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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Cheerful Smugglers - Chapter 5. The Pink Shirt-Waist
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The Cheerful Smugglers - Chapter 5. The Pink Shirt-Waist Post by :burrr Category :Long Stories Author :Ellis Parker Butler Date :May 2012 Read :2940

Click below to download : The Cheerful Smugglers - Chapter 5. The Pink Shirt-Waist (Format : PDF)

The Cheerful Smugglers - Chapter 5. The Pink Shirt-Waist

CHAPTER V. THE PINK SHIRT-WAIST

The morning after Billy Fenelby's arrival at the Fenelby home he awakened unusually early, as one is apt to awaken in a strange bed, and he lay awhile thinking over the events of the previous evening. He was more than ever convinced that Kitty was not the kind of girl he liked. He felt that she had made a bare-faced effort to flirt with him the evening before, and that she was just the kind of a girl that was apt to be troublesome to a bachelor. She was the kind of a girl that would demand a great deal of attention and expect it as a natural right, and then, when she received it, make the man feel that he had been attentive in quite another way, and that the only fair thing would be to propose. And he felt that she was the kind of girl that no man could propose to with any confidence whatever. She would be just as likely to accept him as not, and having accepted him, she would be just as likely to expect him to marry her as not. He felt that he was in a very ticklish situation. He saw that Kitty was the sort of girl that would take any air of rude indifference he might assume to be a challenge, and any comely polite attention to be serious love making. He saw that the only safe thing for him to do would be to run away, but, since he had seen Kitty, that was the last thing in the world that he would have thought of doing. He decided that he would constitute her bright eyes and red lips to be a mental warning sign reading "Danger" in large letters, and that whenever he saw them he would be as wary as a rabbit and yet as brave as a lion.

He next felt a sincere regret that he had refused to pay the duty on the clean collar he had brought with him, and that he had left on the railing of the porch. He got out of bed and looked at the collar he had worn the day before, and frowned at it as he saw that it was not quite immaculate. Then he listened closely for any sound in the house that would tell him Mr. or Mrs. Fenelby were up. He heard nothing. He hastily slipped on his clothes, and tip-toed out of the room and down the stairs. This tariff for revenue only was well enough for Thomas and Laura, and assessing a duty of ten per cent. on everything that came into the house (and thirty per cent. on luxuries) might fill up Bobberts' bank, and provide that baby with an education fund, but it was an injustice to bachelor uncles when there was an unmarried girl in the house. If this Kitty girl was willing to so forget what was due to a young man as to appear in one dress the whole time of her stay, that was her look-out, but for his part he did not intend to lower his dignity by going down to breakfast in a soiled collar. If creeping down to the porch in his stockings, and bringing in that collar surreptitiously, was smuggling, then--

Billy stopped short at the screen door. From there he could see the spot on the railing where he had put the collar, and the collar was not there! No doubt it had fallen to the lawn. He opened the screen door carefully and stepped outside. The early morning air was cool and sweet, and an ineffable quiet rested on the suburb. He tip-toed gently across the porch and down the porch steps, and hobbled carefully across the painful pebble walk and stepped upon the lawn. There was dew on the lawn. The lawn was soaked and saturated and steeped in dew. It bathed his feet in chilliness, as if he had stepped into a pail of ice water, and the vines that clambered up the porch-side were dewy too. As he kneeled on the grass and pawed among the vines, seeking the missing collar, the vines showered down the crystal drops upon him, and soaked his sleeves, and added a finishing touch of ruin to the collar he was wearing. The other collar was not there! It was not among the vines, it was not on the lawn, it was not on the porch, and soaked in socks and sleeves he retreated. He paused a minute on the porch to glance thoughtfully at the moist foot-prints his feet left on the boards, and wondered if they would be dry before Tom or Laura came down. At any rate there was no help for it now, and he went up the stairs again.

The most uncomfortable small discomfort is wet socks, whether they come from a small hole in the bottom of a shoe or from walking on a lawn in the early morning, and Billy wiggled his toes as he slowly and carefully climbed the stairs. As he turned the last turn at the top he stopped short and blushed. Kitty was standing there awaiting him, a smile on her face and his other collar in her hand. She laid her finger on her lip, and tapped it there to command silence, and raised her brows at him, to let him know that she knew where he had been and why.

"I thought you would want it," she said in the faintest whisper, "so I smuggled it in last night. I had no idea _you would stoop to such a thing, but--but I felt so sorry for you, without a collar."

"Thanks!" whispered Billy. It was a masterpiece of whispering, that word. It was a gruff whisper, warding off familiarity, and yet it was a grateful whisper, as a whisper should be to thank a pretty girl for a favor done, but still it was a scoffing whisper, with a tinge of resentfulness, but resentfulness tempered by courtesy. Underlying all this was a flavor of independence, but not such crude independence that it killed the delicate tone that implied that the hearer of the whisper was a very pretty girl, and that that fact was granted even while her interference in the whisperer's affairs was misliked, and her suspicions of dishonest acts on his part considered uncalled for. If he did not quite succeed in getting all this crowded into the one word it was doubtless because his feet were so wet and uncomfortable. Billy was rather conscious that he had not quite succeeded, and he would have tried again, adding this time an inflection to mean that he well understood that her object was to get him into a quasi conspiracy and thus draw him irrevocably into confidential relations of misdemeanor from which he could not escape, but that he refused to be so drawn--I say he would have repeated the word, but a sound in one of the bed-rooms close at hand sent them both tip-toeing to their rooms.

They had hardly reached safety when the door of Mr. Fenelby's room opened and Mr. Fenelby stole out quietly, stole as quietly down the stairs and out upon the porch. He looked at the railing where Billy had left the collar, and then he peered over the railing, and as silently stole up the stairs again. He paused at Billy's door and tapped on it. Billy opened it a mere hint of a crack.

"What is it?" he whispered.

"That collar," whispered Mr. Fenelby. "I thought about it all night, and I didn't think it right that you should be made to do without it. I just went down, to get it, but it isn't there."

"Never mind," whispered Billy. "Don't worry, old man. I will wear the one I have."

Mr. Fenelby hesitated.

"Of course," he whispered, "you won't--That is to say, you needn't tell Laura I went down--"

"Certainly not," whispered Billy. "It was awfully kind of you to think of it. But I'll make this one do."

Mr. Fenelby waited at the door a moment longer as if he had something more to say, but Billy had closed the door, and he went back to his room.

It was with relief that Bridget heard the door close behind Mr. Fenelby. She had been standing on the little landing of the back-stairs, where he had almost caught her as she was coming up. If she had been one step higher he would have seen her head. Usually she would not have minded this, for she had a perfect right to be on the back-stairs in the early morning, but this time she felt that it was her duty to remain undiscovered. Now that Mr. Fenelby was gone she softly stepped to Billy's door and knocked lightly.

"Misther Billy, sor, are ye there?" she whispered. Billy opened the door a crack and looked out.

"Mornin' to ye," she said in a hoarse whisper. "I'm sorry t' disthurb ye, but Missus Fenelby axed me t' bring up th' collar ye left on th' porrch railin', an' t' let no wan know I done it, an' I just wanted t' let ye know th' reason I have not brung it up is because belike someone else has brang it already, for it is gone."

"Thank you, Bridget," whispered Billy. "It doesn't matter."

She turned away, but when he had closed the door she paused, and after hesitating a moment she tapped on his door again. He opened it.

"I have put me foot in it," she said, "like I always do. W'u'd ye be so good as t' fergit I mentioned th' name of Missus Fenelby, that's a dear man? I raymimber now I was not t' mention it t' ye."

"Certainly, Bridget," said Billy, and he closed the door and went again to the window, where he was turning his socks over and over in the streak of sunlight that warmed a part of the window sill.

It took the socks a little longer to dry than he had thought it would, and they were still damp enough to make his feet feel anything but comfortable when he heard the breakfast bell tinkle faintly. He hurried the rest of his toilet and went down the stairs, assuming as he went the air of unsuspected innocence that is the inborn right of every man who knows he has done wrong. The bodily Billy was more conscious of the discomfort of his feet, but the mental Billy was all collar. He had never known a collar to be so obtrusive. He felt that he must seem all collar, even to the most casual eye, but he was upheld by the belief that no one would dare to mention collar to him in public. If he had sinned he was not the only sinner, for he was but a partner in conspiracy. He walked down the stairs boldly.

"And to think that his vanity should be the cause of robbing poor little Bobberts," he heard a clear voice say as he neared the dining room door. "It is too mean! I can never look up to man with the faith I have always had in man, after this. But I know they were his foot-prints, Laura."

"Are you so sure, Kitty?" asked Mrs. Fenelby. "Mightn't they be--mightn't they be Bridget's?"

"They were not," said the voice of Kitty, and Billy paused where he was and stood still. "Bridget does not go about in the wet grass in her stocking feet. Those were Billy's tracks on the porch. I am no Sherlock Holmes, but I can tell you just what he did. He stole down before we were awake, to look for that collar, and he did not find it on the railing where he had left it. Then he saw it where it had fallen and he went down on the wet lawn and got it. Watch him when he comes in to breakfast. He will be wearing a collar, and it will not be the one he wore last night."

Billy turned and tip-toed softly up the stairs again, undoing his tie as he went. When he came down his neck was neatly, but informally swathed in a white handkerchief. Three pairs of eyes watched him as he entered, but he faced them unflinchingly. Mr. and Mrs. Fenelby let their eyes drop before his glance, but Kitty met his gaze with a challenge. There was nothing of treachery in her face, and yet she had sought to betray him. He looked at her with greater interest than he had ever known himself to feel regarding any girl, and as he looked he had a startled sense that she was fairer than she had been, and he caught his breath quickly and began to talk to Mrs. Fenelby.

"Tom," he said, after breakfast, as Mr. Fenelby was getting ready to leave to catch his train, "I think I'll walk over to the station with you. I have something I want to say to you."

"Come along," said Mr. Fenelby. "But you will have to walk quickly. I have just time to catch my train."

"Did you notice anything peculiar about Miss Kitty this morning?" asked Billy, when they had left the house.

"Peculiar?" said Mr. Fenelby. "No, I don't think so."

"Well, I don't want to make trouble, Tom," said Billy, "but I think I ought to speak about this thing. If it wasn't serious I wouldn't mention it at all, but I think you ought to know what is going on in your own house. I think you ought to know what kind of a girl Miss Kitty is, so that you can be on your guard. Now, you went down to get that collar for me, didn't you?"

"I wish you wouldn't mention that," said Mr. Fenelby with some annoyance.

"Oh, I know all about that," said Billy, warmly. "You say that because you don't like to be thanked for all these nice, thoughtful things you do for a fellow. But I do thank you--just as much as if you had found the collar and had brought it up to me. That was all right. You would have paid the duty on it, and that would have been all right. But what do you think Miss Kitty did? Why do you think you could not find that collar? Do you know what she did? She brought that collar into the house--smuggled it in--and she had the nerve, the actual nerve, to give it to me. And I took it. I couldn't do anything else, could I, when a girl offered it to me? I couldn't say I wouldn't take it, could I? I had to be a gentleman about it. And then she tried to get me into trouble by telling you I would come down to breakfast wearing that collar. She tried to make out that I was a smuggler."

"I suppose it was just a bit of fun," said Mr. Fenelby. "Girls are that way, some of them."

"Well, I want it understood that that collar is in the house, and that I didn't bring it in," said Billy, "and that if this Domestic Tariff business is to be carried out fairly it is Miss Kitty's business to pay the duty on it. I want to set myself right with you. But the thing I wanted to speak about was far more serious. Do you know what she had on this morning?"

"What she had on?" asked Mr. Fenelby. "What did she have on?"

"She had on a pink shirt-waist," said Billy fiercely. "That is what she had on. Right at breakfast there, in plain sight of everyone. A pink shirt-waist!"

"Well, that's all right, isn't it?" asked Mr. Fenelby, doubtfully. "It's proper to wear a pink shirt-waist at breakfast, isn't it? I think Laura wears shirt-waists at breakfast sometimes. I'm sure it's all right. An informal home breakfast like that."

"But it was pink," insisted Billy. "I looked right at it, and I know. Real pink. You wouldn't notice it, because you are so honest yourself, and so confiding, but I noticed it the first thing. Now what do you think of your Miss Kitty? What do you say to that--a girl coming right down to breakfast in a pink shirt-waist, right before the whole family?"

"I--I don't know what to say," faltered Mr. Fenelby, and this was the truth, for he did not.

"Well, what would you say if I told you that she had on a white shirt-waist last evening--a white one with fluffy stuff all around the collar?" asked Billy. "Wouldn't you say that that proved it?"

"I don't see anything wrong in that," said Mr. Fenelby. "What does it prove?"

"It proves that she has two shirt-waists," said Billy, seriously, "that is what it proves. Two shirt-waists, a white one and a pink one, one for dinner and one for breakfast. I don't blame you for not noticing it, but I am strong that way. I notice colors and trimmings and all that sort of thing. And I tell you she has two. I saw them both and I know it. If that isn't serious I don't know what is."

"Well?" said Mr. Fenelby.

"Well," echoed Billy, "she is only supposed to have one. She only paid duty on one, and she has two. That is what I call real smuggling. And nobody knows how many more she has. Dozens for all I know. Imagine her talking about my one poor old last year's collar, and then flaunting around in two shirt-waists right before our eyes. I call that pretty serious. I'm going to watch her. You can't be here all day to do it, but I haven't anything else to do, and I'm going to stay right around her all day and find out about this thing."

"If you don't want to--" began Mr. Fenelby, remembering Billy's protestations of dislike for girls.

"I'll do my duty by you and Bobberts, old man," said Billy, generously.

"I was only going to say that Laura could look out for that sort of thing," said Mr. Fenelby. "I might say a word to her."

"Well, now, I didn't like to bring that part of it up," said Billy, "but since you mention it, I guess I had better say the whole thing. It isn't natural that a woman shouldn't notice what another woman has on, is it? They are all keen on that sort of thing. I don't say Laura is standing in with Kitty on this shirt-waist smuggling. I suppose it worries her terribly to see Kitty smuggling clothes in right under her nose, but how can Laura say anything about it? Kitty is her guest, isn't she? You leave it to me!"

Just then they reached the station and the train arrived and Mr. Fenelby jumped aboard, and as it pulled out Billy turned and walked back to the house.

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