Major Forester learns a bit about young love.
I HAD very little warning of the impending cataclysm which was to disintegrate my orderly life. I had indeed barely done more than glance through my sister's letter, dated from San Remo two days previously, when the concierge of the hotel where I am in the habit of staying at Monte Carlo approached me respectfully. I fancied that there was a curious gleam in his eyes as he made his announcement:
"There is a young lady outside asking for you, Major Forester."
It seemed incredible that my niece should have arrived already, but I hastened out. I am glad to say that I have never looked with a censorious eye upon the extravagances of youth. The young woman, with her short skirts, her lipstick, her cigarettes and cocktails, may not have altogether met with my approval, but I have never been among the front rank of her detractors. At the same time it was a shock to me to find sitting there in the person of my sister's daughter one of the most advanced and, I must add, attractive types of the modern flapper which it would be possible to conceive. Her costume struck me as curious. She was wearing one of the fashionable type of pull-over hats and a leather coat, which, however, was of no great length and inadequately concealed her long, silk-clad legs and patent-leather shoes. She had just lit a cigarette and, seated a little sidewise, was superintending the unstrapping of a trunk from the rear of the car. At my approach she left the driving seat and stepped out on to the pavement to meet me.
"You dear thing!" she exclaimed, putting up her lips in most engaging iashion. "How sweet of you to have me!"
I must confess that I was taken aback. The greater part of my sister's letter was as yet unread.
"Is that your-er-trunk?" I inquired idiotically.
"Rather!" she answered. "It contains pretty well all I own in the world. They can take it up to my room any time. I shan't need to change for lunch."
"I must just speak to the manager," I said. "Come in with me, will you, Joan?"
She passed her arm affectionately through mine.
"I say, you got Mum's letter all right, didn't you?"
"To tell you the truth," I explained, "it arrived five minutes ago. I was just reading it."
"You don't know that I've come to live with you, and that I've been sent away from San Remo in disgrace, and all that sort of thing?" she exclaimed.
"I hadn't the faintest idea of anything of the sort," I assured her.
"If that isn't just like Mummie," Joan sighed. "Takes it into her head that I must be packed out of San Remo at a moment's notice, and lands me on the first harmless person she can think of. I suppose you are harmless, aren't you?"
I disengaged myself from her clasp. The manager of the hotel—an extremely quiet and respectable one, I might add—was on his way to greet us.
"I want a room for my niece," I announced in my most dignified fashion—"with bath."
The manager bowed, glanced at Joan, and bowed again. For a moment he looked away into an unfathomable distance.
"Certainly, Major Forester," he acquiesced. "On the same floor as your own, I imagine."
"Not necessarily," I answered. "Anywhere, so long as the room has a pleasant aspect and a bathroom."
"I should like to be on the same floor as Major Forester," Joan interposed, smiling at the manager. "I don't like to be miles away from everywhere. You will find me a nice room, won't you?"
She looked at the manager, and I knew very well that she would get what she wanted.
"Would you like to come upstairs and select for yourself?" he invited.
"I'll leave it to you," she decided. "Uncle," she went on, "don't you think a cocktail is indicated?"
I was on the point of summoning a passing waiter, but she checked me.
"Not here," she said. "There's a jolly good bar up on the hill there."
"How do you know?"
"Oh, I've been here before. Come along and I'll drive you up. To tell you the truth, that's why I kept the car."
I stepped in by her side, and received an impression of being whirled through sunlit spaces, round a corner and up a hill, until finally we came to a standstill exactly opposite the Royalty Bar.
Francis himself came hastening out to greet us. I should be expressing the situation mildly if I said that the general attitude of the little company of aperitif-seekers, among whom were many of my acquaintances, was one of surprise, when we entered the place, Joan with her arm through mine. Francis led us to my favorite table, fortunately at that moment unoccupied.
"What sort of cocktail would you like, Joan," I inquired—"a Bronx?"
She shook her head.
Francis, suave and ingratiating, stooped down to receive her order.
"A dry Martini—with a dash," she added confidentially. "And a packet of cigarettes—you know the kind."
The light of complete understanding passed between the two. I gave my own order.
"A dash of what—bitters?" I asked.
She patted my arm.
"Stupid man! Absinthe, of course. Haven't you tried it?... Here, Francis!"
The latter returned hurriedly.
"Major Forester will try the same," she directed.
Francis disappeared with a smile upon his lips. I leaned back and looked around, exchanging greetings with my friends. I was conscious of a general air of amusement tempered with a considerable amount of surprise. So far as I can remember, during the three years of my patronage of the place, the only ladies whom I had escorted there were the wife of my old friend Admiral Conyers, a lady of sixty years of age, and Lady Craston, whose pretentions to good looks disappeared with the marriage of her granddaughter.
"I like this place," my niece declared, spreading herself out and disclosing more than ever her silk-clad legs. "I think we are going to have a lovely time. Uncle, don't you?"
"I am sure of it," I mumbled. "If you will excuse me, I will finish your mother's letter."
I drew the closely written sheets from my pocket, and perused them. I gathered that Joan's conduct in San Remo had been so atrocious that her mother considered an instant change advisable. At her wits' end to know where to send her, she suddenly remembered that I was staying in Monte Carlo. She prayed me to give shelter to Joan for a week or so, until she could come over and explain. The great thing was that Joan must be got out of San Remo within twenty-four hours.... I folded the letter and put it in my pocket.
"You appear to have been giving your mother a certain amount of trouble," I remarked.
She flicked the ash from her cigarette, and nodded tolerantly.
"I'm afraid they're rather a rapid crowd there," she admitted, "and you know how old-fashioned Mum is."
"I'm considered to be a little that way myself," I ventured.
"You won't be any longer when I've finished my visit," she assured me calmly. "You don't mind having me, do you? I'll be awfully good, really, so long as you always let me have my own way and don't grudge me the primary necessities of life."
"As, for instance?"
"Oh, cocktails and cigarettes, and dinner not before half past nine, and always lobster for lunch."
I viewed with some dismay this sudden disruption of my usual habits, but on the whole I was surprised to find myself so resigned. She looked at me with a twinkling light in her brown eyes.
"So that's all right!" she concluded, with a sigh of relief. "The next question is what I'm going to call you?"
"'Uncle Henry' would appear to me to be suitable," I suggested.
"Rotten!" she retorted. "I shan't tell a soul you're my uncle. You don't look old enough, for one thing; you're much too nice-looking, and it wouldn't be any fun at all. What's your other name? Oh, I remember. David! I shall call you David!"
"But, my dear child," I protested, "don't you realize that you are—let me see, how old?"
"And I am forty-four."
"Just the right age," she observed cheerfully. "You appear to me to have been leading too sedate a life, David. We must see to it.
"Now I'll drive you down to the Café de Paris, and I'll garage the car while you order luncheon. Lobster, for me, please, a baby lamb cutlet, and some peas. Nothing to drink, unless you'd like another cocktail."
"Certainly not," I declined hastily. "I very seldom take anything in the middle of the day."
"We'll see about a liqueur," she said as she led me to the car.
We lunched out of doors, as Joan had suggested, and she ate everything that was placed before her with hearty appetite, and, to my secret horror, commanded a fine de maison with her coffee.
"David, my dear," she said, patting my hand, "I am sure we are going to be very happy."
I should have withdrawn my hand at once, but, as a matter of fact, the touch of her slim, cool fingers was very pleasant, and I was anxious not to hurt her feelings. I saw another man whom I knew well look away with a smile.
"I'm afraid you will find it dull," I warned her. "My friends are rather an elderly crowd. I don't know any young people for you to dance or play round with."
"But you dance, David, don't you?"
"And you play tennis?"
"Yes, I play tennis."
"Why, David dearest, I don't want to know another soul," she declared. "Besides," she added, with a little sigh, "they'll all be over from San Remo in a few hours' time."
"And who are 'they'?"
Joan ejected the cigarette stump from her holder, blew down it meditatively, selected another one, and fitted it in.
"Well, David dear," she admitted, "I'm afraid there are rather a lot of them. First of all, there's the man I made my dancing partner, who's really the cause of all this trouble."
"And who is he?" I inquired.
"He has a funny name," she replied thoughtfully. "Adrian Christianopolis."
"Some people say that he is a Greek," she confided, lighting her cigarette, "some people call him an Armenian and others a Turk. Most of them—especially the men—insist upon it that he is an insufferable bounder."
"What do you think of him?" I asked.
She looked at me with the most innocent light in the world shining in her beautiful eyes.
"I don't know," she answered. "He dances divinely."
'"H'm! I don't fancy that I shall like him much," I said. "Tell me about the others."
"Well, there is Philip Rothbury," she mused. "He wouldn't be so bad if he hadn't got the crazy idea that he was terribly in love with me. Do you know, David," she went on, "if there's anything in the world I dislike in a man it's sloppiness. You're not likely to fall in love with me, are you, David?"
"Not the least in the world," I assured her hastily. "Besides, I hope you won't forget that I am your mother's brother. And, while I am on the subject, I think it would be better if you called me 'Uncle David.'"
She shook her head.
"Not a chance!" she replied. "It would spoil it all too. I told them in San Remo I was coming over here to stay with a man. I said he was a little older than myself, but I had loved him all my life. I am so glad you look as you do, David. You just carry out the idea. You don't look a day older than thirty-eight, and there is something Mephistophelian about the curve of your mouth."
I opened my lips in indignant protest.
"Of course," I said, "I shall at once explain to any of your friends who may arrive the exact nature of the relationship."
"You won't do anything of the sort," she asserted, "and if you do they won't believe you. Besides, what's it matter about your being my mother's brother? I don't believe there's anything in the prayer book shutting you out from my heart because you're my mother's brother. I think I might get very fond of you, David."
I changed my tactics. Protest I could see was only an incentive.
"I'm sure that I could easily adore you, Joan," I whispered.
She smiled ecstatically.
"It's experience that does it," she declared. "Now, none of the boys can get just that note into their tone, and when they try to look like that—well, they make me froth at the mouth. You can hold my hand if you like, David."
"This being a public place?" I began.
"Hold my hand, please," she insisted.
I touched her fingers for a moment under the tablecloth, and was instantly conscious of the half-reproachful, half-smiling regard of the chief steward, one of my friends.
"Joan," I said sternly, "you will be the death of my reputation."
"David dear," she rejoined, "if you really meant to have a good time, you ought to have lost it ages ago...."
DURING the afternoon I was allowed a couple of hours' respite while Joan unpacked her clothes and wrote some letters. About four o'clock, however, she sailed into my room—only a door or two away from her own—in a green silk negligée, which I had a horrible suspicion was practically the only garment she was wearing.
"My dear Joan!" I ventured. She sat on the edge of my bed.
"David dear, don't be silly!" she begged. "Of course I shall come into your room whenever I want to. How nice it looks—a real man's room. Such a good smell, too, of soap and shaving things. David, I want to know what we are going to do—what sort of clothes to put on? There's a thé dansant at the Metropole. What about it?"
"Well, sooner or later," I replied, "I shall have to prove my incapacity."
She swung herself off the bed, came to where I was sitting, put her arm around my neck and deliberately kissed me. I was so startled that I dropped the book I had been reading.
"Aren't you a dear, David!" she exclaimed. "I'll be ready in ten minutes."
At the Metropole—where, for some reason or other, we were given the best table—we danced for an hour and a quarter. I am really a very ordinary performer, but the child was so wonderful that it was easy to believe that she was telling the truth when she flattered me. At half past six she looked at her wrist watch.
"Time for our first cocktail," she announced.
"Here?" I inquired. "No, pay your bill—just wait while I run back to the hotel—and we'll go and get my tickets for the club, and have them there."
"But, my dear Joan," I warned her gravely, "they won't let you in there . You're not old enough."
She smiled as she watched me pick up my change.
"Wait," she murmured. We strolled back to the hotel, where she kept me waiting ten minutes. When she reappeared, somehow or other, although she was as attractive as ever, she seemed slightly different—possibly owing to an altered arrangement of the hair.
I led her to the desk, and the man there smiled back at her, as anyone in the world would. In a moment or two, to my surprise, after a brief glance at her passport, he was making out her card.
She signed it. I watched her count the change from a mille note—she had insisted upon paying for herself—and we once more set out toward the Sporting Club.
"But how on earth did that come about?" I gasped.
"Never mind," she replied.
The same performance was gone through at the Sporting Club. Afterward we made our way upstairs into the little bar, where Joan insisted upon sitting upon a high stool with her arm through mine. She superintended the making of the cocktails, and there seemed to exist between her and Arnould that perfect freemasonry common between people of a similar bent. Later on we wandered through the Rooms, made a few bets, and at half past seven found ourselves in easy-chairs in the bar again.
"I must know why those men issued you your tickets," I told her. She looked absently across at the wall.
"David dear," she said, "I'm afraid, if you have a fault—and I haven't found one yet—that you are just a little what the old world used to call conscientious. Are you?"
"I hope so," I answered.
"Then I'd rather not explain, if you don't mind," she begged.
"Don't be silly," I rejoined. "I may be conscientious, but you're in without my aiding or abetting you."
"If I tell you," she pleaded, "you won't do unpleasant things?"
"You see, my sister Mary is twentyone," Joan explained, "and she's the image of me—especially with my hair drawn down like this—so just when I'm in Monte Carlo I'm Mary. She doesn't want her passport. To tell you the honest truth, I've been Mary before."
Well, it wasn't my affair, or if it was I didn't feel in the least inclined to complain. On the other hand, it was rather pleasant to think that she might be my companion in this, my favorite lounging place.
"You're the dearest thing on earth, David," she whispered, boldly taking my hand in hers.
She beckoned to a footman.
"Take this gentleman's order," she directed. "I am standing cocktails. Now, David," she went on, "we've reached the very important question about what we're going to do tonight. I suggest a little dinner in a quiet place where I can really try you out. Then, after dinner, we dance a little, and after that we come back here and gamble for an hour. Supper at the Carlton, of course."
"But, my child," I protested, "do you know that I usually go to bed at twelve o'clock?"
"Terribly bad for you," she retorted. "You're lucky if you get to bed before three during the period of my disgrace.... Oh!"
I looked up, and I realized at once what had happened. A young man was approaching us—a perfectly dressed, olive-skinned, rather fat-faced young man, good-looking except that his eyes were set a trifle too close together, with masses of sleek, black hair, and a walk notably un-English. He bore down upon us.
"This is a great pleasure, to have found you, Miss Joan," he said. "But what a desertion!"
Joan nodded at him in friendly fashion but without overmuch enthusiasm.
"I had no idea that you were coming to Monte," she observed.
"I decided only at ten o'clock this morning, after I had strolled the promenade," was the suave reply. "Why did you leave all your friends so unexpectedly?"
"Because I was bored with them all," she answered bluntly. "I thought I should like a change of life. Besides I heard that a very dear friend of mine—Major Forester—was here, and I was dying to see him. David, this is Mr. Christianopolis—Major Forester."
I contented myself with a nod and a perfunctory invitation to sit down, which the young man promptly accepted.
"Miss Heveringham is—" I began.
"You mustn't let Mr. Christianopolis into my secret," she interrupted. "Mr. Christianopolis knows a good deal about you already, although not by name. I am so honest," she went on, with a little sigh, "I have always told him that there was someone I was very fond of coming soon to Monte Carlo."
The perfect serenity of the young man's expression was beginning to disappear. The half-masked scowl on his face made me dislike him, if possible, more than ever.
"You are staying at what hotel?" he inquired.
"I am staying with David," Joan replied. "We are at the Hotel Maurice."
"But, my dear Joan," I exclaimed, a little shocked, "you ought to tell—"
"There's nothing we need tell," Joan interrupted, taking my case from my pocket, and lighting a cigarette.
"Miss Heveringham," the young man said desperately, "may I have a word with you alone?"
"If ever you're fortunate enough to find me alone," Joan assented. "As a matter of fact, I don't often let David out of my sight. There are too many beautiful women about in this place."
The young man was fuming. After all, although I disliked him, I thought the situation might possibly be relieved by my temporary absence. I rose to my feet.
"Your opportunity has arrived," I told him. "There is a friend in the baccarat room I want to see. I shall find you presently, Joan,"
She made a little grimace at me.
"I shall wait here until you come back," she promised.
I wandered through the Rooms, greeting a few acquaintances, and was standing by one of the roulette tables when I felt a touch upon my shoulder. I looked round and was confronted by a tall, very goodlooking, sunburnt young man, whose face was somehow familiar to me.
"It is Major Forester, isn't it?" he asked.
I admitted the fact.
"My name is Rothbury," he went on eagerly—"Philip Rothbury. You know my father, I think."
"Quite well," I told him, shaking hands—"and your uncle."
"By the bye," he inquired, with elaborate nonchalance, "is your niece Miss Heveringham staying with you?"
"At the present moment," I said, "she's in the bar, talking to a young man by the name of Christianopolis."
My companion's face darkened.
"That infernal bounder!" he muttered.
"I'm inclined to agree with you," I admitted. "Why don't you go and break up their tête-à-tête?"
He accepted the suggestion, and disappeared. I found a seat and played trente et quarante for half an hour. Afterward I strolled back to the bar. There was no sign of Philip Rothbury, but Christianopolis was still sitting talking to Joan. She welcomed me gayly, but I thought she looked a little tired. Christianopolis rose to his feet, and deliberately, in my presence, leaned down and whispered in her ear. She answered him with her tone a little more raised than usual.
"Nothing in the world would induce me to dine with you tonight," she replied. "You should have better taste than to ask me when my dear friend David is here."
The young man's lips moved, and I am perfectly certain that his unspoken words consigned me to the nethermost regions.
"At the Carlton tonight, then," he suggested.
She turned toward me.
"I have told Mr. Christianopolis that if he happens to be at the Carlton tonight, I will dance with him twice," she said. "Do you mind, David?"
"Of course not," I answered.
He left us then, with a little bow. She looked after him, and there was something in her eyes which troubled me.
"I rather wish you had minded," she sighed.
I tried hard to get Joan to allow me to invite Philip Rothbury, to whom I had taken a great fancy, to dine with us that night. She refused, however, firmly.
"Our first dinner together, David dear," she protested—"I won't have it spoiled. I know exactly how Philip would try to make love to me. I haven't the faintest idea as to your methods."
"You shameless little hussy!" I rejoined. "I tell you, I am your uncle. I'm inclined to think you're a wicked and troublesome child, and I am as likely to want to make love to you as I am to your mother—my own sister."
She laughed in my face.
"We shall see," she murmured...
I TOOK her, as she desired, to a restaurant of an intimate character, and, despite the fact that my niece made the most flagrant efforts to flirt with me, the evening was, I think, a success.
"Don't let's go back to the Rooms at all," Joan suggested, when eleven o'clock came. "Let's stay here and talk until it's time to go to the Carlton. Perhaps he won't come then."
"But don't you want him to come?"
"But you like dancing with him."
"I like dancing with him better than anything in the world," she admitted, with sudden emphasis. "Don't you see, David dear, that's just it? I wish I didn't."
"Why not?" I was constrained to ask. "Because he's a brute," she answered simply.
That was all the mention that was made of Christianopolis, but on our way up to the Carlton she suddenly put her arm round my neck, and in the most brazen way kissed me.
"Joan!" I exclaimed. "My dear child!"
"Oh, shut up!" she insisted. "I want to kiss you, David. Don't you understand? It's a safety valve, and you are about the one man in the whole world I could kiss. Kiss me back again, please, and look as though you wanted to."
I did the best I could to invent and deliver an embrace suitable to the moment and the circumstance. Joan laughed at me but approved in modifled fashion.
"With a little practice, David," she confided, as she held my fingers tightly on descending from the carriage, "I shall never want another man to kiss me...."
Joan was gayer even at the Carlton than she had been during dinner.
"Joan dear," I begged, "you must let me present you as my niece. My character—"
"David dear," she interrupted, "aren't you content to lose your character for my sake?"
Between the appeal to my sense of humor and my affectionate regard for this amazing child I was helpless.
"But tell me why," I begged.
Then for a moment she was almost serious.
"Because," she whispered, "if Christianopolis really believes that I am in love with you—and I am—perhaps he will leave me alone."
"But, Joan dear, if you want him told to leave you alone, if you want him put where he belongs, that at least comes within the scope of my legitimate authority."
She shook her head a little sadly.
"Words wouldn't touch him," she assured me. "There is something else, and he knows it."
We were at the height of our gayety when he came in. He was too discreet to attempt to join us at our table, but selected one for himself at the opposite end of the room. From the moment of his arrival there was a queer change in Joan. Her feet floated less lightly across the floor, and yet every now and then her little half-passionate kindnesses seemed more than ever real.
Christianopolis came across the room, bowed formally but a little cynically to me, and stood before Joan. Without a smile on her face, but perfectly acquiescent, she moved away with him....
There is something about dancing, which I do not understand, and I won't attempt to describe. I only know that after they had danced for a short time there was a little murmur of interest among most of the onlookers. Two of the real professional dancers came out to watch. I gathered from comments I heard that the dancing really was wonderful. Joan's face was suddenly pale. The light-hearted girl had vanished; it was the woman who danced. There was no shadow of unpleasantness in their contact—not the faintest suggestion of the lewdness which sometimes one sees in many public dancing places. Yet, whereas Joan had danced with me with laughing eyes and parted lips, with the whole-hearted gayety and joy of a child, she danced now with a rapt devotion utterly inexplicable.
There was no smile upon her lips, no joy in her eyes, but I who watched her knew that every fiber of her being was responding to some fierce emotion. They danced on, and again, until with a sudden sensation of relief I heard the customary signal from the orchestra for an exhibition number.
They came back to my table and parted without the exchange of a word. Joan sank into her place by my side, and Christianopolis, with a bow to both of us, took his leave. Yet as he crossed the room I fancied that there was something triumphant in his slow, perfectly balanced movements. I poured Joan out some champagne. She drank it greedily. I opened her vanity case, and with a quick smile of understanding she studied her reflection in the mirror.
"Isn't it terrible, David?" she whispered. She looked at me with the strangest light in her eyes, and I knew that it was terrible. Then she glanced behind. "Pay your bill another time, David," she prayed, "and let us go."
And then we fled from the place like frightened children.
IF any shred of reputation still remained to me at the hotel which had known me and my regular ways for many years, it must have vanished that morning when, having parted from Joan half an hour previously, at four o'clock I heard the soft turning of the handle of my door, and she glided into the room. I looked at her with momentary horror. A touch of her old self brought the laughter into her eyes.
"You're perfectly respectable, David, in that ridiculous dressing gown of yours," she said, "and, as for me—why, I haven't much on, I admit, but I am all covered. Please!"
She pushed me gently back into the easy-chair in which I had fortunately been enjoying one last cigarette before turning in. She seated herself upon the side of it. Her arms went round my neck.
"Oh, you dear David!" she murmured. "If I hadn't found you! Oh, if I hadn't found you!"
Her arms tightened. She kissed me with the sudden ardor of a child clinging to some protecting elder. I knew better than to interrupt her. I sat quite still, but I think she felt the shiver of anxiety which was creeping through me.
"David," she went on, "it must be you or no one else. Philip doesn't understand, although in his way he is a dear. I'm just an ordinary child, aren't I?—girl—young woman, what you will—but I am mad. I've a little madness, and if you won't help me it's going to steal all through me. I shan't be what you'd want me to be any more. David!"
"Joan dear!" I whispered.
"I'm reasonable about everything else in life," she pleaded. "I hate Adrian Christianopolis. I know that he is what you and the right sort of men call a bounder; I know he's wrong, morally—every way. I could shriek at the idea of his kissing me, and yet when I dance with him—when he dances with me—it's heaven and hell mixed. I can't refuse him when he asks; when he leaves me I think of the next time. And it's what I told you just now—it's heaven and hell mixed—and I'd rather have it, it seems, than heaven itself. David—"
She kissed me again, on the eyes, and her lips were burning.
"David, can't you save me!"
"Of course I can," I assured her. "Easiest thing in the world! I'll see to it tomorrow."
She withdrew herself a little from me. Her lips came apart, her eyes were filled with a questioning light, but it seemed as though she forgot to speak. Then I kissed her tenderly, and lifting her in my arms, placed her in my chair, and stood up before the mantelpiece.
"Child," I enjoined, passing the cigarettes, "smoke."
She obeyed me. I struck a match, lit her cigarette, and then my own.
"Now listen," I continued. "You'll swear that there's nothing about this man except his dancing?"
"Before God!" she sobbed. "I loathe and detest him. And, David," she added, almost pitifully, "what is there in dancing that it should turn one into another being the way it does me? When I dance with you or with Philip I'm just happy. That is how one should love it, and yet there's something else —something which seems to come flaming up from hell in my blood when the music starts and he dances with me."
I poured myself out a whisky and soda. I really didn't want it very much, but I did it for the sake of atmosphere.
"Supposing," I asked, "I were to tell you that you were never to dance with him again, would it make you happy or unhappy?"
She flung out her arms to me.
"The happiest being in the world," she declared.
"Then your troubles are over," I assured her.
MY reputation among certain sections of society in Monte Carlo will probably never again be thoroughly reestablished after the events of the ensuing fortnight. Joan, in the absence of Christianopolis, becoming more lighthearted and daring every day, carried out the scheme of devilment upon which she had embarked to its furthermost limits. Even when I made my most agonized efforts to introduce her to some of my friends as my niece, to speak impressively of the impending visit of her mother, my sister, she spoiled the whole effect by either assuming an air of bland surprise or indulging in a perfectly obvious grimace.
I really believe that so far as the loiterers of the place were interested in my affairs at all, they became terribly interested as to the relationship between Joan and myself. To all my attempts at establishing her socially, Joan replied by some further piece of flagrant misbehavior. She insisted upon lunching, dining and supping alone with me at different places every day. The stream of young men who followed her from San Remo she treated in such a manner that one by one they thinned out and failed to materialize. Philip Rothbury alone, I was delighted to see, she tolerated, and he was sometimes permitted to join us.
The thing which brought me real happiness, however, was the utter disappearance in a few days of every cloud from her young face and the passing of that state of nervous unrest which had kept her glancing furtively toward the door whenever we were dancing. Sooner or later, however, the inevitable was bound to happen. She and I were supping one night at the Carlton, with Philip Rothbury, who was attached to another party, occasionally intervening for a dance, when suddenly, during the pause, after an exhibition dance, Christianopolis came in. He was paler and pudgier than ever, and he leaned heavily upon two sticks. I saw Joan shiver for a single moment as she became aware of his arrival, but immediately afterward the fear had gone. She looked at him in frank curiosity.
"Why, here's Adrian!" she exclaimed. "I wonder what's happened to him."
He bowed to her, taking no notice of me, and established himself at a table just inside the door. She looked at him speculatively.
"Now I wonder?" she began.
I insisted upon dancing to keep her quiet. As soon as we returned to our places, Christianopolis rose and crossed the room toward us. She watched his approach without the slightest change of expression, without, in fact, any show of interest. He took her hand, still ignoring me so far as was possible.
"Hullo, you've been in the wars!" she exclaimed brightly.
"I met with an accident," he explained. "May I join you?"
"I'm afraid we've only room for three at our table," I intervened, "and the other place is engaged."
He looked at Joan with an expression I had sometimes seen in his face when they had been dancing. Her eyes never flickered as she smiled back at him.
"Sorry, Adrian," she said. "What hard luck for you not being able to dance!"
He stood quite still for a moment, and I braced myself for the attack I was half expecting. The indifference of her tone must have been terribly galling.
"I miss not being able to dance, of course," he admitted, "but my time will come again."
She caught his venomous glance toward me as he turned away, and it seemed to bring illumination. She gripped my hand under the table. She ignored Philip, who was crossing the room toward us, coming to claim a dance.
"David," she cried, "I've never been so excited in my life. Can't you feel me—I'm trembling all over. Tell me the truth at once."
I decided to treat the affair as lightly as possible.
"Men," I pronounced grandiloquently, "have fought since time immemorial to save the girl they love from harmful contact."
"You fought with him—you, David!" she exclaimed.
I looked across the room at his retreating figure.
"One couldn't fight with a creature like that," I replied. "We took him out into the country—he thought he was going to lunch with you—and we gave him the choice, Philip and I, of leaving the principality or of—an accident. He didn't believe us, and he chose the accident. I was something of a surgeon in my younger days," I explained, "and knee caps were rather a specialty of mine. He's all right, except that he can't dance."
"He can't dance," she repeated.
"And until you're safely off my hands," I concluded, "he never will be able to again."
They were playing the Blues, and the lights had been lowered. She suddenly leaned toward me with all the old mischief in her eyes. Regardless of shocked faces at the next table, she kissed me. But it was Philip with whom she danced.
I SHALL be in my sister's good books for the rest of my life. Here is a fragment of her last letter:
"I shall never cease to look upon you, Henry, as the greatest social diplomat I have ever encountered. How you got Joan to break with that detestable crowd—especially that awful Adrian Christianopolis—and marry that delightful boy Philip I can't imagine, but you did it where I failed. You know that Philip has come in for another six thousand a year and that they say he is likely to be the youngest Cabinet Minister? Bless you, my dear Henry. I shall always send to you when I am in trouble...."
On the other hand, even to the present day, half Monte Carlo believes me to be something of a roué, although there are a few who, impressed by my sister's enthusiasm, look upon me as a very clever fellow. Only I myself, sometimes, when I take my cocktail alone up at the bar on the hill, or listen to the music with rather a dull party at the Carlton, know the whole truth. Which is that I am something of an old fool.