Suffragette Rebecca Eastman wrote articles, fiction, and drama for a host of publications at the turn of the century. Her work was largely forgotten, save her novel The Big Little Person, which became a silent film in 1919. Eastman’s story “The Girl with Henna Hair” appeared in the Post in 1919, and its witty treatment of WWI-era society romance offers a subtle glimpse into the class culture of turn-of-the-century New York.
Before Leagues of Nations and armistices and prohibition, before uniforms and panoplied flags of the Allies on Fifth Avenue, before “Over There,” and before even “It’s a Long, Long Way to Tipperary” — before all the splendid trappings that accompany the horrors of war and the reactions which follow it there is no exaggeration in saying that some of the finest looking men, physically, in New York were the chauffeurs and footmen of the rich.
To particularize at once, Henry Binks, of Springfield, Vermont, when he stood upon a New York curb, clad in the bottle-green livery of the Channing-Cholmondleys, with a priceless sable robe over his arm, was a sight to fill the eye of anyone who cares for beauty. A rhapsody of masculine attractiveness, Henry waited with his rug until whatever moment it should please Miss Edythe Cholmondley to come forth from the latest haunt of fashion, where she had been undergoing the terpsichorean and bacchanalian torments of a the dansant, and step languidly into her limousine and allow Henry to lay the sable over her chiffons. Then drawing her pretty little chin down so that it touched her neck, and looking up at him from under her penciled eyebrows — penciled by both Nature and Edythe — she would murmur in the tired sweet voice of one who is completely rested and care free: “Home, Henry!”
Henry Binks’ heart always gave an immediate answering hop, and a deeper color flooded his already rosy cheeks as he closed the door and took his seat beside Fiske, who drove for the Channing-Cholmondleys. Then when they had reached home — it was usually almost six blocks away — Henry, again unsteady in cardiac localities, would get down from his post, open the door, remove the robe, go up and ring the bell in order that Joseph, despicable snob that he was, might open the door for Miss Edythe. And when Joseph had forbiddingly closed the door behind her Henry would go back to the car, climb up beside Fiske and sigh heavily. For a long time Fiske thought it was either foiled ambition which caused these exhalations from Henry or else some of those socialist notions which always got everyone concerned into hot water.
“You don’t want to get thinking you’re as good as Miss Edythe, because you aren’t, and nothing will ever make you,” commented Fiske after a particularly unbearable heave from Henry. “Her old man earned every dollar he’s got, honestly, and he spends nothing on himself and family compared to what he could spend if he didn’t know it was wicked. Old man Cholmondley likes to help people help themselves. It’s his hobby. It was him that induced me to let my Matilda go to college. There’s just one aristocracy in this country,’ says he to me, ‘and it’s the aristocracy that’s open to everybody — the aristocracy of education.’ He was right, Henry Binks; but only part right, and I tell you why. If you think my Matilda with her A.B. and going on to an A.M. is anything like Miss Edythe — ”
“I don’t!” interrupted Henry Binks, who knew Matilda well. They drove along in a sort of silence, until Henry unconsciously sighed again.
“It certainly gets on my nerves — the way you sit and sigh,” fumed Fiske. “Why can’t you be contented? You were crazy to be mechanician of the Cholmondley cars and you’ve got five of the best boats in any private garage in the city to fuss over. It was your own notion being a footman, and though I must say that you perform your duties in a way that does me credit I don’t see why you keep on if it riles you so to see the Cholmondleys put on dog.”
“Have the family complained of me?” inquired Henry with his first show of animation.
“Not much! They’re stuck on your style.” Fiske stole a predatory look at the perfect specimen of manhood beside him. “Won’t you come round to the flat tonight?” he asked with wheedling hospitality. “The Cholmondleys are having a dinner for Baron von Blentz, and we won’t be needed. Matilda’s going to make a rarebit about half past 10 on her new electric chafing dish.”
“No, thanks,” said Henry Binks in the tone of one who has another engagement. “I’m going to the opera.”
“Oh, I’m going to stand up. Between the acts I intend to roam round and see how New York society looks after it gets off its evening coats.”
“You won’t look fit. That checked sack suit of yours — ”
“I hired a dress suit. It isn’t quite big enough, but it will do if it doesn’t give way.”
Henry Binks didn’t think it was necessary to inform Fiske that he had seen in the social notes that the Channing-Cholmondleys had given their parterre box to the Lorings that night, and that Miss Edythe would go to the opera. Had he done so Fiske, who had annoying intuition, would have guessed the real cause of those sighs.
No one who had any right to call Miss Edythe Cholmondley Edythe ever called her Edythe. She went by the unoriginal appellation of Peaches and Cream, because that combination perfectly described her complexion and general sweetness. And it happened that when the Lorings and Peaches drifted into the Metropolitan the magnificent figure of a young man in a dress suit which pinched, but which had not yet given way, lurked in the quiet low passage outside the parterre boxes.
Miss Edythe Cholmondley swept Henry up and down with one of her caressing glances. It wasn’t that Peaches was man crazy; it was simply that she loved life and everything about it — never having had any cause to do anything but love it. Her eyes caressed any flowers in any shop window, any pretty slum child, and any young man. After optically caressing Henry Binks, she gave a little start and looked back at him half questioningly before she entered the box. “Who is the enormous Adonis?” inquired Nancy Loring with a giggle in her ear.
“I don’t know — except that he is the image of Henry Binks.”
“Our new man of whom you are so jealous.”
“Why, Peaches, of course!”
Miss Loring immediately darted to the door and looked out, but found the corridor empty.
All through the second act of the premiere of the new and beguiling French opera, Nanny and Peaches whispered and were whispered to by their chaperon and the men of the party. Every now and then Peaches, who had occasional qualms about talking, would settle down demurely and try to listen to the prima donna, but nobody had any mercy on her.
Meanwhile, from below, Henry Binks sweltering horribly in the tight dress suit surveyed her with wistful longing. He liked music, too, and the opera was making havoc of his lovesick wits. The more he looked at Edythe, up above him in her little private expensive heaven, the more passionately miserable he became. And when a certain supremely gorgeous and melting tenor voice hushed even the Channing-Cholmondley box into poignant silence, Henry Binks, feeling that he could stand unrequited love and high life no longer, rushed unseeingly forth to the icy air on Broadway. The reason he didn’t immediately rush into an adjoining building was that though he could swallow a drink if anything depended on it he hated the stuff. Not caring therefore to dispel the thought of Peaches with alcohol there remained only the movies and Matilda. Having flipped up a coin to see which it should be, the films lost.
Matilda Fiske, A.B., dressed exclusively in shirt waists and skirts, wearing striped silk waists at night and striped madras ones by day. She wore tortoise-shell glasses both daily and nightly, she used the Western r, and she was always asking you if you had read some book which was neither a novel nor a detective story. And she was pained when you hadn’t read it. Positively the worst thing about Matilda, though, was her hair. There was a great deal of the hideous dark red stuff, and its color always made Henry feel slightly ill.
Matilda had been about to mix the rarebit with beer, but when Henry Binks came in she substituted milk. She wasn’t going to have Henry’s corruption on her head! Among those present at Matilda’s this evening were a girl chum of hers — also in a striped silk waist and unromantic shoes — and an underling lecturer on economics, who was one of those people who are so extremely polite that they inspire everyone else with the desire to be rude.
“Lord Roberts says, in the Evening Post tonight, that Germany has been preparing for war for years and intends to fight England,” remarked Matilda by way of small talk as she cheerily stirred the rarebit.
“I’d like to see a real good old-fashioned war!” ejaculated Henry.
“Well, you never will see another war, sir!” prophesied the polite professor of economics. “An important war is economically impossible, because — ”
“Nummy, nummy!” interrupted Matilda, who had just sampled the rarebit.
“Too bad!” mourned Henry. “War would be a cinch for me. I can shoot easier than I can breathe!” This last statement had especial significance at the moment.
“I must say, Mr. Binks, that I’m flattered that you should have put on a swallowtail just to come to my rarebit,” remarked Matilda after the rest had gone. “But you needn’t next time. The professor didn’t.”
She favored Henry with one of her annoying superior smiles, and Henry gazed fixedly at her dreadful hair. It was the most objectionable mahogany red, and behind those tortoise-shell glasses she had meanish designing green eyes.
“That professor looks like a licked cur!” remarked Henry heartily by way of adieu; Matilda’s hair, eyes and clothes being entirely on his nerves by now.
Looking at Matilda, he decided, was about as pleasant as listening to the teeth of a comb grating on a window pane.
The next day, late in the afternoon, when Miss Edythe Cholmondley — her hair was straw yellow and fluffy — came daintily down the red-carpeted steps from her the dansant she found her Henry waiting as usual, superb in bottle green; but no limousine and no Fiske.
“Excuse it, miss, but we were almost out of gas,” apologized Henry. “Fiske is very much ashamed. He will be back at once.”
Miss Cholmondley didn’t look disturbed at Fiske’s absence because she had for some time been looking for a chance to ask Henry Binks a leading question.
“Where were you born, Henry?” she asked, propounding it, and at the same time burrowing her neck deliciously with her chin.
“Springfield, Vermont, miss.”
“Is it a pretty place, Henry?”
“Sometimes in the year it’s pretty. The homeliest time is the muddy season, when the mud comes right up to the hubs.”
“And I suppose it’s prettiest of all at apple-blossom time? For of course you do have apple trees in Vermont, Henry?”
“You couldn’t mention a kind of apple we haven’t got on our farm. Back of the barn there’s an orchard of Maiden’s Blush.” Henry warmed to his subject. “You should see that orchard round the last part of May, with lilacs growing round the edges, over the stone wall.” He paused and panted.
“I suppose the sky looks so close that you could almost reach up and pull down a little piece of white cloud for a pillow?”
“I never thought of it before, but the sky is awful close in the spring.”
“Just like a mother bending over all those cunning little new things — bending over them and watching them, Henry.”
The car having rolled noiselessly up to them Henry Binks opened the door in ecstasy, laid the sable robe across Georgette knees, and heard the music of those sweet tired words, “Home, Henry!” as in a beatific dream.
“Home, Henry!” Adorable phrase!
Unfortunately for the purposes of a fiction writer Henry Binks was not afflicted with ambition. He liked automobiles, and he liked tinkering with them, and he always would. Maybe someday if it came handy he might own a garage, but he really didn’t care much who owned the garage as long as he could fuss round the latest thing in a gasoline engine. New engines and “Home, Henry!” — those two things were all he needed to satisfy his poetical cravings.
That night, late, as he sat in his room alone, staring at the front page of his evening paper, he rehearsed again and again those few short words they had had about mud and apple blossoms.
“Society Girl Elopes With Her Chauffeur!” he read at last, in headlines, and a crimson blush consumed him. It made things so common, it lowered Edythe Cholmondley indescribably somehow to have the fact so flamingly announced that it was at all possible for a society girl to elope with her chauffeur. If Henry had been a little more worldly, and much more ambitious, and a little less decent and sincere, he would have thrust out his chest and said: “This other man got away with it. Why not I?”
Indeed he might have gone on and said many other things to himself if he had not been too modest and perhaps too slow. He could perfectly well have argued, for instance: “I am every bit as good looking as any of the young men she dances with. Indeed, I’m better looking than most of them, because I live in the fresh air and don’t drink too many cocktails.”
Henry Binks could also have said if he had happened to remember it: “There isn’t anything better in the corpuscle line in this country than the old New England blood that flows through my veins. Wasn’t my grandfather a governor of Vermont? Didn’t my Uncle Henry Binks — ”
But because he found contentment in the machinery of motor cars and was happy in his content Henry Binks didn’t trouble himself to think he was better than he was or even to estimate exactly how good he was. All the estimating he bothered with was considering how far short the rest of her sex fell when compared with Edythe Cholmondley. He loved her — oh, yes, he realized that — but he could see her every day and worship her from afar; and what more did he want?
Edythe Cholmondley’s life was so full of pleasant happenings that it didn’t seem odd to her that she always felt in a hurry to get away from those afternoon dances in order to see Henry Binks again. Neither did she think it queer that she looked at his back steadily all the while she was in the car, and never gave Fiske’s shoulders even a passing glance. She wasn’t often stirred by any longing to talk to Henry; it was enough to see him or to know that she could see him whenever she wanted to merely by calling her car. Whenever she wanted to see Henry she saw Henry. No wonder Henry was satisfied, for Miss Edythe never missed a day.
Blissfully they both thought that everything would always go on just as it was going, forever; or at least as long as they wanted it to. Rather abruptly, however, the Channing-Cholmondleys ceased inviting German barons to dine, and at the same time things stopped going on as they always had.
Henry Binks was one of those who stood on curbs and assured excited strangers that America had no call to take the European war personally. Never having been abroad and never having thought at all in international terms he considered Belgium farther from his ken than Mars, which he had seen all his life. Despite the fact that he read with distaste what was going on it didn’t seem any more real to him than the horrors of Libby Prison in his history; or the sufferings of the ancient Egyptians. The names of those French and Belgian towns where such awful things were happening didn’t sound like regular places, such as Bridgeport and Worcester.
Henry woke up with a bang when America declared war, and putting all selfish thoughts of the poetry of machinery and the maddening rapture of unrequited love behind him he got ready to sail for France among the first.
The last time he went for Edythe Cholmondley in the official capacity of her footman he thought she looked decidedly white and doubly alluring.
“You are leaving us, Henry?” she asked as he held open the door.
Her lips trembled a little and she looked down on the usual red carpet which stretched over the sidewalk.
“Before you go, Henry, I want to give you something,” she said. “I’ve looked round the shops and I couldn’t see anything I thought you’d like. So I want you to suggest something.”
“There is nothing you could give me that I want — except one thing,” he said quietly, but with a quick glance at the too oblivious Fiske. “And as it isn’t fitting for me to ask for it I shall have to go without it.”
Blood of the governor of Vermont, where were you? You should have dared!
“I don’t know whether I have decided on the right thing or not,” she said in staccato tones, because it was strange how unexpectedly and easily one cried, these days. “But — for some absurd reason, Henry, I thought you might like this! Don’t open it until you get on board. And then, if you don’t want it throw it to the mermaids. Good-by, Henry.”
“Good-by, miss.” With their eyes they kissed each other. “Are we going anywhere else tonight?”
With the same respect as usual he laid the sable rug on her knees.
“Nowhere else tonight.” She tried to add “Home, Henry!” but as she made a wretched failure of it she managed to pretend that the effort was a cough.
Her first unhappiness, which was also his, was the greater of the two, because she was not going to fight, as he was, with the serene cool knowledge that he was and always had been a splendid shot. She would just stay at home and watch things get slowly worse, while he went into the thick of it and became a hero.
Henry Binks, of Springfield, Vermont, had never known such happiness as the fevered joy that transfused his soul when he opened Edythe Cholmondley’s little gift the minute Fiske was otherwise engrossed. It was her picture, and a little four-leaf clover under the glass.
“Henry,” said the tiniest letter he had ever received, “I send you my picture and wish you luck. The four-leaf clover is remarkable because it is the only one I ever have found. So you see I pass on all my luck to you. E.C.”
On account of many qualities that had never distinguished him in peace, Henry Binks, like many others, became distinguished in war. His lack of imagination, his lack of nerves and his calm confidence and splendid hatred inspired men who fought with him. Even covered with mud, and weary, Henry Binks was still too handsome to be described in a dispassionate and convincing manner. He was Henry Binks, and there never was and there never has been anyone quite so prepossessing; or so helpless about bettering himself. He didn’t want to better himself! If he should survive the German explosives he hoped to get back to the Channing-Cholmondleys again, and he wrote as much in his one letter to Peaches:
Dear Miss Cholmondley: I cannot help thanking you for the picture and the four-leaf clover, which so far has brought me so much luck that they’ve all taken to calling me the boy with the enchanted life. When we get this mess cleaned up over here I’m coming home with a brand-new idea for an aeroplane engine. I’ll work it out between times, because you know without my saying it that I want to come back to you.
I invented the engine idea one day when I got trapped in a shell hole, and I can tell you I was afraid I would be bumped off before I had a chance to tell anyone. I’ve drawn it all out; and I’m mailing one copy to you and one to Miss Matilda Fiske, so that there will be a double chance of my getting the idea safe home. And if the Huns should prove too much for even your four-leaf clover I want to leave you all there is in the idea as a mark of my feeling for you. There may not be anything in it though. Remember me respectfully to your folks, and believe me,
Truly yours, HENRY.
Though he had never asked her, and didn’t want her to do it, and half wished he had never been halfway polite to her, Matilda Fiske wrote to Henry systematically twice a week, on her typewriter, and told him the news. How he yawned as he read those businesslike epistles, and how he writhed at the remembrance of her waists and hair! At last, however, Matilda typed him that she had an opportunity to come to France with her college unit, and have her expenses paid, and that she would see him soon.
After that as he never heard from her again he decided that something serious had happened to Matilda, and he regretted it. Even though she might have made the supreme sacrifice, his teeth were on edge when he thought of her. Sometimes, though rarely, he would be overcome with remorse over the way he had snubbed her. After all she had been a faithful old dog of a highbrow.
The principal reason Henry Binks sorrowed when hostilities ceased was that he hoped to be the first American to walk through the central aperture of the Brandenburg Thor. So anxious was he to get to Berlin with his gun that he meditated continuing the war on his own hook, so to speak; but he impulsively gave this up when he was ordered home among the first. Suddenly he felt ill with longing to see the Statue of Liberty.
“Home!” Why, just saying the word made him quiver! And as for “Home, Henry!” — well, his eyes went so moist he couldn’t see her picture through the blur.
When he came up the bay, a captain, and received a thrilling welcome on the dock he decided not to go straight to Vermont that day, to see his parents, but to hang round New York a while. It was such a funny feeling to be saluted on the Avenue! One or two of Miss Edythe’s former swains were unconsciously subservient to him. Well, of course, he’d have to take off his uniform in a few days, and get back to the garage and go and see somebody about his engine.
Yes, New York was a pretty nice place, except for the new system of Subways, which irritated Henry’s nice sense of planning. He couldn’t go into the Subway without getting lost, and popping out at the wrong place, and having to pay another fare. Endless passages and flights of steps and conflicting arrows bewildered him.
One day when he emerged to the street to discover that he was, as usual, lost, he found himself looking straight into the blue eyes of Edythe Cholmondley. Two little gray-gloved hands came to lie in his brown-gloved ones, and a peace-blossom blush took liberties with her neck and cheeks.
“Captain Binks!” she cried in sweet familiar tones, no longer tired. “Why didn’t you let us know?”
“Well, I was going to drop in on Mr. Cholmondley at the office this afternoon, but this is where your new Subway landed me,” he said, almost fluently for him.
“Of course you have had the most wonderful adventures, winning the war for us! Will you come to tea at five o’clock today, and tell me all about it?” she asked. It was then about 2 p.m.
“Yes!” assented Captain Henry Binks with brevity.
In his joy at her invitation he was afraid if he tried to say more that he would make some gross error, which would cause her to uninvite him. Heavens, she was more beguiling than ever! Could there be anything lovelier on earth than the way those yellow curls strayed out on her forehead?
“I want to hear everything about the war,” she continued volubly. “The family wouldn’t let me go. They said I was too young; though I put on old clothes and made one committee think I was 30. Don’t forget, now, Captain Binks. Five o’clock!”
And she stepped gracefully into her little car and drove away, smiling back at him briefly.
Henry Binks, Captain, U.S.A., stared after her unbelievingly. Call? Yes, it was true — he had promised to call at the Channing-Cholmondleys. He, their former footman, was going to pay a social call. It was both wonderful and awful. The thought of sitting defenseless in a chair before his divinity terrified him. She would be equipped with a formidable battery of a tea tray. She had said tea and she had meant tea. He had seen plays with tea trays in them, plays in which people said glibly how many lumps, and whether or not it should be lemon, and didn’t lose the drift of the conversation or spill anything on the rug. Let alone tea taking, he didn’t even know how to make a call. He forgot all about being in love with Miss Edythe Cholmondley; indeed he wished for the moment that he had never seen her. Being democratic was all right, but even in democracies you wanted to choose your own circle.
To reassure himself he took her well-worn picture from his pocket and smiled at it fondly as he remembered a certain dangerous night when after three sleepless days he had gone to sleep in the midst of giving an order, and in that brief moment had dreamed, with delicious irrelevance, of holding Miss Edythe Cholmondley tight in his arms and of kissing her wealth of yellow hair. And he had heard her say as she lay against his shoulder:
“This is really home, Henry. This is what I always thought and meant when I said ‘Home, Henry!'”
And now he was afraid to go and see her! Perhaps when he got there it would be all right. Perhaps he ought to give back the four-leaf clover, now that he was through with it. For doubtless she had given it to him for the duration of the war. He would never be through with her picture, however, even if he was at the moment a little out of humor with it.
Fortunately, he was unaware that he had been a bone of contention with the Channing-Cholmondleys. He little thought that when Mr. Cholmondley had read aloud of his promotion and Miss Edythe Cholmondley had said at once that she would ask him to call if he came home alive, chaotic language had rent the atmosphere of a family who prided themselves on never interrupting each other. This episode had naturally whetted Edythe’s desire to have him call.
Not daring to be a single second late Henry Binks mounted the ChanningCholmondley’s well-known steps at exactly one minute of the zero hour, and pressed the button. It was something of a relief to be admitted by an unfamiliar maid instead of the hated Joseph.
“Folks home?” inquired Henry, knowing at once by the maid’s rapid shift of manner that he had made his first blunder.
“Captain Binks? Yes; Miss Cholmondley expects you,” said the maid, forgiving Henry because he was so handsome.
She showed him upstairs into a huge and cavernous drawing-room, in which there were at least 25 different places to sit, comfortably or uncomfortably, as you chose. Disdaining chairs and sofas Henry stood and waited. And waited. And waited. The maid, of course, had evaporated noiselessly, and almost immediately materialized again to say that Miss Cholmondley would soon be down. Outside, somewhere in the vast halls, a pompous clock ticked pompously, and chimed with startling sweetness, once, at a quarter past the hour. Otherwise the house was as a tomb. Henry grew more and more apprehensive and seriously meditated making a quick get-away. Did they always keep men waiting like this? His putties creaked louder and louder; it seemed to him that the very sound of his breathing was uncouth. Well, in a few hours it would all be over.
In his subconscious mind curiously enough he realized all the time that if she ever came down he could take Miss Edythe Cholmondley in his arms, make love to her and carry her off — if he only knew how to begin. But he didn’t know how; and there was no way of finding out. Moreover, he wouldn’t have the slightest idea what to do with her when he had carried her off. Really that was the whole trouble, when he thought of it.
At last she came in on him suddenly, and caught him wiping damp beads from his forehead on his clean pocket handkerchief. She walked straight up to him, not afraid at all, took his hand by way of greeting, dropped it at once, walked two miles to the nearest uncomfortable chair, and waited for him to catch up. Then as Henry had foreseen they sat and faced each other.
“What kind of clothes have you got on?” he blurted.
He was used to seeing women in uniform overseas, but he had never pictured Miss Edythe in a uniform. Hers was most businesslike and unfeminine, and she wore sensible shoes, like the ones Matilda had thrust before him so offensively in the old days. Under her coat, judging from the visible collar and cuffs, she must be wearing a mannish shirt waist. Ugh! Worst of all, her boyish little hat concealed every strand of the dear yellow hair.
“This is my regular uniform,” she said. “I’ve been working at home here, day and night.” And then by way of a starter she asked: “What does it feel like to be in a real battle?”
“It can’t be described,” he said heavily. Her eyes weren’t so very pretty after all, when you had time to look at them carefully.
In came the maid with the dreaded tea wagon.
“How many lumps?”
Miss Cholmondley poured out the cream, and then passed him the cup. Before he had decided which hand to hold it in, the maid passed him a huge silver dish divided into compartments, in each of which were dainties that went delectably with tea. Henry surveyed the food exhibition carefully.
“No,” he said at last. “No, thanks.”
“Captain Binks, one of your ancestors was a governor of Vermont, wasn’t he?” she asked tirelessly after he had parried her every question about war, and she hadn’t seemed in the least interested in his new engine. He had counted on that engine too!
“So they say.”
He had been holding his cup as if it was a game to see how long you could balance a full cup of liquid in a trembling hand without spilling a drop in your saucer.
“I don’t believe you like tea,” she said at last, after she herself had encouragingly sipped two cups.
“Tea’s all right,” he remarked as he put down the untasted cup with relief.
It was the queerest thing, but he felt like being twice as boorish as he really was. The situation was so unnatural that he couldn’t help behaving much worse than he felt. Give her back that four-leaf clover? Bosh! Why be so sentimental over a piece of hay? Distance certainly had lent enchantment! Now that he had her here all to himself so romantically, now that he was her returned hero, now that he had risen from the place of her footman to a seat in her proud drawing-room and all that sort of thing — he felt as if he had had a surfeit; yes, an overdose of Miss Edythe Cholmondley. The girl gave him one last generous chance.
“Do you remember that long-ago afternoon when we talked about apple blossoms?” she urged. Obstinately she hated to relinquish her romantic dream.
“Yes, I do; and my folks wrote me that a blight had passed over that orchard and the trees I told you about are all dead.”
“But there are other trees, I hope? I’m sure I have seen apples on the market.”
“I don’t know.”
Perhaps if she had been wearing her chiffons he would not have felt so completely disenchanted.
“Did Matilda Fiske die?” he asked suddenly.
“No indeedy! Matilda went overseas and worked in hospitals under fire until she was wounded and had to be sent home. Fiske said today that she is better than she ever was. She goes round talking to clubs. She told about her experiences at that club where mother gave the Roman Revel just before the war. Matilda’s quite eloquent, they say. I’ve almost been jealous of her.”
“You’re a crackajack — compared to Matilda,” he said enthusiastically. He might just as well have said: “Bad as you are you might be a little worse!”
“Well, I must be skipping along,” he announced suddenly.
And then, just to show that he could, he stood up very straight and smiled down at her, looking so like her old dream days of him that she caught her breath in rapture.
“It’s too bad,” he said with quick self-possession. “It’s awfully too bad, Miss Cholmondley.”
“Yes, Henry, it is too bad.”
“And yet, though it’s mighty disappointing, it’s a whole lot better than as if we found we did care. That would have been complicated and unpleasant.”
“Oh, Henry, you are nice after all!” she cried delightedly.
She threw her unbecoming cap down on a chair, and then her yellow hair crowned her in the usual upsettingly pleasant way.
“I’ve certainly had a lot of fun thinking I was in love with you,” he admitted gratefully.
“And I suppose I’d better hand back your picture and your luck.”
“It always is done, Henry.”
He handed them to her with something of the grace with which he formerly wrapped her in the sable robe, and looked at her quizzically when she dropped them in the fire.
“You really are a gentleman, Captain Binks,” she sighed. “I shall always thank heaven for that.”
“I’ve been rude — ever since I came,” he said. He strode to the tea wagon, and drank the cold tea as if it was delicious. Then composedly he helped himself to a rolled sandwich and ate it with relish, even with a gay abandon, as if he had eaten hundreds of her sandwiches.
“Yes, it was a very nice dream,” he agreed. “It is too bad that we both realize it is time to wake up.”
“It’s all right!” she affirmed stoutly. “I like happy endings, and this really is one, because, whereas before I was in love with you, and half ashamed of it, now I am proud that I simply — like you. You must come again to tea,” she added cordially when the maid came to show him out.
“I shall come again very soon,” he assured her; though they both knew that he wouldn’t.
His train for Vermont left at midnight, but before he went home to be lionized and to pooh-pooh lionizing he knew that he ought to call on Matilda Fiske. Of course Matilda would tell him didactically about the war. She would know all about the war; she would know more than Foch, and she would outline what Foch should have done. Probably she was at work writing a book of advice to the Allies. And her hair would be worse than ever.
Matilda, who answered the telephone herself, commanded him to come right up and stay to dinner; and he accepted in the tone he had used in France when replying to his superior officer.
Despite the scarcity of maids, a chic and obsequious one admitted Henry and ushered him into the living room, which looked less crowded with mission furniture than he had remembered it. There was a real wood fire instead of a gas log, and a pot of real live primroses on one of the tables. When Matilda came in, which she did at once, she wore a gown of ravishing peacock blue, half low in the neck, with floating sleeves; and she wore peacock-blue silk stockings, and shining black slippers with frivolous heels and huge buckles. The green eyes, which you would have thought would have sworn at the dress, harmonized with it, like strange unusual music. But queerest of all, that discordant hair had turned beautiful. That hair was simply gorgeous!
“Matilda!” he gasped. “What have you done to yourself?”
“I haven’t done anything except leave off my glasses, and try to get away from anything that savors of a uniform.”
“But you — your hair! It’s so different.”
“Didn’t you know that henna hair had come into fashion? Sit down, Henry, and talk, but don’t talk war. Anything but war! I want to forget about that war — for an hour or two. What have you been doing since you landed?”
“Besides getting lost in the Subway, I’ve been to Edythe Cholmondley’s to tea. In fact, I just came from there.”
She looked at him intently.
“Dad always said that you were in love with Edythe Cholmondley,” she remarked with a peculiar quality in her voice.
“I thought I loved her myself, until this afternoon.”
Yes, the war certainly had changed the world. Here he sat talking about love with Matilda!
“I always knew she wasn’t suited to you,” said Matilda judicially. “Though you need a wife to look after your interests more than anyone I know, Henry, you don’t want a little nestling chicadee that’s all fluffy feathers and sentiment. You need someone to help you push yourself, and pummel some ambition into you, regularly. You could get anywhere at all, Henry dear, if you only had the right girl to make you believe in your own importance. You want cheering from the side lines, dear, and a trainer who believes in you.”
Right then and there, with no warning at all and without knowing at all how it happened, he was holding Matilda in his arms and kissing her hungrily.
“Why — I didn’t know I cared anything about you,” he stammered, later. “I thought you irritated me.”
“It’s about the same thing,” she said comfortingly. “But I’ve been in love with you since the first minute I saw you. Dad knew that too. In fact, the only thing dad doesn’t seem to know is that I’m sorry he insists on driving the Cholmondleys — when it isn’t necessary for him to do anything.”
“That means nothing to me,” said Captain Binks hilariously. “Matilda, I’ve got the greatest little old idea for an engine, and — ”
“Sit down and tell me all about it,” she invited him.
Three hours later she murmured as they watched the dying fire:
“I’ve got the greatest little old ideas about furnishing a home. Just think of our having a home, Henry!”