"An' the bridal couple 'd be holdin' hands an' gazin'
over the spanker-boom at the full moon." [Page 242.]
JAMES B. CONNOLLY
CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
NEW YORK ::::::::::::::::::::: 1917
COPYRIGHT, 1913, 1915, 1917, BY
CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
Published September, 1917
COPYRIGHT, 1912, 1913, 1917, BY P. F. COLLIER & SON, INCORPORATED
COPYRIGHT, 1916, BY THE CURTIS PUBLISHING COMPANY
I arrived in Santacruz in the early evening,and as I stepped out of the carriage with thechildren the majordomo came rushing out fromunder the hotel portales and said: "MeesusTrench, is it? Your suite awaits, madam. TheLieutenant Trench from the American warshiphas ordered, madam."
There was a girl, not too young, sitting over ata small table, and at the name Trench, pronouncedin the round voice of the majordomo, she—well,she was sitting by herself, smoking a cigarette,and I did not know why she should smile andlook at me—in just that way, I mean. But Ican muster some poise of manner myself when Ichoose—I looked at her. And she looked meover and smiled again. And I did not like thatsmile. It was as if—as Ned would say—she hadsomething on me.
She and I were to be enemies—already I sawthat. She was making smoke rings, and shenever hurried the making of a single one of themas she looked at me; nor did I hurry a particlethe ushering of the two children and the maidinto the hotel. But I did ask, after I had greetedNan and her mother inside: "Auntie—or you,Nan—who is the oleander blossom smoking thecigarette out under the portales?"
It spoke volumes to me that Nan and hermother, without looking, at once knew whom Imeant. She was the Carmen Whiffle of whomnearly every other American woman waiting to betaken home on the next transport had beenwhispering—and not always whispering—for weeks inSantacruz.
Nan, of course, had a good word for her. Isthere a living creature on earth she wouldn't?"I think she is wonderfully good-looking," saidNan.
"No woman with a jaw like that," said Nan'smother, "can be good-looking. And she sat atthe piano there early this evening and raved overthe 'Melody in F'; but when she tried to playit, it was with fingers of wood. What she reallydid play with spirit, Nettie—when she thoughtthere were none of us American women around tohear her—was: 'I Want What I Want When IWant It.'"
Auntie went on to tell then how this creaturewas a divorcee who had married an oil millionaireand within six months got her second divorce anda half-million alimony out of him. And as ababy she was christened—not Carmen, butHannah! "Now, what's the psychology, Nettie,"said auntie, "of a woman who changes her namefrom Hannah to Carmen? She wants what shewants when she wants it—and she'll come prettynear getting it, Nettie. If I had a husband withina thousand miles of her, I'd lock him up."
You may understand from the foregoing thatMrs. Wedner—Nan's mother—is a woman ofconvictions; and so she is. The Lady with theWallop is what Ned tells me the men folks callher. But I am not without convictions myself.
"I have a husband within a thousand miles ofher," I said, "and if you mean that for me, auntie,I won't lock him up—not even if he were theto-be-locked-up kind. When I can't hold my man,auntie, against any specimen of her species, Iwon't call in the police to help me. And I thinkI'll give her another look-over before the eveningis ended."
"Don't bother your head with her," saidauntie. "And sit down and have something toeat." And we did have something to eat, butup-stairs in my suite.
The children and I were eating, and Nan andauntie were giving me all the gossip since I'dseen them last, when the maid came in to saythat the trunk with the children's things in ithadn't been sent up with the others. There's nouse leaving such things to a maid in thosecountries—I went down to see about it myself; andthere it was, as I expected, lying in the lobbywhere a lazy porter hadn't yet got around to it.
I told the fat majordomo a thing or two, andthe trunk was soon on its upward way; and then—asI was down-stairs—I thought to take a glanceabout to see if anybody I knew had arrived in themeantime. You must remember that Americanrefugees were coming in from the interior on everytrain, the revolutionary general Podesta beingexpected to enter the city almost any day—or hour.
I saw the back of a man's head, and I said tomyself: "If that isn't Larry Trench's head asanything on earth can be!"—the shapely,overhanging back head and the uncrushable hair thatwent with it. There was a row of palmettos intubs, and I walked around to make certain. Itwas Larry. And he was with a young woman.And the young woman was Carmen Whiffle, andher heavy-lashed agate eyes were gazing into thesteady, deep-set, blue-green eyes of Larry. Onelook was all I needed to know what that lady'sintentions were in the present case. "So!" Isaid to myself—"that's what you meant whenyou smiled at the name Trench? Perhaps youthought Larry was my husband!"
Now, I hadn't seen a single officer or man ofour ships on my way from the station, nor whileI had been down-stairs with Nan and auntieearlier. Which was significant in itself, for afleet of our battleships were anchored in theharbor, my Ned's among them. I looked aroundnow. No, there wasn't one officer of ours in thedining-room, nor in the plaza outside. So whatwas Larry, a young officer of our marine corps,doing all by himself ashore?
And Larry was my Ned's young brother andmy own little Neddo's godfather, and long ago Ihad decided that Larry should marry my ownchum and cousin Nan, the very best girl thatever lived. And—well, if ever a woman lookedlike the newspaper photographs of the otherwoman of a dozen celebrated cases, CarmenWhiffle was that woman.
I stood there at the end of that row ofpalmettos, hesitating; and while I hesitated theorchestra struck up, and I saw the lady lead Larryout for a dance.
I did not have to see Carmen Whiffle dance toknow that she could dance. If they never learnto do anything else on earth, women of her kinddo learn to dance. All women who have men intheir minds learn to dance. She could dance. IfI had never seen her lift a toe off the floor, thelines of her figure were there to prove that shecould dance. But she lifted her toe. More thanher toe. She danced—I have to give her creditfor it—with grace; and after she warmed up to it,not only with grace but with abandon; with somuch abandon that all the other women whowere trying to dance with abandon ceased theirfeeble efforts and stood against the wall to watchher.
After that dance Carmen Whiffle never hadanother chance with me. I almost ran up to myroom. Little Anna was already asleep; butNeddo, aged six, was wide-awake. Nan and hermother had gone to their room, which was acrossthe hall on the same floor.
"Neddo, dear, do you know your uncle Larryis down-stains?" I asked him.
"Oh-h, mummie!" he cried, and came leapingout of his cot bed. "I must see him, mummie!"
"I'm going to let you go down-stairs all byyourself, Neddo, and see him. And then be sureto bring him up here, to have a look at sister.And then be sure to take him to the balcony atthe end of the hallway and tell him to draw thelattices and wait there. It's to be a surprise,Neddo, tell him; but not a single word more thanthat."
I waited two minutes or so, and then followedNeddo. I was in time to see Neddo throwhimself at Larry, and wrap his arms around his neckand smother him with kisses. "Uncle Larry! OUncle Larry! Come and see who's up-stairs!No telling, you know!"
From where I was, on the screened balconyoverlooking the lounging-room, I needed no ship'sspy-glass to read the suspicion in Carmen Whiffle'seyes when she looked at little Neddo. I dobelieve she could even suspect that innocent,affectionate child with playing a game.
The tears were in Larry's eyes. "My godson,my brother's boy," he explained. "If you don'tmind my running away for a few minutes, MissWhiffle, I'll hurry back. I'll explain to Neddo'smother that you are waiting and hurry rightback."
"Don't explain anything," said Miss Whiffle,just a bit tartly. "Never mind any explaining,but come back as soon as you can. I shall bewaiting here."
Are you at all given to the habit of fancyingin human beings the resemblance to differentkinds of birds and beasts? Looking down onCarmen Whiffle just then, I could see where, ifher well-cushioned features were chiselled away,she would look startlingly like a hawk.
I may be unjust, I know, but I was thinking ofmore than one thing just then. I was thinkingof what I read in Carmen Whiffle's glance andsmile at me when I passed under the portales ofthat hotel that evening. A devoted, slavish wifeand mother was what she was thinking I was;and possibly I am. But women of her kind arealtogether too quick to think that the devotedwife and mother hasn't any brains.
And more than all the brains in the world isthe wisdom that comes of knowing men.Carmen Whiffle may have known several men in herday; but if she did it was to know themincompletely; and to know any number of menincompletely is never truly to know any one, while toknow one man well is to know many. And whenthat one in my case was Larry's own brother,why, I wasn't worrying over a battle withCarmen Whiffle, superbly equipped though shedoubtless thought herself.
Ned and his brother Larry were natively prettymuch alike; but my Ned was trained early in arigid profession and early assumed theresponsibilities of marriage and a home; and—he told meso more than once—so saved himself more thanone drift to leeward. It is no gain for us womento dodge facts in this life. To a man with aconscience, a wife and two children are better thanmany windward anchors, as Ned would say.Larry was Ned, minus the wife and two children,and plus a little more of youth and the not yet,perhaps, disciplined Trench temperament.
And for every child a woman bears mark herup a decade of years in human wisdom. Andtwice a decade in hardening resolution. It hadalready become marble in me—my resolution tosave from the talons of this hawk this brother ofmy Ned's—a twenty-five-year-old man of waraccording to stupid bureau files, but in reality alittle child playing in the garden of life with nevera thought of any bird of prey hovering in the airabove him.
I watched Larry go bounding up the widestaircase with Neddo, and then I waited long enoughfor them to get well out of sight ahead; forNeddo to lead his uncle up the second flight, toshow him baby in her bed asleep; and Larry—Icould picture him—time to stoop over