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- Vicky Van - 1/40 -


VICKY VAN

BY CAROLYN WELLS

AUTHOR OF

"The Affair at Flower Acres," "Anybody But Anne," "The Mystery of the Sycamore," "Raspberry Jam," "The Vanishing of Betty Varian," "Spooky Hollow," "Feathers Left Around," etc.

TO

ONE OF MY BEST CHUMS

JULIAN KING SPRAGUE

CONTENTS

CHAPTER I. VICKY VAN II. MR. SOMERS III. THE WAITER'S STORY IV. SOMERS' REAL NAME V. THE SCHUYLER HOUSEHOLD VI. VICKY'S WAYS VII. RUTH SCHUYLER VIII. THE LETTER BOX IX. THE SOCIAL SECRETARY X. THE INQUEST XI. A NOTE FROM VICKY XII. MORE NOTES XIII. FLEMING STONE XIV. WALLS HAVE TONGUES XV. FIBSY XVI. A FUTILE CHASE XVII. THE GOLD-FRINGED GOWN XVIII. FIBSY DINES OUT XIX. PROOFS AND MORE PROOFS XX. THE TRUTH FROM RUTH

CHAPTER I

VICKY VAN

Victoria Van Allen was the name she signed to her letters and to her cheques, but Vicky Van, as her friends called her, was signed all over her captivating personality, from the top of her dainty, tossing head to the tips of her dainty, dancing feet.

I liked her from the first, and if her "small and earlies" were said to be so called because they were timed by the small and early numerals on the clock dial, and if her "little" bridge games kept in active circulation a goodly share of our country's legal tender, those things are not crimes.

I lived in one of the polite sections of New York City, up among the East Sixties, and at the insistence of my sister and aunt, who lived with me, our home was near enough the great boulevard to be designated by that enviable phrase, "Just off Fifth Avenue." We were on the north side of the street, and, nearer to the Avenue, on the south side, was the home of Vicky Van.

Before I knew the girl, I saw her a few times, at long intervals, on the steps of her house, or entering her little car, and half-consciously I noted her charm and her evident zest of life.

Later, when a club friend offered to take me there to call, I accepted gladly, and as I have said, I liked her from the first.

And yet, I never said much about her to my sister. I am, in a way, responsible for Winnie, and too, she's too young to go where they play Bridge for money. Little faddly prize bags or gift-shop novelties are her stakes.

Also, Aunt Lucy, who helps me look after Win, wouldn't quite understand the atmosphere at Vicky's. Not exactly Bohemian--and yet, I suppose it did represent one compartment of that handy-box of a term. But I'm going to tell you, right now, about a party I went to there, and you can see for yourself what Vicky Van was like.

"How late you're going out," said Winnie, as I slithered into my topcoat. "It's after eleven."

"Little girls mustn't make comments on big brothers," I smiled back at her. Win was nineteen and I had attained the mature age of twenty-seven. We were orphans and spinster Aunt Lucy did her best to be a parent to us; and we got on smoothly enough, for none of us had the temperament that rouses friction in the home.

"Across the street?" Aunt Lucy guessed, raising her aristocratic eyebrows a hair's breadth.

"Yes," I returned, the least bit irritated at the implication of that hairbreadth raise. "Steele will be over there and I want to see him--"

This time the said eyebrows went up frankly in amusement, and the kind blue eyes beamed as she said, "All right, Chet, run along."

Though I was Chester Calhoun, the junior partner of the law firm of Bradbury and Calhoun, and held myself in due and consequent respect, I didn't mind Aunt Lucy's calling me Chet, or even, as she sometimes did, Chetty. A man puts up with those things from the women of his household. As to Winnie, she called me anything that came handy, from Lord Chesterton to Chessy-Cat.

I patted Aunt Lucy on her soft old shoulder and Winnie on her hard young head, and was off.

True, I did expect to see Steele at Vicky Van's--he was the club chap who had introduced me there--but as Aunt Lucy had so cleverly suspected, he was not my sole reason for going. A bigger reason was that I always had a good time there, the sort of a good time I liked.

I crossed the street diagonally, in defiance of much good advice I have heard and read against such a proceeding. But at eleven o'clock at night the traffic in those upper side streets is not sufficient to endanger life or limb, and I reached Vicky Van's house in safety.

It was a very small house, and it was the one nearest to the Fifth Avenue corner, though the long side of the first house on that block of the Avenue lay between.

The windows on each floor were brilliantly lighted, and I mounted the long flight of stone steps sure of a merry welcome and a jolly time.

I was admitted by a maid whom I already knew well enough to say "Evening, Julie," as I passed her, and in another moment, I was in the long, narrow living-room and was a part of the gay group there.

"Angel child!" exclaimed Vicky Van herself, dancing toward me, "did he come to see his little ole friend?" and laying her two hands in mine for an instant, she considered me sufficiently welcomed, and danced off again. She was a will o' the wisp, always tantalizing a man with a hope of special attention, and then flying away to another guest, only to treat him in the same way.

I looked after her, a slim, graceful thing, vibrant with the joy of living, smiling in sheer gayety of heart, and pretty as a picture.

Her black hair was arranged in the newest style, that covered her ears with soft loops and exposed the shape of her trim little head. It was banded with a jeweled fillet, or whatever they call those Oriental things they wear, and her big eyes with their long, dark lashes, her pink cheeks and curved scarlet lips seemed to say, "the world owes me a living and I'm going to collect."

Not as a matter of financial obligation, be it understood.

Vicky Van had money enough and though nothing about her home was ostentatious or over ornate, it was quietly and in the best of taste luxurious.

But I was describing Vicky herself. Her gown, the skirt part of it, was a sort of mazy maize-colored thin stuff, rather short and rather full, that swirled as she moved, and fluttered when she danced. The bodice part, was of heavily gold-spangled material, and a kind of overskirt arrangement was a lot of long gold fringe made of beads. Instead of a yoke, there were shoulder straps of these same beads, and the sleeves weren't there.

And yet, that costume was all right. Why, it was a rig I'd be glad to see Winnie in, when she gets older, and if I've made it sound rather--er--gay and festive, it's my bungling way of describing it, and also, because Vicky's personality would add gayety and festivity to any raiment.

Her little feet wore goldy slippers, and a lot of ribbons criss-crossed over her ankles, and on the top of each slipper was a gilt butterfly that fluttered.

Yet with all this bewildering effect of frivolity, the first term I'd make use of in describing Vick's character would be Touch-me-not. I believe there's a flower called that--_noli me tangere_--or some such name. Well, that's Vicky Van. She'd laugh and jest with you, and then if you said anything by way of a personal compliment or flirtatious foolery, she was off and away from your side, like a thistle-down in a summer breeze. She was a witch, a madcap, but she had her own way in everything, and her friends did her will without question.

Her setting, too, just suited her. Her living room was one of those very narrow, very deep rooms so often seen in the New York side streets. It was done up in French gray and rose, as was the dictum of the moment. On the rose-brocaded walls were few pictures, but just the right ones. Gray enameled furniture and deep window-seats with


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