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- The Flyers - 2/15 -
"Changing the subject," inserted the amiable bore, his moon-face beaming, "I see that the Thursdales have opened their place across the ravine. Isn't it rather early for them to leave town for the summer?"
"They come out every year about this time."
"Lot of people will be opening their places next week. I saw Mrs. Gorgus to-day. She says they're putting her house in shape---"
"Impossible!" cried Mrs. Tanner. "It hasn't any shape."
"The only thing that could put the Gorgus house in shape is an earthquake. Who was the architect of that abortion?" demanded Rolfe.
"Denison. He's an impressionist."
"The Thursdales have a new French car. Have you seen it? Eleanor ran over here in it this afternoon with her Englishman. Showing off both of her novelties at once, d'ye see?" said Carter, the tennis player.
"I understand the thing's a go--sure go," said the big man. "In the fall some time. He's a rather decent chap, too."
"And, what's better, if his brother and his cousin should happen to die, he'll be a duke."
"If they're as healthy as he seems to be, there'll be nothing doing for him."
A good-looking young fellow, who had been staring at the fire all evening, moved uneasily in his lounging chair. Several quick glances were sent to where he sat moodily apart from the others, and then surreptitious winks and nudges were exchanged.
"Joe is as crazy in love with her as ever, poor devil," whispered Rolfe. Gradually the group of gossips came closer together over the table top; the conversation was continued in more subdued tones.
"They're discussing me, damn 'em," said the moody young man to himself. "I suppose they're pitying me. Damn cats! But I'll show 'em a thing or two they're not looking for before long." He looked at his watch for the twentieth time in an hour and scowled at the drenched window-panes across the way. For some reason this exceedingly nice- looking young man was in a state of extreme nervousness, a condition which, luckily for him, he was able to keep within himself.
And this was what Mrs. Scudaway was saying in an urgent undertone to the half dozen who leaned across the big table: "Joe is a mighty good sort, and I'm sorry for him. He's been good enough for Eleanor Thursdale ever since she came out two years ago, and I don't see why he should cease being good enough for her now. This Englishman hasn't any more money and he isn't half as good looking. He's English, that's all. Her mother's crazy to have a look in at some of those London functions she's read so much about. She's an awful ass, don't you think, Tommy?"
"Ya-as," said the blase man; "such as she is."
"Mighty hard lines, this thing of being an ordinary American," lamented the placid bore.
"One might just as well be called Abraham or Isaac," reflected Carter.
"No romantic young lover would live through the first chapter with either of those names," said pretty Miss Ratliff, who read every novel that came out.
"Dauntless has been terribly out of humour for the past week or two," said Carter. "He's horribly cut up over the affair,--grouchy as blazes, and flocks by himself all the time. That's not like him, either."
"He's the sweetest boy I know," commented little Mrs. Tanner, whose husband had barked about the midiron.
"I've heard he's the only man you ever really loved," murmured Rolfe, close to her ear.
"Nonsense! I've known him all my life," she replied, with quick and suspicious resentment.
"Trite phrase," scoffed he. "I'll wager my head that every woman living has uttered that same worn expression a hundred times. 'Known him all my life!' Ha, ha! It's a stock apology, my dear. Women, good and bad, trade under that flag. Please, to oblige me, get a fresh excuse."
"The most ignorant duffer in the world could lay you a stymie if---" the loud-voiced golfer was complaining just at that instant. The man he was addressing was nodding his head politely and at the same time trying to hear what was being said at the round table.
"Joe Dauntless is good enough for anybody's daughter," vouchsafed the blase man in corduroys.
"He's a ripping good fellow," again said Mrs. Scudaway.
"Mrs. Thursdale's got an English governess for her kids, an English butler, an English bull terrier, and a new Cobden-Sanderson binding on that antique History of England she talks so much about," observed Carter.
"And she's beginning to wear her evening gowns on the street in the morning. Besides, her shoes lob over at the heels," remarked the rangy Mrs. Carter.
"Yes, she's getting to be thoroughly English. I've noticed a tendency to chirp like a bird when she talks, too."
"That governess is a mighty stunning girl, by the way," said Rolfe.
"She's been over here a year, you know," said Mrs. Scudaway, with no apparent relevancy.
"Have you heard when Eleanor's engagement is to be announced?" asked Miss Ratliff.
"I'm not supposed to tell, but I have it on the best authority that it will be announced next week, and the wedding will take place in November. I suppose they'll ask Joe Dauntless to be an usher," said Mrs. Carter.
"Hello! Joe's gone outside. He must have heard something we said," said Rolfe, setting his highball glass down with a thump.
"Oh, if he had only been educated at Cambridge instead of in Cambridge," mourned Mrs. Carter.
It was true that the tall, good-looking Mr. Dauntless had left the room, but not because he had heard the comments of his friends. He was standing on the wind-swept verandah, peering through the mist toward a distant splash of light across the ravine to the right of the club grounds. The fog and mist combined to run the many lights of the Thursdale windows into a single smear of colour a few shades brighter than the darkness from which it protruded. Dauntless's heart was inside that vague, impressionistic circle of colour, but his brain was very much in evidence on the distant outside. What were the workings of that eager brain will soon be revealed--to the reader, at least, if not to the occupants of the rain-bound clubhouse.
A word concerning Dauntless. He was the good-looking son of old banker Dauntless, who died immediately after his cashier brought ruin to the concern of which he was president. This blow fell when his son was in his senior year at Harvard. He took his degree, and then, instead of the promised trip around the world, he came home and went to work in the offices of a big brokerage firm. Everybody knew and liked him. He was a steady, earnest worker, and likewise a sportsman of the right temperament. Big, fashionable Faraway looked upon him as its most gallant member; no one cared to remember that he might have been very rich; every one loved him because he had been rich and was worthy in spite of that. It was common knowledge that he was desperately in love with pretty Eleanor Thursdale, daughter of the eminently fashionable and snobbishly aristocratic widow Thursdale, mistress of many millions and leader of select hundreds. Moreover, it was now pretty well known that Mrs. Thursdale had utterly lost sight of Dauntless in surveying the field of desirable husbands for Eleanor. She could see nothing but Englishmen, behind whom lurked the historic London drawing-rooms and British estates. That is how and why young Windomshire, a most delightful Londoner, with prospects and a peerage behind him, came to be a guest in her city house, following close upon a long sojourn in the Bermudas. HE had been chosen; the battle was over, so far as Eleanor's hand was concerned. What matter if Dauntless had her heart?
The object of this indifference and scorn gazed long and hard at the blob of light across the ravine. His heart was beating fast, and his body tingled with a strange excitement, which made itself manifest in a mixture of impatient frowns and prophetic smiles.
"If it wasn't such a beastly night," he was muttering in one breath, and, "Still, it's just the sort of a night we want," in the next. He was looking at his watch in the light from the window when an automobile whizzed up the wet gravel drive and came to a stop in front of the club steps. As Dauntless re-entered the house from the verandah, a tall young man in a motor coat and goggles came in through the opposite door. They paused and looked steadily at each other, then nodded briefly. The crowd of loungers glanced at the two men with instant curiosity and then breathed easily. The man who was going to marry Miss Thursdale and the man who wanted to marry her were advancing to shake hands--a trifle awkwardly, perhaps, but more or less frankly.
"Rough weather for motoring," remarked Dauntless, nervously. Windomshire removed his cap and goggles.
"Beastly. I just ran over for something to warm the inside man. Won't you join me?" His voice was pleasant to the ear, his manner easy and appealing. He was not so good looking as Dauntless, true, but he had the air of a thoroughbred in his make-up--from head to foot.
"Sit down here," called Mrs. Scudaway readily, creating a general shift of chairs. The two men hesitated a moment, nervousness apparent in both, and then sat down quickly. The Englishman was next Mrs. Scudaway. "What were you doing out in the rain?" she asked after the order for drinks had been taken.
"Hurrying to get out of it," he said with evasive good humour, "and thinking how much nicer your fogs are than ours," he added quickly.
"Anybody come over with you?" asked the bore, agreeably.
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