Being the romance of an altogether charming vamp and her encounter with one not so charming
F. E. BAILY
THE girl drew a silk stocking half-lovingly through her fingers. She was very beautiful, Lord Long mead thought; only beautiful seemed too cold and statuesque a word. This girl rippled with vitality and character. Otherwise she typified the goal of bad men's ideals except that she seemed too perfectly dressed to be true. The smooth wave of her shingle showed a deep, deep brown with copper lights in it, and her figure, in the black frock designed by some genius of Paris, was delicately slender with the underlying strength and resilience of the best kind of steel. Her legs would have made her fortune on the musical comedy stage. She looked altogether worthy of this magnificent room in a stately old house off Bond Street where once upon a time friends of his father had lived.
“These,” the girl said in exactly the voice one would have hoped, “are two guineas the pair. The extremely fine gauge makes them rather dear.”
“Oh!” exclaimed Lord Longmead a little tragically, and his eyes met her grey ones as though seeking help in a hopeless situation. “But then, you are quite sure this is the kind of stocking Miss Tania West always wears?”
Instantly the girl’s long-lashed eyelids veiled a most unwomanly sympathy.
All about them was the atmosphere of the great house such as noble owners desert nowadays for a luxury flat, leaving it to be acquired by princesses of the dressmaking industry. She and Lord Longmead were alone in what had been the panelled drawing-room, now the main salon of Mary Lennox, Ltd., robes, lingerie, fourrures. The same thing has happened to ducal homes in the Place Vendôme area in Paris.
The girl considered this young man before her. His double-breasted jacket draped his broad shoulders and narrow hips with that decision which only the best tailors can achieve. He had a look about the neck that only comes to young men who have their shirts and collars made to measure. His shoes had been built by old gentlemen in the sixties who started learning their job at the age of twelve. He showed no more selfconsciousness than a week-old baby, and treated the girl as though she were something very precious that might disintegrate if spoken to abruptly. Also his father had died a few months previously and he still wore a black tie. He looked about twenty-six years old and he was buying stockings for Tania West.
The girl knew Tania West as only her dressmaker can know a woman, her vanities, her meannesses, her good points and bad, exactly how the passing years afflict beautiful and charming leading ladies of thirty-two, the gossip about her, the rights and wrongs of her divorce— the husband, naturally, being the guilty party—her financial standing in the secret records to which all the great shops contribute and have access, and all the rest of it. She could even have compiled a list of men who had bought stockings or furs or whatnot for Tania West from Mary Lennox. Tania always sent them to Mary Lennox because they paid cash and it smoothed away any grief arising from the fact that her own account might be in arrears.
No man, the girl would have told Lord Longmead, had ever bought pretty things for Tania West to a scandalous extent. They only aggregated, per man, the amount a beautiful and charming actress may accept without giving anything in return beyond the pleasure of her company at luncheon or dinner. Not the least of Tania’s assets was her solid position in the esteem of wives and mothers as a wife and mother herself, with
two exquisite daughters growing up, sired by the wicked, divorced husband. Never, for their sakes, had she starred in any play to which the adjective risqué might be applied. In consequence, wives and mothers went to applaud her in a body, taking husbands and fathers with them to behold a good example and pay for the tickets.
Still, no one could deny that Tania West remained very lovely with one of the most golden-speaking voices in the world.
“Well, if she’s got her claws on him, poor darling ...” the girl thought, and answered:
“Oh, yes. This is exactly the kind of stocking we always send Miss West.”
“Could I have six pairs then, please?” He paused, and went on with some hesitation: “I s'pose six pairs don’t seem awf’ly few, do they? I mean, six pairs of socks would last me quite some time.”
The girl smiled encouragingly.
“Six pairs of stockings like these are quite a nice present for any woman, even Miss West,” she assured him. “How long they last depends a good deal on what one does in them. Dancing is rather hard on very finegauge stockings. Do you wish me to send them or will you take them with you?”
She was folding the impalpable silk with slim white hands. Lord Longmead counted out slowly the required notes and silver.
“I’ll take them, thanks. And forgive my being a nuisance, but if they’re not what Miss West wants and I have to come back to change them, may I ask for you if you aren’t here? One feels rather helpless in a place like this if one’s a man. I’d rather talk to someone I’ve met before than to a stranger.”
“Certainly,” the girl told him. “If I’m not here, please ask for Miss Smith.”
Lord Longmead took his small parcel, wished the girl good afternoon and disappeared through the tall doorway. The girl Stood for a moment in a flood of spring sunshine, golden sunshine on a golden parquet floor, that bathed her in its new-year glory, gazing after him. Then she shrugged the pure line of her shoulders and pressed a bell. A young apprentice answered it, and the girl said crisply:
“Put away these stockings, please, Clarice, and then go up to the workroom and bring down the topaz evening gown; Mrs. de Lisle Carteret has a fitting at half-past four.”
AT A few minutes to six on the next evening Lord Longmead passed once more through the tall doorway and walked across the parquet floor. Heavy spring rain slashed against the windows of the salon, and raindrops stood in beads upon his tan weatherproof. Clarice rose from a brocade-covered bench and enquired his pleasure.
“I know it’s late,” he apologized, “but could I see Miss Smith one minute? It’s about something she sold me yesterday.”
“You mean Miss Dorothy, I expect, sir,” Clarice murmured. “There are two Miss Smiths, but Miss Dorothy ...”
“The tall one with the grey eyes,” Lord Longmead amplified, and Clarice replied demurely:
“If you will take a seat, sir, I will tell Miss Dorothy.”
Soon she came out from the region of the fitting rooms, very graceful and competent, and Lord Longmead began, still with a word of apology for the hour:
“Good evening, Miss Smith. I expect it’s closing time, but I’ve only just been able to see Miss West. She’s got a matinee today,, you know. I’m afraid I’ll have to trouble you to change these stockings. She wants a very slight difference in the shade. They’re to go with the new dance frock you sent her yesterday. She said you’d understand.”
“Oh, perfectly,” Miss Smith told him, and indeed she did. This, of course, was just an exhibition of Taniaishness. The stockings, so fine as to be almost colorless, would match the frock in any case. It just meant Tania was training this young man by giving him trouble, being in a bad temper on a wet afternoon. Miss Smith went away, and Clarice proceeded with the rites of drawing curtains and switching off most of the electric lights. Miss Smith returned, bearing more stockings. “I think,” she suggested, “Miss West will find these exactly right.” Lord Longmead watched her fold them with slim hands and place them in an envelope. Then he cleared his throat and said:
“It’s a vile night and I’ve made you late. I’ve got a car outside. Could I possibly give you a lift anywhere? I’d be awf’ly glad if you’d let me, just as a little return for all the trouble you've taken.”
Miss Smith pushed the paper-fastener thing through a hole in the flap of the envelope, separated the metal arms and squashed them flat, glanced at Lord Longmead, noticed the rain on his coat, and came to a decision.
“That is veiy kind of you,” she answered. “If you wouldn’t mind waiting below in the hall I'll be there in one minute.”
Five minutes later she walked down the wide curving staircase to him, in the neatest of town suits and shoes and a little close-fitting hat, carrying a stumpy umbrella, that matched the suit. The bemedalled commissionaire opened the front door, erected an enormous carriage umbrella and escorted them across the rain-swept pavement to Lord Longmead’s car. If Miss Smith had expected a long sleek sports-model or a dignified limousine with liveried chauffeur in attendance she gave no sign. She climbed into the little mass-produced coupé, exhibiting willy-nilly a yard of irreproachable silk stocking, and Lord Longmead closed the door, went round to the other side, climbed in beside her, and pressed the starter button.
“She’s not a bad little bus,” he said half apologetically. “Of course I’d prefer something with a bit more ginger, but the death duties and income tax are simply fierce nowadays. Sure you’re quite comfy? Where would you like me to take you?”
“She's rather a dear, and I love the color scheme. Ninety-seven C., King’s Gardens, South Kensington, please. I’ll tell you how to find King’s Gardens when we get to South Kensington. I don’t suppose you ever visit these remote districts?”
"I used to haunt South Kensington Museum when I was a kid,” he answered and began to thread the snarling, ill-tempered traffic that a wet night brings. “Do tell me something about your job and how you came to take it up. I should think it’s frightfully interesting?” “Death duties, income tax, a cheap car, and yet he buys stockings for Tania at two guineas a pair,” Miss Smith mused. “Queer, too, because he doesn’t seem to be in love with her. His voice never dithers when he breathes her name, and he hasn’t got the slight abominableness about him that I always notice in a man in love with someone else.” She said aloud:
"Oh, I had to earn my living, you see, and I’ve got a feeling for frocks and color and that sort of thing. It runs in my family. My father’s in the trade himself.”
"Jolly useful to have a bit of influence like that,” suggested his lordship, skirting a vast motor omnibus with the respect due from twenty-five hundredweight to many tons. “I’d like to go into some business myself, only I’m a fool at figures, and I haven’t any training beyond two years’ peacetime soldiering. It must be very satisfactory to be able to make money. All I do is to spend it, what there is left of it. You see, I’m saddled with Longmead House, in Piccadilly, and quantities of priceless furniture and pictures that I can’t sell because they’re heirlooms. Otherwise I might set up as a dealer in antiques. It's the one thing I really understand.” "But how lovely to own all those beautiful things,” Miss Smith said earnestly. "And if you really under-
stand them, there are dozens of jobs you could do. I mean, daddy ...” She paused guiltily. “I mean,” she corrected herself, “a knowledge of old furniture and hangings and so on is most valuable. Even I have to study that sort of thing, fabrics, and costume and so on. We do heaps of period weddings nowadays. I’m always spending hours in picture galleries and libraries digging up details.”
“If you’d care to look over our house one day I’d be awf’ly glad to show it you,” Lord Longmead pleaded. “I don’t live there—can’t afford it—but an old butler and his wife look after it for me and keep things more or less in order. I’ve got a flat myself—the address is in the telephone book. May I ring you up and find out one day when you’re free? Some of our pictures and furniture beat anything of their kind even in Buckingham Palace.”
It was the passion of the enthusiast in his voice that persuaded her, she too being an enthusiast and the daughter of one who worked like a beaver at her job to make herself perfect over every detail.
“I’d love to,” she told him. “How very kind of you. I’m in the telephone book, too—that is, no I’m not.” Again she paused guiltily. “My number,” she amended, "is Kensington 15,000. That’s the flat, of course. I’m generally at home after six-thirty at night and always before nine o’clock in the morning. I expect that would be too early for you, though?”
"I’ve generally had an hour’s walk in the park with my dog, and am dressed and breakfasted by then. Here we are at South Kensington; which way shall I go now?”
She guided him briefly to a large old house in a quiet square that had suffered the fate of large old houses and been converted into flats. He escorted her to her front door and saw that she really had her latchkey. Once in every so often they manage to forget their latchkeys. He would have hated to leave her on her own doorstep in the rain. Then she gave him her hand in a brief clasp,
thanked him, said good night and disappeared.
Lord Longmead walked thoughtfully down through the rain to his car. A very charming girl indeed, with an appealing sincerity of manner. Most intelligent, too, and obviously keen on her work. But then, of course, Tania rather monopolized one’s spare time. Without being actually in love with Tania, he couldn’t help feeling sorry for her. Life after all is hard for a woman with two children to occupy her thoughts, even if she does happen to be a beautiful and charming leading lady earning seven hundred pounds a \yeek. Besides, what had she said only the other day?
“My dear Bertie, I may seem very enviable, but you can’t imagine how foul a great many men are to a woman who’s on the stage and more or less unattached. You’ve got a decent mind and it would never occur to you to adopt the attitude of these brutes. I could tell you a good deal about your own sex, Bertie. Of course one just laughs and pretends not to notice, but it makes me put a value on your friendship that might surprise you if you knew how high it is. I can turn to you when I’m tired and disillusioned and pour out my troubles ...”
Curious how tired “tired” and how disillusioned “disillusioned” sounded in that golden voice, how fatigue-smudges seemed to appear beneath the great tawny ayes and how the blue-black hair seemed almost to become streaked with sorrowful grey.
Well, Tania needed him and that was that, but he liked to think he could still appreciate, in a purely platonic fashion, the charm and sincerity of Miss Dorothy Smith.
VWTTHIN the sheltering walls of her flat, the dark W secret of Dorothy’s double life became almost instantly revealed. Scarcely had she closed the front door when a neat maid, in black silk with a wisp of apron showing on it like a snowflake, appeared smiling to take the stumpy umbrella and vanity bag from her mistress. She followed Dorothy into the bedroom where had been laid out the most desirable of bottle-green evening frocks and a sable coat, and Russian sable at that. The hand mirror and brushes on the dressing table were ivorybacked with “Dorothy” inlaid in gold. As the owner of all this dragged off her hat, the bedside telephone rang. She picked up the receiver.
“Is that Miss Smith?” enquired the trained purr of a man-secretary. “Oh, good evening, Miss Dorothy. Mr. Grantage would like to speak to you. One moment, please.”
A pause, and then the curt voice of Mr. Grantage, whose mammoth store occupies half Regent Street, exclaiming: “Hullo, Dorothy. How’s life?”
“Topping, thanks, daddy darling. How’re you?”
“Oh, splendid. Not forgotten you’re dining with the old man tonight?”
"Rather not, and I’m starving.”
"Well, we’ve got all the things you like to eat, and Burns will be round with the car at seven-thirty. Run along and make yourself look pretty. ’Bye.”
Dorothy hooked up the receiver and turned to hear the maid announcing: “Your bath’s quite ready, miss.” “Thank you, Helen. Oh, Helen, I’ve met the nicest young man today, and he thinks I’m really a Miss Smith, and when he knows that’s only a business alias he’ll never forgive me. Men never forgive deceit, do they, Helen?” “I always think they like the chance, miss. They feel so clever at finding you out—not that they ever would unless you wanted them to.”
“Pr’aps you’re right, Helen. I hope you put in simply tons of bath salts.”
Not long afterward, the two elderly maiden ladies who inhabited the ground-floor flat, saw, peering from behind their window curtains, a long and shining limousine halt silently before Number 97. Three minutes later a slim figure in bottle green, clutching her sable coat about her, tripped across the pavement escorted by Helen with an umbrella, waved a white hand at Burns, the impeccable chauffeur, and curled up in a corner of the rear seat of the car while Burns spread the rug over her knees.
"And that,” said the elder maiden lady to the younger, "is she who we are led to suppose is Miss Smith, a business girl who earns her own living.”
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“Sables, my dear,” intoned the younger maiden lady mournfully. “That absolutely settled the question. No good woman can afford to wear sables; neither would any man trouble to give them to her, for after all why should he?”
The big limousine swept along Brompton Road through Knightsbridge to Mr. Grantage’s fine house, number 999, Piccadilly, which fronted upon the Park. A butler like an ambassador received Dorothy with the joy of a shepherd lighting upon the hundredth sheep, and conducted her to the library where Mr. Grantage, six feet high and clean shaven, with a mouth like a rat-trap and the very nicest eyes, took both her hands and greeted her heartily.
“And how’s trade with you, Dorothy?” he asked after they had settled in their chairs. “Our profits are up on this quarter last year. I feel I shall be able to enlarge he business. When are your people taking additional premises?”
Dorothy flirted with him as a pretty daughter does with a devoted and admiring father, and he a widower at that.
“Pooh, darling, you only understand catering for the million. Ours is a highclass business.”
The butler announced dinner. Dorothy listened greedily while her father talked.
“I’ve bought out Stevenson & Williams. How long are you going to serve your apprenticeship with Mary Lennox, Dorothy? I want you to come and help me run Grantage’s.”
“Oh, lord, daddy, if only I’d been a boy ! I could have started in the packing department and worked right up and been some use to you.”
“Don’t talk rot about why weren’t you a boy. Naturally you’ll be running Grantages one day. I’m worried about my antique furniture department. Old Lee manages it and he’s getting on and wants to retire. The trouble is nobody knows the antique business today as he does. He’s spent a lifetime at it. I defy anybody to deceive him over old furniture. I can’t think of anyone to replace him. Can you?”
A faint smile played round Dorothy’s attractive mouth, for she had been seized by an idea.
“I don’t know, darling. It’s just possible I might find the very man, but you must give me a little time, please.”
“Oh, there’s no hurry for a month or two.”
AT EIGHT-FIFTEEN a.m. on a sunlit morning, Lord Longmead rang up Kensington 15,000. The voice of Miss Dorothy Smith answered him.
“This is Lord Longmead speaking. Is that Miss Smith?”
“Yes. Good morning. Am I interrupting your walk round the Park with the dog? It’s a quarter past eight and you’ve generally bathed, breakfasted and walked the dog round the Park by nine.”
“I shouldn’t dream of cutting short my dog’s walk. The time for this telephone call is to be subtracted from my breakfast period. How are you, Miss Smith?”
/, “Splendid, thanks, Lord Longmead. How are you?”
“Splendid also. Do you think you could spare the time to look at my treasures on
Saturday afternoon? Today’s Wednesday.”
Thinking rapidly, Dorothy answered: “Thanks, I’d love to. I’ll meet you at Longmead House at two-thirty if that’s convenient. No, honestly, I couldn’t possibly lunch first. Remember this is the season, and we’re driven to death. It’s very kind of you to ask me. Good-by.”
She sprang out of bed and dashed for the bathroom in order to begin work at nine-fifteen. Drying herself swiftly, she thought: “What shall I wear on Saturday? I know, I shall wear . . .Yes, and I shall wear ... I think one will look rather nice in that.”
She appeared, Lord Longmead thought, standing to welcome her on the threshold of his ancestral home, singularly like one of the girls of his world, only so much more interested, for her eyes sparkled with anticipation; her late spring, or early summer, frock gave thanks to its maker, and the fox fur at her coat collar came from the body of a noble beast. But then, of course, she was in the trade. Still, one felt grateful nevertheless, grateful and admiring and very pleased to see her.
“You’ll say straight out if I bore you, won’t you?” he insisted, “because I could talk the hind leg off a donkey about all the things in this house. They’re part of my life and my people’s lives, and I always have a queer feeling of impermanence when I see a picture of some dead and gone ancestor that was painted hundreds of years before I was born and will exist hundreds of years after I’m dead. Things sometimes seem so much more important than people, don’t they?”
“Well, wonderful things do rather outshine people, it’s true.”
She was standing beside him in the great hall, with an echoing marble staircase sweeping upward into space. It felt very remote and overpowering and intimate. Rather as if he loved the proceeding, Lord Longmead introduced her to all his pictures, his Sir Peter Lelys, and Reynoldses, and Rubenses, and Winterhalters and Sargents, and all his exquisite eighteenth century furniture, the Chippendale and Sheraton, and Hepplewhite, and Adam. Everything seemed to have a story, and he told it very simply as though he felt sure she would understand. There were swords used by my Lords Longmead in forgotten wars, and sampplers and tapestry pictures worked by their patient wives.
Coming out of a dream, Dorothy found herself being offered tea, served by the old butler. The cups and saucers were a frail dream in porcelain and the silver teapot and sugar basin and milk jug collector’s pieces.
“It must have been nice,” she sighed, “when no one was ever in a hurry and people had time for all this. I’m now quite out of touch with the world I live in. I want to dance a minuet in a hooped skirt and petticoats with a gentleman in a brocade coat and satin breeches.”
“If you’d be very kind and dine with me at a grill room instead, it would be delightful,” he told her. “It’ll be late enough for dinner very soon. I’ve got to go down to the coast tonight in the car and stay with people, but it doesn’t matter when I get there. You won’t mind if we dine just as we are, will you? It would waste part of my time with you if we were to go home and change.”
“Rather a darling, aren’t you? And you do put things very attractively to poor little Miss Smith from Mary Lennox,” she thought. Then she said aloud: “Thank you very much. I particularly like grill rooms because the food in them seems more foodlike and I’m terribly greedy.” Therefore they dallied and talked of nothing and everything until he could take her to the Carlton Grill. She knew now that they were very old friends whose thoughts communicated themselves almost without words. The rest of the world obligingly made a very pretty setting for Lord Longmead and Dorothy Smith and provided a living moving picture for them to look at in the intervals of saying lovely, important things.
They stood outside on the enchanted pavement of Pall Mall in the blue-grey dark while the commissionaire called a taxi, and then Lord Longmead took her home. The taxi bumped along methodically through mysterious streets and for a while they said nothing at all. Dorothy sat spinning dreams woven out of the past, contented and a little fey with the romance of it all. This tall young man also had worn a sword, and is not every girl a princess at some period of her life?
Some magic of the day and the hour communicated itself also to Lord Longmead. As they neared King’s Gardens he turned suddenly and took her face between his hands, looking deep into the grey eyes. Then one arm slid round her shoulders and tilted her head and his mouth met hers. She never moved. She was being kissed by all that long line of soldiers.and rulers that Sir Peter Lely and the rest of them had painted.
The cab drew up outside her home and Lord Longmead let her go. Then he took both her hands in his and said:
“You are a darling and I love you. May I come and see you on Monday evening when I’m back in London?”
It was all part of the dream, a reincarnation of something that happened long ago, in keeping with the spirit of their day together. Still in her dream, Dorothy answered: '
“Of course you may, my dear,” and held up her mouth in invitation.
IORD LONGMEAD reached Tania J West’s seaside house at Sandharbor some time before she did, at half an hour after midnight, but then she was on the stage till the very end of the third act and could not leave London before eleventhirty at the earliest. Owning a better car than his, she was able to stroll in a little before 1 a.m. to find all her guests eating supper. They rose and ministered to her; she slid out of a fur coat and allowed Bertie Longmead to take it, sat down at the table and let herself be helped to this and that.
“It was a good house,” she told them, “but I’m tired. I think the play will run on through the summer and then I’ll cut out the Saturday matinee and get from Friday night till Monday afternoon down here. Have all you people had lots to eat? When did you arrive, Bertie?” “About half an hour before you did, Tania.”
“But why so late, my dear? What have you been doing?”
“Just dining with a friend in a grill room.”
He spoke abstractedly and had an aura about him she did not like. She knew subconsciously that he had dined with a girl, and she would have bet money that he had kissed the girl, and not lightly at that. Eating cold chicken and drinking white wine it flashed across her mind that she had always meant to marry Bertie; she was rich and he was poor but he would bring her a title and the right to be taken about by a very good-looking young peer. The fact that she was thirty-two and he twenty-six did not worry her. He would find her far more fascinating than any girl. Tania leaned back in her chair and
smiled at him. “I’m just at my best,” she thought. “I’ve got over my beastly first marriage, and being poor, and I’ve made a name for myself. I shall last another fifteen or twenty years as far as the public’s concerned. I know just what plays they want to see me in. I shall have to acquire Bertie by stealth somehow. If he isn’t annexed this week-end he’ll go back to his girl and anything stupid might happen. I’m sure there is a girl, he looks so stricken. It must be one of the old stock dramatic tricks because I can’t permit us to be seen in any doubtful situation. This is a very nice house party—a well-known playwright and his wife, a society beauty and her husband, a brilliant young politician, two soldiers and three charming girls. Gracious, what shall I do? Couldn't I . . . yes, I could. I could take him out in the motor boat tomorrow night and run out of petrol or something. With luck we might remain alone on the bosom of the waters till morning.
“That’s what I’ll do. The old dramatic tricks are the best.”
They sat talking for a little, said their good nights and drifted up to bed. Tania, coming down midway between breakfast and luncheon, took pains to make herself very attractive to Bertie Longmead. He found her more serious than usual.
She looked exceedingly young and slender in a silk tennis frock, her bare arms very faintly tanned. There is something about a black-haired beautiful woman with tawny eyes that repeats the faint sun-tan on her bare arms.
After dinner when the party showed a tendency to split up into mixed pairs, Tania took him walking over the cliff path toward the little harbor. Night drew down on them, warm and dark, without a moon. By nine o’clock they had reached the harbor and stood leaning over the curtain wall of the quay looking out over the black water. Then Tania had a mood and exclaimed: “Oh, Bertie, I do want a run in my motor boat. There she is, look, Miss Chance, the scarlet one with the white line. No, of course, you can’t see she’s scarlet in this light. We could borrow this dinghy at the foot of the steps and leave it at the motor boat’s mooring and bring it over when we return. Come on, Bertie, there’s a dear.”
They crept down the steep, unguarded steps to where the dinghy lay moored to a ring in the harbor wall. The tide was high. He drew the dinghy alongside, helped her in, cast off the painter and sculled slowly to the Miss Chance moored out in the harbor. They climbed aboard, and Tania became very efficient. There followed a switching on of lights, the splutter of a starting engine, the mooring of the dinghy and the casting off of Miss Chance. Tania, who had only a sweater over her thin frock, told him: “You’ll find a couple of coats in the cabin, one that’ll fit you and one for me.” As he crawled into the tiny cabin he felt Miss Chance beginning to glide seaward. When he returned the smooth water of the harbor had given place to the light swell of the open sea.
Tania was steering half left of the town parallel with the headland that guards Sandharbor. “I’ll let her out as soon as the engine warms up,” she promised. “Miss Chance has a very nice turn of speed. Turn your collar up, Bertie. You’ll feel the breeze when we get beyond the headland.”
Bertie Longmead, although aware that the whole proceeding seemed a little bizarre, could not help admiring her. She sat at the wheel muffled in her coat, hair streaming back in the wind created by their swift rush through the dark.
“We’ll just run out and have a look at the fishing boats, and then go home,” Tania said. “Mustn’t get too close, though. They don’t care much for speed boats.” She held on till the headland faded into the night and the navigation lights of the fleet began to show more and more brightly. All at once the beat of the engine faltered. An irregular sequence of explosions followed and then silence: Miss Chance gradually lost way and at length lay rolling gently on the smooth surface of the sea.
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Tania turned to Bertie Longmead a face of dismay. “Heavens!” she exclaimed, “that fool of a boat-keeper could never have filled her up with petrol as I told him to. I’m sorry, but it looks as if we’re here for the night.”
“But my dear Tania . . . ”
“It might be worse. The weather’s set fair. We shall drift a bit farther as the tide goes out, and then when it turns the set of the current’ll carry us toward the harbor. Then somebody will come out and give us a tow, that is, if the others when they miss us don’t come out sooner. There are biscuits and chocolate and whisky and soda in the cabin locker.. We shan’t starve, Bertie.”
It was a very still and starlit night. Not a sound could be heard except the faint lop of water along Miss Chance’s side. Bertie Longmead, being a man and a motorist, felt obliged to investigate the petrol system; to no purpose because he found Tania had spoken the truth. They sat side by side with a rug over their knees, eating biscuits and chocolate. Tania, remembering she hád to be at the theatre in less than twelve hours laid her head on his shoulder and went to sleep. He put an arm round her to steady her, and watched her half admiringly, half in exasperation. Without doubt she looked very beautiful, and she had a wonderful brain, and some say that if you are left unchaperoned alone all night with a woman the least you can do in the morning is to ask her to marry you.
At three-thirty a.m., as dawn broke, the two young soldiers came up in a second motor boat furnished with champagne, hot soup in vacuum flasks, assorted food, cigarettes, and a gramophone. They performed a hearty rescue, took Miss Chance in tow, and with Tania as pilot managed to bring both craft into harbor without breaking anything. Bertie Longmead wished Tania good morning, and went to sleep for a few hours. She had not come down by the time he left for London. One of the young soldiers, however, observed to him at breakfast: “I say, Longmead, you’re a bit of a dog. It never occurred to me to go out in the dark with a girl and run out of petrol. Still, I’ll say it was a great rescue. Hope we didn’t turn up too soon.”
Bertie Longmead looked at that young man until his very ears grew pink, and said nothing. Nevertheless, on the way up to London he came, sadly but definitely, to a certain conclusion.
AT HIS flat he found a brief note from Dorothy.
“Please,” it said, “you’re dining with me here tonight. You’ve never seen my flat, and I really give quite good dinners. Seven-thirty, please.” Therefore he put on the pure armor of a clean dress shirt and tied his tie with gentle melancholy because he knew that he was going to see the girl he loved, being also compelled at the same time, for reasons outside his control, to give her up.
Ninety-seven C., King’s Gardens, provided him with something of a shock. A very neat maid admitted him, took coat, hat and stick, opened the door of the delightfully furnished sitting room and announced him. Dorothy came forward in one of Mary Lennox’s choicest frocks and gave him her hand.
“You look adorable, Dorothy,” he said, “and it seems years since Saturday. Thank you for asking me to dinner. I’ve a whole collection of things to tell you.”
The strange intuition of a girl when her lover is in question warned Dorothy of tragedy to come, but she only smiled and answered:
«“Would you like to confess before dinner in case you can’t eat your food on account of a guilty conscience, because
there are all sorts of nice things to eat?” Before he could reply, the very neat maid called them to the feast, and Bertie Longmead marvelled. Beautiful silver and glass, charming furniture, a brief perfect meal and good wine. Dorothy seemed faintly amused. He looked far nicer than at their last meeting; he had a touching desire to please her, and obviously the manner in which she lived took him greatly by surprise.
“I’ve got something to confess also,” she announced gravely. “We shall be able to have a ghastly quarter of an hour laying bare our souls over our coffee.” Back in the sitting-room she made him sit opposite her in an armchair with coffee on a low table between them and commanded:
“Come on; you first, Bertie. What is it you have on your mind?”
“I suppose,” he began, “you realize something’s happened. I haven’t kissed you once this evening.”
“Perhaps you thought I had all the kissing that was good for me on Saturday. It doesn’t do to encourage these girls.” “Don’t be absurd, Dorothy. You know quite well I’m dying to kiss you. The fact is I spent the week-end at Tania West’s seaside place.”
“Well, you deserved a little board and lodging after all the stockings you gave her. Are you trying to break it gently to me that you were the sole guest and that something regrettable happened?”
“No,” replied Bertie Longmead patiently, “she had a small house party, and four of them were married. What happened was this.” He sketched briefly the adventures of Sunday night, ending with the young soldier’s comment on Monday morning. “So you see,” he ended sadly. “I shall have to ask Tania to marry me, and I don’t suppose she’ll refuse as I happen to have a title.”
“But how nice for you, Bertie. Not every man, even with a title, marries a beautiful and charming actress.”
“It won’t be nice at all, you idiot, since I happen to love you and I want to marry you. You sit there driving me mad, and yet I mustn’t kiss you because it would be an insult if I’m going straight from you to propose to Tania.”
Dorothy got up, sat on the arm of his chair, raised his chin with a manicured fingertip and said: “Listen! Is that true about loving me and wanting to marry me?”
“Of course it is. Didn’t I tell you on Saturday ...”
“You’ve got Saturday on the brain. I must be the first girl you ever kissed on a Saturday. Well, if you love me you belong to me, and I won’t have you handed over to Tania. I happen to be a better woman than Tania, Gunga Din. My name is really Dorothy Grantage, and I’m the only child of Mr. Grantage, Grantage of Grantage’s, you know, in Regent Street. I shall be running the place one day. I’m only at Mary Lennox’s to gain experience. We particularly want you, apart from my sentimental leaning toward you, because our antique expert is retiring and you know all about antique furniture. I realized that on Saturday. If you’re married to the proprietor you won’t need a salary.”
“This explains everything, of course— the silver, and the glasses, and the dining room chairs ...”
“Yes; isn’t it nice to realize I really am a good girl? The old ladies on the ground floor think I live in sin when daddy’s car calls for me and I go out in a sable coat.” “But, darling,” Bertie Longmead objected, taking her left hand and kissing it all up and down her fingers, beginning at the base of the little finger and ending at the tip of the thumbnail, “how can I possibly get out of proposing to Tania, simply as a matter of decency?”
“Just leave her to me. I know Tania very well. Don’t I look after her beastly frocks? It’s ninety to one the motor boat episode was a put-up job. I may as well tell you that the second lot of stockings you took her were exactly the same as the first. She merely wanted to make you fetch and carry. She and I will have a quiet feminine chat. I’ll let you know what happens by tomorrow evening.”
Gently he drew her down on to his knees. The scent of her hair was just as intoxicating, the grey eyes were just as deep, the curve of her mouth as he kissed it just as tender. At last she moved away and straightened her kissed hair with slightly unsteady hands.
“Can I,” she asked, “have your signet ring to wear till I get a real engagement ring?”
TN HIS fine house in Piccadilly Mr.
Grantage’s telephone rang early. He heard Over the wire the sparkling tones of his daughter, Dorothy, requesting the loan of the limousine this beautiful summer day. Feeling sure she had mischief afoot, Mr. Grantage chuckled and consented. After all he owned three cars and youth will be served.
In her little house in Park Street, Tania West’s telephone also rang, not quite so early. She heard over the wire the sparkling tones of Miss Dorothy Smith of Mary Lennox, Ltd. Some trouble had arisen over a frock. The gossamer stuff of its composition, arrived by air from Lyons, did not seem quite what Miss West had commanded. Could Miss Smith come along and settle the matter to save Miss West trouble? Well, Miss West was lunching out, but she would spare ten minutes at noon. Thank Miss West very much.
At noon, therefore, frocked and hatted for her luncheon, polished and sandpapered and groomed to a hair, Miss West sat in her drawing-room that gave upon Park Street, plotting the defeat of a celebrated playwright. To her they ushered Miss Dorothy Smith, but not quite the Dorothy Smith she knew She saw a brilliantly charming girl also frocked and hatted for a luncheon, also polished and sandpapered and groomed to a hair, only more so; neither did she carry any parcel of gossamer brought by air from Lyons.
“Oh, good morning, Miss West,” said this vision brightly. “So kind of you to see me. I’m afraid there’s nothing wrong about your frock, only I needed a little excuse for my call. I want to talk to you about Lord Longmead.”
Sketching her well-known gesture of rearing back a trifle against the bit in order to register hauteur, Tania replied:
“I don’t quite understand, Miss Smith.”
Sympathetically, Dorothy shook her head.
“Of course not. How could you? How could anyone? You see I met Lord Longmead when he was buying stockings for you and we fell in love. He proposed to me on Saturday, and went down to stay with you on Sunday, and you and he spent all night alone in a motor boat, and yesterday he told me he felt he ought to marry you for the sake of appearances, and I said I thought that was rather old stuff these days, and I thought I’d come and just explain that Lord Longmead really adores me, and I don’t think you and I ought to let a little matter like a night ib a motor boat alone with you stand between him and true love. I mean, I don’t care a darn about his being alone all night with you in a motor boat, and as his fiancée, of course, I have my feelings. I think Lord Longmead has rather sweet, old-fashioned ideas about women.”
“Really, Miss Smith,” said Tania in her golden voice, “I don’t discuss my personal friends with my dressmaker’s
assistant. I shall complain to Miss Lennox about you and I think you’d better go. You have been most impertinent.”
“And if I were indeed Miss Smith,” Dorothy mused, “I could only throw myself on the floor at your knees and weep over your skirt, or else creep out like a bird with a broken wing. But I am really Dorothy Grantage, attached to Mary Lennox for instruction, and daddy is the Mr. Grantage, of Grantage’s Stores in Regent Street, and we are worth millions, and outside the window you can see daddy’s limousine that I came in. And if you try to make trouble with Mary Lennox it won’t be any good, because daddy will just buy the business and give it to me. And here, as you see, is Bertie’s signet ring on my engagement finger. And I may tell you that the secret behind our vast business is that a Grantage never lets go.”
No one would have guessed at a coronet and a wedding at St. Margaret’s, Westminster, doing a quick fade-out in the picture palace of Tania West’s brain. She only threw a benevolent glance at Dorothy and replied:
“You sweet child, how romantic you sound, and how amused Lord Longmead would be to hear you. I don’t think he was at all upset because we ran out of petrol—at least he didn’t seem upset. Perhaps the silly subalterns who towed us in teased him about it. I’m sure I hope you’ll both be very happy. I’ve never met your father, but I believe some people find Grantage’s Stores terribly satisfactory to shop at. And I really must go now or I’ll be late for luncheon.”
“Can I give you a lift in the car?” Dorothy besought her, but Tania shook her head. “Too kind of you but I couldn’t think of taking you out of your way.”
TN A window table of the Ritz Grill, *■ gazing into Dorothy’s eyes, Bertie Longmead asked piteously:
“Well, what happened? Is it all right? Did you settle anything? Needn’t I marry her?”
“Caviare,” Dorothy murmured to the waiter, “grilled sole, lamb cutlets and peas and a pêche Melba. I’m frightfully hungry, Bertie. Yes, my darling, of course, you can marry me. You need someone to look after you. You are nothing more than a lit-tel boy. You ought to have a woolly jersey and grey flannel shorts and a nurse.”
“Tell me what you two said to one another.”
“We discussed the situation freely and frankly and arrived at agreement on all points. Tania tried to convince me she didn’t want you and I convinced her I was going to have you. She did the kind lady act and patted this little girl on the head, as it were, and I offered her a lift in the limousine because it’s a better make than hers.”
Lord Longmead squeezed lemon juice thoughtfully over his caviare.
“I shall always have a soft corner in my heart for Tania,” he declared. “After all, she brought us together. If it hadn’t been for her stockings ...”
“Bertie,” his beloved replied, “I refuse to marry you on the strength of another woman’s wear. I’m a head saleswoman and head saleswomen don’t sell stockings. Clarice would have looked after you, only I saw you come in and you looked awf’ly attractive on a dull afternoon. Directly I realized Tania had her claws on you I meant to take you away. Being the complete vamp I did, and now you belong to me. It’s quite time you lost your illusions about females.”
Lord Longmead, who was very happy and disinclined to argue, merely captured one of her slender ankles between his and pressed it gently beneath the table.
“Hurry up with your food, Dorothy,” he implored, “and then we will go back to my flat. Not only have you never seen it, but I haven’t kissed you since yesterday, and I really can’t behave like a total stranger very much longer.”