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   Chapter 3 No.3

It Pays to Smile By Nina Wilcox Putnam Characters: 29853

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


How many persons must perforce get all their romance at second hand! Of course, as my dear father often said, gentlewomen should get their experiences from books and from the stage, and no lady experiences the primal emotions except vicariously. But none the less I had occasionally been aware of the desire to live more full a life than hitherto circumstance had rendered possible. Now I was brought into such intimate contact with a young career that I felt almost as though I were indeed living it myself, and not half an hour after my entrance upon my new duties I was, as it were, engulfed in the personality of my charge.

"Come on into your room!" she said, picking up my carpetbag as easily as if it had been a mere trifle. "Come on, Dicky; bring the box!"

The Dicky person obeyed whistling a jaunty tune, and presently I found myself established in a most luxurious bedroom. The chauffeur vanished, closing the door, and Peaches, disposing the luggage upon a receptable constructed for that very purpose, perched upon the foot of the bed, her long limbs making that lofty elevation none too high for her. I soon learned that she seldom sat upon a chair if anything else offered.

"Say, Miss Talbot," she began as I laid out my toilet articles-"say, Miss Talbot, isn't Dick a king?"

"Eh?" said I, startled.

"I said isn't Dick a corker?" she repeated. "Do you know, I would have just about died out on the ranch if it hadn't been for him. Pa picked him up in Fresno when he was a hopper-picking hops with a bunch of greasers. Brought him home for me to play with. We went swimming together and riding together and everything when we were kids. Then pa sent him to school with me, and when he got some learning he gave him a job as foreman on the home outfit."

"He seems a nice young person," said I, "but he is a chauffeur!"

"You bet he is!" said Peaches enthusiastically. "The first car pa bought made him that! He can do anything with a car. I am in love with him!"

"Miss Pegg!" I said horrified. "A servant! What would your father say!"

"He'd say considerable!" remarked Peaches. "But he doesn't know it. And anyhow, I don't want to marry Dicky, even if he is your cousin. I just like being in love with some one, and he's simply crazy about me!"

Her innocence, not to say ignorance, was appalling. High time, indeed, that she had a proper chaperon!

"You must not play with so serious a subject!" I said severely. "And the young man is no relation of mine!"

"How can you be sure of that?" asked the terrible young woman. "There may have been some live wire in your family that went West, you know!"

To this I had no reply, for in point of fact my father's younger brother had indeed been a wild spirit who refused to enter the ministry and had vanished to the West, from which region he had never returned nor sent any token of his existence except, upon one occasion shortly after his departure, a specimen of polished redwood, which at that very moment was reposing in our curio cabinet at home. I determined, however, to make no mention of the circumstances. One is so seldom able to avoid one's relatives.

"Do you not think a simpler frock would be better for luncheon?" I asked, changing the subject. Love was rather too personal a matter on which to press just at first, but really the girl's clothing was certainly somewhere within my legitimate province. "Your gown is very beautiful. And you won't be offended, but I am sure your father expects me to tell you these things."

She looked at my own costume by way of reply; not rudely, but frankly and interestedly.

"I don't believe you know one scrap more about clothes than I do!" she said at last. "We both of us look the limit. But after all, what does it matter? You are dowdy and I am crude, but we should worry!"

"Come on down or pa will be clawing the air," was her greeting.

She left me then to my unpacking and I did not see her again for about two hours. Then she stuck her head in abruptly, without knocking. "He certainly can eat, though I don't think much of the food in the East. You ought to see the meals in California!"

There was no resisting the young giantess. With no further ado she swung me along to the parlor, where her still more gigantic parent gave me an absent-minded greeting, quite as if I had been in his employ for years. He took a sheaf of papers to the table with him, and we descended to the dining room, I vaguely wondering whether or not the young chauffeur would join us. Peaches seemed to discern my thought.

"Dick won't eat with us since pa bought him that trick suit of clothes!" she complained. "And he says he actually likes wearing them, though I know perfectly well he only does it because he thinks it gives us class."

During luncheon Mr. Pegg spoke only once.

"All ready to sail to-morrow?" he inquired.

"Yep!" replied his daughter. "Say, pa," she went on, "Miss Talbot's got a cousin in Monte Carlo that's a honest-to-goodness countess!"

"Cable her we are coming!" said Silas Pegg truculently.

And though I believe that Mentone had been our original destination the cable was actually dispatched, though I wondered somewhat how Cousin Abby would receive it. In her girlhood she had been rather formal, and I entertained a qualm or two about sending it. But we were not asking to visit her, so things might not be too dreadful after all. Besides which, I was beginning to experience a distinct liking for these Californians with all their native crudities. My world was a magic one now, and a visit to the Veruchio household appeared no more strange than any other part of my adventure.

Next morning Alicia opened my door quite unceremoniously and disclosed herself clad in a nautical costume of blue serge with a sailor collar and a little white hat absurdly set upon her magnificent head.

"Heave ahoy!" she called cheerily. "We are about to sail the ocean blue! How do you like my pull-for-the-shore effect? Say, have you ever been on a boat? Is it anything as bad as a Pullman sleeper?"

"My dear, I have been on neither!" I protested.

"Gee, I hope the berths are longer!" she exclaimed. "They were built on the idea that none of the natives would want to leave California, I guess, and they were darn near right! So you've never been anywhere. Well, I had a hunch I'd be the one to do the chaperoning. Never mind, I'll show you the world. I have decided overnight that I really ought to take you in charge, and I'm not one to shirk my duty."

"Very well, my dear," said I. "But first may I suggest that a simple coat and skirt would be less conspicuous and quite as appropriate? Will you not change to it, if you have one?"

"All right; I will if you will smooth out those groups of curls," said Peaches, eying me critically.

"But I have worn them always!" I protested, shocked.

"Just the same, they are the limit!" she said stubbornly. "And so are those silk gloves. Come on, let me fix your hair! No-I have a bright idea. Let's have the girl that does hair here in the hotel fix you up. Come on, be a sport!"

I looked at myself in the mirror, and truth to tell my curled fringe did appear a trifle old-fashioned. But I refused, with thanks and dignity.

"Miss Peaches!" I said. "Your father engaged me as I am, and I feel it incumbent upon me to remain thus."

"Oh, all right!" said she, and strode out of the room. I fancied she was angry; but to my surprise, upon our departure she appeared clad in quite a lady-like tailored suit and a small hat.

"Oh, I know when somebody gives me a real tip," she said, though I hadn't spoken; and then, accompanied by a most stupendous array of luggage, including my own small trunk and valise, we set forth upon the most perilous journey of which I could conceive.

Indeed, indeed I was grateful throughout it for the thought that our minister, Mr. MacAdams, prayed so loudly for the safety of travelers by land and sea each Sunday, and that this was Saturday, hence there would be but little delay between our departure and the weekly renewal of his petition. For we began our travels in no less a vehicle than a terrific red automobile driven by the irrepressible Richard, or Dick, Talbot, who greeted me cheerfully and somehow not actually disrespectfully as "Cousin Mary," which was not, of course, in any sense correct.

I entered the vehicle with much unuttered protest. I did not like motor vehicles and had indeed never entered one before, having always maintained their inelegance. My dear father kept horses, though it is true he died somewhat prior to the invention of automobiles. Nevertheless I took my seat beside Mr. Pegg in the rear, and concealed as best I might a terror which was not lessened when, stopping at the railway station, Talbot, the chauffeur, was dismissed to gather up some spare bags, and Peaches took the steering gear. The remainder of the ride is a blur in my memory, filled with a horrid realization that we upset an apple cart, or I thought we had, until looking backward I saw it miraculously intact; that we seemingly murdered two police officers, most certainly grazed a load of baled hay, and barely escaped collision with a dozen pedestrians. Yet at the conclusion of this momentous experience Mr. Pegg, who had calmly smoked a large cheroot during the trip, complimented his daughter upon her skill. I was beginning to understand their cryptic speech a little better or else I should not have comprehended.

"Some speed queen!" he remarked.

"One hoss or sixty, I should trouble which!" said she.

And then Talbot, the chauffeur, or Richard, as I determined to call him, reappeared, and together with a crowd of porters and other travelers we passed into the gloomy cavern of a covered dock and up a most precarious gangway into a ship which differed little upon first acquaintance from the great hotel we had just left, except that the apartments were rather smaller. I had once before taken a boat trip to Nantucket to see an old servant of ours who was ill, and the vessel which conveyed me was not in the least like the Gigantic. But the impression of the latter's resemblance to a hotel was presently removed from my mind. In point of fact everything was removed from not only my mind but from the other portions of my anatomy which delicacy prevents my dwelling on.

Suffice to state that the fact of our being in possession of the state apartments, the novelty of the compact arrangements, the excitement of the trip, the amazing crowds of strangers-all presently were as naught to me. Even my princely emolument was as nothing, and the sacrifice I had made for my sister appeared of no importance. Nothing appeared of any importance except the distress of my body. I longed most ardently for the stability of the house on Chestnut Street, and it seemed inconceivable that I had ever left my dear sister of my own free will. My idea of paradise became distorted from the true conception to a vision of any place other than that in which I was. Death, once so far removed from my desire, seemed the only tolerable condition. I may remark in passing that this state of mind did not develop in me until after the boat had passed Boston Light and encountered the waters of the Atlantic.

The account of my first impressions of a transatlantic voyage will never be written by me, as they contain material fit only for a materia medica. How people can take such a trip for pleasure is to me a mystery as insoluble as the fourth dimension, which was a favorite topic with my dear father. But incredible as it may seem, some persons on the boat actually laid claim to an enjoyable experience, and among these Spartans were my employer and his daughter; and also, by the latter's evidence, the chauffeur, who was traveling first class. Peaches came frequently to the side of my brass bedstead and bathed my forehead with cologne water the while she attempted to cheer me with an account of her doings.

"I told pa I'd have to look after you!" she said triumphantly. "And I will. Never mind, Miss Governess, I'll get you to Europe alive and show you the country. Couldn't you come on deck? It's a swell deck, and there's the nicest young man up there. We've got acquainted, and Dick is terribly jealous!"

"Alicia!" I managed to gasp. "Who is the young man?"

"I don't know!" she said truthfully. "I forgot to ask his name, but he's a regular sailor in good standing."

"Do you mean to say you've scraped acquaintance with a common sailor?" I said feebly. "Oh! Alicia! I fear I am neglecting my duty to you, and yet heaven knows I have no choice!"

"If you'd only get up and out you'd be better!" she pronounced. "And we might find a captain or a mate or something for you. Couldn't you eat a little steak and onions?" she added anxiously. "It would give you strength."

Later she returned and sat beside me with a look of rapture upon her face. I was in an exhausted state despite the herb tea which I had had made by the sea-going chambermaid from my own medicine cabinet, and taken with difficulty, yet I was calm enough for her speech to impress me.

"The moon is up," she said dreamily. "And the waves are like the Sierra Mountains gone mad and reeling drunkenly in their purple-and-black mystery, with the foam like the snows that the yellow sun never melts. The air is like wine. I am glad he kissed me."

"Oh, Peaches, Peaches! Who kissed you?" I moaned, struggling to my elbow in horror.

"Dick," she replied. "Somebody had to kiss somebody on a night like this, and it just happened to be us. Don't worry, it really isn't important. I never lose my head, though between ourselves I sometimes wish I could. When I do I'll marry the clever man. But I've never met him yet, and sometimes that makes me sad. I want to be in love. Really in love. Don't you?"

Despite my condition I could not but be attentive.

"I do not dwell upon such subjects," I replied.

"Oh, yes you do!" said Peaches imperturbably. "Everyone does! Even cows and birds and Chinese cooks. But some of us, like you, don't have much luck, and some, like me, have a trick played on them by Nature that ruins everything."

"How so, my dear?" I asked.

"I'm too tall!" said Peaches in a sudden burst of indignation at fate. "I'd have to lean over to spoon with anybody I ever met! My shoulder is the highest and therefore the handiest! My hand is generally the biggest! Oh, Lord! How can a girl love a man she has to bend down to kiss?"

And suddenly she rushed from the cabin, overcome with emotion, leaving me to sniff at a camphor bottle and contemplate an entirely new, to me, phase of feminine tragedy. And incidentally to feel more deeply a sense of the responsibility of my position toward this amazingly innocent, terrifyingly frank young savage, who wanted to be in love and did not hesitate to

say so, and who kissed the chauffeur simply and solely because it was a moonlit night! I felt thoroughly convinced that Euphemia would not approve of any such conduct, and that my dear father would have condemned it utterly, and I made every effort to rise next day and finish out the voyage in close proximity to my charge.

But somehow or other the span of time had escaped me during my indisposition, and upon completing my toilet, with the aid of the young person who had brewed my herb tea, I learned to my astonishment that we were in port and that my ability to rise was founded, not, as I had fancied, in my having attained what is rather indelicately known as "sea legs," but was due to the fact of the boat being at a standstill. I only then realized that I had been ill for five days. Richard, the chauffeur, accompanied Peaches when she came to get me, and somehow or other they evolved me through the complications of the dock, and at last I stood upon foreign soil.

Not, of course, that the English are really foreigners, as my dear father often remarked. But I must confess that the soil of Liverpool felt quite foreign to me. It appeared, in fact, entirely unsteady and of a heaving disposition, more what one might have expected of the neighborhood of Vesuvius and the other earthquake countries. But Peaches only laughed at me when I called her attention to the circumstance.

"It's you that's unsteady, not the street!" she jeered. "Gee, what a town! What a country! They ought to see San Francisco! Why, we've done twice as well in half the time!"

I confess I was disappointed with what I saw of England, which was little enough, because Mr. Pegg stopped only long enough to pick up an English car, which had been ordered far in advance and was awaiting us at Liverpool. It was a monstrous affair of black trimmed with vermilion, and recalled to my mind nothing so much as the far-famed dragon which was slain by St. George-so strong and fierce and capable it looked. Richard, the chauffeur, almost wept at sight of it.

"Oh, baby doll!" he said over and over. "If that isn't some engine!"

"Some lug box!" remarked Peaches in that cryptic language in which she spoke to her familias. "Must have set pa back a bushel of berries!"

"I want to hit the trail for the Calais boat!" said Mr. Pegg. "We aren't going to stay in England. There's no art in England. I had an English remittance man working for me once and he told me so. He says all the good art is in the Catholic countries, except what has been smuggled out of them. He told me so, and he was a educated feller. He educated me out of the entire pay roll one week, and is now working for the U. S. Government in San Quentin."

"But, Mr. Pegg!" I ventured to protest. "Think of Westminster Abbey and the Tower and Stratford-on-Avon, the home of Shakespere, and-and real English muffins and English culture generally. Surely you do not intend to deprive your daughter of it?"

"Not by a damn sight. Meaning no offense, Miss Talbot!" said Silas. "But the trouble is they all speak English over here, and we got enough Boston accent right on your person. I figure that foreign travel is foreign travel, and I mean we should go right to Rome, the home of art; and after we do it up thoroughly, work back along the coast where they speak in Italian and French. Somehow it's foreigner!"

There was no denying that, and disappointed as I was I held my peace. Mr. Pegg had a way of ordering our existence ahead, as if we were a part of his business. And indeed I presently ascertained that the plunge toward Italy was at bottom a commercial undertaking. It was the orange and olive groves, not the art galleries, that lured him.

"I'm thinking of forming an American-Italian olive crushers' association," he confided to me as we sped alarmingly along a toy road amidst scenes which I am sure would have proved quaint had we been going slowly enough to see them. "And an orange trust that will be a world-wide proposition. Oranges are a great little fruit-eat 'em, drink 'em and preserve 'em-the wood is swell. A great game, Miss Talbot, that hurts nobody and is of benefit to all. I'm to meet this here Pagreleri, the president of the Sorrento Company; and while Peaches and you trot round to the picture shows-I mean galleries-I'll put in a little sight seeing on God's green hills! I'd rather see the prospect of a hundred thousand vats of brine and oil than the finest picture any artist ever drew."

"Are we going to the Ritz, pa?" said Peaches, breaking in with a shout from her seat in front beside Richard. "I'm dying to see if the Ritz is as nice as the St. Francis, though I bet it won't be!"

"Yep!" said the parent, and began operations upon a new cigar. And that is all that I saw of London the historical. The dining room and the bedrooms of a hotel that had not twopennyworth of difference from that in Boston. We dined at seven in an almost empty salon, and went afterward to see a motion picture of some American by the name of Charles Chapin or something of the sort, an amazing affair centering about a custard pie and not at all to my taste. Mr. Pegg and Miss Peaches were enormously intrigued by it, as was Richard, the chauffeur, whom they insisted should accompany them. They laughed continuously; at what, I could not appreciate. And it was in this theater that we first beheld that young man who was fated to play so conspicuous part in our lives, and, alas, in the career of many a newspaper reporter as well!

It is my impression that I was the first to notice him, and my attention was directed to him by the curious behavior of two men who sat directly in front of me. Except for their observations concerning him he might easily have escaped my notice. But as the entertainment offered me was so far removed from my understanding my interest was focused upon the personnel of those members of the audience who chanced to be seated nearest me. My dear father was in the habit of saying that observation of the human race is the truest form of education and I have ever diligently tried to follow whatever precepts he laid down. And so this evening I had in turn observed a stout person in a beaded gown, a pair of young soldiers in red coats, and then the two men directly in front of me. They were unobtrusive in appearance, but palpably of Latin extraction. Their clothing was nondescript and they would have passed unnoticed in a crowd. One wore a little black mustache and the other bore a slight scar near his left ear. As I looked at them I perceived that they were giving even less attention to the picture than myself, and seemed to be furtively searching for something out in the vast area of semidarkness ahead of us. Suddenly one clutched the other by the arm and spoke.

"There he is!" he said in a low tone, speaking in French.

Instantly both became alert. Almost imperceptibly the man with the scar contrived to point without raising his hand. But I followed the direction of his companion's eyes, and made out the objective, a young man who sat on the curve of the orchestra seats just under the balcony, below us. His position was such that when he turned his head it was possible to see his profile against the exit light beyond. And it was a profile one would not easily forget. I at once thought of Romeo-that daring young Italian lover who met so unfortunate an end, and whose tragic story was one of the secret absorptions of my girlhood. Yet this young man even in the dimness of the theater conveyed a sense of strength which had not been convincing to me in the actor whom I had once seen in that part. He sat well above his neighbors in height, and there was a certain swing and rhythm to his broad shoulders as he swayed with amusement at the projection of the cinematograph that conveyed remarkable resiliency and buoyant youth or, as I fear my charge would express it, "pep." He was a gentleman, I could see that, of unusual elegance, and attractive enough to command my attention without what followed on the part of the two other observers. Both spoke in French.

"Sapristi! He will not escape this time!" said the man with the mustache, pitching his voice very low. "The eel!"

"Will you do for him at the door?" whispered the other. "Or as he attempts to reach the hotel?"

"I have something better than that," said the first. "We know he has it on him. The hotel may be too late. He must not get to the theater door before we do-or else--"

I heard no more because of the sudden palpitations of my heart, which seemed likely to smother me. These two men were plainly robbers planning to waylay and perhaps murder that nice-looking young man who sat there in such innocent, unconscious enjoyment of the photographic antics of the Charley person! It was too terrible!

How could I warn him? Should I attempt to explain the situation to the competent Mr. Pegg and the muscular Richard? That would be impossible of accomplishment without also precipitating matters with the conspirators, who would surely overhear me. As I was rapidly revolving these thoughts action was violently put upon me. The picture flashed "The End," and the young man whose life was in danger rose to leave, as did several others. His seat, as I have stated, was downstairs, while we occupied a box. Thus he was far nearer the door than were we. As he rose, so did the Frenchmen in front of me. In order to make their exit it was necessary for them to pass my seat, which was a step above them. As they turned to come up I rose with a little cry and took the only course open.

I fainted most dexterously, knocking down one of them and collapsing upon the bosom of the other, and lay there in a determined stupor until, according to my calculations, the young man must be quite well away. The confusion was dreadful and it was no pleasant matter fainting by intent upon the bosom of an intended assassin, but it served to delay them for all of ten minutes, at the end of which time I came to under the anxious ministrations of my own people and of the two foreigners, whom Peaches, an unconscious accessory, pressed into active service much against their will. And my apparent accident served a double purpose, thus proving my dear father's maxim that virtue is its own reward, for it disclosed the fact that I had made a real impression upon the emotional side of my charge.

"Oh, Free, you dear old thing!" she was saying as I opened my eyes. "Say you are not hurt! Dear-please say you are all right!"

"I feel dreadfully!" I murmured feebly, looking her right in the eye.

And then I did something which, having been reared a gentlewoman, I had never anticipated doing. I deliberately winked at her. And Peaches took it marvelously. In a flash of understanding that I had some ulterior motive behind my behavior she maintained what she calls her poker face and winked back, and, assisting me in what she now knew to be my pretense, helped me to a cab and back to the hotel.

Needless to say, however, I was not permitted to sleep that night until she had the whole story from me. She came into my chamber with her heavy hair hanging over her shoulders in two monstrous braids of molten gold, and swathed in an outrageous robe of crimson-and-blue satin so that she looked like a magnificent animated American flag. She curled up upon the foot of my bed and listened eagerly.

"You wild Indian!" she exclaimed when I had finished the recital. "I just knew I'd have to look after you! And I'll keep a closer watch from now on. Oh you Boston! California was never like this."

In which she was eminently correct. But when she kissed me good night I knew our friendship was sealed. The wink had done it.

Next morning we set out for Dover in that terrible car, without having heard or seen anything of our hero. I confess I had absurdly hoped that the hotel to which the conspirators had referred might prove to be ours, but it was impossible to know if or not this was the case, as, of course, we had no idea of what his name was, and he was nowhere about.

The newspaper naturally contained no mention of the incident inasmuch as it had failed actually to occur, and the press is, of course, unlikely to have any mention of a murder unless the crime is consummated. And so it appeared that the incident was closed. I had begged Peaches not to speak of its true import to either her father or her friend the chauffeur, and this she solemnly promised.

"Oh, but Free!" she exclaimed rapturously. "Wouldn't it be wonderful if you met again and fell in love!"

"Nonsense!" said I. "Why, he was young enough to have been my son! Besides, I shall never marry!"

"That's the girl!" said Peaches. "They all say that just before the big event. So cheer up, who knows their luck? Gee, I wish I could see him!"

And there was surely something prophetical in her speech, for Peaches was fated to see him, though not for many hours afterward. And then she found him for herself.

As I have stated, we set forth in that monstrous car for Dover, where we embarked, car and all, upon an innocent-appearing little boat for what was promised as a short journey. Possibly it was. I do not remember. I only know that nothing in my previous nautical experience compared with it. And when at last we landed and I had to some degree recovered my equilibrium the most startling incident occurred. We once again were seated, Mr. Pegg, Peaches and myself, in the car, ready to leave the custom house behind us, and Richard, the chauffeur, was doing strange things to the motor, when suddenly Alicia seized me by the arm.

"Free! Oh, Free!" she said in an excited whisper. "There is a man tall enough for me!"

I looked, and lo and behold, walking through the crowd in a leisurely fashion, a smart piece of luggage in either hand, was the young man of the motion-picture theater. At the same moment I discerned the two Frenchmen whose plot I had frustrated, and on the instant he also caught sight of them, and abruptly changing his course he turned directly toward us. Richard got in and started the engine.

"It's he!" I exclaimed excitedly. "It's my young man. Oh, the villains! They are after him again! Oh, don't let them get him!"

"I won't," said Alicia promptly.

The young man was very close now, palpably, to our enlightened eyes, endeavoring to avoid the appearance of flight. The two men in pursuit were gaining on him rapidly. Suddenly Alicia beckoned to him and called.

"Here we are!" she said, and flung open the door of the car just as we started to move. The young man sprang forward, threw in his bags, slipped into the extra seat, slammed the door, and Peaches touched Richard upon the shoulder.

"Drive for your life!" she shouted, and the big black car shot down the street just as the two pursuers emerged, breathless, from the crowd.

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