FICTION

Too Much Charm

JOSEPHINE BENTHAM April 1 1935
FICTION

Too Much Charm

JOSEPHINE BENTHAM April 1 1935

Too Much Charm

JOSEPHINE BENTHAM

CARLOTTA flipped a napkin over her knees, dug a spoon into her grapefruit, and acknowledged the existence of Fanny—gift of Sweden. Carlotta might have been posing for her portrait—a modern young woman on the verge of going to the office. She was excellently dressed for the rôle in a tailored frock of cool cucumber green. Her hair left evident a firm young brow, and was coiled in a small, smooth bun at the nape of her neck. Carlotta’s lipstick had brought no violent note of contrast to this severe and uncompromising effect, and only Carlotta’s eyes betrayed any rebellion on the part of the inner woman. Carlotta’s eyes had the color and light of rain on an April day—but when her dark lashes were lowered over these eyes, she was the very' portrait ol Mr. Henry Meredith’s perfect secretary, of Mr. Meredith’s invaluable Miss Bames.

A few people thought that Cariotta was very nice, apart from being invaluable. But even these few people had to admit that the rest of the Bames family had more—they hesitated for a moment, and then said that perhaps the rest of the family had charm.

Cariotta had been the first to appear at the breakfast table; it being an incontrovertible fact that not many charming people like to rise very early. But now Ted Bames stood in the doorway, lifting the palm of his hand in easy salute before he sauntered into the room and pulled out the chair opposite Carlotta’s.

Cariotta looked at her handsome young brother in halfhumorous appraisal.

“You’re a very sleepy looking brat,” she observed, yanking the plug out of the percolator. “Don’t you ever go to bed?”

“And me so popular?” He sniffed the coffee dubiously. “Well, there was quite a party over at Bill’s last night. Cariotta. Strictly stag. I lost my shirt.”

“Poker?”

“No. The rolling bones. Fanny, I can’t tell you how loathsome those eggs look to me. Take ’em away, there’s a good soul.” He turned back to Cariotta. “The trouble is that I shot the works, and I forgot all about that extra ten dollars this month.”

“Do you need it for your savings account?” asked Cariotta tenderly.

“Now leave out the cracks, old dear,” he begged her. “I can’t crack back because I’m not what you might call in form this morning, see? No, I want that ten to chip in my share for paying what happened to old Bill’s car last week. I mean he simply had to leave one of the fenders hanging to a tree, and he hasn’t any insurance.”

“Do you want it in cash?” said Cariotta, fumbling in her pocket book.

“I think you’re swell,” said Ted. “I think, if you want to know, that you’re a compendium of all the virtues.” “That sounds like a perfectly horrible thing to be,” said Cariotta.

SHE GLANCED up to smile at her mother, who was looking very young in a persimmon-colored negligee. Ted arose and pulled out a chair, into which Kate Barnes sank with a grateful little sigh.

“Fanny!” she said. “I just want coffee this morning. And maybe an aspirin?”

“Headache?” asked Ted.

“Oh, terrible,” said his mother.

But she smiled engagingly as she spoke; one knew that the pain was almost as light as a caress.

“Cariotta, dear,” she went on, “I especially wanted to see you before you left. Because I can’t very well go down-

town today, what with one thing and another, and I thought you might turn into Henderson and Clark’s for me, and find out what in the world they’re holding up that dress alteration for—I simply can’t get any sense out of them over the telephone, and after all they’d promised it last Friday and maybe while you were sort of in that neighborhood you might price those wine glasses.”

“Wine glasses?”

“The ones we thought of for your Aunt Sheila’s birthday. I mean just drop in during your lunch hour, won’t you?” “All right,” said Cariotta. “Now I’ve got to dash.”

“Oh, dear,” said her mother. “You wouldn’t have time to run in to see Julie just for a minute?”

“What’s she been up to?” demanded Ted with interest. “Nothing much. It’s only about Pete again. And she’s low in her mind.”

Cariotta went up the stairs hastily. She found her sister Julie sitting up in bed, frantically running her hands through a mop of red-gold curls. But at once Julie turned her tearstained face to the door.

“Oh, Cariotta!” she wailed. “Oh, Cariotta!”

“Well, what is it now?” Cariotta demanded weakly. Then Julie flung herself, sobbing, into her sister’s arms. It was all her own fault, she admitted. It came, she said, of being a weak character overly fond of admiration. Cariotta glanced at the ring finger of Julie’s left hand; it was without ornament.

“Poor old Peter Hastings,” murmured Cariotta.^ "That wasn’t a ring he gave you; that was a basket-ball.”

Julie drew away a little.

“How can you be so flippant, Cariotta?”

“I’m not being flippant,” said Cariotta. “I’m in a kind of a funny mood myself this morning.”

Julie ignored Carlotta’s mood.

“There was a man called Nigel Kent. That s a nice name, don’t you think? Distinguished? Well, it wasn’t my fault exactly. After all, he was one of Peggy’s guests too—and I had to dance with him, didn’t I?”

“I don’t know. Why can’t you just make faces at people?” “Maybe I’m one of the world’s irresistible women, Cariotta.”

“I’d rather read about ’em,” muttered Cariotta, “than live with ’em.”

“I didn’t really mean to make Pete jealous, you know.” “See here, child, I’ve got to go to work. I can’t stay here all day talking about passion.”

Julie looked at her reproachfully.

“Peter says,” said Julie, “that this time he’s really going to—well, he says he’s going to shoot himself or go to the devil or something, Cariotta.”

The sunlight filtered through the blinds and drew lemoncolored lozenges all over Julie’s blue quilt. And the Barnes s cat came into the room and played with the silk tassel of Julie’s dressing gown. It was hard to believe that Julie’s suitor or anybody else was going to the devil, at this time of day. Cariotta stole an anxious glance at her wrist-watch.

“He won’t talk to me,” wailed Julie. “He just hangs up the telephone.” ,

“But I don’t think he’ll shoot himself,” said Cariotta. “He never does.”

“You know he always listens to you,” ventured Julie. Cariotta looked at her desperately.

“Peter’s a nice boy,” she said at last, “but all this sex business embarrasses me.”

So Julie began to cry again.

“All right,” said Cariotta hastily. “I’ll ’phone him from town—and I’ll do my best.”

BUT TIIE morning was almost gone before the allairs of Henry Meredith’s advertising office could give way to the desperate case of young Hastings. Cariotta made sure that she was alone and pulled the telephone forward resolutely.

“Pete,” she said, “this is Cariotta.”

“Oh !”

"Yes. I just wanted to tell you not to be silly.”

There was a prolonged silence from the other end of the line.

“I don’t mean,” said Cariotta, “that Julie isn’t difficult.” “Difficult !”

"Yes, but you really must be patient with her. She’s just a child, you know.”

“Listen, Cariotta,” came young Hastings’ solemn voice. “I wouldn’t take this from anybody but you. And that’s because I respect your opinion about as much as the opinion of anybody 1 know. If Julie had half your sense

“She wouldn’t have half her charm,” murmured Cariotta. “What’s that?”

“Nothing. I just said that Julie had charm.”

“Well, listen, I know that— but the point is, the way she treats me is simply unbelievable. You realize that as well as 1 do, Cariotta. I don’t have to tell you. She’s—”

“See here, Peter, why don’t you call her up and tell her you’re sorry?”

“'Fell her I'm sorry?” he repeated incredulously.

“Yes, tell her you’re sorry about the whole business, whatever it was. You might as well. Julie’s sort of spoiled, but it’s too late to do anything about that now. You call her up and take her out to lunch. And the two of you can talk t over.”

Cariotta smiled faintly. She saw her sister Julie arraying herself for conquest in her new apple-green dress, wearing the apple-green bonnet artlessly over a fringe of curls. Then she glanced at her wrist-watch, and sent the office boy out for a snack.

Her mother, who had never had a lunch hour, thought of

that jieriod as an incalculable stretch of time. Cariotta reminded herself of this, as she whisked away the last crumbs of a peanut-butter sandwich. The bread had been just a little bit stale.

But it was necessary to suppress a swift tide of self-pity when she saw the black velvet hostess gown at Henderson and Clark’s. The fact that with all her heart she craved the hostess gown was checkmated by the fact that she d have had very little opportunity to wear it. She was vexed to lind herself lingering over the impractical garment; she reminded herself of Julie’s bills.

Then she hurried away to take care of Aunt Sheila s wine glasses. She was jostled by a very stout woman, determined of chin, and for a second Cariotta had a glimpse of herself in a mirror—her hat pushed to a most unbecoming angle.

And at that moment, lingering the stem of one of Aunt Sheila’s wine glasses, she could have burst into tears. Hie trouble was—she decided, trying to analyze this amazing impulse—that she had no life of her own. Kate Barnes had no sense about time, so Cariotta had no time of her own; Ted and Julie Barnes had no sense about money, so Cariotta had no money of her own. But she couldn t blame them. It was her fate to be the sedate and responsible member of an irresponsible family; it was her fate to be the child and sister of three of the world’s most entrancing people. Was it unjust to write the fact in red ink?

“I’ll take the dozen,” murmured Cariotta. “No, don’t charge; I’ll pay for them.”

WHEN SHE returned to the office. Cariotta discovered that she was five minutes late. Being late gave her a sense of guilt and she glanced apologetically toward Mr. Henry Meredith, who would have overlooked greater sins on the part of an employee so blameless. At the moment, indeed, he was actually beaming.

“I have a favor to ask of you, Miss Barnes,” he announced in jocular fashion, and rubbed his plump hands together confidently.

At once the apologetic beam fled Carlotta’s eyes. She was not in a mood for granting favors.

“Yes, Mr. Meredith,” she said with no warmth. “What is it, please?”

“Why. I’ve got my boy in the office; my son, Steven, you know. The one who’s been travelling all over Europe. Well, he’s home again, the young rascal.”

“Isn’t that nice?” murmured Cariotta.

“Yes.” said Mr. Meredith. “And the point is I want you to take him in hand if you will; I’m too busy to teach him the rojees myself. And right now the boy doesn t know a darned thing.” Mr. Meredith paused, and smiled at her guilelessly. “But you’ll like him. Miss Barnes; people always do; everybody says the boy has what they call charm.”

“Oh,” said Cariotta.

She faced her employer’s son, a moment or two later, with a prejudiced eye, not influenced by the fact that his own eye was so obviously prejudiced in her favor. Henry Meredith was called away by an aggrieved printer—printers being almost always aggrieved as a class. His son waved the invaluable Miss Barnes rather grandly into a chair. Then his blue eyes warmed with his honest approval, and his beautiful teeth flashed in a smile. The old works, thought Cariotta coldly.

“My father tells me. Miss Barnes, that he couldn’t run the business without you.”

She steeled herself against this assault.

“I know the routine,” she admitted.

“I guess you're pretty wonderful.” he said admiringly. “Did it take you long?”

“No. I was born wonderful.”

“I don’t want to get in your way,” he explained. “If I can just get a rough idea of what the advertising business is all about—”

“Are you going to write copy or contact the clients?” “I’m supposed to go after the customers,” he said. My father informs me that I'm to croon little sales talks at a man called Thornton and a man called Walters.”

Cariotta lifted her eyebrows.

“You might get Thornton, but as for Adam Cadwallader Walters . Cariotta smiled at him. “Has your father told you that we’ve been angling for Walters s account just about ever since Confederation.”

“I know.” Steven Meredith waved a self-deprecating hand. “I know Linwood and Harris and all these highpowered chaps have been working on both those accounts. I’ve got a whale of a chance, haven’t I? But I tell you—I think father wants me to cut my teeth in a hurry. So he throws me these biscuits.”

Cariotta chuckled.

“I wish you luck,” she said, and found herself meaning it.

Continued on page 44

Continued from page 17—Starts on page 16

A few weeks later she was trying the effect of a string of crystals against a dress which had the color of aquamarines.

"But,” observed her sister Julie, “you always said love and business didn't mix.” "I couldn't get out of it." said Cariotta, very busy with the crystals. "This is Mr. Meredith’s son. you see.”

“My! It's just like the movies, isn’t it?” Cariotta laughed. She thrust a lipstick and a chiffon handkerchief into her little bag. and lightly kissed her sister.

“Don't worry.” she said. “I’ll soon put an end to this.”

And that, she continued to assure herself, had been a very wise decision. She kept the decision in mind while she was dancing with Steven Meredith, who was an archangel on the waxed floor; after all. two people couldn't dance their way through a married life, could they? The orchestra was playing something called I'm On My Guard Against You. Cariotta felt excited, and a little sad. She wanted to go home in ten minutes, and she didn’t want ever to go home again. She credited these conflicting emotions to three small glasses of champagne, and felt better about herself.

They returned to their little ringside table, and Steven claimed instant, flattering service from the waiter.

“I’ve never been in the Silver Spoon before,” she confessed suddenly.

“Let’s make it our place.”

“For business conferences?”

“Naturally—am I ever interested in anything but business? People have told you about your eyelashes, haven’t they?” Cariotta frowned.

“I haven’t congratulated you on that Thornton deal.” she said.

"That was just a break. You know that little quiet way you have of smiling? I think that’s what gets me, even more than the eyelashes.”

“Your father was telling me how pleased he is with you,” said Cariotta. “It’s nice for him, having you in the office.”

“I’m very much in love with you, Cariotta darling.”

“It ought to be easy for us to sell Thornton’s razors,” said Cariotta. “Or don’t you think so?”

People were beginning to waltz again, and the music was very sweet.

“You mustn’t look at me like that,” she said, breaking down at last. “You really mustn’t!”

“Why? No chance?”

“Sorry,” said Cariotta.

“Let’s get out of here,” he begged. “Let’s drive through the park.”

“But it won’t do any good to talk about .it,” she insisted later, watching his hands so light and confident on the wheel. “Really, it won’t.”

“I’ve got to get this through my head,” he told her grimly. “You see—I think we click.”

“We have fun together.”

“Yes, Cariotta.”

“But it’s all over now.”

“Then,” he said, “will you please tell me why?”

"Really want to know?”

“Of course.”

“Well, it’s because you’re too attractive,

I suppose.”

“This isn’t some sort of cockeyed joke, is it?” he demanded savagely.

“No. Oh, no. But it’s difficult to explain. You see, it’s partly the family—my family. I’d lay me down and die for any one of ’em but they’ve made me terrified—I really mean terrified— of too much charm in people. Does this sound utterly senseless?”

“Yes, but go on.”

WELL, I’ve quite made up my mind— when I marry—to pick out some nice, kind young man who couldn’t charm his own grandmother. I’m afraid of what charm can do; I’m afraid of what it might do to Julie and Ted. It’s—it’s the most dangerous possession on earth. It means that people can get anything they want out of life without making the slightest effort. It means that other people don’t have to like you for what you are or for what you do; they like

vou because they can’t help themselves.” “But—”

“It’s not an asset,” she put in hopelessly. “It’s a liability.”

“What about your own charm?”

“I haven’t any.”

“You have!”

“Then so has a mouse.”

“Well, if this isn’t the most absurd and unreasonable, the most—”

"I told you it would be hard to explain.” He looked at her wrathfully out of the comer of his eye.

“Do you see any signs and symptoms of this—this moral corruption, in me?”

“I certainly do.”

“Let’s have it.”

“It’ll make me sound pretty smug.” she said slowly. “People who are charming always make other people sound smug. But that can’t be helped. We-ell, the other day, for instance, when John Thornton came in— he wasn’t going to sign the contract, you know. He’d quite made up his mind. But all you had to do—well, you flashed the old smile and offered him a cigarette and the man simply melted. I saw it with my own eyes. Just as I’ve seen it in Julie’s case, and Ted’s.”

“Well?” He eyed her anxiously. “I wasn’t supposed to sock the man on the jaw, was I?

I wouldn’t know—but wasn’t it salesmanship, Cariotta?”

“It was charm,” she said disconsolately. “You had John Thornton in the palm of your hand without even trying. And—and everybody else in the office had been trying for weeks and months to sell our advertising to Thornton. Why, Charles Linwood had worried himself sick, and argued and explained and written letters and telephoned-” “Oh, well. The credit is Linwood’s. He got in all the groundwork. He put over—” “No, he didn’t! You know very well he didn’t. Thornton came in to tell us he’d made up his mind not to sign that contract, and then you barged into the picture—oh, you don’t think it means anything, because you don’t know how hard other people would have to work for it.”

“This,” he said blandly to no one in particular, “is an obsession.”

“Maybe,” admitted Cariotta. “But it’s growing on me.”

“Why,” asked Ted, when she reached home, “didn’t Lothario come in?”

“I’m tired,” said Cariotta briefly.

She put her latchkey back into her little bag and drew up its silver cord with a vicious jerk.

“I don’t know what’s the matter with you these days,” complained her brother. “Nobody can say anything to you.”

“Peter’s given Julie another ring,” said Kate Barnes, prettily patting back a yawn. “It’s enormous.”

Cariotta glanced with no fervor at her sister’s outstretched hand.

“He traded in the old one,” explained Ted, looking up from the radio. “The trouble with these young people today—they have no sentiment.”

“It’s a symbol,” said Julie complacently. “They had another row and it was all Julie’s fault, so Peter rushed out and got her the ring,” said Kate Barnes, laughing.

“And now she’s forgiven him for having been so lousy to him,” said Ted, getting a sudden and unexpected blast on the radio. “What I like about you Julie, is the way you’re logical. Imagine the poor sap wanting to marry you !”

“My big brother, ladies and gentlemen,” said Julie. “Tune in on him—the selfish little pup.”

“Darlings—” said their mother.

“I went to the Silver Spoon tonight,” announced Cariotta, loudly and clearly. “And I had champagne, what’s more!” “Why, darling ! said Kate in vague surprise. “Isn’t that nice? I do hope you’re going to begin to—begin to—”

“I don’t ever expect to go to the Silver

Spoon again,” Cariotta went on firmly, “so I just thought I'd tell you.”

With this she left them. And that night the invaluable Miss Barnes wept foolishly into her pillow.

THE FAMILY scene had strengthened her resolve, if that resolve had needed any strengthening. She hardened herself, next morning, against the sheepish smile of her employer’s son.

“Well,” he protested, “it’s a new day, isn’t it?”

Cariotta looked at him warily.

“It isn’t yesterday,” she admitted after a cautious pause.

“Good! Then we begin again.”

“I don’t,” said Cariotta. “I go on from where I left off.”

Whereupon she gathered up her little notebooks and left him.

Mr. Henry Meredith was in a good humor. He was surrounded by razors, and it was obvious that he was completely absorbed by razors. A week before he had thrown his soul into cereals; there had been the same rapt light in the eye which he now turned upon his peerless stenographer.

“I tell you,” he said, “we have a big thing here.”

“Yes,” said Cariotta.

“And I don’t mind admitting,” he went on, “that I’m proud of the boy.”

“Of course,” said Cariotta.

“The Thornton account!” he added, almost incredulously.

Usually Mr. Henry Meredith’s naive enthusiasm touched the maternal in Carlotta’s breast. But this morning her only response was a slight if scarcely perceptible stiffening of the backbone.

“It’s a very good account for the office to have,” she conceded coldly.

“Good? It’s tremendous. There’s no account in the city, with the single exception of the Walters account, that could bring the prestige that—ah, my boy! What is it?” Cariotta eyed the scion of the house of Meredith narrowly. And she was forced to admit that he was bearing his triumph with an admirable nonchalance. Henry Meredith’s admiration would have swept the average fledgling to a dizzy pinnacle of selfesteem. But Steven stood in the doorway, merely looking embarrassed.

“It’s that Walters account,” he was mumbling.

“Now you’re on that trail, eh?” Old Henry stole a gratified glance in Carlotta’s direction. “Well, that’s fine; that’s fine! I don’t need to tell you, my boy, that if you could land the Walters account—”

“I don’t know about the account, sir, but it looks hopeful. The old man’s called up to ask me out to the Eastbright Club for a game of golf. You remember I went in to see him the other day and he—er—”

“You got along, eh?” cried his father delightedly. “Didn’t I tell you, Miss Barnes?” Cariotta was drawing neat little figures of eight all over her notebook. She murmured noncommittally, not looking up.

“Mr. Walters hasn’t exactly committed himself, sir,” Steven explained. “The subject of golf just happened to come up the other day and I just happened to mention that I’d played a bit in Scotland last year with Johnny MacGregor—the whole thing was a break, if you know what I mean.” Cariotta drew a small cat and finished its tail with a flourish. Still she refused to look at Steven. She saw the future with a cold eye: Steven was going to land Adam Cadwallader Walters because he’d flashed the old smile and because he’d once played golf with Johnny MacGregor. Cariotta speculated grimly on the probable reactions of Linwood and Harris, those earnest young men in Henry Meredith’s own office who’d gone after old Walters with everything but sandbags for the last four years.

Old Walters was known as a character by the most charitable of his critics. He was, in

brief, a rich and cantankerous person who’d amassed a fortune in antiques. No one had ever explained his success. He had a display room downtown which had all the light and charm of a miner’s pit. And the elderly and decrepit gentleman who was in charge of this salon moved palely amid the gloom, his blue eyes nearsighted and disconsolate, his chin fading into the brave starch of a wing collar. The corps of lesser clerks took their cue from the gentleman in charge. Old Walters himself stayed home most of the time and dissolved digestive tablets in small glasses ot lukewarm water.

But in his own strange way he was a genius, spoken of in tones of respect and perplexity by men who knew the antique business. Timid old ladies liked to touch the mahogany of a love seat or an occasional table, murmuring, “It came from Walters’s, my dear.” Young brides were taken to Walters’s by their mothers as the first step in the home-making direction. The name of Walters had become a synonym of integrity and worth among people who dealt smartly and casually with names of the sort.

One had to admit, however grudgingly, that old Adam Walters knew his pines and mahoganies and walnuts. It was more difficult to understand his appeal to the public, based upon an advertising policy which could veer within a month from an aloof silence to a clubby exhortation to street-car riders. There was, in a word, no sense to old Walters’s advertising policy—a fact which made it a delectable plum in the eyes of every advertising man in town.

“By the way,” said Steven, “Mr. Walters is bringing Mrs. Walters along. She likes to sit on the porch and rock, I gather. And the old man suggested I bring my wife to keep Mrs. Walters company.”

Cariotta looked up.

“You might hire a wife for the afternoon,” she said.

Steven grinned.

“No, I told him I wasn’t married. But I said I’d ask a nice young lady from the office. Would you like to sit on a porch and rock, Cariotta?”

“I’ll bring my fancy work,” promised Cariotta.

IT’S VERY decent of you,” he told her, as they set forth that cloudless Saturday afternoon. “Of course I realize you’re doing this for my father’s sake—and he’s very grateful.”

“I’m devoted to your father,” assented Cariotta.

“But you haven’t changed your mind about me—have you?”

Cariotta stared at the trees which lined the roadside. They were putting forth the first tender green promises of spring; and the frail leaves moved for a moment in a silver haze.

“No,” she said at last. “I’m so sure I’m right.”

Steven skilfully evaded a small, scuttling brown hen.

“I suppose,” he observed, still watching the road, “that you don’t think much of my mixing up golf and the antique business?” “Oh, I’m not so ethical as all that,” said Cariotta, smiling faintly. “And don’t think I grudge you this. Your father’s quite right to be so pleased, and so proud of you—” “But it’s not enough to make you proud of me—is it?”

“Let’s not talk about you and me any more,” she said miserably. “And anyhow— here we are.”

Steven headed toward a bright flash of awning, striped in green.

“I hope Mrs. Walters isn’t exactly senile, Cariotta darling,” he said then. “Have you any rheumatism to talk about?”

Cariotta thought a moment.

“No-o, but I had my tonsils out when I was seventeen.”

It was not necessary, however, to talk about tonsils. Agatha Walters was a shrewd little birdlike woman, interested in the political situation, in the possibilities of war in the Far East, and in the endowment of a home for indigent members of the theatrical profession. She charged agilely among these diverse topics, bringing Cariotta into the

line of fire. Cariotta found herself liking the old lady enormously.

The afternoon wore on with an amazing speed. The two had tea served to them on tlie clubhouse verandah; over the rims of their teacups they looked out upon the rolling green links which were the county’s pride. And they saw the four men of their party approaching from a distance, their shadows flung far in the late afternoon sun. The two women were strolling down to meet the players at the eighteenth hole; the small flag was within a stone’s throw of the clubhouse steps.

Mrs. Walters’s hand rested lightly within the curve of Carlotta’s arm.

“Why!” she said, softly and wonderingly. “Whatever’s the matter, do you suppose?”

But Carlotta’s ears, if not her eyes, were sharper than the old lady’s. There was something very definitely the matter—a tensity which held the four men together there at the eighteenth hole. The antique dealer, his score card trembling in his lean old hands, was peering angrily into Steven Meredith’s face.

“Oh!” quavered Mrs. Walters. “Whatever’s the matter with them?”

Steven was shaking his head miserably.

“You’ve forgotten the sand trap, sir.” he said. “Sorry.”

But Walters’s wrath was not to be derailed.

“ You've, forgotten the sense you were born with!” he roared.

At that moment one of the other men looked up to see the two women, and tossed a quick, jocular greeting over the awkward silence that ensued.

V\ 7ELL,” admitted Steven, his hands

*V gripping the wheel savagely,“you were right about me.”

Cariotta knotted a polka-dotted scarf more securely about her throat, and tucked the ends under her brown suède coat.

“You think you’ve lost him. Steven?” she demanded coolly.

“Lost him? That hardly expresses it. Cariotta. 1 didn’t want to raise the old man’s hopes before—and naturally I wasn’t ready to tip my hand to you—but I had that account practically landed before we ever went out to that confounded club today.”

“Had you, Steven?”

“Yes, and what’s more. I’d sold him our advertising possibilities, shown him all the angles—oh, go ahead and laugh. But I thought I’d put it over. And today I was pretty cock-a-hoop about the whole thing,

I may as well tell you. The golf game was just giving me an opportunity to meet the old man’s two business associates on a friendly basis.”

“But something went wrong, didn’t it?”

“Something went good and wrong,” he assented grimly.

“You offended him?”

Steven laughed without mirth.

“You see,” he said slowly, “I’d determined I was going to get this account—to show you that I had something to offer besides a lot of wisecracks; that it wasn’t just a matter of stringing the old chap along. But I was wrong about that. It seems that’s all I’m good for. You were dead right about me, Cariotta.”

He parked the car before the Barnes’s apartment with an angry jamming of brakes. And he left her at the door, after tightening his clasp on her hand for a moment with an air of finality.

Cariotta closed the door behind her and smiled tranquilly at her sister Julie, who was parading around the room like a mannequin—for the admiration of her mother, lier brother Ted and the enraptured young Hastings.

Julie stopped short and looked up at Cariotta with the air of a small child—guilty but charming.

“Don’t be sore at me,” she said. “I know I shouldn’t have got myself any more clothes, but I couldn’t resist it; I simply couldn’t resist it.”

Cariotta s tolerant glance swept her young sister from top to toe. Julie was wearing the black velvet hostess gown from Henderson and Clark’s.

“I was really very cross with Julie,” said Kate Barnes affably, “but we’ll forgive her just this time, Cariotta, won’t we?”

“Of course,” said Cariotta.

“And,” added Julie impulsively, “you can borrow it, Cariotta, any time you want to feel elegant.”

Cariotta considered the hostess gown in faint regret.

“That’s nice of you,” she said at last, “but after all, I’m not the type.”

I hen she pulled one of her sister’s curls and beamed upon Peter Hastings. A few minutes later Kate Barnes swept into the dining room, with Julie trailing in elegance behind her. Ted bowed low, and offered his arm to Cariotta.

“If you want to borrow another ten.” whispered Cariotta suddenly, “right now’s a very good time to ask me.”

"D EEORE the dinner was over, even Kate -L* Barnes had vaguely observed Carlotta’s secret satisfaction with herself and with the world.

“I think,” she opined at last, “that you’re getting better looking every day.”

“There.” said Julie, “goes the doorbell.”

Cariotta fled.

“They’re still in the dining room,” she explained hastily to Steven. “I mean, if you ! want to ask me to marry you or anything . .”

A few minutes later she disentangled herself.

“Cariotta,” he said blissfully, “I’ve got to explain what happened.”

“But I know what happened.”

He stared at her in amazement.

“I overheard that scene on the golf links,” she went on. “You were old Walters’s partner. weren’t you? And at the eighteenth hole you had an argument about the score, didn’t you?”

“Yes,” said Steven, grinning. “It was one of those crucial moments. The old man swore that we’d made that hole in five, and I knew doggone well we hadn’t. Apparently he’d forgotten that fancy digging he did in the sand trap. We’d made it in eight—which automatically gave the game to Connors j and O’Neill.”

“That’s what I gathered.” said Cariotta soberly. “I also gathered that old Walters was a golf fanatic: the kind that can’t bear losing. Right then and there you had a chance to sell yourself to him. All you had to do was to flash tlie old smile. But instead of that you got as obstinate as an old pig— darling.”

“Darling yourself,” said Steven. “I wouldn’t have asked you to marry me on the strength of being an obstinate old pig, you know. I’ve been so determined to accomplish something to show you—business of the knights of old—laugh if you want to.”

“We’ll get along somehow or other,” murmured Cariotta abstractedly. “Has your father fired you?”

Steven blushed. He glanced away from her.

"Not exactly,” he replied at last. “You see, after I got home tonight I found that Walters had been in touch with my father. It seems that the whole scene on the links was a sort of—well, my gosh, it was a sort of test. The old codger had arranged it beforehand with Connors and O’Neill. If I’d agreed with him about that synthetic score—well, it would have been just too bad.”

Cariotta smiled.

“He’s fussy about the people he does business with,” she said thoughtfully.

“That seems to be the idea.” he admitted.

“A good one,” opined Cariotta. “It’s the way I’m fussy about the people I marry.”

“Sense,” murmured Ted Barnes from the doorway. “Sense, to the finish.”