The Advantage of Being Amusing
THE ADVANTAGE OF BEING AMUSING
By Ralph Henry Barbour
"YOU'VE no business coming here at this time of day," said Myra, severely.
I drew out my watch and glanced at it in surprise. "But it's nearly half-past ten," I objected.
"What?" exclaimed Myra.
"That is, it's eight minutes after," I amended. "And, anyhow, it's very late. Why, I've been up for hours and hours, inhaling the delicious morning air, walking beside the dew-spangled hedges and listening to the matin-songs of—of—the crows."
Myra sniffed, derisively. "Non sense! You're not more than half- awake now." I opened my eyes very, very wide to disprove the accusation, and sat up as straight as possible in the basket-chair. "And I don't care how long you've been up," she went on; "you've no business coming here at this hour and interrupting affairs."
"Oh, Myra! Another affair?"
"I've other things to do than to sit on the porch and talk to you!"
"There was a time—" I began, in gentle melancholy.
Myra sniffed again. I began to wonder if she had taken cold at the hop last evening.
"What do you wish?" she demanded.
"Yes; why are you here?"
"Oh!" I settled back comfortably in the chair and brought my right knee up to the level of my chin, by means of my cane. Myra maintained her position on the porch rail, despite that I glanced invitingly toward a neighboring chair. She looked very well there, with her light-brown hair resting against the sun-flecked screen. For a moment I viewed her with much satisfaction, before replying to her imperative question. Then:
"I came to commiserate," I said, kindly.
"Commiserate! About what?"
"Concealment is impossible," I answered, gravely. "I know all. As soon as I heard it, I flew to your side. I bring sympathy, Myra."
"Don't be silly," she begged. "What is it you've heard?"
"I heard— May I smoke?" Myra nodded. I lighted a cigar, with extraordinary deliberation. Then, "I heard of your engagement," I resumed, sorrowfully. Myra strove to look indifferent. She even laughed; but her laugh rang false, I thought.
"To whom?" she asked.
"To Brooke Livingstone."
Myra appeared annoyed. "Who told you?" she demanded.
"Well, a little bird——"
"Huh! One of those crows, I suppose? You're——"
"That's a rhyme; you must say something or do something; what is it?"
"Keep still," she said, imperiously.
"All right; but you'll not get your wish. Don't blame me. I told you in plenty of time. All you had to do was—to—er—throw some salt over your shoulder—or say your prayers backward——"
"Who—told—you?" with peculiar emphasis.
"Miss Needham," I answered, humbly.
"I thought so!" triumphed Myra. "I just thought so!"
"Did you? Why?"
"Because she's—she's always saying things about other people, always gossiping! And it's just like you to listen to her!"
"I couldn't help it. If you'd given me the waltz I asked for, I wouldn't have been driven to seek her society; and, further, if I hadn't sought her society, she wouldn't have told me the awful truth; and there you are. You see, Myra, it is all your fault."
"There were plenty of other girls," answered Myra, warmly. "You didn't have to go to her, I fancy."
"It was fate," I replied, shaking my head sadly. "I spent a wretched night. I tossed and turned all through the long hours——"
"I see you!" she scoffed.
I looked hurt; or, at least, I tried to. I do not believe it was a success, for Myra's countenance did not soften. Instead, she said, after a moment, with a sigh of resignation:
"Well, begin, and let's get it over with."
"Begin?" I questioned; "begin what?"
"Oh!" At the expense of much trouble, I sat forward and reached for her hand. She drew it away, sharply. I shrugged my shoulders. "I'm sorry, but I can't commiserate with any one unless I hold her hand. It's absolutely necessary."
"Then you might as well go back to the hotel," she answered, cruelly.
But I shook my head. "I have a duty to perform, Myra. Far be it from me to allow my personal inclinations to interfere with the discharge of my duty. Nay, perish the thought!"
"Well, if your duty is to sprawl here all the morning in that chair, and smoke horrid cigars——"
"You noticed it?" I cried, eagerly. "It is awful, isn't it? It's one of his, Livingstone's. Do you know, Myra"—I dropped my voice to a hoarse whisper and looked suspiciously about the porch—"do you know, I half-believe he's trying to get me out of the way, to poison me off; else, why this?" I looked accusingly at the cigar.
"Well, if he finds you as tiresome as I do," replied Myra, "he's not altogether to blame."
"How sharper than a servant's tooth—" I began. Myra slid off the railing.
"I'm going in," she announced, calmly.
"One moment!" I implored. "Tell me, is it—am I to believe the worst?"
"I'll not tell you. If you wish to know any more you may go back to Stella Needham. Besides, it's none of your affair whether I'm engaged to Mr. Livingstone or not."
"Well, really, Myra, considering that I have promised to marry you myself——"
"Our engagement is broken off, and you know it very well!" she answered, sharply.
I shook my head in remonstrance. "No, Myra, that is not absolutely true. Let us, whatever happens, be quite honest with each other. You broke your half of our engagement, but I have never concurred; so, at least, you are half-engaged. As your half-fiancé, I must protest against this—er—this folly."
"I don't care a—a——"
"—a continental for your protest! You may protest until you're black in the face."
"If I want to marry Mr. Livingstone, I shall!"
"But how about me? Now, look here, Myra, I'm not one to disparage a rival, but I beg of you to pause in your mad career and consider one or two things."
Myra paused in her mad career, long enough to sit perilously on the edge of the bamboo table and swing a very small shoe in a manner that suggested irritation. I relighted my cigar, which had gone out during the excitement, and then faced her, gravely.
"I ask you, Myra, to compare the attractions, the merits, the charms of Brooke Livingstone with mine. Let us go about it systematically. First, as to worldly wealth——"
"Money isn't everything," said Myra, shortly.
"Your tone implies that it isn't anything," I responded; "so, we'll let it go. Secondly, as to—er—position——"
"Mr. Livingstone is quite prominent socially and quite——"
"Exactly; just what I was about to say. The score is one—and. Thirdly, as to personal—er—attraction."
Myra grinned. I frowned, severely.
"Brooke Livingstone has, I will ac knowledge, a certain—er—physical beauty, which, as a whole, is satisfying. But, if we proceed to analyze it, we find that it is deceptive. For instance, his nose——"
"His nose is beautiful!" cried Myra.
"I grant you that it is well shaped and regular——"
"It's a very good nose!"
"I've no objections to make to it on the score of morals," I went on. "It may, as you say, be a very good nose; possibly, it never inserts itself into other persons' affairs——"
"Noses are different," commented Myra, softly.
"—or otherwise misbehaves. But—but it lacks character. Now, my nose——"
Myra giggled, impolitely, openly.
"My nose, while not what one could term classical, shows a marvelous depth of character. You will observe that it is not over-long and is slightly—er—let us say, retroussé. It is a good-natured nose, a fair-minded nose, a nose which would prompt you to say, upon observing it, 'Here is a man who will make a good husband.' Isn't that so?"
"I had never noticed it," giggled Myra.
"Well, let us take up the subject of mouths," I continued. "Now, that feature of Brooke Livingstone's countenance is decidedly misleading. At first glance it pleases, but——"
"You're very tiresome," interrupted Myra. "Mr. Livingstone is very, very handsome, and it is quite useless for you to say that he is not."
"Quite; I have no intention of saying so. He is handsome. But compare him with me, Myra! Look first on that picture, then on this." Again Myra gave way to unseemly merriment.
"You're levity itself," I murmured, sadly.
"I—I'm comparing!" laughed Myra.
"Mind you," I went on, judicially, "I do not assert that I am handsomer than Livingstone, judged, that is, by the ordinary standards. But I do say that my features are far more interesting, more—er—unusual, unique. In studying my face you are forever meeting with astounding incongruities, constantly finding new surprises. I say, proudly, that my features are far from commonplace; never once do they descend to the plane of mediocre regularity. My nose and mouth are of entirely different 'schools,' if I may use the term in such a connection; my chin and forehead are widely separated, not, you understand, by facial space, but rather by such an interim as exists between the Age of Stone and that of Electricity. Even my eyes are not from the same model; the left is of a beautiful, melting brown, the right of an equally lovely but quite different shade of hazel. In short——"
"Bother!" interrupted Myra, rather crossly. "Your features are very nice; not—handsome, exactly—but——"
"Interesting?" I prompted, hopefully.
"And I? You find me—the same?"
"Well, I'm not sure about interesting," Myra replied, apparently weighing her words with much care, "but—at times—amusing."
"Thank you," I breathed, gratefully.
"Vastly amusing," repeated Myra.
"And in comparison with Brooke——?"
"Hush!" whispered Myra. She held up a warning hand and peeped out through a slit in the screen. I listened. Steps were crunching the gravel of the driveway and some one was whistling, blithely. Myra's face expressed annoyance, or so I fancied. I raised a corner of the screen with my cane and looked. Mr. Brooke Livingstone approached. I sighed. The chair was very comfortable, and Myra——
She turned from the screen.
"Hush!" she whispered again.
"Hush!" I repeated. I felt like a conspirator, and seized my cigar-case from the table, resolved to sell my life dearly. Behind us an open window showed the dim recesses of the library. Myra, finger on lips, stepped across the sill. I followed. We laughed softly together in the darkness. A cane tapped the steps outside.
Myra drew the curtain.