Damsel in Distress
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George awoke next morning with a misty sense that somehow the world
had changed. As the last remnants of sleep left him, he was aware
of a vague excitement. Then he sat up in bed with a jerk. He had
remembered that he was in love.
There was no doubt about it. A curious happiness pervaded his
entire being. He felt young and active. Everything was emphatically
for the best in this best of all possible worlds. The sun was
shining. Even the sound of someone in the street below whistling
one of his old compositions, of which he had heartily sickened
twelve months before, was pleasant to his ears, and this in spite
of the fact that the unseen whistler only touched the key in odd
spots and had a poor memory for tunes. George sprang lightly out of
bed, and turned on the cold tap in the bathroom. While he lathered
his face for its morning shave he beamed at himself in the mirror.
It had come at last. The Real Thing.
George had never been in love before. Not really in love. True,
from the age of fifteen, he had been in varying degrees of
intensity attracted sentimentally by the opposite sex. Indeed, at
that period of life of which Mr. Booth Tarkington has written so
searchingly--the age of seventeen--he had been in love with
practically every female he met and with dozens whom he had only
seen in the distance; but ripening years had mellowed his taste and
robbed him of that fine romantic catholicity. During the last five
years women had found him more or less cold. It was the nature of
his profession that had largely brought about this cooling of the
emotions. To a man who, like George, has worked year in and year
out at the composition of musical comedies, woman comes to lose
many of those attractive qualities which ensnare the ordinary male.
To George, of late years, it had begun to seem that the salient
feature of woman as a sex was her disposition to kick. For five
years he had been wandering in a world of women, many of them
beautiful, all of them superficially attractive, who had left no
other impress on his memory except the vigour and frequency with
which they had kicked. Some had kicked about their musical
numbers, some about their love-scenes; some had grumbled about
their exit lines, others about the lines of their second-act
frocks. They had kicked in a myriad differing ways--wrathfully,
sweetly, noisily, softly, smilingly, tearfully, pathetically and
patronizingly; but they had all kicked; with the result that woman
had now become to George not so much a flaming inspiration or a
tender goddess as something to be dodged--tactfully, if possible;
but, if not possible, by open flight. For years he had dreaded to
be left alone with a woman, and had developed a habit of gliding
swiftly away when he saw one bearing down on him.
The psychological effect of such a state of things is not difficult
to realize. Take a man of naturally quixotic temperament, a man of
chivalrous instincts and a feeling for romance, and cut him off for
five years from the exercise of those qualities, and you get an
accumulated store of foolishness only comparable to an escape of
gas in a sealed room or a cellarful of dynamite. A flicker of a
match, and there is an explosion.
This girl's tempestuous irruption into his life had supplied flame
for George. Her bright eyes, looking into his, had touched off the
spiritual trinitrotoluol which he had been storing up for so long.
Up in the air in a million pieces had gone the prudence and
self-restraint of a lifetime. And here he was, as desperately in
love as any troubadour of the Middle Ages.
It was not till he had finished shaving and was testing the
temperature of his bath with a shrinking toe that the realization
came over him in a wave that, though he might be in love, the
fairway of love was dotted with more bunkers than any golf course
he had ever played on in his life. In the first place, he did not
know the girl's name. In the second place, it seemed practically
impossible that he would ever see her again. Even in the midst of
his optimism George could not deny that these facts might
reasonably be considered in the nature of obstacles. He went back
into his bedroom, and sat on the bed. This thing wanted thinking
He was not depressed--only a little thoughtful. His faith in his
luck sustained him. He was, he realized, in the position of a man
who has made a supreme drive from the tee, and finds his ball near
the green but in a cuppy lie. He had gained much; it now remained
for him to push his success to the happy conclusion. The driver of
Luck must be replaced by the spoon--or, possibly, the niblick--of
Ingenuity. To fail now, to allow this girl to pass out of his life
merely because he did not know who she was or where she was, would
stamp him a feeble adventurer. A fellow could not expect Luck to
do everything for him. He must supplement its assistance with his
What had he to go on? Well, nothing much, if it came to that,
except the knowledge that she lived some two hours by train out of
London, and that her journey started from Waterloo Station. What
would Sherlock Holmes have done? Concentrated thought supplied no
answer to the question; and it was at this point that the cheery
optimism with which he had begun the day left George and gave place
to a grey gloom. A dreadful phrase, haunting in its pathos, crept
into his mind. "Ships that pass in the night!" It might easily turn
out that way. Indeed, thinking over the affair in all its aspects
as he dried himself after his tub, George could not see how it
could possibly turn out any other way.
He dressed moodily, and left the room to go down to breakfast.
Breakfast would at least alleviate this sinking feeling which was
unmanning him. And he could think more briskly after a cup or two
He opened the door. On a mat outside lay a letter.
The handwriting was feminine. It was also in pencil, and strange to
him. He opened the envelope.
"Dear Mr. Bevan" (it began).
With a sudden leap of the heart he looked at the signature.
The letter was signed "The Girl in the Cab."
"DEAR MR. BEVAN,
"I hope you won't think me very rude, running off
without waiting to say good-bye. I had to. I saw Percy
driving up in a cab, and knew that he must have followed us.
He did not see me, so I got away all right. I managed
splendidly about the money, for I remembered that I was
wearing a nice brooch, and stopped on the way to the
station to pawn it.
"Thank you ever so much again for all your wonderful
THE GIRL IN THE CAB."
George read the note twice on the way down to the breakfast room,
and three times more during the meal; then, having committed its
contents to memory down to the last comma, he gave himself up to
What a girl! He had never in his life before met a woman who could
write a letter without a postscript, and this was but the smallest
of her unusual gifts. The resource of her, to think of pawning that
brooch! The sweetness of her to bother to send him a note! More
than ever before was he convinced that he had met his ideal, and
more than ever before was he determined that a triviality like
being unaware of her name and address should not keep him from her.
It was not as if he had no clue to go upon. He knew that she lived
two hours from London and started home from Waterloo. It narrowed
the thing down absurdly. There were only about three counties in
which she could possibly live; and a man must be a poor fellow who
is incapable of searching through a few small counties for the girl
he loves. Especially a man with luck like his.
Luck is a goddess not to be coerced and forcibly wooed by those who
seek her favours. From such masterful spirits she turns away. But
it happens sometimes that, if we put our hand in hers with the
humble trust of a little child, she will have pity on us, and not
fail us in our hour of need. On George, hopefully watching for
something to turn up, she smiled almost immediately.
It was George's practice, when he lunched alone, to relieve the
tedium of the meal with the assistance of reading matter in the
shape of one or more of the evening papers. Today, sitting down to
a solitary repast at the Piccadilly grill-room, he had brought with
him an early edition of the Evening News. And one of the first
items which met his eye was the following, embodied in a column
on one of the inner pages devoted to humorous comments in prose and
verse on the happenings of the day. This particular happening the
writer had apparently considered worthy of being dignified by
rhyme. It was headed:
"THE PEER AND THE POLICEMAN."
"Outside the 'Carlton,' 'tis averred, these stirring
happenings occurred. The hour, 'tis said (and no one
doubts) was half-past two, or thereabouts. The day was
fair, the sky was blue, and everything was peaceful too,
when suddenly a well-dressed gent engaged in heated
argument and roundly to abuse began another well-dressed
gentleman. His suede-gloved fist he raised on high to dot
the other in the eye. Who knows what horrors might have
been, had there not come upon the scene old London city's
favourite son, Policeman C. 231. 'What means this conduct?
Prithee stop!' exclaimed that admirable slop. With which he
placed a warning hand upon the brawler's collarband. We
simply hate to tell the rest. No subject here for flippant
jest. The mere remembrance of the tale has made our ink
turn deadly pale. Let us be brief. Some demon sent stark
madness on the well-dressed gent. He gave the constable a
punch just where the latter kept his lunch. The constable
said 'Well! Well! Well!' and marched him to a dungeon cell.
At Vine Street Station out it came--Lord Belpher was the
culprit's name. But British Justice is severe alike on
pauper and on peer; with even hand she holds the scale; a
thumping fine, in lieu of gaol, induced Lord B. to feel
remorse and learn he mustn't punch the Force."
George's mutton chop congealed on the plate, untouched. The French
fried potatoes cooled off, unnoticed. This was no time for food.
Rightly indeed had he relied upon his luck. It had stood by him
nobly. With this clue, all was over except getting to the nearest
Free Library and consulting Burke's Peerage. He paid his bill and
left the restaurant.
Ten minutes later he was drinking in the pregnant information that
Belpher was the family name of the Earl of Marshmoreton, and that
the present earl had one son, Percy Wilbraham Marsh, educ. Eton and
Christ Church, Oxford, and what the book with its customary
curtness called "one d."--Patricia Maud. The family seat, said
Burke, was Belpher Castle, Belpher, Hants.
Some hours later, seated in a first-class compartment of a train
that moved slowly out of Waterloo Station, George watched London
vanish behind him. In the pocket closest to his throbbing heart
was a single ticket to Belpher.