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   Chapter 11 THE GYMKHANA

The Honorable Percival By Alice Caldwell Hegan Rice Characters: 19987

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


The experiences of his first twenty-four hours in Japan were repeated with variations three times before Percival reached Kobe. His mad desire to overtake Bobby had carried him from Kioto to Nara, where he went to the wrong hotel and missed the Weston party by fifteen minutes. From Nara he made a night journey to Ozaka, during which the small engine broke down in the middle of a rice-field, proving a sorry substitute for the wings of love.

It was with a sigh of relief that he at last boarded the Saluria and sank into his steamer-chair. At least there was one satisfaction, no one but Judson knew of his futile search, and Judson was too well trained to discuss his master's affairs. How good it was to be on board once more! He felt an almost sentimental attachment for the steamer which three weeks ago had fallen so short of what an ocean-liner ought to be. Then the Saluria was only an old Atlantic transport transferred to the Pacific to do passenger service, but now she was a veritable ship of romance, freighted with memories and dreams.

The passengers, coming aboard, seemed like old friends, and he found himself greeting each in turn with a nod that surprised them as much as it did him. At any moment now Bobby Boynton might appear, and the prospect of seeing her raised his spirits to such a height that he wondered if he would be able to play the r?le he had assigned himself.

He had definitely decided to be an injured, but forgiving, friend. She should be made no less aware of his wounds than of his generosity. She would doubtless recall another incident in which he had met ingratitude with noble forgiveness, and she would rush to make reparation. If there was one thing he prided himself upon it was a knowledge of women. Never but once had his judgment erred, and even then, could he but remember all his impressions, he doubtless had had moments of misgiving.

Bobby's voice sounded on the ladder, and the next moment she was tripping down the deck toward him. It was in vain that he kept his eyes on the letter in his hand, and assumed an air of complete absorption. She came straight toward him, and dropped into the chair next his own.

"Oh, but you missed it!" she said. "I never had so much fun in all my life."

He did not answer. Instead, he lifted a pair of melancholy eyes, and looked at her steadfastly.

"Oh," she said after a puzzled moment, "I forgot. We are mad, aren't we? One of us owes the other an apology."

"Which do you think it is!" he asked gently, as if appealing to her higher nature.

Bobby, with her head on one side, considered the matter. "Well," she said, "you did something I didn't like, and I did something you didn't like. Strikes me the drinks are on us both."

"The-" Percival's horrified look caused her to exclaim contritely:

"Excuse me, I'll do better next time. Come on, let's make up. Put it there and call it square!"

It was impossible to refuse the small hand that had been the cause of the trouble, but even as Percival thrilled to its clasp he realized his danger. During the course of his twenty-eight years he had always been able to prescribe a certain course for himself and follow it with reasonable certainty. Exciting moments were now occurring when he was unable to tell what his next word or move was going to be. It is quite certain that he never intended to take her hand in both of his and look at her in the way he was doing now.

"What a bunch of letters!" she said, getting possession of her hand. "You see, I have some, too. I'll read you some of mine if you'll read me some of yours. Will you?"

"Which will you have?"

"May I choose? What fun! Read me the one with the sunburst on it."

He obediently adjusted his monocle, broke the seal, and began:

"'My Dear Son:

"'I cannot, I fear, make my letter so long or so interesting as I could desire, owing to the fact that I am afflicted with a slight lumbago, but I will proceed without further preliminary to set down the few incidents of interest that have occurred since my last writing. Your brother is sorely harassed by affairs in the city, and when here he is in constant altercation with the grooms about exercising your horses. I fear you will find them sadly out of condition upon your return.'"

"I call that a darn shame!" said Bobby, sympathetically, then her hand flew to her mouth as she saw Percival's raised eyebrows.

"There I go again! You see, I've been running around with Andy Black, and nobody ever puts on airs with Andy."

Percival gave a sigh of discouragement, then resumed his reading:

"'We have had few guests at the hall since your departure until yesterday, when who should call but the Duchess of Dare!'" Percival paused, and glanced hurriedly down the page.

"Go on!" commanded Bobby.

"It won't interest you in the slightest."

"But it does. Unless there's something you don't want me to hear."

"Not at all. Where was I? Oh, yes, 'call but the Duchess of Dare! She has let her house to some friends, and has come away from London for a fortnight's rest. It was rather queer of her calling, wasn't it? She was less embarrassed than you would imagine and actually had the effrontery to mention Hortense.'"

"Who is Hortense?" asked Bobby, all curiosity.

"Her daughter."

"Well, why shouldn't her mother mention her?"

"Oh, I don't know," said Percival, in deep water; "rather bad form, perhaps."

"For a mother to mention her own child?" Then the light dawned. "Perhaps she is the one you were telling me about."

Percival hastily folded the letter and slipped it into its emblazoned envelop.

"Is she?" persisted Bobby.

"Is she what?"

"The girl you let down easy?"

"Well, really, Miss Boynton-"

"Roberta," corrected Bobby.

"Very well, Roberta. It's your time to read to me. May I choose a letter?"

"No, I'll choose one myself."

"But that isn't fair. I let you select any one you liked."

She thought it over, then somewhat reluctantly held out three envelops. It was so evident that she was trying to keep back the bulky one with the bold address that Percival instantly selected it.

"Some of it's secrets," she warned him, "and you mustn't peep."

"Of course not. But who is it from?"

"That wasn't in the game. I didn't ask you."

"You didn't need to; but go ahead."

"It's all about the ranch," said Bobby, looking over the pages and smiling to herself. "They've had an awful row with the new broncho-buster, and Hal had to punch his head for being cruel to the horses. I knew that fellow wasn't any good." She read on for a while to herself. "Says the shooting promises to be great this year. My! but I hate to miss it!"

"Whatever do you find to shoot?"

"A little of everything from teal duck to Canada goose."

"Really!" exclaimed Percival, with interest. "And do you shoot?"

"Oh, yes, some. I'm not as good as the boys. You see, I have to use Pa Joe's old No. 10 choke-bore shot-gun, when I really ought to have a 16-bore fowling-piece."

Here was a new and wholly unsuspected bond of sympathy between them. Percival would have plunged at once into a dissertation on a subject upon which he considered himself an authority had not the fluttering sheets of the letter stirred vague misgivings in his bosom.

"You aren't playing fair!" he cried. "You are telling me what is in your letter without reading it to me."

"So I am!" She looked over page after page. "Here, this will do. It says: 'I wish you could have been along last night when I hit the trail for the Lower Ranch. You know what that old road looks like in the moonlight, all deep black in the gorges, and white on the cliffs, and not a dog-gone sound but the hoof-beats of your horse and the clank of the bridle-chains. Why, when you come out in the open and the wind gets to ripping 'cross the grass-fields, and the moon gets busy with every little old blade, and there's miles of beauty stretched out far as your eye can reach, I'd back it against any sight in the world. Only last night I wasn't thinking much about the scenery. I was thinking-'" Bobby stopped short, declaring that she had a cinder in her eye.

"Can't be a cinder, out here in the bay," protested Percival.

"Well, it's whatever they have out here."

"And sha'n't I ever know what your friend was thinking?"

"He was probably thinking of his dinner," said Bobby, gazing at him reassuringly with her free eye.

After she had departed to make sure that the steamer got properly under way, he tortured himself with suspicions. What possible secrets could she have with this unknown friend, who waxed sentimental over moonlit trails and wind-swept grassfields? Had not some one told him of an unhappy love-affair? He searched his memory. Suddenly there came to him the disturbing figure of a stalwart young man on a broncho, with leather overalls, jingling spurs, a silk handkerchief knotted about his throat, and a pair of keen, humorous eyes lighting up a sun-bronzed face.

Then he smiled at his quick alarm. Hadn't she told him it was one of her foster-brothers, one of those lads whom he persisted in regarding as children? It was the most natural thing in the world that an impulsive, big-hearted creature like Bobby would be on terms of affectionate intimacy with those boys with whom she had been brought up.

He did not feel fully reassured, however, until he put the question to her flatly:

"That letter you were reading me," he said at his first opportunity-"you won't mind telling me if it is from that chap I saw at the station?"

"I don't mind telling you. But you mustn't tell the captain."

"The captain? Oh, to be sure. Doesn't fancy your friends, the Fords. I remember."

From that time on he boldly and openly entered the lists for Bobby's favor. The ten days he had allowed himself to drift with the tide of his inclination were passing with incredible swiftness, and he resorted to every means, from the subtlest strat

egy to the most domineering insolence, to monopolize every waking moment of her time.

She responded to all his suggestions with flattering promptness until preparations were set on foot to hold a huge gymkhana, in which everybody on board should take part. The enterprise fired her enthusiasm instantly. She was a born organizer, and the prospect of a whole day devoted to sports captivated her. The project served as a peg on which she and Percival hung their first quarrel.

"Of course I'm going into it," she exclaimed hotly, "and so are you."

"The idea!" said Percival. "I shouldn't think of it for a moment. Fancy me chasing an egg around the deck in a teaspoon, and all that sort of thing!"

"But there are lots of other contests. There's the long jump, and the tug-of-war-"

"And pinning tails on donkeys," added Percival, bitterly. "Dare say you'd like to see me doing that."

"I'd like to see you doing anything that would make you more sociable," flashed Bobby.

For the rest of the day Percival sulked in the smoking-room, raging at the time that was stolen from him, and given to the making of silly rules and the buying of trifling prizes.

On the morning of the sports he arrayed himself in one of the white creations of G. Lung Fat's, giving special attention to the accessories of his toilet. Then, with marked indifference to the games, which were the all-absorbing topic of the day, he had his chair moved to the far side of the deck, and sat there in superior isolation during the whole morning.

But even there he could not avoid hearing what was taking place; shouts of laughter, groans, and jeers over a failure, and frantic applause over a victory, were wafted to him constantly. Now and then some one hurried by with the information that Andy Black had won the quoits prize or that Andy Black had won the bottle-race. His lip curled contemptuously at sports that required a mere trickster's turn of the wrist or an animal's sense of direction. He would like to see Andy attempt a long jump or a mile race. Imagine the fat pink-and-white youth on a polo pony!

At luncheon Andy's praises were passed from lip to lip. The affair had assumed an international significance. A Scotchman, a German, a Japanese, and an American were striving for first place. The captain's patriotism ran so high that he offered to set up the handsomest dinner the Astor Hotel in Shanghai could afford if Andy came out victorious.

In vain Percival sought to hold Bobby's attention. The tapers in her eyes were lighted for Andy, and he was obliged to undergo the new and intolerable sensation of sitting in a darkened niche and watching the candles burn at an adjoining shrine.

The slightest hint of deflection in one upon whom he had bestowed his favor maddened him. He had showered upon this ungrateful girl attentions the very husks of which would have sustained several English girls he knew through a lifetime of patient waiting. He recalled their unswerving loyalty with a glow at his heart.

Ah, he thought, one must look to England for ideal womanhood. Where else was to be found that beautiful deference, that blind reliance, that unswerving loyalty-At the word "loyalty" a stabbing memory of Lady Hortense punctured his eloquence.

During the afternoon he found it impossible to escape the games. The potato and three-legged races brought the contestants to his side of the deck, and his reading was constantly interrupted by an avalanche of noisy spectators who rushed through the cross passages from one side of the boat to the other, exhibiting a perfectly ridiculous amount of excitement.

Andy, it seemed, had only one more entry to win before claiming the day's championship.

"He'll get it!" Percival overheard the captain saying gleefully to Mrs. Weston. "None of 'em are in it with America when it comes to sports."

Percival flicked the ashes from his cigar, and, carefully adjusting his tie, rose, and made his way to the judges' table.

"How many more events are there?" he asked in a superior tone.

"One," was the answer.

"How many entries?"

"Two. Mr. Black and the Scotch gentleman."

"Make it three," said Percival, as if he were ordering cocktails.

In the confusion of preparing for the last and most elaborate feature of the day, Percival's enlistment was not discovered. It was not until the contestants ranged themselves in front of the judges' table that a buzz of fresh interest and amazement swept the deck. First came the Scot, lean, wiry, and deadly determined; then came Andy, plump and pink, with his fair hair ruffled, and a laughing retort on his lips for every sally that was sent in his direction. Last came the Honorable Percival, a distinguished figure in immaculate array, wearing upon his aristocratic features a look of contemptuous superiority.

"What are the rules of the game?" he inquired, looking into space.

"There's just one rule," called Captain Boynton from the background-"Get there."

"The American motto, I believe," said Percival, quietly, and the crowd laughed.

The Scot was the first to start, and Percival watched anxiously to see the nature of the race he had entered. He saw his adversary dash forward as the signal sounded, climb over a pile of upturned chairs, scramble under a table, scale a high net fence, then disappear around the deck, only to emerge later from the mouth of a funnel-shaped tunnel, through which his contortions had been followed by shrieks of merriment.

Percival realized too late what he had let himself in for. Not for worlds would he have subjected himself to such buffoonery had he known. It was not the sport of a gentleman; it was the play of a circus clown! He watched with horrified disgust as the Scot's grimy face and tousled head emerged from the canvas cavern.

"Four minutes and five seconds," called the umpire.

Andy Black stepped confidently forward amid a burst of applause.

"The champion Roly-Poly of the Pacific," some one called.

"The Saluria's Little Sunbeam," suggested another.

Andy smiled blandly, and kissed his fingertips. The signal sounded, and he bounded off, bouncing from one obstacle to another like a rubber ball. It was only in the twenty-yard dash from the net fence to the canvas tunnel that he lost ground.

"Four minutes, two seconds," announced the umpire as Andy scrambled out on all fours.

At that moment Percival would willingly have exchanged places with the grimiest stoker in the hold. Was it possible that he had, of his own accord, placed himself in this absurd and undignified position for the sole purpose of defeating a common, commercial traveler who had dared to deflect the natural course of a certain damsel's smiles! He writhed under the ignominy of it. What if he were defeated? What if-

The signal sounded, and instinctively he hurled himself forward. As he scrambled over the upturned chairs he heard a sound that struck terror to his soul: it was the unmistakable hiss of tearing linen. The hastily made garments of G. Lung Fat had proved unequal to the strain put upon them. Percival lost his head completely when he realized that his waistcoat was split up the back from hem to collar, and that he had become an object of the wildest hilarity.

He might have fled the scene then and there, leaving Andy to enjoy his laurels undisturbed, had he not caught sight of Bobby frantically motioning him to go on. Setting his teeth grimly, he went down on all fours and scrambled under the table, then resolutely tackled that swaying, sagging network of ropes that barred his progress. Again and again he got nearly to the top, only to have his foot go through the wide bars and leave him hanging there in the most awkward and ungainly position. It seemed to him an eternity that he hung ignominiously, like a fly in a spider's web, while the crowd went wild with merriment.

Then suddenly all his fighting blood rose, and forgetting the spectators, and even forgetting Bobby, he doggedly grappled with those yielding ropes until he got a foothold, swung himself over the top, cleared the entanglement below, and made a flying dash for the yawning mouth of canvas at the far end of the deck. It was incredibly hot and suffocating inside, but he wriggled frantically forward, clawing and kicking like a crab. At last a dim light ahead spurred him to one final gallant effort.

"Four minutes!" called the umpire as the Honorable Percival Hascombe emerged, blinking and breathless, and staggered to his feet. His clothes were soiled and torn, his hair was on end, there was dust in his eyes, and dirt in his mouth.

The fickle audience went wild. The dark horse had won, and public favor immediately swung in his direction. But it was not the favor of the public that Percival sought; it was the homage of a certain rebellious maiden, who must be taught that he was the master of any situation in which he found himself.

Bobby was not slow to proffer her congratulations. She gave them with both hands, to say nothing of her eyes and her dimple.

"I pulled for you!" she whispered eagerly. "I almost prayed for you. I wouldn't have seen you beaten for the world."

As Percival, elated by her enthusiasm, stood shaking hands right and left, he felt a curious and unfamiliar warmth stealing over him. All these people whom he had looked upon until to-day as so many figureheads stalking about suddenly became human beings. He found, to his surprise, that he knew their names and they knew his. He sat on a table, swinging his feet in unison with a lot of other young feet, while he sipped lemonade from the same glass as Bobby Boynton.

He sat on a table swinging his feet in unison with a lot of other young feet, while he sipped lemonade from the same glass as Bobby Boynton

As a matter of fact, the Honorable Percival Hascombe was experiencing a novel sensation. He was enjoying a sense of fellowship, to which all his life he had been a stranger.

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