Liberty, October 9, 1926
“I SUPPOSE,” said Molly, “we had better go upstairs?”
Mrs. Waddington came out of her trance.
“You had better go upstairs,” she said, emphasizing the pronoun in a manner that would have impressed itself upon the least sensitive of men. George Finch got it nicely.
“I—er—think, perhaps,” he mumbled, “as it is—er—getting late . . .”
“You aren’t going?” said Molly, concerned.
“Certainly Mr. Finch is going,” said Mrs. Waddington: and there was that in her demeanor which suggested that at any moment she might place one hand on the scruff of his neck and the other on the seat of his trousers and heave. “If Mr. Finch has appointments that call him elsewhere, we must not detain him. Good night, Mr. Finch.”
“Good night. Thank you for a—er—very pleasant evening.”
“It was most kay-eend of you to come,” said Mrs. Waddington.
“Do come again,” said Molly.
“Mr. Finch,” said Mrs. Waddington, “is no doubt a very ba-husy man. Please go upstairs immediately, Molly. Good na-eet, Mr. Finch.”
She continued to regard him in a manner hardly in keeping with the fine old traditions of American hospitality.
“Ferris,” she said, as the door closed.
“On no pretext whatever, Ferris, is that person who has just left to be admitted to the house again.”
“Very good, madam,” said the butler.
* * *
It was a fair, sunny morning, next day, when George Finch trotted up the steps of No. 16 Seventy-ninth Street, East, and pressed the bell. He was wearing his dove-gray suit and under his arm was an enormous canvas wrapped in brown paper. After much thought he had decided to present Molly with his favorite work, Hail, Jocund Spring!—a picture representing a young woman, scantily draped and obviously suffering from an advanced form of chorea, dancing with lambs in a flower-speckled field. At the moment which George had selected for her portrayal, she had—to judge from her expression—just stepped rather hard on a sharp stone. Still, she was George’s masterpiece, and he intended to present her to Molly.
The door opened. Ferris, the butler, appeared.
“All goods,” said Ferris, regarding George dispassionately, “must be delivered in the rear.”
“I want to see Miss Waddington.”
“Miss Waddington is not at home.”
“Can I see Mr. Waddington?” asked George, accepting the second-best.
“Mr. Waddington is not at home.”
George hesitated a moment before he spoke again. But love conquers all.
“Can I see Mrs. Waddington?”
“Mrs. Waddington is not at home.”
As the butler spoke, there proceeded from the upper regions of the house a commanding female voice that inquired of an unseen Sigsbee how many times the speaker had told him not to smoke in the drawing-room.
“But I can hear her,” George pointed out.
The butler shrugged his shoulders with an aloof gesture, as if disclaiming all desire to go into these mysteries.
“Mrs. Waddington is not at home,” he said once more.
There was a pause.
“Nice morning,” said George.
“The weather appears to be clement,” agreed Ferris.
George then tumbled backwards down the steps, and the interview concluded.
* * *
“TELL me all,” said Hamilton Beamish.
George told him all. The unfortunate young man was still looking licked to a splinter. For several hours he had been wandering distractedly through the streets of New York, and now he had crawled into Hamilton Beamish’s apartment in the hope that a keener mind than his own might be able to detect in the encompassing clouds a silver lining which he himself had missed altogether.
“Let me get this clear,” said Hamilton Beamish. “You called at the house?”
“And the butler refused to admit you?”
Hamilton Beamish regarded his stricken friend compassionately. “My poor cloth-headed George,” he said, “you appear to have made a complete mess of things. By being impetuous you have ruined everything. Why could you not have waited and let me introduce you into this house in a normal and straightforward fashion, in my capacity of an old friend of the family? As things are, you have allowed yourself to take on the semblance of an outcast.”
“But when old Waddington invited me to dinner—actually invited me to dinner——”
“You should have kicked him in the eye and made good your escape,” said Hamilton Beamish firmly. “Surely, after all that I said to you about Sigsbee H. Waddington, you were under no illusion that his patronage would make you popular in the home? Sigsbee H. Waddington is one of those men who have only to express a liking for anybody to cause their wives to look on that person as something out of the underworld. Sigsbee H. Waddington could not bring the Prince of Wales home to dinner and get away with it. And when he drags in and lays on the mat a specimen—I use the word in the kindliest spirit—like you, and does so, moreover, five minutes before the start of a formal dinner-party, thus upsetting the seating arrangements, can you blame his wife for not fawning on you? And on top of that, you pretend to be an artist.”
“I am an artist,” said George, with a flicker of spirit.
“The point is a debatable one. And, anyhow, you should have concealed it from Mrs. Waddington. A woman of her type looks on artists as blots on the social scheme. I told you she judged her fellow-creatures entirely by their balance at the bank.”
“I have plenty of money.”
“How was she to know that? You tell her you are an artist, and she naturally imagines you——”
The telephone rang shrilly, interrupting Mr. Beamish’s flow of thought. There was an impatient frown on his face as he unhooked the receiver, but a moment later this had passed away and, when he spoke, it was in a kindly and indulgent tone.
“Ah, Molly, my child!”
“Molly!” cried George.
But Hamilton Beamish ignored the exclamation.
“Yes,” he said. “He is a great friend of mine.”
“Me?” said George.
Hamilton Beamish continued to accord to him that complete lack of attention characteristic of the efficient telephoner when addressed while at the instrument.
“Yes, he has been telling me about it. He’s here now.”
“Does she want me to speak to her?” quavered George.
“Certainly, I’ll come at once.”
Hamilton Beamish replaced the receiver, and stood for a while in thought.
“What did she say?” asked George, deeply moved.
“This is interesting,” said Hamilton Beamish.
“What did she say?”
“This causes me to revise my views to some extent.”
“What did she say?”
“And yet I might have foreseen it.”
“What did she say?”
Hamilton Beamish rubbed his chin meditatively.
“The mind of a girl works oddly.”
“What did she say?”
“That was Molly Waddington,” said Hamilton Beamish.
“What did she say?”
“I AM by no means sure,” said Mr. Beamish, regarding George owlishly through his spectacles, “that, after all, everything has not happened for the best. I omitted to take into my calculations the fact that what has occurred would naturally give you, in the eyes of a warm-hearted girl, surrounded normally by men with incomes in six figures, a certain romantic glamour. Any girl with nice instincts must inevitably be attracted to a penniless artist whom her mother forbids her to see.”
“What did she say?”
“She asked me if you were a friend of mine.”
“And then what did she say?”
“She told me that her stepmother had forbidden you the house, and that she had been expressly ordered never to see you again.”
“And what did she say after that?”
“She asked me to come up to the house and have a talk.”
“So I imagine.”
“Hamilton,” said George in a quivering voice, “Hamilton, old man, pitch it strong!”
“You mean, speak enthusiastically on your behalf?”
“I mean just that. How well you put these things, Hamilton!”
Hamilton Beamish took up his hat.
“It is strange,” he said meditatively, “that I should be assisting you in this matter.”
“It’s your good heart,” said George. “You have a heart of gold.”
“You have fallen in love at first sight, and my views on love at first sight are well known.”
“They’re all wrong.”
“My views are never wrong.”
“I don’t mean wrong exactly,” said George with sycophantic haste. “I mean that in certain cases love at first sight is the only thing.”
“Love should be a reasoned emotion.”
“Not if you suddenly see a girl like Molly Waddington.”
“WHEN I marry,” said Hamilton Beamish, “it will be the result of a carefully calculated process of thought. I shall first decide, after cool reflection, that I have reached the age at which it is best for me to marry. I shall then run over the list of my female friends till I have selected one whose mind and tastes are in harmony with mine. I shall then——”
“Aren’t you going to change?” said George.
“Your clothes, if you are going to see Her——”
“I shall then,” proceeded Hamilton Beamish, “watch her carefully for a considerable length of time in order to assure myself that I have not allowed passion to blind me to any faults in her disposition. After that——”
“You can’t possibly call on Miss Waddington in those trousers,” said George. “And your shirt does not match your socks. You must——”
“After that, provided in the interval I have not observed any more suitable candidate for my affections, I shall go to her and in a few simple words ask her to be my wife. I shall point out that my income is sufficient for two, that my morals are above reproach, that——”
“Haven’t you a really nice suit that’s been properly pressed and brushed, and a rather newer pair of shoes, and a less floppy sort of hat, and——”
“. . . that my disposition is amiable, and my habits regular. And she and I will settle down to the Marriage Sane.”
“How about your cuffs?” said George.
“What about my cuffs?”
“Are you really going to see Miss Waddington in frayed cuffs?”
George had nothing more to say. It was sacrilege, but there seemed no way of preventing it.
* * *
AS Hamilton Beamish, some quarter of an hour later, climbed in a series of efficient movements up the stairs of the green omnibus that was waiting in Washington Square, the summer afternoon had reached its best and sweetest. A red-blooded American sun still shone warmly down from a sky of gleaming azure, but there had stolen into the air a hint of the cool of evening. It was the sort of day when Tin Pan Alley lyric-writers suddenly realize that “love” rhymes with “skies above” and rush off, snorting, to turn out the song-hit of a lifetime. Sentimentality was abroad; and gradually, without his being aware of it, its seeds began to plant themselves in the stony and unpromising soil of Hamilton Beamish’s bosom.
Yes, little by little, as the omnibus rolled on up the avenue, there began to burgeon in Hamilton Beamish a mood of gentle tolerance for his species. He no longer blamed so whole-heartedly the disposition of his fellow-men to entertain towards the opposite sex, on short acquaintance, a warmth of emotion which could be scientifically justified only by a long and intimate knowledge of character. For the first time he began to debate within himself whether there was not something to be said for a man who, like George Finch, plunged headlong into love with a girl to whom he had never even spoken.
AND it was at this precise moment—just, dramatically enough, when the bus was passing Twenty-ninth Street, with its pretty and suggestive glimpse of the Little Church Around the Corner—that he noticed, for the first time, the girl in the seat across the way.
She was a girl of chic and elan. One may go still further—a girl of espieglerie and je ne sais quoi. She was dressed, as Hamilton Beamish’s experienced eye noted in one swift glance, in a delightful two-piece suit composed of a smart coat in fine quality rep, lined throughout with crepe de Chine, over a dainty, long-sleeved frock of figured marocain, prettily plaited at the sides and finished at the neck with a small collar and kilted frill; a dress which, as every schoolboy knows, can be had in beige, gray, mid-gray, opal, snuff, powder, burnt wood, puce, brown, bottle, almond, navy, black, and dark saxe. Her color was dark saxe.
Another glance enabled Hamilton Beamish to take in her hat. It was, he perceived, a becoming hat in Yedda Visca straw, trimmed and bound with silk petersham ribbon, individual without being conspicuous, artistic in line and exquisite in style; and from beneath it there strayed a single curl of about the color of a good Pekingese dog.
Judging the rest of her hair by the light of this curl, Hamilton Beamish made the deduction that, when combing and dressing it, she just moistened the brush with a little Scalpoline, thus producing a gleamy mass, sparkling with life, and possessing that incomparable softness, freshness, and luxuriance, at the same time toning each single hair to grow thick, long, and strong. No doubt she had read advertisements of the tonic in the papers and now, having bought a bottle, was seeing how healthy and youthful her hair appeared after this delightful dressing.
Her shoes were of black patent leather, her stockings of steel-gray silk. She had that schoolgirl complexion and the skin you love to touch.
ALL these things the trained eye of Hamilton Beamish noted. But it was her face that he noted most particularly. It was just the sort of face which, if he had not had his policy of Sane Love all carefully mapped out, would have exercised the most disturbing effect on his emotions. Even as it was, this strong, competent man could not check, as he alighted from the bus at Seventy-ninth Street, a twinge of that wistful melancholy which men feel when they are letting a good thing get away from them.
Sad, reflected Hamilton Beamish, as he stood upon the steps of No. 16 and prepared to ring the bell, that he would never see this girl again. Naturally, a man of his stamp was not in love at first sight, but, nevertheless, he did not conceal it from himself that nothing would suit him better than to make her acquaintance and, after careful study of her character and disposition, possibly discover in a year or two that it was she whom Nature had intended for his mate.
It was at this point in his reflections that he perceived her at his elbow.
There are moments when even the coolest-headed efficiency expert finds it hard to maintain his poise. Hamilton Beamish was definitely taken aback; and, had he been a lesser man, one would have said that he became for an instant definitely pop-eyed.
Apart from the fact that he had been thinking of her tenderly, there was the embarrassment of standing side by side with a strange girl on a doorstep.
In such a crisis, it is very difficult for a man to know precisely how to behave. Should he endeavor to create the illusion that he is not aware of her presence? Or, should he make some chatty remark? And, if a chatty remark, what chatty remark?
Hamilton Beamish was still grappling with this problem when the girl solved it for him. Suddenly screwing up a face which looked even more attractive at point-blank range than it had appeared in profile, she uttered the exclamation, “Oo!”
“Oo!” said this girl.
For a moment, all Hamilton Beamish felt was that almost ecstatic relief which comes over the man of sensibility when he finds that a pretty girl has an attractive voice. Too many times in his career he had admired girls from afar, only to discover, when they spoke, that they had voices like peacocks calling up the rain.
The next instant, however, he had recognized that his companion was suffering, and his heart was filled with a blend of compassion and zeal. Her pain aroused simultaneously the pity of the man and the efficiency of the efficiency expert.
“You have something in your eye?” he said.
“A bit of dust or something.”
“Permit me,” said Hamilton Beamish.
ONE of the most difficult tasks that can confront the ordinary man is the extraction of foreign bodies from the eye of a perfect stranger of the opposite sex. But Hamilton Beamish was not an ordinary man. Barely ten seconds later, he was replacing his handkerchief in his pocket and the girl was blinking at him gratefully.
“Thank you ever so much,” she said.
“Not at all,” said Hamilton Beamish.
“A doctor couldn’t have done it more neatly.”
“It’s just a knack.”
There was a pause.
“Are you calling on Mrs. Waddington?” asked the girl.
“On Miss Waddington.”
“I’ve never met her.”
“You don’t know the whole family, then?”
“No. Only Mrs. Waddington. Would you mind ringing the bell?”
Hamilton Beamish pressed the button.
“I saw you on the omnibus,” he said.
“Yes. I was sitting in the next seat.”
“It’s a lovely day, isn’t it?”
“I like the summer.”
“So do I.”
“When it’s not too hot.”
“Though, as a matter of fact,” said Hamilton Beamish, “I always say that what one objects to is not the heat but the humidity.”
Which simply goes to prove that even efficiency experts, when they fall in love at first sight, can babble like any man of inferior intellect in the same circumstances. Strange and violent emotions were racking Hamilton Beamish’s bosom; and, casting away the principles of a lifetime, he recognized without a trace of shame that love had come to him at last—not creeping scientifically into his soul, as he had supposed it would, but elbowing its way in with the Berserk rush of a commuter charging into the five-fifteen. Yes, he was in love. And it is proof of the completeness with which passion had blunted his intellectual faculties that he was under the impression that in the recent exchange of remarks he had been talking rather well.
The door opened. Ferris appeared. He looked at the girl, not with the cold distaste which he had exhibited earlier in the day toward George Finch, but with a certain paternal affection. Ferris measured forty-six round the waist, but Beauty still had its appeal for him.
“Mrs. Waddington desired me to say, miss,” he said, “that an appointment of an urgent nature has called her elsewhere, rendering it impossible for her to see you this afternoon.”
“She might have phoned me,” the girl complained.
FERRIS allowed one eyebrow to flicker momentarily, conveying the idea that, while he sympathized, a spirit of loyalty forbade him to join in criticism of his employer.
“Mrs. Waddington wished to know if it would be convenient to you, miss, if she called upon you tomorrow at five o’clock.”
“Thank you, miss. Miss Waddington is expecting you, sir.”
Hamilton Beamish continued to stare after the girl, who, with a friendly nod in his direction, had begun to walk light-heartedly out of his life along the street.
“Who is that young lady, Ferris?” he asked.
“I could not say, sir.”
“Why couldn’t you? You seemed to know her just now.”
“No, sir. I had never seen the young lady before. Mrs. Waddington, however, had mentioned that she would be calling at this hour, and instructed me to give the message which I delivered.”
“Didn’t Mrs. Waddington say who was calling?”
“Yes, sir. The young lady.”
“Ass!” said Hamilton Beamish. But even he was not strong man enough to say it aloud. “I mean, didn’t she tell you the young lady’s name?”
“No, sir. If you will step this way, sir, I will conduct you to Miss Waddington, who is in the library.”
“It seems funny that Mrs. Waddington did not tell you the young lady’s name,” brooded Hamilton Beamish.
“Very humorous, sir,” agreed the butler indulgently.
* * *
“OH, Jimmy, it was sweet of you to come,” said Molly.
Hamilton Beamish patted her hand absently. He was too preoccupied to notice the hateful name by which she had addressed him.
“I have had a wonderful experience,” he said.
“So have I. I think I’m in love.”
“I have given the matter as close attention as has been possible in the limited time at my disposal,” said Hamilton Beamish, “and I have reached the conclusion that I, too, am in love.”
“I think I am in love with your friend, George Finch.”
“I am in love with—” Hamilton Beamish paused. “I don’t know her name. She is a most charming girl. I met her coming up here on the bus, and we talked for a while on the front door-steps. I took something out of her eye.”
Molly stared incredulously.
“You have fallen in love with a girl and you don’t know who she is? But I thought you always said that love was a reasoned emotion, and all that.”
“One’s views alter,” said Hamilton Beamish. “A man’s intellectual perceptions do not stand still. One develops.”
“I was never so surprised in my life.”
“It came as a complete surprise to me,” said Hamilton Beamish. “It is most aggravating that I do not know her name nor where she lives nor anything about her except that she appears to be a friend—or at least an acquaintance—of your stepmother.”
“Oh, she knows mother, does she?”
“Apparently. She was calling here by appointment.”
“All sorts of weird people call on mother. She is honorary secretary to about a hundred societies.”
“This girl was of medium height, with an extremely graceful figure and bright brown hair. She wore a two-piece suit with a coat of fine quality rep over a long-sleeved frock of figured marocain, plaited at the sides and finished at the neck with a small collar and kilted frill. Her hat was of Yedda Visca straw, trimmed and bound with silk petersham ribbon. She had patent-leather shoes, silk stockings, and eyes of tender gray like the mists of sunrise floating over some magic pool of Fairyland. Does the description suggest anybody to you?”
“No. But she sounds nice.”
“She is nice. I gazed into those eyes only for a moment, but I shall never forget them. They were deeper than the depth of waters stilled at even.”
“I could ask mother who she is.”
“I should be greatly obliged if you would do so,” said Hamilton Beamish. “Mention that it is someone upon whom she is to call at five o’clock tomorrow, and telephone me the name and address. Oh, to seize her and hold her close to me and kiss her, again and again and again! And now, child, tell me of yourself. I think you mentioned that you also were in love.”
“Yes. With George Finch.”
“A capital fellow.”
“He’s a lambkin,” amended Molly warmly.
“A lambkin, if you prefer it.”
“And I asked you to come here today to tell me what I ought to do. You see, mother doesn’t like him.”
“So I gathered.”
“She has forbidden him the house.”
“I suppose it’s because he’s poor.”
Hamilton Beamish was on the point of mentioning that George had an almost indecent amount of money, but he checked himself. Who was he that he should destroy a young girl’s dreams? It was as a romantic and penniless artist that George Finch had won this girl’s heart. It would be cruel to reveal the fact that he was rich and the worst artist in New York.
“Your stepmother,” he agreed, “is apt to see eye to eye with Bradstreet in her estimation of her fellows.”
“I don’t care if he hasn’t any money,” said Molly. “You know that, when I marry, I get that pearl necklace that father bought for mother. It’s being held in trust for me. I can sell it and get thousands of dollars, so that we shall be as right as anything.”
“But, of course, I don’t want to make a runaway marriage if I can help it. I want to be married with bridesmaids and cake and presents and photographs in the rotogravure section and everything.”
“So the point is, mother must learn to love George. Now listen, Jimmy dear. Mother will be going to see her palmist, very soon—she’s always going to palmists, you know.”
HAMILTON BEAMISH nodded. He had not been aware of this trait in Mrs. Waddington’s character, but he could believe anything of her.
“And what you must do is to go to this palmist before mother gets there, and bribe her to say that my only happiness is bound up with a brown-haired artist whose name begins with a G.”
“I scarcely think that even a palmist would make Mrs. Waddington believe that.”
“She believes everything Madame Eulalie sees in the crystal.”
“But hardly that.”
“No, perhaps you’re right. Well, then, you must get Madame Eulalie at least to steer mother off Lord Hunstanton. Last night she told me in so many words that she wanted me to marry him. He’s always here, and it’s awful.”
“I could do that, of course.”
“And you will?”
“You’re a darling. I should think she would do it for ten dollars.”
“Twenty at the outside.”
“Then that’s settled. I knew I could rely on you. By the way, will you tell George something quite casually?”
“Anything you wish.”
“Just mention to him that, if he happens to be strolling in Central Park tomorrow afternoon near the Zoo, we might run into each other.”
Love works a miracle in next week’s installment that will rock your sides. Don’t miss it.
Printer’s errors corrected above:
Magazine had ‘ “I want to see Miss Waddington?” ’
Magazine had ‘ “Mrs. Waddington is not a tome,” he said once more.’
Magazine had “She believes everything Madam Eulalie sees in the crystal.”; corrected to Madame for consistency.