FICTION

Combined Operations

Hardwick had a snorky roadster ... but when he planned to elope with Rissa it was Binks who took him for a ride

LAURA MAE QUANCE March 15 1944
FICTION

Combined Operations

Hardwick had a snorky roadster ... but when he planned to elope with Rissa it was Binks who took him for a ride

LAURA MAE QUANCE March 15 1944

Combined Operations

LAURA MAE QUANCE

YOU KNOW how at school girls get together and hold conferences on the subject of parents, especially mothers—fathers being usually more malleable. (A good word, malleable. I’m word conscious on account of my father being editor of the Friar’s Point Times.) There had been a conference on Friday because of the Air Force dance. All the mothers in town, with daughters about my age which is 13 but which J can’t help—were being very obnoxious about the dance. Put very!

“Especially,” I said, “mothers with marriageable older daughters.”

“Oh, does your mother want Rissa to marry someone?” asked Judie Evans curiously. Trust her not to miss anything!

“Well, hardly,” I answered coldly. It wouldn’t do to let Judie get an inkling about anything. Thus 1 brushed her off with commendable sang-froid, or is it carte blanche? Besides I never am disloyal to my mother, publicly. After surveying the situation from all angles I have come to the conclusion that my mother is about as good a mother as I am likely to get.

Just then Taffy Wilkes, who is my confidante and right arm, came to the rescue.

“Older sisters or not,” said she, “our mothers are being stinky about the whole thing.”

This was the deplorable situation. There is an Air Training School near our town. It seems there’s a recreation hall for the men in training, but the officers are not supposed to go there. So the Friar’s Point Country Club, which is rather a snorky institution, decided to be patriotic and open its doors to the officers. ’Plie dance was to inaugurate this gesture. And our mothers lauf conceived the idea that it was likely to be too grownup for junior high. Finally, under pressure, they liad agreed that we might go until 12 o’clock (Cinderella stuff) and only without benefit of new dresses.

To make my situation more suicidal my sister, Rissa, who is 23 and extremely adult, had purchased the most delectable dream of a dress it has ever been my lot to see. Rissa, 1 may say, is the difficult type to get married off, which is most mothers’ major problem in our town. At first glance you would think this a gn>ss misstatement. Rissa is much too glamorous for a small town. She is tall and slender, and moves as if she were listening to invisible music. (I read that somewhere, but it fits Rissa.) She has violet-blue eyes and a special complexion. Her own with the aid of assorted cosmetic manufacturers. She combs her hair like Joan Fontaine—unless she’s changed since the last time 1 saw her on the screen. Rissa’s voice is “cultured,” with a slight British accent acquired at Crampton House School for young women. It is always gentle and sweet, except if I am in the bathroom, or mundane occasions like that. All in all Rissa is a Grade “A” supervitaminized product, but 1 bear her no malice. It, is the lot of some to be skinny, with straight hair and wavy teeth. At least father says I have a mind. And 1 shall probably fill out as 1 grow older.

Rissa is very sophistica teil. Mother says that’s because she was an only child for so long. Father says it’s beca use she’s full of ego. He says all sophisticated people are full of ego. But she is terribly patriotic, as you shall see anon. Its just that she's such a problem to have around. All the men of her crowd have gone to war or something, and tin* younger ones are scared of her.

The only man in town who isn't intimidated by Rissa’s ego is J. Carter Hardwick. And therein lies a tense situation. J. Carter came to town because he knows everything about chemicals and they wanted him to be manager of our factory which makes chemicals. To me he looks like a chemical. Short and smallish is J.C. (1 never did find out what the J. is for. Probably Jerk!) His skin is kind of a yellow and it sags here and there, like under his eyes and over his collar. He is definitely not young. All in all he is

about the gummiest kind of a man that T have ever seen. But he is startlingly rich! Nearly all the mothers in town would like him to marry one of their daughters. My mother would not like him to marry her daughter, but he, on his part, appeared to want to marry Rissa. He was always bringing candy and flowers and parking his snorky roadster in front of our gate. When I thought of him for a brother-in-law I got spots before my eyes like when I ate too much ice cream at the church supper. For Rissa was definitely interested. She was even going to the Air Force dance with him.

“Imagine,” I said to Taffy, “being seen at a dance with that meat ball when the place will be teeming with airmen!”

Ï3UT the problem of Rissa was nothing compared D to the problem that my mother had presented me with about this same dance. There 1 was sitting on our back steps on a perfect September afternoon. Fall is the time of year when l am most myself, but that day 1 may as well have been somebody else for all it mattered. There was a faint smell of apples and wood smoke in the air. Grows flapped over lazily. The dahlias and asters leaned against the fence. Just my dreamy kind of a day when l think about what I am going to be. A nurse, or an air-line hostess, or a great musician in G’arnegie Hall. But that day 1 couldn't think. 1 could only suffer.

Our old cat, Matilda, lay beside mo patiently putting up with her kittens. Matilda’s kittens were practicing broad jumps, with her as the soft landing. She gave out with a furry “whoomp” every time one landed and then went right on sleeping. All at once she sprang up with suddenness, scattering kittens. But it was only Taffy, coming around the corner with Rear Admiral, a fox terrier, by courtesy.

“Hi!” said Taffy.

“Hi!”.said I. “Put the Admiral in the kitchen before the cats scuttle him.”

She sank down beside me. “Well,” said she, “have you said anything more to her?”

1 waved a weary cirm. “I’ve pleaded and humbled myself. I tell you, Taff, I cannot go on.”

Hardwick had a snorky roadster ... but when he planned to elope with Rissa it was Binks who took him for a ride

“You mean she won’t let you go?” Taff asked, in a t ragic voice.

“Oh, 1 can go,” I responded, in the same. “But who wants to, in last year’s dress? Youjrecall I was merely 12 then.”

Taffy nodded.

“Besides that,” I went on, “she says I have to go with Squeak Travers because Mrs. Travers is on her committee and they are taking their car.”

“That is wormy!” Even Taffy was appalled. Squeak Travers, I should explain, was considered by all a superdroop. He is the most intelligent boy in class, especially in algebra. He is also super in Latin, French, geometry, science, and literature, ancient and modern. He is fascinated by me and follows me everywhere, which is flattering but frustrating. He is very tall and very thin. His sleeves are always too short, likewise his trouser legs. This is not due to negligence on his mother’s part, but to fast growing on Squeak’s. Then, of course, there is that little matter of his voice— you qever know which is going to come out, bass, alto, or soprano.

So I said to Taffy, “I cannot, I simply cannot, enter the clubhouse on the arm of Squeak Travers, in my old blue Swiss, with the place teeming with airmen. Besides the blue is tight here”—I modestly indicated —“but mother says we can let out the underarm seams. . . if you can imagine anything so inhibited !” “Practically prehistoric!” agreed Taffy.

ALL THE next week everywhere I looked I saw . Squeak Travers. And every time I saw him I felt definitely antisocial. He offered to do my chem. and my maths but I told him a cold “Nay!” After that he just followed me around with his eyes, which were big and bewildered behind his glasses. Mother remained adamant on the subject of the dress. Life was certainly skunky.

It was Tuesday evening—and the dance next Friday—when I was in my room, that Rissa came in. I couldn’t have been more surprised if Mrs. Miniver had dropped in. Rissa rarely visits my room. She

says it reminds her of a theatre lobby. Rut at present I have only two pictures of Hedy Lamarr, three of Lana Turner and a smattering of others.

I could see at once that something was bothering Rissa. She looked distraught, just as if she had been sitting around not bothering. I waited for her to speak, but when she didn’t I opened the conversation.

“Rissa,” I began, with small hopes, “may I borrow u little—a mere smirch—of your Passion Fruit lipstick Friday night?”

“All right,” said Rissa.

I gave myself a pinch and went on, “And some My Sin perfume, Rissa?”

“You may have the whole bottle,” said Rissa.

I said, giving her a penetrating look, “You feeling all right, Rissa?”

“M-m,” said Rissa absently. “Look, kitten, you can keep a secret can’t you?”

I drew myself up with pride and stuck out that part of me that has only recently been there, namely, my chest. “Have I ever snitched on you?” I demanded.

“No,” admitted Rissa.

Then she got off my bed and began to pace. Then, she stopped and fixed her large lovely eyes on me. “Binkie,” she said, all in one breath with all the stops out, “Carter and I are going to elope Friday night, from the dance.”

“Holy cow!” I said. I sat right down on the floor, hard. “What do you w-ant to end your life that tragic

way for?”

“I’m lonely,” said Rissa in a very sad voice. “I have never been so lonely. All the men I used to know are away somewhere. And it isn’t as if I could join the CWACS or the WRENS, or whatever. All I can do is fiddle away at the war job at the factory, which any child could do.”

I have neglected to mention that Rissa has a very slight something wrong with her heart. It’s nothing to notice, but in these days when everybody belongs to something in the war effort—well, I could understand how Rissa felt.

“But think how wormy it will be, being married to J. Carter,” I began earnestly.

“I’m almost 24,” said Rissa dismally. “In wartime girls marry younger. And they say there won’t IM» enough men to go around after the war and many girls will have to satisfy themselves with careers. 1 will never be a success as a career woman.” Hert? she began to cry. “All 1 can see for it is for me to marry Carter and put his money to doing good works.”

“I’d sooner marry Mahatma Gandhi,” said I.

She took no notice. “Carter is very kind. Besides he says he can’t live without me.”

Funny how a woman gets no resistance when a man says he can’t live without her.

“But why elope?” I asked. “You know what dad and mother are going to say al>out that.”

“That’s just it,” said Rissa. “Carter wants it quiet. So we may as well go off as he suggests, and when we come back it will be all over and no fuss or bother.”

“H-m-m,” said I, thinking of mother.

I tried to reason with her, but all to no avail. So there I was, with that awful secret in my possession. Every time 1 looked at mother’s sweet trusting face 1 felt like a murderess.

WEDNESDAY morning I ate no breakfast.

Wednesday noon I ate no lunch. Mother looked at me anxiously and said in her kind voice, “Look, dear, it’s eggs benedict.”

Which I love. But all I could do was break into tears and rush from the table.

“She does so want that dress,” I heard mother say worriedly. Jeepers! I had forgotten all about the dress.

“What dress?” father looked up from his paper. “Oh, a party dress she saw. But her blue is still good, and in these times ...”

“Just so,” said father, and went back to Italy.

But when 1 came down the school steps that afternoon there was father waiting for me. And him with only an “A” card. I wished I was in a condition to appreciate it.

“Hi, Binks,” said father cheerfully. “Have to pick up your mother and thought you might like a lift.”

He looked so nice and brown and clean that I almost cried right there. How could Rissa do this thing to two people like our parents?

“Now,” .said father when we were rolling, “what’s this about a dress? After all you did work hard in the scrap drive and the stamp sale, so if you want a new dress I think you may have one.”

“Thanks, Daddy,” I said. “It was super of you to offer. But my trouble goes much deeper than mere clothes.”

“Well, then, how about telling your old dad?”

Continued on page 33

Continued from page 9

“I wish I could,” I said; with all my heart, “but it isn’t my secret. Some day soon you will know—and then it will be too late.”

He patted my hand. “I don’t make much of that double talk,” he smiled at me. “But anyway the offer of the dress still holds.”

Then we arrived at Bundles for Britain and picked up mother and Mrs. Travers. With a bare “Hello, dears,” to us, mother went right on talking about something she was talking about. “But the poor dears,” she was saying, “spending their leave in a strange hotel —and sometimes not even able to get a room. John,” she spoke to father, “we’ve just discovered that ever so many of the English boys at the Air School never have anywhere to go when they have leave to go somewhere.”

Father said, “Well, isn’t that why we are opening the club to them?”

“But they can’t sleep at the club,” mother said. “That’s the catch. I think we—the women of Friar’s Point -—should invite them to our homes.” “That’s a marvellous idea,” said Mrs. Travers.

“The girls could double up,” mother said, in her thinking voice. “I shall invite two, Mrs. Travers. I want you to telephone right away f'Mrs. Travers is secretary of the Women’s Institute) and find out if there are two who would like to come to the dance and stay over.”

I didn’t give it much thought. Mrs. Travers and mother are always cooking up something for the war effort.

After supper Squeak wandered over to our porch where 1 was doing my homework. He said, “I’ve joined the Air Cadets, Binkie,” as if he were trying to get some attention.

“Aren’t you too young?” I asked cuttingly.

“I’ll be 16 next week.”

I hadn’t realized he was so old. I looked at him with measuring eyes. It was hard to say what he would look like in a uniform. Our telephone began to ring and after it had gone on for some time I went in and answered it.

“It’s Mrs. Travers, Bianca,” said Mrs. Travers. “Will you tell your mother that I got in touch with the Air School, and two officers are coming to be her guests Friday night.”

“I’ll tell her.”

So the next morning at breakfast mother said, “Two young officers are to be our guests this week end. Isn’t that lovely?”

“How do you know they are young?” asked Rissa, not looking up from her cereal.

“But, of course, they are not old,” said mother.

“Most of the officers out there are grey-haired and at least 50,” Rissa insisted. “That’s older than father.” “Or Mr. Hardwick?” said mother lightly, buttering toast skimpily.

Rissa got up with dignity and walked out of the room.

“That,” said father, “was not very subtle of you.’r

“Oh, John,” mother cried, “I’m worried. Rissa and that old man!” “Older men,” said father, looking very wise, “often have a fatal charm for young women.”

“Now just what,” said mother, “do you mean by that?”

FRIDAY morning dawned fair and beautiful. There was excitement in the air. Mother rushed about with a gleam in her eyes, and Mary, our parttime maid, galloped about with a similar gleam in hers.

“You come straight home from school,” Mother said to me. “I want to make a cake and I’ll need you to polish the silver. I don’t expect the airmen for dinner hut I expect they will he here for the week end.”

That evening as I walked home with Taffy through the fallen leaves on Kelsey Street was the last peaceful moment I was to know for some time. When I reached our house I could see in a flash that all we might expect for supper was macaroni and cheese, and custard.

“Now do the silver, and then dash up and take your hath before dinner,” mother said to me.

Behold our family, then, sitting down to early dinner at five-thirty. We looked like refugees from a fire sale, except Rissa who is always beautiful. I had on a sweater that was too tight, slacks that were too short, and scuffs that were too—too. Only Rissa, in her velvet housecoat, looked serene as a star. But every time I looked at her I got a lump in my throat, not caused by her beauty, which I am immune to.

The doorbell rang and I got up to answer it. I was expecting Taffy. She was going to lend me her shell necklace. But before I got to the door I saw through the glass that it wasn’t Taffy. It was a person—in a uniform. I had a vision of all that plebeian macaroni heaped up on our plates, and me in this garb, and then I opened the door. There stood the most mouth-watering eyeful it has ever been my luck to see. Tall, lean, brown and blue-eyed.

“Hello,” said this god. “Is this the home of Mr. John Calloway?” He had one of those smooth British voices, so that immediately you see behind him a long vista of college greens and old ivied buildings, and gracious ladies, and hunters riding to hounds.

“It is,” I gulped.

“I am Fit.-Lieut. Mitchell,” said the god. “Warwick Mitchell. I believe your mother is expecting me.”

At last I found my tongue. “Come in, please,” I said, with a how. “We are expecting you.” (But not for dinner!) “But aren’t there two of you?”

“Not unless I’m being followed,” he said, with a smile that turned me to jelly. “Oh, you mean Treadway. He couldn’t come, poor chap.”

Well, there wasn’t anything to do then hut walk into the dining room with him. And you should have seen their faces! Dad, with that commonlooking macaroni halfway to his mouth. Mother with her seersucker not quite zipped up far enough. Rissa—well, Rissa.

“This is Fit. - Lieut. Warwick Mitchell,” I said. “He could come early,” I added.

“Oh, I say, I’ve interrupted your dinner,” said Fit.-Lieut. Mitchell. “I was offered a lift in and I didn’t want to waste any time.” He seemed to be talking to all of us hut his eyes were on Rissa. “No,” he added thoughtfully, “I surely didn’t want to waste any time.”

“Well,” said mother cheerfully, “it’s so nice that you could come. Do sit down. I hope you won’t mind taking potluck?”

“Not at all,” said Warwick Mitchell, sitting down as if it were a new experience for him. He was still looking at Rissa with one of those smiles. “As a matter of fact, I like potluck. It s so friendly, and all that.”

It certainly was all that. We all felt as friendly as a basket of puppies. He had what I would term a charming personality. Once I glanced at Rissa to see how she was taking him, hut she was just sitting, with a rather stunned

look on her face, drinking in his every word.

When dinner was over mother said, “Rissa, dear, show Fit.-Lieut. Mitchell the garden, will you?”

Which almost made me laugh, because our garden is merely a cement walk with some discontented flowers growing along it, and a couple of sadlooking spruce trees. Even so they spent almost an hour looking at it. Or at something.

DRESSING for me was a commonplace affair, though I must admit the rejuvenated blue Swiss wasn’t too unspeakable. I was just trying a ribbon in my hair when Rissa came in. I could see that she was moved, not to say upset. She began to dress as if she didn’t know what came first. I remembered that this was to be, more or less, her wedding night. That horrible thought galvanized me into action.

“Rissa,” I said, “you aren’t going through with — that—are you?”

“I can’t back out now,” said Rissa, in a faint voice.

I said, “No doubt that microbe coerced you, or even hypnotized you. Think nothing of it.”

“If I only knew what to do!” said Rissa. And then she laid herself flat on the bed and sobbed. It was that awful quiet sobbing that is worse than noise, which I make. Then I knew that something had to be done.

I went downstairs, with the sound of her weeping in my ears, and walked into the library. “Something must be done,” I repeated aloud, and then was appalled to see Warwick Mitchell’s head rising over the back of the wing chair.

“I quite agree,” he said solemnly. Something tells me that Warwick Mitchell and I might have been soul mates if I had not been this disgusting 13.

“Look,” I said, suddenly reaching a decision, “if you knew a very beautiful girl who, through a fiendish sense of honor, was going to throw herself away on an old man, what would you call that?”

“Sabotage,” said he, after a thoughtful pause.

“What would you do about it?” “Who, me?”

“Well, anyone.”

“That,” said he, “would depend on various circumstances. Mainly, does she love the man?”

“No!” I stated. “Who could?”

He lifted his handsome brows. “This is not a hypothetical case then?”

“No,” I sighed. “It is devastatingly real.”

He lighted a cigarette and replied carefully, “I should like to give the matter due consideration, but you know how it is about such things—and I am a stranger here.”

Then I realized that his code of honor, which so many Englishmen have, would not allow him to speak. Besides he didn’t know, yet, whom I was talking about.

The Travers drove up and Squeak got out. I nearly swooned. But nearly. Squeak looked different. Of course, he had his Air Cadet uniform on, which made him look like a new man, it being long enough in the sleeves and all, but there was something else. Then I saw Squeak had left off his glasses. I had never realized before that Squeak had eyes. They were soft and deep and brown. But eyes!

“But, Squeak,” I murmured, “this is unbelievable.”

“Glad you like it,” said Squeak, and his voice came out true and deep. It was in bass.

Another car arrived. This time, of course, it was J. Carter Hardwick. In : his eyes, which reminded me of shelled

hard-boiled eggs, there was a look of conquest.

“Evening, Bianca child,” he said.

I cringed but replied sweetly, “Come into the library, Mr. Hardwick.” He looked at me suspiciously. Likewise did Squeak. But my plan was already beginning to jell.

And then when I had him confronting Flt.-Lieut. Mitchell, which you could see he had not expected, I said, “This is Flt.-Lieut. Mitchell, Mr. Hardwick. Fie came over so that he might meet some young people. You know, Rissa’s crowd.” Which I would never have been allowed to get away with if mother had been present.

They shook hands in a stiff-necked, measuring way, and then mother and dad came in and the tension was relieved—or at least postponed. You had the feeling there was unfinished business in the air.

Then Rissa came downstairs. She was a vision. Her dress was white chiffon, spattered with little starshaped sequins, and she might have stepped right out of a cloud. I heard Warwick swallow, very loud and undignified, but you could see he couldn’t help it. I saw mother smile at him, sympathetically. She has seen young men under the influence of Rissa before.

Then we started and Warwick rode with Rissa and J. Carter, which J. Carter obviously would like to have done something about.

THE club was crowded when we arrived, and my heart began beating fast at the music and decorations and uniforms. Squeak said to me, still in bass, “Shall we dance?” and I received the second great shock of the evening.

Squeak’s dancing has always been a pretty mundane thing, but behold! Here he was leading off with a swoop and a glide like Fred Astaire.

Rissa was dancing with Warwick Mitchell on account of he was a guest and J. Carter’s dancing not being anything to mention. They were beautiful together. They drifted in a mute dream and everyone watched them admiringly—except J. Carter. He just watched them.

After awhile it was my turn to dance with Warwick Mitchell, and though I was dying to do so, in front of all junior high, I suggested we go out to the terrace. Once there he said, as if he knew why we had come, “Why is she doing it?”

“It’s from a mistaken sense of honor,” I said. “I suppose he caught her in a weak moment or when she was lonely, or something. Besides, Rissa is very fond of a home. She’s the domestic type, though you might not think it to look at her.”

“No,” said Flt.-Lieut. Mitchell, looking at her through the open doors.

“You aren’t married, or anything?”

I asked after awhile.

“Or anything,” he answered.

Then my plan took shape rapidly. But I felt I needed help, or at least a moral supporter, so I asked Squeak to go for a walk with me. There I told him all. Squeak was incredulous. He kept saying, “We must devise a scheme to foil him!” Meaning J. Carter, of course.

At last he came forth with this suggestion: “We must put Rissa where J. Carter can’t find her. Then they can’t run away. And,” added Squeak, “we should have Fit.-Lieut. Mitchell with Rissa. There is no doubt that he would make the idea of marriage with Mr. Hardwick abhorrent to Rissa.”

I jumped suddenly, because an idea had just hit me. “The boathouse!” I cried. “The perfect setup. Moonlight, water. And I know where dad keeps

the keys. He always keeps an extra set here.”

“You may experience some slight difficulty in getting two people into a boathouse, who may not want to be in a boathouse,” Squeak warned. “Rissa and Flt.-Lieut. Mitchell may prove unpredictable.”

But it seemed as if Fate herself was bent on helping us. When we went back we found Rissa dancing; J. Carter was playing bridge in the trophy room and Warwick Mitchell was smoking on the terrace. I approached him boldly and asked for a word with him. We went into the reading room. There I told him all, in a few well-chosen phrases. If I do say it myself I can certainly choose a few phrases.

“So I thought,” I finished, “that if you had a little talk with her she might change her mind. These are the keys to our boathouse.” I took them out. “I took the precaution of asking father if you might take her out—the boat, I mean. You said at dinner that you liked boats. I thought maybe if you and Rissa went to Pirate’s Island . . . She knows the way.”

“But, my dear,” said Flt.-Lieut. Mitchell, “this is all highly irregular. I hardly think ...”

“You hardly think!” I interrupted rudely. “Do you want her to marry him while you stand around and do nothing? I thought you wanted to help.” I threw up my hands. “For an officer you are the faintest hearted one I ever saw,” I added scathingly.

That took. So did the fact that at that moment Rissa walked past the doorway. She looked wistful and a little sad and, of course, very beautiful. Warwick Mitchell’s mind made up like a Murphy bed. He snatched at the keys and took off after her. I saw her stop and speak to him, and nod. Then together they went out the side door.

IT WAS nearly midnight when J. Carter emerged from the trophy room. I watched him warily. He looked over the ballroom and the terrace. He returned, obviously puzzled. Then he systematically searched the clubhouse. Then, as a last resort, he approached me.

“I say there, Bianca child, have you seen your sister recently?”

“Well, not recently,” I admitted. “What do you mean by that?” he demanded. It is painfully obvious that J. Carter does not trust me.

“Only that I saw her about an hour ago walking with Flt.-Lieut. Mitchell. They went out.” I waved vaguely.

J. Carter’s face turned very red. I could see that what he wanted to do was roar, but he controlled himself admirably. He pulled out his gold watch and looked at it. “I will give her until twelve,” he said. “If she is not here by then you may tell her that I have gone home. There, if and when she recovers her senses, she may find me. This—this episode—must be

explained.”

“Yes, sir.”

But, of course, Rissa wasn’t back by twelve and, true to his word, J. Carter Hardwick went home. Mother saw him go and approached me with worried eyes.

“Binkie, what was the matter with Mr. Hardwick? And where is Rissa?” “I don’t know, mother,” I answered, practically truthfully.

She gave a thoughtful sigh. Then she said, “You’ve been up to something again. I hope it doesn’t have the usual disastrous rasults. You had better have your lunch now. We are going home directly. Your father wants to get to bed reasonably early so he will be fresh for his trip tomorrow.”

At which my stomach pretended it

j was a yo-yo, and travelled up and ! down. I didn’t want any supper.

! Squeak was obviously distressed, but he managed to eat my share.

I did not intend to go to sleep. I I wanted to stay awake until Rissa came ! in. Also I wanted to think up an alibi J in case father proved unmanageable. But one minute I was pulling on my pyjamas, and the next I was awakening to the sound of birds and the feel of sunshine. I stretched luxuriously—and froze. My glance rested on Rissa’s pyjamas, lying as fresh and serene on a chair as only pyjamas can when they haven’t heen slept in. The pillow beside me was smooth and untouched.

I had heen foiled! Rissa had eloped after all.

I almost died. Then I regained life { sufficiently to hurl myself downstairs. My parents were eating grapefruit in the breakfast nook. I began to make sounds. Mother got up and put her arm around me.

“Binkie, whatever is the matter with you?”

“Rissa!” I gurgled. “Rissa and that man! They’ve eloped!”

Father rose up. “What’s that you say? Eloped? Why, the young scoundrel! A fine way to repay hospitality! I’ll—I’ll—’”

“No, no,” I gasped. “He tried to stop her. He even took her out in the Sea Sprite ...” I stopped, fascinated by the look that was creeping over father’s face.

“The Sea Sprite? Calm yourself and tell us what this is all about,” father said, with deadly calm.

I said, “Rissa didn’t come home last night. She said she was going to elope with J. Carter, but I suggested to Flt.Lieut. Mitchell that he kind of shanghai j her—in a nice way—so that J. Carter couldn’t find her to elope with. Which he—Kit.-Lieut. Mitchell — was very ! willing to do. But J. Carter must have found her anyway, because she isn’t here.”

Father was taking the stairs at the double. We heard him pounding at the door of my erstwhile room. After awhile he came downstairs, looking worried.

“Well, he isn’t there either!” he announced.

“Maybe he’s merely gone back to barracks in disgust,” I offered.

Mother’s face was getting very white and she was saying things to father with her eyes. “Do you think there has been an accident, John? Should we phone the police?”

“First,” said father, “tell me what this is about the Sea Sprite?”

“Merely,” I said, “that I knew if you knew to what good use it was being put, namely, keeping Rissa out of that man’s clutches, you would have no objection to Fit.-Lieut. Mitchell taking j it Which I told him. So he took her j out in the Sprite ...”

“He wouldn’t take her far,” father ; interrupted. “There couldn’t have ■ been more than a cupful of gas in her.” “Cupful?” I gasped. “But, father,

I you filled her yourself for your trip!” “No, my wise child, I did not!”

I stated father. “Some smart thief has j been getting into the boathouses and [ siphoning the boats. I told Rissa myself that I was putting the gas in the j garage under lock and key, where, I i trust, it still is.”

“Then they have been floating ! around somewhere on the lake all night,” gasped mother. But it was a very unworried gasp, somehow.

AT THAT moment I saw a strange sight. Two figures were coming up ! the walk. It was a spectacle. There I came Rissa, trailing her long dress over

the grass. She wore Fit. - Lieut. Mitchell’s tunic over her shoulders. He wore a rusty old waterproof that had been in the Sprite’s lockers since time began. He looked very worried.

“Sir,” said he, when they reached the steps, “I have returned your daughter to you safe and sound.”

He stood very straight and proud. Rissa smiled at him mistily. There seemed to be stars in her eyes.

“Well,” said father, “what’s the story?”

Warwick Mitchell extended his hands, palms up. On each of them were two perfectly enormous blisters. “There,” said he, “is the story.”

Father looked and whistled in admiration before he remembered himself and said sternly, “What does that explain?”

“Merely that Rissa and I have spent most of the night rowing back from Pirate’s Island in the Sprite’s dinghy.” Fit.-Lieut. Mitchell cast a reproachful eye at me. (I must have imagined that he also winked.) “Having received your permission to take the Sprite out, we did so under the impression that the tank was stocked.”

“My permission!” roared father. “What balderdash is this?”

I began to feel very unnecessary. Luckily father had just thought of something else and went on loudly, “Rissa, you knew where the gas for the Sprite was. I told you myself about that thief!”

Rissa looked dreamily at the ground and blushed. Suddenly Warwick Mitchell leaned toward her, and his face got all tender and smiling.

“Why, Rissa, darling,” he said, and took her hand.

Father cleared his throat like a saw going through a board. Everybody jumped. Fit.-Lieut. Mitchell snapped to attention. “Sir,” he said, “I should like to ask your permission to marry your daughter.”

Everyone gasped. “Oh, you should, should you!” growled father. “The whole idea is ridiculous. You don’t know each other.”

“But we do, father,” said Rissa. “One night in a rowboat is as good as a month on dry land.”

Rissa and Warwick Mitchell looked at each other. It was a look that spoke volumes—all leather-bound.

Then mother said brightly, “Well, come in, everyone, and we’ll drink your health in good hot coffee. You look as if you needed some.”

That seemed to settle something. Father was still muttering like a departing thunderstorm, and Rissa and Warwick Mitchell were continuing to look at each other as if they’d never seen a person before. As for me, I had just realized that my pyjamas were not exactly the drawing-room type, and made a dive for the stairs, when Warwick reached out and put his arm around me.

“That,” said he in my ear, “was the neatest little bit of combined operations I have ever seen. Congratulations, general. I’ll take up the matter of a decoration with you later.”

And Rissa murmured as she went by, “How would you like that new dress now, kitten?” So it looks as if I am some sort of a hero.

So here I stand, still in my pyjamas, completely happy. But completely. For just this moment who should come tearing in but Squeak, shouting, “How about some tennis, Binks?” And on the last word his voice, which started out a mighty baritone, cracked like an egg and soared right out of sight.

My life is now back to normal—or as normal as it will ever be, no doubt. And isn’t life just too—too!