Peter let him have a look; in fact, they exchanged; and Peter read in the one apparently intended for Ed: "Please come home day after to-morrow. Find I need you. L. Shuster."
"I think this is mine," said Ed.
"And probably this is intended for me," said Peter. "Was it the Grayles-Grice you thought of trying your hand on?"
"I told Mrs. Shuster I could drive it for Miss Moore, rather than break up the party if she needed you. She was to let us know—when her plans were settled," explained Ed. And Patsey says he stammered.
"After that affair of the Wilmot this afternoon I shouldn't like to advise Miss Moore to exchange chauffeurs, even for one day," said Peter. "Mrs. Shuster's very good-natured. I expect she'll wait. If not, she can fill my place with some one else, permanently."
Pat was amused, though I'm not sure she understood the little play of cross-purposes as well as I understand it. And she doesn't seem to attach any importance to that part of the telegram which is the most exciting, to my idea. Why would it be inconvenient for our fair Lily to have her secretary return to-morrow? Something is up at Kidd's Pines! I vaguely suspected as much when she let us come away without her. When Jack wakes I shall ask him what he thinks. Love.
Your affectionate MOLLY.
P. S. Jack thinks something so wild and woolly that I daren't tell you what it is till I know, for fear he's wrong. Much less will I tell Pat. And we can't know for two or three days unless we abbreviate the trip which all of us would hate to do.
EDWARD CASPIAN TO MRS. L. SHUSTER
Easthampton, Wednesday morning.
MY DEAR FRIEND:
I know you mean well, and I don't like to scold, but really, really I have a big bone to pick with you! I didn't ask you to telegraph. I said telephone. I wonder if you ought to consult an aurist, dear lady? And even if you did misunderstand, you might have concentrated on what you were doing for five minutes, don't you think? I don't wish to be disagreeable, but what you have done has given me a sleepless night. Several other things have gone wrong, too, but this is the worst, because I'm not sure what the consequences may be. Add to not sleeping the fact that I'm up at an unearthly hour in order to write to you, and to hear news of my Wilmot (which had an accident yesterday), and you will excuse me if I don't trim my sentiments with roses.
Almost the last words you said to me were, "One good turn deserves another." I did you a good turn in speaking of you in a certain way to a certain person, as you asked me to do. It was a pleasure to serve you, because of the gratitude owing you for many past kindnesses when life was something of a struggle for me. Still, you seemed to think the other day that I had paid a good part of the debt, and that it was up to you now. I don't think I should have asked the favour I did ask, if you hadn't offered. We were both pretty frank about what we wanted, and after what passed I felt I could count on you, as you could count on me.
All the evening after I'd come in from a disgusting and pointless expedition I expected to be called to the telephone. There was a dance at the hotel which I was unable to enjoy, as I have never learned any of the new dances, and some girls seem to have little appreciation of the higher pleasure of sitting out with a partner of intelligence, not to mention money. By the way, not only did I owe an exceedingly unpleasant adventure with my car to Captain Winston's obstinate determination to see Montauk Point (where there's nothing to see), but I owe him another grudge for upsetting my plans for the night. At dinner, casting his eye round the dining-room, he happened to remark that none of the young men present looked tall enough to act as partners for those beanpole Goodrich girls. "Beanpole" is my expression, not his. "Storm is the right size," he went on meddlesomely, in that calm British way he has of taking it for granted that whatever he says must be right. "I wonder if Storm dances?"
Your errant secretary was dining at another table, by himself, and at some distance from the tables of the rest of the party, who were grouped together in order to talk across. Miss Moore was with the Winstons, and chairs had been reserved for the Morleys; but Mrs. Morley was tired and didn't come down; of course the bridegroom kept her company upstairs; and I was just in time to ask if I might have one of the vacant places, before two of those dreadful boys made a rush for the table. When Miss Moore heard Winston's question about Storm she looked up, apparently in surprise; for though you have made him your secretary and he has been a good deal spoiled by every one at Kidd's Pines and those Awepesha people, she first saw him, you must remember, in his own class of life as a steerage passenger. It must have seemed queer that Winston should expect the man to dance with girls like her and the Goodriches. Naturally she didn't put her surprise into words. She is too kind-hearted.
If Storm had any conception of what his sphere in society ought to be, he would, when asked, have answered, "I don't dance." He need not have lied and said, "I can't." His conceit is such, however, that he hadn't the grace to keep out of the limelight when it suited his purpose to pose in it. He did dance, not only with the Goodrich girls, but with Miss Moore. Perhaps you can understand why I told you that his being along would spoil this trip for me, and why I asked you as a particular favour to recall him on the excuse of urgent business. I can now drive a Grayles-Grice very well, certainly as well as he can; and my chauffeur could have run him back to you at Kidd's Pines in the Wilmot.
While I was momentarily expecting a 'phone call, a telegram was brought to me in the ballroom, where I was sitting out some new-fangled thing everybody seemed idiotically wild over. The envelope was addressed to me all right, but I couldn't make head or tail of what was inside until suddenly it popped into my head that you'd been absent-minded and mixed Storm and me. It seemed almost too bad to be true. And worse than all, Storm was in the act of studying his message with the assistance of Miss Moore. Of course he'd got on to the guiding idea, and probably put her on to it also. The fat is thoroughly in the fire now. Even though I still expect to get news about the man which will queer his pitch considerably (as I prophesied to you), there may be a lingering resentment in Miss Moore's mind against me. She is apt to think, from what Storm will have put into her head, that I might have minded my own business. Little difference is it likely to make with her that I have been and am acting for her good! In that connection, you were more sensible! You refused to discharge the man without proof, but you did pay my judgment the compliment of changing your attitude toward him. Now, however, it seems to me you have a perfectly good excuse to get rid of him permanently, without regard to my possible discoveries. Apparently he doesn't intend to obey your order to return, but is determined at any cost to go on to the end, playing the gentleman of leisure who can drive a high-powered motor car while he's being paid for addressing envelopes! A bitter end may it be for him! I shouldn't wonder if it would be. I shall do my best to make it so. It will come at the Piping Rock Club, where I have got an invitation for the members of this party for a dance. If Storm has the cheek to go, his blood be on his own head! The dance is, as Miss Moore says, the "climax" of our tour. I hope it may be so for Storm in one sense of the word, though not in hers.
I have told you before that I can get you a better secretary than he is, at a day's notice; and perhaps you will presently be willing to let me try, now his "eyes alone" don't seem worth the money, as you once thought them. Other eyes are of more importance to you in these days. Apropos of the latter eyes, I understand why it may have been inconvenient to let Storm come back, but certainly he couldn't have been as much in your way in a big house as he is in mine in a motor car.
I shall travel in the Grayles-Grice in spite of him, as the Wilmot is out of the running for days. But the trip is spoilt.
I felt I must let you know how your mistake has affected me. But I have not ceased to be
Sincerely your friend, E. CASPIAN.
P.S. I am wiring you to send him on the proofs of the new peace tract to correct on the way. That may keep him out of the car a few hours.
PATRICIA MOORE TO ADRIENNE DE MONCOURT
Long Island. At a Beautiful House Where We Are Guests.
You cannot figure to yourself how the life is wonderful, just after one has thought, "Crack! the sky tumbles!" But yes, you can figure it, because of your adventure at Easter.
I am almost too happy. I live in a story of fairies, and I ask myself, is it too good to last?
You know, cherie, how I loved always to read the books of romance, when we could hide them from our kind Sisters, who think it wrong for the young girls to fill their heads with such thoughts till after the marriage. Since I have left the dear convent, I have read earnestly in journals the writings of critics who live by having opinions about other people. I see by them that romance is not truth. It is only the dull things which are real. Yet for you and me, life is now running like the stories at which these critics laugh the most. That is why I ask myself, "Can such things go on?" For it seems that critics must know better than me (or should I say "I?"). Perhaps they have reason. Perhaps we shall end in a monotony of grayness like the books these wise men and women praise for "the realism." Or we shall fall down, down, in tragedy?—for that, it seems, can also be true to life; only just the happy things are not true. Yet at present let us live joyously for a little while as in one of those dear books we read in secret at school: books of romance and even of mystery.
For instance, look at what you write me of your family, which mixes itself so strangely with my experience. But no, surely it cannot be that the handsome new American cousin with much money, who visited your mother's chateau in your vacance of Easter, is anything to our Monsieur Moncourt. It is only a coincidence that his name shall be Marcel, and that Marcel is a name existing with the de Moncourt men since the centuries. I regret almost that I have written you of our Marcel Moncourt just at the moment when this marvellous cousin has jumped into your life; but, even if there is a connection, you must not comprehend it badly. Do not for an instant picture that our Monsieur Moncourt is a cook. But, what a word for him! He is a real Personage. He is a Celebrity. All the world is proud to speak with him, and he can have as much money as he wants. That is why it is so curious he should come to us for a little nothing at all, just through the influence of Mr. Storm, which also I do not understand. But, as I tell you, if there is a cousinhood or an unclehood, it is not a thing for shame. The young Marcel will of course tell Madame la Marquise everything the moment he passes so far as to ask for you. And then, if he is so rich and so beau, and has the blood of the de Moncourts in his veins, what does the rest matter? If I were in your place, dear Adrienne, I would not worry on the idea that our Moncourt may be this mauvais sujet of a Paul Jean Honore Marcel de Moncourt you mention, who vanished in his youth, and has so long been counted as dead. Probably that one is quite altogether dead, and our Moncourt has no lines with the de Moncourts of France. He perhaps took the name because it has a noble sound. That is one of the things one doesn't ask a man, is it not? But if it is important for your happiness, my Adrienne, I can perhaps arrive at it through Mr. Storm, who must know all, and learn, too, if there is a son of our Moncourt we have not heard of yet.
And now for myself again!
It is so gay and such an amusement to have a whole band of young men paying attentions to me, little me, who but the other day did not even raise the eyes to a man in taking promenades, without a bad mark on my conduct! Larry does not object at all. He laughs. Girls are born to love the flirt, he says, and indeed, dear Adrienne, he loves it himself! He makes it with all the ladies, even the fat Mrs. Shuster of whom I have written. But that is his manner. I do not inquiet myself for him, not more than he does for me.
At present he is at home, because, though he is a great boy, he has you can't think what a sense of duty. It is for this he stays at Kidd's Pines to welcome new visitors while I am away en automobile with some of our guests, and chaperoned by dear Molly Winston.
Apropos, it is Molly Winston who gives me courage that life can after all be full of pleasant things and good endings, for she and Jack go on having romance and grand adventures. She believes that if "you want things enough," they come to you sooner or later. She is a very nice chaperon to have.
Three dear boys are in love with me, not enough to hurt them, but enough to make me pleasure and themselves, too, all fighting together and pretending to be angry if I am more kind to one than another. Also there is always Mr. Caspian. He has now asked me what we used to call "The question"; and in America it is done to the girl herself, as we so often read, not to the father or mother. But, it seems, he spoke first to Larry, almost in the French way. When I have answered no, I was too young (that is the best to say when you are caught by surprise and wish not to offend). He told me that Larry wished me to think of him, because they had made up a big friendship, they two, and there were deep reasons why I should engage myself. I went to Larry to inquire of this, and he said he did not go so far as Mr. Caspian thought. However, it would be good for me to be nice to Mr. C. and not make him sorrow, for a time, until some things were settled. So I am being nice, but sometimes it is difficult, because Mr. Caspian and Mr. Storm are not sympathetic. Still, don't you find the little difficulties in the life are like the cloves and cinnamon in the rice pudding which we at school asked for in a "Round Robin?" (Oh, that nice word! We found it, you remember, in an English book!)
Mr. Storm drives my darling car, with which we make many dollars from our visitors who love to go on tour. I am considered too small, though I can do it quite well and have no fear. In smooth places without turns Mr. Storm lets me take the wheel. I cannot talk when I drive. I am too happy and have a thousand emotions, like a beehive filled with bees that keep flying home with honey. But he can talk, no matter what happens, and he says things I remember. They seem to paint my brain with pictures which he gives me to keep. So his words are like his eyes, not to be forgotten. You know in our garden at the convent there were flowers which would not be banished, though the gardener pulled them up by the roots again and still again: poppies for instance. Some thoughts which come to one from other people's minds are like these. They persist, and they plant their seeds in a deep place where they cannot be pulled out.
Mr. Caspian is like the gardener at the convent. He tries to stamp out these thoughts, to plant others in me. But the roots have gone down where he cannot find them.
He has come into our automobile, because his own is broken and being mended at Easthampton, where we stayed a night, and I danced with Peter Storm. I let Mr. Caspian come, instead of saying he had better go with the boys in their car, the Hippopotamus, because of Larry asking me to be nice. But I do not let him drive ever—except to-day when I am not in the car, as you shall hear. It is too pleasant having Peter by me when I have to cry, "Oh, what a lovely place!" or, "See the wonderful view!" or, "Here is a funny sight!" He has a mood which matches mine, and it would not be so with Mr. Caspian. I do not know why, but Mr. Caspian reminds me of an iron fence. You could drape him with pretty flowers, but underneath there would always be the iron fence. Perhaps Peter Storm may be a stone wall under the ivy and blossoming things. But stone is part of nature, and has beautiful colours deep in it, soaked in from sunsets and sunrises and rainbows through thousands of centuries.
All the things I see as we travel in the car—fast as a glorious strong wind which blows past the beauties of earth—all the things I see are more emphasized when I have Peter sitting by me, seeing them, too. That is why life is so wonderful. I feel things in double, as with two souls. Yet of course I am not in love. Do not think that, or you will be wrong. It is my intellect which is waking up, after it was kept in pink cotton by the Sisters; for you know learning school lessons does not wake up our intellect. It only puts on a bright polish, so by and by it can reflect the world when it's out of the cotton. And, oh, it is a sweet world, here in the country that is my home!
By and by I will tell you about the house where we are now, and a kind of mystery which gives the fairy-story effect. But you would not know what these days have been if I left out the tale of our travelling. I sent you a fat envelope of postcards, as I promised, with pictures of Easthampton: the windmills and the old houses, and the big waves. You will like the one of the long fierce wave like a white cat's paw. They call it the "sea puss." I hoped it meant that really: a giant cat that seized bathers, and people far up the beach as if they were mice running away. But Captain Winston, who loves the history as we love the bonbons, says no, they have only stolen that name for a great tidal wave which sweeps in from the sea on this side of our island. It was in Indian days but a meek little word: "seepus," small river.
The postcards of Southampton are all pictures of beautiful new houses which rich people have built among the dunes. I could not get old ones, though Southampton's soul is very, very old, full of memories of Indians and early English settlers who were jealous of the Dutch. Now it is a colony of "cottages" bigger than many of our French chateaux, and of the most unexpected, charming shapes, covered with flowers. Girls and boys who like to dance and have fun all summer like it better than Easthampton, so their mothers have to like it better, too. You will not believe when you look at the pictures that not three hundred years ago, if there had been postcards then, you would have seen only forty rough log-houses built behind palisades for fear of Indians; maybe the watch-house was where the Country Club is now! Instead of dances and parties the only pleasure was to go to church, where you were called by the roll of a drum. A stern man named Thomas Sayres beat on the drum and you had to go whether you liked or not, because Abraham Pierson, the first minister, governed the state as well as church.
I am not sure even the Indians weren't nicer to live with, because they liked beads and bright things, as we do, especially mirrors. Why, they sold anything they had for mirrors! And they were kind and pleasant till the Dutch and English spoilt their dispositions. Their parties—yes, they had parties!—were in their cornfields—oh, miles of beautiful cornfields that are covered with dark mysterious cedars now, like sad thoughts of the sunny past. The Indian families came to help each other in the cornfields, and the young men fell in love with the maidens and proposed as they do at our dances. If you said "no," perhaps they knocked you hard on your head, and took you anyhow! I am pleased it is not so now. I should not like Mr. Caspian to do it.
He was very nice, though, at Southampton, and asked to have the Grayles-Grice stop at one of the shops (the most fascinating shops, like at Vichy and Aix where your dear mother took us the summer before the war). There he bought wonderful bonbons—candies. I ate only one, and the Goodrich girls the rest.
You will like the picture I send of the cottage which has been built on to a windmill. I should love to have that. There are lots more windmills, soft and gray and fluffy-looking, like Persian pussy cats sitting up in the dunes; so maybe I shall have one some of these days.
We saw some lovely roads in France when we motored with Madame la Marquise, but we were never on any road quite so sweet (I have to say sweet, it is a right word!) as the road of the Shinnecock Hills. We curved so much among the dunes, I was not allowed to drive, though it was easy as flying in a dream; and the dunes were the colour dunes would be in dreams: gold and silver mingled with warm blue shadows. They had a look of gold and blue flame in fires made of driftwood, because the sun was so bright on them that day, and if you screwed up your eyes to peer through your eyelashes, there was a rose tint with the gold and purple splashes in the sea, like tails of drowned peacocks. You know it is like putting on magic spectacles to peep at the world that way. Peter Storm told me how to do it.
He tells me many things, queer little things and queer big ones, because he has "knocked about the world" and learned them for himself. He does not think he will ever settle down to be happy in one place; but he likes Long Island to rest in while he takes a long breath. He says what I call its "sweetness" comes from having two Ice Ages that have given it a "legacy" of small soft hills and harbours made before men were born or thought of.
I suppose the Ice Ages made the Shinnecock Hills, though they look as young as I do, and as happy. Captain Winston, who loves Indian names, says "Shinnecock" really means "plain, or flat place." But never mind, there has been time enough since the hills were named to mix things up! And most people care more about talking "golf" in this part of the world than of Indian times; for there is a wonderful golf club close by. Mr. Storm will teach me to play, and already we begin; but I have not come to that part of my news yet.
I cannot think the Ice Ages had much to do with one of the things most charming which make the character of Long Island: I mean duck ponds. Oh, but the most enchanting duck ponds you could sit for days to watch! And the ducks are not looking like the dull ducks of every day, in other places of the world. They are most elaborate ducks, and their ponds are full of sky and clouds you'd think they would stumble over when they swim: bright, laughing ponds like eyes in the landscape.
Now, would you believe a village called "Quogue" could be pretty? It is as if croaked by a frog. But there was a fairy story I remember, where every time the frog croaked (he was a prince cursed into a frog's skin by a bad godmother) jewels fell out of his mouth. So one could imagine it had been with Quogue: and the jewels turned into beautiful houses. The houses are very old now; that is, old for America, which makes them more beautiful. It is only the middle-aged houses that are not beautiful here, and that is true all over the world perhaps; for people had a terrible cramp in their sense of beauty fifty years ago.
Quogue is on one of those lovely inlets the Ice Ages kindly made. Quantock Bay has not a sound of romance, but when you know that it means "long tidal stream" you hear it differently ever after. And it is fun to find out that "Quogue" is all the years haven't nibbled off the word "quohaug," a name the Indians gave to a great, round, purple-shelled clam they loved.
It makes me sad to think of the poor Indians chased from the places and the things they loved on this island. Even when you motor over these velvet smooth roads, and pass fine modern places as at Southampton and dreamy old ones at Quogue, and cottages pretty and modest as violets, on the way through the woods to Westhampton, you can't put out of your head the thought of Indians and their trails through the forests. It is a thought like a dim background of ghosts in a picture where the foreground is bright and gay.
I almost cried at dejeuner yesterday when Captain Winston told about Henry Hudson and the happy, kind tribe of the Canarsies—in 1609, three hundred and seven years ago this spring. They were so pleased when he came sailing into Gravesend Bay in his little ship the Half Moon (that is on another part of Long Island, not where I write of), and they put on their best clothes of animals' skins and mantles made of brilliant feathers, to go and meet the men from "another world." They took presents of green tobacco and furs, and made feasts to honour their visitors. But a man named John Colman admired their most beautiful woman too much, and was shot by an arrow. After that they all fought, and a great many Indians were killed, and they got to think that every European was treacherous. If you, dear Adrienne, could see a place called Coney Island, it would seem funny to you that John Colman (who liked the Indian girl too well) should be buried there. It is not at all a place to be buried in; and he feels that, for his ghost walks at night. What a wonder they do not hire it for a side show! The story of John Colman is not the only romance Captain Winston has found in the old books. There are lots, but the nicest one happened in the Shinnecock part I have told you of: the romance of the Indian Water Serpent, who avenged the murder of a white girl, Edith Turner, who nursed him to life when he was dying. Water Serpent travelled for months, tracking a man who stabbed and threw her in the water of Peconic Bay. Through marshes and forests he went, and at last he tired the murderer out. Then he left him dead with a dagger in his heart, the same dagger that killed Edith. After that there was nothing left for Water Serpent to love, so he starved himself to death, and died on Edith's grave. Do you believe there are white men who can love like that?
All this side of the Island has Indian names, though on the other they are more English; a few English names here, too, of course, only it is the Indian ones you remember best, they are so queer. And it seems right, in memory of the Indians, that many roads are cut through lovely woods. Could you forget names like "Speonk" and "Moriches?" I know you could not forget the woods either, if you saw them once, or the perfume of the pines and the yellow lilies growing wild. Even they had an Indian name, Captain Winston says, or their roots had: "sebon" or "shubun"; and the legend is that the lilies are the spirits of Indian children who come back each spring to their old playgrounds.
There is another thing they say, too: if you travel along this sandy road (it's really part of the big sandbar which makes Fire Island—Fire Island that walls in the South Bay)—if you travel by moonlight, or come on the road between Moriches and Bellport, you can see prints of naked feet, one straight in front of the other, as the Indians used to walk; and they are not the feet of Europeans. I like those tales; and the ways through the woods (even where there are villages, like one I loved, called "Watermill") are so romantic, it would be more strange not to have Indian ghosts!
Bellport I could not pass through without stopping, because of the curiosity shops. I had not much money to buy things, but I wanted to look. So the procession stopped; and the three boys we call Tom, Dick, and Harry—the ones who love me—clubbed together and bought me an old black japanned tea tray with flowers painted on it. Their hearts would have been in broken pieces if I had said no, I could not take it. So I said "yes, thank you!" and that put me into trouble, because then Mr. Caspian bought me something also: a tiny model of an old whaling ship. It was perfect, and cost a great deal. I knew, because I had asked the price and he had heard me. But what could I do? I was thinking what to say, when the wife of the shop man rushed up and reminded him that the model was engaged, and could not be sold to this gentleman. That gave me time to finish thinking! I said no one must buy me anything else, so I was in time to stop Mr. Caspian from giving me a fat silver watch of the time of the Georges. It would have gone well with our house, but I should not have liked it from him. He thumped the watch down when I refused, and Mr. Storm bought it under his nose. I will tell you by and by what happened about it and the model ship.
We took our dejeuner at a place of the queerest name of all; or, no, it was the lake that has the name; we were in a restaurant on the shore, with a flowery terrace shaded by pines. Could you pronounce the word "Ronkonkoma," if nobody told you how, and you had not Indian ancestors haunting your heart? When we were at our tables—two, drawn near together—Peter Storm called out that Mrs. Winston offered a prize for the person getting the right pronunciation. She knew, because her husband had learned it in some book. We all tried, and Mr. Caspian and I spoke it the same way—at least, it sounded to me the same. But Molly made Peter Storm umpire (that means a person who decides when there is a dispute; and is hated if in baseball or football), and Peter decided for me, because I put the emphasis in the right place—"Ronkonkoma." What do you suppose the prize was? The fat watch I had wanted! It seemed that Peter (I would not call him Peter to his face) had bought it for Molly. And I may as well tell you at this same time, she gave me the ship for a present that evening. It was for my birthday, she explicated. Though it was passed by some weeks, she had wanted to find a thing I liked; and she had gone behind the back of Mr. Caspian to bargain with the shop woman, so it could be a surprise. She knew it would be spoiled to come through Mr. Caspian. I shall not dare to put the ship at home where he can see, but it will be in my room, where he can never come. His face looked so cross about the watch of the Georges! I couldn't help to be pleased.
If Peter Storm were not the man he is, above caring much for girls, maybe I should think he had arranged these two things to happen with the help of Molly. But that is not possible. It would only be a great conceit of mine.
We had quite a splendid dejeuner at the lake of the prize name, with Blue Point oysters, which you will have heard of because they are of an importance like royalties. They are born close by Ronkonkoma Lake, at a place named after them. I will not say they are named after it!
When we started again, I was allowed to drive for miles—not ordinary common miles, but a spin through a kind of motor heaven ruled by the god of "Things as They Ought to Be." I think his name in America is Billiken. It quite belongs to him, though he inspired a mortal to make the road forty-five miles! You will have to do it in your head in kilometres. The Parkway (they call it) is private, and you pay to go through—only a very little, though it is worth much for the joy. There is no dust and no crowd and no noise, and no policemen springing out like Jacks from boxes; and they let you go forty miles an hour. It is a pity to rush so fast, though, unless you turn and go back again, because the fun is over too soon. Besides, there is scenery of every kind. One would say they had brought bits from every part of the world. There are woods, dark perfumy pines, and white birches like bridal processions of young girls in white. There are hills and rocks, with emerald ferns, and wild flowers almost like Switzerland; and gorse, and fragrant shrubs which must be like the "maquis" they tell you of in Corsica. There are meadows lovely as lawns, and glimpses of blue water like nymphs' eyes suddenly opening from enchanted sleep, perhaps to close when you have gone! I hope they do, for I hate to think of everything going on when our backs are turned as when we are there to see, don't you?
I could have cried when we came out of the Motor Parkway, and I must give up the wheel because of Mr. Goodrich, who fears I might snap in two pieces at the waist and wreck his family. But it was very pretty country still, so I was soon consoled. It is difficult, wishing to live in so many villages! If I had to choose, I do not see how I could; and Peter says it will be the same with me in New England. But, ma chere, if you could see Jericho! I do not mean the one we speak of when we say "I wish I were in Jericho!" but the Jericho of Long Island, where I should love to buy all the beautiful old houses, I could not possibly choose between! I would stay in one after the other, and sit in rocking-chairs rocking back and forth like so many old ladies do. But I should not be old. And I would have a man sitting in another chair, rocking, too. He would look like Peter Storm in some ways—that is, he would have such eyes as Peter's. I cannot take interest in other eyes now, his are so living, and they have all the expressions as with ponds which show the moods of the sky. But I would not say this to another than you, not even to Molly! And speaking of ponds, cherie, on Long Island they carpet them with water lilies, or else with ducks, and sometimes both, beautifully mixed together. For modern ducks to be smart and fashionable must not swim or move about much. If they do, it gives them muscles, and to have muscles, makes tough. How glad I am there are not creatures thinking things like that about me when I play tennis or dance or drive a motor! But ducks do not seem to be bitter about it. They just float through life and smile in that way they have, when they are not waddling slowly in front of motors. By the way, Peter says the "race memory" of ducks and chickens and especially geese (who are clever though misunderstood) is improving so much they do not now always cross a road when a motor car is coming. They begin to remember from their ancestors it is wise to wait.
After Jericho and another sweet place called East Norwich we came close to Oyster Bay. Maybe your new cousin from America has told you about it, and of Mr. Roosevelt, who is one of the heroes of America and has been soldier and President and explorer and a little of everything. He lives at Oyster Bay when he has time to live anywhere. And he is a "great chief," so it is well to have a place called Sagamore Hill. You will see why when you learn more about Indian things, as you will have to do if you marry an American man, you know! I cannot stop to tell you now, because I have come to the mysterious part of my letter; and the only place that matters is the place which is lent us to live in.
We thought only to stay at an hotel, and Mr. Caspian or Captain Winston would have telegraphed, but Peter Storm said no, there was a nicer plan. For a surprise to us, Marcel Moncourt—our great Marcel!—had asked a man he knew to let us dispose at his house—I mean, of his house. The man was away, but he was of those who will have all things ready for the notice of a moment, if he drops down from the sky upon his servants.
But, my child, it is a wonderful house! Not old, quite new, like the Palace of Aladdin. All that misses is a roc's egg, hanging up in the great hall, unless it is there, disguised in a chandelier from Venice.
Some servants are kept to be ready whatever happens. They are Japanese, which makes even more the fairy-tale effect. Peter Storm gives them orders, for that was arranged with our Marcel, it seems, before we started. We owe this experience to Marcel; but then, we owe Marcel to Mr. Storm; and I think it annoys Mr. Caspian very, very much that it is thanks to Peter we are here. He would like always to be the important one, and he feels it should be his right to be of importance, because (now this is one of the strange things!) the fairy palace was built by a cousin of his—the cousin from whom came all his money. That is really odd, but it is not yet the mysterious part. Now I have just come to it.
From Peter I have heard nothing except what I told you: that the house belongs to a friend of Marcel Moncourt's, who is always away since he owned it and will not let but will lend his place sometimes. From Mr. Caspian I have this story which I write for you.
His cousin, an old man named Stanislaws—only a cousin through a marriage—built the house for his son. It was to be a surprise birthday present, and it must be so beautiful, with many features and furnishings of other countries, that this young man would consent to settle in it. He liked to wander over the world, and his poor father thought if he could give him in one house all the things he loved the best in far-off lands he might be satisfied. That was pathetic, don't you find? To have the house ready in time the old Stanislaws offered a great sum to an architect who must put that work in front of all other engagements. He did so, but trying to keep his contracts with every one gave him in the end an illness many people in this country have, called nervous prostration. I suppose it is an American disease, as one does not have it elsewhere. That was the first bad luck of the house, but not the last. When it was finished, before even it was named, the old Stanislaws died in a sad way—a way Mr. Caspian said I would not like to hear of; and the son died, too. Mr. Caspian thought the house would come to him with everything else; but no, it had been given by the young Stanislaws to some friend. This friend kept away, and would not even let his name be known; so Mr. Caspian fought to get the place for himself, claiming through the law there must be something wrong. He had hope, for he wished to live there, not liking the west, where the old Stanislaws home was. But the case came out against him in the end. A lawyer in New York proved that the house had been legally given, and nothing could be done. Since then it is Marcel Moncourt who pays the servants and acts for the owner, but Mr. Caspian is sure the place is not his.
Well, here we are in it, anyhow, and shall be till to-morrow, for we are seeing the neighbourhood to-day, and to-night motoring to a dance at Piping Rock, where there is a country club very rich and celebrated. Now, is it not mysterious: a house without a name, belonging to a nameless man? Figure to yourself, we eat this man's food, for we are not allowed to pay, and we know not whom to thank! Last night when we arrived we were shown to our rooms by a Japanese butler. Each room has its bath, and not only that, but its own little salon. (My suite is French, Molly's and Captain Winston's is English of the Elizabeth time; and there are rooms Spanish, Italian, Egyptian, Chinese, Russian, and Greek.) We bathed and dressed, and went down to dine in a circular dining-room with inlaid marble walls, and doors of carved, open-work bronze that have transparent enamel, like iridescent shell let into the openings. It is the first house I have seen big enough to make the Goodrich family look small, and the girls screamed with admiration in the dining-room; but Peter Storm laughed at the whole house. He said he would like as much to live in the Museum at Athens.
Afterward in the garden Mr. Caspian spoke of that, and said it was "bad taste," because Mr. Storm could never have been to the Museum of Athens, and "a man of his stamp" was no judge. It was only an impertinence of him to pretend, and an accident that he should have climbed up for a while from his position to ours.
That divided me between a laugh and a snap! Because Mr. Caspian is a little man without distinction, and Peter—but already you know from my letters what he is like.
"I thought," said I, "you were socialist, and for you one man was worth another."
"I am not that now," he hurried to tell me. "Since I came into so much responsibility I am broader."
I knew what he meant, because now I learn the nuances of English words. But to spite him I agreed. "Ah, yes, it is in the waist a little, I suppose!" That was the cat in me, for it is true he is growing fat just at his waistcoat. But I remembered in time my promise to Larry and dropped the cat to be the meek mouse, while Mr. C. explained with care that it was his mind which had broadened out.
Perhaps I might have been sorry I had scratched, if he had not gone on with talk against Peter Storm, as he always does if he finds me alone, or else he makes love. He tried to explain two telegrams that Mrs. Shuster had sent wrong: one which was meant for him, addressed to Mr. Storm, and vice versa. It seemed as if Mr. Caspian had wanted her to get Peter back in the middle of the trip, on a pretense of much work; but he tried to make me believe it was not his wish at all. "I am Mrs. Shuster's friend, and she asks my advice," he said. "Honestly I do think Storm is a slacker about work. It looks as if he'd only engaged as her secretary to get into a class above his own and enjoy himself. I'm afraid he'll lose his job if he doesn't 'watch' out, the way Mrs. Shuster feels. But she's good-natured, and perhaps she'll give him another chance if he shows his good will by stopping indoors to-morrow and correcting some proofs that must go to the publishers in a hurry. I happen to know they've arrived, by express delivery. It's a test of Storm's loyalty. If you're willing to let me drive your car on its sight-seeing tour of the neighbourhood, Storm can make good with Mrs. Shuster."
These were almost the words he spoke, for I listened hard while I thought what to do.
I answered, sweet as honey, "Yes, please drive to-morrow. I will tell Mr. Storm he is free to work for Mrs. Shuster all day long."
He was so pleased with me! Then Peter happened to walk by, in another path, and I said, "I will break it now." "Do!" he whispered back; and did not try to come with me, as he often does if I am going near Peter.
It is a joke with Peter and me since the mistake of the telegrams that Mr. Caspian would do some desperate thing to drive the Grayles-Grice, and that made it more easy to play a little trick. I said: "I hear you are asked to correct proofs of a peace tract. Is it hard to do, or could I help when I finish a long letter I write to-morrow? I have seen so many beautiful sights, I shall mix all up in my mind if I see more before I put on paper my thoughts about them. Mr. Caspian can drive well enough the short smooth ways we have mapped out, do you not think?—and he would have his wish."
Peter laughed, and so did I. There was not need to explain for him to understand that the plan was part of our joke.
Oh, it has been the most heavenly day in the garden! I have sat on a purply red velvet cushion, on a marble seat brought from Italy. Behind the seat is a row of cedars, like a guard of black soldiers. These things suit Long Island as well as they suit Italy, though Peter laughs at them for being here. He laughs in a good-natured yet almost sad way, as if he thought it wrong to make fun of what a dead man did for love of his son. Peter has sat in the garden, too, working hard, and we have not disturbed each other. The Japanese brought us lunch out of doors in a summer house built like a temple in a Roman garden. We had hothouse strawberries and cream of Jersey cows, and when Peter heard me say I would like to see a Jersey, he ordered a Japanese to have one fetched. It came—oh, so small a cow, like a great toy, colour of biscuit, and with a purple tongue which it rolled round a tartine I gave. I have never been more happy.
I would have asked Peter at dejeuner if there was a son of Marcel Moncourt, but it seemed not the right time somehow, I can hardly tell why. When I have helped him with the proofs perhaps. (I am to copy his marks on a second set, and I shall try so hard not to have mistakes!) Or to-night, at the Piping Rock Club, where we shall dance together, I hope. Anyway soon. And I will write to you all he says.
Your fairy-tale goose girl—or princess—I know not which!
ANGELE DUBOIS, PATRICIA MOORE'S MAID, TO THE MARQUISE DE MONCOURT
(A translation of her letter into English.)
Madame la Marquise has done me the honour of commanding me to write when there was news, good or bad, of the distinguished Monsieur Laurence Moore.
The first time I took pen in hand I had the pain of telling Madame of his failure in finance, which greeted Mademoiselle his daughter and me on our arrival in this country. Had it not been for my promise to Madame, I do not know if my courage would have supported the humiliations I was obliged to suffer at that time, but I reminded myself of her confidence in me, and praise be to the saints was able to accomplish my duties until better days dawned. In this I was aided by the kindness of Monsieur, who has much sympathy and condescension for all near him. It is unfortunate that he should be forced to put his beautiful house to the uses of a hotel, as I took the liberty of complaining before to Madame. But such is the unique charm of Monsieur, he carries off this apparent ignominy without losing caste, and is most popular with all his guests and domestics—even too popular with some of the former who are females. And this brings me to my excuse for troubling Madame.
Poor Monsieur is as gay and good-natured as a boy. He can bear to hurt the feelings of no one, not even a cat, human or otherwise. And then, naturally, like all men, he has a weakness for being comfortable. Money should grow in his pockets, but alas! it does not. They are often empty, and he knows not how to put up with that. It is no doubt the duty of his daughter to take a husband rich and generous enough to put Monsieur in the position he should fill, without anxieties, where, if there is any question of a second marriage for him, the choice of a wife may be made by his heart. And if Madame la Marquise will forgive me the immense presumption of speaking my mind, I may say that, from the inquiries Monsieur has made concerning his friends in France, I feel assured his soul is really there.
Most unluckily, however, Mademoiselle—who pretends such devotion to her "Larry"—puts her own fancies before his welfare. I have done all my possible to persuade her that she should accept a certain Monsieur Caspian, who has one of the great fortunes of this country, it appears, and is also most presentable. This I have done not only because it is for the ultimate good of Mademoiselle, and because Monsieur Caspian has been considerate to me, but far more because of my promise to watch in every way the true interests of Monsieur Moore. With such a son-in-law, he would be free to turn his face toward France: and he himself wishes the marriage in his wiser moments. He may even have borrowed some few thousands of francs from Monsieur Caspian. But his good nature is the enemy again—always the enemy! He has fear of being the cruel parent. Indeed he is not, I think, intended by heaven for a parent at all. Yet, rather than push Mademoiselle into a marriage, he is ready to be drawn into one himself, and there is now much danger that this may happen.
As I write, Mademoiselle is away on a short automobile tour, and Monsieur is completely unprotected, except by me, and what can I do but write to Madame la Marquise? Staying in the house is a dangerous woman, not possessed of siren fascinations; indeed, on the contrary, she is of a plainness to chill the blood of a debonnaire man like Monsieur Moore. It is her money that is the magnet, and ah, the power makes itself felt! She, the woman who has the bourgeois name of Shuster, has remained at home, giving various excuses, but the true reason is to get herself safely engaged to Monsieur before the return of his daughter. Monsieur also, it must be confessed, is a little to blame in this matter, but it is his good nature once more! And, then, he was not perhaps averse to an innocent flirtation with a woman, even an unattractive one, who flattered him. Now, he is being drawn farther than he may have meant when he made the pretext that he was needed at home. I would telegraph to Madame, but I do not see what good that would accomplish. It is not likely that even to save an old friend from disaster, Madame would launch herself at a moment's notice upon a dangerous voyage. Besides, there is this consolation: even if Monsieur is led by the nose—his so handsome nose!—a betrothal is not a marriage, and there is many a cup does not reach the lip which awaits it.
Madame la Marquise may rest assured that I will not leave a stone unturned to prevent the worst from coming about. When Mademoiselle returns I will make her comprehend that her dearly loved father's happiness is in her hands. She has but to make a small sacrifice which she will never regret. Even for herself it would be well, were there no other to consider, for there is on the scene a person extremely undesirable of whom Mademoiselle is thinking too much. I have been asked to warn her against him, and I do my best, but it is a delicate situation. Mademoiselle can be obstinate as the camel. She would have little regard for my advice had I not come to her from Madame.
With unfailing devotion and respect, I am the humble servant of Madame la Marquise,
EDWARD CASPIAN TO MRS. SHUSTER
MY DEAR FRIEND:
If I dated this letter "The Stanislaws House," it would suggest nothing to you except a hotel. It's not a hotel; but it has no name, and it is generally spoken of in this way. As a matter of fact, it ought to be mine, and I've suffered from a strong sense of irritation in being brought here against my will. I couldn't prevent the party coming, however, and as I didn't care to turn my back while P. S. had everything his own way, I let myself be dragged, as you might say, at his victorious chariot wheels.
We were to have gone to the nearest hotel, as you know, for your telegram to me (just forwarded) and the proofs for Storm were both addressed there. P. S. had this invitation up his sleeve as a surprise for the crowd. His pal Moncourt knows the man to whom the place was left by young Stanislaws, or else he got the favour through the man's lawyer, which I think more likely. But no use troubling you with details of the affair, which can't interest you as it does me. Suffice it to say it's a very fine place, and there's something queer about the ownership which, as it happens, my detectives are at this very time trying to get at the root of. I've never ceased to feel that I have been defrauded. I suspect Storm heard something of the story from Moncourt, and put him up to arranging the "surprise" more to annoy me than to please any one else. Well, he scored, I can't deny. But the man laughs best who laughs last, you know, and it's my turn now. I got my chance at Piping Rock, as I expected; and as I shan't arrive at Kidd's Pines with the others, I am writing this to put you on to the situation; also to acknowledge your telegram. It was nice of you to send it like that, the minute you got my scolding letter from Easthampton. I'm sorry I was so severe, though I had some excuse to be cross. I forgive you freely, now things are turning out a little better, and I ask you to do the same with me.
I am writing, as before, in a hurry, for I have to go to New York on important business. My own car has been put to rights, and I am expecting it to turn up at any minute. I shall post this, express, on the way to town.
Well, the little lady played me a trick day before yesterday. Watch out for her, my friend! She looks as innocent as a Christmas card angel, but she's got something of the pussy cat in her composition. Not that I like her the less for that. It's more exciting. The only way is, to know what one may have to expect, and be ready for emergencies. She may try to make trouble for you in a certain direction, so hurry up and fix things! But so far as I'm concerned, it seems as if I'd got her in hand since last night.
The trick she played was to send me off, driving her beastly Grayles-Grice, and carting the Goodrich family round the country, while she and Peter Storm spooned in an imitation Italian garden. I hadn't a notion the girl meant to stay behind till I was in the car with the wheel in my hand. The Goodrich lot were in, too. One of them wanted to know what we were waiting for? I said, "For Miss Moore." "Oh, she isn't coming!" remarked the gigantic young female. "She's got letters to write."
Letters be blighted! It took all my noblesse oblige not to step out of the automobile and refuse to stir. But it would have looked rather too marked, and that little devil of a Mrs. Winston would have been too much tickled. Her car was close by at the time, and for once she'd stopped chattering, no doubt to see how I would bear the blow she probably knew was coming. My one satisfaction was to give her none! But I hoped for more later, and got it, as you are going to hear.
I had made a plan for the evening, in case Storm showed up for the dance. It was quite a simple one. I hadn't given him a special invitation, as I had the others, and if he took it for granted he was asked, it was his own fault. I knew that one of the most exclusive women in society was coming to the dance, Mrs. Sam de Silverley. You may have known she was on your ship, though it's unlikely you saw her, as she was badly sick all the way across, I've heard. She's been rather friendly with me since I came into my money; in fact, I helped to get her the house she's taken for the summer, not far from the Piping Rock Club. It belongs to a man I know, a great golfer, in France with the American Ambulance just now; and it was on my programme for the day to call and ask her to be nice to my party in the evening. I did call, while the crowd were having a picnic-lunch, ran the Grayles-Grice to her place, and stopped long enough for coffee. She's fond of a little gossip, and knew all about the debacle at Kidd's Pines of course. I gave her a few picturesque details of P. S. and his exploits on land. Mrs. Sam had already heard of those at sea. The stewardess and her maid had cheered the monotony of the voyage by describing the "Stormy Petrel," as it seems you all called him on shipboard. I let you down lightly; said that out of charity you'd employed the man to do secretarial work, to which he was entirely unsuited, but that he was thoroughly at home as chauffeur. I enlarged a little on his impudence, and remarked that I shouldn't be surprised if he had the cheek to turn up at the dance, pretending to be my guest.
"If he does, I have enough influence in the club to see that he is asked to go," Mrs. de Silverley assured me. And that was exactly what I wanted. It would be awkward for me, in the circumstances, to have him put out, I said, but if the club did it, understanding that he was not my guest, I should be grateful.
This was the whole of my original plan, and I carried it out as intended. But since beginning to work it up, I found I had Miss Patty to punish as well as P. S. I concentrated my whole mind on my objective while the Goodrich girls admired the scenery, during the afternoon run; and toward evening I thought I saw my way to something big.
You haven't seen the Piping Rock Club yet, I think. Well, it's absolutely it, and only the right people belong. There's fine golf, and tennis of course, and I've heard Englishmen say the lawns are more like the turf "at home" than any they've seen on this side. In fact, Winston said that very thing to-day: called the club an "American Ranelagh." Not that I set much value on his opinion! The clubhouse itself is just like some jolly old country house: white shingles and green blinds, green and white awnings, large open court with brick walks running all around, and a fountain playing in the middle, wicker chairs scattered about the court, and window boxes full of pink flowers, wide verandas or loggias, or whatever you call them, where you can have tea or most anything else you want; a lot of rooms with comfortable chintz-covered furniture, jolly chintz like the old patterns at Kidd's Pines, and a ballroom fit for Buckingham Palace. You'll love the place; but I'm not describing it to make you regret stopping at home. If things have gone right with you, it would take twenty Piping Rocks to do that—and then one! All I'm aiming at is to show you the swell sort of setting I had for my stage last night.
The big dances are in the fall and winter. This one was a special affair, very smart but not big, and that made every one there more conspicuous. Our crowd had about the only strangers in it. Pretty well all the rest knew each other, and most of them belonged to the same clique. I felt good all over, as if I had a chance of coming into my own, when I found Storm in the chauffeur's seat of the Grayles-Grice, ready to drive us to the dance. He was in evening clothes under his big coat: had worn them to dinner of course, pretty weird ones; ready made, I should say. I guessed that he meant to brave the business out, though I wasn't quite easy in my mind up to the last that he wouldn't make some excuse to go home when he'd got us to the clubhouse. But not a word of the sort did he utter. On the contrary, I heard him tell Miss Moore she "wasn't to forget their dance." That made me hot in the collar, and if I'd been inclined to wobble before, I nailed my colours to the mast then. Not only was I egged on by my anger against that fellow, who has deliberately put stumbling-blocks in my way from the first, but by my sincere desire for Miss Moore's welfare. Quite apart from my wishes where she is concerned, nothing could be worse for her than an entanglement with an adventurer like Storm—a man from the dark, you might call him, if you chose to say nothing worse. And already the Goodriches are talking—made jokes in the automobile yesterday about the two who had stayed at home to "write."
How girls manage to squeeze such a lot of clothes into small space, I don't know. Anyhow, Miss Patty and the Goodriches and the two young married women didn't appear in the same dresses they had worn for the dance at Easthampton. I never saw Patty look so pretty, though as a rule I don't like green, and to me it's unlucky. I shall never let her have another green dress when we are married, becoming though the colour may be. Storm was looking after the Grayles-Grice when the rest of us went into the clubhouse, so I knew the dance Patty was to "remember" couldn't be the first. I asked her to sit it out with me, and she hesitated a minute. "Has some one else got ahead of me?" I asked. She said no, but she had been thinking she wouldn't give the first dance to any one; she would "sit with Molly and Jack." It shot into my head that she didn't want Storm to come in and find her with me, knowing he wastes no love on yours truly. I was mad, but I kept cool. "All right, let me sit with you all three," I said. "I've got something important to tell you that can't very well wait."
I saw by her eye what she thought the "something important" was, so I hurried to disabuse her mind. "It's about Storm," I explained. "I don't know whether you'd care to save him serious trouble, but you can do so if we talk the thing over while there's time."
"Of course I would care to!" she said. "He's been very kind to Larry and me."
In my opinion it was the other way round, but I didn't stop to argue. I took her into the ballroom, having previously found out that Mrs. Sam de Silverley hadn't arrived yet. I was counting on her being a bit late. She generally is—for the sake of the effect.
When we were sitting down together, Patty and I (all the rest of our lot dancing, except the Winstons), I didn't waste a second in firing off my first gun. "I want to ask you frankly, Miss Moore," I began, "to tell me if you know whether Storm intends to be present at this dance to-night."
"But yes!" she answered in that funny French way she has, that would be difficult to put on paper if one wanted to. "He will come in a few minutes."
"Oh," said I. "That's a pity."
"Why a pity?" she wanted to know.
"Because he's not invited, and that is going to make it mighty awkward—worse than awkward."
"But, you invited us all," she insisted. "You are a member. You have the right——"
"I have the right, but I didn't exercise it for Storm's benefit. I shouldn't have thought of doing so. The rest of the party are gentlemen and ladies. The club can make no objection to them as guests. Storm is a chauffeur. I should have insulted the club by inviting him, and I certainly didn't do so."
Patty flushed up, and her eyes turned black. She can be a regular little tiger cat, that girl! She must have been spoilt by the nuns in that blessed convent of hers! I believe she'd have liked to box my ears. But I knew I had the whip hand, and I was enjoying myself. "He's not a chauffeur. You know that!" she snapped. "He kindly drives my car these few days, because we couldn't replace the man who went, and because I am not experienced. If it comes to that, you're a chauffeur, too. You drove the Grayles-Grice to-day, and you would to-morrow, if I said yes."
"You are talking sophistry," said I, though I don't suppose she knew what I meant, as I believe she thinks in French. "Storm is a paid employe of Mrs. Shuster. He's been switched off one job on to another to accommodate. And he admits he's had former experience as a chauffeur, driving a Grayles-Grice. Anyhow, the fact remains that's the way his status will be regarded here, and if he comes in, claiming to be my guest, in self-defense I shall have to deny it, otherwise I might be asked to resign. When I've had to give him the lie, he will be kicked out of the place. That's a sure thing."
Patty began to look sick, and her green dress wasn't as becoming as it had been while she was just plain mad. "You said something about my saving him trouble," she reminded me. "What did you mean?"
"Well, you could do one of two things," I began to explain. "You could come out now with me in a hurry before he gets in, to head him off and tell him in your own words what I've just said."
"I would rather die than do such a very insulting thing!" she rapped out, rolling her r's as if she were beating a drum.
"All right then, there's one thing left—that gives you a little more time, but not much, because if the crash isn't to come the question has got to be decided in a few minutes, before the arrival of a certain lady—as a matter of fact, a lady who was on your ship and knows all about Mr. Peter Storm. When she appears on the scene she'll enter a complaint, and the affair will be out of our hands. You will then be too late to save Mrs. Shuster's secretary and your friend the chauffeur from a nasty knock which may leave a black mark for the rest of his life—make it hard for him to get new situations and that sort of thing."
"Tell me quickly what to do and I will do it!" she said.
"Ask me as a favour to you to speak up for Storm. If you do I shall grant the favour, no matter what it may cost me. But as it will most likely cost me my membership when the story comes out later (which it will) why, I sort of feel as if you'd hate to have me give you that favour for nothing."
"I do not ask you to give it for nothing!" said she.
"But you do ask the favour. Is that what I'm to understand?"
"Yes. I do ask that."
"You don't think you'd better wait and hear what I want for my reward before you decide?"
"No. Because whatever you want I will do rather than have Mr. Storm hurt for life, when it was I who persuaded him to come." (I think she said "me," but that's a detail. I adore her little slips!) "He objected, because there were some good reasons he couldn't tell me for him not to go to a big fashionable dance, but I thought that was just because he was modest. I wanted to show him how I felt—how Molly Winston and all of us feel, except you, the Socialist"—(I wish you could have heard how she hissed that word at me!)—"so I begged him to come, to please me. Then he told me he would, and now it seems I bring him to humiliation. It is terrible! Yes, I will do anything to save him. And now what is it you want?"
Poor little tragedy queen, I was almost sorry for her, in spite of her tricks! But I was punishing her for her own future good. Think of the difference for a girl between being Mrs. Edward Caspian and Mrs. Peter Storm!
"Can you guess?" I asked.
"Perhaps I can; perhaps I can't. You had better put it into words, and see how it sounds."
"Well, I only want you to say what your father wants you to say, and what you let me think you might be willing to say, if you weren't so young. I want you to be engaged to me. Once you've promised, I shall feel safe, and won't press you too much or too soon for the rest. We can talk the future over with Mr. Moore when we get back to Kidd's Pines."
"Soit!" said Patty, which sounded like slang for a slap, but I happened to remember it was French for something or other. (I asked Mrs. Sam later, and she thought it meant "So be it.") "Soit! Now go this instant and make everything perfectly right for Mr Storm, because here he comes, and if any one is rude, nothing I have said counts."
I bounded away from her, as if she'd shot me out of a gun, and crossed the room to meet Storm. It was the first time I had ever been cordial, and he let me see he was surprised. Such was his manner that it was all I could do to keep up the show of friendliness, but I knew Patty was in a mood to come down on me like a thousand of brick if the least detail went wrong. My only fear was that Mrs. Sam might have said something to somebody prematurely; but apparently she hadn't. I explained to Storm I must definitely introduce him as my guest, because all the other names had been mentioned, and not his. You could have knocked me down with a feather when he said, "Oh, I'm not your guest. I'm here on the invitation of Mr. James Strickland of New York, and Huntington, Long Island, who is one of the oldest members of this club, as I dare say you know. But he doesn't come to the dances."
For a minute I was weak in the knees. I saw all my work destroyed. But when I'd got my second wind I realized that nothing was changed. Patty would never tell Storm that she'd engaged herself to me to save him from being turned out of the Piping Rock Club. She'd be too proud for such a confession, and, besides, she'd hate to upset his feelings to that extent. When she's not in a temper she's almost absurdly kind, and when she is in a temper, it generally seems to be with me. But I shall change that, later. There was still danger, however, from Mrs. Sam. I had warned her to pull Storm off his perch; now I must warn her to leave him on it, or Patty's promise wouldn't stand. I let Storm go, even though I knew he was going straight to her. She was engaged to marry me, and I could trust her—as far as I could see her anyhow!
Presently Mrs. Sam floated in with a suite consisting of one husband, one daughter, and several satellites of both sexes. She had on the most expensive dress in the room, I should judge, and her hair was done in a way which nobody could help noticing on account of the diamond sign-posts; consequently she was in a good humour. I paid her compliments, and then pretended suddenly to remember our conversation of the afternoon. "Oh, by the by," said I, "that fellow I was telling you about turns out to be better than I thought. He's not a professional chauffeur, and apparently he's a gentleman by birth. Anyhow, he's a protege of James Strickland the New York lawyer, and is introduced here by him, not by me. He's got the countersign! We'd better consider him a friend and let him pass—what?"
"Oh, certainly, if he's under the protection of Strickland," said Mrs. Sam. "James Strickland is the most successful of the decent lawyers in New York. One never knows when one may want his services, and he's merciless, positively merciless, if he gets down on anybody. We'll let sleeping dogs lie."
Whether she meant that Strickland or Storm was a sleeping dog, or that they'd both lain down together, I don't know, and don't care. I'd got what I wanted!
"I wonder why it is Miss Moore's green dress seemed so becoming the first part of the evening," said the oldest and shortest Miss Goodrich to me when we were sitting out an extra (I'd as soon try to dance with the Statue of Liberty as with her), "and now it doesn't suit her at all."
If she'd known it, that remark was less complimentary to me than to Patty herself; but she didn't know, for the engagement isn't out yet. It won't be till after I arrive at Kidd's Pines with the ring (choosing it is part of my business in New York), and meanwhile I've gone into all these details in my letter to you, so that you'll be "on to" the situation. I've helped you, and if you see any need for a special effort before I get back (or afterward either for that matter) I shall rely on you. Besides, each one of us agreed to report progress to the other. If I hadn't seized upon this happy thought for the dance, I might have had my work cut out to get Patty, once you'd secured the father. I have a vague and not very self-flattering idea that she was keeping me up her sleeve, so to speak, for use in order to "save" her father. Well, she "saved" Storm instead, so her philanthropic instincts haven't been wasted. The question is—though you mayn't think me very gallant to ask it—is there any fear of its working the other way round? I, having permanently promoted the family fortunes, will our friend "Larry" jog on quietly with the bit in his mouth?
You have fair warning, anyhow, and I hope to see you day after to-morrow.
I am a different man from the one who wrote you last time.
Your sympathetic friend, E. CASPIAN.
PETER STORM TO JAMES STRICKLAND
My Simple Life Room. Unearthly Hour; but leading Hen has just laid my breakfast Egg.
HAIL, FATHER CONFESSOR!
When you read what I have to say, if you weren't a model of (several, if not) all the virtues, you'd say, "I told you so!" But you're a cynic at head, not at heart, and you allow yourself to be sarcastic only in the privacy of your own brain-pan as a rule.
I warn you I want to gush, and having stripped myself of all alleged friends and acquaintances (except you) as a tree strips itself of leaves in winter, I've no one else to gush to.
Perhaps it's but fair to myself, though, to explain that it doesn't feel like "gush" to me. I use the word only because I'm a coward and fear to have you think me a sentimental idiot. I'm trying to let myself down, you see, as easily as I can!
It's a queer thing (I don't know whether a punishment or an omen of blessing) that our talk when you prophesied my repentance took place on the same road I travelled last night in a car of the same make and same power. The same moon which gazed coldly on you and me, and maybe eavesdropped, beamed sympathetically on me and some one else a few hours ago, and if it had sense, witnessed your poetic justification.
Now I ask for your advice again, and this time—if it's anything like what I want—I'll take it.
But I find it isn't as easy to get on with my confession as I thought it would be. I'm nervously inclined to put the cart before the horse. Or, I'm hanged if I'm sure which is the cart and which the horse!
The spell of the moon is upon me still. I feel myself two men—the man who argued you down; the man who wishes you had downed him. I wonder if you remember that night—my last on this side of the water—as well as I do? Can you see us two, after our secret visit to the house, getting into the car? The moon a boat tossing a silver prow high into the blue, and the stars small bright points like sequins flung in the air at an Eastern wedding. Away we go, slipping through Cold Spring Harbor; trees pouring past the car like smoke, hills olive gray in the moonshine; old white houses dreaming of their stately past; young houses wide awake and playing bridge or victrolas; carpets of baby bracken; dark, slumbering forests planted by forgotten Indians; stretches of fair country with pools of moonlight ringed in shadow shores; then, your dear old seafaring town of Huntington, where to-night, by the way, I had a glimpse of your own delightful butter-yellow house as we slipped along the road between your lawn and the water. The weeping willows moving in the breeze looked like silver fountains, and the thick blossoms of the apple orchard might have been a million hovering white moths.
You and I had no such fancies in our heads that night, had we? We didn't think that each side road we passed looked as if it led to fairyland—more fools we! But I was always a fool. I see that now, when my brain is suddenly seized with growing pains.
Just about at Northport you suggested the possibility of my wanting to marry. I thought of that last night, as a glimpse of moonlit water flashed under my eyes, and remembered how I laughed you to scorn. All through those gay and vital young woods which wall the road beyond I continued to idiotize, unable to see dryads dancing in the moonlight (as she and I saw them in the same spot to-night), careless that Nature was distilling magic perfume for us from tree and fern and wild flower, our eyes shut to the fact that elves disguised as Indian lilies were using silvered ponds for mirrors.
Do you remember that lonely graveyard in the woods, relic of some community of early settlers? "I'd as soon be dead and lying there as live the life you want me to live!" said I, with a would-be wise nod of the head as I drove past. But now I see too well that you were the wise one. Why didn't Nature make me understand myself as I begin to understand now? There must have been the same heart-searching perfume in the woods that night—a blend of locust bloom with wild roses and the bitter-sweet tang of young fox-grape tendrils swinging high among the tree branches. Yet I could do no better than expound to you my dry-as-dust opinions on marriage. Women, according to me, had only one way of making a man happy, and thirty thousand ways of torturing him. I wanted to have inscribed on my tombstone: "What did he do for the good of womankind? He remained a bachelor." Most husbands and wives, I thought, had the air of being married to foreigners whose mentality they could never quite touch. I believed that I was cut out for a bad husband, a disappointing friend, an irritating acquaintance, and that the ends of the earth were the only happy hunting grounds for a wild spirit like mine—places where I could freely dive far down under the surface of myself and swim at ease. Birds in the hand had no brightness of plumage for me. They were always moulting. I coveted the ones that sang farthest away in the bush. "Why have a mad desire to become an ancestor for people you don't know and may dislike?" I think I remember inquiring of you, as you sagely dilated—at ancient Smithtown—on the notable achievements of a certain Bull Rider Smith for the benefits of his posterity. He was doubtless a smart business man and a good sportsman, to gallop so far and fast on such an animal, when told he could have all the road he could ride round on bull-back in the course of a day. But to me his ambitions seemed futile, and the whole of Long Island less important than a flyspeck on the map of the world. Now, I shouldn't mind spending my life here, even in the house, though I should prefer an old one; and the Smithtown church with its Cyclopian eye of a clock in a tall Puritanical steeple would exactly suit me to be married in.
As we bowled along the Middle Island Country Road she wanted to know if I had ever driven there before. I had to say "yes" (I couldn't lie to her), and then she asked an embarrassing question or two. But she was almost pathetically easy to put off, so afraid she was of being overcurious. I would have given a good deal to burst out with the whole truth, in that mood of mine, a mood of exaltation with my soul flaming up like a beacon. But even if I'd seriously thought of speaking, I couldn't with the back of the car boiling over with handsome giantesses from Colorado—goddesses from the Garden of the Gods. They were pretty good about not interrupting; but now and again they couldn't resist breaking in with "Oh, is it our dear old Peconic River again, that gives the name to Riverhead?" or, "Did they call it Jamesport after King James the Second of England?" or, "Can those beautiful black trees in front of that darling white house be Irish yews?" or, "Don't you think Southold's the most adorable old town we've seen yet?" Of course, if my companion on the front seat had catechized me in this way, I should have been charmed to give her all my feeble fund of information concerning Huguenot and English settlers, dates, etc. (fortunately 1648 will do in most instances!), but it was a little disconcerting to hear these extraneous discords just when my heart was beating well in tune with the oldest song in the world.
You now need no explanation of what has happened to me. Besides, you've been expecting it to happen. I knew that, and expected on my part to disappoint you by its not happening. But this Girl Magic has been too much for me. I've gone under; and I should be a happy man as the moon sets and the sun rises to-day if only I'd listened to you on that moonlight night before it was too late.
Yet is it too late? That's what I want to thrash out. Have I locked the door between myself and happiness with such a girl as Patricia Moore, and is the key lost? Or can I with your help find the key, oil the lock, and open the door?
I used to think a very young girl went about—so to speak—with a love letter in her pocket all ready for post except that it wasn't yet addressed. But this girl isn't like that. She wouldn't write the letter till she knew the address she wanted to send it to. All the same I feel the possibility that I could make her care for me.
I suppose I was falling in love with her when I wrote you that I wasn't. I thought it was just very pleasant and amusing to be on terms of friendship with such a charming and unique girl. But now—friendship! There's as much difference between that and love as there is between a photographic copy of a Tintoretto and the original Tintoret itself. When I think of any other man getting Patricia Moore, a link seems to drop right out of my spine. Yet she's not born for an old maid. Love and a "happy ending" for her story ought to be attached to her like a label. If I can't work to get her, some one else will. Caspian is doing it already, but in spite of the money I don't think she'd ever take him: her instinct finds truth as the needle finds the pole. Three boys are also working; but they're big babies, with young-chicken-coloured hair and merry, heather-mixture eyes. They talk no language but slang. They come to grief in a preposterous automobile about every ten miles and attract their idol's attention and startle horses by giving vent to S. O. S. yells. Whenever they have to enter a room they plunge in as if the door had broken away before them. Their only conception of a "good time" is ragtime. If one of them shows signs for a moment of having been trained to house manners, his chums taunt him. "None of your Peche Melba airs here!" is the favourite expression. So you'll agree with me I have a fair field, if I'm permitted to enter. Am I?
Can I undo everything and go back to the days before the revolution? Would it be fair to others concerned? And that reminds me, whatever happens, young Marcel mustn't suffer. He has been a complication for some time, but apparently he's likely to be a more serious one now. You'd never guess what he's done, if I gave you a dozen chances, so I'll sandwich his love story with mine.
Her best friend is named Adrienne de Moncourt, daughter of the widowed Marquise "of that ilk." The said Marquise, from what I gather, is responsible for Miss Moore's being brought up in France, under her own eye. I shrewdly suspect this was arranged in the hope of attracting our "Beloved Vagabond," Larry, back and forth across the sea. A terrible, man-eating tigress of a lady's maid has been imported, nominally to take care of Princess Pat, secretly (or I'll eat my hat) to keep an eye upon and report on Larry's capers to the Marquise de Moncourt! Since my Princess came to these shores, "a distant cousin from America" has introduced himself to the Marquise. He being young, good looking, and presumably rich, the lady invited him to her chateau to spend Easter. Mademoiselle came home from school for the holidays. The two met. The name of the rich American cousin is Marcel de Moncourt. The Princess Patricia says that she loves her Adrienne next best to Larry, and she hopes and prays the cousin is all he should be. She asked me to tell her if "our Marcel" had a son. I was obliged to confess that he had; but when she wanted to know if it could possibly be the same, I hedged in every direction. You and Moncourt and I must have a powwow as soon as possible.
You can't blame me for falling in love, as you always said the thing was inevitable; and you'll be even less likely to croak if I tell you how it was I first diagnosed the serious state of my feelings.
It was at the dance you got me invited to at the Piping Rock Club—many thanks again. You will deduce that I bought a "reach me down" evening suit before starting on this expedition—first time I'd worried myself into such togs for heaven knows how long. I never thought to be caught by conventions again, but I'd tar and feather my body if that was the costume best suited to her society. You see how I'm turning over new leaves—turning so fast I've hardly time to read them as I go on!
As I explained to you in asking the favour, I guessed that Caspian meant to score over me, so I wanted to be the one to do the scoring. I thought if I simply swaggered into the ballroom as one of Caspian's guests, he was certain to repudiate me, which would have been rather amusing if it hadn't made me conspicuous. It was, as you remarked, something of a risk to appear at all in such a place on such an occasion, but I've trusted to luck so often and come out on the top of the wave (literally!) that I didn't mind, provided I could jog along quietly, and get in even one dance with my little princess. I felt safe under your respectable wing, and was looking forward to the fun of not exploding if Caspian had laid a fuse to blow me up. But Strickland, think of it, she had been suffering for my sake!
When I went to ask her for our dance, I found her deadly pale. "What is the matter?" I jerked out, actually scared by her whiteness. "Are you faint? Shall I take you into the open air?"
"Oh, please do!" she said; and I whisked her out quickly onto one of those verandas as wide as a room.
"Could we go home?" she asked piteously, but when I suggested making a dash into the ballroom to find her pal, Mrs. Winston, she wouldn't hear of it. "No," she said, "Molly mustn't be disturbed. It is nothing. Only—I should like to go. If you wouldn't mind."
If I wouldn't mind! It would have been pretty well worth being born for to drive her back alone, just we two in the car, but I dared not take the child at her word. I thought she was too ill to remember Mrs. Grundy's silly old existence, and I couldn't take advantage of her forgetfulness. At the same time it seemed the act of a prig grafted on to a bounder to put the idea into her head, and make her ashamed of having said the wrong thing. You see what a nuisance my conscience is! I petted it so much when it was young, now it won't stop in its cage. I didn't know what to say, and felt as if it would be money in my pocket not to have been born, for my spirit had melted in me, as one of those soft capsules melts in your mouth.
I don't know what I should have said or done, my mental state being that of a hen in front of a motor, if at that instant Mrs. Winston herself hadn't appeared. It was as if my subconscious self had made a dash and dragged her out by the hair! Winston was with her (as Mrs. Shuster ingenuously remarked one day, "That man is as nice to his wife as if he were somebody else's husband"), and they came straight to us, marching solemnly, like a deputation.
"Angel child," said Molly (we all think of her as "Molly"), "I noticed you looking a little wan, so Jack and I just waltzed out to see how you were, and also to pat Mr. Storm figuratively on the back."
"Why—what has happened?" inquired the princess almost wildly.
"Such fun! Envy is the sincerest flattery, so Mr. Storm ought to be pleased that Mr. Caspian hasn't loved him since the day he had his great inspiration about Marcel and Kidd's Pines. It appears that our vaudevillain (isn't that a nice name for dear Eddy?) passed round the word that Mr. Storm had no invitation to this dance, when all the time he had come on the behest of some fearfully celebrated man in New York every one seems to bow down to. Collapse of the gunpowder plot!"
"Oh, I'm so thankful!" sighed dear Molly's Angel Child. She clapped her hands and gave a little skip. Then I guessed in a flash why she had looked pale, why she had wanted to get me out of the ballroom, and why she'd been ready to defy old Lady Grundy in order to keep me safe, and avoid hurting the poor secretary-chauffeur's feelings by telling him what was up. That was the moment, my friend, when I realized that I'd always been wrong and you'd always been right. I knew that the girl lit the world for me.
Again I ask you, What am I going to do about it?
I don't believe she's in love with me. It was only that she couldn't bear to have me humiliated, and was willing to make a sacrifice to save me pain. But I do believe I could make her love me if I tried.
The kind angel as good as admitted the cause of her illness by making a quick recovery and going in with Captain Winston while I followed with his wife. Molly, by the way, almost confessed she'd suspected that Pat was anxious for my welfare, and had come out to relieve the girl's mind. Do you wonder at the state of mine? I'm bound to add that my rescue didn't seem to restore her spirits permanently. She looked rather "wan," as Molly said, all the rest of the evening; or it may have been the effect of a green dress she wore. Certainly she was somewhat piano in manner, too; and despite her pal's slap at Caspian, the princess didn't treat him as if he were the dragon of the opera. On the contrary, she sat out several dances with him. I bear her no grudge, though! She hadn't the air of enjoying his society.
We were to have started for Kidd's Pines the morning after the dance at Piping Rock, but a Mrs. Sam de Silverley (who said she knew you) was moved by curiosity to want me introduced to her. She "pined to see the inside of the Stanislaws house," first hinted and then pleaded to do so, and in return invited the whole of our crowd to a garden party at her place. Some Russian dancers were to "entertain," and the Goodriches—who are seeing life with all their souls—yearned to go. So did our bride and bridegroom, who want their money's worth of honeymoon; therefore it was arranged that we stay over, and drive home in a moonlight procession.
I am not built for bun worries, be they out of doors or in, and declined on the plea of important work. Besides, I saw by the look in Patsey's eyes that she also intended to refuse. I hoped that through some remarkable coincidence we might meet in the garden "at home," as we had the day before, but Caspian caught the coincidence this time, so I sulked in the house with man's most faithful dumb companion, a pipe. Caspian didn't stay with my little lady for long, so I hope she refused him and got it over with. Anyhow, she was in a delicious mood all the way to Kidd's Pines, as you may have assumed from the tone and indeed the very existence of this letter. We talked of impersonal things, never of ourselves and seldom of each other, and she was not as gay as when we began the trip, yet—never had she been so dear.