CHAPTER FIVE: The Love Story of Mr. Peter Spillikins
Almost any day, on Plutoria Avenue or thereabouts, you may see little Mr. Spillikins out walking with his four tall sons, who are practically as old as himself.
To be exact, Mr. Spillikins is twenty-four, and Bob, the oldest of the boys, must be at least twenty. Their exact ages are no longer known, because, by a dreadful accident, their mother forgot them. This was at a time when the boys were all at Mr. Wackem’s Academy for Exceptional Youths in the foothills of Tennessee, and while their mother, Mrs. Everleigh, was spending the winter on the Riviera and felt that for their own sake she must not allow herself to have the boys with her.
But now, of course, since Mrs. Everleigh has remarried and become Mrs. Everleigh-Spillikins there is no need to keep them at Mr. Wackem’s any longer. Mr. Spillikins is able to look after them.
Mr. Spillikins generally wears a little top hat and an English morning coat. The boys are in Eton jackets and black trousers, which, at their mother’s wish, are kept just a little too short for them. This is because Mrs. Everleigh-Spillikins feels that the day will come some day–say fifteen years hence–when the boys will no longer be children, and meantime it is so nice to feel that they are still mere boys. Bob is the eldest, but Sib the youngest is the tallest, whereas Willie the third boy is the dullest, although this has often been denied by those who claim that Gib the second boy is just a trifle duller. Thus at any rate there is a certain equality and good fellowship all round.
Mrs. Everleigh-Spillikins is not to be seen walking with them. She is probably at the race-meet, being taken there by Captain Cormorant of the United States navy, which Mr. Spillikins considers very handsome of him. Every now and then the captain, being in the navy, is compelled to be at sea for perhaps a whole afternoon or even several days; in which case Mrs. Everleigh-Spillikins is very generally taken to the Hunt Club or the Country Club by Lieutenant Hawk, which Mr. Spillikins regards as awfully thoughtful of him. Or if Lieutenant Hawk is also out of town for the day, as he sometimes has to be, because he is in the United States army, Mrs. Everleigh-Spillikins is taken out by old Colonel Shake, who is in the State militia and who is at leisure all the time.
During their walks on Plutoria Avenue one may hear the four boys addressing Mr. Spillikins as “father” and “dad” in deep bull-frog voices.
“Say, dad,” drawls Bob, “couldn’t we all go to the ball game?”
“No. Say, dad,” says Gib, “let’s all go back to the house and play five-cent pool in the billiard-room.”
“All right, boys,” says Mr. Spillikins. And a few minutes later one may see them all hustling up the steps of the Everleigh-Spillikins’s mansion, quite eager at the prospect, and all talking together.
* * * * *
Now the whole of this daily panorama, to the eye that can read it, represents the outcome of the tangled love story of Mr. Spillikins, which culminated during the summer houseparty at Castel Casteggio, the woodland retreat of Mr. and Mrs. Newberry.
But to understand the story one must turn back a year or so to the time when Mr. Peter Spillikins used to walk on Plutoria Avenue alone, or sit in the Mausoleum Club listening to the advice of people who told him that he really ought to get married.
* * * * *
In those days the first thing that one noticed about Mr. Peter Spillikins was his exalted view of the other sex. Every time he passed a beautiful woman in the street he said to himself, “I say!” Even when he met a moderately beautiful one he murmured, “By Jove!” When an Easter hat went sailing past, or a group of summer parasols stood talking on a leafy corner, Mr. Spillikins ejaculated, “My word!” At the opera and at tango teas his projecting blue eyes almost popped out of his head.
Similarly, if he happened to be with one of his friends, he would murmur, “I say, _do_ look at that beautiful girl,” or would exclaim, “I say, don’t look, but isn’t that an awfully pretty girl across the street?” or at the opera, “Old man, don’t let her see you looking, but do you see that lovely girl in the box opposite?”
One must add to this that Mr. Spillikins, in spite of his large and bulging blue eyes, enjoyed the heavenly gift of short sight. As a consequence he lived in a world of amazingly beautiful women. And as his mind was focused in the same way as his eyes he endowed them with all the virtues and graces which ought to adhere to fifty-dollar flowered hats and cerise parasols with ivory handles.
Nor, to do him justice, did Mr. Spillikins confine his attitude to his view of women alone. He brought it to bear on everything. Every time he went to the opera he would come away enthusiastic, saying, “By Jove, isn’t it simply splendid! Of course I haven’t the ear to appreciate it–I’m not musical, you know–but even with the little that I know, it’s great; it absolutely puts me to sleep.” And of each new novel that he bought he said, “It’s a perfectly wonderful book! Of course I haven’t the head to understand it, so I didn’t finish it, but it’s simply thrilling.” Similarly with painting, “It’s one of the most marvellous pictures I ever saw,” he would say. “Of course I’ve no eye for pictures, and I couldn’t see anything in it, but it’s wonderful!”
The career of Mr. Spillikins up to the point of which we are speaking had hitherto not been very satisfactory, or at least not from the point of view of Mr. Boulder, who was his uncle and trustee. Mr. Boulder’s first idea had been to have Mr. Spillikins attend the university. Dr. Boomer, the president, had done his best to spread abroad the idea that a university education was perfectly suitable even for the rich; that it didn’t follow that because a man was a university graduate he need either work or pursue his studies any further; that what the university aimed to do was merely to put a certain stamp upon a man. That was all. And this stamp, according to the tenor of the president’s convocation addresses, was perfectly harmless. No one ought to be afraid of it. As a result, a great many of the very best young men in the City, who had no need for education at all, were beginning to attend college. “It marked,” said Dr. Boomer, “a revolution.”
Mr. Spillikins himself was fascinated with his studies. The professors seemed to him living wonders.
“By Jove!” he said, “the professor of mathematics is a marvel. You ought to see him explaining trigonometry on the blackboard. You can’t understand a word of it.” He hardly knew which of his studies he liked best. “Physics,” he said, “is a wonderful study. I got five per cent in it. But, by Jove! I had to work for it. I’d go in for it altogether if they’d let me.”
But that was just the trouble–they wouldn’t. And so in course of time Mr. Spillikins was compelled, for academic reasons, to abandon his life work. His last words about it were, “Gad! I nearly passed in trigonometry!” and he always said afterwards that he had got a tremendous lot out of the university.
After that, as he had to leave the university, his trustee, Mr. Boulder, put Mr. Spillikins into business. It was, of course, his own business, one of the many enterprises for which Mr. Spillikins, ever since he was twenty-one, had already been signing documents and countersigning cheques. So Mr. Spillikins found himself in a mahogany office selling wholesale oil. And he liked it. He said that business sharpened one up tremendously.
“I’m afraid, Mr. Spillikins,” a caller in the mahogany office would say, “that we can’t meet you at five dollars. Four seventy is the best we can do on the present market.”
“My dear chap,” said Mr. Spillikins, “that’s all right. After all, thirty cents isn’t much, eh what? Dash it, old man, we won’t fight about thirty cents. How much do you want?”
“Well, at four seventy we’ll take twenty thousand barrels.”
“By Jove!” said Mr. Spillikins; “twenty thousand barrels. Gad! you want a lot, don’t you? Pretty big sale, eh, for a beginner like me? I guess uncle’ll be tickled to death.”
So tickled was he that after a few weeks of oil-selling Mr. Boulder urged Mr. Spillikins to retire, and wrote off many thousand dollars from the capital value of his estate.
So after this there was only one thing for Mr. Spillikins to do, and everybody told him so–namely to get married. “Spillikins,” said his friends at the club after they had taken all his loose money over the card table, “you ought to get married.”
“Think so?” said Mr. Spillikins.
Goodness knows he was willing enough. In fact, up to this point Mr. Spillikins’s whole existence had been one long aspiring sigh directed towards the joys of matrimony.
In his brief college days his timid glances had wandered by an irresistible attraction towards the seats on the right-hand side of the class room, where the girls of the first year sat, with golden pigtails down their backs, doing trigonometry.
He would have married any of them. But when a girl can work out trigonometry at sight, what use can she possibly have for marriage? None. Mr. Spillikins knew this and it kept him silent. And even when the most beautiful girl in the class married the demonstrator and thus terminated her studies in her second year, Spillikins realized that it was only because the man was, undeniably, a demonstrator and knew things.
Later on, when Spillikins went into business and into society, the same fate pursued him. He loved, for at least six months, Georgiana McTeague, the niece of the presbyterian minister of St. Osoph’s. He loved her so well that for her sake he temporarily abandoned his pew at St. Asaph’s, which was episcopalian, and listened to fourteen consecutive sermons on hell. But the affair got no further than that. Once or twice, indeed, Spillikins walked home with Georgiana from church and talked about hell with her; and once her uncle asked him into the manse for cold supper after evening service, and they had a long talk about hell all through the meal and upstairs in the sitting-room afterwards. But somehow Spillikins could get no further with it. He read up all he could about hell so as to be able to talk with Georgiana, but in the end it failed: a young minister fresh from college came and preached at St. Osoph’s six special sermons on the absolute certainty of eternal punishment, and he married Miss McTeague as a result of it.
And, meantime, Mr. Spillikins had got engaged, or practically so, to Adelina Lightleigh; not that he had spoken to her, but he considered himself bound to her. For her sake he had given up hell altogether, and was dancing till two in the morning and studying action bridge out of a book. For a time he felt so sure that she meant to have him that he began bringing his greatest friend, Edward Ruff of the college football team, of whom Spillikins was very proud, up to the Lightleighs’ residence. He specially wanted Adelina and Edward to be great friends, so that Adelina and he might ask Edward up to the house after he was married. And they got to be such great friends, and so quickly, that they were married in New York that autumn. After which Spillikins used to be invited up to the house by Edward and Adelina. They both used to tell him how much they owed him; and they, too, used to join in the chorus and say, “You know, Peter, you’re awfully silly not to get married.”
Now all this had happened and finished at about the time when the Yahi-Bahi Society ran its course. At its first meeting Mr. Spillikins had met Dulphemia Rasselyer-Brown. At the very sight of her he began reading up the life of Buddha and a translation of the Upanishads so as to fit himself to aspire to live with her. Even when the society ended in disaster Mr. Spillikins’s love only burned the stronger. Consequently, as soon as he knew that Mr. and Mrs. Rasselyer-Brown were going away for the summer, and that Dulphemia was to go to stay with the Newberrys at Castel Casteggio, this latter place, the summer retreat of the Newberrys, became the one spot on earth for Mr. Peter Spillikins.
Naturally, therefore, Mr. Spillikins was presently transported to the seventh heaven when in due course of time he received a note which said, “We shall be so pleased if you can come out and spend a week or two with us here. We will send the car down to the Thursday train to meet you. We live here in the simplest fashion possible; in fact, as Mr. Newberry says, we are just roughing it, but I am sure you don’t mind for a change. Dulphemia is with us, but we are quite a small party.”
The note was signed “Margaret Newberry” and was written on heavy cream paper with a silver monogram such as people use when roughing it.
* * * * *
The Newberrys, like everybody else, went away from town in the summertime. Mr. Newberry being still in business, after a fashion, it would not have looked well for him to remain in town throughout the year. It would have created a bad impression on the market as to how much he was making.
In fact, in the early summer everybody went out of town. The few who ever revisited the place in August reported that they hadn’t seen a soul on the street.
It was a sort of longing for the simple life, for nature, that came over everybody. Some people sought it at the seaside, where nature had thrown out her broad plank walks and her long piers and her vaudeville shows. Others sought it in the heart of the country, where nature had spread her oiled motor roads and her wayside inns. Others, like the Newberrys, preferred to “rough it” in country residences of their own.
Some of the people, as already said, went for business reasons, to avoid the suspicion of having to work all the year round. Others went to Europe to avoid the reproach of living always in America. Others, perhaps most people, went for medical reasons, being sent away by their doctors. Not that they were ill; but the doctors of Plutoria Avenue, such as Doctor Slyder, always preferred to send all their patients out of town during the summer months. No well-to-do doctor cares to be bothered with them. And of course patients, even when they are anxious to go anywhere on their own account, much prefer to be sent there by their doctor.
“My dear madam,” Dr. Slyder would say to a lady who, as he knew, was most anxious to go to Virginia, “there’s really nothing I can do for you.” Here he spoke the truth. “It’s not a case of treatment. It’s simply a matter of dropping everything and going away. Now why don’t you go for a month or two to some quiet place, where you will simply _do nothing?_” (She never, as he knew, did anything, anyway.) “What do you say to Hot Springs, Virginia?–absolute quiet, good golf, not a soul there, plenty of tennis.” Or else he would say, “My dear madam, you’re simply _worn out_. Why don’t you just drop everything and go to Canada?–perfectly quiet, not a soul there, and, I believe, nowadays quite fashionable.”
Thus, after all the patients had been sent away, Dr. Slyder and his colleagues of Plutoria Avenue managed to slip away themselves for a month or two, heading straight for Paris and Vienna. There they were able, so they said, to keep in touch with what continental doctors were doing. They probably were.
Now it so happened that both the parents of Miss Dulphemia Rasselyer-Brown had been sent out of town in this fashion. Mrs. Rasselyer-Brown’s distressing experience with Yahi-Bahi had left her in a condition in which she was utterly fit for nothing, except to go on a Mediterranean cruise, with about eighty other people also fit for nothing.
Mr. Rasselyer-Brown himself, though never exactly an invalid, had confessed that after all the fuss of the Yahi-Bahi business he needed bracing up, needed putting into shape, and had put himself into Dr. Slyder’s hands. The doctor had examined him, questioned him searchingly as to what he drank, and ended by prescribing port wine to be taken firmly and unflinchingly during the evening, and for the daytime, at any moment of exhaustion, a light cordial such as rye whiskey, or rum and Vichy water. In addition to which Dr. Slyder had recommended Mr. Rasselyer-Brown to leave town.
“Why don’t you go down to Nagahakett on the Atlantic?” he said.
“Is that in Maine?” said Mr. Rasselyer-Brown in horror.
“Oh, dear me, no!” answered the doctor reassuringly. “It’s in New Brunswick, Canada; excellent place, most liberal licence laws; first class cuisine and a bar in the hotel. No tourists, no golf, too cold to swim–just the place to enjoy oneself.”
So Mr. Rasselyer-Brown had gone away also, and as a result Dulphemia Rasselyer-Brown, at the particular moment of which we speak, was declared by the Boudoir and Society column of the _Plutorian Daily Dollar_ to be staying with Mr. and Mrs. Newberry at their charming retreat, Castel Casteggio.
The Newberrys belonged to the class of people whose one aim in the summer is to lead the simple life. Mr. Newberry himself said that his one idea of a vacation was to get right out into the bush, and put on old clothes, and just eat when he felt like it.
This was why he had built Castel Casteggio. It stood about forty miles from the city, out among the wooded hills on the shore of a little lake. Except for the fifteen or twenty residences like it that dotted the sides of the lake it was entirely isolated. The only way to reach it was by the motor road that wound its way among leafy hills from the railway station fifteen miles away. Every foot of the road was private property, as all nature ought to be. The whole country about Castel Casteggio was absolutely primeval, or at any rate as primeval as Scotch gardeners and French landscape artists could make it. The lake itself lay like a sparkling gem from nature’s workshop–except that they had raised the level of it ten feet, stone-banked the sides, cleared out the brush, and put a motor road round it. Beyond that it was pure nature.
Castel Casteggio itself, a beautiful house of white brick with sweeping piazzas and glittering conservatories, standing among great trees with rolling lawns broken with flower-beds as the ground sloped to the lake, was perhaps the most beautiful house of all; at any rate, it was an ideal spot to wear old clothes in, to dine early (at 7.30) and, except for tennis parties, motor-boat parties, lawn teas, and golf, to live absolutely to oneself.
It should be explained that the house was not called Castel Casteggio because the Newberrys were Italian: they were not; nor because they owned estates in Italy: they didn’t nor had travelled there: they hadn’t. Indeed, for a time they had thought of giving it a Welsh name, or a Scotch. But the beautiful country residence of the Asterisk-Thomsons had stood close by in the same primeval country was already called Penny-gw-rydd, and the woodland retreat of the Hyphen-Joneses just across the little lake was called Strathythan-na-Clee, and the charming chalet of the Wilson-Smiths was called Yodel-Dudel; so it seemed fairer to select an Italian name.
* * * * *
“By Jove! Miss Furlong, how awfully good of you to come down!”
The little suburban train–two cars only, both first class, for the train went nowhere except out into the primeval wilderness–had drawn up at the diminutive roadside station. Mr. Spillikins had alighted, and there was Miss Philippa Furlong sitting behind the chauffeur in the Newberrys’ motor. She was looking as beautiful as only the younger sister of a High Church episcopalian rector can look, dressed in white, the colour of saintliness, on a beautiful morning in July.
There was no doubt about Philippa Furlong. Her beauty was of that peculiar and almost sacred kind found only in the immediate neighbourhood of the High Church clergy. It was admitted by all who envied or admired her that she could enter a church more gracefully, move more swimmingly up the aisle, and pray better than any girl on Plutoria Avenue.
Mr. Spillikins, as he gazed at her in her white summer dress and wide picture hat, with her parasol nodding above her head, realized that after all, religion, as embodied in the younger sisters of the High Church clergy, fills a great place in the world.
“By Jove!” he repeated, “how awfully good of you!”
“Not a bit,” said Philippa. “Hop in. Dulphemia was coming, but she couldn’t. Is that all you have with you?”
The last remark was ironical. It referred to the two quite large steamer trunks of Mr. Spillikins that were being loaded, together with his suit-case, tennis racket, and golf kit, on to the fore part of the motor. Mr. Spillikins, as a young man of social experience, had roughed it before. He knew what a lot of clothes one needs for it.
So the motor sped away, and went bowling noiselessly over the oiled road, and turning corners where the green boughs of the great trees almost swished in their faces, and rounding and twisting among curves of the hills as it carried Spillikins and Philippa away from the lower domain or ordinary fields and farms up into the enchanted country of private property and the magic castles of Casteggio and Penny-gw-rydd.
Mr. Spillikins must have assured Philippa at least a dozen times in starting off how awfully good it was of her to come down in the motor; and he was so pleased at her coming to meet him that Philippa never even hinted that the truth was that she had expected somebody else on the same train. For to a girl brought up in the principles of the High Church the truth is a very sacred thing. She keeps it to herself.
And naturally, with such a sympathetic listener, it was not long before Mr. Spillikins had begun to talk of Dulphemia and his hopes.
“I don’t know whether she really cares for me or not,” said Mr. Spillikins, “but I have pretty good hope. The other day, or at least about two months ago, at one of the Yahi-Bahi meetings–you were not in that, were you?” he said breaking off.
“Only just at the beginning,” said Philippa; “we went to Bermuda.”
“Oh yes, I remember. Do you know, I thought it pretty rough at the end, especially on Ram Spudd. I liked him. I sent him two pounds of tobacco to the penitentiary last week; you can get it in to them, you know, if you know how.”
“But what were you going to say?” asked Philippa.
“Oh yes,” said Mr. Spillikins. And he realized that he had actually drifted off the topic of Dulphemia, a thing that had never happened to him before. “I was going to say that at one of the meetings, you know, I asked her if I might call her Dulphemia.”
“And what did she say to that?” asked Philippa.
“She said she didn’t care what I called her. So I think that looks pretty good, don’t you?”
“Awfully good,” said Philippa.
“And a little after that I took her slippers home from the Charity Ball at the Grand Palaver. Archie Jones took her home herself in his car, but I took her slippers. She’d forgotten them. I thought that a pretty good sign, wasn’t it? You wouldn’t let a chap carry round your slippers unless you knew him pretty well, would you, Miss Philippa?”
“Oh no, nobody would,” said Philippa. This of course, was a standing principle of the Anglican Church.
“And a little after that Dulphemia and Charlie Mostyn and I were walking to Mrs. Buncomhearst’s musical, and we’d only just started along the street, when she stopped and sent me back for her music–me, mind you, not Charlie. That seems to me awfully significant.”
“It seems to speak volumes,” said Philippa.
“Doesn’t it?” said Mr. Spillikins. “You don’t mind my telling you all about this Miss Philippa?” he added.
Incidentally Mr. Spillikins felt that it was all right to call her Miss Philippa, because she had a sister who was really Miss Furlong, so it would have been quite wrong, as Mr. Spillikins realized, to have called Miss Philippa by her surname. In any case, the beauty of the morning was against it.
“I don’t mind a bit,” said Philippa. “I think it’s awfully nice of you to tell me about it.”
She didn’t add that she knew all about it already.
“You see,” said Mr. Spillikins, “you’re so awfully sympathetic. It makes it so easy to talk to you. With other girls, especially with clever ones, even with Dulphemia. I often feel a perfect jackass beside them. But I don t feel that way with you at all.”
“Don’t you really?” said Philippa, but the honest admiration in Mr. Spillikin’s protruding blue eyes forbade a sarcastic answer.
“By Jove!” said Mr. Spillikins presently, with complete irrelevance, “I hope you don’t mind my saying it, but you look awfully well in white–stunning.” He felt that a man who was affianced, or practically so, was allowed the smaller liberty of paying honest compliments.
“Oh, this old thing,” laughed Philippa, with a contemptuous shake of her dress. “But up here, you know, we just wear anything.” She didn’t say that this old thing was only two weeks old and had cost eighty dollars, or the equivalent of one person’s pew rent at St. Asaph’s for six months.
And after that they had only time, so it seemed to Mr. Spillikins, for two or three remarks, and he had scarcely had leisure to reflect what a charming girl Philippa had grown to be since she went to Bermuda–the effect, no doubt, of the climate of those fortunate islands–when quite suddenly they rounded a curve into an avenue of nodding trees, and there were the great lawn and wide piazzas and the conservatories of Castel Casteggio right in front of them.
“Here we are,” said Philippa, “and there’s Mr. Newberry out on the lawn.”
* * * * *
“Now, here,” Mr. Newberry was saying a little later, waving his hand, “is where you get what I think the finest view of the place.”
He was standing at the corner of the lawn where it sloped, dotted with great trees, to the banks of the little lake, and was showing Mr. Spillikins the beauties of Castel Casteggio.
Mr. Newberry wore on his short circular person the summer costume of a man taking his ease and careless of dress: plain white flannel trousers, not worth more than six dollars a leg, an ordinary white silk shirt with a rolled collar, that couldn’t have cost more than fifteen dollars, and on his head an ordinary Panama hat, say forty dollars.
“By Jove!” said Mr. Spillikins, as he looked about him at the house and the beautiful lawn with its great trees, “it’s a lovely place.”
“Isn’t it?” said Mr. Newberry. “But you ought to have seen it when I took hold of it. To make the motor road alone I had to dynamite out about a hundred yards of rock, and then I fetched up cement, tons and tons of it, and boulders to buttress the embankment.”
“Did you really!” said Mr. Spillikins, looking at Mr. Newberry with great respect.
“Yes, and even that was nothing to the house itself. Do you know, I had to go at least forty feet for the foundations. First I went through about twenty feet of loose clay, after that I struck sand, and I’d no sooner got through that than, by George! I landed in eight feet of water. I had to pump it out; I think I took out a thousand gallons before I got clear down to the rock. Then I took my solid steel beams in fifty-foot lengths,” here Mr. Newberry imitated with his arms the action of a man setting up a steel beam, “and set them upright and bolted them on the rock. After that I threw my steel girders across, clapped on my roof rafters, all steel, in sixty-foot pieces, and then just held it easily, just supported it a bit, and let it sink gradually to its place.”
Mr. Newberry illustrated with his two arms the action of a huge house being allowed to sink slowly to a firm rest.
“You don’t say so!” said Mr. Spillikins, lost in amazement at the wonderful physical strength that Mr. Newberry must have.
“Excuse me just a minute,” broke off Mr. Newberry, “while I smooth out the gravel where you’re standing. You’ve rather disturbed it, I’m afraid.”
“Oh, I’m awfully sorry,” said Mr. Spillikins.
“Oh, not at all, not at all,” said his host. “I don’t mind in the least. It’s only on account of McAlister.”
“Who?” asked Mr. Spillikins.
“My gardener. He doesn’t care to have us walk on the gravel paths. It scuffs up the gravel so. But sometimes one forgets.”
It should be said here, for the sake of clearness, that one of the chief glories of Castel Casteggio lay in its servants. All of them, it goes without saying, had been brought from Great Britain. The comfort they gave to Mr. and Mrs. Newberry was unspeakable. In fact, as they themselves admitted, servants of the kind are simply not to be found in America.
“Our Scotch gardener,” Mrs. Newberry always explained “is a perfect character. I don’t know how we could get another like him. Do you know, my dear, he simply won’t allow us to pick the roses; and if any of us walk across the grass he is furious. And he positively refuses to let us use the vegetables. He told me quite plainly that if we took any of his young peas or his early cucumbers he would leave. We are to have them later on when he’s finished growing them.”
“How delightful it is to have servants of that sort,” the lady addressed would murmur; “so devoted and so different from servants on this side of the water. Just imagine, my dear, my chauffeur, when I was in Colorado, actually threatened to leave me merely because I wanted to reduce his wages. I think it’s these wretched labour unions.”
“I’m sure it is. Of course we have trouble with McAlister at times, but he’s always very reasonable when we put things in the right light. Last week, for example, I was afraid that we had gone too far with him. He is always accustomed to have a quart of beer every morning at half-past ten–the maids are told to bring it out to him, and after that he goes to sleep in the little arbour beside the tulip bed. And the other day when he went there he found that one of our guests who hadn’t been told, was actually sitting in there reading. Of course he was _furious_. I was afraid for the moment that he would give notice on the spot.”
“What _would_ you have done?”
“Positively, my dear, I don’t know. But we explained to him at once that it was only an accident and that the person hadn’t known and that of course it wouldn’t occur again. After that he was softened a little, but he went off muttering to himself, and that evening he dug up all the new tulips and threw them over the fence. We saw him do it, but we didn’t dare say anything.”
“Oh no,” echoed the other lady; “if you had you might have lost him.”
“Exactly. And I don’t think we could possibly get another man like him; at least, not on this side of the water.”
* * * * *
“But come,” said Mr. Newberry, after he had finished adjusting the gravel with his foot, “there are Mrs. Newberry and the girls on the verandah. Let’s go and join them.”
A few minutes later Mr. Spillikins was talking with Mrs. Newberry and Dulphemia Rasselyer-Brown, and telling Mrs. Newberry what a beautiful house she had. Beside them stood Philippa Furlong, and she had her arm around Dulphemia’s waist; and the picture that they thus made, with their heads close together, Dulphemia’s hair being golden and Philippa’s chestnut-brown, was such that Mr. Spillikins had no eyes for Mrs. Newberry nor for Castel Casteggio nor for anything. So much so that he practically didn’t see at all the little girl in green that stood unobtrusively on the further side of Mrs. Newberry. Indeed, though somebody had murmured her name in introduction, he couldn’t have repeated it if asked two minutes afterwards. His eyes and his mind were elsewhere.
But hers were not.
For the Little Girl in Green looked at Mr. Spillikins with wide eyes, and when she looked at him she saw all at once such wonderful things about him as nobody had ever seen before.
For she could see from the poise of his head how awfully clever he was; and from the way he stood with his hands in his side pockets she could see how manly and brave he must be; and of course there was firmness and strength written all over him. In short, she saw as she looked such a Peter Spillikins as truly never existed, or could exist–or at least such a Peter Spillikins as no one else in the world had ever suspected before.
All in a moment she was ever so glad that she accepted Mrs. Newberry’s invitation to Castel Casteggio and hadn’t been afraid to come. For the Little Girl in Green, whose Christian name was Norah, was only what is called a poor relation of Mrs. Newberry, and her father was a person of no account whatever, who didn’t belong to the Mausoleum Club or to any other club, and who lived, with Norah, on a street that nobody who was anybody lived upon. Norah had been asked up a few days before out of the City to give her air–which is the only thing that can be safely and freely given to poor relations. Thus she had arrived at Castel Casteggio with one diminutive trunk, so small and shabby that even the servants who carried it upstairs were ashamed of it. In it were a pair of brand new tennis shoes (at ninety cents reduced to seventy-five) and a white dress of the kind that is called “almost evening,” and such few other things as poor relations might bring with fear and trembling to join in the simple rusticity of the rich.
Thus stood Norah looking at Mr. Spillikins.
As for him, such is the contrariety of human things, he had no eyes for her at all.
“What a perfectly charming house this is,” Mr. Spillikins was saying. He always said this on such occasions, but it seemed to the Little Girl in Green that he spoke with wonderful social ease.
“I am so glad you think so,” said Mrs. Newberry (this was what she always answered); “you’ve no idea what work it has been. This year we put in all this new glass in the east conservatory, over a thousand panes. Such a tremendous business!”
“I was just telling Mr. Spillikins,” said Mr. Newberry, “about the work we had blasting out the motor road. You can see the gap where it lies better from here, I think, Spillikins. I must have exploded a ton and a half of dynamite on it.”
“By Jove!” said Mr. Spillikins; “it must be dangerous work eh? I wonder you aren’t afraid of it.”
“One simply gets used to it, that’s all,” said Newberry, shrugging his shoulders; “but of course it is dangerous. I blew up two Italians on the last job.” He paused a minute and added musingly, “Hardy fellows, the Italians. I prefer them to any other people for blasting.”
“Did you blow them up yourself?” asked Mr. Spillikins.
“I wasn’t here,” answered Mr. Newberry. “In fact, I never care to be here when I’m blasting. We go to town. But I had to foot the bill for them all the same. Quite right, too. The risk, of course, was mine, not theirs; that’s the law, you know. They cost me two thousand each.”
“But come,” said Mrs. Newberry, “I think we must go and dress for dinner. Franklin will be frightfully put out if we’re late. Franklin is our butler,” she went on, seeing that Mr. Spillikins didn’t understand the reference, “and as we brought him out from England we have to be rather careful. With a good man like Franklin one is always so afraid of losing him–and after last night we have to be doubly careful.”
“Why last night?” asked Mr. Spillikins.
“Oh, it wasn’t much,” said Mrs. Newberry. “In fact, it was merely an accident. Only it just chanced that at dinner, quite late in the meal, when we had had nearly everything (we dine very simply here, Mr. Spillikins), Mr. Newberry, who was thirsty and who wasn’t really thinking what he was saying, asked Franklin to give him a glass of hock. Franklin said at once, ‘I’m very sorry, sir, I don’t care to serve hock after the entree!'”
“And of course he was right,” said Dulphemia with emphasis. “Exactly; he was perfectly right. They know, you know. We were afraid that there might be trouble, but Mr. Newberry went and saw Franklin afterwards and he behaved very well over it. But suppose we go and dress? It’s half-past six already and we’ve only an hour.”
* * * * *
In this congenial company Mr. Spillikins spent the next three days.
Life at Castel Casteggio, as the Newberrys loved to explain, was conducted on the very simplest plan. Early breakfast, country fashion, at nine o’clock; after that nothing to eat till lunch, unless one cared to have lemonade or bottled ale sent out with a biscuit or a macaroon to the tennis court. Lunch itself was a perfectly plain midday meal, lasting till about 1.30, and consisting simply of cold meats (say four kinds) and salads, with perhaps a made dish or two, and, for anybody who cared for it, a hot steak or a chop, or both. After that one had coffee and cigarettes in the shade of the piazza and waited for afternoon tea. This latter was served at a wicker table in any part of the grounds that the gardener was not at that moment clipping, trimming, or otherwise using. Afternoon tea being over, one rested or walked on the lawn till it was time to dress for dinner.
This simple routine was broken only by irruptions of people in motors or motor boats from Penny-gw-rydd or Yodel-Dudel Chalet.
The whole thing, from the point of view of Mr. Spillikins or Dulphemia or Philippa, represented rusticity itself.
To the Little Girl in Green it seemed as brilliant as the Court of Versailles; especially evening dinner–a plain home meal as the others thought it–when she had four glasses to drink out of and used to wonder over such problems as whether you were supposed, when Franklin poured out wine, to tell him to stop or to wait till he stopped without being told to stop; and other similar mysteries, such as many people before and after have meditated upon.
During all this time Mr. Spillikins was nerving himself to propose to Dulphemia Rasselyer-Brown. In fact, he spent part of his time walking up and down under the trees with Philippa Furlong and discussing with her the proposal that he meant to make, together with such topics as marriage in general and his own unworthiness.
He might have waited indefinitely had he not learned, on the third day of his visit, that Dulphemia was to go away in the morning to join her father at Nagahakett.
That evening he found the necessary nerve to speak, and the proposal in almost every aspect of it was most successful.
“By Jove!” Spillikins said to Philippa Furlong next morning, in explaining what had happened, “she was awfully nice about it. I think she must have guessed, in a way, don’t you, what I was going to say? But at any rate she was awfully nice–let me say everything I wanted, and when I explained what a fool I was, she said she didn’t think I was half such a fool as people thought me. But it’s all right. It turns out that she isn’t thinking of getting married. I asked her if I might always go on thinking of her, and she said I might.”
And that morning when Dulphemia was carried off in the motor to the station, Mr. Spillikins, without exactly being aware how he had done it, had somehow transferred himself to Philippa.
“Isn’t she a splendid girl!” he said at least ten times a day to Norah, the Little Girl in Green. And Norah always agreed, because she really thought Philippa a perfectly wonderful creature. There is no doubt that, but for a slight shift of circumstances, Mr. Spillikins would have proposed to Miss Furlong. Indeed, he spent a good part of his time rehearsing little speeches that began, “Of course I know I’m an awful ass in a way,” or, “Of course I know that I’m not at all the sort of fellow,” and so on.
But not one of them ever was delivered.
For it so happened that on the Thursday, one week after Mr. Spillikins’s arrival, Philippa went again to the station in the motor. And when she came back there was another passenger with her, a tall young man in tweed, and they both began calling out to the Newberrys from a distance of at least a hundred yards.
And both the Newberrys suddenly exclaimed, “Why, it’s Tom!” and rushed off to meet the motor. And there was such a laughing and jubilation as the two descended and carried Tom’s valises to the verandah, that Mr. Spillikins felt as suddenly and completely out of it as the Little Girl in Green herself–especially as his ear had caught, among the first things said, the words, “Congratulate us, Mrs. Newberry, we’re engaged.”
After which Mr. Spillikins had the pleasure of sitting and listening while it was explained in wicker chairs on the verandah, that Philippa and Tom had been engaged already for ever so long–in fact, nearly two weeks, only they had agreed not to say a word to anybody till Tom had gone to North Carolina and back, to see his people.
And as to who Tom was, or what was the relation between Tom and the Newberrys, Mr. Spillikins neither knew or cared; nor did it interest him in the least that Philippa had met Tom in Bermuda, and that she hadn’t known that he even knew the Newberry’s nor any other of the exuberant disclosures of the moment. In fact, if there was any one period rather than another when Mr. Spillikins felt corroborated in his private view of himself, it was at this moment.
So the next day Tom and Philippa vanished together.
“We shall be quite a small party now,” said Mrs. Newberry; “in fact, quite by ourselves till Mrs. Everleigh comes, and she won’t be here for a fortnight.”
At which the heart of the Little Girl in Green was glad, because she had been afraid that other girls might be coming, whereas she knew that Mrs. Everleigh was a widow with four sons and must be ever so old, past forty.
The next few days were spent by Mr. Spillikins almost entirely in the society of Norah. He thought them on the whole rather pleasant days, but slow. To her they were an uninterrupted dream of happiness never to be forgotten.
The Newberrys left them to themselves; not with any intent; it was merely that they were perpetually busy walking about the grounds of Castel Casteggio, blowing up things with dynamite, throwing steel bridges over gullies, and hoisting heavy timber with derricks. Nor were they to blame for it. For it had not always been theirs to command dynamite and control the forces of nature. There had been a time, now long ago, when the two Newberrys had lived, both of them, on twenty dollars a week, and Mrs. Newberry had made her own dresses, and Mr. Newberry had spent vigorous evenings in making hand-made shelves for their sitting-room. That was long ago, and since then Mr. Newberry, like many other people of those earlier days, had risen to wealth and Castel Casteggio, while others, like Norah’s father, had stayed just where they were.
So the Newberrys left Peter and Norah to themselves all day. Even after dinner, in the evening, Mr. Newberry was very apt to call to his wife in the dusk from some distant corner of the lawn:
“Margaret, come over here and tell me if you don’t think we might cut down this elm, tear the stump out by the roots, and throw it into the ravine.”
And the answer was, “One minute, Edward; just wait till I get a wrap.”
Before they came back, the dusk had grown to darkness, and they had redynamited half the estate.
During all of which time Mr. Spillikins sat with Norah on the piazza. He talked and she listened. He told her, for instance, all about his terrific experiences in the oil business, and about his exciting career at college; or presently they went indoors and Norah played the piano and Mr. Spillikins sat and smoked and listened. In such a house as the Newberry’s, where dynamite and the greater explosives were everyday matters, a little thing like the use of tobacco in the drawing-room didn’t count. As for the music, “Go right ahead,” said Mr. Spillikins; “I’m not musical, but I don’t mind music a bit.”
In the daytime they played tennis. There was a court at one end of the lawn beneath the trees, all chequered with sunlight and mingled shadow; very beautiful, Norah thought, though Mr. Spillikins explained that the spotted light put him off his game. In fact, it was owing entirely to this bad light that Mr. Spillikins’s fast drives, wonderful though they were, somehow never got inside the service court.
Norah, of course, thought Mr. Spillikins a wonderful player. She was glad–in fact, it suited them both–when he beat her six to nothing. She didn’t know and didn’t care that there was no one else in the world that Mr. Spillikins could beat like that. Once he even said to her.
“By Gad! you don’t play half a bad game, you know. I think you know, with practice you’d come on quite a lot.”
After that the games were understood to be more or less in the form of lessons, which put Mr. Spillikins on a pedestal of superiority, and allowed any bad strokes on his part to be viewed as a form of indulgence.
Also, as the tennis was viewed in this light, it was Norah’s part to pick up the balls at the net and throw them back to Mr. Spillikins. He let her do this, not from rudeness, for it wasn’t in him, but because in such a primeval place as Castel Casteggio the natural primitive relation of the sexes is bound to reassert itself.
But of love Mr. Spillikins never thought. He had viewed it so eagerly and so often from a distance that when it stood here modestly at his very elbow he did not recognize its presence. His mind had been fashioned, as it were, to connect love with something stunning and sensational, with Easter hats and harem skirts and the luxurious consciousness of the unattainable.
Even at that, there is no knowing what might have happened. Tennis, in the chequered light of sun and shadow cast by summer leaves, is a dangerous game. There came a day when they were standing one each side of the net and Mr. Spillikins was explaining to Norah the proper way to hold a racquet so as to be able to give those magnificent backhand sweeps of his, by which he generally drove the ball halfway to the lake; and explaining this involved putting his hand right over Norah’s on the handle of the racquet, so that for just half a second her hand was clasped tight in his; and if that half-second had been lengthened out into a whole second it is quite possible that what was already subconscious in his mind would have broken its way triumphantly to the surface, and Norah’s hand would have stayed in his–how willingly–! for the rest of their two lives.
But just at that moment Mr. Spillikins looked up, and he said in quite an altered tone.
“By Jove! who’s that awfully good-looking woman getting out of the motor?”
And their hands unclasped. Norah looked over towards the house and said:
“Why, it’s Mrs. Everleigh. I thought she wasn’t coming for another week.”
“I say,” said Mr. Spillikins, straining his short sight to the uttermost, “what perfectly wonderful golden hair, eh?” “Why, it’s–” Norah began, and then she stopped. It didn’t seem right to explain that Mrs. Everleigh’s hair was dyed. “And who’s that tall chap standing beside her?” said Mr. Spillikins.
“I think it’s Captain Cormorant, but I don’t think he’s going to stay. He’s only brought her up in the motor from town.” “By Jove, how good of him!” said Spillikins; and this sentiment in regard to Captain Cormorant, though he didn’t know it, was to become a keynote of his existence.
“I didn’t know she was coming so soon,” said Norah, and there was weariness already in her heart. Certainly she didn’t know it; still less did she know, or anyone else, that the reason of Mrs. Everleigh’s coming was because Mr. Spillikins was there. She came with a set purpose, and she sent Captain Cormorant directly back in the motor because she didn’t want him on the premises.
“Oughtn’t we to go up to the house?” said Norah.
“All right,” said Mr. Spillikins with great alacrity, “let’s go.”
* * * * *
Now as this story began with the information that Mrs. Everleigh is at present Mrs. Everleigh-Spillikins, there is no need to pursue in detail the stages of Mr. Spillikins’s wooing. Its course was swift and happy. Mr. Spillikins, having seen the back of Mrs. Everleigh’s head, had decided instantly that she was the most beautiful woman in the world; and that impression is not easily corrected in the half-light of a shaded drawing-room; nor across a dinner-table lighted only with candles with deep red shades; nor even in the daytime through a veil. In any case, it is only fair to state that if Mrs. Everleigh was not and is not a singularly beautiful woman, Mr. Spillikins still doesn’t know it. And in point of attraction the homage of such experts as Captain Cormorant and Lieutenant Hawk speaks for itself.
So the course of Mr. Spillikins’s love, for love it must have been, ran swiftly to its goal. Each stage of it was duly marked by his comments to Norah.
“She _is_ a splendid woman,” he said, “so sympathetic. She always seems to know just what one’s going to say.”
So she did, for she was making him say it.
“By Jove!” he said a day later, “Mrs. Everleigh’s an awfully fine woman, isn’t she? I was telling her about my having been in the oil business for a little while, and she thinks that I’d really be awfully good in money things. She said she wished she had me to manage her money for her.”
This also was quite true, except that Mrs. Everleigh had not made it quite clear that the management of her money was of the form generally known as deficit financing. In fact, her money was, very crudely stated, nonexistent, and it needed a lot of management.
A day or two later Mr. Spillikins was saying, “I think Mrs. Everleigh must have had great sorrow, don’t you? Yesterday she was showing me a photograph of her little boy–she has a little boy you know–”
“Yes, I know,” said Norah. She didn’t add that she knew that Mrs. Everleigh had four.
“–and she was saying how awfully rough it is having him always away from her at Dr. Something’s academy where he is.”
And very soon after that Mr. Spillikins was saying, with quite a quaver in his voice,
“By Jove! yes, I’m awfully lucky; I never thought for a moment that she’d have me, you know–a woman like her, with so much attention and everything. I can’t imagine what she sees in me.”
Which was just as well.
And then Mr. Spillikins checked himself, for he noticed–this was on the verandah in the morning–that Norah had a hat and jacket on and that the motor was rolling towards the door.
“I say,” he said, “are you going away?”
“Yes, didn’t you know?” Norah said. “I thought you heard them speaking of it at dinner last night. I have to go home; father’s alone, you know.”
“Oh, I’m awfully sorry,” said Mr. Spillikins; “we shan’t have any more tennis.”
“Goodbye,” said Norah, and as she said it and put out her hand there were tears brimming up into her eyes. But Mr. Spillikins, being short of sight, didn’t see them.
“Goodbye,” he said.
Then as the motor carried her away he stood for a moment in a sort of reverie. Perhaps certain things that might have been rose unformed and inarticulate before his mind. And then, a voice called from the drawing-room within, in a measured and assured tone,
“Peter, darling, where are you?”
“Coming,” cried Mr. Spillikins, and he came.
* * * * *
On the second day of the engagement Mrs. Everleigh showed to Peter a little photograph in a brooch.
“This is Gib, my second little boy,” she said.
Mr. Spillikins started to say, “I didn’t know–” and then checked himself and said, “By Gad! what a fine-looking little chap, eh? I’m awfully fond of boys.”
“Dear little fellow, isn’t he?” said Mrs. Everleigh. “He’s really rather taller than that now, because this picture was taken a little while ago.”
And the next day she said, “This is Willie, my third boy,” and on the day after that she said, “This is Sib, my youngest boy; I’m sure you’ll love him.”
“I’m sure I shall,” said Mr. Spillikins. He loved him already for being the youngest.
* * * * *
And so in the fulness of time–nor was it so very full either, in fact, only about five weeks–Peter Spillikins and Mrs. Everleigh were married in St. Asaph’s Church on Plutoria Avenue. And the wedding was one of the most beautiful and sumptuous of the weddings of the September season. There were flowers, and bridesmaids in long veils, and tall ushers in frock-coats, and awnings at the church door, and strings of motors with wedding-favours on imported chauffeurs, and all that goes to invest marriage on Plutoria Avenue with its peculiar sacredness. The face of the young rector, Mr. Fareforth Furlong, wore the added saintliness that springs from a five-hundred dollar fee. The whole town was there, or at least everybody that was anybody; and if there was one person absent, one who sat by herself in the darkened drawing-room of a dull little house on a shabby street, who knew or cared?
So after the ceremony the happy couple–for were they not so?–left for New York. There they spent their honeymoon. They had thought of going–it was Mr. Spillikins’s idea–to the coast of Maine. But Mrs. Everleigh-Spillikins said that New York was much nicer, so restful, whereas, as everyone knows, the coast of Maine is frightfully noisy.
Moreover, it so happened that before the Everleigh-Spillikinses had been more than four or five days in New York the ship of Captain Cormorant dropped anchor in the Hudson; and when the anchor of that ship was once down it generally stayed there. So the captain was able to take the Everleigh-Spillikinses about in New York, and to give a tea for Mrs. Everleigh-Spillikins on the deck of his vessel so that she might meet the officers, and another tea in a private room of a restaurant on Fifth Avenue so that she might meet no one but himself.
And at this tea Captain Cormorant said, among other things, “Did he kick up rough at all when you told him about the money?”
And Mrs. Everleigh, now Mrs. Everleigh-Spillikins, said, “Not he! I think he is actually pleased to know that I haven’t any. Do you know, Arthur, he’s really an awfully good fellow,” and as she said it she moved her hand away from under Captain Cormorant’s on the tea-table.
“I say,” said the Captain, “don’t get sentimental over him.”
* * * * *
So that is how it is that the Everleigh-Spillikinses came to reside on Plutoria Avenue in a beautiful stone house, with a billiard-room in an extension on the second floor. Through the windows of it one can almost hear the click of the billiard balls, and a voice saying, “Hold on, father, you had your shot.”