One Impulsive Thing
A romantic tale of a Fair Lady, a Faint Heart and a new technique in wooing
MARTHA BANNING THOMAS
NO, NO!” she had flung at him. “No! . . . Not now . . . never!” She had laughed for fear of crying, and cried for fear of laughing. Tears pressed against her eyelids, and her throat twitched in the effort of control.
He had looked at her so intently that the burning in his eyes had narrowed to two thin flames. He was thinking ... as usual !
Why had he not thundered into the thick of her denials, striking fire, making a racket? Anything but this conscientious calm in which he sought to distinguish the pure green leaf of reason from the tangle of temperament.
Now in her absurd little garden surrounded by tall blooms of hollyhocks and delphinium, Jinny stood looking out to sea. Gordon had gone, white and courteous to the last. She must let the evening fall about her: she must gather these loved surroundings close, and return to the peace of the way she had chosen.
Resolutely she bent her thoughts upon the hour just gone. She had meant every word spoken to Gordon, every violent “No.” Meant them with a vehemence which shook her from head to foot. She had talked with an outrageous gusto, hoping perhaps to carry this man beyond the formal outposts of her refusal. She longed
to see him lawless—Gordon who could have been the white companion of a Crusader. _
Why had he come back after six years of silence? Why had he sought her out in the remote safety of her small house, set like an impertinent challenge to the elements, high and alone at the top of a green field which rushed down to the edge of a cliff?
She might think of him, as she often did, in the square security of her tiny living room . . . sitting beside her shaded lamp . . . warmed by her logs of hickory wood; yet she had never really wished to see him. All that was over and done with. He had broken a kind of spiritual parole. That was it! She clapped her hands softly at the happy phrase—he had broken parole. That the conditions had been of her own making, she could not admit.
The stars trembled above her. The sweet scent of grass came to her nostrils. She smiled a little, knowing how invisible ripples of an evening mood could bring her secret joy. “I’ll keep my house,” she said, “and Gordon can go ... to blazes!”
And yet, at two a.m. a late moon in its last quarter found Jinny wide awake and staring.
Far out on the bay she heard the whistle of a boat. All about her the sound of water seemed to hem her in. It trickled into every crevice of her thought, distracting
somewhat to her annoyance the clear course of reflection.
“I played around with Gordon when I was nineteen and was crazy over him. Then I met Martin Small and fell in love with the way he looked and didn’t say things . . . and Gordon galloped away in a flare of jealousy . . . and I quarrelled with Martin because he said Gordon was pure and innocent as a tearose and belonged in an old-fashioned garden . . . and Gordon fell for that marionette of a Cissie Small . . . because Martin was his room-mate at college . . . same fraternity and all that rot . . . and then he went away and I spent years hating him and missing him . . . and Martin just laughed and I finally gave in and said ‘yes’ to him . . . and threw Martin’s square diamond into a duck pond the same night he gave it to me . . . and ran away to here.”
Jinny related this outline of history very carefully out loud as if she were explaining the situation to her grandmother. At the end she made a small gesture in the moonlight. “And now Gordon has come back, looking solemn and strong. And I wish he’d leave me alone. He wrecks the whole works. Please, Gordon,” she sat up in the pale glimmer of the late moon, “go away! It’s too late now to wallow in baby-pink sentiments. They’re a washout . . . Believe me, I know !” She waved her hand as if in dismissal. Then lying back
on her pillow she soaked it thoroughly with a full pint of tears . . . held over from a harrowing day.
"^TEXT morning she woke up tired and listless. But ^ you can’t stamp your foot on every heartbeat and drag your pulse back into a funeral parade . . . forever. She left her garden to its fate and walked swiftly through the tall field-grass down to the edge of the cliff. And the provocative phantom of Cissie Small went tauntingly beside her. Light curls moving softly at every step . . . a long, narrow glance veiled by the dusk of dark lashes . . . thin, nimble legs which could dance all night. Jinny saw every detail of the alluring arrogant creature.
Picture after picture of the old days flashed across her mind. Gordon in white flannels looking earnest in a garden and telling her, Jinny, that she was his highest ideal of a fine girl. This before the break. He had come very close that night and stared down at her, breathing quickly. Jinny had waited, saying nothing. Then, for no reason that she could see, the man’s manner had melted into everyday casualness. So they had gone back to the dance in the Country Club talking of Martin Small. Gordon was worried over his drinking. “He’s a grand guy. I hate to see it.”
“Why should you constitute a jury?” Jinny had asked. “Don’t be nasty. We’ve always been friends, and you know it. He’s a bit wild, that’s all.”
Gordon was forever being his brother’s keeper.
Then there was that other time when Jinny had been walking on the street, and Gordon had strode toward her so fast that he upset a doll’s carriage. He had been abroad for four months, and this was his first glimpse of her after returning. Again, there was that disturbing stillness in his eyes. Quite simply he had taken her in his arms and kissed her under the drugstore awning— making three boys whoop with glee, and scandalizing a fat woman trundling a week’s wash in a cart.
She had been caught up to the seventh heaven then. It was so thrillingly unlike Gordon. They walked rapidly to Jinny’s house saying little, and there they sat down on the porch. But the quivering brightness faded and the girl felt ecstasy drain from the high moment. Gordon, looking miserable, had related an involved story of how he caught a tuna fish. And that was the way things went. Curious . . . and strange.
“Oh, well.” Jinny stooped to pick up a stone. She threw it over the cliff and listened for the faint splash below.
“That was then, and this is now. Everything is different.”
At noon Andy Macdougal, her next door neighbor, brought her a note. “I found ’er layin’ on the store counter and Lifey sez: ‘A man brought ’er ’ere and left ’er. I ben a-studyin’ it out and looks like ’twas meant for Miss Virginia Poore.’ And I sez I reckoned ’e’d hit it about square, and fetched ’er along to ye.”
Jinny glanced at the inscription and loathed herself for a sudden pang of joy.
She took her note into the house, sat down on an old sea chest, tore open the envelope and read the few lines enclosed. “Dear Jinny: I simply can’t leave you like this. I’m so darned unhappy. I don’t seem to be able to think through this thing. I’m coming back this afternoon to thresh it out.” The girl tore the letter into white ribbons. “The boob! The poor, dumb, microbe! Thinking things through . . . why doesn’t he do something?”
Sullenly she crossed the room to survey herself in the mirror. “I look about as inspiring as a hop-toad today: particularly in this nerve-racking brown smock. My hair needs waving and I resemble generally a highminded, low-heeled lady reformer. But I won’t do one thing to be more attractive. Not one . . . little . . . expected thing!”
Gordon came at two. Jinny made a point of being outdoors fussing over an infant lilac bush. She entered the house seven minutes after her guest had been seated
in her most uncomfortable chair. “Oh ...” she greeted him in feigned surprise, “you’re very prompt, aren’t you? I was coddling a three-weeks-old lilac bush, trying to decide whether it could be weaned from the parent bush entirely . . . and go on a straight diet of manure.”
The man rose. He did not smile. “Jinny. For heaven’s sake be yourself! I can’t go on like this. I must ...”
“I’ll just wash off a bit of this mess and be with you in a minute,” called the girl, disappearing from the room.
Gordon’s lips grew hard. “You treat me like a book agent,” he burst forth. Jinny was sozzling busily. “You’ll find cigarettes in the blue box. Matches on the shelf. I’m mucky up to my elbows.”
She soon returned to the living room smiling and polite. “Awfully glad you did not leave in a bad temper,” she said, “I knew you’d like this place. Lots of primitive drama here . . . not to mention cod and halibut.”
“Don’t be flippant,” commanded the man, “I came here to ask you to marry me, and you chatter of baby lilacs . . . and a diet of manure!”
Jinny seated herself on the sea chest. One strand of hair fell across her forehead. Her rubber-soled shoes were shabby beyond decency. There was a distinctly large hole, torn by a briar, in one of her woollen stockings. Freckles of assorted sizes ran down her cheeks even to her throat.
“Gordon Saunderson, could you not for one moment, for one little, vanishing moment, treat a situation less heavily?
Could you not be . . . well, merry?”
“No!” thundered the man.
Sudden rage pricked through Jinny, down to her very fingertips. Here
was Gordon whom she had adored for years . . .
Gordon from whom she had run away . . . against whom she had built invisible defenses of pride. She looked at him and lifted her chin. “You great, stupid, male ninny! You think that because you happened to remember there was such a person as Jinny Poore, that she will wilt into your arms on sight! You stand and
argue and look abused. But let me hand you this one. You can talk yourself into a coma ... or ten of them . . . and stagger out again to rave some more . . . but it won’t net you the least success. I’m through. I told you so yesterday. Done . . . finished ... all over !”
She saw his brows draw together. Almost he winced physically.
“You’re so darned courteous that you haven’t one active spark of impulse left. The more I howl at you, the more reserved you get. I hope sometime,” she paused, looking at him with a cold, level glance, “that when you see a baby about to be run over . . . or a friend going down for the third time, that you will think the matter over very carefully before doing anything rash!”
Jinny knew that she was riding a torrent of hysteria, for years dammed up. The more hurt Gordon looked, the faster she plunged down the pouring cataract of her anger.
“If ever I should be fortunate enough to see you do one impulsive thing I might love you!”
He was looking out at the wide blue water. A / gull screamed. Jinny
/ , / saw that the man’s face
had grown thinner with the years, or perhaps some recent suffering. His fine, dark eyes were very black. But though her heart misgave her, she tore ruthlessly on.
“Just because you were once a bit upset about me and Martin, you left in a mild huff and took up with that attractive Cissie Small, remember? Martin’s sister . . . lather of
light curls and jewelled snake-eyes. I heard that you were engaged: later, that you were even married. Though I don’t suppose you did. She probably gave you a couple of cold looks that flattened you out completely, so you faded out and began harking back to a kind old friend like me.”
“I admit I was fond of you once,’’ she struggled to keep her voice cool and conversational, “in fact, I rather loved you; but you went away without once lifting your hand to get me. You couldn’t really have cared much.”
Jinny looked out at the water. The sun glittered on tiny waves. A fat cloud sailed a slow course over the sky. “I decided to have a life of my own. I left town after mother died. I had a little money and I earned more and I built this, ah, very impressive mansion. It’s mine and I don’t propose to leave it . . . for anyone. You’re too late, Gordon. I assure you you’re several million minutes too late.”
She rose and quickly crossed the room. From another place came the squeaking of a drawer pulled out. The girl returned with a picture in her hand. “This, amusingly enough, is of you, Gordon. And to make an end of an intolerable situation, I’ll tear it up and burn it—now.”
The man looked like one moving in a dream. His eyes seemed sightless. His lips formed words, but no sound came.
Jinny tore the picture straight over the face. Once, twice, three times. The sound ripped across the silence of the room like the light stroke of a whip. Then she went to the fireplace, and choosing a match, struck it, and watched the thin strips as they curled up in flame and grew black. Her hands fluttered spasmodically about the ashes, then she stood up again and looked at Gordon. Fresh tears started to her eyes. She compelled herself to smile. “Now, is it quite, quite plain?” she asked in a low voice.
“Quite, quite plain. I’m sorry to have troubled you.”
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Gordon picked up his hat and went to the door. “I am dead to you, I see that. Good-by, Jinny. I wanted you to come with me to India, where I shall be gone a number of years. The bank is sending me out. I don’t see how I could have made you hate me so.”
He shut the door carefully. Jinny saw his head pass the window. Clutched in her hand was a shred of the picture, a torn bit with one eye looking at her steadily. “Oh, what a beast I’ve been. How could I have hurt him so!” she wailed. “But he did nothing. He just . . . left.”
She spent the remainder of the day coddling the baby lilac bush, and ridding her dahlias of a crust of black bugs. Her heart lay heavily against her ribs like a lump of sodden dough.
'T'HAT evening Jinny took a long, solitary walk over a rough path leading through fields into a discarded road. Then deeper into the gloom of spruce and balsam, coming out into a cleared space where grey rocks split into chasms and the growl of water went on endlessly far below among the broken stones.
It was quite dark except for a shadowy greyness cast up from the moving water. As the girl sat down to rest on a plot of thin grass, she heard a scurrying in the direction of the thicket through which she had come. There was a hasty scrabbling of small feet. “Some timid wood creature,” she thought. Again she heard a scratching as if of some object rustling through dry leaves. Then a louder crunching followed by the brittle snapping of a twig.
Out of the deeper darkness came a man. Seeing her, he stood still. One endless moment hung between them. Then without a word spoken, without a single gesture of surprise, they were drawn together with a sort of magnetic inevitableness. His arms were around her. He held her close. She felt his strength like the lifting up of great wings.
“Gordon ... I thought you’d gone!” she whispered.
“I couldn’t, Jinny. You just about killed me, but I still stayed. I thought somehow things could be made right . . . and that we could be together in a sane world again.”
She answered nothing. All the arguments, the anger, the furious defenses of her pride went down before the poignant flood of happiness which poured over her. Reality held them and they asked no questions.
Then hand in hand they went to the edge of the rocks and there they sat down. The sea bathed them with its deep voice. Stars were sprayed over the dark purple of the sky.
“Oh, this is too unbearably precious,” breathed the girl. “What were we fussing about this afternoon? I knew that somewhere, some day it would be like this.” She raised caressing fingers to feel the texture of his homespun coat. Then she took his hand in both of hers. “Listen, dearest of all dull-witted lovers—don’t let’s waste time explaining away old forgotten furies. But I do want to say just this: I was fighting for my house, for the peace I had built up, for everything I had tried so desperately hard to win against you. I’ve always been stark, staring mad about you, Gordon. Even to touch accidentally the bone button on your coat sleeve filled me with gorgeous fright. I thought somehow you’d see it in spite of me.”
“No .1 didn’t see. I thought you’d hoot if I were really serious ... as you hooted today.”
“But, darling booby, you’ve never said a word of love to me before. You used to take it out in looking sulky, or pained, or
outraged. Do you remember the night In the garden when you almost kissed me?” “You mean at Cissie’s and Martin’s Country Club dance? Lord love you, child, you nearly had me raving crazy then, Jinny. But you always acted so cool and self-possessed, I got scared and thought you didn’t care a red about me. And by gad ... I wasn’t going to let myself in for a nuisance!”
Jinny’s clear laugh rose like a little fountain of amusement in the night. “Biggest and best of all dumb lunatics— you’re an innocent! I was perfectly gasping to be kissed. I cried quarts that night, gallons, and took out my disappointment in hating you until the next time when you crashed along the street and chastely saluted me under the drugstore awning. Do you by any miraculous chance recall that very slight incident? Probably not.”
“Do I? I walked dizzily along in a golden haze until I reached you that day, and after I’d kissed you I began to wobble like thunder . . . knees knocked ... I trembled like a blooming idiot and by the time we reached your porch I couldn’t pronounce a syllable of all the things I’d planned to say. Sounds drivelling, doesn’t it . . . but you forget that you were a very unco-operative damozel.” “Was I? Fancy!” murmured Jinny dreamily, and laid her head—hair still in state of straightness—against Gordon’s shoulder. “Oh, this is paradise. Kiss me, Gordon ... as often as possible . . . and don’t ever leave me.”
'THEY walked home slowly through the clear summer night. “I’m so happy I’m cracked,” laughed the girl. “My head swims and I just sort of zing like a crazy harp. Even your smoky old coat smells like heaven to my nostrils. Can it really, really be true?”
She felt his lips against her lids, the rapturous comfort of his nearness. Later, while stumbling over the old cart track, Jinny brought up a more mundane subject as casually as she could manage it. “That . . . er . . . prevalent creature, Cissie Small ... is she still ranging about? And her brother of whom you were so fond?”
Gordon did not reply at once. In the pause Jinny felt his arm tighten about her, then relax. “Oh, I imagine Cissie’s draping her arms around someone as usual,” he said finally. “Not a bad kid . . . just had no judgment.”
“I think she had plenty when she selected you, old dear! I thought you were formally engaged.”
“As a matter of fact Cissie seemed to think so, too. But I didn’t. You see she did all the heavy work . . . rotten of me to put it this way, but this is just between us. I’d just as soon think of marrying a luna moth.”
“Oh,” said Jinny, “Cissie has a romantic flair. I always suspected that.”
“I liked her for a party, and times like that, but more especially for Martin’s sake.” He was speaking more slowly now, choosing his words with deliberate care. “He asked me to be nice to her I’ve always been darn fond of Martin. We’re friends, you know.”
At the door of Jinny’s little house they said good night. “You’ll hate leaving this little place like the very dickens, won’t you?” asked the man.
“Yes, I’ll hate going. But perhaps, after India we can come back? Gordon, I’ve just thought of something. Why in all the world did you happen to select just now to come to see me . . . after all these years?”
The man’s arm relaxed about her. He stood quietly beside her for a moment, and when he spoke she heard an altered note in his voice. It was as if the recent
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happiness in it were quickly lacquered with a hard surface. “There was a reason, dear, besides the great one of wanting terribly to see you. But I can’t explain just yet. Sometime later. Just try to believe in my love. I need the help and comfort of your caring.”
“Of course, Gordon. And whatever it was—the reason, I mean—I say, God bless it . . if it’s brought you back to me!”
AFTER this they had five ecstatic 4 L days together. They explored forgotten trails over the mountain. They fished. They talked, and they made their plans. Jinny was to come to an aunt of hers living in Montreal, where she and Gordon would be quietly married. Then the trip west to the coast, then the boat sailing to Calcutta.
The world rolled on in secret glory and they hugged it to their hearts.
Andy Macdougal made many a twinkling joke about their behavior. “Met that young feller o’ yourn bobbin’ up the road yesterday,” he would relate to Jinny, “and if I hadn’t been real handy gittin’ out of his way, he’d a-run right spang into me and damaged this valuable car of mine!” He chuckled, “Say, I don’t mean nuthin’ out of the way, Miss Jinny, but ain’t he got it bad? I was tellin’ my woman how kinda crazy he was. Are ye both plannin’ to leave soon?”
Jinny explained their expected marriage in Montreal and long journey to India.
“Jumpin’ pinfish ! A long cruise ye’ll be havin’ ! Here’s fair weather to both of ye!” And Andy Macdougal snorted away in his rattling car.
The girl gazed after him with a soft wistfulness in her eyes. “Fair weather to both of ye, ” she repeated aloud. “Yes . . but of course it will be.”
Next morning Andy brought her the mail as usual. There was a note from Gordon, who wrote her every evening so that she might have a message before he saw her—silly, affectionate scribbles which made her laugh. There was a bill J from the grocer’s, a magazine, and another letter addressed in unfamiliar writing. Jinny sat down on the steps at once to read her mail. First came Gordon’s note. “Even the stars spell out j Jinny,” he wrote. “I’ll show you where they are tonight. Plain as anything all across the west. I can’t come today until after lunch as I have important letters to write.—G.”
She discarded the bill and magazine. The second letter puzzled her.
The note had a dashing style of script, high capitals and tall strokes blackly aslant.
“Dear Jinny Poore:
Doubtless you will not remember me, but I feel it my duty to write to you on a serious matter. It is often necessary for girls to stand by one another against the craftiness of men. Someone told me that Gordon had left town and that he was going to the little village where you have so strangely secluded yourself for the past five or six years.
“Perhaps he only wishes to see you for old time’s sake and to say good-by, but he left here under rather suspicious circumstances. Of course, I have not seen him intimately for a long time, but now and then we have a friendly chat and he does not seem to resent at all my having sent him about his business after I refused him, the night of one of the country club parties.
“Well, anyhow, Gordon’s lost all his money—fango!!! And it has been
whispered about that he had to dump it all into the Bank where he worked to pay up for what he borrowed—unofficially!— while playing the stock market. When the crash came he was caught short. Samt old story, of course. On the other hand, perhaps it is kind of me to warn you, as I had an idea he might ask you to marry him . . . and help him through.
Dear old antique, full of cute little ideas—so quaint and old-fashioned, give him love and kisses from me.
“P.S. I enclose clipping which I cut from the paper . . . in case you are doubtful.”
“The nauseating little cat!” whispered Jinny, who had grown a trifle white about the lips. “Wouldn’t you know she’d show her claws just now? She’s a viper! Gordon stealing?” The girl thought of the roughness of his coat, his comforting presence, the straight intentness of his eyes. She laughed. He had said Cissie was not a bad kid, just had no judgment. Poor old Gordon! If he ran across a dragon ten feet tall, spitting fire, he’d say appearances were against it . . .
that it was really a nice old grandmother.
The girl left the steps and turned to go into her house. As she stood on the threshold a flood of unbearable sweetness engulfed her. Again she felt Gordon and his arms about her, as only a few hours ago when he had said good night. Then with a swift chilling of her blood she remembered something: how his arms had relaxed, how she had felt a strange tenseness pass through him when she had asked him why he had come to her at this particular time. He had confessed to a reason, but begged her not to ask him any more about it until later. He had said he needed her help and comfort.
Jinny passed on into the house. It all rather fitted into Cissie’s hideous insinuations. Yet naturally Cissie against Gordon was not to be thought of for a moment.
She still held the crumpled clipping in her hand. She had meant to throw it into the fireplace without reading it, yet now with a reluctant, mechanical gesture she smoothed out the small squib. “The Bank does not wish to make any statement whatever regarding the recent discovery of misdirection of bank funds. The president, Mr. George Ransome, states that when the matter is cleared up, proper information will be given to the papers. Mr. Martin Small, a paying teller in the branch concerned, remains at his post, though it is learned he was offered a similar position in another financial institution. Mr. Gordon Saunderson has left the Bank and gone to Calcutta for a long term of years.”
JINNY spent a tortured hour trying to sort out her thoughts. The horrible thing could not be true. She was sure of Gordon. Yet sly doubts and tormenting questions buzzed madly through her brain. She walked the floor back and forth, back and forth, trying to be calm and sensible, but her very love seemed to create a confusing haze about everything. She had been superbly, unbelievably happy last evening. She might have known it could not last. What a fool to have thrown away in one crazy impulse, her house—everything she had built as a protection against further hurts and surprises !
The ugly head of suspicion reared itself into every loyal sentiment. She must decide what to do, what to say. At the thought of facing Gordon’s dark eyes when he came after lunch, his pained amazement, courage crumpled up in Jinny. She was utterly defenseless. She had nothing left with which to fight. She grew afraid. Strength left her. How could she understand that because for many years she had subconsciously argued against him and subconsciously fought for him, that she was like a bleak battleground where nothing could grow except the miracle of dreams? No real power remained to her.
“I’ll just not be here when he comes today,” she finally decided. “It is cowardly and vile of me, but I can't endure the agony. What a poor fool
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I’ve been to think that the blinding glory of love can ever be happiness.”
She glanced at the clock. Three hours before Gordon would come. There was time to write him before leaving. She would address the letter to the hotel across the bay where he would stay the night before taking the train next morning. Then she would go away herself, hide anywhere for the three days intervening before his departure. He could not stay longer than this, he had assured her many times. It was imperative that he go when he had said.
Jinny sat down at her desk and wrote her letter to Gordon. In it all the love, the disappointment, the bitter despair of her heart piled up cruelty after cruelty. She made neat, barbed references to Cissie Small. She left unsaid not one hard thing. She spared him no pang. She cried, and the tears ran down her cheeks and splashed on the paper. Her cold hands travelled steadily across the paper. “This will finish everything between us,” she concluded. “I never wish to hear your name again. How very fortunate for me, that I have my house to live in; that we did not start for India together before I discovered why you were leaving for so long a stay.”
She addressed the envelope and stamped it, then packed a small bag. She locked the windows and putting on her hat and coat turned the key in the front door. On the door latch she left a scrap of paper. “Gordon: I have been unexpectedly called away. Shall be gone some time. Letter waiting for you at Hotel Jeffrey.—J.”
In her little car Jinny sped through the village, fearful lest she catch sight of Gordon or be detained. But no one stopped her.
' I 'HREE days later she came back, timing her return carefully. She wished to be in her house only after Gordon must be on the Royal Princess ready to cross the bay. Once aboard the boat he could not see her—until after he had read her letter waiting at the hotel. There was no way to get back except by the same boat next day.
She found Andy Macdougal standing on her porch. The big man looked solemn and worried. “Why, Miss Jinny,” he rumbled, starting forward, “ye gave us a terrible fright. Your young man nearly went crazy huntin’ for ye! Whatever in the world sent ye away so suddint?”
Jinny answered nothing.
“Ye look like ye been havin’ a fit of sickness, miss. Have ye lost yer pa or ma ... or anythin’?” His voice was husky with concern. Suddenly Jinny wanted to cry.
She could not speak. “Ye got a pile of mail here and a telegram. It’s a long one and looks mighty important. I guess ye better read it right away.” Andy handed her a sheaf of letters. Of course, there would be many notes from Gordon. These she would not even open. She shuffled through them.
Advertisements . . . two letters with Cissie’s dramatic handwriting, a slip of paper over which her eyes unwillingly travelled, “Good-by, dear. I think I know what’s the matter. Gordon.” . . . and a yellow envelope. This she hastily tore open and drew out the contents. While she read she was conscious of the breathing of Andy, who was so anxious that he wheezed.
The wire was a long day letter. She glanced hastily at the signature “George Ransome.” Heavens! Her eyes went back to the beginning. In horror she read the long message. Once she made a sharp gasp. “Oh, oh ! What have I done?” She re-read the wire carefully. The other letters slid from her hands. She looked at Andy Macdougal as if he were not there, her eyes wide with an awakening dismay.
“Andy,” she spoke rapidly, “will you do something for me—quick?”
The man nodded. “Anything ye say.”
“Can you drive my car?”
“Reckon I can steer ’er without runnin’ afoul of other craft.”
“Then please hurry to Plainfield and send this telegram for me. I’ll scribble it on the back of this envelope.” She found a pencil in her pocket and wrote swiftly: “Mr. George Ransome, Montreal, Quebec. Thank you a thousand times for your kind letter. It means more to me than I can say. (Signed), Virginia Poore.”
“Hurry, please. My car is at the gate.” She pushed Andy down the steps. She was shaking with excitement. When she saw that he had gone she leaned weakly against the house. Her head reeled and a sickly faintness stole over her. “Wrecked again . . . Gordon, Gordon, what have I done to you?” she whispered.
Anyhow she had dispatched Andy out of the way. No one must know her humiliation and despair. Far down the Basin she heard the warning whistle of a ship. The Royal Princess with Gordon aboard and leaving that very
moment. She would never see him again . . . certainly not after he had read the hideous letter already waiting for him at the hotel. He would go on alone to India. Nothing she could do or say would make any difference now. A great emptiness engulfed her. She had given him no chance. She had rushed away refusing to see him. The vision of Cissie’s light curls wavered before her eyes. Cissie . . . not a bad kid, just has no judgment. “She ought to be electrocuted,” said Jinny. “She’s murdered my happiness.”
AGAIN the warning of the whistle.
^ No way to get him now. It was all over and done with. No one could forget the cruelty of her letter, no matter how much explaining came afterward.
“I must see Gordon somehow,” she murmured. She knew that the Royal Princess was already out in the Basin, starting on her four-hour trip across the Bay. A gull flew over the fringe of trees at the cliff edge, giving forth a grim, sardonic laughter. “I must see him!”
Jinny forced her mind to think. Then, as she swiftly unlocked her door, an idea came to her. There was one chance in a hundred of intercepting Gordon. “I wonder if I can do it . . .1 wonder.” She thought about it fortwoseconds.then she snatched up a small beret and dragged it over her hair. An orange cloth she pulled from a table and running out of the door again, she raced down the field.
“If it’s only there,” she panted, “perhaps I can make it . . . but even so, Gordon may be on the other side of the boat. Oh please,” she prayed, like a child, “please don’t let him. Make him be on this side. You know how important it is. You . . . must see that it means our happiness for life!”
She hardly knew that she spoke aloud. Down through the tall grass, over the fence, then a swift scramble over the rough cliff, tearing her clothes on the briars and skinning her knees on the stones. Finally she reached the black rocks below. Quickly she went to the edge and looked over. There, rocking serenely in a tiny cove was a rowboat. She had seen it there many times before, taking only casual notice, since it belonged to a dulse gatherer and was used very little.
Somehow she managed to climb down the slippery rocks until she reached the little beach. The tide was rising rapidly and in spite of her swift approach she saw that she must wade out to the boat. Without removing shoes or stockings she walked through the water up to her knees. She climbed into the punt—for it was no more than that, and extremely dilapidated into the bargain—found the oars, placed them in the locks, unfastened the mooring and began rowing out into the bay.
Her heart pounded to suffocation.
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Would she be in time? Could she possibly attract Gordon’s attention? Could she stop the Royal Princess? How does one go about stopping a steamer when one is in a punt the size of a shovel?
She rowed faster and faster. The punt reared up at every stroke like a whipped horse. Far off she heard the steady beating of engines and the sound of water rushing away from the stern of the boat and slapping against the shore. In another moment the black bow of the Royal Princess would be rounding the point out into the bay.
She looked up. Ah, there she was already! From the distance of her porch the progress of the boat had seemed leisurely and without hurry. Now from the tiny punt the Royal Princess came on with terrific speed. Jinny rowed faster and faster. She must get as near the steamer as she dared. A cold blade of fright pierced through her. People had been known to have drowned in the wake of a big boat. “I deserve it, though. It serves me right for being such a beast. I must take the chance.”
Now she could see a mass of black objects moving on the boat deck— people, swarms of them. Of course, she could not pick out Gordon from all that multitude. Why had she not thought of this before? And was he, by the best luck in the world, standing on this side of the Royal Princess?
How very loud the engines had become. White water curled away from the sides of the ship. Jinny bent to a last spurt of endeavor.
Nearer and nearer came the big boat. The girl shipped her oars, and regardless of the peril of the large waves upon which she rocked dangerously, stood up in the punt. She unfurled the tablecloth like a flag. It flew straight out on the wind and flapped vigorously.
“Gordon!” she shrieked, “Gordon . . . Gordon !”
She saw black masses of people hurry to the side of the boat.
“Gordon . . . Gordon !” she screamed. Could anyone possibly hear above the churning of the water and the sound of the engines?
Then she saw the dark mass suddenly split as if by a wedge. The wedge was a man and he fought his way to the rail of the boat. Jinny saw his dark hair blowing in the wind. It was Gordon. Had he heard or had he merely wanted to learn the cause of the excitement on board?
The boat was almost abreast of her now. “Gordon . . . !” She waved the red tablecloth, standing and stretching as far as she could in the miserable little punt.
Then to her horror she saw the man wave back to her, peel off his coat, stoop quickly to remove his shoes and climb to the top of the ship’s rail. Many hands sought to restrain him, but he beat them off. For an instant, with his arms out before him, hands together at the fingertips in the position for diving, he stood silhouetted against the blue sky. Then he dived in a long curve far away from the boat side.
Jinny gasped in terror and admiration. She plumped down into the small rowboat, feeling a little sick. “Oh, oh,” she wailed in despair, “I never counted on his leaving the boat ... I thought somehow I might get on . . . or at least make him understand the letter was a mistake.”
All this shot through her mind in a split second. People were shouting from the boat. They were enormously disturbed. Jinny managed to stand up again. Making a horn of both hands she yelled, “Don’t worry! It’s all right . . . I tell you . . . it’s all right.”
She caught a glimpse of Gordon’s head bobbing toward her.
A man in uniform rushed to the stern of the boat.
“Go on home,” shrieked Jinny, and laughed. “We can run this little number by ourselves !”
The Royal Princess passed. Her passengers grasped the sporting flavor of the adventure. They took off their hats. They waved. They cheered. They called encouraging words, and Jinny was sure that she saw the captain grinning at her.
Gordon was coming near her now. He lifted his head. “Row ashore, Jinny,” he said, “I’ll keep on swimming. It’s not far, and that punt is dangerous to monkey with.”
Gordon was a strong swimmer. He was good for it.
With no more words between them the tiny punt rocked back to the cove. Gordon reached shore first and helped her moor the boat. Together they climbed the steep rocks, exhausted, sDeechless, but indescribably happy.
'"THAT evening, before Jinny’s blazing fire Gordon read the day letter from George Ransome of the Bank. “I understand there has been some mistake in your information regarding reports of trouble in one of our branches. Let me assure you that Mr. Saunderson is one of our most trusted and responsible officers. Because of his ability we are sending him to India to look after some interests there. Through a fine sense of loyalty he shouldered the disgrace of an old friend, hoping to give his friend time to save himself from ruin. This with my full knowledge, though unwilling consent. Do not care to go into particulars here but will write.”
Gordon smiled. “Just like good old Ransome. I wired him to wire you, knowing nothing I said could influence you. Had a feeling some inkling of the thing must have come your way. But I asked you to trust me.”
“I know, I know. How can you forgive me, but somehow Cissie’s letter ...” “Cissie?” the man looked at her in real amazement.
“Yes, she wrote me a lot of poisonous drivel, and it just set off my inflammable, rubbishy mind . . .”
Gordon inspected his shoes. “She’s a little, ungrateful liar!”
“Now, Gordon, tell me everything. Ideserve it. Let’s get the thing straight.” “Why, you see it was Cissie’s brother Martin who lifted the cash from the bank. Didn’t mean to steal, but took several fliers in the market, got caught and was nearly out of his mind. I dumped all I had into the thing to give him a breathing space and I think he’ll come through all right in a little while.”
Jinny’s mouth worked queerly. “And doubtless he returned the kindness by informing Cissie that you had been the dishonest one.”
“No, no. I’m sure not. It’s just Cissie.”
“Well, I’d like to kill her in a nice slow way. She must love you a lot, Gordon, to take all this trouble to strike you down.” “Oh, what in thunder does it matter anyhow? What say to being married right here in this house with Andy Macdougal as best man?”
“Perfectly satisfactory to me,” laughed the girl. “What about all the hustle you were in to get back?”
“Oh, we’ll make it up in flying, somehow. Gee, you looked cute in that little punt waving that tablecloth.”
“Well, talk about impulse . . . and fools rush in . . . you certainly scared me stiff when you jumped so fast from the Royal Princess. By the way, what about your bag? What will happen to it?” Gordon grew very red. He stammered and shuffled his feet like a schoolboy. “Please don’t be cross, Jinny, but I got that awful letter you sent to the Jeffrey. It’s here, rather watersoaked to be sure, but here as witness. I wired the hotel to send it to me. I just had time to get it. You were rather tough on me, dear, but I understood. And I figured it out that as soon as you got Ransome’s wire you’d do something. Just what, I didn’t know, i But I expected you at least to be on the I rocks waving a signal to me. So I—er—
left my bag at Andy’s in case of my sudden return . . . and the captain was darn nice about slowing the boat . . . I asked him as a favor not to go fast until we passed here.”
“You wonderful old fraud! All my flutter and fears were in vain. Still, you took up my dare . . . and I’m proud of you. So,” she looked off into some far distance, “fair weather to both of us.”