An ebook published by
Project Gutenberg Australia
Out of Season:
eBook No.: 2300741h.html
Date first posted: May 2023
Most recent update: May 2023
This eBook was produced by Colin Choat and Roy Glashan
View our licence and header
The illustrations published with "Out of Season" are not in the
public domain and have been omitted from this ebook edition.
"HOW very fortunate," said Miss Brett, much gratified, "that the hotel remains open all the winter! I think I shall stay on indefinitely. The air suits me exactly, and Dr. Gray is really very attentive." And she smiled pleasantly at Rosamund Fairfax, who felt her already low spirits give another decided jerk downwards. In fact, though she was only a paid companion, Rosamund was so depressed by this news that she ventured on a humble protest. "Won't you find it rather dull, Miss Brett? Everyone has gone away."
"I didn't come here for fun," replied the old lady severely, "nor, I hope, did you. I am only too pleased that all those noisy common people have gone; how they find the money to travel, I don't know."
There was really nothing to be said to this. The little Belgian watering-place had been "select" at the height of the season, with very little, from a young woman's point of view, of gaiety and excitement, and now, towards the end of September, a complete dreariness had settled over the place. Only the Hotel Sporting was being kept open, for the sole benefit, it seemed, of Miss Brett and the sole torment of Rosamund Fairfax.
Not, you might have said, that it made much difference to Rosamund whether her ambient was lively or dull, seeing that she was never away from her invalid employer, and never spoke to anyone but the few cronies of hex own age and disability that lady tolerated.
Rosamund had been at "Le Sporting" for four months, and never danced nor played tennis, nor bathed, nor dressed well, nor "been about," so you might have supposed that she would not have cared if the place was empty or full; but then there had been people to watch, a certain stream of life, a certain movement and animation, and flowers and pretty frocks to look at, and the sun. And throughout the winter there would be nothing of any of this, only rows of shut shops, closed hotels, and a few capricious invalids wandering about to enjoy the famous air that Miss Brett had, unfortunately, found so peculiarly to her taste.
How charming, by contrast, seemed the original plan of a return to the cosy flat in Kensington, where Miss Brett usually made herself so comfortable during the winter!
"Have you quite made up your mind?" ventured Rosamund timidly. "I am afraid that it will be very windy and cold here, and—and difficult to get things."
"Nonsense!" said Miss Brett firmly. "The place is very convenient. You've been here a whole season, and that ought to be enough for any girl. I believe in young people enjoying themselves, but it can't be pleasure all the time."
Rosamund had heard this so often that it had no effect on her. She knew that Miss Brett meant well, and was really not such a bad old lady at all, and that it would be useless to try and shake her delusion that to watch others having "a good time" was to have "a good time" yourself; she was really persuaded that she had provided Rosamund with a round of enjoyment by taking her—as a spectator—to a series of fashionable and "select" health resorts.
"I'm afraid," she added now kindly, but still more firmly, "you will have to make the best of it." And she concluded, as Rosamund dutifully assisted her across the corridor to her luxurious ground floor rooms: "Why you modern young women don't get married is too much for me. There are plenty of men about, and you've got so much liberty."
Rosamund smiled as she returned to the public sitting-room. "Plenty of men," yes, but not one of them had ever looked at her.
Why should they? She wasn't pretty, nor clever, nor rich, nor impudent. No, Rosamund was one of those people called "old-fashioned," which really means a rare type that never goes in nor out of fashion, but always is there, not often seen, however, and still less often noticed. She was timid, quiet, sensitive, with absolutely no belief in herself whatever. She was twenty-five, and all her life had stood in the background "fagging" for others—first for her father, an impecunious country doctor, then, on his death, for her married sister, then, when she went to Canada, as companion to old Miss Brett. Being a "companion" was all she could think of to earn a living. Her sister called her helpless, and her father had always said there wasn't much backbone to her, while Miss Brett, luxuriating also in her virtues, found her agreeably foolish.
She looked out now at the long line of grey esplanade, the outer line of grey sea, the sky heavy and dark as metal, and wondered quite how she was going to bear this all the winter.
Miss Brett slept after lunch for two hours. Two hours every day to sit in the hotel waiting for a possible call, two more hours after tea for her "time off," and then the evenings!
The library was closed, the hotel had ceased to take any papers, and Rosamund never received any letters save an occasional dutiful epistle from the sister in Canada that brought no thrill.
A pathetic little figure in her dowdy serge frock, with her wistful face that was so young and soft to look so quiet and melancholy, she stared out at the blank prospect. The rain had begun to fall, and Rosamund desperately watched one big drop chase another big drop down the pane and disappear in a cascade into the window frame.
"If it's going to be wet!" she murmured in anguish.
And then the hotel motor 'bus swept into sight along the esplanade, a cheerful gleam of scarlet, and stopped outside the hotel verandah. There was actually luggage, proper, important-looking traveller's luggage, on top, and two people inside.
Rosamund actually tingled with excitement, though common-sense told her that these must be stray wanderers stopping for a mere night on their way home, Still, for the moment it was something to watch, and Rosamund, from behind the heavy damask curtain, stared with avidity.
Two travellers. A man and a woman. English. Extremely "smart." This was Rosamund's first quick summing up. As there was nothing else to look at, she proceeded to examine the two new arrivals very closely as they entered the hotel and came down the lounge.
The woman was notably attractive, but not notably young. Her clothes and her manners were the last word in modernity; her garments were so elegant and uncommon that she would have been conspicuous anywhere as a woman of taste, money, and some daring.
Rosamund, who liked most people, did not like her—no, not at all.
The man was younger, about Rosamund's age, and brown and blond and big.
Rosamund liked him.
Now, though it seems unlikely, Rosamund was very difficult in the matter of young men. She was by no means disposed to admire all the specimens she had observed, nor to envy other girls many of their admirers, and it had not troubled her very much that she had escaped masculine attention, because, being such a strange little person, she had her ideals. She, who had never known realities, could afford to revel in choice dreams. And now, as she watched this young man who followed the charming lady rather as if he was something in her train, she approved of him—oh, very much!
They disappeared upstairs, and Rosamund moved from the window and picked up a stale French newspaper.
The rain increased, a steady soak now blotting out sea and sky. The only bit of colour in the landscape, the bright red 'bus, moved away.
"I suppose they'll go to-morrow," thought the girl disconsolately, "and then there will be nothing to watch at all."
But the afternoon was not to be without another excitement. This time a telegraph boy. Something for her? For Miss Brett?
Of course not. Absurd how these palpitations of hope continued in spite of all experience, all reason! "I must," said Rosamund to herself, as the telegram was carried upstairs, "give up expecting things. Naturally nothing is ever going to happen to me. I mustn't be so childish."
Miss Brett now required tea and attention, and while Rosamund was ministering to her, the rain stopped suddenly, and a pale wash of light filled the comfortable room.
"A rainbow," said the old lady. "That will be something for you to see when you take your walk—it is quite fine enough now for you to go out." And she settled herself down with a novel and a pleasant nod of dismissal.
Rosamund wished there was something more to do for her— anything was better than "hanging about"—but she was really an independent old lady, and gave the girl far too much of this dreadful "time of."
Rosamund did not go out. She knew the parade, the streets, so well she felt that she could not bear to look at them again.
There was a rainbow, certainly, but she could see that from the window. And she stood in the lounge looking at it and thinking how lovely it was and how unsubstantial.
The couple who had arrived that afternoon came down and drank coffee in an alcove. The lady still wore her decorative travelling dress, and they were discussing something together in low, animated whispers. There was a time-table between them, and first one and then the other consulted it. Then the young man went out and spoke to the solitary, glooming porter.
When he returned to his companion, the two of them sat silent, as if something had been decided past argument, and not very satisfactorily.
Neither of them noticed Rosamund, with her stale paper in the window, staring first at the rainbow, then at "news" already thrice contradicted. She was used to that; no one ever did notice her. She couldn't remember ever having a second glance from anyone, unless she had chanced to get in the way of people who were mildly surprised to find themselves impeded by anything so insignificant.
Then the rainbow faded, the scarlet 'bus flashed up, the handsome luggage was piled on top, and the handsome couple got inside.
"That is the end of that," thought Rosamund. "They simply couldn't bear it." And it occurred to her that it must be very nice to be able to get away from things when you couldn't bear them.
Rosamund almost wished that she had not seen that young man; there was something so cheerful and radiant about him that now he was gone the emptiness seemed more empty, the dreariness more dreary. If you didn't see people like that, you didn't get any idea of how nice things could be, and it was better, if you were Rosamund Fairfax, to remain in ignorance.
Miss Brett, who was pursuing a very pleasant and comfortable "cure," dined early in her room. Rosamund always put in a later and lonely appearance at the table d'hôte.
This had been amusing enough, but now was a painful experience. For two nights she had been the solitary person in the pretty pink-and-white restaurant, and the orchestra, reduced to a violin and a piano, had played lugubriously to her across a waste of bare tables.
To-day was the last day of the month, and therefore of the orchestra. Rosamund carefully donned her one black evening dress as for a ceremonious farewell. She envied the musicians, who were going, of course, somewhere bright and cheerful, and she dreaded to think of all the dinners she would have to eat, or pretend to eat, in silence.
When she entered the restaurant she saw at once that there was one place laid at a table the farthest possible from hers. Rosamund sternly refused to be optimistic. It could, of course, be no one but some elderly person with a dull disease—strange that she had missed the arrival.
The orchestra played a rather dismal intermezzo, or it seemed dismal to Rosamund, decorously sipping soup that she didn't really want, and feeling that the lonely waiter looked contemptuous and the two men playing disdainful.
She studied the pattern of the tablecloth with much circumspection. When she did lift her eyes, it was to see the young man seated solitary at that far-distant table, also intent on the flowers in the damask.
Rosamund was so surprised that she flushed. She couldn't remember when she had felt her cheeks hot before; it was a queer sensation.
He was actually staying here, this splendid person. He had only gone to see the lady off—his wife, of course, and, of course, nothing to do with her, Rosamund Fairfax. There was nothing to do but to examine the tablecloth again, which she did with great thoroughness.
The bored waiter carried them each in turn fish, cutlets, soufflé, walking with slow steps down the long empty room from one table to another.
As long as possible Rosamund resisted looking at her distant companion, but over her lonely pear she could not resist a quick glance.
He was grinning—that was the only word for it—not smiling, but grinning. Such a delightful grin. "Isn't this awful?" he said cheerfully. "I mean for you."
"Us, rather—funny," she answered, and thought her own voice sounded stranger than his. She had meant this remark to be quite non-committal, but evidently the young man took it as an encouragement, for he brightened considerably.
"I say, don't you think I might save that chap so many journeys, and come and take my coffee at your table?" he suggested hopefully.
"I don't take coffee," said Rosamund in a tone of which Miss Brett would have thoroughly approved.
"But I do. Heaps. Aren't you going to take pity on me?"
The orchestra was staring, the waiter was staring. Rosamund rose to the moment and said, in quite a woman-of-the-world fashion: "Of course. I shall be delighted." You see, she was quite out of date in these things, and though she had seen modern manners, she was incapable of copying them.
The young man crossed the room with cheerful alacrity. As he took his place opposite Rosamund, the orchestra, as if by sudden inspiration, dashed into a gay foxtrot.
"That's better," remarked the young man with satisfaction.
Rosamund did not know quite what he referred to—the music, she supposed.
The waiter seemed suddenly to become more lively. He brought coffee and liqueurs, fruit and cigarettes, with a flourish.
Rosamund's table, as if by magic, was suddenly gay—like the tables of other people. Never before had she been given grapes and peaches.
"Are you quite sure that you don't take coffee?" insinuated the young man.
"No, thank you."
"No, thank you."
"No, thank you."
"How wonderful!" he murmured.
Rosamund looked up, looked at him; he was so pleasant to see that she dropped her formality in a burst of honesty. "You see, I've never tried—"
"Tried?" he asked eagerly.
"No, haven't you really?"
"Not really." Rosamund, feeling more at home, lowered her voice confidentially. "You see, I'm a companion."
"I know," he agreed stoutly. "Awfully jolly companion."
"I mean," blushed Rosamund, "a paid companion—to Miss Brett."
"O-oh! A lady's companion? How wonderful! Didn't know there were any left."
"There aren't," answered Rosamund candidly. "Only one— me."
"How topping!" The young man was enthusiastic.
"Why?" asked Rosamund austerely.
"It's something so absolutely new—a lady's companion!"
"I don't think it is amusing, and only told you to explain why I didn't do those things—cigarettes and so on."
"Old girl forbid it?" he asked with keen interest.
Rosamund reflected a second, then: "Miss Brett," she corrected severely, "never mentions such things. I believe she is quite liberal-minded, but, well"—the girl could not resist relaxing into a smile—"I can't afford expensive habits."
"No one can," he assured her with ardour; "that's why they are such fun."
"Fun?" repeated Rosamund dubiously.
"You don't know much about fun, do you? I say, isn't this a jolly old tune? Do you dance?"
He considered her with such interest that Rosamund felt constrained to remark: "It is rather a stormy night. I hope your wife isn't crossing?"
"The lady who was with you." Rosamund blushed for the third time.
"Oh, that was Miss Forttis," he explained cheerfully. "Of course you don't know Miss Forttis?"
Rosamund was surprised to hear herself say: "I know her sort."
"Well, I've been in hotels, I've watched a lot—I know more than I can do." She became confused, but the young man was helpful.
"I understand. Well, if you know about Miss Forttis, you know about me."
"Does it follow?" asked Rosamund innocently.
"I do. Miss Forttis—we buzzed off here to talk things over. 'Absolutely dead hole,' she said."
"An elopement!" thrilled Rosamund.
"No," he replied. "We just buzzed off. Her crowd," he added confidentially, "are frightfully keen on her marrying another chap, and she's frightfully keen on marrying me."
"And you?" asked Rosamund faintly.
"Oh, of course I'm frightfully keen, too," he asserted serenely, "but I don't count much either way."
"What about your people?" Rosamund was absorbed in these artless confidences to the extent of forgetting herself.
"I'm of age—Tony Langton—ought to have told you before—do what I like."
"I thought," said Rosamund gently, "Miss Forttis looked as if she was of age."
"What age?" he asked blandly.
But Rosamund suspected him; she wasn't going to be trapped into being "cattish."
"Just twenty-one," she replied demurely.
"Oh, she's more than that!" he stated ingenuously. "Isn't she wonderful?"
"Very," agreed Rosamund sincerely. "But I wonder if she would like you telling me all this?"
"She would. When I asked her what on earth I was to do here, she said, 'Go and talk things over with that nice friendly girl.'"
This was a kind translation of what Miss Forttis had really said, which was: "You might take pity on that prehistoric little frump, Tony. I should think she would be interesting."
Rosamund, with her pleasant view of people, was far from guessing this, but she did note, without rancour, how utterly negligible both these handsome people considered her—a piece of furniture, something you could say anything to and it wouldn't matter.
"You see," continued the young man with selfish, if charming, frankness, "if I didn't have someone to talk to, I should go crazy, waiting here."
Rosamund was sympathetic; she felt that perhaps he would prevent her from going crazy, too.
"It is awful for you," she agreed. "There is no one here but myself and Miss Brett. How long are you staying?"
"I don't know." He looked dismayed. "I have to wait till Nora—that is Miss Forttis—settles things up."
"Yes, she told me to, and I promised—it was all settled rather in a hurry. I hope," he added desperately, "that she will let me know to-morrow when she is coming back."
"Why did she go?" asked Rosamund, intensely interested in this, to her, very strange drama.
"Got a wire. You see, Nora is always very cautious. She left her address with a friend who was in the secret, just in case anything happened to her, and it did. Her Aunt Maire had a stroke and asked for her."
Evidently Tony Langton thought that Rosamund looked dubious, for he hastened to add: "Nora isn't queer, really. It is only that her aunts and things are frightfully well off, and she likes to keep on the right side of them—that's why there is all this muddle with me. I haven't a bean."
"It's all queer," remarked Rosamund thoughtfully. "But I'm sure I'm very sorry for you having to stay in 'Le Sporting' out of the season."
The music, that had been such a vivacious accompaniment to their talk, abruptly ceased. The violin was returned to the case, the piano closed, the waiter hovered near to clear the table and put out the lights. Rosamund glanced at the clock.
"You're not going?" asked the young man in dismay.
Rosamund could not remember ever before when anyone had looked so much as if they really wanted her company; it was a delicious sensation.
"Miss Brett," she murmured faintly as she rose, "likes me to be in bed by nine."
"Good Heavens! But what am I going to do?"
He looked so genuinely scared that Rosamund could not help laughing. "You might take a walk or look at the papers," she suggested, "or write a letter to someone or other."
"To Nora? Good idea! Thanks awfully for putting up with me."
Rosamund lay awake half the night thinking of this great excitement. She had been chosen as the confidant of a real dramatic, romantic love affair—nothing less than an elopement.
Rosamund, in all sincerity, felt grateful to the lady—whom she didn't like—for permitting this gorgeous young man to speak to her—to make a friend of her. She hoped that she had been sympathetic enough; she hoped that he wouldn't think it over and decide that she wasn't worth talking to—as everyone else seemed to have decided.
"Of course," thought Rosamund in her humility, "he would never have spoken to me now if there had been anyone else."
At breakfast there was the young man. Miss Brett had, somehow, heard of his arrival, and was present at this early meal. Rosamund nodded, he said "Good morning!" and the rest was just like every other breakfast.
"He has thought better of it," lamented Rosamund inwardly. "Of course I might have known—when he saw me by daylight."
The young man strolled out on to the front and stood staring at the sea, while Miss Brett began a rapid fire of questions about this strange phenomenon—a highly desirable, agreeable, well-set-up young man alone here just when the season was definitely over. Rosamund remained loyal, but, of course, uselessly.
During the morning Miss Brett deftly extracted from manager, waiter, and chambermaid the known history of the attractive young man.
Sir Tony Langton—from Deauville—a very popular, fashionable personage, quite well off, but not rich for that "set"—staying indefinitely at "Le Sporting."
"How funny!" said Miss Brett.
Then she nosed about the lady—Miss Nora Forttis from Scotland. Had booked rooms for a week, but been called away by a wire—was probably returning.
"An elopement," said Miss Brett. "He's waiting for her. How very exciting! Someone must be ill. Poor young man! I shouldn't have thought they would have needed to run away; surely he's good enough for anyone."
"He hasn't much money," remarked Rosamund unwisely. "If her people don't help them, they'll be frightfully hard up, and Miss Forttis doesn't like being hard up."
"Oh! He's been telling you things, then?" She scrutinised her "companion."
"He spoke a few words last night at dinner; he is very lonely."
"Well, I dare say a quiet, sensible sort of girl like you will make nice company for him," said Miss Brett, who thought Rosamund would be a splendid channel of information. "I wonder when they will get married? At the English Consulate, I suppose."
Rosamund did not heed Miss Brett's gossipy, if kindly, chatter; she was far too interested in the romantic side of the incident and the dazzling proximity of Sir Tony Langton, who was just the kind of person she had sometimes seen in the distance, never spoken to, nor hoped to speak to, and always liked.
She thought Nora Forttis very lucky, but it never occurred to her to envy that fortunate lady. You see, Rosamund had always considered herself beyond or, rather, beneath envy.
It was curious, though, that after she had "settled" Miss Brett so comfortably for her afternoon nap, she did give a rather searching look at herself in the glass in the hotel bedroom that she had hitherto so completely neglected. A mousy little girl, dun-coloured hair and eyes, and a pale skin and a timid expression.
For once, for the first time, Rosamund did herself justice. "I don't know," she thought judicially, "that even that wonderful Miss Forttis would look so very wonderful in this washed-out old jumper and with her hair done this way. Of course I've got the kind of face for bobbed hair, but—well, what's the use?"
Sir Tony was not in the hotel when she timidly took her place in the lounge, but the waiter brought her a note on a salver. What a ridiculous thrill in opening that note! From the marvellous young man, of course. Would she play golf with him that afternoon, and have tea at the club house, meeting him there?
Rosamund did not play golf. She would, in sheer politeness, have to go and tell him so.
And then, on a very strange impulse for her, she asked the waiter if the hairdressing salon was still open?
And Rosamund with bobbed hair went down to the pretty little golf course that ran along the dunes. She kept her hat off, feeling greatly daring, for really that hair-dresser, now in possession of a good portion of her modest pocket money, had made those short locks very pretty. "You needn't have mousy hair," he had said, and Rosamund's was bronze really, and it was a novel, lovely feeling having the scented curls blowing about your face. So Rosamund arrived hatless.
Sir Tony was glooming on the verandah of the club house. The golf course, like the hairdresser, was closing to-day.
There was no one about save a disconsolate caddie and a waiter reading a novel in a corner.
"You play golf?" he demanded hopefully and sternly. It was like a threat.
Rosamund shivered. "No. I'm so sorry."
"Or tennis? I saw a decent court."
Sir Tony looked formidable. "I shall clear out to-day," he announced.
Rosamund didn't want him to do that. You see, she was so sorry for Miss Forttis, who had so nobly rushed back to a sick relative. If he went away—well, you couldn't answer for the chances of Miss Forttis, could you?
"You promised me tea," she pleaded, feeling shameless.
"Of course. But it looks so beastly here."
"There is," ventured Rosamund, "a very good tea shop in the Rue du Sud."
"I suppose," he answered listlessly, "you would find it an awful bore to go there; you must be tired to death of it."
"I've never been there," said Rosamund with devastating simplicity. "I always wanted to go."
Sir Tony literally sat up. He took a good look at this unique girl before he spoke, and wondered why last night he had thought her so pathetically plain, or, rather, not thought of her at all, save vaguely as a "good sort," quite out of the running. Against the long reaches of the dunes the clear little profile, the soft curls, looked provoking.
"Why didn't you go? Why haven't you ever done anything?" he asked stupidly.
"Nobody," replied Rosamund, not without guile, "ever asked me to go anywhere or do anything before."
She didn't say that to provoke his pity, but to interest him in a curious case, and she succeeded.
Sir Tony saw one of the biggest thrills of his life looming near. "Did you want to be asked?" he inquired with an earnestness that made the question impersonal.
Truth rushed to Rosamund's lips. "Very much. But I never expected it," she added honestly. "When one is quite so ordinary as I am—"
Sir Tony rose with alacrity. "I think you are the most extraordinary person I ever met. Come along and have tea."
He said no more about "clearing out," and Rosamund felt that she had done the wonderful lady a good turn.
There was more life in the centre of the little town. Some of the shops were still gay with "end of season" sales; the little café restaurants yet showed a minimum of well-dressed idlers; there were a few cars about; Rosamund's tea shop looked costly, luxurious, and splendidly frivolous and cheerful.
"Not a bad old place," remarked Sir Tony, whose spirits seemed to have risen considerably during the last half-hour, "I should think quite gay in the season."
"Yes, there was quite a lot to watch," assented Rosamund.
"But you didn't do anything?"
"Only looked after Miss Brett."
Over the tiny tea-table he studied with interest the girl whom everyone had overlooked, who was eating wickedly exotic cakes for the first time, who didn't dance, or play tennis, or golf, or smoke, or know anything about cigarettes, or cocktails, or flirting.
During the course of that extravagant tea he probed into the mystery of this strange being. What could she do? The queerest things, of course—cooking, sewing, nursing—all those out-of-date affairs women were trying to forget all about.
"I should have made a good domestic servant if only I had been stronger" remarked Rosamund sincerely. "I should have made more money as a cook than as a companion. Miss Brett is very kind, but the life is a little dull; there is so much sitting about."
"A little dull!" he echoed, incredulous at all these marvels. And he made her recite exactly what her days consisted of—her duties and Miss Brett's remarks thereon. This glimpse into an unknown world so absorbed the young man that when the prolonged tea was over he found that he had been enjoying himself immensely.
"I tell you what," he declared enthusiastically, "while I'm held up here I'll teach you a few things—tennis, dancing—I saw a gramophone in the hotel—that will be tremendous fun."
"But you won't be here long enough," faltered Rosamund.
Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes danced with excitement. She had of course decorously put on her wool cap on entering the town, but pretty sprays of bright curls twisted round her cheeks; she didn't at that moment look a bit "mousy."
Sir Tony, looking at her, thought and said, in all honesty: "How awfully jolly meeting you! I don't know how I could have carried on here."
Rosamund knew exactly what he meant; she had filled up a boring blank, she had been a novelty to while away a period of dreary, almost intolerable tedium.
Rosamund accepted the position—she was even grateful for being allowed to fill it—but she thought, as she carefully finished her rosy ice—the last ice of the season, surely—that Nora Forttis ought to be grateful, too—to her.
She also thought that it was time to bring this lady loyally into the conversation. Of course Sir Tony was thinking about her all the time, but he must want to talk about her—only, perhaps, was too shy to do so.
So "Did you hear from Miss Forttis to-day?" asked Rosamund politely.
"No, there would scarcely be time. She has gone to a very out-of-the-way place." He seemed to become rather depressed at these reflections. "I'll give her a week. If she isn't back then, I'll clear out."
"A week?" Rosamund's new brightness clouded over. "I—I couldn't learn very much in a week, could I?"
Sir Tony laughed; his momentary gloom had gone. "What do you want to learn first?"
"Oh, something about Miss Forttis," returned Rosamund dutifully.
The lover began a paean about the fair Nora. Rosamund learnt a lot about her in the next half-hour. She couldn't understand why the lady could have been induced to break up such a romantic affair to fly to a sick relative—not for love, mind you, but for fear of being cut out of a will.
Of course Sir Tony said it was affection for poor Aunt Maire, and perhaps thought so, but he had, unconsciously enough, "given away" Nora in the matter.
"Money is awfully important," said the poor fellow wistfully. "You can't expect a girl like Nora—"
"Why don't you go, too?" suggested Rosamund heroically.
"I? Why, we shouldn't have had to bolt off here if Nora's people hadn't hated me. You see," he added with that charming and rather audacious frankness of his, "they wanted her to marry a frightfully rich chap called Wedderburn."
And then he spoke no more of Nora Forttis, but seemed much more interested in hearing all the funny little things about Rosamund's funny little life—such funny little things and such a funny little life as he had not guessed could exist anywhere. He was like a man who has lived in a hothouse full of exotic blooms all his days, and suddenly finds a tiny common hedge flower under a microscope.
And Rosamund saw his interest, his approval, and blossomed under it as she had never blossomed before. They were both gay and cordial as they walked briskly back to "Le Sporting," and on the way he stopped at the last florist's left open and bought her the last bunch of roses, huge, delicious crimson damask roses, such as Rosamund had never stuck her modest little nose into before.
On her return she arranged this superb bouquet in Miss Brett's sitting-room and gave that attentive lady a sparkling account of the afternoon's adventure—for it did, all of it, seem an adventure to Rosamund.
Miss Brett's comment seemed to be at a tangent. "You want some new clothes. You haven't got anything really nice."
Rosamund was truly amazed; this was the first time Miss Brett had bothered about her appearance.
"I see that you've had your hair bobbed," continued the old lady. "I always wondered why you didn't before."
Rosamund couldn't answer.
"I suppose it never seemed worth while before," added Miss Brett reflectively. "That's what I meant about the clothes. To-morrow we'll go out and buy some."
Rosamund thought that she had caught the meaning now—her new, her first, her only friend would think her too dowdy and shabby. Perhaps Miss Brett was ashamed of her!
She hastened to explain, reverting to her most instinctively prim manner.
"I hope you don't object, Miss Brett. It is only in my own time, and just someone to listen to Sir Tony—"
"I don't mind," interrupted the old lady briskly. "As you say, it is in your own time. But I don't see why you shouldn't listen in a new dress. I've always wanted to make you a present, and now it is the end of the season I dare say we can pick up something cheap."
Rosamund murmured gratitude; she didn't quite understand.
"There was no need—"
"No need to have your hair done," finished Miss Brett, "but it is a success."
Still Rosamund did not understand; she was the sort of girl who wouldn't.
Miss Brett said no more about the splendid young man. She followed her comfortable little cure, and gossiped with her comfortable little doctor, and Rosamund had her dinner and her tea with Sir Tony Langton, and learnt the foxtrot by the aid of a gramophone in the empty dance-room, and tried to learn tennis on the empty court, and listened to all manner of things about that world which hitherto she had only known from the outside. And not even very much from the outside, for people like Sir Tony didn't come much to the resorts patronised by Miss Brett.
The "end of the season" had now definitely closed round them; the place was so empty that even "Le Sporting" spoke of closing— it was hardly worth while for three people.
Nora Forttis had sent two voluminous telegrams, and then there had been a blank of several days.
But somehow that had not seemed to matter, for the sun came out. Suddenly the empty town was glorious; the crystal golden light of October seemed to spill and overflow from the abundant blue heavens and be caught in the abundant blue sea.
In the morning this sparkling light was of a divine clearness and radiance; in the evening amber, orange, scarlet stained the serene sky, and in between these were precious, lovely hours on the silver dunes, on that long bare parade, in the crooked streets with the closed shops, where the one little café tea place so gallantly defied the end of the season.
Miss Brett was most triumphantly justifying her doctor and her cure. She required extraordinarily little attention from Rosamund—she was always giving her "time off."
"I don't want to be fussed," she would say. "You might just as well be amusing yourself or trying to amuse that poor young man, whose fiancée, or whatever she is, seems to be treating him very badly. But I don't pretend to understand these modern situations."
Rosamund did not understand, either. She did not try to understand; she was only aware that life had suddenly become more interesting than she had ever supposed it would be. You might not think that it was very exciting to play the part of a substitute, even to such a splendid person as Sir Tony Langton, but then Rosamund had never hoped to be even a substitute.
He was grateful. "What a bore this waiting would have been if it had not been for you!" he would declare sincerely.
He had never thought that anything could be quite so interesting and exciting as teaching Rosamund "things." You see, he had never, like many young men of to-day, met a very humble, simple feminine creature with a poor opinion of herself and no hopes or ambitions whatever.
Of course she couldn't learn golf, and she was rather hopeless at tennis, and her dancing was timid and uncertain, but she regarded her teacher with such limitless, unaffected adoration, as a superior, gifted, and impeccable creature, that Sir Tony didn't mind her slowness as a pupil. She made him feel just as superior as he had made Nora Forttis feel. He wasn't really a very clever young man, and certainly not a very quick one, and all the women he had met so far, clever, smart, up-to-date women of his own world, had patronised him, in quite a kindly way, of course, but this was different.
It was almost as unique an experience for Tony as for Rosamund.
They sat together in the pretty empty dining-room of the hotel, the one lit table among a waste of blank ones. Rosamund wore the red frock that had been Miss Brett's present. They had motored to Ostend that afternoon and brought back a mass of hothouse freesias that filled a vase between them.
Rosamund took—very timidly—a tiny glass of Crème de Menthe now, and smoked—very timidly—a tiny cigarette.
"It's been a lovely day," she said enthusiastically.
And he agreed with equal enthusiasm: "It's been a lovely day."
They looked at each other across the pretty little table, and both forgot how plain she was, how insignificant, and how gorgeous he was, how important. They just saw each other as— well, as they would most likely continue to see each other from that moment on.
And then the waiter brought in a telegram and placed it in front of Sir Tony. The young man started. He had positively forgotten Nora Forttis.
Rosamund hadn't, and she didn't start. She sat very still, and looked at the freesias, and wondered if the gorgeous lady would be kind and ask her to the wedding, the secret, romantic wedding, and if she'd be just a little grateful.
Sir Tony looked dismally at the envelope and then at his companion, then, with the air of one gallantly doing his duty, opened it.
Rosamund felt that she, too, ought to do her duty. She had rather got out of the way of her old-fashioned conventional phrases lately, but she groped about to find one.
Before she could speak, however, Sir Tony gave a sharp cry of delight and waved the telegram aloft.
"I am so glad. That means Miss Forttis is coming soon," said Rosamund in a brave, queer little voice.
"No, it doesn't!" he cried. "She's changed her mind. Aunt Maire is better and has talked her over—bless the old girl!—and Nora's going to marry Wedderburn."
"And you?" asked Rosamund stupidly.
Sir Tony popped his head round the freesias, clasped Rosamund's hand, and grinned. "I'm going to marry you."
And Miss Brett wasn't surprised.
Project Gutenberg Australia