From the Improvement Era, 1921 –
The Blunders of Percival
By Frank Steele
Minerva Mathews sat at her dressing table observing her pretty self in the mirror. She did not look into the glass to assist her in patting her hair or pressing a dimple into place or to touch up a colorless eyebrow. She simply observed herself as a fair daughter of Mother Nature, her thoughts seeming to soar far off into romantic dreams in which men play a part.
Minerva smiled dreamily as she tipped her shapely head a little to one side. Then the smile disappeared, her lips now registering tenderness and her limpid eyes looking into a vague, but albeit pleasant something in the great, moving world beyond the four walls of her room.
“I wonder – I wonder why Percival likes me? Does he really like me? Yes, I’m sure of that. Yes, he likes me – very much. His blunders show that. O, how Percival blunders! And how English he is! But really, I rather like Percival’s blunders and his funny English ways. He’s rather good-looking – and – so cheerful and kind and – well – dependable. Of course, he is poor, and his mother is dreadfully old-fashioned, and they live – ”
Thus Minerva mused.
“Phillip likes me, too. And he’s well-to-do and it is nice to have plenty. His people are lovely, I know. They must be, or they couldn’t live in such a nice part of the city. And Phil is so handsome. His hair is dark and wavy – and – Percival’s is sorta mouse-colored. Phil is rather quick-tempered and not a bit religious. But then men aren’t religious nowadays. Church and Sunday school and all that sort of thing is so dead and colorless. Phil smokes, occasionally, but then one can’t expect too much of men – and I really believe he would quit – for me.”
All these reflections passed through Minerva’s mind rapidly for they had now worn something of a channel. Behind that delightful musing her alert brain was ticking off plans for the future.
Suddenly she looked at her wrist watch. Two-thirty. In half an hour Percival would phone. She jumped up with a little thrill of laughter, a warm, tingling joy thrilled her whole body as she cried softly to the pretty girl in the mirror:
“Percival is so dependable.”
In a tiny bedroom, in a tiny cottage, in an opposite part of the city, Percival Langtry stood before a mirror tugging at a stubborn tie. After straining and pulling and coaxing in a manner that would have provoked to desperation most men, Percival slipped the tie into place, adjusted the knot and surveyed the effect.
‘Not so bad, by Jove. But, I say, these beastly Yankee ties are – are – what do they say? – the ‘bunk.’ I hope Minerva will like it. It’s her favorite color. I’ll surprise her this afternoon.”
Then with a whoop:
“Minerva! Light of my life, to think I’d have to come all the way to America to find you. I say, it’s great to be enormously in love. I wonder if Minerva – isn’t that a rattling name? – really cares for me! She seems to care a beastly lot for Phil – Phil – what’s the chap’s name? – Chamberlain. That’s a flashy name. A decent chap, too, Phil – plenty of money – and –. But, really, he just can’t have Minerva – that’s all. Minerva belongs to me. By Jove, it must be three –”
“Yes, dear!” to his mother.
“It’s three o’clock, Percival.”
“Right-o, mumsy! Thanks so much,” he cried with a shout that made the old-fashioned mother start.
The Langtrys had a phone. When Percival was made second counselor in the Y.M.M.I.A. presidency it was found to be absolutely necessary. Then, too, Percival did like to remind Minerva of the fact. A telephone, his violin and their English pride were the things that lifted Percival and his mother out of the social strata in which their humble home placed them. When he had met Minerva at the stake Mutual outing at the Lake eight months previous and fallen helplessly in love with her, he was specially happy they had the phone, as she had told him that he might call her some time.
He had called her – often. And now he approached the magic instrument again, approached it with a thumping heart, for Percival never seemed to get over his nervousness when beginning a conversation with the alluring Minerva.
A minute later Percival was connected with her home, heart going at a terrific pace now.
“Hello, Minerva. How are you today?”
“That sounds jolly. I feel the same way, Minerva. Feel full of – of – what is the beastly Yankee word – pep. That’s it, Minerva – pep!?”
“Percival – remember, I’m a Yankee.”
“I know – that’s what makes you so blessed charming.”
A musical laugh over the wires that sent exhilarating thrills tumbling through the much-in-love Percival.
“I say, Minerva, let’s go to the Lake today. It’s jolly fine now, Clarkson of our silks department, says.”
“O, Percival, you are a dear to ask me!” Minerva trilled like a bird that goes in for that sort of thing.
“Don’t mention it, Minerva. You’ll go, then?”
“Of course, Percival. Thanks so much.”
“Right-o, Minerva. It’s so jolly decent of you to be so kind to a chap like me. So long!”
The afternoon was ideal for a Lake party. Minerva looked a picture of freshness and daintiness in a becoming summer dress. Percival, enraptured, feasted his eyes on her. Minerva liked his tie and new hat and told him so. She had never before seen his eyes so full of sparkling humor and honesty. Percival’s eyes were really splendid, she thought, but being entrenched behind a pair of massive black-rimmed glasses they rarely showed to advantage.
The water to Minerva and Percival and others in the same state of delicious abandon was perfect for bathing. Warm and smooth and colorful in the glory of the late afternoon, the full intensity of its subtle charm played on their emotions. Never had they enjoyed the Lake so much.
And then came the sunset. Like an immense sheet of green-blue glass the Lake spread out before their admiring gaze. The sky was aflame. Minerva and Percival, silent and happy, drank in the picture. In the distance rose the mountains, their varying heights, purple, austere and grand, losing themselves in the hazy atmosphere of evening. Gracefully the seagulls glided hither and thither, but there before their enraptured eyes was quietness, loveliness and peace; behind them was the noisy, restless, tinseled world.
“This is a bit of heaven, Minerva,” said Percival softly as his hand reached for hers.
“Yes, Percival, it is lovely. O, how I do love the Lake. A taste of heaven it is indeed.”
“This is a beautiful world, Minerva, and we now catch a glimpse of what God has in store for us in the future.” Then – “Isn’t the gospel grand, Minerva, and the valleys and the mountains of Zion. How I used to long to emigrate to Zion, Minerva, and to live with the Saints – to live the gospel with them, the gospel which teaches us to prize the beautiful and good.”
“Yes, Percival. I like you to talk like that. It all sounds so wonderful.”
And Minerva looked up at the young man beside her and a new light shone in her tender eyes. As she noted his strong limbs, his clean-cut features, his sympathetic eyes now looking out over the Lake, something within her said:
“Percival is so dependable.”
The dance was a never-to-be-forgotten delight. Percival was in a transport of bliss. Again and again he had danced with Minerva and would have monopolized her entirely had not Philip Chamberlain, cool, breezy and jauntily-groomed, secured a number of particularly desirable fox-trots.
“Phil’s a dandy chap, don’t you think, Percival?” said Minerva, flushed and smiling, as Phil left them after a dance. “He’s so thoughtful, and dances – divinely.”
Percival was uneasy, but met the girl’s artfulness with more than his usual tact.
“Yes, Minerva, indeed,” he replied with manly courage, “an uncommonly fine chap – Phil. A beastly –”
“Yes, Phil’s just a good fellow, a perfect gentleman and has such a promising future. I did enjoy our car-ride last Thursday. Phil has a new coupe, you know, and I adore it.”
“A nice chap, an extraordinary nice chap, Phil. In fact, Minerva, I’ve observed that you care a lot for him. but, of course, I can’t blame you – his position, chances and all that. Then Phil is such a treat,” reaffirmed Percival, looking rather abstractedly and feeling a strange nausea that might have been jealousy.
Later on, came the rush for the train, and then it was that something terrible happened. It was just another of Percival’s blunders – but O, the cost.
It occurred like this. As the hurrying couple started down the stairs leading from the pavilion Percival’s feet slipped and down went the poor fellow sprawling headlong to the bottom. All that his befuddled brain and uncertain vision told him was that somebody had suddenly appeared – somebody that he thought he recognized – and had taken Minerva by the arm the two instantly disappearing in the crowd.
Percival escaped from his awkward fall without serious injury. His greatest loss was his black-rimmed glasses. His right knee was bruised somewhat, but the next morning, Sunday, found him none the worse physically, but a decidedly miserable, disgusted, ashamed young man – mentally.
He was sure that Minerva’s rescuer was Phillip Chamberlain. That could mean only one thing – he had lost her. But that was expected. No girl wanted a clumsy, blundering fool of a man, he reasoned.
At first, Percival was humiliated, whipped. Then he felt hurt that Minerva had left him so coldly and rudely. She ought to have known it was purely an accident, one that might happen to any fellow. But no. Phillip had appeared, suggested his car, and without as much as a look at him, she had deserted him. It was rude. It was so unlike Minerva. He never would have believed it of her. Yes, Percival was hurt.
But that did not change the situation. Of course, his case was now hopeless. Minerva had shown her preference clearly. In fact, as poor Percival figured it out more studiously, he recalled that Minerva had confessed her admiration for Phil all through the dance. It had been glaring and a trifle boring, he recalled. Yes, his suit was hopeless for certain, now.
What was to be done? That was the uppermost question. He knew he should convey his apology – and that soon. But something held him.
Sunday passed, and Monday Percival took action. As a gentleman it was up to him to do it. He just couldn’t talk to Minerva over the phone. Instead, he wrote a note, enclosing it in a box of red roses bought fresh from the florist. He hoped that would square things with Minerva and that she would still think of him as a friend.
Tuesday passed miserably for Percival. Minerva had not answered. Wednesday brought no relief. Thursday found him desperate. Friday, when he came in from the sweltering street, his heart was lead.
Mrs. Langtry was attending a special meeting of the Relief Society officers, which left the house strangely quiet and oppressive. Percival went straight to his room. In his mind was a firm resolve to find out something about Minerva. “This beastly silence will drive a blighter mad, she might have sent a note.” Thus, the unhappy young man bewailed his fate.
Reaching his room his eyes fell instantly on a letter lying on his desk. With a beating heart he picked up the missive. The writing was familiar. It – it – looked like Minerva’s – it was Minerva’s! The next instant he was reading.
“Thanks so much for the roses, Percival. They were perfectly lovely, and it was so nice of you to remember me after what happened. I know it was inexcusable. but perhaps we could explain things if you could find time to call some evening, and Percival, if you feel like it, please bring your violin. I have missed it so much, as I love music, you know; I perhaps do not deserve a visit, Percival, but maybe you do not quite understand.”
Deserve a visit – Minerva deserve a visit from – him! It was all a puzzle, but what did that matter? A pretty girl was calling to a perfectly normal young man and Percival did quite the natural thing. He called on Minerva that very evening.
He found her seated familiarly at the piano, her slender, white fingers softly playing a piece he loved, McDowell’s “To a Wild Rose.” He did not disturb her reverie. Minerva met Percival with her old-time spirit. She had never looked more ravishing, he thought.
“I’m so glad you came tonight, Percival. I – I wanted so much to explain things,” cried Minerva, launching at once into the subject nearest their hearts.
“Well, I’m jolly glad to be here, Minerva. This beastly affair has made me feel like a regular – nut!” blurted Percival.
Then, peering timidly at the girl:
“I’m ashamed, Minerva, that I – I blundered. But it was an accident. Forgive me – I – I really didn’t mean to fall.”
This last remark sickened the poor fellow. What a silly remark! He knew he had blundered again.
“Why, Percival, I don’t understand. Forgive you – you silly boy? What is there to forgive?”
“What is there to forgive? Why, you know – my big feet, of course, and me for being such a gawk. I humiliated you before hundreds of people, Minerva; it was horrible, I know, and –”
“Why, Percival, ‘course I forgive you if you insist on it. I knew it was an accident. But, Percival, can I ever hope that you’ll forgive me?” There was a tinge of pathos in her voice that fell pleasantly in Percival’s ears.
“Forgive you, Minerva? Come, now, don’t pile on the agony. A chap has –”
“But I mean it, Percival, too; you forgive me for running away from you?”
Percival looked at the piano stool. Minerva choked a little, then went on,
“For leaving you like that – so shamefully. I know you think I’m rude and heartless and everything else mean. But really, Percival, I couldn’t help it – I – ”
“Yes, Minerva, go on.”
“It was Phil that did it, Percival. He pulled me through the crowd, past the gate and into his car – and – and – after we reached the city – well, there was an unpleasant scene.”
“Yes, yes – the blighter!”
“Well, he tried to take me to – ”
“To where, Minerva?”
“To a cabaret. And I refused. There was a scene, and he called you –”
“What did he call me, Minerva?”
“O, Percival, it’s awful. He called you ‘my blundering English Saint,’ and became very angry. But I can’t go on. Phil had been drinking, I fear. Anyway, I jumped out of the car and caught the street car home. And now – ”
“Now, what – light of my life?” cried Percival recklessly.
“O, Percival, you must not call me such names – yet. It confuses me.”
“But Minerva, you are.”
The girl blushed deeply at this frank declaration. Percival continued:
“I’m not quite clear, yet, Minerva, on one point.”
“Yes, Percival, which point?”
“Why did you not answer my note earlier? It was no treat – that silence.”
“I fear you don’t understand women, Percival.”
“I confess my ignorance.”
“Well, you dear boy, I suppose it was dreadfully wicked of me. But I wanted to test you. I wanted to have one more proof that you really did care, and, Percival, you beat me at my own heartless game.”
“Yes, by Jove, but only by a few hours. That’s all. For I was going to phone you this very night.”
“O, Percival, you’re a perfect darling of a boy!”
That was enough for this very normal young man. Again, he did quite the natural thing. He kissed Minerva.
* * *
Minerva Mathews again sat before her dressing table mirror. Her large, pensive eyes seemed fixed on something afar off. In her hand was a hair brush, but it was forgotten. Far she gazed, dreaming of something delightful. Suddenly, she brought her gaze back to her reflection in the mirror. A deep blush stole over her face. She touched a particular spot on it and – smiled.
“Yes, I do care for Percival – a great deal. He’s very awkward, but he’s kind and dependable. And – I – I think his blunders are – well – so like Percival.”