Note, if you haven’t seen it, that Chapter 9 was posted yesterday so that we can wrap up this serial before the weekend.
By Hugh J. Cannon
Nate had been called out of town on business, and Nell insisted that Jessie help entertain Dick. The three were much together. One evening under a romantic moon they were boat-riding on the lake. Being an adept with cars, the young officer received many compliments from his companions on the dextrous manner in which he handled the craft.
“Do you remember the night on Apia harbor,” Nell asked, “when you told us the story of the hurricane and the wrecking of the warships? Wasn’t it the most dramatic thing you ever heard, Jessie?”
“It certainly was. Haven’t you another one like it?”
“Why, he’s full of them,” Nell responded. “Tell us about the time you were nearly shipwrecked on the Yellow Sea.”
Both girls listened to the recital almost breathlessly, and Nell added some details of Dick’s own heroism which she had heard from Captain Evans. Dick blushed like a girl, and to divert attention from himself recurred to the story of the Samoan storm.
“What a heroic figure Rear Admiral Kimberly must have been in your boyish eyes,” Jessie said.
“Yes, and ever since. We sailors indulge in hero-worship more perhaps than most people; it’s a necessary part of our training. to have in mind what a real hero would do under stress, helps fit us for the crises of life which are sure to come.”
“That’s a thought that I must cultivate,” Nell said to herself. “What would Nathan Hale do in circumstances similar to mine?”
As the young fellow was leaving the girls at the Redfield door, Nell said: “I have been very happy tonight, happier than at any other time since the first joy of my home-coming. Won’t you take us again tomorrow night, Dick?”
“He’s surely in love with you,” Jessie commented when they were alone. “The way he looks at you in the moonlight as he tells his wonderful stories ought to win the heart of any girl. haven’t you accepted him yet?”
“No, but it has required willpower at times not to do so. You know how I felt when I wrote you from Tonga. But, Jessie, you can’t imagine how horrible it was to think I had no right to love a man. Dick is wonderful. When he undertakes to do anything, he is pretty sure to succeed, and I really am surprised at my success in resisting him.”
“But aren’t you going to accept him now?”
“Well, first I must be convinced on three points. As he says, he is a hero-worshiper. You can see that for yourself. he thought my act in going away was heroic. That may be the foundation for his love. I am sure it is the thing that started him thinking of me. then, too, he is extremely sympathetic and pitied me in my distress. Was that the cause? Another thing, he had not seen an unmarried American woman for many months. Perhaps if he had, he would not have thought so seriously of me.”
“But don’t you love him?”
“I assuredly do.” Under her breath she added, “As I love you and Father and Mother.”
Several boat-rides and other excursions were taken before Nate returned. Then, as days passed, the four were frequently together. Under other circumstances the men probably would have become fast friends. They were of a type to like each other, but present conditions precluded any such thing. Each inclined to the feeling that the other was in the way.
For obvious reasons, Jessie and dick were at their best. One was trying to hold and the other to win a lover. In a sense, Jessie looked upon Nell and Dick upon Nate as rivals, and a perfectly natural pride prompted them to be as agreeable as possible. On the other hand, despite determined efforts to be sociable, the remaining members of the quartet were distraught and moody.
Nell, aware of this condition and heartily ashamed of her own perverse conduct, made an honest but abortive effort to improve it. Suddenly out of this condition came a tiny and surprising ray of hope. she remembered that Mrs. Evans in Pago Pago had cautioned her against placing too much confidence in Dick’s protestations of devotion. he was volatile, falling in love as he might fall in the water and scrambling out with equal ease. Furthermore, he had said many times, so the worthy matron reported, that he was always more attracted by blonds than brunettes.
At the time Nell had attributed this warning to the too apparent fact that Mrs. Evans desired to bring about a match between the young officer and one of her own relatives who was expected to pay a visit to the Islands and who was said to be a blond. Nell had, therefore, with a little amusement dismissed the remark from her mind. Now it came into her head with a startling bang. Jessie was a decided blond. her own and Nate’s taciturnity, which both had tried to overcome, might be capitalized. She found justification for this idea in the thought that if Jessie could not put up with such a quality before marriage there was small hope for happiness afterward.
“From now on I’m going to breed gloom,” she said to herself, “all I can in Nate, with just enough in myself that they’ll not think I’m jealous.” While saying this, however, the girl realized there was little need for artificial gloom.
As was her custom, Nell went to Mr. Redfield with this new thought, at the same time expressing the fear that if she ever again gave place to hope in her heart, and it were crushed, her life would go out with it.
“Mother and I have thought of this solution,” the judge admitted, ‘but of course we can do nothing to bring about such a thing. It must evolve itself through association. Perhaps it is a possibility but I fear hardly probable.”
Acting upon the judge’s advice, Nell made preparations to visit some distant relatives in New York who had long begged her to come to them. On the evening before she left, Dick called and renewed his plea that she consent to marry him.
“I know it isn’t fair, dick, to keep you in suspense. I ought to say yes or no, but I can’t say yes now and yet I honestly hope you will not go away for good. can’t you be satisfied with that much off a confession?”
“I’m afraid it’s because you still love Nate!” The young fellow looked searchingly into her eyes which he knew to be honest, and through them into her heart, which he knew to be conscientious.
“You know how completely I gave Nate up, and naturally expect now that Jessie and he will soon be married. But perhaps the fact that I did love him once has made it harder to awaken the same feeling again. I don’t’ know about that.”
“Well, you know I’ll be satisfied with what you can give me and am going to hang around and see thsi thing through. You have my proposal and it stands until you’re ready to say yes. I’ll not take any other answer.”
Before Nell left for the proposed visit she had a long talk with Jessie.
“Are you going away without having an understanding with Dick?” the friend asked, and it was apparent the girl considered the question an important one.
“Yes; I’m not quite sure about some things and I want to know my ground before becoming engaged again. but when are you going to set your wedding day?”
“Nate is urging me all the time to do it, but I haven’t decided yet. I’ve wanted you and him to have the chance of making up if you cared to. Would you rather we’d be married while you are away?” The girl watched Nell narrowly as she put the question.
“Honestly, I don’t think so, Jessie. of course it would seem strange to see Nate marrying someone else after all our plans. but there are a good many reasons why I should be here – the unfavorable comment my absence would cause, for one thing.”
The New York visit was prolonged far behind the time originally set for Nell’s return. there was so much to see and do, the relatives so insistent that she remain longer, and in her own heart the dread of going back into a situation so extremely hard to meet, that she stayed on. Another thing which contributed to the delay was the news conveyed in letters from her parents that Jessie persisted in refusing to set a date for the wedding until her friend’s return.
“Nate has left it with her,” Judge Redfield wrote, “after urging her more than I expected him to under the circumstances. It is apparent to me that the delay is a relief to him, and I am inclined to think Jessie senses it also.”
In a subsequent lengthy letter the judge went into more detail:
“Jessie phoned this evening and asked for an interview. She feels that there is a reason for Nate’s moroseness, and asked if I thought he still loved you. I answered as best I could and realized by asking about her own feelings. With her usual frankness she admitted there was a question in her mind on this very point. Nate has won her rather completely 0- more so than any other young fellow who has ever courted her, and you know that is saying much, and yet the rapturous love which I suppose all girls dream of having for the men they are planning to marry seems to be lacking,. Had Nate actually stormed her heart, perhaps the story would be different. In the main, his conduct as a lover has been satisfactory – probably it would be entirely so had she never seen him make ardent love to someone else. And yet, while she misses his former fervent devotion, and in a measure longs for it, this fact does not seriously disturb her, for we all realize that Nate’s enthusiasm has been greatly affected by the former disappointment, and she generously makes allowances for his reserve.
“One thing she said amused me – that he acts at times more like a complacent husband who has won a race than an ardent lover who is running it. More than once she has felt like spanking him as she would a moping child. He needs either that or to have a charge of dynamite set off under him.
“In reply to a rather severe cross-examination, Jessie admitted she would be disappointed if anything occurred to prevent the marriage, though her offer to withdraw was made in good faith and would be renewed instantly if either you or Nate seemed to desire it.
“Then I took a bold step which may result in a fulfillment of our hopes, or may further complicate the present tangle for which I am already largely to blame. I suggested that Nate might be jolted out of his complacency by jealousy. It would be more dignified than spanking, and less dangerous than dynamite. Both she and you had talked a good deal about Dick and what a delightful character he is, and I said there were indications that Nate had more than once been somewhat nettled. A little flirtation with Dick might have a very salutary effect. the idea appealed to her. It would be great sport, and she opined that one could not easily find a pleasanter subject than the officer. Apparently she likes him very much. Then a disturbing thought came into her mind. While making Nate jealous by such a flirtation, she might arouse in you the same feeling, and not for the world would she hurt you more than she has already done.
“Women are gullible enough in some ways (please excuse that platitude), but usually it’s not easy to fool them, and Jessie is half inclined to think you have not entirely overcome the old love for Nate. However, she does think you are now quite as much in love with Dick and that not being sure of your own mind is the reason for your offishness. That offered another argument in favor of the flirtation – it would make both of you morose lovers snap into something resembling a lover-like attitude. I assured her that you would tell me if serious jealousy should result and I could straighten out the matter by an explanation of her motives.
“Straighten out the matter! I’m beginning to fear that I am a consummate fool and the more I mix in it the more involved it will become. However, I can hardly see how even an imbecile could make it worse.”
Other letters followed as the weeks flew by. Nell had extracted a promise form her parents that they would let her know exactly how things were moving at home. Some of the resultant communications raised her hopes heavenward. Certainly the astute judge never could have intended his casual phrases to be so potent in arousing expectations. Neither could he have intended that some other bit of news would be so depressing.
The long expatriation on the Islands and alternating between hope and despair at home were beginning to tell on the girl’s constitution. With insufficient sleep and a variable appetite, she grew thin and pale.
When finally she did return home her parents were seriously disturbed over her condition,. Their apprehension was shared by Jessie who came to the Redfield home on the morning after her friend’s arrival. She, too, expressed concern.
There was nothing to be alarmed about, Nell insisted. It was merely an unfavorable reaction of her long absence and would soon pass over.
“I’m glad you’ve come, Jessie,” the judge remarked. “We are trying to persuade this self-willed girl that she’s been cooped up too much in new York. we want her to get out in the fresh air and sunshine, but she won’t mind us.”
“Well, I agree with you that a little son and heir is the thing needed to bring back my jolly old pal, but she probably won’t mind me either.”
Nell joined good-naturedly in the laugh against her and then casually remarked that Dick had written and expressed his intention of calling on them soon.
“Now that’s what your friend Dick would call a significant omen,” was Jessie’s comment. “We speak of a little son and heir and she immediately shakes off her listlessness and tells us that Dick is soon going to call.”
When the officer finally did come he was surprised at Nell’s appearance. Never in the most discouraging days on the Islands had she taken so little interest in the things about her. On occasions she was actually peevish, a quality never seen in her before. Mr. and Mrs. Dean were away from home, and Jessie accepted the insistent invitation to stay with her friend until their return. Nate was again absent from the city. Nell could not often be persuaded to go out and so, without any designing, it naturally came about that Dick and Jessie were frequently together.
“Well, Mother, I’ll plead guilty to having made a perfect mess of the whole matter. If it ever is straightened out providence or you must do it.”
Judge Redfield was the speaker and his rueful countenance gave evidence of the sincerity of his words. He and his wife and daughter were sitting dejectedly in his study.
“Let us review the case: First, in the belief that Lilly Nell would never marry, I was largely instrumental in bringing about an engagement between Nate and Jessie. then in an effort to correct that blunder, I try to play a cute part and am as much of a misfit as I would be trying to run a battleship. With the thought that I’m really bright, I persuade Jessie to do some flirting with Dick, and she certainly did it, even overdid it. the total result, as far as I can estimate, is that Jessie is jealous of Nell, and Nate and dick are unmistakably jealous of each other. Another attempt on my part and the girls probably will not be on speaking terms, and the men will be fighting a duel.”
Other things contributed to the situation described by the judge. Among these was Nate’s letter from Egypt, and which had so completely upset Nell. Jessie had seen it and recognized the handwriting as the missive lay on the table waiting to be opened. Evidently she had not forgotten its disquieting effect upon her friend, and recently, as Nell learned from Nate, had spoken to him about its contents,. She felt she had a right to know the tone in which her lover was writing to his former sweetheart and was piqued by his embarrassed explanation. subsequently she spoke, and somewhat coldly, to Nell on the subject.
“Yes, Nate wrote me telling of your engagement,” Nell replied. “He said he thought it better for us never to meet again. Will you read the letter?” There was a quality of tone in the invitation which said very distinctly, “I hope you will not.”
Jessie seemed doubtful and the other did not press the matter, remembering the sentence, “Good-bye my never-to-be-forgotten sweetheart.”
Nell made an earnest effort to remove the coolness which followed. She loved Jessie sincerely and was dismayed by the thought of an estrangement.
The affair would have worked itself out very easily except for the intermittent working of conscience, and as there were two of the involved, each active, almost daily one or the other became troublesome.
Nell, in self-sacrificing mood, would go repentantly to Dick and show him favors which would fill him with outward delight. On these occasions Jessie would be thoroughly convinced that her friend had forgotten Nate and was deeply in love with her south sea acquaintance. Conscience-smitten she would devote herself to Nate who stoically received these evidences of regard.
Such conduct naturally inspired the young men to repentance and for a time they would be most assiduous int heir attentions to those having claims upon them. Then, overcome by the exhaustion which sometimes follows the performance of duty, Nate and Nell at least would relapse and for a time pursue the paths which their hearts prompted them to take.
“Dick has asked me to go for another boat ride tonight. Will you go with us?” Nell asked her friend by phone.
“I think you would prefer to have me stay at home.”
“On the contrary, I would much rather have you go, and Dick also will be pleased. Indeed, if this headache does not leave me I shall ask to be excused from going at all. Come prepared to stay all night.”
The result was that Jessie and Dick took the boat ride alone. Nell heard them talking for a long time on the front porch before Jessie came upstairs. The visitor tapped on her friend’s door.
‘Nell, we can’t allow this matter to go on any longer without an understanding. Your happiness has been ruined and mine is threatened. Let’s chart our course, as Dick is in the habit of saying.”
“What do you mean, Jessie?”
“I’m not sure that I know myself. but of one thing I am sure. I can never be happy with a misunderstanding between us. and you know in your heart there has been a little feeling, and a natural one. Here are four people of marriageable age, two fellows and two girls. Ought to be clear enough sailing. but is it? You know whether it is or not. You and I love each other intensely. Nate and Dick would naturally do the same but for the tangle we’re in. Sometimes I think you love the two men equally well, sometimes I think I do. Sometimes I think each man loves you equally well, sometimes I think they both love me. If two ships were sailing side by side the captains would have an understanding, so that there would be no collision. that’s what we must do.”
Notwithstanding Jessie’s earnestness, Nell was obliged to smile at her frequent use of nautical comparisons.
“In which direction do you prefer to sail, Jessie?”
“I’m engaged to Nate, but for months I have been unable to set the wedding day, and the longer it goes the more uncertain I am. But I’d go through with it rather than disappoint Nate. On every other subject in the world I feel he is perfectly frank with me, but in this matter something seems to be suppressed. Now you take your choice of these men, and I’ll win the other or die in the attempt.” The girl stopped, out of breath.
“Jessie, do you mean you are that uncertain? Tell me which one you’d rather have.”
“No, you’re a week older than I am, and I heard father and the judge talking one day about primogeniture. You don’t’ understand that word of course, but it means that being older you have what you want.”
“Why, I’ve never seen you so excited before.”
“Well, you should be excited, too, when we’re drawing lots for a husband. which one will you take?”
“And you’ll be perfectly happy about it which ever way I choose?”
“I’ll promise to be.”
Nell took her friends in her arms. She was on the verge of hysterics. “I don’t know whether you will feel this way when you get over your excitement, but I hope so. I’ve tried as hard as any woman ever did, but I can’t help loving Nate and can never think of marrying Dick.”
“You darling!” Jessie almost screamed. ‘I’ve been hoping and praying you’d say that. I’ve known for months I couldn’t honestly marry Nate, but could marry Dick – if he asked me, and he will.”
“Has he been making love to you?” Nell asked, shocked.
“Of course not, you goody goody, but I can diagnose his case as easily as Dad can a case of scarlet fever, and Dick more than likely doesn’t know he’s in love with me, but he is. You’ve been doing too much moping around for his lively nature.”
Then Jessie became sober. “Don’t think, Nell, that Dick has been insincere with you. He has been desperately in love, but for a long time he has felt sure you would never marry him and nothing but his fighting spirit has kept him on. He is very sure you will love Nate, and – well, I’m a blond, and he did admit once that there’s a lot – too blooming much – in this propinquity business that Judge Redfield talks about.”
The excited girls could not wait until morning to submit the results of their conference to Judge and Mrs. Redfield. These worthy people were aroused from their slumber.
“I’ve had enough distress out of this thing, and now I’m determined to have a little amusement,” the judge declared. “While Jessie is tactfully making these young men acquainted with her change of plans I’ll have enough fun to pay me for all my trouble.”
“Now, Father, you had better keep out of it,” his wife expostulated. “You know how you mixed things up before.”
The judge scratched his head ruefully. “perhaps I had better not be too aggressive,” he admitted.
A few days later, however, when the three ladies were together, he said: “Usually eavesdropping is inexcusable, but I have something to say to Nate and Dick, and I want you all to listen and break out and correct if I blunder too much.”
He got Nate on the phone and asked him to call. when he did so, three eager listeners were behind the screen.
The young fellow made no pretense, to this man who understood him so well, of being enthusiastically in love with Jessie. he admired her greatly, and regardless of his own feelings was prepared to marry her whenever she was ready to set the day. She would, he knew, make him a loyal and devoted wife and one of whom he could be very proud. Nell had threatened to go back to the Islands if he did not go forward with the matter.
one of the eavesdroppers looked at the other reproachfully.
“Don’t you think it would be better to marry in the near future?’ the judge asked. ‘It would settle this uncertainty and all would be happier. Lilly Nell can not stand the strain much longer.”
There was a painful but eloquent silence. then the young man replied, “I would die for Lilly Nell. I’d even marry if it would bring her peace of mind. Father and Mother are most insistent that we name the day and end our courting.”
The young fellow in his earnestness apparently did not notice the smile which this remark brought to the face of the judge, and continued, “But Jessie has not seemed ready to decide on a date.”
“I have been talking with her and am sure she will be ready very shortly.”
The disconsolate Nate was dismissed and Dick sent for, and soon appeared. the listeners again took their places.
“How are you coming on with your suit?” the older man asked abruptly. This was a busy day and he had little time to waste in preliminaries.
“I’m not able to say exactly. I could not expect better treatment than Nell gives me, but that’s as far as she seems ready to go.”
“Have you asked her recently?”
“Well, no,” hesitantly, “not since her return, but she knows how anxious I ma to have her consent.”
“I have been advising her to do one thing or the other, and am sure her mind is made up. She will give you an answer the first time you ask her.”
“Will it be favorable, may I ask?” The young fellow’s eagerness certainly indicated the ardent lover.
“Yes, I am sure it will be favorable.”
Dick slumped down into his chair. “How perfectly splendid!” he said limply in a tone which nearly upset his old friend who hid his face in a handkerchief in a violent and protracted fit of coughing.
Assuring the judge that he would see Nell at the earliest possible moment, Dick left the house. He seemed anxious to be alone, and Mr. Redfield made no effort to detain him. As the front door closed behind him, the three listeners heard a whoop which brought them excitedly from their hiding-place. the judge was convulsed with laughter.
“How perfectly splendid! How perfectly splendid!” he exclaimed between bursts of merriment. Subsequently the four held a star chamber session and a dinner party was planned.
Before an hour had passed Nell succeeded in getting Dick by phone, and invited him to dinner on the following day.
“I have kept you waiting a long time, you dear, patient fellow,” she purred happily over the wire, “but am now ready to give you my answer, and perhaps tomorrow evening we may set the marriage day. does that make you as happy as I am? No, don’t’ come over tonight. With the uncertainty ended, I am too excited to see anybody – not even you.”
“Did he say, ‘How perfectly splendid’?” asked Mr. Redfield with another shout of laughter.
After he had accepted the dinner invitation, Jessie had a similar interview with Nate. She reported the tenor of it to Nell. “I told him Mr. and Mrs. Redfield had joined with my parents and his in urging me to settle down to a sane life and decide upon something definite. You also insist that the delay is unnecessary and harmful, so I had promised seriously to consider a wedding date if he was willing to leave it to me. There was a tense and painful pause at the other end of the line. Then he asked if you really urged it. I told him you did sincerely and that you were happier than I had seen you since the old days before you went away. I couldn’t help feeling sorry for him, but he deserves to be punished, so I told him I was sure you had an announcement of your own to make. He gulped so hard at this statement that I could hear something drop and said I should fix any date for our wedding that suits me.”
There was something incongruous about the dinner next day. Evidently the host and hostess were delighted with the prospect of a double wedding, and the girls, too, apparently were overjoyed, while the prospective bridegrooms, in spite of determined efforts, looked like men who were to be hanged and were attempting to be enthusiastic about it.
Only once did they have a chance to exchange a word. Nell could not hear what was said but from the men’s looks was sure it was something like this:
“Of course I’m in great luck, to win such a prize as Nell and I’m mightily tickled, but I don’t see anything so uproariously funny about it, do you?” this from Dick.
“I’ll be hanged if I do.” From his fellow martyr.
At the conclusion of the meal, Judge Redfield, who had done almost as much fidgeting as Nate and Dick, said:
“Now let us have the good news. You can easily see, Nell, how tremendously eager Dick is. Why, he has hardly eaten a morsel, and his impatience to know when he is to be anchored for life is only equaled by that of Nate. When is the wedding to be?”
“Well, Jessie and I have talked it over without deciding on a definite date, but if Dick and Nate are willing we want a double wedding.”
“Good heavens, Nell! Don’t do that!” exclaimed Nate aghast, as he arose from the table. “I can’t stand it.”
“Then we’ll be married all alone, my sweetheart,” said Nell as she threw herself into his arms.
The delighted judge was rubbing his hands gleefully. “Go on, Jessie, it’s not fair to leave all the proposing to Nell. Tell Dick that if he’s to be married right away it must be to you,.”
“Yes, Jessie,” added the rosy Nell, extricating herself, but not entirely, from the close embrace of her astonished lover, “this is leap year and you can tell your fighting admiral that the odds are five to one against him and he must surrender.”
“Perhaps I will tell him,” retorted the beaming Jessie, ‘but he is so shy I would rather do it on the veranda than here.”