MICHAEL MALONE’S GIRL
In which a mystery is solved and a lady of courage discovers that love's a cure for bruised hearts
Martha Banning Thomas
DURING the days that followed, Toya moved in a daze of unbelief. Wide River lost every familiar aspect. People stared at her. People she had known all her life. She heard their whispering comment when she passed. She shrank from every greeting, hating the new, appraising glances. Her father stood by her like a rock, yet he understood little of the suffering she bore.
“Sure, I knowr you’re grievin’ over the judge’s goin’, lass. It grieves me, too. An old friend leavin’ me behind. But the way things have turned out for ye, take heart, my dearie. There’s a long stretch of joy ahead of you yet.”
Toya missed Jarvis more and more. She ached with the remembrance of that first night when he had told her he loved her. She had believed him with all her heart. It w'as in his voice, his arms, his eyes. He could not be wholly a cad.
Then came the funeral of Judge Salters. People thronged from everywhere. They filled the big empty house. There were carloads of flowers. Toya felt as if she were watching the solemn ceremonies from a distance, that they meant nothing to her personally. She was numb with fatigue.
Hat, grim and capable, doing the difficult necessary things with tight lips and a bleak look about her eyes. The clergyman’s rich voice droning over the funeral service. Toya’s hysterical impulse to laugh and dispel the silly pompousness of this unreal occasion. How the judge would have snorted and scattered them all in high fury! The oversweet fragrance of white rose». Jarvis and Mrs. Salters dressed in deep mourning. The sun shining on the river sis they stood by the grave. Her father’s big hand clasping her own in the warmth of comfort.
Afterward, when the people were leaving by twos and threes, the girl was dumbfounded when a stranger asked her if she would be kind enough to return to the judge’s house for a few moments. Not Michael, just herself. The stranger informed her that he was a lawyer, a former friend of the judge. He was exceedingly solicitous for her comfort.
In the sombre spaciousness of the huge drawing-room she saw, with a start, that Jarvis had come too. He sat across from her, looking down at his hands locked between his knees. Hat was there. Just four of them. It was awful. It was unbearable.
The lawyer cleared his throat. He glanced at them all a trifle nervously. Then he opened a long envelope from which he drew several crackling sheets of paper.
“I will now,” he announced in a thin professional voice, “read aloud to you, with your kind permission, the last will and testament of Judge John Salters, late of Wide River.” v>.,'
Toya shivered. Why did he have to say “late”? Why not just Judge Salters? Her mind flew back to the office, her work tkaçe-, the raspy voice of the judge barking at her. Shewed grown so fond of him. What would she do for work now?
Jprvis sat opposite her, staring at the carpet.
’fhe lawyer began t$. read. Toya hardly listened. They might all have been characters in a meaningless play. She must leave, excuse herself before she did some awful thing.
Technical phrases dropped from the lawyer’s tongue in a monotonous flow.
“To my faithful friend and servant, Harriet Hubble, I leave an annuity of three thousand dollars a year, with my grateful thanks for her unwavering interest on my behalf.
“To my nephew, Jarvis Salters, I leave the flat sum of five thousand dollars. With this he may buy bequeath the residue of my estate, to her and her heirs forever. I do this in memory of her mother.”
a new car or start a bank account, just as he pleases.”
The lawyer paused. Toya frowned and stirred uneasily. Jarvis laughed, a Salters’ bark of one note. Then he turned a deep red.
The lawyer continued:
“To Toya Kincaid Malone, daughter of Michael Malone and Mary Kincaid, I
The girl uttered a slight sound, delicate as a tear in silk. It cut across the silence of the room and caused Jarvis to raise his head. For an instant their glances met, struck fire, and lowered again.
“I wish to give to said Toya Kincaid Malone what she has termed ‘The Breaks!’ I furthermore wish her to do anything and everything she wishes which money can enable her to do. She deserves the best of life, since she has met every issue squarely and with courage.”
An appalling silence fell upon the room.
Toya twitched the man beside her by the sleeve. “There must be some mistake,” she whispered.
“No,” he answered in a clear voice, “there is no mistake. The judge talked it all over with me very carefully.”
There were a few other items which Toya did not hear.
Afterward in the hall, when she was stumbling toward the door, Hat put her arms around her.
“You deserve it all, dearie. Every red cent. Now cut loose and have a good time. He wanted you to.”
Jarvis bowed slightly, standing aside to let her pass out into the bright sunshine of the street.
She walked home, down the little lane, up the steps to the kitchen porch. She went into the kitchen and sat down in a chair and stared at the stove. “The breaks,” she murmured over and over. “How like him !” She felt no elation, no happiness. An overwhelming bewilderment swirled about her. Once she pushed back her hair and leaned her head on her hand.
It was thus that Michael found her. “Brace up, lass,” he rumbled. “I know it near knocked you silly. But you’re a darling of the gods now. I knew all about it. The judge told me. I tried to dissuade him, knowin’ it would brew trouble but he insisted. He admired your pluck and spunk.”
She rested her head against his arm. One dry sob shook her from head to foot.
"And once I said I’d wring dollars out of some old curmudgeon to make music in the bank. How cruel, how sordid!”
“There, there, me darlin’, you’re all unstrung. That
old foolish remurk has nothing to do with this, not at all.”
“But I keep hearing myself saying it. As if that were all I wanted in the world. I’ve lost Jarvis. The judge is dead. I've no more work.”
“Sure your reasonin’ is a daft piece of business. Run upstairs and bathe your eyes and then get my supper, lass. Ye need to be steadied by the feel of a pudding spoon in your hands.”
HTHE FACT that Toya was heir to nearly three million dollars penetrated her understanding not at all. She had heard the lawyer speak the words. She knew there was a girl by the name of Toy à Kincaid Malone who was suddenly, so they said, made a very rich woman. But all this had less than nothing to do with herself.
She read in the paper that the judge's death had been caused by apoplexy, brought on presumably by a sudden access of temper. This was the coroner’s verdict.
"Mrs. Salters killed him,” she stated several times with a rather dangerous finality. “She killed him to get his money for Jarvis. And now see what’s happened.” Matters grew worse instead of better. One day Mr. Dean, the lawyer for the judge, came to see Toya. He told her that Mrs. Salters was contesting the will.
“In fact,” he added, “she has the effrontery to say that you, Miss Malone, were the last person with the judge in his office; that you knew of the existence of the will und its decided prejudice in your favor. She intimates that you purposely angered the judge, knowing also of his apoplectic tendencies; that you hoped he would be roused to the point of suffering a shock. She is suing for three million dollars for her son Jarvis as next of kin.”
Then Toya made u strange remark. “Why not let her have it? It is Jarvis’ money by rights. I’m not going through a public wrangle for the sake of the judge’s money. I’m sick and tired to death of all of it, the Salters, the will, everything. I don’t cure one darn about all those bullions! I can’t go on living here in this town. Everyone will hate me, saying I’ve done Jarvis out of his lawful fortune.”
The lawyer looked at her to see if he had heard correctly. Then he said:
“My dear young woman, you are upset over recent events. Soon you’ll feel quite differently. I happen to know that the judge wanted his money disposed of exactly as stated in his will. And so it shall be. I promised him.”
The days went on. Toya kept much at home. She dreaded going out for fear of meeting Jarvis. She shrank from the curious looks of the townsShe maintained a faultless order in the house. She washed and scrubbed and cleaned, trying to cure a sick heart by a ferocious activity.
Once Hat and Michael had a private session over her in the cobbler’s shop.
"What ails the lass?” asked the man. “I know there’s trouble enough ahead about the money, but she used to be a grand little sport. She’s limp as stewed rhubarb.
I don't understand it at all.”
“She’s in love with Jarvis: that’s the main trouble.” The big man pressed a reflective thumb down in the bowl of his pipe. “I suspected it, but thought it was only a passin’ fancy.”
“I’ll bet a cookie you aired your feelin’s on Jarvis good and plenty, made Toya feel he was a no-account young rascal. And Jarvis left town kinda sudden. His ma was real nasty to Toya that day she had tea there, and Jarvis jest stood by and let the girl take it; never lifted a finger to help her. That’s the poison that’s been workin’ through her system ever since. To think that Jarvis wouldn’t say a word or give her a look when his ma was insultin' her right before his eyes. Get on to your wits, man. Be yourself. Your daughter’s been havin’ a spell of dirty weather and tellin’ nuthin’ to no one.”
“But,” protested Michael, astonished, “the lad came to me alone one evenin’. He asked quite a lot about Toya, I told him flat the judge had promised her the office. He seemed stunned by the news. Acted awful queer. He sat there on my porch and wagged his head like a duck, and made me promise to say nothin’ about his coming. Then he left. And soon I heard he’d gone away.”
“Oh, the dumb, stupid ways of you! Did you tell Toya?”
“No, Hat, I didn’t. The lad asked me particular not to mtention it.”
The woman beat a hard fist on one knee.
“But don’t you see it would have made all the difference in the world, her knowin’? She thought he went away with that snippit of an Ann Dunster. Just gallivantin’ around. Havin’ a whale of a time. Instead he showed the fine sense of gettin’ out and huntin’ for another job. I could brain ye where you sit, you dumb galoot.”
“And I’d be thankin’ ye for the favor, Hat Hubble — if it would make Toya laugh again.”
ONE EVENING Toya started to walk to the judge’s house. During these difficult days she often went to see Hat. As she rounded the corner into the side street where the judge had lived, she saw Mrs. Salters approaching. There was no way of avoiding a meeting without giving the impression that she was afraid. So she kept straight ahead, hastening her steps in order to pass the woman as quickly as possible.
AH she .swerved aside she was amazed to see that Mrs. Salters had stopped. She was speaking to her.
"This may be as good a time as any,” the careful voice declared,
“to tell you that I know you killed the judge for his money. You were with him last. I warn you that I am instituting proceedings against you on that basis. You are not only a thief but a murderer!”
For a moment Toya was so overcome by this announcement that she stood perfectly motionless. Then a sheet of seething flame seemed to envelop her. Here was battle, dangerous, immediate. She tingled with the prick of it.
“You sound like a cheap penny shocker,
Mrs. Aggie—I mean Salters. Just try that stuff once and see where it lands you. Slander, libel—it will be fairly expensive.”
“But,” answered the woman with cool meaning, “I shall have plenty of money.”
Toya stepped nearer.
All the bitterness, the mounting hatred of years rose up to give her courage.
“And allow me to warn you, Mrs. Salters. You are a liar and a cheat! If you were not lame and old I’d knock you cold where you stand. You’re yellow, streaked with mud. You’d sell your miserable soul." She waited an instant, but the woman was speechless. "You’ve bamboozled and hoodooed your son all his life until he's afraid to be a man. You’ve nearly ruined him. But you can't throw a scare into me. I’m not afraid of your snaky eyes. And what’s more”—the girl carne so close that her nostrils were filled with the gracious scent of wood violets—“I care so little for the judge’s fortune that I’d give it all to you tomorrow if Mr, Dean would let me. Then you could
stew in the juice of your own avarice until you were pickled. I wouldn’t have your mean mind for all the boodle in the world. If you think you can scare me, go home and tell yourself another. The Malones aren’t pussycats. And just remember this, please. I was in the building that last morning you called on the judge. I heard your conversation. You were the means of killing him ! So don’t you dare, you garter snake, to look at me or speak to me again in all your whole life!”
Almost every day Mr. Dean came to the Malone cottage to consult with Toya.
“It seems,” he said on one occasion, “that Mrs. Salters has informed her lawyer she has evidence of a nature to mar the good name and reputation of the judge. She will use it unless we give in to her demands.”
Toya explained as well as she could about the memorandum.
“We must find out all about it. Who can tell me?”
“Hat Hubble knows a good deal.”
"Mrs. Salters cannot break the will, but we could settle matters more speedily if I were not working in the dark. Where is that memorandum now?”
“Mrs, Salters has it. I once tried to use it as a threat, not even knowing what it contained. Then I hid it in my desk at the office. One night Mrs. Salters came and stole it.”
“Ummmm,” said the man. "How do you know?”
“I went there just as she was sneaking out a back door. And I have the cane she left.”
“I don’t suppose anyone was with you?”
“Yes, Mr. Purvin, the storekeeper.”
“He also saw the disordered desk, the cane?”
The lawyer appeared to take a little time to digest these facts. “You think Miss Hubble knows a good deal of the past history of the town?”
“She knew my father, the judge, and Mrs. Salters many years ago.”
The lawyer departed, browsing on these facts and said he would see her again in a few days.
WIDE RIVER rocked with rumor and counterrumor. Mrs. Salters proved herself to be a cunning press agent. She inserted into the minds of everyone she met the slow poison of suspicion against Toya Malone. She managed it with such deft art that her victims were convinced that she was generously reluctant to lay a
finger of doubt "on one of our village girls.” “Guess she’s got it canny, Toya has, a-workin’ herself into the good graces of the judge. Oustin’ that nephew of his’n from the job that was rightfully his. Who’d have thought Toya was as cute as all that?”
“All this hustlin’ to Bayou to learn shorthand and typewritin’. I bet she had it in mind long afore she begun workin’ on the judge. They do say” — here heads bobbed closer together—‘‘there was a time when the judge was mighty fond of Toya’s ma.”
“So? Well, I never heard that one.”
“Yep. Kept a-goin’ over to Bayou to see her until his pa riz up and put his foot down. He wasn’t calculatin’ to have his son marry a nobody.”
“Well, by gorry ! Now ain’t that somethin’?” One evening Michael spoke to Toya about Jarvis.
“Girl,” he began with a rich tenderness in his voice, “I wasn’t meanin’ to hurt ye about the lad, that time I spoke to ye when I was sick. I didn’t suspect you really cared for him. I was just givin’ ye a bit of a warnin’ against a philanderer. But he’s better than I thought.” He then went on to explain the visit of Jarvis.
“But why, father, did you never tell me? It would have made all the difference in the world.” “I’m that sorry. He begged me not to, and I kept me word.”
Toya felt a lift in the habitual dreariness of her thoughts. Jarvis had been decent enough, then, about the job.
Mr. Purvin was the leader of several spirited skirmishes in the vasty area of his general store. Gossip raged here like a forest fire. People gathered in knots to discuss the forthcoming trial, “Salters versus Malone,” for breaking the judge’s will.
“I ain’t never had a real hankerin’ for that stiff-headed woman,” one man was heard to remark. “Still, it don’t seem right for Toya to git all that money and the judge’s nephew none of it.”
“No, it don’t. You’re dead right,” chimed in another self-appointed judge.
“If ye feel that way,” declared Mr. Purvin with heightened color, “ye can git right out of this store and stay out. I don’t need none of your trade. Toya Malone, as I happen to know, is as nice a girl as ever lived in this hole of a town. Here’s your sugar. Forty-five cents, please.”
Continued on page 62
Continued from puge 22
ONE MORNING, two days before the court was to sit in Bayou, Mr. Dean came hurrying up the path to the Malone cottage. Toya answered his knock.
“I’ve just been able to arrange matters,” said Mr. Dean, a little out of breath. “Can you leave at once, Miss Malone? And your father, too? I have my car here. I’ll tell you my plan as we drive.”
Toya called to her father, who happened to be home that morning, and they were soon ready.
“I have Miss Hubble in the car.” They made a swift run to Bayou. Mr. Purvin was picked up, linen apron and all, from his store. Mr. Dean appeared to have forgotten his promise of explaining this sudden journey. He stopped the car before an office building.
“This is our destination. Please all be as quiet as possible. Don’t talk. This is in the nature of a surprise attack.” He led them into the foyer, then up one flight of stairs, and they stood a moment before a door marked, “Lawlor and Lawlor. Attorneys at Law.”
Mr. Dean noiselessly turned the handle on the door and beckoned the others to j follow. They must have made a strange j procession. With a brief nod at the office j girl, who seemed stunned by the parade j and unable to do anything about it, he j led them to a second door. This he j j opened without knocking and stepped j ! inside, his followers close at his heels, j ! A perfume of wood violets scented the j ! air. Sitting at a desk with his back to the j j intruders was a man in earnest conversaj ! tion with a woman. His client was Mrs. j ! Salters.
¡ And it was she who first saw the I ! amazing arrival. With one swift glance j ; she took in the squat figure of Hat j ! Hubble, the white shock of hair belonging j : to Michael, the generous girth of Mr. j j Purvin, and Toya’s slim modishness, j j With lightning intuition she understood
something of what Mr. Dean was about. She must open the attack before a word was said. She rose and with a dramatic gesture pointed at Toya.
“There,” she said in a clear, level voice, “is the real murderer of Judge Salters!”
Things began to happen all at once. There was a sharp cry of, “Mother, don’t!” And Jarvis leaped from a chair and strode to the centre of the room.
Michael advanced toward the desk, his great head lowered, his shoulders hunched.
“Ye’ve had your say these many years, Aggie Salters, and I’ve let ye talk, givin’ no answer, but when ye begin on me daughter—” He broke off, his eyes narrowed to slits under his bushy brows. He took another threatening step forward.
“Are you sure,” the crawly voice asked imperturbably, “that she is your daughter?”
The quick pull of Mr. Dean’s hands saved the arrogant woman from being felled where she stood. Mr. Purvin moved his solid contours into the front ranks and deliberately directed attention to himself.
“Don’t forget, Mrs. Salters,” he said, “that little surprise party we gave you at the mill office one night. We found your cane, you know, and if you . don’t hustle up and pay me that six hundred you owe me for groceries and provisions I’ll have you posted. I guess that’ll put a crimp in your style.”
Mr. Lawlor became electrified and said a number of very disagreeable things, among which could be heard, “Get out all of you! What right—breaking into my private office. I’ll have you arrested !”
Mr. Dean remained calm as he went busily about, seating and soothing his clients.
Jarvis stood by his mother, looking very white. He prevailed upon her to sit down. Toya kept her eyes on Mr. Dean.
“I’ve taken the liberty,” began that undisturbed gentleman in an incisive voice,, “of bringing several important witnesses to your office, Mr. Lawlor. I think we may be able to settle our dispute out of court to the satisfaction of all concerned. Before you raise any objections, I beg you to listen to what I have to say. First, of Mrs. Salters is so shortsighted as to present the evidence which she threatens before a jury, I shall immediately sue her for libel and blackmail to the tune of as much money as she may possibly get out of the case. It is clearly a matter of giving in now or later.” He paused. All eyes were fastened on him. “Second, I have here a valuable witness. I advise you to give her your undivided attention before deciding on any procedure.”
Toya spoke hurriedly to Mr. Dean. “I can’t go on with it,” she whispered. “I can’t. Don’t do anything more. It’s too sordid. Give her the money. Come, let’s go.”
Mr. Dean gave no sign of having heard but remarked quietly: “Miss Hubble has something to say which may put a different face on the events of the future and the past. You can decide your action when she has finished celling her story.”
Mr. Lawlor seemed strangely subdued. He glanced quickly about, blinked rapidly and finally growled, “Well, get it over.”
“Now, Miss Hubble.” Mr. Dean gave her a signal to begin.
T-TAT sat square and confident in a straight-backed chair. She looked at Mrs. Salters and then began to speak in a matter-of-fact voice.
“I’m afraid I may hit some of you hard, but I’m speakin’ my mind without fear or favor. I come to Wide River a good many years ago, when Judge Salters was a young man livin’ in his father’s house and goin’ to law school. I begun workin’ there as help to the cook. I knew Michael Malone, too. And Agatha Rand, the Mrs. George Salters as now is. I knew ’em all better’n common for this reason: the judge used me as a secret messenger for his love letters.”
Hat coughed with polite delicacy. “The judge was always in love with someone or other. Well, as I was sayin’, I was messenger carryin’ notes between him and Aggie Rand. And a messenger carryin’ notes between him and Mary Kincaid, who lived over here t’ Bayou. I used to mail the judge’s letters to Mary at the post-office and git her answers, givin’ ’em to him when his pa wasn’t around. And I took notes sometimes twice a day from Aggie to the judge.”
A suppressed gasp came from Mrs. Salters’ lips.
“I’ve got to go into things a little mite thorough,” continued Hat. “Aggie was in love with the judge. She wanted him bad. The judge liked her well enough. She was pretty and entertainin’, but he soon got tired of her, as he did of almost anyone. She was too stiddy in her attentions. He kinda swung off and went to Bayou where he met Mary Kincaid, the daughter of a well-to-do storekeeper here. An awful sweet, pretty girl, Mary was. She worshipped the judge like he was a god or something. Well, this turned out to be a real love affair. The judge for the first time in his life was in earnest. But he had to be careful. He kept on seein’ Aggie just the same to keep her off the right track. He didn’t want his pa to hear of his goin’s on over t’ Bayou.
“Well, things was gittin’ thick. Aggie was up on her ear because she somehow sensed she was losin’ her holt on the judge, though she see him often enough. Then I went and muddled two notes. I was in kind of a hurry, and I give Aggie a note that Mary Kincaid had wrote to the judge. It stirred up a mess of trouble, now I tell you. For it seems that, all unbeknownst to anyone, the judge had married Mary Kincaid over in Bayou.”
“Never!” Mrs. Salters’ voice cut the tense atmosphere like a knife. “He never married her!”
“Now, Aggie, you jest keep quiet. I know what I’m talkin’ about, though
likely you don’t want me to say it. The judge showed me the marriage certificate, and later he give it to me. ‘You may need it to clear my name, some day,’ he sez.”
Mrs. Salters subsided. She was looking a trifle blue about the lips.
“They was married privately. In his harum-scarum way he couldn’t wait. The judge overpersuaded Mary, and she loved him, so she give in. They was married two or three months before the note business. This here note begged the judge to come to her, to publish openly their union. She was”—Hat hesitated and a slow flush spread over her cheerful countenance—“expectin’ a child.”
Toya grasped both arms of her chair with white knuckles. Michael gave a curious cough.
“Well, continued the narrator,” what did Aggie do but hotfoot it over to the old judge with the note in her hand. She thought sure she had somethin’ that would frighten the old man and his son; that they would consent to anything to keep things quiet. I was home when she came stompin’ into the house. She and the old judge had a lively time of it. It ended in Aggie’s bein’ ordered out of the house. ‘You’re a sly, dishonorable woman,’ I heard the old judge roar. ‘Don’t you ever dare to come tattlin’ again like a schoolgirl. I’ll attend to this without your help.’”
“There ain’t much more to tell. When the young judge come home that night there was a terrible row. The old man had Mary’s letter. He threatened to disown his son, not give him a cent, kick him outdoors if he wouldn’t immediately annul his marriage. The judge”—Hat flicked a speck from her sleeve—“finally give in. His father got him so scared he hardly knew what he was sayin’ or doin’. He give in. It was all done quietlike, and no one knew a thing about it. And it haunted the judge all the rest of his life. Often he’d say to me: ‘Hat,’ he’d say, T was a yellow hound. I let her go. I was afraid of my father. Courage, Hat, is the finest human attribute!’ That’s why he liked Toya, because she wasn’t afraid, not even of him when he roared at her; and because she was Mary Kincaid’s daughter—and Michael’s.”
“Is that all, Miss Hubble?”
“Almost. The judge asked Michael Malone to marry Mary. Of course I don’t know what was done or said between them, but Michael consented, and Mary took him. Their first child was a boy. Mary named him John Salters Malone. He died soon after he was born. It was with this that Aggie threatened the judge, knowing by that note that the child was not Michael’s but the judge’s. She would never admit that the judge had privately married Mary first. It was all square enough but might have made a nasty story around town. There’s the whole thing, and I’m glad to have spoken out what’s been on my mind so long.”
HTHE case of “Salters versus Malone” ■T was dismissed without court proceedings by mutual agreement. Mrs. Salters was taken to a sanitarium soon after the trying occasion in the offices of Lawlor and Lawlor. It was reported that she was in a very critical condition. The woman had collapsed after Hat’s revelation, though she had struggled to repeat her accusations against Toya as having wilfully excited the judge to the point of apoplexy. This was her last stronghold. But after a few questions from Mr. Dean, the accusation was turned rather pointedly against herself. And the defeated woman did the only thing that was left to her—she fainted very effectively in her son’s arms. Mr. Dean demanded, and got, the much discussed memorandum slip, and burned it before the eyes of everyone in the office.
One evening in the spring of the following year, Toya drove her car alone on a country road. It was a yellow roadster and it skimmed with effortless power. The moon cast deceitful shadows on I curves shaded by trees; it lay gleaming on I little roadside pools, and picked out a stone here, a fence there. The swift wind of speed blew back the girl’s hair. As she ! raced along, eating up the miles, she had the impression of being alone in a calm and beautiful world. Often she came out like this, to receive the peaceful blessing of wide fields and sentinel trees. She would not admit that she usually chose the same road, slowing up as she passed the place where she and Jarvis had sat i that enchanted night, now so far away.
Sometimes the car seemed to swim I through the foggy moonlit dampness of I hollows, soaring again to the clear air of the hills. Toya scarcely knew how fast she was driving. She was hypnotized by the hum of the engine, the loveliness of stars.
She was doing a smooth sixty when she came to a curve which dipped into a small hollow. Fog lay here in drifting levels. She could hold the car to the road with remarkable steadiness, so she slackened her speed only a trifle. As the nose drove through the mist, Toya was blinded by the sudden glare of headlights. She swerved and put on the brakes. “This will be a crack-up in a second,” she thought coolly.
The left front hub cap struck and became entangled in the wire wheels of the oncoming car. She felt the first momentary contact, the shriek of brakes, a yell, and the impact of metal on metal. Her car lurched to the left in a half! crescent. The other machine skidded i sideways across the road, dragging her I with it. At the outside of the road was a steep plunge of about thirty feet. There was also a flimsy railing which went down like matchwood under the onslaught of the first car.
It all happened in a couple of seconds. The other car rocked on the brink of this small precipice, and miraculously clung there by the rear wheels, its helpless bulk still throbbing with the pulse of the engine. Toya was half a car-length behind. She had stopped her motor and now saw that the weight of her own machine was holding back the perilously placed vehicle in front. One of those flukes of fortune which cannot be explained.
She climbed out quickly. A man lay pitched forward on his wheel, jammed there by a suitcase which was wedged under the rim.
“Good evening, Miss Malone,” he said. “You certainly seem to have it in for me.”
Jarvis! The girl stepped back. “Oh, oh!” she cried. “Are you hurt? Tell me, quick !”
“Only a couple of ribs chipped. Can you suggest a way of getting me back on terra firma?” His voice was light, mocking.
“Are you hurt? Please feel. It makes a differenceabout rescuing you.”
The man made a careful investigation. “No, I think it’s only a slight dizziness caused by looking upside down into the face of an ox-eyed daisy.”
“He’s got nerve anyhow,” exulted Toya, “and my locked wheels will hold.”
She came nearer. “I may be able to
wangle you out.” she remarked, but made no offer to begin. She stood by the splintered fence rail. The moon lay on her dark curls and made dusky shadows under her lashes. She looked very slim and graceful in her yellow dress.
“Jarvis Salters, will you marry me?” she asked.
“No! I’m no fortune hunter.”
“I have observed that. You left very suddenly after—” She broke off and did not finish the sentence. “Jarvis, I’ll leave you there unless you promise something. Please, please take all that money that belongs to you. I’ll save a little for father, but I want you to, terribly. Won't you? And then—I’ll be the fortune hunter. I’ve been saving it for you, dear. I only spent a little to get this car.”
Jarvis made a curious sound, a bark, a laugh with a choke in it.
“I believe you have,” he said slowly. “It sounds just like you.”
“Will I what?”
“Take the money—and marry me. I love you, Jarvis. And I think you love me. We’ve been through frightful times. But now, perhaps—”
“I can’t do it, Toya. Can’t you see what a bounder I feel?”
“Well, you certainly left me cold and fiat that afternoon at your mother’s. Explain that—and we’ll never speak of it again.”
“Toya, this rim is cutting a rut in my stomach. Have a heart, Toya, help me out.”
“Well, I suppose mother had me so completely under her thumb that I got the habit of thinking she was right and standing by, no matter what happened. You won’t believe what misery I put in thinking how I deserted you, and how you looked at me when you found I had failed you. And, you know, I was always expecting she’d have an attack. They frightened me. I’m afraid she worked a bit on my sympathies. It sounds dumb and inexcusable, but that’s all I can say. I’ve paid for it all a hundred times over. I haven’t your courage, Toya. I get fuddled.”
“Will you promise to marry me tomorrow? Will you take the money, the filthy money that’s made all this trouble?” “Oh, lord—anything if you’ll only yank me back to earth. For heaven’s sake, Toya, get busy and get me out. This wheel is gouging my spine.”
“And Ann Dunster? You remember— how quaint she thought father’s shop was?”
“Ann is a complete ass. I loathe her!” “You sound convincing. And, Jarvis, we’ll live in the judge’s house? And keep Hat for major domo over a couple of maids?”
“Yes! Get me out of this, you outrageous—”
“And have father to supper twice a week? And Mr. Purvin occasionally?” “Anything! If you don’t do something soon, I’ll howl for help and raise the countryside.”
“I’ll (to this,” said Toya, and kissed him on the mouth.