Trouble for Two
Trouble for Two
BY ROBERT W. CHAMBERS
NOW although Harroll had been refused a dozen times—not by Miss Delancy, but by her father,—his naturally optimistic spirits suffered only temporary depression; and a few evenings later he asked for her again, making it a bakers' dozen—an uncanny record.
"Won't you let me try?" he persisted.
"No, I won't," said Mr. Delancy.
"Won't you let me try when I become tenth vice-president of the Half-Moon Title Guarantee and Trust—"
"No, I won't."
"When will you let me try?"
There was no reply.
"Well, sir," said the young man, cheerfully, "there must be some way, of course."
"Really, Jim, I don't see what way," said Mr. Delancy, without emotion. "I don't want you for a son-in-law, and I'm not going to have you. That's one of the reasons I allow you the run of the house. My daughter sees too much of you to care for you. It's a theory of my own, and a good one, too."
"Why don't you want me for a son-in-law?" asked the young man, for the hundredth time.
"Can you give me one single reason why I should want you?" asked Mr. Delancy, wearily.
Harroll stood buried in meditation for a few moments. "No," he said, "I can't recall any important reasons at the moment."
"I can supply you with one—your sense of honor,—but it doesn't count in this case, because you wouldn't be in my house if you didn't have it."
Harroll looked at the fire.
"I've told you a hundred times that when my little girl marries, she marries one of her own kind. I don't like Englishmen. And that is all there is to it, Jim."
"Don't you like me?"
"I'm not infatuated with you."
"Well," said Harroll, slowly pacing the rug in front of the fire, "it's curious, isn't it?—but, do you know, I think that I am going to marry Catharine one of these days?"
"Oh, I think not," replied Mr. Delancy, amiably. "And perhaps this is a good opportunity to say good-by for a while. You know we go to Palm Beach to-morrow?"
"Catharine told me," said the young man, placidly. "So I've wired for quarters at The Breakers—for two weeks."
The two men smiled at one another.
"You take your vacation late," said Mr. Delancy.
"Not too late, I trust."
"You think you can afford Palm Beach, Jim?"
"No; but I'm going."
Mr. Delancy rose and stood thoughtfully twirling his monocle by the string. Then he threw away his cigar, concealed a yawn, and glanced gravely at the clock on the mantel.
"May I go in and say good night to Catharine, sir?" asked young Harroll.
Mr. Delancy looked bored, but nodded civilly enough.
"And, Jim," he drawled, as the young man started toward the drawing-room, "I wouldn't go to Palm Beach if I were you."
"Yes, you would, sir—if you were I."
"My boy," said Mr. Delancy, mildly, "I'm damned if I have you for a son-in-law! Good night."
They shook hands. Harroll walked into the drawing-room and found it empty. The music-room, however, was lighted, and Catharine Delancy sat tucked up in a deep window-seat, studying a map of southern Florida and feeding bonbons to an enormous white Persian cat.
"Jim," she said, raising her dark eyes as he sauntered up, "you and father have lately fallen into the disreputable habit of sitting behind closed doors and gossiping. You have done it thirteen times in three months. Don't be such pigs; scandal, like other pleasures, was meant to be shared."
At a gesture of invitation he seated himself beside her and lifted the Persian pussy to his lap.
"Well," she inquired, "are you really going with us?"
"I can't go when you do, but I'm going to The Breakers for a week or two—solely to keep an eye on your behavior."
"That is jolly!" she said, flushing with pleasure. "Was father pleased when you told him?"
"He didn't say he was pleased."
"He is always reticent," she said, quickly. "But won't it be too jolly for words! We'll travel miles and miles together in bicycle-chairs, and we'll yacht and bathe and ride and golf, and catch amber-jack and sharks, and—you'll persuade father to let me copper just once at the club—won't you?"
"Copper? Indeed! Not much! Where did you hear that sort of talk, Catharine?"
"Don't tweak Omar's tail and I'll tell you,—there! you've done it again, and I won't tell you."
He fell to stroking the cat's fur, gazing the while into space with an absent eye that piqued her curiosity. For a year now he had acquired that trick of suddenly detaching himself from earth and gazing speculatively toward heaven, lost in a revery far from flattering to the ignored onlooker. And now he was doing it again under her very nose. What was he thinking about? He seemed, all at once, a thousand miles removed from her. Where were his thoughts?
Touched in her amour propre, she quietly resumed the map of southern Florida; but even the rustle of the paper did not disturb his self-centred and provoking meditation.
She looked at him, looked at the map, considered him again, and finally watched him.
Suddenly, for the first time in her life, she thought him attractive. Surprised and interested, she regarded him in this new light, impersonally for the moment. So far away from her had he apparently drifted in his meditation that it seemed to her as though she were observing a stranger—a most interesting and most attractive young man.
He turned and looked her straight in the eyes.
Eighteen, and her first season half over, and to be caught blushing like a schoolgirl!
There was no constraint; her self-possession cooled her cheeks;—and he was not looking at her, after all: he was looking through her, at something his fancy focussed far, far beyond her.
Never had she thought any man half as attractive as this old friend in a new light—this handsome, well-built, careless young fellow absorbed in thoughts which excluded her. No doubt he was so habituated to herself in all her moods that nothing except the friendliest indifference could ever—
To her consternation another tint of warm color slowly spread over neck and cheek. He rose at the same moment, dropped the cat back among the cushions, and smiling down at her, held out his hand. She took it, met his eyes with an effort; but what message she divined in them Heaven alone knows, for all at once her heart stood still and a strange thrill left her fingers nerveless in his hand.
He was saying, slowly, "Then I shall see you at Palm Beach next week?"
"Yes.… You will come, won't you?"
"Yes, I will come."
"But if you—change your mind?"
"I never change. Good night."
"Good night.… You may write me if you wish."
"I will write, every day—if you don't mind."
"No—I don't mind," she said, faintly.
She withdrew her hand and stood perfectly still as he left the room. She heard a servant open the door, she heard Harroll's quick step echo on the stoop, then the door closed.
A second later Mr. Delancy in the library was aroused from complacent meditation by the swish of a silken skirt, and glancing up, beheld a tall, prettily formed girl looking at him with sober and rather colorless face.
"Father," she said, "I'm in love with Jim Harroll, and I've just found it out!"
Mr. Delancy groped for his monocle, screwed it into his left eye, and examined his daughter.
"It's true, and I thought I'd better tell you," she said, breathlessly.
"Yes," he agreed, "it's as well to let me know. Ah—er—how did it occur?"
"Why, I don't know, father. I was feeding Omar bonbons and looking over the map of South Florida, and thinking about nothing in particular, when Jim came in. He said he was going to Palm Beach, and I said, 'How jolly!' and he sat down and picked up Omar, and—I don't know how it was, but I began to think him very attractive, and the first thing I knew I—it—happened!"
"Oh! So that's the way it happened?"
"I think it was, father."
"No doubt you'll outgrow it."
"Do you think so, father?"
"I haven't a doubt of it, little daughter."
Mr. Delancy dropped his monocle and looked at the fire. The fire was all right.
"Do you—do you suppose that Jim is—does—thinks—knows—" she faltered.
"I never speculate on what Jim is, does, thinks, or knows," said her father, thoughtfully, stirring the embers and spoiling a perfectly good fire. When he looked up again she had gone.
"One theory smashed!" observed Mr. Delancy. "I'll try another, with separation as the main ingredient."
He sat down before the fire and lighted a fresh cigar, which wasn't good for him.
"Must avoid making a martyr of Jim or there will be trouble," he mused. "There remains another way—make a martyr of myself."
He sat swinging his monocle around his forefinger, gazing vacantly at the pattern the shadows cast across the hearth.
"Avalon!" he said, abruptly. "Avalon! The I back-to-nature' business, 'grass-cure' and all. It can't harm either Catharine or me, I fancy,—or any other pair of donkeys!"
A Note found by young Harroll on his Dresser the Evening of his Arrival at Palm Beach.
"Dear Jim,—Everything is spoiled, after all! Father's failing health has suddenly become a serious matter, and we are going to try the 'nature cure,' or whatever they call it, at Avalon Island. I had no idea he was really ill. Evidently he is alarmed, for we have only been here six days, and in a few minutes we are to start for Avalon. Isn't it perfectly horrid? And to think that you are coming this evening and expecting to find us here!
"Father says you can't come to Avalon; that only invalids are received (I didn't know I was one, but it seems I'm to take the treatment too!), and he says that nobody is received for less than a month's treatment, so I suppose that bars you even if you were self-sacrificing enough to endure a 'nature cure' for the pleasure of spending two weeks with [me, crossed out] us.
"I'm actually on the verge of tears when I think of all we had planned to do together! And there's my maid at the door, knocking. Good-by. You will write, won't you?
Mr. James Harroll to Miss Catharine Delancy, Avalon, Balboa County, Florida.
"Holy Cross Light, February 15, 1903.
"Dear Catharine,—Your father was right: they refuse to take me at Avalon. As soon as I found your note I telegraphed to Avalon for accommodations. It seems Avalon is an island, and they have to wait for the steamers to carry telegrams over from the mainland. So the reply has just reached me that they won't take me for less than a month; and my limit from business is two weeks or give up my position with your father.
"Yesterday I came out here to Holy Cross Spring to shoot ducks. I'd scarcely begun shooting, at dawn, when along came a couple of men through the fog, rowing like the mischief plump into my decoys, and I shouted out, 'What the deuce are you about?' and they begged my pardon, and said they had thought the point unoccupied, and that the fog was thicker than several things,—which was true.
"So I invited them into the blind to—oh, the usual ceremony—and they came, and they turned out to be Jack Selden—the chap I told you about who was so decent to me in Paris—and his guide.
"So we had—ceremonies—several of them,—and Selden stayed to shoot with me over my decoys, and our bag was fifty-three, all big duck except fifteen bluebills.
"Selden is a godsend to me. We're going to stay out here to-night at the lighthouse, and shoot all to-morrow if it doesn't blow too hard. It's blowing great guns now. I'm here in the lighthouse, writing in the glow of a lamp in the keeper's living-room, with his good little wife sewing by the fire and a half-dozen of his kids tumbling about on the floor. It's a pretty sight; I love children and firesides and that sort of thing. They've got hold of Selden now, and are making him tell stories of adventure. He's been all over the world, and is perfectly crazy to get married. Says he should prefer a widow with yellow hair and blue eyes. Do you know any? He's a nice chap.
"Catharine, I wish I were in Avalon. They could put me in a strait-jacket and I wouldn't care as long as [you were, crossed out] I could be with [you, crossed out] your father and you in Avalon.
"It's growing late, and Selden and I should be on the ducking-grounds to-morrow before dawn. The keeper's wife says it will blow too hard, but Selden only smiles. He's a cool one, and if he has the nerve to go out I'll go too.
"With sincere regards to your father and every wish for his speedy recovery, I remain
Lines scribbled on the Leaf of a Note-book and found in a Bottle in the Pocket of an old Shooting-coat a Year later.
Miles south of Holy Cross Light,
February 16, 1903.
Telegram to James Harroll, received and opened by the Keeper while Search-boats were still out after Mr. Harroll and Mr. Selden, two Days missing.
"James Harroll, Holy Cross Light, Florida, East Coast:
"Don't run any risks. Be careful for our sakes. Terrible storm on the coast reported here. Wire me that you are safe
Telegrams addressed to young Harroll, and opened by the Keeper of the Lighthouse after the Search-boats had returned.
"Why don't you telegraph us? Your silence and the reports of the storm alarm us. Reply at once.
"For pity's sake telegraph to me that you are safe. I cannot sleep.
Telegram to Miss Catharine Delancy, Avalon, Florida.
"Holy Cross Light
"Miss Catharine Delancy:
"Rowboat containing Mr. Harroll and Mr. Selden blown out to sea. Search-boats returned without finding any trace of them.
Telegram from Mr. Delancy to Keeper of Holy Cross Light.
"Charter a fast ocean-going tug and as many launches as necessary. Don't give up the search. Spare no expense. Check mailed to you to-day.
"I will give ten thousand dollars to the man who rescues James Harroll. You may draw on me for any amount. Keep me constantly informed of your progress by wire.
In from the open sea drifted the castaways, the sun rising in tropic splendor behind them, before them a far strip of snowy surf edging green shores.
Selden sat in the bow, bailing; Harroll dug vigorously into the Atlantic with both oars; a heavy flood-tide was doing the rest. Presently Selden picked up the ducking-glass and examined the shore.
Harroll rested on his oars, took a pull at the mineral water, and sighed deeply.
"Except for the scare and the confounded leak it's been rather amusing, hasn't it?" he said.
"It's all right.… Hope you didn't set that farewell message afloat."
"Oh—I thought I saw you scribbling in your note-book and—"
"And stick the leaf into the bottle of gun-oil. If I was mistaken, kindly give me my bottle of gun-oil."
"Pooh!" said Harroll. "The storm was magnificent. Can't a man jot down impressions? Open a can of sardines, will you? And pass me the bread, you idiot!"
Selden constructed a sandwich and passed it aft. "When we near those ducks," he said, "we'd better give them a broadside;—our larder's getting low. I'll load for us both."
He fished about among the cartridge-sacks for some dry shells, loaded the guns, and laid them ready.
"Bluebills," observed Harroll, as the boat drew near. "How tame they are! Look, Selden! It would be murder to shoot."
The boat, drifting rapidly, passed in among the raft of ducks; here and there a glistening silver-breasted bird paddled lazily out of the way, but the bulk of the flock floated serenely on either side, riding the swell, bright golden eyes fearlessly observing the intruders.
"Oh, a man can't shoot at things that act like that!" exclaimed Selden, petulantly. "Shoo! Shoo—o!" he cried, waving his gun in hopes that a scurry and rise might justify assassination. But the birds only watched him in perfect confidence. The boat drove on; the young men sat staring across the waves, guns idly balanced across their knees. Presently Harroll finished his sandwich and resumed the oars.
"Better bail some more," he said. "What are you looking at?"—for Selden, using the ducking-glass, had begun to chuckle.
"Well, upon my word!" he said, slowly—"of all luck! Where do you suppose we are?"
"Well, where the devil are we?"
"Avalon!" repeated Harroll, stupidly. "Why, man, it's a hundred miles south of Holy Cross!"
"Well, we've made it, I tell you. I can see one of their dinky little temples shining among the trees. Hark! There go the bells ringing for meditation!"
A mellow chime came across the water.
"It can't be Avalon," repeated Harroll, not daring to hope for such fortune. "What do you know about Avalon, anyway?"
"What I've heard."
"Why, it's a resort for played-out people who've gone the pace. When a girl dances herself into the fidgets, or a Newport matron goes to pieces, or a Wall Street man begins to talk to himself, hither they toddle. It's the fashionable round-up for smashed nerves and wibbly-wobbly intellects,—a sort of 'back-to-nature' enterprise run by a 'doctor.' He makes 'em all wear garments cut in the style of the humble bed-sheet, and then he turns 'em out to grass; and they may roll on it or frisk on it or eat it if they like. Incidentally, I believe, they're obliged to wallow in the ocean several times a day, run races afoot, chuck the classic discus, go barefooted and sandal-shod, wear wreaths of flowers instead of hats, meditate in silence when the temple bells ring, eat grain and fruit and drink milk, and pay enormous bills to the quack who runs the place. It must be a merry life, Harroll. No tobacco, no billiards, no bridge. And hit the downy at nine-thirty by the curfew!"
"Good Lord!" muttered Harroll.
"That's Avalon," repeated Selden. "And we're almost there. Look sharp! Stand by for a ducking! This surf means trouble ahead!"
It certainly did; the boat soared skyward on the crest of the swell; a smashing roller hurled it into the surf, smothering craft and crew in hissing foam. A second later two heads appeared, and two half-suffocated young men floundered up the beach and dropped, dripping and speechless, on the sand.
They lay inert for a while, salt water oozing at every pore. Harroll was the first to sit up.
"Right?" he inquired.
"All right. Where's the boat?"
"Ashore below us." He rose, dripping, and made off toward the battered boat, which lay in the shoals, heeled over. Selden followed; together they dragged the wreck up high and dry; then they sat down on the sand, eying one another.
"It's a fine day," said Selden, with a vacant grin. He rolled over on his back, clutching handfuls of hot sand.
"Isn't this immense?" he said. "My! how nice and dry and solid everything is! Roll on your back, Harroll! You'll enjoy it more that way."
But Harroll got up and began dragging the guns and cartridge-sacks, from the boat.
"I've some friends here," he said, briefly. "Come on."
"Are your friends hospitably inclined to the shipwrecked? I'm about ready to be killed with hospitality," observed Selden, shouldering gun and sack and slopping along in his wet boots.
They entered a thicket of sweet-bay and palmetto, breast-high, and forced a path through toward a bit of vivid green lawn, which gave underfoot like velvet.
"There's a patient now—in his toga," said Selden, in a low voice. "Better hit him with a piteous tale of shipwreck, hadn't we?"
The patient was seated on a carved bench of marble under the shade of a live-oak. His attitude suggested ennui; he yawned at intervals; at intervals he dug in the turf with idle bare toes.
"The back of that gentleman's head," said Harroll, "resembles the back of a head I know."
"Oh. One of those friends you mentioned?"
"Well—I never saw him in toga and sandals, wearing a wreath of flowers on his head. Let's take a front view."
The squeaky, sloppy sound of Selden's hip-boots aroused the gentleman in the toga from his attitude of bored meditation.
"How do you do, sir?" said Harroll, blandly. "I thought I'd come to Avalon."
The old gentleman fumbled in his toga, found a monocle, screwed it firmly into his eye, and inspected Harroll from head to heel.
"You're rather wet, Jim," he said, steadying his voice.
Harroll admitted it. "This is my old friend Jack Selden—the Lenox Seldens, you know, sir." And he reverently named Mr. Delancy.
"How do?" said Mr. Delancy. "You're wet too."
There was a silence. Mr. Delancy executed a facial contortion which released the monocle. Then he touched his faded eyes with the hem of his handkerchief. The lashes and furrowed cheeks were moist.
"You're so devilish abrupt, Jim," he said. "Did you get any telegrams from us?"
"Telegrams? No, sir. When?"
"No matter," said Mr. Delancy.
Another silence, and Harroll said: "Fact is, sir, we were blown out to sea, and that's how we came here. I fancy Selden wouldn't mind an invitation to dinner and a chance to dry his clothes."
Selden smiled hopefully and modestly as Mr. Delancy surveyed him.
"Pray accept my hospitality, gentlemen," said Mr. Delancy, with a grim smile. "I've been ass enough to take a villa in this forsaken place. The food I have to offer you might be relished by squirrels, perhaps; the clothing resembles my own, and can be furnished you by the simple process of removing the sheets from your beds."
He rose, flung the flap of his toga over one shoulder, and passed his arm through Harroll's.
"Don't you like it here?" asked Harroll.
"Like it!" repeated Mr. Delancy.
"But—why did you come?"
"I came," said Mr. Delancy, slowly, "because I desired to be rid of you."
Selden instinctively fell back out of ear-shot. Harroll reddened.
"I thought your theory was—"
"You smashed that theory; now you've shattered this,—you and Catharine between you."
Harroll looked thoughtfully at Selden, who stood watching two pretty girls playing handball on the green.
"Young man," said Mr. Delancy, "do you realize what I've been through in one week? I have been obliged to wear this unspeakable garment, I've been obliged to endure every species of tomfoolery, I've been fed on bird-seed, deprived of cigars, and sent to bed at half past nine. And I'm as sound in limb and body as you are. And all because I desired to be rid of you. I had two theories; both are smashed. I refuse to entertain any more theories concerning anything!"
Harroll laughed; then his attention became concentrated on the exquisite landscape, where amid green foliage white villas of Georgia marble glimmered, buried in blossoming thickets of oleander, wistaria, and Cherokee roses,—where through the trees a placid lake lay reflecting the violet sky,—where fallow-deer wandered, lipping young maple buds,—where beneath a pergola heavily draped with golden jasmine a white-robed figure moved in the shade;—a still, sunny world of green and gold and violet exhaling incense under a cloudless sky.
"I should like to see Catharine," he said, slowly, "with your permission—and in view of the fate of the theories."
"Jim," said Mr. Delancy, "you are doubtless unconscious of the trouble you have created in my family."
"Trouble, sir?" repeated the young man, flushing up.
"Trouble for two. My daughter and I believed you drowned."
Harroll stood perfectly still. Mr. Delancy took a step or two forward, turned, and came back across the lawn. "She is sitting under that pergola yonder, looking out to sea, and I'm afraid she's crying her eyes out for something she wants. It's probably not good for her, either. But—such as it is—she may have it."
The two men looked at one another steadily.
"I'm rather glad you were not drowned," said Mr. Delancy, "but I'm not infatuated with you."
They shook hands solemnly, then Mr. Delancy walked over and joined Selden, who appeared to be fascinated by an attractive girl in Greek robes and sandals who was playing handball on the green.
"Young man," said Mr. Delancy, "there's always trouble for two in this world. That young woman with yellow hair and violet eyes who is playing handball with her sister, and who appears to hypnotize you, is here to recuperate from the loss of an elderly husband."
"A widow with blue eyes!" murmured Selden, entranced.
"Precisely. Your train, however, leaves to-night—unless you mean to remain here on a diet of bird-seed."
Selden smiled absently. Bird-seed had no terror for him.
"Besides," he said, "I'm rather good at handball."
A moment later he looked around, presumably for Harroll. That young man was already half-way to the jasmine-covered arbor, where a young girl sat, dry-eyed, deathly pale, staring out to sea.
The sea was blue and smiling; the soft thunder of the surf came up to her. She heard the gulls mewing in the sky and the hum of bees in the wind-stirred blossoms; she saw a crested osprey plunge into the shallows and a great tarpon fling its mass of silver into the sun. Paroquets gleaming like living jewels rustled and preened in the china-trees; black and gold butterflies, covered with pollen, crawled over and over the massed orange bloom. Ah, the mask of youth that the sly world wore to mock her! Ah, the living lie of the sky, and the false, smooth sea fawning at her feet!
Little persuasive breezes came whispering, plucking at the white hem of her robe to curry favor; the surf purred, blinking with a million iridescent bubbles. The smug smile of nature appalled her; its hypocrisy sickened her; and she bent her dark eyes fiercely on the sea and clenched her little hands.
"Give up your dead!" she whispered. "Give up your dead!"
Dazed, she rose to her sandalled feet, the white folds of her robe falling straight and slim.
Her voiceless lips repeated his name; she swayed, steadying herself by the arm around her waist.
Then trouble for two began.