The Red Book Magazine/Volume 1/Number 1/The Disbanding of the Aline Society
The Disbanding of the Aline Society
Membership in the Aline Society was limited to twelve, and nobody was eligible to election except men who had proposed to the young woman whose name the club bore. Vacancies (due to the ravages of death and marriage) were filled by a vote of the remaining eleven, a unanimous vote being necessary to an election.
By virtue of having proposed oftenest and having begun earliest, Jim Hathaway was president. He proposed irregularly, but never let more than three months elapse without speaking. Then there was young Marsden, a rising attorney, who lacked nothing but clients and a knowledge of the law; Jack Hollinsworth, the newspaper free lance, who had a standing difference of opinion with magazine editors as to whether he could write fiction; Tommie Smith, good fellow from the head to the heel of him despite the fact that he was a millionaire; Jerry Winston, with a doctor’s degree from Columbia and a past master’s degree from the school of life in the art of flirting; and seven other young fellows, clean cut as one would care to meet. Not a bore among them; and not one who showed the first symptoms of being a cad. It was these two facts that made the society a possibility. Outside of the twelve, nobody knew of the society’s existence, except the divinity they worshiped—and she was immensely proud of it, as she had a right to be.
There came a time when Jerry Winston fell from grace. A nice girl with pink and white cheeks was the cause of it. At least she was the immediate cause. Winston himself was guilty of contributory negligence in not fleeing while there was yet time, and a fine lonely beach and moonlight nights were particeps criminis. Of course there were hundreds of other people on the beach, but as neither Jerry nor the girl had eyes or ears for them it did not matter. His fellow-members of the society assisted at the obsequies jauntily, but each of them wore a little bit of crape beneath the lapel of his dress-coat. A lad named Jack Harley, just out of college, was elected to fill the vacancy due to Winston’s untimely taking-off.
Young Harley was very much eligible to membership. If he had cried in the market-place “I go a-wooing,” his purpose had not been more patent to his amused clubmates. He hadn’t a copper to call his own; his face was so homely that it was positively attractive; he was rather painfully callow at times. But he went after the heiress as abruptly and as insistently as he had been wont to smash the enemy’s foot-ball interference. When he got his big shoulders into play something had to give. He was cheerfully unconscious of the fact that the betting was a hundred to one against him, and if he had known it he wouldn’t have minded in the least. Nor would he have minded ‘that the world at large was uncharitably distrustful of his motives. It was Aline he wanted, not her coupons; and it didn’t matter a rap what outsiders thought about it.
The point about Harley was that he didn’t know when he was beaten. The other fellows wooed her with a premonition of defeat. Their manner suggested an apology for daring to aspire to such a stunning combination of wealth and beauty. But Harley’s foot-ball had taught him that it is better to keep on playing until the referee calls “Time,” and that the game is never lost until the last scrimmage is over. To the casual observer, at least, he was cheerfully oblivious of any possibility of failure. It wasn’t that he ever said so; he simply beamed it from his mobile, homely face.
Once a year, on her birthday, the Aline Club met at the rooms of the president and dined in state. The members appeared in dress and made a function out of the affair. About four months after Harley was voted into membership, the committee began making preparations for the celebration of the event. Meanwhile Harley had been playing havoc with the predictions of his fellow-clubmen. They had at first been amused at his serene confidence and undeviating perseverance, had waited with composure for the inevitable result, and had finally dropped into an attitude of uneasy expectancy. The question of Aline’s mental attitude was beginning to worry them. It was hardly conceivable that the cub would win where they had all failed. Still he certainly did seem to be making the running.
In point of fact, Aline herself was as much disturbed as her admirers and her relatives. Jack Harley alone was serenely at his ease regarding the outcome. The young woman had at first been frankly amused at his open devotion. The fact of the devotion was an old story, but the quality of it was delightfully fresh. She couldn’t help feeling that it was a bit cheeky for the boy (he was only a year her senior) to elbow aside the millionaires and other “prominent citizens” who got in his way.
All warnings were quite lost on him. Her mother might look at this youth out of her pince-nez in her severest manner without abating one jot his genial smile. He had the knack of stationing himself at Aline’s side and holding his ground against all comers. But whether it was cheeky or not, the pure nerve of the youth fascinated her. It was delightful to be made love to openly and frankly, just as if she had been any country girl. There was an insistent quality, something big and forceful, about him that stayed with her after he had gone. She got to thinking of him more than she wanted to, and there was always something of admiration in her thoughts of him.
For one thing, he was not afraid of her. Because she was rich and beautiful and looked haughty, most men feared; but Jack Harley was as free and easy with her, in his gentlemanly way, as if she had been a freckle-faced, bare-foot, snub-nosed, country girl.
Because he was so much in her mind, Aline, who really hadn’t the least desire to fall in love with this ineligible, began to snub him. Harley laughed at her cheerfully, and refused to recognize the fact. Really, she admitted to herself with a little embarrassed laugh, she didn’t know what to do with him—unless she married him to get rid of him.
To be tardy at the Aline Club on the night of the great birthday banquet was the one unforgivable offense. Naturally when the hour arrived and the president counted noses to find that “Cub” Harley’s Roman was not of those present, the feeling was prevalent that Master Jack was taking too many liberties for a new member. They sat down to table without him, and he came in, full of smiling apologies, after the soup. The toast of the evening was always given by the president. The members drank it standing, and then dropped their glasses to the floor. Just before it was given on this occasion, young Harley handed a slip of paper to Hathaway, who rose with the paper still unread.
“To Her,” he said, simply.
After the toast had been drunk he opened the slip of paper and stared at it as one fascinated. Presently he rose to his feet and said, solemnly: “Gentlemen, the society is disbanded from this evening. I have to inform you that—that Mr. Harley—is to be congratulated. Allow me, Mr. Harley, as the president of the society, to offer you my personal congratulations.”
Hathaway shook hands across the table with young Harley, and sat down, smiling a little wistfully. What each man thought has not been told, but what each man did is a matter of record. They gathered around Harley and shook hands with him and wished him all kinds of luck and joy. Then they gathered ’round the fireplace and looked into the glowing coals and sang “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.” After which, no doubt, they went home and looked on a certain photograph of a dark-haired beauty smiling elusively, and then they probably sighed and squared their shoulders in the fashion of men who are hard hit, but not down.
This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.
The longest-living author of this work died in 1954, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 68 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.
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