GIFTS for LISA
Margaret Nyren Hoffman
SARAH JENNINGS had her name in gold letters on the great leaded pane of the decorating shop. But she kept her bespectacled, severely tailored self behind a painted screen, leaving only Lisa Strange, her assistant, to catch the eye of the susceptible passer-by.
Lisa supplied a purely lyrical note. She had red hair and eyes like emeralds, and sensitive white hands that t(x>k an endless delight in arranging the lamps and lengths of silk brocade and objets d'art that littered the room. Just now she was unpacking little figures carved out of wrxxl, setting them down one by one on a tul ip-wood table where they made a droll foreign pattern. The last figure of all was a gypsy. She balanced it carefully on the palm of lier hand, a memory stirring sharply in her mind.
Wrinkled nut-brown face. Bright beads. Golden hoops swinging beneath straight black hair. It was all there in the diminutive replica of the flesh and blood gypsy whose palm she had crossed with silver long years ago.
The picture of the gypsy had dimmed, but every morning upon awakening Lisa thought about her prophecy: “Life shall offer you rich gifts.” And every morning she said to herself, “Maybe today something will happen. Maybe today a gift will be offered to me.” She had even made a game of it, visualizing life as a long counter upon which the gifts in colored packages lay at intervals. But so far only one package had been offered to her. This job in Sarah Jennings’s shop. A brown package, she had decided. But that had Ixvn several years ago, and she had begun to lose faith in the gypsy’s prophecy.
THE SHOP BELL tinkled suddenly. Miss Jennings peered through a crack in the screen,then called to Lis;», who found a distinguished looking gentleman, interestingly grey at the temples, waiting just inside the door. She smiled at him enquiringly.
“1 have a house in Normandy WÍXXÍS that’s been closed for several years. I’ve decided too|x*n it again."
“And you want it done over?” prompted Lisa.
“Yes. But in such a way that its well, er charm isn’t impair«!. Sketches have Ix-en submitter! to me but they aren’t quite what I want. I wondered
“You mean you'd like us to submit sketches also? We’ll lx‘ glad to.”
“You understand, of course, that if they aren’t satisfactory
Lisa hastened to reassure him. “In that case you’ll be under no obligation whatscx'ver.”
He scribbled an address on a card and hand«! it to her. “The house will lx: o|x:n in the morning if that’s convenient for you.”
“Quite convenient. Thank you.”
A liveri«! chauffeur ojx?ned the door of the smart town car at the curb. Lisa watched it out of sight. Then she glanced at the card. “Mr. Mortimer Stiles,” she read aloud to Sarah who was coming toward her, pulling on her gloves. Sarah considered her thoughtfully for a long moment.
“Lis;», is it three or four years that you’ve been with me?” “Nearly four.”
“Ilm-m-m, And you've done nothing more pretentious than cottages and bachelor apartments on your own. Well, I’m going to let you try your wings.”
Sarah nodded. “If you can get the feel of Mortimer Stiles’s house and his okay on your sketches I’ll put your name below mine on the window. I low about it?”
Ids;» gasped for air like a fish out of water. Sarah smiled broadly.
“I know. It gets you like that at first. But you’ll get used to it. Izx k up, will you? 1 have to get a haircut before 1 go to that lecture on modern art trends.”
WHEN LISA came to, she was still clutching the little wooden image of the gypsy. She spoke to it softly. “What are you? Magic? Another package. Let’s see, a green one this time.”
Laughing excitedly, she went to the window and trailed her fingers across the space below the gold letters. A challenge? Yes, life had offered her a challenge.
Suddenly she bethought herself of something. No one would step in now. The street outside was dark. Rain was silvering the decorative hedge below the window. Cars, people, were hurrying by, homeward bound. Now was the time to do the foolish something she had always wanted to do.
Clearing a table of damask samples and art magazines,
she pulled out a drawer in an ancient carved chest and brought forth a dozen empty gift boxes of assorted shapes and sizes. She found colored paper, a box of gold seals. Slowly she wrapped a box in brown paper. Another one in bright green. It was wickedly extravagant, of course. But that's what made high moments what they are. A blue package came next. Then a royal purple one. A silver. A rose . . .
A vague noise made her look up. A man was peering at her through the window, his nose all but pressed against the pane. Lisa thought suddenly of a hungry boy gazing into a bakery shop. She thought of a forlorn waif happening upon the miracle of a toy display.
The box in her hand slid to the floor. The man’s eyes shifted suddenly to look into hers. Lisa felt her heart beat slowly, thickly, then it raced madly on again.
The door opened. She went toward him, demanding breathlessly:
"You wanted something?”
"Yes. The little carved gypsy on the table caught my eye. I thought I could use it for a paper weight.”
I le was tall. 1 lis hair was the color of rich mahogany. His eyes were a warm brown, twinklingly alive.
“I’m sorry, the gypsy isn't for sale. I’m afraid it isn’t weighted enough to hold pajx-r anyway. But I have some adorable bronze dogs. Or a penguin.”
"I saw’ a penguin once in the aquarium. He was doing flipflops. Cute little rascal.”
He grinned down at her—a crooked, engaging grin—and Lisa suddenly felt confused. She hurried to find the penguin.
WI1EN IT WAS wrapped she found her customer eyeing the colored packages on the table.
"Is this a grab-a-package or something? How much? I like surprises.”
"No. Oh, no,” Lisa laughed weakly. Then suddenly, not knowing in the least that she was going to do so, she found herself telling him about the gypsy and her prophecy and the game she had made of it. When she had finished he cocked an appraising eye at the table.
"IBooks like a dull assortment to me. Something seems to be lacking. Oh, I know. A gold package’ll do the trick. Try it and sec.”
Obediently she hunted for gold paper. The man went on talking.
"Gold is the color of sunshine and stars. It’s in the campfire beside your tent at night, in the glow of a pipe. Take all that out of the world and see how dull ...”
He paused so long that Lisa looked up enquiringly. He was staring at her hair. Flushing, she decided it was high time to lxbusinesslike and end this -whatever it was.
“Would you like to l;x»k at some Dresden figurines, or”— desperately she looked around —"or a banjo clock?”
"No sale on lx>th counts. I’m an engineer. I practically live in a brief case. You know your hair was red when I came in. Now, under the lamp it’s pure gold. Makes me want to touch it.”
On the surface, Lisa w as annoyed. Inside, she didn’t know w hat she was. She strove for a semblance of dignity.
"I'm sorry, but it’s half an hour after closing time. If there is nothing more you want, I’m locking up.”
"Good! I’ll wait for you.”
"Thanks, don’t bother. I have a car outside.”
She struggled to say it but no sound came. Not even a squeak of a sound. She looked to the latches on the windows. Rummaged for a rain coat in a closet. A rain coat that made her look as if she were wrapped in bright green Cellophane. Turning off the lamps, she finally joined him at the d;x)r.
"That outfit makes you l;x>k like a green lollipop. Gtxxl enough to eat.”
"I’m really starved,” proclaimed Lisa, and then wondered what had made her say such an idiotic thing.
"1 am, too. Let’s do something about it, shall we?”
Lisa considered him with frowning concentration. She really ought to say something insultingly clever to put him in his place. She really ought to walk off and leave him standing here this fresh engineer from the wide open spaces. I le probably had a girl in every . . .
“Listen, lady. I’m off to Central America in a few days. I'll be gone a year or longer. I don’t know a soul in this town. I was walking along the street, kx>king in people’s window’s. Watching mothers and dads and the kids gather around supper tables. Then I came to this little uptown shop. I looked in and saw you. And you looked like Christmas, or something in a dream, and I well I—”
Suddenly she remembered his face as it had looked, peering in at her through the window. She capitulated, wholly and completely. She smiled at him. She walked along beside him. Meekly, without a word. Because she wanted to. Because it seemed to have been planned for her aeons and aeons ago, so what could a girl do about it anyway?
The next morning, lying awake in her bed, she couldn’t think what had come over her. To break bread with a stranger. And then, worse, to take him for a ride in her own car. They had driven to a high place where the city looked like a jewel glittering in the black velvet box of night, and
after a while he had put his arms around her and kissed her. And she had kissed him back.
Remembering, her fingers moved over the soft smooth curves of her mouth. Then suddenly she was scornfully impatient with herself. Gypsy magic, that’s what it had been. Yesterday’s gypsy magic. But today was another day. A new day with no time for nonsense.
She hurried to the shop and had all the foolish, telltale packages safely stowed away in a drawer by the time Sarah arrived. She placed the little carved gypsy on the table with the other little carved figures that were for sale. And that was that. Its magic was finished. Done. Ended for ever.
When she w-as ready to leave for Mortimer Stiles’s house she stopped beside Sarah’s desk.
"No-o-o, I think not.” Sarah drummed thoughtful fingers on the glass top. "Still you might keep in mind that we have an authentic Italian chapel to dispose of—as well as some white chairs with cherry red trimmings.” She grinned. “Good luck, Lisa. It’ll be fun to have your name on the window. I’ve thought for a long time that mine looked rather lonesome.”
"Thanks. I’ll do my best.”
SHE DIDN’T KNOW what kind of house she had expected Mortimer Stiles to have, but she found a lovely old house on a hilltop with a view toward far horizons. Crocuses made a purple and gold pattern on the smooth green lawns, and Lisa thought the scene looked like a bolt of colorful print unrolled beneath the trees.
The caretaker let her in. Slowly, carefully, she explored. She walked through rooms drenched with sunshine. She sat in chairs. Picked up books. Looked at pictures. Then she drove back to the shop.
Finding Sarah alone she perched on a comer of her desk, sitting silent so long that Sarah prodded her impatiently.
“What’s the matter? Is the job tex) big for you?”
Lisa shook her head.
"I was just wondering howr it would seem to live in a house like that. Life would lx? such a gracious thing. I’d like it.”
Suddenly aware of the amusement behind Sarah’s glasses, she went on briskly:
“The Italian chapel and the white chairs are out. I’m sorry, but it isn’t that kind of a house.
It’s full of sentiment. Full of a man and a woman and their three small daughters. The wife died.
Since then the man has travelled, the girls have lived with an aunt of his. But now—” She paused, seeing Sarah’s lifted eyebrows.
"The caretaker’s wife told me. She gave me tea. The furniture has been uncovered all this time. Most of it is good, too. Paper, carpets, drapes—faded, of course ...”
Her mind already busy with the fascinating problem of doing a house, she wandered off. Sarah called to her.
"Oh, Lisa, some man was here to see you. He bought the little carved gypsy. Said he'd be back later.”
If she experienced the tiniest twinge of regret at losing the gypsy, Lisa refused to admit it.
"I can’t be bothered with a pesky engineer. That’s what he is, you know. Wandered in here last night like a stray. Bought a paper weight or something.” Nice convincing touch, that. "I think I'll run along to my apartment. Send out for my dinner, and work. An idea or two is perking already.”
"Afraid of the pesky man, Lisa?” came Sarah’s drawl. “Not running away by any chance, are you?”
"Maybe. 1 don’t know. He got under my skin last night. Maybe he would again. I'm not waiting to find out. See you tomorrow.”
When tomorrow came she spent the whole day at
Mortimer Stiles’s house, measuring windows, checking up on exposures, planning color schemes. The morning after that she was at the shop early. The pesky engineer was there ahead of her. Lisa gave him a small, exasperated smile.
"Don’t tell me you’ve come for another paper weight? You’ll have to pay excess baggage on that brief case of yours.”
He grinned at her. Lisa’s heart turned over. Y'esterday she had forgotten him. Now she wondered how she ever could have. It seemed like treason.
"Listen, lady. I’m sailing away on a ship in three days. How about having a picnic with me today?”
"Sorry. I never picnic on Fridays.”
"For the last two days I’ve felt the story of my life coming on.”
"I’m not interested in oral autobiography. But I am interested in getting my name on this plate-glass window’.”
"But that isn’t important. Not really. Listen, would you give me a break if you thought I were one of your funny packages?”
“Of course not.” She turned her slim back on him.
THAT AFTERNOON she went to the beach with him. The next afternoon, t;xx The third afternoon they were very gay over sandwiches, pickles and coffee, but now they were quiet. Lisa was watching a faint rose creep into the sky. The man was watching her.
“Alan, I think perhaps the silver package is full of sunsets.”
“Some day I’ll show you a real sunset. In the desert.”
Lisa sighed. Not so good.
“There are a million things I want to show you. Not cities. Not buildings. Not dead things in cases. Have you ever seen a lizard with a long, pale-blue tail? Or a red cliff? Or a fish jumping up over a waterfall?”
Lisa trembled. Astonishingly casual words. A ridiculously shaken voice. Under the surface of the casual words the voice really said : “I love you. I love you. I love you.” Physically two feet of sandy beach separated them. But she was really in his arms. She thought, panic-stricken: “I must go. I really must.” But she sat unstirring, watching the receding waves leave a ruffle of lace on the sand.
The sky was a thing of savage splendor when he asked her to marry him.
“I’ve never said that to anyone before,” he added simply.
“But I barely know you, Alan,” she said slowly, unhappily. “So how can I be sure about you? You see —oh, I know this must sound frightfully silly—but I didn’t tell you everything that the gypsy said. Life will offer me rich gifts—but only one will make me completely happy. So how can I tell if you’re the right package until I know' what’s in all the others?”
They talked it over, their voices rising imperceptibly. When the sky was quite grey they were quarrelling. Suddenly Lisa began to cry. Alan put liis arms around her and held her tight.
“Darling, don’t cry. You don’t have to marry me. Wait for the other packages. They aren't important. But they seem important to you. I understand.”
Lisa wiped her eyes.
“You'll come back, Alan. And you’ll write to me, won't you? And tomorrow you’ll come for me and I'll see you off at the lx>at with a lot of silly surprises.” She pressed a little closer against him. "Alan —”
“I’m sorry you bought the little gypsy. I should have liked to give it to you.”
“You can give me something else instead. The memory of this” he ran his lingers clumsily over her red hair —• “and this”his head bent over hers. Lisa lay very still in his arms and let him kiss her.
This was their farewell to each other, but Lisa didn’t know it until the next day when a note in a strange handwriting was delivered to her. 11 read :
“Lisa, my dear:
Pale hands waving from a dock are all right in books and on the screen, but they have no appeal for me in real life. So I’m writing—good-by. Maybe it's egotism, or fatuous conceit, or just plain nasty vanity, but 1 can’t help feeling that if my love for you isn’t the prize package—the golden package— —on your counter of life, then jx;rhaps it is just as well that yesterday happened as it did.
CIX MONTHS later, Lisa had her name on the great leaded window below Sarah’s. They made a little ceremony of it. Had dinner sent in from a near-by tea room. Drank a gay toast to the success of the future. And then Sarah had to rush off to an engagement somewhere, and Lisa stayed to clear up.
When the lamps were finally turned off, and only the street lights were reflected in the mirrors, she stopped for a moment to look at her precious name. It shone splendidly in gold. The letters felt richly embossed beneath her fingers. It was her reward for having achieved success with Mortimer Stiles’s house.
For any other house she could have planned a dozer, striking new interiors, but there was an intangible something about the full-length portrait of the wife and mother a wistful madonna hanging above the mantel in the living room which prompted her to retain and enhance the original charm and simplicity of the house. But it had been fun to plan |>astel Ixdrooms for three young girls; to hang taffeta drapes; to transform a room with exactly the right wallpajx'r. Satisfying to install a comfortable red leather chair in the library. To turn an unused room into a black and orange billiard room with a smartly modernistic note.
When she had notified Mr. Stiles that the house was ready for occupancy, she saw to it that fires were laid on every hearth. She instructed the caretaker’s wife to place fresh flowers about the rooms. And then she drove back to the shop, feeling curiously tired and lonely.
A few days later a note came from Mr. Stiles inviting Sarah and her to have tea with him informally on Sunday afternoon. It proved to lx; a pleasant occasion. Mr. Stiles was delighted with the house, and in a confidential moment showed them one or two of the sketches submitted by rival firms one a nxxiernistic room in black and chromium and crystal—the other extremely formal in garnet and white.
“All right in their place, I suppose,” he commented dryly, “but it would have meant discarding the very keynote of this house.” Lisa saw his eyes stray to the jx>rtrait above the mantel. Then he turned to her. “You have rare understanding indeed, Miss Strange, to have caught the very essence of the thing I wanted to preserve for my daughters.” Later he proudly presented the girls to them, and Lisa found them completely charming in their slim frocks and smooth, brushed hair. And when Sarah and she were ready to go, he casually mentioned his younger sister who lived out of town.
"I’m going to write her about you two,” he promised with his slow smile. “She has an enormous house and she’s always spending money on it.”
And now her name was in gold letters for all the world to see. The green package had brought her a career and success. But what of it? Why did she feel so curiously flat and dull?
Pressing her flushed cheek against her name on the window, she longed suddenly, heartbreakingly, for Alan as she had longed for him many times during the past few months. If only he would come along now and find her standing here. He’d tuck lier hand beneath his arm. He’d grin down at her with that crooked, endearing grin of his. He’d say something funny to make her laugh.
And then she remembered. I íe had written her—good-by. The moon had been hers. But now it was back in the sky again. And it was no use crying for the moon. Not ever. Suddenly her name beneath her cheek was wet.
Where was rapture?
Lisa helped Sarah do a cottage for a honeymoon couple, and a white and cherry red apartment for an actress. Sarah Continued on page 51
Contuuu'd JTOfll aQr 7 on J~i~c .5
was delighted to be rid at last of the white leather chairs. Lisa was indifferent. Sarah frankly worried about her. She suggested trips here and there, a few weeks vacation. But Lisa refused stubbornly to leave.
Then one morning a letter came from Mr. Stiles’s sister, Mrs. Randall Frost. She wrote that several new guest houses were about completed and that if Jennings and Strange cared to do them . . .
Sarah didn’t bother to finish the letter. She called to Lisa, told her to pack at once and leave on the next train.
‘‘It’s warm down there. Loaf when you can. The change will do you good.”
“A change would do you good, too,” protested Lisa. “Why should I be pampered?”
“Work never hurt anybody and I'm as fit as a fiddle. It’s the heart complications that upset things. I'm immune. Run along now and be good.”
Lisa flushed under Sarah’s probing eye. She ran along.
ALICIA FROST was as different as posA sible from her brother, Lisa discovered. She was a vivacious brunette, with an indulgent husband and a fantastic pink Spanish house. The small new guest houses made a semicircle in the tropical shrubbery back of it. There was a swimming pool and a tennis court, and guests seemed to fill both at all hours of the day and night.
That first evening Lisa arrived while dinner was in progress. A tray was sent to her room, and later Alicia Frost knocked on her door and asked her if she wouldn’t like to join her guests for the unveiling of a portrait. One of the artists in the near-by colony had done a house guest of hers, she explained.
So Lisa went down and looked at the portrait—a pagan study of a girl with hair like black glass, slumbrous dark eyes and a disturbing red mouth. And presently she had a glimpse of the girl herself. She was as beautiful as a young Salome, thought Lisa, as she stood there smilingly acknowledging the congratulations of the group crowding around her.
A day or two later she met Tiffany Lake.
He was tall but not so tall as Alan. That was a trick she had acquired lately, comparing every new man with Alan. He was dark and rather theatrical looking in his grey flannels and orange turtle-neck sweater.
Before long she discovered that he wore I turtle-neck sweaters on every possible1 occasion.
Ile was always underfoot, but she didn’t mind because he made amusing copy for her letters to Sarah. And then someone told her that he was the Tiffany Lake whose untidy scrawl made a painting expensive and sought after.
A few mornings later, when he asked her if she'd mind his sketching her, she was frankly surprised.
“That’s very flattering,” she smiled slowly up at him. “But did you take a good look at me? Rumpled smock, yardstick in hand, surrounded by paint pots and drapery samples—when there’s a dozen exciting, glamorous girls out there in the pool?”
His easy, amused smile flickered across his face like phosphorescence across a dark sea.
“You look at them. You look away. They’re forgotten. But you have something I've not been able to forget. Green eyes. Do you know anything about green eyes? Well, I’ll tell you. They should be arrogant, cool, amused, gloating, excited, provocative, maddening, mocking, imperious, triumphant —but never, oh, never haunted. And never j restless and seeking and dissatisfied as the ' sea waves. And set in a face as strange and lovely as a lost mermaid's—well, it makes me want to paint you.”
After that, wherever she went Tiffany j Lake went, too, sketchbook in hand.
Presently the guest houses were finished. One or two as austere and bare as monks’ | cells. The others in bizarre colors and furnishings that evoked screams of delight from Alicia Frost and her guests.
“If everything is satisfactory I believe I’ll leave on the afternoon train,” Lisa finally i said to her hostess. But Alicia Frost would I not hear of it.
“Oh, you must stay the week-end. You’ve worked so hard. Now it’s time to play. My brother Mortimer is motoring down. 1 wired him the guest houses were finished. Besides, there’s to be dancing tomorrow evening and on Sunday evening Tiffany has promised us a special surprise. You ! simply must stay.”
So Lisa wired Sarah she’d return on the j late train Monday.
SOMEHOW she couldn’t picture Mortimer Stiles in this atmosphere of careless i gaiety, but time and again, to her own
surprise, she found herself seeking his companionship. 'Hiere was something infinitely restful about his slow smile and long silences after the giddy antics of her I contemporaries. Slowly they became friends.
On Sunday evening she pul on lier black velvet gown. It muffled her to the chin in front, and revealed a smooth creamy oblong in back. Above it her hair flamed gloriously. Her carved earrings and slim sandals matched her eyes. Coming down the long staircase, she saw Tiffany Lake and Mortimer Stiles smiling up at her. It made her feel vaguely excited.
Tiffany Lake took her by the hand and led her into a room whose door had been closed all day. The others trooped after them, chattering and laughing. On the walls hung a dozen sketches in color. Lisa stared at them, transfixed with wonder. Unerringly he had caught the distinction of her slender body, the odd allure of her face, but it was the eyes that held her attention—the moody, restless, searching eyes.
An excited little group closed in around her. They congratulated her, flattered her, gushed over her— and then, drawn by some, thing beyond them, Lisa gazed straight into the passionate dark eyes ol the young Salome. The girl turned away, but not before Lisa saw desperate tears glistening j upon her long lashes.
Suddenly the faces crowding around her ■ looked like grinning gargoyles. They suffocated her. She longed to get away from them. When finally she did, she found Tiffany beside her. They strolled across the torch-lit patio to the dusky garden beyond. Finding a bench he turned to her, tense with suppressed excitement.
"Lisa, that exhibition in there—it’s only a pale imitation of the real thing. Imagine your ixirtraits hanging in every important salon in Paris, in London, in Rome. Imagine the whole world flocking to see them— praising my work, admiring you, making you famous, making me more famous than I am.”
Lisa suddenly felt smothered by his emotional intentness. She strove for casual airy banter, but could think of nothing to say. 1 lis hand covered hers.
"I’m leaving soon for a trip around the world. Why don’t you come with me, Lisa?”
Suddenly she thought of the gypsy. Another gift was being offered to her. In a royal purple package this time. It contained an iridescent bauble. A beautiful, exciting bauble. Presently she thought of the girl ! with the black glass hair. Had she forgotten by now that a bauble can be glamorous, and remembered only how quickly and easily it — shattered?
Slowly Lisa withdrew her hand.
"You flatter me, Tiffany. But I’m afraid I’d let you down frightfully. You see, travelling around the world with you I’d be sure to run across porcelains and snuff boxes and maybe a Beauvais tapestry that Sarah would like for the shop, and then what would happen to my haunted expression? I’d have the look of a bargain hunter, a—”
Tiffany Lake swore. He took her in his arms. 1 le called her a little devil. And then someone came toward them through the dim garden and she found herself abruptly released.
“Is that you, Miss Strange? I didn’t mean to intrude but—
“You’re not intruding, Mr. Stiles." Lisa rose with slow grace. Her hand touched Tiffany Lake’s hand fleetingly. "I'm sorry,” she siiicl. Then she turned away from him.
"I’m driving back very early in the morning,’’ said Mr. Stiles. “1 wondered if you’d care to come along?”
Lisa smiled shakily, feeling vaguely upset by the possessive feel of Tiffany Dike’s arms around her.
“It’s nice of you to think of me. I’ll be delighted.”
SHE ENJOYED the drive. The day was mild, the car flowed smoothly along a road that dipped into valleys, swept over hills and ambled through small towns. And when Mortimer Stiles felt like talking, which
was most of the time, they discussed the pros and cons of government regulation, Hitlerism, and movie censorship.
Suddenly out of a comfortable silence he said:
“I like talking with you. You disagree with my point of view often enough to make it interesting.”
“You make it sound like an accomplishment,” laughed Lisa.
“It is, I assure you. You know, running down to Alicia’s wasn’t just an idle fancy of mine. It was deliberate. Living among the things you selected for my house made me feel that I wanted to know you better. And this week-end I’ve discovered something—’’
Lisa lifted disturbed green eyes to his.
“—a new interest in life. I’ve had love and romance. They’re a treasured memory. For many years I thought life was over for me. But now I find there can Ixi friendship —and companionship— with a lovely, understanding person like you. And my daughters—you can do so much for them. I know I’m being very abrupt and clumsy about this—but will you think about it? And some day—when you know us a little better ...”
Watching the flying landscape, Lisa suddenly felt very proud, very humble. It would be nice to be Mrs. Mortimer Stiles. She would have a beautiful home, security, social position. And a family who needed her. Her days would be full of pleasant things. It was a blue package. Really the very nicest package of all.
An hour or two later she opened the door of the decorating shop. And then stood so long on the threshold that Sarah, having caught sight of her through the crack in the screen, came forward to greet her.
“What’s the matter, Lisa? Are you going to run after the car—or are you coming in? Mortimer Stiles, isn’t it?” She lcx>ked at her sharply through her glasses.
“Yes. Mortimer Stiles.” Lisa came in and quietly closed the door. She set down her bag, pulled off the smart little hat with the shining brown quills. “He was down at the Frost’s for the week-end. We drove up together. Sarah, he’s really one of the nicest persons I’ve ever known. He asked me to marry him. Whoever would have thought when I decorated his house that one day I would—Sarah, what on earth ! Why all the funny faces?”
And then beyond Sarah’s shoulder she saw him. A tall figure in careless tweeds. A flash of hungry, hurt eyes in a lean brown face.
"Alan!” Swiftly she went to him. “I never dreamed ...”
Standing beside him, she wondered if the brief revealing glance had been real or only a figment of her imagination. For now his eyes were merely cool, impersonal, a little amused.
“I just dropped in to say hello—and good-by. I’m on my way to China. I couldn’t help overhearing what you said to Miss Jennings. May I wish you every happiness? And until I can shop for a suitable gift, won’t you accept this?”
He reached into his pocket, laid something in her hand. She could not see what it was.
I lis face was a blur. The room was a fantastic blur. And when lamps and bric-à-brac and needlepoint footstools made a clear familiar pattern again, he was gone. Lisa Ux>ked down at the object in her hand. It was the little carved gypsy.
“Sarah, where did he go? I must find him. There’s something I want to ask him.”
BUT THE STREET was empty. And Sarah knew nothing of his whereabouts. Lisa dashed around the corner to the garage where she kept her car. She drove to the beach because it was here that Alan and she had spent three happy afternoons aeons ago.
Now the blue and gold world was completely out of tune with her mood. Figures j lay prone on the sand like bright daubs on a j palette. A man was racing his dog. A group i of laughing children played beach ball, their ¡ voices filling the air like small noisy birds.
Suddenly tired, Lisa sat down to watch : them, her glorious hair uncovered, her hands clasped loosely about her slim brown wool knees. The beach ball was huge and golden. ¡
She thought it looked like a small lost sun bobbing against the blue sky.
Abruptly the ball flashed into the water. The children howled, rushing back and forth distractedly. Lisa pulled off her shoes, called to them reassuringly. The ball was within her grasp when a wave, unexpectedly larger than the rest, threw her off her balance Dazed, gasping, she floundered helplessly.
The next thing she knew the children’s frightened faces made a blurred half-circle above her. Someone was rubbing her hands. She caught the flash of a crooked, reassuring grin.
“Do you always run after yellow balls when they—”
“It reminded me—of a golden package.” The sea was black and soft and it was creeping up around her. “I didn’t want it— I’ve been searching—and now it’s lost—” The dark, soft sea closed over her face.
When she opened her eyes again a tweed coat smelling faintly of tobacco lay across her shoulders. She sat up, smiled ruefully into anxious brown eyes.
“Sorry, guess I’m not up on the technique of such big greedy waves.”
"Takes tricky footwork all right.” His eyes crinkled, then sobered again. “If you
feel up to it, perhaps we’d better go. You’ll catch cold.”
Presently they were walking along the beach. She was leaning against him ever so slightly.
“Alan, why did you come—just here— today?”
“Because I had lost you. I wanted to recapture something.”
“You still love me !” She looked up at him wonderingly. “Then why did you tell me— good-by—in a note?”
“1 decided I'd leave a clear field for your other packages. I had an idea that if I”— She saw a nerve quiver suddenly in his cheek—“well, anyway, my psychology stunt went haywire.”
“But it didn’t, Alan.” Her voice was soft, breathless. “The minute you took the golden package away it was the only one I wanted. I’m not going to marry Mortimer Stiles. His gift tempted me terribly—but it was only a substitute. I want the real thing. My man. The home he’ll provide for me. Our children. Our love for each other ...”
They had reached the car now and Alan, lifting her into it, held her close for a moment. Lisa clung to him, her eyes, tranquil and shining, smiling into his.