THE GORGEOUS GIRL
Garden City—New York Doubleday, Page & Company 1920
Copyright, 1920, By Doubleday, Page & Company All Rights Reserved, Including That of Translation into Foreign Languages, Including the Scandinavian
Copyright, 1919, 1920, by The Curtis Publishing Company
"He was very diplomatic in his undertaking" Frontispiece FACING PAGE "The Gorgeous Girl had never known anything but the most gorgeous side of life" 12 "It was with a charming timidity that she tip-toed into the office" 188 "A get-rich-quick man always pays for his own speed" 284
THE GORGEOUS GIRL
"Before long two bank accounts will beat as one," Trudy said to Mary Faithful. "Tra-la-la-la-la," humming the wedding march while the office force of the O'Valley Leather Company listened with expressions ranging from grins to frowns.
"Sh-h-h! Mr. O'Valley has just opened his door." As she was private secretary and general guardian to Steve O'Valley, president of the concern, Miss Faithful's word usually had a decisive effect.
But Trudy was irrepressible. Besides boarding at the Faithful home and thus enjoying a certain intimacy with Mary, she was one of those young persons who holds a position merely as a means to an end—the sort who dresses to impress everyone, from the president of the concern if he is in the matrimonial or romantic market to the elevator boy if said elevator boy happens to have a bank account capable of taking one to all the musical shows and to supper afterward. Having been by turns a milliner's apprentice, assistant in a beauty parlour, and cashier in a business men's restaurant, Truletta Burrows had acquired a certain chicness enabling her to twist a remnant of chiffon or straw into a creation and wear it in impressive contrast with her baby-blue eyes and Titian-red hair. In the majority of cases where a girl has neither family nor finances she must seek a business situation in order to win a husband. Trudy went after her game in no hesitating manner.
She had no intention of becoming one of the multitude of commercial nuns who inhabit the United States of America this day—quiet women with quick eyes, a trifle cold or pensive if analyzed, severely combed hair, trim tailor suits and mannish blouses with dazzling neckties as their bit of vanity—the type that often shoulders half the responsibility of the firm. Whether achieving a private office and a nervous stenographer who is disappointed at having a lady boss is to be preferred to a house-and-garden career is, like all vital issues, a question for debate.
Neither did Trudy propose to shrivel into a timid, slave-like type of person kept on the pay roll from pity or by reason of the fact that initiating a novice would be troublesome. Such a one was Miss Nellie Lunk, who sat in a corner of the hall making out requisition slips and taking care of unwelcome visitors—a pathetic figure with faded eyes and scraggly hair, always keeping a posy on her old-style desk and crocheting whenever there was a lull in work. Thirty years in business was Miss Lunk's record, twenty-five in Mark Constantine's office and five in the employ of Mr. O'Valley, that lovable, piratical Irishman who achieved his success by being a brilliant opportunist and who, it would seem, ran a shoestring into a fortune by a wink of his blue eyes.
Trudy knew that Miss Lunk lived alone—the third story back, where she cooked most of her meals, while a forlorn canary cheeped a welcome. She possessed a little talking machine with sentimental records, and on Sundays she went to a cafeteria for a good, hearty meal unless cousins asked her to their establishment. Some day Miss Lunk would find herself in a home with other no longer useful old people and here she would stay with her few keepsakes, of which the world knew nothing and cared less, the cousins dropping in at intervals to impress upon her how carefree and fortunate she was!
In conclusion Trudy had decided not to accept the third choice of the modern business woman, which, she decided, was Mary Faithful's fate—to give your heart to a man who never had thought of you and never would think of you as other than a reliable and agreeable machine; as someone—should Florida and a certain Gorgeous Girl named Beatrice Constantine beckon—who would say:
"Yes, Mr. O'Valley, I understand what to do. I arranged the New Haven sale this morning. You were at the jewellery store to see about Miss Constantine's ring. So I long-distanced Martin & Newman and put it through. If the ring is sent in your absence I know what you have ordered and can return it if it does not comply with instructions—platinum set with diamonds, three large stones of a carat each and the twenty smaller stones surrounding them. And a king's-blue velvet case with her initials in platinum. And you want me to discharge Dundee and divide up his work. Yes, I gave the janitor the gold piece for finding your pet cane. I'll wire you every day."
And Steve O'Valley had swung jauntily out of the office, secure in his secretary's ability to meet any crisis, to have to work alone in the almost garish office apparently quite content that she was not going to Florida, too. Trudy's imagination pictured there a someone petulant, spoiled, and altogether irresistible in the laciest of white frocks and a leghorn hat with pink streamers, at whose feet Steve O'Valley offered some surprise gift worth months of Mary Faithful's salary while he said: "I ran away from work to play with you, Gorgeous Girl! See how you demoralize me? Even your father frowned when I said I was coming. How are you, darling? I don't give a hang if I make poor Miss Faithful run the shop for a year as long as you want me to play with you."
Having the advantage of studying Mary Faithful's position both from the business and family aspects Trudy had long ago decided that she was not going to be like her. In no way did she envy Mary's position.
Since her dreamer of a father had died and left dependent upon her her four-year-old brother and a mother whose chief concern in life was to have the smartest-looking window curtains in the neighbourhood, Mary went to work at thirteen with a remnant of an education. Possessions spelled happiness to Mrs. Faithful; poetical dreams had been Mr. Faithful's chief concern, and as an unexpected consequence their first child had been endowed with common sense. With Mary at the wheel there had been just enough to get along with, so they stayed on in the old-fashioned house while Mrs. Faithful bewailed Mary's having to work for a living and not be a lady, as she could have been if her father had had any judgment.
Mrs. Faithful had become quite happy in her martyrdom as she was still able to maintain the starched window curtains. After a conventional period of mourning she began to relive the past, her husband's mistakes, her own girlhood and offers of marriage—such incidents as these sufficed to keep her from enjoying the present, while Mary rose from errand girl to grocery clerk, with night school as a recreation, from grocery clerk to filing clerk, assistant bookkeeper, bookkeeper, stenographer, and finally private secretary to Steve O'Valley, one of the war-fortune kings. And she had given her heart to him in the same loyal way she had always given her services.
At home Trudy noted that Mary worked round the house because she liked the change from office routine, deaf to the complaining maternal voice reciting past glories in which Mary had no part. If the parlour furniture with its tidies and a Rogers group in the front window sometimes got on her nerves she forced herself to laugh over it and say: "It's mother's house, and all she has." She concerned herself far more with Luke, an active, fair-to-middling American boy somewhat inclined to be spoiled. Mary had taken Luke into the office after school hours to keep a weather eye on him and make him contribute a stipend to the expenses.
"If a man won't work he should not eat," she informed him as she proportioned his wage.
Recalling Mary's position at home—though Trudy rejoiced in her own front room and the comforts of the household—she shrugged her shoulders in disapproval. Certainly she could never endure the same lot in life. For if one man will not love you why waste time bewailing the fact? Find another. Mary could have had other suitors. Mr. Tompkins, the city salesman, and young Elias, of Elias & Son, had both made brave attempts to plead their cause, only to be treated in the same firm manner that Luke was treated when he hinted of making off to sea.
"She'll spend her life loving Steve O'Valley and slaving for him," Trudy had confided to her dozen intimate friends, who never repeated anything told them. "And he will spend his life being trampled on by Beatrice Constantine, and after they are married she will be meaner than ever to him. But he will love her all the more. Honest, business men make the grandest husbands! College professors are lots harder to get along with—but business men are as cross as two sticks in their offices and at home they're so sweet it would melt pig iron."
The first plank in Trudy's platform was to marry a business man as nearly like Steve O'Valley as possible. The second was—whether or not she had a stunning home with brick fireplaces—never to spend her days hanging round them. Her most envied friend lived in New York, and her life was just one roof garden after another. She had everything heart could desire—Oriental rugs, a grandfather's clock, a mechanical piano, bird-of-paradise sprays for her hat, a sealskin ulster, and plenty of alimony. And in case said business man proved unsatisfactory Trudy had resolved to exchange him for unlimited legal support at the earliest possible opportunity.
But she would not trespass upon Mary's platform, which consisted of loving Steve O'Valley yet knowing of his love for the Gorgeous Girl, as Mark Constantine had named his daughter. And of course Mary must have realized that though she might earn three thousand a year as private secretary she would eternally lock her desk at six o'clock and trudge home to her mother and the starched window curtains, watch Luke fall in love and scorn her advice, wash her hemstitched ruffles and black her boots, and keep her secret as she grew older and plainer of face!
Trudy often tried to decide just how handsome and how plain Mary was; it was a matter for argument because the expression of Mary Faithful's eyes largely determined her charm. She was a sober young person with thick braids of brown hair and surprising niceties of dress, sensible shoes, a frill of real lace on her serge dress, no hint of perfume, no attempt at wearing party attire for business as the rest of the staff not only attempted but unfortunately achieved. She had honest gray eyes, the prophecy of true greatness in her face with its flexible mouth and prominent cheek bones, the sort of woman who would be the mother of great men, tall and angular in build and walking with an athletic stride offset by a feminine cry-baby chin and the usual mediocre allotment of freckles on the usual mediocre nose! Mary Faithful was not pretty; she was a "good-looking thing," Trudy would usually conclude, glancing in a near-by mirror to approve of the way her fluff of pink tulle harmonized with her pink camisole under the tissue-paper bodice.
Indulging in one of these reveries Trudy suddenly realized that she had not added the checks on her desk. She went to work disdainfully, first feeling of her skirt and waist at the back, slipping a caramel in her mouth, and making eyes at a clerk who passed her desk.
Mary came out of her office and stopped before Trudy accusingly. "I've been waiting for these," she said.
"It's so grand out to-day—look at that sunshine! May's the hardest month of the year to work; you just can't help planning your summer clothes."
"Miss Constantine is coming to call for Mr. O'Valley and I want his O. K. on those before he gets away."
"Listen, don't you think the diamonds he is buying her are vulgar? A bunch of electric bulbs is what I call it, I certainly would not permit——"
Mary's pencil tapped authoritatively on the desk, then she signed an order someone brought her.
"Are they going to be married at high noon in church?"
"Yes—June the first."
"Lucky girl! She's older than me; everyone says so. It's only her money and clothes that has built her up. I don't think she's so much. Her nose is as flat as a pancake and she rouges something fierce. I saw them at the theatre and I certainly was——"
Mary took the checks out of Trudy's hand and walked away. Undecided as to her course of action Trudy hummed a few bars of "Moving Man, Don't Take My Baby Grand" and then followed Mary into her office.
Mary added up the checks without glancing at her caller. Then she said sharply: "I cannot pay out someone else's money for work that is not done."
"Don't get a grouch on; it will spread through the whole plant. When you're cross everybody's cross."
"Then do your work—for it isn't much." She could not help adding: "You think I can smooth over everything just because you board with me."
Trudy giggled. "It's the wedding in the air, and spring, and those diamonds! She never works, she never does anything but spend the money we make for her. All she has is a good time, and what's the use of living if you don't have a good time? I'll have it if I have to steal it. Oh, you needn't look so horrified. Steve O'Valley almost stole his fortune just because he had to be a rich man before Constantine would let him marry his daughter. Anyway, I'd rather have a good time for a few years and then die than to live to be a hundred and never have an honest-to-goodness party. Wouldn't you?"
"You're foolish to-day. If you only wouldn't wear such low-cut waists and talk to the men! Mr. O'Valley has noticed it."
"I can get another job and another boarding house," Trudy began, defiantly.
"You wouldn't last out at either. You need this sort of a place and our sort of house, you ridiculous little thing. Besides, you have Gaylord at your beck and call"—Trudy blushed—"and you seem to manage to have a pretty good time when all is said and done. I do feel responsible for you because at twenty-three you are more scatterbrained than——"
"Finish it—than you were at thirteen! Well, what of it? I'm out for a good time and you are always talking about the right time, I suppose. I'll take your lecture without weeping and promise to reform. But don't be surprised at anything I may do regarding tra-la-la-la-la." She burst into the wedding march again and vanished, Mary shaking her head as she prepared to sign off some letters.
Steve O'Valley opened the door connecting their offices, displaying a face as happy as a schoolboy's on a Christmas holiday. "Miss Constantine is downstairs, I'm going to escort her up," he announced, shutting the door as abruptly as he had opened it.
Presently there came into Steve's office someone who was saying in a light, gay voice: "Perfectly awful old place, Stevuns—as bad as papa's. I hate business offices; make my head ache. It was Red Cross to-day, and after that I had to rush to cooking school——"
Steve answered in rapt fashion: "I'll have to talk to Miss Faithful for half a jiffy and then I'm free for the rest of the day——" opening the door of Mary's office and beckoning to her.
Coming into his office Mary nodded pleasantly at the Gorgeous Girl, who nodded pleasantly in return and settled herself in an easy-chair while Steve rehearsed the things to be attended to the following day since he was not to be at the office.
"I'm getting Miss Faithful ready to run the shop single-handed," he explained, telling Mary details which she already knew better than he but to which she listened patiently, her twilight eyes glancing now at Beatrice and back again at Steve.
Outside the hum of commerce played the proper accompaniment to Steve O'Valley's orders and Mary's thoughts and Beatrice's actions—a jangling yet accurate rhythm of typewriters and adding machines and office chatter, pencil sharpeners, windows being opened, shades adjusted, wastebaskets dragged into position, boys demanding their telegrams or delivering the same, phone bells ringing, voices asking for Mr. O'Valley and being told that he was not in, other voices asking for Miss Faithful and being told she was not at liberty just now—would they be seated? Trudy's giggle rose above the hum at odd intervals, elevators crept up and down, and outside the spring air escorted the odour of hides and tallow and what not, grease and machine oil and general junk from across the courtyard; trucks rumbled on the cobblestones while workingmen laughed and quarrelled—a confusing symphony of the business world. While Steve hurriedly gave his orders Mary Faithful in almost the panoramic fashion of the drowning swiftly recalled the incidents of Steve's life and of the Gorgeous Girl's and her own as well, forcing herself mechanically to say yes and no in answer to his questions and to make an occasional notation.
The panorama rather bewildered her; it was like being asked to describe a blizzard while still in it, whereas one should be sitting in a warm, cheery room looking impersonally at the storm swirl.
First of all, she thought of Steve O'Valley's Irish grandfather, by like name, who spent his life in Virginia City trying to find a claim equal to the Comstock lode, dying penniless but with a prospector's optimism that had he been permitted to live manana surely would have seen the turning of the tide. Old O'Valley's only son and his son's wife survived him until their ability to borrow was at an end and work would have been their only alternative. So they left a small, black-haired, blue-eyed young man named Stephen O'Valley to battle single-handed with the world and bring honour to his name.
The first twelve years of the battle were spent in an orphanage in the Grass Valley, the next four as a chore boy on a ranch, after which the young man decided with naive determination that in order to obtain anything at all worth while he must be fully prepared to pay its price, and that he desired above all else to become a rich man—a truly rich man, and marry a fairy-princess sort of person. And as far as education was concerned he felt that if he was not quite so brushed up on his A B C's as he was on minding his P's and Q's the result would not be half bad. Unconsciously his attitude toward the world was a composite of the philosophy of Marcus Aurelius, the cynical wisdom of Omar Khayyam, and plain and not to be duplicated Yankee pep.
As Steve planned it he was to leave his mark on the world and not endure the world's mark upon himself. This straight-limbed and altogether too handsome youngster—his grandmother had been a Basque—possessed the same quality of the fortune hunter as his grandfather, only he did not propose to do his prospecting in the mines of Nevada. Following the general tactics of a Stone Age man—a belief in muscle and great initiative—Steve found himself at twenty-four in the city of Hanover and in the employ of Mark Constantine, a hide-and-leather magnate who was said to be like all hard-boiled eggs—impossible to beat. After Steve advanced to the top notch of his ability he discovered that the only reason he was not considered as a junior member of the firm was because he could not buy stock. At this same time Beatrice Constantine had become interested in him.
To her mind Steve was different in other ways than merely being handsome and possessed of physical strength. And she considered that if he had a fortune he would be far more wonderful than any of the young gentlemen of her set who wondered which would be the lucky chap to lead Constantine's Gorgeous Girl to the wedding-license bureau.
In the seventeen-year-old patronizing fashion of a Gorgeous Girl she permitted Steve to see that she was interested, and Steve with the romance of his Basque grandmother and the audacity of his Irish grandfather immediately thought of what a strange and wonderful thing it would be if he could by hook or crook become a rich man all in the twinkling of an eye, and marry this superior, elegant little person.
The Gorgeous Girl had never known anything but the most gorgeous side of life. Her father, self-made from a boyhood as poor as Steve's, carved his way to the top without delay or remorse for any one he may have halted or harmed in the so doing. He had wisely married a working girl whom he loved in undemonstrative fashion, and when at the turning point of his career she bore him a daughter and then died he erected an expensive monument to her memory and took his oath that their daughter should be the most gorgeous girl in Hanover and that her life should be spent in having as good a time as her father's fortune allowed. He then invited his widowed sister to live with him and take charge of his child.
After this interlude he returned to his business grimmer of face and harsher of heart, and the world was none the wiser regarding his grief for the plain-faced woman in the churchyard. As his fortune multiplied almost ironically he would often take time to think of his wife Hannah, who was so tired of pots and pans and making dollars squeal so that he might succeed and who was now at rest with an imposing marble column to call attention to the fact.
So the Gorgeous Girl, as Hanover called her, half in ridicule and half in envy, developed into a gorgeous young woman, as might be expected with her father to pay her bills and her Aunt Belle to toddle meekly after her. Aunt Belle, once married to a carpenter who had conveniently died, never ceased to rejoice in her good fortune. She was never really quite used to the luxury that had come to her instead of to the woman in the churchyard. She revelled in Beatrice's clothes, her own elaborate costumes, ordered the servants about, went to Florida and the Bermudas whenever the Gorgeous Girl saw fit, rolled about the country in limousines, and secretly admired the hideous mansion Constantine had built—an ornate, overbearing brick affair with curlicue trimmings and a tower with a handful of minor turrets. It was furnished according to the dictates of a New York decorator, though Constantine added several large pieces of village colour after the decorator had pronounced his work as ended.
Hannah had always planned for a red-velvet cozy corner, and Constantine didn't give a dozen damns if they were out of date—a red velvet cozy corner was going to be installed in the blue drawing room. A Swiss music box was another thing Hannah had hankered after—spoken of just before she died—so the Swiss music box was given a place of honour beside the residence pipe organ, and likewise some draperies with plush tassels. The decorator, having his check, did not attempt to argue, since his clientele were not apt to stop off at Hanover and discover the crime.
Aunt Belle saw that Beatrice had a governess, a dancing teacher, more party frocks than any other little girl in Hanover, and later on a French maid and other accessories necessary to being a Gorgeous Girl. In reality a parasitical little snob, hopelessly self-indulged, though originally kind-hearted and rather clever; and utterly useless but unconscious of the fact. She was sent to a finishing school, after which she thought it would be more fun to go abroad to another finishing school and study music and art, travelling summers instead of having a formal debut. Most of her chums were doing this and so she went with them. The red velvet cozy corner and the music box and so on disappeared immediately upon her first return visit. Likewise Beatrice succeeded finally in dissuading Aunt Belle from wearing her jewellery while travelling, though that outspoken lady never could refrain from vivid descriptions of it to her fellow passengers.
After the European sojourn the Gorgeous Girl went in for Hanover society and proved herself a valuable asset. She was nearly twenty-four, almost as slight of figure as a child, as dainty as Watteau's most delicate imaginings, with tiny, nondescript features, lovely sunshine hair, and big dove-coloured eyes with pale-gold lashes. Meantime, the question of a husband for this lovely young person was before the household. She had had a dozen offers of marriage but accepted none of them because she had plenty of time and loads of money and she wanted to make the best of her unencumbered youth as long as possible. Besides, it was now considered great fun to go in for charities, she was ever so busy serving on committees, she never had a moment for herself, and it would take months to plan a trousseau and a wedding and decide about her house. Most important of all was the fact that when she was about to go to the French finishing school she had told Steve O'Valley that if he did not come to her farewell party she would be quite hurt. She felt he did not appreciate the honour in having been asked.
Steve, who would have lain down and let her walk over him roughshod, said simply: "But I'm poor. I'm not in a position to meet your friends."
"Then be rich—and I'll ask you again," she challenged.
"If I were a rich man—would you let me try?"
"See if I wouldn't." And she disappeared before he realized she had practically said yes.
Characteristically Steve lost no time. He went to her father the day after she had sailed, having sent her a veritable washtub of flowers for bon voyage—and said briefly: "I have loved your daughter ever since I first saw her. I'm as poor as you were once, but if I see my way to making a fortune and can give her everything she ought to have will you oppose my efforts to make her marry me?"
The daring of the thing pleased Constantine to the point of saying: "Do you want a loan, O'Valley? I think you'll make good. Then it's up to my daughter; she knows whom she wants to marry better than I do. You're a decent sort—her mother would have liked you."
"I don't want a loan just yet. I want to make her marry me because I have made my own money and can take care of my own wife. I'm just asking you not to interfere if I do win out. I've saved a little—I'm going to take a plunge in stocks and draw out before it's too late. Then I'm going into business if I can; but I'll have to try my luck gambling before I do. When I hang out my shingle I may ask you to help—a little. Self-made men of to-day are made on paper—not by splitting logs or teaching school in the backwoods in order to buy a dictionary and law books—we haven't the time for that. So I'll take my chances and you'll hear from me later."
While Beatrice was skimming through school and taking walking trips through Norway punctuated by fleeting visits home, remaining as childish and unconcerned as to vital things as her mother had been at fourteen, Steve left the Constantine factory and took the plunge.
Good luck favoured him, and for five golden years he continued to rise in the financial world, causing his rivals to say: "A fool's luck first then the war made him—the government contracts, you know. He's only succeeded because of luck and the fact of it's being the psychological moment. Worked in the ordnance game—didn't see active service—money just kept rolling in. Well, who wants a war fortune? Some folks in 1860 bought government mules for limousine prices and sold them for the same. Besides, it's only so he can marry the Gorgeous Girl. I guess he'll find out it was cheap at half the price!"
While talk ran riot Steve's fortune multiplied with almost sinister speed. He learned that flattery and ridicule were the best weapons known to man. And while the Gorgeous Girl flew home at the first war cloud to bury herself in serious war activities Steve climbed the upward path and never once glanced backward lest he grow dizzy.
At thirty-two, in the year 1919, he was able to say to Mark Constantine, in the fashion of a fairy-story hero: "I still love your daughter, sir, and I've made my fortune. We want to be married. Your blessing, please." And to himself: "I'll show the worst side of me to the world so wolves won't come and steal my precious gold that I had to have in order to win her; and I'll show my best side to the woman I love, and that's fair enough!"
With surprising accuracy Mary Faithful's keen mind, aided by a tender heart, had pieced this mosaic business and love story together, and as she finished the panorama she glanced at the Gorgeous Girl in her mink dolman and bright red straw hat, the useless knitting bag on her arm, and Steve's engagement ring blazing away on her finger, and she sighed unconsciously.
"Don't tell Miss Faithful any more," Beatrice protested. "I'm sure she knows about everything, and it's late—I'm tired."
"All right, lady fair. That's all, Miss Faithful. Good-night," Steve dismissed her abruptly.
As Mary left the room he was saying tenderly: "What did you do at cooking school?"
And the Gorgeous Girl was answering: "We made pistachio fondant; and next week it will be Scotch broth. It takes an hour to assemble the vegetables and I dread it. Only half the class were there, the rest were at Miss Harper's classical-dancing lesson. That's fun, too. I think I'll take it up next year. I was just thinking how glad I am papa built the big apartment house five years ago; it's so much nicer to begin housekeeping there instead of a big place of one's own. It's such work to have a house on your hands. Are you ready?"
"Hold on. Don't I deserve a single kiss?... Thank you, Mrs. O'Valley." Then the door closed.
Mary Faithful picked up her notations. She tried to comfort herself with the thought that no one should ever have reason to guess her secret. If all honest men steal umbrellas and kisses, so do all honest women fib as to the size of their shoes and the person they love best of all the world!
Sunday was a much-dreaded day in Mary's calendar, partly because she surrendered herself to the maternal monologue of how dreadful it was to have a daughter in business and not a lady in a home of her own, and partly because she missed the office routine and the magical stimulation of Steve's presence. Besides, Trudy was a thorn in Mary's flesh and on Sundays the thorn had a chance to assert herself in particularly unendurable fashion.
For instance—the Sunday morning following the Gorgeous Girl's visit to Steve's office Trudy unwillingly dragged herself downstairs at half-past ten in a faded, bescrolled kimono over careless lingerie, her hair bundled under a partially soiled boudoir cap, and her feet flopping along in tattered silk slippers.
"Oh, dear, it's Sunday again," she began. "Goodness me, Mary, I'd hate to be as good as you are—always up and smiling! Why don't you have a permanent smile put on your face? It would be lots easier."
At which joke Luke giggled, and Mrs. Faithful, ensconced in a large rocker behind the starched curtains so that nothing passing on the street could escape her eagle, melancholy eye, nodded approval and added: "I should think Mary would lie abed the one morning she could. But no, she gets Luke up no matter what the weather is, and flies round like a house afire. When I was in my father's house I never had to lift a finger. Trudy, I wish you could have seen my bedroom. I had a mahogany four-poster bed with white draperies, and a dresser to match the bed, and my father bought me a silver toilet set when he was in Lexington, Kentucky, one time. He used to go there to sell horses. I remember one time I went with him and if I do say so I was much admired.
"I rode horseback those days and I had a dappled-gray pony named Pet, and everyone said it was just like looking at a picture to see me go prancing by. Of course I never thought about it. I wore a black velvet riding habit with a long train and a black velvet hat with a white plume just floating behind, and I had white gauntlets, too.
"Mary, Trudy wants her coffee. Hot cakes? Oh, pshaw, they won't hurt you a mite. I was raised on 'em. I guess I'll have another plateful, Mary, while you're frying 'em. I'm so comfortable I hate to get up.... You poor little girls having to go out and hustle all week long and not half appreciated! Never mind, some Prince Charming will come and carry you off sometime." Whereat she waddled to the table to wait for the hot cakes to arrive.
Mrs. Faithful had pepper-and-salt-coloured hair and small dark eyes that snapped like an angry bird's, and a huge double chin. Her nondescript shape resolved itself into a high, peaked lap over which, when not eating hot cakes, her stubby hands seemed eternally clasped.
"Mary takes after her pa, poor child," she had told Trudy confidentially. "Lean and lank as a clothes pole! And those gray eyes that look you straight through. I wish she didn't think so much of the office and would get a nice young man. I'd like to know what it is in those books she finds so fascinating. Can you tell me? I tried to read Omar Canine myself but it was too much for me."
"I'm no highbrow," Trudy had laughed. "Mary is; and a fine girl, besides," she had added, resentfully.
With all Trudy's shallow nature and shrewd selfishness she was as fond of Mary as she was capable of being fond of any one. Besides, it was more comfortable to be a member of the Faithful household for nine dollars a week and be allowed hot cakes and sirup a la kimono on Sunday morning; to have Gaylord Vondeplosshe, her friend, frequent the parlour at will; to use the telephone and laundry, and to occupy the best room in the house than to have to tuck into a room similar to Miss Lunk's—and she was truly grateful to Mary for having taken her in. She felt that Mrs. Faithful underestimated her man of the family.
Mary at the present time earned forty dollars a week. Out of this she supported her family and saved a little. At regular intervals she tried persuading her mother to leave the old-fashioned house and move into a modern apartment, which would give her the opportunity of dispensing with Trudy as a boarder. But her mother liked Trudy, with her airs and graces, her beaux, her startling frocks. Trudy was company; Mary was not. She was the breadwinner and a wonderful daughter, as Mrs. Faithful always said when callers mentioned her. But the mother had never been friends with her children nor with their father. So Mary had grown up accustomed to work and loneliness; and, most important of all, accustomed to considering everyone else first and herself last. It was Mary who saw beneath the boisterousness of Luke's boy nature and spied the good therein, trying to develop it as best she could. Aside from Luke and her business she found amusement in her dream life of loving Steve O'Valley and vicariously sharing his joys and sorrows, safeguarding his interests.
She had told herself four years ago: "You clumsy, thin business woman—the idea of halfway dreaming that such a man as Steve would ever love you! Of course he's intended for the Gorgeous Girl; the very law of opposites makes him care for her—pretty, useless doll. So take your joy in being his business partner, because the Gorgeous Girl can never share the partnership any more than you could share his name; and there's a heap of comfort in being of some use."
After which self-inflicted homily Mary had set to work and followed her own advice. She had discovered very shortly that there were many things to enjoy and be thankful for.
As soon as she was able Mary had refurnished her father's study and taken it for her own. Here she made out household bills, lectured Luke, planned work, sewed, and read. It was a shabby, cheery room with a faded old carpet, an open fireplace, some easy-chairs, and a black-walnut secretary over which her father had dreamed his dreams. On the walls were stereotyped engravings such as Cherry Ripe and The Call to Arms, which Mrs. Faithful refused to part with; no one, herself included, ever knowing just why.
Mary also took herself to task in the little study in as impersonal a manner as a true father confessor. "You are twenty-six and growing set in your ways," she would mentally accuse—"always wanting a certain table at the cafe and a certain waitress. Old Maid! Must have your little French book to read away at as you munch your rolls and refuse to be sociable. Hermitess! And always buy chocolates and a London News on Saturday night. Getting so you fuss if you have square-topped hairpins instead of round, and letting milliners sell you any sort of hats because you are too busy to prink! Going to art galleries and concerts alone—and quite satisfied to do so. Now, please, Mary, try not to be so queer and horrid!" Followed by a one-sided debate as to whether or not these were normal symptoms of maturity, and if she were mistress of a house would she not entertain equally set notions regarding brands of soap, and so on?
"Office notions are not so nice as the frilly, cry-on-a-shoulder-when-the-biscuits-burn notions," she would end, dolefully. "Fancy my tall self weeping on the superintendent's shoulder because a cablegram has gone astray! Making women over into commercial nuns is a problem—some of us take it easily and don't try to fight back, some of us fight and end defeated and bitter, and some of us don't play the game but just our own hand—like Trudy. And what's the square game for a commercial nun? That is what I'd like to know."
She would then find herself dreaming of two distinct forks in the road, both of which might be possible for her but only one of which was probable. Each fork led to a feminine rainbow ending.
The more probable fork would resolve itself, a few years hence, into a trim suburban bungalow with a neat roadster to whisk her into business and whisk her away from it. The frilly, cry-on-a-shoulder-when-the-biscuits-burn part of Mary would have long ago vanished, leaving the business woman quite serene and satisfied. She would find her happiness in mere things—in owning her home; in facing old age single-handed and knowing it would not bring the gray wolf; in helping Luke through college while her mother was in a comfy orthodox heaven with plenty of plates of hot cakes and dozens of starched window curtains; in rejoicing at some new possession for her living room, at her immaculate business costumes, new books, tickets for the opera season; in vacationing wherever she wished, sometimes with other commercial nuns and sometimes alone; in having that selfish, tempting freedom of time and lack of personal demands which permit a woman to be always well groomed and physically rested, and to take refuge in a sanitarium whenever business worries pressed too hard. To sum it up: it meant to sit on the curbstone—a nice, steam-heated, artistically furnished curbstone, to be sure, and have to watch the procession pass by.
The other fork in the road led to a shadowy rainbow since Mary knew so little concerning it. It comprised the exacting, unselfish role of having baby fingers tagging at her skirts and shutting her away from easy routines and lack of responsibility; of having a house to suit her family first and herself last; of growing old and tired with the younger things growing up and away from her, and the strong-shouldered man demanding to be mothered, after the fashion of all really strong-shouldered and successful men—requiring more of her patience and love than all the young things combined; of subordinating her personality, perhaps her ideas, and most certainly her surface interests. To be that almost mystical relation, a wife; which includes far more than having Mrs. Stephen O'Valley—just for example—on a calling card.
To her lot would fall the task of always being there to welcome the strong man with tender joy when he has succeeded or to comfort him with equal tenderness when he has failed, and at all times spurring him to live up to the ideal his wife has set for him. To stay aloof from his work inasmuch as it would annoy him, yet to be adviser emeritus, whether the matter involved hiring a new sweeper-out or moving the whole plant to the end of the world. Someone who ministered to the needs of the strong man's very soul in unsuspected, often unconscious and unthanked fashion; such a trifle as a rose-shaded lamp for tired eyes; a funny bundle of domestic happenings told cleverly to offset the jarring problems of commerce; a song played by sympathetic fingers; a little poem tucked in the blotter of the strong man's desk, an artful praising of the strong man's self!
Mary realized this latter fork was not probable—nor was she unhappy because of it. She sometimes retired to her study to vow eternal wrath upon Trudy Burrows for having attached herself to the household; or to pray that her mother be enlightened to the extent of moving; but beyond an occasional "mad on," as Luke said, Mary viewed life from the angle of the doughnut and not that of the hole.
"I wish someone else would try baking these greasy things," she said, coming in with another plateful.
"Why don't you slip on a kimono instead of a starched house dress, Mary? Whoever is spick-and-span on Sunday morning?"
"Don't get Mary to lecturing," Mrs. Faithful warned between bites. "She'll make us all go to church if we're not careful. Are you going out with Gay to-day, Trudy?"
"Yes. And I'm awfully mad at him, too. It's fierce the way he gambles."
"Don't be too harsh; it's a mistake to nag too much beforehand. He's a lovely young man and I wish Luke could have one of those green paddock coats. I always like a gentleman's coat with a sealskin collar, don't you?"
"If it's paid for." Trudy's eyes darkened. "Just because Gay comes of a wonderful family he thinks he has the keys to the city."
"He's a lovely young man," Mrs. Faithful reiterated. "Oh, what did Beatrice Constantine wear when she came down to the office?"
"Clothes." Mary was deep in the Sunday paper art section.
"She looked like a Christmas tree on fire," Luke supplemented. "Lovely butter-coloured hair she has!"
"That will do. She is very nice, but different from our sort." Mary glanced up from her paper.
Trudy bridled. "She's no different; she has money. My things have as much style. Gaylord knows her intimately, and he says she is a wretched dancer and pouts if things don't please her. The best tailors and modistes in the country make her things. Who wouldn't look well? If I had one tenth of her income I'd be a more Gorgeous Girl than she is—and don't I wish I had it! Oh, boy! Why, that girl has her maid, the most wonderful jewellery you ever saw, two automobiles of her own and a saddle horse, and her father owns the best apartment house in town, and Beatrice is going to have the best apartment in it when she marries Steve. And you can just bet she knew she was going to marry him a long time ago—because she knew he'd rob the Bank of England to get a fortune. She's flirted with everyone from an English nobleman to the Prince of Siam, and now she's marrying the handsomest, brightest, most devoted cave man in the world." Trudy glanced at Mary. "Yet she doesn't really care for him, she just wants to be married before she is considered passee." Trudy was very proud of her occasional French. "She'll be twenty-six her next birthday!"
"Dear me, girls take their time these days; I was eighteen the day Mr. Faithful led me to the altar."
"When are you going to get married?" Luke asked Trudy with malice aforethought.
"Oh, I'll give Mary a chance. She don't want to dance in the pig trough."
Mary laid down the paper. "I wish you people would finish eating. Luke, are you going fishing with me out at the old mill? Then you better get the walks swept. We'll be home in time for dinner, mother. I'll leave the things as nearly ready as I can. How about you, Trudy?"
"Gay wants me to go to the Boulevard Cafe—they dance on Sunday just the same as weekdays—and then we'll do a movie afterward. I suppose Steve and his Beatrice are now revelling in the Constantine conservatory, with Steve walking on all fours to prove his devotion. Why is it some girls have everything? Look at me—no one cares if I live or die. First I had a stepmother, and then I tried living with a great-aunt, and then I went to work. Here I am still working, and a lot of thanks I get for it. I'd like to see the Gorgeous Girl have to work—well, I would!"
Mary brushed by with some dishes. Whereupon Trudy settled herself in an easy-chair and ran through the supplement sections, discussing the latest New York scandal with Mrs. Faithful. The next thing on Trudy's Sunday program was washing out "just a few little things, Mary dear; and have you a bit of soap I could borrow and may I use the electric iron for half a jiffy?"
Presently there were hung on the line some dabs of chiffon and lace, and Trudy, taking advantage of her softened cuticle, sat down and did her nails, Mrs. Faithful admiring the high polish she achieved and reading Advice to the Anxious aloud for general edification.
After ironing the few little things Trudy shampooed her hair with scented soap and by the time its reddish loveliness was dry it was high noon and she repaired to her bedroom to mend and write letters. At one o'clock, in the process of dressing, she rapped at Mary's door and asked to borrow a quarter.
"I'm terribly poor this week and if I should have a quarrel with Gay I want to have enough carfare to come home alone—you know how we scrap," she explained.
About two o'clock there emerged from the front bedroom an excellent imitation of the Gorgeous Girl. Trudy had not exaggerated when she boasted of her own style. Though patronizing credit houses exclusively and possessing not a single woollen garment nor a penny of savings, she tripped down the stairs in answer to Luke's summons, a fearful, wonderful little person in a gown of fog-coloured chiffon with a violet sash and a great many trimmings of blue crystal beads. She boasted of a large black hat which seemed a combination of a Spanish scarf and a South Sea pirate's pet headgear, since it had red coral earrings hanging at either side of it. Over her shoulders was a luxurious feline pelt masquerading comfortably under the title of spotted fox. White kid boots, white kid gloves, a silver vanity case, and a red satin rose at her waist completed the costume.
Standing in the offing, about to decamp with Mary, Luke gave a low whistle to tip her off to look out the window and not miss it. Mrs. Faithful was peeking from behind the starched window curtains as there glided before her eyes the most elegant young woman and impressive young man ever earning fifteen dollars and no dollars a week respectively.
"How do they do it?" Mary sighed. "Come, Luke, let's get on the trail of something green and real."
A few moments later there hurried along the same pathway a tall young woman in an old tailored suit which impressed one with the wearer's plainness. Instead of a silver vanity case she was laden with a basket of newspapers, string, and a garden trowel, indicating that fern roots would be the vogue shortly. Shouldering fishing tackle Luke turned his freckled face toward Mary as they began a conversation, and his perpetual grin was momentarily replaced by an expression of respect. At least his sister was not like the average woman, who depends solely on her clothes to make her interesting.
Meantime, Trudy and Gaylord Vondeplosshe were beginning their Sunday outing by walking to the corner in silence—the usual preliminary to a dispute. Gaylord was quite Trudy's equal as to clothes, not only in style but in forgetfulness to pay for them. Still, he was not unusual after one fully comprehended the type, for they flourished like mushrooms. His had been a rich and powerful family—only-the-father-drank-you-see variety—the sort taking the fastest and most expensive steamer to Europe and bringing shame upon the name of American traveller after arriving. Gaylord had been the adored and only son, and his adored and older sister had managed to marry fairly well before the crash came and debts surrounded the entire Vondeplosshe estate.
He was small and frail, a trifle bow-legged to be exact, with pale and perpetually weeping eyes, a crooked little nose with an incipient moustache doing its best to hide a thick upper lip. His forehead sloped back like a cat's, and his scanty, sandy hair was brushed into a shining pompadour, while white eyelashes gave an uncanny expression to his face. Abortive lumps of flesh stuck on at careless intervals sufficed for ears, and his scrawny neck with its absurdly correct collar and wild necktie seemed like an old, old man's when he dresses for his golden-wedding anniversary. Everything about Gaylord seemed old, exhausted, quite ineffectual. His mother had never tired boasting that Gaylord had had mumps, measles, chicken pox, whooping cough, St. Vitus dance, double pneumonia, and typhoid, had broken three ribs, his left arm, his right leg, and his nose—all before reaching the age of sixteen. And yet she raised him!
Coupled with this and the fact of his father's failure people were lenient to him.
"He's Vondeplosshe's boy," they said; so they gave him a position or a loan or a letter of introduction, and thought at the same time what a splendid thing it was Vondeplosshe was out of it instead of having to stand by and see his son make a complete foozle. For some time Gaylord had been scampering up and down the gauntlet of sympathy, and as long as he could borrow more money in Hanover than he could possibly earn he refused to go to work.
Originally he would have been almost as rich as the Gorgeous Girl herself, but as it was he was poor as Trudy Burrows, only Trudy was a nobody, her family being a dark and uncertain quantity in the wilds of Michigan.
Whereas Gaylord was Vondeplosshe and he could—and did—saunter past a red-brick mansion and remark pensively: "I was born in the room over the large bay window; the one next to it was my nursery—a dear old spot. Rather tough, old dear, to have to stand outside!" Or: "Father was a charter member of the club, so they carry me along without dues. Decent of them, isn't it? Father was a prince among men, robbed right and left, y'know—always the way when a gentleman tries to be in business. Some say it was Constantine himself who did the worst of it. Of course never repeat it, will you? It takes a man with Steve O'Valley's coarseness to forge ahead."
His wobbly, rickety little body always wore the most startling of costumes. A green paddock coat, well padded, a yellow walking stick in the thin fingers, a rakish hat, patent-leather boots, striped suits, silk shirts with handkerchiefs to match, a gold cigarette case, and a watch chain like a woman's, were a few of Gaylord's daily requisites. He lived at a club called The Hunters of Arcadia, where he paid an occasional stipend and gambled regularly, sometimes winning. He also promoted things in half-dishonest, half-idiotic fashion, undertaking to bring on opera singers for a concert, sometimes realizing a decent sum and sometimes going behind only to be rescued by an old family friend.
Gaylord was always keen on dinner invitations. And because he was a son of Vondeplosshe the same family friends endured his conceited twaddle and his knock-kneed, wicked little self, and sighed with relief when he went away. It would be so much easier to send these dethroned sons of rich men a supply of groceries and an order for coal!
Besides these lines of activity Gaylord wrote society items for the paper, and as he knew everyone and everything about them he was worth a stipend to the editor. He was considered a divine dancer by the buds, and counted as a cutey by widows. But his standing among creditors was: If he offered a check for the entire amount or a dollar on account, pass up the check!
Steve had destroyed several IOU's with Gaylord's name attached for the sole reason that Gay had been a playmate of Beatrice's and she rather favoured him.
"He is so convenient," she had defended. "You can always call him up at the last minute if someone has disappointed for cards or dinner, and he is never busy. He can shop with you as well as a woman, lunch with you, dance with you—and he does know the proper way to handle small silver. Besides, he loves Monster." Monster was Bea's pound-and-a-half spaniel, which barked her wonder at the silken beauty of Beatrice's boudoir.
So Gaylord travelled his own peculiar gait, with his married sister occasionally sending him checks; as busy as a kitten with a ball of yarn in making everyone tolerate though loathing him. When he visited Steve's office in the first flush of Steve's success, to ask the thousandth favour from him, and spied Trudy Burrows in all her lemon-kid booted, pink-chiffon waisted, red-haired loveliness—as virile and bewitching as any one Gaylord's pale little mind could picture—he proved himself a "true democrat," as he boasted at the club, and offered her his hand in marriage in short order.
Having just despaired of winning a moneyed bride Gaylord chose Truletta, reasoning that if she were a little nobody it would give him the whiphand over her, since she would feel that to marry a Vondeplosshe was no small triumph. Besides, a chic red-haired wife who knew how to make the most of nothing and to smile, showing thirty-two pearly teeth as cleverly as any dental ad, would not be a bad asset among his men friends. Had the Vondeplosshe fortunes remained intact and Gay met Trudy he would still have pressed his attentions upon her, though they might not have taken the form of an offer of marriage. Trudy's virile, magnetic personality would have commanded this weakling's attention and admiration at any time and in any circumstances—which is the way of things.
Very wisely Trudy kept the engagement somewhat of a secret. She estimated that by being seen with Gay she might meet a not impoverished and real man; and Gay—who still hoped for an heiress to fall madly in love with him—was willing to let the matter be a mere understanding. So this oversubscribed flirt and this underendowed young gentleman had been waiting for nearly two years for something to live on in order to be married or else two new affinities in order that they might part amicably.
They did not speak until they were in the cafe, where it looked well for Gaylord to be attentive and Trudy gracious.
Under the mask of a smile Trudy began: "I'm cross. You were gambling again—yes, you were! Never mind how I know. I know!... I'll have macaroni, ripe olives, and a cream puff."
"The same," Gay said, mournfully; adding: "Well, deary, I have to live!"
"Why not work? I do. You sponge along and waste everyone's time. I'm not getting any younger, and it's pretty rough to be in an office with horrid people ordering you round—to have to hear all about Beatrice Constantine and her wonderful wedding. I'm as good as she is—yet I'll not be asked, and you will be."
"Of course I am. I'm her oldest playmate," he said, proudly.
Trudy's temper jumped the stockade. "So, you paste jewel, you'll go mincing into church and see her married and dance with everyone afterward; and I'll sit in the office licking postage stamps while you kiss the bride! I'm better looking than she is; and if you are good enough to go to that wedding so am I!"
"Why, Trudy," he began, in a bewildered fashion, "don't make a scene."
"No use making a scene in a fifty-cent cafe," she told him, bitterly, "but I'm plenty good looking enough to have a real man buy me a real dinner with a taxi and wine and violets as extras. Don't think you are doing me a big favour by being engaged to me."
"Oh, you're a great little girl," he said, nervously; "and it's all going to come out right. It does rile me to think of your working for Steve. Never mind, my ship will come in and then we'll show them all."
"I'm twenty-three and you're twenty-six, and my eyes ache when I work steadily. I'll have to wear glasses in another year—but I'll wash clothes before I'll do it!"
"When it gets that bad we'll be married," he said, seriously.
The humour passed over Trudy's head. "Married on what?" She was her prettiest when angry and she stirred in Gaylord's one-cylinder brain a resolve to play fairy-godfather husband and somehow deliver a fortune at her feet.
"I can't live at your club," she continued; "and your sister is jealous of her husband and wouldn't want me round. We couldn't live with the Faithfuls; Mary's a nice girl but I can't go their quiet ways. I only stay because it's cheap. I owe more than two hundred dollars right now."
Gaylord was sympathetic. "I owe more than that," he admitted; "but I'm going to have some concerts and there'll be good horse races soon—sure things, you know. You'll see, little girl. What would you say if I showed you a real bank account?"
"I wouldn't waste time talking. I'd marry you." Her good humour was returning. "Honest, Gay, do you think you might draw down some kale?"
Like all her kind she had an absurd trust in any one who was paying her attention. With a different type of man Trudy would have been beaten, courageously had the gentleman arrested, and then interfered when the judge was directing him to the penitentiary.
"I wish you wouldn't talk that way. When we are married and you meet my friends you'll have to brush up on a lot of things."
"I guess I'll manage to be understood," she retorted; "and when we are married maybe you can get my job so as to support your wife!"
The orchestra began playing a new rag, and Trudy and Gay immediately left their chairs to be the first couple on the floor. They were prouder of their dancing than of each other.
After several dances they became optimistic over the future and finished their dinner with the understanding that at the first possible moment they would be married and Trudy was to be a hard-working little bride causing her husband's men friends to be nice to the Vondeplosshes, while husband would persuade the Gorgeous Girl to be nice to his wife.
They decided, too, that Mary Faithful was clever and good—but queer.
That Steve O'Valley would discover that a self-made man could not marry an heiress and make a go of it as well as a man of an aristocratic family could marry an adorable red-haired young lady and elevate her to his position.
That Trudy was far more beautiful than Beatrice Constantine, and as one lived only once in this world—why not always strive for a good time?
Whereat they had a farewell dance and moved on to the moving-picture world, where they held hands and stared vapidly at the films, repairing to a cafeteria on a side street for a lunch, and then to the Faithful parlour. Mary had gone to church, Luke had boy friends in to discuss a summer camp, and his mother snored mildly on the dining-room sofa.
They took possession of the front parlour, and the enlarged crayons of the Faithful ancestors bore witness that for more than two hours these young people giggled over the comic supplement, debated as to the private life of the movie stars, tried new dance steps, and then planned how to get everything for nothing and, having done so, not to share their spoils.
"A perfectly lovely time!" Trudy said, glibly, as she kissed Gay good-night.
"Perfectly lovely!" he echoed, politely. "Don't work too hard to-morrow, Babseley, will you? And do nothing rash until you see me."
"Call me up to-morrow at eight, Bubseley," she giggled. The pet names were of Gay's choice.
So Bubseley tottered down the walk while Babseley turned out the lights and retired to her room with a bag of candy and a paprika-brand of novel. At midnight she tossed it aside and with self-pity prepared to go to sleep.
"And I'll have to go to work to-morrow," she sighed, planning her next silk dress as she did up the Titian hair in curlers.
WHEN the world was considerably younger it dressed children in imitation of its adults—those awful headdresses and heavy stays, long skirts to trip up tender little feet, and jewelled collars to make tiny necks ache. Now that the world "is growing evil and the time is waxing late" the grown-ups have turned the tables and they dress like the children—witness thereof to be found in the costume of Aunt Belle Todd, Mark Constantine's sister, who had shared her brother's fortunes ever since his wife had been presented with the marble monument.
Like all women who have ceased having birthdays Aunt Belle had not ceased struggling. She still had hopes of a financier who would carry her off in a storm of warmed-over romance to a castle in Kansas. Her first husband was Thomas Todd, the carpenter, chiefly distinguished for falling off a three-story building on which he was working and never harming a hair of his head; also for singing first bass in the village quartet. Aunt Belle had slightly recoloured her past since she had lived with her brother. The account of Mr. Todd's singing in the quartet was made to resemble a brilliant debut in grand opera which was abandoned because of Aunt Belle's dislike of stage life and its temptations, while his rolling off the three-story building was never alluded to except when Mark Constantine wished to tease.
She was a short, plump person with permanently jet-black hair and twinkling eyes. Prepared to forgo all else save elegance, she had brought up her gorgeous niece with the idea that it was never possible to have too much luxury. Seated in the Gorgeous Girl's dressing room she now presented excellent proof that the world was growing very old indeed, for her plump self was squeezed into a short purple affair made like a pinafore, her high-heeled bronze slippers causing her to totter like a mandarin's wife; and strings of coral beads and a gold lorgnette rose and fell with rhythmic motion as she sighed very properly over her niece's marriage.
"It will never be the same, darling," she was saying, glancing in a mirror to see if the light showed the rouge boundaries too clearly—"never quite the same. You'll understand when your daughter marries—for you have been just as dear as one."
Beatrice, who was busy inspecting some newly arrived lingerie, did not glance up as she answered: "Don't be silly. You know it's a relief. You can sit back and rest from now on—until I'm divorced," she added with a smile.
"How can you even say such a thing?"
Beatrice tossed the filmy creamy silk somethings or other away and delivered herself of her mind. "Alice Twill was divorced before she married this specimen; so was Coralie Minter; and Harold Atwater; and both the Deralto girls were divorced, and their mother, too. And Jill Briggs is considering it, and I'm sure I don't blame her. Everyone seems to think a divorce quite the proper caper when things grow dull. You may as well have all the fun you can. Steve wants me to have everything I fancy, and I'm sure he'd never deny me a divorce."
"You are marrying a splendid, self-made young man who adores you and who is making money every day in the week. No girl is to be more envied—you have had a wonderful ten years of being a 'Gorgeous Girl,' as your dear papa calls it, and at twenty-six you are to become the bride of a wonderful man—neither too early nor too late an age. I cannot really grieve—when I realize how happy you are going to be, and yet——"
"Don't work so hard, aunty," Bea said, easily. "Of course Steve's a wonderful old dear and all that—I wish I had asked him for the moon. I do believe he'd have gotten an option on it." She laughed and reached over to a bonbon dish to rummage for a favourite flavour. She selected a fat, deadly looking affair, only to bite into it and discover her mistake. She tossed it on the floor so that Monster could creep out of her silk-lined basket and devour the remains.
"If you call natural feelings of a mother and an aunt 'working hard' I am at a loss——" her aunt began with attempted indignation.
"Oh, I don't call anything anything; I'm dead and almost buried." She looked at her small self in the pier glass. "Think of all I have to go through with before it is over and we are on our way west. Here it is half-past twelve and I've not eaten breakfast really. I'm so tired of presents and bored with clothes that I cannot acknowledge another thing or decide anything. I think weddings are a frightful ordeal. Did you know the women on my war-relief committee presented me with a silver jewel box? Lovely of them, wasn't it? But I deserve it—after slaving all last winter. My bronchitis was just because I sold tags for them during that rainy weather."
"No, I haven't seen it. But I am glad you decided on a church wedding—there is such a difference between a wedding and just a marriage."
Beatrice shoved the box of lingerie away. "Those are all wrong, so back they go; and I can't help it if that woman does need money, I told her I wanted a full inch-and-a-half beading and she has put this crochet edge all round everywhere. I shan't accept a single piece!"
Whereupon she sat down at her dressing table and rang for her maid. Madame Pompadour herself had no lovelier boudoir than Beatrice. It was replete with rose-coloured taffeta curtains, padded sky-blue silk walls with garlands of appliqued flowers. Lace frills covered every possible object; the ivory furniture was emphasized by smart rose upholstery, and the dressing table itself fairly dazzled one by the array of gold-topped bottles and gold-backed brushes.
Johanna, the maid, began brushing the sunshiny hair, the Gorgeous Girl stamping her feet as snarls asserted themselves.
"Two more days before the wedding," she complained. "There's the Twill luncheon to-day and a bridge and tea at Marion Kavanaugh's—I hate her, too. She gave me the most atrocious Chinese idol. I'm going to tell her I have no proper place for it, that it deserves to be alone in a room in order to have it properly appreciated." She laughed at herself. "So I'll leave it for papa. The apartment won't hold but just so much—it's a tiny affair." She laughed again, the apartment having only eleven rooms and a profusion of iron grille work at all the windows. "But it's a wonderful way to start—in an apartment—it is such a good excuse for not dragging in all the terrible wedding presents. I can leave everything I like with papa because he never minds anything as long as he has old slippers and plenty of mince pie. After a year or so I'm going to have a wonderful house copied after one I saw in Italy. By then they will all have forgotten what they gave me and I can furnish it so we won't have to go about wearing blinders.... The blue dress, Jody, that's right."
"And what is it to-night?" her aunt asked, meekly.
"The Farmsworth dinner; and to-morrow another luncheon and the garden party at the club. Then the dinner here, rehearsal; and Wednesday, thank heaven, it will be all ended!"
Johanna helped fasten the king's-blue satin with seed-pearl trimmings and place a trig black hat atilt on the yellow hair.
"The ermine scarf, please."
The Gorgeous Girl was slipping matronly looking rings on her fingers and adding an extra dab of powder. She took another chocolate, hugged Monster, gave orders about sending back the lingerie, remarked that she must send her photograph to the society editor for the next day's edition, and she thought the one taken in her Red Cross outfit would be the sweetest; and then kissing the tip of her aunt's right ear she sailed downstairs and into the closed car to be whirled to Alice Twill's house, a duplicate of the Gorgeous Girl's. There she was enthusiastically embraced and there followed a mutual admiration as to gowns, make-ups, and jewellery, and a mutual sympathy as to being desperately tired and busy.
"My dear, I haven't had time to breath—it's perfectly awful! I'll have to drop out of things next winter. Steve will never allow me to be so overburdened. I can't sleep unless I take a powder and I can't have any enthusiasm in the morning unless I have oodles of black coffee. Of course one has had to do serious work—thank heavens the war is over!—but you can't give up all the good times.... What a lovely centre piece! And those cunning little gilt suitcases for favours! A really truly gold veil pin in each one? You love! Oh, let's have a cocktail before any one comes in. It does pick me up wonderfully.... Thanks.... Yes, I had breakfast in bed—some coffee and gluten crackers was all, and aunty had to stay in my room half the morning trying to be pensive about my wedding! No, Markham didn't make my travelling suit half as well as he did Peggy Brewster's. I shall never go near him again.... And did you hear that Jill found her diamond pendant in her cold cream jar, so it wasn't a burglar at all!
"Yes, Gaylord Vondeplosshe is going to be an usher.... Well, what else could I do at the last moment? Wasn't it absurd for a grown man like Fred Jennings to go have the mumps? Gay knows everyone and I'm sure he is quite harmless.... Oh, Steve is well and terribly busy, you know. He is giving me the most wonderful present. Papa hasn't given me his yet and I'm dying to know what it is, he always gives me such wonderful things, too.... There's the bell. I do hope it isn't Lois Taylor, because she always wants people to sign petitions and appear in court. It is Lois Taylor! Why didn't you leave word to have all petitions checked with wraps?" Giggles. "Good heavens, what a fright of a hat. Well, are you ready to go down?"
Five hours later Beatrice was being dressed for the evening's frolic, dipping into the bonbon box for a stray maple cream, and complaining of her headache. At this juncture her father tiptoed clumsily into her room and laid a white velvet jewel case on her dressing table, standing back to watch her open it.
"You dear——" she began in stereotyped, high-pitched tones as she pressed the spring. "You duck!" she added a trifle more enthusiastically, viewing the bowknot of gems in the form of a pin—a design of diamonds four inches wide with a centre stone of pigeon's-blood ruby. "You couldn't have pleased me more"—trying it against her dressing gown. "See, Jody, isn't this wonderful? I must kiss you." She rustled over to her father and brushed her lips across his cheek, rustling back again to tell Jody that she must try the neck coil again—it was entirely too loose.
"I guess Steve can't go any better than that," her father said, balancing himself on his toes and, in so doing, rumpling the rug.
He was a tall, heavily built man with harsh features and gray hair, the numerous signs of a self-made man who is satisfied with his own achievements. He had often told his sister: "Bea can be the lady of the family. I'm willing to set back and pay for it. It'd never do for me to start buying antiques or quoting poetry. I can wear a dress suit without disgracing Bea, and make an after-dinner speech if they let me talk about the stockyards. But when it comes to musicals and monocles I ask to be counted out. I had to work too hard the first half of my life to be able to play the last half of it. I wasn't born in cold storage and baptized with cracked ice the way these rich men's sons are. I've shown this city that a farmer's boy can own the best in the layout and have his girl be the most gorgeous of the crew—barring none!
"This is a joy," Beatrice was saying, rapidly, her small face wrinkled with displeasure.
She wished her father would go away because she wanted to think of a hundred details of the next forty-eight hours and her nerves were giving warning that their limit of endurance was near at hand. This big, awkward man who was so harsh a task-master to the world and so abject a slave to her own useless little self annoyed her. He offended in an even deeper sense—he did not interest her. Things which did not interest her were met with grave displeasure. Religion did not interest her; neither did Steve O'Valley's business—her head ached whenever he ventured to explain it. She never had to listen to anything to which she did not wish to listen; the only rule imposed upon her was that of becoming the most gorgeous girl in Hanover, and this rule she had obeyed.
"Tired?" he asked, timidly.
"Dead. It's terrible, papa. I don't know how I'll stay bucked up. I want to burst out crying every time a bell rings or any one speaks to me.... Oh, Jody, your fingers are all thumbs! Please try it again."
"It looks nice," her father ventured, indicating the puff of gold hair.
Beatrice did not answer; she sighed and had Johanna proceed.
"The Harkin detectives will watch the presents," her father ventured again. "There are some more packages downstairs."
"I'm tired of presents; I want to be through unwrapping crystal vases and gold-lined fruit dishes and silly book ends and having to write notes of thanks when I hate the gifts. My mind seems quivering little wires that won't let me have a moment's rest." She took another piece of candy.
"When I married your mother," her father remarked, softly, evidently forgetting Johanna's presence, "we walked to a minister's house in Gardenville about five miles south of here. Your mother was working for a farmer's wife and she didn't say she was going to be married. She was afraid they might try talking her out of it—you know how women do." He looked round the elegant little room. "I was getting ten dollars a week—that seemed big money in those days. I rented two rooms in the rear cottage of a house on Ontario Street—it's torn down now. And I bought some second-hand stuff to furnish it."
He paced up and down; he had a habit of so doing since he was always whisked about in his motor car and he feared growing stiff if he did not exercise.
"But your mother liked the rooms—and the things. I remember I bought a combination chair and stepladder for a dollar and it didn't work." He gave a chuckle. "It stayed in a sort of betwixt and between position, about one third stepladder and about two thirds chair, and that worried me a lot. A dollar meant a good deal then. But your mother knew what to do with it, she used it for kindling wood and said we'd charge it up to experience. Yes, sir, we walked to the minister's—she wore a blue-print dress with a little pink sprig in it, and a sort of a bonnet." His hand made an awkward descriptive gesture.
"The minister was mighty nice—he took us into his garden and let your mother pick a bunch of roses, and then he hitched up his horse and buggy and drove us back to the farmer's house. The farmer's wife cried a little when we told her; she liked your mother. She gave us a crock of butter and some jam. While your mother packed her little trunk—it wasn't any bigger than one of your hatboxes—I went out and stood at the gate. I kept thinking, 'By jingo, I'm a married man! Mr. and Mrs. Mark Constantine.' And I felt sort of afraid—and almost ashamed. It frightened me because I knew it was two to feed instead of one, and I wondered if I'd done wrong to take Hannah away from the farmer's wife when I was only getting ten dollars a week.
"Well, when she came out of the door she looked as pretty as you'll look in all your stuff, and she came right up to me and said, game as a pebble, 'Mark, we're man and wife and we'll never be sorry, will we? And when you're rich and I'm old we will stay just as loving!' I didn't feel sorry or frightened any more—not once. Not until you came and they told me she had gone on. Then I felt mighty sorry—and frightened. She looked so tired when I saw her then—so tired."
He paused, staring at his sunken gardens as seen from Beatrice's windows. Some men lazily raked new-cut grass and a peacock preened itself by the sundial. The glass conservatory showed signs of activity. The florists were at work for the coming event. Then he looked at his daughter, who waited with polite restraint until his reverie was ended.
"I've given you all she would have had," he said, as if in debate with himself that this was the last rebuttal against possible criticism.
Beatrice glided over beside him; she looked out of the window, too, and then at her father. Something quite like tears was in his harsh eyes.
"Daddy," she began with a quick indrawing of her breath, "do you think she'd have wanted me to have all—all this?"
"Why wouldn't she?" he answered, taking her arm gently. He had always treated her with a formality amounting almost to awe.
"I don't know—only I sometimes do almost think—would you suspect it? When I go to the office and watch those queerly dressed women bending over desks and earning a few dollars a week and having to live on it—and when I see how they manage to smile in spite of it—and how I waste and spend—and shed a great many tears—well, I wonder if it is quite safe to start as Steve and I are starting!" Then she threw her arms round him. "Steve won't believe that I've been serious, will he? Now, daddy dear, please go 'way and let me dress, for I'm 'way late."
She kissed him almost patronizingly and he tiptoed out of her room, rather glad to get into his own domain—the majestic library with its partially arranged wedding gifts.
"We're doing ourselves proud," he remarked to his sister, who had been rearranging them.
"What I told Beatrice this morning. Only she is all nerves. She can't enjoy anything—it will be a relief to me, Mark, as well as a loss, when it is over."
Her brother viewed her with a quizzical expression. Like the rest of the world his sister never fooled him. But like all supermen there was one human being in whom all his trust was centred, and who very often thus brought about his defeat. In his case, as with Steve O'Valley, it chanced to be Beatrice.
Regarding her both men—merciless with their associates and dubbed as fish-blooded coroners by their enemies—were like gullible children following a lovely and willful Pied Piperess. But Mark's sister with her vanities and fibs irritated and amused him by turns. Perhaps he resented her sharing this material triumph instead of the tired-faced woman in the churchyard.
"Do you remember the time you did the beadwork for the head carpenter's wife and when she paid you for it you spent the dollar for liquid rouge? Todd was so mad he wouldn't speak for a week," he chuckled, unkindly.
"Don't say such things! Think how it would embarrass Bea. Of course I don't remember. Neither do you."
"Oh, don't I? What's the harm recalling old times? I remember when you tried to make Todd a winter overcoat and he said it looked most as good as a deep-sea diver's outfit. My Hannah nearly died a-laughing."
Fortunately Steve appeared, flourishing Beatrice's corsage by way of a greeting.
"Aha, the conquerer comes. My dear lad, your lady love has just ousted me from her room, she'll be down presently. Belle, Steve and I are going into the den to smoke."
"I'm trying to look as amiable as possible, but I wish fuss and feathers were not the mode." Steve smiled his sweetest at Aunt Belle and then took Constantine's arm. "The cave-man style of clubbing one's chosen into unconsciousness and strolling at leisure through the jungle with her wasn't half bad. By the way, I did sell the Allandale man to-day, and the razor-factory stock is going to boom instead of flatten out—I'm sure of it."
He lit a cigarette and threw himself into an easy-chair. Constantine selected a cigar and trimmed its end, watching Steve as he did so.
"You've come on about as well as they ever do," he remarked, unexpectedly. "None of these rich young dogs could have matched you. Seen the presents?"
"Scads of 'em. Awful stuff. I don't know what half of it is for. Bea is going to hand you most of it. The apartment is to be a thing of beauty and she won't hear of taking the offerings along."
"How is the shop?"
"Splendid—Mary Faithful will manage it quite as well as I do. I shall hear from her daily, you'll stroll over that way, and I can manage to keep my left little finger on the wheel."
"Mary's a good sort," Constantine mused. "Sorry I ever let her go over to your shebang. What's her family like?"
"Don't know. Never thought about 'em. Her kid brother works round the place after school. Guess Mary's the man of the family."
"How much do you pay her?"
"Forty a week."
"Cheap enough. A man would draw down seventy and demand an assistant. I never had any luck with women secretaries—they all wanted to marry me," he admitted, grimly.
"Mary's not that sort. Business is her life. If she were a man I'd have a rival. I'm going to give her fifty a week from now on; she's giving up her vacation to stay on the job."
"Don't spoil her."
"No danger. I've promised Beatrice to really learn to play bridge," he changed the conversation.
"Accept my sympathy——" Constantine began and then Beatrice in a lovely Bohemian rainbow dinner gown came stealing in to stand before them and complain of her headache and admire her corsage and let Steve wrap her in her cape and half carry her to the limousine.
"I shan't see you a moment until we're married," he began, mournfully. "I've been most awfully neglected. But as you are going to be all mine I can't complain. You're prettier than ever, Bea.... Love me?... Lots?... Whole lots? You don't say it the way I want you to," laughing at his own nonsense.
"I'll scream it and a crowd can gather to bear witness." She dimpled prettily and nibbled at a rose leaf. "It's all like a fairy tale—everyone says so, and lots of the girls would like to be marrying you on Wednesday."
"Tell them I belong to the Gorgeous Girl until six men are walking quietly beside me and assisting me to a permanent resting place. Even then I'll belong to her," he added.
"Your nose is so handsome," she said, wistfully, recalling her own.
"Talking of noses! Bea, sometimes it's terrible to realize that my ambitions have become true. To dream and work without ceasing and without much caring what you do until your dream merges into reality—it makes even a six-footer as hysterical as a schoolgirl."