Two Ivory Cupids
FROM an extremely comfortable chair on the widest verandah of a Bretton Woods hotel, Mr. Edward Withers Pinkham gazed thoughtfully at Mount Washington — and wondered.
Mr. Pinkham was perhaps thirty-five years old, of medium height, well dressed, well enough set up to drive about two hundred, and almost anywhere would have passed as rather attractive. The queer thing about him was the effect that he produced on people who came in contact with him. Somehow they could n’t help laughing. Except for the fact that, conversationally, Mr. Pinkham wore tan shoes with evening dress, his personality hardly seemed to invite the effect he produced. Nevertheless, the more serious he tried to be, the funnier he became. Being continuously funny is no laughing matter, but Mr. Pinkham either had grown so familiar with the usual reaction that he was reconciled to it, or else he had begun to think that laughing when one person meets another person was the human way — just as tail-wagging is the dog way.
Why he was Assistant-Secretary of the American Association for the Advancement of Invention, which was about to meet at Bretton Woods that week in early July, none of the ordinary run-of-the-mine members knew. The insiders could have explained that Mr. Jeffrey Connors, of Connors, Cowdrey, and Calkins, efficiency engineers, had suggested Pinkham to the nominating committee as a good man, and Connors needed only to suggest. He did n’t explain that the young man was a relation of Mrs. Connors. It’s queer how one’s wife’s relatives always hold orchestra tickets for the best jobs we can locate, while our own relatives must scramble for admission checks.
After all, Pinkham was not a bad sort. He was a graduate of Technology; he had brains (which is Big and Little Casino); he was earnest and energetic — but there was that confounded weakness for making everybody laugh. People laugh so easily in these flippant times.
Just what were the duties of a new Assistant-Secretary? Mr. Pinkham had reported on arrival to Professor Butterfield, Secretary of the A.A.A.I., the veteran organizer of eight annual meetings. Professor Butterfield was head over ears in details of accommodations.
‘Mr. Pinkham, ah yes, glad to see you. I can’t stop now to go over matters. Row on with the management about quarters for four Round Tables on Wednesday— maybe you can help later.’ Professor Butterfield laughed and turned back to the problem of more members who had engaged ‘rooms with bath’ than there were bathrooms within many mountainous miles.
Naturally, Mr. Pinkham would have breezed around, insisted on helping, and finally muddled into his job, but somehow — it was quite unusual the laugh deterred him, and the Assistant-Secretary retired to the verandah.
Curious, is it not, how the devotees of science, having formed themselves into learned societies, while ever prepared to undergo extremest hardship in order to acquire more knowledge, somehow invariably settle down like a swarm of locusts at the most favored resorts in summer, or appropriate the most extravagant and gilded hotel in a very large city in the winter. Many of the members never have been so far from home before. This is pursuit of science. It is a necessary expense.
There was nothing novel about the Bretton Woods meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Invention. A meeting of one learned society is as much like the meeting of another learned society as are two shredded wheat biscuits. Professor Ignatius W. Montague of Ann Arbor was President that year, and much was expected of his presidential address— ‘Limitations of the Inventive Faculty: a Postulate.’ Of course these things could not be discussed effectively in July in a city. It was a trial to be obliged to go to the White Mountains, but the cool air would conduce to edifying discussions and good work. So most of the big hotel was chartered, and on a Tuesday in early July the inventors, and the university people who lectured on the history and influence of inventions, and the interested people who manufactured inventions and charged the public four times their cost, began to flock in to Bretton Woods.
Soon they were wandering around as thick as ants, decorated with badges reading: —
Each A .A. A.I. member had a programme. Each was trying to reconcile the Round Table at 10:00 A. M. with the business meeting of the Association at 9:45, and to figure out how he could take the cog to the top of Mount Washington — and not be missed.
And the meetings buzzed, the verandahs buzzed, and the dining-rooms, invaded three times a day by a swarm of human locusts, buzzed more than all the other buzzings. And so Association Week wore on, and Mr. Pinkham began to glow with various light duties.
In particular, he ran errands and was actually gaining the first faint flushes of an Assistant-Secretary’s importance.
Saturday. Last meeting of the Thirty-second Annual Convention of the A.A.A.I. Wonderful success. Unusual papers. Fine food. Most informing discussions. Beautiful scenery.
Major Whitehouse of Jersey City hunted up Secretary Butterfield. The Major was tall, elderly, dignified. He kept his face in the last century, as it were, by wearing a beard, a full and expansive outfit of whiskers.
‘Professor, are you going directly back to New York?’ he asked deliberately.
‘I am, to-morrow.’
‘I’ve decided to go to Quebec and down the Saguenay with Reed and McSimmons. I have an umbrella here of great value to me. I simply cannot risk taking it on a tourist jaunt. It is an old umbrella. I inherited it thirty years ago from my great uncle. Rather heavy frame, but stout, sir, stout, and the handle is of finest ivory, real, handcarved to represent a bunch of grapes and two cupids rampant. Would you be willing to take that umbrella back to New York for me?’
Major Whitehouse looked sharply at the Secretary of the A.A.A.I. as though doubtful whether he could put over such a request.
Professor Butterfield hesitated. ‘I’m not sure,’ he began. Then a relieved expression appeared. ‘Pinkham!’ he called.
Mr. Pinkham hurried to his chief.
‘Major Whitehouse, this is Mr. E. W. Pinkham, our efficient AssistantSecretary, a young man of unusual promise in our Association. He is returning to New York to-night. Mr. Pinkham will gladly take your umbrella back with him and leave it where you direct.’
Mr. Pinkham did not take it over ‘gladly,’ but what are an AssistantSecretary’s duties anyhow, and who should know but the Secretary?
So it came about that fifteen minutes later Mr. Pinkham was walking through the great office of the hotel on a warm, still, sunny July afternoon carrying a black umbrella of unusual size, decorated with a conspicuous ivory handle, the same representing a bunch of grapes and two cupids rampant.
And it also came about that advancing toward him was Mrs. Algernon Kittredge and Joe Kittredge and Madge Kittredge, from Philadelphia, en route to Montreal and then the Adirondacks.
All the Kittredges stopped short and laughed, while the bell boys continued to advance with the hat boxes and the grips.
‘Where are you bound for, Pink, with that family tent? Think it looks like rain?’ The feminine Kittredges were convulsed.
‘The American Association for the Advancement of Invention is holding its annual meeting here. You see, I’m the Assistant-Secretary,’ Mr. Pinkham said with unwonted dignity.
‘I see,’ said Joe Kittredge sympathetically, ‘sort of Chinese-like, I suppose, and it’s your job to carry that enormous umbrella spread over the President.’
Mr. Pinkham essayed a faint smile. The humor in this episode was not evident to the principal. He explained some of the responsibilities of his position and the ownership and destination of the umbrella.
‘Nonsense,’ said Joe Kittredge. ‘Mother and Madge and I are going to Montreal. So are you — on number two hat-box. It ‘ll be a jolly party. Come on.’
‘I can’t,’ said Mr. Pinkham, looking at the cupids rampant.
‘Nonsense again,’ said Joe Kittredge more emphatically. ‘My uncle, Walter Randall, is up here somewhere, attending the convention. He lives in Orange and will be going right back. I ‘ll hunt him up. Let me register first.’
Mr. Pinkham’s face brightened. This job had n’t been all that a position of honor promised to be, and the umbrella business was an imposition. If Mr. Randall would take the blamed relic home, here was a real chance.
Five minutes later Joe came toward him beaming. ‘I found Uncle Walt. He’s a good sport. Says bring on your umbrella. Says he ‘s met Whitehouse, but he wants to know if you have his gums also. Umbrella is O.K. but no gums. Gimme those immoral grapes of ivory.’
And so it came about that the following morning a carefree party started for Montreal and Uncle Walt Randall personally conducted to New York the Whitehouse family umbrella, huge of frame, of black silk, with an ivory handle carved to represent a bunch of grapes and two cupids rampant. At least the carefree Edward Withers Pinkham, en route for Montreal with Mrs. Kittredge, Joe Kittredge, and Madge Kittredge, supposed that that was so and forgot all about the Whitehouse family umbrella.
On a morning in late July Mr. Pinkham found himself once more in his office, which was the fourth door down a private corridor on the seventeenth floor of the Engineering Building, New York City. Mr. Pinkham’s office was as large and homey as a stateroom on a Boston night-boat. There was no name on the door, but the legend that decorated the entrance from the public hall was ‘Connors, Cowdrey, and Calkins’ — which goes to show that blood is much thicker than water, and that Mrs. Connors’s influence penetrated to the seventeenth floor of the Engineering Building, New York City.
Mr. Pinkham attended to accumulated mail, and before sinking back from vacation into clerical work, was gazing contemplatively at the distant Goddess of Liberty, faintly visible over chimney pots far down the harbor, when the door was opened.
It is a definition of appearance to say that a man has a heavy head of hair. In this instance the person was a tall elderly man with a thick face of whiskers.
‘Mr. Pinkham, I believe?’ he said.
Mr. Pinkham looked doubtfully at the stranger, vaguely wondering where in the dim past those whiskers had fluttered upon his vision.
‘Assistant-Secretary of the American Association for the Advancement of Invention? ‘
‘I am D. Pringle Whitehouse. You may recall that early this month at Bretton Woods I entrusted to your care a valuable family umbrella, which you agreed to bring back to New York for me, as I was not returning directly to the city. I have called to obtain it.’ Major Whitehouse ceased, significantly, and looked at each of the four corners of the small room as though expecting to see his property awaiting redemption.
Mr. Pinkham possessed a hit-ormiss temperament. Having started the ivory grapes and cupids toward New York, he had given no further thought to method, place, or time of arrival — and here was the reckoning. ‘Holy Timotheus,’ he thought, ‘where is the umbrella? Something must be done at once.’
‘I ‘m delighted to see you, Major,’ said the Assistant-Secretary, most cordially wringing his visitor’s rather tepid hand. ‘Just back from Canada, I take it? ‘
‘Yes, arrived here yesterday.’
‘Well, the fact is, I’m just back myself. I went over to Canada also. Met some friends just after I saw you, and went up to Montreal and back by the Adirondack route.’
‘Where’s the umbrella?’ asked the Major apprehensively.
‘You see, like yourself, I was n’t returning directly, so I asked Mr. Walter Randall to bring it back, and I have n’t had a chance yet to see him.’
The Major stroked the hairy undulations on his waistcoat, and looked decidedly annoyed.
‘Randall,’ he remarked. ‘I know him. A flighty, sporty creature. The last man in our Association to whose care I should have entrusted that valuable piece of property. That umbrella, Mr. Pinkham, belonged to my great uncle. It is more than fifty years old.’
Mr. Pinkham needed no prodding. He was terrorized, though outwardly calm.
‘Don’t worry,’ he said assuringly; ‘I’ll see Mr. Randall to-morrow. Where can I reach you?’
‘I shall call next Monday.’ Whereupon Major Whitehouse abruptly departed.
The Assistant-Secretary at once wrote to South Orange, N. J.: —
DEAR MR. RANDALL, — Major Whitehouse has called upon me for his umbrella, You will recall that I was to have brought it back with me from Bretton Woods and you kindly agreed to Joe Kittredge’s request to relieve me of the charge. Please write or telephone me at once where I can see you.
I’m awfully sorry to bother you, but I am much embarrassed. Major Whitehouse is likely to be trying
. You, of course, recall the particular umbrella I mean — big old black silk affair, ivory handle, bunch of grapes, two cupids. Please answer promptly.
E. W. PINKHAM, Assistant-Secretary.
The second day brought this reply: — DEAR MR. PINKHAM, — I have n’t the Whitehouse umbrella. After you left, several of us in the grill at Bretton Woods had a good deal of sport over that heirloom and tossed up to see who would be the goat. For the life of me I can’t recall who lost. I was out first round, so I did n’t worry. Try Cobb — I think he was one of the bunch — Thomas Porter Cobb, something Broadway, Pittsburgh. He’s in the address list. I’m sorry you are bothered.
W. K. RANDALL.
Mr. Pinkham’s concern grew apace as he read this careless response. The Major’s opinion seemed verified. What would the Major say? Again he wrote: —
DEAR MR. COBB, — I promised Major Whitehouse to carry back for him to New York from Bretton Woods a fine old family umbrella — large, black silk, ivory handle carved to represent a bunch of grapes and two cupids. At the last moment I decided to take a motor trip and Mr. Walter Randall agreed to take charge of the umbrella. He now says he thinks you took it off his hands. The Major is back. He wants his umbrella. I am a good deal embarrassed. Please send it to me at once if you have it, or tell me, if you can, who has it. I’m in a dreadful hurry about this.
E. W. PINKHAM, Assistant-Secretary.
On Saturday a letter postmarked Pittsburgh lay on Mr. Pinkham’s desk when he reached the office. He opened it in haste.
DEAR SIR, — Answering yours of recent date. I have no knowledge of the matter to which you refer. I left Bretton Woods Saturday afternoon immediately after the closing meeting.
Why not try Hotchkiss? He was constantly with Randall — Marcus P. Hotchkiss, Tontine Building, New Haven, Connecticut.
T. P. COBB.
‘Holy Smoke!’ groaned Mr. Pinkham. ‘There are 1634 members in the Association, not including eleven in England, four in France, and three in Italy. Three hundred and eighteen of them attended the Bretton Woods meeting. Have I got to circularize all of them? And if I must can I live through the assaults of Major Whitehouse?’
Mr. Pinkham paused and looked out of the window. ‘Major Whitehouse,’ he repeated slowly to himself, ‘is about the only person who does n’t laugh. He does n’t even smile.’ It was not a comforting thought.
Again Mr. Pinkham wrote: —
DEAR MR. HOTCHKISS, — Did you bring back from our Association meeting at Bretton Voods a large, old-fashioned silk umbrella with a carved ivory handle, bunch of grapes and two cupids?
I promised Major Whitehouse of Jersey City to bring the umbrella back for him, but did not return direct. Mr. Walter Randall offered to help me out. The Major values his umbrella very highly, and now he wants it. Mr. Randall said he had the umbrella when with a crowd of our members and persuaded one of them to take charge of it for him. He thought it was Mr. Cobb of Pittsburgh. Mr. Cobb writes it was n’t he, but thinks it was you. Please help me out. Have you got the umbrella? Wire if you have. If you have n’t it, do you know who has it? I am much troubled. Yours truly,
E. W. PINKHAM,
The Assistant-Secretary of the A.A.A.I. may have deserved to spend a troubled week-end. Whether he deserved to do so or not, that was the kind of a week-end he spent.
Monday forenoon the door of Mr. Pinkham’s office opened and Major D. Pringle Whitehouse — again unannounced— entered. The Major was reserved. Mr. Pinkham was cordial with a suggestion of embarrassment.
‘Did you see Randall?’ asked the Major abruptly.
‘No, I wrote him and am expecting to get some word in a day or so.’
The Major’s face darkened. ‘Mr. Pinkham, I feel you have sadly neglected one of the duties of your position.’
‘I was not elected to carry umbrellas,’ replied the desperate Pinkham.
‘You were elected by the Association to be of use to the members, sir.’
Anger got the best of the Pinkham discretion, never particularly prominent.
‘I am tired and sick of this umbrella business,’ he snapped.
‘Let me get you a new umbrella.’
‘ I don’t want it.’
‘I don’t want it.’
‘Don’t want it.’
‘I ‘ll give you an umbrella annuity, one every year.’
‘ I don’t want it! ‘ shouted the Major. ‘I am amply able to buy umbrellas by the gross. I want the one I entrusted to you. I value that umbrella very highly. It came to me by inheritance from a great uncle. I have carried it for thirty years. I must have it, even if you are obliged to call personally on every member of the Association who attended the meeting. I will give you one week to show progress.’
The door closed upon the departing Whitehouse, and Mr. Pinkham sank back exhausted. A few days later the Hotchkiss reply arrived: —
Sorry to say I cannot send you Whitehouse’s umbrella with ivory grapes and cupids. I was with Randall before he left Bretton Woods and I think he turned that relic over to Penfield, not A. M. but O. Penfield, of Baltimore. Don’t write Penfield. Get a requisition from the Governor and go there yourself. That is the only chance with O. P.
It’s a special Providence for Whitehouse that I am not the custodian of his octogenarian ‘brell. I am looking for an umbrella big enough to protect more than my hat.
MARCUS P. HOTCHKISS.
With sinking heart Mr. Pinkham resumed correspondence.
DEAR MR. PENFIELD, —
A large, old-fashioned, black silk umbrella, with ivory handle carved to represent a bunch of grapes and two cupids was left in my charge, as Assistant-Secretary of the A.A.A.I., at the Bretton Woods meeting by Major D. P. Whitehouse. I depended on Mr. W. K. Randall to bring it to New York. He forgets who really did bring it — suggested Cobb of Pittsburgh. Mr. Cobb denies responsibility and thought it was Hotchkiss. He says he has n’t it, but is confident you are the custodian. I am in great distress. Major Whitehouse is making me considerable trouble. Please telegraph at my expense all you know about this affair. I shall be grateful for your help. Yours truly,
E. W. PINKHAM,
Again Mr. Pinkham looked off at the Goddess of Liberty. It all seemed so hopeless. The joy had mostly gone out of life. In three days more the towering form from Jersey City would again appear in his office, coldly stroking that avenging beard. Mr. Pinkham was really all in. He had had a chance to win the favor and confidence of the A.A.A.I. and here he was circularizing the members that he was untrustworthy !
The Assistant-Secretary was sitting with his head in his hands, the picture of rather volatile despair, when Mr. Connors breezed in.
‘What’s the matter, Eddie?’
‘I’ve lost Whitehouse’s umbrella.’ ‘Glad of it. Anybody who makes D. Pringle lose anything — yea, verily, even one hair of his whiskers — is a star. Credit and fame are yours.’
Mr. Pinkham smiled feebly. ‘It was a professional trust,’ he said. ‘Because I was an officer of our Association, the Major trusted his valuable umbrella — heirloom, big black silk affair with handle carved like grapes and cupids — to me to bring home from Bretton Woods. I shirked it and went on a motor trip. Randall was to bring it back. He flipped up with a bunch to see who’d get stuck, and can’t recall now who was the goat. He guessed Cobb. Cobb guesses Hotchkiss. Hotchkiss guesses Penfield. Lord only knows who Penfield will guess. There are three hundred and twelve shots left. It ‘s awful. I can’t sleep, I can’t work. Monday old Whitehouse is due in this office again. What ‘ll I do?'
Obviously Mr. Pinkham was in earnest, a most unusual phenomenon. His employer seemed concerned.
‘Cut it all out, Eddie,’ he said kindly. ‘You can’t work in this shape. Beat it, be elsewhere when the enemy arrives. There’s the Twohig matter in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Go up there for a few days, see Twohig, and get out circulars to the A.A.A.I’
It was a hot late-July day. The sultry haze obscured the wide outlook over the harbor. It did not take long to approve of the chief’s suggestion.
In Boston, where Mr. Pinkham spent the following night, it continued to be impossible to escape from the depressing influence of the umbrella mystery. At breakfast Mr. Pinkham heard himself being paged. He responded apprehensively, only to receive this telegram: —
‘Charley Ross, Dorothy Arnold, the Whitehouse cupids,’ groaned Mr. Pinkham. ‘One thing is certain,’ he mused, ‘for a while I am out of reach of the still small voice of D. Pringle Whitehouse. I ‘ll wait until to-morrow to write Graham, Williamstown.’ Whereupon, having squeezed a final half cup of coffee from the reluctant pot, he paid his bill and took a taxi to the North Station, where he picked up a ticket and a chair for Portsmouth on the Portland Bangor Express.
Once on the train, increasing distance from the office and a natural tendency to scatter made it easy for Mr. Pinkham to forget his troubles. He settled down to a magazine, but not without noticing, after the manner of his kind, that the passenger opposite him was a very attractive girl. She could n’t have outstripped twenty-one or -two. She had brown hair and a wonderful complexion, wore a very smart blue suit and a close hat of straw decorated with a very assertive blue bow. Mr. Pinkham also furtively observed gray silk stockings and gray suède shoes, which added considerably to the highly favorable impression. This opposite neighbor was far and away the most agreeable outlook from Mr. Pinkham’s seat. From the car window the purlieus of Salem which soon succeeded those of Lynn offered little competition to the pleasant prospect across the aisle. The Assistant-Secretary sighed a little. It would be wonderful, but was so impossible. He resigned himself to mere reading, but first swept the car with a detached, impersonal glance. The opposite neighbor’s suitcase reposed in the unoccupied chair ahead; her gray sport coat was flung carelessly in the rack above, partly covering a rather long black umbrella with a white —
Mr. Pinkham’s glance stopped suddenly at the rack. He almost stopped breathing. It was a long black silk umbrella. That much was clear of the coat. The handle was mostly concealed. It was ivory white. There was something on it that looked like a ‘small curly human head.
‘Holy Moses!’ ejaculated the horrified Mr. Pinkham, ‘am I so far gone that common objects of daily life look to me like big umbrellas and ivory cupids? ‘
Nervously he again tried to read. Vain. Again he studied the rack. This time boldly. Any man can look at a Pullman baggage rack without giving offense.
‘Good Lord!’ exclaimed Mr. Pinkham to himself. ‘What am I to do?’
It’s a big black silk umbrella unless I am batty. It’s got an ivory handle. I actually believe that’s a cupid. There can’t be two such curios on earth. I’ve written to New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Maryland, and now suppose that blamed umbrella is there, across the aisle, actually headed for Maine or Canada and getting away from me forever. Something must be done right off. It really must,’ he added desperately.
The attention of the young woman was vaguely attracted by the queer attitude of the opposite passenger. She looked furtively across at him from her book. The passing thought that actuated her glance was something like this: ‘Queer-acting fellow opposite. Rather good looking. Well dressed. Looks like a New Yorker. He acts fussed. Somehow he’s awfully funny. I wish —’
Mr. Pinkham fidgeted more than ever and shut up his magazine. ‘Something has got to be done,’ he repeated. ‘If that is Whitehouse’s great uncle’s umbrella before my eyes, can I get off this train and write a letter to Graham asking where it is? I’m a fool already. What shall I be then?’ The logic of this query was appalling.
Mr. Pinkham had his failings, but he possessed that aplomb with the other sex which characterizes the present younger generation as compared with the generation which ripened before the Spanish War. He arose and bowed as gracefully as ‘the rolling rail’ permitted.
‘Pardon me,’said Mr. Pinkham most politely. ‘I notice you have a lather remarkable umbrella. Do you suppose you could let me look at it?’
The girl looked astonished. ‘My umbrella?’ she repeated vaguely.
‘Yes. I’d awfully like to look at the handle.’
An expression of intense amusement came over an especially pretty face.
‘Is n’t he bright?' she thought. ‘I never heard of anything so original. How Mabel will scream when I tell her about it.’
‘You seem awfully interested in umbrellas.’
‘Oh, I am!’ protested Mr. Pinkham eagerly.
‘Do you collect umbrellas?’
‘ Why no, you see I have a friend who has an umbrella — ‘
‘Yes, it’s a corker. It’s awfully old. My friend inherited it. He died in 1890.
I mean my friend’s great uncle did. He left it as an only bequest. Fifty years old.’
‘Who is fifty years old, your friend’s uncle?’
‘No, no, the umbrella.’
The girl laughed. Anybody would have laughed. Mr. Pinkham never looked funnier.
‘You see,’ Mr. Pinkham floundered on, ‘my friend was awfully attached to his uncle — I mean his uncle’s umbrella — almost like a son to him.’
‘His uncle was like a son to your friend?’
‘No, no, the umbrella was!’
‘Your friend must have a very affectionate disposition if he treats his umbrella like a member of the family.’ She laughed again. Mr. Pinkham laughed, though rather more nervously than Mr. Pinkham usually laughed.
The young lady arose and extracted her umbrella from the rack. With evident amusement she handed it to this excruciating man. How would he ‘land’ from such an absurd excuse onto solid ground?
Mr. Pinkham forgot his attractive neighbor. The umbrella was large — altogether too large for a girl. Black silk. It had a richly tinted ivory handle representing a bunch of grapes and two cupids.
‘My God!’ muttered Mr. Pinkham, ‘it’s Whitehouse’s umbrella. What ‘ll I do next?’
This agonized query was not easy to answer. Certain it was that Mr. Pinkham did not cut an especially dignified figure as he swayed in the aisle grasping a big umbrella and gazing intently at the handle.
‘ I’ve been awfully interested in umbrellas,’ he said, breaking the momentary silence, ‘ because my friend lost his and I’ve been trying to help him find it.’
The look of amusement faded from the face of the umbrella’s attractive owner. She said coldly, ‘ So you suspect that my umbrella is stolen property?’
‘ No, oh no!'
‘I’ll trouble you for it. I’m willing to allow that umbrella to be admired — if anybody wants to admire an umbrella —but that does n’t mean identification as stolen property.’
Saying which, the young woman laid the umbrella on the floor by the steam pipe, and turned her chair toward the window.
Mr. Pinkham realized he was up against a large, man-sized crisis. He realized also that his only hope of following the Whitehouse relic further was to change his tactics, and at once.
‘I have a confession to make,’ said Mr. Pinkham meekly. ‘Please don’t refuse to hear it.’
The girl made no reply, but she wheeled her chair around and faced the umbrella sleuth.
‘Nothing to it.'
‘Your uncle, you mean?’
‘Yes, my friend, his uncle, the umbrella, and all the dope. Nothing to it.’
There was a slight twinkle in a most attractive pair of brown eyes, but no change of expression. ‘Is n’t he perfectly killing?' was the girl’s amused thought. ‘Did you ever see such a fool? He’s awfully bright. I never would have thought he could get down to earth so cleverly. And funny! Somehow I never saw anything so funny before! ‘
‘You mean there was n’t any truth in anything you said?’
‘Absolutely no truth whatever. I just had to get acquainted with you. I was desperate. I could n’t offer any little assistance, not even a magazine or paper. I could n’t see a ghost of a show of rescuing you from bandits or violence— certainly not before I get to Portsmouth. Time was short. It’s shorter still now. Please forgive me. I really was desperate,’stammered Mr. Pinkham with a timid, ingratiating smile. He permitted the sway of the car to lurch him a little nearer the adjoining vacant seat.
The owner of the umbrella laughed. It was not due altogether to a sudden relenting on her part. This was one of the rare instances in Mr. Pinkham’s career in which the involuntary mirth which he inspired was fortunate.
During the agreeable hour which followed, Mr. Pinkham exerted himself feverishly to secure some information concerning his companion, but in vain. With unusual skill she avoided giving him any clue to her identity. She was going to Portland. That was easy. Where did she come from? Who was she? Portsmouth was fast approaching. Mr. Pinkham was getting desperate.
‘I think you might tell me your name,’ he pleaded.
‘It’s not of the least consequence to you. Select any nice name from the ‘phone book that will go well with the first one. Schermerhorn or Munion, for example, would be excellent.’
‘Don’t you want to know my name? Don’t you want ever to see me again?’ asked Mr. Pinkham plaintively.
‘I’ ve told you my first name. What is yours?’
‘Fine. That’s all I need. An eddy goes round in a circle. You’ve cut several circles this morning.’
‘I’d like to tell you my last name and give you my address. Please let’s exchange, Natalie,’ pleaded Mr. Pinkham, though rather hurriedly. The porter was intimating that Portsmouth was near at hand.
‘Oh no, not your last name. I could n’t stand it. I know so many Eddies now that I almost cut circles myself. Where I live there are more men than anything else. Cheer up, we can’t exchange addresses.’
The train stopped as Mr. Pinkham was fervidly protesting his enjoyment of the morning’s experience. The self-possessed Natalie smiled again. Again she could n’t help it. With furtive glance at the projecting ferule of D. Pringle Whitehouse’s umbrella, Mr. Pinkham turned reluctantly to depart . Evidently Miss Natalie noticed his glance.
‘Remember me to your great uncle, Eddie!’ she said and turned to the window. ,
Mr. Pinkham had not been entirely idle, however. In his pocket he had a very dainty Madeira handkerchief. On the platform he hastily examined it. In one corner were the initials ‘N. G.’
For some unexplained reason, Mr. Edward Withers Pinkham was in an especially cheerful mood when he sought repose that evening in a Portsmouth hotel.
‘ I’m near the end of the trail — trail — trail!’ chanted Mr. Pinkham sonorously, beginning low and ending high, as he hung his necktie on the chandelier and airily did an imaginary fox trot. Possibly the day’s experience had had something to do with his good humor, or perhaps — and, at that, a more likely perhaps — it all arose from the letter he had written to Professor Dawson Graham, Williamstown, Mass.
DEAR PROFESSOR GRAHAM,—
I am in a peck of trouble. I promised to bring back from Bretton Woods for D. Pringle Whitehouse of Jersey City, a big black silk umbrella with ivory handle representing a bunch of grapes and two cupids. I was prevented from returning directly and persuaded Randall to bring the umbrella back. Randall put the job off on someone else — he forgets who — thought it was Cobb of Pittsburgh. Cobb denied it and suggested Hotchkiss of New Haven. Hotchkiss also said no, and suggested Penfield of Baltimore. Penfield telegraphs me you are the man.
Meantime Whitehouse is getting very troublesome, and I am much concerned — so much so that I am going to stay here in Portsmouth a few days and, while here, try to locate that umbrella. It’s pretty valuable, old as the hills, heirloom, and all that. Please help me out. I do hope you have the thing or can toll me where it is so I can go at once and get it.
E. W. PINKHAM,
‘It ‘s that last sentence. It ‘ll do the trick. I see the gates of Paradise gaily gleaming — gaily gleaming,’ sang Mr. Pinkham as he dived into bed.
Nearly a week elapsed before a letter bearing the Williamstown postmark reached the hand of the troubled and somewhat, overwrought Assistant-Secretary. It read: —
DEAR MR. PINKHAM, —
I regret to tell you that you have at last located the guilty party in the
Whitehouse umbrella episode. When I was at Bretton Woods I expected to go directly to New York, so I offered to take that umbrella with me. On reaching Greenfield I decided to go home for a few days and then on to New York. One thing after another has delayed the trip, and the Whitehouse umbrella stood — as I supposed — safely in the household umbrella stand. When your letter came I prepared to wrap it securely and express it to you, but it was not to be found. I have searched everywhere, and made inquiries about town, but in vain.
Mrs. Graham suggests that perhaps our daughter, Natalie, took it with her when she left home last week on a trip to Boston and Portland. She was starting without an umbrella, but it may be that after her mother’s comments the Whitehouse umbrella appealed to my daughter’s sense of humor and that she took the heirloom with her. I can think of no other way to account for its disappearance, and wrote at once to my daughter asking her to reply by return mail and also to write direct to you if she had the umbrella. A letter was received from her to-day but she forgets to make any reference to the umbrella, so all I can do is to send you the facts with deep regret.
You are near Portland. If you have the time and it is worth while, you might, make personal inquiry. My daughter is visiting a classmate and will remain another week at least. I enclose a card with the Portland address. Yon may have heard from her already.
I am really most upset over this, and shall keep searching. With much regret,
Mr. Pinkham folded up the letter. ‘Have you a time-table of trains between Portsmouth and Portland?’ he inquired of the hotel clerk most politely.
There was quite another state of affairs in Portland.
Miss Natalie Graham had arrived safely, bag and baggage, and had been met and demonstratively greeted by Miss Mabel Parkhurst, and thereafter, with beautiful weather and much doing day and evening, a week was slipping by when a letter from Williamstown seemed to disturb Miss Parkhurst’s attractive guest.
It was in the forenoon. The two girls were sitting on the broad verandah together. Natalie’s face became grave and perplexed.
‘Mabel,’ she demanded, ‘where is that umbrella?’
‘You know that absurd man I told you about and his clever excuses. The umbrella — the one I had. My dear, where is it?’
‘ I thought he took it.’
‘ Took it? Of course not. I must have left it in the Pullman. I have n’t given the awful thing a thought since that man got off the car at Portsmouth. I was a fool to take it. It was six feet long and weighed a ton. Nobody needs an umbrella, but Mother insisted and so I took along a monstrosity, and first that man grabbed at it, and now it’s lost and father writes for it.’
‘ The man who scraped acquaintance with you stole it,’ said Miss Parkhurst tranquilly.
‘He did nothing of the sort. He was a dear. He was no thief,’ retorted Natalie.
‘He has it.'
‘Let’s go to the station and sec if the umbrella was turned in.’
Half an hour later began a vigorous search for the Whitehouse umbrella, with tracer papers started to the Pullman and to the porter, who, meantime, had been transferred.
And so it happened that Natalie wrote an enthusiastic letter home about Portland, but said nothing about the Whitehouse umbrella — because there was nothing to say.
It was about five-thirty on a warm bright summer afternoon when Mr. Edward Withers Pinkham ascended the broad verandah-steps of a spacious old-fashioned house in Portland and inquired for Miss Graham.
Mr. Pinkham was blissfully ignorant of the hurried conference that was held upstairs when his card and Professor Graham’s introduction were presented to Natalie.
‘What shall I do?’ she exclaimed distractedly. ‘If we could only be sure of hearing from that Lost and Found tracer by to-morrow, somehow I could put him off a day.’
‘Nat, you ‘re too mild. I ‘ll help you see this through. It will not be tomorrow. Prepare for the worst. You don’t know railroads. They ‘ll take a week at least. This man seems all right to take on, and we ‘ll rush him off his feet. We ‘ll kill all his umbrella longings. You vamp him and I ‘ll crowd the social end.’
Nothing in the demure, rather subdued appearance of Natalie Graham, looking wondrously attractive that warm summer afternoon in a gown of filmiest shell-pink voile, remotely suggested a vamp. She greeted the slightly embarrassed Mr. Pinkham very cordially. There was a hint of penitence in her manner (perhaps partly genuine if the tracer could be ignored).
‘It was n’t necessary to give you my address, as you asked me to do, and I did n’t need yours because my father supplied it several days ago. You see, it was all neatly attended to for us.’
‘It. was a plain case of Providence,’ put in Mr. Pinkham eagerly. ‘ I’m dreadfully sorry you have been so annoyed over that wretched old umbrella.’ The Assistant-Secretary was now serenely tranquil over the Whitehouse relic. Had he not reached the end of the trail? And had the trail not led to a wonderful girl? Blessings on Whitehouse! Hail ivory grapes and cupids!
‘Let’s go out on the verandah. There’s a delightful one at the side of the house.’ And Natalie led the way to a vine-protected corner where several big chairs invited to conversation.
‘I don’t suppose,’ added Miss Graham daringly, ‘that you want that horrible old umbrella to caress while you talk?’
‘Forget it,’ said Mr. Pinkham. ‘I feel now as though I never wanted to see that umbrella again. And yet,’ he added, the natural Pinkham beginning to appear, ‘I ought to be more than grateful. Did not those ivory cupids— ‘
‘My friend, Mabel Parkhurst, Mr. Eddie Pinkham.’
Miss Parkhurst laughed. Miss Graham laughed. Everybody always did laugh when introduced to Mr. Pinkham. On this occasion Mr. Pinkham laughed.
‘I heard you say you were grateful,’ said Mabel Parkhurst. ‘It’s too early for that, because you are going to stay to supper, then we ‘ll take you over to bridge at the Robinson’s and a little dance at the end. No excuse.’
‘ I planned to spend the night at the hotel here in Portland, anyway,’ admitted Mr. Pinkham, and so the Whitehouse umbrella was forgotten a second time. The first time Mr. Pinkham airily assumed it was traveling to New York on the arm of Randall, the kindly helper. It was n’t. The second time, he assumed just as airily that the grapes and cupids were reposing in Natalie’s room. They were not. The Lord only knew where they were reposing just at that moment.
The week which followed was not calculated to encourage meditations on umbrellas. Mr. Edward Withers Pinkham was no anchorite. He was a lively, gregarious soul, and he had progressed so far in the malady of love that he gave no thought to the empty chair on the seventeenth floor of the Engineering Building, New York, and a possibly irate employer. Natalie was so absorbing, so wonderful! Somehowher manner toward him had distinctly changed. Mr. Pinkham could not know that even the Lost and Found Bureau at the Boston Terminal had been appealed to by telephone in vain and that the approaching necessity for a tragic accounting was weighing hourly more and more heavily.
The worst of it for Natalie was that there was something awfully attractive about Eddie. Of course he was a perfect scream. One wanted to laugh every time one looked at him, but he was certainly a peach — so well-bred, so thoughtful of her, so devoted — and she just knew he cared.
This was the general state of affairs in Portland, Maine, on a bright August Tuesday morning when Mr. Pinkham came down rather late to breakfast after a most delightful outing the evening before. A night letter awaited him.
AROUND PORTLAND STOP WHITE-
HOUSE HAS THAT OLD UMBRELLA
YOU KEEP YAPPING ABOUT STOP
YOUR EXCUSE ABSURD STOP CUT
OUT LOAFING AND GET BACK ON
JOB STOP BE AT DESK WEDNESDAY
MORNING OR FIRED
The staggering effect of this message on Mr. Edward Withers Pinkham was no greater than that produced in the not distant Parkhurst mansion upon Natalie Graham by a letter from Bangor, Maine, that awaited her when she also appeared at the breakfast table. It read: —
DEAR MISS GRAHAM, —
Referring to our several telephone conversations concerning the whereabouts of your umbrella left in Pullman car Rangeley on July 30. I find that an umbrella closely resembling the one you describe was claimed from our Lost and Found office last week by a New York party named Randall, who was here searching for a bag of golf sticks.
The umbrella was delivered to claimant upon his statement of ownership. Evidently yours was not turned in at Bangor. Regret that this office cannot be of service.
Breakfast had no allurements for Natalie. She was curiously silent. ‘I am going to leave on the ten-o’clock,’she announced to Mabel Parkhurst as soon as they were alone. ‘I can’t see Eddieagain; I shall write him a note and tell him the truth. I simply cannot talk to him, Mabel, and tell him I have made such a fool of myself.'
Natalie slipped out of the room, packed hurriedly and wrote a very brief, very penitent note which she entrusted to her hostess for delivery. While the motor waited, she crossed the street to bid the Robinson girls good-bye.
Mr. Edward Withers Pinkham recovered enough from his bewilderment to put on his hat and start mechanically for the Parkhurst house.
Whitehouse had his accursed umbrella. How did he get it i It was standing in Natalie Graham’s room in Portland. Were there twin black silk umbrellas half a century old with ivory handles — grapes — cupids? The
rebuked and smarting Pinkham gave it up and quickened his pace. There was Natalie now.
‘Natalie!’ called the Assistant-Secretary of the A.A.A.I.
No escape. Miss Graham turned on the top step and looked defiantly at her pursuer.
‘I’m going to New York this noon,’ he said.
‘You are slow. I ‘m leaving for Boston now.’
‘Anything wrong? Anyone sick?’ he asked.
‘No. I’m in trouble. I’ve told stories — I’ve made a fool of myself.’
‘You haven’t got anything on me,’ said Mr. Pinkham bitterly. ‘ I’ve made of myself the biggest boob in all America. It was n’t your umbrella at all! Besides, I’ve almost lost my job. Read that!’ He thrust the brutal night letter into Natalie’s hand.
She read it through twice — and laughed. Really Eddie was too funny! Poor lamb, he was such a picture of woe! And then more and more peals of laughter. Mr. Pinkham had always loved to hear Natalie laugh. She laughed very well. Not so this time. Now he was the cause. It was the same old reason. Everybody always laughed at him. Usually he did n’t care. Now it was different. Here he was — bewildered, losing his job, and in love, and the only girl he had ever really cared for thought he was just funny!
Mr. Pinkham sat down on the top step. ‘Don’t laugh! Everybody else does — please don’t! I can’t stand it. Of course I know you don’t care for me and I haven’t any chance—I’ll try to be brave about it — only please don’t laugh, please — ‘ he pleaded, jumping up and grasping her hand.
‘ Don’t you think, Eddie — ‘ there was an unusual gentleness in the girl’s voice— ‘that the front steps is a poor place to discuss — umbrellas! ‘