The Safe Side of Twenty
In which a “disgustingly adorable” flapper encounters a “perfectly leprous” experience
MARGARET E. BARNARD
KITTY had had a premonition that her mother would trot out that stupid old blue rag and insist upon her wearing it. Useless to protest, because she simply could not bring herself to give reasons. She was not sure that she had any, that is, not any definite ones.
“I wish my eyes had been green,” she grumbled as they were waiting for Toppy to bring the car from the garage. “Then blue would have been the last color I could wear.”
Her mother, with that sometimes maddening trait of composure, refused to be drawn into controversy by this heresy. “Green eyes are very aristocratic,” she replied. “I wish they had been, too.”
Now what could you do with a parent like that? Kitty resigned herself to the unchangeable and took her seat in the car. Toppy, fiddling with some of the little things on the dashboard, eyed her and her mother admiringly over his shoulder.
“Some pair!” he said. “Say, Nan, you ought to hear my B.V.D’s creak across my chest when the odd person asks if you are sisters. Like those ads., you know— ‘Which is the elder? etc.’ ”
“And also when they ask me if you’re my son,” returned Kitty’s mother.
“Heavens, you two make me sick!” The words burst from Kitty simultaneously with the starting of the car, which lent them extra emphasis. “Why can’t you act as if you’d been married eighteen years? Other people do.”
“If we did, young person, you would have to give up that vicious habit of addressing me as Toppy,” said her father.
Kitty couldn’t remember calling him anything else. When she was just learning to speak, so they told her, an English friend had been visiting them who called her father “old top.” The sound had fascinated her young ears, and “Toppy” was the result. Even her mother used it at times. To use the accepted terms for one’s masculine parent would have seemed remote, strange, and unnatural. So perhaps it was as well, she decided, that her parents were not molded in the usual matrimonial pattern, although it hampered her considerably in circles where one’s elders were considered dead from the chin up.
WHEN the car turned in at the Fortescue’s drive and stopped at the door, there was already quite a crowd there. Mrs. Fortescue’s parties were like no others along the shore. Most people had the young crowd in to dance one evening, the old crowd in for cards the next, and the unattached females in for afternoon bridge. But Mrs. Fortescue jumbled them together in one grand mass, for which the latter group, known as “the Legion of the Condemned” by Kitty and her contemporaries, had frequent cause to bless her as their ranks thinned from time to time.
Kitty liked this heterogeneous collection of ages. One could see at a glance and gather first hand all the currents and undercurrents of life among the families of Shore Drive. In the library one might verify reports that old Mrs. Dinwoody played bridge with a greedy fierceness that was embarrassing to her partners. When dancing was in progress in the living room one might see and discuss with an amused condescension, evidences of the latest struggle to desert from the Legion. And everywhere, on wide verandah and sweeping lawns Kitty’s own crowd wove their several immature ways.
“It must be leprous to be twenty-five,” thought Kitty passing through the hall toward the stairs. She had come across the word in a recent magazine, and its newness of application pleased her. The triumph of its introduction into local vocabularies was still fresh and sweet.
As she and her mother entered the room where wraps were left, she was greeted by Jane Harding in characteristic fashion.
“Here, you, Kitty, what do you mean by wearing that sudden death blue? The rest of us might as well give up.”
“Not too much about it, please, Jane,” warned Kitty’s mother. “She’s simmering with rage at having to wear it, though why is a mystery to me. Never before have I discovered a blue that matched her eyes so perfectly.”
“It’s simply heavenly on her, Nan,” said Mrs. Harding, whose increasing plumpness was the skeleton in her particular cupboard. “I wish I could find something for Jane that would suit her half so well. But she’s just what I was at her age—all lines and angles at the wrong places.”
“Kindly refrain from dragging my physical aspects into the limelight, mother,” said Jane. “It’s indecent. Here, Kitty, let’s go down. All the men will be grabbed up if we don’t hurry.”
Descending the stairs, Kitty thought she saw among the bobbing heads of the dancers in the living room, Basil’s smooth brown one. For a second she felt an impulse to run back and come down with her mother. An asinine idea, she told herself, because they were bound to run into one another sooner or later. Well if he took too much for granted about the dress, he would have to be put into his place. Exactly what that place might be, Kitty was not sure. Ever since Basil had started rushing her, she had known more uncertainty than at any previous time in her sure young life. Not about Basil. That was the worst of it. But about herself. Somehow, whenever or wherever they met, his unfeigned and broad smile of sheer delight made her wish that he wouldn’t be so idiotically happy at seeing her. Its whole-heartedness irritated her even while it tickled her feminine vanity. Especially when she happened to be the first girl Basil had ever noticed as such, and all the other girls declared themselves to be simply slain over him. What troubled her exceedingly was that away from him she liked him better than when she was with him. If only he wouldn’t look so darned blissful the minute he caught sight of her! Such bliss seemed to place a responsibility upon her. And, of course, just because he had raved about this blue thing the last time, he would take it for granted that she had worn it to please him.
Jane pulled at her arm as they reached the arch of the living room. “Look, Kitty,” she said. “There’s Basil in the clutches of one of the condemned.”
“I see,” said Kitty indifferently, but trying at the same time to hide behind a lean woman whose collarbone ought never to have been exposed above sea-green. “Have you seen the Brewster twins yet?”
“Out on the verandah, I think. For the love of pity, gaze on Mildred Morrow! Isn’t she a scream? Never see twenty-four again, poor wretch. Who’s the new man she’s hooked? Isn’t he a pet?”
Kitty decided that the man was good-looking in his own way. Not the fresh, schoolboy style of Basil, who was quite likely to go directly from a he-smoke with your father to a rough-and-tumble on the lawn with neighboring small fry; but a finished style, as it were. He had the look that comes only with long years of shaving, and going about without having to ask your mother and father first. He must loathe having decayed things like Mildred Morrow hanging around. Kitty hoped he wouldn’t judge all the local sex by her. Now to get the proper impression—-
“Isn’t he too disgustingly adorable?” said a voice in her ear. She turned quickly. The Brewster twins had come up behind them.
“Oh, who is he?” asked Jane, grabbing Colette Brewster ecstatically.
“Come out to a dark corner of the verandah, and we’ll tell you all we know,” replied Brenda Brewster.
“That wouldn’t take long, Bren,” said Colette. “Much more artistic to leave something to the imagination—if any.”
“Feeble,” remarked Brenda. “Oh, there’s Basil trying to barge his way over here, Shall we wait, Kit?”
“Not for me, thanks,” said Kitty. “Where’s that dark corner?”
“Had a scrap with him?” asked Jane. “You never told me.”
“No,” said Kitty shortly. Jane was too nosey at times. Besides, her feelings about Basil were strictly private.
Threading their way through chattering groups they found a conveniently unoccupied corner of the big verandah, where chairs and a swinging couch stood invitingly in dusky shadow. Now that she had flown from him,
Kitty began to feel sorry for Basil, and almost wished she had waited in the hall.
“Aren’t we lucky?” cried Colette, appropriating a corner of the swing. “The Legion usually have first mortgage on these spots.”
“Oh, it’s too early for that,” said Brenda. “A little later you’ll see streams of hunters and hunted out here.”
“You seem to know a lot about it,” said Jane impudently. “You’re a bit on the dangerous edge yourselves, aren’t you?”
“That’s a dirty crack, Harding,” flashed Brenda. “Just for that I’ve a good mind not to tell you, than which nothing could be worse, I’ll bet.”
“I wouldn’t, Bren,” agreed Colette. “Let the little hussy find out for herself. It was Kitty we were intçrested in telling, anyway.”
“Aw, twins, don’t be stuffy.” Jane was abject. “I was only teasing. Twenty is hardly out of your teens anyway.”
“Get on with the scandal,” said Kitty. “Shut up, Jane. It doesn’t matter how old you are as, long as you are young inside.”
“I suppose even the Legion feel that way, eh, Kitty?” said Colette with an edge to her voice.
Kitty forgave her for the thrust. The twins, having passed the margin of safety on their twentieth birthday, not long since, were naturally sensitive. Too much reference to age and the Legion were rather bad form when they were about, and it was just like Jane to break through the bounds of refinement. Kitty’s very real curiosity brought things to a focus once more.
“Look at all the time we’re wasting being feeble. Who is he, twins?”
“John Thorneycroft,” said Brenda impressively.
“John Thorneycroft!” exclaimed Jane. . “How absolutely palpitating !”
“Never heard of him,” said Kitty.
“Low-brow,” accused Colette.
“Well, did you ever hear of him yourself before you were told?” Kitty demanded.
Colette relapsed into confusion. Having gained satisfaction for being called low-brow, Kitty saw no advantage in pushing the thing further. Brenda took up the theme, evidently suffering still from Jane’s slap about the Legion.
“We’ll let you tell who he is, Harding, since you’re such a snappy little know-all. You don’t often have a chance to show off when we’re around, do you?”
Jane’s relapse into incoherence and confusion in her turn evened that score. Quits all round, the situation returned to normal.
“He’s a poet, gals,” said Colette. “All the old dowagers are bowing down to art and breathing ‘a new voice’, etc.”
Kitty settled back into her chair.
“Oh, is that all? He’ll probably try to talk in blank verse.”
“Don’t insult the man,” said Brenda.
“He’s one of those quite detestable free verse hounds.” “How leprous!” said Jane.
Kitty had lost interest. Her mind was following Basil. By this time he should have discovered her, if he were at all anxious to see her. In her philosophy there was no inconsistency in irritation at Basil’s too happy smile of greeting, and, in the same hour, irritation at his failure to appear with it. When he did come close upon the utterance of Jhne’s borrowed exclamation, the thrill she experienced Kitty set down to the fact that every one of the others was feeling a pang of envy.
“If you ever hand Basil the grand slam, leave him to me,” Colette had told her once.
Jane’s observation had been typical.
“When I see the way you treat him sometimes, Kit, I could just put my arms around him.”
Whereupon Kitty had emitted something as close to a dowager’s snort as is possible to achieve at seventeen.
SO THIS is where you’ve been hiding?” came Basil’s voice.
“Who has?” asked Jane.
“Who from?” demanded Kitty in a voice that ought to have warned him.
“Me, of course,” he said so triumphantly that Kitty wondered why she had ever wasted any sympathy on him. He must have seen the blue dress and jumped to the inevitable conclusion.
“Let’s dance,” he said, standing before her.
She moved off with him along the dim verandah, more for the sake of the effect on the others than for her own. At least that was what she told herself. From inside the house came a closely wrought medley of sound, threaded through with the rising and falling of music. Basil’s grip on her arm tightened. Kitty’s knees became uncertain.
“Look—look here, Kitty-,” Basil began, having difficulty with his vocal cords. “Y-you can’t imagine— you can’t imagine how I felt when—when I saw that dress—after what I said, you know.”
Kitty’s sensations were unstable. Queerly enough, if he hadn’t mentioned it, she would have been disappointed. And yet, she was not sure that she wanted him to care quite so much. It made her feel —well, rushed for time. In the flux of the moment, and to stem whatever it was that seemed to hurry her, she said what she had planned to say ever since her mother decreed the dress.
“Perhaps there are others who like blue, too.”
Even while she said it, a wave of pity went out and embraced him. He was dear, bending over her that way. With remorse she felt his grip on her arm loosen. He straightened himself with a brief, “Oh, excuse me, my mistake.” She would have taken it all back if it hadn’t been for her mother.
“Here you are, Kit. You can have her later, Basil. I want her for a few minutes.”
Unfortunate—but no use to say she didn’t want to go just then. Her mother would be sure to say something embarrassing. If Basil’s hand had been on her arm still, she could have given it a little squeeze. She flashed a smile at him instead, a special one.
Following her mother, she was piloted into a group of talkative people whose centre was the new voice.
“The old ladies of seventeen and eighteen may be all right,” it was saying as she arrived, “but give me the young ones of fifty and sixty.”
“Oh lovely!” gurgled the chorus.
“Morons,” thought Kitty with a mild contempt.
The minority of men laughed hollowly from their chests.
“I’ve brought my little daughter to meet you, Mr. Thorneycroft,” said Mrs. Graham.
“The heiress,” said Toppy irreverently, 'jTjth a malicious wink at Kitty.
Kitty sighed deeply. Such parents. She put them out of her mind and exchanged polite banalities with Thorneycroft. In the midst of a crescendo of chatter he said in a low tone: “Let’s find a better hole where we can talk in peace.” Any remnant of sorrow for Basil vanished. Here was a change to rouse the envy not only of Jane and the twins, but of the whole Legion as well.
“You mustn’t perjure yourself on my account,” she said slyly when they were settled.
“Perjure myself?” He seemed puzzled.
“With the young ladies of fifty and sixty. I’m one of the old ones of seventeen, you know.”
“Oh, it’s like the mother-in-law joke. Gets across every time. No harm, is there?”
“And what about the old women of seventeen and eighteen? Is rushing them off to better holes part of your stock, too?”
Kitty was fascinated. Twenty-eight or so was the perfect age for a man, she decided. And any girl who could snap up a prize packet like Thorneycroft from under the very clutches of the Legion was wasting her time with infants.
WHEN his interest in her continued beyond the night of the Fortescue party, Kitty would have been scarcely human, or feminine, not to enjoy the slightly resentful attitude of the Legion, to say nothing of the envy of her own contemporaries. It was food for the soul to overhear, one day on the beach, “My dear, there goes the infant spellbinder Thorney’s fallen for. I can’t see . . .” Without turning her head, she knew that the voice was Mildred Morrow’s. Very calmly and with gracious dignity, Kitty continued on her way along the sand to the Brewster’s bathing house. At her age it wasn’t necessary to shriek and be girlish and coy. When twenty-five was clawing at you, it was a different matter.
Aside altogether from the triumph of it, Thorney was an acquisition not to be despised, in spite of his verse, at tennis, swimming, or dancing. Increasingly he paired with Kitty, while Basil always seemed to hover around like a shadow on a sunny day. Kitty couldn’t help feeling guilty about him. Which was perfectly ridiculous. She was not Basil’s keeper. Once in a while she did dance with him, or take him on at tennis when she wanted to show Thorney what a wicked racket she could handle. And it was Kitty’s opinion that Basil should feel properly grateful for these mercies.
“To whom have you bequeathed Basil?” asked her mother one day. “He doesn’t seem to be easy in his rtiind.”
“You can’t bequeath what isn’t your property,” said Kitty, but squirmed nevertheless.
While she by no means enjoyed the gloom into which he had fallen, increased whenever she wore blue more to tease him than to please Thorney, she was not sure that she would like to see that gloom dissipated by anyone else—say Colette.
The twins and Jane had been thrusting at her as well as her mother.
“Dog in the manger!” Jane had accused.
“He’s free, and of age,” she answered coldly.
“I wish I could get a line on your tactics,” said Colette. “They’re deadly all right. Here,” turning to the other two, “she lands the pet pemmican of these parts without so much as saying ‘boo’.”
“And keeps Number One all tied up in ribbon as well,” remarked Brenda.
“I think it’s those darned blue dresses her mother picks out for her,” complained Jane enviously. “Men always seem to fall for blue—and I can’t wear it!” “You’re not giving me credit for much personality,” answered Kitty modestly.
“Ha—you sit and talk to Thorney in rhythmic thought sequences, I suppose,” hinted Brenda, and Kitty burst into laughter.
SHE laughed again that evening, though it had to be inwardly, when she and Thorney drove down the road, in Thorney’s car, to see the sunset from Thurston Point. “A place for lovers,” remarked Thorney when they had sat without speaking for awhile. “I suppose all you young things have been brought here and duly kissed whenever the wind was in the south.”
“You must think we’re swift,” said Kitty.
“That’s evading the point. I was really asking a question.”
“Well, how should I know?”
“There’s where you’re misty in the peak.”
Thorney turned and looked squarely at her.
“Are you telling me that in this day and at your age you have actually never been kissed? I fall at your feet in amazement!”
“Metaphorically speaking, I suppose,” said Kitty wickedly. “A poet isn’t much of a poet unless he uses a lot of them, is he?”
“You literal-minded little shrew!” protested Thorney. “I’ll do it if you insist. Honestly though, you’re almost a museum piece.”
“Saving them all for the right man, eh?”
“Not necessarily,” replied Kitty composedly. Thinking of Brenda’s rhythmic thought sequences she was thoroughly enjoying the episode. “You see, it just hasn’t appealed to me. If it did, I might.”
Thorney moved a little closer.
“How will you know when it does appeal to you?” he asked softly.
“Well, if I haven’t discovered it yet, how can I tell you until I do,” she replied, so practically that Thorney made disparaging remarks about the sunset and suggested that they gather a bunch to go and dance.
When he said good night to her at what Toppy and her mother considered a late enough hour for a young girl, she entered the house with Basil uppermost in her thoughts. The poor kid! He hadn’t seemed to get much fun out of the evening. She had danced an extra time with him, to try to cheer him up; but without success. The old embarrassingly happy smile was no more. When she and Thorney went into the Club, Basil had just bowed and looked straight at her with something in his eyes that made her uneasy. Now as she slipped out of her few garments and prepared for bed, she identified that uneasiness as pity. At the moment of discovery, her mother came in and sat on the mauve and green of the chaise longue.
“Well, how is the Thorneycroft affair coming along?” she asked. “Serious yet?”
What with feeling sorry for Basil and slightly shy for herself whenever she thought of Thorney’s attempt to be serious at Thurston Point, Kitty was in no mood to bear with her mother’s uncanniness of perception.
“Don’t be ridiculous, please, mother,” she begged petulantly.
It was all the more disturbing to be aware that behind the lightness of her mother’s remark was a real desire to know. Toppy, too, although he gave no sign, was equally concerned. Where Mrs. Brewster or Mrs. Harding would adopt an extremely beginning-of-thecentury attitude, Kitty’s mother never showed her hand, except obliquely, as it were. It was a fearful strain, Kitty thought, because it put so much on her own shoulders. If her parents would only do something definite about things—soundly approve, or roundly disapprove—Kitty’s course would be plain. Approval could be met with a bit of perversity, or disapproval with defiance. The question of obedience had never been made a direct issue as in other families she knew, which, paradoxically enough, drew from her a more careful consideration of her parents’ wishes. By way of probing for information to help in a difficult situation, she followed up her protest with what was meant to be a very diplomatic and casual query.
“But suppose it should be serious. What would you do if you were me?”
Her mother’s eyelids flicked swiftly, then lowered.
“I married your father when I was only eighteen,” she said.
“But you got Toppy, and there’s only one of him,” pressed Kitty. “And anyway, girls in your day were much older for their age than girls are now, weren’t they?”
“Oh, were they?” asked her mother in surprise. “I thought modern girls prided themselves on being more advanced than their mothers and grandmothers. They make all their own decisions, don’t they? Well, good night, Kitty-kitten.”
Kitty climbed into bed and floundered in a morass of perplexity. Sometimes the theories held so sacredly by those not yet condemned to the Legion seemed to be based less solidly than one had thought. But the newness of this idea was overcome by sleep, and before she realized it, the night had gone, leaving in its wake a day too lovely to mar by any serious thought.
Jane telephoned to say that the twins were coming for tennis before lunch, and that Kitty had better scuttle along with her racket. Strolling down the road to Jane’s, Brenda and Colette overtook her in their roadster, a “hand-me-down” from an older brother.
“Hop in,” ordered Brenda. “Take the car and save ten.”
Kitty squeezed in beside Colette and with an agonized grinding of gears, Brenda started the car again.
“Had your little weep on Basil’s weskit yet?” asked Colette
"Why, no,” said Kitty, with her usual cautiousness refraining from showing her ignorance of the context.
“Not much time left,” observed Brenda. “Train goes at eleven tonight. But I guess there’s no need to tell you that.”
Kitty felt as if she were pinned under a pier with the tide rising. Basil going away tonight! She had heard nothing of it. How did the Brewsters know? A sharp suspicion of jealousy made her back feel cold. Had Colette taken it for granted that Basil had been given the grand slam, and governed her actions accordingly? Like a one-reel film the past few weeks flitted before Kitty’s consciousness. Thorney was in the foreground so prominently that any other part of the scenery was necessarily vague. Sufficient for Kitty that middle distance and background were there at all. Now that part of it was to be renewed, she realized that the lack would be disturbing. And where was Basil going? Not for all the kingdoms of this world would she ask. She kept her ears pitched intently for any inkling, and as a result put up a miserable game. Basil’s name was singularly absent from the conversation. That was something else she had not noticed lately. Nobody seemed to think she wanted to talk about anybody but Thorney. The morning yielded no pleasure, and pleading weariness she retired to her own room immediately after lunch.
CURLING up on the chaise longue in the airy curve of the casement windows, she gave Basil more continuous thought than he had received since that night at Fortescue’s. He must be going north, she decided. One of his great ambitions had been to go up on a geological survey, *or in a lumber camp, or something. It was always a subject of unalloyed interest to him. But it was so terribly far away.
Drawing on such northern stories as she had read and seen pictured, she visioned Basil’s lonely life up there. At mail time he would hang around the camp post office, listening wistfully to the names being called out, going away night after night a little more despondent than before. There would be the odd letter for him, but after a first eager look, he would stuff it in his pocket. It would only be from his mother, or a circular advertising shaving cream. Because, of course, she wouldn’t write to him unless he asked her to. Then he would stride away and sit on a rock somewhere all alone, until the moon stood above the pine trees. When she reached this point the poignancy of it was so effective that she had to find another handkerchief. She wished she didn’t feel so sorry for Basil. It hurt her terribly.
“You look rather er—like a demi-semi-quaver,” remarked Toppy at dinner. “Better send Thorney packing tonight and catch up with yourself, eh, Nan?” “Oh no, I’m all right,” Kitty protested. “I guess it was too hot this morning to play tennis so long.”
She wanted to see Thorney. There, at least, was certainty, the one thing she felt would stabilize life again and put it back upon a comfortable basis. So the sooner she stopped being silly about a mere boy scarcely into long trousers, the better. When Thorney came and suggested that they walk to Thurston Point instead of driving, she assented eagerly. Half a second later she was chagrined to realize that her eagerness was due to a hope that the slower method of progress might afford a chance of seeing Basil as they passed his place. On the point of drawing breath to tell Thorney she would rather go by the beach, which would prove to herself that she wasn’t walking on the offchance of seeing Basil, since his house was on the road, Thorney suggested that way himself. Perversity prompted her to say she preferred the road.
“You told me last time you liked the beach better. Still, woman’s prerogative . . .”
“That one’s moth-eaten, Thorney,” she scoffed.
As they walked a growingly strange sensation overcame her. For no apparent reason she recalled a picture she had seen in an illustrated paper not long since. A policeman holding up traffic in a great metropolis to allow a robot and its creator to cross the road. She felt herself walking mechanically, almost as if she were a robot and Thorney her leader. It was queer. When Basil’s home came in sight, peering from its screen of oaks and pines, she wondered if he would happen to look from one of those greenshuttered windows and see her being trundled along. If he did, would he come out and stop them to say goodby? Her pace slackened. There wasn’t much time for it to happen. But Thorney, a hand linked in her arm, impelled her forward. The house receded, and with it all chance of seeing Basil before he left.
“A penny,” offered Thorney.
“Oh—1 don’t think you would put such a high value on them if I told you,” she said.
The grassy dunes of Thurston Point spread themselves before them. The breeze from the sea had a salty warm smell as they left the road and clambered toward the beach.
“Let’s camp here,” said Thorney stopping in the seaward curve of a large dune. “Just far enough from the tide so that we needn’t move, and near enough to be interesting.”
Kitty sat down beside him with the impression that it was not of her own volition. She lifted handfuls of the warm sand, letting it slip through her fingers with a monotonous lift and flow. Was she a robot? Thorney’s robot? She shivered. The thought was not flattering, to say the least. Thorney, who had been unusually quiet, began to speak. She fixed her attention on him, thinking grimly to herself, “That’s right. Be a good little robot now, and listen.”
“A chap like me really needs a wife, you know,” Thorney was saying.
Kitty felt as if a thunderbolt had ripped its way through her machinery. She had never thought of herself as anybody’s wife. Engaged, yes—even married—but wife sounded different. Wives darned, sewed buttons on pyjamas, and shopped for turnips and laundry soap instead of face powder and silk stockings.
“A nice little housewife to receive guests,” went on Thorney, smiling at her in a way that would have spoiled her appetite no later than that morning.
She was aghast. Receive guests! Unwelcome ones, sometimes, and give up golfing expeditions, and worry about how to make cold chicken for three look like a lavish hot dinner for five. Her mother had been through that many times. Kitty began to feel trapped. Thorney’s robot! What he dictated, she must do. He went on talking. The murmur of his voice was as a finely meshed net entangling her. Dusk had come on long since. She had no idea of the time. She became frantic. Did robots ever cherish a will of their own? Did they ever grow resentful of outside control? Oh, Basil, Basil! Now the real truth must be admitted. Desperately she marshalled her thoughts. There must be some way for a robot to move independently. Light flashed upon her through a loophole. But could she— how could she do it?
“Thorney—” She touched him on the arm.
“I—wh-what would you do—if—if—”
He swung upon her quickly, encircling her with the arm she had touched. Desperation fought with the robot idea.
“Oh, no,” she cried. “It’s elastic I’m talking about! I mean what would you do if an important bit of it gave way somewhere?” The words came out with a rush. To her relief he took it with the savoir faire of a man of the world.
“Why, just turn my back for a while,” he said, withdrawing the arm, and suiting the action to the word.
UTHE very simplicity of it scared her. A What if he should hear her running through the grass! It seemed miles to the road, and twice as far again to where Basil’s house loomed palely from among its trees. What if he had gone! Kitty was ready to drop where she was at the barest thought of it, but forced her heavy feet on to the door. Away inside the house she could hear the whirring of the bell. The latch clicked. A man’s head and shoulders appeared in the opening. Basil’s father. She was too late. But she had to say something.
“Is B-B—” she chattered.
“What is it?” The voice did not belong to the man who stood looking at her.
“Looks like a visitor for you, son,” he replied, and retired with a discreetness that made her his slave forever.
Basil came out and shut the door, leaning against it. Just to see him there at all was heaven to Kitty. He was evidently waiting for her to make the first move. She would have, gladly, but there wasn’t enough moisture in her mouth to accomplish even a whisper. Her eyes, adjusted again to the dimness, could see his hand on the door-latch. One turn, and he could shut himself inside, away from her. The latch rasped. Like a wild thing she jumped and caught his hand.
“D-don’t go in, Basil!” Her voice did the queerest things, but she was past caring. “I—I k-kept getting s-sorrier all the t-time, and I thought it was for you—b-but it was f-for myself, and I n-never knew it—until t-to-night.”
A flood of tears submerged her. She would have gone on even then, but— well, if the kiss didn’t land exactly on the spot intended for it, inexperience and not carelessness was to blame. Two dizzy minutes later she managed to say against his shoulder: “B-but your train !”
“An hour yet. Let’s not waste time talking about it.”
“You—you won’t be too lonely with nobody but lumberjacks around?”
He held her at arm’s length to look at her.
“Lumberjacks! You’re cuckoo. I’m just going into the town office for a month to get the hang of it. I’ll be out every week-end.”
Kitty sighed and placed her head back on his shoulder. “My mistake,” she murmured happily. Colette hadn’t got him after all. She didn’t have to get married and be just somebody’s wife. From now on the Legion were welcome to Thorney.
“Thorney!” she gasped.
“Huh, still thinking about that mistake of nature?”
“I left him on the beach. He doesn’t kpow where I am. What’ll I do?”
“Forget him. I’m here to think about.” His triumphantly proprietary airs were no longer irritating.
“Poor Thorney,” said Kitty dreamily.
“Now don’t start getting sorry for him,” warned Basil.
“I won’t,” Kitty promised meekly. “But it must be simply leprous to be thrown over by a girl.”
“Don’t I know it! But there won’t be any more of that business around here, will there?”
“No,” said Kitty, glorying in her submission.