MISS Cynthia Meyrick was a good many girls in one. So many, indeed, that i_ight truthfully be added that while most people are never so much alone a_hen in a crowd, Miss Meyrick was never so much in a crowd as when alone. Mos_f these girls were admirable, a few were more mischievous than admirable, bu_ely upon it that every single one of them was nice.
It happened to be as a very serious-minded girl that Miss Meyrick opened he_yes on Tuesday morning. She lay for a long time watching the Florid_unshine, spoken of so tenderly in the railroad's come-on books, as it dance_cross the foot of her bed. To-day the _Lileth_ was to steam into San Marc_arbor! To-day her bridegroom was to smile his slow British smile on her onc_ore! She recalled these facts without the semblance of a thrill.
Where, she wondered, was the thrill? The frivolous girl who had met Lor_arrowby abroad, and dazzled by dreams of social triumphs to come had allowe_er aunt to urge her into this betrothal, was not present at the moment. Ha_he been, she would have declared this Cynthia Meyrick a silly, and laughe_er into gaiety again.
Into the room toddled the aunt who had stood so faithfully on the coachin_ine abroad. With heavy wit, she spoke of the coming of Lord Harrowby. Mis_ynthia did not smile. She turned grave eyes on her aunt.
"I'm wondering," she confessed. "Was it the thing to do, after all? Shall I b_o very happy?"
"Nonsense. Ninety-nine out of a hundred engaged girls have doubts. It'_atural." Aunt Mary sat down on the bed, which groaned in agony. "Of cours_ou'll be happy. You'll take precedence over Marion Bishop—didn't we look tha_p? And after the airs she's put on when she's come back to Detroit—well, yo_ught to be the happiest of girls."
"I know—but—" Miss Meyrick continued to gaze solemnly at her aunt. She wa_ccustomed to the apparition. To any one who knew Aunt Mary only in her publi_ppearances, a view of her now would have been startling. Not to go too deepl_nto the matter, she had not yet been poured into the steel girders tha_etermined her public form. Her washed-out eyes were puffy, and her gray hai_as not so luxurious as it would be when she appeared in the hotel diningroo_or lunch. There she sat, a fat little lump of a woman who had all her lif_hased will-o'the-wisps.
"But what?" she demanded firmly.
"It seems as if all my fun were over. Didn't you feel that way when you becam_ngaged?"
"Hardly. But then—I hadn't enjoyed everything money will buy, as you have.
I've always said you had too much. There, dear—cheer up. You don't seem t_ealize. Why, I can remember when you were born—in the flat down on Secon_treet—and your father wearing his old overcoat another year to pay th_octor's bill. And now that little fluffy baby is to marry into the peerage!
Bless you, how proud your mother would be had she lived—"
"Are you sure, Aunt Mary?"
"Positive." Aunt Mary's eyes filled, and with ,i show of real, if clums_ffection, she leaned over and kissed her niece. "Come, dear, get up. I'v_rdered breakfast in the rooms."
Miss Cynthia sat up. And as if banished by that act, the serious little mous_f a girl scampered into oblivion, and in her place appeared a gay young rogu_ho sees the future lying bright ahead.
"After all," she smiled, "I'm not married— yet." And humming brightly from _urrent musical comedy—"Not just yet—just yet—just yet—" she stretched fort_ne slim white arm to throw aside the coverlet. At which point it is bes_iscreetly to withdraw.
Mr. Minot, after a lonesome if abundant breakfast, was at this momen_trolling across the hotel courtyard toward yesterday morning's New Yor_apers. As he walked, the pert promises of Mr. Trimmer filled his mind. Wha_as the proposition Mr. Trimmer had in tow? How would it affect th_pproaching wedding? And what course of action should the representative o_ephson pursue when it was revealed? For in the sensible light of morning Dic_inot realized that while he remained in San Marco as the guardian o_ephson's interests, he must do his duty. Adorable Miss Meyrick might be, bu_ny change of mind on her part must be over his dead body. A promise was _romise.
With this resolve firm, he proceeded along the hot sidewalk of San Sebastia_venue. On his right the rich shops again, a dignified Spanish church as ol_s the town, a rambling lackadaisical "opera-house." On his left the green an_and colored plaza, with the old Spanish governor's house in the center, no_erving Uncle Sam as post-office. A city of the past was this; "other times, other manners" breathed in the air.
At the news-stand Minot met Jack Paddock, jaunty, with a gardenia in hi_uttonhole and the atmosphere of prosperity that goes with it.
"Come for a stroll," Paddock suggested. "I presume you want the giddy story o_y life I promised you yesterday? Been down to the old Spanish fort yet? No?
Come ahead, and there on the ramparts I'll impart."
They went down the narrow and very modern street of the souvenir venders.
Suddenly the street ended, and they walked again in the past. The remnants o_he old city gates restored, loomed in the sunlight. They stepped through th_ortals, and Minot gave a gasp.
There in the quiet morning stood the great gray fort that the early settler_ad built to protect themselves from the gay dogs who roamed the seas. It_assive walls spoke clearly of romance, of bloody days of cutlass and spike, of bandaged heads and ready arms. Such things still stood! Still stood in th_nited States— land of steam radiators and men who marched in suffrag_arades!
The old caretaker let them in, and they went up the stone steps to stand a_ast on the parapet looking down on the shimmering sea. To Minot, fresh fro_roadway, it all seemed like a colorful dream. They climbed to the highes_oint and sat, swinging their legs over the edge. Far below the bright blu_aters broke on the lower walls.
"It's a funny country down here," Paddock said slowly. "A sort of too-good-to- be-true, who-believes-it place. Bright and gay and full of green palms, and s_uch like a musical comedy you keep waiting all the time for the curtain to g_own and the male population to begin its march up the aisle. I've been her_hree months, and I don't yet think it's really true."
He shifted on the cold stones.
"Ever since white men hit on it," he went on, "it's sort of kept luring the_ere on fool dream hunts—like a woman. Along about the time old Ponce de Leo_ame over here prospecting for the fountain that nobody but Lillian Russel_as located yet, another Spaniard—I forget his name —had a pipe dream, too. H_ame over hot-foot looking for a mountain of gold he dreamed was here. I'_orry for that old boy."
"Sorry for him?" repeated Minot.
"Yes—sorry. He had the right idea, but he arrived several hundred years to_oon. He should have waited until the yellow rich from the North showed u_ere. Then he'd have found his mountain—he'd have found a whole range o_hem."
"I suppose I'm to infer," Mr. Minot said, "that where he failed, you'v_anded."
"Yes, Dick. I am right on the mountain with my little alpenstock in hand."
"I'm sorry," replied Minot frankly. "You might have amounted to something i_ou'd been separated from money long enough."
"So I've heard," Paddock said with a yawn. "But it wasn't to be. I haven'_een you since we left college, have I? Well, Dick, for a couple of years _ried to make good doing fiction. I turned them out by the yard—nice quie_ittle teatable yarns with snappy dialogue. Once I got eighty dollars for _tory. It was hard work— and I always did yearn for the purple, you know."
"I know," said Minot gravely.
"Well, I've struck it, Dick. I've struck the deep purple with a loud i_ickening thud. Hist I The graft I mentioned yesterday." He glanced over hi_houlder. "Remember Mrs. Bruce, the wittiest hostess in San Marco?"
"Of course I do."
"Well, I write her repartee for her."
"Her repartee—her dialogue—the bright talk she convulses dinner tables with.
Instead of putting my smart stuff into stories at eighty per, I sell it t_rs. Bruce at—I'd be ashamed to tell you, old man. I remarked that it wa_ssentially soft . It is."
"This is a new one on me," said Minot, dazed.
A delighted smile spread over Mr. Paddock's handsome face.
"Thanks. That's the beauty of it . I'm a pioneer. There'll be others, but _as the first. Consider the situation. Here's Mrs. Bruce, loaded with diamond_nd money, but tonguetied in company, with a wit developed in Zanesville, Ohio. Bright, but struggling, young author comes to her—offers to make he_onversation the sensation of the place for a few pesos."
"You did that?"
"Yes—I ask posterity to remember it was I who invented the graft. Mrs. Bruc_ell on my fair young neck. Now, she gives me in advance a list of he_ngagements, and for the important ones I devise her line of talk. Then, a_'m usually present at the occasion, I swing things round for her and give he_er cues. If I'm not there, she has to manage it herself. It's a grea_ife—only a bit of a strain on me. I have to remember not to be clever i_ompany. If I forget and spring a good one, she jumps on me proper afterwar_or not giving it to her."
"Jack," said Minot slowly, "come way from here with me. Come north. This plac_ill finish you sure."
"Sorry, old man," laughed Paddock, "but I've had a nip of the lotus. This laz_ld land suits me. I like to sit on a veranda while a dusky menial in a whit_oat hands me the tinkle-tinkle in a tall cool glass. Come away? Oh, no—_ouldn't do that."
"You'll marry down here," sighed Minot. "Some girl with money. And the caree_e all hoped you'd make for yourself will go up in a golden cloud."
"I met a girl," Paddock replied, half closing his eyes and smiling cynicall_t the sea—"little thing from the Middle West, stopping at a back stree_oarding-house—father in the hardware business, nobody at all—but eyes lik_he sea there, hands like butterflies—sort of—got me— That's how I happen t_now I'll never marry. For if I married anybody it would have to be her—and _et her go home without saying a word because I was selfish and like this eas_ame and intend to stick to it until I'm smothered in rose-leaves. Shall w_ander back?"
"See here, Jack—I don't want to preach"— Minot tried to conceal hi_eriousness with a smile—"but if I were you I'd stick to this girl, and mak_ood—"
"And leave this?" Paddock laughed. "Dick, you old idiot, this is meat an_rink to me. This nice old land of loiter in the sun. Nay, nay. Now, I'v_eally got to get back. Mrs. Bruce is giving a tango tea thi_fternoon—informal, but something has to be said— These fellows who write _aily humorous column must lead a devil of a life."
With a laugh, Minot followed his irresponsible friend down the steps. The_rossed the bridge over the empty moat and came through the city gates agai_o the street of the alligator.
"By the way," Paddock said as they went up the hotel steps, "you haven't tol_e what brought you south?"
"Business, Jack," said Minot. "It's a secret— perhaps I can tell you later."
"Business? I thought, of course, you came for pleasure."
"There'll be no pleasure in this trip for me," said Minot bitterly.
"Oh, won't there?" Paddock laughed. "Wait till you hear Mrs. Bruce talk. Se_ou later, old man."
'At luncheon they brought Mr. Minot a telegram from a certain seventeent_loor in New York. An explosive telegram. It read:
"Nonsense nobody here to take your place, see it through, you've given you_ord.
Gloomily Mr. Minot considered. What was there to do but see it through? Eve_hough Thacker should send another to take his place, could he stay to woo th_ady he adored? Hardly. In that event he would have to go away —never see he_gain—never hear her voice— If he stayed as Jephson's representative he migh_now the glory of her nearness for a week, might thrill at her smile—eve_hile he worked to wed her to Lord Harrowby. And perhaps— Who could say? Har_s he might work, might he not be thwarted? It was possible.
So after lunch he sent Thacker a reassuring; message, promising to stay. An_t the end of a dull hour in the lobby, he set out to explore the town.
The Mermaid Tea House stood on the waterfront, with a small second-floo_alcony that looked out on the harbor. Passing that way at four-thirty tha_fternoon, Minot heard a voice call to him. He glanced up.
"Oh, Mr. Minot—won't you come into my parlor?" Cynthia Meyrick smiled down o_im.
"Splendid," Minot laughed. "I walk forlorn through this bid Spanis_own—suddenly a lattice is thrown wide, a fair hand beckons. I dash within."
"Thanks for dashing," Miss Meyrick greeted him, on the balcony. "I was findin_t dreadfully dull. But I'm afraid the Spanish romance is a little lacking.
There is no moonlight, no lattice, no mantilla, no Spanish beauty."
"No matter," Minot answered. "I never did care for Spanish types. They flas_ike a skyrocket—then tumble in the dark. Now, the home-grown girls—"
"And nothing but tea," she interrupted. "Will you have a cup?"
"Thanks. Was it really very dull?"
"Yes. This book was to blame." She held up a novel.
"What's the matter with it?"
"Oh—it's one of those books in which the hero and heroine are forever 'gazin_nto each other's eyes.' And they understand perfectly. But the reade_oesn't. I've reached one of those gazing matches now."
"But isn't it so in real life—when people gaze into each other's eyes, don'_hey usually understand?" "Do they?"
"Don't they? You surely have had more experience than I."
"What makes you think so?" she smiled.
"Because your eyes are so very easy to gaze into."
"Mr. Minot—you're gazing into them— brazenly. And—neither of us 'understand,'
"Oh, no—we're both completely at sea."
"There," she cried triumphantly. "I told you these authors were all wrong."
Minot, having begun to gaze, found difficulty in stopping. She was near, sh_as beautiful— and a promise made in New York was a dim and distant thing.
"The railroad folders try to make you believe Florida is an annex to Heaven,"
he said. "I used to think they were lying. But—"
"But what, Mr. Minot?"
He leaned close, a strange light in his eyes. He opened his mouth to speak.
Suddenly he glanced over her shoulder, and the light died from his eyes. Hi_ips set in a bitter curve.
"Nothing," he said. A silence.
"Mr. Minot—you've grown awfully dull."
"Havel? I'm sorry."
"Must I go back to my book—"
She was interrupted by the shrill triumphant cry of a yacht's siren at he_ack. She turned her head.
"The _Lileth,"_ she said.
"Exactly," said Minot. "The bridegroom cometh."
"You'll want to go to meet him," Minot said, rising. He stood looking at th_oat, flashing gaily in the sunshine. "I'll go with you as far as the street."
"But—you know Lord Harrowby. Meet him with me."
"It seems hardly the thing—"
"But I'm not sentimental. And surely Allan's not."
"Then I must be," said Minot. "Really—I'd rather not—"
They went together to the street. At the parting of the ways, Minot turned t_er.
"I promised Lord Harrowby in New York," he told her, "that you would have you_amp trimmed and burning."
She looked up at him. A mischievous light came into her eyes.
"Please—have you a match?" she asked.
It was too much. Minot turned and fled down the street. He did not once loo_ack, though it seemed to him that he felt every step the girl took acros_hat narrow pier to her fiance's side.
As he dressed for dinner that night his telephone rang, and Miss Meyrick'_oice sounded over the wire.
"Harrowby remembers you very pleasantly. Won't you join us at dinner?"
"Are you sure an outsider—" he began.
"Nonsense. Mr. Martin Wall is to be there."
"Ah—thank you—I'll be delighted," Minot replied.
In the lobby Harrowby seized his hand.
"My dear chap—you're looking fit. Great to see you again. By the way—do yo_now Martin Wall?"
"Yes—Mr. Wall and I met just before the splash," Minot smiled. He shook hand_ith Wall, unaccountably genial and beaming. "The Hudson, Mr. Wall, is a bi_hilly in February."
"My dear fellow," said Wall, "can you ever forgive me? A thousand apologies.
It was all a mistake—a horrible mistake."
"I felt like a rotter when I heard about it," Harrowby put in. "Martin mistoo_ou for some one else. You must forgive us both."
"Freely," said Minot. "And I want to apologize for my suspicions of you, Lor_arrowby."
"Thanks, old chap."
"I never doubted you would come—after I saw Miss Meyrick."
"She is a ripper, isn't she?" said Harrowby enthusiastically.
Martin Wall shot a quick, almost hostile glance at Minot.
"You've noticed that yourself, haven't you?" he said in Minot's ear.
At which point the Meyrick family arrived, and they all went in to dinner.
That function could hardly be described as hilarious. Aunt Mary fluttered an_asped in her triumph, and spoke often of her horror of the new. The recen_dmission of automobiles to the sacred precincts of Bar Harbor seemed to b_he great and disturbing fact in life for her. Spencer Meyrick said little; his thoughts were far away. The rush and scramble of a business office, th_lick of typewriters, the excitement of the dollar chase—these things had bee_is life. Deprived of them, like many another exile in the South, he moved i_ dim world of unrealities and wished that he were home. Minot, too, ha_ittle to say. On Martin Wall fell the burden of entertainment, and he bore i_s one trained for the work. Blithely he gossiped of queer corners that ha_nown him and amid the flow of his oratory the dinner progressed.
It was after dinner, when they all stood together in the lobby a moment befor_eparating, that Mr. Henry Trimmer made good his promise out of a clear sky.
Cynthia Meyrick stood facing the others, talking brightly, when suddenly he_ace paled and the flippant words died on her lips. They all turned instantly.
Through the lobby, in a buzz of excited comment, a man walked slowly, his eye_n the ground. He was a tall blond Englishman, not unlike Lord Harrowby i_ppearance. His gray eyes, when he raised them for a moment, were listless, his shoulders stooped and weary, and he had a long drooping mustache that hun_ike a weeping willow above a particularly cheerless stream.
However, it was not his appearance that excited comment and caused Mis_eyrick to pale. Hung over his shoulders was a pair of sandwich boards such a_he outcasts of a great city carry up and down the streets. And on the fron_oard, turned full toward Miss Meyrick's dinner party, was printed in bol_lack letters:
With a little gasp and a murmured apology, Miss Meyrick turned quickly an_ntered the elevator. Lord Harrowby stood like a man of stone, gazing at th_andwich boards.
It was at this point that the hotel detective sufficiently recovered himsel_o lay eager hands on the audacious sandwich man and propel him violently fro_he scene.
In the background Mr. Minot perceived Henry Trimmer, puffing excitedly on _ig black cigar, a triumphant look on his face.