sleep, and youth was only like the memory of the silver note of a trumpet blown at dawn or the gold note of a harp played under the moon.
And yet, she asked herself, could what she was feeling, be love; since what did she know about this young man and what did he know of her? For she didn’t yet know, Jennifer didn’t, they hadn’t taught her in the convent and she hadn’t learned it in her stepmother’s house, that love can come to flower in an instant, while at other times a life time won’t suffice to make it bloom at all.
JENNIFER wasn’t sure whether it was a shaft of sunlight striking in her eyes the next morning that wakened her or the sound of a motor chugging outside. She sprang up in some alarm, thinking she must have long overslept, and ran to the window, still hobbling a little and tripping over Aunt Mary’s long and voluminous night gown, that had such an absurd pleated frill around each small wrist while there was a quaint ruche around the severely high neck. She leaned out into the sunlight, frills and all, and to her amazement looked full down into Ronny’s face.
The tirade that burst from Ronny’s lips was startling, that peaceful summer morning. For it appeared that he had been making inquiries in the village and that his informant had told him that The Larches was occupied by a Mr. Michael Hays and his housekeeper and servants.
Ronny’s face was pinker than Jennifer had ever seen it before and she was thankful for the space between them.
“So, young woman,” he shouted at her, “I’m through with you. I never would have thought—what will your stepmother say to this escapade?”
And Jennifer, busily pleating and unpleâîîhg the absurd frills falling over her hands decided she would make no effort to explain Aunt Mary.
“You don’t suppose,” went on that very pink young man standing on the bricked wall, “you don’t suppose for one single moment that I’d want to marry you now. You can’t suppose that any man—”
Jennifer leaned out and something bright and small flashed in the sunlight.
“Catch!” she called in her high treble tone; “oh, catch.”
And deftly Ronny caught the ring and
slipped it into his pocket with a faintly satisfied air. But it appeared that he had not yet finished what he had to say. Having expected tears and remorse he was at a loss how to utilize all the SDee^hes he had made up his mind to make
“This is what they teach you at convent, is it?” he shouted as though Jennifer had suddenly been smitten with
deafness, “as far as I’m concerned--”
And since, as far as she was concerned, there was nothing over which to be concerned, Jennifer slipped back from the window leaving Ronny shouting his remarks to an empty window frame. And, that being slightly unsatisfactory for a man of Ronny’s strident calibre, he very soon departed down the brick walk. Jennifer’s heart felt like a bird as she
heard Ronny’s car start off down the road. She hummed a little tune under her breath as she slipped on her clothes, all at once tremendously impatient for her breakfast. At least she told herself it . as for her breakfast.
Quietly, she made her way down the broad stairs and almost stumbled as she saw that there was someone waiting.
“Ronny,” she began, wanting to explain all that noisy shouting, but Michael cut her short.
“I heard,” he said, “every word. Almost I went out to throttle that young man. But decided that my time wae better employed elsewhere.”
And oh, thought Jennifer, very illogically, it might seem, what deliriousness, what ecstasy can lie in a kiss.