Three Men and a Maid
FRANCES FENWICK WILLIAMS
ON THE bed—icy gleam of satin; frost-crystals of lace.
On the toilet-table—milkily radiant sheen
On the floor—cross-legged upon the ferociously-staring remains of a giant bear—two girls.
The dark-curled bride-to-be was clad from the bearrug up in two slender, silver slippers, two transparent silver stockings, one blush-rose lace-and-crepe teddy, one glamorous, shimmering confection of rose chiffon over silver tissue.
Like a very young white rose she looked, sitting there —velvety bloom of cheek, clear, deep, serious softness of dark eyes, delicate curves and hollows of dimpling, white shoulders proclaiming her youth.
Her friend and maid-of-honor—who had freckles and a saucy, turn-up nose and sorry eyes like a nice dog and the loose, sweet mouth that means kindliness and indiscretion —watched her.
“What are you thinking about, Eric?” she asked suddenly.
The bride-to-be started and laughed. Her laugh was like a brook running away from rocks that would hold it. But her great eyes brooded.
“I’m thinking of running away.”
The bride-to-be cupped a chin like a cleft nectarine on two slim hands and spoke belligerently.
“Because I’m an outlaw.”
The maid-of-honor gasped.
Outside—a dim, purple, British Columbian night, pricked with silver stars and sweet with mignonette.
Inside—smells of Bond’s violet soap and Jeanne’s Poudre d’Amour and Turkish cigarettes and hot-house roses and the tissue paper that new frocks come home in and Beebe’s lavender water and expensive chocolates.
Excitement is not a quality of the mind alone. A room may hold it. Unrest exuded from this room, breathed from the bear-rug, whispered from the halfclosed closet.
“You needn’t stare at me, Patsy,” cried the bride-tobe, tossing her graceful head defiantly. “I am an outlaw.
I like outlaws. I belong with them. I like tramps and gipsies and—and wild cats—yes, and some murderers. I like people who make war on monotony and spring like tigers on what they want. I do. I hate molluscs. And I’ve always been surrounded by them.”
“Thank you,” said the maid-of-honor.
“Oh, I don’t mean you—yes, I do, too. You are a mollusc, Patsy. No, you’re not. You’re a dear. And Don’s a dear. But, somehow, I’m out of gear!”
The bride-to-be yawned, stretched herself with a pretty, supple grace and stared meditatively about. The big, shabby, room fairly shrieked of color. Color of orange-hued, Spanish shawls dripping gold; color of loud emerald, deepest rose, boldest scarlet. The broad, lowcanopied bed had flowered; no chair but bore its burden of milkily mysterious blue and flaunting cardinal.
“Once,” remarked the bride-to-be, lifting velvety, dark eyes, dispassionately, “they would all have been white.”
“Aren’t you excited? Aren’t you thrilled? Oh, how those pearls gleam!”
“Yes, they’re pretty . . . I’m afraid I’ve known Donald too long.”
“What do you mean, too long?”
“Too long for romance. You see he’s been in love with me ever since I was eight years old—all through school and college. I simply adore him, you know; he’s the nicest thing in the world; but there’s no magic about him —no mystery!”
“Do you think you ought to talk like that?”
“No—but I must or burst. Its my last chance!” declared the bride-to-be, looking, in her limp, pink gown, lovelier than any human being has a right to look.
The maid of honor sat upright.
“Eric—do you realize that”—
“That you have no right to marry Don on Tuesday, feeling as you do?”
The bride-to-be laughed mischievously.
“Of course. I’ve told him so.”
“Dozens of times.”
“And what does he—what does he do?"
“He usually,” replied the bride-to-be reflectively, “kisses me.”
“Because he wants to, I suppose.”
“Why on earth does the man want to marry you.”
“He says,”—the bride-to-be hesitated—“that it is because I am so honest and so unlike most women.” “Huh!”
“But I think it is really because I have such a very nice nose—Oh, dear, what a hateful, good-for-nothing creature I am to be sure! Don is miles too good for me. But—but—but I’m not sure that I’m in love with him.”' “Then why do you marry him?”
The rose-white girl lifted soot-black lashes and spoke clearly.
“Because I’m twenty-two.”
“Oh, not because he’s rich and well-bred and charming —though I acknowledge all that has something to do with it—but just because I’m twenty-two.”
“Well, I don’t see—”
“Yes, you do. You know perfectly well that when one gets to be as old as I am and meets simply wads of men and still doesn’t fall in love—one isn’t likely to, afterwards. So, I’m not going to pass up a perfect dear like Don, who’s everything a girl could possibly want for something that isn’t likely to happen. You see,” she added, seriously, “I’ve passed my first youth!”
“Yes—but I’ve heard of people falling in love even after thirty,” replied the twenty-year-old maid-ofhonor.
“So have I—but I don’t believe it. It's against nature.” “I wish I could have had a career,” she went on wistfully, after a moment’s pause. “Not writing or acting or anything hackneyed like that but something really nice, like lion-taming or climbing the Himalayas. But, of course, that’s out of the—”
“Of all the rubbish'.”
“I know. If I were a nice, domesticated house-cat I should think so, too. Any good home and any kind owner would do. But you see I’m not—and I’m so afraid
that some day I may turn and rend my good, angelic keeper who hasn’t the faintest idea of what he’s taking to camp on his hearth.”
“You’ll just have to try to make him happy.”
“I know!” said the bride-to-be sighing.
“What on earth’s the matter with you?”
The bride-to-be sprang erect, stretched herself and yawned. “I lack adventure!”
“You deserve to get some!” said her best-girl-friend.
“DUT why wouldn’t you marry me? If it was money you wanted, I’ve got plenty.”
“I know. But it wasn’t.”
“Am I marrying Donald?” interrupted Eric, turning on him with a glare. “I’ve told you before. Because I want to.”
“Never mind,” stammered Stanley Ffrench, climbing down hastily. “I didn’t come here to go all over that again. What I wanted to know was—Eric, wouldn’t you like a sail?”
“Did you come here to ask me that? On the day before my wedding?”
“Well it would be no use, the day after, would it?”
Eric, struck by the logic of this, paused and regarded her persistent*suitor more favorably.
“It is hot,” she admitted. “Rather decent of you to think of it, Stan. Who’s going?”
“The Ouseleys are bringing a gang. I’m meeting them. Thought I’d pick you up first if you wanted to go.”
Eric hesitated. “I suppose it would be perfectly dreadful of me to run away from all the relations and the red carpets and things—but I am so sick of them. And it’s such a heavenly day.”
Stanley said nothing. He stood with face averted, whittling a chip.
“A little rush through the waves would be so heavenly. And even if they were cross . . . Oh, yes, Stan, I’d love to come. But you mustn’t tell anybody.”
“Not I. My bus is just outside the garden down the road. Don’t stop for a wrap—I’ve plenty on the boat.” “How soon can you bring me back?”
Stanley meditated. “I could bring you back,” he said,
at last, gruffly, “inside of an hour and a half. Mind, I don’t promise to!”
“No—I know. Accidents sometimes happen. Well I think I’ll risk it. I won’t be missed for an hour or two— what’s the exact time, by the way?”
“Good. I’ll come.”
She snatched something from a bush, ran gaily down the garden path and leaped into the waiting car, hatless and coatless.
“Also purseless,” she commented aloud. “If I should need any change you could lend me some, couldn’t you, Stan? But I won’t.”
Ffrench did not answer. The car leaped under his touch; gardens, meadows, spires rushed confusedly past.
“Good! First breeze I’ve had to-day. If anyone sees us they’ll think we^re eloping!” she shrieked above the engine’s roar. Ffrench had the cut-out open.
His tanned profile slowly turned to a deep, rich crimson. He said nothing. Eric was the better pleased. She wanted air and quiet, not argument as to why she was marrying Donald.
The dinghy was in readiness; Ffrench rowed her across to the Firefly and gave her a hand up the ladder.
Soon they were outside the harbor running swiftly eastward before a strong and ever-increasing wind.
“Look!” She unrolled a strip of orange. “My bathingsuit! Just grabbed it as I started in case I might have a chance for a plunge. Isn’t it a nice color?”
Stanley Ffrench nodded.
“Communicative, aren’t you?” inquired the bride-tobe.
O/.en sea! And giant spray leaping up and besprinkling her hair with salt dew.
“A good thing it curls naturally,” she shouted gleefully. “Aren’t we racing rather? It’s nice!”
“Glad you like it.”
Far out at sea, the fishing boats could be seen, some near, some half lost in a delicate cloud of mist. The Firefly rushed past them one by one; hundreds of seagulls rose and with discordant cries flew inward. An idea occurred to Eric.
“We don’t seem to be getting anywhere near shore,”
she called blithely. “Are you sure they understand— your men, I mean?”
Stanley did not answer for a moment. He stared intently at the only face he ever cared to see; a young face of creamy whiteness with lips of the smoothness and color of coral, and eyes dark as death. Then he spoke sullenly:
“They understand all right. I’m taking you out to sea.”
Curling, snowy foam on the tops of mounting waves; sea-breezes cutting momentarily more sharply; darkgreen of ocean; winds and clouds and space. Eric looked at them unbelievingly; then turned and spoke sharply.
“Have you taken leave of your senses, Stan? I’ve got to get back by four.”
“No, you haven’t.”
“Are you crazy? Turn the thing about and put me ashore at once.”
“I say, Eric, you make me think of the story of the fellow who said to the girl ...”
“—who said to the girl ‘If we weren’t in a canoe I’d kiss you.” And she said, ‘Put me ashore at once!’ Ha, ha!” Eric surveyed him in blank astonishment. “Is this a time for jokes?” she asked. “Especially such a silly one as that! Don’t you understand that I have to get back by four? It was bad enough for me to come at all.”
“Was it? Well, now you’re here, you’re going to stay awhile.”
“I never heard such impertinence. Do you realize that I’m going to be married to-morrow?”
“Do you realize that you’re not?”
Eric stamped her foot angrily. “Upon my soul! the child has been patronizing the movies, it seems, and thinking he’s a cave-man. Well, if it comes to that, I’m some cave-man myself.”
“I know you are,” said Stanley, grinning. “Generally, you’re some cave-man, but just now you’re the village innocent in the power of the wicked earl. Get it, Eric?” “God help the wicked earl, that’s all I have to say. Look here, Stan!”
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“Are you going to take me ashore or are you not?”
“I hear you wanted some excitement. Well, now—”
“What? Do you mean to say, Patsy—” “Yes, I do mean to say Patsy—and now you’ve got it.”
“Never heard of anything so silly!” said Eric, exasperated. “As if it was exciting to be kidnapped by a goose like you.” “Goose yourself!” retorted the wicked earl, angrily. “Anyway I did it.”
“Well, now you can undo it.”
“Oh, very well,” said Eric, with sudden and disappointing calm. “Let’s discuss it. What are you up to, exactly?”
“I say!” expostulated the wicked earl,
I “that’s not the way girls act when they •I get carried off by bandits and things. Aren’t you even goingto scream for help?” “You colossal idiot!”
“The trouble is you know me too well. If you thought I was a real villain you would scream.”
“Stan,” said his captive, with sudden animation, “have you ever noticed the difference between the scream a woman gives on the stage when she sees the villain and the scream she gives in real life when she sees a mouse. There’s so much real terror in the latter!”
“Damn it all!” demanded Stanley flushing furiously, “are you laughing at me again?”
“Stop swearing. I won’t have it. Look here! Where are we bound for?”
“Aren’t you even going to tell me where we’re going?”
“I am not.”
“Then give me a cigarette, will you, donkey?” requested his captive, dimpling unexpectedly.
Stanley hesitated; then handed her his case in dogged silence.
She puffed meditatively at her cigarette and stared at the horizon. The sea had grown ominously calm.
“We’re in for a storm, I think,” she said suddenly. “Am I getting green?” “Wh-Wh-what?”
“I always get sea-sick on a boat even when there’s no motion. Show me my stateroom at once.”
“Hurry up or I won’t be answerable for the consequences.” .
Stanley, looking more like the scowling villain of melodrama than he had hitherto done, shambled unwillingly to the hatchway and stammered out a few angry directions.
Eric staggered realistically in his direction.
“Can I help you?” he asked, a little anxiously.
“No,” she replied, severely. “Keep your distance or it will be the worse for you—really the worse, I mean, not in the movie-sense!”
Stanley started back. Eric staggered down the hatchway.
Once in her cabin she straightened, locked the door, stamped.
“Damn!” she said. “Why couldn’t it have been some one nice?”
A ROAR of wind—a blaze of lightning.
The trig little yacht rearing like a frightened horse.
Steps running hastily about.
Voices—under her port-hole now.
“No use, sir. We’ll have to go ashore.” “Shut up, will you?”
Stanley’s voice—furious! Afraid she might hear, of course! Well, she had heard. She smiled to herself in the dark-
Rain—splashing and storming down— beating dismally through her port-hole. She jumped up and closed it; then struck a match and looked at her watch.
Only ten past eleven! It seemed as if she had been locked in that old cubby-hole for days.
Stanley had knocked, had pleaded with her to take something, had argued and apologized and stormed. One thing only he had absolutely refused to do—take her ashore.
“Not unless you promise to marry me, Eric,” he had returned doggedly to all she said.' “Think! you’ll have to now, anyway.”
“I won’t. Nothing would make me.”
“Oh, very well! I say—you don’t sound so very sick, Ricky! Are you putting up a bluff?”
“Oh go away!” she had replied in exasperation; and after that had refused to answer him at all.
She might as well sleep, she had reflected; nothing would be gained by tiring herself out. But sleep had simply refused to come.
And now—the storm!
No sleep for her now. If once they anchored anywhere near land—well, she had been champion swimmer in her class at college only two years ago—that for Stan!
And she snapped two rose-pink fingers in the dark.
During the long watches of the night, she, clad in her flame-hued one-piece, laid her plans. Let the wind shriek; let the Firefly toss and leap! In time, they were sure to quiet. And they did. Toward dawn everything cleared; and she stole softly from her cabin and stealthily made her way on deck.
Oh, beautiful! A timid, pearly moon smiting the ruffled waters to silver; fading stars and breath of coming dawn. But Eric still wore an anxious frown. The ship was anchored, that she could tell; but suppose they were nowhere near shore!
Hurrah! They were!
Enchanted she peered over the water. Vistas of entangled trunks—light growths of vines and young shrubs—a chain of little hills rising mistily behind.
Wild country, evidently.
But wild or not it was land. Once ashore, she could defy Master Stanley and all his works. Now for it! Carefully, she measured the yards that lay between her and her goal. Impossible to calculate accurately. Might be the best part of a mile; might be eighty yards or so!
The heart beneath the orange one-piece began to beat tumultuously. Eric stared intently into the silver-dripping, moonlit waves. Then—
“Now for it!” she thought; and plunged.
“Well, I’m not dead,” she decided blithely, a moment later. “And the water feels too dear for words—simply ripping, so cool and fresh. I could eat it! and that moon, too! Hurrah!”
Giggling, dimpling, she struck boldly out for shore and presently found herself clambering breathlessly up the tiny cliff that rose fort-like from the sands.
“One for you, Stanley, old boy!” she thought, as she flung herself panting on the cool grass. “One for you! And now what to do next!”
She yawned. Oh desperate! This would never do. If she once fell asleep in her damp one-piece she might be a cripple for life—and besides Stan might come ashore and find her there.
No—she must be moving.
So she rose, yawning still, turned a few handsprings to restore circulation, and ran, as well as her bare feet would let her, along the grass.
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Ghostly-white against the dark trees, ghostly-white against the night-shadowed grass she ran swiftly toward the first opening. Good! A road! -
Well-laid, broad, silvery-white in the silver moon-light, dipping down, down, into a wild, green valley where she could follow its course for miles.
Not a house to be seen—not a hut nor a shed nor a chimney. Just that broad, glittering, ribbon-like road, winding in and out, in and out—
Then, suddenly, she heard shouts. In that ghostly stillness each sound was distinct. Stanley’s voice—taut, hoarse with anxiety!
“Lower a boat! Damn you! Be quick!” A boat! They had found out. They had missed her.
She darted under a thicket; furious, alert. They should not find her. Perhaps she could climb a tree!
Then the chug-chug, chink-chink, of a motor bicycle smote her ear; and with a cry of delight she rushed forward waving wildly and tossing her arms in air.
It stopped. Ah, the delight of that grinding, grating sound! A god—tall, straight, cleanly modelled, lightness and mastery in every movement, leaped from the reeling bicycle-car and alighted at her feet, his astonished eyes gleaming in the moonlight.
“Here! What’s up? Want a lift?”
“Oh, yes!” shrieked the rector’s daughter. “Quick!”
“Hop in then—make it snappy!”
He half helped, half flung her into the side-car, grinning broadly.
“Here! sit further down, kid! Yer feet in her nose, y’know—right! Ready?” Grind-grind!—chug-chug!0/i/—thehorrible thing was starting without him. He had lost control—he must have!—and just then, as the machine bounded into air like a tiger seeking cover, she saw him fling himself lithely on, and crouch to the bars. Her pulses leaped. She clung breathless. Then trees, hills, meadows shot by her in a whirl of brown and grey.
And day broke—softly, suddenly.
Steep, greeny cliffs where opening, roses breathed fragrance—great, wooded stretches of wild country, untrodden, unspeakably inviting, from the depths of which waking birds sang wildly; far ridges of pine prickling and darkling against a sky of dazzling, glowing blue; cold, bright, young sunshine; rose-pink and amber and hyacinth gorgeousness trembling and fading in the glamorous east.
What a morning!
Would she ever, ever forget it?
The sun rising, a tinted pearl, glimmering through mysterious, shimmering shroudings of purple and wild-rose and melting saffron!
And she! darting swiftly through ambient, blue-stained air in a chariot of the gods!
Gasping, she turned and looked at her companion; then, metaphorically speaking, rubbed her eyes and looked again.
Was it—could it be possible?
Had she dreamed him?
Eyes of soft, smoky blue set between thick lashes; dusky, peach-tanned skin; tawny locks glinting to gold! In the clearly pencilled brows, the short, straight nose melting imperceptibly into the low Greek forehead, the clean modelling of the firm young chin, were a fortuitous blending of form and proportion that would have made the head a perfect model for a coin.
The youth of him! The grace of him! The charm! The color!
The red, curled-back, sharply-cut mouth, the lashes like goldy-brown ferns shading deep, blue water, the neck, whitely sweet as a baby’s yet, firmly modelled as an athlete’s!
Apollo! Nothing less!
Apollo! in his chariot of the sun!
Just a flying strip of tan color now,
bent double over his bars. Inconsequently Eric wondered what the old Greeks would have thought, could they have looked into the future and seen them—a lissome shape of milk and orange whirling through space in a magic car side by side with a youthful Apollo, gold-haired, violet-eyed, and with a mouth—a mouth—
She looked at the peach-tanned chin dented with one deep dimple and wanted —preposterous idea!—to put the tip of her rosy, daintily-manicured forefinger right into the tiny dip.
Then—suddenly—with an odd, quick, silent movement, a queer catch of breath, she straightened and flinched. Every feminine fibre in her thrilled to the startling truth.
She was in love.
In love—with this man whom she had seen for the first time ten minutes ago!
She wasn’t too old. Romance had not passed her by. She was in love—at last!
Silent, breathless, delighted, she shot through the perfumed morning air, holding tightly to the rocking car. The boy was just a flying strip of khaki, now, attached to wheels—just a faint smell of oil, gasoline, soap and youth—just a dazzling glimpse of gold-shot head and red and smiling mouth.
He had not spoken; and she did not want him to speak. It was enough to watch him.
Then suddenly—like a cold wind rushing through a sunlit garden—memory spoke.
Her wedding-day. She was to be married at two o’clock. She must go back.
Back! Back to prosaic Victoria, back to silver forks and cut glass and monogrammed tablecloths—and Donald!
Never! Never! She would not go back.
Then revulsion seized her. Poor Donald! Dear Donald! Her old, old friend, her good comrade, her childhood’s playmate, her girlhood’s lover, her husband-that-was-to-have-been—only yesterday!
But yesterday was yesterday and to-day was to-day—and she had seen Apollo!
This man or no man, she thought violently. Either a god—or no mortal. Apollo—or maidenhood.
She wondered what he would think if she told him so.
“Well—I will tell him so if I feel like it,” she thought rebelliously. “I’m free— I’m Myself. I’m not tied down and limited like those poor old Victorian thing-a-majiggers—if the war has done nothing else, it has at least freed us from a lot of humbug. I will tell him if I want to—so now!”
Silent, she sat by his side while reel after reel of lovely, laughing landscape unwound. They had left the sea now; they were rushing through a village. And still he had not spoken.
Then—suddenly—the rattle, jingle, clatter of the chariot merged into a grinding, grating sound. Abruptly they stopped. Apollo leaped to his feet and helped her to alight.
“Something gone west, kid!” he announced with a cheerful smile. “Got to stop and see.”
Nothing in Apollo’s accent j arred on the infatuated Eric. Anything from that mouth was music. Mutely, she sank on a greeny tree-trunk; gently, she raised her velvety dark eyes.
“You not tired after that long pull?” asked Apollo, tinkering busily.
“Oh, no.” Her voice was melted music. “And I don’t know— I don’t know how to thank you.”
“Can it, kid. I ain’t asking questions. You were up against it, I c’ud see that. And the side-car was handy; so—”
He bent over the recalcitrant equipage with the grace of a fairy prince in some Celtic legend.
“Nature’s gentleman!” was Eric’s mental comment.
The glittering June sunshine turned his tawny locks to a blaze of burnished
gold and threw each line of his lithe, young body into sharp relief. Eric caught her breath. Never, never had she imagined such beauty! This lovely youth should be hers; with him she would climb the Himalayas of adventure; he should be the lion—the tawny, wild lion whom [ she would spend her life in taming. She caught her lip; her dark eyes danced. Life spread before her.
Was he going to fall in love with her?
Some girls are born lover-wise as some men are born weather-wise. Eric slid a dark-lashed glance at the boyish figure kneeling in the dust, with sleeveless tan sweater muffling a slender torso—and suddenly the boy-god looked up with eyes like smoke-blue violets half-hidden by golden-brown ferns—and Eric knew.
She looked back at him quietly. And Apollo rose trembling from the dust, looked adoringly at the cool, little face, daintily modelled as a cameo, smooth as a petal—and said—
That was all he said. And Eric, with a queer, little gasp, slid into his arms.
Moments passed. Then suddenly Apollo relaxed his grasp, shook himself and spoke sharply.
“Kid! You of age?”
“Then”—his voice trembled a little— “let’s beat it to the nearest registry office.”
Eric thought this quite natural. She nodded; then, lifting the ivory face which neither sun nor wind could redden to the wholesome peach-tanned one above her— she kissed him.
So very much is said of the folly and wickedness of the young; so very little of their innate sweetness and goodness.
Apollo, flushing darkly, replaced some tools, dusted off a tire—then suddenly wheeled about laughing.
“Can you beat it? I don’t know your name.”
“Nor I yours. Does it matter?”
“Nor where you come from—nor where you’re bound for—nor how you come to be in bathin’ at four a.m.—nor what you wanted to run away from—nor—”
“And I don’t know anything about you either—and I don’t want to. You’re you. That’s enough for the present. As for me —I’m hungry. I’m tired. I’ve been up all night; I haven’t had anything to eat since lunch-time yesterday; I’fh wearing a bathing-suit which has dried on me; I—”
“That’s all!” Apollo’s voice rang out sharply. “You poor, little kid—you get into that seat as quick’s you know how and I’ll—I’ll beat all the speed records gettin’ you to a hash-house. Step in now! quick!”
Again the whirl through space—then an abrupt stop before a white-washed cottage whose fence bore the simple legend: EA PS.
“Ha!” ejaculated Apollo, in satisfied accents. “ Now we’ll feed!”
Eric said nothing. The long ride—the sleepless night—the excitement of the past few days—were beginning to tell on her. Half-dazed she followed Apollo into the house.
Apollo seated himself jubilantly in front of a slightly soiled tablecloth, muchdarned in places and worn thin in others. Eric, noticing subconsciously that Apollo had not waited to offer her a chair, dropped wearily into the place by his side and stared limply at the array of condiments in the centre of the table. Blue glass bottle of pickles; brilliant scarlet bottle of catsup; stained and dirty bottle of Worcester sauce. Ugh!
Eric was faint with hunger; but her ‘very nice nose’ curled nevertheless at sight of a dark brown stain suggesting defunct soup. Apollo however, expanded. His splendid young chest heaved; his fine head flung up in air jubilantly.
“Gee!” he said explosively, “I c’ud just ! about eat the earth! Say you, girlie!”— to the waitress who had just appeared—
! "’•ustle me some ham’n’eggs for two, as
quick as you know how, an’ fried steak an’ pie—yum, yum! Coffee an’ toast, of course! Fruit—oh, yes, I guess so. How about fruit, girlie?”—this time addressing Eric.
She hesitated. The loud voice echoing through the empty dining-room offended her.
“Fruit—oh yes—any you have!” she assented listlessly. “And coffee—and a scrambled egg!”
“What? No pie? No steak?”
The waitress departed smiling. Apollo tilted his chair back with a satisfied smile and watched Eric possessively.
“Say—d’you know I can’t think you’re real,” he burst out. “Gee! I never saw no one like you outside the movies. Got a notion you're a kinda fairy—an’ you’ll melt into thin air jus’ the way you came— outa the water an’ the moonlight!”
The return of the waitress made reply unnecessary. Apollo’s classically beautiful face broke into a seraphic smile.
“Some feed! Gee, girlie, I’ll tell the world you’re some provider.
“Now fairy,” he added jocularly, addressing Eric, “peel off yer stays an’ tuck in as my old dad useter say!”
That was all.
Just a few words—and the whole lovely love-world reeled and fell, shivered into a thousand, thousand atoms as a crystal ball might be shattered by the blow of a hammer.
Was it—could it be possible?
Had that red, red mouth of a god—oh, no, it couldn’t be!
Appetite went. She sat silent, watching Apollo absorbing ham-and-eggs. He positively swilled his coffee. At each gulp she controlled a shiver. Little lines began to cut the corners of her smooth cheeks— blue shadows to encroach upon her dark eye*.
“Say—you look all in!”
Apollo—his appetite sated somewhat —turned from pancakes and maple syrup and scrutinized attentively and with real kindness her paling face.
“Say, kiddo, you need some sleep— that’s what you need. You beat it to the office and tell ’em you want a room. Soon’s I finish this I’ll wire to the nearest apell-binder”—he smirked fatuously. Over his perfect features stole a simper.
Eric rose and went without a word— not to the office but through it to the back of the house and so to the yard. She felt sick as though from a sudden blow on the head; she craved air.
TPHE chug-chug of a motor roused her. *■ A closed-in auto was just preparing to start. Its owner—a respectable and surly-looking man of middle-age, shabby and stolid—was bending over something in the back.
Of course! One of those pre-historic animals that didn’t have a self-starter.
Her bare feet made no sound on the grass. Swiftly she darted into the back seat where a heavy rug was thrown, thankfully she curled her slim body on the floor and pulled the rug over her. Breathless, she heard the unsuspicious owner of the pre-historic fling himself into the chugging, trembling front seat and curvet gaily off.
No one had seen—no one would know. Coffee-swilling, ham-and-egg chawing Apollo had passed out of her life as swiftly as he had entered into it. She was safe— and sleepy.
Then a pang of unavailing regret smote her. Poor Apollo! Poor, beautiful, trusting, god-like, vulgar, impossible Apollo! Not five minutes, before he had told her that he expected her to melt out of his life just as she had sprung into it. Well—she had. She always would remain a fairy to him.
Poor—poor—and then the world for her ceased to be!
She was wakened by a sudden squealing grunt and thump. She opened her eyes. Memory rushed at her. Don—Stan— Apollo. And now—what?
She cowered beneath the rug; then, deciding to meet her fate bravely, tossed it off and sat erect.
A Gargantuan grunt greeted her. A bearded face, red with astonishment and something that was almost fright, peered in at her.
“What in — ”
Eric smiled graciously at him.
“What’ll you take to get me to Victoria?” queried the snowy-skinned vision in an orange bathing-suit.
“I’ll pay you well.”
"I’m not what I seem. I—”
“Get on to it!”
“Stop that!” blazed Eric suddenly. “I don’t blame youfor being surprisedbut it’s time you got over it. Look here, now!” “Say!” The owner of the pre-historic (mentally dubbed by his surprising passenger ‘The Pre-historic’) produced a pipe. Filling it carefully, he struck a match and a judicial attitude. “Say! be you Mary Pickford?”
“No—of course not. Mary Pickford’s fair.”
“Be you t’other little devil—Marguerite Clark?”
“Easy now! Be you Norma Shearer?” Eric gasped with exasperation, rose from the bottom of the car, shook herself.
“Listen,” she remarked with ominous calm. “I’ll tell you exactly who and what I am. Your pipe lighted?”
The shaggy head nodded cautiously. “All right. Steady on. I’m Erica Cronyn. My father is the vicar of the Church of the Blessed Disciple, Victoria I’m his only child.”
The pipe exploded in a sort of swallowed chuckle; the beard distended with an admiring smile.
“Just so. Laugh away. I’m to be married to-day to Donald Westervelt, Junior”
The pipe and beard chuckled simultaneously.
“Yesterday,” continued Eric desperately, “I went for a sail with an old friend without telling anyone I was going. The old friend kidnapped me—what did you say? He kidnapped me, I tell you, and carried me out to sea. A storm came up and he had to anchor near shore. I pretended to be asleep and jumped from the boat at dawn and swam to land. They found I had escaped and started to come after me. But just then a man with a motor bicycle came along—one of those with a seat alongside—and I called out to him and he slowed up and I jumped in and—and then—and then, while we drove along, I became engaged to him. Yes I did. And then—and then I found I didn’t like him after all so I pretended to go to the office to get a room where I could rest while he attended to getting the license and-and everything. But, instead, I went to the back door to get a breath of air. And then I saw you fixing your car; and you didn’t see me; and I wanted to get away and my feet were bare so that you couldn’t hear me running along the grass and there was a rug thrown down there and so I jumped in and cuddled down under the rug and you never noticed and started your car and I went to sleep. And then—then your car woke me when it stopped and I sat up and—and that’s all. Except,” added Eric wiih a note of bitter satire in her voice, “that I thought I wanted some adventure, the day before yesterday!”
The Pre-historic sucked steadily at his pipe and gazed at Eric. The silence became uncomfortable.
“Won’t you say something?” begged Eric, at last, desperately.
The pipe was removed. “Wal, now,” said its owner, reflectively, “how’s that fer dumb talk!”
“But its true.”
“Say—gee—you’re some gel, you are. Be you a movie, writer?”
“I tell you I’m Erica Cronyn of Victoria.”
Eric leaned out of the car and spoke wheedlingly.
“What’ll you take to get me home?”
“Wouldn’t be seen with you fer thirty dollars.”
“Would you for forty?”
The pipe trembled a trifle.
“Would you for fifty?”
“Say on the straight now, gel—be it jail you’re slippin’?”
Eric sat down in a heap. “Oh, you’re impossible,” she wailed. “And the wedding’s to take place at two o’clock. What shall I do?”
Suddenly from behind the drooping eyelashes, soot against clear snow, down the young oval cheek, past the dusk-rose, pouting mouth, raced a tear.
One tear! And lo! the pipe dropped and the Pre-historic’s face lengthened.
“Say—gell!” he exploded. “Don’t you take on like that. Danged ef I know why you want to go along o’ all them swells— but ef you want to go I’ll go. But you’ll haveter wear a coat.”
Eric flashed a dimpled, teary smile at him. “Just fetch the coat!” she demanded blithely.
From beneath the front seat he slowly extracted a fisherman’s slicker, two feet longer than Erica and four feet wider. Eagerly she immersed herself in its folds, wrapped the rug about her knees, fawned on the master of her destinies.
“Go fast—please!” she pleaded.
Eric’s smile had been known to work wonders; but miracles are beyond the power of man. The Pre-historic and his car could not go fast but at least they went and finally they reached the Church of the Blessed Disciple.
The rectory garden was filled with ‘friends’, chauffeurs, policemen, plainclothes-men, detectives, curates, relations, reporters, and other noxious breeds. And, as the ancient vehicle chug-chugged up the road, the rectory door was suddenly flung open and a pale and grim-looking young man emerged therefrom and made his way through the garden, head erect, eyes desperate.
The young man’s head was suddenly flung back; his eyes dilated.
This time he located the sound. With a gasp he sprang at the good old car; tore the door open—