The Net


10. Myra Nell Warren

Miss Myra Nell Warren seldom commenced her toilet with that feeling of pleasurable anticipation common to most girls of her age. Not that she failed to appreciate her own good looks, for she did not, but because in order to attain the desired effects she was forced to exercise a nice discrimination which can be appreciated only by those who have attempted to keep up appearances upon an income never equal to one's requirements. She had many dresses, to be sure, but they were as familiar to her as family portraits, and even among her most blinded admirers they had been known to stir the chords of remembrance. Then, too, they were always getting lost, for Myra Nell had a way of scattering other things than her affections. She had often likened her dresses to an army of Central American troops, for mere ragged abundance in which there lay no real fighting strength. Having been molded to fit the existing fashions in ladies' clothes, and bred to a careless extravagance, poverty brought the girl many complexities and worries.

To-night, however, she was in a very happy frame of mind as she began dressing, and Bernie, hearing her singing blithely, paused outside her door to inquire the cause.

"Can't you guess, stupid?" she replied.

"Um-m! I didn't know he was coming."

"Well, he is. And, Bernie--have you seen my white satin slippers?"

"How in the world should I see them?"

"It isn't them, it is just him. I've discovered one under the bed, but the other has disappeared, gone, skedaddled. Do rummage around and find it for me, won't you? I think it's down-stairs--"

"My dear child," her brother began in mild exasperation, "how can it be down-stairs--"

The door of Myra Nell's room burst open suddenly, and a very animated face peered around the edge at him.

"Because I left it there, purposely. I kicked it off--it hurt. At least I think I did, although I'm not sure. I kicked it off somewhere."

Miss Warren's words had a way of rushing forth head over heels, in a glad, frolicky manner which was most delightful, although somewhat damaging to grammar. But she was too enthusiastic to waste time on grammar; life forever pressed her too closely to allow repose of thought, of action, or of speech.

"Now, don't get huffy, honey," she ran on. "If you only knew how I've-- Oh, goody! you're going out!"

"I was going out, but of course--"

"Now don't be silly. He isn't coming to see you."

Bernie exclaimed in a shocked voice:

"Myra Nell! You know I never leave you to entertain your callers alone. It isn't proper."

She sighed. "It isn't proper to entertain them on one foot, like a stork, either. Do be a dear, now, and find my slipper. I've worn myself to the bone, I positively have, hunting for it, and I'm in tears."

"Very well," he said. "I'll look, but why don't you take care of your things? The idea--"

She pouted a pair of red lips at him, slammed the door in his face, and began singing joyously once more.

"What dress are you going to wear?" he called to her.

"That white one with all the chiffon missing."

"What has become of the chiffon?" he demanded, sternly.

"I must have stepped on it at the dance. I--in fact, I know I did."

"Of course you saved it?"

"Oh, yes. But I can't find it now. If you could only--"

"No!" he cried, firmly, and dashed down the stairs two steps at a time. From the lower hall he called up to her, "Wear the new one, and be sure to let me see you before he comes."

Bernie sighed as he hung up his hat, for he had looked forward through a dull, disappointing day to an evening with Felicite Delord. She was expecting him--she would be greatly disappointed. He sighed a second time, for he was far from happy. Life seemed to be one long constant worry over money matters and Myra Nell. Being a prim, orderly man, he intensely disliked searching for mislaid articles, but he began a systematic hunt; for, knowing Myra Nell's peculiar irresponsibility, he was prepared to find the missing slipper anywhere between the hammock on the front gallery and the kitchen in the rear. However, a full half-hour's search failed to discover it. He had been under most of the furniture and was both hot and dusty when she came bouncing in upon him. Miss Warren never walked nor glided nor swayed sinuously as languorous Southern society belles are supposed to do; she romped and bounced, and she was chattering amiably at this moment.

"Here I am, Bunny, decked out like an empress. The new dress is a duck and I'm ravishing--perfectly ravishing. Eh? What?"

He wriggled out from beneath the horsehair sofa, rose, and, wiping the perspiration from his brow, pointed with a trembling finger at her feet.

"There! There it is," he said in a terrible tone. "That's it on your foot."

"Oh, yes. I found it right after you came downstairs." She burst out laughing at his disheveled appearance. "I forgot you were looking. But come, admire me!" She revolved before his eyes, and he smiled delightedly.

In truth, Miss Warren presented a picture to bring admiration into any eye, and although she was entirely lacking in poise and dignity, her constant restless vivacity and the witch-like spirit of laughter that possessed her were quite as engaging. She was a madcap, fly-away creature whose ravishing lace was framed by an unruly mop of dark hair, which no amount of attention could hold in place. Little dancing curls and wisps and ringlets were forever escaping in coquettish fashion:

Bernie regarded her critically from head to foot, absent-mindedly brushing from his own immaculate person the dust which bore witness to his sister's housekeeping. In his eyes this girl was more than a queen, she was a sort of deity, and she could do no wrong. He was by no means an admirable man himself, but he saw in her all the virtues which he lacked, and his simple devotion was touching.

"You didn't comb your hair," he said, severely.

"Oh, I did! I combed it like mad, but the hairpins pop right out," she exclaimed. "Anyway, there weren't enough."

"Well, I found some on the piano," he said, "so I'll fix you."

With deft fingers he secured the stray locks which were escaping, working as skilfully as a hair-dresser.

"Oh, but you're a nuisance," she told him, as she accepted his aid with the fidgety impatience of a restless boy. "They'll pop right out again."

"They wouldn't if you didn't jerk and flirt around--"

"Flirt, indeed! Bunny! Bunny! What an idea!" She kissed him with a resounding smack, squarely upon the end of his thin nose, then flounced over to the old-fashioned haircloth sofa.

Now, Mr. Dreux abhorred the name of Bunny, and above all things he abominated Myra Nell's method of saluting him upon the nose, but she only laughed at his exclamation of disgust, saying:

"Well, well! You haven't told me how nice I look."

"There is no possible hope for him," he acknowledged. "The gown fits very nicely, too."

"Chloe did it--she cut it off, and sewed on the doodads--"

"The what?"

"The ruffly things." Myra Nell sighed. "It's hard to make a dressmaker out of a cook. Her soul never rises above fried chicken and light bread, but she did pretty well this time, almost as well as--Do you know, Bunny, you'd have made a dandy dressmaker."

"My dear child," he said in scandalized tones, "you get more slangy every day. It's not ladylike."

"I know, but it gets you there quicker. Lordy! I hope he doesn't keep me waiting until I get all wrinkled up. Why don't you go out and have a good time? I'll entertain him."

"You know I wouldn't leave you alone."

She made a little laughing grimace at him and said:

"Well, then, if you must stay, I'll keep him out on the gallery all to myself. It's a lovely night, and, besides, the drawing-room is getting to smell musty. Mind you, don't get into any mischief."

She bounced up from the sofa and gave his ear a playful tweak with her pink fingers, then danced out into the drawing-room, where she rattled off a part of a piano selection at breakneck speed, ending in the middle with a crash, and finally flung open the long French blinds. The next instant he heard her swinging furiously in the hammock.

Bernie smiled fondly, as a mother smiles, and his pinched little face was glorified, then he sighed for a third time, as he thought of Felicite Delord, and regretfully settled himself down to a dull and solitary evening. The library had long since been denuded of its valuable books, in the same way that the old frame mansion had lost its finer furniture, piece by piece, as some whim of its mistress made a sacrifice necessary. In consequence, about all that remained now to afford Bernie amusement were certain works on art which had no market value. Selecting one of these, he lit a cigarette and lost himself among the old masters.

When Norvin Blake came up the walk beneath the live-oak and magnolia trees, Myra Nell met him at the top of the steps, and her cool, fresh loveliness struck him as something extremely pleasant to look upon, after his heated, bustling day on the Exchange.

"Bernie's in the library feasting on Spanish masters, so if you don't mind we'll sit out here," she told him.

"I'll be delighted," he assured her. "In that way I may be seen and so excite the jealousy of certain fellows who have been monopolizing you lately."

"A little jealousy is a good thing, so I'll help you. But--they don't have it in them. They're as calm and placid as bayou water."

Blake was fond of mildly teasing the girl about her popularity, assuming, as an old friend, a whimsically injured tone. She could never be sure how much or little his speeches meant, but, being an outrageous little coquette herself, she seldom put much confidence in any one's words.

"Tell me," he went on--"I haven't seen you for a week--who are you engaged to now?"

"The idea! I'm never really engaged; that is, hardly ever."

"Then there is a terrible misapprehension at large!"

"Oh, I'm always misapprehended. Even Bernie misapprehends me; he thinks I'm frivolous and light-minded, but I'm not. I'm really very serious; I'm--I'm almost morose."

He laughed at her. "You don't mean to deny you have a bewildering train of admirers?"

"Perhaps, but I don't like to think of them. You see, it takes years to collect a real train of admirers, and it argues that a girl is a fixture. That's something I won't be. I'm beginning to feel like one of the sights of the city, such as Bernie points out to his Northern tourists. Of course, you're the exception. I don't think we've ever been engaged, have we?"

"Um-m! I believe not, I don't care to be considered eccentric, however. It isn't too late."

"Bernie wouldn't allow it for a moment, and, besides, you're too serious. A girl should never engage herself to a serious-minded man unless she's really ready to--marry him."

"How true!"

"By the way," she chattered on, "what in the world have you done to Bernie? He has talked nothing but Mafia and murders and vendettas ever since he saw you the other day."

"He told you about meeting Donnelly in my office?"

"Yes! He's become tremendously interested in the Italian question all at once; he reads all the papers and he haunts the foreign quarter. He tells me we have a fearful condition of affairs here. Of course I don't know what he's talking about, but he's very much in earnest, and wants to help Mr. Donnelly do something or other--kill somebody, I judge."

"Really! I didn't suppose he cared for such things."

"Neither did I. But your story worked him all up. Of course, I read about you long ago, and that's how I knew you were a hero. When you returned from abroad I was simply smothered with excitement until I met you. The idea of your fighting with bandits, and all that! But tell me, did you discover that murderer creature?"

"Yes. We identified him."

"Oh-h!" The girl fairly wriggled with eagerness, and he had to smile at her as she leaned forward waiting for details. "Bernie said you asked him to go, but he was afraid. I--I wish you'd take me the next time. Fancy! What did he do? Was he a tall, dangerous-looking man? Did he grind his teeth at you?"

"No, no!" Norvin briefly explained the very ordinary happenings of his trip with the Chief of Police, to which she listened with her usual intensity of interest in the subject of the moment.

"You won't have to testify against him in those what-do-you-call-'em proceedings?" she asked as soon as he had finished.


"Why! Why, they'll blow you up, or do something dreadful!"

"I suppose I'll have to. Donnelly is bent on arresting him, and I owe something to the memory of Mattel Savigno."

"You mustn't!" she exclaimed with a gravity quite surprising in her. "When Bernie told me what it might lead to, it frightened me nearly to death. He says this Mafia is a perfectly awful affair. You won't get mixed up in it, will you? Please!"

The girl who was speaking now was not the Myra Nell he knew; her tone of real concern struck him very agreeably. Beneath her customary mood of intoxication with the joy of living he had occasionally caught fleeting glimpses of a really unusual depth of feeling, and the thought that she was concerned for his welfare filled him with a selfish gladness. Nevertheless, he answered her, truly:

"I can't promise that. I rather feel that I owe it to Martel"

"He's dead! That sounds brutal, but--"

"I owe something also to--those he left behind."

"You mean that Sicilian woman--that Countess. I suppose you know I'm horribly jealous of her?"

"I didn't know it."

"I am. Just think of it--a real Countess, with a castle, and dozens--thousands of gorgeous dresses! Was she--beautiful?"


"Don't say it that way. Goodness! How I hate her!"

Miss Warren flounced back into the corner of the hammock, and Norvin said with a laugh:

"No wonder you have a train of suitors."

"I've never seen a really beautiful Italian woman--except Vittoria Fabrizi, of course."

"Your friend, the nurse?"

"Yes, and she's not really Italian, she's just like anybody else. She was here to see me again this afternoon, by the way; it's her day off at the hospital, you know. I want you to meet her. You'll fall desperately in love."

"Really, I'm not interested in trained nurses, and I wouldn't want you to hate her as you hate the Countess."

"Oh, I couldn't hate Vittoria, she's such a dear. She saved my life, you know."

"Nonsense! You only had a sprained ankle."

"Yes, but it was a perfectly odious sprain. Nobody knows how I suffered. And to think it was all Bernie's fault!"

"How so? You fell off a horse."

"I did not," indignantly declared Miss Warren. "I was thrown, hurled, flung, violently projected, and then I was frightfully trampled by a snorting steed."

Norvin laughed heartily at this, for he knew the rickety old family horse very well by sight, and the picture she conjured up was amusing.

"How do you manage to blame it on Bernie?" he inquired.

"Well, he forbade me to ride horseback, so of course I had to do it."

"Oh, I see."

"I fixed up a perfectly ravishing habit. I couldn't ask Bernie to buy me one, since he refused to let me ride, so I made a skirt out of our grand-piano cover--it was miles long, and a darling shade of green. When it came to a hat I was stumped until I thought of Bernie's silk one. No mother ever loved a child as he loved that hat, you know. I twisted his evening scarf around it, and the effect was really stunning--it floated beautifully. Babylon and I formed a picture, I can tell you. I call the horse Babylon because he's such an old ruin. But I don't believe any one ever rode him before; he didn't seem to know what it was all about. He was very bony, too, and he stuck out in places. I suppose we would have gotten along all right if I hadn't tried to make him prance. He wouldn't do it, so I jabbed him."

"Jabbed him?"

Myra Nell nodded vigorously. "With my hat-pin. I didn't mean to hurt him, but--oh my! He isn't nearly so old as we think. I suppose the surprise did it. Anyhow, he became a raging demon in a second, and when they picked me up I had a sprained ankle and the piano cover was a sight."

"I suppose Babylon ran away?"

"No, he was standing there, with one foot right through Bernie's high hat. That was the terrible part of it all--I had to pretend I was nearly killed, just to take Bernie's mind off the hat. I stayed in bed for the longest time--I was afraid to get up--and he got Vittoria Fabrizi to wait on me. So that's how I met her. You can't linger along with your life in a person's hands for weeks at a time without getting attached to her. I was sorry for Babylon, so I had Chloe put a poultice on his back where I jabbed him. Now I'd like to know if that isn't Bernie's fault. He should have allowed me to ride and then I wouldn't have wanted to. Poor boy! he was the one to suffer after all. He'd planned to take a trip somewhere, but of course he couldn't do that and pay for a trained nurse, too."

Myra Nell's allusion to her brother's financial condition reminded Blake of the subject which had been uppermost in his mind all evening, and he decided to broach it now. Subsequent to his last talk with Dreux he had thought a good deal about that proffered loan and had come to regard Bernie's refusal as unwarranted. To be Queen of the Carnival was an honor given to but few young women, and one that would probably never come to Miss Warren again, so even at the risk of offending her half-brother he had decided to lay the matter before Myra Nell herself. She ought at least to have in later years the consoling thought that she had once refused the royal scepter. He hoped, however, that her persuasion added to his own would bring Dreux to a change of heart.

"If you'll promise to make no scene, refrain from hysterics, and all that," he began, warningly, "I'll tell you some good news."

"How silly! I'm an iceberg! I never get excited!" she declared.

"Well then, how would you like to be Queen of the next Mardi Gras?"

Myra Nell gasped faintly in the darkness, and sat bolt-upright.

"You--you're joking."

"That's no answer."

"I--I--Do you mean it? Oh!" She was out of the hammock now and poised tremblingly before him, like a bird. "Honestly? You're not fooling? Norvin, you dear duck!" She clapped her hands together gleefully and began to dance up and down. "I-I'm going to scream."

"Remember your promise."

"Oh, but Queen! Queen! Why I'm dreaming, I must scream."

"I gather from these rapt incoherences that you'd like it."

"Like it! You silly! Like it? Haven't I lived for it? Haven't I dreamed about it ever since T was a baby? Wouldn't any girl give her eyes to be queen?" She seemed upon the verge of kissing him, perhaps upon the nose, but changed her mind and went dancing around his chair like some moon-mad sprite. He seized her, barely in time to prevent her from crying the news aloud to Bernie, explaining hastily that she must breathe no word to any one for the time being and must first win her brother's consent. It was very difficult to impress her with the fact that the Carnival was still a long way off and that Bernie was yet to be reckoned with.

"As if there could be any question of my accepting," she chattered. "Dear, dear! Why shouldn't I? And it was lovely of you to arrange it for me, too. Oh, I know you did, so you needn't deny it. I hope you're to be Rex. Wouldn't that be splendid--but of course you wouldn't tell me."

"I can tell you this much, that I am not to be King. Now I have already spoken to Bernie--"

"The wretch! He never breathed a word of it."

"He's afraid he can't afford it."

"Oh, la, la! He'll have to. I'll die if he refuses--just die. You know I will."

"We'll bring him around, between us. You talk to him after I go, and the next time I see him I'll clinch matters. You'll make the most gorgeous of queens, Myra Nell."

"You think so?" She blushed prettily in the gloom. "I'll have to be very dignified; the train is as long as a hall carpet and I'll have to walk this way." She illustrated the royal step, bowing to him with a regal inclination of her dark head, and then broke out into rippling life and laughter so infectious that he felt he was a boy once more.

The girl's unaffected spontaneity was her most adorable trait. She was like a dancing ray of sunshine, and underneath her blithesome carelessness was a fine, clean, tender nature. Blake watched her with his eyes alight, for all men loved Myra Nell Warren and it was conceded among those who worshiped at her shrine that he who finally received her love in return for his would be favored far above his kind. She was closer to him to-night than ever before; she seemed to reach out and take him into her warm confidence, while he felt her appeal more strongly than at any time in their acquaintance. Of course she did not let him do much talking, she never did that, and now her head was full of dreams, of delirious anticipations, of splendid visions.

At last, when she had thanked him in as many ways as she could think of for his kindness and the time drew near for him to leave, she fell serious in a most abrupt manner, and then to his great surprise referred once again to his affair with the Mafia.

"It seems to me that my joy would be supreme to-night if I knew you would drop that Italian matter," she said. "The consequences may be terrible and--I--don't want you to get into trouble."

"I'll be careful," he told her, but as she stood with her hand in his she looked up at him with eyes which were no longer sparkling with fun, but deep and dark with shadows, saying, gently:

"Is there nothing which would induce you to change your mind?"

"That's not a fair question."

"I shall be worried to death--and I detest worry."

"There's no necessity for the least bit of concern," he assured her. But there was a plaintive wrinkle upon her brow as she watched him swing down the walk to the street.

As Blake strolled homeward he began to reflect that this charming intimacy with Myra Nell Warren could not go much farther without doing her an injustice. The time was rapidly nearing when he would have to make up his mind either to have very much more or very much less of her society. He was undeniably fond of her, for she not only interested him, but, what is far rarer and quite as important, she amused him. Moreover, she was of his own people; the very music of her Southern speech soothed his ear in contrast with the harsh accents of his Northern acquaintances. The thought came to him with a profound appeal that she might grow to love him with that unswerving faithfulness which distinguishes the Southern woman. And yet, strangely enough, when he retired that night it was not with her picture in his mind, but that of a splendid, tawny Sicilian girl with lips as fresh as a half-opened flower and eyes as deep as the sea.