THE ADVENTURES OF SALLY
By P. G. Wodehouse
CHAPTER I. SALLY GIVES A PARTY
Sally looked contentedly down the long table. She felt happy at last. Everybody was talking and laughing now, and her party, rallying after an uncertain start, was plainly the success she had hoped it would be. The first atmosphere of uncomfortable restraint, caused, she was only too well aware, by her brother Fillmore's white evening waistcoat, had worn off; and the male and female patrons of Mrs. Meecher's select boarding-house (transient and residential) were themselves again.
At her end of the table the conversation had turned once more to the great vital topic of Sally's legacy and what she ought to do with it. The next best thing to having money of one's own, is to dictate the spending of somebody else's, and Sally's guests were finding a good deal of satisfaction in arranging a Budget for her. Rumour having put the sum at their disposal at a high figure, their suggestions had certain spaciousness.
"Let me tell you," said Augustus Bartlett, briskly, "what I'd do, if I were you." Augustus Bartlett, who occupied an intensely subordinate position in the firm of Kahn, Morris and Brown, the Wall Street brokers, always affected a brisk, incisive style of speech, as befitted a man in close touch with the great ones of Finance. "I'd sink a couple of hundred thousand in some good, safe bond-issue—we've just put one out which you would do well to consider—and play about with the rest. When I say play about, I mean have a flutter in anything good that crops up. Multiple Steel's worth looking at. They tell me it'll be up to a hundred and fifty before next Saturday."
Elsa Doland, the pretty girl with the big eyes who sat on Mr. Bartlett's left, had other views.
"Buy a theatre. Sally, and put on good stuff."
"And lose every bean you've got," said a mild young man, with a deep voice across the table. "If I had a few hundred thousand," said the mild young man, "I'd put every cent of it on Benny Whistler for the heavyweight championship. I've private information that Battling Tuke has been got at and means to lie down in the seventh..."
"Say, listen," interrupted another voice, "lemme tell you what I'd do with four hundred thousand..."
"If I had four hundred thousand," said Elsa Doland, "I know what would be the first thing I'd do."
"What's that?" asked Sally.
"Pay my bill for last week, due this morning."
Sally got up quickly, and flitting down the table, put her arm round her friend's shoulder and whispered in her ear:
"Elsa darling, are you really broke? If you are, you know, I'll..."
Elsa Doland laughed.
"You're an angel, Sally. There's no one like you. You'd give your last cent to anyone. Of course I'm not broke. I've just come back from the road, and I've saved a fortune. I only said that to draw you."
Sally returned to her seat, relieved, and found that the company had now divided itself into two schools of thought. The conservative and prudent element, led by Augustus Bartlett, had definitely decided on three hundred thousand in Liberty Bonds and the rest in some safe real estate; while the smaller, more sporting section, impressed by the mild young man's inside information, had already placed Sally's money on Benny Whistler, doling it out cautiously in small sums so as not to spoil the market. And so solid, it seemed, was Mr. Tuke's reputation with those in the inner circle of knowledge that the mild young man was confident that, if you went about the matter cannily and without precipitation, three to one might be obtained. It seemed to Sally that the time had come to correct certain misapprehensions.
"I don't know where you get your figures," she said, "but I'm afraid they're wrong. I've just twenty-five thousand dollars."
The statement had a chilling effect. To these jugglers with half-millions the amount mentioned seemed for the moment almost too small to bother about. It was the sort of sum which they had been mentally setting aside for the heiress's car fare. Then they managed to adjust their minds to it. After all, one could do something even with a pittance like twenty-five thousand.
"If I'd twenty-five thousand," said Augustus Bartlett, the first to rally from the shock, "I'd buy Amalgamated..."
"If I had twenty-five thousand..." began Elsa Doland.
"If I'd had twenty-five thousand in the year nineteen hundred," observed a gloomy-looking man with spectacles, "I could have started a revolution in Paraguay."
He brooded sombrely on what might have been.
"Well, I'll tell you exactly what I'm going to do," said Sally. "I'm going to start with a trip to Europe... France, specially. I've heard France well spoken of—as soon as I can get my passport; and after I've loafed there for a few weeks, I'm coming back to look about and find some nice cosy little business which will let me put money into it and keep me in luxury. Are there any complaints?"
"Even a couple of thousand on Benny Whistler..." said the mild young man.
"I don't want your Benny Whistler," said Sally. "I wouldn't have him if you gave him to me. If I want to lose money, I'll go to Monte Carlo and do it properly."
"Monte Carlo," said the gloomy man, brightening up at the magic name. "I was in Monte Carlo in the year '97, and if I'd had another fifty dollars... just fifty... I'd have..."
At the far end of the table there was a stir, a cough, and the grating of a chair on the floor; and slowly, with that easy grace which actors of the old school learned in the days when acting was acting, Mr. Maxwell Faucitt, the boarding-house's oldest inhabitant, rose to his feet.
"Ladies," said Mr. Faucitt, bowing courteously, "and..." ceasing to bow and casting from beneath his white and venerable eyebrows a quelling glance at certain male members of the boarding-house's younger set who were showing a disposition towards restiveness, "... gentlemen. I feel that I cannot allow this occasion to pass without saying a few words."
His audience did not seem surprised. It was possible that life, always prolific of incident in a great city like New York, might some day produce an occasion which Mr. Faucitt would feel that he could allow to pass without saying a few words; but nothing of the sort had happened as yet, and they had given up hope. Right from the start of the meal they had felt that it would be optimism run mad to expect the old gentleman to abstain from speech on the night of Sally Nicholas' farewell dinner party; and partly because they had braced themselves to it, but principally because Miss Nicholas' hospitality had left them with a genial feeling of repletion, they settled themselves to listen with something resembling equanimity. A movement on the part of the Marvellous Murphys—new arrivals, who had been playing the Bushwick with their equilibristic act during the preceding week—to form a party of the extreme left and heckle the speaker, broke down under a cold look from their hostess. Brief though their acquaintance had been, both of these lissom young gentlemen admired Sally immensely.
And it should be set on record that this admiration of theirs was not misplaced. He would have been hard to please who had not been attracted by Sally. She was a small, trim, wisp of a girl with the tiniest hands and feet, the friendliest of smiles, and a dimple that came and went in the curve of her rounded chin. Her eyes, which disappeared when she laughed, which was often, were a bright hazel; her hair a soft mass of brown. She had, moreover, a manner, an air of distinction lacking in the majority of Mrs. Meecher's guests. And she carried youth like a banner. In approving of Sally, the Marvellous Murphys had been guilty of no lapse from their high critical standard.
"I have been asked," proceeded Mr. Faucitt, "though I am aware that there are others here far worthier of such a task—Brutuses compared with whom I, like Marc Antony, am no orator—I have been asked to propose the health..."
"Who asked you?" It was the smaller of the Marvellous Murphys who spoke. He was an unpleasant youth, snub-nosed and spotty. Still, he could balance himself with one hand on an inverted ginger-ale bottle while revolving a barrel on the soles of his feet. There is good in all of us.
"I have been asked," repeated Mr. Faucitt, ignoring the unmannerly interruption, which, indeed, he would have found it hard to answer, "to propose the health of our charming hostess (applause), coupled with the name of her brother, our old friend Fillmore Nicholas."
The gentleman referred to, who sat at the speaker's end of the table, acknowledged the tribute with a brief nod of the head. It was a nod of condescension; the nod of one who, conscious of being hedged about by social inferiors, nevertheless does his best to be not unkindly. And Sally, seeing it, debated in her mind for an instant the advisability of throwing an orange at her brother. There was one lying ready to her hand, and his glistening shirt-front offered an admirable mark; but she restrained herself. After all, if a hostess yields to her primitive impulses, what happens? Chaos. She had just frowned down the exuberance of the rebellious Murphys, and she felt that if, even with the highest motives, she began throwing fruit, her influence for good in that quarter would be weakened.
She leaned back with a sigh. The temptation had been hard to resist. A democratic girl, pomposity was a quality which she thoroughly disliked; and though she loved him, she could not disguise from herself that, ever since affluence had descended upon him some months ago, her brother Fillmore had become insufferably pompous. If there are any young men whom inherited wealth improves, Fillmore Nicholas was not one of them. He seemed to regard himself nowadays as a sort of Man of Destiny. To converse with him was for the ordinary human being like being received in audience by some more than stand-offish monarch. It had taken Sally over an hour to persuade him to leave his apartment on Riverside Drive and revisit the boarding-house for this special occasion; and, when he had come, he had entered wearing such faultless evening dress that he had made the rest of the party look like a gathering of tramp-cyclists. His white waistcoat alone was a silent reproach to honest poverty, and had caused an awkward constraint right through the soup and fish courses. Most of those present had known Fillmore Nicholas as an impecunious young man who could make a tweed suit last longer than one would have believed possible; they had called him "Fill" and helped him in more than usually lean times with small loans: but to-night they had eyed the waistcoat dumbly and shrank back abashed.
"Speaking," said Mr. Faucitt, "as an Englishman—for though I have long since taken out what are technically known as my 'papers' it was as a subject of the island kingdom that I first visited this great country—I may say that the two factors in American life which have always made the profoundest impression upon me have been the lavishness of American hospitality and the charm of the American girl. To-night we have been privileged to witness the American girl in the capacity of hostess, and I think I am right in saying, in asseverating, in committing myself to the statement that his has been a night which none of us present here will ever forget. Miss Nicholas has given us, ladies and gentlemen, a banquet. I repeat, a banquet. There has been alcoholic refreshment. I do not know where it came from: I do not ask how it was procured, but we have had it. Miss Nicholas..."
Mr. Faucitt paused to puff at his cigar. Sally's brother Fillmore suppressed a yawn and glanced at his watch. Sally continued to lean forward raptly. She knew how happy it made the old gentleman to deliver a formal speech; and though she wished the subject had been different, she was prepared to listen indefinitely.
"Miss Nicholas," resumed Mr. Faucitt, lowering his cigar, "... But why," he demanded abruptly, "do I call her Miss Nicholas?"
"Because it's her name," hazarded the taller Murphy.
Mr. Faucitt eyed him with disfavour. He disapproved of the marvellous brethren on general grounds because, himself a resident of years standing, he considered that these transients from the vaudeville stage lowered the tone of the boarding-house; but particularly because the one who had just spoken had, on his first evening in the place, addressed him as "grandpa."
"Yes, sir," he said severely, "it is her name. But she has another name, sweeter to those who love her, those who worship her, those who have watched her with the eye of sedulous affection through the three years she has spent beneath this roof, though that name," said Mr. Faucitt, lowering the tone of his address and descending to what might almost be termed personalities, "may not be familiar to a couple of dud acrobats who have only been in the place a week-end, thank heaven, and are off to-morrow to infest some other city. That name," said Mr. Faucitt, soaring once more to a loftier plane, "is Sally. Our Sally. For three years our Sally has flitted about this establishment like—I choose the simile advisedly—like a ray of sunshine. For three years she has made life for us a brighter, sweeter thing. And now a sudden access of worldly wealth, happily synchronizing with her twenty-first birthday, is to remove her from our midst. From our midst, ladies and gentlemen, but not from our hearts. And I think I may venture to hope, to prognosticate, that, whatever lofty sphere she may adorn in the future, to whatever heights in the social world she may soar, she will still continue to hold a corner in her own golden heart for the comrades of her Bohemian days. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you our hostess, Miss Sally Nicholas, coupled with the name of our old friend, her brother Fillmore."
Sally, watching her brother heave himself to his feet as the cheers died away, felt her heart beat a little faster with anticipation. Fillmore was a fluent young man, once a power in his college debating society, and it was for that reason that she had insisted on his coming here tonight.
She had guessed that Mr. Faucitt, the old dear, would say all sorts of delightful things about her, and she had mistrusted her ability to make a fitting reply. And it was imperative that a fitting reply should proceed from someone. She knew Mr. Faucitt so well. He looked on these occasions rather in the light of scenes from some play; and, sustaining his own part in them with such polished grace, was certain to be pained by anything in the nature of an anti-climax after he should have ceased to take the stage. Eloquent himself, he must be answered with eloquence, or his whole evening would be spoiled.
Fillmore Nicholas smoothed a wrinkle out of his white waistcoat; and having rested one podgy hand on the table-cloth and the thumb of the other in his pocket, glanced down the table with eyes so haughtily drooping that Sally's fingers closed automatically about her orange, as she wondered whether even now it might not be a good thing...
It seems to be one of Nature's laws that the most attractive girls should have the least attractive brothers. Fillmore Nicholas had not worn well. At the age of seven he had been an extraordinarily beautiful child, but after that he had gone all to pieces; and now, at the age of twenty-five, it would be idle to deny that he was something of a mess. For the three years preceding his twenty-fifth birthday, restricted means and hard work had kept his figure in check; but with money there had come an ever-increasing sleekness. He looked as if he fed too often and too well.
All this, however, Sally was prepared to forgive him, if he would only make a good speech. She could see Mr. Faucitt leaning back in his chair, all courteous attention. Rolling periods were meat and drink to the old gentleman.
"I'm sure," said Fillmore, "you don't want a speech... Very good of you to drink our health. Thank you."
He sat down.
The effect of these few simple words on the company was marked, but not in every case identical. To the majority the emotion which they brought was one of unmixed relief. There had been something so menacing, so easy and practised, in Fillmore's attitude as he had stood there that the gloomier-minded had given him at least twenty minutes, and even the optimists had reckoned that they would be lucky if they got off with ten. As far as the bulk of the guests were concerned, there was no grumbling. Fillmore's, to their thinking, had been the ideal after-dinner speech.
Far different was it with Mr. Maxwell Faucitt. The poor old man was wearing such an expression of surprise and dismay as he might have worn had somebody unexpectedly pulled the chair from under him. He was feeling the sick shock which comes to those who tread on a non-existent last stair. And Sally, catching sight of his face, uttered a sharp wordless exclamation as if she had seen a child fall down and hurt itself in the street. The next moment she had run round the table and was standing behind him with her arms round his neck. She spoke across him with a sob in her voice.
"My brother," she stammered, directing a malevolent look at the immaculate Fillmore, who, avoiding her gaze, glanced down his nose and smoothed another wrinkle out of his waistcoat, "has not said quite—quite all I hoped he was going to say. I can't make a speech, but..." Sally gulped, "... but, I love you all and of course I shall never forget you, and... and..."
Here Sally kissed Mr. Faucitt and burst into tears.
"There, there," said Mr. Faucitt, soothingly. The kindest critic could not have claimed that Sally had been eloquent: nevertheless Mr. Maxwell Faucitt was conscious of no sense of anti-climax.
Sally had just finished telling her brother Fillmore what a pig he was. The lecture had taken place in the street outside the boarding-house immediately on the conclusion of the festivities, when Fillmore, who had furtively collected his hat and overcoat, had stolen forth into the night, had been overtaken and brought to bay by his justly indignant sister. Her remarks, punctuated at intervals by bleating sounds from the accused, had lasted some ten minutes.
As she paused for breath, Fillmore seemed to expand, like an indiarubber ball which has been sat on. Dignified as he was to the world, he had never been able to prevent himself being intimidated by Sally when in one of these moods of hers. He regretted this, for it hurt his self-esteem, but he did not see how the fact could be altered. Sally had always been like that. Even the uncle, who after the deaths of their parents had become their guardian, had never, though a grim man, been able to cope successfully with Sally. In that last hectic scene three years ago, which had ended in their going out into the world, together like a second Adam and Eve, the verbal victory had been hers. And it had been Sally who had achieved triumph in the one battle which Mrs. Meecher, apparently as a matter of duty, always brought about with each of her patrons in the first week of their stay. A sweet-tempered girl, Sally, like most women of a generous spirit, had cyclonic potentialities.
As she seemed to have said her say, Fillmore kept on expanding till he had reached the normal, when he ventured upon a speech for the defence.
"What have I done?" demanded Fillmore plaintively.
"Do you want to hear all over again?"
"No, no," said Fillmore hastily. "But, listen. Sally, you don't understand my position. You don't seem to realize that all that sort of thing, all that boarding-house stuff, is a thing of the past. One's got beyond it. One wants to drop it. One wants to forget it, darn it! Be fair. Look at it from my viewpoint. I'm going to be a big man..."
"You're going to be a fat man," said Sally, coldly.
Fillmore refrained from discussing the point. He was sensitive.
"I'm going to do big things," he substituted. "I've got a deal on at this very moment which... well, I can't tell you about it, but it's going to be big. Well, what I'm driving at, is about all this sort of thing"—he indicated the lighted front of Mrs. Meecher's home-from-home with a wide gesture—"is that it's over. Finished and done with. These people were all very well when..."
"... when you'd lost your week's salary at poker and wanted to borrow a few dollars for the rent."
"I always paid them back," protested Fillmore, defensively.
"Well, we did," said Fillmore, accepting the amendment with the air of a man who has no time for chopping straws. "Anyway, what I mean is, I don't see why, just because one has known people at a certain period in one's life when one was practically down and out, one should have them round one's neck for ever. One can't prevent people forming an I-knew-him-when club, but, darn it, one needn't attend the meetings."
"Oh, friends," said Fillmore. "That's just where all this makes me so tired. One's in a position where all these people are entitled to call themselves one's friends, simply because father put it in his will that I wasn't to get the money till I was twenty-five, instead of letting me have it at twenty-one like anybody else. I wonder where I should have been by now if I could have got that money when I was twenty-one."
"In the poor-house, probably," said Sally.
Fillmore was wounded.
"Ah! you don't believe in me," he sighed.
"Oh, you would be all right if you had one thing," said Sally.
Fillmore passed his qualities in swift review before his mental eye. Brains? Dash? Spaciousness? Initiative? All present and correct. He wondered where Sally imagined the hiatus to exist.
"One thing?" he said. "What's that?"
Fillmore's sense of injury deepened. He supposed that this was always the way, that those nearest to a man never believed in his ability till he had proved it so masterfully that it no longer required the assistance of faith. Still, it was trying; and there was not much consolation to be derived from the thought that Napoleon had had to go through this sort of thing in his day. "I shall find my place in the world," he said sulkily.
"Oh, you'll find your place all right," said Sally. "And I'll come round and bring you jelly and read to you on the days when visitors are allowed... Oh, hullo."
The last remark was addressed to a young man who had been swinging briskly along the sidewalk from the direction of Broadway and who now, coming abreast of them, stopped.
"Good evening, Mr. Foster."
"Good evening. Miss Nicholas."
"You don't know my brother, do you?"
"I don't believe I do."
"He left the underworld before you came to it," said Sally. "You wouldn't think it to look at him, but he was once a prune-eater among the proletariat, even as you and I. Mrs. Meecher looks on him as a son."
The two men shook hands. Fillmore was not short, but Gerald Foster with his lean, well-built figure seemed to tower over him. He was an Englishman, a man in the middle twenties, clean-shaven, keen-eyed, and very good to look at. Fillmore, who had recently been going in for one of those sum-up-your-fellow-man-at-a-glance courses, the better to fit himself for his career of greatness, was rather impressed. It seemed to him that this Mr. Foster, like himself, was one of those who Get There. If you are that kind yourself, you get into the knack of recognizing the others. It is a sort of gift.
There was a few moments of desultory conversation, of the kind that usually follows an introduction, and then Fillmore, by no means sorry to get the chance, took advantage of the coming of this new arrival to remove himself. He had not enjoyed his chat with Sally, and it seemed probable that he would enjoy a continuation of it even less. He was glad that Mr. Foster had happened along at this particular juncture. Excusing himself briefly, he hurried off down the street.
Sally stood for a minute, watching him till he had disappeared round the corner. She had a slightly regretful feeling that, now it was too late, she would think of a whole lot more good things which it would have been agreeable to say to him. And it had become obvious to her that Fillmore was not getting nearly enough of that kind of thing said to him nowadays. Then she dismissed him from her mind and turning to Gerald Foster, slipped her arm through his.
"Well, Jerry, darling," she said. "What a shame you couldn't come to the party. Tell me all about everything."
It was exactly two months since Sally had become engaged to Gerald Foster; but so rigorously had they kept the secret that nobody at Mrs. Meecher's so much as suspected it. To Sally, who all her life had hated concealing things, secrecy of any kind was objectionable: but in this matter Gerald had shown an odd streak almost of furtiveness in his character. An announced engagement complicated life. People fussed about you and bothered you. People either watched you or avoided you. Such were his arguments, and Sally, who would have glossed over and found excuses for a disposition on his part towards homicide or arson, put them down to artistic sensitiveness. There is nobody so sensitive as your artist, particularly if he be unsuccessful: and when an artist has so little success that he cannot afford to make a home for the woman he loves, his sensitiveness presumably becomes great indeed. Putting herself in his place, Sally could see that a protracted engagement, known by everybody, would be a standing advertisement of Gerald's failure to make good: and she acquiesced in the policy of secrecy, hoping that it would not last long. It seemed absurd to think of Gerald as an unsuccessful man. He had in him, as the recent Fillmore had perceived, something dynamic. He was one of those men of whom one could predict that they would succeed very suddenly and rapidly—overnight, as it were.
"The party," said Sally, "went off splendidly." They had passed the boarding-house door, and were walking slowly down the street. "Everybody enjoyed themselves, I think, even though Fillmore did his best to spoil things by coming looking like an advertisement of What The Smart Men Will Wear This Season. You didn't see his waistcoat just now. He had covered it up. Conscience, I suppose. It was white and bulgy and gleaming and full up of pearl buttons and everything. I saw Augustus Bartlett curl up like a burnt feather when he caught sight of it. Still, time seemed to heal the wound, and everybody relaxed after a bit. Mr. Faucitt made a speech and I made a speech and cried, and...oh, it was all very festive. It only needed you."
"I wish I could have come. I had to go to that dinner, though. Sally..." Gerald paused, and Sally saw that he was electric with suppressed excitement. "Sally, the play's going to be put on!"
Sally gave a little gasp. She had lived this moment in anticipation for weeks. She had always known that sooner or later this would happen. She had read his plays over and over again, and was convinced that they were wonderful. Of course, hers was a biased view, but then Elsa Doland also admired them; and Elsa's opinion was one that carried weight. Elsa was another of those people who were bound to succeed suddenly. Even old Mr. Faucitt, who was a stern judge of acting and rather inclined to consider that nowadays there was no such thing, believed that she was a girl with a future who would do something big directly she got her chance.
"Jerry!" She gave his arm a hug. "How simply terrific! Then Goble and Kohn have changed their minds after all and want it? I knew they would."
A slight cloud seemed to dim the sunniness of the author's mood.
"No, not that one," he said reluctantly. "No hope there, I'm afraid. I saw Goble this morning about that, and he said it didn't add up right. The one that's going to be put on is 'The Primrose Way.' You remember? It's got a big part for a girl in it."
"Of course! The one Elsa liked so much. Well, that's just as good. Who's going to do it? I thought you hadn't sent it out again."
"Well, it happens..." Gerald hesitated once more. "It seems that this man I was dining with to-night—a man named Cracknell..."
"Cracknell? Not the Cracknell?"
"The one people are always talking about. The man they call the Millionaire Kid."
"Yes. Why, do you know him?"
"He was at Harvard with Fillmore. I never saw him, but he must be rather a painful person."
"Oh, he's all right. Not much brains, of course, but—well, he's all right. And, anyway, he wants to put the play on."
"Well, that's splendid," said Sally: but she could not get the right ring of enthusiasm into her voice. She had had ideals for Gerald. She had dreamed of him invading Broadway triumphantly under the banner of one of the big managers whose name carried a prestige, and there seemed something unworthy in this association with a man whose chief claim to eminence lay in the fact that he was credited by metropolitan gossip with possessing the largest private stock of alcohol in existence.
"I thought you would be pleased," said Gerald.
"Oh, I am," said Sally.
With the buoyant optimism which never deserted her for long, she had already begun to cast off her momentary depression. After all, did it matter who financed a play so long as it obtained a production? A manager was simply a piece of machinery for paying the bills; and if he had money for that purpose, why demand asceticism and the finer sensibilities from him? The real thing that mattered was the question of who was going to play the leading part, that deftly drawn character which had so excited the admiration of Elsa Doland. She sought information on this point.
"Who will play Ruth?" she asked. "You must have somebody wonderful. It needs a tremendously clever woman. Did Mr. Cracknell say anything about that?"
"Oh, yes, we discussed that, of course."
"Well, it seems..." Again Sally noticed that odd, almost stealthy embarrassment. Gerald appeared unable to begin a sentence to-night without feeling his way into it like a man creeping cautiously down a dark alley. She noticed it the more because it was so different from his usual direct method. Gerald, as a rule, was not one of those who apologize for themselves. He was forthright and masterful and inclined to talk to her from a height. To-night he seemed different.
He broke off, was silent for a moment, and began again with a question.
"Do you know Mabel Hobson?"
"Mabel Hobson? I've seen her in the 'Follies,' of course."
Sally started. A suspicion had stung her, so monstrous that its absurdity became manifest the moment it had formed. And yet was it absurd? Most Broadway gossip filtered eventually into the boarding-house, chiefly through the medium of that seasoned sport, the mild young man who thought so highly of the redoubtable Benny Whistler, and she was aware that the name of Reginald Cracknell, which was always getting itself linked with somebody, had been coupled with that of Miss Hobson. It seemed likely that in this instance rumour spoke truth, for the lady was of that compellingly blonde beauty which attracts the Cracknells of this world. But even so...
"It seems that Cracknell..." said Gerald. "Apparently this man Cracknell..." He was finding Sally's bright, horrified gaze somewhat trying. "Well, the fact is Cracknell believes in Mabel Hobson...and... well, he thinks this part would suit her."
Could infatuation go to such a length? Could even the spacious heart of a Reginald Cracknell so dominate that gentleman's small size in heads as to make him entrust a part like Ruth in "The Primrose Way" to one who, when desired by the producer of her last revue to carry a bowl of roses across the stage and place it on a table, had rebelled on the plea that she had not been engaged as a dancer? Surely even lovelorn Reginald could perceive that this was not the stuff of which great emotional actresses are made.
"Oh, Jerry!" she said again.
There was an uncomfortable silence. They turned and walked back in the direction of the boarding-house. Somehow Gerald's arm had managed to get itself detached from Sally's. She was conscious of a curious dull ache that was almost like a physical pain.
"Jerry! Is it worth it?" she burst out vehemently.
The question seemed to sting the young man into something like his usual decisive speech.
"Worth it? Of course it's worth it. It's a Broadway production. That's all that matters. Good heavens! I've been trying long enough to get a play on Broadway, and it isn't likely that I'm going to chuck away my chance when it comes along just because one might do better in the way of casting."
"But, Jerry! Mabel Hobson! It's... it's murder! Murder in the first degree."
"Nonsense. She'll be all right. The part will play itself. Besides, she has a personality and a following, and Cracknell will spend all the money in the world to make the thing a success. And it will be a start, whatever happens. Of course, it's worth it."
Fillmore would have been impressed by this speech. He would have recognized and respected in it the unmistakable ring which characterizes even the lightest utterances of those who get there. On Sally it had not immediately that effect. Nevertheless, her habit of making the best of things, working together with that primary article of her creed that the man she loved could do no wrong, succeeded finally in raising her spirits. Of course Jerry was right. It would have been foolish to refuse a contract because all its clauses were not ideal.
"You old darling," she said affectionately attaching herself to the vacant arm once more and giving it a penitent squeeze, "you're quite right. Of course you are. I can see it now. I was only a little startled at first. Everything's going to be wonderful. Let's get all our chickens out and count 'em. How are you going to spend the money?"
"I know how I'm going to spend a dollar of it," said Gerald completely restored.
"I mean the big money. What's a dollar?"
"It pays for a marriage-licence."
Sally gave his arm another squeeze.
"Ladies and gentlemen," she said. "Look at this man. Observe him. My partner!"
CHAPTER II. ENTER GINGER
Sally was sitting with her back against a hillock of golden sand, watching with half-closed eyes the denizens of Roville-sur-Mer at their familiar morning occupations. At Roville, as at most French seashore resorts, the morning is the time when the visiting population assembles in force on the beach. Whiskered fathers of families made cheerful patches of colour in the foreground. Their female friends and relatives clustered in groups under gay parasols. Dogs roamed to and fro, and children dug industriously with spades, ever and anon suspending their labours in order to smite one another with these handy implements. One of the dogs, a poodle of military aspect, wandered up to Sally: and discovering that she was in possession of a box of sweets, decided to remain and await developments.
Few things are so pleasant as the anticipation of them, but Sally's vacation had proved an exception to this rule. It had been a magic month of lazy happiness. She had drifted luxuriously from one French town to another, till the charm of Roville, with its blue sky, its Casino, its snow-white hotels along the Promenade, and its general glitter and gaiety, had brought her to a halt. Here she could have stayed indefinitely, but the voice of America was calling her back. Gerald had written to say that "The Primrose Way" was to be produced in Detroit, preliminary to its New York run, so soon that, if she wished to see the opening, she must return at once. A scrappy, hurried, unsatisfactory letter, the letter of a busy man: but one that Sally could not ignore. She was leaving Roville to-morrow.
To-day, however, was to-day: and she sat and watched the bathers with a familiar feeling of peace, revelling as usual in the still novel sensation of having nothing to do but bask in the warm sunshine and listen to the faint murmur of the little waves.
But, if there was one drawback, she had discovered, to a morning on the Roville plage, it was that you had a tendency to fall asleep: and this is a degrading thing to do so soon after breakfast, even if you are on a holiday. Usually, Sally fought stoutly against the temptation, but to-day the sun was so warm and the whisper of the waves so insinuating that she had almost dozed off, when she was aroused by voices close at hand. There were many voices on the beach, both near and distant, but these were talking English, a novelty in Roville, and the sound of the familiar tongue jerked Sally back from the borders of sleep. A few feet away, two men had seated themselves on the sand.
From the first moment she had set out on her travels, it had been one of Sally's principal amusements to examine the strangers whom chance threw in her way and to try by the light of her intuition to fit them out with characters and occupations: nor had she been discouraged by an almost consistent failure to guess right. Out of the corner of her eye she inspected these two men.
The first of the pair did not attract her. He was a tall, dark man whose tight, precise mouth and rather high cheeks bones gave him an appearance vaguely sinister. He had the dusky look of the clean-shaven man whose life is a perpetual struggle with a determined beard. He certainly shaved twice a day, and just as certainly had the self-control not to swear when he cut himself. She could picture him smiling nastily when this happened.
"Hard," diagnosed Sally. "I shouldn't like him. A lawyer or something, I think."
She turned to the other and found herself looking into his eyes. This was because he had been staring at Sally with the utmost intentness ever since his arrival. His mouth had opened slightly. He had the air of a man who, after many disappointments, has at last found something worth looking at.
"Rather a dear," decided Sally.
He was a sturdy, thick-set young man with an amiable, freckled face and the reddest hair Sally had ever seen. He had a square chin, and at one angle of the chin a slight cut. And Sally was convinced that, however he had behaved on receipt of that wound, it had not been with superior self-control.
"A temper, I should think," she meditated. "Very quick, but soon over. Not very clever, I should say, but nice."
She looked away, finding his fascinated gaze a little embarrassing.
The dark man, who in the objectionably competent fashion which, one felt, characterized all his actions, had just succeeded in lighting a cigarette in the teeth of a strong breeze, threw away the match and resumed the conversation, which had presumably been interrupted by the process of sitting down.
"And how is Scrymgeour?" he inquired.
"Oh, all right," replied the young man with red hair absently. Sally was looking straight in front of her, but she felt that his eyes were still busy.
"I was surprised at his being here. He told me he meant to stay in Paris."
There was a slight pause. Sally gave the attentive poodle a piece of nougat.
"I say," observed the red-haired young man in clear, penetrating tones that vibrated with intense feeling, "that's the prettiest girl I've seen in my life!"
At this frank revelation of the red-haired young man's personal opinions, Sally, though considerably startled, was not displeased. A broad-minded girl, the outburst seemed to her a legitimate comment on a matter of public interest. The young man's companion, on the other hand, was unmixedly shocked.
"My dear fellow!" he ejaculated.
"Oh, it's all right," said the red-haired young man, unmoved. "She can't understand. There isn't a bally soul in this dashed place that can speak a word of English. If I didn't happen to remember a few odd bits of French, I should have starved by this time. That girl," he went on, returning to the subject most imperatively occupying his mind, "is an absolute topper! I give you my solemn word I've never seen anybody to touch her. Look at those hands and feet. You don't get them outside France. Of course, her mouth is a bit wide," he said reluctantly.
Sally's immobility, added to the other's assurance concerning the linguistic deficiencies of the inhabitants of Roville, seemed to reassure the dark man. He breathed again. At no period of his life had he ever behaved with anything but the most scrupulous correctness himself, but he had quailed at the idea of being associated even remotely with incorrectness in another. It had been a black moment for him when the red-haired young man had uttered those few kind words.
"Still you ought to be careful," he said austerely.
He looked at Sally, who was now dividing her attention between the poodle and a raffish-looking mongrel, who had joined the party, and returned to the topic of the mysterious Scrymgeour.
"How is Scrymgeour's dyspepsia?"
The red-haired young man seemed but faintly interested in the vicissitudes of Scrymgeour's interior.
"Do you notice the way her hair sort of curls over her ears?" he said. "Eh? Oh, pretty much the same, I think."
"What hotel are you staying at?"
Sally, dipping into the box for another chocolate cream, gave an imperceptible start. She, too, was staying at the Normandie. She presumed that her admirer was a recent arrival, for she had seen nothing of him at the hotel.
"The Normandie?" The dark man looked puzzled. "I know Roville pretty well by report, but I've never heard of any Hotel Normandie. Where is it?"
"It's a little shanty down near the station. Not much of a place. Still, it's cheap, and the cooking's all right."
His companion's bewilderment increased.
"What on earth is a man like Scrymgeour doing there?" he said. Sally was conscious of an urgent desire to know more and more about the absent Scrymgeour. Constant repetition of his name had made him seem almost like an old friend. "If there's one thing he's fussy about..."
"There are at least eleven thousand things he's fussy about," interrupted the red-haired young man disapprovingly. "Jumpy old blighter!"
"If there's one thing he's particular about, it's the sort of hotel he goes to. Ever since I've known him he has always wanted the best. I should have thought he would have gone to the Splendide." He mused on this problem in a dissatisfied sort of way for a moment, then seemed to reconcile himself to the fact that a rich man's eccentricities must be humoured. "I'd like to see him again. Ask him if he will dine with me at the Splendide to-night. Say eight sharp."
Sally, occupied with her dogs, whose numbers had now been augmented by a white terrier with a black patch over its left eye, could not see the young man's face: but his voice, when he replied, told her that something was wrong. There was a false airiness in it.
"Oh, Scrymgeour isn't in Roville."
"No? Where is he?"
"Paris, I believe."
"What!" The dark man's voice sharpened. He sounded as though he were cross-examining a reluctant witness. "Then why aren't you there? What are you doing here? Did he give you a holiday?"
"Yes, he did."
"When do you rejoin him?"
The red-haired young man's manner was not unmistakably dogged.
"Well, if you want to know," he said, "the old blighter fired me the day before yesterday."
There was a shuffling of sand as the dark man sprang up. Sally, intent on the drama which was unfolding itself beside her, absent-mindedly gave the poodle a piece of nougat which should by rights have gone to the terrier. She shot a swift glance sideways, and saw the dark man standing in an attitude rather reminiscent of the stern father of melodrama about to drive his erring daughter out into the snow. The red-haired young man, outwardly stolid, was gazing before him down the beach at a fat bather in an orange suit who, after six false starts, was now actually in the water, floating with the dignity of a wrecked balloon.
"Do you mean to tell me," demanded the dark man, "that, after all the trouble the family took to get you what was practically a sinecure with endless possibilities if you only behaved yourself, you have deliberately thrown away..." A despairing gesture completed the sentence. "Good God, you're hopeless!"
The red-haired young man made no reply. He continued to gaze down the beach. Of all outdoor sports, few are more stimulating than watching middle-aged Frenchmen bathe. Drama, action, suspense, all are here. From the first stealthy testing of the water with an apprehensive toe to the final seal-like plunge, there is never a dull moment. And apart from the excitement of the thing, judging it from a purely aesthetic standpoint, his must be a dull soul who can fail to be uplifted by the spectacle of a series of very stout men with whiskers, seen in tight bathing suits against a background of brightest blue. Yet the young man with red hair, recently in the employment of Mr. Scrymgeour, eyed this free circus without any enjoyment whatever.
"It's maddening! What are you going to do? What do you expect us to do? Are we to spend our whole lives getting you positions which you won't keep? I can tell you we're... it's monstrous! It's sickening! Good God!"
And with these words the dark man, apparently feeling, as Sally had sometimes felt in the society of her brother Fillmore, the futility of mere language, turned sharply and stalked away up the beach, the dignity of his exit somewhat marred a moment later by the fact of his straw hat blowing off and being trodden on by a passing child.
He left behind him the sort of electric calm which follows the falling of a thunderbolt; that stunned calm through which the air seems still to quiver protestingly. How long this would have lasted one cannot say: for towards the end of the first minute it was shattered by a purely terrestrial uproar. With an abruptness heralded only by one short, low gurgling snarl, there sprang into being the prettiest dog fight that Roville had seen that season.
It was the terrier with the black patch who began it. That was Sally's opinion: and such, one feels, will be the verdict of history. His best friend, anxious to make out a case for him, could not have denied that he fired the first gun of the campaign. But we must be just. The fault was really Sally's. Absorbed in the scene which had just concluded and acutely inquisitive as to why the shadowy Scrymgeour had seen fit to dispense with the red-haired young man's services, she had thrice in succession helped the poodle out of his turn. The third occasion was too much for the terrier.
There is about any dog fight a wild, gusty fury which affects the average mortal with something of the helplessness induced by some vast clashing of the elements. It seems so outside one's jurisdiction. One is oppressed with a sense of the futility of interference. And this was no ordinary dog fight. It was a stunning melee, which would have excited favourable comment even among the blase residents of a negro quarter or the not easily-pleased critics of a Lancashire mining-village. From all over the beach dogs of every size, breed, and colour were racing to the scene: and while some of these merely remained in the ringside seats and barked, a considerable proportion immediately started fighting one another on general principles, well content to be in action without bothering about first causes. The terrier had got the poodle by the left hind-leg and was restating his war-aims. The raffish mongrel was apparently endeavouring to fletcherize a complete stranger of the Sealyham family.
Sally was frankly unequal to the situation, as were the entire crowd of spectators who had come galloping up from the water's edge. She had been paralysed from the start. Snarling bundles bumped against her legs and bounced away again, but she made no move. Advice in fluent French rent the air. Arms waved, and well-filled bathing suits leaped up and down. But nobody did anything practical until in the centre of the theatre of war there suddenly appeared the red-haired young man.
The only reason why dog fights do not go on for ever is that Providence has decided that on each such occasion there shall always be among those present one Master Mind; one wizard who, whatever his shortcomings in other battles of life, is in this single particular sphere competent and dominating. At Roville-sur-Mer it was the red-haired young man. His dark companion might have turned from him in disgust: his services might not have seemed worth retaining by the haughty Scrymgeour: he might be a pain in the neck to "the family"; but he did know how to stop a dog fight. From the first moment of his intervention calm began to steal over the scene. He had the same effect on the almost inextricably entwined belligerents as, in mediaeval legend, the Holy Grail, sliding down the sunbeam, used to have on battling knights. He did not look like a dove of peace, but the most captious could not have denied that he brought home the goods. There was a magic in his soothing hands, a spell in his voice: and in a shorter time than one would have believed possible dog after dog had been sorted out and calmed down; until presently all that was left of Armageddon was one solitary small Scotch terrier, thoughtfully licking a chewed leg. The rest of the combatants, once more in their right mind and wondering what all the fuss was about, had been captured and haled away in a whirl of recrimination by voluble owners.
Having achieved this miracle, the young man turned to Sally. Gallant, one might say reckless, as he had been a moment before, he now gave indications of a rather pleasing shyness. He braced himself with that painful air of effort which announces to the world that an Englishman is about to speak a language other than his own.
"J'espere," he said, having swallowed once or twice to brace himself up for the journey through the jungle of a foreign tongue, "J'espere que vous n'etes pas—oh, dammit, what's the word—J'espere que vous n'etes pas blessee?"
"Yes, blessee. Wounded. Hurt, don't you know. Bitten. Oh, dash it. J'espere..."
"Oh, bitten!" said Sally, dimpling. "Oh, no, thanks very much. I wasn't bitten. And I think it was awfully brave of you to save all our lives."
The compliment seemed to pass over the young man's head. He stared at Sally with horrified eyes. Over his amiable face there swept a vivid blush. His jaw dropped.
"Oh, my sainted aunt!" he ejaculated.
Then, as if the situation was too much for him and flights the only possible solution, he spun round and disappeared at a walk so rapid that it was almost a run. Sally watched him go and was sorry that he had torn himself away. She still wanted to know why Scrymgeour had fired him.
Bedtime at Roville is an hour that seems to vary according to one's proximity to the sea. The gilded palaces along the front keep deplorable hours, polluting the night air till dawn with indefatigable jazz: but at the pensions of the economical like the Normandie, early to bed is the rule. True, Jules, the stout young native who combined the offices of night-clerk and lift attendant at that establishment, was on duty in the hall throughout the night, but few of the Normandie's patrons made use of his services.
Sally, entering shortly before twelve o'clock on the night of the day on which the dark man, the red-haired young man, and their friend Scrymgeour had come into her life, found the little hall dim and silent. Through the iron cage of the lift a single faint bulb glowed: another, over the desk in the far corner, illuminated the upper half of Jules, slumbering in a chair. Jules seemed to Sally to be on duty in some capacity or other all the time. His work, like women's, was never done. He was now restoring his tissues with a few winks of much-needed beauty sleep. Sally, who had been to the Casino to hear the band and afterwards had strolled on the moonlit promenade, had a guilty sense of intrusion.
As she stood there, reluctant to break in on Jules' rest—for her sympathetic heart, always at the disposal of the oppressed, had long ached for this overworked peon—she was relieved to hear footsteps in the street outside, followed by the opening of the front door. If Jules would have had to wake up anyway, she felt her sense of responsibility lessened. The door, having opened, closed again with a bang. Jules stirred, gurgled, blinked, and sat up, and Sally, turning, perceived that the new arrival was the red-haired young man.
"Oh, good evening," said Sally welcomingly.
The young man stopped, and shuffled uncomfortably. The morning's happenings were obviously still green in his memory. He had either not ceased blushing since their last meeting or he was celebrating their reunion by beginning to blush again: for his face was a familiar scarlet.
"Er—good evening," he said, disentangling his feet, which, in the embarrassment of the moment, had somehow got coiled up together.
"Or bon soir, I suppose you would say," murmured Sally.
The young man acknowledged receipt of this thrust by dropping his hat and tripping over it as he stooped to pick it up.
Jules, meanwhile, who had been navigating in a sort of somnambulistic trance in the neighbourhood of the lift, now threw back the cage with a rattle.
"It's a shame to have woken you up," said Sally, commiseratingly, stepping in.
Jules did not reply, for the excellent reason that he had not been woken up. Constant practice enabled him to do this sort of work without breaking his slumber. His brain, if you could call it that, was working automatically. He had shut up the gate with a clang and was tugging sluggishly at the correct rope, so that the lift was going slowly up instead of retiring down into the basement, but he was not awake.
Sally and the red-haired young man sat side by side on the small seat, watching their conductor's efforts. After the first spurt, conversation had languished. Sally had nothing of immediate interest to say, and her companion seemed to be one of these strong, silent men you read about. Only a slight snore from Jules broke the silence.
At the third floor Sally leaned forward and prodded Jules in the lower ribs. All through her stay at Roville, she had found in dealing with the native population that actions spoke louder than words. If she wanted anything in a restaurant or at a shop, she pointed; and, when she wished the lift to stop, she prodded the man in charge. It was a system worth a dozen French conversation books.
Jules brought the machine to a halt: and it was at this point that he should have done the one thing connected with his professional activities which he did really well—the opening, to wit, of the iron cage. There are ways of doing this. Jules' was the right way. He was accustomed to do it with a flourish, and generally remarked "V'la!" in a modest but self-congratulatory voice as though he would have liked to see another man who could have put through a job like that. Jules' opinion was that he might not be much to look at, but that he could open a lift door.
To-night, however, it seemed as if even this not very exacting feat was beyond his powers. Instead of inserting his key in the lock, he stood staring in an attitude of frozen horror. He was a man who took most things in life pretty seriously, and whatever was the little difficulty just now seemed to have broken him all up.
"There appears," said Sally, turning to her companion, "to be a hitch. Would you mind asking what's the matter? I don't know any French myself except 'oo la la!'"
The young man, thus appealed to, nerved himself to the task. He eyed the melancholy Jules doubtfully, and coughed in a strangled sort of way.
"Oh, esker... esker vous..."
"Don't weaken," said Sally. "I think you've got him going."
"Esker vous... Pourquoi vous ne... I mean ne vous... that is to say, quel est le raison..."
He broke off here, because at this point Jules began to explain. He explained very rapidly and at considerable length. The fact that neither of his hearers understood a word of what he was saying appeared not to have impressed itself upon him. Or, if he gave a thought to it, he dismissed the objection as trifling. He wanted to explain, and he explained. Words rushed from him like water from a geyser. Sounds which you felt you would have been able to put a meaning to if he had detached them from the main body and repeated them slowly, went swirling down the stream and were lost for ever.
"Stop him!" said Sally firmly.
The red-haired young man looked as a native of Johnstown might have looked on being requested to stop that city's celebrated flood.
"Yes. Blow a whistle or something."
Out of the depths of the young man's memory there swam to the surface a single word—a word which he must have heard somewhere or read somewhere: a legacy, perhaps, from long-vanished school-days.
"Zut!" he barked, and instantaneously Jules turned himself off at the main. There was a moment of dazed silence, such as might occur in a boiler-factory if the works suddenly shut down.
"Quick! Now you've got him!" cried Sally. "Ask him what he's talking about—if he knows, which I doubt—and tell him to speak slowly. Then we shall get somewhere."
The young man nodded intelligently. The advice was good.
"Lentement," he said. "Parlez lentement. Pas si—you know what I mean—pas si dashed vite!"
"Ah-a-ah!" cried Jules, catching the idea on the fly. "Lentement. Ah, oui, lentement."
There followed a lengthy conversation which, while conveying nothing to Sally, seemed intelligible to the red-haired linguist.
"The silly ass," he was able to announce some few minutes later, "has made a bloomer. Apparently he was half asleep when we came in, and he shoved us into the lift and slammed the door, forgetting that he had left the keys on the desk."
"I see," said Sally. "So we're shut in?"
"I'm afraid so. I wish to goodness," said the young man, "I knew French well. I'd curse him with some vim and not a little animation, the chump! I wonder what 'blighter' is in French," he said, meditating.
"It's the merest suggestion," said Sally, "but oughtn't we to do something?"
"What could we do?"
"Well, for one thing, we might all utter a loud yell. It would scare most of the people in the hotel to death, but there might be a survivor or two who would come and investigate and let us out."
"What a ripping idea!" said the young man, impressed.
"I'm glad you like it. Now tell him the main out-line, or he'll think we've gone mad."
The young man searched for words, and eventually found some which expressed his meaning lamely but well enough to cause Jules to nod in a depressed sort of way.
"Fine!" said Sally. "Now, all together at the word 'three.' One—two—Oh, poor darling!" she broke off. "Look at him!"
In the far corner of the lift, the emotional Jules was sobbing silently into the bunch of cotton-waste which served him in the office of a pocket-handkerchief. His broken-hearted gulps echoed hollowly down the shaft.
In these days of cheap books of instruction on every subject under the sun, we most of us know how to behave in the majority of life's little crises. We have only ourselves to blame if we are ignorant of what to do before the doctor comes, of how to make a dainty winter coat for baby out of father's last year's under-vest and of the best method of coping with the cold mutton. But nobody yet has come forward with practical advice as to the correct method of behaviour to be adopted when a lift-attendant starts crying. And Sally and her companion, as a consequence, for a few moments merely stared at each other helplessly.
"Poor darling!" said Sally, finding speech. "Ask him what's the matter."
The young man looked at her doubtfully.
"You know," he said, "I don't enjoy chatting with this blighter. I mean to say, it's a bit of an effort. I don't know why it is, but talking French always makes me feel as if my nose were coming off. Couldn't we just leave him to have his cry out by himself?"
"The idea!" said Sally. "Have you no heart? Are you one of those fiends in human shape?"
He turned reluctantly to Jules, and paused to overhaul his vocabulary.
"You ought to be thankful for this chance," said Sally. "It's the only real way of learning French, and you're getting a lesson for nothing. What did he say then?"
"Something about losing something, it seemed to me. I thought I caught the word perdu."
"But that means a partridge, doesn't it? I'm sure I've seen it on the menus."
"Would he talk about partridges at a time like this?"
"He might. The French are extraordinary people."
"Well, I'll have another go at him. But he's a difficult chap to chat with. If you give him the least encouragement, he sort of goes off like a rocket." He addressed another question to the sufferer, and listened attentively to the voluble reply.
"Oh!" he said with sudden enlightenment. "Your job?" He turned to Sally. "I got it that time," he said. "The trouble is, he says, that if we yell and rouse the house, we'll get out all right, but he will lose his job, because this is the second time this sort of thing has happened, and they warned him last time that once more would mean the push."
"Then we mustn't dream of yelling," said Sally, decidedly. "It means a pretty long wait, you know. As far as I can gather, there's just a chance of somebody else coming in later, in which case he could let us out. But it's doubtful. He rather thinks that everybody has gone to roost."
"Well, we must try it. I wouldn't think of losing the poor man his job. Tell him to take the car down to the ground-floor, and then we'll just sit and amuse ourselves till something happens. We've lots to talk about. We can tell each other the story of our lives."
Jules, cheered by his victims' kindly forbearance, lowered the car to the ground floor, where, after a glance of infinite longing at the keys on the distant desk, the sort of glance which Moses must have cast at the Promised Land from the summit of Mount Pisgah, he sagged down in a heap and resumed his slumbers. Sally settled herself as comfortably as possible in her corner.
"You'd better smoke," she said. "It will be something to do."
"And now," said Sally, "tell me why Scrymgeour fired you."
Little by little, under the stimulating influence of this nocturnal adventure, the red-haired young man had lost that shy confusion which had rendered him so ill at ease when he had encountered Sally in the hall of the hotel; but at this question embarrassment gripped him once more. Another of those comprehensive blushes of his raced over his face, and he stammered.
"I say, I'm glad... I'm fearfully sorry about that, you know!"
"You know what I mean. I mean, about making such a most ghastly ass of myself this morning. I... I never dreamed you understood English."
"Why, I didn't object. I thought you were very nice and complimentary. Of course, I don't know how many girls you've seen in your life, but..."
"No, I say, don't! It makes me feel such a chump."
"And I'm sorry about my mouth. It is wide. But I know you're a fair-minded man and realize that it isn't my fault."
"Don't rub it in," pleaded the young man. "As a matter of fact, if you want to know, I think your mouth is absolutely perfect. I think," he proceeded, a little feverishly, "that you are the most indescribable topper that ever..."
"You were going to tell me about Scrymgeour," said Sally.
The young man blinked as if he had collided with some hard object while sleep-walking. Eloquence had carried him away.
"Scrymgeour?" he said. "Oh, that would bore you."
"Don't be silly," said Sally reprovingly. "Can't you realize that we're practically castaways on a desert island? There's nothing to do till to-morrow but talk about ourselves. I want to hear all about you, and then I'll tell you all about myself. If you feel diffident about starting the revelations, I'll begin. Better start with names. Mine is Sally Nicholas. What's yours?"
"Mine? Oh, ah, yes, I see what you mean."
"I thought you would. I put it as clearly as I could. Well, what is it?"
"And the first name?"
"Well, as a matter of fact," said the young man, "I've always rather hushed up my first name, because when I was christened they worked a low-down trick on me!"
"You can't shock me," said Sally, encouragingly. "My father's name was Ezekiel, and I've a brother who was christened Fillmore."
Mr. Kemp brightened. "Well, mine isn't as bad as that... No, I don't mean that," he broke off apologetically. "Both awfully jolly names, of course..."
"Get on," said Sally.
"Well, they called me Lancelot. And, of course, the thing is that I don't look like a Lancelot and never shall. My pals," he added in a more cheerful strain, "call me Ginger."
"I don't blame them," said Sally.
"Perhaps you wouldn't mind thinking of me as Ginger?'' suggested the young man diffidently.
"That's awfully good of you."
"Not at all."
Jules stirred in his sleep and grunted. No other sound came to disturb the stillness of the night.
"You were going to tell me about yourself?" said Mr. Lancelot (Ginger) Kemp.
"I'm going to tell you all about myself," said Sally, "not because I think it will interest you..."
"Oh, it will!"
"Not, I say, because I think it will interest you..."
"It will, really."
Sally looked at him coldly.
"Is this a duet?" she inquired, "or have I the floor?"
"I'm awfully sorry."
"Not, I repeat for the third time, because I think It will interest you, but because if I do you won't have any excuse for not telling me your life-history, and you wouldn't believe how inquisitive I am. Well, in the first place, I live in America. I'm over here on a holiday. And it's the first real holiday I've had in three years—since I left home, in fact." Sally paused. "I ran away from home," she said.
"Good egg!" said Ginger Kemp.
"I beg your pardon?"
"I mean, quite right. I bet you were quite right."
"When I say home," Sally went on, "it was only a sort of imitation home, you know. One of those just-as-good homes which are never as satisfactory as the real kind. My father and mother both died a good many years ago. My brother and I were dumped down on the reluctant doorstep of an uncle."
"Uncles," said Ginger Kemp, feelingly, "are the devil. I've got an... but I'm interrupting you."
"My uncle was our trustee. He had control of all my brother's money and mine till I was twenty-one. My brother was to get his when he was twenty-five. My poor father trusted him blindly, and what do you think happened?"
"Good Lord! The blighter embezzled the lot?"
"No, not a cent. Wasn't it extraordinary! Have you ever heard of a blindly trusted uncle who was perfectly honest? Well, mine was. But the trouble was that, while an excellent man to have looking after one's money, he wasn't a very lovable character. He was very hard. Hard! He was as hard as—well, nearly as hard as this seat. He hated poor Fill..."
"I broke it to you just now that my brother's name was Fillmore."
"Oh, your brother. Oh, ah, yes."
"He was always picking on poor Fill. And I'm bound to say that Fill rather laid himself out as what you might call a pickee. He was always getting into trouble. One day, about three years ago, he was expelled from Harvard, and my uncle vowed he would have nothing more to do with him. So I said, if Fill left, I would leave. And, as this seemed to be my uncle's idea of a large evening, no objection was raised, and Fill and I departed. We went to New York, and there we've been ever since. About six months' ago Fill passed the twenty-five mark and collected his money, and last month I marched past the given point and got mine. So it all ends happily, you see. Now tell me about yourself."
"But, I say, you know, dash it, you've skipped a lot. I mean to say, you must have had an awful time in New York, didn't you? How on earth did you get along?"
"Oh, we found work. My brother tried one or two things, and finally became an assistant stage-manager with some theatre people. The only thing I could do, having been raised in enervating luxury, was ballroom dancing, so I ball-room danced. I got a job at a place in Broadway called 'The Flower Garden' as what is humorously called an 'instructress,' as if anybody could 'instruct' the men who came there. One was lucky if one saved one's life and wasn't quashed to death."
"How perfectly foul!"
"Oh, I don't know. It was rather fun for a while. Still," said Sally, meditatively, "I'm not saying I could have held out much longer: I was beginning to give. I suppose I've been trampled underfoot by more fat men than any other girl of my age in America. I don't know why it was, but every man who came in who was a bit overweight seemed to make for me by instinct. That's why I like to sit on the sands here and watch these Frenchmen bathing. It's just heavenly to lie back and watch a two hundred and fifty pound man, coming along and feel that he isn't going to dance with me."
"But, I say! How absolutely rotten it must have been for you!"
"Well, I'll tell you one thing. It's going to make me a very domesticated wife one of these days. You won't find me gadding about in gilded jazz-palaces! For me, a little place in the country somewhere, with my knitting and an Elsie book, and bed at half-past nine! And now tell me the story of your life. And make it long because I'm perfectly certain there's going to be no relief-expedition. I'm sure the last dweller under this roof came in years ago. We shall be here till morning."
"I really think we had better shout, you know."
"And lose Jules his job? Never!"
"Well, of course, I'm sorry for poor old Jules' troubles, but I hate to think of you having to..."
"Now get on with the story," said Sally.
Ginger Kemp exhibited some of the symptoms of a young bridegroom called upon at a wedding-breakfast to respond to the toast. He moved his feet restlessly and twisted his fingers.
"I hate talking about myself, you know," he said.
"So I supposed," said Sally. "That's why I gave you my autobiography first, to give you no chance of backing out. Don't be such a shrinking violet. We're all shipwrecked mariners here. I am intensely interested in your narrative. And, even if I wasn't, I'd much rather listen to it than to Jules' snoring."
"He is snoring a bit, what? Does it annoy you? Shall I stir him?"
"You seem to have an extraordinary brutal streak in your nature," said Sally. "You appear to think of nothing else but schemes for harassing poor Jules. Leave him alone for a second, and start telling me about yourself."
"Where shall I start?"
"Well, not with your childhood, I think. We'll skip that."
"Well..." Ginger Kemp knitted his brow, searching for a dramatic opening. "Well, I'm more or less what you might call an orphan, like you. I mean to say, both my people are dead and all that sort of thing."
"Thanks for explaining. That has made it quite clear."
"I can't remember my mother. My father died when I was in my last year at Cambridge. I'd been having a most awfully good time at the 'varsity,'" said Ginger, warming to his theme. "Not thick, you know, but good. I'd got my rugger and boxing blues and I'd just been picked for scrum-half for England against the North in the first trial match, and between ourselves it really did look as if I was more or less of a snip for my international."
Sally gazed at him wide eyed.
"Is that good or bad?" she asked.
"Are you reciting a catalogue of your crimes, or do you expect me to get up and cheer? What is a rugger blue, to start with?"
"Well, it's... it's a rugger blue, you know."
"Oh, I see," said Sally. "You mean a rugger blue."
"I mean to say, I played rugger—footer—that's to say, football—Rugby football—for Cambridge, against Oxford. I was scrum-half."
"And what is a scrum-half?" asked Sally, patiently. "Yes, I know you're going to say it's a scrum-half, but can't you make it easier?"
"The scrum-half," said Ginger, "is the half who works the scrum. He slings the pill out to the fly-half, who starts the three-quarters going. I don't know if you understand?"
"It's dashed hard to explain," said Ginger Kemp, unhappily. "I mean, I don't think I've ever met anyone before who didn't know what a scrum-half was."
"Well, I can see that it has something to do with football, so we'll leave it at that. I suppose it's something like our quarter-back. And what's an international?"
"It's called getting your international when you play for England, you know. England plays Wales, France, Ireland, and Scotland. If it hadn't been for the smash, I think I should have played for England against Wales."
"I see at last. What you're trying to tell me is that you were very good at football."
Ginger Kemp blushed warmly.
"Oh, I don't say that. England was pretty short of scrum-halves that year."
"What a horrible thing to happen to a country! Still, you were likely to be picked on the All-England team when the smash came? What was the smash?"
"Well, it turned out that the poor old pater hadn't left a penny. I never understood the process exactly, but I'd always supposed that we were pretty well off; and then it turned out that I hadn't anything at all. I'm bound to say it was a bit of a jar. I had to come down from Cambridge and go to work in my uncle's office. Of course, I made an absolute hash of it."
"Why, of course?"
"Well, I'm not a very clever sort of chap, you see. I somehow didn't seem able to grasp the workings. After about a year, my uncle, getting a bit fed-up, hoofed me out and got me a mastership at a school, and I made a hash of that. He got me one or two other jobs, and I made a hash of those."
"You certainly do seem to be one of our most prominent young hashers!" gasped Sally.
"I am," said Ginger, modestly.
There was a silence.
"And what about Scrymgeour?" Sally asked.
"That was the last of the jobs," said Ginger. "Scrymgeour is a pompous old ass who thinks he's going to be Prime Minister some day. He's a big bug at the Bar and has just got into Parliament. My cousin used to devil for him. That's how I got mixed up with the blighter."
"Your cousin used...? I wish you would talk English."
"That was my cousin who was with me on the beach this morning."
"And what did you say he used to do for Mr. Scrymgeour?"
"Oh, it's called devilling. My cousin's at the Bar, too—one of our rising nibs, as a matter of fact..."
"I thought he was a lawyer of some kind."
"He's got a long way beyond it now, but when he started he used to devil for Scrymgeour—assist him, don't you know. His name's Carmyle, you know. Perhaps you've heard of him? He's rather a prominent johnny in his way. Bruce Carmyle, you know."
"Well, he got me this job of secretary to Scrymgeour."
"And why did Mr. Scrymgeour fire you?"
Ginger Kemp's face darkened. He frowned. Sally, watching him, felt that she had been right when she had guessed that he had a temper. She liked him none the worse for it. Mild men did not appeal to her.
"I don't know if you're fond of dogs?" said Ginger.
"I used to be before this morning," said Sally. "And I suppose I shall be again in time. For the moment I've had what you might call rather a surfeit of dogs. But aren't you straying from the point? I asked you why Mr. Scrymgeour dismissed you."
"I'm telling you."
"I'm glad of that. I didn't know."
"The old brute," said Ginger, frowning again, "has a dog. A very jolly little spaniel. Great pal of mine. And Scrymgeour is the sort of fool who oughtn't to be allowed to own a dog. He's one of those asses who isn't fit to own a dog. As a matter of fact, of all the blighted, pompous, bullying, shrivelled-souled old devils..."
"One moment," said Sally. "I'm getting an impression that you don't like Mr. Scrymgeour. Am I right?"
"I thought so. Womanly intuition! Go on."
"He used to insist on the poor animal doing tricks. I hate seeing a dog do tricks. Dogs loathe it, you know. They're frightfully sensitive. Well, Scrymgeour used to make this spaniel of his do tricks—fool-things that no self-respecting dogs would do: and eventually poor old Billy got fed up and jibbed. He was too polite to bite, but he sort of shook his head and crawled under a chair. You'd have thought anyone would have let it go at that, but would old Scrymgeour? Not a bit of it! Of all the poisonous..."
"Yes, I know. Go on."
"Well, the thing ended in the blighter hauling him out from under the chair and getting more and more shirty, until finally he laid into him with a stick. That is to say," said Ginger, coldly accurate, "he started laying into him with a stick." He brooded for a moment with knit brows. "A spaniel, mind you! Can you imagine anyone beating a spaniel? It's like hitting a little girl. Well, he's a fairly oldish man, you know, and that hampered me a bit: but I got hold of the stick and broke it into about eleven pieces, and by great good luck it was a stick he happened to value rather highly. It had a gold knob and had been presented to him by his constituents or something. I minced it up a goodish bit, and then I told him a fair amount about himself. And then—well, after that he shot me out, and I came here."
Sally did not speak for a moment.
"You were quite right," she said at last, in a sober voice that had nothing in it of her customary flippancy. She paused again. "And what are you going to do now?" she said.
"I don't know."
"You'll get something?"
"Oh, yes, I shall get something, I suppose. The family will be pretty sick, of course."
"For goodness' sake! Why do you bother about the family?" Sally burst out. She could not reconcile this young man's flabby dependence on his family with the enterprise and vigour which he had shown in his dealings with the unspeakable Scrymgeour. Of course, he had been brought up to look on himself as a rich man's son and appeared to have drifted as such young men are wont to do; but even so... "The whole trouble with you," she said, embarking on a subject on which she held strong views, "is that..."
Her harangue was interrupted by what—at the Normandie, at one o'clock in the morning—practically amounted to a miracle. The front door of the hotel opened, and there entered a young man in evening dress. Such persons were sufficiently rare at the Normandie, which catered principally for the staid and middle-aged, and this youth's presence was due, if one must pause to explain it, to the fact that, in the middle of his stay at Roville, a disastrous evening at the Casino had so diminished his funds that he had been obliged to make a hurried shift from the Hotel Splendide to the humbler Normandie. His late appearance to-night was caused by the fact that he had been attending a dance at the Splendide, principally in the hope of finding there some kind-hearted friend of his prosperity from whom he might borrow.
A rapid-fire dialogue having taken place between Jules and the newcomer, the keys were handed through the cage, the door opened and the lift was set once more in motion. And a few minutes later, Sally, suddenly aware of an overpowering sleepiness, had switched off her light and jumped into bed. Her last waking thought was a regret that she had not been able to speak at length to Mr. Ginger Kemp on the subject of enterprise, and resolve that the address should be delivered at the earliest opportunity.
CHAPTER III. THE DIGNIFIED MR. CARMYLE
By six o'clock on the following evening, however. Sally had been forced to the conclusion that Ginger would have to struggle through life as best he could without the assistance of her contemplated remarks: for she had seen nothing of him all day and in another hour she would have left Roville on the seven-fifteen express which was to take her to Paris, en route for Cherbourg and the liner whereon she had booked her passage for New York.
It was in the faint hope of finding him even now that, at half-past six, having conveyed her baggage to the station and left it in charge of an amiable porter, she paid a last visit to the Casino Municipale. She disliked the thought of leaving Ginger without having uplifted him. Like so many alert and active-minded girls, she possessed in a great degree the quality of interesting herself in—or, as her brother Fillmore preferred to put it, messing about with—the private affairs of others. Ginger had impressed her as a man to whom it was worth while to give a friendly shove on the right path; and it was with much gratification, therefore, that, having entered the Casino, she perceived a flaming head shining through the crowd which had gathered at one of the roulette-tables.
There are two Casinos at Roville-sur-Mer. The one on the Promenade goes in mostly for sea-air and a mild game called boule. It is the big Casino Municipale down in the Palace Massena near the railway station which is the haunt of the earnest gambler who means business; and it was plain to Sally directly she arrived that Ginger Kemp not only meant business but was getting results. Ginger was going extremely strong. He was entrenched behind an opulent-looking mound of square counters: and, even as Sally looked, a wooden-faced croupier shoved a further instalment across the table to him at the end of his long rake.
"Epatant!" murmured a wistful man at Sally's side, removing an elbow from her ribs in order the better to gesticulate. Sally, though no French scholar, gathered that he was startled and gratified. The entire crowd seemed to be startled and gratified. There is undoubtedly a certain altruism in the make-up of the spectators at a Continental roulette-table. They seem to derive a spiritual pleasure from seeing somebody else win.
The croupier gave his moustache a twist with his left hand and the wheel a twist with his right, and silence fell again. Sally, who had shifted to a spot where the pressure of the crowd was less acute, was now able to see Ginger's face, and as she saw it she gave an involuntary laugh. He looked exactly like a dog at a rat-hole. His hair seemed to bristle with excitement. One could almost fancy that his ears were pricked up.
In the tense hush which had fallen on the crowd at the restarting of the wheel, Sally's laugh rang out with an embarrassing clearness. It had a marked effect on all those within hearing. There is something almost of religious ecstasy in the deportment of the spectators at a table where anyone is having a run of luck at roulette, and if she had guffawed in a cathedral she could not have caused a more pained consternation. The earnest worshippers gazed at her with shocked eyes, and Ginger, turning with a start, saw her and jumped up. As he did so, the ball fell with a rattling click into a red compartment of the wheel; and, as it ceased to revolve and it was seen that at last the big winner had picked the wrong colour, a shuddering groan ran through the congregation like that which convulses the penitents' bench at a negro revival meeting. More glances of reproach were cast at Sally. It was generally felt that her injudicious behaviour had changed Ginger's luck.
The only person who did not appear to be concerned was Ginger himself. He gathered up his loot, thrust it into his pocket, and elbowed his way to where Sally stood, now definitely established in the eyes of the crowd as a pariah. There was universal regret that he had decided to call it a day. It was to the spectators as though a star had suddenly walked off the stage in the middle of his big scene; and not even a loud and violent quarrel which sprang up at this moment between two excitable gamblers over a disputed five-franc counter could wholly console them.
"I say," said Ginger, dexterously plucking Sally out of the crowd, "this is topping, meeting you like this. I've been looking for you everywhere."
"It's funny you didn't find me, then, for that's where I've been. I was looking for you."
"No, really?" Ginger seemed pleased. He led the way to the quiet ante-room outside the gambling-hall, and they sat down in a corner. It was pleasant here, with nobody near except the gorgeously uniformed attendant over by the door. "That was awfully good of you."
"I felt I must have a talk with you before my train went."
Ginger started violently.
"Your train? What do you mean?"
"The puff-puff," explained Sally. "I'm leaving to-night, you know."
"Leaving?" Ginger looked as horrified as the devoutest of the congregation of which Sally had just ceased to be a member. "You don't mean leaving? You're not going away from Roville?"
"I'm afraid so."
"But why? Where are you going?"
"Back to America. My boat sails from Cherbourg tomorrow."
"Oh, my aunt!"
"I'm sorry," said Sally, touched by his concern. She was a warm-hearted girl and liked being appreciated. "But..."
"I say..." Ginger Kemp turned bright scarlet and glared before him at the uniformed official, who was regarding their tete-a-tete with the indulgent eye of one who has been through this sort of thing himself. "I say, look here, will you marry me?"
Sally stared at his vermilion profile in frank amazement. Ginger, she had realized by this time, was in many ways a surprising young man, but she had not expected him to be as surprising as this.
"You know what I mean."
"Well, yes, I suppose I do. You allude to the holy state. Yes, I know what you mean."
"Then how about it?"
Sally began to regain her composure. Her sense of humour was tickled. She looked at Ginger gravely. He did not meet her eye, but continued to drink in the uniformed official, who was by now so carried away by the romance of it all that he had begun to hum a love-ballad under his breath. The official could not hear what they were saying, and would not have been able to understand it even if he could have heard; but he was an expert in the language of the eyes.
"But isn't this—don't think I am trying to make difficulties—isn't this a little sudden?"
"It's got to be sudden," said Ginger Kemp, complainingly. "I thought you were going to be here for weeks."
"But, my infant, my babe, has it occurred to you that we are practically strangers?" She patted his hand tolerantly, causing the uniformed official to heave a tender sigh. "I see what has happened," she said. "You're mistaking me for some other girl, some girl you know really well, and were properly introduced to. Take a good look at me, and you'll see."