THE HONORABLE PERCIVAL
THE HONORABLE PERCIVAL
BY ALICE HEGAN RICE
AUTHOR OF "MRS. WIGGS OF THE CABBAGE PATCH," "A ROMANCE OF BILLY-GOAT HILL," ETC.
NEW YORK THE CENTURY CO. 1914
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Copyright, 1914, by THE CENTURY CO. Copyright, 1914, by MCCLURE'S MAGAZINE
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Published, October, 1914
I A BLIGHTED BEING
II A COUNTER-IRRITANT
VI IN THE WIND-SHELTER
VII THE DAY THAT NEVER WAS
VIII IN THE CROW'S-NEST
IX DRAGGING ANCHOR
X ON THE SEARCH
XI THE GYMKHANA
XII THE SONG OF THE SIREN
XIII PERCIVAL PROCRASTINATES
XIV NEPTUNE TAKES A HAND
XV PERCIVAL RISES TO AN OCCASION
XVI IN PORT
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Their boat had sailed
"Well, did you ever! Where did you come from?"
Her hair, still damp, was hanging about her shoulders, and she carried a bundle of bath-towels under her arm
"Mr. Hascombe!" she demanded breathlessly, "you'll take me out in the surf-boat, won't you?"
At a break-neck speed towards the wharf
"I don't know what makes me so everlastingly silly!" she said fiercely trying to swallow the rising sobs, "but he won't understand!"
"I like the way your mouth looks when you read it"
"Roberta!" he called sternly. "What are you doing out here?"
"You will have to join the crowd," suggested Bobby when Percival complained of not seeing her as often as he wished
"If you want to hold my hand, Mr. Hascombe, you are welcome to it"
He sat on a table swinging his feet in unison with a lot of other young feet, while he sipped lemonade from the same glass as Bobby Boynton
"Isn't that the prettiest thing you ever saw?" she asked, glancing at him over her shoulder
"It's quite worth while," he said, "getting a jab in the wrist, to have you looking after me like this"
"I'm so sorry!" whispered Bobby, putting her arm impulsively around his heaving shoulders
* * * * *
THE HONORABLE PERCIVAL
A BLIGHTED BEING
The Honorable Percival Hascombe came aboard the Pacific liner about to sail from San Francisco, preceded by a fur coat, a gun-case, two pigskin bags, a hat-box, and a valet. He was tall and slender, and moved with an air of fastidious distinction. He wore a small mustache, a monocle, and an expression of unutterable ennui. His costume consisted of a smart tweed traveling-suit, with cap to match, white spats, and a pair of binoculars swung across his shoulders. In his eyes was the look, carefully maintained, of one who has sounded the depths of human tragedy.
Since his advent into the world twenty-eight years before, he had been made to feel but one responsibility. His elder brother, having persistently refused to provide himself with a wife and heir, the duty of perpetuating the family name fell upon him, Percival Hascombe, second son of the late Earl of Westenhanger, of Hascombe Hall, fifth in descent from the great Westenhanger whose marble effigy adorns the dullest and most respectable cathedral in southern England.
From the time Percival had been able to cast a discriminating eye, his adoring family had presented the feminine flowers of the country-side for his inspection. One after another they had met with his grave consideration and subsequent disapprobation. Fears had begun to be entertained that he would follow in the solitary footsteps of his bachelor brother, when Lady Hortense Vevay appeared on the scene.
Lady Hortense, with her mother, the Duchess of Dare, had come down to Devon for the shooting one autumn, seeking rest after a strenuous social season following her presentation at court. She had been there less than a week when she bagged the biggest game in the neighborhood. The explanation was obvious: the Lady Hortense had no faults to be discovered. The closest inspection through two pairs of glasses, Percival's and her own, failed to reveal a flaw. Her birth and position were equal to his own; her beauty, if attenuated, was sufficient; while her discriminating taste amounted to a virtue. The Honorable Percival proffered his hand, and was accepted. Hascombe Hall rang with applause.
All might have been well had not mother and daughter been pressed to seal the compact by a closer intimacy in a ten-days' visit at the hall. The young people were allowed to bask uninterrupted in the light of each other's perfections, and the result was disastrous. Two persons who have achieved distinction as soloists do not take kindly to duets. A few days after the Vevays' return to London, Lady Hortense wrote a perfectly worded note, and asked to be released from the engagement.
The utterly preposterous fact that a Hascombe of Hascombe Hall had been jilted was too amazing a circumstance to be concealed, and the county buzzed with rumors. The Honorable Percival, whose pride had sustained a compound fracture, set sail immediately for America. After a hurried trip across the continent, he was embarking again, this time for Hong-Kong, where a sympathetic married sister held out embracing arms, and a promise of refuge from wagging tongues.
As he moved languidly down the deck and sank into the steamer-chair that bore his name, he assured himself for the fortieth time since leaving England that life bored him to tears. He had sounded its joys and its sorrows, he had exhausted its thrills; it was like a scenic railway over which he was compelled to ride after every detail had become monotonously familiar. There was nothing more for him to learn about life, nothing more for him to feel. At least that is what the Honorable Percival thought. But when one reckons too confidently on having exhausted the varieties of human experience, one is apt to get a jolt.
Carefully selecting a cigarette from a gold case, he struck a light, and, after a whiff or two, lay back and, closing his eyes on the stir and confusion, gave himself up to painful reflections. His shrunken self-esteem, like a feathered thing exposed to wet weather, was clamoring for a sunny spot in which to expand to natural proportions. Had he been able to remain at home, the unending chorus of feminine praise would soon have dried his draggled feathers and left him preening himself contentedly in the comforting assurance that Lady Hortense was in no way worthy of him. But being confronted thus suddenly with the necessity of supplying his egotism with all its nourishment, he found himself unequal to the task. Behind every consoling thought stalked that totally incredible "No." He tortured his brain for possible reasons for Hortense's deflection, but could find none. Detail by detail he reviewed their acquaintance from the first time he had bowed over her fingers, in Lord Carlton's hunting-lodge, to the moment he had touched his lips to the same fingers in formal farewell on the terrace at Hascombe Hall. It had been such a well-bred courtship from the start, so thoroughly approved by both sides, so perfectly conducted throughout!
Then, following suddenly on this smooth course of events, came a series of bumps that made Percival wince as he recalled them: protests, evasions, humiliating questions on the part of the public, and then ignominious flight. He shuddered as he thought of the dull, wet days on the Atlantic and his hideous week in America. He had been in a perpetual state of protest against everything from the hotel service to what he termed the "crass vulgarity of the States."
There had been but one oasis in the desert of gloom through which he had traveled, and that had been on his interminable trip across the continent, when for ten brief minutes his blight had been lifted, and he had caught a breath of the incense for which his soul hungered.
It was at a little station in Wyoming that he, a convalescent from love, had for the first time in weeks managed to look up and take a bit of amatory nourishment. He was standing alone on the rear platform of the observation-car, arms on railing, watching with no interest whatever the taking off of mail-bags. Suddenly within his line of vision came a stalwart young chap and a girl, each astride a bronco. They drew rein at the platform, cursorily scanned the waiting train, glanced at him, then at each other, and, apparently without the slightest reason, burst into unrestrained merriment. Percival continued to survey them calmly and haughtily through his monocle. His first glance had revealed the fact that the girl was strikingly pretty. Her lithe young body showed round and comely in its khaki suit and brown leggings. Her black mane was braided in two short, thick plaits with a dash of scarlet ribbons at the ends. Blue eyes, full of daring, danced under the blackest of brows, and the smile she flashed at her companion revealed a dimple of distracting proportions.
As Percival gazed he was quite oblivious of the fact that the laugh was at his expense. In fact, he accorded her darting glances a far more flattering interpretation, and when her escort dismounted, and disappeared within the station, he deliberately caught her eye and held it. There was a touch of daring in her face and figure, an evident sense of security in the fact that the train was already beginning to move. He shifted his position from the end of the platform to the side next the station, and she met the challenge by gathering up her reins and keeping pace with the slow-moving train.
For a short distance road and track lay parallel, and as the train slowly got under way, the bronco was put to a run. Side by side, not ten feet apart, Percival and the girl moved abreast, their eyes keeping company. He had never seen anything so vitally young and untrammeled as she was. She rode superbly, like an Indian, leaning well forward, gripping the bronco with her knees, with one hand grasping his mane. Every muscle was tense with life, every nerve a-quiver with glee. Before the young Englishman knew it, his own sluggish blood was stirring in his veins through sympathy. Then the train began to gain upon her, and throwing herself back in the saddle, she shook a vanquished head. As Percival raised his cap she wheeled her horse, and, standing in the stirrups, blew an audacious kiss from her finger-tips. The next instant she was dashing away across the wide, bleak prairies, the only living thing in sight, her scarlet ribbons a streak of color in the dull-gray landscape.
Percival had taken heart of grace from that airy kiss. It stood to him as a symbol that, though one of the sex had proved a deserter to his standard, there were still volunteers. He treasured the incident as a king treasures the homage of his humblest subject when rebellion is rife in the kingdom. On such trifles often hang one's self-esteem.
When the stir and bustle on deck became so lively that he was no longer able to indulge in introspection, he got up and indifferently joined the moving throng. The warning had sounded for those going ashore, and the numerous gangways were crowded. Passengers lined the promenade-deck, shouting and waving to the crowd on the wharf below. From the bridge-deck the captain could be heard cheerfully swearing through a megaphone at the second officer below. Chinese deck-stewards glided about in their felt slippers, trying to attach the right person to the right steamer-chair. Cabin-boys scurried about with baskets of fruit and flowers and other sea-going impedimenta that, after one appreciative glance from the recipient, are usually consigned to the ice-box. All was noise and confusion.
Percival's critical eye swept the line of human backs that presented themselves at the railing. The same old types! He could describe them with his eyes shut: the conventional globe-trotters, avid to obtain and to impart information; business men comparing statistics and endlessly discussing the tariff; rich wanderers in quest of health; poor missionaries in quest of "foreign fields"; fussy Frenchmen; stolid Germans; a few suspicious-looking Englishmen; and always the ubiquitous Americans, who had the same effect upon him that a highly colored cloth has on the delicate sensibilities of a certain large animal.
The most conspicuous example of the last class was a somewhat noisy young person in a still more resonant steamer-coat who hung at an angle of forty-five degrees over the railing, and exchanged confidences of a personal nature with an old man on the wharf twenty feet below. Every time Percival's walk brought him toward the bow of the boat, his eyes were offended by that blue-and-lavender steamer-coat and by a pair of beaded-leather slippers with three straps across the instep and absurdly high French heels. Could any one but an American, he soliloquized, be guilty of starting on a journey in such a costume?
The prospect of being imprisoned between decks for four weeks, with this heterogeneous collection appalled him. His only safety lay in maintaining a rigid and uncompromising aloofness. He would discourage all advances from the start, he would promptly nip in the bud the first sign of intrusion. He had left the only country an Englishman regards as the proper place for existence, to cross two abominable seas and an even more abominable continent, for the sole purpose of privacy, and privacy he meant to have at all costs.
As the Saluria weighed anchor and steamed out of the Golden Gate, he went below to see that his valet had made satisfactory disposition of his varied belongings. His state-room was at the end of a short passage leading from the main, one, and he was displeased at finding the deep ledge under the passage window completely filled with flowers and fruit that evidently belonged to some one occupying a room in the same passage.
He rang for the cabin-boy.
"Remove that greengrocer's shop!" he commanded peremptorily. "It is abominably stuffy down here. We can't have the port-holes filled up like that, you know."
The bland face of the young Chinaman assumed an expression of mild inquiry.
"Take away!" ordered Percival, resorting to gesture.
"No can," said the boy, calmly. "All same b'long one missy. Missy b'long cap'n."
Percival turned impatiently to his valet, who was coming through the passage.
"Judson, get those things out of the window, and keep them out. Do you hear?"
"Yes, sir. But where shall I put them, sir?"
"On the floor—in the sea—wherever you like," said Percival, as he slipped his arms into the top-coat that was being respectfully held for him.
Once again on deck, he found that the wind had acquired a sudden edge. The short chop of the waves and scudding of gray clouds indicated that the customary bit of rough weather after leaving the Golden Gate was to be expected. Percival was not happy in rough weather. He attributed it to extreme sensitiveness to atmospheric conditions. Whatever the cause, the result remained that he was not happy.
The motion of the vessel made him pause a moment. The casual observer would have said he stopped to cast an experienced eye on a sky that could not deceive him; but the casual observer does not always know. It is a long distance between the prow and the stern of an ocean liner, when the deck is composed of alternating mountains and valleys that one has to climb and descend. Percival found it decidedly hard going before he reached his steamer-chair.
When he did so, he encountered a sight that filled him with chagrin. Wrapped in the folds of his rug was that obnoxious blue-and-lavender steamer-coat, with its owner snugly ensconced within, her eyes closed, and her cheek brazenly reposing on the Hascombe crest that adorned the pillow under her head!
Percival paused, irresolute, and his nostrils quivered. He wanted very much to sit down, and he was unwilling to occupy any other steamer-chair, for fear its owner might claim it. There was nothing left for him but to pace up and down that undulating deck until the young person opened her eyes and discovered, by glances which he would render unmistakable, that she was trespassing.
When his third round brought him in front of her, and he saw that she was awake, he carefully adjusted his monocle, and turned upon her a look that was not unfamiliar to certain menials in the employ of Hascombe Hall.
But no withering blight followed his look. Instead, the wearer of the gaudy coat sat up suddenly and said, with a radiant smile:
"Well, did you ever! Where did you come from?"
By a curious twist, his mind suddenly beheld a rolling prairie in place of the tumbling sea, and a comely figure in khaki and brown leggings in place of the muffled form in the hideous coat. His suspicion was confirmed when he met the frank gaze of the bluest eyes that ever held a challenge.
Instead of being amused, Percival was profoundly annoyed. The incident on the train had been pretty enough in its way, but it was closed. As it stood, it had been rather artistic and satisfying. A wild, unknown bit of femininity dashing into his life for ten throbbing minutes, then vanishing into the sunset, was one thing, and this very tangible young person in clothes of the wrong cut and color, addressing him in terms of easy familiarity, was quite another.
"I beg your pardon," he said stiffly. "Did you address me?"
Her eyes clouded.
"Why, I thought—I thought you were some one I knew. Is this your chair?"
"It is. Pray do not discommode yourself?"
"That is all right," she answered, trying to disentangle her high heels from his rug. "I've had my nap, thank you. Think I'll go down and get a sandwich."
Percival waited in frigid silence until she had departed; then he sank limply into the warm nest she had just left, and closed his eyes on a world that failed in all respects to give satisfaction.
If there is a place on earth where one meets with the present face to face, it is on shipboard. Whether salt water and sea air act as a narcotic on memories of the past and dreams of the future has never been proved, but it is undeniably true that at sea time becomes a static thing and concerns itself solely with the affairs of the moment.
During that first long afternoon Percival slept; and if the faithless Hortense essayed to haunt his dreams, she was drowned in the profundity of his slumber. It was not until his valet touched his arm and respectfully submitted the information that the first gong had sounded for dinner that he woke to the fact that the Saluria was still swinging from the trough to the summit of increasingly high waves and that the deck was virtually deserted.
"If you are not feeling quite the thing, sir," said the valet, solicitously, "shall I serve your dinner on deck, sir?"
Instantly Percival rose.
"By no means," he said coldly. "Get me a sherry and bitters. I'll dress at once."
Proud indifference to every passing sensation was manifest in each detail of his careful toilet when he took his place at the captain's table some twenty minutes later. With a haughty inclination of the head, he seated himself and, apparently unaware of the glances cast upon him, devoted himself to an absorbed perusal of the menu. He was quite used to being looked at; in fact, he suffered the admiration of the public with noble tolerance: only it must keep its distance; he could have no presuming.
On his arrival the conversation suffered a sudden chill; but the captain, who knew the signs of approaching icebergs, soon steered the talk back into warm waters. It was evident that the captain was in the habit of occupying the center of the stage, a fact which should have gratified Percival, inasmuch as it focused attention at the far end of the table. Strange to say, he was not gratified. He conceived an immediate dislike for the large, good-looking officer, who seemed built especially to show off his smart uniform, and who brazenly ignored all conventions save those of navigation, His peculiarities of speech, which at another time might have gratified Percival and confirmed the report he was bearing back to England that Americans were, if possible, more obnoxious at home than abroad, now jarred upon him grievously. He found it difficult to follow the story that was causing the present merriment.
"And when my Nelson eye discovered," the captain was concluding, "that Ah Foo was perambulating an affair in Shanghai, I summoned the slave and asked him if his mind was set on becoming festooned in matrimony. He thought it was. So I up and bought the damsel for him, paid one hundred Mex. for her, and, if you'll believe me, haven't had a dime's worth of work out of Ah Foo since!"
Percival found himself on the dry beach of non-comprehension when the tide of laughter followed the receding story,
"A cup of very strong tea and dry toast," he said over his shoulder to the waiting Chinaman.
As his eyes returned to the study of the menu, he was for the first time aware that the objectionable young person, with a glitter of rhinestones in her hair, was sitting next the captain, giving him story for story, and laughing much more than the occasion seemed to Percival to warrant. He particularly disliked to hear a woman laugh aloud in public, and he was vexed with himself that he looked up every time her laugh rang out. To be sure, she was well worth looking at. Despite the clashing colors of her costume, he could not deny the charm of her blue eyes and black hair, and of the red lips whose only fault was that they smiled too much. It was her dress, her freedom, her unrestrained gaiety that offended Percival. In England a girl of her age would still be a trembling bud, modestly hiding behind a mass of elderly foliage.
The absence of a chaperon puzzled him. The two other women at the table, a Mrs. Weston and her daughter, had evidently just met her, and the captain seemed to be the only one who had known her before. He called her "Bobby," and treated her with the easy familiarity of a big brother.
"Don't talk to me about Wyoming!" he was saying now, in answer to some boast of hers. "Anybody can have it that wants it. I make 'em a present of it, with Dakota thrown in. You remember, Bobby, the last time I was at the ranch? All hands on deck at two bells in the morning watch, a twenty-mile sail on a bucking bronco, then back to the ranch, where we shipped a cargo of food that would sink a tramp, A gallon or so of soup in the hold, a saddle of venison, a broiled antelope, and six vegetables in the forward hatchway, with three kinds of pie in the bunkers. It was a regular food jag three times a day. It took me just two weeks at sea to get over those two days on land."
Percival stirred uneasily. His tea and toast were long in coming, and a certain haunted look was dawning on his face. Through the port-holes he could see the deep-purple sky rising to give place to still deeper-purple sea as the ship rose with sickening regularity. He took an olive.
"Isn't there a good deal of motion?" asked Mrs. Weston, a delicate, appealing blonde, whose opinions were always tentative until they received the stamp of masculine approval.
"Motion!" thundered the captain, bringing down a huge tattooed fist on the table. "Isn't that like a woman? When I have ordered this calm weather especially for Mrs. Weston's benefit! I've a good mind to whistle for a hurricane."
"No, no, please!" she protested in mock terror.
Percival turned away from the foolish chatter. Matters of a deep and sinister nature occupied his mind. He felt within him wars and rumors of wars. He wished that the curtains would stop swinging out from the wall in that silly fashion. It was deuced uncanny to see them hang at an angle of twenty-five degrees, then slowly and mysteriously fall back into their places. He tried not to watch them, but it was even more dangerous to look at the man next him breaking soft-boiled eggs into a glass tumbler. He took another olive.
An electric fan overhead whirred incessantly, and the bright, flashing blades smote his eyes with diabolical precision. The circular motion, instead of cooling him, brought beads of perspiration to his brow.
"Who'll have some Chinese chow?" asked the captain. "I always order a dish or two the first night out. Can't give you any birds'-nest soup—"
A violent shudder passed over Percival, and he made a lightning calculation of the distance from the table to the stairway. In doing so he noted that it was a spiral stairway. Why in the name of heaven was everything round? The port-holes, the revolving-chairs, the electric fans, the plates, the olives—
At the thought of olives, all the pent-up possibilities became imminent certainties. He rose dizzily, collided with the Chinaman bringing his tea, and made blindly for the stairs. Half-way up, he staggered; each step rose to meet him, then fell away from his foot the moment he touched it. He grasped the baluster-rail, and stood wildly clinging, like a shipwrecked sailor to a mast. He was dazed, dumb, paralyzed with fear of the inevitable, and aware only of the burst of uncontrollable laughter that had followed his abrupt retreat. Somebody from above held out a succoring hand, at which he grasped frantically. Stumbling, half blind, this unfortunate victim to atmospheric conditions was guided up the remaining stops and out on deck, where he was anchored to the railing and kindly left to his fate.
During the monotonous days that followed, the Honorable Percival Hascombe discovered that the satisfaction of being exclusive is usually tempered by the discomfort of being bored. So lofty and forbidding had been his manner that no one had ventured to intrude even a casual good morning. A bachelor under thirty, with a competence of such dimensions that it had entailed incompetency, and a doting family that danced attendance upon his every whim, he was figuratively as well as literally at sea in this new environment. At times he faltered in his stern determination not to allow any one to become acquainted with him. It was only the fear that any leniency might result in undue liberty on the part of some aggressive American that caused him to preserve his deep seclusion.
Bored, blase, blighted, he had one more affliction to endure. The young person had gotten hopelessly on his nerves; in fact, she was the most disturbing object on the horizon. She played shuffle-board in front of his chair when he wanted to read; she practised new dance-steps with the first officer when he wanted to sleep; she caused him to lift his unwilling eyes a dozen times an hour by her endless circuits of the deck. She was on terms of friendship with everybody on board except himself, including the second class and steerage. There seemed no end to her activities, no limit to her enthusiasm. The more she attracted his unwilling attention, the more persistently he ignored her.
As the time passed and danger of intrusion lessened, his ennui increased. One dull, humid day, when the whole world resembled a dripping sponge, Percival reached the limit of his endurance. The canvas was down, and nothing could be seen but long vistas of slippery decks, with barefooted Chinese sailors everlastingly mopping and slopping about in the wet. He had counted the five hundred and fiftieth raindrop that clung to the red life-belt at the rail when he saw the young Scotchman next him look at his watch.
"What time do you make it?" asked Percival, and his voice sounded almost strange to him.
"Eleven," said the man, getting to his feet; "aboot time for the fun to begin in the bathing-tank."
Ordinarily Percival would have allowed the conversation to end there, but he felt now that he would be risking his sanity if he sat there any longer counting raindrops.
"What's taking place?" he asked listlessly.
"The usual morning diversion: the captain's daughter is teaching a couple of bairns to swim."
"Surely they won't go in on a beastly day like this!"
"I'll be bound they do. Shall we go find out?"
Forward a number of people were already hanging over the rail, highly diverted at what was taking place in the big canvas tank on the deck below. Percival, looking down, beheld the young person standing on the lower rung of a ladder, coaxing a small boy to jump from the platform above. Now, on several occasions in the past Percival had met Disillusion face to face in a bathing-suit. A certain attenuated memory of the faithless Hortense made him wince even yet. But the round and graceful figure poised in dancing impatience on the ladder-rung defied criticism. Much as he disapproved of the public exhibition, he could not check a breath of admiration.
The small boy shivering on the platform vibrated between courage and fear; then, urged by the shouts from above, and lured by that sparkling face and those outstretched arms below, he leaped. Shrieks of laughter followed as his fat little body spanked the water, and was quickly righted and deposited, gasping, but victorious, on a life-buoy. Then the small girl must dive, and after that all three must splash and jump and float and swim like a trio of mad young porpoises.
The Honorable Percival was a good swimmer himself, and his interest kindled as he watched the perfect ease with which the young person handled herself in the narrow confines of the tank. While he deplored the wretched taste of the proceeding, he had to admit that she carried it off with admirable lack of self-consciousness. She swam as she did everything else, with impetuous joy, and seemed as unaware of the admiring glances of the spectators as the children themselves.
"Did ye see her the other day when she climbed to the crow's-nest?" asked the Scotchman, with enthusiasm.
"No," said Percival, curtly.
"The wind was blowing at a bittie, but she went up the rigging like a sailor. I doubt if the lass would be afraid of the de'il himself."
"Probably jolly well used to all this sort of thing," said Percival, wearily.
"Indeed, no; this is her first sea-voyage. She never saw a ship before."
"I thought you said she was the captain's daughter."
"So she is; but he's had her out on a Western ranch since she was a bit of a lass. Quite a romance!"
"Yes. Her mother was a play-actress. Ran off with an English nobleman. Left the captain and the lassie in the lurch, and died before she reached England. I had the story from the purser."
"Where's the girl going now?"
"The captain is fetching her the round trip to Hong-Kong, to break off some love-affair at home, I believe. But if she's as canny as she's bonny, I'll wager she'll outwit him before they have done."
Percival, who at first had remained in the back row of the spectators, during this recital moved to the front, and now as he looked down he suddenly encountered the laughing glance of the person under discussion. She was lazily watching him from where she floated in the water, with her loosened hair circling in a dark cloud about her head. The expression on her face gave him instant cause for alarm.
Since that first day when she had spoken to him, he had studiously avoided meeting her eye, and had even come to congratulate himself on having removed from her mind the suspicion of a former encounter. But there was that in the glance that now met and held his that dispelled any such hope. It indicated all too clearly that she had not been deceived, and that she was treating the matter with unbecoming levity.
Percival returned haughtily to his steamer-chair, but not to count raindrops. He had food for new and most irritating reflections. The girl's refusal to take his cue and ignore the very mild flirtation that had occurred on the car-platform placed him in a situation at once awkward and embarrassing. He rather prided himself on never taking advantage of any tribute of admiration that might be tendered him by the less experienced of her sex. On more than one occasion in the past he had heroically extinguished the tender flames that his own charms had kindled in susceptible bosoms. He had come to share the belief of his mother that he possessed a rare degree of chivalry in protecting women against himself.
But this impossible child of Nature either did not know the rules of the game, or chose to ignore them. He would be forced to continue this distasteful partnership memory, or else dissolve it with a casual reference to the episode, which would dispose of it for good and all. He had about decided upon the latter course when Fate forestalled him.
On his way down to luncheon he encountered Miss Boynton coming up the companionway. Her hair, still damp, was hanging about her shoulders, and she carried a bundle of bath-towels under her arm. Both stood politely aside, then both started forward, meeting midway.
"I—I—beg your pardon," said Percival.
"What for?" she asked.
"For—for not recognizing you the other day." It was not in the least what he had meant to say, but it was said, and he must go on as best he could. "Not expecting to see you, you know, and all that."
She stood shaking her hair in the breeze and smiling. While she evidently bore no resentment, she was not helping him out in his apology.
"One sees so many faces in traveling," he went on lamely, "and all so much alike."
"I'd have known your face anywhere," she said.
He took a step downward, but she did not move. Instead she leaned nonchalantly against the wall and began braiding her hair.
"I know your name, too," she said, with a look half daring and half quizzical. "I looked you up on the passenger-list."
"But how did you know—"
"Oh, it was easy to spot you. You were the only man on board who would fit 'The Honorable Percival Hascombe and Valet.'"
Percival found her scoffing tone intolerable. He descended two more steps, but she stopped him with a request.
"If you don't mind," she said, flinging the finished braid over her shoulder, "I wish you'd write your grand name on my Panama hat sometime; it's going to be a souvenir of the trip."
With an unintelligible answer, he made his escape. His worst fears were realized: he had given an inch; she had taken an ell. The crack in the shell of his privacy was widening alarmingly and peeping through, he shuddered at what he saw.
Day after day the steamship Saluria sailed the most amiable of seas. So clear was the atmosphere at times that a glimpse could be had of the planet Venus disporting herself in the heavens at high noon. Life on shipboard became permeated with that spirit of fellowship which is apt to make itself felt the moment the restraints of convention are lifted. Even the Honorable Percival succumbed in a measure to the insidious charm of the long, lazy days that were punctuated only by the ship's bells.
He was still an apparently indifferent spectator of all that was going on, but the fact that he was a spectator showed that he was relaxing the rigid rules he had laid down for himself. The only person who addressed him during the day was Bobby Boynton, who gave him a free and easy greeting when they met in the morning, and then seemed to forget his existence. His fear that she would follow up the conversation begun in the companionway was apparently groundless, for she seemed ridiculously engrossed in other things.
Among the half-dozen young people on board who were perpetually organizing tournaments, dances, card-parties, and concerts, she was the most indefatigable. Not being responsible to any one for her actions, and possessing a creative imagination, she indulged in escapades that provided the older people with their chief topic of conversation. Her sternest critics, however, smiled as they shook their heads.
The captain from the first had treated her very much as he treated the other passengers. The parental role was not a familiar one, and he shirked it. The only time that he rose to a sense of duty was when he found her in the writing-room, her head bent over a desk. Then rumor said authority was bruskly asserted, letters were confiscated, and tears flowed instead of ink.
About the time the Honorable Percival was congratulating himself on having put her in her proper place, and having kept her there, his confidence received a shock. Coming on deck one day, he found her again seated in his steamer-chair. This time she made no pretense of rising, but obligingly made a place for him on the foot-rest. The invitation was loftily declined.
"I've been waiting a coon's age for you," she said, with an audacious upward glance. "I wanted to tell you that I've put you on the program for a song at the concert to-morrow night."
"Quite impossible; I shouldn't think of such a thing for a moment," he began; then curiosity got the better of his annoyance. "But if I may ask, how on earth did you know that I sang?"
Bobby's eyes danced, and her submerged dimple came to the surface.
"I didn't," she said; "but they dared me to ask you, and I wouldn't take a dare, would you?"
"I am afraid I don't quite follow you," said Percival.
"Well, you see," explained Bobby, "they dared me to ask you, and I didn't mind, because I was dead sure you sang. A person ought to be able to do anything with a voice like yours."
Percival stroked his small mustache meditatively.
"As a matter of fact, you know," he said in a tone from which the chill had vanished, "I suppose an English voice is rather conspicuous among Americans, isn't it?"
"Yours is," said Bobby; "that is, what I've heard of it."
And then she was gone like a flash, leaving the Honorable Percival to cogitate upon the extraordinary manners of American girls, and a certain cleverness they at times displayed. Lady Hortense Vevay, for instance, had had four uninterrupted weeks in which to discover anything unusual in his voice, and he must confess she had been rather stupid about it. But why had that impossible young American ruined a pretty compliment by her parting shot? Did she feel that she had any claim upon him? Did she expect him to pay her any attention? Preposterous!
The first break in the lazy routine of the voyage came when the dim outline of the Hawaiian Islands gradually took definite shape in the form of old Diamond Head which loomed strangely out of the water. Sea-gulls came out to meet the steamer, circling on white wings against the blue, and the air grew soft and fragrant with the odors of flowers and tropical fruits.
As the Saluria slowly swung into the harbor and dropped anchor, the promenade-deck was full of lively, chattering people, all arrayed in white, and all eager for the first glimpse of the strange land. Dozens of naked native boys were swimming about the steamer, causing general merriment by their dexterity in diving for coins. One saucy brown imp who had just come up with a silver piece in his mouth, caught sight of the Englishman in the crowd above, and with a shrewdness born of experience called out: "Hi there, English Johnny! Me no 'Merican boy; me Johnny Bull boy. Me no want dime; want shilling! Here you are! Aw right!"
The invitation met no response. The Honorable Percival greeted with calm disdain the laugh that followed it. He was not in the least interested in impertinent young Hawaiians. A matter of much greater importance occupied his attention. He had just been informed by the purser that, owing to the crowded condition of the steamer, he would be compelled to share his stateroom with another passenger during the remainder of the voyage. This catastrophe darkened even the tropical sun. He was indignant with the company in San Francisco that had failed to explain this contingency; he was angry with the purser for not being able to change the disagreeable order of things; but most of all he was furious with the unknown stranger, whom in the blackness of his mood he pictured as either a fat German or a chattering American.
So perturbed was he over this circumstance that he could not refrain from venting his ill humor on somebody, and his valet being unavailable at the time, he took it out upon himself.
"No, I am not going ashore," he said somewhat curtly to Bobby Boynton, who had organized a party with sufficient diversions to last two days instead of one.
"You'd better come along," said Bobby. "We are going to shoot up the town of Honolulu."
"I don't know that I should particularly care for that," said Percival, coldly.
She looked at him with frank curiosity.
"Say, why don't you ever let yourself have a good time?" she asked. "Everybody else is going except the captain. He's got the gout. Says he's carrying his grandfather's cocktails around in his starboard toe."
She waited for a response, but none came.
"It's going to be awfully stupid here with everybody gone," she persisted. "Why won't you come?"
She was dressed in a short white serge and the Panama hat, which as yet was innocent of autographs. It was astonishing what a difference the absence of conflicting colors made in her appearance.
For a moment Percival's decision wavered before those pleading tones, but the next he caught sight of Mrs. Weston and Elise evidently watching with amused interest the result of Bobby's bold move.
"Another dare, as I think you call it?" he asked. "You'll have to excuse me, Miss Boynton. Sight-seeing is quite out of my line."
He watched the gay party board the launch, Mrs. Weston, the two girls, and the college boys whose raucous voices and offhand manners had grated upon him ever since leaving San Francisco. As the small boat got away from the steamer, one white-clad figure separated itself suddenly from the rest, and waved a friendly hand to him. He started, then, lifting his cap stiffly, moved away from the rail. The little minx was pretty; in fact, he acknowledged for the first time that she was distractingly pretty. But she was also presuming, and presumption was a thing he would permit in no one.
For the next few hours Percival found life not worth living. He sat on the hot deck in solitary state, gloved in white chamois, with a newspaper over his white-clad knees, engaged in the forlorn hope of trying to keep clean while the ship was coaling. Finding this an impossibility, he took refuge in the deserted-writing-room, where all the port-holes were closed and the air as dead as that of an Egyptian tomb.
Satirical letters home were Percival's chief diversion. In them he expressed his unqualified disapproval of the Western Hemisphere. The assurance that they would be read by an adoring group of feminine relatives gave wing to an imagination that was not wont to soar. Today, however, inspiration was lacking. On opening the drawer of the first desk he came to, he found a letter half begun which had evidently been thrust there suddenly and forgotten. Across the top of the page was written:
"My darling H——-"
Percival closed the drawer hurriedly. The conjunction of the letter H with that particular adjective started echoes. He circled the room in search of a desk not haunted by epistolatory ghosts.
"Particularly asinine brand of pen!" he exclaimed in disgust. "Must have been used for a corkscrew!"
Corkscrews changed the current of his thought into a more pleasant channel. But even the mild consolation thus suggested was denied him. The smoking-room was closed. He wandered disconsolately to his state-room and, flinging himself on the narrow sofa, stared at the ceiling. Every fiber of his being shrieked for England and for the revivifying warmth of adulation.
His mind dwelt longingly upon Hascombe Hall and the acres of parkland, moorland, and farmland that were its inheritance. Then he thought bitterly upon that paragon of perfection who had caused his banishment. How completely she would have filled the role of mistress of that noble hall! He pictured her in irreproachable toilets, pouring tea in the east drawing-room, and receiving her guests with the exact shade of warmth that their social positions demanded.
As he recalled her manner of cool distinction and her polished, impersonal phrases, another feminine figure dared to flit between him and this lady of manifold merit. No sooner would he indignantly banish her image than she would come dancing back, a gay little figure, with too much color in her checks and too much daring in her eyes.
"Why don't you let yourself have a good time?" she had asked, and the question repeated itself now with maddening insistence. Was he, who had always had everything, now missing something—something that other people had?
When two bells sounded he reluctantly went below for lunch. The prospect of a tete-a-tete with the captain was anything but pleasant. He understood about half that the officer said, and with that half he usually disagreed. His first remark was unfortunate:
"All this dirt means more washing down of the decks, I suppose. Beastly racket it makes. Is there any earthly reason why it should always be done at dawn?"
"Most one-sidedly," said the captain; "it gives the sailors a chance to see the sunrise."
There was a short silence, then Percival asked:
"What's the name of that young South American who went ashore with your daughter?"
"South American?" repeated the captain. "I pass."
"The blatant youth who sits at your left."
"Oh, you mean Vaughn. He's no South American. He hails from Virginia."
"Thought he said he was a Southerner. May I trouble you for the mustard?"
"Did the Daughter of the Revolution go along?" asked the captain.
"Mrs. Weston. She's a D.A.R. She has told me so five times; that's how I know."
"Really, why was she chosen to be the Daughter of the Regiment?"
"The Revolution, not the regiment. You remember that little skirmish that took place in '75?"
Percival considered this thrust beneath his notice. His simmering antagonism for the captain was nearing the boiling-point.
"I say," he said, "will you kindly arrange for a bit of air to enter this room? It's ghastly, perfectly ghastly."
"Sure," said the captain, dexterously mixing a salad of alligator pears. "Ah Foo, open some of those ports and let in the coal-dust. Have some of this tropical mess?"
"Thanks, no. I'm not specially fit today. Had a beastly night of it. Fancy having to keep one's umbrella up in the berth to keep the light from the passage out of one's eyes! I don't believe such a thing could happen on a British steamer. Can't you manage to give me another state-room?"
"That's the purser's job; he's the room-clerk," said the captain. "I'm only the skipper."
Percival glanced quickly at the weather-beaten face, but found no guiding expression.
"I can't say I found your purser over-civil," he went on. "He insists on putting another passenger in my state-room. Nothing was said about it in San Francisco, nothing whatever. I shall report the matter at my first opportunity."
"I bet you've drawn that Chinese bigwig that's booked from here," said the captain, grinning.
Percival pushed back his plate. A German or an American had appalled him, but a Chinaman!
"I say, this is a bit thick, you know. What time does the next launch go ashore?" he demanded, with, a fierce determination to find the purser and demand satisfaction.
"About to start now," said the captain, adding, with a twinkle: "Better think twice about that Chinaman. If he takes the upper berth, his queue'd come in mighty handy to hang your umbrella on."
Percival dashed up the stairs. He had been seeking an excuse for going ashore for the last four hours, and now he felt that he had one. It was of the utmost importance, he assured himself, that he see the purser without further delay.
When a man insists too strenuously upon his rights, the imps of perversity invariably combine to thwart him. Percival was aware of their pursuing footsteps from the moment he went ashore and lost his umbrella, to the hour of his return to the dock, when he found himself face to face with a situation of baffling perplexity.
No sooner had he stepped from the launch that had started him on his double quest, which ostensibly had only the purser for its object, than he was surrounded by a noisy, gesticulating crowd. Insistent requests that he should buy a string of shells, adopt a chameleon, wear a wreath of carnations, and take a drive, were proffered in broken English, and he made his escape by jumping into a motor-car and slamming the door.
"Where to, sir?" asked the gratified chauffeur.
"Take me where everybody goes," directed Percival.
"The Pali? Waikiki? Punch-Bowl? Aquarium?"
"Yes, yes. Go on. You see, as a matter of fact, I'm looking for some one."
Percival's first impression of Honolulu was that of a futurist sketch, a streak of green standing for the palm-shaded streets, a streak of scarlet representing the royal Poinciana, and various impressionistic dots indicating native Hawaiians. The motor in which he found himself was very ancient, having evidently traveled from the center to the circumference of civilization by easy stages. Its age and asthmatic condition should have made it an object of veneration to the chauffeur, but such was not the case. Like a belated express, it was driven through the town and out into the open country. Luxurious villas, jungles of cacti, Chinese tea-houses, taro patches, banana plantations—all presented one mad panorama to Percival, who jolted from side to side on the back seat.
Presently there was a precipitous halt, and the chauffeur indicated that he was to get out.
"What for?" asked Percival, crossly.
"The Pali," said the chauffeur, impressively. "Eighteen hundred feet above the level of the sea, where the early inhabitants of Oahu made their last stand against the enemy."
"I'm quite sure she isn't here," said Percival. Then he caught himself, and went into a rather elaborate explanation to cover his confusion. "You see, I'm looking for the purser. The purser of the Saluria, you know. He's put a nasty Chinaman in my state-room, and I've got to find him before the ship sails."
"Everybody comes first to the Pali," said the man.
Percival glanced skeptically at the great granite cliff that seemed such an unpromising retreat for pursers, then he stepped out of the motor, and made his way around the sharp angle of stone wall. As he did so, a gale struck him that sent his hat careening over the precipice. He gazed after it in chagrin. The fact that one of the great panoramic views of the world lay at his feet was quite obliterated by the unhappy knowledge that an English Bowler had landed in the fork of a distant tree, defying recovery.
"Where next, sir?" asked the chauffeur, surprised at his quick return.
"Anywhere out of this damned wind!" said Percival between his teeth.
"Your friend might be at Waikiki Beach," suggested the chauffeur, amiably.
"He's not my friend. He's a purser, I tell you. Wants to put—"
But his words were lost in the whir of the engine. All the way back to Honolulu and through the town Percival was seeing this strange, tropical land through the blue eyes of a certain little untraveled Western savage. What a revelation it must be to one used to the barren alkali deserts of Wyoming, where, nothing grew but sage-bush and cacti! It wouldn't be half bad, he thought, to hear what she had to say about it all. But where was one to look for her?
"We might try the pool-rooms," suggested the chauffeur.
Percival looked at him blankly, then he remembered.
"Take me to a hat shop," he said peremptorily.
When they arrived at Waikiki Beach he got out of the motor with more alacrity than was habitual to him, and entered the cocoanut-grove. By Jove! he thought, it was not a bad sight to see the palms dangling over the beach like that, with the jolly breakers rolling in, and the bay full of changing colors. Coral reefs! That's what caused the color; he had read it in a book somewhere. Air was good, too, fruity and salty and not too hot. For the moment he forgot his cares; he even forgot that his new hat was one of those peculiar shapes which Englishmen often pore over in the advertising pages of American magazines for the sole purpose of enjoying a sense of superb and vast superiority.
As he scanned the beach his eye was caught by three ladies and three natives standing about a surf-boat in animated discussion. The youngest of the ladies, who wore a bathing-suit of conspicuous hue and did most of the talking, suddenly detached herself from the others and came flying across the sand toward him.
"Mr. Hascombe!" she demanded breathlessly, "you'll take me out in the surf-boat, won't you? The boys haven't come, and Mrs. Weston is afraid for me to go alone."
"But my dear young lady, it's quite impossible. I'm looking for the purser. They say he's going to put—"
"Bother the purser! We haven't a minute to lose. The steamer sails at five."
"But really, I can't. And I quite agree with Mrs. Weston that it would be most awfully improper for you to go alone."
"Well, if you don't take me, I will go alone!" she said defiantly; then she suddenly changed her tactics, and added with childish insistence: "But you are going to take me now, aren't you? Please?"
He could scarcely believe his senses when, a few minutes later, he found himself frantically struggling into a rented bathing-suit in a steaming little bath-house that gave evidence of recent use. But a glance into the mirror that hung on the door not only convinced him of his identity, but added the comforting assurance that he was not by any means looking his worst in his present garb. He paused long enough to flex a presentable bicep with pardonable pride.
"Hurry up!" called Bobby, joyfully, as he emerged. "There are three Kanakas and you and I. Can you swim?"
"Rather," said Percival.
They ran down to the beach to where the canoe, a long, narrow affair with curious outriders, awaited them.
"The last boat that went out capsized," cried Bobby, gleefully taking her place behind the second Kanaka. "The men were in the water five minutes, but the sharks didn't happen to notice them."
"Sharks!" exclaimed Percival in consternation.
The native in the front seat grinned and shook his head.
"No sharks this side of the reef," he said reassuringly.
As they paddled out over the blue water, Bobby's enthusiasm dashed like spray against the rock of Percival's seeming indifference.
"Isn't this the most heavenly place that ever happened!" she cried. "Look at the mountains back yonder against the sky, and the mists in the valleys, and all the color spilling out over the edge of the land into the sea!"
"Ye-es," said Percival; "but as a matter of fact I find the mosquitos peculiarly trying."
Now, if the truth must be told, it was not the mosquitos which were disturbing the Honorable Percival. It was not even his failure to find the purser. It was the disconcerting discovery that this persistent young woman from the States was making him do things he didn't in the least want to do. He glared gloomily at the back of her white neck, across which a dark lock floated tantalizingly.
As the space between them and the shore widened, the surf became stronger and higher, until by the time they reached the reef the canoe was dancing like a shell on the water.
"Afraid?" asked Bobby, teasingly, flashing a smile over her shoulder.
"I don't think," said Percival, and, immediately was chagrined at having indulged in such a vulgar expression.
"I love it!" cried Bobby. "It's more fun than a bucking bronco. Is this our wave? All right! Let her go!"
The Kanaka in the prow gave the signal, and the boat backed into the monster wave just as it was about to break. Simultaneously the paddles were plunged into the water, and a vigorous pull was made for the shore. There was a merry whiz of rushing waters, a breathless suspension in midair, then a gigantic upheaval as the boat plunged over the crest of the wave and shot like an arrow two miles in two minutes to the beach.
Percival, as has been stated, rather prided himself on having exhausted life's thrills. When one has made a reputation for luging at Caux and has raced on skis with the professionals at St. Moritz, not to boast of a daring flight in a French aeroplane, one is apt to be rather superior to minor sports. But the present thrilling diversion, shared with a girl as irresistibly pretty and as utterly abandoned to the joy of the moment as Bobby Boynton, proved quite the most exhilarating pastime in which he had ever indulged.
Again and again the boat went out, and again and again Mrs. Weston beckoned frantically and imperatively from the pier. The last time she looked at her watch, she seemed to give up the hope of getting the delinquents back to shore. Gathering up scarfs and parasols, she and Elise hurried back to the steamer.
For the two young people in the boat the steamer had ceased to exist. Everything had ceased to exist except a narrow shell of wood, three brown-backed natives, and one towering wave after another that shot them through delicious realms of space and left them, with every nerve a-tingle, laughing into each other's eyes.
"Ripping, isn't it?" cried Percival on the third return. "Shall we have one more go?"
"I expect we ought to be going," said Bobby, shaking the salt spray out of her hair. "I don't see anything of Mrs. Weston and Elise."
"I don't want to see anything of them," cried Percival, recklessly. "Right ho! once more!"
She was nothing loath, and they went blithely forth to meet the next big wave.
"Mrs. Weston has gone!" said Bobby when they again touched shore. "Wouldn't it be a lark if we were left?"
No bullet ever brought a soaring bird to ground more promptly than this remark brought the Honorable Percival to his senses.
"Gad!" he cried, "but it's impossible! My luggage is all on board!"
He scrambled frantically out of the boat and rushed to his bath-house. The prospect of being stranded, on even a fairy island, with a dangerously beguiling maiden of the middle class was even more appalling than being divorced from his luggage. He struggled frantically into his clothes, losing three precious minutes over a broken shoe-lace. When he came out he found Bobby, very cool and collected, sipping an iced drink at the pavilion. Not waiting for her to finish, he rushed her into the waiting motor and implored the chauffeur to get them to the dock with all possible speed.
He was aghast at his own folly. It was incredible that he should have allowed himself to drift into such an awkward situation. They might not be missed until after the steamer sailed, in which case it was quite possible that the erratic captain would refuse to put back. The man might even make capital of the incident and claim that his daughter was compromised. What if he should demand satisfaction? What satisfaction would be due in the circumstances? Percival felt the hot blood rush to his head.
"Can't you speed her up a bit?" he urged, his elbows on the front seat and his eyes on the small watch encased in the leather strap about his wrist.
"Yes, do!" cried Bobby, excitedly. "I love to go fast!"
"Do you realize," asked Percival, assuming his sternest manner in order to impress her with the gravity of the situation, "that we stand a very good chance of being left?"
"I can't imagine a nicer place to be left in," said Bobby, adding between bounces, "besides, you needn't—look so cross—at me. It is all your—own fault."
The chauffeur at this point felt it incumbent upon him to avert a quarrel, so he offered the cheering assurance that it was only four forty-five, and he could get most anywhere in fifteen minutes. But even as he spoke there was an ominous report, followed by the unmistakable sound of escaping air.
"Oh, I say!" cried Percival in tones of horror, "not a puncture?"
"That's whut!" said the chauffeur, who had jammed on the brakes, and was now ruefully inspecting a back wheel.
"Can't stop for that!" cried Percival, impatiently. "Every second counts, my man. Doesn't matter how much we bounce so long as we get there."
"But I ain't goin' to ruin my tire."
"What the deuce do I care about your confounded old tire? I'll pay for it. I'll pay you anything you ask if you get me to the dock on time."
But after bumping furiously from cobblestone to cobblestone, the chauffeur rebelled and positively declined to go farther until the tire was changed.
"Then it's up to us to catch a streetcar!" cried Bobby, "What luck! Here comes one now. They only run once a week."
"Street-car? Oh, you mean a tram. To be sure! Hadn't thought of it. Shall we run for it?"
Thrusting a gold piece into the hand of the chauffeur, he made a fifty-yard dash for the corner that did credit to his early training. But the imperious signal with which he hailed the car was not heeded. Instead, a fat conductor leaned from the rear platform and obligingly volunteered the information that he was on the wrong corner.
"Intolerable insolence!" muttered Percival to Bobby, who had just come up. "What are you laughing at?"
"At your face when the car went by. Here comes a wagon. Quick! Ask the man if he can't take us the rest of the way."
"But we can't ride in a—"
"Yes, we can. We can ride on a broom-stick if we have to. Hurry!"
Percival plunged obediently into the street and made his request. He was meeting with little encouragement from the driver, who evidently thought he was mentally unsound, when Bobby came to his rescue. It was only by resorting to some of those feminine tricks of persuasion which the suffragists assure us are quite immoral that she succeeded in carrying her point.
Ten minutes later the curiosity of the main thoroughfare of Honolulu was raised to fever-heat by the singular spectacle of an austere and distinguished-looking Englishman and a pretty, if somewhat disheveled, young girl dangling their feet from the end of a dilapidated wagon that was being driven at a breakneck speed toward the wharf.
For once in his life Percival was indifferent to appearances. Everything else sank into insignificance beside the one supreme necessity of catching that steamer. There would not be another sailing for the Orient for ten days. The prospect of ten days in this lotus-land alone with a perilously pretty girl who had evidently taken an enormous fancy to him filled him with alarm. What possible explanation could he offer to Sister Cordelia, that august representative of the family waiting in Hong-Kong to minister to his broken and bleeding heart?
A violent lurch of the wagon caused him to grasp Bobby's arm to steady her, and as he did so she got a glimpse of his rueful countenance.
"Cheer up!" she cried. "There's no use looking like that even if we are left."
"Like a trout on a hook."
He shot a glance at her. Was it possible that she had divined his state of mind? Woman's intuition was a thing of which he stood in deadly awe.
But they were arriving at the dock, and there was no time to indulge in subtleties. He sprang from the wagon before it came to a halt.
"The Saluria!" he demanded wildly of a man in uniform. "Has she sailed?"
"The Saluria?" repeated the man with maddening deliberation. "Let's see. Yellow funnels, ain't she? Yep, that's her a-going out of the harbor now."
IN THE WIND-SHELTER
When Mrs. Western, anxiously watching the passengers come aboard from the last launch, had failed to see Bobby Boynton, she was partly reassured by young Vaughn, who was quite confident he had seen her on the dock. Not being satisfied, however, she made a tour of the crowded decks, looking into the music room, the writing-room and even the smoking-room, It was not until she went below and peeped into Bobby's empty cabin that she became seriously alarmed. Hurrying back on deck, she found, to her consternation, that the gang-planks had been lifted and the ship had weighed anchor. In great excitement she rushed to the bridge to find the captain, but he was not there. Five interminable minutes had been lost before she found him and stated her case.
The captain of an ocean-liner is too used to false alarms to be easily excited, and it was only after another thorough search was made, and no trace of Bobby and the Englishman found, that Captain Boynton concerned himself. Just what he said need not be chronicled. It was extremely crude and extremely personal, and punctuated by phrases that would have shocked the delicate sensibilities of the Honorable Percival.
His humor was not improved by the dictatorial messages that began to arrive by wireless:
Have chartered launch. Hold steamer,
Distance too great for launch. Meet us halfway.
Have started, Meet us.
The exciting news that somebody was left soon traveled from deck to deck, and when the steamer began slowly and laboriously to come about, the railing's were crowded with passengers. Presently a small dark object was visible in the distance, rising and falling unsteadily on the waves that lay between the steamer and the dim shore-line. Gradually the launch came nearer, and with some difficulty succeeded in getting alongside.
A cheer of welcome went up as Bobby and Percival scrambled up the ship's-ladder. Their hats were adorned with trailing wreaths of smilax, and about their shoulders were garlands of carnations. It was a stage entrance, sufficiently conspicuous and effective to have satisfied the soul of the most exacting manager.
Percival's abhorrence of publicity, which had been overshadowed by his anxiety, now took complete possession of him. With punctilious formality he handed Bobby on deck, then, with a manner sufficiently forbidding to discourage all questions and remarks, pushed his way haughtily through the laughing crowd and went below.
It was not until he entered his state-room that he recalled the grievance that ostensibly had sent him ashore. In the middle of his berth was an open suitcase, with its contents widely distributed. Three pairs of shoes lay in the middle of the floor, a bunch of variegated neckties depended from the door-knob, and a stack of American magazines and newspapers lay upon the sofa, Percival stood on the threshold sniffing. There was no mistaking the odor. It was white rose, a perfume forever associated with the perfidious Lady Hortense! Was he to suffer this refinement of cruelty in having the very air he breathed saturated with her memory? He rang furiously for his valet.
"Judson, see that that person's things are put upon his side of the room and kept there, and under no condition allow the port-holes to be closed."
"Very good, sir. Will you dress now for dinner!"
But Percival was in no mood for the long table d'hote dinner, with its inevitable comments upon the affair of the afternoon. He preferred a sandwich and a glass of wine in a secluded corner of the smoking-room, after which he played a few games of solitaire, then betook himself to bed. His sleep was not a restful one, being haunted by departing steamers, arriving Chinamen, and an endless procession of scornful Lady Hortenses.
He was awakened the next morning long before his accustomed time by some one stirring noisily about the state-room. After lying in indignant silence for a while behind his drawn curtains, he touched the electric bell. When Judson's respectful knock responded, he said in tones of icy formality:
"Judson, tell the steward to draw my tub."
"I say," broke in a voice on the outer side of the curtain, "while you are drawing things, I wish you'd try your hand at this cork."
There was a brief parley at the door, and a "Very good, sir," from Judson.
Percival's anger rose. It was bad enough to share his room with a stranger, but to share his valet as well was out of the question. When a second tap announced that his bath was ready, he slipped a long robe over his silk pajamas and emerged imperiously from his berth. It is not easy to maintain a haughty dignity in a bath-robe, with one's hair on end, but Percival came very near it.
The effort was wasted, however, for a cheerful "Good morning, Partner," greeted him, and his cold eye discerned not a slant-eyed Oriental, but a round, pink American face, partly covered with lather, beaming upon him.
"My name is Black," continued the new-comer—"Andy Black. And yours?"
"Hascombe," said Percival, haughtily aware of all that that name stood for in the annals of southern England.
"Oh, you're the fellow that got left! Any kin to the Texas Hascombes?" asked the youth, drawing the razor over his upper lip as if there were real work for it to do.
"None whatever," said Percival. "I'll trouble you for my sponge-bag."
When Percival got down to breakfast he found that the enforced proximity of Mr. Andy Black was not to be confined to the state-room. The plump, red-headed young man, with the complexion of a baby and a smile that impartially embraced the universe, was seated at his elbow.
"Who is the girl at the captain's right?" he demanded eagerly as Percival took his seat.
"His daughter," Percival said curtly, painfully aware of the amused glances that had followed his entrance.
"Some looker!" said Andy. "I see my finish right now."
The sight of it eventually pleased him, for he turned his back upon Percival, and became hilariously appreciative of the captain's jokes, even contributing one or two of his own. Before the meal was over he had informed the whole table that he was on his way to Hong-Kong in the interests of the Union Tobacco Company, that he had done business in every State in the Union, and that he had crossed the Pacific five times.
During the course of the day Percival visited the purser at regular intervals, demanding that his room-mate be removed. But the purser was a sturdy Hamburger, and the very sight of a monocle affected his disposition. Meanwhile Mr. Andy Black had made good use of his time. At the end of twenty-four hours he had spoken to virtually everybody on board, including the gray-haired old missionary who passed cream-peppermints about the deck at a quarter to ten every morning. He had played quoits with Elise Weston, punched the bag with the college boys, and taught Bobby Boynton to dance the tango. So obnoxious was the sight of him to the Honorable Percival that he turned his chair to the wall and buried himself in "Guillim's Display of Heraldry." He considered it as a personal affront on the part of Fate that just as he was beginning to find the voyage endurable this prancing young montebank should appear to spoil everything.
For the next two days he sternly avoided Bobby Boynton. His somewhat pompous letter of apology to the captain, in which he set forth at length the various unforeseen accidents that had caused him to miss the steamer, was curtly and ungraciously received, and strained relations ensued. Moreover, as he viewed the recent adventure in retrospect, he decided that he had been most negligent in observing those rules by which the conduct of an English gentleman should be regulated. In condescending to be amused he had gone too far, and it was now incumbent upon him to nip in the bud any gossip that might have risen concerning his attentions to the daughter of that odious captain.
Bobby survived the withdrawal of his favor with amazing indifference. What puzzled and annoyed him beyond measure was that the more oblivious of him she seemed, the more acutely aware of her he became. Twenty times a day he assured himself that it made no earthly difference to him whether she was playing quoits with the Scotchman or bean-bag with Andy Black, and yet not a page of his book would become intelligible until he made a round of the deck to find out what she was doing. The evenings were even worse: midnight often found him wrapped in his rug in his steamer-chair or morosely pacing the deck, waiting for some festivity in which Bobby was engaged to come to an end. The shocking lack of chaperonage and the liberty allowed young girls in the States served as themes for more than one bitter letter home.
But his cold aloofness was not destined to last. One morning when most of the passengers were concerned with the appearance of Bird Island on the horizon, he stumbled quite by accident upon Bobby curled up behind a wind-shelter on the other side of the deck, contributing some large salt tears to the brine of the ocean. Now, in that circle of society in which it had pleased Providence to place Percival it was considered the height of bad form to exhibit an emotion. His imagination could not picture one of the ladies of Hascombe Hall sitting in a public place with her hair tumbled over her face, and her shoulders shaking with sobs.
Nevertheless, the sight of this hitherto buoyant young creature in distress moved him to sit down beside her, and in the softly modulated tones upon which we have already commented coax her to tell him what was the matter.
Unlike the historic Miss Muffet who repulsed a similar attention from the spider, she welcomed his arrival. She even asked him if he had an extra handkerchief, her own having been reduced to a wet little ball. He had. He not only proffered it, but helped to wipe away the tears.
"I don't know what makes me so everlastingly silly," she said fiercely, trying to swallow the rising sobs, "but he won't understand!"
"The captain. I don't care if he is my father. Sometimes I don't like him a bit."
Neither did Percival. It was strange how the common antagonism drew them together. He was about to ask for further details when the old Peppermint Lady scurried past and, seeing them, turned back to impart the burning news that Bird Island was in sight.
"Yes," said Percival, shamelessly, "we have seen it."
"He doesn't know me if he thinks I'll give in," went on Bobby where she had left off. "I am just as stubborn as he is."
"There, now, I shouldn't talk about it if it made me cry," advised Percival, patting her shoulder.
"But I've got to talk to somebody," she said almost savagely. "What did he give me to the Fords for if he didn't think they were good enough? Pa Joe's as good as he is any day in the week."
"Who is Pa Joe?" asked Percival, groping in the dark.
"He's the darlingest old man in the world, and he owns the best cattle ranch in Wyoming. Anybody'll tell you so. He's been a real father to me, and the boys are real brothers—at least three of them are. They are just as good as anybody that ever lived, I don't care what the captain says."
There was another passionate burst of tears, and Percival had just succeeded in stemming the tide when the Scotchman bore down upon them.
"I beg your pardon, but did you know we were passing Bird Island?" he asked them.
"Yes," said Percival, hastily getting up and piloting him safely past. "As a matter of fact, some one was just asking for you in the smoking-room."
"I told the captain," sobbed Bobby, beating her hands together and apparently oblivious of interruptions, "that I'd come on this trip with him, but that it wouldn't make a bit of difference, and it hasn't."
"No, of course it hasn't," agreed Percival, soothingly, not in the least comprehending the drift of her remarks, but pleasantly aware that he was being confided in and that something very limp and lovely was under his protection.
"Isn't there a—a—Mrs. Ford on the ranch?" he asked by way of prolonging the interview.
"Not now. Dear Aunt Kitty died four years ago. That was when they sent me in to Cheyenne to school. But I'm finished now, and I'm going to stay on the ranch and take care of Pa Joe and the boys."
"Can't say it sounds exciting. How many children are there?"
"Children! Why, they are all as tall as you are, except Piffles. There's Ted, and Dick, and Piffles, and—Hal. I guess you saw Hal that day at the station."
For the first time since he had known her, her black lashes drooped consciously over her blue eyes. They were very long and thick lashes, and as they swept her flushed cheek, Percival not only forgot what she was saying, but went so far as to forget himself.
"I saw only one thing that day at the station," he said, with such an ardent look that it made Bobby smile through her tears. As a rule he disliked dimples, especially the stationary kind. But the one that now occupied, his attention was a very shy and elusive affair that kept the beholder watching very closely for fear he should miss it.
"Come," he said, taking advantage of the momentary sunshine, "you are a bit of a sportsman, you know. You mustn't come off by yourself and cry like this. Makes you feel so beastly seedy afterward, doesn't it?"
"Yes. But you don't understand. I want to do something that the captain's perfectly determined I sha'n't do. He didn't bring me on this trip just to give me a good time. Not on your life! He brought me to make me forget."
"Oh, that's the game, is it? Scuttling you off to sea to make you forget. Deuced interesting! I don't mind telling you I'm in something of the same sort of a hole myself."
"Really?" Her interest was roused instantly.
A mysterious change was taking place in their acquaintance. Bobby's tears had in some unaccountable manner taken all the starch out of Percival's manner.
"You mean," she went on, "that they are sending you off to keep you from marrying some one they don't like?"
"Not exactly. I shouldn't put up with that for a moment, you know."
"Of course you wouldn't, because you are a man. But suppose you were a girl, and your father was perfectly unreasonable. What would you do then?"
"I'd drop the matter for a bit," advised Percival, at a venture. "Let him think you didn't care a tuppeny. Pretend to be awfully keen about something else, and, likely as not, he'll come round. Not a bad idea that, by Jove! I've tried it."
"Do you think it would work?" asked Bobby, scanning his finely chiseled profile as eagerly as if she were consulting the Delphic oracle.
"No harm in trying. Keep him on tenter-hooks, at any rate."
"Ship ahoy!" came in joyous tones from Andy Black as he rounded the corner of the saloon, clinging to his cap. "Been looking for you all over. Say, did you all know we were passing Bird Island?"
"If we don't," said Percival, with his most deliberate stare, "it is not because we have failed to be informed of the uninteresting fact every five minutes for the last half-hour."
"Consider me the third stanza," said Andy; "please omit me!"
Bobby laughed as he disappeared, and pushed back her tumbled hair.
"I love to hear you say 'hawf,'" she said; then she added impetuously, "You aren't a bit like anybody I ever saw before."
"I dare say," said Percival, returning her smile.
"Not only your talk, but your walk, and the way you wear your clothes."
"I suppose my tailor does rather understand my figure," said Percival; "but what puzzles you about my speech?"
"I don't know. It's different. And then I never can tell what you are thinking about."
"Do you wish to know what I'm thinking about just now?"
"I am wondering why you wear high-heeled, gold-beaded slippers in the morning."
Bobby thrust forth two dainty feet and contemplated them in surprise.
"What's wrong with them?" she asked.
"Rather dressy for the morning, aren't they?" he gently suggested.
"I don't know," she said good-humoredly. "I've got a trunkful of clothes down in my state-room, but I never know which ones to put on. You see, we never dike up like this on the ranch. When the captain brought me to San Francisco, he handed me over to a woman at the hotel and told her to rig me out for the trip."
"Did—did she buy your steamer-coat?" asked Percival.
Bobby's laugh rang out contagiously.
"Isn't it a tulip? I knew it was wrong the minute I came on board and saw Elise Weston's. Honest, now, have I got anything else as bad as that?"
"No, oh, no; I was a beastly cad to mention it. You are most awfully charming in anything you choose to wear. But as a matter of fact, I do like you best in white, with your hair low, as it is now."
"Hair low, shoes high, all in white. Anything else you'd like?" All trace of tears had vanished, and her eyes were dancing audaciously.
"Yes," said Percival, leaning forward, "there is."
At this critical juncture a well-built figure in a uniform started down the stairway above them, paused a moment unobserved, then quietly retraced his steps to the bridge.
"See here, I must be going," said Bobby, rising abruptly. "I promised to practise for the tableaux at ten, and it's half-past now. Say, you were a brick to brace me up! I'm going to take your advice, too; you see if I don't. May I count on your help!"
"At your service," said Percival, rising, and clasping the hand she held out.
The captain's Chinese boy glided up unobserved and stood at attention.
"Captain say missy please come top-side right away. Wantchee see Bird Island."
Percival, still holding her hand, smilingly shook his head.
"Damn Bird Island!" he murmured softly.
THE DAY THAT NEVER WAS
Of all the places in the world where a flirtation can germinate, blossom, and bear fruit overnight, an ocean-liner is the most propitious. Two conventional human beings who in the city streets would pass each other with utter indifference will often drop a conscious lid over a welcoming eye when passing and repassing on the deck of a steamer. When men and women are set adrift for four weeks, with thousands of miles of sparkling water separating them from the past and the present, and with nothing to do but observe one another, something usually happens.
The present voyage of the Saluria was no exception; in fact, it threatened to break all former records. The love-epidemic started in the steerage, where a Dutch boy en route to Java developed a burning attachment for a young stewardess, and it extended to the bridge, where Captain Boynton frequently consigned his duties to the first officer in order to devote his energies to holding Mrs. Weston's worsted. When he was not holding the skein, he was holding the ball, and during the endless process of winding and unwinding he spun his own yarns, recalling tales of wild adventure that alternately shocked and fascinated his gentle listener.
The young people, meanwhile, were not by any means immune. Elise Weston had discovered that the Scotchman's voice blended perfectly with her own, and through endless practising of "Tales from Hoffman" they had arrived at a harmony that promised to be permanent. Andy Black and Bobby Boynton romped through the days, apparently wasting little time on sentiment, but developing a friendship that might at any time become serious.
Only the blighted being wandered the decks alone. Since that morning in the wind-shelter he had decided to take no more risks. Alarming symptoms had not been wanting to indicate the return of a malady from which he never expected to suffer again. The grand affair with the Lady Hortense had been a dignified, chronic ailment which he had learned to endure with a becoming air of pensive resignation. The present attack threatened to be of a much more disturbing character. It was acute; it responded to no treatment, mental, moral, or physical. It was like toothache or mumps or chicken-pox, an ignoble, complaint of which one is ashamed, but before which one is helpless.
It was only at table that he found it impossible to maintain toward Bobby that attitude of indifference which he had prescribed for himself. With the arrival of the new passengers at Honolulu the places had been slightly changed, and now that he found himself seated between Bobby and Andy Black, the temptation to turn his chair slightly toward the former, thus presenting an insolent and forbidding back to Andy, was more than he could resist. Moreover, it afforded him unlimited satisfaction to know that by the glance of his eye or a whispered half-phrase he could instantly center all her sparkling attention upon himself.
The captain viewed these elusive tete-a-tetes with growing disfavor. One morning when he was alone at breakfast with Mrs. Weston he unburdened his mind after his own peculiar fashion.
"A seaman has to cultivate three things, my lady, a Nelson eye, a Nelson ear, and a Nelson nose. I've got 'em all."
Mrs. Weston smiled with, flattering expectancy.
"I don't claim to know what's going on in the rest of the world," he continued significantly, "but you can back your Uncle Ik to know everything that's happening on board this wagon."
"What's happening now? Do tell me," said Mrs. Weston, leaning forward and almost upsetting the salt in her eagerness.
"An Englishman, a poisonously funny Englishman, is running out of his course. He'll hit a reef before long that will knock a hole in his hull."
"Oh, you mean the Honorable Percival?"
"I do. And if he's like the majority of those titled Johnnies, he's so crooked he can hide behind a corkscrew."
"O Captain, that's absurd! Why, he is one of the most absolutely irreproachable and unapproachable young aristocrats I ever saw."
"That's all right. I don't tie up to the British aristocracy, nor any other foreign nobility. Besides, what headway will I make by steering that girl of mine off one shoal to land her on another?"
"Was the Wyoming affair quite out of the question?"
"Oh, Hal Ford is a good-enough chap, but he's a perfect kid. They are both too young to know what they want. Besides, I am not going to have her drop anchor on a ranch for the rest of her days. I'll send her up to 'Frisco to school first. That's what the row was about before she left home. The little minx defied me, so I picked her up and brought her with me out to Hong-Kong."
"Poor child! She probably sees now that you were quite right."
"Maybe she does and maybe she doesn't. She's a wily little scamp all right. I discovered that the second day out. I'd forbidden her to write any letters to the ranch, so she was keeping a log-book which she was going to mail at every port."
"And were you hard-hearted enough to confiscate it?"
"I was. At least I ordered her to give it to me on the spot, and she said she'd chuck it overboard first."
"And did she!"
"She did," said the captain, with a grim chuckle.
"You don't understand that girl," said Mrs. Weston. "I'm quite sure she'd be amenable if she were handled right. However, she doesn't seem to be breaking her heart. Between Andy and the Honorable she's finding consolation."
"Most women do," said the captain, with one of those flashes of bitterness that sent all the good humor scurrying out of his face.
"Of course, she's just playing with Andy," Mrs. Weston hurried on, fearful of the memories she had stirred; "but Mr. Hascombe is different. He is so good-looking and so polished, almost any girl would have her head turned a bit by his attentions."
"You don't mean to say that you think Bobby—"
"I can't quite make out. She doesn't seem to see much of him on deck, but at the table she hasn't eyes or ears for any one else. You watch her."