Full Online Books
BOOK CATEGORIES
Authors Authors Short Stories Short Stories Long Stories Long Stories Funny Stories Funny Stories Love Stories Love Stories Stories For Kids Stories For Kids Poems Poems Essays Essays Nonfictions Nonfictions Plays Plays Folktales Folktales Fairy Tales Fairy Tales Fables Fables Learning Kitchen Learning Kitchen
LINKS
Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional Free Classified Website Without Registration Free Classified Website Daniel Company
Twitter Twitter Add book
donate
Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Crimson Tide: A Novel - Chapter 13
Famous Authors (View All Authors)
The Crimson Tide: A Novel - Chapter 13 Post by :Franinseattle Category :Long Stories Author :Robert W. Chambers Date :May 2012 Read :3060

Click below to download : The Crimson Tide: A Novel - Chapter 13 (Format : PDF)

The Crimson Tide: A Novel - Chapter 13

CHAPTER XIII

Palla's activities seemed to exhilarate her physically and mentally. Body and brain were now fully occupied; and, if the profit to her soul were dubious, nevertheless the restless spirit of the girl now had an outlet; and at home and in the Combat Club she planned and discussed and investigated the world's woes to her ardent heart's content.

Physically, too, Red Cross and canteen work gave her much needed occupation; and she went everywhere on foot, never using bus, tram or taxicab. The result was, in spite of late and sometimes festive hours, that Palla had become something more than an unusually pretty girl, for there was much of real beauty in her full and charming face and in her enchantingly rounded yet lithe and lissome figure.

About the girl, also, there seemed to be a new freshness like fragrance--a virginal sweetness--that indefinable perfume of something young and vigorous that is already in bud.

* * * * *

That morning she went over to the dingy row of buildings to sign the lease of the hall for three evenings a week, as quarters for Combat Club No. 1.

The stuffy place where the Red Flag Club had met the night before was still reeking with stale smoke and the effluvia of the unwashed; but the windows were open and a negro was sweeping up a litter of defunct cigars.

"Yaas'm, Mr. Puma's office is next do'," he replied to Palla's inquiry; "--Sooperfillum Co'poration. Yaas'm."

Next door had been a stable and auction ring, and odours characteristic still remained, although now the ring had been partitioned, boarded over and floored, and Mr. Hewitt's glass rods full of blinding light were suspended above the studio ceilings of the Super-Picture Corporation.

Palla entered the brick archway. An office on the right bore the name of Angelo Puma; and that large, richly coloured gentleman hastily got out of his desk chair and flashed a pair of magnificent as well as astonished eyes upon Palla as she opened the door and walked in.

When she had seated herself and stated her business, Puma, with a single gesture, swept from the office several men and a stenographer, and turned to Palla.

"Is it you, then, who are this Combat Club which would rent from me the hall next door!" he exclaimed, showing every faultless tooth in his head.

Palla smiled: "I am empowered by the club to sign a lease."

"That is sufficient!" exclaimed Puma, with a superb gesture. "So! It is signed! Your desire is enough. The matter is accomplished when you express the wish!"

Palla blushed a little but smilingly affixed her signature to the papers elaborately presented by Angelo Puma.

"A lease?" he remarked, with a flourish of his large, sanguine, and jewelled hand. "A detail merely for your security, Miss Dumont. For me, I require only the expression of your slightest wish. That, to me, is a command more binding than the seal of the notary!"

And he flashed his dazzling smile on Palla, who was tucking her copy of the agreement into her muff.

"Thank you so much, Mr. Puma," she said, almost inclined to laugh at his extravagances. And she laid down a certified check to cover the first month's rental.

Mr. Puma bowed; his large, heavily lashed black eyes were very brilliant; his mouth much too red under the silky black moustache.

"For me," he said impulsively, "art alone matters. What is money? What is rent? What are all the annoying details of commerce? Interruptions to the soul-flow! Checks to the fountain jet of inspiration! Art only is important. Have you ever seen a cinema studio, Miss Dumont?"

Palla never had.

"Would it interest you, perhaps?"

"Thank you--some time----"

"It is but a step! They are working. A peep will take but a moment--if you please--a thousand excuses that I proceed to show you the way!----"

She stepped through a door. From a narrow anteroom she saw the set-scene in a ghastly light, where men in soiled shirt-sleeves dragged batteries of electric lights about, each underbred face as livid as the visage of a corpse too long unburied.

There were women there, too, looking a little more human in their makeups under the horrible bluish glare. Camera men were busy; a cadaverous and profane director, with his shabby coat-collar turned up, was talking loudly in a Broadway voice and jargon to a bewildered girl wearing a ball gown.

As Puma led Palla through the corridor from partition to partition, disclosing each set with its own scene and people--the whole studio full of blatant noise and ghastly faces or painted ones, Palla thought she had never before beheld such a concentration of every type of commonness in her entire existence. Faces, shapes, voices, language, all were essentially the properties of congenital vulgarity. The language, too, had to be sharply rebuked by Puma once or twice amid the wrangling of director, camera man and petty subordinates.

"So intense are the emotions evoked by a fanatic devotion to art," he explained to Palla, "that, at moments, the old, direct and vigorous Anglo-Saxon tongue is heard here, unashamed. What will you? It is art! It is the fervour that forgets itself in blind devotion--in rapturous self-dedication to the god of Truth and Beauty!"

As she turned away, she heard from a neighbouring partition the hoarse expostulations of one of Art's blind acolytes: "Say, f'r Christ's sake, Delmour, what the hell's loose in your bean! Yeh done it wrong an' yeh know damn well yeh done it wrong----"

Puma opened another door: "One of our projection rooms, Miss Dumont. If it is your pleasure to see a few reels run off----"

"Thank you, but I really must go----"

The office door stood open and she went out that way. Mr. Puma confronted her, moistly brilliant of eye:

"For me, Miss Dumont, I am frank like there never was a child in arms! Yes. I am all art; all heart. For me, beauty is God!--" he kissed his fat fingers and wafted the caress toward the dirty ceiling.

"Please excuse," he said with his powerful smile, "but have you ever, perhaps, thought, Miss Dumont, of the screen as a career?"

"I?" asked Palla, surprised and amused. "No, Mr. Puma, I haven't."

"A test! Possibly, in you, latent, sleeps the exquisite apotheosis of Art incarnate! Who can tell? You have youth, beauty, a mind! Yes. Who knows if, also, happily, genius slumbers within? Yes?"

"I'm very sure it doesn't," replied Palla, laughing.

"Ah! Who can be sure of anything--even of heaven!" cried Puma.

"Very true," said Palla, trying to speak seriously, "But the career of a moving picture actress does not attract me."

"The emoluments are enormous!"

"Thank you, no----"

"A test! We try! It would be amusing for you to see yourself upon the screen as you are, Miss Dumont? As you _are_--young, beautiful, vivacious----"

He still blocked her way, so she said, laying her gloved hand on the knob:

"Thank you very much. Some day, perhaps. But I really must go----"

He immediately bowed, opened the glass door, and went with her to the brick arch.

"I do not think you know," he said, "that I have entered partnership with a friend of yours?"

"A friend of mine?"

"Mr. Elmer Skidder."

"Oh," she exclaimed, smilingly, "I hope the partnership will be a fortunate one. Will you kindly inform Mr. Skidder of my congratulations and best wishes for his prosperity? And you may say that I shall be glad to hear from him about his new enterprise."

To Mr. Puma's elaborate leave-taking she vouchsafed a quick, amused nod, then hurried away eastward to keep her appointment at the Canteen.

* * * * *

About five o'clock she experienced a healthy inclination for tea and wavered between the Plaza and home. Ilse and Marya were with her, but an indefinable something caused her to hesitate, and finally to let them go to the Plaza without her.

What might be the reason of this sudden whim for an unpremeditated cup of tea at home she scarcely took the trouble to analyse. Yet, she was becoming conscious of a subtle and increasing exhilaration as she approached her house and mounted the steps.

Suddenly, as she fitted the latch-key, her heart leaped and she knew why she had come home.

For a moment her fast pulse almost suffocated her. Was she mad to return here on the wildest chance that Jim might have come--might be inside, waiting? And what in the world made her suppose so?--for she had neither seen him nor heard from him in many days.

"I'm certainly a little crazy," she thought as she opened the door. At the same moment her eyes fell on his overcoat and hat and stick.

Her skirt was rather tight, but her limbs were supple and her feet light, and she ran upstairs to the living room.

As he rose from an armchair she flung her arms out with a joyous little cry and wrapped them tightly around his neck, muff, reticule and all.

"You darling," he was saying over and over in a happy but rather stupid voice, and crushing her narrow hands between his; "--you adorable child, you wonderful girl----"

"Oh, I'm so glad, Jim! Shall we have tea?... You dear fellow! I'm so very happy that you came! Wait a moment--" she leaned wide from him and touched an electric bell. "Now you'll have to behave properly," she said with delightful malice.

He released her; she spoke to the maid and then went over with him to the sofa, flinging muff, stole and purse on a chair.

"Pure premonition," she explained, stripping the gloves from her hands. "Ilse and Marya were all for the Plaza, but something sent me homeward! Isn't it really very strange, Jim? Why, I almost had an inclination to run when I turned into our street--not even knowing why, of course----"

"You're so sweet and generous!" he blurted out. "Why don't you raise hell with me?"

"You know," she said demurely, "I don't raise hell, dear."

"But I've behaved so rottenly----"

"It really wasn't friendly to neglect me so entirely."

He looked down--laid one hand on hers in silence.

"I understand, Jim," she said sweetly. "Is it all right now?"

"It's all right.... Of course I haven't changed."

"Oh."

"But it's all right."

"Really?"

"Yes.... What is there for me to do but to accept things as they are?"

"You mean, 'accept _me as I am!' Oh, Jim, it's so dear of you. And you know well enough that I care for no other man as I do for you----"

The waitress with the tea-tray cut short that sort of conversation. Palla's appetite was a healthy one. She unpinned her hat and flung it on the piano. Then she nestled down sideways on the sofa, one leg tucked under the other knee, her hair in enough disorder to worry any other girl--and began to tuck away tea and cakes. Sometimes, in animated conversation, she gesticulated with a buttered bun--once she waved her cup to emphasise her point:

"The main idea, of course, is to teach the eternal law of Love and Service," she explained. "But, Jim, I have become recently, and in a measure, militant."

"You're going to love the unwashed with a club?"

"You very impudent boy! We're going to combat this new and terrible menace--this sinister flood that threatens the world--the crimson tide of anarchy!"

"Good work, darling! I enlist for a machine gun uni----"

"Listen! The battle is to be entirely verbal. Our Combat Club No. 1, the first to be established--is open to anybody and everybody. All are at liberty to enter into the discussions. We who believe in the Law of Love and Service shall have our say every evening that the club is open----"

"The Reds may come and take a crack at you."

"The Reds are welcome. We wish to face them across the rostrum, not across a barricade!"

"Well, you dear girl, I can't see how any Red is going to resist you. And if any does, I'll knock his bally block off----"

"Oh, Jim, you're so vernacularly inclined! And you're very flippant, too----"

"I'm not really," he said in a lower voice. "Whatever you care about could not fail to appeal to me."

She gave him a quick, sweet glance, then searched the tea-tray to reward him.

As she gave him another triangle of cinnamon toast, she remembered something else. It was on the tip of her tongue, now; and she checked herself.

_He had not spoken of it. Had his mother mentioned meeting her at the Red Cross? If not--was it merely a natural forgetfulness on his mother's part? Was her silence significant?

Nibbling pensively at her cinnamon toast, Palla pondered this. But the girl's mind worked too directly for concealment to come easy.

"I'm wondering," she said, "whether your mother mentioned our meeting at the Red Cross." And she knew immediately by his expression that he heard it for the first time.

"I was introduced at our headquarters by Leila Vance," said Palla, in her even voice; "and your mother and she are acquaintances. That is how it happened, Jim."

He was still somewhat flushed but he forced a smile: "Did you find my mother agreeable, Palla?"

"Yes. And she is so beautiful with her young face and pretty white hair. She always sits between Leila and me while we sew."

"Did you say you knew me?"

"Yes, of course."

"Of course," he repeated, reddening again.

No man ever has successfully divined any motive which any woman desires to conceal.

Why his mother had not spoken of Palla to him he did not know. He was aware, of course, that nobody within the circle into which he had been born would tolerate Palla's social convictions. Had she casually and candidly revealed a few of them to his mother in the course of the morning's conversation over their sewing?

He gave Palla a quick look, encountered her slightly amused eyes, and turned redder than ever.

"You dear boy," she said, smiling, "I don't think your very charming mother would be interested in knowing me. The informality of ultra-modern people could not appeal to her generation."

"Did you--talk to her about----"

"No. But it might happen. You know, Jim, I have nothing to conceal."

The old troubled look had come back into his face. She noticed it and led the conversation to lighter themes.

"We danced last night after dinner," she said. "There were some amusing people here for dinner. Then we went to see such a charming play--_Tea for Three_--and then we had supper at the Biltmore and danced.... Will you dine with me to-morrow?"

"Of course."

"Do you think you'd enjoy it?--a lot of people who entertain the same shocking beliefs that I do?"

"All right!" he said with emphasis. "I'm through playing the role of death's-head at the feast. I told you that I'm going to take you as you are and enjoy you and our friends--and quit making an ass of myself----"

"Dear, you never did!"

"Oh, yes, I did. And maybe I'm a predestined ass. But every ass has a pair of heels and I'm going to flourish mine very gaily from now on!"

She protested laughingly at his self-characterisation, and bent toward him a little, caressing his sleeve in appeal, or shaking it in protest as he denounced himself and promised to take the world more gaily in the future.

"You'll see," he remarked, rising to take his leave: "I may even call the bluff of some of your fluffy ultra-modern friends and try a few trial marriages with each of 'em----"

"Oh, Jim, you're absolutely horrid! As if my friends believed in such disgusting ideas!"

"They do--some of 'em."

"They don't!"

"Well, then, I do!" he announced so gravely that she had to look at him closely in the rather dim lamplight to see whether he was jesting.

She walked to the top of the staircase with him; let him take her into his arms; submitted to his kiss. Always a little confused by his demonstrations, nevertheless her hand retained his for a second longer, as though shyly reluctant to let him go.

"I am so glad you came," she said. "Don't neglect me any more."

And so he went his way.

* * * * *

His mother discovered him in the library, dressed for dinner. Something, as he rose--his manner of looking at her, perhaps--warned her that they were not perfectly _en rapport_. Then the subtle, invisible antennae, exploring caressingly what is so palpable in the heart of man, told her that once more she was to deal with the girl in black.

When his mother was seated, he said: "I didn't know you had met Palla Dumont, mother."

Helen hesitated: "Mrs. Vance's friend? Oh, yes; she comes to the Red Cross with Leila Vance."

"Do you like her?"

In her son's eyes she was aware of that subtle and unconscious appeal which all mothers of boys are, some day, fated to see and understand.

Sometimes the appeal is disguised, sometimes it is so subtle that only mothers are able to perceive it.

But what to do about it is the perennial problem. For between lack of sympathy and response there are many nuances; and opposition is always to be avoided.

Helen said, pleasantly, that the girl appeared to be amiable and interesting.

"I know her merely in that way," she continued. "We sit there sewing slings, pads, compresses, and bandages, and we gossip at random with our neighbours."

"I like her very much," said Jim.

"She does seem to be an attractive girl," said his mother carelessly.... "Are you going to Yama Farms for the week end?"

"No."

"Oh, I'm sorry. The Speedwells' party is likely to be such a jolly affair, and I hear there's lots of snow up there."

"I haven't met Mrs. Vance," said her son. "Is she nice?"

"Leila Vance? Why, of course."

"Who is she?"

"She married an embassy attache, Captain Vance. He was in the old army--killed at Mons four years ago."

"She and Palla are intimate?"

"I believe they are good friends," remarked his mother, deciding not to attempt to turn the current of conversation for the moment.

"Mother?"

"Yes, dear."

"I am quite sure I never met a girl I like as well."

Helen laughed: "That is a trifle extravagant, isn't it?"

"No.... I asked her to marry me."

Helen's heart stood still, then a bright flush stained her face.

"She refused me," said the boy.

His mother said very quietly: "Of course this is news to us, Jim."

"Yes, I didn't tell you. I couldn't, somehow. But I've told you now."

"Dearest," she said, dropping her hand over his, "don't think me unsympathetic if I say that it really is better that she refused you."

"I understand, mother."

"I hope you do."

"Oh, yes. But I don't think you do. Because I am still in love with her."

"You poor dear!"

"It's rotten luck, isn't it?"

"Time heals--" She checked herself, turned and kissed him.

"After all," she said, "a soldier learns how to take things."

And presently: "I do wish you'd go up to Yama Farms."

"That," he said, "would be the obvious thing to do. Anything to keep going and keep your mind ticking away until you're safely wound up again.... But I'm not going, dear."

Helen looked at him in silence, not wondering what he might be going to do with his week-end instead, because she already guessed.

Before she said anything more his father came in; and a moment later dinner was announced.

* * * * *

Jim slept soundly for the first night in a long time. His mother scarcely closed her eyes at all.

If you like this book please share to your friends :
NEXT BOOKS

The Crimson Tide: A Novel - Chapter 14 The Crimson Tide: A Novel - Chapter 14

The Crimson Tide: A Novel - Chapter 14
CHAPTER XIVThere had been a row at the Red Flag Club--a matter of differing opinions between members--nothing sufficient to attract the police, but enough to break several heads, benches and windows. And it was evident that some gentleman's damaged nose had bled all over the linoleum in the lobby. Elmer Skidder, arriving at the studio next morning in his brand new limousine, heard about the shindy and went into the club to inspect the wreckage. Then, mad all through, he started out to find Puma. But a Sister Art had got the best of Angelo Puma in a questionable cabaret the
PREVIOUS BOOKS

The Crimson Tide: A Novel - Chapter 12 The Crimson Tide: A Novel - Chapter 12

The Crimson Tide: A Novel - Chapter 12
CHAPTER XIIOn a foggy afternoon, toward midwinter, John Estridge strolled into the new Overseas Club, which, still being in process of incubation, occupied temporary quarters on Madison Avenue. Officers fresh from abroad and still in uniform predominated; tunics were gay with service and wound chevrons, citation cords, stars, crosses, strips of striped ribbon. There was every sort of head-gear to be seen there, too, from the jaunty overseas _bonnet de police_, piped in various colours, to the corded campaign hat and leather-visored barrack-cap. Few cavalry officers were in evidence, but there were plenty of spurs glittering everywhere--to keep their owners' heels
NEXT 10 BOOKS | PREVIOUS 10 BOOKS | RANDOM 10 BOOKS
LEAVE A COMMENT