Under the Skylights by Henry Blake Fuller
The Downfall of Abner Joyce
Clytie came on with the brisk and confident walk that she had cultivated along the pavements of the shopping district, and she was dressed precisely as if about to enter upon one of her frequent excursions in that quarter on some crisp, late-autumn afternoon. She wore a very trig and jaunty tailor-made suit and a stunning little garnet-velvet toque. She tripped ahead in a solid but elegant pair of walking-shoes and was drawing on a tan glove with mannish stitchings over the back. The Boutet de Monvel girls, the contemporaries of Jeanne d'Arc, were immediately obliterated; Clytie became the most conspicuous figure in the whole big place.
She advanced tapping her heels, smoothing her gloves, and looking every shirt-front full in the face. Her forehead gathered in a soft little frown; he whom she sought was not in sight. She got a glimpse of Mrs. Pence and Medora Giles seated side by side in a far corner, and of Little O'Grady hovering near, with a covetous eye upon her aunt's profile; and she took the remaining space in a quick little walk that was almost a run.
"Adrian Bond?" she asked. "Tell me; has anybody seen or heard anything of Adrian Bond?"
"Well, Clytie child!" exclaimed her aunt, looking her over; "what's all this?"
Clytie passed her hand down the side of her thick fawn-coloured skirt and readjusted her toque. "These things were in that box you sent me day before yesterday."
"That box from London?"
"That box from London. I thought they were never coming. I wrote; I cabled; I implored friends to go to Regent Street every single day till they should be done. And here they are, finally--a month late; but I'm wearing them, all the same."
"Well, they're worth waiting for," said Medora. "I suppose they are just about the last word."
"Just about," replied Clytie complacently. "Meanwhile, where is Adrian Bond?"
"Here he comes now," said Medora.
Clytie turned. She beheld the mediaeval greens and violets. "Why, Adrian," she protested; "you told me you were coming disguised as a gentleman."
"I thought better of it," said Bond.
"But," she proceeded, "I--I----" She spun round on one heel. "This is all for you. I thought that if you were coming disguised as a gentleman, it would be nice for me to come disguised as a lady. No use," she said regretfully. "Everybody knew me in a minute," she added.
Bond laughed. "I thought you weren't coming at all."
"But you got my note?"
"Not a word."
"Why, I wrote you how we were having a ball of our own, and how I couldn't come to this one till I had started off that one."
"What kind of a ball?" asked Mrs. Pence.
"One given by our Telephone Girls. I led the grand march with a lovely young bartender. I struck him all in a heap--can you wonder?--and he told me just what he thought of me. There wasn't much time to lead up to it. He was very direct; he took a short cut. Oh, I love the people! Why are the men in our set so shy----!"
"What did he say?" asked Bond sharply.
"Oh, never mind! It was one of those cannon-ball compliments that leave you stunned and breathless, but willing to be stunned again. What do you think of my togs?" she asked, generally.
"Look at this jacket while it's a novelty," she went on without waiting for any response. "The girls were all tremendously taken by it; I noticed a dozen of them trying to see how it was made.--Oh, how do?" she said airily to Abner, who came up just then. Having perceived Medora in her remote corner, he had finally summoned enough resolution to make his first movement of the evening: leaving Edith Whyland in the company of Dr. Gowdy, he had succeeded in crossing the intervening leagues alone and unaided.
Abner frowned to find this pert little piece cutting in ahead of him in such a fashion. "How do you do?" he responded stiffly.
"They'll all be making ones like it," Clytie rattled on. "By next Sunday every street from Poplar Alley to Flat-iron Park will swarm with them, and not a milliner's window along the length of Green-gage Road but will have three or four of these toques on display. Yes, sir; I'm a power in the Ward already, let me tell you."
Bond placed his small hand on Abner's broad shoulder. "Isn't she a winner?" he murmured ecstatically. "If Medora, now, could only have done something as spirited and unconventional----"
"I have no fault to find with Miss Giles," retorted Abner in a stern undertone. "To me she is perfectly satisfactory. She will always do the right thing in the right way, and always be a lady."
Bond withdrew his hand. "Oh, come, I say," he began protestingly.
Abner ignored this. "How about the basket-weaving?" he asked Clytie.
"Well," Clytie responded hardily, "I found plenty teaching that already. I have chosen for my department instruction in tact, taste, dress and manners. Such instruction is badly needed, in more quarters than one."
Medora flushed. "Clytie Summers," she said, the first moment that the two were alone, "if ever you speak to Mr. Joyce like that again you need never come to our studio nor count me any longer among your acquaintances."
"Why, dear me----" began Clytie, with an affectation of puzzled innocence.
"I mean it," said Medora, with an angry tear starting in her eye. "Mr. Joyce is too much of a man to be treated so by a child like you."