- CHAPTER V SCENES FOR A "MOVIE"
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SCENES FOR A "MOVIE"
WHEN Peter thought that he might decently return to B deck, without breaking into charming womanly confidences, it was deserted. The moon was struggling out through black clouds and pouring silver into the sea's ink, but the girl in the moon was gone.
When he found Ena again—which was easy, because of the ruby cloak—she was sitting between Raygan and Lady Eileen on the boat deck. He knew that she would be annoyed if he mentioned Miss Child in this distinguished company, and, in any case, he would not have cared to speak of the girl there.
Realizing that he had kept away too long and lost his chance of seeing his friend again that night, he consoled himself by knocking at Ena's door when she had evaded him and sought sanctuary in her cabin. She let him in at once, not because she wanted to do so, but because he would "turn suspicious " if she made an excuse to keep him out.
"Well?" said he. "What did you think of her?"
"Miss Child? She seems a very nice girl, and you're perfectly right—she is a lady. I don't know if she's quite as young as you think, and I don't call her pretty; but she is attractive in spite of being so awfully tall. We had a pleasant talk, and I offered to do anything I could. I gave her our address, and she is to write."
"Did you tell her you'd invite her down?" Peter put this question diffidently.| | 46
"I—intimated it. She was rather independent, but very nice, and said she was grateful, especially after I insisted on giving her that 'Moon' dress, which now I've sent to her cabin. You know, she has friends in New York, and seems to know just what she wants to do, so I couldn't thrust myself upon her. But I think I did the right thing."
"I'm sure of that, you dear girl," said Peter.
And so was the dear girl herself.
Next morning the room of the mirrors was destitute of dryads. Its once crowded wardrobes were empty; the huge screen was folded and leaning against the wall. The dryad door stood open (as Peter Rolls observed when he "happened" to pass, about the time the Monarchic neared the Statue of Liberty) and nothing reminiscent remained save a haunting perfume of "Rose-Nadine" sachet powder, a speciality which might have been the lingering wraith of a dryad.
As the visions had vanished with all their belongings, Peter thought it probable they would be on some deck or other watching for the New York sky-scrapers. And he was right concerning four of his model acquaintances. The fifth was not visible, and Miss Devereux explained her absence by saying that she was "lazy."
"She's on her own now, you know," she added, "and can sleep as late as she likes. But I wouldn't miss the first sight of New York for a pound! Some people have no romance in them."
Up till the last minute Peter had hopes of B deck; but they were blighted; and disappointed, even depressed he had to land with Ena and her friends without having seen Miss Child. Still, there was the pier, crowded with people who had come to wave welcome to the Monarchic. There appeared to be a fearful confusion, and this was Peter's return from his first trip abroad; but he knew | | 47 that the excited throng would soon be sorted out under letters of the alphabet.
Peter senior had come to meet his returning children and the distinguished guests Marconi had bestowed on him (a little dry, thin man, who looked as though a lost resemblance to Peter might come out if he were freshened up by being soaked for a long time in warm water), and he had already secured a tame official to glance graciously into the luggage. After shaking heartily the small bag of bones that was his father's hand, and saying "Hello, dad! How's yourself? How's mother? How's everything?" Peter was free for a few minutes to sprint from "R" to "C."
His spirits rose at the comparative dearth of "C's." Not more than a dozen of the crowded Monarchic's passengers were dancing with impatience beneath the third letter of the alphabet, and Mr. Rolls junior walked straight up to tall Miss Child without being beaten back by a surf of "C's." To be sure, Miss Carroll was under the same letter, and observed the approach of Peter with interest, if not surprise; but she was seated on a trunk at some distance, key in hand.
"Well, I'm mighty glad to find you! " exclaimed Peter cordially. "I began to think it must be a trick of dryads to waft themselves ashore without waiting for the clumsy old ship to dock."
"I was busy packing this morning," replied the alleged dryad, with a hard, undryadic expression on her "heart-shaped" face.
"You disappeared so early last night, I'd an idea you were doing your packing then so as to be up with the dawn and get a good look at the harbour."
"I could see a great deal from our porthole."
"I shouldn't have thought you were the kind of girl to be satisfied with portholes," said Peter, hoping to wake up one of her smiles. Her voice sounded rather tired.| | 48
"Beggars mustn't be choosers," was the dry reply.
"But dryads may be," he encouraged her.
"I've left my dryadhood hanging up behind the door." She spoke sharply, almost irritably, it seemed. "I sha'n't need it in New York."
"Oh, won't you? That's where you're mistaken! There'll be lots of times when you'd rather have it than the grandest opera cloak."
"I sha'n't need an opera cloak, either."
Peter was still smiling, though less confident of the old friendly understanding which had given them a language of their own with words that would have been nonsense for others.
"We'll see. Anyhow, I shall ask you to go to the very first worth-while opera that comes along. Consider it a formal invitation."
"Very well, I will, and answer it formally. 'Miss Child thanks Mr. Rolls for his kind invitation, and regrets that a previous engagement makes it impossible for her to accept.'"
"By Jove; that does sound formal enough! How do you know you'll have a previous engagement?"
"I'm perfectly certain I shall."
This was the real thing! There was no joke in the bottom of the medicine glass.
Peter's face grew red, like a scolded schoolboy's. Winifred (who was looking at Miss Carroll's trunk, but saw only Mr. Rolls) thought that he was going to speak out angrily, and perhaps give her a glimpse of his black heart. She hoped he would do so, for it would have been a relief; but he did not.
"Have I done anything to offend you?" he asked with a straight look; and though he spoke in a low tone, it was not a secret tone at all.
"No, of course not," she answered, opening her eyes at him. "Why do you ask?"| | 49
"Because—you weren't like this on the ship."
"I've left my ship manners hanging up behind the door with my dryadhood. I sha'n't use them in New York, either!"
"I don't know why you should be." If she had not stared hard at Miss Carroll's trunk, and tried anxiously to make out the name on a very small label, she would have done what she had boasted of never doing, whatever the world did to her: she would have cried. As it was, she wore the expression of a budding basilisk.
"Don't you know? Well, then, you didn't realize what it meant to me to have you for a friend."
"I really didn't think much about it, Mr. Rolls!"
"Evidently not. But I did. Look here, Miss Child. Did my sister put you against me—or our friendship—in any way?"
"What an extraordinary idea!" exclaimed Winifred. "She spoke very sweetly of you, as far as I can remember, and said you were a dear brother."
"Then why are you so unkind to me now, after being nice on the ship?"
"Oh, that! It was for a cinema, a motion picture. Didn't you understand?"
This slapped Peter in the face: that she should retort with flippant slang, when he was earnestly begging for an explanation. At last she had succeeded in freezing him.
"I'm afraid I didn't quite understand," he said in a new tone which she had not heard before. Mr. Balm of Gilead, alias Peter Pan, had suddenly grown up, and as Peter Rolls junior was all politeness and conventionality.
"I do understand now, though. Well, Miss Child, I must—thank that 'cinema' for some very pleasant hours. Here comes a man to look at your baggage. | | 50 Just remind him that you're a British subject, and he won't make you any trouble. Neither will I!" Peter's hat was off, but his smile could have been knocked off only with a hammer.
"Good-bye," replied Win hastily, frightened at her own appalling success as a basilisk. "And thank you—for your part of the cinema."
"I'm afraid I don't deserve any credit. Good-bye. And good luck."
He was gone—but no, not quite. Without turning round to look at her again, he was stopping to speak with the Irish-faced servant of the customs. The latter nodded and even touched his cap. Peter Rolls certainly had a way with him. But Win already knew this, to her sorrow. She was glad she had thought of that horrid speech about the cinema. The man deserved it.
"That's the last I shall see of him!" she said to herself almost viciously, as the Irish-American official spied upon her toque the wing of a fowl domesticated since the ark. Yet for the second time Peter came back, stiffly lifting his hat.
"I only wanted to say," he explained, "that, cinema or no cinema, I hope, if I can be of service now or later, you will allow me the privilege. My address——"
"I have your sister's, thank you," she cut his words short as with a pair of scissors. "That's the same thing, isn't it?"
"Yes," he answered heavily—perhaps guiltily. And this time he was gone for good.
"What a neat expression," thought Winifred. "Gone for good!"
It sounded like a long time.
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