The story of an unconventional wooing which proves that sometimes victory may lie in defeat
THE big green roadster swerved sharply around the corner. The brakes did not scream a warning; they were too well adjusted and cared for even to squeak.
They murmured politely as the shoes bit into the lining. The horn bellowed with the alarming suddenness of a foghorn in a fog. The young man in the intersection leaped like a startled (lea, felt the green fender brush his flying coat-tails, caught a glimpse of a smiling girl in the driver’s seat, and watched the roadster vanish in traffic. Tx late, he cursed himself for not having sufficient presence of mind to catch the numlx-r on the rear license plate.
Whereupon he his name was William Willoughby Weston paused on the curb and swore a deep and solemn vow. Raising a muscular but well-shajxd right hand in the general direction of heaven, he pledged the assembled multitude, consisting solely of himself, that ere another seven da\s came to pass he would meet that girl; meet her. talk witli her, sit by her side, hold her hand perhaps, or even no! That would he sufficient for one week. He would make further plans later.
"That girl" was well, that was just the trouble. Bill Weston didn't know who she was. He only knew she had just missed hitting him in various places, geographical and anatomical, and under various circumstances, six times in the jKist two weeks. Naturally lie could not help but feel that fate was trying desjxTately to establish some sort of connection between them, violent or otherwise. Once or twice might have been a coincidence; six times smacked strongly of the doings of destiny.
Only this did he know for sure. She was the most glorious creature whose image had ever filled the eye. Bill had noticed the green roadster first, when she had bluffed him out of his right-of-way at a crossing. After that she might as well have tx-en driving along on a puli of air for all the attention he paid to her car. Her hair was spun gold, her ey es a heavenly blue. Her lijis were jx-lals of roses, and her nose there were no words in Bill s vocabulary to desenbe her nose. She was chit, she was smart, she liad style. She never apparently wort the same frixk or hat twice. She
embodied all of Bill’s notions of feminine grace, beauty and charm. She was exactly what Bill was looking for.
His search had been in progress for some time; to be exact, ever since the surprising day when Alma had unexpectedly run away with that young planter from Costa Rica, or as soon thereafter as his humiliation had subsided to the point where he could again place his faith in a woman — which wasn’t as long as you might expect. And then there was the tennis club dance, the big one to raise funds for the fall tournament, coming on apace. Bill wanted to take someone entirely new to the dance; not one of the regular gang. He wanted to show them how little Alma’s disloyalty worried him, that there were better fish in the sea than had ever been caught.
Having made himself a promise, Bill proceeded systematically toward its fulfillment. He started with enquiries that went something like this;
“Saw the swellest new roadster today, Eddiedark green with buff wire wheels. Some blonde driving it. Wonder who it belongs to?”
Nobody knew. No one seemed really to care. Several impolitely insinuated that Bill might be more interested in the driver than the car.
Four days dragged by. Not only were Bill's questionings barren of results, but the green roadster dropjxd mysteriously from sight. On the fifth day it whizzed up behind him on the drive and disappeared
almost before he knew it was there. He managed to catch the number on the license plate.
He hurried down to Hefty Hewitt, automobile insurance agent, who kxiked it up in the registration book.
“Says here" Hefty’s finger stopped halfway down the page—“that it's registered in the name of Caroline Crowell, 81 Pinehurst Road--up where all the highpockets live. Nothing on that street but mansions and estates."
“Thanks, Hefty,” said Bill, departing.
The nearest telephone book confirmed the information. It said. “Crowell, J. II., 84 Pinehurst Road." Bill jotted down the phone number and delayed until evening.
AT SIX-THIRTY, in his room at the University Club, AY Bill picked up the telephone, called the number and waited. He was mildly nervous. He had spent an hour rehearsing what he would say to this Caroline Crowell. He had managed to find out vaguely who she was, and felt he could successfully muddle through any questions she might ask. He had learned she was a member of the Junior League. He therefore assumed she had attended the Junior League ball the week previous. That outstanding sixial event was the tie w ith which he promised to bind himself to Caroline Crowell. At least it would be the s|xarliead of his attack.
"Hello." Bill choked his Adam's apple down into |x»ilion. "May I speak to Miss Crowell, please?
He settled back, swallowed again, cleared his throat, held his hand over the mouthpiece of the phone and spoke a couple of irrelevant words to the window dra[X' to make sure his voice was functioning correctly. Proper vocal timbre was vitally important in an intricate affair of this sort. A deep, sincere baritone might make her his slave forever ; a weak, quavering falsetto could blast his chances at the start
"Hello," he said again His voice soundeil all right to him "Is that Miss Crowell?"
She admitted as much in a low. thrilling tone
Bill inhaled deeply.
"Miss Crowell, this is Bill Weston. In case you don't
remember me, I met you at the Junior League ball last week. I danced with you.”
He listened intently. He would not have been surprised had the phone exploded in his ear or bitten it. It didn't. On the contrary, it conveyed the surprising news that she did remember him, and how was he?
“I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t recollect me,” he said, warming up to the conversation. "I never saw so many men trying to dance with one girl in one evening. You couldn’t be expected to remember them all Of
course I'm sure it was you. You don’t for a minute think I’d forget, do you? And besides, you've nearly run over me half a dozen times in the past two weeks Where?
All over town Oh, you mustn’t be sorry. I can't
imagine anything more delightful than being run over by you.”
Her comeback to that, whatever it was. drew a chuckle from Bill.
“Listen, Miss Crowell. The tennis club is giving a dance next Saturday night - their big annual summer affair, i called to ask if you'd make my evening a complete success by going with me."
If she had delayed her answer a second longer she would have addressed a corpse, for Bill's heart was rapidly and surely pounding a hole through his ribs. He doubted she would accept. So beautiful a girl as she must have had a dozen invitations for every Saturday night.
"You will !” he exclaimed, and nearly threw the telephone out the window. "That's great. I'm sure you’ll enjoy it. They’re awfully good parties. I’ll call for you around
Bill hung up the phone, flopped on the bed and kicked his heels at the ceiling. She was going to the tennis club dance with him—with him, the lucky devil ! That beautiful, gorgeous, charming creature was going with Bill Weston! He would hold her in his arms and float dreamily through space to the rhythm of romantic waltzes. Would she knock their eyes out? Would the women whisper and stare, the men turn an envious green? He'd show them how much Bill Weston worried about Alma and her Costa Rica planter. He lay there and wallowed in visions of delights to come.
There was the dancing contest, a traditional feature of the tennis dub dance. The members paid for their votes, the money went to the fund. Bill and Alma had won it before; Bill and Caroline Crowell would win it again.
The young gentlemen of Teeple and Company. Brokers all of them tennis clubbers received a mealy mouthful from Mr. Weston when he appeared a few moments ahead of the opening of the following morning's market.
"Are you guys bringing girls to this dance Saturday night?" he asked by way of probing the subject.
Chuck Barron answered: "Certainly not. We’re bringing our great grandmothers."
"Well. I'm telling you, you'd better not bring any girls.'
"Because the beautiful creature I’m bringing will make all the rest of them lixik like a platoon of Lithuanian scrubwomen."
"Is she as nice as Alma?” This rapier thrust was from Chuck Barron. Chuck could be expected to make a remark like that. He and Bill didn't get along so well together; never had.
"There is simply no comparison, said Bill.
"Think she’s a pretty gixxl dancer, too?” Little mean lines formed around Chuck Barron’s mouth.
"Gixxl enough to tow you into first place in the contest?"
"We're a cinch." Bill believed it. This ravishing creature couldn’t help bul lxthe most enchanting dancer who ever floated across a Ikxir.
"All right, wise Ixiy," said Chuck. "I’ll lay you two to one you don't win it and even money you don't even finish second. But up or shut up.' He grinned annoyingly at Bill, who realized he had unsuspectingly placed himself on the spot. But Bill didn’t hesitate.
“I'll pul up," he said. "How much can you lose?"
"Win or place?" asked Chuck.
Chuck considered briefly. "I’ll put forty against your
Bill extended a confirmatory hand.
As eight o’clock Saturday evening drew near. Bill s anxiety almost caught up with his enthusiasm. He was agog at the prospect of meeting his divinity, of guiding her through the delights of the dance. On the other hand, he could not entirely blot out a number of ominous possibilities. Miss Caroline Crowell had obviously made a mistake, which she would discover when Bill appeared on the scene. She would immediately know she had never seen him before in her life. She might even suspect him of criminal skullduggery. Would she order the servants to throw him out? Would she call for the police. Did she have stalwart brothers or an ill-tempered father who would repel the intrusion? Or would she be a good sport and go through with it? Would she take a chance and find out what it was all about?
If she would only do that, only go with him this once, Bill was sure she would go again. The tennis club dances were entertaining affairs. Bill could and would be a thoughtful and charming escort. If he could surmount this first hurdle, the rest of the race would take care of itself.
His advance offerings of good will were gardenias, dispatched with special instructions to arrive just before eight.
As Bill turned into Pinehurst Road—an imposing avenue lined with imposing mansions —he suffered a momentary attack of nerves. It was one thing to put something over on the telephone when you could hang up if the going got too rough, and quite another to get away with it face to face with a girl who probably was not accustomed to being made a fool of.
The number “84” was marked on a stone column by the driveway. An impressive butler met him at the door. Bill enquired for Miss Crowell and relinquished his hat and coat with some misgivings. He hoped they would be handed to him peaceably when he departed and not thrown out after his prostrate body.
The butler led him to a spacious living room. A stately grey-haired woman rose to receive him.
"Mr. Weston?’’ she asked.
Bill almost said “That’s me,’' but caught himself, bowed satisfactorily, considering his agitated state of mind, and managed to murmur “Yes.” A hasty optical reconnaissance revealed no traces of an ill-tempered father or athletic brothers. The butler was inclined toward anemia.
“I am Mrs. Crowell,” said the lady. “Caroline will be here in a moment. Won’t you sit down?”
Bill said he would be glad to, and proved it by doing so.
“It is very nice of you to have asked Caroline,” said Mrs. Crowell.
“That’s one way of looking at it,” Bill replied. “On the other hand, I think it’s very nice of her to have accepted.”
“I understand the tennis club dances are very pleasant.”
“I always manage to have a good time,” said Bill.
"I think Caroline will enjoy it very much. She so seldom
has the opportunity of going to affairs of this sort.”
Bill looked at her suspiciously. So seldom had the opportunity of going? Was the old girl trying to kid him? Was she a lady humorist in disguise? He would have bet his final dollar Caroline didn’t get less than fifty invitations a week to go places.
“That’s a little difficult to believe,” he said quite frankly. “Honestly, Mrs. Crowell, your daughter is one of the most attractive girls I’ve ever met. And the best dancer I ever saw.”
Mrs. Crowell seemed surprised to hear this. She looked at him quizzically.
“We think a good deal of her,” was all she said.
Bill was trying to think of appropriate conversation when Caroline appeared. He neither saw nor heard her arrive. He merely turned his head and there she was, standing behind a divan at the end of the room. He rose, stood still and stared at her. She was positively and unbelievably glorious; her hair more golden than he had even imagined, her eyes a deeper blue, her lips more alluringly red. Her gown—black, with a tight bodice and a skirt that reached the floor in places and missed it in others—was cut tow to reveal a neck and shoulders that would have shamed a goddess. She exceeded the most extravagant anticipations of Bill’s mind.
“Good evening, Mr. Weston.” She looked him straight in the eye. “I’m glad to see you again.”
Bill could not detect the tiniest trace of a doubt, the slightest sign of a smile.
“I'm sorry I kept you waiting. Your gardenias are lovely.” She indicated them. They were pinned to the shoulder of her gown.
‘Tm glad you like them,” was all Bill could think of at the moment.
He wondered what would happen next. The girl must have known he was a perfect stranger and yet she had not shown the least bit of surprise. There was a catch to it somewhere. Gosh, she was beautiful !
“Shall we go?” she asked, smiling.
“Good night, mother.” She kissed Mrs. Crowell.
“Good night, Mrs. Crowell,” said Bill, thinking this kindly woman would make any man an ideal mother-in-law.
They were in the entrance hall when Bill became conscious of an incongruity. Then he suddenly discovered it was the way she walked—she limped rather badly. She paused while the butler helped him with his coat and opened the door for them to pass. He took her arm as they descended the
"You're limping quite badly,’ he said. “Did you hurt your foot?”
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The instant lie uttered the remark he could have bitten out his tongue. He realized what was the matter. In horrible embarrassment he looked at her, wondering what she would say, dreading to hear her
She smiled at him calmly, closed her eyes for a fleeting instant and shook her head— and Bill thought he had never seen a girl shake her head so sadly.
“No, I didn't hurt my ankle.’ That was all she said.
Bill felt like crawling in a hole and pulling it in after him. What a blunder he had made ! He had danced with her at the Junior league ball that's what he had told her! He had told her mother she danced beautifully. He was taking her out to help him win a dancing contest. But this glorious girl could not dance.
He winced when lie thought of his bet with Chuck Barron. Of all people in the world, he hated worst to lose to Chuck. He remembered the bragging he had done, the dances lie had promised. What a horselaugh he’d get, what a terrible ragging! As he helped her into the car he caught the flash of steel at her anklea brace or something similar. So that was the reason she had no engagements for Saturday night. That was why she didn’t go to parties very often. He might have known
Just when he commenced to feel sorry for himself his shoulders slowly stiffened. His lower jaw slid forward, his teetli clamped tightly together. She was a cripple of some sort. Well, what of it? She was beautiful, she was charming, she was game. A man couldn’t ask for more.
He settled down beside her in the car.
“We can go somewhere else,” she suggested abruptly.
“What do you mean?”
There was the faintest sign of a quaver in her voice. “You don’t have to go through with it. Because you made a mistake, you don’t have to take me to the tennis club dance unless you want to,” she explained. “'You see, when you said you had danced with me at the Junior League ball I was sure you had confused me with someone
“But I didn’t,” said Bill.
"You must have. I didn’t go to the Junior League ball.”
“That makes two of us,” said Bill. “I didn't either.”
“Oh," said Caroline.
They drove away.
IT WAS the sixth dance. They sat on a little bench beside the path that led to the centre court. Behind them was the club-house. Light, laughter and music streamed from its open windows and wide verandali. doors.
Bill was confused. His temper was rising. Everything had gone smoothly so far. I lis friends had come to the rescue and sat out four successive dances with her, but there was no prospect of sitting-out partners in the immediate future. He didn’t know they had found her wholly charming, vastly entertaining, and that they were wary of her because of their own embarrassment, their ignorance of what to do with a girl like Caroline. It was rotten of them, he thought, to treat her as they did. Couldn't they see that, barring one little physical defect, she was the most attractive girl in the place? Since when liad two sound legs become so imixirtant to social success?
Was she having a gxxi time? Bill couldn’t tell. She seemed to lx. He hojxxi she was. I íe feared she wasn’t He decided to make a bluff at covering up.
"The next time 1 come to one of these parties I'm going to bring a girl who can dance, he remarked.
She gave him a quick, hurt hxik "That's just exactly what I mean." lie went on. "Why. I haven't laid eyes on you since the lirst dance, and I don't have a bit ! of fun unless I can kxjk at you.
Relieved, she replied with a little laugh:
"You’re much too flattering.”
"The next three are mine, anyway,' said Bill.
“We can sit right here and talk about what a wonderful time I’m having."
"You really like it?”
“I can’t tell you how much.
"So do I,” said Bill.
"That Mr. Reed is nice."
"I wish you’d stop being so interested in all these other men and pay a little attention to me. That’s really what I brought you for.”
There were footsteps on the path behind. Two men walked past. Bill could distinguish Chuck Barron’s voice. As they were abreast Chuck said, just loud enough for them to hear:
“It’s the funniest tiling I ever heard of. He raved about what a beautiful dancer she was, deliberately bet me one to two. and I’m a son of a gun if she doesn't turn out to be a peg-leg."
Caroline's chin rose slowly up, her head tilted backward. Bill heard her inhale sharply as if she had been struck. White with anger in the darkness, he flashed a glance at her. Her eyes were closed. He
“Will you pardon me a moment,” he said in an even voice. “I’ll be right back.”
He was gone a rather long time. When he returned, Caroline noticed that his handkerchief was wrapped around his right
"Why, what in the world—”
“Silliest thing you ever heard pf,” he told her. “I tripped over one of those faucets on the lawn and fell on the gravel path." “May I see?”
"It isn’t anything.”
He removed the handkerchief reluctantly and showed her. The bltxxi was oozing from a scratch on his knuckle, which was slightly swollen. She wrapped it up carefully again, held his hand in both of hers, and then, slowly raising it to lier lips, kissed it
While Bill was recovering from his surprise, Caroline stood up.
“And now will you pardon me for a few moments? I wish you’d wait right here for me till I come back.”
She was gone for a full dance or more. He sat on the bench and felt miserable and very angry. He wished he’d broken Chuck Barron’s neck instead of merely skinning his knuckle on Chuck’s jaw. 1 íe wondered what kept her so long. She was probably hiding out somewhere crying.
Erom the windows abruptly came the roll of a drum. Bill Hipped his cigarette into the darkness. That drum presaged the start of the dancing contest. He wasn’t interested at all. He didn't care who won. He didn’t even want to see it. How silly of him to be so concerned over a ridiculous dancing contest. One girl like this Caroline Crowell was worth all the dancing contests ever held.
She was approaching down the path. He watched her, silhouetted against the glow of the club-house. I le noticed she seemed to be walking more steadily, with almost no limp at all. He rose as she neared.
"1 thought I’d lost you." he said, and wait«! for her to sit down. Instead she tcxik him by the arm.
"Come on," she said.
“Where?" asked Bill.
"We’re going to dance in the contest. “Why but you can't dance," he protested.
She pulled him toward the club-house, lie lixikwl down at her ankle. The steel brace was gone Her voice «as hard, almost brutal, when she said:
"Don't stand there and argue. I said come on. We re going to dance.”
BILL managed to get her olf the Ikxir and to the dixir ol the ladies’ rxim without anyone noticing she had almost fainted in his arms. It had been wholly unexpected. Lntil then she had followed his step for
step, turn for turn, with as much grace and ease as if she had been dancing all her life. She had looked up and smiled into his eyes; she had chatted gaily. She had never betrayed she was suffering the tortures of the damned—until she couldn’t stand it any more and had gone limp as a dish rag in his
As the maid took, her in charge she opened her eyes a little, smiled at Bill and told him:
'Tm awfully sorry. I thought I could do it, but I guess I was wrong. I’ll be all right in a minute.”
They drove home not by the longest possible route, as Bill had earlier planned, but by the shortest. She insisted she had completely recovered. Bill doubted her.
“I’ll never forgive myself for letting you do that,” he said.
“It wasn’t your fault, silly. I had my mind made up and you couldn’t change it.”
“But what did you do it for?”
“It was what he said out there, I guess,” she said finally. “I just couldn’t stand it any longer. I’ve been watching other people dance all my life. You see, when I was a little girl I used to go to dances and the other kids wouldn’t even sit out with me. Oh, they did sometimes, but just to be polite, to be kind. I wasn’t one of them, you see. And then as I grew up I resented it. I wouldn’t go to dances and sit against the wall. I wouldn’t go anywhere. It was silly, I know, and I just got worse and worse—”
“But your ankle—how could you do it at all?”
“Oh, that. The folks took me abroad three years ago, to a specialist in Vienna. He figured out a way to get rid of that awful steel shackle that seemed to be strapped to my very soul as well as to my
"Yeah, I guess so.” Bill could understand that.
“I’d have had it off altogether in another couple of months,” she said ruefully. “Maybe it will be a little longer now.” They turned in at the stone column with the “84” on it.
“Listen,” said Bill. “Answer this one for me: Why did you go with me at all this evening when you knew I was lying about the Junior League ball?”
“I knew you had something in the back of your head, but I liked your voice and knew I couldn't get into very much trouble at a tennis club dance, and—oh, I don’t
“I do,” said Bill promptly.
She seemed surprised. “You’d better tell me, then.”
“It was the same thing that nearly made you run over me six times in two weeks—” She interrupted banteringly. “You aren’t going to tell me it was fate, are you?” “What if I am?” Defiantly.
She considered the matter thoughtfully. “Nothing,” she said. “There might be something in it after all.”
“I know there is.”
She transfixed him with those deep blue
“I rather hope you’re right.”
They had stopped at the portico.
“I’m terribly grateful for a wonderful time,” she said, “and I’m sorry we didn’t win the contest. Maybe we will some other
“You bet we will. You’ll go with me again?”
“If you ask me.”
“A lot of times?”
“Over a period of years?”
She turned her head sideways and looked at him from the comer of her eye. “I might even take that under consideration.” She leaned over quickly and kissed him lightly on the cheek, then was gone.