Collier’s Weekly, October 22, 1921
SALLY stared at Ginger Kemp’s vermilion profile in frank amazement. Ginger, she had realized by this time, was in many ways a surprising young man, but she had not expected him to be so surprising as this.
“You know what I mean.”
“Well, yes, I suppose I do. You allude to the holy state. Yes, I know what you mean.”
“Then how about it?”
Sally began to regain her composure. Her sense of humor was tickled. She looked at Ginger gravely. He did not meet her eye.
“But isn’t this—don’t think I’m trying to make difficulties—isn’t this a little sudden?”
“It’s got to be sudden,” said Ginger Kemp complainingly. “I thought you were going to be here for weeks.”
“But, my infant, my babe, has it occurred to you that we are practically strangers?” She patted his hand tolerantly, causing the uniformed official by the door to heave a tender sigh. “I see what has happened,” she said. “You’re mistaking me for some other girl, some girl you know really well and were properly introduced to. Take a good look at me and you’ll see.”
“If I take a good look at you,” said Ginger feverishly, “I’m dashed if I’ll answer for the consequences.”
“And this is the man I was going to lecture on Enterprise!”
“You’re the most wonderful girl I’ve ever met, dash it!” said Ginger, his gaze still riveted on the official. “I dare say it is sudden. I can’t help that. I fell in love with you the moment I saw you, and there you are!”
“Now, look here. I know I’m not much of a chap and all that, but—well, I’ve just won the deuce of a lot of money in there.”
“Would you buy me with your gold?”
“I mean to say, we should have enough to start on, and—of course I’ve made an infernal hash of everything I’ve tried up till now, but there must be something I can do, and you can jolly well bet I’d have a goodish stab at it. I mean to say, with you to buck me up and so forth, don’t you know. Well, I mean—”
“Has it struck you that I may already be engaged to some one else?”
“Oh, golly! Are you?”
FOR the first time he turned and faced her, and there was a look in his eyes which touched Sally and drove all sense of the ludicrous out of her. Absurd as it was, this man was really serious.
“Well, yes, as a matter of fact, I am,” she said soberly.
Ginger Kemp bit his lip, and for a moment was silent. “Oh, well, that’s torn it!” he said at last.
Sally was aware of an emotion too complex for analysis. There was pity in it, but amusement too. The emotion, though she did not recognize it, was maternal. Mothers, listening to their children pleading with engaging absurdity for something wholly out of their power to bestow, feel that same wavering between tears and laughter. Sally wanted to pick Ginger up and kiss him. The one thing she could not do was to look on him, sorry as she was for him, as a reasonable grown-up man.
“You don’t really mean it, you know.”
“Don’t I!” said Ginger hollowly. “Oh, don’t I!”
“You can’t! There isn’t such a thing in real life as love at first sight. Love’s a thing that comes when you know a person well and—” She paused. It had just occurred to her that she was hardly the girl to lecture in this strain. Her own love for Gerald Foster had been sufficiently sudden, even instantaneous. What did she know of Gerald except that she loved him? They had become engaged within two weeks of their first meeting. She found this recollection damping to her eloquence, and ended by saying tamely: “It’s ridiculous.”
Ginger had simmered down to a mood of melancholy resignation. “I couldn’t have expected you to care for me, I suppose, anyway,” he said somberly. “I’m not much of a chap.”
It was just the diversion from the theme under discussion which Sally had been longing to find. She welcomed the chance of continuing the conversation on a less intimate and sentimental note.
“That’s exactly what I wanted to talk to you about,” she said, seizing the opportunity offered by this display of humility. “I’ve been looking for you all day to go on with what I was starting to say in the elevator last night when we were interrupted. Do you mind if I talk to you like an aunt—or a sister, suppose we say?”
Ginger did not appear noticeably elated at the suggested relationship.
“Because I really do take a tremendous interest in you.”
Ginger brightened. “That’s awfully good of you.”
“I’m going to speak words of wisdom. Ginger, why don’t you brace up?”
“Yes, stiffen your backbone and stick out your chin and square your elbows and really amount to something? Why do you simply flop about and do nothing and leave everything to what you call ‘the family’? Why do you have to be helped all the time? Why don’t you help yourself? Why do you have to have jobs found for you? Why don’t you rush out and get one? Why do you have to worry about what ‘the family’ thinks of you? Why don’t you make yourself independent of them? . . . I know you had hard luck, suddenly finding yourself without money, and all that, but, good heavens, everybody else in the world who has ever done anything has been broke at one time or another. It’s part of the fun. You’ll never get anywhere by letting yourself be picked up by the family like—like a floppy Newfoundland puppy—and dumped down in any old place that happens to suit them. A job’s a thing you’ve got to choose for yourself and get for yourself. Think what you can do—there must be something—and then go at it with a snort and grab it and hold it down and teach it to take a joke. You’ve managed to collect some money. It will give you time to look round. And when you’ve had a look round, do something! Try to realize you’re alive, and try to imagine the family isn’t!”
Sally stopped and drew a deep breath.
GINGER KEMP did not reply for a moment. He seemed greatly impressed. “When you talk quick,” he said at length in a serious, meditative voice, “your nose sort of goes all squiggly. Ripping it looks!”
Sally uttered an indignant cry. “Do you mean to say you haven’t been listening to a word I’ve been saying?” she demanded.
“Oh, rather! Oh, by Jove, yes.”
“Well, what did I say?”
“You—er . . . And your eyes sort of shine, too.”
“Never mind my eyes. What did I say?”
“You told me,” said Ginger on reflection, “to get a job.”
“Well, yes. I put it much better than that, but that’s what it amounted to, I suppose. All right, then. I’m glad you—”
Ginger was eying her with mournful devotion. “I say,” he interrupted, “I wish you’d let me write to you. Letters, I mean, and all that. I have an idea it would kind of buck me up.”
“You won’t have time for writing letters.”
“I’ll have time to write them to you. You haven’t an address or anything of that sort in America, have you, by any chance? I mean, so that I’d know where to write to.”
“I can give you an address which will always find me.” She told him the number and street of Mrs. Meecher’s boarding house, and he wrote them down reverently on his shirt cuff. “Yes, on second thoughts, do write,” she said. “Of course I shall want to know how you’ve got on. I—oh, my goodness! That clock’s not right?”
“Just about. What time does your train go?”
“Go! It’s gone! Or at least it goes in about two seconds.” She made a rush for the swing door, to the confusion of the uniformed official who had not been expecting this sudden activity. “Good-by, Ginger. Write to me, and remember what I said.”
Ginger, alert after his unexpected fashion when it became a question of physical action, had followed her through the swing door, and they emerged together and started running down the Square.
“Stick it!” said Ginger encouragingly. He was running easily and well, as becomes a man who in his day has been a snip for his international at scrum half.
Sally saved her breath. The train was beginning to move slowly out of the station as they sprinted abreast on to the platform. Ginger dived for the nearest door, wrenched it open, gathered Sally neatly in his arms, and flung her in. She landed squarely on the toes of a man who occupied the corner seat, and, bounding off again, made for the window. Ginger, faithful to the last, was trotting beside the train as it gathered speed.
“Ginger! My poor porter! Tip him. I forgot.”
“And don’t forget what I’ve been saying.”
“Look after yourself and—Death to the Family!”
THE train passed smoothly out of the station. Sally cast one look back at her red-haired friend, who had now halted and was waving a handkerchief. Then she turned to apologize to the other occupant of the carriage.
“I’m so sorry,” she said breathlessly. “I hope I didn’t hurt you.”
She found herself facing Ginger’s cousin, the dark man of yesterday’s episode on the beach, Bruce Carmyle. . . .
Mr. Carmyle was not a man who readily allowed himself to be disturbed by life’s little surprises, but at the present moment he could not help feeling slightly dazed. He recognized Sally now as the French girl who had attracted his cousin Lancelot’s notice on the beach. At least, he had assumed that she was French, and it was startling to be addressed by her now in fluent English. How had she suddenly acquired this gift of tongues? And how on earth had she had time since yesterday, when he had been a total stranger to her, to become sufficiently intimate with Cousin Lancelot to be sprinting with him down station platforms and addressing him out of railway-carriage windows as Ginger?
If Sally had been less pretty, Mr. Carmyle would undoubtedly have looked disapprovingly at her, for she had given his rather rigid sense of the proprieties a nasty jar. But as, panting and flushed from her run, she was prettier than any girl he had yet met, he contrived to smile.
“Not at all,” he said in answer to her question, though it was far from the truth. His left big toe was aching confoundedly. Even a girl with a foot as small as Sally’s can make her presence felt on a man’s toe if the scrum half who is handling her aims well and uses plenty of vigor.
“If you don’t mind,” said Sally, sitting down, “I think I’ll breathe a little.”
She breathed. The train sped on.
“Quite a close thing,” said Bruce Carmyle affably. The pain in his toe was diminishing. “You nearly missed it.”
“Yes. It was lucky Mr. Kemp was with me. He throws very straight, doesn’t he?”
“Tell me,” said Carmyle, “how do you come to know my cousin? On the beach yesterday morning—”
“Oh, we didn’t know each other then. But we were staying at the same hotel, and we spent an hour or so shut up in an elevator together. That was when we really got acquainted.”
A waiter entered the compartment, announcing that dinner was served in the restaurant car.
“Would you care for dinner?” said Mr. Carmyle graciously.
“I’m starving,” said Sally.
She reproved herself, as they made their way down the corridor, for being so foolish as to judge anyone by his appearance. This man was perfectly pleasant in spite of his grim exterior.
At the table, however, Mr. Carmyle’s manner changed for the worse. He lost his amiability. He was evidently a man who took his meals seriously and believed in treating waiters with severity. He shuddered austerely at a stain on the tablecloth, and then concentrated himself frowningly on the bill of fare. Sally, meanwhile, was establishing cozy relations with the much-too-friendly waiter, a cheerful old man who from the start seemed to have made up his mind to regard her as a favorite daughter. The waiter talked no English and Sally no French, but they were getting along capitally when Mr. Carmyle, who had been irritably waving aside the servitor’s light-hearted advice, gave his order crisply in the Anglo-Gallic dialect of the traveling Briton. The waiter remarked “Boum!” in a pleased sort of way, and vanished.
“Nice old man!” said Sally.
“Infernally familiar!” said Mr. Carmyle.
SALLY perceived that on the topic of the waiter she and her host did not see eye to eye and that little pleasure or profit could be derived from any discussion centering about him. She changed the subject. “By the way,” she said, “my name is Nicholas. I always think it’s a good thing to start with names, don’t you?”
“Oh, I know yours. Ginger—Mr. Kemp told me.”
Mr. Carmyle, who since the waiter’s departure had been thawing, stiffened again at the mention of Ginger.
“Indeed?” he said coldly. “Apparently you got intimate.”
Sally did not like his tone. He seemed to be criticizing her, and she resented criticism from a stranger. Her eyes opened wide and she looked dangerously across the table.
“Why ‘apparently’? I told you that we had got intimate, and I explained how. You can’t stay shut up in an elevator half the night with anybody without getting to know him. I found Mr. Kemp very pleasant.”
“And very interesting.”
Mr. Carmyle raised his eyebrows. “Would you call him interesting?”
“I did call him interesting.” Sally was beginning to feel the exhilaration of battle. Men usually made themselves extremely agreeable to her, and she reacted belligerently under the stiff unfriendliness which had come over her companion in the last few minutes. “He told me all about himself.”
“And you found that interesting?”
“Well. . . .” A frigid half smile came and went on Bruce Carmyle’s dark face. “My cousin has many excellent qualities, no doubt—he used to play football well, and I understand that he is a capable amateur pugilist—but I should not have supposed him entertaining. We find him a little dull.”
“I thought it was only royalty that called themselves ‘we’.”
“I meant myself—and the rest of the Family.”
The mention of the Family was too much for Sally. She had to stop talking in order to allow her mind to clear itself of rude thoughts.
“Mr. Kemp was telling me about Mr. Scrymgeour,” she went on at length.
Bruce Carmyle stared for a moment at the yard or so of French bread which the waiter had placed on the table.
“Indeed?” he said. “He has an engaging lack of reticence.”
The waiter returned, bearing soup, and dumped it down.
“V’la!” he observed with the satisfied air of a man who has successfully performed a difficult conjuring trick. He smiled at Sally expectantly, as though confident of applause from this section of his audience at least. But Sally’s face was set and rigid. She had been snubbed, and the sensation was not as pleasant as it was novel.
Snubbed! And by a blue-chinned Englishman! She found herself now disliking Mr. Carmyle with an almost Gingerian intensity. Was it for this that her fathers had bled? Did he suppose that the Spirit of ’76 was in Cain’s Storehouse? If she wanted to talk about Ginger, she was going to talk about Ginger—yes, if the whole British Empire raised its eyebrows.
“I think Mr. Kemp had hard luck.”
“If you will excuse me, I would prefer not to discuss the matter.”
MR. CARMYLE’S attitude was that Sally might be a pretty girl, hut she was a stranger, and the intimate affairs of the Family were not to be discussed with strangers, however prepossessing.
“He was quite in the right. Mr. Scrymgeour was beating a dog. . . .”
“I have heard the details.”
“Oh, I didn’t know that. Well, don’t you agree with me then?”
“I do not. A man who would throw away an excellent position simply because—”
“Oh, well, if that’s your view, I suppose it is useless to talk about it.”
“Still, there’s no harm in asking what you propose to do about Gin—about Mr. Kemp.”
Mr. Carmyle became more glacial. “I’m afraid I cannot discuss—”
Sally’s quick impatience, nobly restrained till now, finally got the better of her. “Oh, for goodness’ sake!” she snapped. “Do try to be human, and don’t always be snubbing people. You remind me of one of those portraits of men in the eighteenth century, with wooden faces, who look out of heavy gold frames at you with fishy eyes as if you were a regrettable incident.”
“Rosbif,” said the waiter genially, manifesting himself suddenly beside them as if he had popped up out of a trap.
Bruce Carmyle attacked his roast beef morosely. Sally, who was in the mood when she knew that she would be ashamed of herself later on, but was full of battle at the moment, sat in silence.
“I am sorry,” said Mr. Carmyle ponderously, “if my eyes are fishy. The fact has not been called to my attention before.”
“I suppose you never had any sisters,” said Sally. “They would have told you.”
Mr. Carmyle relapsed into an offended dumbness which lasted till the waiter had brought the coffee.
“I think,” said Sally, getting up, “I’ll be going now. I don’t seem to want my coffee, and if I stay on I may say something rude. I thought I might be able to put in a good word for Mr. Kemp and save him from being massacred, but apparently it’s no use. Good-by, Mr. Carmyle, and thank you for giving me dinner.”
She made her way down the car, followed by Bruce Carmyle’s indignant yet fascinated gaze. Strange emotions were stirring in Mr. Carmyle’s bosom.
SOME few days later, owing to the fact that the latter, being preoccupied, did not see him first, Bruce Carmyle met his cousin Lancelot in Piccadilly. They had returned by different routes from Roville, and Ginger would have preferred the separation to continue. He was hurrying on with a nod when Carmyle stopped him.
“Just the man I wanted to see,” he observed.
“Oh, hullo!” said Ginger without joy.
“I was thinking of calling at your club.”
Ginger peered at the proffered case with the vague suspicion of the man who has allowed himself to be lured on to the platform and is accepting a card from the conjurer. He felt bewildered. In all the years of their acquaintance he could not recall another such exhibition of geniality on his cousin’s part. He was surprised, indeed, at Mr. Carmyle’s speaking to him at all, for the Affaire Scrymgeour remained an unhealed wound, and the Family, Ginger knew, were even now in session upon it.
“Been back in London long?”
“Day or two.”
“I heard quite by accident that you had returned and that you were staying at the club. By the way, thank you for introducing me to Miss Nicholas.”
Ginger started violently. “What!”
“I was in that compartment, you know, at Roville Station. You threw her right on top of me. We agreed to consider that an introduction. An attractive girl.”
Bruce Carmyle had not entirely made up his mind regarding Sally, but on one point he was clear, that she should not, if he could help it, pass out of his life. She had had, he could not disguise it from himself, the better of their late encounter, and he was conscious of a desire to meet her again and show her that there was more in him than she apparently supposed. Bruce Carmyle, in a word, was piqued.
“A very attractive girl. We had a very pleasant talk.”
“I bet you did,” said Ginger enviously.
“By the way, she did not give you her address, by any chance?”
“Why?” said Ginger suspiciously.
“Well, I—er—I promised to send her some books she was anxious to read. . . .”
“I shouldn’t think she would get time for reading.”
“Books which are not published in America.”
“Oh, pretty nearly everything is published in America, what? Bound to be, I mean.”
“Well, these particular books are not,” said Mr. Carmyle shortly. He was finding Ginger’s reserve a little trying, and wished that he had been more inventive.
“Give them to me and I’ll send them to her,” suggested Ginger.
“Good Lord, man!” snapped Mr. Carmyle. “I’m capable of sending a few books to America. Where does she live?”
GINGER revealed the sacred number of the holy street which had the luck to be Sally’s headquarters. With a persistent devil like his cousin there seemed no way of getting out of it, but he did it grudgingly.
“Thanks.” Bruce Carmyle wrote the information down with a gold pencil in a dapper little morocco-bound notebook. He was the sort of man who always has a pencil, and the backs of old envelopes never entered into his life.
There was a pause. Bruce Carmyle coughed. “I saw Uncle Donald this morning,” he said.
His manner had lost its geniality. There was no need for it now, and he was a man who objected to waste. He spoke coldly, and in his voice there was a familiar subtinkle of reproof.
“Yes?” said Ginger moodily. This was the uncle in whose office he had made his début as a hasher—a worthy man, highly respected in the National Liberal Club, but never a favorite of Ginger’s. Uncle Donald was unquestionably the managing director of the Family, and it was Ginger’s considered opinion that in this capacity he approximated to a human blister.
“He wants you to dine with him tonight at Bleke’s.”
Ginger’s depression deepened. A dinner with Uncle Donald would hardly have been a cheery function even in the surroundings of a banquet in the Arabian Nights. There was that about Uncle Donald’s personality which would have cast a sobering influence over the orgies of the Emperor Tiberius at Capri.
To dine with him at a morgue like that relic of Old London, Bleke’s Coffee House! Ginger was extremely doubtful whether flesh and blood were equal to it.
“To-night?” he said. “Oh, you mean to-night? Well . . .”
“Don’t be a fool. You know as well as I do that you’ve got to go.” Uncle Donald’s invitations were royal commands in the Family. “If you’ve another engagement, you must put it off.”
“Oh, all right.”
“All right,” said Ginger gloomily.
The two men went their ways. There was little sympathy between these cousins; yet, oddly enough, their thoughts as they walked were centered on the same object. Bruce Carmyle, threading his way briskly through the crowds of Piccadilly Circus, was thinking of Sally, and so was Ginger as he loafed aimlessly toward Hyde Park Corner, bumping in a sort of coma from pedestrian to pedestrian.
SINCE his return to London Ginger had been in bad shape. He mooned through the days and slept poorly at night. Hopeless love had got Ginger all stirred up. His had been hitherto a placid soul. His temperament had enabled him to bear the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune with a philosophic “Right-ho!” But now everything seemed different. Things irritated him acutely which before he had accepted as inevitable—his Uncle Donald’s mustache, for instance, and its owner’s habit of employing it during meals as a sort of zareba or earthwork against the assaults of soup.
“By gad!” thought Ginger, stopping suddenly opposite Devonshire House, “if he uses that damned shrubbery as a soup strainer to-night, I’ll slosh him with a fork!”
Hard thoughts . . . hard thoughts! And getting harder all the time, for nothing grows more quickly than a mood of rebellion. By the time he returned to his club he was practically a menace to society—to that section of it, at any rate, which embraced his uncle Donald, his minor uncles George and William, and his aunts Mary, Geraldine, and Louise.
Nor had the mood passed when he began to dress for the dismal festivities of Bleke’s Coffee House. He scowled as he struggled morosely with an obstinate tie. And it was just at this moment that Fate, as though it had been waiting for the psychological instant, applied the finishing touch. There was a knock at the door, and a waiter came in with a telegram.
Ginger looked at the envelope. It had been readdressed and forwarded on from the Hotel Normandie. It was a wireless, handed in on board the White Star liner Olympic, and it ran as follows:
Remember. Death to the Family. S.
Ginger sat down heavily on the bed.
The driver of the taxicab which at twenty-five minutes past seven drew up at the dingy door of the Bleke’s Coffee House in the Strand was rather struck by his fare’s manner and appearance. A determined-looking sort of young bloke, was the taxi driver’s verdict.
IT had been Sally’s intention, on arriving in New York, to take a room at the St. Regis and revel in the gilded luxury to which her wealth entitled her before moving into the small but comfortable apartment which, as soon as she had the time, she intended to find and make her permanent abode. But when the moment came and she was giving directions to the taxi driver at the dock, there seemed to her something revoltingly Fillmorian about the scheme. It would be time enough to sever herself from the boarding house which had been her home for three years when she had found the apartment. Meanwhile, the decent thing to do was to go back temporarily to Mrs. Meecher’s admirable establishment and foregather with her old friends. After all, home is where the heart is, even if there are more prunes there than the gourmet would consider judicious.
Perhaps it was the unavoidable complacency induced by the thought that she was doing the right thing, or possibly it was the tingling expectation of meeting Gerald Foster again after all these weeks of separation, that made the familiar streets seem wonderfully bright as she drove through them. It was a perfect, crisp New York morning, all blue sky and amber sunshine, and even the ash cans had a stimulating look about them, as though this were a special day.
The first discordant note in this overture of happiness was struck by Mrs. Meecher, who informed Sally, after expressing her gratification at the news that she required her old room, that Gerald Foster had left town that morning.
“Gone to Detroit, he has,” said Mrs. Meecher. “Miss Doland too.” She broke off to speak a caustic word to the boarding-house handy man who, with Sally’s trunk as a weapon, was depreciating the value of the wall paper in the hall. “There’s that play of his being tried out there, you know, Monday,” resumed Mrs. Meecher, after the handy man had bumped his way up the staircase. “They been rehearsing ever since you left.”
SALLY was disappointed, but she was not going to allow herself to be depressed without good reason. After all, she could go on to Detroit to-morrow. It was nice to have something to which she could look forward.
“Oh, is Elsa in the company?” she said.
“Sure. And very good too, I hear.” Mrs. Meecher kept abreast of theatrical gossip. She was an ex-member of the profession herself, having been in the first production of “Florodora,” though, unlike everybody else, not one of the original Sextette. “Mr. Faucitt was down to see a rehearsal, and he said Miss Doland was fine. And he’s not easy to please, as you know.”
“How is Mr. Faucitt?”
Mrs. Meecher, not unwillingly, for she was a woman who enjoyed the tragedies of life, made her second essay in the direction of lowering Sally’s uplifted mood.
“Poor old gentleman, he ain’t over and above well. Went to bed early last night with a headache, and this morning I been to see him and he don’t look well. There’s a lot of this Spanish influenza about. It might be that. Lots o’ people been dying of it, if you believe what you see in the papers,” said Mrs. Meecher buoyantly.
“Good gracious! You don’t think—”
“Well, he ain’t turned black,” admitted Mrs. Meecher with regret. “They say they turn black. If you believe what you see in the papers, that is. Of course that may come later,” she added with the air of one confident that all will come right in the future. “The doctor’ll be in to see him pretty soon. He’s quite happy.”
“I must go up and see him,” cried Sally. “Poor old dear!”
“Sure. You know his room.”
THE invalid’s eyes, as Sally entered the room, turned wearily to the door. At the sight of Sally they lit up with an incredulous rapture. Almost any intervention would have pleased Mr. Faucitt at that moment, but that the caller should be his beloved Sally seemed to be to the old man something in the nature of a return of the age of miracles.
“Sally! You come, as ever, as an angel of mercy. You shine like a good deed in a naughty world. When did you get back?”
“I’ve only just arrived in my hired barouche from the pier.”
“And you came to see your old friend without delay? I am grateful and flattered, Sally, my dear.”
“Of course I came to see you. Do you suppose that, when Mrs. Meecher told me you were sick, I just said ‘Is that so?’ and went on talking about the weather? Well,” Sally went on, “what do you mean by it? Frightening everybody. Poor old darling, do you feel very bad?”
“One thousand individual mice are nibbling the base of my spine, and I am conscious of a constant need of cooling refreshment. But what of that? Your presence is a tonic. Tell me, how did our Sally enjoy foreign travel?”
“Our Sally had the time of her life.”
“Did you visit England?”
“Only passing through.”
“How did it look?” asked Mr. Faucitt eagerly.
“Moist. Very moist.”
“It would,” said Mr. Faucitt indulgently. “I confess that, happy as I have been in this country, there are times when I miss those wonderful London days when a sort of cozy brown mist hangs over the streets and the pavements ooze with a perspiration of mud and water, and you see through the haze the yellow glow of the Bodega lamps shining in the distance like harbor lights. Not,” said Mr. Faucitt, “that I specify the Bodega to the exclusion of other and equally worthy hostelries. I have passed just as pleasant hours in Rule’s and Short’s. You missed something by not lingering in England, Sally.”
“I know I did—pneumonia.”
MR. FAUCITT shook his head reproachfully. “You are prejudiced, my dear. You would have enjoyed London if you had had the courage to brave its superficial gloom. Where did you spend your holiday? Paris?”
“Part of the time. And the rest of the while I was down by the sea. It was glorious. I don’t think I would ever have come back if I hadn’t had to. But, of course, I wanted to see you all again. And I wanted to be at the opening of Mr. Foster’s play. Mrs. Meecher tells me you went to one of the rehearsals.”
“I attended a dog fight which I was informed was a rehearsal,” said Mr. Faucitt severely. “There is no rehearsing nowadays.”
“Oh, dear! Was it as bad as all that?”
“The play is good. The play—I will go further—is excellent. It has fat. But the acting! . . .”
“Mrs. Meecher said you told her that Elsa was good.”
“Our worthy hostess did not misreport me. Miss Doland has great possibilities. She reminds me somewhat of Matilda Devine, under whose banner I played a season at the old Royalty in London many years ago. She has the seeds of greatness in her, but she is wasted in the present case on an insignificant part. There is only one part in the play. I allude to the one murdered by Miss Mabel Hobson.”
“Murdered!” Sally’s heart sank. She had been afraid of this, and it was no satisfaction to feel that she had warned Gerald. “Is she very terrible?”
“She has the face of an angel and the histrionic ability of that curious suet pudding which our estimable Mrs. Meecher is apt to give us on Fridays. In my professional career I have seen many cases of what I may term the Lady Friend in the rôle of star, but Miss Hobson eclipses them all.”
“Oh, poor Ger—poor Mr. Foster!”
“I do not share your commiseration for that young man,” said Mr. Faucitt austerely. “You probably are almost a stranger to him, but he and I have been thrown together a good deal of late. A young man upon whom, mark my words, success, if it ever comes, will have the worst effects. I dislike him, Sally. He is, I think, without exception the most selfish and self-centered young man of my acquaintance. He reminds me very much of old Billy Fothergill, with whom I toured a good deal in the later eighties. Did I ever tell you the story of Billy and the amateur who—”
Sally was in no mood to listen to the adventure of Mr. Fothergill. The old man’s innocent criticism of Gerald had stabbed her deeply. A momentary impulse to speak hotly in his defense died away as she saw Mr. Faucitt’s pale, worn old face. He had meant no harm, after all. How could he know what Gerald was to her?
SHE changed the conversation abruptly: “Have you seen anything of Fillmore while I’ve been away?”
“Fillmore? Why, yes, my dear, curiously enough I happened to run into him on Broadway only a few days ago. He seemed changed—less stiff and aloof than he had been for some time past. I may be wronging him, but there have been times of late when one might almost have fancied him a trifle upstage. All that was gone at our last encounter. He appeared glad to see me and was most cordial.”
Sally found her composure restored. Her lecture on the night of the party had evidently, she thought, not been wasted. Mr. Faucitt, however, advanced another theory to account for the change in the Man of Destiny.
“I rather fancy,” he said, “that the softening influence has been the young man’s fiancée.”
“What! Fillmore’s not engaged?”
“Did he not write and tell you? I suppose he was waiting to inform you when you returned. Yes, Fillmore is betrothed. The lady was with him when we met. A Miss Winch. In the profession, I understand. He introduced me. A very charming and sensible young lady, I thought.”
Sally shook her head: “She can’t be. Fillmore would never have got engaged to anyone like that. Was her hair crimson?”
“Brown, if I recollect rightly.”
“Very loud, I suppose, and overdressed?”
“On the contrary, neat and quiet.”
“You’ve made a mistake,” said Sally decidedly. “She can’t have been like that. I shall have to look into this. It does seem hard that I can’t go away for a few weeks without all my friends taking to beds of sickness and all my brothers getting ensnared by vampires.”
A KNOCK at the door interrupted her complaint. Mrs. Meecher entered, ushering in a pleasant little man with spectacles and a black bag.
“The doctor to see you, Mr. Faucitt.” Mrs. Meecher cast an appraising eye at the invalid, as if to detect symptoms of approaching discoloration. “I’ve been telling him that what I think you’ve gotten is this here now Spanish influenza. Two more deaths there were in the paper this morning, if you can believe what you see in the—”
“I wonder,” said the doctor, “if you would mind going and bringing me a small glass of water?”
“Not a large glass. A small glass. Let the faucet run for a few moments and take care not to spill any as you come up the stairs. I always ask ladies like our friend who has just gone,” he said, as the door closed, “to bring me a glass of water. It keeps them amused and interested and gets them out of the way, and they think I am going to do a conjuring trick with it. As a matter of fact, I’m going to drink it. Now let’s have a look at you.”
The examination did not take long. At the end of it the doctor seemed somewhat chagrined.
“Our good friend’s diagnosis was correct. I’d give a leg to say it wasn’t, but it was. It is this here now Spanish influenza. Not a bad attack. You want to stay in bed and keep warm, and I’ll write you out a prescription. You ought to be nursed. Is this young lady a nurse?”
“No, no, merely—”
“Of course I’m a nurse,” said Sally decidedly. “It isn’t difficult, is it, doctor? I know nurses smooth pillows. I can do that. Is there anything else?”
“Their principal duty is to sit here and prevent the excellent but garrulous lady who has just left us from getting in. They must also be able to aim straight with a book or an old shoe if that small woolly dog I met downstairs tries to force an entrance. If you are equal to these tasks, I can leave the case in your hands with every confidence.”
“But, Sally, my dear,” said Mr. Faucitt, concerned, “you must not waste your time looking after me. You have a thousand things to occupy you.”
“There’s nothing I want to do more than help you get better. I’ll just go out and send a wire, and then I’ll be right back.”
Five minutes later Sally was in a Western Union office, telegraphing to Gerald that she would be unable to reach Detroit in time for the opening.
“She had been snubbed, and the sensation was not as pleasant as it was novel”: The word “not” is missing from the British magazine and book versions, but I’m inclined to believe Collier’s has it correctly here, as it makes more sense in the negative. The American book version, Mostly Sally, has “the sensation was as unpleasant as it was novel”; that seems even better.
Cain’s Storehouse: A theatrical warehouse in New York City used for storing sets and costumes of shows not currently in production. (Note that this entire paragraph appears only in the American versions, both book and magazine.) In Bring On the Girls, Wodehouse and Bolton wrote: “Cain’s Storehouse, like so many monuments of the past, no longer exists. One is not quite sure what happens now to the scenery of shows that have failed to attract. But in the days of which we are writing Cain’s was a great institution, a sort of Sargasso Sea into which the wrecks of dramatic Hesperuses drifted automatically. Or you might call it a morgue.”
“Florodora Sextette”: In this popular English musical comedy of the turn of the century, an ensemble of six “English Girls” sang and danced “Tell Me, Pretty Maiden” with six men. The number was a great hit and so were the girls. During the two years the show ran in New York many of the actresses left the show to be married to wealthy men; I’m told that seventy young ladies appeared in these six rôles from 1900 to 1902. Your editor arranged and conducted a performance of Florodora a few years ago; you can enjoy this number on YouTube.
Proofreader Ian Michaud notes that a revival of Florodora in 1920 was twice commented upon by Wodehouse, reviewing for Vanity Fair; see “The Season End Productions” for the longer of the two; in “The Theatrical Year” (June 1920) he notes that “Columns have been written about the original Florodora Sextette. The subject is one which touches the popular imagination. Years have passed and much water has flowed under the bridge since Florodora was first produced, and of the members of the original sextette which warbled its way to fame there remain to-day only three thousand, eight hundred and eleven.”
Printer’s errors corrected above:
In second section, magazine had “I’m not much a chap”; amended to “not much of a chap” as in other versions.
In Chapter IV, magazine had “zaroba”; amended to “zareba” as in both book versions. (A word often used by Wodehouse, zareba is an African term for a fence or enclosure made of thornbushes.)
—Transcription and notes by Neil Midkiff