The Mermaid of Druid Lake and Other Stories
by Charles Weathers Bump
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And so it came to an evening in September when Daniel and Jennie had not seen each other for as many as three days, the longest period of absence in the history of their attachment. Work was slack with the trust company that day, and Daniel had seized the opportunity to leave the Equitable Building early and see the Baltimores inflict a defeat on the Buffalo nine at Union Park, in the homestretch of the pennant race. As he was cutting across lots after the game, hurrying to catch a St. Paul-street car ahead of the crowd, he ran into Tom Oliver, and from the moment of the encounter realized that it was all off for a visit to Mount Holly that night. For Tom was a jolly soul and a generous one, and they had been strong chums before Tom had struck out into the wilds of West Virginia for a lumber company. So that when Master Thomas, as expected, proposed that they make an evening of it, for old times' sake, with dinner at the Belvedere and a jaunt later to River View, Electric Park or the Suburban, Daniel's demur that he already had an engagement was a very weak one indeed. It was, in fact, such a wobbly little demur that one more word from Tom and he had promised to call up and break the date. He did not mention that it was with Jennie, for Jennie had come into Daniel's life after Tom had vanished into the timber forest.

Half an hour later found him in the telephone-room of the Belvedere. The trimly dressed young woman who took his money gave him no second glance as she automatically murmured "Walbrook 1-8-6, please," into the mouthpiece hanging before her, and an instant later, just as automatically, waved him into one of the booths against the wall.

He had not fully made up his mind what excuse he would give Jennie for staying away, and the wait after a bellboy at Mount Holly Inn had been sent to find Miss Jennie gave him time to think this over. Two nights before he had 'phoned her that he was working late at the office. That would not do again. Still, he felt that he could not well tell the truth and say an intimate friend from West Virginia had turned up. Ultimately, he reached the conclusion that it was best to say he was not feeling well, even though he ran the risk that some friend of hers, or some guest at Mount Holly who knew him, might have seen him at the ball game that afternoon and might mention it.

There came a feminine voice across the wire. Daniel perceived at once that it was not Jennie, but her mother.

"Is that you, Mr. Carey?" she inquired, rather coolly. Jennie's mother was one of those mothers who are jealous of every young man who pays their daughters attention, for fear that some day Mr. Wright will come along and take the daughter away.

"Yes, it is I, Mrs. Poppleton," he replied. "I asked for Miss Jennie."

"She has gone out, Mr. Carey. She telephoned this afternoon to your office and your home, but you were not at either place. She was invited out by Mr. and Mrs. Chester, and said she knew you would excuse her, but please to call up Mount Vernon one thousand and ask them to send for her."

"Thank you, Mrs. Poppleton. What number did you say it was?"

"Mount Vernon one thousand."

"Thank you. Goodby."

After he had hung up the receiver, Daniel sat for a moment in the booth, undecided whether to pursue Jennie further by wire. He was inclined to feel miffed that she was not demurely waiting for him. Then his sense of fair play got the better of his selfishness, and he reflected that after all she was doing only what he had called her up to say he was going to do. He lifted the receiver.

"Mount Vernon one thousand, please," he asked, when the operator outside had acknowledged his call.

"What number did you say?" she queried. Her tone was sharp, as though surprised or puzzled.

"Mount Vernon one thousand."

There was a pause, but Daniel could not hear any click or other sound to indicate that she was trying to give him the connection. Finally he heard her ask slowly:

"Whom do you wish to speak to?"

"To Miss Poppleton," he replied, "who is taking dinner with Mr. and Mrs. Chester."

"Just hold the line, please."

The second wait for Jennie seemed longer than the first, and Daniel not only grew restive in the booth, but began again to asseverate that Jennie had not behaved quite properly by him. If she was out with Mr. and Mrs. Chester for a good time, it was dollars to doughnuts that a fourth member of the party was that chap Pratt. Jennie was going altogether too much with the fellow anyhow, and though he was an ill-mannered cur (this was Daniel's opinion), he had money, and seemed to be pretty popular with other people. He certainly was blamed popular with Jennie and the Chesters. Confound it all, the Chesters were not so many! (this also was Daniel's opinion).

There is no telling to what lengths he might have gone had not the voice of Jennie sailed sweetly over the wire at this juncture. He knew it to be Jennie instantaneously; never had her tones sounded so clear and close. It was as if she were only a few feet away.

"Is that you, Dan?" he heard her say.

"Yes, Jennie," he replied; "your mother gave me your message to call you up."

After this came a pause, a bit of awkwardness, due to the fact that each was fencing for the best position to deliver his or her excuse for not coming up to the mark that evening. It was Jennie who spoke first.

"You did not intend to come out to the hotel tonight?"

Daniel had an inspiration.

"Yes, I had a little surprise for you. You remember hearing me talk of Tom Oliver, who used to be one of my closest friends. Well, he's in town today and I was going to ask you if I might not bring him out and present him."

"Oh! I'm so sorry." Then after a pause, as if an idea had occurred to her, she asked:

"Where are you now?"

It was on the tip of his tongue to say the Belvedere, but he reflected quickly that if he did Jennie's tone of sorrow was so apparently sincere that she might propose to hurry back to Mount Holly and be ready to receive them. And this, he knew, would not fall in with Tom Oliver's notion of a "fine, large evening." So he fibbed unreservedly.

"Oh! we're down to the Baltimore Yacht Club."

That was about as far as it was convenient to transport himself beyond the radius of accessibility to Mount Holly.

"My! your voice sounds distinct for that distance," remarked Jennie.

"Yes, doesn't it?" replied Daniel.

Then he took up her story.

"What are you doing?" he asked.

"Mr. and Mrs. Chester had an anniversary today, a wedding anniversary, and they invited us to celebrate it with them by a long motor trip and a little supper. I'm having a fine time."

"Who is us?"

The answer he got he expected.

"Why, those two, and myself and Mr. Pratt."

He gritted his teeth to keep his jealousy from vocal expression.

"What did you say?" queried Jennie sweetly from the other end.

"Nothing," responded Daniel, grimly.

"I'll have to be going. They're waiting supper for me."

"May I come out tomorrow night?"

"No, Mr. Pratt has invited us to a launch party."

Daniel burst out:

"Pratt! Pratt! It's always that blamed fool!"

"See here, Daniel Carey, you nor no other man can take that tone with me, I'll have you know. You can stay away now until you get over that silly jealousy."

"But, Jennie"——He heard a click, and knew for a certainty that she had hung up the receiver on him. Twice he hurriedly called her name, and, getting no reply, angrily jammed his own receiver on its hook and rose to leave the booth.

As he turned he got the biggest shock of his young life.

For, mind you, there was Jennie Poppleton coming out of another booth.

There was no mistaking her. She had on the well-remembered light-blue princess gown in which he had told her she looked so pretty, and the long white kid gloves he had bought her for a philopena debt. And as she walked quickly out of the telephone room and disappeared down the corridor without looking back, her carriage was that graceful one that had always pleased him.

Daniel fell back into the booth seat in sheer desperation. Great Caesar! what a close shave he had had! Suppose he had run into Jennie just then, after telling her he was down the river! Whew!

Presently it occurred to him that Jennie was practising as much deception as he. She had left word for him to call up "Mount Vernon one thousand." Where in the deuce was "Mount Vernon one thousand"? He looked at the number card in the booth and got another shock. It read as plain as day:

"Mount Vernon 1000."

"What a bally idiot I am!" he muttered. "Know the Belvedere number as well as my own home. Always called it 'Mount Vernon ten hundred' or 'Mount Vernon one-o-double o.' Dumb jackass! Gee! what a close shave! Wonder Jennie didn't see me when she went in that other booth."

Then the funny side of it struck him, and he laid his head on the desk and laughed unrestrainedly. Was ever a contretemps more ridiculous?

When he at last emerged from the booth the demure operator looked up at him without the trace of a smile.

"Twenty cents, please," she said.

"It's worth more than that," remarked Daniel cheerfully. "Gosh, but you're a wonder! I take off my hat to you." He made a low sweeping bow.

The girl smiled. "It was funny," she admitted.

"How on earth did you manage it?"

"You asked for somebody at 'Mount Vernon one-o-double-o', didn't you? You got them, didn't you?"

"All the same, you're a wonder!" he rejoined, with undisguised admiration.

An incoming call enabled her to turn aside the flush that rose to her cheeks. When she had attended to it she glanced up again at Carey with her prior calmness.

"Which do you prefer," he asked, "candy or a pair of those long gloves?"

"Candy isn't good for the complexion."

Daniel noted her fine color, then promised the gloves. He was about to say more when Tom Oliver bolted into the room.

"Say, old man," he cried, "when on earth will you be through here? There's the prettiest girl in the tearoom, and maybe you know her. I've ordered supper over there, so I can look at her."

"What is she wearing?" asked Daniel, with a note of alarm.

"She's a vision in light blue."

The hello girl looked quizzically at Daniel and it was Daniel's turn to flush.

"I can't eat supper there, Tom," he said, slowly. "Fact is, I'd rather be anywhere else than in that room."

"But why?" persisted Tom.

"You tell him," said Daniel to the telephone girl.

"He has an engagement at South six-eight-k."

The mystified Tom eyed first one, then the other.

"What on earth is that?" he asked.

"The Baltimore Yacht Club."

He was still unenlightened.

"But why"—he began.

"Come on, old hayseed," said Daniel, taking Tom's arm. "Let's go into the palmroom, and I'll tell you all about it."

"I'll call you up tomorrow to get your size for the gloves," he remarked to the telephone genius as he bade her good night.

"You know what number to call?"

"Am I likely to forget it?" he asked.

Transcriber's Note:

Spelling, punctuation and hyphenation have been retained as they appear in the original publication.


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