- CHAPTER III THE STORY BEGINS
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THE STORY BEGINS
"LOOK, Hope! There they are, on the 'bicycle built for two;' see how they sit! There's grace for you! Now, say they're not a handsome pair, if you can."
Hope Chetwynde lifts her lorgnette and looks deliberately in the wrong direction, with the most amiable air of being interested in the riders of the "bicycle built for two."
"Hope!" her brother begins, in strong remonstrance, but she breaks in upon his speech.
"Fee, I'm amazed! Is it possible that you can admire that gaudily gorgeous couple on that zebra-striped wheel? Why, the girl is positively fat!"
Felix Chetwynde shrugs his broad shoulders impatiently, as his gaze follows hers. Then he laughs.
"That's the little Irishman who keeps the 'Fighting Chickens' over by the racing stables, and the woman's his--" he stops short, even before the small woman sitting beside his sister can utter her indignant and astonished--"Fe-lix! How can you know such people? Your list of acquaintances | | 35 must be as varied as it is long. I wonder if Miss Hilton--"
But it is Hope who now breaks in upon her aunt's tirade. The continuous tilt kept up by these two--or rather by Cassandra Chetwynde; for it is she who is the aggressive one--is one of the few things from which Hope Chetwynde shrinks; for she loves them both, and would fain reconcile them for all time. She has been making pretence of looking about for the right tandem since she is declared in the wrong, and now she cries out as if delighted with her tardy success.
"Oh, I see! the white tandem is it not, Fee? U-m-m! They do ride well! and--the girl is lovely!"
"So is the man," sniffs Miss Cassandra. "Sweetly pretty--a true dainty creature."
"Auntie, that's too bad!" from Hope.
"Really, Aunt Cass," says Felix, "you've been misled by appearances this time; Loyd Hilton is not made upon the 'brawn and bone' pattern exactly, it's true; but he's above the medium height, his slim figure is as full of strength as it is of grace, and he's certainly a model for an artist of the 'life' class, perfectly proportioned, in fact; and if his feet and hands are small, the first can sprint his mile with the best athlete in the ring, and the last have a grip and a skill with the gloves, fists, clubs, and oars that has floored more than one so-called strong boy; and if his features are damnably regular, they're as strong, taken each for itself, as they are fine. He's a trained athlete and an all-round good fellow; and the more you see of Loyd Hilton, the less likely you'll be to call him, or think him, small or effeminate."| | 36
The two ladies receive this sally, in defence of a friend, in characteristic fashion--the one with a sniff and a toss of the head; the other with a skeptical little smile and pantomimic applause. And again Hope comes to the rescue at sight of the curl upon his aunt's lip.
"You'll excuse us, Fee, if we can't quite take your Adonis at your lofty valuation; we haven't the same incentive, you know. But behold I the duo has become a trio, and there now is a really handsome man. Who is he, mon frere?"
"What, that blonde English-looking fellow? And you call him handsomer than Loyd? Well, he's a 'fine figure of a man.'" "Miss Hilton thinks so," murmurs Hope, in mischievous aside.
"It's mutual admiration, then; for it's an open secret that Terry Glynne is in love with Lorna Hilton."
There is a little frown between his brows, but it passes, in an instant almost, while Hope exclaims--
"Is that Terence Glynne? the man who saved both you and Mr. Hilton from death at the heels of a runaway horse, and who afterwards became the largest of the three graces?"
"Three--geeses!" snaps Aunt Cass.
Hope laughs gaily--she is quite her amiable self once more--as she explains-- "It was a college title, auntie. Mr. Glynne was a new man, and a stranger to the two reckless students who drove out with a half-broken animal, and were saved from going over an embankment by Mr. Glynne's strong arms. He does look strong," she | | 37 added, with a side glance at her brother. "Here they come," and once more she calmly lifts her lorgnette, as among the many flying wheels gathered upon the Manhattan Beach Cycle Track, to take their daily spin at the fashionable hour, and to witness, a little later, some crack and fancy riding, three figures glide past--those of a fair girl and of two young men, both well to look at, but as unlike as possible.
This double bicycle is not the usual well-known tandem with its seats "for and aft," which has so sorely plagued the sentimental youth and maid, giving him merely a tantalizing view of the back of the fair one's neck; while she cannot look around without rick to the equilibrium of both, but it is so arranged that the pair sit close together, side by side, and, sitting thus, one notices, first, the unusual beaut of the two riders, and then their wonderful resemblance, dark-haired, dark-eyed, with perfect features lighted up by animation and swift intelligence, and so saved from being "faultlessly null," glowing with health and the joy of the sweet air and swift motion, they glide past, their wheel all white and silver trimmed, and their mastery of it aiding to earn for it, and them, frequent applause and exclamations of praise and admiration, the fair and sturdy young man beside them coming in for a goodly share. For Terry Glynne, with his long limbs and broad shoulders, his sunny hair curling close to his head, his big, frank blue eyes, so full of the inherent bonhommie of the man, and his forceful face, with its strong chin, and the tender mouth half concealed by a silky, blonde moustache, is a popular fellow. | | 38 As the trio sweep by, bows are exchanged between the three riders and Felix Chetwynde, and the latter asks, as the trio wheel on down the course--
"Well, Hope, can you cavil at Miss Hilton's riding--or her costume?"
"No," the girl replies; and now her tone is kindness itself. "She is a lovely girl, and her costume is as simple and chic as possible. Those richly-tinted, velvety eyed brunes always look their best in the soft, creamy wools."
"And--you think better of the wheel? Confess it, Sis."
"For Miss Hilton--and for all the other ladies, who choose to arch their backs, and hump their shoulders, I think it is very well. But--"
"But--child," breaks in her aunt. "You need not arch your back! Miss Hilton sits erect."
"Miss Hilton seems to have the good sense not to scorch. What a term--but I've watched the average rider until I am convinced of one thing. You can't sit a bicycle as you would a horse, and you do not ride a wheel, you propel it. It is simply another kind of locomotion; novel to us, now, just as flying would be novel. But when the novelty ceases, these enthusiastic cyclists will waken to the discovery that they have been working hard, while sitting their wheels, and while pedalling, guiding, and inducing curvature of the spine, most of them--they have just balanced a pair of wheels, and fancied themselves riding then! A fig for your 'safety cycles,' your pneumatic tyres, that are always being punctured at the wrong time and far from home, and your saddles, always turning out to be the wrong kind; and give | | 39 me my brown Selim, with his speed and grace, spirit and affection. A living steed for me--if you please!" "A lecture on the evils of the bicycle, as I live. Well, Sis, you always did break out in unexpected ways." He consults his watch and glances about him. "By Jove, it's time for the races almost. Do you think you can endure them, Hope'ey?" "I shall shut my eyes if I can't," she replies perversely, "I did not come to the races, Fee; I came to look after Aunt Cass who has a hankering after strange gods.
"I've not," laughs Aunt Cass, "nor after anything else of the masculine persuasion! I always did like to see people make fools of themselves, however."
Chetwynde laughs carelessly. "In that case I'll give you the pleasure of watching me 'induce curvature of the spine,'" he says. "You'll excuse me for a short time, won't you? I want to see the starters before they mount."
The ladies willingly excuse him; they are most comfortably placed upon the grand stand, and, once he has left them, his place is readily and eagerly filled; for Hope Chetwynde is both an heiress and a beauty, besides being amiable, clever, and, above all else, possessing the gift of charm. A gift more rare and valuable oft than beauty or wit.
As her brother makes his way through the crowd to the spot where his wheel had been left in charge, Hope Chetwynde looks after him, and a smile of amusement crosses her face, changing swiftly to a look of pride. And he is good to look at. Tall and erect, with eyes that seem now blue, now grey, and | | 40 that can look many things; dangerous eyes, susceptible young women have found them; and the straight nose and handsome mouth, well seen beneath the thick, short moustache, completes a face about which there could not be two opinions--but for the chin, that is prominent, and somewhat heavy; strong, his friends call it, and his sister thinks it; while Aunt Cass calls it "stubborn," and a few others, cruel.
And now there comes a crash of music, and around the sharp upper curve of the course sweeps a cavalcade on wheels,--the New Era Cycle Club, aristocratic, and non-professional, but made up, nevertheless, of skilled riders. Once and again they sweep around the course, the men slanting their backs, as if perpetually going upstairs, or arching their shoulders, according as they value most the grace, or the speed, of their riding.
It is a swell club, the New Era; and its presence here, as a club, is due to the fact that two of its members have challenged two professionals, and the event is of vital interest and import to the New Eras. On they come, the men in their white sweaters banded with blue, the ladies in their blue skirts and jackets, belted, gloved, and capped in white; for there are no bloomers in the New Era Club. They glide on at a pace not incompatible with graceful ridings; the ladies, for the most part, sitting erect; and when they have passed, Aunt Cass, fat, fair, and--well, forty is not too young--turns to Hope, and says, in a tone which, for a wonder, is carefully guarded--
"I am sure those ladies look well, very well! If | | 41 I thought--" She breaks off abruptly, checked by a look in the girl's face.
"Auntie!" Hope says, "are you going over to the enemy?'
"If you mean the Hiltons, no; but I'm not so sure that a wheel--I wonder if they make them lower?"
"I'm sure I don't know. You might get a child's wheel."
"Don't try being sarcastic, Hope Chetwynde! I'm going to consult Doctor Berry, and if he says that a wheel would work off superfluous flesh, I'd try one. I've heard that it will."
"I'm sure that it would; especially if you lead your wheel up that long hill at the back of our new cottage, and cycle down it, very often, when the thermometer stands ninety in the shade."
"Ugh!" This is the maiden lady's only response, and she turns again to watch the course. The band is filling the summer air with harmonious sounds, and the race is about to begin.
There but four entries for this, and the names of the two club men who will race the professionals have been withheld, although there are shrewd guesses as to their identity; and Hope starts, and her aunt exclaims aloud, when Felix Chetwynde and Loyd Hilton ride down the course, both wearing now the uniform of the club, whose honor they uphold.
"If that isn't just like your brother!" grumbles Aunt Cass, as they wheel by; "mum as a mute, and riding against professionals too! He'll be defeated of course."| | 42
"Fee is a trained athlete, Aunt Cass;" replies Hope, loftily. "But I fancy that slight Mr. Hilton will hardly come in at the finish; he looks anything but muscular. I hate delicacy--in men!"
"I don't call him delicate; I call him simply refined, fine grained, if you please. The ox is bigger, and heavier, and coarser than the racehorse, but he is not, on that account, a thing of greater speed and endurance. Look at the two now. Felix is actually excited. Young Hilton looks quite at his ease. He isn't throwing away, uselessly, his needful energy."
Hope turns away in silence; she knows when to withdraw from a profitless argument over her brother, and this she judges to be the time.
And now the race is on. It is not a display of fancy riding, just a straight road race; and the four riders are in their places, each with his starter ready, and his eyes fixed awaiting the signal.
And now they are off, and Fee Chetwynde has the inside track. Very evenly matched they seem, but as they pass the stand Loyd Hilton, who is on the outer side, and is thus at some slight disadvantage, seems lagging a little, just a very little, behind.
"He will lose!" declares Hope, with conviction, but quite cheerfully; "he can't hold his own against those muscular fellows!"
It is only a five-mile race, and during the first lap Hilton lags a wheel's length all the way. The second is much the same; only that Fee Chetwynde gains perceptibly, and the club members set up a cheer.
"Fee is working too hard," says Aunt Cass | | 43 presently. "He is putting forth his full strength too soon!" Hope only shrugs her shoulder, and bends further forward to watch the combatants. And now comes the third lap, and almost at the end, Hilton falls behind as if exhausted. Then, suddenly, the straight back, already slightly inclined, sinks lower; as they near the final curve, his wheel shoots across, and behind the others; and as they come close together at the turns, each careful to hold all his advantage, Hilton's wheel twists, and body and wheel, for just one instant, are at an acute angle, as if the rider were falling, and then he has gained the inner track, and he holds his ground. Two more laps, they cross the line for the last time, and Loyd Hilton is ahead with the professionals at his heels, and Felix Chetwynde hopelessly in the rear. And then there arises from the throats of the club, loud shouts and cries of rejoicing, not to be suppressed by the thought that one of their number is hopelessly and entirely defeated. A little later the praises are intermingled with lamentations, but just at the first Loyd Hilton's victory has obscured Chetwynde's defeat, and yet Chetwynde has ridden gallantly; even the beaten professionals admit this; as for Hilton they marvel at the easy, masterful, seemingly effortless manner of his victory. Chetwynde is annoyed at his failure, there is no sign of it upon his face when he approaches his sister and her chaperone, bringing with him Terence Glynne whom he presents in due form, and he is the first to speak of its failure.| | 44
"Terry here," he laughed, "is trying to put the fault upon my wheel. He has always declared Hilton's wheel the smoothest and strongest runner."
"I do assuredly!" declares Terry Glynne, "and I would like to see it proved by an exchange of wheels."
But Felix shakes his head. "We can't all run," he says, "and I may prove stronger at some other game."
There is a queer smile about his mouth as he utters the words, and the look in his eyes is veiled by their thick lashes.
"Are you going to present the champion to us, Felix?" asks Aunt Cass, in a tone which is plainly an accusation of neglected duty.
"He declines to come," replied Felix, smiling a little, and glancing askance at Hope. "In the character of a conqueror, that is--Loyd's a modest fellow." Again he looks at his sister, but she has entered into an animated conversation with Terry Glynne, and seems oblivious to his speech.
And now the two defeated professionals, who form a part of a troupe of artists of the wheel, give an exhibition of fancy riding, consisting of graceful evolutions, backward pedalling, posturing, &c., &c. During this, Felix nods to his aunt, the others do not observe him, and wanders away, to come back presently, and take a seat just vacated beside Aunt Cass.
"It appears we are to have an extra performance," he informs her, taking off his hat and fanning himself lazily. "The star of the troupe, a lad of tender years, and tough morals doubtless, is to show us some trick-riding."| | 45
"And pray," snaps Aunt Cass, "what have we been just witnessing?"
"Fancy riding, my dear aunt. There is a distinction--among the professional gentry."
"A distinction without a difference I suppose?"
"That you will soon see. I believe the young fellow is about to display his 'skill, dexterity, and daring,' according to the big bills over at the club house, is called--let us see--" He jerks from his pocket a crumpled"dodger," announcing the events of the afternoon, and consults it with evident desire to instruct. "His name is--Juan--ah!" He starts, and the paper quivers in his fingers--"is Juan--al--Alvarege; Spanish, he calls himself, or Cuban; ought to be at home avenging the wrongs of his country."
Aunt Cass disdains to smile at his pleasantry. It is curious, how persistently he seeks to propitiate her, and how she, just as persistently snubs his amiable efforts.
And now the crowd in and about the stand settles into attitudes of eager expectancy; all the seats fill; riders prop their wheels here and there, as they can, and a place is cleared just in front of the grand stand. The band blares, there is a murmur and a clapping of hands, and into the vacant space rides Señior Juan Alvarege.
The murmur becomes a shout as the graceful youth rides past, salutes, and circles before them, for he is mounted, not upon the fine silver-decked wheel captured by him, so the posters say, at the great Washington Tournament, not long since, but upon a high, old-fashioned "ordinary," which | | 46 looked most extraordinary there, among the modern safeties, in all their glittering newness.
But, if the steed is awkward to the eye, the rider is not. Dressed, not in the regulation bicycle flannels, but in tights and trunks, he is a jaunty figure, gleaming with mock jewels, and showing his shapely but boyishly slender arms, a tasselled skull cap far back upon his short black curls. He is picturesquely handsome.
"How handsome! How graceful! Why he's a mere boy!" exclaim the ladies, while the men criticise his muscle and question his endurance;but not for long.
"How womanishly he is dressed?" says Hope, after a long survey of the handsome lad. " And--he's quite too good looking for one of the masculine persuasion."
"Nonsense!" replies her brother fretfully, "the world's full of handsome boys."
Hope turns to look at him, surprised at the petulance in his tone; and she sees him looking at the young rider with a strange mingling of doubt, anxiety, and something, which is almost fear, in his gaze. And then, suddenly, the big wheel begins to do strange things, while its rider sits serene, stands, kneels, plays the guitar, sways to and fro, and manages the ugly wheel as an expert arab would control and ride his Barbary steed. Now he rides, standing erect, upon the pedals, now poises upon the air, seemingly, balancing himself with equal care, upon hub or rim, and ends by taking the awkward machine literally to pieces, and holding aloft handle-bar, saddle, frame, pedals, and small | | 47 wheel, and standing erect upon the big, naked "ordinary" wheel, which is a bicycle no longer.
And now he springs down from his perch, tosses away his playthings and stands bowing and smiling while the silver-trimmed safety is brought to him. Then there is more graceful and difficult wheeling, new evolutions that amaze, delight, and thrill; and at last something new is brought to him and there is a momentary pause.
It is at this moment that Felix Chetwynde rises, to give his seat to a lady who has approached through the crowd to address Aunt Cass; and he takes his stand behind his sister's chair, bending down to speak in her ear and resting an elbow familiarly upon the chair back. Hope sits at the extreme end of the row, at the right, and her brother's position is now a most conspicuous one, standing, as he does, the very edge of the platform and above the crowd, with her white lace parasol twirling over his shoulders.
"What is that?" asks Hope.
"A giraffe. It's an ugly feat and a dangerous one."
"Why it--it isn't a bicycle--that tall thing?"
"That's what it is. Hark!"
Juan has stepped from his wheel to the trestle-like framework of the giraffe, held beside him by his assistant, and he mounts it cat like, seats himself in the saddle, and is wheeling across the exhibition space, sitting fifteen feet in air. Then, rising upon the lofty pedals he stands erect and smiling while a silken flag is tossed to him; and, shaking its folds to the breeze he waves it above his head. It is | | 48 a simple act. He has done things far more difficult, but the sight of the stars and stripes adds the last exhilarating touch to the holiday spirit, and a loud hurrah bursts from hundreds of throats in salute to the flag and its bearer, who waves it again and again with renewed vigour, and then, as the shouts die away, a single voice, clear, rich, ringing, is heard alone in a belated "brava."
It is the voice of Felix Chetwynde, who stands erect, one hand upon Hope's shoulder, the other waving aloft the snowy parasol; and as it sounds across the course, vibrant and alone, the bearer of the flag starts, turns suddenly, stares for an instant--the face startled, aroused, and strange--totters, clutches wildly at the air, and flag, giraffe, and rider all come crashing down; and, as they fall, a shriek rings out, seeming to come from the very spot where the youth now lies, white and senseless, with the usual crowd gathered about him.
"If you don't care too much to see the last race, Fee," says Hope Chetwynde, when the still senseless trick rider has been borne away, and the gaping, curious crowd has scattered, "I would like to go home. I have seen enough, and more than enough; as that boy fell, his eyes seemed fixed upon us; did you notice it? And they seemed to burn into my face! Of course," she adds loftily, "if you can't tear yourself away--"
"But I can," declares Felix, with unusual readiness; "I've had enough myself. Come, let us go out by the path across the turf." He is actually pale, as he catches up Hope's sunshade and proffers his arm to Aunt Cass, who looks at him questioningly, and says, with a sniff--| | 49
"I guess you needn't burden yourself with me! You look as if you had taken a tumble yourself. I never supposed you had such a soft and sympathetic soul. One of your own sex, too!"
Hope, as she rises, looks up into his face. "I declare, Fee," she says, "you are pale! Would you like to ask after the young man before we leave the ground?"
But he shakes his head. "There'll be quite too many inquirers," he says; "I'll inquire--later."
As they pass out two reporters standing close by are comparing notes.
"It's a critical case," says one, as he flutters the leaves of his note-book, "and it's a singular one to me. I've seen young Alvarege do that feat over and over again, and why he should lose his balance at the very start is a thing that I can't understand."
"I can, then!" declares the other. "Possibly you did not see his face at the moment. He was shocked into loosing his balance; something, or some one, in the audience, caused that sudden collapse--that's clear enough--to me! But what I don't understand is this. They have shut out even the men who carried him, and won't let a masculine soul enter. He was taken in charge by an old woman, another came to her assistance, and they have sent already for a woman nurse. How does that strike you?"
"Humph!" grunts the other. "Don't put that as a question; I'm not an infant class!"
"What does he mean?" whispers Hope to her brother.
But Felix has suddenly turned crabbed.| | 50
"Don't ask me to guess their conundrums!" he says fretfully, and his face is still pale and his manner nervous as he hurries them away.
"A plague upon such ill-fortune," he is saying mentally, as he hands the ladies to their carriage and seats himself beside them. "That the old, almost forgotten folly should rise up to confront me now! But I'll evade it yet. There was only a momentary glance, and--gad! I'll join the Hiltons and Terry in their little trip! It will bring me close to her, and the mountains are poor climbing for bicycle-fiends."
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