A HILL of BEANS
TREDINNOCK was a great horse of a man with slow, calm movements and a long, calm face. He had cultivated patience, along with a number of less civilized virtues, during his years in the remoter jungles of South America, and he had need of it on his return to New York. Dinner table conversation, for example, frequently sizzled about in the air over his head without meaning a (hing to him; and in the general order of events he was willing to let it sizzle.
On this night, however, some element of curiosity stirred within him.
"UxA here,” he said. “I’ve been listening to you talk for half an hour. You’ve told forty different stories about this gíxxi lady, and I still don’t know who she is. What’s the rest of her name? Where does she come from? What does she er do with herself? How old is she? And why does she interest everybody so much?”
"You mean to say you've never heard of Mrs. Wood?” his hostess, Sally Walker, ask«i him, leaning forward to inspect the barbarian with something like awe.
“The famous Mrs. Wood?” the girl sitting next to him asked.
"Our Mrs. Wood?” a young man across the way echoed. "Never heard her name in my life,” said Tredinnock cheerfully. “If this be treason . . .”
"Well,” said the hostess, sighing plumply and richly under lier ¡x-arls, “you've got a lot to learn. And I’d adore to teach you, only it’s time to move. Rodney, will you educate Mr. Tredinnock? He’s been in the wilds for so long that he’s actually never heard of the famous Mrs. Wood. I give you half an hour to sketch him an outline biography: The Life and 'l imes of Mrs. Wood. Then when you come in, we’ll lili up all the jxirts you’ve left out.”
SHE ROSE from the table; and after the rest of the women had followed her out of the room, Tredinnock moved around to sit beside his host, Rodney Walker.
"So you want to know who Mrs. Wood is?” said Walker. "Well, you'd better have a cigar first. And a brandy? . . . Let me see. Just who is Mrs. Wc xi? How would you define her, Jack, in words of one syllable?”
"She’s the only rich woman now living,” said the man named Jack.
"That’s all right as far as it goes,” said Walker. “But she's a lot more than that.”
“She’s the Mrs. Malapropof modern times,” said another young man. “If she hadn’t existed somebody would have made her up, so as to have something to attach the stories to.”
“Well,” said Tredinnock, ‘T heard the stories. Some of ’em were pretty funny. But can any one woman have said all those different things?”
"The ixculiarity about this legend,” said Walker, "is that nobody has ever heard her say any of the really classic ones —the ones which have become famous. It's always somebody’s cousin's aunt who heard it. For instance, that story about having a bust made of her daughter's hands, and getting the girl’s portrait painted by an old master —everybody's heard that story; but you won't lind a soul who actually heard the old lady say it.”
“Two points are established, then,” said Tredinnock, lighting his cigar. "First, she’s the only rich woman now living. Second, she’s a sort of legend, to which you all attach every Malaprop story you can think of. Is that right?”
“That’s right,” said a sleepy-looking man across the table. “But there’s more. She’s a remarkably keen-witted, determined, hard-headed old lady. Old Wood—Cassius Augustus WcxxJ, may he rest in peace!—was a Montana miner without a second shirt to his back when he married her, and they say his fortune was about half her doing. She kept boarders and scrubbed floors and all the rest of it in the old days. I say she’s earned her yacht and her diamonds, and I hope she enjoys them.”
"Cassius Augustus Wood,” said Tredinnock reflectively. "I know that name. Copper, isn’t it?”
"Copper,” said Walker, “and silver, and chain stores, and half a dozen other things. But old Wood died before the war, and the widow has been in complete control ever since.
1 think she got out of the copper—hope so, for her sake.”
"When she comes into a room,” said the sleepy-looking man, “you can hear the silence settling dowm like a hen on eggs. Everybody in the room listens to her. For twenty-five years there’s been this legend, in New York and London and Paris, that she twists words up in a funny way. Everybody’s always expecting her to do it, and she very seldom dot's.”
“I heard one of those Mrs. Wood stories the other day,” said young Jack tentatively. "It was about her granddaughter, Rosalba, or whatever the poor girl’s name is. Seems that Rosalba’s governess went into town one day with the old lady, fifteen or twenty years ago. They were cruising around in the car, doing some shopping, and the old lady was ready to go home. She said to the governess: ‘Are you sure there isn’t something else you’ve got to do before we leave?’ The governess thought for a moment, and then said: ‘Yes, I ought to get a Physiology for Rosalba.’ The old lady looked severe and said: ‘Well, I think you’d better wait and bring her in herself; if you buy it for her it won’t fit.’ ... I heard that from somebody that used to know the granddaughter, so it may be true. But it isn’t very funny, is it?”
“No,” Mr. Walker agreed, "it isn’t very funny . . . Have some more brandy, Wilkins? . . . The trouble with these stories is that when they sound true they aren’t funny; and when they sound funny they aren't true. The poor old lady couldn’t have said a thousandth part of the things they attribute to her. I’ve heard her twist her words up, but not really badly—except when she’s trying to talk French. Then she’s fantastic; says everything except what she means. But for that matter, who doesn’t?”
“She got the black pearls of old Princess Uspenskaya,” the sleepy-eyed man said. "They're a big heavy rope, black as your shoe; you could knock a man down with them. Ten to one she’ll wear them at dinner tomorrow night. The women always go crazy when they see them —smell ’em and bite ’em and chew ’em and do everything except tear them off the old lady’s n«k. I remember once in Paris seeing Mrs. Wood practically mobbed by a crowd of eager nymphs after dinner. She just sat there and let them linger her pearls
until they were satisfied. Then she said: ‘Well,
girls, I hope you’ve all had a good time.
This is the best copy I could get made in Paris or New York. I’ve loaned the real ones to the Princess Uspenskaya for some kind of Czarist jamboree they are having tonight.
She wanted to wear them, poor soul.’ The other women nearly choked with rage.
Nothing makes women feel sillier than being fooled about jewellery. They always think they’re experts.”
"Anyway,” said Tredinnock, ‘T call that pretty kindhearted of the famous Mrs. Wood. Don’t you? The Russian party might have vanished into thin air with the black pearls; and then the copy wouldn’t have seemed very good to anybody.”
“True,” said the sleepy-eyed man. "But Mrs. Wood knew what she was doing. Always knows what she’s doing. The chances are Princess Uspenskaya could be very useful to her in some way—angling an invitation, or something like that. Mrs. Wood has her pet ambitions, such as they are.”
"She’s one of the wonders of the age, anyway, is our Mrs. Wood,” said Walker, getting up. “Suppose we go in and keep the girl-friends out of mischief? How are you for bridge, Tredinnock? Learn contract in South America?”
“We learn practically nothing else,” said Tredinnock, following his host out of the dining room. “But you’ve pumped me so full of the great Mrs. Wood that I may not know the ace of diamonds from a rope of black pearls.”
' |'HE WALKERS lived in a white stone chateau; and in common with many of their neighbors, they were able to offer their house guests riding, tennis and a swimming pool inside the spacious reaches of their own grounds. Many a more exiguous and less wooded area is, in England and rrance, dignified by the name of "park”; but the Walkers would have considered it ostentatious to call their green W m ^anC^ ro^ng anything but “the place.”
redinnock was at large in "the place” on the following u ef’n°p'?~Fnday when the famous Mrs. 'Wood arrived, e ad fallen asleep after lunch, and to redeem himself in is ow n eyes had afterward set forth for a brisk walk through e P‘nes and cedars. In about half an hour he found himself near e stone gateway of the drive without knowing quite
how he got there. As he stood beside the gravelled road and considered the problem the iron gates swung in and a huge motor car rolled its majestic length across his line of vision. In the back seat of the car sat something female, with feathers; the chauffeur had an elderly woman, obviously a maid, alongside him. It seemed to Tredinnock that beyond the feathery apparition at the window of the car could be discerned the outlines of a girl;
but he could not be sure, for as he left the protecting trees to get a better view, the pomjxius motor had swung them all out of sight around the bend, going toward the house. This, then, must be the famous Mrs. Wood, complete with granddaughter, maid and chauffeur. Tredinnock filled his pipe slowly, lighted it, and stood contemplating the marks of the tires upon the smooth gravel of the drive.
“Three thirty,” he said aloud, looking at his watch. "Give ’em an hour.”
And he set out again, back through the trees, wondering lazily whether the ancient plutocrat would live up to her extravagant reputation. He did not consider himself to be particularly involved in the result, in spite of the granddaughter; for, although he had had ample experience with the wiles of matchmaking hostesses and had learned to look with suspicion upon practically all mothers, grandmothers and aunts, it was not within the reasonable probabilities for the famous Mrs. Wood to give him particular attention.
"Bigger game, old fellow,” he said, addressing a sceptical squirrel. "That’s what they're after. Bigger game. And we
can sit on the sideline's and thoroughly enjoy ourselves.” Which may have been true for the squirrel, but was hardly an accurate account of his own immediate future. He was to learn in a very short time that the famous Mrs. Wood’s attention was smotheringly, bewilderingly upon him. As he came into the wide hall at the Walkers’ a hall with piano, bookcases, fireplace and flowers, more haunted by the guests than any other room in the house the onslaught began.
“Now this must be Mr. Tredinnock,” a voice crackled in the summer air. “Sally, I Ve wanted to know Mr. Tredinnock ever since I heard he’d come back to these parts . I’m Mrs. W;xxl, and we’re all going out there on the terrace to have tea. How are you? Mercy on us! Look at the mud on the man’s shot's! I declare, it positively resuscitates me to see it. This is my granddaughter, Mr. Tredinnock. Her name is Rosalie Perkins, and she’s my entire family, as I told the consensus taker. How’s your Uncle George?” "He’s dead,” said Tredinnock, taking the old lady’s hand. “Nearly three years ago. Did you know him?”
“Know him!” Mrs. Wood echoed, head on one side and eyes twinkling. "Now, did I know George Tredinnock? My stars, if I’d known him any better I don’t know what the late Cassius Augustus would have said . . . But you don’t favor him very much; and that’s a blessing. I’fn getting too old to lose my heart again . . . Sally, I’m positively ravishing with hunger. Can’t we have tea?’
"I’ve got to go upstairs and change my shoes,” said Tredinnock. "Down again in three minutes.”
T_TE HAD exchanged only a half-smile and the sketch of a bow with Miss Rosalie Perkins, the sulky beauty who was pointed out as Mrs. Wood’s granddaughter. Miss Perkins looked as if her grandmother’s flow of language brought her no delight; Miss Perkins was regular of feature, trim of figure, with dark disdainful eyes and a full-lipped mouth, uttering not a word. Tredinnock diagnosed her case at a glance as one of too much family, even if the family consisted only of the famous Mrs. Wood.
And as for Mrs. Wood herself, the impact of her was almost enough to stun a man who had lived in South America for ten years. She was small, befeathered and twittering like a bird ; she had eyes like a squirrel, voice like a cricket, fingers like the claws of a busy fowl. All the fidgetty indefatigability of the animal kingdom seemed to be concentrated into her one small form, and Tredinnock, unable as yet to separate the elements of this impression, decided that he had seldom met anybody who seemed more comprehensively alive. Her age might have Ixm, as somebody had said the night before, anything from palaeolithic to late Byzantine, but her vitality at first glimpse put her juniors to shame. Tredinnock changed his clothes and came downstairs to pursue the investigation further.
“Here we are,” Mrs. Wood called, “out here on Sally Walker’s terrace, and I declare I’ve never seen a prettier one. Come and sit beside me, Mr. Tredinnock. I want to hear all about South America, and the Peruvians, and so on. Did George Tredinnock leave all his money to you?”
“He did,” said Tredinnock, slightly disconcerted.
“That’s nice,” she said. “It’s fun to be rich. I’ve been rich and poor both, and I can assure you it’s lots more fun to be rich. I always tell Rosalie she must be sure to marry for love, providing the man’s bank account is really corpulent ... I love a tweed suit like that one. Rose, isn’t that a nice tweed suit? Rough, rough, rough.”
She shivered with pleasure, made a face, closed her eyes, and then opened them quickly with a sharp glance at Tredinnock. He was feeling decidedly uncomfortable, particularly as the girl, blushing angrily, had turned to go away.
“I lere’s Sally now, with Rodney,” Mrs. Wood proclaimed, jumping up. Her curiosity about South America and the Peruvians had apparently Ix'en satisfied. "Rodney, my dear, how glad I am to see you! You rememfx-r Rosalie, don’t you? Here she is . . . Why, where’s she gone, the naughty child? Rose! Rose! Come here and meet Rodney. He hasn’t seen you since you were a tiny chick. We were talking about South America, Rodney. What do you know about South America? Do sit down and let’s have some tea. If tea doesn’t ap|x*ar s;x>n I shall be positively emasculated with hunger.”
Mrs. Wood’s costume for the doldrums of the afternoon was sufficiently striking: feathered hat and feathered boa surrounded her vividly painted face, while chains and bangles clanked, glittered or jingled at every movement. However, when she made her entrance for dinner that night before a chosen assembly, Tredinnock became aware that he had seen nothing yet. For the evening’s manoeuvres she had chosen a dress of cut velvet, with diamonds festooned in loops of shining embroidery halfway down the front. Over her shoulders she had a scarf of exquisite cobweb, and rolling superbly over the lace and velvet were the Uspenskaya pearls. The rope went once around the old lady’s neck and then hung, a massive and sinister adornment, down to the diamonds on her bosom. The largest pearls were, Tredinnock thought, about as big as the eggs of a wren. Not content with these evidences of her status, Mrs. Wood had decorated her puffed silver hair with a little tiara about an inch high,
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A Hill of Beans
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peaked with one enormous diamond. Her hands blazed as she moved them about ; and the very buckles on her slippers, when they protruded from the long folds of black velvet, caught the eye with blue-white fire. Thus armored in opulence, she made her way (round the room like a royalty, acknowledging the introductions made to her by her delighted hostess. Her granddaughter, severely elegant in a white satin dress without a single ornament, stood in a comer and observed the imperial progress with dark brows and sulky mouth. Tredinnock went over to her.
“Mrs. Wood is very grand tonight.’’ he observed, eyeing the girl with considerable amusement.
"She glisters enough, doesn’t she?” Miss Perkins answered, looking into his eyes.
TT ALMOST seemed as if the girl wanted
to convey something, a warning or a bit of information. Tredinnock puzzled it out.
“I'm not so quick on the uptake as I was in the days of my youth,” he said humbly. " ‘All that glisters is not gold?’ Is that it? What, exactly, do you mean? Isn’t Mrs. Wood gold?”
Miss Perkins’s regularly beautiful face was pink with annoyance ; she resented his literalness.
“Oh, I think you’re quick enough on the
uptake,” she said incisively, “even in your present decrepitude. I didn’t mean a thing. Of course my grandmother is gold—all gold and a yard wide. I think I ’ll have a cocktail, if you please. Grandmother is always so late coming in that we miss them every time . . . Thanks . . . Did you ever really have an Uncle George, Mr. Tredinnock?”
Again she seemed to be warning him of something.
“Yes,” he said, “I did. And I’m the spitting image of him, although your grandmother didn’t seem to think so.”
The girl sipped her drink sparingly with those lovely, sulky lips. When she spoke again she did not look at Tredinnock at all.
“My grandmother.” she said in a low voice, “is a very peculiar woman, Mr. Tredinnock. But 1 am extremely fond of her j in spite of her oddities . . . Will you get me | one of those round things with bacon—the j things on a toothpick?”
Tredinnock charged the food-and-drink table and brought back a silvei dish.
“Here you ate,” he said. “And just in time. too. They’re going in to dinner.” “Rose.” said Mrs. Wood, returning from her round of the room, “it’s a lovely party, overflowing with lovely people, and here you stand in a comer talking to Mr. Tredinnock . . . But I don’t blame you, to tell the truth.”
The old lady cocked her head mockingly on one side and Hashed a monitory paw at Tred innock.
‘‘I was just like Rose, at her age.” she said. “I would pick out the nicest man in a room and stick to him. Makes the other women furious, but Que voulez-vous? She inheiits her infidelity from me.”
No phonetic soelling would do justice to Mrs. Wood’s French; it sounded as much like Patagonian or Chinese as any other language. Tredinnock bit his lip to hide his amusement; but he had a shrewd suspicion, nevertheless, that Mrs. Wood knew perfectly well what she was saying. In the presence of such infinitely intelligent little eyes, the mocking assurance of her voice and manner, it was impossible to believe in the inadver-
tence of those odditiesof language which had made her famous. Miss Perkins had turned her head aside in unconcealed vexation : the old lady marched in to dinner, and Tredinnock. as he followed in his turn, was for the first time fully aware of two facts: A, that Mrs. Wood was exceedingly interested in his humble self: and B, that Mrs. Wood was making a barefaced attempt to fling her reluctant granddaughter at him. The mystery of such behavior kept him silent and puzzled through most of the meal, with Miss Perkins almost equally silent at his right hand.
\\ hen the women left the room Tredinnock got up to stretch his legs. He was standing near the long French windows of
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! the dining room, looking out at the moonlit j summer night and smoking a reflective I cigar, when he heard his host’s voice ; confidential in his ear.
“Mrs. Wood is acting up for your benefit,
! I believe,” Walker said. “Is this really the I first time you’ve ever met her?”
“Yes,” said Tredinnock, “and she’s a portent in the sky.”
“She’s doing her stuff, anyway,” Walker continued. “I’ve counted about ten wordtwisters she’s pulled t/xlay, and I can’t help believing she’s out to impress somebody.”
“íf it’s me,” said Tredinnock cheerfully, “it’s the mystery of the century, because I’ve certainly got nothing she could want. I’m a moderately obscure and industrious bird, getting nigh on to forty, and the whole of my worldly possessions wouldn’t buy half of that black jx^arl necklace of hers. Maybe she’s just fond of anybody that reminds her of my Uncle George.”
“Maybe so,” he said. “But if you ask me,
I don’t think she ever laid eyes on your Uncle George. He was a crotchetty old fellow, practically never went out, and had a horror of all rich Westerners or anybody like that. I don’t for a minute believe she was a friend of his. But it’s your funeral, anyway.”
“Hope not,” said Tredinnock, frowning. “That’s a nice girl ...”
He did not pursue this line of talk further: but when the men moved into the other room he manoeuvred himself successfully into a position near Sally W alker’s ear.
“If I'm down for bridge,” he whispered, “give me Miss Perkins.”
“You’ve got her anyway,” said Sally, smiling connivance. “In the library, to the right of the fireplace. I’ve put myself and Mr. Jordan with you. I’ll be along as soon as things get settled.”
TREDINNOCK wandered in to the library. Beside the card table which stood at the right of the fireplace he saw I Miss Perkins, looking at the names on the score pad. Tredinnock looked coolly over her shoulder.
“I seem to be here, too,” he said in mild surprise.
“Yes,” she said nervously. “We’re together . . . I’m not a very brilliant player. I’m afraid.”
He ignored this altogether.
“You know.” he said. “I’m obsessed by some kind of feeling of mystery about—well, about Mrs. Wood. And you. It may be too much reading of detective thrillers, bat there it is. What’s the explanation?”
She glanced at him once, and then bent I her head to look at the fireplace. It was full of flowers.
"Spiraea,” she said inconsequently. “I like spiraea . . . Does it occur to you. Mr. Tredinnock, that you are being rather rude?”
“I didn’t think so,” he said placidly. “There’s mystery in the air, and you know what it is, and I don’t.”
“If there were." she said, “why should I tell you? I met you for the first time about five or six hours ago.”
There were hostility, nervousness and something very like despair in her voice. Tredinnock, observing with unexpected pleasure the soft pink curve of her cheek as she stared into the fireplace, was just about to assure her that all secrets were safe with him. But before he could sjx*ak, the brittle sentences of Mrs. Wood began to crackle I behind him.
“Ah. there they are, the sly creatures!” she said archly. “Rose, are you playing bridge? And with Mr. Tredinnock? I ■ declare you’re not wasting much time, are you? Never mind, granny's near by. and if you get into difficulties you’ve only to shout I’m going to play poker. Mr. Tredinnock. Bridge is too intellectual for me. By the time I've counted thirteen four times somebody else has got all my money: and I’d rather lose it at something I can understand. That’s what it is to be superannuI la ted. You have to ...”
And on she chattered, meanwhile disposing various objects all over the long table at which a number of Sally Walker’s guests were supposed to play poker. Mrs. Wcxxi had. as Tredinnock had previously noted, a passion for expensive gadgets of all sorts. Now, before she took her place at the table, she extracted from her handbag a cigarette case, a holder, a lighter, a lorgnon, a silver pencil, and some banknotes held together by a platinum and diamond clip. Her cigarette case was of platinum, with diamond initials on it; her lighter was platinum and emeralds, with a watch set in one side; her holder, very long, was of ivory', platinum and jade; the lorgnon folded into a stick of platinum. When all these toys had been distributed over much more than her due allowance of space, Mrs. Wood seated herself and drew breath.
“Granny makes a card table look like Tiffany’s window,” said Miss Perkins, drumming her fingers on the score pad. “However . . . Here’s Mrs. Walker. And Mr. Jordan. Let’s sit down.”
Hie bridge game was, as the irate Mr. Jordan said, a washout. None of the four players could keep a dear head while the poker game on the other side of the room was in progress; Mrs. Wood’s voice, uttering innumerable words both known and unknown, commanded the air. It almost seemed as if the celebrated lady had decided that poker, and poker alone, should be played in the Walker library that night. After the second rubber Mr. Jordan asserted that he could play no more, that he had a severe headache, and that Sally would have to excuse him and let him slip out quietly without disturbing anybody . . . Sally, whose bridge was never her strongest point, gave in with suspicious ease; and as she flitted off to see how the rest of her party was getting along, Tredinnock found himself again standing with Miss Rosalie Perkins, “It’s a warm night,” he said. “Let’s go out into the garden for a bit. There’s a nice walk down there beyond the terrace, where the kids keep their rabbits. Would you like to see the rabbits?”
Miss Perkins, blushing violently from some emotion which Tredinnock could only supjx)se to be irritation, said she supposed they might as well lcx)k at the rabbits. He pushed open the French windows and the garden lay before them, romantically awash in moonlight.
“Looks like a stage setting, doesn’t it?” he asked. “June moon, and all the rest of it.” “Granny is, at this moment, quivering with delight,” said Miss Perkins unexpectedly. “Do you want me to tell you something?”
“Yes,” said Tredinnock. “Anything.” "Well,” she announced with vigor, kicking a pebble in the walk, “my grandmother’s an arrant matchmaker, and you’re elected the victim. Don’t ask me why. But I think it’s only fair to warn you.”
WARNING received,” he said imperturbably. “Is that all?”
“That’s enough, isn’t it?” she asked. “You come to a friend’s house after a long absence from the country and have a totally strange female flung at you. It’s not fair.” “Suppose I don’t mind being flung at?” he enquired. “It might be just the thing I—” “Oh, don’t pretend, and don’t be polite,” she said bitterly. “And don’t, for heaven’s sake, think you’re the first. Granny’s been behaving like this for four or five years. She thinks it’s time I married. I’m twenty-eight years old. But I always warn—warn them, as soon as possible, and tell them it’s no use.”
“I can’t understand,” said Tredinnock reflectively, “why I should be considered worthy of the honor of having you flung at me. Still, it’s a very pleasant experience. Why don’t you let ’ei go ahead and fling, and see what happens?”
“Well, I won’t.” she said. “That’s flat. That’s why I came out here just now, in this ridiculous moonlight in this ridiculous garden, so that l could tell you once and for all . . . Oh, D>rd ! I wish Granny would let me get a job somewhere and do something. I’d do anything. But I’m tired of being
dumped on to a succession of bored men who—”
“Now look here,” he said, “you’re being neurotic and foolish. You’re a pretty girl with a lot of special, personal charm; almost anybody’d be delighted to have you ‘flung at’ them, as you say. So you needn’t go stewing away about it. It’s all right. I won’t try to carry you off at my saddle-bow if you don’t want to be carried. But I’m here in this house for a long week end. So are you. We’re the only unmarried people under a hundred in the place. Why shouldn’t we be at least friendly for a few days?”
“I’ve tried that, too,” she said morosely. “Look at me,” he commanded.
She looked up, a little startled, and gazed straight at him. His tone had been one which had not often reached her ears: the tone of a man giving orders.
“You’re going to get all that nonsense out of your head for a few days,” he said, “and pretend that you never had a grandmother. There’s lots to do. We can go and dance right now, for instance. Tomorrow morning we can go to the beach. Ride. Play tennis. Or just sit and watch the grass grow. But it’s no fun doing anything if you’re going to mope and brood around about it all the time. We’re on a desert island, so to speak. We’ve got to put up with each other. Why not make the best of it? Okay?”
He stuck his hand out at her. In her surprise she took it.
“Okay,” she said wonderingly.
“That’s the stuff,” he said. “You know what I thought, when I saw you first? I thought: beautiful girl, lovely eyes, lovely lips, desperately unhappy but probably about something that doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.”
“Is that what you thought?” she asked. “Well, you were wrong. Although, of course,
I don’t know what you call a hill of beans.” “There are beans and beans,” he said. “I’d be willing to bet that I know just how much of a hill of beans your troubles amount to . . . And there’s Rodney yelling for us. Come along now, Miss Rosalie Perkins, perk up; we’re allies, aren’t we? We can at least be allies, in spite of your grandmother.” “Hey, you!” Rodney Walker was shouting. “Want to go dancing? Part of our party is going on to the club to dance, and the rest seem to be signing off. Take your choice.” "Miss Perkins has just been saying,” said Tredinnock, "that her feet itched.”
They went to the club and danced. The next morning they went to the beach and basked in the sun, addressing an occasional remark to the placid green waters of the Sound. That afternoon they played tennis; and Saturday night they danced. So numerous and varied, indeed, had been the diversions shared by Miss Perkins and Mr Tredinnock, that by Sunday evening the whole woild of their week-end had learned to greet their slightest appearance with a fond smile.
SALLY WALKER had some people to dinner on that night, and was taking them on to a dance in somebody else’s house afterward. Tredinnock, by one of those accidents which are most successful when carefully arranged, met Miss Perkins on the terrace in the slightly disorganized quarter of an hour between Sally’s dinner party and the departure for the dance. The rest of the women were getting their belongings together; most of the men were in the driveway, arranging the cars. Rosalie came out on the terrace in a white evening cloak, looking for something.
“George!” she said. “Have you seen anything of my grandmother’s lorgnette? That shiny one, you know. She took it off at cocktail time, and thinks she may have left it out here.”
Tredinnock took it out of his pocket and handed it to her.
“Listen,” he said. “I’ve got to go on the early train tomorrow. Will you work it. somehow, so that we can have a long talk tonight? After we come back from the dance. I mean. There won’t be much chance there.”
“What about?” she asked, smiling up at
him. Her sulkiness had vanished altogether in the past two days.
“Well,” he said awkwardly, "it's hard to explain now. Only, you see. I've been coming to—er—share your grandmother’s views. I think you’re the grandest—”
“Oh. nonsense!” she said. “Why do you have to go spoiling everything like that? I thought we’d got on so well, on the other plan. I liked ...”
Her eyes were very wide, protesting. He put a hand on her shoulder: something happened to his voice; it was very husky and uncertain.
“Darling,” he said, “don’t be a fool. Three days are plenty to ...”
Without in the least intending to do so, he suddenly put his arms around her. She clung to him for a long minute and then extricated herself with violence.
“You don’t understand,” she said. “Oh, George, George ! What a pity !”
There were tears in her eyes, but she did not look angry. Then, abruptly, as if she were forcing her hands to execute unwilling orders, she slapped his face. When she turned to run into the house she was crying. He could see the tears on her face.
“Upon my soul,” said the crackling voice of Mrs. Wood. “I’ve not been so pleased at anything in a century.”
r"PHE OLD LADY was suddenly beside Tredinnock. He had no idea where she had come from. He looked down at her thoughtfully, holding his hand to the cheek Rosalie had slapped. The old lady, glittering in jewels, had wrapped herself in a thing of furs and laces for the trip to the dance.
“My heartiest congratulations,” she said. “Rosalie will be a marvellous wife . . . And she’s mad about you. I suppose you know how lucky you are?”
“That depends,” said Tredinnock. “Did you see that right to the jaw? I’m not sure that Miss Perkins altogether agrees with you.”
“Nonsense,” said the old lady airily. “All nonsense, every bit of it. The girl’s simply mad about you. We’ll announce it immediately.”
“You mean that she slapped me—er—out of sheer affection?” Tredinnock asked.
“Something like that,” said Mrs. Wood. “She wants you to desist, as I believe they say. She’s afraid you’ll think she’s mercillary, you know—interested in your money.” “My money?” he echoed, amazed. “But she’s got—or you’ve got—infinitely more than I’ll ever have.”
The old lady chuckled merrily.
“Simple faith,” she said. “They say it’s more than Norman blood, but I’ve never had either, so I can’t tell . . . Here are all the others. My dear Sally Walker, do you know what’s happened? This George Tredinnock here, the wretch, has up and proposed matrimony to my granddaughter, and she’s accepted him ! I declare I’ve never seen a more whirlwind courtship since Cassius Augustus swept me off my feet a hundred years or so ago.”
Sally Walker stared from the doorway. ‘That’s marvellous, ” she said uncertainly. But I was just looking for you. Rosalie just now ran through the hall and upstairs; she was crying, and she wouldn’t stop to speak to any of us. I thought she was ill . . . Oh, is this true? George, how simply marvellous!” You’d all better run along to the dance,” said Mrs. Wood competently. “George and I will stay here for a few minutes. Rosalie’s terribly excited, naturally . . . That’s all. j\ell all three be along in about half an hour.”
There was a hubbub of felicitation ; somebody wanted to stop and toast the affianced m champagne; shouts resounded on the driveway. But Mrs. Wood, with calm and irresistible efficiency, got them all out of the house in less than ten minutes and turned back to Tredinnock in the hall.
‘Now,” he said quietly, “explain. Expound. Hold forth. I don’t get it at all.”
^/JRSWOOD sat down and laughed —
. heartily, tempestuously, and long, 'hen she had finished she wiped her eyes "ith a morsel of white lace, powdered her
ancient nose, and turned twinkling eyes upon him.
Rosalie s got a conscience, young man.’’ she said. “It’s an awful affliction . . . I’ve got one. too, George Tredinnock. only mine's more practical. I don't see why, if there’s a handsome young man in love with Rosalie, and she’s in love with him —I don't see why she shouldn't marry him. The fact that he has a good deal of money and she has none shouldn't mean a thing.”
“Let's get it straight,” he said. “She has no money. Is that it?”
"That’s it,” she said. “Oh. that’s not j what Rose would say. She puts it on j another basis. She says she doesn't in the least mind having no money. What she hates is the way we pretend to be so rich.” “But—but aren’t you?” he asked.
She laughed again, a genuinely mirthful laugh; she was enjoying herself.
“Not a penny,” she said. ‘‘Not one red cent. Oh, there’s a house or two, and my diamonds are real, but have you any idea j what taxes and dividends are like? One goes up and the other goes down, and I 've sold everything that could be sold, and borrowed all it’s possible to borrow, and the net result is that Rosalie won’t have a sou.” Tredinnock looked at her in unwilling admiration.
“You’re a Trojan,” he said, “grandmother-in-law !”
The old lady winked at him.
“I thought you’d be all right, once you were landed,” she said confidingly. “My boy, you’ve no idea how I’ve enjoyed having money. I worked hard enough to get it. | And I’ve spent it—whew! how I’ve spent j it! I’ve had more fun than a barrel of monkeys. It’s been worth fifty millions to me just to fool all these precious rich people—your friends.”
Tredinnock looked at her curiously.
“And those black pearls,” he said. “Aren’t they real either?”
“Best copy you’d find in a year’s journey,” she said. “I once did own the real ones. They’re in South America now . . . What a good time I’ve had, though! Rosalie will never understand atout that—she’s never been poor, never scrubbed a floor. She can’t understand how I enjoy all this—this sort of house, and gadgets with diamonds on them, and motor cars as big as a hearse . . . Well, what do you say? Shall I go upstairs and get your fiancée for you?”
“If you can,” said Tredinnock. “You might, by the way, just tell her something: tell her you’ve told me the whole story—and that it was no news to me. I’d guessed it all, and I don’t give a hoot.”
The old lady looked at him sharply. Then, surrendering to the assurance in his voice, she went to the foot of the stairs and called up piercingly:
"Rose ! Rose ! Come down here at once ! “There’s a young man down here cursing your grandmother. Says he’s you’re fiancé, and he’s getting violent ...”
There was a sound from upstairs.
“There,” said Mrs. Wood with satisfaction, “she’s coming down. Go and be the amorphous suitor, young man. I’ve done a good night’s work, and I’m extradited with fatigue.”
From her platinum handbag she took out platinum cigarette case and lighter, and set off the tiny flame with fingers which blazed blue-white in its momentanbrilliance.