Vicky Van, page 1
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BY CAROLYN WELLS
"The Affair at Flower Acres," "Anybody But Anne,""The Mystery of the Sycamore," "Raspberry Jam,""The Vanishing of Betty Varian," "Spooky Hollow,""Feathers Left Around," etc.
ONE OF MY BEST CHUMS
JULIAN KING SPRAGUE
CHAPTER I. VICKY VAN II. MR. SOMERS III. THE WAITER'S STORY IV. SOMERS' REAL NAME V. THE SCHUYLER HOUSEHOLD VI. VICKY'S WAYS VII. RUTH SCHUYLER VIII. THE LETTER BOX IX. THE SOCIAL SECRETARY X. THE INQUEST XI. A NOTE FROM VICKY XII. MORE NOTES XIII. FLEMING STONE XIV. WALLS HAVE TONGUES XV. FIBSY XVI. A FUTILE CHASE XVII. THE GOLD-FRINGED GOWN XVIII. FIBSY DINES OUT XIX. PROOFS AND MORE PROOFS XX. THE TRUTH FROM RUTH
Victoria Van Allen was the name she signed to her letters and to hercheques, but Vicky Van, as her friends called her, was signed all overher captivating personality, from the top of her dainty, tossing headto the tips of her dainty, dancing feet.
I liked her from the first, and if her "small and earlies" were saidto be so called because they were timed by the small and earlynumerals on the clock dial, and if her "little" bridge games kept inactive circulation a goodly share of our country's legal tender, thosethings are not crimes.
I lived in one of the polite sections of New York City, up among theEast Sixties, and at the insistence of my sister and aunt, who livedwith me, our home was near enough the great boulevard to be designatedby that enviable phrase, "Just off Fifth Avenue." We were on the northside of the street, and, nearer to the Avenue, on the south side, wasthe home of Vicky Van.
Before I knew the girl, I saw her a few times, at long intervals, onthe steps of her house, or entering her little car, andhalf-consciously I noted her charm and her evident zest of life.
Later, when a club friend offered to take me there to call, I acceptedgladly, and as I have said, I liked her from the first.
And yet, I never said much about her to my sister. I am, in a way,responsible for Winnie, and too, she's too young to go where they playBridge for money. Little faddly prize bags or gift-shop novelties areher stakes.
Also, Aunt Lucy, who helps me look after Win, wouldn't quiteunderstand the atmosphere at Vicky's. Not exactly Bohemian--and yet,I suppose it did represent one compartment of that handy-box of aterm. But I'm going to tell you, right now, about a party I went tothere, and you can see for yourself what Vicky Van was like.
"How late you're going out," said Winnie, as I slithered into mytopcoat. "It's after eleven."
"Little girls mustn't make comments on big brothers," I smiled back ather. Win was nineteen and I had attained the mature age oftwenty-seven. We were orphans and spinster Aunt Lucy did her best tobe a parent to us; and we got on smoothly enough, for none of us hadthe temperament that rouses friction in the home.
"Across the street?" Aunt Lucy guessed, raising her aristocraticeyebrows a hair's breadth.
"Yes," I returned, the least bit irritated at the implication of thathairbreadth raise. "Steele will be over there and I want to see him--"
This time the said eyebrows went up frankly in amusement, and the kindblue eyes beamed as she said, "All right, Chet, run along."
Though I was Chester Calhoun, the junior partner of the law firm ofBradbury and Calhoun, and held myself in due and consequent respect, Ididn't mind Aunt Lucy's calling me Chet, or even, as she sometimesdid, Chetty. A man puts up with those things from the women of hishousehold. As to Winnie, she called me anything that came handy, fromLord Chesterton to Chessy-Cat.
I patted Aunt Lucy on her soft old shoulder and Winnie on her hardyoung head, and was off.
True, I did expect to see Steele at Vicky Van's--he was the club chapwho had introduced me there--but as Aunt Lucy had so cleverlysuspected, he was not my sole reason for going. A bigger reason wasthat I always had a good time there, the sort of a good time I liked.
I crossed the street diagonally, in defiance of much good advice Ihave heard and read against such a proceeding. But at eleven o'clockat night the traffic in those upper side streets is not sufficient toendanger life or limb, and I reached Vicky Van's house in safety.
It was a very small house, and it was the one nearest to the FifthAvenue corner, though the long side of the first house on that blockof the Avenue lay between.
The windows on each floor were brilliantly lighted, and I mounted thelong flight of stone steps sure of a merry welcome and a jolly time.
I was admitted by a maid whom I already knew well enough to say"Evening, Julie," as I passed her, and in another moment, I was in thelong, narrow living-room and was a part of the gay group there.
"Angel child!" exclaimed Vicky Van herself, dancing toward me, "did hecome to see his little ole friend?" and laying her two hands in minefor an instant, she considered me sufficiently welcomed, and dancedoff again. She was a will o' the wisp, always tantalizing a man with ahope of special attention, and then flying away to another guest, onlyto treat him in the same way.
I looked after her, a slim, graceful thing, vibrant with the joy ofliving, smiling in sheer gayety of heart, and pretty as a picture.
Her black hair was arranged in the newest style, that covered her earswith soft loops and exposed the shape of her trim little head. It wasbanded with a jeweled fillet, or whatever they call those Orientalthings they wear, and her big eyes with their long, dark lashes, herpink cheeks and curved scarlet lips seemed to say, "the world owes mea living and I'm going to collect."
Not as a matter of financial obligation, be it understood.
Vicky Van had money enough and though nothing about her home wasostentatious or over ornate, it was quietly and in the best of tasteluxurious.
But I was describing Vicky herself. Her gown, the skirt part of it,was a sort of mazy maize-colored thin stuff, rather short and ratherfull, that swirled as she moved, and fluttered when she danced. Thebodice part, was of heavily gold-spangled material, and a kind ofoverskirt arrangement was a lot of long gold fringe made of beads.Instead of a yoke, there were shoulder straps of these same beads, andthe sleeves weren't there.
And yet, that costume was all right. Why, it was a rig I'd be glad tosee Winnie in, when she gets older, and if I've made it soundrather--er--gay and festive, it's my bungling way of describing it,and also, because Vicky's personality would add gayety and festivityto any raiment.
Her little feet wore goldy slippers, and a lot of ribbonscriss-crossed over her ankles, and on the top of each slipper was agilt butterfly that fluttered.
Yet with all this bewildering effect of frivolity, the first term I'dmake use of in describing Vick's character would be Touch-me-not. Ibelieve there's a flower called that--_noli me tangere_--or some suchname. Well, that's Vicky Van. She'd laugh and jest with you, and thenif you said anything by way of a personal compliment or flirtatiousfoolery, she was off and away from your side, like a thistle-down in asummer breeze. She was a witch, a madcap, but she had her own way ineverything, and her friends did her will without question.
Her setting, too, just suited her. Her living room was one of thosevery narrow, very deep rooms so often seen in the New York sidestreets. It was done up in French gray and rose, as was the dictum ofthe moment. On the rose-brocaded walls were few pictures, but just theright ones. Gray enameled furniture and deep window-seats withrose-colored cushions provided resting-places, and soft rose-shadedlights gave a mild glow of illumination.
Flowers were everywhere. Great bowls of roses, jars of pink carnationsand occasionally a vase of pink orchids were on mantel, low bookcasesor piano. And sometimes the odor of a c
Vicky herself, detested perfumes or odors of any kind, save freshflowers all about. Indeed, she detested Bohemianism, when it meantunconventional dress or manners or loud-voiced jests or songs.
Her house was dainty, correct and artistic, and yet, I knew itsatmosphere would not please my Aunt Lucy, or be just the right placefor Winnie.
Many of the guests I knew. Cassie Weldon was a concert singer andAriadne Gale an artist of some prominence, both socially and in herart circle. Jim Ferris and Bailey Mason were actors of a good sort,and Bert Garrison, a member of one of my best clubs, was a fast risingarchitect. Steele hadn't come yet.
Two tables of bridge were playing in the back part of the room, and inthe rest of the rather limited space several couples were dancing.
"Mayn't we open the doors to the dining room, Vicky?" called out oneof the card players. "The calorics of this room must be about ninetyin the shade."
"Open them a little way," returned Miss Van Allen. "But not wide, forthere's a surprise supper and I don't want you to see it yet."
They set the double doors a few inches ajar and went on with theirgame. The dining room, as I knew, was a wide room that ran all acrossthe house behind both living-room and hall. It was beautifullydecorated in pale green and silver, and often Vicky Van would have a"surprise supper," at which the favors or entertainers would be wellworth waiting for.
Having greeted many whom I knew, I looked about for further speechwith my hostess.
"She's upstairs in the music room," said Cassie Weldon, seeing andinterpreting my questing glance.
"Thank you, lady, for those kind words," I called back over myshoulder, and went upstairs.
The front room on the second floor was dubbed the "music room," Vickysaid, because there was a banjo in it. Sometimes the guests broughtmore banjos and a concert of glees and college songs would ensue. Butmore often, as to-night, it was a little haven of rest and peace fromthe laughter and jest below stairs.
It was an exquisite white and gold room, and here, too, as I entered,pale pink shades dimmed the lights to a soft radiance that seemed likea breaking dawn.
Vicky sat enthroned on a white divan, her feet crossed on agold-embroidered white satin foot-cushion. In front of her sat threeor four of her guests all laughing and chatting.
"But he vowed he was going to get here somehow," Mrs. Reeves wassaying.
"What's his name?" asked Vicky, though in a voice of little interest.
"Somers," returned Mrs. Reeves.
"Never heard of him. Did you, Mr. Calhoun?" and Vicky Van looked up atme as I entered.
"No; Miss Van Allen. Who is he?"
"I don't know and I don't care. Only as Mrs. Reeves says he is cominghere tonight, I'd like to know something about him."
"Coming here! A man you don't know?" I drew up a chair to join thegroup. "How can he?"
"Mr. Steele is going to bring him," said Mrs. Reeves. "Hesays--Norman Steele says, that Mr. Somers is a first-class all-aroundchap, and no end of fun. Says he's a millionaire."
"What's a millionaire more or less to me?" laughed Vicky. "I choose myfriends for their lovely character, not for their wealth."
"Yes, you've selected all of us for that, dear," agreed Mrs. Reeves,"but this Somers gentleman may be amiable, too."
Mrs. Reeves was a solid, sensible sort of person, who acted as ballastfor the volatile Vicky, and sometimes reprimanded her in a mild way.
"I love the child," she had said to me once, "and she is a littlebrick. But once in a while I have to tell her a few things for thegood of the community. She takes it all like an angel."
"Well, I don't care," Vicky went on, "Norman Steele has no right tobring anybody here whom he hasn't asked me about. If I don't like him,I shall ask some of you nice, amiable men to get me a long plank, andwe'll put it out of a window, and make him walk it. Shall we?"
We all agreed to do this, or to tar and feather and ride on a rail anygentleman who might in any way be so unfortunate as to fall one iotashort of Vicky Van's requirements.
"And now," said Vicky, "if you'll all please go downstairs, exceptMrs. Reeves and Mr. Garrison and my own sweet self, I'll be orflyobliged to you."
The sweeping gesture with which she sought to dismiss us was a wave ofher white arms and a smile of her red lips, and I, for one, found itimpossible to obey. I started with the rest, and then after the gaycrowd were part way down stairs I turned back.
"Please, mayn't I join your little class, if I'll be very good?" Ibegged. "I don't want Bert Garrison to be left alone at the mercy oftwo such sirens."
Miss Van Allen hesitated. Her pink-tipped forefinger rested a momenton her curved lip. "Yes," she said, nodding her head. "Yes, stay, Mr.Calhoun. You may be a help. Are you any good at getting theatre boxesafter they're all sold?"
"That's my profession," I returned. "I learned it from acorrespondence school. Where's the theatre? Lead me to it!"
"It's the Metropolis Theatre," she replied. "And I want to have aparty there to-morrow night, and I want two boxes, and this awful,dreadful, bad Mr. Garrison says they're all sold, and I can't get any!What can you do about it?"
"Oh, I'll fix it. I'll go to the people who bought the boxes you want,and--I don't know what I'll say to them, exactly--but I'll fix up sucha yarn that they'll beg me to take the boxes off their hands."
"Oh, will you, really?" and the dazzling smile she gave me would haverepaid a much greater Herculean task than I had undertaken. And, ofcourse, I hadn't meant it, but when she thought I did, I couldn't goback on my word.
"I'll do my best, Miss Van Allen," I said, seriously, "and if I can'tpossibly turn the trick, I'll--well, I'll buy the Metropolitan OperaHouse, and put on a show of my own."
"No," she laughed, "you needn't do that. But if you try and fail--why,we'll just have a little party here, a sort of consolation party,and--oh, let's have some private theatricals. Wouldn't that be fun!"
"More fun than the original program?" I asked quickly, hoping to belet off my promise.
"No, sir!" she cried, "decidedly not! I want especially to have thattheatre party and supper afterward at the Britz. Now you do all youcan, won't you?"
I promised to do all I could, and I had a partial hope I could getwhat she wanted by hook or crook, and then, as she heard a speciallyfavorite fox-trot being dashed off on the piano downstairs, she sprangfrom her seat, and kicking the satin cushion aside, asked me to dance.In a moment we were whirling around the music room to the zippingmusic, and Mrs. Reeve and Garrison followed in our steps.
Vicky danced with a natural born talent that is quite unlike anythingacquired by lessons. I had no need to guide her, she divined my lead,and swayed in any direction, even as I was about to indicate it. I hadnever danced with anyone who danced so well, and I was profuse in mythanks and praise.
"I love it," she said simply, as she patted the gold fringes of hergown into place. "I adore dancing, and you are one of the bestpartners I have ever had. Come, let us go down and cut into a Bridgegame. We'll just about have time before supper."
Pirouetting before me, she led the way, and we went down the longsteep stairs.
A shout greeted her appearance in the doorway.
"Oh, Vicky, we have missed you! Come over here and listen to Ted'slatest old joke!"
"No, come over here and hear this awful gossip Ariadne is telling forsolemn truth. It's the very worst taradiddle she ever got off!"
"Here's a place, Vicky Van, a nice cosy corner, 'tween Jim and me.Come on, Ladygirl."
"No, thanks, everybody. I'm going to cut in at this table. May I? Am Ia nuisance?"
"A Vicky-nuisance! They ain't no such animal!" and Bailey Mason roseto give her his chair.
"No," said she, "I want you to stay, Mr. Mason. 'Cause why, I want toplay wiz you. Cassie, you give me your place, won't you,Ducky-Daddles? and you go and flirt with Mr. Calho
Vicky Van settled herself into her seat with the happy little sigh ofthe bridge lover, who sits down with three good players, and inanother moment she was breathlessly looking over her hand. "Without,"she said, triumphantly, and knowing she'd say no word more to me forthe present, I walked away with Cassie Weldon.
And Cassie was good fun. She took me to the piano, and with the softpedal down, she showed me a new little tone picture she had made up,which was both picturesque and funny.
"You'd better go into vaudeville!" I exclaimed, as she finished, "yourtalent is wasted on the concert platform."
"That's what Vicky tells me," she returned. "Sometimes I believe Iwill try it, just for fun."
"You'll find it such fun, you'll stay in for earnest," I assured her,for she had shown a bit of inventive genius that I felt sure wouldmake good in a little musical turn.
Other author's books:
- The Deep Lake MysteryThe Man Who Fell Through the EarthThe Mystery of the SycamoreThe Mystery GirlA Chain of EvidenceMurder in the BookshopThe Staying GuestPatty—Bride
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