Disturbing Charm

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20. 2-3 Recovery Of The Charm



"One sudden gleam of a face, and my cherished Ideal is real!
There moved my miracle, there passed my Fate whom to see is to love."

Brunton Stephens.

Those eyes of Jack Awdas's had known their business from the start.

Wise Mrs. Cartwright, to have known what would happen, even as she sat in that basket-chair in that hotel lounge at Les Pins, all those weeks ago!

It had happened instantaneously. The electric flash had not been quicker than the glance that had passed from young eyes to young eyes.

Those months ago!...

Mrs. Cartwright had left the French hotel the morning after--had left Les Pins and the man she had refused. Her place at table next to Jack Awdas had been given (as she guessed it would be given) to her successor.

That goddess-built young American had made friends with everybody, easily and at once. The French families had regarded her as if she'd been a visitant from another planet. Olwen Howel-Jones had been subjugated on the spot. But Jack Awdas from the very first déjeuner had scarcely for a moment left her side.

Never before had he seen a girl so frank, yet so apart, so boyish in her unaffected good-fellowship, yet so womanly.

Unchaperoned she had travelled from the States to join her father in London, where he was attached to the Embassy, and where she meant to continue her special War work. But upon landing at Bordeaux she had found a cable from him stating that he would be out town for some days. She'd had no use for an empty house. So she had decided to stay in France and by the sea for those few days.

To young Jack Awdas they were a gift from Destiny!




Some people consider that the truest and most human touch in the world's greatest love drama is that which pitches the young man already infatuated with one woman into the purest passion for another. There is no hiatus of feeling between the gloomy "I am done" of Romeo sighing for Rosaline, and his quick "What lady's that?" when Juliet appears; there is no thought of that first lady afterwards.

Yet who shall measure what Juliet owes to Rosaline?--what rough ways made smooth, what cold young crudities softened and warmed, what kindling of susceptibility, what speeding-up of passion?

And, for all this, what thanks may Rosaline expect? "Oh, she was just someone he used to think he cared for." Or, "I'm sure she couldn't have been a very nice woman." Or even "Horrid! Robbing the cradle, I call it; I don't know how any woman can!"

But none of these verdicts would ever be passed by Golden van Huysen, either upon Claudia Cartwright or upon any other woman. She had read of the theory that women are "catty" to their own sex; smilingly she disbelieved it. Like attracts like. Just as her own heart had never known an ungenerous prompting, so her own lips had never uttered a spiteful remark. She therefore never heard one. If she had, she would probably have widened her blue eyes and exclaimed with a little air of discovery, "Why, that's not kind;"

And this big and innocent creature was the very type which (if she'd had her choice) Mrs. Cartwright would have chosen for the man whom she herself was too old to choose.




He didn't ask Golden van Huysen to marry him on the first day of their acquaintance. No! He had waited until the third day.

"Mustn't rush things," he'd told himself, as if those three days had been three years' duteous service of a knight of old. So he had merely made himself into this young girl's shadow.

To her it was no novelty to be attended and worshipped. Wasn't every girl that she cared to know accustomed to this setting of masculine worship? Golden took as naturally as she took air and food the existence of a train of such young knights.

Only ... from the first she realized vaguely that this one was somehow different from the others she had known and liked. This tall young man with the small crested head set on his sweeping, wing-like shoulders, who had drawn her first quick glance in the lounge. She admitted it quite frankly to herself this young flying-man fascinated her.

Why was it?

She had met plenty of flying-men before. Hadn't she talked to them in the aerodromes of her own country--which was also the birthplace of that very marvel, flying? Hadn't she been introduced to her aviators who had broken records for altitude, distance, and time? Hadn't she danced at balls with some of the very first pilots who'd ever looped? Flying and flyers had been no new proposition to her, but this flyer....

Presently the young American girl began to realize what it was that was new and special about "this flyer."

It was symbolized in the little gold stripe on the cuff of his flying-jacket. He was the very first fighting flyer who had crossed her path. The first she'd met who had already given battle to men in the air, the first she'd known who had been shot down in fighting for the cause which was now her country's too.

Never before had she seen a man who had actually used her country's invention of flying as the instrument of battle.

She, with her whole country, had wished to use this invention as a beneficent gift.

Her country had seen that before this gift could be so used, stern work lay before the men of the air. She saw it, too.... As that War-missioner had said. Her country was looking with other eyes upon her Allies.

For Golden these new friends were typified in the young Briton who wore the wound stripe as well as the wings.

She told herself wonderingly, "Now isn't it queer that I should ever come to like one of the English so well. This Bird-boy is quite nice enough to be an American...."

Neither of the young people remembered afterwards at what exact moment of that second day she had called him "Bird-boy." Though he took it with a hidden lift of the heart, he did not use any name at all to her until the third day.

On the morning of that day she announced to him that it would be her last day at Les Pins.

"What? Going?" he cried aghast, as if the idea that she must one day go had never occurred to him.

"Why, yes! I'd never meant to stay here at all. It was just because of father, and now he cables me he'll be back in London before I shall."

"Well, but I say!" Jack Awdas broke in in consternation. "Shan't I see you any more?" It seemed unspeakable.

"Didn't you tell me you were coming back to London at the end of the fall, to a Board or something? My father would be pleased if you came and saw us then."

"But that's not for ages!" he cried, his face blank. "I'm not due back in town for another month! When are you going? Tonight? Tomorrow?"

"Tomorrow morning early, to Bordeaux; then on to Paris, then London."

"All by yourself?" exclaimed the young Englishman stupefied.

She laughed. "Why, certainly, 'all by myself.' That's funny! Why, I've made all the travelling arrangements for father and myself since I was twelve! I'm a lot more useful than he is, that way. I've been most all over the world. 'All by myself.' Why, yes! You're shocked? Now isn't that real old-fashioned, and English? It's the way they talk in those novels with the sweet little heroine in book-muslin, whatever that is, in the days of Queen Victoria. Haven't you got past that, in this War? If you haven't it's time America did come in and teach you a few things! I guess I'm as capable as you are of looking after myself, Bird-boy!"

"You certainly aren't," he declared resolutely. "I shouldn't let you, if--if I were anything to do with you." He pulled himself together and added, "Well, there's all today, anyhow. Look here, can't you let me take you somewhere jolly all by myself, just for today?"

He could never have made this suggestion to a young woman of the traditions and upbringing of, say Miss Agatha Walsh. But already he knew that SHE would take it as it was meant.

"Why, yes, if you like," she said.

So they'd gone off to Cap Ferret. Midday had found this tall girl and boy upon Biscay shore where four days before Mrs. Cartwright's dove-lunch party had walked, watching those rollers. Soaring to crash, gathering and soaring once again to crash, those great waves boomed the chorus that had sounded across wide sea and wide shore long "before the months had names." It would go on sounding long after the names of those two on the seashore had ceased to be music to those who loved them.

But this was the moment when the waves sang for them, only for them.

Golden van Huysen had said something about surf-riding. The young aviator, his eyes turning for a moment from her to the tumultuous waters, had muttered, "Dangerous game for a girl!"

She laughed. "What a lot of things there are that you English think a girl can't do! It would do you lots of good to get to know some American girls. Then you'd see!"

He made no reply. His eyes were again upon her.

She wore what he had come to know were (out of uniform) her only colours; white and gold. Her dress of some creamy white stuff, perfectly cut, and over it she had slipped a knitted coat of yellowy silk. Crisp as a gardenia-petal, her skirt blew out above her ankles, and her feet, not small, but shapely as those of a sandalled Hermes. No hat hid her hair, which glinted like a casque in the sun as they turned away from the sea towards the dunes.

Here Jack Awdas took the plunge.

"See some American girls, you say? You're all the girl I want to see," he declared, not knowing that he spoke with the boyish vehemence that had so lately taken Claudia Cartwright's breath. The persistence with which he'd wooed that first love he now turned upon this--this only love of his.

"You're all the girls in the world to me," said he. "D'you understand?"

She did, and she did not. She stared at him: her uncovered gold head almost on a level with his own fair head, crested by that flyer's cap.

"Yes, rather!" continued the lad, definitely. "Now, what about it?"

He held out a hand to help her up the dunes, but she climbed as lightly as he.

"What about it, please?" he repeated. "What about your belonging to me for keeps, I mean?"

The girl had a curious little gesture as she looked at him, then away.

Surprise was in it, and protest, and a virginal dignity; also amusement, unpreparedness, and wonder....

She repeated his words. "'Belong' to you? To you? Oh! No, I----"

"Don't you like me?" he shot out.

"Oh! I like you very well," she answered quickly, almost hurt herself by the thought that she might have hurt him. "I like you so well! I like to be with you. I like to talk to you. I--yes, I like to look at you," and she turned one of her frank and friendly glances upon that handsome figure striding by her side, that fresh face, all pink in the sea-breezes. "But I guess I'd never want to 'belong' to any man!"

He smiled into the sweet bewildered eyes. It was the smiling side of his obstinacy; obstinate and keen again, in love as in war!

"I say----How old are you?" he asked.

"Twenty-one," she told him.

"Well, then! You don't mind my asking, do you? Hasn't any man ever wanted you to belong to him before?"

"You mean asked me to marry them?"

"Yes."

"Why, yes," she admitted with her crystal straightness. "Men, proposed to me? Why, stacks of them! But they didn't do it that way."

She looked back and out to sea, as though she could see on the other side of that severing Atlantic the half-score of her splendid young countrymen who had offered her marriage as tribute is offered to a young queen.

"You are--queer people over here," she said softly.

"Queer?"

"The way you talk of 'belonging.'"

"Queer, if it's the right man and the girl he wants?" Jack Awdas asked.

"But," she said, sweet and stately, "I should always want to belong to myself."

Then he understood. He said quickly, "Of course I'd always want that for you, too. But--oh, look here! Would the other stop that? As I see it, it might help it."

The puzzled wonder grew in her look. All this was strange to her; she had read of it, heard of it. All this was unexpectedly different from books, from college, from life until now. The old was so unexplored to the new, embodied in its modern Diana. At twenty she had seen half the capitals of two hemispheres, yet she was in his eyes more backward in some ways than a girl who had never left her native village.

Mrs. Cartwright could have told her that it is by "belonging" that a woman forms her individuality, and that it is only by giving that she can either gain or keep what she has.

He went on softly talking. Presently he said, "I know now what people mean by being made for each other. You were, for me. Yes, but I was for you. Oh, yes. Oh, yes!... You can't tell me you honestly don't think so.... You don't want to send me away; you don't want not to see me again."

"Oh, no," she agreed, quickly, looking away from him as if to face a situation. She was of the type that faces, losing no time in wondering what she ought to think. And this was the very first time she had ever wondered what she thought.

She did like him. How it had grown, that first "fascination," born from a look! But----At last she seemed to find the words that summed it up.

"This is a big thing," she said, gravely. "It might be the biggest thing that's happened to me; but, Bird-boy, there's no hurry about it."

"No hurry?" He seemed to think that "hurry" was now the main point.

She shook her head. "We don't have to settle anything about it, right here and right now. Now do we?"

"Yes. Yes!" urged the boy.

"No," denied the girl's wise young voice. "See here; I'll be in London, and you will be there in a month. There's plenty of time. You'll come over then.... Then we can think of it.... Then maybe we'll talk of it again...."

"Oh, will we," muttered Jack Awdas in a voice of utter expressionlessness. For the moment he was ready to say nothing more.

Silence fell between them.

Each full of thought, they ascended and descended the belt of softly-rolling dunes and came to where the sand had drifted half-way up the trunks of the growing pines.

Suddenly Golden gave a little exclamation. "Oh, look; what's this?"

"What's what?" he asked, stopping beside her.

"I thought it was a cute little flower that was growing up the tree," said the girl with down-bent head, "but look, it's sown on to a ribbon, and it's got itself wound way round the branch----"

She was disentangling the object that had taken her eye; a couple of lengths of ribbon, faded to white by the sea breeze and stitched to a little padded square of satin, once mauve, now pale as the sand.

"What is it?" she wondered.

Half-absently Jack Awdas caught hold of the other ribbon as he looked at the thing.

And there was nothing to tell them what it was, the sachet of the Disturbing Charm that had hung about Mrs. Cartwright's neck just before she had plunged into the waters of Biscay Bay; the Charm that the wind had caught and whirled away across the sands until at last it had been in that pine branch from which a girl's hand unwound it.

And there was nothing to tell them what it was, the sachet of the Disturbing Charm.

"Something from a wreck?" mused Golden.

The Charm dangled between them.

He was scarcely thinking of what he was doing as he twisted that ribbon over his own fingers.

He was set, so that he would not have realized, now, that he had set before. This was a universe away from that. She knew that, the other one.... She'd been kind.... It wasn't that she hadn't liked him, he believed. She had begun to like him near her, she had liked it when he said "darling." Ah, to think that he had ever wanted to say "darling" to any woman before! Here was his darling, and she must be made to see it, not later, not in London, but "right here and now."

As he twisted the ribbon, he spoke in the tone that had caused that other woman to shut her eyes; for it was the note of the mating call.

"I say, darling----"

Again the girl shook her head, but--was there now the least quiver of indecision in her gesture?

"I say, if nobody else has ever been allowed to call you that----"

"Oh, no!" she cried, sincerity itself.

He was mechanically twisting up that ribbon between them; another inch he took, another.

"Then if there's nobody else you liked well enough for that, there's a chance for me," persisted the soft husky voice of her lover above the faint distant crashing of those breakers behind them.

"Shall I tell you what?"

"What----?" she asked, slowly, no longer looking at him. A kind of arrogance seemed to shine up in him. Somewhere deep down in his heart he was cheering himself on by the reminder that he knew more than she. He seemed vaguely conscious of some force upon his side.... He would not have believed anyone who had told him that a woman's strongest love, poured out upon him, had lent him magnetism, charged him. He fastened his blue eyes upon this girl, as upon some doggedly desired objective seen from his battle 'plane as he drove through the blue, but he did not reply. He smiled, with all that is far-away in those searching eyes of his.

He had twisted up the last inch of that ribbon. Now he caught hold of the Charm that hung between the two ties, then came to the twin ribbon that she held. Before she knew what he would do with it, he wound that ribbon about her fingers and palm, binding her hand to his own with the Charm in it.

Close, close and warm his pulses beat to hers.

"I've caught you," he ventured, very softly, eyes intent upon her. He smiled more broadly at the first faint dawning of lovely trouble in her face. "Yes! This is what they'd call marriage-by-capture, I suppose?"

She didn't speak. She didn't move as he caught hold of her free hand as well. He held his crested head gaily as he said to her, "Of course I'm English and old-fashioned, and I know American girls are independent, and I ought to see the things they could teach me! But there's something I could teach one of them. Let me try?"

Softly he muttered the word which was to mean everything as his own name for her. "Girl! Girl! ... I say, let's learn from each other?"

Still she didn't speak. How find words, when at a nearness, a name, a touch, some spell seems snapped and the meanings of all words thereafter seem entirely to have altered? This stranger who had become her friend so soon had even more quickly changed to----

"What?"

Her lover nodded, saying below his breath, "It will be all right."

Then, loosing one of her hands, he deftly unwound the ribbon that was about the other. As he was stuffing the Charm with its ribbons inside the breast of his flyer's coat, words came at last to his love.

Laughing tremulously, she asked, "Why, what are you doing that for?"

"Putting it by, safely," he smiled at her as he stood just a step away from her on the sand. "It'll never leave me now, not that ribbon that--that tied our hands together for me. I say, I shall fasten it to my 'bus later on, to bring me luck, Girl. It's started already, what?" He jerked his belt straight. "Hasn't it?"

And with the words he took that one step nearer that brought her into his arms.

"Ah, please," he said, more softly than ever. "Please...."

He drew down to his shoulder the face so full of sweet disturbance, he folded her close, close to the wide breast beneath the white-embroidered wings. As if swayed by a Charm, she drew a long breath, then smiled in wonder, nestled, and yielded to his kisses--the first for both of them....

"What about America coming in now, Girl? She will, won't she?... Yes, but say yes; you must; Say it!"

"No, Bird-boy! I just won't say it," was her last touch of mutiny. "And--and I guess we'll see about that 'belonging' later on."

"Yes," triumphed Jack Awdas. "I 'guess' so too!"

That was all those months ago.