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- Vicky Van - 3/40 -
Vicky Van settled herself into her seat with the happy little sigh of the bridge lover, who sits down with three good players, and in another moment she was breathlessly looking over her hand. "Without," she said, triumphantly, and knowing she'd say no word more to me for the present, I walked away with Cassie Weldon.
And Cassie was good fun. She took me to the piano, and with the soft pedal down, she showed me a new little tone picture she had made up, which was both picturesque and funny.
"You'd better go into vaudeville!" I exclaimed, as she finished, "your talent is wasted on the concert platform."
"That's what Vicky tells me," she returned. "Sometimes I believe I will try it, just for fun."
"You'll find it such fun, you'll stay in for earnest," I assured her, for she had shown a bit of inventive genius that I felt sure would make good in a little musical turn.
It was nearly midnight when Steele came, and with him was a man I had never seen before, and whom I assumed to be the Mr. Somers I had heard about.
And it was. As Steele entered, he cast his eye around for Vicky, and saw her at the bridge table down at the end of the room. Her back was toward us, and she was so absorbed in the game she did not look round, if, indeed, she heard the noise of their arrival.
The two men stopped near the group I was with and Steele introduced Mr. Somers.
A little curiously I looked at him, and saw a large, self-satisfied looking man wearing an expansive smile and expensive apparel. Clothes the very best procurable, jewelry just inside the limits of good taste--he bore himself like a gentleman, yet there was an unmistakable air of ostentatious wealth that repelled me. A second look made me think Mr. Somers had dined either late or twice, but his greetings were courteous and genial and his manner sociable, if a little patronizing. He seemed a stranger to all present, and his eye roved about for the charming hostess Steele had told him of.
"We'll reach Miss Van Allen presently." Steele laughed, in answer to the glance, "if, indeed, we dare interrupt her game. Let's make progress slowly."
"No hurry," returned Somers, affably, beaming on Cassie Weldon and meeting Ariadne Gale's receptive smile. "I'm anchored here for the moment. Miss Weldon? Ah, yes, I've heard you sing. Voice like a lark--like a lark."
Clearly, Somers was not much of a purveyor of small talk. I sized him up for a lumbering oldster, who wanted to be playful but didn't quite know how.
He had rather an austere face, yet there was a gleam in his eye that belied the austerity. His cheeks were fat and red, his nose prominent, and he was clean shaven, save for a thick white mustache, that drooped slightly on either side of a full-lipped mouth. His hair was white, his eyes dark and deep-set, and he could easily be called a handsome man. He was surely fifty, and perhaps more. Had it not been for a certain effusiveness in his speech, I could have liked him, but he seemed to me to lack sincerity.
However, I am not one to judge harshly or hastily, and I met him half way, and even helped him in his efforts at gay affability.
"You've never been here before?" I asked; "Good old Steele to bring you to-night."
"No, never before," and he glanced around appreciatively, "but I shall, I hope, come often. Charming little nest; charming ladies!" a bow included those nearest.
"Yes, indeed," babbled Ariadne, "fair women and brave men."
"Brave, yes," agreed Somers, "to dare the glances of such bright eyes. I must protect my heart!" He clasped his fat hands pretty near where his heart was situated, and grinned with delight as Ariadne also "protected" her heart.
"Ah," he cried, "two hearts in danger! I feel sure we shall be friends, if only because misery loves company."
"Is it really misery with you?" and Ariadne's sympathy was so evidently profound, that Cassie Weldon and I walked away.
"I'll give Ariad her innings," said the vivacious Miss Weldon, "and I'll make up to the Somers kid later. Where'd Vicky pick him up?"
"She doesn't know him at all. Norman Steele brought him unbeknownst."
"No! Why, Vick doesn't allow that sort of thing."
"So I'm told. Any way, Steele did it."
"Well, Vicky's such a good-natured darling, maybe she won't mind for once. She won't, if she likes the little stranger. He's well-meaning, at any rate."
"So's Ariadne. From her smile, I think she well means to sell him her latest 'Autumn In The Adirondacks,' or 'Lady With A Handbag'."
"Now, don't be mean!" but Cassie laughed. "And I don't blame her if she does. Poor Ad paints above the heads of the public, so if this is a high-up Publican, she'd better make sales while the sun shines."
"What's her work like?"
"You can see more of it in this house than anywhere else. Vicky is so fond of Ariadne and so sorry her pictures don't sell better, that she buys a lot herself."
"Does Miss Gale know Miss Van Allen does it out of--"
"Don't say charity! No, they're really good stuff, and Vicky buys 'em for Christmas gifts and bridge prizes."
"Does she ever play for prizes? I thought she liked a bit of a stake, now."
"Yes, at evening parties. But, often we have a dove game of an afternoon, with prizes and pink tea. Vicky Van isn't a gay doll, you know. She's--sometimes, she's positively domestic. I wish she had a nice husband and some little kiddies."
"Why hasn't she?"
"Give it up. She's never seen any man she loved, I s'pose."
"Perhaps she'll love this Somers person."
"Heaven forbid! Nothing less than a crown prince would suit Vicky Van. Look, she's turning to meet him. Won't he be bowled over!"
I turned, and though there were several people between us, I caught a glimpse of Somers' face as he was presented to Miss Van Allen. He was bowled over. His eyes beamed with admiration and he bowed low as he raised to his lips the dainty, bejeweled hand.
Vicky, apparently, did not welcome this old-time greeting, and she drew away her hand, saying, "not allowed. Naughty man! Express proper compunction, or you can't sit next me at supper!"
"Forgive me," begged Somers. "I'm sorry! I'll never do it again--until after I sit next you at supper!"
"More brains than I thought," I said to Cassie, who nodded, and then Vicky Van rose from her chair.
"Take my place for a moment, Mr. Somers," she said, standing before him. "I--" she dropped her eyes adorably, "I must see about the arrangement of seats at the supper table." With a merry laugh, she ran from the room, and through the long hall to the dining-room.
Somers dropped into her vacant chair, and continued the Bridge game with the air of one who knows how to play.
In less than five minutes Vicky was back. "No, keep the hand," she said, as he rose. "I've played long enough. And supper will be ready shortly."
"Finish the rubber,--I insist" Somers returned, and as he determinedly stood behind the chair, Vicky, perforce, sat down.
He continued to stand behind her chair, watching her play. Vicky was too sure of her game to be rattled at his close scrutiny, but it seemed to me her shoulders shrugged a little impatiently, as he criticized or commended her plays.
She had thrown a light scarf of gauze or tulle around when she was out of the room, and being the same color as her gown, it made her seem more than ever like an houri. She smiled up into Somers' face, and then, coyly, her long lashes fell on her pink cheeks. Evidently, she had concluded to bewitch the newcomer, and she was making good.
I drew nearer, principally because I liked to look at her. She was a live wire to-night! She looked roguish, and she made most brilliant plays, tossing down her cards with gay little gestures, and doing trick shuffles with her twinkling fingers.
"You could have had that last trick, if you'd played for it," Somers said, as the rubber finished.
"I know it," Vicky conceded. "I saw, just too late, that I was getting the lead into the wrong hand."
"Well, don't ever do that again," he said, lightly, "never again."
As he said the last word, he laid his finger tips on her shoulder. It was the veriest touch, the shoulder was swathed in the transparent tulle, but still, it roused Vicky. She glanced up at him, and I looked
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