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buked Kemp and Irene with mock severity for their
unbecoming conduct.

"You two have no manners! We're terribly embar-
rassed on this side of the table."

"Do excuse us!" cried Kemp. "We were merely
carried away by our emotions. I just happened to re-
member that I hadn't kissed Irene for a week."

"Well, you needn't pull that cave man stuff here,"
said Irene petulantly. She opened her vanity box
and squinted at herself in the tiny mirror.

"Pardon, everybody, while I powder my nose."

"Ward's never been kissed to my knowledge,
Grace," said Kemp, apparently undisturbed by Irene's
complaint of his roughness. "The field's open to

"Oh, we're not going to begin in public," said
Grace; "are we Ward?"



She turned smilingly toward Trenton, who met her
gaze quizzically.

"I'll say I've never been so tempted before," he

"Oh, you're bound to come to it!" cried Irene.
"Grace can't pretend she's never been kissed. She's
just a little coy, that's all."

"I'm not coy!" Grace protested. "But I'm all out
of practice."

"Well, we can easily fix that!" said Kemp, jumping
to his feet. "I'm going to kiss you right now. My
sense of hospitality demands it."

"Not much you're not!" cried Irene, forcing him
back into his chair. "I see you kissing Grace!"

" Jealous 1" cried Kemp, striking his hands together
with delight. "Jealous at last! But you needn't be
scared Grace. There's no fun kissing a girl against
her will."

"How do you know it would be against my will?"
Grace demanded.

"Well, it would be against mine," said Irene.
"Ward, why don't you keep Grace interested? I'm
not going to have Tommy falling in love with her.
We've had some girls out here who played up to
Tommy and tried to take him away from me. That's
why I brought Grace. She's an old pal of mine and
my little boy's not going to flirt with her, is you

"Of course I isn't!" Kemp answered and in proof
of his loyalty he kissed Irene again.

The food Jerry was serving called for praise and the
Japanese grinned his appreciation of the compliments
they bestowed upon his cooking. Kemp carved the
turkey; he always did his own carving; it gave the
home touch, he explained. Irene said she would make
the salad dressing and that would be another home


touch. The essentials were placed before her and she
composed the dressing after a recipe Kemp had taught
her. It was the inspiration of Kemp's pet waiter in a
New York club. Kemp talked for some time of.
waiters he knew and their genius in the composition
of salads.

Grace had never before heard food discussed by
an epicure. It seemed odd that a busy man should
have given so much time and thought to the formulae
of the kitchen. Kemp appealed to Trenton for con-
firmation of his appraisement of the merits of the
cooking they had enjoyed together in various parts of
the country, Trenton replying in a whimsical fashion,
tolerant of his friend's enthusiasm, but letting it be
known that as for himself he was much less fastidious
about his food. Kemp paused in his neat, skilled carv-
ing of the turkey to deliver a lecture on green turtle
soup. One might have thought that the whole progress
of civilization depended on settling then and there
exactly where green turtle soup attained perfection.
Kemp's insistence that the New York Yacht Club was
entitled to highest honors in this particular brought
from Trenton the remark that he knew a place in
Kansas where the mock turtle was preferable to any
other liquid food he knew.

"Heathen!" cried Kemp disdainfully.

"Let's talk of ham and eggs, a brain food superior
to the much-boasted pie," Trenton suggested. "There's
a boarding house in a coal mining town in Southern
Colorado where a woman sets out the best ham and
eggs I ever ate. I ought to know; I ate 'em three
times a day for two months ! "

"You're an ostrich! If you don't swear this is the
finest turkey you ever ate I'll tell Jerry to serve you
ham and eggs and I'll make you eat 'em."

Grace eyed her champagne glass with the same


hesitancy with which she had regarded the cocktail.
She had never before seen champagne. From what
she had heard and read of it she knew it to be one of
the essentials of the new order of life into which she
was being initiated.

"That's the very last," said Kemp, taking the bottle
from the cooler and holding it up for their admiration.
"Positively the last!"

"Same old joke!" exclaimed Irene. "Tommy's got
enough liquor hid away out here to last forty years.
I've seen the cave he built to keep it in there's
oceans of it!"

"A rotten exaggeration," Kemp rejoined, thrusting
the bottle back into the cooler and taking up his glass.
"I haven't enough to last me twenty."

Irene now engaged him in a lively debate as to the
merits of the wine. She pretended to a critical knowl-
edge of vintages and after demanding to see the label
expressed serious doubts as to the authenticity of the

Kemp challenged her assertions; apparently the
two found the greatest pleasure in taunting each other.

"They're off!" groaned Trenton; "you'd think they
hated each other from the way they talk. We'll be
dignified, Grace, and keep out of their silly con-
troversies. Between ourselves, I've been exposed to a
great deal of champagne, but I can't tell one brand
from another."

"It's terribly dangerous, isn't it?" asked Grace,
peering into her glass. "I took your advice about
the cocktail and I didn't feel it at all; how much may
I drink of this?"

"Well, about a quarter of that won't do you any
harm," Trenton replied after pondering the matter
with exaggerated gravity. "It seems to me you're rub-


bing it in just a little by asking my opinion in that tone
of voice. One might think I was your father."

"Oh, you're not nearly old enough for that! But
would you be ashamed of me," Grace asked, sipping
the wine and holding up the glass each time that he
might see that she was not exceeding her allowance.

"I shouldn't be ashamed of you even if you were
my aunt! I was just thinking how singular it is that
when a man reaches forty he wants every girl he meets
to think he's only twenty-seven. Have you noticed

"No; but I'll remember it. I can see you're terribly
wise. Have I had enough of this pretty stuff?"

He inspected her glass carefully and nodded.

"Just about."

"If I drank it all I might be more amusing," she
suggested. "I might be as lively as Irene."

"Let me study you first without artificial stimula-
tion. As I have every intention of keeping sober my-
self you'll get some little idea of what manner of
being I am. A first meeting is important it's either
that or nothing. If we both got tipsy it would be
different; but frankly I don't like being tipsy. Oh,
don't think I've never been! Far, far from it. But
tonight I have a feeling that it wouldn't be appropriate
for me to lose my head."

"No-o?" she inquired, with all the mockery she
dared employ.

They were interrupted by a question from Kemp,
who was now discussing automobiles with Irene.
Kemp invited Trenton's support in his defense of the
limousine in which they had driven to The Shack.
The car was not to Irene's liking and she warned him
never to buy another of the same make. Kemp tried
to explain why he had not met her wishes in the


matter. The car was a product of his home town and
the manufacturer was a friend and it was his policy
to patronize local industries. Grace thought it
ridiculous that Irene should show so much feeling
about a matter which was, strictly speaking, none of
her concern. The car had seemed to Grace a ma-
chine of much splendor and it had borne them speedily
and comfortably to the farm. She was unable to un-
derstand why her friend was so earnestly denounc-
ing it.

"Don't let them bother you," said Trenton, "they
get into a row about cars every time I'm here. Their
ignorance is pitiful; neither one of them knows a
thing about it."

"Who doesn't know anything about cars?" de-
manded Irene testily.

"Ah! I've wakened the enemy's pickets," laughed
Trenton. "You two ought to remember that just six
weeks ago tonight you threshed out the whole busi-
ness. You ought to know by this time, Irene, that
Tommy is as obstinate as a mule. He'd be sure to
buy the very car you warned him against."

"Oh, I knew all the time that's what he'd do. Of
course I don't have to be satisfied. But I'd rather
ride in a jitney," Irene rejoined scornfully.

"Knowing your aristocratic taste I don't see you,"
said Kemp, turning to the others. "We are not really
fussing today; it's just a little sketch we're putting on.
Irene and I never quarrel. I just lead her on for the
joy of seeing how ignorant she is about the things she
spouts about the loudest."

The talk now shifted to the theatre, it appearing
that Kemp in his business trips to New York found
time to cultivate the acquaintance of many actors and
actresses. Irene had met some of them, both in New
York, where she seemed to have encountered Kemp


on her buying excursions for Shipley's, and at home,
where Kemp always "threw a party" for his par-
ticular admirations among theatrical people when they
visited Indianapolis. Apparently these parties had
been very gay from the manner in which Irene and
Kemp referred to them. They recounted with par-
ticular delight an occasion on which the star of a
musical comedy had with the greatest difficulty been
put into condition to resume his itinerary after a Sat-
urday night at The Shack. Irene was moved to im-
moderate laughter at the recollection.

"When he gets a bun he's ever so much funnier off
the stage than he ever is on. He climbed out of a
window when we were trying to get him in shape to
go to his train and would you believe it! we found
him in the barnyard talking to a pig! Then he cried
to take the little brown piggy with him; he said he
wanted it for his understudy. He was perfectly
screaming about that silly little pig, and we fooled
around so long he missed the last possible train and
Tommy had to drive him clear to Chicago for a Sun-
day night opening. He kept saying every time we
told him he had missed another train that he would
wait till it came back! You couldn't beat that!"

Grace and Trenton were laughing more at Irene's
enjoyment of her own story than at the incident itself.
They learned that the comedian had finally been
landed at the stage door of the Chicago theatre where
he was to appear barely in time to dress for his part.
Kemp was enthusiastic about the drive, which had
broken all records. He interrupted Irene's story with
many details of the flight which she had forgotten.

When Irene and Kemp again became absorbed in
each other Grace picked up the thread of her talk with

"We stopped just where it was growing interesting,"


she remarked. "Let's go right on where we left off.
You were saying you thought it better not to lose your
head tonight. Was that on my account? Am I such
a young innocent that you've got to take care of

He laughed at the eagerness with which she flung
these sentences at him. If she was affected by her re-
stricted potations there was nothing in her manner or
speech to indicate the fact. Her eyes were bright,
but only from the excitement of her entrance upon
a new field of adventure. Once a young student at the
university had addressed some verses "To Her Quest-
ing Eyes" and published them in one of the college
periodicals. The poem had been instantly recognized
as a tribute to Grace Durland; questing was a fitting
term for a certain look that came into her eyes at
times when her habitual eager gaze became crossed
oddly with a far-away look of revery. Trenton was
doing full justice to her eyes and was mindful of their
swift changes.

"On the whole I don't really believe you need pro-
tecting," he answered. "Oh, just a little, perhaps;
but I think I'd trust you to take care of yourself."

"But what if I don't want to be taken care of! What
if I want to jump into the water with a big splash 1"

"Urn! So that's the idea? Well, I think you'd
swim out; and yet again you mightn't. There are
those who don't," he ended gravely.

"I'm not afraid I'm not afraid of anything!" she
said with a defiant lifting of her head.

"Dear me!" He narrowed his eyes and looked at
her sharply. "Broadly speaking, it's better not to be
afraid of life; life's got to be lived." He pecked at
his salad for a moment, then put down his fork and
went on. "We've got to meet situations; play the


game with the cards as they're dealt. We hear a good
deal these days about our grand old grandfathers and
what heroic stuff they were made of. They fought
with savages who didn't have the right ammunition
to fight back with; but nowadays the savages are in-
side of us. The wild streak in man is showing itself.
It's in all of us."

He touched his breast lightly and smiled to minimize
the seriousness of what he was saying.

"Right around here, where the com grows tall, you
might think and probably a lot of people back
yonder in the city like to think that everything's safe
and it's easy to be good! We're all being tested all
the time. The man who was an angel fifty years ago
would probably be a perfect devil these days if he had
half a chance. The world is a different place every
morning; but that's only an old habit the world has.
It keeps spinning a little faster all the time. Now
we've got right here " with a slight movement of the
head he indicated Kemp and Irene "we've got a sit-
uation that wouldn't have been possible twenty years
ago at least not in a town like this. But we may be
sure something of the kind was going on only it was
better hidden. Nowadays with more people and more
wealth and the general craving for excitement things
happen differently. We may regret such things, you
and I, but we are not helping matters by denying they
exist. Everybody is restless; people are living as
though they expected to die tomorrow and are afraid
they're going to miss something; but I don't believe
people are wickeder than they used to be. What we
used to call wicked we call naughty now, and pretend
it doesn't matter!"

He spoke half questioningly, as though not sure of
her assent.


"I suppose that's so," she replied soberly. "I never
thought of it in that way. But," she added, "you
must have lots of other responsibilities more im-
portant ones, without troubling about me."

"We're not much use in the world if we haven't a
few. I think I think I might put you on my list.
How would you like that?"

"It would be wonderful if you thought me worth
thinking about after we leave here!" she answered,
her eyes bright.

"If I never saw you again I shouldn't forget you.
You're a vivid person; I can honestly say that you're
the most interesting person I've met in a long time."

They were interrupted by Irene and Kemp who
rose suddenly from the table.

"Tommy and I are going to dance," said Irene.
"You two can have your coffee where you like. There's
a cordial if you want it Tommy has everything, you
know." She rested her hand for a moment on Tren-
ton's shoulder. Her face was flushed and her voice a
little strident. "You two are spooning beautifully.
You may be awfully proud of yourself, Grace. I never
saw Ward so interested in any girl before."

"Run along, Irene; Grace and I are talking of
serious matters," Trenton replied.

"Listen to that, Tommy! These idiots are serious!
It'll never do to leave them here."

Kemp caught Trenton by the arm and dragged him
from his chair.

"Can't be serious 'n my house, Ward Trenton! Al-
ways too serious for Irene and me. Just look 't that
beautiful girl I got you to play with; silly to be serious
with a girl like that."

"All right; we'll dance then," said Trenton,


"Thass the talk! Don't forget this 's a party, not
a funeral."

Jerry had rolled back the rugs and pushed the
furniture out of the way in the living room. Kemp
and Irene were already on the floor dancing exag-
geratedly to the air of one of the new records.

"I'm not up to date on the new stuff," remarked
Trenton apologetically; but Grace found that he
danced well and evidently with enjoyment.

"You two not drinkin' enough," said Kemp in
one of the pauses, planting himself waveringly before
Trenton and Grace and extending a glass. "Gotta
drink more; party's no good without wine; lots o'
wine. Want everybody t' get soused like me."


Grace's experience of drunkenness had been limited
to the occasional sight of a tipsy man in the street
and she was shocked by the unhappy change in
Kemp's appearance. His suave courtesy had disap-
peared. His hair was in disorder; Irene had rumpled
it before they left the table, saying that he was too
pretty; and as he talked his head moved queerly in
time with his jerky articulation. And he looked old;
one might have thought that Age, as a punishment
for his intemperance had snatched away his youthful
mask. Finding that Grace and Trenton paid no heed
to his demand that they drink more wine he followed
them over the floor and finally arrested them while he
apologized elaborately for neglecting Grace. She was
his guest and it was time that he was dancing with
her. Irene rose from the couch where she had been
watching them and announced her determination to


teach Trenton a new step; his manner of dancing was
all out of date she said. She flung her arms around his
neck and with her head on his shoulder pushed him.
about, while Kemp, delighted at Trenton's discom-
fiture, clapped his hands in time to the music.

Grace, finding herself free, seized the moment to
try to escape, but Kemp lunged to the door and in-
tercepted her.

"Runnin' 'way from me! Awfu' bad manners run
away from host. Gotta dance with me like Irene.
Thass right, Grace; good li'l' sport; Irene's friends all
good sports."

He caught her arms and clasped them about his
neck but as his muddled senses were unequal to re-
sponding to the rhythm of the music the performance
resolved itself chiefly into an attempt on Grace's part
to keep him on his feet.

"Sorry I stepped on you. Awfu' sorry, Grace.
Wouldn't step on you for anything in this wide, wide

"Oh, it was great fun!" Grace cried when the
record had played itself out. She was determined to
make the best of it, but Trenton, mopping his brow,

"Tommy, you're too rough! Grace doesn't want to
dance any more; we're going to have our coffee. You
go and dance with Irene."

"Poor sport! Awfu' poor sport," Kemp retorted
as Trenton led Grace away. He bawled after them
his conviction that they were both poor sports and
resumed dancing with Irene.

Jerry had placed the coffee-tray in a long, com-
fortably furnished sun porch opening off the dining
room, where the music and the voices from the living
room penetrated only feebly.


"I think I'm going to like this better," said Grace
with a sigh of relief.

"A little calm is agreeable after a rough house,"
said Trenton watching her intently as she seated her-
self by the table and filled the cups. "Tommy never
knows his limit," he went on, taking a cigarette from
a silver box on the stand. "He can't carry the stuff
as he used to and he doesn't act pretty when he's
shot. But he recovers quickly; he'll be all right soon.
Irene knows how to manage him. One lump, thank

Grace was still breathing deeply from the violence
of her romp with Kemp. She was hoping that Trenton
would renew the talk she had been enjoying at the
table; but his silence was disconcerting. She won-
dered whether he was not purposely waiting for her
to speak, to show her reaction to the scenes in which
they had been participating in the living room.

She turned to him presently with a slight smile on
her lips.

"You can see that I'm a terrible greenhorn. I
don't know how to act at a party not this kind of
a party. I suppose it isn't nice of us to run away,
but you were an angel to come to the rescue."

"It's always pleasant to be called an angel!" he
remarked. "It hasn't happened to me for sometime.
Tommy would die of chagrin if he knew he'd been
making a monkey of himself; but he's likely to do
most anything when he gets a bun."

Jerry came in to inspect the wick of the coffee
lamp and Trenton detained him.

"Oh! Jerry, you needn't serve any more drinks.
Mr. Kemp doesn't need any more."

"Yezzah." The boy bowed imperturbably and with-



"Jerry and I understand each other perfectly. He'll
take care of that. I wonder what the boy thinks! But
you never can penetrate the innermost recesses of the
Oriental mind. He probably doesn't approve of
Tommy's parties, if we knew the truth."

"I suppose he's used to them. Let me see, what
were we talking about?"

"We hadn't settled anything; we were going round
in a circle.

"Then let's keep revolving! I want to hear you
talk some more. I want to know your ideas about

"Oh, that's a large order," he laughed. "But I'll
do my best!"

She was struck suddenly with a fear that he might
be finding her company irksome. It was quite likely
that at other times, when he had been provided with
a companion familiar with the technic of such parties,
he had contributed more to the gaiety of the occasions.
But her imagination was unequal to the task of
visualizing him in such antics as Kemp was engaged
in. He impressed her more and more as she studied
him as a man who kept himself in perfect control;
who found indeed a secret enjoyment in merely look-
ing on when others were bent upon making an exhibi-
tion of themselves.

"We were speaking awhile ago of our naughtiness in
accepting an invitation to a function like this. I've
attended a lot of such parties here and elsewhere. I
am always wondering why I'm invited and why I go.
Perhaps," he smiled quizzically, "it's to give moral
tone! That's undoubtedly why you were invited."

"That excuse won't do for me!" she replied quickly.
"I wanted to come; I was perfectly crazy to come!"

"Well, it's just as well to satisfy your curiosity. I


assure you these parties are all alike. I've taken a
hand in them in every part of the world. The only
thing that makes this one different is " he smiled
broadly and his eyes danced with humor "is you! I
might say that you are quite different. You create
an atmosphere quite your own."

"Hurry up and explain that!" She clasped her
hands in mock appeal. "I might be different and still
very unsatisfactory!"

"Yes, there is that possibility," he answered mus-
ingly. "A girl requires a little practice to catch the
stroke. That is, she has got to get over the first shock
before she becomes a good party girl. You're a novice.
It will be interesting to know just how you emerge
from the novitiate."

"Would you be interested in that, really?"


Her attention wavered and with a quick lifting of
the head she bent a startled questioning look upon
him. The new records of distinguished operatic stars
which Kemp and Irene had been playing had served
as a faint accompaniment to their talk, but the music
and the sound of voices were no longer audible in the
sun porch. Grace glanced nervously about, oppressed
by the silence. Voices and steps were heard in the
rooms above. Trenton asked if she had read a
novel which he took from the lower shelf of the
stand that held the coffee things. Her negative
reply was almost hostile and she did not meet
his gaze. Her face wore a look of cold detach-
ment. It seemed to him that the girl was no longer
there; that what he saw was merely a shadowy shape
that might pass utterly at any moment. He rose
and dropped his half-smoked cigarette into an ash-
tray on the stand. When he faced her again the look


had changed. He interpreted it as an appeal and he
was not unmindful of its poignancy. She sat erect,
her head lifted, her hands clasped upon her knees.

"I was just wondering " she began.

"Oh, Tommy and Irene? They're about some-
where," he said carelessly. He reached for a fresh
cigarette, eyed it as though it were an unfamiliar thing
and lighted it deliberately. That look in her face, the
appeal in her eyes, had struck deep into him. He sat
down beside her on the davenport, crossed his knees
and folded his arms. His composure restored her
confidence. In a moment she settled back, quite her-

Online LibraryMeredith NicholsonBroken barriers → online text (page 5 of 27)