FICTION

SMELL OF POWDER

Talitha wanted a sure thing. Grandma was a gambler. But they both loaded the dice when Joe came along

RICHARD THRUELSEN February 1 1946
FICTION

SMELL OF POWDER

Talitha wanted a sure thing. Grandma was a gambler. But they both loaded the dice when Joe came along

RICHARD THRUELSEN February 1 1946

SMELL OF POWDER

RICHARD THRUELSEN

IT WAS very early in the morning when Talitha discovered him in the centre of the daisy field. She pulled up Susie sharply and stared at the scene over the head of the prickeared mare and wondered what she ought to do about it.

The young man in the leather jacket took the matter out of her hands. He was smoking a cigarette and sitting in the door of a red cabin monoplane in the middle of the field.

“Miss Livingstone, I presume,” he called.

Talitha pressed Susie through the tangle of wet flowers.

“Doctor Stanley?” she asked politely.

Susie was nosing the red tail surfaces. The young man flipped away his cigarette and stood up. He was quite tall, with broad shoulders. His face was square and brown and he had a little too much chin, but his eyes were blue and looked as though they knew a joke when they saw one.

“Fancy meeting you here,” he said, “in the heart of deepest Africa.”

“The deepest Laurentians,” corrected Talitha. “And now—though I hate to be conventional—is there anything I can do?”

“There are,” said the stranger with a grin, “a number of things you might do. You might introduce me to some breakfast or marry me and make a man of me or you might turn out to be my long-lost baby sister who was last seen going over Niagara Falls in a barrel. Take your choice.” “The breakfast is in and the rest is out,” Talitha told him. “Look, do you always talk this much before breakfast?”

“Only to black-haired, green-eyed girls who look well in riding clothes.”

“Thank you. What’s wrong with your plane?” “I’m not sure,” said the young maq. “Something not too simple, I trust. You don’t by any chance come from that house with the red roof and the swimming pool, do you?”

“I’m staying there. Why?”

“Then,” said the stranger, “you are my friend.” “That’s awfully nice of you.”

"Any girl,” continued the man in the leather jacket imperturbably, “with a swimming pool is my friend on a day like this.”

“I’m a lucky girl.”

“Quite.”

Talitha smiled sweetly. “I hope we can plan on having you with us for a while.”

“Several days. I’m grounded until I get things straightened out. Of course I had planned on walking over to that town on the other side of the hill for oreakfast—but if you insist . . .”

“The village,” said Talitha, “is four miles away and on the other side of a mountain. And while I don’t insist—”

“I agree,” said the young man quickly. “You have beaten down my every objection. What are you looking so peculiar about?”

“I have,” said Talitha, “an idea. You say that you’ll be around here for several days?”

“Probably.”

“Well then, how would you like to earn $10 a day and your board and keep while you’re here?”

“That,” said the young man, “would be excellent. How do I earn it?”

“By acting the part of a man with ideas, and by making violent love to me.”

“Ah,” said the young man. He narrowed his eyes. “There is no husband to use you as a target,”

Talitha added quickly. “Your only audience will be Ancient.”

“Grandma Markhall,” explained Talitha. “She owns the house with the red roof and the swimming pool.”

“Why the 10 bucks?”

“That’s to make it an out-and-out business proposition. You’re going to pose as an old sweetheart of mine, and before you leave you’re going to ask me to marry you and I’m going to accept and we’re going to scare Ancient to death.”

The young man grinned. “You flatter me.”

“I didn’t mean it that way,” Talitha said quickly. “After all, I don’t know anything about you.” She slid down from Susie. The young man in the leather coat watched her appreciatively.

“This,” he said, “is going to be the easiest money I ever earned. Now suppose you tell me who I am and what I do, for to me all this is passing strange.”

“Give me a name,” said Talitha. “I’m Talitha Markhall.”

“So,” said the young man. He looked at her quickly. Then, “What sort of a name would you like?”

“A name that would fit a man of action, of daring ideas, of courage and imagination. A trail-blazing sort of man.”

“How well you describe me! A name—let’s see. Mackenzie? No. Fraser . . . No, not so good.” “Something short and common,” suggested Talitha. “Something I can remember.”

“How about Joe Bryan?”

“Fine. All right, Joe.”

“Yes, Talitha. Talitha, darling.”

They smiled at each other.

“Follow me,” said Talitha, “and listen carefully. We have to construct a vivid past in a 10-minute walk.”

THE trouble had started one day a week before.

Talitha had arrived at Mountainside in the early afternoon. A plunge, a nap and a change and then she had joined Grandma Markhall on the terrace. Grandma, a print of an old lady in fresh, bright colors, was sitting there with a dicebox, playing her right hand against her left at backgammon—and cheating furiously to make the left hand win.

“Just a born gambler, Ancient,” Talitha remarked.

“Quite right,” agreed Grandma placidly. “T always have been. How long this time, Talitha?” “About 10 days, I guess. I’m due at Fisher’s Island on the twentieth.”

“Who’s coming up?”

“Nobody. I wanted to be alone with you, Ancient. I need a rest.”

Grandma Markhall sniffed. “Rest from what? But never mind, I’ve heard it all before. That Alcorn boy—his family have a place at Fisher’s, haven’t they?”

“They have,” said Talitha. “That’s where I’m going. Ted’s planning to get married.”

The rattling of the dicebox stopped. Grandma Markhall looked up sharply.

“I knew,” she said thoughtfully, “that sooner or later he’d get tired of being a doormat. Such devotion had to get some appreciation. Who’s he thinking of marrying?”

“Me,” said Talitha.

“I need support,” said Grandma. The bell at her elbow tinkled coyly. When they were sipping their tea she observed:

“He’s a lovely boy, Talitha. Perfect manners and such a beautiful head. His eyes—they’re so gentle. They’ve always reminded me of the eyes of that gazelle your grandfather brought back from Rhodesia. Remember it? Used to be in the billiard room.”

“Very well,” said Talitha. “When you’re through you might comment on the situation. After all, you represent my family.”

“I might,” said Grandma, “if you’re sure you want me to.”

“Why not?”

“All right.” The dicebox clanked on the board. “I think the situation is uninteresting.”

“I’m sorry,” said Talitha. “Perhaps we could have some dancing girls at the wedding—

“Completely uninteresting,” continued Grandma. “You’ll be marrying a man without any past and without any future.”

“But with plenty of present,” pointed out Talitha. “Too much,” admitted Grandma. “You’ll begin marriage with everything you ought to have to struggle for. After marrying Ted you’ll consider you’re through and settle down and hope nothing happens to mar your vegetable happiness. It’s the finishing school credo.”

“Whereas—”

“Throw for the left hand.” The dice rattled across the board. Grandma Markhall, after a quick glance, studied the panorama of the mountains while her left hand strayed correctively among the cubes. “There —that’s a nice roll. One, two, three . . . Marriage without accomplishment is stupid, Talitha. You

Talitha wanted a sure thing. Grandma was a gambler. But they both loaded the dice when Joe came along

ought to have to work toward something together. That gives it significance. You ought to have the courage to gamble, not look for a sure thing.”

“Poverty, washboards, romance and babies,” suggested Talitha.

“And a man,” Grandma supplemented pointedly. “Old-fashioned, but strictly guaranteed to make life interesting. I could have married a fortune. As it was, your grandfather and I had a marvellous time snaking one together.”

“Is he still around?” Talitha asked with interest. “The man with the fortune, I mean. Perhaps I should go in for this vegetable business in a big way.”

“George Bradley,” said Grandma a little proudly, “married on the rebound. His grandson, Lester Bradley, is about your age.”

“Funny you’ve never had him around.’’

“I didn’t think you’d be interested, Talitha. I’ve had him in to see me several times in the city.” Grandma looked up, delicately arching her eyebrows. “He’s a boy with ideas, and that would be dis• ncerting.”

“I could stand a few—if they’re nice ones.”

“I’m afraid he’d be bored with you and your crowd.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Markhall.”

“That’s what he’s trying to get away from—your coupon-clipping aristocracy. Don’t you understand? Real men want to do things, not have them done.”

“My coupons,” said Talitha, “are negligible.”

“But apparently you have the illusions of grandeur that go with them. No. Talitha, he couldn’t take you and you wouldn’t take him.”

“Accusing me of being a coward, are you, Ancient?” Grandma smiled sweetly. “If the cap fits, darling. Of course it’s none of my business—you’re doing the marrying. It’s just that I’d like you to get a smell ot powder before you settle down with a house in Westmount, two cars and a wire-haired fox terrier.” The old lady stared out across the gardens, a little smile curling the corners of her lips. “It’s great fun marrying

a man who has nothing but a bag of hopes and you. I wish you were going to try it!”

She rose with a small, old-age sigh. “I’m going up to rest—and to dream of my adventurous youth.” She paused, tapping her teeth with a fingernail. “Decide what you want for a wedding present, will you?”

TALITHA and Joe Bryan had reached the crystal shallows of Wading Brook. From here the path, laced with shadow, rose steeply to the lawns which surrounded Mountainside with a mat of brilliant green. Talitha stopped, with Susie nuzzling her shoulder. Joe Bryan set down his bag.

“And there,” said Talitha, “is the background, without details.”

Mr. Bryan looked at the brook and then at Talitha.

“This guy,” he said, “this Alcorn—are you in love with him?”

“That’s none of your business.”

Joe Bryan shrugged. “Of course not. But if you want me to do a good job you ought to allow me a few questions.”

Talitha said, indignantly, “All right. Yes, I love him. Anyway I’ve known him for years, we go around with the same crowd, and he’s the most considerate man I know.”

“I see,” said Joe. He nodded wisely. “Now the idea is that—” Continued on page 39

Smell of Powder

Continued from page 13

“That this struggle and romance business is an old lady’s dream. We haven’t said anything about it since that first day, but Ancient’s been going around looking resigned—grimly resigned, if you know what I mean.” “Why not leave it that way?” asked Joe Bryan curiously. Then he added hastily, “Not that I want to lose my job.”

“Because,” said Talitha, “she’s all I have and I want her blessing.”

“Ho-ho,” said Mr. Bryan.

Talitha ignored him. “And the whole thing’s just a sentimental whim on her part anyway. If it looked as though I was going to marry somebody who was both poor and honest she’d be the first to howl. I figure that with a contrast she’ll come to her senses.” “And I,” said Mr. Bryan, “am to provide the contrast.”

Talitha nodded. “Aggressive, devilmay-care—a pioneer type with a long record of adventurous accomplishment.”

“A trail-breaking he-man.”

“And,” added Talitha, “an uncouth mug. For five years, between stupendous achievements, you’ve loved me. Now you’ve arrived to sweep me off my feet and carry me off to some hole in the wilderness—some place where I’d be liable to get malaria or frostbite or something. Some place where I’d have to work my hands to the bone and where I’d grow all yellow in a year. Be rough and ready about it. And don’t take ‘No’ for an answer.”

“You’ll be surprised,” Joe promised. “But what happens?”

“Well, you’ll show Ancient what the tobacco-chewing generation of men is like on the home grounds, you’ll get my maidenly affirmative, and then just before you, or rather, we, leave, Ancient hauls down the flag and offers to have my wedding with Ted up here. The idea is that anything will look better than you.”

“Excellent,” said Joe agreeably. “I’m going to enjoy this. Now supposing you go ahead and sort of prepare the way. I’ll get my achievements all lined up and follow you. You might take this bag. My last bout with tropical uglavia left me weak and unwilling.”

Susie stepped daintily through the brook and started up the slope. Halfway to the top Talitha turned, to see Joe Bryan slip off the stepping stone in the middle of the stream. Mr. Bryan began to say things about nature, and Talitha was still laughing when she reached Grandma Markhall on the terrace.

“Where’d you get the bag, Talitha?” Talitha said excitedly, “It’s Joe’s. Isn’t it wonderful! He’s just arrived.” “Joe?”

“Sure. Joe Bryan. You’ve heard me mention him.”

“Never,” said Grandma decidedly. “You’ve forgotten,” said Talitha, gently reproving. She sighed. “The poor man—he’s been in love with me for years. And now here he’s flown all the way from Fort William just to see me. So like him!”

“What’s the matter with him?” asked Grandma suspiciously.

“Nothing,” Talitha assured her. “Of course lie’s slightly impossible. Poor as a church mouse and always dashing off to one part of the world or another to do things with railroads and bridges. But he’s quite a dear. You’ll like him.” “Is this your Mr. Bryan?” asked Grandma, pointing.

Joe Bryan was coming slowly up the drive, shaking one foot and then the other. Mr. Bryan looked large and

decidedly aggressive and he was frowning with general disapproval upon the immaculate landscaping, the sprawling brick house, the swimming pool and the surrounding ridge of mountains which composed Mountainside and its environs.

“He looks rather shabby,” Grandma Markall observed.

“Naturally,” said Talitha. “He’s just finished a bout with uglavia, he’s poor, and besides”—she giggled—“he fell in the brook.”

Mr. Bryan was ascending the steps to the terrace.

“Hello,” he said ungraciously. He scowled at Grandma. “You ought to have a bridge put over your brook there. I just fell in.”

He sat down heavily in a chair and started to wring out his trouser bottoms.

“This,” said Talitha, “is Grandma Markhall, Mr. Bryan.”

“I’m glad to have you up here with us, Mr. Bryan,” said Grandma sweetly. “Sorry about the brook.”

Joe Bryan waved his hand generously. “That’s all right. I’ll have a shot of coffee, though. Black and boiling, with a dash of rum in it. Have to be careful of these things since my last bout with uglavia.”

“Yes, Talitha was saying—” began Grandma.

“In the Asumbro Delta, it was,” boomed Joe Bryan, unheeding. “I was inaugurating cotton culture down there when it got me. On my back for 40 days. Only my iron constitution brought me through. The settlement doctors gave me up. At the end there was only a witch doctor with me.”

“The end?” asked Grandma weakly. “The end of my sickness,” explained Joe Bryan. “The tribe made me chief,” he finished simply.

Grandma Markhall breathed deeply. “Wonderful!”

“Black coffee,” prompted Mr. Bryan. “With rum.”

“Oh, yes, of course. No rum, I’m afraid. Would medicinal brandy do?” Grandma Markhall settled back in her chair, looking respectful. “Talitha said something about your building bridges and railroads, Mr. Bryan.”

Joe looked sharply at Talitha. “In between,” he said. “In between.” Ancient nodded understandingly. “Ah, of course—in between,” she said. “I was interested, because my husband was—”

“Heard of him,” said Joe Bryan quickly. “Fine man. Fine work. Of course he sort of followed up, whereas I spend my time pushing on.” Mr. Bryan thrust out a hand, denoting a tremendous amount of pushing. “Pioneering, that’s what I like.”

“Here,” said Talitha, “is your coffee.”

He drained the steaming cup at a gulp. “Good,” he said a little thickly. He looked at Talitha. “Darling,” he said, “I’ve come to take you away with me.”

Talitha fought back a giggle. She knew now why Mr. Bryan had needed black coffee, spiked.

“You still feel that way, Joe?” She gave a hopeless shrug and flashed a smile at Grandma Markhall. Ancient was leaning forward, staring at Mr. Bryan.

“You’re going to what?” she asked. “Going to take her away,” Joe repeated determinedly. “I’m going to yank her out of this useless crowd of tea hounds she travels around with and take her down North with me.” “Take her down where?” Grandma was patently interested.

“Ankrolonkvonk,” said Mr. Bryan. “I’m going to start an airline there. I’ve been looking the territory over and Continued on page 41

Continued from page 39 I’ve got a cabin with the only sheetiron roof in the territory. I’m going to take Talitha. She’s a good strong healthy girl. She’ll make a fine wife and mother, and I think she can stand the climate. The last one didn’t.”

Talitha said, “The last one?”

“Yeah,” said Mr. Bryan. He shook his head dolefully. “Too bad. Too bad, it was.”

“What happened to her?” asked Grandma over the top of her teacup.

“Froze to death,” said Mr. Bryan. He looked pained. “She used to sleep under the stove in the kitchen and the stove went out one night. It was a shame. She was a swell cook.”

Grandma Markhall leaned back, sipping her tea. It was plain that she was enjoying Joe Bryan.

“Had you heard, Mr. Bryan, that Talitha is considering someone else for that honor?”

JOE banged his knee with a big fist.

“Sure, I heard,” he said loudly. “I heard in the city. That Alcorn cub.

A la-de-la boy who helps his father, who’s retired. I told them it was nonsense and I came up here to show them it was. I’ve taken my last ‘No’ from you, Talitha. You’re leaving with me when I go. We’re setting out to do things. I salvaged $2,000 from my rubber plantations and we’re going to Ankrolonkvonk to start an airline. You and me together.” Mr. Bryan got up, looking aggressive. “Darling . . he began.

Grandma Markhall sniggered.

“He’s as crazy as your grandfather was, Talitha.”

“Crazier, I hope, Ancient.” Talitha gave Joe Bryan a warning glance. “Look, Joe, wouldn’t you sort of like to take a shower and cool off. After that long trip—”

“Just the thing,” Joe Bryan agreed immediately.

Joe appeared for breakfast in immaculate white. It was somewhat of a shock to find that he looked as wellf " «sed as the impeccable Ted Alcorn.

as good-looking, but surely as «^tractive in his own way. Talitha joined him at the top of the stairs.

“What’s the matter?” he asked. “Have I forgotten something?”

“Nothing,” Talitha told him. “It’s just that—that you don’t look at all uncouth.”

“I have to be someone you’d be likely to fall. in love with,” Joe reminded her. He ran a hand across his forehead. “Look,” he said, “I feel awful after that coffee. It scorched my gizzard. I think I’ll be the strong, silent man until I get some breakfast. Help me out, will you?”

It was hardly necessary. Ancient, finding Mr. Bryan uncommunicative, tactfully took over the burden of conversation and talked about her early days of travelling with Grandfather Markhall. Joe twice corrected her geography and then held his peace. When he had finished he gruffly excused himself and stamped out. Talitha prepared to follow him.

“Don’t annoy him, Talitha,” cautioned Grandma. “He’s probably planning something. Your grandfather always hated to be bothered with small talk when he had something on his mind.”

“He won’t be bothered,” Talitha promised.

Joe Bryan had paused outside the breakfast room door. He turned and put his arm around Talitha’s shoulders.

“Talitha, darling,” he said, “I want to have a talk with you.” Then, loudly, “Someplace where we won’t be bothered.”

“Down at the pool, Joe. In 10 minutes.”

Joe was stretched out in the sun when she walked down. Grandma Markhall, just above them, was puttering in her rose garden. Talitha lowered herself to the early morning warmth of the tiles.

“She’s watching us, Joe.”

Joe Bryan grunted and put his hand affectionately on Talitha’s shoulder.

“I thought she would be. I think I’ve got her worried already. Old ladies always hate to have their geography corrected. I am now in the process of making ardent love to you.” He moved a little closer. “Is there any good fishing around here?” he asked.

Talitha whispered - into his ear, “There sue some trout in Wading Brook . . . Look, who are y.ou anyway?”

“Joe Bryan.”

, “I know, but I mean what are you? What do you do?”

“Anything,” said Joe, “that promises excitement. Right now I’m flying airplanes and making love at $10 a day. And talking about excitement, you’re pretty exciting in that bathing suit.”

“I wish you’d be serious. After all, I’m your boss.”

“I am serious,” said Joe.

Talitha looked into his eyes for just a moment and felt herself coloring.

“I’m beginning to think,” she said, “that I was an awful fool to start this.” “You were,” he said. “But it’s too late to back out now without looking like a worse fool. You are now seriously considering my proposal and wondering if, after all, it isn’t Mr.. Bryan you love and not Mr. Alcorn. Come on, I’ll race you to the pool.”

Talitha tried once again, later in the morning, and was reminded by Mr. Bryan that he had not contracted to give her his biography. He’d do his job, he said, and nothing more.

He did his job. Returning from the pool he swept her into his arms and carried her up the long flight of steps, two at a time, to set her down, dripping wet, at the luncheon table on the terrace. He didn’t like the soup and salad Ancient had planned, and said so. Martha worked herself into a frenzy preparing chops and fried potatoes for him. During the meal he talked at length and with abandon, and made himself generally obnoxious to any person of intelligence and discrimination. He left the table precipitously and appeared a moment later on the drive, seated behind the wheel of Grandma Markhall’s most expensive automobile.

“I’ll be back,” he roared. “I’m taking a ride to give you time to think it over, honey.”

He went careening down the drive. “He’s got his nerve, taking your car,” said Talitha indignantly.

“Of course,” Grandma agreed. “No polish, no tact at all.”

“And he expects me to marry him and sink myself up there in the snowdrifts. Isn’t that ridiculous?”

“Quite,” said Grandma.

Talitha said, desperately, “He has a strong face, don’t you think?”

Ancient’s smile was for herself. “Yes, he’ll get what he wants.”

Talitha did her best to look dreamyeyed. “Think of him—taking his small savings and going up there to risk everything in the face of almost certain failure. Coming home worn-out, halfstarved—”

“I am thinking of it,” said Grandma cryptically.

“I probably wouldn’t see you for two or three or four years, Ancient. It would be rotten, darling . . . but, oh, it’s a temptation.”.

“I can imagine,” said Grandma, and walked away.

Talitha told Joe about it when she met him upstairs just before dinner.

“She tried to be smart, but I'm sure I gave her something to think about. Whip up the horses tonight, will you?” “Right. I’ll lay it on thick at the dinner table and then you can accept me on the terrace later. She’ll probably kick me down the drive.”

BUT Grandma Markhall didn’t. She listened and nodded and smiled. Still, she left her dessert unfinished. “If you two will pardon me,” she said, “I’ll carry my thoughts into the garden.”

Talitha sat on the porch swing beside Joe Bryan. As she sat there staring out into the dark, the sense and the feeling of that distance grew upon Talitha, until at last the aerial spaces of the valley before her seemed to take on a quality of infinite magnification. Looking at the dark, rolling shoulders of the land against the sky she saw, not one, but innumerable horizons, each above and behind the other, stretching back forever into the stars.

It was strange and frightening—to be looking at what you knew you couldn’t see. Talitha spoke, to break the illusion.

“Joe, do you ever get the feeling that you’re looking at everything which lies beyond the horizon and that if you could only move on a little you could see more clearly?”

The point of Joe Bryan’s.cigarette remained suspended in mid-air. Talitha knew he had turned and was looking at her.

“Yes,” he said after a long pause, “I do.”

“I just did. For the first time since, oh, I guess since I was a little girl. This is a good place to discover it again.” Joe put the cigarette to his lips. In its glow his face was thoughtful.

“Yes,” he said a little grimly, “this is a fine place.” He moved a little on the swing and Talitha felt his arm slide around her shoulders. “Look,” he said, “don’t forget why we’re here.”

“I won’t,” said Talitha. She leaned back, feeling the weave of his linen sleeve against her neck. The momentary sense of excitement which had accompanied the illusion immediately disappeared. She tried to think of Ted. To her surprise the picture of him eluded her. She focused her thoughts in turn upon his smile, the way he held a glass, the gold links which always shone so brightly from out the starched whiteness of his cuffs. These pictures came obediently to her mind and then abruptly disappeared, leaving nothing but the blackness of the valley before her eyes.

The pressure of Joe Bryan’s hand upon her arm startled her. He leaned over and whispered:

“She’s back of us in the room. Time for the big act.” Raising his voice, he said, “Talitha, I know I’m selfish to ask you to share it all with me, but I’m afraid I love you too much to think of that.”

Unexpectedly, Talitha found herself in his arms. For an instant she tried to protest, to tum her head away; then she remembered her part and submitted. A moment later he released her. She sat back, staring at him, her heart beating wildly.

“Joe,” she said.

His voice answered, inexorable in its falseness. “Darling,” he said, “you will come with me, won’t you?”

At that moment, looking over his shoulder, Talitha watched Grandma Markhall come quietly into view on the steps and pass like a shadow across the far end of the terrace.

She waited until she was sure of her voice. Then she said:

“Grandma Markhall just this moment came up from the garden, Joe Bryan!”

“Really? That’s funny. I swear I saw someone. Must have been Martha.”

“Martha has the evening off,” Talitha informed him coldly. “It was a cheap trick—but what I might expect, I suppose.”

“Don’t be foolish,” he protested. “It’s all a game anyway. Just consider that a rehearsal.”

Talitha rose. It was maddening to realize that he was right. With an effort she forced herself back into the situation they had planned.

“I’ve decided, Joe,” she said. “I’m going with you. And now I’m going in to tell Grandma.”

She left him sitting there on the swing, but she didn’t go directly to Ancient. Instead she went to her own room and stood before the window for the space of two cigarettes. Then she went down the hall.

Grandma Markhall’s room was dark. Talitha stood in the open door.

“Ancient,” she called softly.

There was a movement on the other side of the room.

“Yes.”

“I just wanted to tell you, Ancient, that I’ve decided to marry Joe. I’m leaving with him—tomorrow.”

There was a long silence. Grandma Markhall coughed.

“Have you thought it over carefully, darling?”

“There’s no use thinking too much, Ancient. I’m going to do just as you advised—take a chance.”

“A big chance.”

“Yes, a big chance. And I realize I don’t know him very well. But he’s strong and he’s lonely and I love him and he’s going over to those other mountains. I’m going with him.”

“What about mountains?” asked Grandma sleepily. “But this is no time to talk about it. Sleep over it. That’s what I’m going to do. Don't bang the door, darling.”

Joe Bryan answered her knock with a, “Come in.” He was sitting in a chair before the window, with his feet on the sill. Talitha stood in the open door.

“I told her. She seemed horribly indifferent. Just advised me to sleep over it.”

Joe grinned over his shoulder at her.

“Don’t let her bluff you, boss,” he advised. “Just go right through with it. When she sees you’re actually planning to leave she’ll kick up a row.”

“And if she doesn’t?”

“That,” said Mr. Bryan, “will be just too bad. I’ll take you down to Montreal, we can have a fight, and you can rush off to your own true love. I’ll disappear and be a part of the past.”

GRANDMA and Joe Bryan were just finishing when she arrived at the breakfast table next morning. Joe stood up, looking embarrassed.

“Good morning, Talitha.”

Ancient was coming around the table.

“Let me be the first to wish you happiness, Talitha, darling. I’ve just been telling Joe that I give you both my blessing. I’m sure you’ll have a happy and interesting life together.” Talitha stood there numbly while she received Grandma’s kiss. Joe Bryan winked at her and grimaced over Ancient’s shoulder. She managed a smile.

“That’s the girl,” said Grandma. “I know how you feel—nervous. I’ve just sent Horace up to take your bags over to the field. I’ll get a wrap and see you there. Joe tells me you’re leaving right away.”

When she had gone Talitha slumped into a chair. Joe Bryan was playing with the sugar bowl.

“I’m glad you see the humor of this, Mr. Bryan.”

“Why not? She’s beaten us at our

own game. You’d be leaving in a few days anyhow.”

“There’s nothing I can do but go through with it,” Talitha said.

“Nothing,” Joe agreed. He grinned.

Martha came in with the coffee. Joe stood up and kissed Talitha on the forehead.

“Hurry, darling,” he said. “I’m going over to warm the ship up.”

Talitha found Grandma Markhall standing on the edge of the daisy field. The red plane was thundering in the morning quiet.

“He’s waiting, Talitha,” yelled Grandma above the roar.

Talitha held Ancient in her arms for a moment and then kissed her cheek. She felt terribly small and mean. She resolved to confess.

“Ancient ...”

Grandma Markhall gave her a push.

“Off with you, Talitha. Treat him well, have a good time, and don’t be too careful. I gave Joe a little wedding present for both of you.”

I The small white square of Ancient’s ; handkerchief was the last thing Talitha saw as they cleared the trees at the end of the daisy field, turned, and headed south. When the field had at last disappeared into the green of the mountains she turned to Joe Bryan.

“What did she give you?”

Joe Bryan grinned. “A cheque for $1,000. I sold her a part interest in our airline.”

Talitha considered this for a moment. Then she shouted, above the roar of the motor, “You thief!”

Mr. Bryan seemed amused. “Where do you want me to take you?”

“I am,” shouted Talitha, “staying with you until I either get that cheque or have you arrested.”

Joe Bryan nodded, apparently satisfied. Two hours later the plane rolled to a stop at Cartierville. The motor sputtered and then died. Joe Bryan let the wheel slide forward.

“Well, the next stop is Toronto. Then north.”

“I’ll have the cheque, please,” said Talitha.

Mr. Bryan looked surprised. “But it’s made out to both of us.”

“I’ll tear it up. You don’t think I’d let you get away with this do you, you con man?”

“Thief, con man,” Joe Bryan sighed. “And you told me to be aggressive. Besides, I couldn’t give you the cheque. Your grandmother’s made an investment with it.” He shook his head. “It wouldn’t be honest. I’ve already sold her an interest in the line.”

“The cheque or the police,” said Talitha firmly.

Joe Bryan took a folded slip of pink paper from his pocket. He looked at it sadly. Then he looked at Talitha.

“You know, of course,” he said, “that I’ve fallen terribly in love with you. I’ll never forget those moments on the terrace.”

“Neither will I,” said Talitha, looking directly at Joe Bryan. She owed him that. Then, against her will, she added, “I thought you were acting.”

“I was acting—natural.”

“Oh. Well, that’s neither here nor there. The cheque.”

“Here. There’s a note on the back.” Grandma Markhall had written: “Forgive me, darling. You played right into my hands. Don’t be a ninny, now. Take him while the taking’s good. Use this to buy some green things and hire a cook with, will you? Love from Ancient.”

The cheque was made out to Mr. and Mrs. Lester H. Bradley.

“When she wired me to come up she didn’t give details,” said Mr. Bradley, alias Bryan. “She just said, there was trouble.” He chuckled. “I found it.” For a long time there was silene;. Talitha stared straight ahead. She wanted to cry but found she couldn’t —she felt so wonderfully happy. Finally Lester, alias Joe, rather hesitantly took her hand.

“The climate at Ankrolonkvonk,” he said, “isn’t really at all bad.”

Talitha looked at him out of the corners of her eyes.

“The food—”

“Green stuff all year around.” Talitha sighed. “I suppose,” she said, “there’s nothing else I can do.” Lester Bradley nodded his head in agreement. “You’re on the spot.”

“A lovely spot, darling.”

A moment later she lifted her head from his shoulder. Lester looked at her sharply.

“What,” he asked, “are you doing with your nose?”

“I’m sniffing,” said Talitha. “I just got my first smell of powder.”