Roy Glashan's Library
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First published in Ainslee's, September 1908

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version Date: 2020-09-04
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Ainslee's, September 1908, with "Men Are Such Fools"


Headpiece from Ainslee's, September 1908


E leaned over the white paling of the enclosure and gazed moodily after the retreating players.

"I can't think why I came to this beastly place!" he muttered.

"Nor I!" the girl answered indifferently.

"I shall leave to-morrow," he declared.

"The best train is in the afternoon," she reminded him. "You would have plenty of time to pack."

"She must have remembered it perfectly well," he continued, following out his own train of thought. "I saw her coming down to breakfast, and she said that she might be a few minutes late. Here am I on the spot to the moment, and there she is at the second hole, playing with that fellow Cunningham!"

The girl who had been standing by his side shrugged her shoulders as she turned away.

"Why don't you go in and see the colonel?" she suggested. "He'll find you a match."

He opened his mouth to say things, but remembered in time that the girl was within ear-shot. As she strolled up to the first tee he watched her critically. She really was not bad looking. Her figure was excellent, and although her features were undistinguished, and her small oval face was pale, her eyes were good, and her deep brown hair was a pleasant color. Of course, by the side of Stella Manners she was insignificant, so far as looks went, at any rate, but she at least presented a possibility.

"I suppose you wouldn't care to have a round with me?" he suggested, strolling after her.

She turned round and faced him, with a humorous twinkle in her eyes.

"How good-natured of you!" she exclaimed. "I should be delighted, if you are quite sure that it won't bore you."

"Not in the least," he assured her. "Let me see, my handicap is ten. What shall I give you? Half a stroke?"

"I don't think that I must be quite so greedy," she answered. "Let us try a round level."

He raised his eyebrows. He had never seen her play.

"Just as you like," he assented, a little stiffly. "I thought that it would make the game more interesting if I gave you some strokes."

She smiled, and drove off. At the turn he was two down. He lost the match three down.

"I'm awfully sorry I offered you those strokes," he said, laughing, as they walked up to the pavilion. "You might have told me that you were a scratch player."

"You never asked me my handicap," she reminded him. "Besides, these links are all in my favor. On a long course I shouldn't have a chance against you."

Stella came out of the enclosure to meet them.

"You were late this morning, Mr. Lugard," she remarked.

"I was here punctually at the time we arranged," he answered stiffly.

"Really! Then my watch must have gained in the night," she declared carelessly. "So sorry! I suppose you two wouldn't care to play a foursome against Captain Cunningham and myself this afternoon, would you?"

Lugard was on the point of refusing, when an evil thought struck him.

"I should be delighted." he said, "if Miss Leycester would play."

Miss Leycester agreed, after a moment's hesitation.

"We aren't very much good, you know," Lugard remarked modestly, "at least I'm not."

"We can give you strokes," Stella declared magnanimously. "Captain Cunningham is playing a wonderful game!"

THE foursome should have taught him wisdom, but it didn't. The lady of his ill-advised adoration, accustomed to supremacy, was outdriven and outplayed by the quiet little brown girl whom no one knew anything about. Stella almost lost her temper, and she made several remarks which were calmly ignored by her opponent. Lugard was idiot enough to admire her high-heeled shoes and silk stockings, and to find Miss Leycester's flat thick boots unbecoming: to prefer her elaborate dressmaker's golfing costume, with its "lady's-maid's" rustle, to the faultless tailor-made outfit of his own partner. Yet even he was a little netted at her curt refusal to play a bye when she and Captain Cunningham had lost the match at the thirteenth hole, and he had spirit enough to refuse her invitation to walk home by the cliffs, and to remain and finish the round with Miss Leycester. When they had holed out on the last green and were on their way to the pavilion, she turned toward him.

"You admire Miss Manners very much, don't you?" she asked quietly.

"She is very pretty—and graceful," he answered. "I think every one admires her, don't they?"

She shrugged her shoulders. There was a gleam of humor in her dark bright eyes as she looked at him.

"I suppose," she remarked, "that you consider yourself desperately in love with her. I wouldn't be, if I were you!"

"Why not?" he asked.

"You are very young," she answered, "too young even to imagine yourself in love with any one. Don't be annoyed with me. Lookers-on see so much, you know—and I am always a looker-on!"

THAT evening a surprise was in store for the guests at the hotel where they were all staying. Miss Leycester and her aunt, who had dined every night in their own sitting-room, came down to the table d'hôte. The aunt, who had spent most of her time in her own room, and of whom no one yet had obtained more than a casual glimpse, was tall, and of aristocratic appearance. She wore a handsome black lace dress, with some wonderful old-fashioned jewelry—her appearance as she walked slowly down the room, leaning on a gold-mounted stick, and followed by her maid carrying a cushion, was quite impressive. But the quiet little brown girl! She wore a muslin gown, quite fresh and new, whose superiority over the ordinary evening dress of the hotel sojourners, even Lugard unhesitatingly accepted; and a cluster of pink roses at her bosom which no local flower-seller had ever provided. She smiled charmingly at Lugard, who was so dumbfounded that he had scarcely presence of mind enough to rise and bow. Either of intent or otherwise, she ignored the table where Miss Manners and her friends were sitting. Stella colored slowly, and ate with little appetite. For the first time she recognized a rival.

Miss Leycester was sitting in the hall when Lugard came out, and beckoned to him just as Stella was advancing with a smile.

"I want to introduce you to my aunt, Mr. Lugard." she said. "She used to know your father quite well, when he was vicar of Downminster."

Lugard looked a little perplexed.

"I thought that I knew most of my father's parishioners," he remarked.

Mrs. Templeman raised her eyeglasses and nodded.

"I remember you quite well, Mr. Lugard," she said. "You used to shoot rabbits in the park when you were quite a boy. Lord Downminster was my brother, you know, and I used to stay there a good deal." Lugard smiled.

"Of course!" he exclaimed. "You once gave me a rook rifle on my birthday, and Lord Downminster took it away the next day because I shot a cat!"

Mrs. Templeman turned to her niece.

"The colonel is coming in to have coffee with us, Elisabeth," she said. "If Mr. Lugard would make a fourth, we could have a rubber of bridge."

Miss Leycester looked up at him with a smile.

"Perhaps you have made some other arrangement, Mr. Lugard?"

"Not at all," he assured her. "I shall be delighted."

Stella looked distinctly annoyed as she saw Lugard follow the two ladies up to their sitting-room. She was not used to losing admirers, and she had never seriously regarded this quiet reserved girl as a possible rival. In her own mind she made plans for the morrow.

The Honorable Mrs. Templeman paused on the first landing and looked downward through her gold eye-glasses. Lugard had gone back again to order their coffee.

"Rather a scratch lot of people, Betty," she said. "The boy seems nice. What made you talk to him?"

Her niece smiled thoughtfully.

"He is making rather a fool of himself with that fair, showy-looking girl, Stella somebody or other," she said. "I don't know why I should interfere really, but the girl annoys me. She is so hopelessly obvious. I hope it won't bore you to have him come up."

"I never allow any one to bore me," her aunt answered placidly. "Besides, he makes a fourth for bridge!"

FOR three days Lugard wavered. Stella treated him with greatly increased consideration, she changed her frocks continually, and she was always ready to talk nonsense. Miss Leycester, on the other hand, although she was always bright and companionable, made no special effort to attract him, and seemed rather inclined to let him go his own way. The absolute simplicity of her dress and manners, and her perfect naturalness, appealed to him at times with their due significance, but he was unfortunately at that unholy age when the more obvious arts of the girl who has graduated in the profession of making herself agreeable to his sex are more likely to prevail. Gradually he became Stella's constant companion. One night after dinner, as they left the hotel together for a walk on the sea-front, and Stella from underneath her lace scarf had thrown an almost insolent glance at Miss Leycester sitting alone, Mrs. Templeman noticed them.

"So you couldn't teach your young man wisdom, Betty," she remarked.

Elisabeth answered lightly enough, but there was an undercurrent of regret in her tone, and her eyes, still fixed upon the door, were a little wistful.

"He is very young," she said. "The girl, too, is after all beautiful in her way. You really think of leaving this week, aunt?"

Mrs. Templeman nodded.

"The place is beginning to bore me," she said. "We will go to Scotland and stay with Bobby for a week or so."

THEY left the next day, and Stella carefully arranged a golf-match with Lugard for the time of their departure. From her place in the railway-train, Elisabeth looked out over the links and watched them playing. They were a very good-looking couple, and Lugard appeared to be completely absorbed by his companion. He did not even glance toward the train as it passed. Elisabeth leaned back in her corner. She was a very matter-of-fact young person, but there was a queer little pain at her heart just then, and she was never quite sure whether the mist was on the window-pane or in her eyes.

* * * * *

LUGARD, unable to stop the frenzied rush, did what seemed to him to be the next best thing—he escaped from it. The idea of being borne to safety in the center of a howling mob of men and women, suddenly transformed into the likeness of beasts, revolted him. He opened the door of one of the deserted boxes and stepped inside.

Below, in the stalls and pit, something of the same sort of scene was being enacted: from behind the lowered curtain came, every now and then, little vicious-looking puffs of smoke. Gazing around the house, he became suddenly aware that the box next to his was occupied. A woman's hand was resting upon the ledge. He leaned over, and recognized her at once.

"Miss Leycester!" he gasped.

She was a little pale, but there was in her face some trace of the same scorn, mingled with disgust, which had made him escape from the maddened path which led to safety. When she saw him, however, her whole expression changed. The smile which broke across her face was illumining, and it seemed to him that she had grown beautiful.

"How odd!" she exclaimed. "You, too, are waiting—until this is over. Do come in and sit with me."

He swung himself into her box and seated himself opposite to her. She was apparently in the same place which she had occupied all the evening. Her program and opera-glasses were on the ledge in front of her.

"This is like you," he said quietly. "I could never have imagined you—down there!"

He pointed to the screaming crowd below, and her eyes followed his gesture.

"I'm playing my old role." she said softly, "a looker-on always!"

He rose suddenly to his feet. His cheeks were blanched, his eyes were fastened upon one figure. A woman, tall and fair, was making frantic efforts to push her way from the center of the stalls. Her shrieks filled the air, her dress was half torn from her shoulders; she struck madly at every one within reach: the initial desire for personal safety at all costs burned in her terror-stricken, staring eyes. They saw her push off her feet and climb upon the body of an older woman, to gain a few inches of ground. Miss Leycester said nothing, but she looked away with a little shudder.

"God in Heaven!" he muttered. "I left England because of that woman. I might, yes, I might have married her!"

She opened her fan and commenced to fan herself.

"Don't let us look any more," she said. "It makes one feel—so ashamed. Is the fire gaining ground, do you think?"

He wiped the sweat from his forehead. He, too, was brave, but it was hard to match her coolness.

"I fancy so," he answered. "But the pity of it! There was time for every one to escape. There is now."

"Nothing can be done, I suppose?" she asked.

He shook his head.

"I climbed on the stage, and stayed there shouting till my throat ached," he answered.

She nodded.

"I saw you! It was no good! It is like an epidemic, this madness. How fortunate to be here! Tell me, how long have you been back in England?"

"Three weeks," he answered.

"And it is just three years since we were down at Sheringham," she remarked.

Their door came crashing in, and a man lay groaning across the threshold. Outside, the stream was thicker than ever. Men and women stumbled over and kicked the prostrate body. Lugard helped him to his feet, and without a word of thanks he reeled once more like a drunken man into the throng.

"Let me lift you into the other box." Lugard said. "The door is still fast there."

She nodded. He went first, and she leaned over, trusting herself fearlessly to his arms. For a moment he forgot to release her. They stood there in the dimly-lit box, and he felt her heart beat madly against his. A sudden wave of emotion swept over him. He forgot the horrors by which they were surrounded. Some part of the passion which was vibrating in another key throughout the doomed building, seemed to be throbbing now in these few feet of darkened air around them. He held her face, pale no longer, up to his, and kissed her unresisting lips.

"Don't!" she murmured weakly. "Oh, what an idiot I am!"

He laughed cheerfully.

"Not nearly such an idiot as I have been," he answered.

"Escape," he remarked, a few minutes later, "has now become a necessity. Wait!"

He opened the door carefully. The passage was empty. A fireman with a hydrant was sending a stream of water toward the blistering wall. He looked at them in surprise.

"Is the staircase still standing?" Lugard asked.

"The extra exit is," the man answered. "It has never been used," he added grimly. "Straight through here, sir!"

Lugard threw his coat over his shoulders.

"Come!" he said, and they walked out into the night.


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.