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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCelebrity - Volume 2 - Chapter 8
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Celebrity - Volume 2 - Chapter 8 Post by :herbdalyjr Category :Long Stories Author :Winston Churchill Date :May 2012 Read :1951

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Celebrity - Volume 2 - Chapter 8

VOLUME 2 CHAPTER VIII

The humor of my proposition appealed more strongly to Miss Trevor than I had looked for, and from that time forward she became her old self again; for, even after she had conquered her love for the Celebrity, the mortification of having been jilted by him remained. Now she had come to look upon the matter in its true proportions, and her anticipation of a possible chance of teaching him a lesson was a pleasure to behold. Our table in the dining-room became again the abode of scintillating wit and caustic repartee, Farrar bracing up to his old standard, and the demand for seats in the vicinity rose to an animated competition. Mr. Charles Wrexell Allen's chair was finally awarded to a nephew of Judge Short, who could turn a story to perfection.

So life at the inn settled down again to what it had been before the Celebrity came to disturb it.

I had my own reasons for staying away from Mohair. More than once as I drove over to the county-seat in my buggy I had met the Celebrity on a tall tandem cart, with one of Mr. Cooke's high-steppers in the lead, and Miss Thorn in the low seat. I had forgotten to mention that my friend was something of a whip. At such times I would bow very civilly and pass on; not without a twinge, I confess. And as the result of one of these meetings I had to retrace several miles of my road for a brief I had forgotten. After that I took another road, several miles longer, for the sight of Miss Thorn with him seriously disturbed my peace of mind. But at length the day came, as I had feared, when circumstances forced me to go to my client's place. One morning Miss Trevor and I were about stepping into the canoe for our customary excursion when one of Mr. Cooke's footmen arrived with a note for each of us. They were from Mrs. Cooke, and requested the pleasure of our company that day for luncheon. "If you were I, would you go?" Miss Trevor asked doubtfully.

"Of course," I replied.

"But the consequences may be unpleasant."

"Don't let them," I said. "Of what use is tact to a woman if not for just such occasions?"

My invitation had this characteristic note tacked on the end of it

"DEAR CROCKER: Where are you? Where is the judge? F. F. C."

I corralled the judge, and we started off across the fields, in no very mild state of fear of that gentleman's wife, whose vigilance was seldom relaxed. And thus we came by a circuitous route to Mohair, the judge occupied by his own guilty thoughts, and I by others not less disturbing. My client welcomed the judge with that warmth of manner which grappled so many of his friends to his heart, and they disappeared together into the Ethiopian card-room, which was filled with the assegais and exclamation point shields Mr. Cooke had had made at the Sawmill at Beaverton.

I learned from one of the lords-in-waiting loafing about the hall that Mrs. Cooke was out on the golf links, chaperoning some of the Asquith young women whose mothers had not seen fit to ostracize Mohair. Mr. Cooke's ten friends were with them. But this discreet and dignified servant could not reveal the whereabouts of Miss Thorn and of Mr. Allen, both of whom I was decidedly anxious to avoid. I was much disgusted, therefore, to come upon the Celebrity in the smoking-room, writing rapidly, with, sheets of manuscript piled beside him. And he was quite good-natured over my intrusion.

"No," said he, "don't go. It's only a short story I promised for a Christmas number. They offered me fifteen cents a word and promised to put my name on the cover in red, so I couldn't very well refuse. It's no inspiration, though, I tell you that." He rose and pressed a bell behind him and ordered whiskeys and ginger ales, as if he were in a hotel. "Sit down, Crocker," he said, waving me to a morocco chair. "Why don't you come over to see us oftener?"

"I've been quite busy," I said.

This remark seemed to please him immensely.

"What a sly old chap you are," said he; "really, I shall have to go back to the inn and watch you."

"What the deuce do you mean?" I demanded.

He looked me over in well-bred astonishment and replied:

"Hang me, Crocker, if I can make you out. You seem to know the world pretty well, and yet when a fellow twits you on a little flirtation you act as though you were going to black his eyes."

"A little flirtation!" I repeated, aghast.

"Oh, well," he said, smiling, "we won't quarrel over a definition. Call it anything you like."

"Don't you think this a little uncalled for?" I asked, beginning to lose my temper.

"Bless you, no. Not among friends: not among such friends as we are."

"I didn't know we were such devilish good friends," I retorted warmly.

"Oh, yes, we are, devilish good friends," he answered with assurance; "known each other from boyhood, and all that. And I say, old chap," he added, "you needn't be jealous of me, you know. I got out of that long ago. And I'm after something else now."

For a space I was speechless. Then the ludicrous side of the matter struck me, and I laughed in spite of myself. Better, after all, to deal with a fool according to his folly. The Celebrity glanced at the door and drew his chair closer to mine.

"Crocker," he said confidentially, "I'm glad you came here to-day. There is a thing or two I wished to consult you about."

"Professional?" I asked, trying to head him off.

"No," he replied, "amateur,--beastly amateur. A bungle, if I ever made one. The truth is, I executed rather a faux pas over there at Asquith. Tell me," said he, diving desperately at the root of it, "how does Miss Trevor feel about my getting out? I meant to let her down easier; 'pon my word, I did."

This is a way rascals have of judging other men by themselves.

"Well;" said I, "it was rather a blow, of course."

"Of course," he assented.

"And all the more unexpected," I went on, "from a man who has written reams on constancy."

I flatter myself that this nearly struck home, for he was plainly annoyed.

"Oh, bother that!" said he. "How many gowns believe in their own sermons? How many lawyers believe in their own arguments?"

"Unhappily, not as many as might."

"I don't object to telling you, old chap," he continued, "that I went in a little deeper than I intended. A good deal deeper, in fact. Miss Trevor is a deuced fine girl, and all that; but absolutely impossible. I forgot myself, and I confess I was pretty close to caught."

"I congratulate you," I said gravely.

"That's the point of it. I don't know that I'm out of the woods yet. I wanted to see you and find out how she was acting."

My first impulse was to keep him in hot water. Fortunately I thought twice.

"I don't know anything about Miss Trevor's feelings--" I began.

"Naturally not--" he interrupted, with a smile.

"But I have a notion that, if she ever fancied you, she doesn't care a straw for you to-day."

"Doesn't she now," he replied somewhat regretfully. Here was one of the knots in his character I never could untie.

"Understand, that is simply my guess," I said. "You must have discovered that it is never possible to be sure of a woman's feelings."

"Found that out long ago," he replied with conviction, and added: "Then you think I need not anticipate any trouble from her?"

"I have told you what I think," I answered; "you know better than I what the situation is."

He still lingered.

"Does she appear to be in,--ah,--in good spirits?"

I had work to keep my face straight.

"Capital," I said; "I never saw her happier."

This seemed to satisfy him.

"Downcast at first, happy now," he remarked thoughtfully. "Yes, she got over it. I'm much obliged to you, Crocker."

I left him to finish his short story and walked out across the circle of smooth lawn towards the golf links. And there I met Mrs. Cooke and her niece coming in together. The warm red of her costume became Miss Thorn wonderfully, and set off the glossy black of her hair. And her skin was glowing from the exercise. An involuntary feeling of admiration for this tall, athletic young woman swept over me, and I halted in my steps for no other reason, I believe, than that I might look upon her the longer.

What man, I thought resentfully, would not travel a thousand miles to be near her?

"It is Mr. Crocker," said Mrs. Cooke; "I had given up all hope of ever seeing you again. Why have you been such a stranger?"

"As if you didn't know, Aunt Maria," Miss Thorn put in gayly.

"Oh yes, I know," returned her aunt, "and I have not been foolish enough to invite the bar without the magnet. And yet, Mr. Crocker," she went on playfully, "I had imagined that you were the one man in a hundred who did not need an inducement."

Miss Thorn began digging up the turf with her lofter: it was a painful moment for me.

"You might at least have tried me, Mrs. Cooke," I said.

Miss Thorn looked up quickly from the ground, her eyes searchingly upon my face. And Mrs. Cooke seemed surprised.

"We are glad you came, at any rate," she answered.

And at luncheon my seat was next to Miss Thorn's, while the Celebrity was placed at the right of Miss Trevor. I observed that his face went blank from time to time at some quip of hers: even a dull woman may be sharp under such circumstances, and Miss Trevor had wits to spare. And I marked that she never allowed her talk with him to drift into deep water; when there was danger of this she would draw the entire table into their conversation by some adroit remark, or create a laugh at his expense. As for me, I held a discreet if uncomfortable silence, save for the few words which passed between Miss Thorn and me. Once or twice I caught her covert glance on me. But I felt, and strongly, that there could be no friendship between us now, and I did not care to dissimulate merely for the sake of appearances. Besides, I was not a little put out over the senseless piece of gossip which had gone abroad concerning me.

It had been arranged as part of the day's programme that Mr. Cooke was to drive those who wished to go over the Rise in his new brake. But the table was not graced by our host's presence, Mrs. Cooke apologizing for him, explaining that he had disappeared quite mysteriously. It turned out that he and the judge had been served with luncheon in the Ethiopian card-room, and neither threats nor fair words could draw him away. The judge had not held such cards for years, and it was in vain that I talked to him of consequences. The Ten decided to remain and watch a game which was pronounced little short of phenomenal, and my client gave orders for the smaller brake and requested the Celebrity to drive. And this he was nothing loth to do. For the edification as well as the assurance of the party Mr. Allen explained, while we were waiting under the porte cochere, how he had driven the Windsor coach down Piccadilly at the height of the season, with a certain member of Parliament and noted whip on the box seat.

And, to do him justice, he could drive. He won the instant respect of Mr. Cooke's coachman by his manner of taking up the lines, and clinched it when he dropped a careless remark concerning the off wheeler. And after the critical inspection of the horses which is proper he climbed up on the box. There was much hesitation among the ladies as to who should take the seat of honor: Mrs. Cooke declining, it was pressed upon Miss Thorn. But she, somewhat to my surprise, declined also, and it was finally filled by a young woman from Asquith.

As we drove off I found myself alone with Mrs. Cooke's niece on the seat behind.

The day was cool and snappy for August, and the Rise all green with a lavish nature. Now we, plunged into a deep shade with the boughs lacing each other overhead, and crossed dainty, rustic bridges over the cold trout-streams, the boards giving back the clatter of our horses' feet: or anon we shot into a clearing, with a colored glimpse of the lake and its curving shore far below us. I had always loved that piece of country since the first look I had of it from the Asquith road, and the sight of it rarely failed to set my blood a-tingle with pleasure. But to-day I scarcely saw it. I wondered what whim had impelled Miss Thorn to get into this seat. She paid but little attention to me during the first part of the drive, though a mere look in my direction seemed to afford her amusement. And at last, half way up the Rise, where the road takes to an embankment, I got a decided jar.

"Mr. Allen," she cried to the Celebrity, "you must stop here. Do you remember how long we tarried over this bit on Friday?"

He tightened the lines and threw a meaning glance backward.

I was tempted to say:

"You and Mr. Allen should know these roads rather well, Miss Thorn."

"Every inch of them," she replied.

We must have gone a mile farther when she turned upon me.

"It is your duty to be entertaining, Mr. Crocker. What in the world are you thinking of, with your brow all puckered up, forbidding as an owl?"

"I was thinking how some people change," I answered, with a readiness which surprised me.

"Strange," she said, "I had the same thing in mind. I hear decidedly queer tales of you; canoeing every day that business does not prevent, and whole evenings spent at the dark end of a veranda."

"What rubbish!" I exclaimed, not knowing whether to be angered or amused.

"Come, sir," she said, with mock sternness, "answer the charge. Guilty or not guilty?"

"First let me make a counter-charge," said I; "you have given me the right. Not long ago a certain young lady came to Mohair and found there a young author of note with whom she had had some previous acquaintance. She did not hesitate to intimate her views on the character of this Celebrity, and her views were not favorable."

I paused. There was some satisfaction in seeing Miss Thorn biting her lip.

"Well?"

"Not at all favorable, mind you," I went on. "And the young lady's general appearance was such as to lead one to suppose her the sincerest of persons. Now I am at a loss to account for a discrepancy between her words and her actions."

While I talked Miss Thorn's face had been gradually turning from mine until now I saw only the dainty knot at the back of her head. Her shoulders were quivering with laughter. But presently her face came back all gravity, save a suspicious gleam of mirth in the eyes.

"It does seem inconsistent, Mr. Crocker; I grant you that. No doubt it is so. But let me ask you something: did you ever yet know a woman who was not inconsistent?"

I did not realize I had been side-tracked until I came to think over this conversation afterwards.

"I am not sure," I replied. "Perhaps I merely hoped that one such existed."

She dropped her eyes.

"Then don't be surprised at my failing," said she. "No doubt I criticised the Celebrity severely. I cannot recall what I said. But it is upon the better side of a character that we must learn to look. Did it ever strike you that the Celebrity had some exceedingly fine qualities?"

"No, it did not," I answered positively.

"Nevertheless, he has," she went on, in all apparent seriousness. "He drives almost as well as Uncle Farquhar, dances well, and is a capital paddle."

"You were speaking of qualities, not accomplishments," I said. A horrible suspicion that she was having a little fun at my expense crossed my mind.

Very good, then. You must admit that he is generous to a fault, amiable; and persevering, else he would never have attained the position he enjoys. And his affection for you, Mr. Crocker, is really touching, considering how little he gets in return."

"Come, Miss Thorn," I said severely, "this is ridiculous. I don't like him, and never shall. I liked him once, before he took to writing drivel. But he must have been made over since then. And what is more, with all respect to your opinion, I don't believe he likes me."

Miss Thorn straightened up with dignity and said:

"You do him an injustice. But perhaps you will learn to appreciate him before he leaves Mohair."

"That is not likely," I replied--not at all pleasantly, I fear. And again I thought I observed in her the same desire to laugh she had before exhibited.

And all the way back her talk was of nothing except the Celebrity. I tried every method short of absolute rudeness to change the subject, and went from silence to taciturnity and back again to silence. She discussed his books and his mannerisms, even the growth of his popularity. She repeated anecdotes of him from Naples to St. Petersburg, from Tokio to Cape Town. And when we finally stopped under the porte cochere I had scarcely the civility left to say good-bye.

I held out my hand to help her to the ground, but she paused on the second step.

"Mr. Crocker," she observed archly, "I believe you once told me you had not known many girls in your life."

"True," I said; "why do you ask?"

"I wished to be sure of it," she replied.

And jumping down without my assistance, she laughed and disappeared into the house.

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