Hyphenation has been made consistent.
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Spelling was changed on possible typographical errors (crysanthemum, boquet, Pittsburg, circumstancial, and villian.)
FROM THE CAR BEHIND
FROM THE CAR BEHIND
ELEANOR M. INGRAM
Author of "The Flying Mercury," "The Game or the Candle," Etc.
With Illustrations in Color by James Montgomery Flagg
Philadelphia & London J. B. Lippincott Company 1912
Copyright, 1911, by J. B. Lippincott Company Copyright, 1912, by J. B. Lippincott Company
Published, February, 1912 Published, February 15, 1912 Second Printing February 20, 1912
Printed by J. B. Lippincott Company At the Washington Square Press Philadelphia, U.S.A.
To My Dear and Gracious Mother
CHAPTER PAGE I. The Kid Amateur 11 II. Corrie and his Other Fellow 25 III. The Household of Roses 42 IV. Isabel 73 V. The Vase of Al-Mansor 91 VI. Wreck 117 VII. "The Greatest of These" 137 VIII. Aftermath 152 IX. The House at the Turn 162 X. Sentence of Error 171 XI. Gerard's Man 188 XII. The Making Good 201 XIII. The Titan's Driver 212 XIV. Val de Rosas 233 XV. The Strength of Ten 250 XVI. The White Road of Honor 267 XVII. The End of the Road 300
PAGE The People Burst Out Over the Course and Overwhelmed the Victors Frontispiece
Giddy, She Willingly Suffered His Support, then Drew Back, Her Color Returning Vividly 14
"Wipe It Off," She Requested Resignedly, "Wipe It Off and Never Tell" 78
THE KID AMATEUR
Gerard paused on the steps of the cement plateau overlooking the racetrack, his eyebrows lifting in the wave of humor glinting across his face like sunlight over quiet water.
"What?" he wondered. "Who——"
The grinning mechanician who had just come across from the row of training-camps opposite supplied the information.
"Oh, that's Rose's rose. Ain't he awful tweet?" he mocked.
Gerard continued to smile, but his clear amber eyes grew keenly appraising as they followed the flight of the rose-colored racing car around the circular track.
"He can drive," he gave laconic verdict.
"Sure," assented the mechanician. "But he'll be the last rose of summer, all right, when the race comes off. He'll not last twenty-four hours—a kid amateur. If you ain't coming over, I'll lead myself back to my job."
"You never can tell," warned Gerard, tolerantly. "No, I'm not coming over, Rupert; run along."
He moved over to one of the grand-stand seats, as he spoke, and sat down, leaning on the rail with an easy movement of his supple figure. That was the first characteristic strangers usually noted in him: an exquisite Hellenic grace of strength and faultless proportion. He was a man's beauty, as distinguished from a beauty-man; other men were given to admiring him extravagantly and unresentfully. Unresentfully, because of his utter practicality and matter-of-fact atmosphere.
The afternoon sunshine glittered goldenly across the huge, green field and the mile track circling it, where four racing cars sped in practice contest. Two of them were painted gray, one was dingy-white; the fourth shone in delicate pink enamel touched here and there with silver-gilt. Its driver and mechanician were clad in pink also, adding the completing stroke to an effect suggesting the circus rather than the race track. There was much excuse for the laughter of the camps, and that reflection of it lying in Gerard's eyes.
Yet, the rose-colored machine was well driven. More than once the watcher nodded in quick approval of a skilful turn or deft manoeuvre. Once he rose and changed his position to see more distinctly, and it was then that he first noticed the girl.
She was so beautifully and expensively gowned as to draw even masculine notice of the fact, the veil that fell from her silk hood to the hem of her cloak would alone have purchased the motor costume of the average woman. Against this filmy drapery her intent face showed as a study in concentration; her dark-blue eyes wide behind their black lashes, her soft lips apart, she too was watching the pink racer. But there was no laughter in her expression, instead there was the most deep and earnest tenderness, a blending of the childish and the maternal that made Gerard catch his breath and glance enviously at the driver of the gaudy car.
The afternoon was almost ended; as Gerard looked, the pink machine finished its last circuit and plunged through the paddock entrance, to come to a halt before its own tent in the "white city" of training camps. Simultaneously the girl in the upper rows of seats arose, catching up her swirl of pale silk and lace garments and hurrying precipitately down the stairway aisle. So great was her haste that, coming suddenly to the last step, one small, high-heeled suede shoe slipped from the iron edge and flung her violently against a column of the stand. Gerard reached her just in time to prevent further fall.
"Stand still," he cautioned, quietly steady. "There is a second flight of stairs. You are not hurt, I hope?"
Giddy, for a moment she willingly suffered his support, then drew back on the narrow landing, her color returning vividly.
"No," she answered. "I am not hurt. I thank you very much."
Thick waves of fair hair lay across her forehead above the delicate dark line of her brows, her candid regard met his with the dignity of utter naturalness and a young confidence in the goodness of all men. The impression Gerard received was original; he fancied that her home life must have been singularly happy and innocent, and that he should like to know her father.
"You will let me take you down the rest of the way, at least," he offered, accepting the situation as simply as she had done.
She glanced down the stairs with a slight shiver, still shaken and unnerved.
"You are very good. My car is beyond the corner, there. I—I am in haste to reach it."
That had been obvious. Yet, as she laid her gloved hand on Gerard's arm, she lingered to look again in the direction of the training-camps.
"The cars will not go out again to-day?" she inferred, half-questioningly.
"No, I think not. It is already late. This way?"
"Please; to the rear of the club-house."
They descended to the lower floor and crossed a strip of sandy ground to where a large foreign-built touring car waited, empty save for the chauffeur.
"I am running away from my brother," the young girl explained; then, with a playfulness tinged with pathos, "He is practicing out there. And it vexes him if I watch him or say I am afraid for him. He tells me to stay home and forget it. But sometimes I cannot. To-day I could not. Thanks to you, I shall escape before he finds me."
The "kid amateur's" sister, of course, Gerard thought, as he put her in the car.
"Do you always do as he says?" he queried whimsically. "I have no sister, but I did not understand that was the rule."
She turned to him her soft, completely feminine face, and gleamed into laughter.
"I am the only passive member of a strong-willed family," she told him. "I am always doing what some one bids. Thank you, and good-by."
The margin of safe escape was not great. As Gerard stepped back on the cement promenade, the pink machine shot across and came to a halt near the exit, its driver turning in his seat.
"Any one going to town?" he called, his imperious young voice ringing across the open spaces.
"No," came the discouraging monosyllable from the official stand.
The driver slowly sent his car forward, temper in every crisp movement, his gaze travelling over the empty tiers of seats, to fall at last upon Gerard and there rest. With a jerk he jammed down the brake and leaned from the machine. Thick fair hair lay across his boyish forehead above level dark brows, his candid dark-blue eyes went direct to their goal: the metal badge fastened to Gerard's lapel and just visible under the edge of his gray overcoat.
"You're wearing a chauffeur's license," he challenged.
"I surely am. Want to engage a man?" was the grave response.
The boy's arch glance swept the other's face, so definitely stamped with the habit of mastery.
"If I did I'd ask you to recommend one," he retorted mirthfully. "I'm not as much mixed as I sounded; I wasn't thinking of hiring you. But I did want to ask if you would ride into the city with me. My mechanician is busy over there, I can't find any one else to go with me, and I've got to get my car down to the Renard shop to-night."
"Now I wonder," Gerard mused aloud, "why you want any one with you."
"Because I won't be eighteen for a month," he gave prompt explanation. "Under the latest law freak turned out at Albany, I'm too young to drive a motor vehicle safely on the public roads unless I have a licensed chauffeur alongside of me. Oh, of course you'd laugh!"
"I was only recalling what I've just been watching you do on the track," apologized Gerard, steadying his countenance. "And speculating upon how the average chauffeur would like to try your feats. I shall appreciate the honor of riding into town with Mr. Rose and his rose."
The driver colored and laughed together, as his guest took the seat beside him.
"They're always ragging me—I mean the professional racers and motor men," he avowed, in a burst of resentful confidence. "They called me kid amateur, and rosebud, and girlie, until I just had my car painted pink and bought these pink suits and told them to go ahead getting all the fun they could. I'll get my turn to-morrow night." He twisted his car through the curved gateway, viciously expert.
"You are planning to win?"
There was no trace of mockery in the level intonation of the inquiry, yet Rose flushed again.
"I want to, and I mean to try," he answered frankly and soberly. "Of course one can't count on that sort of thing. I've got a splendid French machine here. But Allan Gerard is going to race; I'm afraid of him. Why, he hasn't even been out to practice! He says he knows the track, they tell me, and he'll not come down until a couple of hours before the start. That kind of talk rattles me—I wish he'd act like other people and not as if he just meant to drop into the motordrome and win another cup."
"I don't believe Gerard intends to pose as confident," deprecated his companion. "You see, he has his automobile factory to manage as well as his racing work; I rather fancy that he didn't come out to practice because he was busy."
"Oh, I suppose so. It just gets on my nerves; I shouldn't wonder if they were a bit raw from so much chaffing by the professional pilots. We're the quickest tempered family that ever happened, anyhow. I'll go off the handle, I know I will, if those grinning drivers get to gibing at me to-morrow night——" he broke off, slamming savagely into a lower gear as he caught a mounted policeman's eye and endeavored to choke his racing car's speed down to a reasonable approach to the legal limit.
When the desired result was somewhat attained, Gerard spoke with quiet seriousness.
"I've seen considerable motor racing, and I've been watching you this afternoon. With some really steady training and practice you could undoubtedly become one of our few fine drivers. You have the gift."
Rose caught his breath, his blue eyes flashed to meet the other man's with dazzled and dazzling ardor.
"But—you must not 'go off the handle.' Never. You must keep your nerve or quit the track."
"It isn't nerve, it's temper," amended Rose honestly.
Gerard's firm lip bent amusedly, his bronze-brown eyes glinted a fun as purely boyish as could the other's.
"That's quite different," he conceded. "Temper doesn't interfere with driving; on the contrary, some of the best drivers and most amiable men I know are very demons when they are racing."
"Gerard isn't. They say he is the quietest ever. Of course he's almost twenty-eight and used to it all."
The gentleman in question carefully unfastened his glove.
"Gerard seems to worry you," he commented.
"He does. I don't know just why, but he does."
"Well, don't let him. This is where you leave your machine?"
"Yes. I can't offer to take you wherever you are going, because I couldn't get back alone. I'm awfully obliged to you for coming in with me."
"Thanks for the ride." Gerard stepped out and offered his hand with a glance deliberately friendly. "Good-by; good luck for to-morrow and next day."
Rose dragged off his gauntlet and eagerly bent to give the clasp.
"Wait—you're not going like that?" he protested. "I'd like to see you again. You haven't told me your name."
"We will see each other again. That's a safe prediction, I assure you." He withdrew his hand, laughing a denial of explanation as he retreated. "I will tell you my name next time, if you ask me."
Already half a dozen people had collected around the pink racing car. Others were flocking from every direction, the group forming with a suddenness truly New Yorkese. Indifferent to all, Rose sprang out of his seat and ran through the curious men in pursuit of his late companion.
"Wait," he urged, overtaking him. "I want to ask—did you mean that? About my driving well, some day? I know I'll never get a chance to do it, but do you mean that I could?"
"I meant," confirmed Gerard, "just what I said. I usually do. Good-by."
The boy remained perfectly still in the midst of the crowd, standing in his rose-colored costume and looking after the straight, slender figure swinging down the street. When Gerard glanced back in turning the corner, Rose was still watching him.
* * * * *
It was some forty-five hours later that Gerard's prediction was verified, in the glare-streaked darkness of the Beach racetrack amid the medley of sounds from excited crowds, roaring cars, and noisily busy training camps. Under the swinging electric light before the hospital tent, the two drivers came face to face.
"Nothing wrong, I hope?" Gerard greeted, keen eyes sweeping the other.
A sparkle of animation lit Rose's exhaustion-drawn face to boyishness.
"I'm not hurt. I want to tell you that if I'd known who you were, yesterday, I'd never have asked you to ride with me," he answered, warmly impulsive.
"You'd have let me walk?"
"I'd have got into the mechanician's seat and let you drive. Do you suppose I'd have kept the wheel with you in the car? But what you said about my driving made it so no one could rattle me, Mr. Gerard; I am not going out of the race because of that, anyhow."
"Going out of the race? Why, you're running in third place!"
Rose shook his head, his mouth set, holding out two blistered hands and linen-wound arms.
"I've given out," he acknowledged bitterly. "There'll be no finish for my car. I can't hold my wheel without an hour to rest and get these into shape. Kid amateur, all right."
"Where's your alternate driver?"
"He slipped on a greasy bit of grass, ten minutes ago, and sprained his ankle. We're out of it, with third place ours and a perfect car to run."
Gerard looked down the row of illuminated tents to where the pink car stood, palpitating in an aura of its own light, and brought his eyes back to the other man.
"My machine went out of the race, two hours ago, with a broken crankshaft. If you like, I'll be your alternate," he offered.
Incredulous, breathless, Rose stared at him.
"I will drive your car until you are ready to take it again for the finish. I've nothing else to do, to-night."
It was a time and a scene where over-tense nerves not infrequently snapped. But if Gerard was not surprised to see it, Rose certainly was both amazed and humiliated to feel his own eyes suddenly stinging like a girl's.
"If ever I can do anything for you," he stammered fervently.
"I'll give you the chance," promised Gerard, tactfully gay. "Now hurry up your men with the car while I find my mechanician."
The comrade aid had been given to Rose, without the least relation to Rose's sister. But nevertheless Gerard directed a curious look toward the teeming grand-stand, as he turned to make ready. Was she there, he wondered, the flower-like girl with the name of a flower, who had rested in his arms just so long as a blossom might flutter against one in passing? Would her gaze follow the pink racer, still?
CORRIE AND HIS OTHER FELLOW
The touring car rolled slowly through the October leaves rustling and swirling down the road in jovial wind-eddies, came up to a knoll beside the field, and stopped. The driver turned in his seat to face the two occupants of the tonneau, pushing his goggles up above the line of his fair hair.
"Look," he urged eagerly. "Look at the pitcher of our home team. There, just crossing the diamond—it's a new inning."
"It's not the first baseball game you've brought us out to see, Corrie," observed Mr. Thomas Rose, setting his own goggles on his cap above the line of his reddish-gray hair. "Is it, my girl?"
His daughter laughed, shaking her small head in its crimson hood and glancing roguishly at her brother.
"Nor the twenty-first, papa," she amplified.
"Well, but I haven't brought you to see the game, but the pitcher," the boy protested. "He's a new one; you never saw him before. Look."
"Because I want you to."
Flavia Rose obediently turned her gaze toward the players, and upon the indicated man it halted, arrested.
"Oh!" she exclaimed under her breath, and sat still.
The men were in their places, alert in poised expectation, the attention of the whole field concentrating upon the central figure of the pitcher at whom the young girl also looked. A slim, straight statue he stood during a full moment, then slowly raised his arms above his head in a gesture of supple grace and ease. The afternoon sun struck across his wind-ruffled brown hair and smiling face, as he gave a brief nod to the catcher and dropped his arm with a lithe, swift movement and turn of his whole body. The white ball shot across, swerving almost at the plate, and crashed into the catcher's mitt.
"He's got speed!" Mr. Rose approved loudly, standing up in the car. "That's pitching! Who's your friend, Corwin B.?"
His son did not answer. The ball was back in the pitcher's hands; again he was lifting his arms in the pose his physical beauty made classic. There was repeated the quick nod, the abruptly swift movement, and the ball sped across, dropping oddly.
"Strike two!" was called.
Amid the applause and shouts of encouragement, Flavia laid her small, urgent hand on her brother's sleeve.
"Corrie, who is he? Tell us, please."
He moved to see her more directly.
"Do you remember the Beach twenty-four-hour race, last summer, where I finished third? Do you remember how I told you about the big driver, Allan Gerard, who drove my machine for two hours until I could hold the wheel again myself?"
"Strike three—you're out!" rang the umpire's announcement; again the joyous shouts interrupted speech.
"Well, then, that's who."
"That's Gerard, playing ball?" interrogated Mr. Rose, incredulous. "What for? Lost his racing job?"
Laughing, Corrie shook his head.
"No, sir! Gerard is a member of the Mercury automobile company and has their western factory and all that end of the business in his hands. He races the Mercury car because he loves the work and because no one else can do it so well. No; practice for the Cup race opens to-morrow, and he's here on Long Island for that. But the pitcher of our home team put his arm out of business yesterday, and Gerard offered to pitch for this game. He knows everybody here—he always knows everybody everywhere, he's that kind. And I want to ask him to dinner," he concluded irrelevantly.
Mr. Rose scanned the field for a flying ball, as a sharp crack announced the first hit.
"Staying out here, or going in to the city each day?" he inquired.
"He's staying in Jamaica, sir."
"Then you'd best ask him to stop at your house until the race comes off, or he'll wreck his machine from weakness brought on by starvation," pronounced Mr. Rose, dryly. "One dinner won't carry him through weeks. I know those hotels, myself."
Corrie gasped, his face swept by delighted awe.
"Really? Oh, I'd give anything to have Gerard, Gerard, like that! Do you think he'll come?"
"If he had dinner at his hotel last night, and breakfast and lunch to-day, he'll come," his father assured. "Now be quiet and let me watch the game; it must be near ending."
"Never mind the but, Corwin B. Keep cool."
But Corrie could not keep cool. When his father's attention was engaged he slipped down from his seat and went around to Flavia's side of the car.
"Do you think he would come?" he asked, for her ears alone. "Don't you want him, too? Why are you so serious—what do you think?"
Their clear violet-blue eyes met in the intimate household love and understanding of all their lives. Flavia dropped a caressing arm around her brother's shoulders, gently drawing him to face the field.
"Really look," she bade.
Puzzled, he obeyed. Gerard was still occupying the centre of the diamond, holding the ball aloft while his meditative gaze apparently dwelt on the batsman. There was scarcely a perceptible turn of his brown head, yet as the two in the car watched, the impromptu pitcher's glance flashed from behind his uplifted arm and he whirled in a half-circle to hurl the unexpected ball straight across the diamond to where a careless enemy had ventured from second base. Too late the startled runner saw; the sudden attack won.
"You're out!" pealed the quick decision. The game was closed. With the gay uproar of local triumph Mr. Rose mingled his approving applause, still standing upright in the car to view the scene.
"Well, of what are you thinking?" Corrie repeated. "He's splendid, I know that."
"I am thinking of Isabel," Flavia answered quietly, "and of you. If you take Mr. Gerard home, she will see a great deal of him."
Astonished, he regarded her. After a moment he again looked toward the man opposite, his expression sober.
"It's like you to think of me," he acknowledged, with slow gratitude. "But that's all right. If any one else can get her, I'd better know it now. Of course he'll want her, she's just the kind of girl he'd like, such a sport herself about cars and things. If she likes him better than me, why I'll have to stand it, that's all."
"Then, I shall be very glad to have Mr. Gerard stay with us, dear; don't you and I always like the same things?"
"We sure do, Other Fellow?"
The childhood "play name" brought their cordial glances together, as Mr. Rose dropped into his seat.
"Game's over, Corwin B.; better run get your friend," he notified, cheerily imperious. "Hurry along."
Half-smiling, half-anxious, Corrie lingered on the verge of compliance.
"I—I feel a chill at the idea," he avowed. "I believe, after all, I'm shy of Gerard!"
"Now what's the matter?" Mr. Rose ejaculated, staring after his son. "Shy; and I've been trying ever since he was born—without succeeding—to teach him that there were one or two people on earth bigger than he is."
"Isn't it so, then?"
She laughed with him, mutinously unanswering.
Whatever diffidence Corrie had felt promptly vanished when Gerard turned from the group of players and met him. Flushed with vigorous exercise and recent conquest, his smiling eyes warming to recognition as they fell upon the breathless young motorist, there certainly was nothing intimidating in the late pitcher's aspect.
"I'm Corrie Rose—you haven't forgotten? Come meet my father and sister, won't you?" was Corrie's eager greeting.
It was not at all the dignified self-introduction and invitation he had planned as he ran across the field, but Gerard had the gift of drawing sincerity to meet his own, like to like.
"You haven't forgotten me," countered the other, giving his hand. "And I should be delighted to meet your father and Miss Rose, if I were fit. Perhaps you'll give me another chance."
"Fit? Why, we've been watching you play ball! A fellow don't play ball in a frock coat. We want you to come home to dinner, now, and stay with us over the race. You know I'm practising for it, too. Don't say no," as Gerard moved. "We want you."
The impulsive, italicized speech was very compelling.
"Thank you; I'll come over to your car, anyway," Gerard accepted. "But——What is it, Rupert?"
"I guess you'd call it a raincoat," was the drawled reply. "I'd feel bad to find you'd brought out your pajamas, for there ain't anything to do except wear it, now."
"I'm not cold."
The mechanician nodded a brief return to Corrie's laughing salute, and directed his sardonic black eyes to Gerard's right arm, which the rolled-back sleeve left bare to the elbow.
"I ain't specially timid," he submitted. "If rheumatism is part of the racing equipment you like to have with you, I'll just hurry home and make my will before we start."
With an impatient shrug Gerard slipped into the garment.
"Thanks; you're worse than a wife. Rose, you know Jack Rupert, who's sheer nerve when we're racing and sheer nerves when we're not."
"I surely do," Corrie warmly confirmed. "You rode with Mr. Gerard at the Beach when he drove my car for me. I'm not likely to forget that."
The small, malignly intelligent mechanician contemplated him, unsmiling, although far from unfriendly.
"I ride with Gerard," he acquiesced.
And only Gerard himself knew the history of service in the face of death comprehended in the simple statement.
Thomas Rose, repeatedly millionaire and genially absolute dictator in his circle of affairs, was not easy to gainsay. And he chose to assume prompt possession of Gerard, almost before the introduction was over.
"Get right in," he commanded. "Never mind anything, get in; and we'll talk about keeping you after we've had dinner. We'll stop at your hotel for your things, if you want them."
"You're very good," Gerard began, and stopped, encountering Flavia's eyes. Neither had spoken of their former meeting, indeed they had been given no opportunity for speech, yet the acute recollection was a bond between them.
"We do not wish to be insistent, Mr. Gerard," she said now, in her fresh, soft tones. "But we should be very glad to have you."
Gerard continued to look at her, gravely attentive as she herself. She was as exquisitely dressed as when he had caught her in his arms on the stairs of the Beach grand-stand, the fragile hand she laid on the car door carried the vivid flash of jewels. Somehow he divined that her father exacted this, that in his pride of self-made millionaire he would insist upon extravagance as other men might upon economy. And she would yield. He remembered her playful speech at their first meeting: "I am the only passive member of a strong-willed family." His impression was of her most feminine softness that was not in the least weak.
"Thank you," he answered. "I should have liked above all things to be your guest. But it happens that I have brought my mechanician with me and that I cannot desert him at the hotel. It does not matter at all about relative social position; we are down here together. Moreover, I have a ninety Mercury racing machine to look after, and I should be a most unrestful visitor, up at dawn and out until dark."
"If that's all," decided Mr. Rose, "this is a seven-passenger car and an architect said my house had ninety-five rooms. There's standing room in the garage, I guess, for a car or two. Corrie, turn loose your horn."
Corrie promptly put his finger on the button of the electric signal, and a raucous wail shattered the sunset hush.
"That's your man, looking this way? I like your sticking to him, Gerard. Here he comes. We're all fixed, then; get in."
Gerard got in, beside Flavia, who laughingly drew her velvet skirts to give him place.
"I think this bears a perilous resemblance to a kidnapping," she doubted. "Is it quite safe, I wonder? Shall you summon rescue when we reach a populated place?"
"If kidnapping means being taken against one's will, I haven't any case," he returned as seriously. "I don't believe I could be dislodged from here, now, if you tried."
"I had not contemplated the attempt—yet."
"Please do not! I look like a tramp, I know, but I will be exceedingly good."
"Not immoderately good; we are a frivolous family," she deprecated.
They looked at each other, and their eyes laughed together.
Radiant, Corrie was already behind the steering-wheel, an impatient hand poised to release the brake.
"Beside me, Rupert," he blithely invited, when the mechanician came up.
Rupert looked at Gerard, received his gesture of corroboration, and lifting his cap to Flavia, took the designated seat without comment.
"Don't you care where you're going?" presently demanded Corrie, moving up a speed. He respected Allan Gerard's little mechanician almost as much as he did Allan Gerard, knowing his reputation in racing circles; the glance he gave to accompany the query was an invitation to friendship.
Rupert braced one small tan shoe against the floor, as the car wrenched itself out of a tenacious sand rut.
"I ain't worrying," he kindly assured. "Any place that ain't New York is off the map, anyhow."
"I thought you belonged out west with Mr. Gerard."
"I guess I belong to the Mercury racer. But I'm officially chief tester at the eastern factory, up the Hudson, except when there's a race on. Since Darling French got married, I've raced with Gerard. Were you aiming to collect that horseshoe with a nail in it, ahead there on the course, or will it be an accident?"
"It's going to be an escape," smiled the driver, swerving deftly. "Tell me about the first part of the ball game, won't you? I missed it, going after my father and sister."
"Who, me? I ain't qualified. The curves I'm used to judging belong to a different game. I guess, if you listen to what's being said behind us, you'll get the better record. I'm enjoying the novelty of the automobile ride, myself."
"You must be," Corrie agreed ironically. "You get so little of it. They are not talking real ball."
But he settled back to listen. In fact, it was the recent game that was being discussed in the tonneau, with Mr. Rose as chief speaker and Flavia as auditor. The party was of enchanting congeniality.
They drove first to the hotel where Gerard had been stopping.
It was quite six o'clock when the touring car rolled through Mr. Rose's lawns and landscape-garden scenery, to come to a stop before the large, pink stone house of many columns. Mr. Rose had a passion for columns. Across the rug-strewn veranda a girl advanced to meet the arriving motorists; an auburn-haired, high-colored girl who wore a tweed ulster over her light evening gown.
"I thought you were never coming," she reproached, imperiously aggrieved. "I hate waiting. And I want uncle to send Lenoir after my runabout——"
The sentence broke as she saw the man beside Flavia, her gray eyes widened in astonished interest.
"My niece Isabel Rose, Mr. Gerard," presented Mr. Rose. "And now you have met all of us. Come on, Corwin B."
Isabel Rose gave her hand to the guest. She had the slightly hard beauty of nineteen years and exuberant health; contrasted with Flavia, there was almost a boyishness in her air of assurance and athletic vigor. But in the studied coquetry of her glance at Gerard, the instant desire to allure in response to the allure of this man's good looks, she showed femininity of a type that her cousin never would understand.
"I should not have minded waiting," she declared, in her high-pitched, clear-cut speech, "if I had known something pleasant was going to happen."
"If that means me, Miss Rose——" Gerard laughingly doubted.
"I don't see anyone else who happens; the rest of them are just always here," she confirmed, shrugging her shoulders.
He regarded her with the gay indulgence one shows an agreeable child. "Then, all thanks for the welcome. I shall try to live up to it, if you will not expect too much."
"Oh, but I shall!"
"Then perhaps I had better retreat at once?"
"You might try, first. Don't you think so, Flavia?"
"I think we might go in," Flavia smilingly suggested from the threshold. "We could assume Mr. Gerard's safety so far."
"Come on, Corwin B.," his father summoned again.
But Corrie sat still in his place, leaning on his steering-wheel and gazing curiously at his cousin and Gerard. Nor did he follow the group into the house; instead, he took the car and Jack Rupert around to the garage.
A little later, when Flavia Rose went upstairs to make ready for dinner, Isabel followed her, frankly inquisitive.
"Is this Mr. Gerard the real Gerard, the Gerard who races cars?" the examination commenced, as soon as the cousins were alone.
"He is Allan Gerard," Flavia stated. "Did you have a nice game, this afternoon?"
The distraction was put aside.
"Oh, pretty fair. I walked home across the links and left the runabout at the club. Did you ever meet Mr. Gerard before? You seem to know each other pretty well."
Flavia's delicate color flushed over her face; for an instant she again felt Gerard's firm arm around her and encountered his concerned eyes bent upon her own, as they stood on the stairs of the grand-stand. Truthfulness was the atmosphere of the household, the truthfulness born of fearless affection and cordial sympathy of feeling, but now she used an evasion, almost for the first time in her life.
"It is Corrie who knows Mr. Gerard, Isabel," she explained, a trifle slowly. "You remember that race when he helped Corrie, last summer? To-day Corrie saw him playing ball, and brought him to meet us."
"Oh! Yes, I remember the race, of course; I was there. But I did not know Allan Gerard was—well, looked like that. How long will he be here?"
"Papa and Corrie asked him to stay until the Cup race is over."
There was a pause. Isabel walked over to one of the long mirrors and studied her own vigorously handsome image, then turned her head and regarded Flavia with the perfect complacency and mischievous malice of a young kitten.
"Good sport," she anticipated.
Flavia carefully laid her brush upon the dressing table and proceeded to gather into a coil the shimmering mass of her fair hair. Suddenly she was afraid, quiveringly afraid of herself, of Gerard and the next two weeks, but most afraid of showing any change in expression to Isabel's sharp scrutiny.
THE HOUSEHOLD OF ROSES
"If there is one thing meaner than another, it's rain," Corrie announced generally. "I'm going out. Won't you come, Gerard?"
"If rain is the meanest thing there is, it shows real sense to go out in it," Isabel commented, from the window-seat opposite. "That is just like you, Corrie Rose. When I ask you to take me out on a perfectly fair day, you won't do it."
"I?" stunned. "I ever refused——"
"Yes. Yesterday, when I asked you to take me just once around the race course, while the cars were out practising. You know you would not. If it is safe for you, it is safe for me. But never mind; your old pink car won't win, anyhow. He hasn't a chance with the professional drivers, has he, Mr. Gerard?"
"A chance?" Gerard gravely echoed. "Why, several of our best drivers are thinking of withdrawing, since he is entered, because they feel it's no use trying to win if he is racing."
"Oh, you're making fun! But I mean it; I could race that car he is so vain of, with my own little runabout machine."
Corrie dragged a mandolin from beneath his chair and tinkled the opening chords of a popular melody.
"Get on your little girl's racer, And I'll lead you for a chaser, Down the good old Long Island course. And before you're half through it, Your poor car will rue it, And you'll trade in the pieces for a horse."
The provoking improvisation ended abruptly, as Isabel's well-aimed sofa-pillow struck the singer.
"Do you call that a ladylike retort?" Corrie queried, freeing himself from the silken missile. "Tell her it isn't, Flavia."
"I am afraid," Flavia excused herself. "There are more cushions on that window-seat."
"It was a soft answer, at least," Gerard laughed. "And a good shot."
"Oh, I taught her to pitch, myself. Now I'm sorry," deplored her cousin.
"Too late," Isabel returned complacently. "I called that a cushion carom, Corrie. And my car would not fall to pieces. Flavia, he is feeding candy to Firdousi."
Flavia looked over with the warm brightening of expression Allan Gerard had learned to watch for when she regarded her brother, and which never failed to stir in him the half-wistful envy of the first day when he had seen her so gazing at the driver of the pink racing car.
"If Corrie can teach a Persian kitten to eat candy, he probably can teach it to digest candy," she offered serene reply. "Besides, he loves Firdousi, as much as I do."
"I only gave him some fruit-paste to see his jaws work," the culprit defended. "He needs exercise. And so do I."
"Not that kind, yours work all the time. It is only an hour since breakfast and you have talked ever since," corrected his cousin.
Corrie ran his fingers through his heavy fair hair, carefully set the purring kitten on the floor, and stood up.
"All right, if you say so," he submitted gracefully. "What you say, I stand for."
The argument was pure sport, of course. But with that last playful sentence, Corrie suddenly turned his dark-blue eyes upon Isabel with an expression not playful, as if himself struck by some deeper force in the words.
"What you say, I stand for," he repeated, and paused.
Flavia and Gerard both looked at him. All the fresh ardor of first love, all the impulsive faith of eighteen and its entire devotion invested Corrie Rose and illumined the shining regard in which he enveloped his cousin. There was in him a quality that lifted the moment above mere sentimentality, a young strength and straightforward earnestness at once dignified and pathetic with the pathos of all transient things that must go down before the battery of the years.
It would have been difficult to encounter a more enchanting family life than that into which Allan Gerard had been drawn. The Rose household was as redolent of simple fragrance as a household of roses, in spite of its costly luxury, its retinue of servants and lavish expenditure. Thomas Rose's wealth had been made so long since, before the birth of the younger generation, that to one and all it was merely the natural condition of affairs, not in the least affecting them personally. Money was very nearly non-existent to them, since they never were obliged to consider its lack or abundance. They spent as they desired, precisely as they ate when hungry or drank according to thirst, without either stint or excess. It was Arcadian, it was improbable, but it was so. And the guard-wall that encircled their gilded Arcadia was a strong mutual affection not to be overthrown from without. Only by internal treason could that domain fall.
It was not in one day that Gerard had come to understand this in its fullness; he had learned bit by bit. For there was nothing at all angelic about the gay family. But now he first realized, as he watched Corrie, that Isabel Rose was placed here by circumstance and not by fittedness. She was too earthen a vessel, however handsome and wholesome, to contain that fine sun-shot essence distilled from the fountain of youth which her cousin poured out for her taking. Gerard knew it, as he saw her matter-of-fact acceptance of the gaze that should have moved even a woman who did not love Corrie.
Yet, they would probably marry one another, he reflected. There was nothing to interfere, if she consented. He felt an elder brother's outrush of impatient protection for the boy; involuntarily he turned to Flavia with a movement of regretful irritation at the folly of it all, a folly he divined that she also recognized.
Flavia met his glance, and read its impatience and regret. How she applied it was a reflection less of her own mind than of Isabel's; she fancied Gerard jealous of this open wooing of the other girl, and mutely asking her own intervention.
That intervention was not easy to give. In spite of herself, the days with Allan Gerard had affected her so far. Stooping, she lifted Firdousi to her lap, gaining a moment before breaking the silence that had fallen upon the group.
"Where are you going to take Mr. Gerard, Corrie?" she inquired. "Are not the possibilities storm-limited?"
"He isn't going to take him anywhere," Isabel calmly interpolated. "They are going to stay in and amuse us. At least, that is what I say, if he is going to stand for it. He said he would, but it's some large order."
Corrie threw back his head, all seriousness vanishing before his laughter.
"Just you let father catch you slinging Boweryese like that, Miss Rose," he begged, moving aside to stuff a handful of candy into either coat-pocket. "He loves to hear girls talk slang. But it is some classy order, all right, if you come to think of it; I guess I won't commence to-day. I'm going over to show the Dear Me to Jack Rupert, Flavia; he thinks he can tell me why her engine misses."
"In the rain, dear?" his sister wondered.
"'Snips and snails and gasoline tales, are what little boys are made of,'" Isabel quoted derisive Mother Goose. "He won't melt; let him go. Mr. Gerard, you do not want to go out in a sloppy motor boat, do you?"
"If you will forgive my bad taste, I believe I shall go with Corrie," Gerard deprecated, rising. He looked again at Flavia, but she offered no suggestion that he stay.
"That's the idea," approved the gentleman in question. "I'll ring for our raincoats."
There was a period of silence in the many-windowed, octagonal library, after the two young girls were left alone. Flavia continued to play with the drowsy kitten. Isabel, chin in hand, gazed across the rain-drenched window-panes, her full lips bent discontentedly. The first diversion was effected by the smart slap of a maple-leaf flattened against the glass by a gust of wind, directly across the watcher's line of vision.
"P.P.C.," interpreted Flavia, surveying the large pale-golden leaf, as it adhered to the wet pane opposite her cousin.
"Now, what may that mean?" Isabel demanded.
"Pour prendre conge, of course. Those are the farewell cards of departing summer. See her coat-of-arms on it: a gold-and-crimson sunset?"
Isabel eyed her companion with scornful superiority.
"You had better talk sense," she counselled. "That is a good stiff north wind blowing, and Corrie is just as reckless with his motor boat as he is with his car. He and Mr. Gerard are likely to be half-drowned—and I am glad of it."
"I am glad. It serves them right for leaving me at home and going off with that mechanic. I know why Corrie did it, too; he didn't want us to be together all day. He is jealous of Mr. Gerard because he likes me."
Isabel launched a glance of malicious comprehension over her shoulder, smilingly meaningly.
"Oh, Corrie! Of course! But I meant Mr. Gerard. Anyone can see how Corrie hates to have him with me."
Flavia adjusted the blue-satin bow upon Firdousi's neck, saying nothing for a moment. She did not intend to put the question hovering at her lips, yet suddenly the indiscreet words escaped her:
"Then, you think Mr. Gerard is—interested in you?"
"Did you ever know a man to come here without being interested in me, Flavia Rose?"
The superb arrogance was a trifle too much to escape retort, even from the considerate Flavia.
"Well, there was Mr. Stone," she recalled, with intention.
Isabel colored richly, her handsome light-gray eyes hardened. The recent episode of Mr. Ethan Stone had not been one of her triumphs in flirtation.
"He was almost as old as uncle," she exclaimed sharply. "He would have died of fright at the things Mr. Gerard and Corrie and I like to do, anyway, if he had stayed here. He was all nerves. So are you, for that matter. You are worried over Corrie now, you know you are."
Flavia never quarrelled; she had an abhorrence of scenes. But that did not imply a lack of capacity for anger. She rose, a straight, slim figure in her blue morning-frock, the kitten in her arms.
"If I were with him, I should not be worried," she stated with dignity. "I am never afraid when I am there to share what happens. I think I will go upstairs."
And she went, leaving the other girl to devise her own amusements.
In her own room, Flavia pushed aside the window-curtains to look out. In all the dripping landscape she saw no trace of her brother or their guest; the guest, half of whose visit was now past. The next day would be Sunday; one of the two weeks she had unreasoningly dreaded was gone, already. Was she glad, or sorry? She did not know. But she continued to look from the window; there was indeed a strong north wind blowing, and Corrie, if not reckless, certainly used the least margin of safety.
It was impossible to be more safe from drowning than Corrie was at that time. He was in fact on land as dry as the weather permitted, engaged in operating a small ciderpress for the benefit of himself and Gerard, at a certain old-fashioned farm where he was—as he himself explained—persona very grata indeed.
"They are used to me," he supplemented. "Wonderful what people can get used to, isn't it?"
"It surely is," Gerard agreed, from his seat on an overturned barrel. He contemplated interestedly the picture Corrie presented with his sleeves rolled to the elbow, his coat off and his bright hair flecked with ruby-hued drops of the flying liquid. "See here, Corrie, what are you planning to do with yourself?"
"Do? Meet Rupert and try out the Dear Me, of course. Why?"
"I didn't mean that way. College? Business?"
"Oh! Would you pitch over that tin-cup, please? Why, I am all through college."
"Through it! Before you are nineteen?"
"Jes' so. Like to see the pretty blue-ribboned papers that prove it?" He sat down on the press, drying his face with his handkerchief. "You see, my father had tutors to lavish all their wisdom and attention on little Corwin B. Rose, and I never had to wait while the rest of a class ploughed along, so I got through the usual junk and was ready for college at fifteen plus. So I entered at New York, where I could drive back and forth from home each day, and finished up the college business. It was a nuisance and I wanted to get it over, so I hustled a bit. The classical course, you know, not the professional. I graduated last Spring, just before I met you at the twenty-four-hour race. You look surprised."
"I should not have thought it of you."
"You didn't suppose I could work?" The mischievous blue eyes laughed at him. "I can, when I have to. And studying doesn't hit me very hard, although I'd rather be out-doors."
"Not that, exactly. You do not look it," Gerard said slowly. He could not explain the effects he had seen left by college life with unlimited money at command, or how he was moved by their utter absence here.
Corrie gave way to open mirth.
"What a compliment! My word! Fancy! Well, I can't help my face. Anyway, you think I look as if I could drive a car, so I'm satisfied. Do you know," his expression sobered as he leaned forward, fixing earnest eyes on his companion's, "I would rather be you, do what you are doing, than be or do anything else in the world. Of course, I shan't get the chance—probably I couldn't do the work if I did—but I should love it."
Gerard actually colored before that ardent admiration, taken unaware.
"Corrie Rose, you are given to the folly of hero-worship; and heroes are few," he accused sternly.
"I don't know about that, Mr. Gerard."
"I do. But, Corrie——"
Gerard stood up, reaching for his raincoat.
"Beware of heroine-worship, it is the folly. When you find the real woman, get on your knees, where you belong, before a grace of God, but don't build shrines to an imitation."
Astonished, Corrie paused, upright beside the ciderpress, then smiled with a blending of pride and serious exaltation.
"No danger of that! I—that can never happen to me," he assured quietly. "I am safe-guarded from imitations, win or lose. I believe, if I am given to hero-worship, that I'm pretty good at picking the right subjects for it. Had enough cider?"
"Too much, probably. If I am ill to-morrow, I shall tell Rupert that you poisoned me. Are you going around to pay the lord proprietors of the place for what we have consumed?"
"Who, me? If I did, Mrs. Goodwin might box my ears for the impertinence; she has boxed them before. I grew up around here, remember. The first acquaintance I made with this house was when I shied an apple at the family tabby as it sat sunning itself on the well-curb, and bowled it in. Naturally, I hadn't meant to hit it; the beast stepped forward just as I fired. I nearly fell in, myself, trying to get it out, but the well was deep and I couldn't raise a meow or a whisker. It was a fine November Sunday, I remember, and while I was busy the family drove into the yard, home from church. I bolted. No one saw me go, but by and by I began to remember all the yarns I ever had heard about people getting typhoid fever from polluted well-water, and to imagine that entire household dying on my hands. Remorse with a capital R! I felt like Cesare Borgia and Madame de Brinvilliers and the Veiled Mokanna all rolled into one. When I couldn't stand it any longer, I sneaked into Flavia's room at two o'clock in the morning, for counsel."
"She gave it?"
"She gave it. You can always count on Flavia. I can see her now, sitting up in bed with her hair braided in two big yellow plaits and her troubled kiddie countenance turned to me.
"'You will have to tell either papa or those people,' she decided, wise as a toy owl. 'And if you tell them, they will surely tell papa, so perhaps you would rather tell him yourself. But I am sorry, dear darling.'
"So I 'fessed up, after breakfast."
"What happened?" Gerard questioned.
"We drove over to the farm together, and father went in for a private interview with old man Goodwin. After which he, father, escorted me around to the well and informed me that I was to drink a cup of that water. Phew, I would rather have drunk hemlock! I wasn't much given to begging off when I got into trouble, but I tried that time, all right.
"'It's what you've left these folks to drink,' said he, standing with his hands in his pockets, looking at me. 'It would have been a lot more pleasant for you to swallow if you had owned up two days ago; just keep that as a reminder never to put off a thing you ought to do. Take your medicine, Corwin B.'
"I took it. But it almost killed me." He shook his blond head disgustedly. "I told him I would probably die of typhoid, or something worse. He said we would chance it."
"Still, it was a chance, Corrie."
Corrie calmly fastened the last button of his raincoat.
"No, I guess not. You see, old Goodwin had told father that they pulled pussy out of the well ten minutes after I ran away, the first day. She was clinging to the bucket, pretty wet, but healthy and merry. Father told me the truth, before dinner-time; I didn't seem to care for luncheon, that day. Have you got a pencil? I've lost my fountain-pen again; that's the third I've bought this month."
Gerard produced the pencil.
"It was a rough joke on you, though," he commented. "Didn't you resent it?"
Corrie lifted his bright clear glance from his task of tearing a blank leaf from his notebook.
"Hadn't I earned it?" he asked. "Keep the lines straight, Gerard; my father never punished me in anger, nor unless I could first admit I deserved it and we could shake hands on it afterward. Of course, that sort of thing ended five years ago—there never was much of it—but there couldn't be closer friends than we have been, right through. We have kept each other's respect, we couldn't get along without it; and we expect a good deal of each other, too. I just don't want you to misunderstand."
He scribbled his signature across the bit of paper, and secured the legend to the ciderpress.
"There; now the Goodwins will know who has been here. Ready?"
"Ready," Gerard assented.
The rain had ceased; the vigorous broom of the north wind was sweeping the broken storm-clouds across a gray sky. The drive to the yacht club was accomplished pleasantly and quickly.
"I told Rupert to meet us here at noon," Corrie observed, when they stopped at the pier. "And I had lunch for three sent over, this morning. What a deserted old hole the club is in October! Hello, what——"
From beneath the tarpaulin cover of a long, polished motor boat moored in the wall-locked artificial harbor, a frowsy head had projected, to be instantly withdrawn into shelter at sight of the two young men. The genus of that head was unmistakable, the action significant. Both arrivals halted involuntarily.
"Club steward?" inquired Gerard, with irony.
"Tramp!" flared his companion, recovering breath after the first shock of amazement at the audacity of the intruder. "A dirty, lazy hobo in my boat! Lying on my cushions, mauling my things, running my engine for all I know. Oh!"
"Hold on," Gerard advised. "Better investigate."
But Corrie was already at the edge of the pier.
"Come out of there!" he shouted imperiously. "Come out, I say, or I'll come aboard and throw you out. What do you mean by it? Come out, I tell you."
The head slowly emerged, a red head in need of combing; its owner rested his arms on the gleaming mahogany deck and turned a sullen, unshaven face on his challenger.
"Stand me a quarter, an' I'll beat it," he invited raucously.
"A quarter! You'll beat it without a cent and do it quick, or go to jail. That is my boat, do you hear? Come out. What are you doing there? Stealing?"
"Sleepin', if you want to know."
"I've got a right to know. Are you going to take your filthy self off my cushions, or am I going to throw you off?"
"Yes, me. Who do you think?"
The man measured his young antagonist with unhurried scrutiny, yawned, and ostentatiously settled himself in a position of greater comfort.
"You can't do it," he sneered. "Send a man."
The Dear Me was not anchored, but moored to the pier by a pulley and tackle. Before the diverted Gerard guessed his purpose, Corrie had hauled in the boat's bow by the running line attached and swung himself raging into the craft below. There was a choked oath, a sound of rending canvas, then the clatter and thud of combat in close quarters.
It was over before Gerard could do more than haul the reeling, water-drenched boat again within reach. A great splash, a cry changing to a smothered gurgle, announced a threat fulfilled.
"I don't want any help," panted Corrie, standing erect and dishevelled, fiery blue eyes on his floundering enemy. "He's had enough, I fancy. Here, the water is only five feet deep, you chump! Not that way! Throw me an oar, Gerard—he'd drown himself in a saucer. Here, catch hold, you. What's the matter with you?"
"You pitched him into pretty cold water," Gerard reproached, between amusement and pity. "Got him? Look out! You'll capsize!"
Corrie had him, by the collar, and brought him to the pier, a streaming, shivering wreck.
"Man's size, am I?" demanded the victor. "Here, what are you shaking like that for? You'll kill yourself, man."
The captive looked at him, speechless, shuddering miserably in the boisterous rush of wind that wrapped his wet garments about him like a sheath of ice.
"You silly idiot," Corrie snapped impatiently. "Why didn't you do as I told you? Open the basement door, won't you, Gerard, while I bring him? We'll be sure to find a fire there. Are you going to come quietly, yes?"
The victim followed tamely to the lower part of the building, where Corrie threw open a furnace-door and installed him in the red glow of heat.
"Take off your clothes," he commanded. "Trying to get pneumonia, are you, so I will feel like a brute? Oh, I'll give you something to wear; I've got a lot of old duds in my locker here. What are you laughing at, Allan Gerard?"
"The responsible man's burden. Never mind me, go on with your rescue."
"I should like to throw something at you."
"Haven't you got enough on your hands?"
The raillery struck some note in the man's pride. He looked from Gerard to Corrie, who was bringing an armful of assorted clothing, with a reawakening defiance not so much evil as primitive.
"You couldn't have put it over me so easy," he announced sombrely, "if I'd had the feed I bet you got this morning."
The garments escaped Corrie's grasp.
"Feed? You're hungry?"
"What you think I was sleepin' in your dinky boat for, if I had the price of anythin'? It had a blanket in it an' was better than the open, that's why."
"Why didn't you say so," Corrie stormed at him hotly. "Get into those clothes and come upstairs. Or, no; I'll bring it down, stay there."
It was an elaborate lunch-hamper that presently was brought in and set down.
"Eat it," was the concise direction. "That vacuum-bottle is full of hot coffee; drink it. For Heaven's sake stop shivering—why couldn't you speak? Rupert is coming, Gerard. I heard the motor-horn down the road."
Gerard discreetly had turned his back to the scene, reading a last-season bulletin of yacht racing that was fixed to the wall at the end of the room.
"You want to start?" he interpreted, as Corrie joined him.
"Well—I hope you won't mind, but I don't see how we can. I have got to stay here until that chattering, shaking——"
"'Brimstone pig,'" supplied Gerard, with a recollection of the unforgettable Mrs. Smallweed.
"Thanks. Until he finishes and can leave, for the steward will put him out if he finds him here alone."
"That cannot be long."
"No, but," he hesitated, engagingly confused. "But we are miles from a restaurant, you know, and I had to feed him somehow, and there wasn't anything except our luncheon that I had sent over for the trip. So I suppose we had better drive home and get some eats there. It is a shabby way to treat you, all right, after bringing you out."
Gerard dropped his hand on the other's shoulder, his laughing eyes very kind.
"Corrie Rose, how many times a year do you throw your offenders overboard, and give them your own lunch to make up for it?" he challenged.
There was no lack of perception in Corrie; he recognized both the innuendo and its truth.
"About every day," he confessed. "My temper slips. Everyone expects it of me, so it's all right. At least, it has been all right; I guess I've got to stop."
"Corrie, you did not believe me in earnest?"
"No, it isn't that." He shook his head as if to shake off a vexing thought. "I—it makes me feel like a brute to think I've been knocking out a half-starved man and throwing him into that water because he crawled under an old blanket in my boat for shelter. Why didn't I question him decently? I must put on the brake, or I'll spoil something without intending it."
Gerard opened his lips to deny the danger and recall the provocation received, but for some reason he did not analyze, closed them without speaking. The two stood together in silence for many moments, looking out at the gray-green expanse of tumbling water.
"I'll be goin'," the hoarse voice of the involuntary guest said, behind them. "Obliged for your feed."
There was a tentative quality in the statement, an attempt to carry off easily a situation capable of unpleasant developments, a studied ignoring of his captor's possible right to detain him. But Corrie swung around with a face of open sunniness that shamed suspicion, his hands in the pockets of his long overcoat.
"Good enough! Did you find what you liked, or rather, like what you found?" he responded.
The hard face relaxed into a reluctant humor, the man looked again to assure himself of the inquirer's seriousness.
"The best ever," he essayed social graciousness. "I ain't left much. Your little caramels were fine."
"Caramels? Who on earth put in caramels? Armand must have lost his mind! What kind of caramels?"
"Wrapped in tin paper, they were, in a little tin box."
"Wrapped——Holy cats, Gerard, he has eaten the concentrated bouillon squares! They were not to eat, man; they were to be dissolved in a cup of boiling water, to drink."
"They tasted all right. I guess they'll go. I'll be movin'."
"Go? Well, I hope so; you must have enough concentrated beef in you to nourish an army. You are going, you say. Where to?"
"The big town."
"What are you going to do when you get there?"
The man's dissipation-dulled eyes searched the candid face of the questioner scarcely ten years his junior, then he looked to Gerard with a confused and reluctant unease, as he might have looked had Corrie been a young girl whose innocence he feared to offend.
"Aw, lots of things," he evaded, with a short, embarrassed laugh. "You don't want to hear me talk, mister. I'll get there, now I'm fed up."
"Do you want me to find work for you around here? I can."
"My jobs are a different kind, mister. I couldn't stay in yours."
Corrie brought his hand from his pocket.
"All right, as you like. Take this for good luck and we'll call ourselves even. Square, is it?"
The man took the bill awkwardly, his embarrassment deepened.
"You're square, sure," he signified.
As his slouching, bulky figure went out the door opposite, it crossed the small erect form of Jack Rupert, who entered.
"Us for home," Corrie greeted the arrival. "It is too bad to have brought you over for nothing, Rupert, but—what's the matter?"
The mechanician's countenance was a study in disgust, as he contemplated one of his polished tan boots, a high-heeled, ornate affair of the latest design labelled "smart." Off the race course and outside of hours, Rupert had one passion: clothes.
"I ain't registering any complaints if the rest are satisfied," he acidly returned. "But stepping in a puddle of wringing rags that the town board of health ought to condemn for making a noisy demonstration ain't what I look forward to all day as a treat. As for going home, I'm ready, myself. The trip we're missing will keep awhile this weather. The water is mussed bad and the only time I ever was car-sick was on the boat to Savannah."
"Did he spoil his pretty shoes?" Corrie teased, speculatively eyeing the heap of wet, unsavory clothing. "Never mind, Briggs shall make them good as new with his Transcendant Tan for Tasteful Tootsies; you haven't seen that darky of mine shine boots. I don't know what to do with those clothes, Gerard, so I think I won't do anything. Let's go home before we starve. Rupert, don't you approve of charity?"
"I ain't fitted to say; nobody ever showed me any. I always got exactly what I worked for, measure evened off and loose-packed. If I sneaked into somebody's boat-garage without an invitation, I wouldn't get a bath and breakfast and a greenback; I'd get ten dollars or ten days from the first judge in the stand. And so would you."
Corrie paused, struck.
"You. Why? What's the answer? I don't know, but I know the type. You keep your score-card and watch it happen; you'll find you get just what you enter for. Nothing more and nothing less."
"'Nothing more and nothing less,'" Corrie repeated, unconsciously exact. "Well," his dancing smile flashed out, "we don't want any more than that, do we? I'll be content with the life I earn."
"It's a good thing, for that's all we'll get," was the terse reply. "When some folks start to kick a brick wall, luck drops a feather pillow between. Other people stub their toes. I ain't crying bad luck, because I never had any; I'm just saying we'll stub our toes, if we kick the wall. We don't have to kick it."
"Rupert is a philosopher," Gerard observed, not mockingly or in ridicule, but as one stating a fact.
His mechanician nodded coolly.
"Calling names don't count. I've raced long enough to know a type of car when I see it, and I've lived long enough to tell a type of man. The way their heads set does it, maybe. Did you know the ladies were upstairs?"
"The ladies?" echoed Gerard, surprised. "They came with you?"
"Not precisely, I guess I came with them. Miss Rose saw me starting and said she was coming over with her own little machine to see the launch off, if she could get her cousin to come, and they'd bring me. So she drove me over. I ain't used to that."
"Ladies' driving. My life's insured, so it was all right, though."
"Bully for Isabel!" Corrie approved, pensiveness cast aside. "Come up to them, Gerard. I hear her tooting for us with the horn."
From the little scarlet runabout—the largest motor vehicle Mr. Rose would allow his vigorous niece—Isabel and Flavia had descended.
"We came to see what you were doing," Isabel welcomed the group who issued from the club-house. "I don't suppose Flavia would have come if she hadn't been wondering whether Corrie was drowning himself. Go ahead and start; don't wait on our account. But you had better eat your lunch first, if you haven't already, for you will have no time to eat in the boat on that sea."
"We haven't any lunch," Corrie cheerfully declared. "I gave it to a tramp after I threw him overboard. You're just in time to take us home for luncheon and save our lives."
"You look as if you had been fighting," Isabel criticized, with a scornful survey of his attire. "You are all splashed with dirty water, your cravat is pulled crooked and your coat is torn. We saw your tramp; he passed us a few moments ago and we recognized your blue flannel suit with the Dear Me's insignia on the lapel. Mr. Rupert guessed what you had been doing, when he saw the boat all in disorder and the pier all wet. The man's hairy, dirty face looked horrid above your clothes."
"A contrast to my beauty, not so? Fix my cravat, please, ma'am; I can't see the thing. But his face wasn't dirty, for I washed it."
"Why should I fix your wet cravat? Hold my gloves, then. Where is your scarf-pin? Stolen by your tramp, I suppose."
Gerard had joined Flavia, but neither yet had spoken, watching the cousins. They had not the fluent familiarity of intercourse possessed by the two who looked and acted very like a pair of handsome boys. Moreover, Gerard distrusted himself, fearing to say too much, too soon. He was approaching Flavia carefully and delicately as a man striving to close his hand on some frail, elusive creature whose capture he scarcely dares hope possible. And she gave him no help. Her frank gentleness and impersonal cordiality gave neither encouragement nor discouragement, no foothold smooth or rough.
The actual position he had never even conceived; the fact that she was completely unconscious of his desire to woo her. He had no way of knowing that it was his attitude toward Isabel she considered in all his words and acts, remembering her cousin's confident appropriation of the guest. It was of Isabel that she spoke now, while Gerard hesitated for the right word to offer the girl beside him.
"The roads were very wet and slippery," she remarked. "If Isabel were not a good driver, I think we would have found ourselves in a ditch. Indeed," her soft mouth dimpled into a smile, "once I thought we were in one. One wheel was. But we wiggled out again. Mr. Rupert wanted to put the chains on the wheels, but she said we did not need them."
The thought of Isabel over-ruling the judgment of his racing mechanician unsteadied Gerard's gravity.
"A coarse masculine hand is needed on the wheel, to-day," he confirmed, with ulterior intention. "I believe we had better divide our party differently, on the way back. Let me drive one car and Corrie or Rupert the other. I'll promise not to take any ditches, if you consent."
"Great scheme," Corrie called, overhearing. "I'll take the red near-car home, Isabel."
"No, indeed," Isabel vetoed decidedly. "Mr. Gerard is going to take me home and I shall learn a lot from watching him drive. You can take Flavia in your roadster; Mr. Rupert will ride in the rumble seat."
Being a gentleman, Gerard compelled his expression to evidence pleasant acquiescence. But he was not soothed by the unclouded smile Flavia sent her designated escort.
"Corrie doesn't mind taking me, do you, dear?" she covered her brother's chagrin.
"I surely don't, Other Fellow," he heartily corroborated, coming across to his sister, although the change in his transparent face betrayed his discomfiture at the slight. "You and I have had many a good spin. In you go! Come up behind, Rupert; there is more room here than on the other machine."
"I think Mr. Rupert would rather ride with us, anyhow," Flavia declared, her laughing eyes questioning the mechanician. "I fancied, once or twice on the way over, that he would have preferred to have you or Mr. Gerard driving."
"I ain't making any scornful denials," admitted Rupert, as he stepped in front to crank the motor for Corrie. "I've always looked forward to being killed in a larger machine, myself."
Isabel did not at once enter her own car.
"I can't fasten this glove without taking off the other, and then I can't fasten the other without taking off this," she complained. "I really believe——"
So, the last the three in the departing roadster saw of the two on the pier, Allan Gerard was engaged in buttoning Isabel's glove, while her wind-blown veils fluttered across his shoulders and her flushed, provocative face bent over the task beside his.
Isabel, in the clinging knitted coat that displayed every attractive line of her athletic figure, her cheeks reddened by triumph and the salt wind, her gray eyes lifted in challenging coquetry, was a sufficiently pleasant sight to dispel mere vexation. And Gerard had no right to feel more than annoyance at a disappointment of which she supposedly knew nothing.
"I ran away with you because I didn't want to ride home with Corrie," she confided, when the last button-hole was achieved. "You don't mind—much?"
"I am overwhelmed by the honor," Gerard assured. He was neither surly enough to refuse the light play to which she invited him, nor anchorite enough to be insensible to the flattery of being sought. "But how did Prince Corrie offend his sovereign lady?"
"Oh, that would be telling! You know, we are not engaged."
"Not at all. And the last time we were out alone together, he—he asked me to see if the oil was running through that little cup on the dash."
They were in the car now, Gerard behind the steering-wheel. Isabel leaned down to touch her fingers to the dash, turning her vivid-hued, consciously alluring face across her shoulder to the companion so close beside her, the auburn curls tumbled about her forehead and her mouth tempting as a small scarlet fruit.
"And then, we were like this when—guess what Corrie did?"
It was not in the least difficult to guess what the enamoured Corrie had done. But Gerard shook his head, schooling his mirthful eyes.
"I could not, possibly, Miss Rose. I am very dull."
"Well, what would you have done?"
"I? I should have shut both eyes and recalled St. Francis' rules of deportment."
Isabel straightened herself, leaning back and folding her hands in her lap.
"That's what Corrie did not do," she stated. "So I will not ride with him. It was bad taste."
"I imagine Corrie found the taste most pleasant."
"Have I guessed wrong?"
"You said that you were dull, Mr. Gerard."
"Then the guess is wrong. Poor Corrie!"
She shrugged her shoulders impatiently.
"You think a great deal about Corrie."
"Yes. We are friends," Gerard quietly answered.
She was clever enough to recognize the bar he set to flirtation with the woman loved by the man he gave that name, and she regarded the obstacle as a challenge. She was not sufficiently old or fine to realize that such bars are not crossed by such men. If Gerard had loved her or believed she might love him, he must have left his friend's house; as Corrie would have left Gerard's in like case. As a matter of fact, Gerard was perfectly aware of the immunity of both parties and that Isabel was merely seeking temporary diversion—experimenting with the possibilities of her own heady youth.
A forking of the road supplied a new subject for discussion.
"Turn to the left," Isabel directed, sitting erect.
Surprised, Gerard checked the machine.
"We did not come that way, Miss Rose."
"Of course not; you came by the long route, past the Goodwin farm. This is a better road."
She followed his gaze down the vista of slippery, rut-grooved mud, and colored.
"A shorter road, then," she amended petulantly. "I am sure I don't care—go the long way if you wish. The storm is blowing back again, but I can stand the rain."
Gerard hastily turned into the wretched travesty of a road.
"I beg your pardon; I only wondered if you were quite certain of the route," he apologized.
There ensued a period of silence. The little car slipped and wallowed through sliding mud and yellow puddles.
"I hope you do not drive here, yourself," Gerard observed.
"Do you think I should be afraid?"
"I think you might have serious trouble. There is a deep ditch on either side, while the road is both narrow and slippery."
"I can drive anywhere. Ask Corrie."
"I suspect he is a biassed judge. But I should not have believed he would let you drive here."
"He——I never did except in dry weather. I knew you would not mind any road and could drive in anything, so it did not matter."
"Please consider the compliment more than appreciated, mademoiselle," Gerard smiled. "There is going to be a splash when we strike that puddle ahead; had you not better draw in your frock?"
She caught her white serge skirts around her and shrank nearer to her companion with a gurgle of dismayed laughter.
"Let me get in the middle. Uh, what a muddy swamp! Oh—my face!"
In fact, the water had splashed as the car struck the pool where a rain-swollen brook had overflowed the road. As Gerard turned to the girl, she lifted a face sprinkled with drops which she strove to remove with her handkerchief.
"Is it off?" she questioned. "Please look carefully. All off?"
He was obliged to scrutinize the handsome countenance offered for inspection at close range.
"A trifle of mud, still," he admitted.
"No—more to the left. Beneath the eye—the other eye."
It was incredible, the length of time that small spot evaded Isabel's questing handkerchief, and the futility of Gerard's directions. He was obliged to halt the car, at last.
"A little higher—not so much. There! No, not so low."
With a gesture of mock despair, she gave him the fragrant square of linen.
"Wipe it off," she requested resignedly. "I can't motor all over Long Island with a dirty face. There is no one in sight for miles; wipe it off and never tell."
"I am very clumsy," he demurred.
"Well, it can't be helped."
Gerard might have echoed the exclamation. But he accepted the handkerchief and deftly, if with inward embarrassment, removed the stain from the ruddy cheek presented.
"It can't be off, Mr. Gerard?"
"Pardon, it is gone."
"You hardly touched it," doubtingly.
"If you could see——" he began in defense of his work.
"Look once more."
He obeyed, impersonally and coolly.
"Nothing, indeed," he asserted.
She glanced up at him through her long lashes, and flung herself back in her seat.
"Thank you. Shall we go on?"
The operation and the drive that preceded it had occupied considerable time. It was an hour since the party had separated at the yacht club's pier. The brief interval of comparative clearness had given place to dark skies across which the capricious wind herded masses of gray cloud. And presently several drops of rain fell and trickled down the wind-shield of the car.
"Hurry," Isabel urged, sitting up with renewed animation. "It is going to pour."
"The little machine isn't capable of much hurrying on this road," Gerard regretted. "She hasn't any speed, of course. How far have we left to go?"
"A long way, seven or eight miles. We haven't passed the country club, yet."
"But Corrie drove over in an hour!"
"With his big car, yes," she retorted. "Perhaps this was not the best way, after all. But it would take longer to go back, now, than to keep on."
This was obvious. There was nothing to do except force the skidding, panting automobile to maintain its best gait.
They were destined to lose that race. As they came opposite a low brick building set amidst rolling green slopes and stretches of flag-dotted turf, the storm overtook them.
"Up the driveway," Isabel cried. "We can just make it. This is the country club—we'll 'phone home where we are staying."
Gerard sent the car up the wide gravelled path. An attendant was waiting to receive them, another assumed charge of the automobile, and Isabel's escort found himself standing beside her on the veranda with rather confused ideas of how the affair had been accomplished.
"Koma says there is no one else here," she informed him. "We have all the place to ourselves. How it rains!"
It certainly was raining, raining violently and steadily, a gray downpour from a gray sky. She paused to look before continuing.
"I'll 'phone to Flavia, first of all. I can see we are going to have a long wait. Koma will get us the best luncheon he knows how. Aren't you hungry? I am. Come in."
Gerard uttered some reply. He was profoundly vexed at his situation, without being able to blame himself for it or to fix any actual fault upon Isabel. She had already turned away to enter the hall, and presently he heard the tinkle of the telephone bell, followed by her high-pitched voice.
"One one seven? Martin, I want Miss Rose. Yes, it is I. Oh!——We're at the country club, Corrie. No, we didn't get lost; we just chose that road.... Not a bit, it was good sport. We're having luncheon together, here, and then I suppose we will play billiards until the rain stops. Tell Flavia not to worry; we'll get home by dinner-time, and we're enjoying ourselves.... Not wet, just splashed. Mr. Gerard spoiled a handkerchief drying me, that's all the damage. Good-by."
She reappeared on the threshold, complacently satisfied. She had removed her hood and veils, shaken her ruddy hair into becoming disorder, and knew herself at her best.
"You are enjoying yourself, aren't you?" she demanded.
"Certainly," Gerard responded, without enthusiasm.
"Why not come in, then? Which do you like most to commence a luncheon——Blue Points or little clams? Corrie and I quarrel over that every time we are out together. He is as obstinate as, as—Corrie!"
"Clams," said he, at a venture. He had a vague recollection of seeing Corrie dismiss oysters with scorn, and he felt viciously contrary.
"Why, so do I," agreed Isabel winningly. "Let us order some."
One cannot be disagreeable to a young girl under one's care, who also is in a sense one's hostess. The luncheon was sufficiently gay. The rain fell incessantly, beating against the diamond-paned windows, gurgling down eaves and gutter-ways.
"We should have sailed home in the Dear Me," Isabel declared. "I am sure there is enough water on the roads. Why did we not think of it?"
She detached a chrysanthemum petal from the vase of blossoms central on the table, and dropped it into her finger-bowl, watching the agitation of a diminutive scarlet-and-black beetle perched upon the sinking leaf.
"An execution?" Gerard inquired.
She raised her eyes, pouting prettily, and nodded.
"I hate those bugs," she explained. "Ugly animals! We put them in and wager a box of bon-bons on how long they last. If it is still alive at the end of five minutes, I lose. If it is drowned, I win."
"Does Corrie play that game with you?"
"N'no. Corrie doesn't like it. He will step off of a sidewalk into the mud to avoid treading on a cricket. Do you suppose I never play with any one except my cousin? Will you try this wager? You're not silly?"
"I will, if I may. If that lady-bug is alive five minutes from now, I win? No other conditions?"
"None," gleefully. "Take your watch. You'll lose, he's weakening now."
Gerard leaned across, lifted the struggling beetle upon his finger-tip, and restored it to the safe refuge of the chrysanthemum bouquet.
"I believe he will live some time," he soberly predicted.
The girl stared, frowned, and laughed.
"No fair! No fair! That's not the game, Mr. Gerard."
"No? Then I will send the bon-bons."
"They shall be chocolates."
"And I may put back the nasty beetle?"
"On no account; I have ransomed him."
"Oh, very well," she shrugged, rising. "I'll take refuge in billiards for the next game. Corrie taught me to play, but I can beat him, now."
"Perhaps he doesn't watch his game when his opponent is his cousin."
"Why, what else should he watch?" she wondered, arching her brows a trifle too innocently.
"I cannot imagine, if you do not know," Gerard dryly responded, and held open the door for her to pass out.
In the billiard room, Isabel rolled her sleeves above her elbows as a preliminary measure.
"I haven't had that off for a year," she confided, indicating a flexible platinum and turquoise bracelet encircling her firm, sun-browned arm.
"You are fond of it?" her companion inferred. "It is a beautiful bit of work, indeed."
"I like it well enough. That isn't the reason, though. You see, it locks, and after Corrie put it on my arm he kept the key. He says he will give it to me on my wedding day. But it isn't worth that."
"Worth——?" he questioned.
"Getting married. Will you play me even?"
"Pray fix any odds you choose, Miss Rose. How many points does Corrie usually give you?"
This time Isabel's stare of surprise was genuine.
"I meant, how many points should I allow you," she corrected arrogantly.
"Oh, pardon me!" he submitted. "Suppose, in that case, we play for an even score."
The storm did not abate. The wind drove the rain before it in glistening gray sheets, the steady drumming of the downpour accompanied the click of meeting ivory balls and the occasional speech of the players. After a time, a deep-belled Mission clock in the hall struck four.
A sharp, incredulous cry from the girl rang out, after an interval of silence in the room.
"Why—why, you've won!"
"So I have," acknowledged her antagonist. "Shall I apologize?"
Isabel started to speak, and checked herself. She had been chiefly intent upon her own accomplishment, and Gerard's playing was of a deceptive leisureliness and tranquillity.
"How many did you make in that last run?" she asked, finally.
"You can't do it again."
"One never can tell."
"Play," she defied.
Gerard glanced hopelessly at the streaming windows.
"It is growing late," he demurred.
"Not late, yet. Besides, we can't go out in that weather with an open automobile. They know at home where we are."
They did; that was precisely the core of Gerard's exasperation and unrest. What impressions would this tete-a-tete afternoon convey to Corrie? And what would Flavia think of her guest's guardianship of her cousin? He picked up his cue with enforced resignation.
The clock had struck the half-hour, when a long blast from an electric horn pierced through the clamor of the storm.
"Another motor-party caught out," Isabel hazarded, her tone decidedly cross. She was losing again, and she did not like the experience. "Your play. You seem to find it more amusing to look out the window."
Gerard was spared reply. The billiard-room door was pushed open by the Japanese steward and a figure in gleaming rain-proof attire appeared on the threshold—the figure of a chauffeur, cap in hand.
"Lenoir!" Isabel exclaimed.
The chauffeur saluted.
"Mr. Rose sent the limousine to convey mademoiselle and Mr. Gerard," he informed them, in his precise, Parisian-flavored English.
"My uncle is home?"
"I had just driven Mr. Rose home from the city, mademoiselle, before he telephoned to the garage that I should come here."
She tossed her cue upon the table, recklessly scattering the balls, and turned toward the door.
"Bring our wraps, Koma," she bade. "We had better go."
Gerard contemplated Lenoir with marked kindness.
"It's a bad day to be out," he commented, in following Isabel from the room, and passed into the chauffeur's hand a gratuity out of all proportion to the occasion.
"Yes, sir," said Lenoir, demurely.
The drive home was short and uninteresting. On the veranda of the Rose villa Corrie was waiting to meet the returning two, upon the limousine's arrival.
"Well, of all the slow traveling I ever saw, this is the limit," he greeted them derisively; "From noon until five o'clock! Fancy!"
"Never mind our driving; we have had a fine time," Isabel retorted, with pettish tartness.
"Yes, ma'am, no doubt. I wouldn't have interrupted, myself. It was father who did it, when he came in. He said you'd want some dinner to-night."
He smiled at Gerard as cordially as ever, but there was a wistfulness underlying his expression that inspired the older man with a hearty desire to shake Isabel Rose. She could watch her young lover's emotions with the same diverted interest with which she had watched the struggles of the tiny black-and-scarlet beetle drowning in her finger-bowl.
"I wish you had been with us, Corrie," was all Gerard found to say.
Through the parted curtains, the library presented such a graceful interior study as certain French artists have delighted in drawing. In the octagonal, book-lined room of rich hues and soft lights, Flavia and her father were seated together; busied in pleasant comradeship at the table whose polished surface was littered with letters, books of household accounts, and all those dainty metal and crystal trinkets the jeweller conceives necessary to the writer. Evidently they had found refreshment desirable, for a diminutive tea-table still stood near Flavia, while a pushed-back chair beneath which a young Great Dane hound lay asleep indicated that Corrie had been one of the group.
"Back, are you?" Mr. Rose called cheerily, to the two in the hall, leaning back in his chair to view them more easily. "When I heard where you were marooned, I guessed it was about time for a rescue. You children oughtn't to try roundabout country roads with a storm blowing up."
"Mr. Gerard wanted to go that way," Isabel alleged, with perfect assurance. "I told him to do as he chose."
That distortion of facts was too much to be endured, with Corrie listening and Flavia a witness. Gerard's chivalry momentarily lapsed and he struck back with all the effectiveness of superior experience.
"Yes, certainly," he confirmed, carefully distinct. "I naturally wanted to get Miss Rose safely at home as soon as possible, and since she said that road was the shortest route, I took it, of course."
"The shortest?" Corrie echoed, astounded. "The——"
He broke the speech in time, hastily discreet. Isabel crimsoned hotly; the glance she darted at her late escort was not dovelike. It was Flavia who brought relief to the situation, as usual.
"These Long Island roads are outrageously misleading," she offered light suggestion, rising with a smiling gesture of excuse to her father. "Isa and I often lose our way when we drive out together. Don't you want to change your damp things, dear?"
"Yes," assented her cousin, sullenly. "It's time to make ready for dinner, anyhow."
Corrie held aside the curtain for the girls to pass out. His blue eyes were dancing in pure mischief and relief. All the household understood Isabel's propensity for flirtation—and its utter lack of significance. If she had detained Gerard, not Gerard her, her lover-cousin had no ground for especial apprehension.
"Punk weather," he commented, coming back.
"Dullest I ever experienced," supplemented his guest decidedly.
Mr. Rose set a paper-weight on the letter open before him, and lit a cigar.
"We were discussing the buying of another automobile, Gerard, when you came in," he imparted. "Come sit down for half an hour before we dress—we not needing so long as the ladies for it—and give us your advice on the choice."
"And I'll give you one of my monogram cigarettes," volunteered Corrie, slipping a hand affectionately through Gerard's arm. "Oh, no—I don't smoke them, but I like to carry them. And when you want something extra fine, you ask Corwin B. Rose for one of his smokes. Let's sit here, together."
THE VASE OF AL-MANSOR
On the threshold of his father's model garage Corrie stopped, surveying the scene presented in the centre of the huge, lofty stone room, bare except for the five automobiles ranged around and their countless appurtenances disposed upon walls and shelves.
"Excuse me, but when did you two last wash?" he jeered.
The two men beside the Mercury racing car looked up at the figure in the sunny doorway.
"I don't care to try to prove that I ever did," returned Gerard. "The evidence is against me. But Rupert had his beauty bath this morning, all right. You're looking rather disarranged, yourself; perhaps the course was a trifle dusty."
They laughed silently across at one another. The trim garments of all three men were gray with dust and oil, their faces were streaked and spotted with the caked road-soil. There was little difference in color between Gerard's brown ripples of hair, Corrie's blonde locks and the black head of the mechanician who bent over the motor.
"If this is practice work, what is the race going to be like?" speculated Corrie, dragging off his gauntlets. The recent speed-exhilaration was still heavily upon him; as with his sister, the darker shading of brows and lashes always gave his fair-tinted face a warm vividness of expression. "The course is in fierce shape, already. I say—why did you especially warn me that the road wouldn't be fit for fast going until to-morrow, then get out in your own machine and break all practice records for the fastest lap? Trying to keep me out of your way, or to break your neck and Rupert's?"
"The first, certainly," Gerard asserted. "Really, I didn't mean to do any speeding to-day, Corrie, but when I saw the white road ahead, I—think something slipped."
"You're a cheerful hypocrite, all right. Here, catch, baseballist!"
Gerard retreated a step and deftly caught the dripping missile as it hurtled across the garage.
"You ought to wring out your league sponges," he reproved. "Thanks; I was wondering how I could take this face into the house, unless I got Rupert to turn the hose on me. You see, I might meet some one."
"You'd meet Flavia," Corrie declared, busying himself with his own ablutions. "She's out there in the flowing arbor, sewing some gimcrack thing and pretending she hasn't been worrying because I was out on the course. She comes downstairs every morning to see me start—you know that—and then sits around all day watching until I come in again. None of that for Isabel; she's a sport."
Gerard shook the water from his thick hair and finished the perfunctory toilet without replying. But as he passed Rupert, he dropped a light hand on the mechanician's shoulder.
"When you marry, Jack Rupert, will the girl be a sport?" he questioned.
"My wedding cards ain't paining me bad just now."
"Well, but suppose the case."
The black eyes lifted for a moment from the task in hand.
"I guess I'd be sport enough for one house," Rupert impassively pronounced. "I hate a crowd."
Gerard nodded to the boy across the garage, his face gleaming into mirth.
"Coals to Newcastle," he signified. "Everyone doesn't like to live shop."
There was the splashing thud of an overturned bucket. As Gerard passed out the door, Corrie overtook him.
"Gerard," he panted, "Gerard, you said that purposely! You meant to tell me that—that Isabel—that you——"
Gerard regarded him quietly, a little smile curving his lips.
"You meant to tell me that I needn't worry about you and Isabel; that you've seen I want her, and you won't cut in? You meant that?"
The smile crept to Gerard's eyes, but he remained mute. With a quick breath Corrie grasped his companion's hand and squeezed it ardently.
"You're big, Allan Gerard. And kind. For I've been watching, these ten days, and you could get her if you tried."
He turned back into the building before contradiction was possible. After a moment, Gerard went on down the path between the althea bushes.
The "flowing arbor" of Corrie's description was a decorative masterpiece of Mr. Rose's own design; a large, pink marble fountain, surrounded by a pink-columned arcade strewn with rugs and cushions. Whatever its architectural faults, it was a fairy-tale place of gurgling water and soft shadows, shot through with the tints of silver spray, rosy stone and deep green turf. Flavia was seated here, in the summer-warm sunshine of early October that had succeeded the storms of the previous week, a long strip of varicolored embroidery lying across her lap and the overfed Persian kitten nestling against her light gown.
"Corrie is home," Gerard announced, pausing in one of the arched openings. "But I suppose you saw him come in, from here."
The young girl lifted to him the frank welcome of her glance and smile, with their pathetic shade of hostess dignity.
"I saw you both come in," she confirmed. "One sees a great deal from this watch-tower. But it is good of you to tell me; you know how glad I am when he is back. Will you not rest before you go into the house? Corrie always comes here first; to gather strength, he says, to climb the terrace steps."
"I am not fit," he deprecated. "I would soil your purple with my dust and poison, your Venetian atmosphere with gasoline fumes."
"Corrie does it."
"Corrie is privileged. The first time I ever saw you, you were watching Corrie. You made me feel that I lived in a barn."
"A blank, impersonal, vacant set of rooms. A house where, if I were brought in on a shutter, there would be no one except the undertaker to pull down the shades."
Flavia winced, shocked out of her calm.
"Please do not! I—please do not say those things."
"There, you see. I do not even know how to talk to you properly. It doesn't worry me to think about just dying and I forgot that other people dislike the subject. Now, it was living that made me envy Corrie and feel melancholy."
Flavia drew the silk thread with slow accuracy. Her pulses were commencing to beat heavy strokes, she dared not raise her troubled eyes to the dominant, self-possessed man opposite. There was a pause.
"In novels," Gerard mused, "when a man sees the woman who locks the wheels of his fancy, he drops everything else and follows her until he gets—his answer. But in real life we're pretty stupid; we let circumstances interfere, or we don't quite realize what has happened to us, we don't do the right thing, anyway. Sometimes we're lucky enough to get another chance. If we do——"
The gush and ripple of the fountain, the rustle of the broad-leaved lilies as the changing breeze sent the spray pattering across them; filled pleasantly the lapses of his leisurely speech. Flavia was acutely conscious of his steady gaze upon her bent head, and the unhurried certainty with which he was moving toward his chosen goal. Only, what was that goal? She remembered Isabel's sureness of her own attraction, Isabel's deliberate monopoly of Gerard's attention whenever possible during the last ten days, and Corrie's assertion that his cousin was "just the kind of girl Gerard would like." Yet, he was saying this to her, Flavia. And suddenly she was almost sure of what she never had dared imagine.
She had no thought that Gerard might be hesitating in uncertain humility before the delicate maidenhood that invested her like a fine atmosphere forbidding approach. She was not even dimly aware that her averted face controlled to soft impassivity, the intent gaze on her work which veiled her eyes beneath their heavy lashes, the regular movement of her slender fingers as she sewed, conveyed an impression of unmoved serenity that might have quelled a vainer man than Allan Gerard. Yet it was so, and he temporized; not knowing that for her there were three people in the arcade, the third Isabel, and not daring to continue his broken sentence.
"I have been wondering if you ever translated your name," he remarked, when silence verged on embarrassment. "I have wondered many times if it were just chance that called you so."
"My Mother was Flavia Corwin; I am named for her. What does it mean?" she answered, surprised.
Just for an instant she looked at him, and in the one encounter of glances innocently undid all her reserve had built up. Gerard's color ran up under his clear skin like a girl's, brilliant-eyed, he took a step into the arcade.
"It's too late in the season to tell you out here," he demurred. "I'll send you the translation this evening, if I may. There's something else I'd like to tell you, but I've got to find some civilized clothing, first. Essex lost his head for approaching the Queen in his riding-dress, and I'm risking more. I——"
"Hurry up, you two!" hailed Corrie's injured voice, the ring of his step sounded in the stone arcade. "It's six o'clock now. Come on in."
"I'll come," Gerard answered the summons, again his warm, sparkling gaze caught and held Flavia's as, startled, she raised her head. "I was telling Miss Rose that I must get rid of this road dust. But I wasn't thinking of eating, then."
Scarlet rushed over Flavia's face and neck. As Corrie took gay possession of Gerard and bore him off, she sank back in her chair, winding her fingers hard into the embroidery. Not the omnivorous Isabel's, this! There was nothing to fear, ever again. She had the perfect certainty that Gerard would complete that purpose of his the next time they met. And they would meet in an hour. Suddenly she caught up the drowsy kitten and hid her face against the soft living toy.
They did meet in an hour, but it was on the way to dinner, and the exuberant Corrie held the reins of conversation.
"I've discharged Dean," was his first announcement. "Take those oysters away from in front of me, Perkins; I want my soup right now and a lot of it—about a gallon. Never mind anyone else; I haven't had anything but sandwiches since breakfast."
"Discharged your mechanician one day before the race?" marvelled Gerard. "What will you do?"
"Oh, I'm going out to the garage after dinner to hire him over again. He's used to it. Now, I suppose that if you fired Jack Rupert, you'd never see him again."