ETHEL M. KELLEY
Over Here, Turn About Eleanor, Etc.
With Frontispiece by
W. B. KING
THE BOBBS-MERRILL COMPANY
The Bobbs-Merrill Company
Printed in the United States of America
PRESS OF BRAUNWORTH & CO.
BROOKLYN, N. Y.
CHAPTER PAGE I A GOOD LITTLE DREAM 1 II APPLICANTS FOR BLUE CHAMBRAY 19 III INAUGURATION 33 IV CINDERELLA 49 V SCIENCE 69 VI AN ELEEMOSYNARY INSTITUTION 84 VII CAVE-MAN STUFF 93 VIII SCIENCE APPLIED 113 IX SHEILA 134 X THE PORTRAIT 151 XI BILLY AND CAROLINE 166 XII MORE CAVE-MAN STUFF 180 XIII THE HAPPIEST DAY 198 XIV BETTY 209 XV CLOUDS OF GLORY 220 XVI CHRISTMAS SHOPPING 236 XVII GOOD-BY 248 XVIII TAME SKELETONS 259 XIX OTHER PEOPLE'S TROUBLES 271 XX HITTY 288 XXI LOHENGRIN AND WHITE SATIN 299
A GOOD LITTLE DREAM
"I Elijah Peebles Martin, of the city and county of Harrison, in the state of Rhode Island, being of sound and disposing mind and memory, do make and declare the following, as and for, my last will and testament.' ... I wish you'd take your head out of that barrel, Nancy, and listen to the document that is going to make you rich beyond the dreams of avarice."
"I was beyond them anyway." The young woman in blue serge made one last effectual dive into the depths of excelsior, the topmost billows of which were surging untidily over the edge of a big crate in the middle of the basement floor, and secured a nest of blue and rose colored teacups, which she proceeded to unwrap lovingly and display on a convenient packing box. "Not one single thing broken in this whole lot, Billy.... What is a disposing mind and memory, anyhow?"
"You don't deserve to know," the blond young man in the Norfolk jacket assured her, adjusting himself more firmly to the idiosyncrasies of the rackety step-ladder he was striding. "You're not human about this. Here you are suddenly in possession of a fortune. Money enough to make you independently wealthy for the rest of your life—money you didn't know the existence of, two weeks ago—fed to you by a gratuitous providence. A legacy is a legacy, and deserves to be treated as such, and I propose to see that it gets what it deserves, without any more shilly-shallying."
"I'm a busy woman," Nancy groaned, "and I've hammered my finger to a pulp, trying to open this crate, while you perch on a broken step-ladder and prate to me of legacies. The saucers to these cups may be in here, and I can't wait to find out. I'm perfectly crazy about this ware. It's English—Wedgewood, you know."
"I didn't know." Billy resignedly let himself to the floor, and appropriated the screwdriver. "I thought Wedgewood was dove color, and consisted chiefly of ladies in deshabille, doing the tango on a parlor ornament. I smashed one in my youth, so I know. There, it's open now. I may as well unpack what's here. These seem to be demi-tasses.
'You may tempt your upper classes, With your villainous demi-tasses. But Heaven will protect the working girl,'"
he finished lugubriously, in a wailing baritone, taking an imaginary encore by bowing a head picturesquely adorned with a crop of excelsior curls, accumulated during his activities in and about the barrel.
"The trouble with the average tea-room, or Arts and Crafts table d'hote," Nancy said, sinking into the depths of a broken armchair in the corner of the dim, overcrowded interior, "is that when the pinch comes, quantity is sacrificed to quality. Smaller portions of food, and chipped chinaware. People who can't keep a place up, let it run down genteelly. They won't compromise on quality. I should never be like that. I should go to the ten-cent stores and replenish my whole establishment, if I couldn't make it pay with imported ware and Colonial silver. I'd never go to the other extreme. I'd never be so perceptibly second-rate, but in the matter of furnishings as well as food values, I'd find my perfect balance between quality and quantity, and keep it."
"I believe you would. You are a thorough child, when you set about a thing. I'll bet you know the restaurant business from A to Z."
"I do. You know, I studied the organization of every well-run restaurant in New York, when I was doing field work from Teachers' College. I've read every book on the subject of Diet and Nutrition and Domestic Economy that I could get my hands on. I'm just ready now for the practical application of all my theories."
"Nancy Calory Martin is your real name. I don't blame you for hating to give up this tea-room idea. You've dug so deep into the possibilities of it, that you want to go through. I get that."
Nancy's eyes widened in satiric admiration.
"You could understand almost anything, couldn't you, Billy?" she mocked.
"All I want now," Billy continued imperturbably, "is a chance to make you understand something." He smote the document in his left hand. "Of course, your uncle's lawyer has explained all the details in his letters to you, but if you won't read the letters or familiarize yourself with the contents of this will, somebody has got to explain it to you in words of one syllable. My legal training, slight as it is—"
"Sketchy is the better word, don't you think so, Billy?"
"Slight as it is"—except for a prodigious frown, Billy ignored the interruption, though he took advantage of her suddenly upright position to encircle her neatly with a barrel hoop, as if she were the iron peg in a game of quoits—"enables me to put the fact before you in a few short, sharp, well-chosen sentences. I won't again attempt to read the document—"
"You'd better not," Nancy interrupted witheringly, "your delivery is poor. Besides, I don't want to know what is in that will. If I had, it stands to reason that I would have found out long before this. I've had it three days."
"You've had it three days and never once looked into it?" Billy groaned. "Who started all this scandal about the curiosity of women, anyway?"
"I don't want to know what's in it," Nancy insisted. "As long as I'm not in possession of any definite facts, I can ignore it. I've got the kind of mind that must deal with concrete facts concretely."
Billy grinned. "I'd hate the job of trying to subpoena you," he said, "but you'd make a corking good witness, on the stand. Of course, you can proceed for a certain length of time on the theory that what you don't know can't hurt you, but take it from me, little girl, what you ought to know and don't know is the thing that's bound to hurt you most tremendously in the long run. What are you afraid of, anyway, Nancy?"
"I'm not afraid of anything," Nancy corrected him, with some heat. "I just plain don't want to be interrupted at this stage of my career. I consider it an impertinence of Uncle Elijah, to make me his heir. I never saw him but once, and I had no desire to see him that time. It was about ten years ago, and I caught a grippe germ from him. He told me between sneezes that I was too big a girl to wear a mess of hair streaming down my back like a baby. I stuck out my tongue at him, but he was too near-sighted to see it. Why couldn't he have left his money to an eye and ear infirmary? Or the Sailors' Snug Retreat? Or—or—"
"If you really don't want the money," Billy said, "it's your privilege to endow some institution—"
"You know very well that I can't get rid of money that way," Nancy cried hotly. "I am at least a responsible person. I don't believe in these promiscuous, eleemosynary institutions. It would be against all my principles to contribute money to any such philanthropy. I know too much about them—but he didn't. He could have disposed of his money to any one of a dozen of these mid-Victorian charities, but no—he was just one of those old parties that want to shift their responsibilities on to young shoulders, and so he chose mine."
"You don't speak very kindly of your dear dead relative."
"I don't feel very kindly toward him. He was a meddling old creature. He never gave any member of the family a cent when they wanted it and needed it. Now that I've just got my life in shape, and know what I want to do with it without being beholden to anybody on earth, he leaves me a whole lot of superfluous money."
"If I weren't engaged to Caroline, who is a jealous woman, though I say it as shouldn't, I'd be tempted to undertake the management of your fortune myself," Billy said reflectively; "as it is—honor—"
"I know what I want to do with my life," Nancy continued, as if he had not spoken. "I want to run an efficiency tea-room and serve dinner and breakfast and tea to my fellow men and women. I want the perfectly balanced ration, perfectly served, to be my contribution to the cause of humanity."
She looked about her ruefully. The sun, through the barred dusty windows, struck in long slant rays, athwart the confusion of the cellar, illuminating piles upon piles of gay, blue latticed chinaware,—cups set out methodically in rows on the lids and bottoms of packing boxes; assorted sizes of plates and saucers, graded pyramidically, rising from the floor. There were also individual copper casseroles and serving dishes, and a heterogeneous assortment of Japanese basketry tangled in excelsior and tissue. A wandering sunbeam took her hair, displaying its amber, translucent quality.
"I've just got capital enough to get it going right; to swing it for the first year, even if I don't make a cent on it. It's my one big chance to do my share in the world, and to work out my own salvation. This legacy is a menace to all my dreams and plans."
"I see that," Billy said. "What I don't see is what you gain by refusing to let it catch up with you."
"You're not it till you're tagged. That's all. If I don't know whether my income is going to be five thousand dollars or twenty-five thousand a year, I can go on unpacking teacups with—"
"Five thousand or twenty-five—my darling Nancy! You'll have fifty thousand a year at the very lowest estimate. The actual money is more than five hundred thousand dollars. The stock in the Union Rubber Company will amount to as much again, maybe twice as much. You're a real heiress, my dear, with wads of real money to show for it. That's what I'm trying to tell you."
"Fifty thousand a year!" Nancy turned a shocked face, from which the color slowly drained, leaving it blue-white. "Fifty thousand a year! You're mad. It can't be!"
"Yes'um. Fifty thousand at least."
Nancy's pallor increased. She closed her eyes.
"Don't do that," Billy said sharply. "No woman can faint on me just because she's had money left her. You make me feel like the ghost of Hamlet's father."
Nancy clutched at his sleeve.
"Don't, Billy!" she besought. "I'm past joking now. Fifty thousand a year! Why, Uncle Elijah bought fifteen-dollar suits and fifteen-cent lunches. How could a retired sea captain get all that money by investing in a little rubber, and getting to be president of a little rubber company?"
"That's how. Be a good sensible girl, and face the music."
"I'll have to give up the tea-room."
Billy laid a consolatory arm over her shoulder, and patted her awkwardly.
"Cheer up," he said, "there's worse things in this world than money. The time may come when you'll be grateful to your poor little old uncle, for his nifty little fifty thousand per annum."
Nancy turned a tragic face to him.
"I tell you I'm not grateful to him," she said, "and I doubt if I ever will be. I don't want the stupid money. I want to work life out in my own way. I know I've got it in me, and I want my chance to prove it. I want to give myself, my own brain and strength, to the job I've selected as mine. Now, it's all spoiled for me. I'm subsidized. I'm done for, and I can't see any way out of it."
"You can give the money away."
"I can't. Giving money away is a special science of itself. If I devote my life to doing that as it should be done, I won't have time or energy for anything else. I'm not a philanthropist in that sense. I wanted my restaurant to be philanthropic only incidentally. I wanted to cram my patrons with the full value of their money's worth of good nourishing food; to increase the efficiency of hundreds of people who never suspected I was doing it, by scientific methods of feeding. That's my dream."
"A good little dream, all right."
"To make people eat the right food; to help them to a fuller and more effective use of themselves by supplying them with the proper fuel for their functions."
"You could buy a chain of restaurants with the money you've got."
"I don't want a chain of restaurants."
"You can endow a perpetual diet squad. You can buy out the whole Life Extension Institute. If you would only stop to think of the advantages of having all the money you wanted to spend on anything you wanted, you'd—"
"Billy," Nancy said solemnly, "I've been through all that. If I had thought I would have been a better person with a great deal of money at my disposal, I—I might have—"
"Married Dick," Billy finished for her. "I forgot that interesting possibility. I suppose to a girl who has just turned down a cold five millions, this meager little proposition"—he flourished the crumpled document in his hand—"has no real allure. Lord! What a world this is. You'll marry Dick yet. Them as has—gits. It never rains but it pours. To the victor belong the spoils, et cetera, et cetera—"
"Money simply does not interest me."
"Dick interests you. I don't know to what extent, but he interests you."
"Don't be sentimental, Billy. Just because you're in love with Caroline, you can't make all your other friends marry each other. Tell me what to do about this legacy. What is customary when you get a lump of money like that? I suppose I'll have to begin to get rid of all this immediately." There was more than a hint of tears in her voice, but she smiled at Billy bravely. "I'm so perfectly crazy about these—these cups and saucers, Billy. See the lovely way that rose is split to fit into the design. Oh, when do I come into possession, anyway?"
"You don't come into possession right away, you know. You don't inherit for a couple of years, under the Rhode Island law. The formalities will take—"
"Billy Boynton, do you mean to say that I won't have to do a blessed thing about this money for two years?" Nancy shrieked.
"Why, no. It takes a certain amount of red tape to settle an estate, to probate a will, etc., and the law allows a period of time, varying in different states—"
"Oho! Is there anything in all this universe so stupid as a man?" Nancy interrupted fervently. "Why didn't you tell me that before? Do you suppose I care how much money I have two years from now? Two years of freedom, why, that's all I want, Billy. There you've been sitting up winking and blinking at me like a sympathetic old owl, when all I needed to know was that I had two years of grace. Of course, I'll go on with my tea-room, and not a soul shall know the difference."
"While the feminine temperament has my hearty admiration and my most cordial endorsement," Billy murmured, "there are things about it—"
"I won't have to tell anybody, will I?"
"There's no law to that effect. If your friends don't know it from you, they're not likely to hear it."
"I haven't mentioned it," Nancy said. "I only told you, because it seemed rather in your line of work, and I was getting so much mail about it, I thought it would be wise to have some one look it over."
"I've given up my law practice and Caroline for three days in your service."
"You've done more than well, Billy, and I'm grateful to you. Of course, you would have saved me days of nervous wear and tear if it had only occurred to you to tell me the one simple little thing that was the essential point of the whole matter. If I had known that I didn't inherit for two years, I wouldn't have cared what was in that will."
Billy stared at her feelingly.
"A peculiar sensation always comes over me," he said musingly, "after I spend several hours uninterruptedly in the society of a woman who is using her mind in any way. I couldn't explain it to you exactly. It's a kind of impression that my own brain has begun to disintegrate, and to—"
"Don't be too hard on yourself, Billy." Nancy soothed him sweetly,—Billy was not one of the people to whom she habitually allowed full conversational leeway: "Swear you won't tell Caroline or Betty—or Dick."
Nancy held out her hand to him.
"You're a good boy," she said, "and I appreciate you, which is more than Caroline does, I'm afraid. Run along and see her now—I don't need you any more, and you're probably dying to."
Billy bowed over her hand, lingeringly and politely, but once releasing it, he shook his big frame, and straightening up, drew a long deep breath of something very like relief.
"With all deference to your delightful sex," he said, "the only society that I'm dying for at the present moment is that of the old family bar-keep."
As Billy left her, Nancy turned to her basement window, and stood looking out at the quaint stone court he had to cross in order to reach the high gate that guarded the entrance to the marble worker's establishment, under the shadow of which it was her intention to open her out-of-door tea-room. She watched him dreamily is he made his way among the cinerary urns, the busts and statues and bas-reliefs that were a part of the stock in trade of her incongruous business associate.
In her investigation of the various sorts and conditions of restaurants in New York, she characteristically hit upon the garden restaurant, a commonplace in the down-town table d'hote district, as the ideal setting for her adventure in practical philanthropy, while the ubiquitous tea-room and antique-shop combination gave her the inspiration to stage her own undertaking even more spectacularly. Her enterprise was destined to flourish picturesquely in the open court during the fair months of the year, and in the winter months, or in the event of a bad storm, to be housed under the eaves in the rambling garret of the old brick building, the lower floor of which was given over to traffic in marbles.
She sighed happily. Billy, extricating himself from the grasp of an outstretched marble hand, which bad seemed to clutch desperately at his elbow, and narrowly escaping a plunge into a too convenient bird's bath, turned to see her eyes following him, and waved gaily, but she scarcely realized that he had done so. It was rather with the eye of her mind that she was contemplating the dark, quadrangular area outstretched before her. In spirit she was moving to and fro among the statuary, bringing a housewifely order out of the chaos that prevailed,—placing stone ladies draped in stone or otherwise; cherubic babies, destined to perpetual cold water bathing; strange mortuary furniture, in the juxtaposition that would make the most effective background for her enterprise.
She saw the gritty, gray paving stones of the court cleared of their litter, and scoured free from discoloration and grime, set with dozens of little tables immaculate in snowy napery and shiny silver, and arranged with careful irregularity at the most alluring angle. She saw a staff of Hebe-like waitresses in blue chambray and pink ribbons, to match the chinaware, and all bearing a marked resemblance to herself in her last flattering photograph, moving among a crowd of well brought up but palpably impoverished young people,—mostly social workers and artists. They were all young, and most of them very beautiful. In all her twenty-five years, she had never before been so close to a vision realized, as she was at that moment.
"Outside Inn," she said to herself, still smiling. "It's a perfect name for it, really. Outside Inn!"
APPLICANTS FOR BLUE CHAMBRAY
Ann Martin was an orphan of New England extraction. Her father, the eldest child of a simple unpretentious country family in Western Massachusetts, had been a brilliant but erratic throw-back to Mayflower traditions and Puritan intellectualism. He had married a girl with much the same ancestry as his own, but herself born and brought up in New York, and of a generation to which the assumption of prerogative was a natural rather than an acquired characteristic. The possession of a comfortable degree of fortune and culture was a matter of course with Ann Winslow, while to poor David Martin education in the finer things of life, and the opportunity to indulge his taste in the choice of surroundings and associates, were hard-won privileges.
Both parents had been killed in a railroad accident when Ann, or Nancy as her mother had insisted on calling her from the day of her christening, was about seven years old. She had been placed in the care of a maternal aunt, and had flourished in the heart of a well ordered establishment of the mid-Victorian type, run by a vigorous, rather worldly old lady.
From her lovely mother—Ann Winslow had been more than a merely attractive or pretty woman; she had the real grace and distinction, and purity of profile that placed her in the actual category of beauty,—Nancy had inherited a healthy and equitable outlook on life, while her father, irresistible and impracticable being that he was, had endowed her with a certain eccentric and adventurous spirit in the investigation of it.
She had been educated in a boarding-school, forty minutes' run from New York, and had specialized in the domestic sciences and basket ball; and on attaining her majority had taken up a course or two at Columbia, rather more to put off the evil day of assuming the responsibility of the stuffy, stately old house in Washington Square than because she ever expected to make any use of her superfluous education. She was conceded by every one to be her aunt's heir, but old Miss Winslow died intestate, very suddenly in Nancy's twenty-third year; and the beneficiaries of this accident, most of them extremely well-to-do themselves, combined to make Nancy a regular allowance until she was twenty-five. On her twenty-fifth birthday fifteen thousand dollars was deposited to her account in the Trust Company which conserved the family fortunes of the Winslows, and Nancy understood that they considered their duty by her to be done. It was with this fifteen thousand dollars that she was to inaugurate her darling enterprise,—Outside Inn.
Money, as she had truthfully told Billy, meant nothing to her. Her aunt, living and giving generously, had furnished her with a background of comfortable, unostentatious well being, against which the rather vivid elements that went to make up her intimate social circle—she was a creature of intimates—stood out in alluring relief. She had literally never wanted for anything. Her tastes, to be sure, were modest, but the wherewithal to gratify them had always been almost stultifyingly near at hand. The excitement and adventure of an income to which there was attached some uncertainty had never been hers, and she was too much her father's daughter to be interested in the playing of any game in which she could not lose. With all she possessed staked against her untried business acumen she was for the first time in her life concerned with her financial situation, and quite honestly resentful of any interruption of her experiment. Her life was closely associated with her mother's family. Her father's people had at no time entered into her scheme of living,—her uncle Elijah less than any member of it, and she found his post-obit intervention in her affairs embarrassing in a dozen different connections.
The best friend she had in the world, before he had made the tactical error of asking her to marry him, was Richard Thorndyke. He was still, thanks to his immediate skill in trying to retrieve that error, a very good friend indeed. Nancy would normally have told him everything that happened to her in the exact order of its occurrence; but partly because she did not wish to exaggerate her eccentricity in eyes that looked upon her so kindly, and partly because she had the instinct to spare him the realization that there was no way in which he might come to her rescue in the event of disaster,—she did not inform him of her legacy. She knew that he was shrewdly calculating to stand behind her venture, morally and practically, and that the chief incentive of his encouragement and helpfulness was the hidden hope that through her experiment and its probable unfortunate termination she would learn to depend on him. Nancy was so sure of herself that this attitude of Dick's roused her tenderness instead of her ire.
The two girls who were closest to her, Caroline Eustace and Betty Pope, had been actively enlisted in the service of Outside Inn and the ideals that it represented. Betty, a dimpling, dynamic little being, who took a sporting interest in any project that interested her, irrespective of its merits, was to be associated with Nancy in the actual management of the restaurant. Caroline, who took herself more seriously, and was busy with a dozen enterprises that had to do with the welfare of the race, was concerned chiefly with the humanitarian side of the undertaking and willing to deflect to it only such energy as she felt to be essential to its scientific betterment. She was tentatively engaged to Billy Boynton,—for what reason no one—not even Billy—had been able to determine; since she systematically disregarded him in relation to all the interests and activities that went to make up her life.
The affairs of the Inn progressed rapidly. It was in the first week of May that Nancy and Billy had their memorable discussion of her situation. By the latter part of June, when she could be reasonably sure of a succession of propitious days and nights, for she had set her heart on balmy weather conditions, Nancy expected to have her formal opening,—a dinner which not only initiated her establishment, but submitted it to the approval of her own group of intimate friends, who were to be her guests on that occasion.
Meantime, the most extensive and discriminating preparations were going forward. Billy and Dick were present one afternoon by special request when Betty and Nancy were interviewing a contingent of waitresses.
"We've got three perfectly charming girls already," Nancy said, "that is, girls that look perfectly charming to me, but a man's point of view on a woman's looks is so different that I thought it would be a good plan to have you boys look over this lot. They are all very high-class and competent girls. The Manning Agency doesn't send any other kind."
"Trot 'em along," Billy said; "where are they anyway?"
"In the room in front." They were in the smallest of the nest of attic rooms that Nancy planned to make her winter quarters. "Michael receives them, and shows them in here one by one."
"You like Michael then?" Dick asked. "I always said his talents were hidden at our place. He has a soul above the job of handy man on a Long Island farm."
"He's certainly a handy man here," Nancy said; "I couldn't live without him."
"The lucky dog," Billy said, with a side glance at Dick.
"You see," Betty explained, "the girl comes in, and we ask her questions. Then if I don't like her I take my pencil from behind my ear, and rap against my palm with it. If Nancy doesn't like her she says, 'You're losing a hairpin, Betty.' If we like her we rub our hands together."
"It's a good system," Billy said, "but I don't see why Nancy doesn't take her pencil from behind her ear, or why you don't say to her—"
"I wouldn't put a pencil behind my ear," Nancy said scathingly.
"And she never loses a hairpin," Betty cut in. "If I approve this system of signals I don't see what you have to complain of. Nancy couldn't get a pencil behind her ear even if she wanted to. It's only a criminal ear like mine that accommodates a pencil."
"Speaking of ears," Dick said, looking at his watch, "let's get on with the beauty show. I have to take my mother to see Boris to-night, and she has an odd notion of being on time."
"Aw right," Betty said. "Here's Michael. Bring in the first one immediately, Michael."
"Sure an' I will that, Miss Pope." The old family servitor of the Thorndykes pulled a deliberate lid over a twinkling left eye by way of acknowledging the presence of his young master. "There's quite a display of thim this time."
The first applicant, guided thus by Michael, appeared on the threshold and stood for a moment framed in the low doorway. Seeing two gentlemen present she carefully arranged her expression to meet that contingency. She was a blonde girl with masses of doubtfully tinted hair and no chin, but her eyes were very blue and matched a chain of turquoise beads about her throat, and she radiated a peculiar vitality.
Betty took her pencil from behind her ear.
"You're losing a hair—" Nancy began, but Dick and Billy exchanged glances and began rubbing their hands together energetically and enthusiastically.
"I'm sorry," Nancy said crisply, "but you're a little too tall for our purpose."
"And too blonde," Betty added with a bland dismissing smile. "We're looking for a special type of girl."
"I understood you were looking for a waitress," the girl said pertly, with her eyes on Billy.
"I was," Billy answered, "but I'm not now. My—my wife won't let me." He waved an inclusive hand in the direction of Nancy and Betty.
"If you don't behave," Nancy said, while they waited for Michael to bring in the next girl, "you can't stay. If that is the kind of girl you men find attractive then my restaurant is doomed from the beginning. I wouldn't have that girl in my employ for—"
Before she could begin again, applicant number two stood before them,—a comfortable, kind-eyed girl, no longer very young but with efficiency written all over her, despite the shyness that beset her.
Nancy rubbed her hands with satisfaction and looked at Betty, who beamed back at her. The girl, encouraged by Nancy's kindly smile took a step forward, and began to recite her qualifications for the position. Dick fumbled with a fountain-pen which he placed elaborately behind his ear for an instant, and then as ostentatiously removed.
"I think you're losing a hairpin, Dick," Billy suggested solicitously, as Nancy, ignoring their existence entirely, proceeded to make terms with the newcomer.
The next girl created a diversion—being palpably an adventuress out of a job and impressing none of the quartette as being interesting enough to deserve one,—but the two girls who followed her were bright and sprightly creatures, disarmingly graceful and ingenuous, of whom the entire quartette approved. They were twin sisters, they said, Dolly and Molly, and they had always had places together ever since they had begun working out.
"Tell me, pretty maiden, are there any more at home like—" Billy was addressing Molly gravely when Dick slipped a friendly but firm hand over his jugular region, and cut off his utterance.
"He's not feeling quite himself," he explained suavely to Dolly, "but we'll bring him around soon.—I think you'll find Miss Martin an ideal person to work for, and the salary and the hours unusually satisfactory."
"Thank you, sir," said Molly and Dolly together, in the English manner which showed the excellence of their training.
There were several other dubby creatures so much out of the picture that they were not even considered, and then Michael brought in what he called "a grand girl," and left her standing statuesquely in their midst.
"With large lovely arms and a neck like a tower," Dick quoted in his throat.
Nancy engaged her without enthusiasm.
"She'll draw," she said briefly. "Personally, I dislike these Alma Tadema girls."
"What the men see," Betty said, curling around the better part of two straight dining chairs, in the moment of relaxation that followed the final disposition of the business of the day, "in a girl like that first one is one of the mysteries of existence."
"I know it," Nancy agreed, with New England colloquialism. "You feel reasonably allied to them as a sex, and then suddenly they show some vulgar preference for a woman like that, and it's all off."
"This from the woman who thinks my chauffeur is an ideal of manly beauty," Dick scoffed, "a dimpled man with a little finger ring."
"He can run a car, though," Nancy retorted.
"I'll bet little blue eyes could run a restaurant."
"That was just the trouble,—she would have been running mine in twenty-four hours. Oh! I think what you men really like is a bossy woman."
"Now, what a woman really likes in a man—" Betty began, "is—is—"
"Quality," Nancy finished for her succinctly.
"I wonder—" Dick mused. "I should have said finish."
"Almost any kind of finish so long as it is smooth enough," Billy supplemented. "Look at the way they eat up this artistic and poetic veneer."
"Look at the way they mangle their metaphors," Nancy complained to Betty.
* * * * *
"I know what I really like in a woman," Dick whispered to Nancy, as he helped her into her coat just before they started out together, "and you know what I like, too. That's one of the subjects that needs no discussion between us."
Betty and Billy walking up the avenue ahead of them,—Outside Inn was located in one of the cross-streets in the thirties,—were discussing their relation to one another.
"I wonder sometimes if Nancy's got it in her really to care for a man," Betty argued; "she's as fond as she can be of Dick, but she'd sacrifice him heart, soul and body for that restaurant of hers. She's a perfect darling, I don't mean that; she's the very essence of sweetness and kindness, but she doesn't seem to understand or appreciate the possibilities of a devotion like Dick's. Do you think she's really capable of loving anybody—of putting any man in the world before all her ideas and notions and experiments?"
"Lord, yes," said Billy, accelerating his pace, suggestively in the hope of getting Betty home in good time for him to dress to keep his engagement with Caroline.
Nancy's heart was beating heavily when she woke on the memorable morning of the day that was to inaugurate the activities of Outside Inn. A confused dream of her Uncle Elijah in tatters on a park bench, which was instantly metamorphosed into one of the rustic seats she had arranged against the wall along the side of some of the bigger tables in the marble worker's court, was ostensibly the cause of the disturbance in her cardiac region. She had, it seemed, in the interminable tangle of nightmare, given Molly and Dolly and the Alma Tadema girl instructions to throw out the unwelcome guest, and she was standing by with Michael, who was assuring her that the big blonde was "certain a grand bouncer," when she was smitten with a sickening dream-panic at her own ingratitude. "He has given me everything he had in the world, poor old man," she said to herself, and approached him remorsefully; but when she looked at him again she saw that he had the face and figure of a young stranger, and that the garments that had seemed to her to be streaming and unsightly rags, were merely the picturesque habiliments of a young artist, apparently newly translated from the Boulevard Montparnasse. At the sight of the stranger a heart-sinking terror seemed to take possession of her, and so, quaking and quavering in mortal intimidation,—she woke up.
She laughed at herself as she brushed the sleep out of her eyes, and drew the gradual long breaths that soothed the physical agitation that still beset her.
"I'm scared," she said, "I'm as excited and nervous as a youngster on circus day.—Oh! I'm glad the sun shines."
Nancy lived in a little apartment of her own in that hinterland of what is now down-town New York, between the Rialto and its more conventional prototype, Society,—that is, she lived east of Broadway on a cross-street in the forties. The maid who took care of her had been in her aunt's employ for years, and had seen Nancy grow from her rather spoiled babyhood to a hoydenish childhood, and so on to soft-eyed, vibrant maturity. She was the only person who tyrannized over Nancy. She brought her a cup of steaming hot water with a pinch of soda in it, now.
"You were moaning and groaning in your sleep," she said, in the strident accents of her New England birthplace, "so you'll have to drink this before I give you a living thing for your breakfast."
"I will, Hitty," Nancy said, "and thank you kindly. Now I know you've been making pop-overs, and are afraid they will disagree with me. I'm glad—for I need the moral effect of them."
"I dunno whether pop-overs is so moral, or so immoral if it comes to that. I notice it's always the folks that ain't had much to do with morals one way or the other that's so almighty glib about them."
"There's a good deal in what you say, Hitty. If I had time I would go into the matter with you, but this is my busy day." Nancy sat up in bed, and began sipping her hot water obediently. She looked very childlike in her straight cut, embroidered night-gown, with a long chestnut pig-tail over either shoulder. "I feel as if I were going to be married, or—or something. I'm so excited."
"I guess you'd be a good sight more excited if you was going to be married"—Hitty was a widow of twenty-five years' standing—"and according to my way of thinking 'twould be a good deal more suitable," she added darkly. "I don't take much stock in this hotel business. In my day there warn't no such newfangled foolishness for a girl to take up with instead o' getting married and settled down. When I was your age I was working on my second set o' baby clothes."
"Don't scold, Hitty," Nancy coaxed. "I could make perfectly good baby clothes if I needed to. Don't you think I'll be of more use in the world serving nourishing food to hordes of hungry men and women than making baby clothes for one hypothetical baby?"
"I dunno about the hypothetical part," Hitty said, folding back the counterpane, inexorably. "What I do know is that a girl that's getting to be an old girl—like you—past twenty-five—ought to be bestirring herself to look for a life pardner if she don't see any hanging around that suits her, instead of opening up a hotel for a passel of perfect strangers. If ever I saw a woman spoiling for something of her own to fuss over—"
"If ever there was a woman who had something of her own to fuss over," Nancy cried ecstatically, "I'm that woman to-day, Hitty. You're a professional Puritan, and you don't understand the broader aspects of the maternal instinct." She sprang out of bed, and tucked her bare pink toes into the fur bordered blue mules that peeped from under the bed, and slipped into the wadded blue silk bathrobe that lay on the chair beside her. "Is my bath drawn, Hitty?"
"Your bath is drawed," Hitty acknowledged sourly, "and your breakfast will be on the table in half an hour by the clock."
"I suppose I must require that corrective New England influence," Nancy said to herself, as she tried the temperature of her bath and found it frigid, "just as some people need acid in their diet. If my mother were alive, I wonder what she would have said to me this morning."
Nancy spent a long day directing, planning, and arranging for the great event of the evening, the first dinner served to the public at Outside Inn.
From the basement kitchen to the ground-floor serving-room in the rear, space cunningly coaxed from the reluctant marble worker, the mechanism of Nancy's equipment was as perfect as lavish expenditure and scientific management could make it. The kitchen gleamed with copper and granite ware; huge pots for soup and vegetables, mammoth double boilers of white enamel,—Nancy was firm in her conviction that rice and cereal could be cooked in nothing but white enamel,—rows upon rows of shelves methodically set with containers and casseroles and odd-shaped metal serving-dishes, as well as the ubiquitous blue and rose-color chinaware presenting its gay surface from every available bit of space.
Presiding over the hooded ranges, two of gas and one coal for toasting and broiling, there was to be a huge Franco-American man-cook, discovered in one of the Fifth Avenue pastry shops in the course of Nancy's indefatigable tours of exploration, who was the son of a French chef and a Virginian mother, and could express himself in the culinary art of either his father's or his mother's nativity. His staff of helpers and dishwashers had been chosen by himself, with what Nancy considered most felicitous results, while her own galaxy of waitresses, who operated the service kitchen up-stairs, proved themselves to a woman almost unbelievably superior and efficient.
The courtyard itself was a brave spectacle in its final aspect of background for the detail and paraphernalia of polite dining. The more unself-conscious of the statues, the nymphs and nereids and Venuses, she managed either to relegate to the storehouse within, or to add a few cunningly draped vines to the nonchalance of their effect, while the gargoyles and Roman columns and some of the least ambitious of the fountain-models she was able to adapt delightfully to her outrageous ideal of arrangement. Dick had denuded several smart florist shops to furnish her with field flowers enough to develop her decorative scheme, which included strangely the stringing of half a dozen huge Chinese lanterns that even in the daylight took on a meteoric light and glow.
The night was clear and soft, and Fifth Avenue, ingratiatingly swept and garnished, stretched its wake of summer allure before the never unappreciative eyes of Billy and Caroline, and Betty and Dick respectively, who had met at the Waldorf by appointment, and were now making their way, thus ceremoniously and in company, to the formal opening dinner of Nancy's Inn.
Two nondescript Pagan gentlemen of Titanesque proportions had joined the watch of the conventional leonine twins, and the big gate now stood hospitably open, over it swinging the new sign in gallant crimson and white, that announced to all the world that Outside Inn was even at that moment, at its most punctilious service.
Molly and Dolly, in the prescribed blue chambray, their cheeks several shades pinker than their embellishment of pink ribbon, and panting with ill-suppressed excitement, rushed forward to greet the four and ushered them solemnly to their places,—the gala table in the center of the court, set with a profusion of fleur de lis, with pink ribbon trainers. Thanks to Dick's carefully manipulated advertising campaign and personal efforts among his friends and business associates, they were not by any means the first arrivals. Half a dozen laughing groups were distributed about the round tables in the center space, while several tete-a-tete couples were confidentially ensconced in corners and at cozy tables for two, craftily sheltered by some of the most imposing of the marble figures and columns.
"It seems like a real restaurant," Caroline said wonderingly.
"What did you think it would seem like?" Betty asked argumentatively. "Just because Nancy is the best friend you have in the world, and you're familiar with her in pig-tails and a dressing-gown doesn't argue that she is incapable of managing an undertaking like this as well as if she were a perfect stranger."
"I don't suppose it does," Caroline mused, "but someway I'd feel easier about a perfect stranger investing her last cent in such a venture. I don't see how she can possibly make it pay, and I don't feel as if I could ever have a comfortable moment again until I knew whether she could or not.—What are you looking so guilty about, Billy?"
"I was regretting your uncomfortable moments, Caroline," Billy said, "and wishing it were in my power to do away with them, but it isn't. I was also musing sadly, but quite irrelevantly, on the tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive."
"Are you deceiving Caroline in some way?" Dick inquired.
"No, he isn't," Caroline answered for him, "though he has full permission to if he wants."
"The time may come when he will avail himself of that permission," Betty said; "you ought to be careful how you tempt Fate, Caroline."
"She ought to be," Billy groaned, "but the fact is that I am not one of the things she is superstitious about. Pipe the dame at the corner table with the lorgnette. Classy, isn't she?"
"Friend of my aunt's," Dick said, acknowledging the lady's salute.
"And the Belasco adventuress in the corner."
"My stenographer," Dick explained, bowing again.
"I've got a bunch of men coming," Billy said; "if they put the place on the bum you've got to help me bounce them, Dick."
"Up-stairs in the service kitchen," Betty was explaining to Caroline, "they keep all the dishes that don't have to be heated for serving, also the silver and daily linen supply. When we seat ourselves at a table like this, the waitress to whom it is assigned goes in and gets a basket of bread—I think it's a pretty idea to serve the bread in baskets, don't you?—and whatever silver is necessary, and a bottle of water. When she places those things she asks us what our choice of a meat course is,—there is a choice except on chicken night—and gives that order in the kitchen when she goes to get our soup."
"Who serves the things,—puts the meat on the plates, and dishes up the vegetables?"
"The cook—Nancy won't let me call him the chef—because she is going to make a specialty of the southern element of his education. He has a serving-table by his range and he cuts up the meat and fowl, and dishes up the vegetables. In a bigger establishment he would have a helper to do that."
"Why can't Michael help him?" Dick asked.
"Michael calls him the Haythan Shinee. He is rather a glossy man, you know, and he says when the time comes for him, Michael, to dress like a street cleaner and pilot a gravy boat, he'll let us know."
"Respect for his superiors is not one of Michael's most salient characteristics," Dick twinkled. "Nancy and I have a scheme for making a match between him and Hitty."
"Here's the soup," Betty announced. "Nancy's idea is to have everything perfectly simple, and—and—"
"Simply perfect," Billy assisted her.
"Isn't she going to eat with us?" Dick asked.
"She can't. She's busy getting it going just at present. She may appear later."
"Somebody's got to direct this pageant, old top," Billy reminded him.
"The soup is perfect," Caroline said seriously. "It is simple—with that deceptive simplicity of a Paris morning frock."
"French home cooking is all like that," Dick said. "I like puree of forget-me-nots!"
"Molly or Dolly, I can't tell the difference between you," Billy said, "extend our compliments to Miss Martin, and tell her that this course is a triumph."
"Wait till you see the roast, sir."
"It's the very best sirloin," Dick announced at the first mouthful, "and these assorted vegetables all cut down to the same size are as pretty as they are good, as one says of virtuous innocence."
"This variety of asparagus is expensive," Caroline said; "she can't do things like this at seventy-five cents a head. She'll ruin herself."
"I don't see how she can," Dick said thoughtfully, "with the price of foodstuffs soaring sky-high."
"I never for a moment expected it to pay," Betty said, "but think of the run she will have for her money, and the experience we'll get out of it."
"You're in it for the romance there is in it, Betty. I must confess it isn't altogether my idea of a good time," Caroline said.
"I know, you would go in for military training for women, and that sort of thing. There's a woman over there asking for more olives, and she's eaten a plate full of them already."
"They're as big as hen's eggs anyhow," Caroline groaned, "and almost as extravagant. I don't see how Nancy'll go through the first month at this rate. There she comes now. Doesn't she look nice in that color of green?"
"How do you like my party?" Nancy asked, slipping into the empty chair between Dick and Billy; "isn't the food good and nourishing, and aren't there a lot of nice-looking people here?"
"Very much, and it is, and there are," Dick answered with affectionate eyes on her.
"The salad is alligator pear served in half sections, with French dressing," she said dreamily. "I'm too happy to eat, but I'll have some with you. Look at them all, don't they look relaxed and soothed and refreshed? Every individual has a perfectly balanced ration of the most superlatively good quality, slowly beginning to assimilate within him."
"I don't see many respectable working girls," Billy said.
"There are though,—from the different shops and offices on the avenue. There is a contingent from the Columbia summer school coming to-morrow evening. This group coming in now is newspaper people."
"Who's the fellow sitting over in the corner with that Vie de Boheme hat? He looks familiar, but I can't seem to place him."
"The man in black with the mustache?" Dick asked. "He's an artist, pretty well known. That impressionistic chap—I can't think of his name—that had that exhibition at the Palsifer galleries."
"Does he sell?" Caroline asked.
"No, they say he's awfully poor, refuses to paint down to the public taste. What the deuce is his name—oh! I know, Collier Pratt—do you know him, Nancy? Lived in Paris always till the war. He'll appreciate Ritz cooking at Riggs' prices if anybody will."
Nancy looked fixedly at the small side-table where the stranger had just placed himself as if he were etched upon the whiteness of the wall behind him. He sat erect and brooding,—his dark, rather melancholy eyes staring straight ahead, and a slight frown wrinkling his really fine forehead. He wore an Inverness cape slung over one shoulder.
"Looks like one of Rembrandt's portraits of himself," Caroline suggested.
"He looks like a brigand," Betty said. "Nancy's struck dumb with the privilege of adding fuel to a flame of genius like that. Wake up and eat your peach Melba, Nancy."
Nancy started, and took perfunctorily the spoon that Molly was holding out to her, which she forgot to lift to her lips even after it was freighted with its first delicious mouthful.
"I dreamed about that man," she said.
Nancy shut the door of her apartment behind her, and slipped out into the dimly lit corridor. From her sitting-room came a burst of concerted laughter, the sound of Betty's sweet, high pitched voice raised in sudden protest, and then the echo of some sort of a physical struggle; and Caroline took the piano and began to improvise.
"They won't miss me," Nancy said to herself, "I must have air." She drew a long breath with a hand against her breast, apparently to relieve the pressure there. "I can't stay shut up in a room," she kept repeating as if she were stating the most reasonable of premises, and turning, fled down the two flights of stairs that led to the outside door of the building.
The breath of the night was refreshingly cool upon her hot cheeks, and she smiled into the darkness gratefully. Across the way a row of brownstone houses, implacably boarded up for the summer, presented dull and dimly defined surfaces that reflected nothing, not even the lights of the street, or the shadow of a passing straggler. Nancy turned her face toward the avenue. The nostalgia that was her inheritance from her father, and through him from a long line of ancestors that followed the sea whither it might lead them, was upon her this night, although she did not understand it as such. She only thought vaguely of a strip of white beach with a whiter moon hung high above it, and the long silver line of the tide,—drawing out.
"I wish I had a hat on," she said. There was a night light in the chemist's shop at the corner, and the panel of mirror obligingly placed for the convenience of the passing crowd, at the left of the big window, showed her reflection quite plainly. She was suddenly inspired to take the soft taffeta girdle from the waist of her dark blue muslin gown, and bind it turban-wise about her head. The effect was pleasingly modish and conventional, and she quickened her steps—satisfied. There was a tingle in the air that set her blood pleasantly in motion, and she established a rhythm of pace that made her feel almost as if she were walking to music. Insensibly her mind took up its responsibilities again as the blood, stimulated from its temporary inactivity, began to course naturally through her veins.
"There is plenty of beer and ginger ale in the ice-box," she thought, "and I've done this before, so they won't be unnaturally disturbed about me. Billy wanted to take Caroline home early, and Dick can go on up-town with Betty, without making her feel that she ought to leave him alone with me for a last tete-a-tete. It will hurt Dick's feelings, but he understands really. He has a most blessed understandingness, Dick has."
She had the avenue almost entirely to herself, a silent gleaming thoroughfare with the gracious emptiness that a much lived in street sometimes acquires, of a Sunday at the end of an adventurous season. It was early July, the beginning of the actual summer season in New York. Nancy had never before been in town so late in the year, nor for that matter had Caroline or Betty, but Betty's interest in the affairs of the Inn was keeping her at Nancy's side, while Caroline had just accepted a secretarial position in one of the big Industrial Leagues recently organized by women for women, that would keep her in town all summer. Billy and Dick, by virtue of their respective occupations, were never away from New York for longer than the customary two weeks' vacation.
"My soul smoothed itself out, a long cramped scroll,"—her conscience placated on the score of her deserted guests, Nancy was quoting Browning to herself, as she widened the distance between herself and them. "I wonder why I have this irresistible tendency to shake the people I love best in the world at intervals. I am such a really well-balanced and rational individual, I don't understand it in myself. I thought the Inn was going to take all the nonsense out of me, but it hasn't, it appears," she sighed; "but then, I think it is going to take the nonsense out of a lot of people that are only erratic because they have never been properly fed. I guess I'll go and have a look at the old place in its Sunday evening calm. Already it seems queer not to be there at nine o'clock in the evening, but I don't really think there are people enough in New York now on Sundays to make it an object."
Nancy's feet turned mechanically toward the arena of her most serious activities. Like most of us who run away, she was following by instinct the logical periphery of her responsibilities.
The big green latticed gate was closed against all intruders. Nancy had the key to its padlock in her hand-bag, but she had no intention of using it. The white and crimson sign flapped in the soft breeze companionably responsive to the modest announcement, "Marble Workshop, Reproductions and Antiques, Garden Furniture," which so inadequately invited those whom it might concern to a view of the petrified vaudeville within. Through the interstices of the gate the courtyard looked littered and unalluring;—the wicker tables without their fine white covers; the chairs pushed back in a heterogeneous assemblage; the segregated columns of a garden peristyle gaunt against the dark, gleamed a more ghostly white than the weather-stained busts and figures less recently added to the collection. It seemed to Nancy incredible that the place would ever bloom again with lights and bouquets and eager patrons, with her group of pretty flower-like waitresses moving deftly among them. She stared at the spot with the cold eye of the creator whose handiwork is out of the range of his vision, and the inspiration of it for the moment, gone.
"I feel like Cinderella and her godmother rolled into one," she thought disconsolately. "I waved my wand, and made so many things happen, and now that the clock has struck, again here I am outside in the cold and dark,"—the wind was taking on a keener edge, and she shivered slightly in her muslins—"with nothing but a pumpkin shell to show for it. Hitty says that getting what you want is apt to be unlikely business, and I'm inclined to think she's right."
It seemed to her suddenly that the thing she had wanted,—a picturesque, cleverly executed restaurant where people could be fed according to the academic ideals of an untried young woman like herself was an unthinkable thing. The power of illusion failed for the moment. Just what was it that she had hoped to accomplish with this fling at executive altruism? What was she doing with a French cook in white uniform, a competent staff of professional dishwashers and waitresses and kitchen helpers? How had it come about that she owned so many mounds and heaps and pyramids of silver and metal and linen? What was this Inn that she had conceived as a project so unimaginably fine? Who were these shadow people that came and went there? Who was she? Why with all her vitality and all her hungry yearning for life and adventure couldn't she even believe in her own substantiality and focus? Wasn't life even real enough for a creature such as she to grasp it,—if it wasn't—
She saw a figure that was familiar to her turn in from the avenue, a tall man in an Inverness with a wide black hat pulled down over his eyes. For the moment she could not remember who he was, but by the time he had stopped in front of the big gate, giving utterance to a well delivered expletive, she knew him perfectly, and stood waiting, motionless, for him to turn and speak to her. She was sure that he would have no recollection of her. He turned, but it was some seconds before he addressed her.
"Doubt thou the stars are fire," he said at last, with a shrug that admitted her to the companionship of his discomfiture. "Doubt thou the sun doth move, doubt truth to be a liar, but never doubt that your favorite New York restaurant will be closed on a Sunday night."
"Oh! is it your favorite New York restaurant?" Nancy cried, her heart in her throat. "It's mine, you know, my—my favorite."
"So I judged, or you wouldn't be beating against the gate so disconsolately." It was too dark to see his face clearly, but Nancy realized that he was looking down at her quizzically through the darkness.
"Do you really like this restaurant?" she persisted.
"In some ways I like it very much. The food is quite possible as you know, very American in character, but very good American, and it has the advantage of being served out-of-doors. I am a Frenchman by adoption, and I like the outdoor cafe. In fact, I am never happy eating inside."
"The surroundings are picturesque?" Nancy hazarded.
The stranger laughed. "According to the American ideal," he said, "they are—but I do admit that they show a rather extraordinary imagination. I've often thought that I should like to make the acquaintance of the woman,—of course, it's a woman—who conceived the notion of this mortuary tea-room."
"Why, of course, is it a woman?"
"A man wouldn't set up housekeeping in—in Pere Lachaise."
"Why not, if he found a really domestic-looking corner?"
"He wouldn't in the first place, it wouldn't occur to him, that's all, and if he did he couldn't get away with it. The only real drawback to this hostelry is, as you know, that they don't serve spirits of any kind. I'm accustomed to a glass or two of wine with my dinner, and my food sticks in my throat when I can't have it, but I've found a way around that, now."
"Oh! have you?" said Nancy.
"Don't give me away, but there's a man about the place here whose name is Michael, and he possesses that blend of Gallic facility with Celtic canniness that makes the Irish so wonderful as a race. I told my trouble to Michael,—with the result that I get a teapot full of Chianti with my dinner every night, and no questions asked."
"Oh! you do?" gasped Nancy.
"You see Michael is serving the best interests of his employer, who wants to keep her patrons, because if I couldn't have it I wouldn't be there. He couldn't trouble the lady about it, naturally, because it is technically an offense against the law. Come, let's go and find a quiet corner where we can continue our conversation comfortably. There's a painfully respectable little hotel around the corner here that looks like the Cafe L'avenue when you first go in, but is a place where the most bourgeoise of one's aunts might put up."
"I—I don't know that I can go," said Nancy.
"There's no reason why you shouldn't, you know. My name is Collier Pratt. I'm an artist. The more bourgeoise of my aunts would introduce me if she were here. She's a New Englander like so many of your own charming relatives."
"How did you know that?" Nancy asked, as she followed him with a docility quite new to her, past the big green gate, and the row of nondescript shops between it and the corner of Broadway.
"I was born in Boston," Collier Pratt said a trifle absently. "I know a Massachusetts product when I see one. Ah! here we are."
He led her triumphantly to a table in the far corner of the practically empty restaurant, waved away the civilities of a swarthy and somewhat badly coordinated waiter, and pulled out her chair for her himself.
"Now, let me have a look at you," he said; "why, you've nothing on but muslin, and you're wearing your belt for a turban."
"A sop to the conventions," Nancy said, blushing burningly. She was not quite able yet to get her bearings with this extraordinary man, who had assumed charge of her so cavalierly, but she was eager to find her poise in the situation. "I ran away, and I thought it would look better to have something like a hat on."
"Looks," said Collier Pratt, "looks! That's New England, always the looks of a thing, never the feel of it. Mind you I don't mean the look of a thing, that's something different again."
"Yes, I know, the conventional slant as opposed to the artistic perspective."
"Good! It isn't necessary to have my remarks followed intelligently, but it always adds piquancy to the situation when they are. Speaking of artistic perspective, you have a very nice coloring. I like a ruddy chestnut hair with a skin as delicately white and pink as yours." He spoke impersonally with the narrowing eye of the artist. "I can see you either in white,—not quite a cream white, but almost,—against a pearly kind of Quakerish background, or flaming out in the most crude, barbaric assemblage of colors. That's the advantage of your type and the environment you connote—you can be the whole show, or the veriest little mouse that ever sought the protective coloring of the shadows."
"You aren't exactly taking the quickest way of putting me at my ease," Nancy said. "I'm very much embarrassed, you know. I'd stand being looked over for a few minutes longer if I could,—but I can't. I'm not having one of my most equable evenings."
"I beg your pardon," Collier Pratt said.
For the first time since she had seen his face with the light upon it, he smiled, and the smile relieved the rather empiric quality of his habitual expression. Nancy noticed the straight line of the heavy brows scarcely interrupted by the indication of the beginning of the nose, and wondering to herself if it were not possible for a person with that eyebrow formation to escape the venality of disposition that is popularly supposed to be its adjunct,—decided affirmatively.
"I'm not used to talking to American girls very much. I forget how daintily they're accustomed to being handled. I'm extremely anxious to put you at your ease," he added quietly. "I appreciate the privilege of your company on what promised to be the dullest of dull evenings. I should appreciate still more," he bowed, as he handed her a bill of fare of the journalistic proportions of the usual hotel menu, "if you would make a choice of refreshment, that we may dispense with the somewhat pathological presence of our young friend here," he indicated the waiter afflicted with the jerking and titubation of a badly strung puppet. "I advise Rhine wine and seltzer. I offer you anything from green chartreuse to Scotch and soda. Personally I'm going to drink Perrier water."
"I'd rather have an ice-cream," Nancy said, "than anything else in the world,—coffee ice-cream, and a glass of water."
"I wonder if you would, or if you only think it's—safer. At any rate I'm going to put my coat over your shoulders while you eat it. I never leave my rooms at this hour of the night without this cape. If I can find a place to sit out in I always do, and I'm naturally rather cold-blooded."
"I'm not," said Nancy, but she meekly allowed him to drape her in the folds of the light cape, and found it grateful to her.
"Bring the lady a big cup of coffee, and mind you have it hot," Collier Pratt ordered peremptorily, as her ice-cream was served by the shaking waiter. "Coffee may be the worst thing in the world for you, nervously. I don't know,—it isn't for me, I rather thrive on it, but at any rate I'm going to save you from the combination of organdie and ice-cream on a night like this. What is your name?" he inquired abruptly.
"Not at my service?"
"I don't know, yet."
"Well, I don't know,—but I hope and trust so. I like you. You've got something they don't have—these American girls,—softness and strength, too. I imagine you've never been out of America."
"With two other girls and a chaperon, doing Europe, and staying at all the hotels doped up for tourist consumption."
Nancy was constrained to answer with a smile.
"You don't like America very much," she said presently.
"I like it for itself, but I loathe it—for myself. My way of living here is all wrong. I can't get to bed in this confounded city. I can't get enough to eat."
"Oh! can't you?" Nancy cried.
"In Paris, or any town where there is a cafe life one naturally gets fed. The technique of living is taken care of much better over there. Your concierge serves you a nourishing breakfast as a matter of course. When you've done your morning's work you go to your favorite cafe—not with the one object in life—to cram a Chateaubriand down your dry and resisting throat because he who labors must live,—but to see your friends, to read your daily journals, to write your letters, and do it incidentally in the open air while some diplomat of a waiter serves you with food that assuages the palate, without insulting your mood. That's what I like about the little restaurant in the court there. It's out-of-doors, and you may stay there without feeling your table is in requisition for the next man. It's a very polite little place."
"You didn't expect to get in there to-night."
"I had hopes of it. I've not dined, you see."
"Not dined?" Nancy's eyes widened in dismay.
"There's no use for me to dine unless I can eat my food tranquilly, in some accustomed corner. Getting nourished with me is a spiritual, as well as a physical matter. It is with all sensitive people. Don't you think so?"
"I suppose so. I—I hadn't thought of it that way. Couldn't you eat something now—an oyster stew, or something like that?"
"Nothing in any way remotely connected with that. An oyster stew is to me the most barbarous of concoctions. I loathe hot milk,—an oyster is an adjunct to a fish sauce, or a preface to a good dinner."
"You ought to have something," Nancy urged, "even ice-cream is more nourishing than mineral water, or coffee with cream in it."
"I like coffee after dinner, not before."
"If you only eat when it's convenient, or the mood takes you," Nancy cried out in real distress, "how can you ever be sure that you have calories enough? The requirement of an average man at active labor is estimated at over three thousand calories. You must have something like a balanced ration in order to do your work."
"Must I?" Collier Pratt smiled his rare smile. "Well, at any rate, it is good to hear you say so."
She finished her ice-cream, and Collier Pratt drank his mineral water slowly, and smoked innumerable cigarettes of Virginia tobacco. The conversation which had proceeded so expeditiously to this point seemed for no apparent reason, suddenly to become gratuitous. Nancy had never before begun on the subject of the balanced ration without being respectfully allowed to go through to the end. She had not been allowed to feel snubbed, but she was a little bewildered that any conversation in which she was participating, could be so gracefully stopped before it was ended by her expressed desire.
Collier Pratt took his watch out of his pocket, and looked at it hastily.
"By jove," he said, "I had entirely forgotten. I have a child in my charge. I must be about looking after her."
"A child?" Nancy cried, astonished.
"Yes, a little girl. She's probably sitting up for me, poor baby. Can you get home alone, if I put you on a bus or a street-car?"
"If you'll call a taxi for me—" Nancy said.
She noticed that the check was paid with change instead of a bill. In fact, her host seemed not to have a bill of any denomination in his pocket, but to be undisturbed by the fact. He parted from her casually.
"Good-by, child," he said with his head in the door after he had given the chauffeur her street number; "with the permission of le bon Dieu, we shall see each other again. I feel that He is going to give it to us."
"Good-by," Nancy said to his retreating shoulder.
At her own front door was Dick's big Rolls-Royce, and Dick sitting inside of it, with his feet comfortably up, feigning sleep.
"You didn't think I'd go home until I saw you safe inside your own door, did you?" he demanded.
"Where's Betty?" Nancy asked mechanically.
"I sent Williams home with her. Then he came back here, and left the car with me."
"You needn't have waited," Nancy said, "I'm sorry, Dick, I—I had to have air. I had to get out. I couldn't stay inside a minute longer."
"You need never explain anything to me."
"Don't you want to know where I've been?"
Dick looked at her carefully before he made his answer. Then he said firmly.
"I might have told you," she said, "if you had wanted to know." She felt her knees sagging with fatigue, and drooped against the door-frame.
"Come and sit in the car, and talk to me for a minute," he suggested. "Do you good, before you climb the stairs."
He opened the car door for her ingratiatingly, but she shook her head.
"I've done unconventional things enough for one evening," she said. "Unlock the door for me. Hitty'll be waiting up to take care of me."
"What's that queer thing you're wearing?" he asked her, as he held the door for her to pass through, "I never remember seeing you wear that before."
Nancy looked down wonderingly at the folds of the Inverness still swinging from her shoulders. She had been subconsciously aware of the grateful warmth in which she was encased ever since she snuggled comfortably into the depths of the taxi-cab into which Collier Pratt had tucked her.
"No, I never have worn it before," she said, answering Dick's question.
The activities of the day at Outside Inn began with luncheon and the preparation for it. Nancy longed to serve breakfast there, but as yet it had not seemed practicable to do so. Most of the patrons of the restaurant conducted the business of the day down-town, but had their actual living quarters in New York's remoter fastnesses,—Brooklyn, the Bronx or Harlem. Nancy was satisfied that the bulk of her patronage should be the commuting and cliff dwelling contingent of Manhattanites,—indeed it was the sort of patronage that from the beginning she had intended to cater to.
Nancy did most of the marketing herself at first, but Gaspard—the big cook—gradually coaxed this privilege away from her.
"You see," he said, "we sit—us together, and talk of eating"—he prided himself on his use of English, and never used his native tongue to help him out, except in moments of great excitement. "It is immediately after breakfast. Yes! I am full of milk-coffee sopped with bread, and you of bacon with eggs and marmalade. We say, what shall we give to our custom for its dinner and its luncheon? We think sadly—we who have but now brushed away the crumbs of breakfast—of those who must sit down so soon to the table groaning with viands. Therefore we say, 'Market delicately. Have the soup clear, the entree light and the salad green with plenty of vinegar.' Even your calories—they do not help us much. They are in quantities so unexpected in the food that weighs nothing in the scales. We say you shall go to market and buy these things, and you go. I stir and walk about, and grow restless for my dejeuner, and when you return from market, hungry too, we are not the same people who had thought our soup should be clear, and our entree more beautiful than nutritious. If I go to market myself late I am inspired there to buy what is right, because by that hour I have a proper relish and understanding of what all the world should eat."
"I know he is right," Nancy said to Billy afterward in reporting the conversation, "I hate to admit it, but even my notion of what other people should eat is colored by my own relation to food. I never realized before how little use an intellect is in this matter of food values. I can actually get up a meal that according to the tables is scientifically correct that wouldn't feed anybody if they were hungry."
"One banana is equal to a pound and three-quarters of steak," Billy misquoted helpfully.
"The trouble is that it isn't," Nancy said, "except technically."
"You can't eat it and grow thin."
"You can't eat it and grow fat unless it happens to be the peculiar food to which you are idiosyncratic."
"If that's really a word," Billy said, "I'll overlook your trying it out on me. If it isn't you'll have to take the consequences." He went through the pantomime of one preparing to do physical violence.
"Oh! it's a word. Ask Caroline." Nancy's eyes still held their look of being focussed on something in the remote distance. "The trouble with all this dietetic problem is that the individual is dependent on something more than an adjustment of values. His environment and his heredity play an active part in his diet problem. Some people can eat highly concentrated food, others have to have bulk, and so on. You can't substitute cheese and bananas for steak and do the race a service no matter what the cost of steak may soar to. You can't even substitute rice for potatoes."
"Not unless your patronage is more Oriental than Celtic."
"Healthy people have to have honest fare of about the type to which their environment has accustomed them, but intelligently supervised,—that's the conclusion I've come to."
"You may be right," Billy said, "my general notion has always been that everybody ate wrong, and that everybody who would stand for it ought to be started all over again. I wouldn't stand for it, so I've never looked into the matter."
"People don't eat wrong, that's the really startling discovery I've made recently. I mean healthy people don't."
"I don't believe it," said Billy; "the way people eat is one of the most outrageous of the human scandals. I read the newspapers."
"The newspapers don't know," Nancy said; "the individual usually has an instinctive working knowledge of the diet that is good for him, and his digestional experiences have taught him how to regulate it to some extent."
"How do you account for the clerk that orders coffee and sinkers at Child's every day?"
"That's exactly it," Nancy said. "He knows that he needs bulk and stimulation. He's handicapped by his poverty, but he gets the nearest substitute for the diet that suits him that he can get. If he could afford it he would have a square meal that would nourish him as well as warm and fill him."
"I don't see but what this interesting theory lets you out altogether. Why Outside Inn, with its foxy table d'hote, if what's one man's meat is another man's poison, and natural selection is the order of the day?"
"Outside Inn is all the more necessary to the welfare of a nation that's being starved out by the high cost of living. All I need to do is to have a little more variety, to have all the nutritive requirements in each meal, and such generous servings that every patron can make out a meal satisfying to himself."
"Everybody knows that all fat people eat all the sweets that they can get, and all thin people take tea without sugar with lemon in it."
"These people aren't healthy. That's where the intelligent supervision comes in."
"What do you intend to do about them?"
"Watch over them a little more carefully. Regulate their servings craftily. Be sure of my tables. I have lots of schemes. I'll tell you about them sometime."
"Sometime,—for this relief much thanks," murmured Billy; "just now I've had as much of these matters as I can stand. I don't see how you are going to run this thing on a profit, though."
"I'm not," Nancy said, "I'm losing money every minute. That fifteen thousand dollars is almost gone now, of course. Billy, do you think it would be perfectly awful if I didn't try to make money at all?"
"I think it would be a good deal wiser. I'll raise all the money you want on your expectations."
"All right then. I'm not going to worry."
Billy looked down into the courtyard from the room up-stairs in which they had been talking. Already the preparations for lunch were under way. The girls were moving deftly about, laying cloths and arranging flower vases and silver.
"Can I get right down there and sit down at one of those tables and have my lunch," Billy inquired, "or do I have to go out of the back door and come in the front like a regular customer?"
"Whichever you prefer. There's Caroline coming in at the gate now."
"Well, then, I know which I prefer," Billy said, swimming realistically toward the stairs.
"You are getting fat, Billy," Caroline informed him critically after the amenities were over, and the meal appropriately begun. "You ought to watch your diet a little more carefully."
"No," Billy said firmly, "I don't need to watch my diet, I'm perfectly healthy, and therefore my natural cravings will point the way to my most judicious nourishment. Nancy has explained all to me."
"That's a very interesting theory of Nancy's," Caroline said, "but I don't altogether agree with it."
"I do," said Billy, then he added hastily, "but I agree with you, too, Caroline. You are to all other women what moonlight is to sunlight, or I mean—what sunlight is to moonlight. In other words—you are the goods."
"Don't be silly, Billy."
"There's only one thing in all this wide universe that you can't say to me, Caroline, and 'don't be silly, Billy,' is that thing,—express this same thing in vers libre if you must say it! Look at the handsome soup you're getting. What is the name of that soup, Molly?"
He smiled ingratiatingly at the little waitress, who always beamed at any one of Nancy's particular friends that came into the restaurant, and made a point of serving them if she could possibly arrange it.
"Cream of spinach," she said, "it's a special to-day."
"Beautiful soup so rich and green," Billy began in a soulful baritone, "waiting in a hot tureen. Where's mine, Molly?"
"Dolly's bringing your first course, sir."
Billy gazed in perplexity at the half of a delicious grapefruit set before him by the duplicate of the pretty girl who stood smiling deprecatingly behind Caroline's chair.
"Where's my soup, Dolly?" Billy asked with a thundering sternness of manner.
"I'm sorry, sir," Dolly began glibly, "but the soup has given out. Will you be good enough to allow the substitution of—"
"That's a formula," Billy said. "The soup can't be out. We're the first people in the dining-room. Go tell Miss Nancy that I will be served with some of that green soup at once, or know the reason why."
The two waitresses exchanged glances, and went off together suppressing giggles, to return almost immediately, their risibility still causing them great physical inconvenience.
"Intelligent supervision, she says." Dolly exploded into the miniature patch of muslin and ribbon that served her as an apron.
"She says that's the reason why," Molly contributed,—following her sister's example.
"Nancy doesn't serve soup to a fat man if she can possibly avoid it. That's part of her theory," Caroline explained. "There's no use making a fuss about it, because you won't get it."
Billy sat looking at his grapefruit for some seconds in silence. Then he began on it slowly.
"Well, I'll be damned," he said.
Nancy was learning a great many things very rapidly. The practical application of her theories of feeding mankind to her actual experiments with the shifting population of New York, revolutionized her attitude toward the problem almost daily. She had started in with a great many ideas and ideals of service, with preconceived notions of balanced rations, and exact distribution of fuel stuffs to the human unit. She had come to realize very shortly, that the human unit was a quantity as incalculable in its relation to its digestive problems as its psychological ones. She had believed vaguely that in reference to food values the race made its great exception to its rule of working out toward normality; but she changed that opinion very quickly as she watched her fellow men selecting their diet with as sure an instinct for their nutritive requirements as if she had coached them personally for years.
From the assumption that she lived in a world gone dietetically mad, and hence in the process of destroying itself, she had gradually come to see that in this phase of his struggle for existence, as well as in every other, the instinct of man operated automatically in the direction of his salvation. This new attitude in tie matter relieved her of much of her responsibility, but left her not less anxious to do what she could for her kind in the matter of calories. She was, as she had shown in her treatment of Billy, not entirely blinded by her growing predilection in favor of the doctrine of natural selection.
Every day she had Gaspard make, in addition to his regular table d'hote menu, dozens of nutritive custards, quarts of stimulating broths and jellies and other dishes containing the maximum of easily digested and highly concentrated nutriment, and these she managed to have Molly or Dolly or even Hildeguard—the Alma Tadema girl—introduce into the luncheon or dinner service in the case of those patrons who seemed to need peculiarly careful nourishing. Let a white-faced girl sink into a seat within the range of Nancy's vision,—she always ensconced herself in the doorway screened with vines at the beginning of a meal,—and she gave orders at once for the crafty substitution of invalid broth for soup, of rich nut bread for the ordinary rolls and crackers, of custards or specially made ice-cream for the dessert of the day. No overfed, pasty-faced man ever escaped from Outside Inn until an attempt at least had been made to introduce a portion of stewed prunes into his diet; and all such were fed the minimum of bread and other starchy foods, and the maximum of salad and green vegetables. Nancy had gluten bread made in quantities for the stouter element of her patronage, and in nine cases out of ten she was able to get it served and eaten without protest. Some of her regular patrons began to change weight gradually, a heavy man or two became less heavy, and a wraithlike girl now and then took on a new bloom and substantiality. These were the triumphs for which Nancy lived. Her only regret was that she was not able to give to each her personal time and attention, and establish herself on a footing with her patrons where she might learn from their own lips the secrets of their metabolism.