The Two-Man Girl
When a two-man girl meets a two-girl man—well you know the old one about Greek meeting Greek
IT WAS at Floria Wendall’s party that I first saw Sylvie Jackson. You know what Floria’s parties are like— always as unexpected as Floria herself. I had an important engagement with her once to take in an exhibition of Bransom’s pictures which she was in a measure sponsoring, and we ended up by playing four complete rounds of miniature golf on a course so obscure that I doubt if I could find it again if I looked for it.
I can imagine that had Floria taken to fiction she would have been a gloriously true creator, never knowing what was going to come next, and so getting as much fun out of it as the reader. Her parties were like that; purely creative. You never knew just who would arrive, or when, or what would happen. All through the evening you kept running across new people; rubbing your eyes as it were and saying, “But when did you arrive?” And they would reply: “Oh, Floria just telephoned us to dash over if we could; she’d decided she wanted us.” The funny thing was, nobody but a fool or two minded.
It was in this way that Sylvie Jackson appeared among us one night. I was privileged to see her coming downstairs after leaving her wraps. Two serious young men shared the privilege with me, in an atmosphere marked with mutual suspicion.
I am no hand at women's raiment, but I know that Sylvie wore some kind of sea-green, out of which rose shoulders, and especially a back that even in these days was a bit startling. Either nature or artifice, I decided, had kept her ridiculously young. From under clear and slightly questioning brows, two eyes, whose color you did not stop to define, regarded you with the naiveté of a child.
I could detect a distinct tremor in the two waiting males. And then one brash creature made a dash to the stair edge and claimed her. She smiled. Her color came and went prettily, like coral under a tricky sunlight. She accepted his arm; her eyes for a questioning and alluring moment rested on me; then she passed. And as she passed she dropped her handkerchief. This age-old artifice was never motivated “Oh,” she said. “Dummy, do bring that along, there’s a dear.”
The second serious young man accepted both his sobriquet and his duty.
HEN the three passed through the doors I heard a voice behind me. “Moon gazing?” said Floria. "That’s Sylvie Jackson, if you don’t happen to know. Keep away, Johnnie; she’s not your speed. She’d wear you out in a week—worse than I would. She’s a two-man girl. It’s an art. She thrives on it, but it’s wearing on the men. Some day she’ll suffer for it. But don’t we all?” “Floria,” I accused her, “you’re worse. Nobody can pin you down even to two.” “Johnnie,” retorted Floria, “it’s concentration that hurts the eyes and nerves. A soft diffusiveness is restful.”
I sighed, and followed Floria to where Sylvie was still happy with her two captives.
“You boys take four paces to the rear,” ordered Floria. “I want to introduce Mr. Heward, Sylvie. Call him Johnnie and be nice to him. He’s too old to be taken in by your wiles, so don’t attempt it. And if you ever want safe and sane paternal advice, he’s your man. You can always bank on his doing the safe and sane thing. It’s trying, but it has its points. Now go ahead and talk to each other.”
Sylvie looked at me. Her eyes had a dazzling power of momentary concentration.
“I’m glad to meet you, Johnnie,” she said; but her eyes had already begun to wander.
"Don’t,” I said sternly; ‘‘don't summon your bodyguard. Sylvie, or I’ll
make a public example of you.” “Boys,” cried Sylvie, and both hurried at her call. “Meet Johnnie—Mr. Heward to you.” The three drifted off. I stood and stared. Floria's laugh sounded—she had a habit of appropriate materialization.
“A two-man girl,” said Floria. “And, at the moment, those are the two. You won’t crash that gate, my lad.” “Floria!” I cried protestingly, but she was gone. Her own powers of social mobility were amazing.
A FORTNIGHT later I again met Sylvie Jackson at an affair old Mrs. Pomfret was giving. Floria wasn’t asked. Personally I only went because, underneath a veneer of modernistic scorn, I had an old-fashioned love for the woman and her ways. Her home was in a terrace that at one time had been the centre of fashion. The tide had retreated and left her stranded, but if she knew it she did not let on. She conducted herself and her affairs as if no change was observable. To enter her door was to step into an atmosphere so Victorian that, with the silly whirl of cycles, she is quite likely to become the rage.
Floria wasn’t asked, because you didn’t ask the unexpected to a house like this. She had been asked once—for my sake, I fancy, old Mrs. Pomfret having a keen eye for matchmaking—but never again. Nobody can say to this day what Floria did, but the whole atmosphere of the place was disturbed for the evening.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I found Sylvie there. Two young men, irreproachables, brought her, consorting together in the dressing room with a certain inimical friendliness. They were a different two. The others had been cast into the limbo of discarded utilities.
My going downstairs synchronized with hers; rather, she tripped down behind and caught my arm.
She looked really pleased; and to awaken pleasure in the eyes of Sylvie is enough for any male’s undoing. But I was risking no rebuff.
“The twins are still aloft, adjusting their adenoids above their collars,” I said gravely.
“The—twins?—oh!” She had the grace to color up. It was worth while.
“Sylvie,” I said, “if the marriage laws only considered twins as really one flesh, there might be hope for you. Hush, here come your outriders.”
Two pairs of black legs moved in unison; two pairs of patent leathers struck the steps almost as if to music.
“Oh, Tommy,” she said. “There you are ! Oh, George, do mind my dress, you almost stepped on it.” She included them both in a dazzling smile.
I went on down, intending to mock her from the hallway. But Mrs. Pomfret moved toward me, in trailing black with a shawl about her shoulders; her cheeks ruddy with health and pleasure, her smile full of genuine warmth.
"I want you to meet Peter Grier,” she said, and from the shadow on the doorway stepped a handsome young giant to take my hand with athletic cruelty. “Oh,” said Mrs. Pomfret, “and this must be Miss Jackson? Isn’t she perfectly sweet?”
I considered Sylvie through my hostess’s eyes and was amazed to find that Sylvie had taken color from her surroundings; and that, by intent, warning, or happy accident, she had chosen her dress well. “The little actress!” I thought, and then I realized that something more genuine had supervened. Sylvie, her twin attendants anxiously at heel, was meeting Peter Grier. And I have flattered myself ever since that I was acute enough in that moment to know that there was more than the commerce of words between them; that something out of the ordinary had instantly happened to Sylvie Jackson.
The two youths, hastily greeting their hostess, rallied to the cause, but Peter Grier had carried Sylvie away. Mrs. Pomfret drew alongside me.
“My poor Peter—nephew of mine,” she said, “is really too good looking, isn’t he? He’s a trial to the ladies. One would think that sweet little Sylvie Jackson would be enough for one man, but look at him.”
I obeyed. Sylvie had competition, but she wasn’t giving up.
“He’s an adorable nephew for an old woman to have,” sighed Mrs. Pomfret, beaming all over, “but he’s a—well, I’m sure there’s a name to fit him.”
“A two-girl man?” I suggested.
Mrs. Pomfret betrayed herself in another amazing flash. She pinched my arm, and I could almost swear to a wink. I sometimes fancied I was her one exhaust valve.
“You said it!” declared Mrs. Pomfret, and swept regally away, the tails of her shawl in a flutter.
THE next time I saw Sylvie Jackson, the occasion was no less unexpected. It was a raw kind of day with the east wind blowing. I had had a tiff with my landlady, an argument with my lawyer, an unpleasing interview with my dentist, somebody dented the fender of my car; and when I got back to my study, cold and angry, there moved in me just the right opening for a bitter, satirical sketch, the inspiration for which I knew would be dissipated if I exchanged a single word with a soul before I got the thing pinned on paper.
“Oh, Johnnie!” cried Sylvie, rising from where she was sitting and almost embracing me. “I’m so glad you’ve come. I’ve been waiting a dog’s age for you.”
“Sylvie,” I said, “sit down and shut up, and pretend you’re not here for a while.”
Sylvie took one look at me, gasped a little and subsided. I sat at my desk, seized a sheet of paper, and poised my pen to write. I wanted to be rude and ruthless. I wanted to take out on Sylvie the ills I had suffered from an outrageous
There was an intense silence, but words eluded me.
“If you don’t hurry up and write, I’ll have hysterics all over your office, Johnnie.”
I slammed down the pen, went over and took Sylvie by the shoulders.
“How could anybody write anything with you around?” I demanded. “What in heaven’s name brought you here
“Nothing in heaven,” said Sylvie simply. “The other place. That’s the kind of a mess I’m in, Johnnie. Be nice to me. won’t you?”
“If you look like that I’ll kiss you,” I said nastily. “I’m not responsible. I’m not myself today.”
LESLIE GORDON BARNARD
“Go right ahead,” said Sylvie. “A lot have managed it without getting hurt. But, Johnnie, let’s be serious. I’m in a jam.”
“Traffic, strawberry or mental?”
“Mental,” said Sylvie and sighed. “It’s the little thing called love.”
“Not with me?” I said irritably.
“No, no, Johnnie. It’s Peter.”
"Oh, that’s different.”
“Very,” said Sylvie.
I glared at her; and in that moment I knew she was hard hit. I’d heard things about Mrs. Pomfret’s nephew and her. but this confirmed everything.
"Well,” 1 said vaguely, “Peter’s a nice boy.”
“Is he?” cried Sylvie antagonistically, and I detected suiuetning nearer to a sob than I had ever expected to come Iiom Sylvie’s flippant young throat. “Then why—why did you call him a two-girl man to Mrs. Pomfret?”
t lemarked that the appellation had been applied in fun.
“But he is, Johnnie!” she cried. “He’s just that—the
V^HE rose and went over to the window. I could see, ‘“■'beyond her, the dismal descent of rain wind-blown out of a murky east. I touched a match to the piled wood in the grate and quick flame responded. Suddenly Sylvie swung upon me.
"I wish you’d say it, Johnnie, instead of just thinking it in this gasping silence.”
“Well,” I admitted soberly, “ ‘when Greek meets Greek,’ you know. Or, to transpose it from the Greek : When a twoman girl meets a two-girl man, then comes the tug-of-war. Feel better now?”
“Tell me,” I demanded, “are there just two with him?” “J-just two!”
“I don’t know who! Somebody mysterious and lovely. Oh, it’s maddening. Johnnie! I’ve only caught sight of her at a distance, driving with him and that kind of thing. But Floria’s seen her; she seems to think it’s serious enough. She says she’s quite an amazing girl.”
1 considered the play of flame upon wood in the hearth before venturing advice.
"Fight fire with fire. Sylvie. Give him as good as he gives. If you let him think you’ve changed the course of your life for him, you’re sunk. No woman should ever let a man know that; it's fatal to him. Just go on being yourself; being a—”
“Say it, Johnnie.”
“A two-man girl.”
Her lip quivered.
“You won’t understand, Johnnie, but I can’t. I don’t want anybody around me now but—but Peter!”
Then suddenly her eyes brightened ; the old Sylvie leaped into being.
"Big boy!” shouted Sylvie, running to me and embracing me. “I do believe I could stand you. You’ll be my mystery man. You’ll go driving with me, and take me places— places where he’ll just hear about us and not see us. And nobody must recognize you, see? Oh, Johnnie, won’t it be lovely? Won’t you make a nice mystery man?”
I disengaged her hands from my shoulders. Sylvie’s eyes were not made for the second fiddle to gain inspiration from. He might get playing the wrong tune.
“Where,” cried Sylvie, “shall we go to dinner tonight? Peter is to telephone this afternoon, and I must be able to tell him I’m going out with a nice man. I know—we’ll drive to the Green Teapot. Oh, Johnnie, aren’t you a dear? I’m going to kiss you. Hold still and it won’t hurt. It’ll be over in a minute!”
I closed my eyes and submitted. She chose my lips. I opened my eyes and looked at her.
“Johnnie,” she said, “didn’t you like it? There’s something so queer in your eyes!”
“I was thinking of my dentist!” I said.
And my conscience reproached me with what was barely a half truth.
LORIA telephoned me after three weeks to enquire the nature of my defection and its meaning. I kept triumph and uneasiness from my voice.
“Busy,” I said truthfully.
“With whom?” asked Floria in her sweetest tone.
“The name,” I said, catching at a literary straw, “is Claribel, and she’s been giving me a lot of trouble. There must be something of you in her, Floria. She won’t do anything I planned for her. The editors won’t like her.” “Then I shall,” said Floria. “When will you bring her over and read her to me?”
“When I have her tamed,” I said.
She had hardly hung up when the telephone rang again. “What’s doing today?” asked Sylvie’s voice.
“Writing,” I said sternly.
“I’ll give you an hour,” said Sylvie. “Expect me then. I’ll bring my car. It’s a topping day.”
It was. We drove together through a park flaming with flowers. Lest anyone should recognize roe, I wore an outfit that my tailor would have abjured with oaths; rather a sporting thing with a cap that effectually altered my style of beauty.
Continued on page 56
Continued from page 19
We met Mrs. Pomfret. She was driving in the park, as usual, behind two horses and the inevitable Drupe. Mrs. Pomfret bowed, and Sylvie waved a gay hand.
We drove far afield, by a winding way where motors rarely passed. It seemed unnecessary. After alt, a decoy must be seen to be appreciated. I pointed this out to Sylvie. She said:
“So you don’t like me either?”
My cruelty was brought home to me. I kept silent, and Sylvie at the wheel took narrow turns like one possessed, and a flood of beauty seemed to flow about us—meadow and brook and undulating land, and trees brought together by the magic of the day into a fluidity in which the senses swam. When I began mentally to quote poetry I realized the dangers. I brought it out into the open.
“Where the fairy clover crowns Dreamy downs And amidst the golden grass Buttercups and daisies blow To and fro
When the shadowy billows pass ...”
“How nice,” said Sylvie, missing a tree by inches. “Is that yours?”
“No, it belongs to a man named Noyes.” “Oh,” said Sylvie, “I thought you’d just made it up. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t mention it,” I said. “Whom are you going to leave your money to?” “Money?”
“After our mangled bodies are found one in death? The next tree may refuse to get off the track. I wonder if Peter will put buttercups on your grave?”
^ “Don’t talk about Peter. It makes me
“For a sick woman, you drive uncommonly fast.”
“I’ve got to have speed today,” said Sylvie. “Hullo, there’s the place ahead.” “What place?”
“Where we lunch and dance.”
MY DANCING was something on which Floria and I had always differed. Sylvie differed with me, too, but she was
“Shake your shoulders, Johnnie. Like this. See, let yourself go. That’s better. Now, don’t think about your feet. Think about anything else. Think about me.” “Thank you,” I said. It was advice easy to take. She was wearing cornflower blue; and her eyes had a distracting habit of seeking far horizons, out over the lake beside which this pavilion was, then turning to focus upon mine as if, smilingly and intimately, to present me with all the beauty she had found afar off. For a moment of disloyalty I thought of Floria in a way Floria might have resented. I offer no excuse save that of propinquity. I remembered that Floria’s chin, in a certain light and when held a certain way, was none too young and firm. It made me feel a miserable wretch.
Curiously enough, there was a message to call Floria when we got back to my studio. It was marked “Urgent!”
“I’ve been trying to get you,” said Floria. “There's an exhibition by that new painter, Geragel, tomorrow you must see. I’m counting on you to take me.”
“Tomorrow?” I stammered, under the eyes of Sylvie. “Afternoon? Wait a minute.” Sylvie was making frantic signs.
“But you can’t,” she hissed. “I’ve planned for us tomorrow—oh, please, Johnnie !”
I took my hand from over the mouthpiece. “I'm sorry, Floria,” I said, “but I really can’t. I’m going to be—busy.”
It was my one chance; Floria had an amazing regard for my work.
“Johnnie,” said Floria suddenly; “who’s there with you now?”
“Here? With me?”
I said with perfidy: “Central sometimes hums—or even the wires—”
“Good-by,” said Floria, and rang off.
I stood there like a fool, looking at the telephone, Sylvie forgotten. I wondered why I had not blurted the whole thing out.
“Is anything the matter, Johnnie?” said Sylvie sweetly.
“Oh, no,” I said. “Oh, no, believe me! It’s only that I’ve qualified. I’ve joined the
“Military or unemployed?” asked Sylvie. “Of the liars of this world,” I snubbed her. “I am now a properly qualified and trained two-girl man.”
“Oh,” said Sylvie weakly, and we stood and stared at each other. I was gratified that she felt weak too.
POMFRET was “at home” in her terrace on the following Saturday afternoon. Her evening affairs were tolerable. but her Saturday afternoons were impossible. From experience I knew that there would be lean and hungry hangers-on in the arts, unsuccessful freelances in a highly competitive world who went for the twin comforts of untutored adulation and unlimited food.
“I’m not going,” I told Sylvie flatly.
“Yes, you are,” said Sylvie. “I got a bid, so we’re going.”
We went. Not, of course, together, but making pretense of only casual acquaintance. And the first person I met when Mrs. Pomfret shooed me into the drawingroom with its murmuring and sycophantic crowd, was Floria.
“You here?” I gasped. "Good afternoon,” said Floria coldly. “Why not?” “But you—” “Well?” “Oh, nothing.” “You are extremely lucid and interesting,” said Floria sweetly, and suddenly was gone from beside me. I saw her presently in grave conversation with a young man suffering under a shock of dark hair and a pale smile whom I recognized as the creator of verses recently privately published in a slim volume under the illuminating title of Fragmenta. I recalled with wickedness Floria’s reception of an advance copy, autographed, left by an unsuspecting postman at her door a few weeks ago. Some of the fragments sprang to mind. “stones,
grey stones like dead men’s bones awash. the sea is pale like ginger ale. across the swale it groans and moans, ah, stones, like dead men’s bones; grey stones, stones.”
“At least,” Floria had said, “we’re back where we started from. That’s comforting !” I drew near surreptitiously, making a discreet circuit and manoeuvring from the rear. The poet was busy with segments of cake and fragments of poetry.
“Yes,” he was saying, “rhyme, of course, while it is limiting to a free spirit, has its uses. Now take my—if you will forgive my mentioning it—my fragment called 'A Windy Day.' May I?”
“Oh, do,” cooed Floria.
He refreshed himself with tea, lifted his head, and gave voice.
ragged wind, like rags
clotheslines full of garments, intimate, repressed,
“I hope,” said the poet, “you don’t mind a touch of realism?”
“Not at all,” said Floria.
“ragged, like the wind angrily muttering; grey wind, ragged wind;
O, grey wind,
behind grey tenements
“You see,” said the poet eagerly, “the happy employment of rhyme for emphasis?” Floria caught my eye, and her appeal was insistent. I strode in and snatched her from the poet, leading her to the hall.
JOHNNIE,” said Floria, “you saved my life! I can almost forgive you.”
“For what?” I said feebly.
“Johnnie,” said Floria, “you do well to ask. I have nothing to forgive, so I don’t forgive you. It’s nothing to me if Claribel takes up quite all your time, so you have none even to telephone an old friend.”
“But Claribel," I said, “is—is purely imaginary.”
“So I have thought, Johnnie.”
“I mean to say—”
“Silence is safer.”
She started to move away. I caught her arm.
“Don’t be an obstinate fool, Floria. Look here, let’s escape from this pseudo-artistic, semipolitical bedlam and go places.”
Floria laughed and patted my shoulder. “It’s all right, Johnnie dear. It’s nice of you to try and make it up to me for one evening. But, as it happens, I have a date with Clare.”
“Clare?” I murmured.
“It’s the male counterpart of Claribel,” cooed Floria. “By-by, Johnnie. Drop me a postcard when you have time.”
I watched her go up the stairs.
I sought the room where my hat and coat lay, and, before a mirror and under the eyes of Queen Victoria herself, who seemed the least bit disturbed at finding herself in a gentleman’s dressing room, I informed myself that I was middle-aged and a fool.
A voice hissed presently in the door, “Johnnie! Johnnie!” and the speaker came in.
“Sylvie!” I said sternly. “In this domicile, dressing rooms are not sexless. How dare you intrude? If you escape without scandal people will think I’ve been using perfume.”
“Oh, Johnnie!” She put appealing hands
“If not mine,” I said, “consider the feelings of the queen.”
“Don’t joke,” cried Sylvie. “Oh, Johnnie, I’m going to cry. 'I know I am.”
“Not here,” I begged. “Anything but that.”
“Then take me away.”
“Anywhere. I hate this house. I hate Mrs. Pomfret. I hate Peter.”
“Hush,” I said. “Calm yourself like a good child, and I’ll go anywhere and sing a hymn of hate with you. Do hush.”
And at that moment, by reflection in a mirror, I saw Floria, dressed in her street wraps, pause on the landing by this bedroom door. She could not, of course, see us, but something told me she had heard voices and was all too familiar with mine; and distinctly, as she went on, I saw her nose wrinkle in a little sniff, as if the ragged winds of scandal had blown to her a very unmasculine essence of violets.
0 YLVIE’S hymn of hate was a very feeble 53 thing. She refused to sing it to me, or even to be seen in my presence until we were well quit of Mrs. Pomfret’s terrace. Sylvie had quarrelled with Peter, and he with her.
“Peter,” she said, “has an engagement with that wretched girl for tonight, so I told him I had one with you. At least I didn’t tell him that. I let him think it was someone young and—”
“Good looking?” I suggested pleasantly. “Oh, Johnnie, don’t be difficult. Be nice to me, Johnnie.”
I turned my face to her.
“There it is,” I said; “do as you will with it. But bear in mind the blame is not all mine. What you see before you was there in embryo when my first mewling cry was heard protesting against the established order—”
“Johnnie, I’ll bawl. I’ll scream. Honestly,
1 will, right here in the street !”
“And a policeman would interfere, and the whole foul thing would come out. One or other of us would be ruined if found arrested in each other’s company. Figure it out for yourself. Here’s a taxi.”
Sylvie gave me a terrific glance and got in. I followed.
“Where to, sir?”
I nudged Sylvie.
“Oh, anywhere,” she snapped. “Anywhere,” I told the man politely.
We moved along the avenue to anywhere until presently Sylvie cried :
“It’s them! Oh, Johnnie; there goes Peter with that—girl !”
I directed the driver to follow the red roadster.
Sylvie crouched back, her face flushed. The red roadster streamed ahead. We followed, and Sylvie spoke her fear in a quivering voice:
“Floria says she’s quite different—awfully intelligent—and beautiful. Do you think, Johnnie, she could be much prettier than I am?”
Her face, almost on my shoulder, breathed violets into mine.
“If she is,” I sighed, “she ought to be put out of the world, swiftly and silently.” “Oh, Johnnie, you’re such a comfort.” “Thank you,” I said, closing my eyes and trying to think only of Floria. The poet in me rose up, and I clung to him. I became, for the moment, of his school. Words began to gather, without capitals or other handicaps, into short crisp lines. I spoke them violet scented, blowing. O, wind ! grey dust, inconstant, intimate, repressed, distressed, I am a mote; thou art a mote of dust blowing, violet-scented,
“What's that?” asked Sylvie, her eyes wide open and for the moment withdrawn from the roadster ahead.
“Yes. Don’t you like it?”
“Shake,” I said, putting out a hand.
Our stolid driver kept the car ahead well in view, though they went faster now in the smaller traffic of side avenues.
“I’ve got it,” cried Sylvie. “They’re going to Floria’s.”
It was an inspiration, for at that moment we lost them.
“Sorry, guv’nor,” said the driver.
I told him sternly where to go. At sight of the red roadster parked outside he showed a faint trace of human interest. We drew up behind the empty car.
“Well?” I said to Sylvie inimically. “What now?”
Sylvie shivered. I was not too composed myself. But the driver’s eyes were upon us in cold disdain, and there were dignities to be supported.
“Come out,” I told Sylvie firmly. “I’m tired of driving anywhere, and we can’t take root here.” I paid the man, who still watched us. I tried to pretend we were very happy, taking Sylvie’s arm gaily. “I am a mote,” I said fiercely in her ear. “Thou art a mote, you violet-scented little wretch ! Well, come along and let’s blow in.”
ULORIA’S maid greeted us also with the L cold eye of disdain.
“Whom shall I say?” she asked.
"Be that as it may,” I said. “Is your mistress in?”
My thoughts said: “Shall I, in this house that no woman should occupy alone, and of which nothing but a proposal and acceptance and a minor ceremony stand in the way of my being master—your master, my maid—be held up for trivialities?” At that moment Floria’s voice came to us, and her figure emerged from some inner gloom into a cube of modem light.
“What is it, Agnes?” she asked the maid.
“Floria,” I demanded, striding forward, “am I to be held up and questioned on the doorstep of my own house?”
“Your house?” said Floria. “I like that. And it isn’t the doorstep. You haven’t lost your nerve, Johnnie. Who’s with you?”
“Claribel!” I said.
“Oh, Johnnie.” She was almost repentant. “So she is actual. And I haven’t time tonight to listen to her.” She came forward. “But there is somebody with you. I thought there was. Why, Sylvie!”
“Claribel," I insisted.
“Oh!” said Floria. She could get a tremendous amount of meaning compressed into a monosyllable. She looked from one of us to the other, and Agnes looked too. Floria, aware of this interest, suggested sweetly that perhaps Agnes had duties elsewhere. Agnes retired coldly.
“Claribel,” said Floria, still sweetly and speaking to Sylvie, “would you please step into the drawing-room? You’ll find company there. Johnnie and I have a few words to say, and you are still young, my dear.” I saw Sylvie hesitate, almost frightened at what lay beyond, but before Floria one did not show the white feather. Sylvie disappeared.
“As for you,” said Floria, “step this way, my man.” I thought she looked rather well against the background of books in the library, with a cubistic marvel of Bransom’s challenging one fiercely from above. I ventured to say so. “Drop it,” said Floria. “This is to be a truth-telling incident in our lives. Have you been making a fool of yourself with that young girl, Johnnie? At your age?”
“Act your own,” I retorted politely. “Use your head, woman. I’m only sustaining a lost illusion. I’m maintaining—at a cost— Sylvie’s reputation as a two-man girl. You see, she’s so crazy about Peter—”
“And Peter is crazy about her,” said Floria weakly after a moment. “That’s —why, Johnnie, I’ve been helping him teach her a lesson. You sèe, he couldn’t stick any other girl after falling for her—” “Ah!” I nodded. “And he didn’t dare give up his position as a two-girl man?” “Any more,” said Floria decisively, “than apparently Sylvie dared give up her position without showing him— Oh, dear, isn’t life complicated, Johnnie? Or—tell me—do we just make it that way? Heavens!” She caught my arm. “What do you suppose has happened in there? We’ve pushed them at each other, on top of a quarrel, without a word of warning or explanation.”
HE was off already. I followed her. “Very quiet,” reported Floria, moving the curtain a little, looking and then gently leading me back to the library. “What a pity! I always did enjoy a good quarrel.” She considered me. “That leaves us with each other and two opera tickets. I was taking Peter with me.”
There was a wistful light in her eyes, so I said airily:
“Well, Sylvie and I had our plans, too. Youth, Floria, has left us high and dry.” “He was a nice boy,” sighed Floria. I disapproved of the reminiscent light in her eye. I have always heartily condemned older women flirting with quite young boys. However, I felt the right moment to mention this was not at hand. “A nice boy,” said Floria with unnecessary repetition. “You know, Johnnie, you’re showing the ravages a bit. A man doesn’t notice.”
‘T have noticed, now you speak of it,” I said loftily, “that your own chin is none too young and firm.”
“You brute!” cried Floria.
“Recognizing my brutality,” I said savagely, “let me exercise it to the full.”
I doubt if Floria would ever have capitulated to mere words, but she returned my kiss. I said firmly:
“Floria, it’s no use. You like me.”
“What if I do?”
“You love me.”
“What if I do?”
“Matrimony is indicated.”
“When?” asked Floria calmly.
Her docility alarmed me. I hastened to set a date. At least Floria has never failed to keep a date. We are, it seems, to be married next Thursday. There is just one point that keeps me a little on the sleepless edge at night. Our wedding is to be an extremely simple affair; we are at one on that. I am to call for her in a car and take her to the church where a few highly selective friends will gather. The point is this; Is it wise to set out with Floria to be married? Would it not perhaps be safer to start off ostensibly to have a game of miniature golf?