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   Chapter 5 No.5

Flower of the Dusk By Myrtle Reed Characters: 16043

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Eloise

A Summer Hotel

The hotel was a long, low, rambling structure, with creaky floors and old-fashioned furniture. But the wide verandas commanded a glorious view of the sea, no canned vegetables were served at the table, and there was no orchestra. Naturally, it was crowded from June to October with people who earnestly desired quiet and were willing to go far to get it.

The inevitable row of rocking-chairs swayed back and forth on the seaward side. Most of them were empty, save, perhaps, for the ghosts of long-dead gossips who had sat and rocked and talked and rocked from one meal to the next. The paint on the veranda was worn in a long series of parallel lines, slightly curved, but nobody cared.

No phonograph broke upon the evening stillness with an ear-splitting din, no unholy piccolo sounded above the other tortured instruments, no violin wailed pitifully at its inhuman treatment, and the piano was locked.

At seasonable hours the key might be had at the office by those who could prove themselves worthy of the trust, but otherwise quiet reigned.

Eloise Wynne

Miss Eloise Wynne came downstairs, with a book under her arm. She was fresh as the morning itself and as full of exuberant vitality. She was tall and straight and strong; her copper-coloured hair shone as though it had been burnished, and her tanned cheeks had a tint of rose. When she entered the dining-room, with a cheery "good-morning" that included everybody, she produced precisely the effect of a cool breeze from the sea.

She was thirty, and cheerfully admitted it on occasion. "If I don't look it," she said, smiling, "people will be surprised, and if I do, there would be no use in denying it. Anyhow, I'm old enough to go about alone." It was her wont to settle herself for Summer or Winter in any place she chose, with no chaperon in sight.

For a week she had been at Riverdale-by-the-Sea, and liked it on account of the lack of entertainment. People who lived there called it simply "Riverdale," but the manager of the hotel, perhaps to atone for the missing orchestra and canned vegetables, added "by-the-Sea" to the name in his modest advertisements.

Miss Wynne, fortunately, had enough money to enable her to live the much-talked-of "simple life," which is wildly impossible to the poor. As it was not necessary for her to concern herself with the sordid and material, she could occupy herself with the finer things of the soul. Just now, however, she was deeply interested in the material foundation of the finest thing in the world-a home.

A Passion for Lists

She had taken the bizarre paper slip which protected the even more striking cover of a recent popular novel, and adjusted it to a bulky volume of very different character. In her chatelaine bag she had a pencil and a note-book, for Miss Eloise was sorely afflicted with the note-book habit, and had a passion for reducing everything to lists. She had lists of things she wanted and lists of things she didn't want, which circumstances or well-meaning Santa Clauses had forced upon her; little books of addresses and telephone numbers, jewels and other personal belongings, and, finally, a catalogue of her library alphabetically arranged by author and title.

Immediately after breakfast, she went off with a long, swinging stride which filled her small audience with envy and admiration. Disjointed remarks, such as "skirt a little too short, but good tailor," and "terrible amount of energy," and "wonder where she's going," followed her. These comments were audible, had she been listening, but she had the gift of keeping solitude in a crowd.

Far along the beach she went, hatless, her blood singing with the joy of life. A June morning, the sea, youth, and the consciousness of being loved-for what more could one ask? The diamond on the third finger of her left hand sparkled wonderfully in the sunlight. It was the only ring she wore.

The Cook Book

Presently, she found a warm, soft place behind a sand dune. She reared upon the dune a dark green parasol with a white border, and patted sand around the curved handle until it was, as she thought, firmly placed. Then she settled her skirts comfortably and opened her book, for the first time.

"It looks bad," she mused. "Wonder what a carbohydrate is. And proteids-where do you buy 'em? Albuminoids-I've been from Maine to Florida and have never seen any. They must be germs.

"However," she continued, to herself, "I have a trained mind, and 'keeping everlastingly at it brings success.' It would be strange if three hours of hard study every day, on the book the man in the store said was the best ever, didn't produce some sort of definite result. But, oh, how Allan would laugh at me!"

The book fell on the sand, unheeded. The brown eyes looked out past the blue surges to some far Castle in Spain. Her thoughts refused to phrase themselves in words, but her pulses leaped with the old, immortal joy. The sun had risen high in the shining East before she returned to her book.

"This isn't work," she sighed to herself; "away with the dreams."

Before long, she got out her note-book. "A fresh fish," she wrote, "does not smell fishy and its eyes are bright and its gills red. A tender chicken or turkey has a springy breast bone. If you push it down with your finger, it springs back. A leg of lamb has to have the tough, outer parchment-like skin taken off with a sharp knife. Some of the oil of the wool is in it and makes it taste muttony and bad. A lobster should always be bought when he is alive and green and boiled at home. Then you know he is fresh. Save everything for soup."

The Air of Knowing

"I will go out into the kitchen," mused Eloise, "and I will have the air of knowing all about everything. I will say: 'Mary Ann, I have ordered a lobster for you to boil. We will have a salad for lunch. And I trust you have saved everything that was left last night for to-night's soup.' Mary Ann will be afraid of me, and Allan will be so proud."

"'I thought I told you,' continued Eloise, to herself, 'to save all the crumbs. Doctor Conrad does not like to have everything salt and he prefers to make the salad dressing himself. Do not cook any cereal the mornings we have oranges or grape-fruit-the starch and acid are likely to make a disturbance inside. Four people are coming to dinner this evening. I have ordered some pink roses and we will use the pink candle-shades. Or, wait-I had forgotten that my hair is red. Use the green candle-shades and I will change the roses to white.'"

A Frolicsome Wind

A frolicsome little wind, which had long been ruffling the waves of Eloise's copper-coloured hair, took the note-book out of her lap and laid it open on the sand some little distance away. Then, after making merry with the green parasol, it lifted it bodily by its roots out of the sand dune and went gaily down the beach with it.

Eloise started in pursuit, but the wind and the parasol out-distanced her easily. Rounding the corner of another dune, she saw the parasol, with all sails set, jauntily embarked toward Europe. Turning away, disconsolate, she collided with a big blonde giant who took her into his arms, saying, "Never mind-I'll get you another."

When the first raptures had somewhat subsided, Eloise led him back to the place where the parasol had started from. "When and where from and how did you come?" she asked, hurriedly picking up her books.

"This morning, from yonder palatial hotel, on foot," he answered. "I thought you'd be out here somewhere. I didn't ask for you-I wanted to hunt you up myself."

"But I might have been upstairs," she said, reproachfully.

"On a morning like this? Not unless you've changed in the last ten days, and you haven't, except to grow lovelier."

"But why did you come?" she asked. "Nobody told you that you could."

"Sweet," said Allan, softly, possessing himself of her hand, "did you think I could stay away from you two whole weeks? Ten d

ays is the limit-a badly strained limit at that."

The colour surged into her face. She was radiant, as though with some inner light. The atmosphere around her was fairly electric with life and youth and joy.

Dr. Conrad

Doctor Allan Conrad was very good to look at. He had tawny hair and kind brown eyes, a straight nose, and a good firm chin. He wore eye-glasses, and his face might have seemed severe had it not been discredited by his mouth. He was smooth-shaven, and knew enough to wear brown clothes instead of grey.

Eloise looked at him approvingly. Every detail of his attire satisfied her fastidious sense. If he had worn a diamond ring or a conspicuous tie, he might not have occupied his present proud position. His unfailing good taste was a great comfort to her.

"How long can you stay?" she inquired.

"Nice question," he laughed, "to ask an eager lover who has just come. Sounds a good deal like 'Here's-your-hat-what's-your-hurry?' Before I knew you, I used to go to see a girl sometimes who always said, at ten o'clock: 'I'm so glad you came. When can you come again?' The first time she did it I told her I couldn't come again until I had gone away this time."

"And afterward?"

Forgetting the Clock

"I kept going away earlier and earlier, and finally it was so much earlier that I went before I had come. If I can't make a girl forget the clock, I have no call to waste my valuable time on her, have I?"

Assuming a frown with difficulty, Miss Wynne consulted her watch. "Why, it's only half-past eleven," she exclaimed; "I thought it was much later."

"You darling," said the man, irrelevantly. "What are you reading?" Before she could stop him, he had picked up the book and nearly choked in a burst of unseemly merriment.

"Upon my word," he said, when he could speak. "A cook book! A classmate of mine used to indulge himself in floral catalogues when he wanted to rest his mind with light literature, but I never heard of a cook book as among the 'books for Summer reading' that the booksellers advertise."

"Why not?" retorted Eloise, quickly.

"No real reason. Lots of worse things are printed and sold by thousands, but, someway, I can't seem to reconcile you-and your glorious voice-with a cook-book."

"Allan Conrad," said Miss Wynne, with affected sternness, "if you hadn't studied medicine, would you be practising it now?"

"No," admitted Allan; "not with the laws as they are in this State."

"If I had no voice and had never studied music, would I be singing at concerts?"

"Not twice."

"If a girl had never seen a typewriter and didn't know the first thing about shorthand, would she apply for a position as a stenographer?"

"They do," said Allan, gloomily.

Preparation

"Don't dissemble, please. My point is simply this: If every other occupation in the world demands some previous preparation, why shouldn't a girl know something about housekeeping and homemaking before she undertakes it?"

"But, my dear, you're not going to cook."

"I am if I want to," announced Eloise, with authority. "And, anyhow, I'm going to know. Do you think I'm going to let some peripatetic, untrained immigrant manage my house for me? I guess not."

"But cooking isn't theory," he ventured, picking up the note-book; "it's practice. What good is all this going to do you when you have no stove?"

"Don't you remember the famous painter who told inquiring visitors that he mixed his paints with brains? I am now cooking with my mind. After my mind learns to cook, my hands will find it simple enough. And some time, when you come in at midnight and have had no dinner, and the immigrant has long since gone to sleep, you may be glad to be presented with panned oysters, piping hot, instead of a can of salmon and a can-opener."

"Bless your heart," answered Allan, fondly. "It's dear of you, and I hope it'll work. I'm starving this minute-kiss me."

"'Longing is divine compared with satiety,'" she reminded him, as she yielded. "How could you get away? Was nobody ill?"

"Nobody would have the heart to be ill on a Saturday in June, when a doctor's best girl was only fifty miles away. Monday, I'll go back and put some cholera or typhoid germs in the water supply, and get nice and busy. Who's up yonder?" indicating the hotel.

"Nobody we know, but very few of the guests have come, so far."

"Guests"

"In all our varied speech," commented Allan, "I know of nothing so exquisitely ironical as alluding to the people who stop at a hotel as 'guests.' In Mexico, they call them 'passengers,' which is more in keeping with the facts. Fancy the feelings of a real guest upon receiving a bill of the usual proportions. I should consider it a violation of hospitality if a man at my house had to pay three prices for his dinner and a tip besides."

"You always had queer notions," remarked Eloise, with a sidelong glance which set his heart to pounding. "We'll call them inmates if you like it better. As yet, there are only eight inmates besides ourselves, though more are coming next week. Two old couples, one widow, one divorcée, and two spinsters with life-works."

"No galloping cherubs?"

"School isn't out yet."

Life-Works

"I see. It wouldn't be the real thing unless there were little ones to gallop through the corridors at six in the morning and weep at the dinner table. What are the life-works?"

"One is writing a book, I understand, on The Equality of the Sexes. The other-oh, Allan, it's too funny."

"Spring it," he demanded.

"She's trying to have cornet-playing introduced into the public schools. She says that tuberculosis and pneumonia are caused by insufficient lung development, and that cornet-playing will develop the lungs of the rising generation. Fancy going by a school during the cornet hour."

"I don't know why they shouldn't put cornet-playing into the schools," he observed, after a moment of profound thought. "Everything else is there now. Why shouldn't they teach crime, and even make a fine art of it?"

"If you let her know you're a doctor," cautioned Eloise, "she'll corner you, and I shall never see you again. She says that she 'hopes, incidentally, to enlist the sympathies of the medical profession.'"

"She's beginning at the wrong end. Cornet manufacturers and the people who keep sanitariums and private asylums are the co-workers she wants. I couldn't live through the coming Winter were it not for pneumonia. It means coal, and repairs for the automobile, and furs for my wife-when I get one."

"Come," said Eloise, springing to her feet; "let's go up and get ready for luncheon."

"Have you told me all?" asked Allan, "or is there some gay young troubadour who serenades you in the evening and whose existence you conceal from me for reasons of your own?"

A Pathetic Little Woman

"Nary a troubadour," she replied. "I haven't seen another soul except a pathetic little woman who came up to the hotel yesterday afternoon to sell the most exquisite things you ever saw. Think of offering hand-made lingerie, of sheer, embroidered lawn and batiste and linen, to that crowd! The old ladies weren't interested, the spinsters sniffed, the widow wept, and only the divorcée took any notice of it. The prices were so ridiculous that I wouldn't let her unpack the box. I'd be ashamed to pay her the price she asked. It's made by a little lame girl up the main road. I'm to go up there sometime next week."

"Fairy godmother?" asked Allan, good-naturedly. He had known Eloise for many years.

"Perhaps," she answered, somewhat shamefaced. "What's the use of having money if you don't spend it?"

A Human Interest

They went into the hotel together, utterly oblivious of the eight pairs of curious eyes that were fastened upon them in a frank, open stare. The rocking-chairs scraped on the veranda as they instinctively drew closer together. A strong human interest, imperatively demanding immediate discussion, had come to Riverdale-by-the-Sea.

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