THE SHOP GIRL
C.N. & A.M. WILLIAMSON
GROSSET & DUNLAP
PUBLISHERS NEW YORK
Made in the United States of America
1914, 1916, by C.N. & A.M. WILLIAMSON
I. THE DRYAD DOOR
II. BALM OF GILEAD
III. AN ILL WIND
IV. THE KINDNESS OF MISS ROLLS
V. SCENES FOR A "MOVIE"
VI. THE HANDS WITH THE RINGS
VII. THE TWO PETERS
VIII. No. 2884
IX. THE TEST OF CHARACTER
X. PETER ROLLS'S LITTLE WAYS
XI. DEVIL TAKE THE HINDMOST
XII. BLUE PETER
XIII. ONE MAN AND ANOTHER
XIV. FROM SCYLLA TO CHARYBDIS
XV. THE LADY IN THE MOON
XVI. THE SEED ENA PLANTED
XVIII. THE BIG BLUFF
XIX. "YES" TO ANYTHING
XX. THE CLOSED HOUSE
XXI. THE TELEPHONE
XXII. THE FRAGRANCE OF FRESIAS
XXIV. THINGS EXPLODING
XXV. A PIECE OF HER MIND
XXVI. WHEN THE SECRET CAME OUT
XXVII. THE BATTLE
THE SHOP GIRL
THE SHOP GIRL
THE DRYAD DOOR
It was a horrible day at sea, horrible even on board the new and splendid Monarchic. All the prettiest people had disappeared from the huge dining-saloon. They had turned green, and then faded away, one by one or in hurried groups; and now the very thought of music at meals made them sick, in ragtime.
Peter Rolls was never sick in any time or in any weather, which was his one disagreeable, superior-to-others trick. Most of his qualities were likable, and he was likable, though a queer fellow in some ways, said his best friends—the ones who called him "Petro." When the ship played that she was a hobby-horse or a crab (if that is the creature which shares with elderly Germans a specialty for walking from side to side), also a kangaroo, and occasionally a boomerang, Peter Rolls did not mind.
He was sorry for the men and girls he knew, including his sister, who lay in deck chairs pretending to be rugs, or who went to bed and wished themselves in their peaceful graves. But for himself, the wild turmoil of the waves filled him with sympathetic restlessness. It had never occurred to Peter that he was imaginative, yet he seemed to know what the white-faced storm was saying, and to want to shout an answer.
The second morning out (the morning after the Monarchic had to pass Queenstown without taking on the mails or putting off enraged passengers) Peter thought he would go to the gymnasium and work up an appetite for luncheon. He had looked in the first day, and had seen a thing which could give you all the sensations and benefits of a camel ride across the desert. He had ridden camels in real deserts and liked them. Now he did not see why waves should not answer just as well as dunes, and was looking forward to the experiment; but he must have been absent-minded, for when he opened what ought to have been the gymnasium door, it was not the gymnasium door. It was—good heavens!—what was it?
Peter Rolls, the unimaginative young man, thought that he must be in his berth and dreaming he was here. For this room that he was looking into could not possibly be a room on a ship, not even on the Monarchic, that had all the latest, day-after-to-morrow improvements and luxuries. The very bread was to-morrow's bread; but these marvellous creatures could not be supplied by the management as improvements or luxuries of any kind. Peter seemed to have opened a door into a crystal-walled world peopled entirely by dryads.
He thought of dryads, because in pictures, beings called by that name were taller, slimmer, more graceful, more beautiful, and had longer legs than young females of mortal breed. There were five of them (at least he believed there were five), and though it was eleven o'clock in the morning, they were dressed as if for the prince's ball in the story of "Cinderella." Unless on the stage, Peter had never seen such dresses or such girls.
He heard himself gasp; and afterward, when he and a wave together had banged the door shut, he hoped that he had said: "I beg your pardon." He was so confused, however, that he was not at all sure he had not blurted out "Good Lord!"
For a moment he stood as still as the sea would let him in front of the door, burning to open it again and see if the girls were really there. But, of course, he could not do that. He would have been almost inclined to believe they were wax figures if they had not moved, but they had moved.
They had been—sprawling is not a word to use in connection with dryads—yet certainly reclining, in easy chairs and on sofas, and had started up as the door opened to stare at him. One had laughed. Peter had shut the door on her laugh. He had brought away a vague impression that chairs, sofas, and carpet were pale gray, and that the dryads' dresses of wonderful tints, sparkling with gold and silver and jewels, had been brilliant as tropical flowers against the neutral background. Also, when he came to think of it, he wasn't sure that the walls were not mostly made of mirrors. That was why he could not be certain whether he had seen five dryads or five times five.
"The dryad door," he apostrophized it romantically, keeping his balance by standing with his feet apart, as old men stand before a fire. It was a very ordinary-looking door, and that made the romance for Peter in giving it such a name—just a white-painted door, so new that it smelled slightly of varnish—yet behind it lay dreamland.
Of course Peter Rolls knew that the tall, incredibly lovely beings were not dryads and not dreams, although they wore low necks, and pearls and diamonds in their wonderful, waved hair, at eleven o'clock of a stormy morning on board an Atlantic liner. Still, he was blessed if he could think what they were, and what they were doing in that room of mirrors without any furniture which he could recall, except a very large screen, a few chairs, and a sofa or two.
The next best thing to the forbidden one—opening the door again to ask the beings point-blank whether they were pipe dreams or just mermaids—was to go on to the gymnasium and inquire there. Toward this end young Mr. Rolls (as he was respectfully called in a business house never mentioned by his sister) immediately took steps. But taking steps was as far as he got. Suddenly it seemed a deed you could not do, to demand of an imitation-camel's attendant why five young ladies wore evening dress in the morning in a room three doors away.
After all, why should a camel attendant dare to know anything about them? Perhaps they were merely amusing themselves and each other by trying on all their gladdest clothes. There might be girls who would think this a good way to kill time in a storm. Yes, conceivably there might be such girls, just as there might be sea serpents; but, though Peter Rolls was too shy to have learned much about the female of his species, the explanation did not appeal to his reason.
His mind would persist in making a mystery of the mirror-walled room with its five dazzling occupants, and even the bumpings of the imitation camel could not jerk out of his head speculations which played around the dryad door. He was as curious as Fatima herself, and with somewhat the same curiosity; for, except that in one case the beautiful ladies had their heads, and in the other had lost them, there was a hint of resemblance between the two mysteries.
Peter Rolls wondered whether he would like to ask his sister Ena if she knew the visions, or even if, being a woman, she could form any theory to account for them. It would be interesting to see what she would say; but then, unless she were too seasick, she would probably laugh, and perhaps tell Lord Raygan.
As for the visions themselves, only one had spirit enough left in her to be able to laugh at being thought a dryad or a mystery. She alone of the five would have known what "dryad" means. And she could always laugh, no matter how miserable or how sick she was.
That day she was very sick indeed. They were all very sick, but she could not help seeing, at her worst, that it was funny.
"For heaven's sake, what are you giggling at?" snapped the longest, slimmest, most abnormal dryad, diaphanously draped in yellow, when she could gasp out an intelligible sentence after an exhausting bout of agony.
"Us," said the girl who could always laugh, a vision in silver.
"Us? I don't see anything funny about us!" groaned a tall dream in crimson and purple.
"Funny! I should think not!" snorted a fantasy in emerald.
"It makes me worse to hear you laugh," squealed a radiance in rose.
"I wish we were all dead, especially Miss Child," snarled the last of the five, a symphony in black and all conceivable shades of blue. Because of this combination, the Miss Child in question had named her the "Bruise."
"Sorry! I'll try not to laugh again till the sea goes down," Miss Child apologized. "I wasn't laughing at any of you exactly, it was more the whole situation: us, dressed like stars of the Russian ballet and sick as dogs, pearls in our hair and basins in our hands, looking like queens and feeling like dolls with our stuffing gone."
"Don't speak of stuffing. It makes me think of sage and onions," quavered the tallest queen.
"Ugh!" they all groaned, except Winifred Child, who was to blame for starting the subject. "Ugh! Oh! Ugh!"
When they were better they lay back on their sofas, or leaned back in their chairs, their beautiful—or meant to be beautiful—faces pale, their eyes shut. And it was at this moment that Peter Rolls burst open the door.
As he had observed, the waxlike figures moved, sat upright, and stared. This sudden disturbance of brain balance made them all giddy, but the surprise of seeing a man, not a steward, at the door, was so great that for a moment or two it acted as a tonic. Nothing dreadful happened to any one of the five until after the smooth black head had been withdrawn and the door closed.
"A man!" breathed Miss Devereux, the abnormally tall girl in yellow chiffon over gold gauze.
"Yes, dear. I wonder what he wanted?" sighed Miss Carroll, the girl in rose.
The one in green was Miss Tyndale, the one in black and blue Miss Vedrine, all very becoming labels; and if they had Christian names of equal distinction to match, the alien known at home simply as "Win" had never heard them. They called each other Miss Devereux, Miss Carroll, Miss Tyndale, and Miss Vedrine, or else "dear."
"I wish we could think he wanted to see us!" remarked Miss Tyndale.
"I hope he didn't notice the basins," added Miss Vedrine
"I think we hid them with our trains," said Miss Carroll.
"Was he nice looking?" Miss Vedrine had courage to ask. She had wonderful red hair, only a little darker at the roots, and long, straight black eyelashes. A few of these had come off on her cheeks, but they were not noticeable at a distance.
"I don't know, I'm sure, dear," replied Miss Devereux, a fawn-eyed brunette, who was nearest the door. "There wasn't time to see. I just thought: 'Good heavens! have we got to parade?' Then, 'No, thank goodness, it's a man!' And he was gone."
"What should we do if a woman did come, and we had to get up?" wondered Miss Vedrine, whose great specialty was her profile and length of white throat.
"She wouldn't be a woman; she'd be a monster, to care about clothes in weather like this," pronounced the golden-haired Miss Carroll. "Parade indeed! I wouldn't. I'd simply lie down and expire."
"I feel I've never till now sympathized enough with the animals in the ark," said Miss Child, who had not chosen her own name, or else had shown little taste in selection, compared with the others. But she was somehow different, rather subtly different, from them in all ways; not so elaborately refined, not so abnormally tall, not so startlingly picturesque. "One always thinks of the ark animals in a procession, poor dears—showing off their fur or their stripes or their spots or something—just like us."
"Speak for yourself, if you talk about spots, please," said Miss Devereux, who never addressed Miss Child as "dear," nor did the others.
"I was thinking of leopards," explained the fifth dryad. "They're among the few things you can think of without being sick."
"I can't," said Miss Devereux, and was. They all were, and somehow Miss Child seemed to be the one to blame.
"We were just getting better!" wailed Miss Vedrine.
"It was only a momentary excitement that cheered us," suggested Winifred Child.
"What excitement?" they all wanted indignantly to know.
"That man looking in."
"Do you call that an excitement? Where have you lived?"
"Well, a surprise, then. But would we have been better if it had been madame who looked in?"
The picture called up by this question was so appalling that they shuddered and forgot their little grudge against Miss Child, who was not so bad when you were feeling well, except that she had odd ways of looking at things, and laughed when nobody else could see anything to laugh at.
"Thank heaven, she's a bad sailor!" Miss Devereux cried.
"Thank heaven, all the other women on board are bad sailors," added Win.
"If madame was well she'd think we ought to be," said Miss Carroll. "She'd dock our pay every time we—- Oh, this is bad enough, but if she was well it would be a million times worse!"
"Could anything be worse?" Miss Tyndale pitifully questioned, for just then the ship was sliding down the side of a wave as big as a millionaire's house.
"Yes, it would be worse if we were wearing our waists slender this year," said Win.
"Down, down, wallow, wallow, jump!" was the program the Monarchic carried out for the twentieth time in half as many minutes. Slender waists! Oh, horrible to think of, unless you broke in two and death ended your troubles!
"Let's try breathing in as she goes up and out as she goes down. I've heard that works wonderfully," said Win.
They tried, but it worked disappointingly that time. Perhaps it was the ship's fault. It was impossible to time her antics with the most careful breathing.
"Oh, why did we leave our peaceful homes?" moaned Miss Vedrine.
"I didn't," whispered Win.
"Leave my peaceful home. If I'd had one I shouldn't be here."
This was the first time she had volunteered or had had dragged out of her a word concerning her past. But at the moment no one could be keyed to interest in anything except preparation for the next wave.
In the veranda cafe Peter Rolls was asking his sister Ena if she knew anything about five incredibly beautiful girls in evening dress shut up together in a room with walls made of mirrors.
Ena Rolls was not in a mood to answer irrelevant questions, especially from a brother; but Lord Raygan and his sister were there, and pricked up their ears at the hint of a mystery. She could not be cross and ask Peter kindly to go to the devil and not talk rot, as she would have done if the others had been somewhere else. But then, were it not for Lord Raygan and his sister and mother, Miss Rolls would be flat in her berth.
"Five incredibly beautiful girls in evening dress!" repeated Lord Raygan, who, like Peter, was a good sailor.
Ena Rolls wanted him to be interested in her, and not in five preposterous persons in evening dress, so she replied promptly to Peter's question: "I suppose they must be Nadine's living models. We all had cards about their being on board and the hours of their parade to show the latest fashions. You saw the card, I suppose, Lady Eileen?"
"Yes," returned Lord Raygan's flapper sister. "It's on the writing-desk in that darling sitting-room you've given Mubs and me."
Ena felt rewarded for her sacrifice. She and Peter had engaged the best suite on board the Monarchic, but when Lord Raygan and his mother and sister were borne past Queenstown in most unworthy cabins (two very small ones between the three), Ena had given up her own and Peter's room to the two ladies. It was a Providential chance to make their acquaintance and win their gratitude. (She had met Raygan in Egypt and London, and sailed on the Monarchic in consequence.)
"The stewardess told me before I moved down," she went on, "that Mme. Nadine had taken the ship's nursery this trip for her show, and fitted it with wardrobes and mirror doors at immense expense. I'm afraid she won't get her money back if this storm lasts. Who could gaze at living models?"
"I could, if they're as beautiful as your brother says," replied Lord Raygan, a tall, lanky, red-headed Irishman with humorous eyes and a heavy jaw. He was the first earl Ena had ever met, but she prayed fervently that he might not be the last.
Peter somehow did not want those pale dryads sacrificed to make a Raygan holiday. He regretted having remarked on their beauty. "They looked more like dying than living models when I saw them," he said.
"Let's go and see what they look like now," suggested Raygan. "Eh, what, Miss Rolls?"
"I don't know if men can go," she hesitated.
"Who's to stop them? Why shouldn't I be wanting to buy one of the dresses off their backs for my sister?"
"What a melting idea! You do, don't you, dear boy?" the flapper encouraged him.
"I might. Come along, Miss Rolls. Come along, Eily. What about you, Rolls? Will you guide us?"
"Let's wait till after lunch," said Ena. She hoped that it might disagree with everybody, and then they would not want to go.
"Oh, no!" pleaded Lady Eileen O'Neill. "We may be dead after luncheon, and probably will be. Or Rags'll change his mind about the dress. Nadine's dresses are too heavenly. I've never seen any except on the stage, worn by wonderful, thin giantesses. All her gowns are named, you know, Rags: 'Dawn,' or 'Sunset,' or 'Love in Spring,' or 'Passion in Twilight,' and poetic things like that."
"Can't be very poetic bein' sick in 'em, by Jove! for those girls in the nursery," remarked Rags, "especially if they've got a sense of humour."
(One of them had. The shimmering sheath of silver and chiffon she wore to-day, as it happened, rejoiced in the name of "First Love." It was all white. She was being very careful of its virginal purity; but it occurred to her that unless the sea's passion died, the frock would soon have to be renamed "Second Love," or even "Slighted Affection," if not "Rejected Addresses.")
Urged by Eileen, who would think her a "pig" if she refused, Ena reluctantly uncurled herself from a safe and graceful position on a cushioned sofa. The result was alarming. Her swimming head warned her that if she did not instantly sit down again something too awful to think of in the presence of an earl would happen.
"You'd better go without me. I'm not very keen," she faintly explained, appealing to Peter with her eyes.
He contrived to understand without asking stupid questions, as some brothers would, and hurried the others off to the room of the mirrors. No longer was it a room of mystery; yet romance, once awakened, cannot be put to sleep in a minute, and Peter Rolls's heart beat with excitement or shyness, he was not sure which, as Lady Eileen O'Neill knocked at the dryad door.
BALM OF GILEAD
It was the worst possible moment for the dryads. But when their tear-wet eyes beheld a girl and two men, some deep-down primordial pride of womanhood rushed to their rescue and, flowing through their veins, performed a miracle beyond the power of any patent remedy. The five forlorn girls became at need the five stately goddesses Mme. Nadine paid them to be. (Winifred Child, by the way, was not paid, for she was not a goddess by profession. But she got her passage free. It was for that she was goddessing.)
Miss Devereux was the leader, by virtue, not of extra age, no indeed! but of height, manner, and experience. She apologized, with the most refined accent, for Mme. Nadine, who was "quite prostrated"; for Mme. Nadine's manageress, who was even worse; and for themselves. "I'm afraid we must do the best we can alone," she finished with unconscious pathos.
"It's a shame to disturb you," said Peter Rolls.
Miss Devereux and her attendant dryads turned their eyes to him. They had fancied that he was the man who had burst in before and burst out again; now they were sure. If he had been a woman, they would have borne him a grudge for coming back and bringing companions worse than himself; but as he was a man, young, and not bad looking, they forgave him meekly.
They forgave the other man for the same reason, and forgave the girl because she was with the men. If only they could behave themselves as young ladies should through this ordeal! That was the effort on which they must concentrate their minds and other organs.
"Not at all," returned Miss Devereux, every inch a princess. "We are here to be disturbed." (Alas, how true!)
She smiled at Lady Eileen, but not patronizingly, because a mysterious instinct told her that the plain, pleasant young girl in Irish tweed was a "swell." The men, too, were swells, or important in some way or other. One exerted one's self to be charming to such people and to keep the male members of the party from looking at the other girls. "Would you like to see something else, different from what we are showing? Evening cloaks? Day dresses? We have a number of smart little afternoon frocks—-"
"I think that white dress is the meltingest thing I ever saw," said Lady Eileen, who had walked into the room without waiting for Miss Devereux's answer to Peter Rolls's objection.
She was a kind-hearted girl, but, after all, living models were living models until they were dead, and she wasn't going to lose the chance of getting a dreamy frock out of Rags! All the goddesses were on their mettle and their feet now, though swaying like tall lilies in a high wind and occasionally bracing themselves against mirrors, while Lady Eileen was in the biggest chair, with Raygan and Peter Rolls standing behind her. The men also were offered chairs by Miss Vedrine with a lovely play of eyelashes, but refused them: the chairs, not the eyelashes, which no man could have spurned, despite their scattered effect.
"The white dress, moddam?" (It thrills a flapper to be called "moddam.") "It is one of the latest designs and considered perfect for a debutante. No doubt you know it is Mme. Nadine's custom to name her inspirations. Come here, if you please, Miss Child! This is 'First Love.'"
"Looks like it," remarked Lord Raygan, as Miss Child obeyed. He might have meant the wearer or the dress. Peter Rolls flashed a gimlet glance his way to see which. He felt uncomfortably responsible for the manners of the visitors and the feelings of the visited. But the face of Rags was grave, and no offence could be taken. Peter Rolls withdrew the glance, though not before Winifred Child had it intercepted and interpreted.
"I believe he's a nice fellow," was the thought that slid through her mind as, like a chicken on a spit, she turned and turned to let Lady Eileen behold "First Love" from every point of view.
"Rippin', but a foot too tall for you," said Rags, more because it amused him to prolong the scene than through a real desire to criticise. "You don't go in for bein' a sylph."
Another backhanded compliment for the wearer, if she cared to accept it; but she was beautifully unconscious and, for once, not laughing. Her eyes looked miles away. Peter Rolls wondered to what land she had gone.
The girl appeared to be gazing over his head; but, as a matter of fact, she could see him perfectly. He had black hair and blue eyes, shrewd perhaps, yet they might be kind and merry; just now they looked worried. She thought him not handsome, but tanned and thin (she detested fat men) and somehow nice. Win wondered if she were taller than he. She hated being taller than men, though she owed her present engagement to her height and length of limb.
Miss Devereux respectfully argued that appearances were deceitful. Moddam was quite as sylphlike as the model. Might the dress be sent to moddam's cabin to try? Then it came out that moddam was Lady Eileen O'Neill, and the four tallest dryads visibly brightened, not so much for the owner of the name as for her brother.
Their dull days had been dimly lightened by gossip on the ship, brought to them by a stewardess from Lord Raygan's native isle, who knew all about him: that he was an earl, that with his mother and sister he had booked from Liverpool to Queenstown, but, owing to the ferocity of the sea, had been unable to land and was being carried to America. Also that a rich young American and his sister had given up their suite to the ladies. This American was said to be of no birth, the son of some big shopkeeper, and far, far outside even the fringe of the Four Hundred; therefore the tallest dryads did their best eyelash work for Lord Raygan. They were born British, hailing from Brixton or other suburban health resorts, and now they knew he was a "lord" the nickname of "Rags," which had sickened them at first, seemed interesting and intimate as a domestic anecdote about royalty.
Rags consented to buy the dress for his sister if it fitted and didn't cost a million pounds. The dryads thought this adorably generous, for the stewardess, who knew all about Lord Raygan, said that the "family had become impoverished; they were not what they had once been except in name, which was of the best and oldest in Ireland." Stewardesses can tell all the things that Marconi does not mention.
When the sale was settled Miss Devereux turned to Peter Rolls. "And you, sir?" she asked, slightly coquettish because he was a man, though not of the Four Hundred. "I suppose there's nothing we can do for you?"
"I suppose not," Peter was echoing, when something occurred to him. "Unless," he amended, "my sister would like to buy a dress. She's on board."
"Would she care to look at Mme. Nadine's designs?" suggested Miss Devereux. "We have wardrobes full of marvellous inspirations."
"The trouble is, she feels queer if she walks around much," said Peter.
"Perhaps she would trust you to pick out something she might see in her own room? Is she tall or short?"
"Not so tall as any of you."
"Things which would fit this young lady would be the best, then. Miss Child, Miss Vedrine will help you out of 'First Love' behind the screen and put you into the 'Young Moon.' What"—sotto voce—"are you laughing at this time?"
"Nothing," said the smallest dryad meekly, though she gurgled under her breath.
"We'd better go now, and I'll come back," hastily suggested Peter. "Don't bother to change behind the screen for us, please. I must ask my sister about the dress."
He got the others out, which was not difficult as far as Eileen was concerned. She could hardly wait to try "First Love."
Rags was determined to ask Miss Rolls if he shouldn't choose a frock for her. But she said no, she didn't want one. This would have seemed to settle the matter, and did for Lord Raygan, who sat down beside her, abandoning further thought of the dryads. Peter, however, returned in due course to the room of the mirrors, because Miss Child could not be allowed to get into the "Young Moon" in such weather for nothing.
She was in it when he arrived. And pluck, mingled with excitement, having had a truly bracing effect on the girls, in the absence of the peer they were nice to the plebeian. The girl in the "Young Moon," to be sure, had scarcely anything to say, but she had a peculiarly fascinating way of not saying it.
By the time Mr. Rolls had bought the "Moon" for his sister, he had become quite friendly with the other dryads, on the strength of a few simple jokes about green cheese and blue moons and never having dreamed he could obtain one by crying for it.
"I was wondering," he said at last, when he was about to go, "whether you'd care for me to bring you some Balm of Gilead?"
"Balm of Gilead?" all five, even the girl in the "Moon," exclaimed.
"Yes. Stuff for seasickness. Not that you are seasick of course. But the balm's a good preventive. Did you never hear of it?"
They shook their heads.
"It's the great thing our side of the water. I don't need it myself, but I know it's all right, because it's making my father a fortune."
"Did he invent it?" inquired Miss Carroll.
"No. But he named it and he sells it. It's the men who name things and sell things, not the ones who invent them, that get the money. My father is Peter Rolls, and I—-"
"I hope you spell Rolls with an 'e,'" broke in Miss Vedrine. "Else it would remind me of something I want to forget."
"Something you—But maybe I can guess! What the ship does now?"
"Don't speak of it!" they groaned.
"I won't! Or my name, either, if you'd rather not, especially as only my sister spells it with an 'e.' I mentioned the name on account of the balm. The barber has no end of bottles. I'll go and buy you one now. It tastes good. Back in ten minutes." And he was gone.
"His father must be a chemist," sniffed Miss Devereux, as she unhooked the "Young Moon."
When Peter returned Miss Child was wearing a robe like an illuminated cobweb on a background of violets. This was the "Yielding Heart." Peter had brought a bottle and a clean napkin and five teaspoons. "I got these things off a dining-room steward," he explained.
"Sounds like a conjurer," murmured the girl who laughed.
"How rude of you!" Miss Devereux scolded in a whisper. "Don't mind her, Mr. Rolls. She isn't a bit like the rest of us."
Peter had noticed that.
"She's always laughing at everything, and everybody, too," went on Miss Devereux.
"She's welcome to laugh at me," said Peter. "I enjoy it."
"Ladies don't. She'd never do for a permanence with Mme. Nadine. Clients wouldn't stand being grinned at by models."
"I don't laugh at people. I laugh at the world," the model defended herself.
"Why?" inquired Peter, with a straight look at the queer, arresting face.
"To keep it from laughing at me first. And to make it laugh with me—if I can."
"Do you think you can?"
"I shall try hard—against the biggest odds. And whatever it does to me, I shan't cry."
"I shouldn't wonder if that wasn't the whole secret of life!" said Peter Rolls, continuing to look at the face.
Suddenly it flashed a smile at him. "Shouldn't you? Give me the Balm of Gilead, and the rest would be easy!"
Peter was not stupid as a rule, yet he could not be quite sure what she meant. If he guessed right, the rest wasn't as easy as she thought. Yet the words made him wish that he could give the girl who laughed—the girl who was not to be a "permanence" with Nadine—more than a teaspoonful of balm.
AN ILL WIND
While the storm held, Peter Rolls went several times each dreadful day to the room of the mirrors and dosed his dryads with Balm of Gilead. The medicine—or something else—sustained them marvellously. And it occurred to Peter that they would make a magnificent advertisement, if there were any way of using them—the kind of advertisement his father loved.
It was well that Peter senior was not on board, or he would certainly propose a new feature for the balm department: scene, richly furnished salon on a yacht; five fair effects in ball dresses sipping Balm of Gilead; the whole arrangement on a rocking platform, with mechanism hidden by realistically painted waves. But the dryads were previously engaged by the prostrate Nadine—all except one.
When they were sufficiently restored to take an interest, Peter smuggled grapefruit, chocolates, and novels into the nursery. The novels his sister had brought with her to kill time during the voyage; but as it happened, she was killing it with Lord Raygan instead and never missed the books.
Nadine had been obliged to take first-class tickets for her models; otherwise the rules of the ship would not have allowed them past the barrier, even in the pursuit of business. But they sardined in one cabin, near the bow, on the deepest down deck allotted to first-classhood, and their private lives were scarcely more enjoyable than the professional. They were, to be sure, theoretically able to take exercise at certain hours, weather permitting; but weather did not permit, and four of the dryads, when free, sought distraction in lying down rather than walking. It was only the fifth who would not take the weather's "no" for an answer.
She had a mackintosh, and with her head looking very small and neat, wound in a brown veil the colour of her hair, she joined the brigade of the strong men and women who defied the winds by night. From eight to ten she staggered and slid up and down the wet length of the least-frequented deck, or flopped and gasped joyously for a few minutes in an unclaimed chair.
Being "not a bit like the rest" of her sister dryads, she refrained from mentioning this habit to Mr. Rolls, whose prowling place was on higher decks. Not that she was still what he would have called "standoffish" with him. That would have been silly and Victorian after the grapefruit and chocolates and novels, to say nothing of balm by the bottleful. The last dress she had worn on the first day of their acquaintance, the "Yielding Heart," had to a certain extent prophesied her attitude with the one man who knocked at the dryad door. Miss Child not only thought Mr. Rolls "might be rather nice," but was almost sure he was. She was nice to him, too, in dryad land, when he paid his visits to the sisterhood, but she did not "belong on his deck."
By and by, however, he discovered her in the mackintosh and veil. It was one night when a young playwright who had seized on him as prey wished to find a quiet place to be eloquent about the plot.
"There's a deck two below," said the aspirant for fame, "where nobody prowls except a young female panther tied up in a veil."
Five minutes later Peter Rolls took off his cap to the female panther. The playwright noticed this, but was too much interested in himself and the hope of securing a capitalist to care. In sketching out his comedy he was blind to any other possibilities of drama, and so did not see Peter's eagerness to get rid of him. He was even pleased when, after a few compliments, Rolls junior said: "Look here, you'd better leave me to think over what you've told me. I fix things in my memory that way. And maybe when I've got it straight in my head I'll—er—mention it to a man I know."
As the playwright was shivering, he obeyed with alacrity; and in the warmth of the smoking-room revelled in the picture of his tame capitalist pacing a cold deck, lost to the sea's welter in thoughts of that marvellous last act.
But it was a first act which was engaging Peter Rolls's attention, and he, though the only male character in it (by choice), had to learn his part as he went on.
The play began by his joining the leading lady. (This has been done before, but seldom with such a lurch and on such sloping boards.)
It would have been a mockery to say "good evening" on a night so vile, and Mr. Rolls began by asking Miss Child if he might walk with her.
"Or tango," said she. "This deck is teaching me some wonderful new steps."
"I wish you'd teach them to me," said Peter.
"I can't, but the ship can."
"Did you ever dance the tango?" he wanted to know.
"Yes. In another state of existence."
This silenced him for an instant. Then he skipped at least two speeches ahead, whither his thoughts had flown. "Say, Miss Child, I wish you'd tell me something about yourself."
"There isn't anything interesting to tell, thank you, Mr. Rolls."
"If that's your only reason, I think you might let me judge. Honestly, I don't want to intrude or be curious. But you're so different from the others."
"I know I'm not pretty. That's why I have to be so painfully sweet. I got the engagement only by a few extra inches. Luckily it isn't the face matters so much," she chattered on. "I thought it was. But it's legs; their being long; Mme. Nadine engages on that and your figure being right for the dresses of the year. So many pretty girls come in short or odd lengths, you find, when they have to be measured by the yard, at bargain price."
"You're not meant to laugh there," she said. "It's a solemn fact."
"But you always laugh."
"That's because I'm what you'd call 'up against' life. It gives me such a funny point of view."
"That's part of what I want to talk about. Please don't keep trying to turn the subject. Unless you think I have no business seizing the first chance when I find you alone, to—-"
"It isn't that," said Win. "I think you're very kind to take the slightest interest. But really there is nothing to tell. Just the usual sort of thing."
"It doesn't seem exactly usual to me for a girl about nineteen years old—"
"—to be leaving home alone and starting for a new country."
"Not alone. Mme. Nadine might be furious if she were spoken of as my chaperon; but she is, all the same. Not that an emigrant needs a chaperon."
"You an emigrant!"
"Well, what else am I?"
"I've been thinking of you as a dryad."
"A poor, drenched dryad, thousands of miles from her native woods. Do you know, my veil is soaked?"
"I'll get you a sou'wester hat to-morrow."
"Does the barber keep them as well as Balm of Gilead?"
"No, but my sister does. She keeps one. And she doesn't want it. I shall annex it."
"Oh! I couldn't take it!"
"If you don't, I'll throw it overboard."
"Were the chocolates hers?"
"And the books?"
"Some were mine. But not the ones Miss Devereux says are pretty. Look here, Miss Child, another thing she says is that you are not with Nadine as a permanence. What does that mean, if you don't much mind my asking?"
"Not what you think. I'm not going to be discharged. I was engaged only for the voyage, to take the place of a prettier girl with still longer legs who fell through at the last moment—literally. She stepped into one of those gas-hole places in the street. And I stepped into her shoes—lucky shoes!—sort of seven-league ones, bringing me across the sea, all the way to New York free, for nothing. No! I hope not for nothing. I hope it is to make my fortune."
"I hope so, too," said Peter gravely. "Got any friends there besides me?"
"Thanks for putting it so, Mr. Balm of Gilead. Why, I've heard that everybody in America is ready to be a friend to lonely strangers!"
"I guess your informant was almost too much of an optimist. Couldn't you be serious for just a minute? You know, I feel quite well acquainted with you—and the others, of course. But they are different. And they are 'permanences' with Nadine. That's the kind of thing they're fit for. I don't worry about them, and I shan't worry about you, either, if you tell me you have friends or know what you are going to do when you land."
"I can't tell you that," Win answered in a changed tone, as if suddenly she were weary of trying to "frivol." "But I have hopes; and I have two letters of introduction and a respectable, recommended boarding-house and a little money left, so I really believe I shall be all right, thank you. My people thought my wanting to come showed 'my wild spirit,' so I'm anxious to prove as soon as I can—not to them any more, but to myself—that I can live my own life in a new world without coming to grief."
"Why not prove to them any more?"
"Oh—because no one is going to care much. As I said, my native woods are far behind, and most of the trees are cut down. Not a dryad of the true dryad family left, and this one is practically forgotten already. Her niche was all grown over with new bark long ago, so it was more than time she ceased to haunt the place."
"I'm afraid you've had a great sorrow," said Peter.
"It was hardly big enough for that word—this thing that's sent me seeking my fortune—though it began with a sorrow long ago."
"Some one you loved died?" Peter had a simple, direct way of asking questions that led you on.
"My mother. When I was fourteen—not old enough to be of much use to my father and the baby brother. So my father had to get some one to be a kind of housekeeper and superior nurse. He's a clergyman. I don't look like a clergyman's daughter, perhaps—and he thought I didn't behave like one, especially after the housekeeper came. She's the kind who calls herself 'a lady housekeeper.' I don't know if you have them in America. She and I had rows—and that upset father. He didn't want to get rid of her because she managed things splendidly—him and the baby and the vicarage—and influential old ladies said she 'filled a difficult position satisfactorily.' So it was simpler to get rid of me. I went to boarding-school."
"Did you like that?"
"I loved it. After the first year I didn't go home even for the holidays. Often I visited—girls were nice to me. But I didn't make the most of my time—I'm furious with myself for that now. I learned nothing—nothing, really, except the things I wanted to learn. And those are always the ones that are least useful."
"I found that, too," said Peter, "at Yale."
"It didn't matter for you. You have the Balm of Gilead."
"That's my father's."
"What's his is yours, I suppose."
"He says so. But—we all have our own trouble. Mine's not living up to my principles, or even knowing exactly what they are—being all in a turmoil. But it's yours I want to talk about."
"I've forbidden myself the word 'trouble.' It builds a wall. And I've just broken through my wall. I could have done it sooner and better if I'd learned more difficult things, that's all. When I wanted to do something for myself—why, I couldn't do a thing that was any good in a busy world. I'd had no training except for my voice."
"There! I thought you sounded as if you had a voice!"
"I thought so, too. But that was another of my mistakes."
"I bet it wasn't."
"You'd lose your money, Mr. Rolls. I spent most of mine before I found out. You see, my mother left a little. It wasn't to come to me till I was twenty-one, but all sorts of things happened. My father kept me at school till a year and a half ago because he didn't know what to do with me. Then my little brother died. I ought to have cared more, but I hardly knew him. His coming killed my mother; and he loved that woman. I don't see how he could!
"When he was gone, people might have gossiped about her and father perhaps. I believe she suggested it to him and said she must go away, to make him think of marrying her; but all he did was to send for me. I stood it for six months. It was horrid for all three. I dare say I was to blame. I had a scene with father, and told him I'd made up my mind to go to London for singing lessons so I could support myself: I couldn't live at home. That forced the situation! Before any one—except the 'lady housekeeper'—knew quite what was happening, father had asked her to be his wife—or she'd asked him. I went before the wedding. I'd worshipped my mother! And—but that's all the story."
"I call it only the preface. What about London?"
"Oh, father gave me my money ahead of time, for the lessons. He didn't approve, on principle, but he would have had no peace with me at home, and he likes peace better than anything. I had to promise I wouldn't go into musical comedy. That makes me laugh now! But I thought then I'd only to ask and to have. I took lessons of a man who'd been a celebrated tenor. He must have known that my voice was nothing, really, but he buoyed me up. I suppose they're all like that. It's business.
"When the money was two thirds spent I dared not go on, and I asked him to find me something to do. He'd often said he would when the right time came. Apparently it hadn't come. He made the excuse that I ought to have stayed with him longer. It would hurt his reputation to launch a pupil too soon. So I had to try to launch myself. And it didn't work. One manager of opera companies on whom I forced myself tested my voice and said it wasn't strong enough—only a twilight voice for a drawing-room, he called it. I was broken up—just at first."
"Poor child!" Peter muttered, but the girl's quick ears caught the words over the roar of that "ill wind" which had brought them together.
"Child is my surname, and it's not polite to call me by it." She brought him to his bearings by suddenly "frivolling" again. "They call militant suffragettes and housemaids sent to prison for stealing their kind mistresses' jewels by their surnames. I'm not a militant; and I've not been a housemaid yet, though I may be, if New York isn't kinder to me than London."
"I hope it will be—kind in just the right way!"
"My friend who gave me the two letters of introduction says it will: that Americans love English girls, if they have the courage to come over. She says there are heaps more chances as well as heaps more room for us in that country than there are at home."
"That's true, but—-"
"Please don't discourage me!"
"Not on your life! Only—-"
"'Only' is as bad a word as 'but.' I've got a letter of introduction to the editor of a New York paper, To-day and To-morrow, and one to the organist of a Higher Thought church. Maud Ellis says they're both splendid men and interested in women's progress. Something good ought to come from one or the other. Getting this chance of my passage free seems a happy omen, as if I were meant to take this great adventure. I'm not one bit afraid. I feel boiling with courage—except when the ship pitches and rolls at the same time."
"That's right. You're bound to make good, of course. I wouldn't discourage you for the world. All I meant to say was that I'd like you to think of me as a friend. I don't want to lose sight of you when we land. I might be able to help in some way or other or—my family might. Before we get off the ship I'll introduce you and my sister to each other."
"Oh, thank you! You're very kind," the banished dryad said for the third or fourth time. "But I should be sorry to trouble Miss Rolls. She wouldn't—-"
"Yes, she would," insisted Peter. "She'll be awfully interested when I tell her about you, Miss Child, and very pleased to know you."
Win was silenced, though not convinced. It is not safe for a brother to judge his sister by himself.
THE KINDNESS OF MISS ROLLS
Peter found it not so easy as he had expected to snatch an opportunity of interesting Ena in Miss Child. His sister was even more than ordinarily interested in her own affairs, which had reached a critical stage, and if Peter, having run her to earth in her cabin, attempted to talk of any one save Ena Rolls or Lord Raygan her eyes became like shut windows. He could almost see her soul turning its back and walking away behind the panes of opaque gray glass.
There had been another evening prowl with the young female panther before the evasive chance was grasped, and the storm-tossed, overdue Monarchic hoped to dock within eighteen hours.
Things were growing desperate for Peter. He was not, of course, in love with the "queer, arresting face," but he could not bear to think of its arriving alone and unprotected in New York. Something must be done, and he resorted to bribery.
"Look here, Sis," he began, "I've just thought there may be reasons why Raygan can't make up his mind to visit a bit on our side, now he and his family are here."
"He hasn't said he won't do it," Ena cut in.
"No, but he hasn't said he will, has he?"
"Not yet. I daren't seem too eager."
"To save my life, I don't see why you should be eager. But as you are, I've been giving my mind to the subject." (This was subtle of Peter.) "I've come to the conclusion that the man would like to stay. I'm sure his sister would. Perhaps you can answer for the mother. The trouble may be money."
"Perhaps. I've thought of that. But what can we do? We can't go to him out of a clear sky and offer to lend."
"I might propose to put him on to a good thing."
"Oh, Peter, would you help me like that, in a man's way?"
"I would, if you'd do me a favour, in a woman's way."
"What is it? But whatever it is, I'm sure to!"
They were in Miss Rolls's cabin, the one she had generously taken over from Lady Raygan and Eileen. Ena was sitting on the seat under the window; Peter was looking uncomfortable on a camp-chair. It was a small cabin, boiling over with dresses, though the "Young Moon" had not yet been added to their number. Peter had never found his sister in a propitious mood for the gift, and had been keeping the "Moon," figuratively, up his sleeve till the right moment came. Now, perhaps it had come.
Ena had been lying down after luncheon. She had given herself this little rest because she knew that Raygan was going to play poker in the smoking-room. She had learned bridge—though cards bored her—just as she had learned tennis and golf and all sorts of eccentric dances, in order to be popular, to be in the swim, to do just what the fashionable people were doing—the people at the top, where she wanted to arrive.
But she could not play poker! And if she could, it would have been impossible to go with Lord Raygan into the smoking-room. Luckily no other girl would be there, so Ena resigned herself to the loss of valuable time on her last day.
"Why, yes," Peter answered. "I believe you are sure to! It won't be a hard favour to do, Sis. It's only to let me introduce a girl, a very nice girl, and then to be kind and help her if she needs it."
Ena laughed. "Is that all? I guess—I mean, I fancy—I can promise that. Girls don't need much help nowadays Who is she? Have I seen her?"
"No. You haven't seen her."
"Is she pretty?" Peter had expected that question. Ena, and all the other girls he knew, invariably asked it. But he did not quite know what to answer.
"She's awfully attractive," he said. "The sort you'd turn and look after in a crowd. She hasn't got what you call features, but—you can't take your eyes off her somehow. She looks—she looks—well, a tiny bit like a—a—perfectly gloriously fascinating—golliwog."
"Great big, wide-apart eyes, I mean; dark, floating ones, with immense eyelashes that curl up and stick out when you see her profile. She's got a short, round face—no, kind of heart-shaped, I guess, and a little, delicate, turned-up nose, like the Duchess of Marlborough's; and a lovely mouth—yes, her mouth is lovely, no mistake! She's nearly always laughing, even when she isn't happy. She's got a long neck, like a flower stem, and long legs—-"
"Good gracious, what a description! For heaven's sake, who is the girl?"
"Oh, I know it must sound queer; but she's the most fascinating thing you ever saw, and any man would say so. She's a Miss Child—-"
"There's no Miss Child on the passenger list."
"Maybe not; because she's one of Nadine's models, and I bought you a gorgeous dress off her. I've been—saving it for a surprise. It's called the 'New'—no, the 'Young Moon.'"
Ena forgot for a moment that she badly needed help from her brother and began sharply to catechize him. "When did you buy me a dress? The day Lord Raygan offered to go back to that room and choose me one and I said no, I didn't want a dress?"
"Yes. That was the day. I couldn't let her try it on in vain."
"Oh, you bought it to please her—the girl like a golliwog?"
"She isn't like a golliwog, really. That's not fair. And I bought the dress to please you, of course. It's mighty pretty. I've got it in my room."
"I wonder what your steward thinks? Well, I'll thank you when I see it. But what an idea, to introduce one of those girls to me! Lord Raygan said they were all bleached and painted, except the one who wasn't pretty."
"That's my one. But I think she is pretty, and better than pretty. Her eyes—and her smile—-"
"Never mind her eyes and her smile. I can't be introduced to a model, Petro. I won't know a dressmaker."
"Mother was one. And father's mother was a washer—-"
"Be still, for the love of heaven! If any one should hear!"
"I'm not ashamed of—-"
"Well, I am! Oh, Petro, don't be horrid, just when I really need you to be nice. And you can be nice—very nice. Don't let's even think about the family past. It's awful! It's a blot! But it can't be helped. We must try to live it down. And we can, with our money. We can and we must. A great chance has come to us. All the more because of—of what you reminded me—we must be careful of the sort of people we mix ourselves up with—"
"This girl is a lady."
Then Ena lost her temper. "They all are," she snapped. "I suppose she's a clergyman's daughter and her parents are dead."
"Her mother is," Peter admitted.
"She would be! What does the girl want help for? Doesn't Nadine pay her wages?"
"She only engaged with Nadine to work out her passage."
"Oh! They say girls from all over the world are bearing down on poor little old New York since Owen Johnson wrote 'The Salamander.'"
"Jove, Ena, I never knew before you had anything of the cat in you!"
This, and a flash in the eyes which were bluer than hers, brought Miss Rolls to her bearings. She remembered the reason for going softly with Peter. Luckily she had done no great mischief yet.
"Can't you take a joke, Petro?" she teased him, laughing "I'm not a cat, or a pig, either. But you do scare me a little. You don't like this girl, do you?"
"Of course I like her."
"You know what I mean by 'like.' And I hope I know what you mean. You always yearn over every creature who hasn't as much money as we have and needs ours. Sure it's no more than that this time? It would be—just the limit, the outside edge and down the other side, if you fell in love with a dressmaker's model. It would be like—like reverting to type. We must climb, not—root."
Peter laughed—nervously, his sister feared. "What a girl you are! You needn't fash yourself about my feelings for Miss Child. All I want is to help her to get on."
"Oh! To help her get on? Well, then, you may introduce her to me, if it can be done without taking up too much time. You know, Petro, it's my last day on board, and I have my feelings as much as you. How can we manage it? Can you bring her here?"
"I can't 'bring' her anywhere," Peter retorted rather gruffly. "She isn't a servant looking for a place. I've told you she's a lady."
"Oh, all right. What do you suggest?"
"She hasn't much time to herself. Since the weather improved, business is brisker. But after her dinner she gets in a walk down on B deck, where nobody else goes. I could take you there about half-past eight."
"Very well. That's the program." Ena spoke with regained cheerfulness, because no one need witness an introduction effected on B deck, and because a sentence of Peter's had been like a bull's-eye lantern directing a ray along the right track. "I'll be ever so nice to Miss Child to-night—and afterward, too, in New York, if you can bring anything off with Lord Raygan about the visit. Are you playing poker with him this afternoon?"
"Yes. Some chaps wanted—-"
"I know. He told me. But he didn't mention you. Afterward, will you work right up to the 'good thing' you can put him on to? He'll be in just the mood—if he loses. And he says he always does lose."
"Yes. I'll let him see that he might do well for himself by staying. Gee! Think of a fellow needing a bribe to spend a couple of weeks in God's country!"
"He doesn't know yet that it is God's country. We must show him. Oh, Peter, won't the Van Raaltens and the Arlingtons fall over themselves with rage if the Earl of Raygan and his mother and sister stop with us for a fortnight!"
"Stop with us for a fortnight!" mimicked Peter, scornful yet affectionate now. "You get more British every day in your accent and conversation, my kid."
"Well, I try hard enough! I do like their way of speaking. They make our voices sound grating and our expressions crude."
"Our ways for mine!"
"You can have them. Now run away, Petro. I'll see the 'Young Moon' later. I need a nap. Lay awake last night worrying!"
But when he had gone she lay awake planning. This golliwog was undoubtedly dangerous. The absorbed look in Peter's eyes when he described her singular attractions contradicted the statement that his feelings were Platonic.
He "only wanted to help!" Pooh! Still Ena was glad he had said that, because it had given her a brilliant idea. It was also rather a cruel idea, but all is fair in love and war: and this might be both.
Of course, if the girl were coming to New York to be a Salamander, the weapon would be useless. Ena must find another. She could not be sure until she had met Miss Child; but she told herself that no glorified golliwog, however sly, could fool her for five minutes! She would soon know whether Peter were right or wrong about this daughter of a clergyman whose mother was dead.
Poor Petro, he was such a fool about people—such a dear, nice, but sometimes inconvenient fool! Just mother's disposition over again, with a touch of father's cleverness splashed in here and there where you'd least expect it—but never in the place where it would be most useful.
As Ena reflected thus, she was vaguely pleased with herself after the fashion of an earnest student who suddenly finds himself actually thinking in French. Before she Went to Mme. Yarde's Finishing School for Young Ladies, she had been so accustomed to saying pa and ma that it had been very difficult to overcome the habit. Even now, once in a while, she—but, thank heaven, not once since meeting Lord Raygan; she was sure of that. He had said, "You talk quite like our girls." And all the rest of the day she had been happy; for sometimes, in a good-natured sort of way, he made fun of what he absurdly called "the American accent."
Ena shut her eyes and composed herself to lie down without ruffling her hair. But she could not sleep. She made pictures of Lord Raygan and his mother and Lady Eileen visiting at their house on Long Island.
Would they think it more "swell" of the Rollses to be living in the country than in New York? She hoped so, and almost believed they would, for she understood from novels and what she had learned in London, that the "smart people" only "ran into town for the theatre and that sort of thing" in winter. Now it was October—almost winter. And in the automobile it was only an hour and twenty-five minutes from Sea Gull Manor (Ena had named the new place herself) to New York.
Besides, in the country the visitors wouldn't so easily find out that the family hadn't got "into" things—the things that mattered. Of course they could see what the family was. They could see that anywhere, alas! But poor father and mother were better against a country background. And foreigners might attribute some quaint tricks of manner and speech to their being Americans, just as she and Peter hadn't known how awful the cockney accent was until they had been told by English people.
Oh, it was lovely over there! Nobody snubbed her. She would give anything to live on that side all her life, married to a man of title, and go home occasionally, to pay back the proud cats who had scratched. Meanwhile, it would be a step on the golden ladder to flaunt Lord Raygan and his mother and Eileen as guests. Then, if Rags could swallow the family and propose (as sometimes she thought he contemplated doing), how wonderful it would be! Her ideal accomplished!
No golliwog on earth should be allowed to defeat this end. For the addition of a model, dressmaking golliwog to the family would be the final obstacle. Lord Raygan was now undecided. He was perhaps waiting to see how the rest of the Rollses shaped up. If he could stand them as relations, all would be well. All must be well!
That night Win wore for her walk a long blue coat in place of the mackintosh. It was shabby, but becoming; and her dark hair was tucked into a close-fitting cap of the same blue as the cloak. She knew what was due to happen at half-past eight, and though grateful to Mr. Balm of Gilead, dreaded the result of his kindness.
Miss Rolls would be the first American girl she had ever met; but she knew how an English girl would feel about being introduced to a vague waif picked up by a brother in a dressmaker's showroom on shipboard. It would have been ungracious to refuse the offered introduction so well meant, but the fifth dryad was not looking forward to it with pleasurable sensations.
When she saw the brother and sister coming toward her, however, the smile on Miss Rolls's face was encouraging. It was dimly like Peter's smile, and there was a certain family resemblance about the faces: both dark, with eager eyes that seemed light in contrast with dead-black hair, but the eagerness of Miss Rolls's look was different from the eagerness of her brother's. His was slightly wistful in its search for something he did not yet know. Hers was dissatisfied, searching for something she wanted and had not got.
He was a lean young man, not very tall, but with rather the air of an ex-college athlete. She was a plump, short girl, somewhat square in build, but distinctly handsome, showing beautiful teeth in her cordial smile. If the smile had been less cordial Miss Child might have conceived the catty idea that the magnificent ruby-velvet hooded evening cloak had been put on to impress the humble new acquaintance. However, it would have been mean to suspect a sister of Mr. Balm of Gilead of such a snobbish trick. And there was the smile.
"Miss Child, I'm very pleased to meet you," said the handsome girl warmly, just as her brother had hopefully prophesied. "Peter's told me quite a lot about you. I think you're awfully brave."
"Perhaps one doesn't deserve much credit for courage in doing a thing one wants to do," answered Winifred, her slim, ringless hand responding to the kind pressure of the plump one wearing too many rings. (They were all rubies to-night. Miss Rolls had read about a wonderful Russian woman before whom men went down like ninepins and who always matched her dresses with her jewels.)
Yes, Ena thought, Peter was right; the creature was a lady. She had a soft, throaty voice, like a blackbird when it talks to itself, and oh, a creamy accent! Miss Rolls would have given anything to extract it, like pith, from the long white stem in which it seemed to live. She would have been willing to pay well for it, and for Miss Child's length of limb, so necessary to show off the latest fashions. She saw and appreciated the odd, golliwog charm of wide-apart eyes under high arch of brow. And the full, laughing mouth, with the short upper lip, was beautiful, like the mouths of marvellous girls on magazine covers. The creature looked brave and rather sweet, and Miss Rolls was quite sorry for her; but the thing had to be done.
"Petro, you go away and let us have a talk," said Petro's kind sister gayly. "Two is company; three's none."
And Petro went, thinking Ena the grandest sort of a pal. He had done his best for her already. Raygan and the two ladies had graciously agreed to stay for a fortnight at least in the country upon which Providence had thrust them. Peter had Marconied home, and home would certainly Marconi back an invitation to Sea Gull Manor. As he had said to Ena, he had pressed the button; she must do the rest. But he felt now as if he would enjoy doing a great deal more for her than he had yet done.
"And just what do you want to do in New York, Miss Child?" inquired Miss Rolls, as they began slowly to pace the otherwise deserted deck.
"I have wild hopes of getting newspaper work of some sort through one letter of introduction I have," answered Win, "or into a choir as contralto from the other. If not—oh, well, every one says America's the country for women."
"Yes, it is. We have splendid fun," Ena assured her. "The men are so kind to us."
"I think they must be," Win agreed. "Mr. Rolls has been very kind. Are all the rest like him?"
"I—suppose they have different ways of being kind—some of them. Some may be safer than others. I hardly know how to put it!"
"I think I understand."
"I—wonder if you do. Oh, Miss Child, I wish I dared speak to you frankly!"
When people begin thus there is invariably something disagreeable to follow; but Winifred Child braced herself and said calmly: "Please do."
"It's very difficult. I'm quite afraid of you."
"It's I who ought to be afraid of you."
"Don't be! I wish I could make you trust me. Can I?"
"I'm throwing things at you so suddenly. But what else can I do? We haven't much time. My brother'll come back and join us. And—it's about him I want to speak. He's so—interested in you."
"That's very nice of him." Winifred's voice was as cold and bright as a very small icicle.
"It ought to be! But—well, he's a dear brother and a splendid fellow in many ways. I hate to say anything against him. Yet I'd hate still more to have you—disappointed. His one fault is—he's rather foolish about women, especially those not exactly in his own set. Do you see what I mean? It's so hard for me! He said to-day he was going to try to help you. That frightened me a little. I felt I must give you this tiny warning, for Peter has such a trustworthy air, hasn't he?"
"Yes, indeed he has," answered Win, loyal still to Mr. Balm of Gilead, alias Peter Pan. But the night had grown colder.
"I'm his sister. I can't help feeling responsible for him. And, in a way, I feel responsible for you, too, as it's through him I've met you—and you'll be a stranger in our country. That's why I shouldn't have dared let this chance pass without speaking. Yet I keep rambling on without the courage to say much."
"It isn't necessary to dot all the i's and cross the t's," returned Winifred, trying not to let her voice be sharp or her tone bitter, for she had to believe that this girl was sincere. A sister would not blacken the character of a brother for the mere pleasure of hearing herself talk!
"You do take this as I mean it, don't you?"
"I think so."
"Thank you so much. It's very sweet and generous of you not to be angry with me and think me a busybody meddling in other people's business. But it is my business to see that my brother doesn't hurt a girl who trusts him—a stranger in a strange land. All I want you to promise is that instead of letting him help you, when he offers to, as he's sure to do—if he hasn't already—you'll let me do it."
"I'm hoping not to need help, except from the friends of my friend who has given me introductions," Win justified her pride of womanhood.
"I don't suppose you will need anything else. You look as if you could get along anywhere. But if you do need a push, promise you won't accept favours from my brother, or let him come into your life at all. It's entirely for your own sake I ask."
"I understand that, Miss Rolls. What other reason could there be?"
"There couldn't be any other. Do promise. I'm so frightened for you."
"I shall certainly accept no help from Mr. Rolls."
"That's good! It relieves my mind. And swear you won't let him dream that I've said anything or interfered with his plans."
"Well—when a man with Peter's one fault offers to help a girl get on in New York—Please don't be offended"
"I am not. Of course it goes without saying that I won't let him know I've had a warning from you."
"He'd never speak to me again if you even gave him a hint."
"Don't be afraid. I won't; not the faintest. Why, we're landing to-morrow morning early! There won't be a chance to say more than 'Good-bye.'"
"There's to-night, after I go in. He'll be back—-"
"I'm going in, too. I shall go when you go."
"Perhaps it would be better. Oh, you don't know what a weight is off my mind!"
"I'm glad it is gone."
"And you'll write to me, won't you, and let me know how you get along? Write just what you need. I'll be delighted—-"
"If I need anything—thank you."
"My address is Sea Gull Manor, Old Chesterton, Long Island. Shall I write it down?"
"No, please don't trouble. I can always remember addresses. You're really very good—to take an interest. And—and I know it must have been hard for you to—to feel you had to speak."
It was also hard, desperately hard, for Win to pay this tribute to Miss Rolls's unselfish interest in her moral welfare. She tried to be grateful, to feel that her late friend's sister had been brave and fine and unconventional thus to defend a strange girl against one so near. But despite reason's wise counsel, her heart was hot within her. She felt like a heathen assured by an earnest missionary that her god was a myth.
She disliked kind Miss Rolls intensely, and would have loved to let loose upon her somewhat obtuse head the sarcasm of which at that moment she felt herself a past mistress. She wanted to be rich and important and have Miss Rolls, poor and suppliant, at her mercy. Horrified, she saw by the searchlight of her own anger dark depths of cruelty and revenge in her own nature. She longed to rush to Peter and tell him everything, and believe in him again, for it was hard to lose a friend—an ideal ewe-lamb of a friend. She wished she might wake up in her overcrowded stateroom and find that this hateful conversation had been a dream.
But she could not do any of these brutal, silly, or impossible things. She was not dreaming. All was true. Miss Rolls had meant well, and Mr. Balm of Gilead did not exist. He was only Peter Rolls, a rich, selfish fellow who thought girls who had to work fair game. His sister must know his true inwardness. Probably she had learned through unpleasant hushed-up experiences, through seeing skeletons unfleshed by Peter stalk into the family cupboard.
"You ungrateful beast, behave yourself!" Miss Child boxed the ears of her sulky ego and shook it.
The throaty quiver in the blackbird voice of the dangerous golliwog went vibrating through Miss Rolls's conscience in a really painful way. She felt as if she had had a shock of electricity. But, thank goodness, the worst was over, and now that she had grasped safety (for instinct said that the girl would not betray), she could afford to be generous.
She reminded herself that she had acted entirely in self-defence, not through malice, and she had not told a single lie about Peter. She had but said—in words—that some men were safer than others, which every one knew to be true; that Peter was rather foolish about women (so he was—ridiculously soft, not modern in his ideas at all!), and that it would be better for the girl to accept help from her—Ena—than from a young man. It was very good advice, and nothing Peter ought to be angry about, even if he should ever hear—which, pray heaven, he might not! As Ena reminded herself how wise and tactful she had been, a faint glow stole into the chilly zone round her heart, just as you can heat a cold foot by concentrating yourself on telling it that it is warm.
"I want to be your friend," she went on sweetly. "Perhaps you aren't very rich? As girl to girl, let me offer you a little, little present—or a loan—a hundred dollars. I've got it with me—-"
"Oh, thank you many times, but I couldn't possibly!" cried Win. "I don't need it. I have lots of money."
"I'm glad—though I should have liked the pleasure," said Ena. And she genuinely would, because the act of giving would have pumped warmth into the cold place without waiting for time to change the temperature.
"There's one thing you must let me do, anyhow," she persisted. "That dress—the 'Blue Moon,' isn't it?—that you tried on and my brother bought for me, I want you to accept it. Oh, don't say no! It's miles too long for me" (she couldn't have brought herself to confess that it was hopelessly small for waist and hips), "and I never enjoy altered dresses—the style's lost. So you'll not be robbing me. If you won't have it, I shall believe it's a sign that you're offended at my interference."
Winifred thought for an instant and drew a long breath. "Then I must take the dress," she said. "It's more than good of you, of course. I shan't be in the kind of world where I can wear it, but—-"
"Keep it to remember this evening—I mean, to remember me," Miss Rolls hastily amended.
"I will," said Win simply. But there was no danger that she would ever forget Miss Rolls—or her kindness.
SCENES FOR A "MOVIE"
When Peter thought that he might decently return to B deck without breaking into charming womanly confidences, it was deserted. The moon was struggling out through black clouds and pouring silver into the sea's ink, but the girl in the moon was gone.
When he found Ena again—which was easy because of the ruby cloak—she was sitting between Raygan and Lady Eileen on the boat deck. He knew that she would be annoyed if he mentioned Miss Child in this distinguished company, and, in any case, he would not have cared to speak of the girl there.
Realizing that he had kept away too long and lost his chance of seeing Miss Child again that night, he consoled himself by knocking at Ena's door when she had evaded him and sought sanctuary in her cabin. She let him in at once, not because she wanted to do so, but because he would "turn suspicious" if she made an excuse to keep him out.
"Well?" said he. "What did you think of her?"
"Miss Child? She seems a very nice girl, and you're perfectly right—she is a lady. I don't know if she's quite as young as you think, and I don't call her pretty; but she is attractive in spite of being so awfully tall. We had a pleasant talk, and I offered to do anything I could. I gave her our address, and she is to write."
"Did you tell her you'd invite her down?" Peter put this question diffidently.
"I—intimated it. She was rather independent but very nice, and said she was grateful, especially after I insisted on giving her that 'Moon' dress, which now I've sent to her cabin. You know, she has friends in New York, and seems to know just what she wants to do, so I couldn't thrust myself upon her. But I think I did the right thing."
"I'm sure of that, you dear girl," said Peter.
And so was the dear girl herself.
Next morning the room of the mirrors was destitute of dryads. Its once crowded wardrobes were empty; the huge screen was folded and leaning against the wall. The dryad door stood open (as Peter Rolls observed when he "happened" to pass, about the time the Monarchic neared the Statue of Liberty) and nothing reminiscent remained save a haunting perfume of "Rose-Nadine" sachet powder, a specialty which might have been the lingering wraith of a dryad.
As the visions had vanished with all their belongings, Peter thought it probable they would be on some deck or other watching for the New York skyscrapers. And he was right concerning four of his model acquaintances. The fifth was not visible, and Miss Devereux explained her absence by saying that she was "lazy."
"She's on her own now, you know," she added, "and can sleep as late as she likes. But I wouldn't miss the first sight of New York for a pound! Some people have no romance in them."
Up till the last minute Peter had hopes of B deck; but they were blighted and disappointed, even depressed; he had to land with Ena and her friends without having seen Miss Child. Still, there was the pier, crowded with people who had come to wave welcome to the Monarchic. There appeared to be a fearful confusion, and this was Peter's first return from his first trip abroad; but he knew that the excited throng would soon be sorted out under letters of the alphabet.
Peter senior had come to meet his returning children and the distinguished guests Marconi had bestowed on him (a little, dry, thin man, who looked as though a lost resemblance to Peter might come out if he were freshened up by being soaked for a long time in warm water), and he had already secured a tame official to glance graciously into the luggage. After shaking heartily the small bag of bones that was his father's hand, and saying "Hello, Dad! How's yourself? How's mother? How's everything?" Peter was free for a few minutes to sprint from "B" to "C."
His spirit rose at the comparative dearth of "C's." Not more than a dozen of the crowded Monarchic's passengers were dancing with impatience beneath the third letter of the alphabet, and Mr. Rolls, Jr., walked straight up to tall Miss Child without being beaten back by a surf of "C's." To be sure, Miss Carroll was under the same letter, and observed the approach of Peter with interest, if not surprise; but she was seated on a trunk at some distance key in hand.
"Well, I'm mighty glad to find you!" exclaimed Peter cordially. "I began to think it must be a trick of dryads to wait themselves ashore without waiting for the clumsy old ship to dock."
"I was busy packing this morning," replied the alleged dryad, with a hard, undryadic expression on her "heart-shaped" face.
"You disappeared so early last night, I'd an idea you were doing your packing then so as to be up with the dawn and get a good look at the harbour."
"I could see a great deal from our porthole."
"I shouldn't have thought you were the kind of girl to be satisfied with portholes," said Peter, hoping to wake up one of her smiles. Her voice sounded rather tired.
"Beggars mustn't be choosers," was the dry reply.
"But dryads may be," he encouraged her.
"I've left my dryadhood hanging up behind the door." She spoke sharply, almost irritably, it seemed. "I shan't need it in New York."
"Oh, won't you? That's where you're mistaken! There'll be lots of times when you'd rather have it than the grandest opera cloak."
"I shan't need an opera cloak, either."
Peter was still smiling, though less confident of the old friendly understanding which had given them a language of their own with words which would have been nonsense for others.
"We'll see. Anyhow, I shall ask you to go to the very first worth-while opera that comes along. Consider it a formal invitation."
"Very well, I will, and answer it formally. 'Miss Child thanks Mr. Rolls for his kind invitation, and regrets that a previous engagement makes it impossible for her to accept.'"
"By Jove, that does sound formal enough! How do you know you'll have a previous engagement?"
"I'm perfectly certain I shall."
This was the real thing! There was no joke in the bottom of the medicine glass.
Peter's face grew red, like a scolded schoolboy's. Winifred (who was looking at Miss Carroll's trunk, but saw only Mr. Rolls) thought that he was going to speak out angrily, and perhaps give her a glimpse of his black heart. She hoped he would, for it would have been a relief; but he did not.
"Have I done anything to offend you?" he asked with a straight look; and though he spoke in a low tone, it was not a secret tone at all.
"No, certainly not," she answered, opening her eyes at him. "Why do you ask?"
"Because—you weren't like this on the ship."
"I've left my ship manners hanging up behind the door with my dryadhood. I shan't use them in New York, either!"
"I don't know why you should be." If she had not stared hard at Miss Carroll's trunk, and tried anxiously to make out the name on a very small label, she would have done what she had boasted of never doing, whatever the world did to her: she would have cried. As it was, she wore the expression of a budding basilisk.
"Don't you know? Well, then, you didn't realize what it meant to me to have you for a friend."
"I really didn't think much about it, Mr. Rolls!"
"Evidently not. But I did. Look here, Miss Child. Did my sister put you against me—or our friendship—in any way?"
"What an extraordinary idea!" sneered Winifred. "She spoke very nicely of you, as far as I can remember, and said you were a dear brother."
"Then why are you so unkind to me now after being nice on the ship?"
"Oh, that! It was for a cinema, a motion picture. Didn't you understand?"
This slapped Peter in the face: that she should retort with flippant slang, when he was earnestly begging for an explanation. At last she had succeeded in freezing him.
"I'm afraid I didn't quite understand," he said in a new tone which she had not heard before. Mr. Balm of Gilead, alias Peter Pan, had suddenly grown up, and as Peter Rolls, Jr., was all politeness and conventionality.
"I do understand now, though. Well, Miss Child, I must—thank that 'cinema' for some very pleasant hours. Here comes a man to look at your baggage. Just remind him that you're a British subject, and he won't make you any trouble. Neither will I!" Peter's hat was off, but his smile could have been knocked off only with a hammer.
"Good-bye," replied Win hastily, frightened at her own appalling success as a basilisk. "And thank you—for your part of the cinema."
"I'm afraid I don't deserve any credit. Good-bye. And good luck."
He was gone—but no, not quite. Without turning round to look at her again, he was stopping to speak with the Irish-faced servant of the customs. The latter nodded and even touched his cap. Peter Rolls certainly had a way with him. But Win already knew this, to her sorrow. She was glad she had thought of that horrid speech about the cinema. The man deserved it.
"That's the last I shall see of him!" she said to herself almost viciously, as the Irish-American official spied upon her toque the wing of a fowl domesticated since the ark. Yet for the second time Peter came back, stiffly lifting his hat.
"I only wanted to say," he explained, "that, cinema or no cinema, I hope, if I can be of service now or later, you will allow me the privilege. My address—-"
"I have your sister's, thank you," she cut his words short as with a pair of scissors. "That's the same thing, isn't it?"
"Yes," he answered heavily—perhaps guiltily. And this time he was gone for good.
"What a neat expression," thought Winifred. "Gone for good!"
It sounded like a long time.
THE HANDS WITH THE RINGS
Peter Rolls, Jr., unlike his father, had practically no talent for revenge. In common with every warm-blooded creature lower than the angels, he could be fiercely vindictive for a minute or two—long enough, when a small boy, to give a bloody nose and to get one; long enough, at all ages, to want to hit a man, thoroughly smash him, perhaps, or even to kick him into the middle of next week; long enough to feel that he would like to make a woman sorry that she had been rude.
But there was always a spiritual and mental reckoning of a painful description: a soul's housecleaning which turned him out of doors a miserable waif; and it invariably came too soon, before he had had time to gloat over the blood on another boy's nose, or a man's humiliation, or a woman's repentant blush. Instead of heartily disliking people for the spiteful things they sometimes did, he was apt to turn round and wonder if the fault had not been his; if he were not the abysmal beast.
He had not half repaid Winifred Child for her rudeness with his coldness, yet no sooner was he in the huge gray automobile—which could comfortably have seated eight instead of six—than he felt a pang of remorse, exactly like a gimlet twisting through his heart from top to bottom.
"I oughtn't to have left her like that!" he reproached himself. "I ought to have hung around and seen that everything went all right. She said she had the address of a good, cheap boarding-house. But it may have changed. Or it may be full. And, anyway, how will she get there? She ought to take a cab. But will she? And if she does, won't she fall dead at the price? I ought to have warned the poor child. There are shoals of tips I might have put her up to if I hadn't always been talking about myself. What if she was cross? There must have been a reason. I must have done something she didn't feel like pointing out when I asked. What I don't know about women would make three encyclopedias."
It was too late, however, to act upon second thoughts which might or might not be "best." Peter was in the automobile, and it had started. Even if he went back, it would doubtless be only to find Miss Child gone. He tried to console himself with the fact that Ena had been nice to the girl, and that Miss Child had said—or anyhow intimated—that she would write. If she didn't, he could, at worst, find out her whereabouts by going to Nadine. Superior as Miss Child was to the other dryads, she would surely keep up communication with them. Miss Devereux was the sort who might lunch with him on the strength of "old friendship." He would give her oysters and orchids, and find out how things were going with the girl who had left her dryadhood behind the cabin door.
He tried to console himself with these arguments, but the pleasure of homecoming was spoiled. Father did not show any very exuberant joy at seeing him again, and it was disappointing to a warm-hearted nature if people were not exuberant, even for a minute, when you had been away for months.
The automobile, with its gray-silk cushions, its immense plate-glass windows, its travelling boudoir of mirrors, gold scent bottles, and other idiocies, its bouncing bouquet of fresh violets, its electric fittings, its air pillow embroidered with silver monograms and crests, its brocade-lined chinchilla rugs, tricky little extra seats, and marvellous springs, struck Peter as disgustingly ostentatious.
He wondered what Raygan and his mother and sister would think of folks in a democratic country using chinchilla for automobile rugs; and he was sure they must be having interior hysterics over the Rolls coat of arms—a dragon holding up a spiky crown of some nondescript sort on a cushion. The dragon looked rather like a frog rampant, and the crowned cushion bore a singular resemblance to a mushroom with an angry ladybird on its apex. How this family insignia had been obtained Peter did not know. His ribald questions had been treated by his sister with silent scorn. He would not be surprised if Ena had designed the thing herself!
As the car smoothly bowled Peter out of Winifred Child's life, away toward the Long Island manor house and the welcome mother would give, the deposed dryad was having her first experience of New York.
She parted company on the pier with Nadine (in private life Lady Darling), Nadine's manageress, Miss Sorel, and the quartet of models. They had almost forgotten her before they had gone two blocks "uptown"; and she had no reason to remember any of them with affection, except, perhaps, Miss Sorel, a relative of her one-time dressmaker who had "got her the job."
Win had heard that the cost of cabs was "something awful" in America, but she said to herself: "Just this first time I must have one." A bad night and the scene with Peter had dimmed the flame of her courage, and she felt a sinking of the heart instead of a sense of adventure in the thought of taking a "trolley." She would be sure to lose herself in searching for the boarding-house.
Her luggage—checked and in the hypnotic power of a virile expressman—had already vanished. It would arrive at its destination ahead of her. Perhaps there was no room there. In that case it would be sent away. Dreadful picture! False economy not to take a cab! Win supposed that a taxi would be no dearer than the horse variety and one would sooner learn the secrets of the future.
One of these secrets began to hint at its own hideous nature with every convulsive tick of the metre. It hiccuped nickels, and as Win's terrified eyes, instead of taking in New York, watched the spendthrift contrivance yelping for her dollars, she remembered that she owned but two hundred. She had had to be "decent" about tips on board. But forty pounds—two hundred dollars—had looked magnificent in her hand bag that morning. Paper money spread itself in such a lordly manner and seemed able to buy so many separate things. But by the time the merciless taxi had bumped her through devious ways up to Fifty-Fourth Street, three of the beautiful green dollar bills were as good as gone.
She longed to pray "Oh, do stop taxying!" at the doorstep before she darted up to inquire whether Miss Hampshire still kept the boarding-house; and it was maddening to hear that "teuf, teuf" desperately going on, chewing its silver cud, in the long pause before an answer came to the bell.
A black woman who flung open the door was startling as a jack-in-the-box for the English girl. Win had thought of American negroes but vaguely, as a social problem in the newspapers or dear creatures in Thomas Nelson Page's books. What with the surprise and the nervous strain of the disappearing dollars, she asked no further questions after the welcome news that Miss Hampshire existed and had a "room to rent." Hastily she paid off the chauffeur, adding something for himself (it seemed like tipping the man at the guillotine) and breathed again only when her trunk and dressing-bag blocked the narrow hall.
"I'm sure I don't see whoever's goin' to tote them things up to the third story," sighed the female jack-in-the-box, who was, after all, more purple than black when you looked closely, an illusion produced by a dusting of pink powder over a dark surface. "And how do I know Miss Hampshire'll take you?"
"But you said there was a room." The freeborn independence of a whole nation, irrespective of colour, shocked the effete stranger's breath away. She gasped slightly.
"Yeh. But that ain't to say you can have it. Miss Hampshire's mighty pertickler about her woman boarders," explained the purple lady. "You catched me all of a heap or I wouldn't o' let that feller slam yer things into the house and git away. You'll have to wait till I call Miss Hampshire. She'll talk to you."
"Tell her I was recommended by Miss Ellis, from London who boarded here three years ago," Win desperately tossed after a disappearing figure.
It was a mortifying commentary upon her personal appearance not to be invited to wait in the drawing-room, and Miss Child wondered what foreign strangeness in hat, hair arrangement, or costume had excited suspicion. She did not know whether to be more angry or amused, but recalled her own motto, "Laugh at the world to keep it from laughing first."
Suddenly the episode became part of an adventure, a great and wildly funny adventure, of which she was dying to see the next part. How she would love to tell Mr. Balm of Gilead! How his eyes would twinkle! But—there was no Mr. Balm of Gilead in this or any world. It was a dreary hall she stood in, with varnished brown paper pretending to be oak panels, a long-armed hatrack that would have made an ideal scarecrow, and ghosts of past dinners floating up from below with gloomy warnings.
From the same region came Miss Hampshire, smelling slightly of Irish stew. She was pale with the pallor which means shut windows and furnace heat, a little sharp-nosed, neat-headed woman in brown, whose extraordinarily deep-set eyes were circled with black, like spectacle rims. She was graciously willing to accept a guest recommended by Miss Ellis, hinting that, as she was of British ancestry, the English for her came under the favoured nation clause.
"To you the room with board'll be ten dollars a week," she said with flattering emphasis. "A well-known poetess has just left it to be married. It's not large, but, being at the back of the house, it's nice and quiet."
When Win was shown the third-floor back hall bedroom she saw that even a poetess of passion might have snapped at her first proposal. As Miss Hampshire said, it was not large; but there was the advantage of being able to reach anything anywhere while sitting on the bed, and unless the people six feet distant in a back room of the opposite house snored at night it ought to be quiet.
Win christened her room the "frying pan," because to search for another boarding-house might be jumping into the fire. And luckily her trunk would just squeeze under the bed.
"I suppose it would be no use calling on a business man before three o'clock?" She applied to Miss Hampshire for advice when she had unpacked her toothbrush and a few small things for which she could find niche or wall space.
"Before three? And why not?" The pale lady opened her eyes in their dark caverns.
"Why, I only thought they wouldn't be back in their offices from luncheon," explained the English girl.
"When you know a little more about N'York," replied Miss Hampshire, whose manner was involuntarily less mellow when she had hooked a fish, "you'll see why it could never be run as it is along those lines. Many of our most prominent business men consider a piece of pie with a tumbler of milk a good and sufficient lunch, and it takes them five minutes to swallow it."
Primed with this information and intricate instructions concerning street cars (a child once burned dreads a taxi), Winifred started out soon after her own midday meal, eaten in a basement dining-room.
She went first to see the editor; for somehow newspaper reporting seemed more congenial to the vivid New York climate than singing in a church choir, and the hugeness of the To-day and To-morrow building turned her again into a worm. It did not so much scrape the sky as soar into it, and when she timidly murmured the words "editorial offices" she was shot up to the top in an elevator as in a perpendicularly directed catapult.
When the fearsome thing stopped she had the sensation that her head alone had arrived, the rest had been shed on the way, but in a large open space furnished with roll-top desks and typewriters and men and girls she was looked at as though nothing unusual had happened.
"A letter of introduction for Mr. Burritt?" repeated a young man with a whimsical expression. "I'm afraid you'll have to go higher up to deliver it."
"I thought I'd got to the top," said Win. "Or"—and she tried to catch the office note of sprightliness—"does he inhabit a roof garden?"
The young man smiled. "He used to be fond of them after office hours. But not being a spiritualist, I haven't heard from him concerning his present habits."
"That's about it," said the young man. "A year ago. But he was only our city editor, so maybe he didn't get a black border in your English papers."
Miss Child did not ask how one knew that she was English. She recovered herself, thought of taking leave, and then decided not to be precipitate. Instead, she inquired if she could see any other editor.
"Which other have you got a letter to?" the young man temporized.
"Then I'm afraid it's no use without an appointment. Anyhow, this isn't the right hour to snapshot editors of daily papers. They're night-blooming flowers. Would you like to try for an appointment with Mr. Shaw, Burritt's successor?"
Win thanked him, but thought it would be no use. She would have liked to walk down, only there seemed to be no stairs. A merry youth who ran the nearest elevator asked if she would care to use the fire-escape.
The address of Mr. Noble, the organist, was that of a private house. It was a far cry from To-day and To-morrow, up in the hundreds, and Miss Hampshire had told Miss Child to take the elevated. Easier said than done. You could go up the steps and reach a platform on top of the improved Roman viaduct, but there were so many other people intent on squeezing through the iron gate and onto the uptown train—people far more indomitable than yourself—that nothing happened except the slam, slam of that gate in your face.