Mr. Gobbins Falls In
Wherein an innocent pundit encounters a sophisticated lady and a love story is writ on the bosom of the broad Caribbean
C. J. EUSTACE
WALLY, cast your port eye on the specimen sitting under the bridge,” said Joan Strudley. “How would you classify him?”
“He’s not in your line, Jo.
That’s the famous George Gobbins, editor of the Blue Weekly.”
Joan dusted the end of her nose with a certain amount of satisfaction. Wally pursed up his lips and inspected it from a distance.
“Not too dusty,” he observed. “Don’t tell me you’ve never heard of the Blue Weekly?"
"I was about to enquire,” said Joan calmly. “Is it a
Wally Warren nodded. That was the worst part of the modem girl—no use trying to be serious.
“Yes,” he drawled. “It’s a dark horse. The most radical rag in the country. George Gobbins made it, and George Gobbins is a woman hater.”
At that moment, as if to display itself to better advantage, the head of the Gobbins creature lifted from behind its paper, and regarded Joan and Wally with a sniffy look. Joan
stared back at him. He had a thin face and wore spectacles. His mouth was pulled down at the comers into the semblance of a sardonic smirk, but somehow his eyes belied the general expression of his physiognomy, for they were mild and harmless.
“I don’t like you,” remarked Joan, apparently to the atmosphere. “You give me the shivers.”
“Wait until you’ve heard some of his opinions,” warned Wally. "He’s death on women.”
"Sensible man," murmured Joan sympathetically. “You might take a few lessons from him, Wally.”
"I?” echoed Wally indignantly. “Say, do I look simple? I know my women.”
"You don’t know the difference between a woman and a wench,” said Miss Strudley crushingly. "I’d like to meet Mr. Gobbins," she added thoughtfully.
“You can’t,” said Wally decisively. “He doesn’t like dumbbells.”
"I can get someone else to introduce me, thanks.”
Wally shook his head. If n was |x»sible for a cynical smile to twist the lips of such an elegant young man, such a smile overspread his features at that moment.
"If you won't take the advice of your elders and betters,” he shrugged, “that’s all I have to say.”
"Hello, mother,' cried Joan. "Come and take Wally away. I can't stand him any longer.”
"If only daughters grew up like their mothers I" whispered
Wally, standing up to let the handsome Mrs. Strudley sink into his chair.
'KX’RS. STRUDLEY smiled at him indulgently. Wally 1V1 Warren was really a nice lxy. A little too rich, ix-rhaps, a trifle too made-to-order to suit Joan. Hut then, from experience, she knew that one could never tell. She liked to remember that her children had never been quite like other people’s children. Dick, for example, had married a barmaid in Dindon and was very happy. Tom had taken up flying and was still in a hospital. And Felicity well, there was a certain distinction about a husband with a title even it it uas a Russian one.
It would he interesting, she reflected, to see wliat would happen to Joan. Mrs. Strudley was tixi sophisticated a mother to cherish illusions about her children. For Joan, besides being a healthy young animal, was singularly beautiful.
“If you ladies will excuse me,” said Wally, “I believe we are outside the three-mile limit.’
He waltzed away. Joan stared at Mr. Gobbins thoughtfully. Mr. Gobbins was reading a txxik with a brilliant yellow cover. The title was in an equally decisive scarlet, The Menace of The Militant Woman.
Mrs. Strudley followed the line of her gaze.
"You’re lxking very pensive, my dear,’ she remarked “I was thinking Ixiw nice it would lxif I could meet an intelligent and sensible young man," said Joan. “Someone
who didn’t consider it his duty to inform one how well one’s complexion matched her dress.”
Mrs. Strudley looked alarmed.
“My dear child, you’re not thinking of marrying, are you?”
"Why should I?”
“You were speaking of the sort of young men who marry,” said Mrs. Strudley. “You don’t expect to meet a sensible type of young man who won’t fall in love with you, do you?”
"I don’t know,” Joan shrugged. “I’d like to meet Mr. Gobbins.”
“Mr. Gobbins?” echoed Mrs. Strudley with a shiver. "What a repulsive
"Haven’t you heard of him?” enquired Joan, eyeing her parent with painful and ill-concealed surprise. “The George Gobbins?”
"My dear, no. Is he in the Blue Book?” “I hope not,” said Joan. "He’ll disappoint me if he is. But he’s on the Blue Weekly. In fact he is the Blue Weekly."
Mrs. Strudley relaxed. She must remember that all her children suffered from these mtxids. “Highly strung dears,” she thought to herself consolingly. "It is a mark of breeding.” Aloud she said to Joan: "If you wanted to meet this Mr. Gobbins, whoever he is, why didn't you let me know before we left Montreal? I could have arranged it for you.”
Joan had been watching Mr. Gobhins out of the comer of her eye during this discussion, and she fancied tliat she saw a slight movement behind the paper which aroused her
"Hush, mother ” she warned. "He’s listening.”
Mrs. Strudley wiggled her eyes over to that portion of the deck w here Mr. Gobbins was ensconced.
“Oh.” she gas|)ed, dropping her lorgnette. Then, recovering herself just as quickly, she observed: "He’s not so gixxl-looking as Wally, Joan.’
"I’m sick of good-looking men, mother.”
“All the same, dear,” replied Mrs. Strudley, “I think that we had better keep with our own party for this trip. One can’t Ire expected to understand people not of one's own class.”
More clearly tfian words could expres«, she was indicating tfuit George Gobbins couldn't make the grade. The man looked scarcely respectable. Possiblyand she stiffened at the thought he was artistic. Not at all a fit companion for beautiful Joan.
"If you don’t get me an introduction, I shall introduce myself," announced Joan calmly.
This caused Mrs Strudley to sit up and take notice. After all, Joan was a Strudley. And it was nice to think that the Strudleys had never been well quite usual.
"Well, darling, if you must, you must,” she sighed.
George Gobbins, who liad been aware of every word which passed between mother and daughter, shivered.
GEORGE GOBBINS’ most severe critics said that he was a sentimentalist. Furthermore, they were correct. He was a sentimentalist. He disguised the soft feelings which he possessed for the world in general, especially for such old-fashioned things as beautiful, innocent girls with big eyes, love, and little rose-covered cottages in the country, under a cloak of cynicism and bitterness which had blossomed forth in the pages of the Blue Weekly, earning him the cognomen of America’s predacious pessimist. His magazine stormed at everything organized, from big business to week-end parties. Gobbins was "predacious” because he was personal, because he lived on the writhing of individuals who made mistakes. He was the most cynical, the most sardonic, the most crushing of men—in
As Mrs. Strudley got up from her deck chair, he fastened his eyes again on his book.
“After two years of confused and experimental revolt, it grows clear to modem women that a conscious, deliberate motherhood is their especial function in the State ”
At this precise moment the wind zipped over the side of the ship. A thin, colored piece of silk fluttered around the corner, and, as fortune would have it, whisked right up against Mr. Gobbins’ knee.
He was ready for it. He had been hoping that something like this might happen. He had turned over such an occasion in his mind, indulging in sentimental and romantic probabilities. He scrambled, getting red in the face, under his chair where the handkerchief had eventually come to rest. The worst part of it was that the girl had apparently not noticed her loss. This left the first movement in the return process up to himself.
HE FELT entirely ridiculous as he arose from his chair and staggered across the heaving deck.
“Excuse me, but you dropped your handkerchief,” he
Joan looked up with excellently simulated surprise.
“Did I?” she exclaimed, “I must have. Thank you very much, Mr. Gobbins.”
He raised his hat and was about to return to his chair when the thought came to him that he was wasting an opportunity. His mind was extremely alert, but untrained in conventional ways.
“Er—I see you know my name,” he ventured, with what he hoped was a congenial smile.
"Who doesn’t know the famous Mr. George Gobbins?” smiled Joan.
This was too much for him. His antipathy against inane social platitudes overwhelmed him.
“I am known. Miss Strudley, more by the distinguished forty than by the numerous four hundred,” he observed with true Gobbinsian sting.
Joan looked at him with round eyes.
“Won’t you sit down, Mr. Gobbins?” she asked soothingly. “My mother wasn’t feeling very well. The boat has commenced to rock, you know.”
Mr. Gobbins thanked her and sat down. She had an opportunity to examine him more fully. He was thin, and his fingers were long and sensitive.
“Is this your first trip south?” she asked. “Mother and I usually go to Europe, but this time we thought we’d do something different. These tourist trips are so convenient, aren’t they?”
She pulled herself up sharply because she discovered that she was talking to him like a copy book. Somehow, she knew that she mustn’t do that. She examined his profile. Might be thirty-five, possibly younger.
“What have you seen on your travels?” he enquired suddenly, without a trace of sting in his voice.
“Oh, I don’t know,” shrugged Joan. She realized all of a sudden that she didn’t. She had come on this trip, as she had gone on so many others, merely because it was the thing to do, because of the smart crowd, of their friends. “Haven’t you travelled south before?” she asked.
She noticed that his face was quite pleasant when he smiled.
“I want to see for the first time some of the places I’ve written about,” he said.
She nodded sympathetically.
“Just as I read about the places I’ve been to—to find out what’s interesting about them.” She mused. “Funny,
George Gobbins looked at her with some interest. Was it possible that this lovely creature was intelligent as well as beautiful?
“I suppose you dance? Swim? Do all the useless things which your set expects you to do?” he demanded.
“Yes,” nodded Joan, “I do. You don’t, I suppose?”
“No. I consider dancing a useless pursuit. Swimming is painful if you’re thin. Most social amusements are a waste of time.”
He couldn’t help it, for the life of him. The old Gobbins simply had to come out of him. The worst of it was that he was miserable because he knew he didn’t mean it.
Joan stared at him aghast. Along the deck she spied Wally Warren.
“Oh, Wally,” she called, “I want a dance.”
Wally bowed elaborately from the waist.
“Won’t you come and watch the idle rich disporting themselves, Mr. Gobbins?” she asked.
But Mr. Gobbins, after surveying Wally Warren’s fault-
less white ducks, his double-breasted lounge coat and the color of his tie, sighed.
“Thank you, I think not.” he replied. “I think I shall revise another chapter of my new book.”
“Bye-bye,” Joan called lightly, as she floated into Wally’s arms.
She rested her head against Wally’s immaculate shoulder, swaying, scarcely moving to the rhythm. She could think in this position. Were the things which Mr. Gobbins missed worth more than the things which she missed? Was she passing by the worth-while things in life?
“Do you think that militant women are a menace, Wally?” she asked mildly.
Wally grinned down at her amiably.
“If I may say so,” he replied, “I don’t follow you.” “No; I didn’t expect you would.”
“I told you he didn’t like dumbbells,” Wally said nastily above her head. “Why don’t you take my advice?”
“Mr. Gobbins likes me,” said Joan pensively. “But Wally dear, what a life he must lead. He doesn’t dance, doesn’t swim, doesn’t do anything.”
“I bet he doesn’t drink either,” observed Wally. “He ought to be put in a glass case and labelled, “ ‘This is the Gobbins—Rare Specimen.’ ”
But Joan, for once, was silent.
'T'HEY were down in the Caribbean Sea, off the coast of L South America. The wind off the ocean was warm and the sunsets were brief but colorful. So much so that Joan yielded to the temptation to be romantic. She even allowed Wally to kiss her. But she was not really interested. Peculiarly enough, she wanted to be kissed by Mr. Gobbins. It seemed, though, that Mr. Gobbins was too wrapped up in his books to notice anything above the top of a flyleaf.
Yet, Fate, that most pernickety of minxes, had other plans in store for them. That night, after an unusually warm day, Joan went up on deck to get a breath of fresh air. Wally was below, hunting for her wrap. The figure of Mr. Gobbins obtruded suddenly upon her notice. She was quite sure that he had seen her coming, because as soon as she appeared he began to behave in a peculiar manner. He leaned right over the side of the ship, as if he would pierce the inky depths of the ocean with his naked eye. He looked curiously stout, she thought, as if he were hiding something under his coat. He was standing on the bottom rail, looking over. Why, the foolish man was swaying backward and forward !
What she had visualized happened quickly. He fell over. She saw his dark little body tumble over the side, heard a splash far below, and a muffled cry. “Swimming is painful if you’re thin,” he had said. And he was thin.
What made her do it, she never knew. There was no
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one near at the moment. Her dress was short, with no sleeves. She climbed over the edge, poised herself, spread her arms like a bird, and dived into the churning spray.
Black, warmish water engulfed her. Down, down she sank, and then, as a good swimmer will, she spread her hands automatically above her so that she burst above the surface, shaking water from her hair. Before she realized quite what had happened, the ship was beyond her and she was alone.
Then she saw him. He must have lied when he told her he couldn’t swim.
Suddenly she saw that the thing which was supporting Mr. Gobbins was a lifebelt. Evidently he had been wearing one when he fell in.
"Coo-oo,” she called, sticking a rounded arm out of the water. “Are you all right, Mr. Gobbins?”
“All right,” he replied in a weak voice, his teeth chattering. "It's—pretty cold—isn’t it?”
“I’m warm. I’m sorry you’re cold.” “Whatever shall we do?” enquired Mr. Gobbins as she swam closer to him. “I thought they wouldn’t notice me when I—fell in. Whatever made you come after me?” "Are you trying to tell me that you fell in?" asked Joan grimly.
“I’d rather not discuss it yet—if you don't mind.” he gasped. His teeth were rattling like billiard balls.
Joan was getting a little tired of treading water. For the first time a pang of fright I assailed her. The boat was now a dull speck in the blackness. Their absence j hadn’t been noticed. Where was land? j Mr. Gobbins would know.
“Do you know where we are?” she called. "I’m afraid I don’t.”
They were silent for a minute, and then Joan became really frightened. If someone didn't find them they might drown.
“I’m awfully sorry, Miss Strudley,” he said suddenly. “This was my fault. I think you’d better come and take this belt. It’ll support you better.”
"No, no!” Her eyes dilated in horror. “What will you do. Wait a moment. I’ll see if it’ll support us both.”
A MOON peeped through the black mass *of cloud and they glimpsed each other tolerably well. Mr. Gobbins was shivering. His scanty straight hair hung in strands over his face. He knew that he couldn’t stand the chill of the water much longer. He watched Joan with envy as she swam toward him. Her scanty dress clung to her sturdy body, and it occurred to him that she was beautiful. With this thought came the desire to live at all costs.
They were quite close to each other now. Joan was frightened. A weak feeling stirred at the pit of her stomach, and her knees seemed to have no strength. She couldn’t let Mr. Gobbins know that she was afraid.
"You look all right,” she said cheerfully, because he looked so awful; face drawn, teeth chattering.
Something made a plopping noise in the water near them, and she fancied she saw a wedge cut the water for a second, leaving a milky trail before it sank. Mysteriously Mr. Gobbins commenced to kick out behind
“Kick.” he said, his eyes close to hers. “It’ll keep you warm.”
She looked into his eyes, and all at once knew them to be amazingly kind ’ and human. Eyes that she could trust. Much nicer than Wally’s. Wally’s eyes were nice to look at. but not to look into.
“1 suppose they don’t have any—any sharks in these waters, do they?” she asked. Her voice was wobbly, but she cai-ied her question off with a “You ought to know, Mr. Editor” effect.
"Sharks? Why. no,’ he replied; "not in j these waters.” He paused for a moment as I the plopping noise came again. “Keep
kicking, though. It won’t do for us to get
“All right,” said Joan, and kicked vigor-
Mr. Gobbins was staring into the darkness. Joan shivered.
“I wonder how soon it’ll be before they notice our absence? They may not discover us for hours.”
“Oh, yes, they will.” declared Mr. Gobbins. “I remember now that I left my hat on the deck.”
Most amazingly, he smiled at her. She smiled back because she felt that she understood him quite well now.
“You know, I made fun of you before I met you,” she hazarded. "I wanted very much to meet you. I thought you—”
“Thought I’d be a new sort of amusement, eh?” he helped her out. “Well, I suppose I have been. Rather a dangerous sort of lunatic," he ended bitterly.
Joan looked at him.
“Why did you do it?”
Mr. Gobbins shook his head. His face was blue from cold. He knew that he could not hang on for long; knew, also, that she could hold out for many hours yet. She was strong, young, healthy. He was young, but not strong.
"Will you tell me frankly,” he countered, “what were your feelings when you first saw me?"
“I didn't understand you.” said Joan. "I don't understand clever people. I wanted to find out why they are so different from everyone else, from ordinary people like
"They're not really,” he said; “only a little more stupid.”
'T'HEY were silent for a moment. Mr.
Gobbins’ teeth stopped chattering. He was blue and numb.
“The reason 1 fell overboard,” he said abruptly, "was because I discovered how stupid clever people can be.”
“The first time I saw you, I wanted to find out what normal people like you were like. When I discovered how much more natural than clever people they are, how much more they enjoy life, I decided to try and be more like them myself.”
"And so you fell overboard?" remarked Joan sarcastically.
Mr. Gobbins shook his head.
“No. You won’t believe me. Miss Strudley. but I fell in love with you. It was so hopeless that I— fell overboard.”
Joan started to smile at him, but suddenly he let go of the life preserver and disappeared from sight.
Joan dived quickly. He was coming up now, and she caught hold of his coat. As soon as she had hold of him, a rage possessed her. She pulled fiercely, shaking him again and again, hitting him alxiut the face and body in a frenzy, treading water like a mad tiling until his unwilling fingers gripped the lifebelt again. Even then she didn't trust him, so she kicked out and kept one hand on the collar of his coat.
Finally he raised his head. As he did so, from some remote point in the darkness a silver beam of light Btabbed toward them.
They picked them up ten minutes later. Mr. Gobbins was unconscious. Joan sat silently in the back of the boat, supporting his head on her lap. Somehow, Wally Warren, who was in the lifeboat, felt there was nothing funny he could say,
MRS. STRUDLEY had never looked so regal. She was ;;¡ving a party to her daughter and to George Gobbins. Mr. Gobbins was silent. His life liad been saved by Joan. He was grateful Worse than that, he loved her. The great Gobbins, author of The Menace of The Militant Woman, was in love.
Opposite him sat Joan. Next to her sat young and immaculate Wally Warren. Joan
made a little speech. Mr. Gobbins felt foolish. Someone was even nasty enough to congratulate him on being rescued by such a charming girl as Joan, and this being partly true, caused Mr. Gobbins additional misery.
After dinner there was a dance. Mr. Gobbins wandered miserably into a corner. As a social success he was a flop; and he was considering the advisability of resuming his studies of the militant woman when someone touched him lightly on the shoulder.
It was Joan. She was wearing a gown of some filmy stuff which clung to her graceful lines, making her look more lovely and ethereal than ever. Mr. Gobbins swallowed hard, as if he had been confronted with an apparition.
"Dxik here, old thing,” Joan said, “I’m not going to have you brooding like this. Come with me.”
Mr. Gobbins was like a child in her hands. Tomorrow they would be in Trinidad, and a warm wind was fanning the upper decks. There was in his heart a great bitterness against life.
“Don’t you think your friend. Mr. Wally Warren, would enjoy this dance?” he suggested with a trace of Gobbinsian sting.
“No,” said Joan emphatically. "I want to talk to you.”
“Why to me?” he protested.
“Don’t you want to talk to me?” she demanded.
Mr. Gobbins blinked.
“Yes,” he said mildly; “I should like to talk to you very much."
“Then go ahead,” sighed Joan, and took him firmly by the arm.
They walked up and down the deck slowly, the strains of the orchestra drifting in gusts over their heads. But Mr. Gobbins was silent. His world of ideas was shattered.
"Now look here, George," said Joan firmly, “you're making an ass of yourself.
I know that this sort of thing isn’t done, but I believe in direct methods. You love me, don’t you? No, it’s no good denying it because I can see you do. Women know. Well. I love you,” she ended lamely.
Mr. Gobbins stood still. Without his spectacles, his hazel eyes looked almost challenging.
“You're throwing yourself away,” he said humbly. “It’s impossible.”
“Then why did you throw yourself overboard the other night?” demanded Joan. “With a lifebelt, too?”
Mr. Gobbins’s face went very red.
“Why did you dive in after me?" he countered, roused to a sudden last effort.
“Because I wanted to fish you out, I suppose."
“And I wanted to be rescued,” he confessed suddenly. "It was the only chance I could get to know you properly.”
“You darling,” cried Joan. But he still continued to stare at the invitation of her pouting lips, so she inclined the back of his head downward. "Oh, George, you are stupid.”
Only then did Mr. Gobbins awaken to his responsibilities. He kissed her gently, and then not so gently.
"I’m going to read all your books on militant women, dear," she chattered, pressing his hand a moment later. "Because I believe that women should have a place in the world.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” said Mr. Gobbins sheepishly. "They get along all right,”
And this wasn’t sarcasm, either; he really meant it. But he could not help feeling a little flutter of anticipation when he imagined what a stir his engagement would make in the press ¡obbins gets girl, or something to that effect. It was, in a way, a terrible thing he had done. But then, he was happy.
"Oh. shucks," he said to himself.
Wally Warren watched them from the top deck.
' I don’t know how that guy does it," he murmured, running his hand through his perfectly adorable hair.