A Flyer in Pearls
THE dinner bugle blared through the corridors of B Deck in a pompous crescendo. As it reached Eve Wareham’s stateroom door, it achieved a triumphant, sputtering climax; then passed on astern, leaving in its wake a gradual diminuendo of sound.
Eve hurried into her dinner frock. She was late, and she hurried a little too much. A bit of the delicate beige lace caught on a hairpin somewhere at the back of her head. Try as she would, she could not dislodge it without tearing the lovely frock, or else pulling down her hair.
She was letting her bob grow out; and just now it was no easy matter to do it up securely and at the same time becomingly. It was so late, she simply could n’t pull those hairpins out and begin all over again. Instead, she rang for the stewardess and stood staggeringly before her swaying mirror until the woman appeared.
‘Please untangle me, stewardess,’ she said. ‘I’m so afraid I’ll tear my frock. I got it in Paris, just before I left, and I don’t want to ruin it the very first thing!’
‘Now don’t you worry, dearie!’ answered the stewardess, soothingly. ‘I’ll have it all right in a jiffy. There you are! And not a thread broken! However did you manage to get it wound around that hairpin like that, miss?’
‘I don’t know. I suppose I was hurrying. Thanks, ever so much. What should I do without you? We’re only two days out, and yet you’ve been simply wonderful, already! A real friend in need! I never had such a nice stewardess! ’
‘I’m sure I thank you, miss!’ beamed the stewardess, smugly. ‘Anything I can do for a sweet young lady like yourself on the voyage — of course. — Aren’t you a-forgetting the pearls, miss?’
‘Why, I had! Just think of my going out and leaving them in my stateroom for anyone to make off with! ’ And Eve snatched up a choker of exquisite small pearls and fastened them around her neck. ‘Thanks for reminding me.’
‘You need n’t of worried, though, miss. I’d always lock your door for you if you ever went out and left it unfastened,’ cooed the stewardess, smoothing her apron. ‘Anything more I can do for you now, dearie?’
‘I wish she wouldn’t call me “dearie,”’ thought Eve, as she staggered lurchingly down the swaying corridor toward the lift. ‘But she’s so kind and helpful. She has certainly been wonderfully good to me. I must give her a very big tip before we land.’
Eve’s place in the dining saloon was at a table that seated eight. Five of the eight were ‘cruise people’ — that is, they were a section of a Raymond and Whitcomb Mediterranean cruise party.
A large cruise is like a human kaleidoscope. It is made up of everchanging groups. When the cruise starts, certain people are drawn together more or less by accident. As the cruise drifts on, these groups drift apart, only to form other groups. These, too, are ever-changing. Misunderstandings, getting to know one another too well or too ill, boredoms, envies, heartaches — any one of these is enough to break up a seemingly unbreakable clique.
It is only the group which sticks together as the voyage nears the Statue of Liberty that really counts, in the long run. This group has a chance for permanent friendship. Together they have seen unforgettable things. They have climbed mountains and descended into caverns and catacombs together. They have dragged their weary limbs back to the boat and complained wholeheartedly and earnestly, to each other, about the cruise management. They have been seasick and recovered, side by side. They have played cards together, day after day, in the smoke room or lounge, and still remain friends.
Sometimes, on very stormy Sundays, they have flocked to Divine Service together, and sung familiar hymns about the Deep; seriously, and rather tremblingly. At other times, with their heads closely bunched, they have gossiped more or less harmlessly about all the other groups. What more does one need to cement a friendship?
Such a group were the ruling majority at Eve Wareham’s table. The most pervasive of them were Mrs. Stone and Miss Stone, of New Haven, Connecticut — a mother and daughter who were determined to miss nothing on the trip, whether or no they died in an attempt to see everything.
Mrs. Stone was at least seventy, her daughter over thirty. They were both kittenish, flirtatious, and given to neck chains, floating panels, and Egyptian scarves. Barring these slight failings, and a desire to thrash every subject out to a finish, they were nice people and good company.
At the head of the table sat Mr. Yandall, a Pittsburgh lawyer, with his wife on his right. They were nice, too. Mr. Yandall ‘always managed to let someone else do all the tipping,’ so the Stones confided to Eve the first day out; and he was ‘ a poor loser at cards; but he was clever!’ Mrs. Yandall was charming in every way.
Next came the fifth member of the cruise group, Mrs. Cater of New York, a pitiful little slip of a widow, in deep mourning. Her steamer chair was next Eve’s, on the promenade deck; and, she confided to the latter, she had undertaken the cruise all alone as a last resort, to cure her of insomnia. She was glad to find that Eve also was from New York.
‘It gives us a sort of fellow feeling,’ she had said. ‘There are hardly any New York people on this boat.’
Between Mrs. Cater and Eve sat Mr. Van Benthuysen, lately graduated from Oxford, and thus far guiltless of cruise life. On Eve’s other side, completing the eight, sat a charming, white-haired old chap named Wright, from Baltimore, who loved to talk about his rose garden, and Grand Opera.
‘There’s quite a sea on to-night,’ he said to Eve, as she dropped into her chair beside him. ‘There are lots of vacancies in the dining room, I notice. Hope you’re a good sailor, and feel hungry, Miss Wareham.’
‘I am — and I do, thanks. I feel as if I could eat a house to-night, and I’ve never been seasick in my life.’
‘The Captain’s not down to-night,’ put in Mrs. Cater, nervously. ‘Do you think it’s going to be very rough?’
‘It does n’t make much difference, in this big floating hotel,’ said Mr. Yandall pompously.
‘Do you realize,’ demanded Miss Stone, of the whole table, ‘that this is by far the largest boat we’ve been in on the whole cruise? By jar the largest? Is n’t that interesting?’ And she beamed about the table inquiringly.
‘What’s so interesting about it?’ muttered Mr. Van Benthuysen, sotto voce, to Eve. ‘ Does it seem particularly hair-raising news to you?’
Eve laughed. ‘ Perhaps it might,’ she muttered in return, ‘if you and I’d been on the cruise; but we have n’t, though we’ve heard so much about it during the last two days, we might almost pass an examination in its more salient features. For instance—’
‘Did you ever ride a camel, Mr. Van Benthuysen?’ broke in Miss Stone.
‘Once,’ said Mr. Van Benthuysen, rather irritably. ‘It had adenoids. I did n’t like the way it sniffed all the time. It was a mouth-breather. We did n’t get on very well.’
‘Do you really mean to say the camel actually had adenoids, Mr. Van Benthuysen?’ asked Mrs. Stone. ‘The kind you or I might have?’
‘What an interesting phenomenon!’ guffawed Mr. Yandall. ‘I’ll bet that camel was a rough pet, all right! By the way, have you made out your declarations? I got mine this morning; and I was so hard at work on the blamed thing just before dinner, I nearly forgot to dress!’
‘Oh, heavens!’ cried Miss Stone. ‘When I think of all the things we’ve bought! Is n’t it queer how we all buy and buy and BUY, and —’
‘I don’t “buy and buy and buy,”’ put in Mrs. Cater. ‘I can’t afford it, in the first place; and then, I had n’t the heart for it anyway, this time.’ And she gave a slight sigh that was almost inaudible. ‘I really have nothing to declare except a little lingerie and one or two small trinkets. I shan’t have any duty to pay.’
‘You’re lucky,’ said Mrs. Yandall. ‘I had heaps of clothes made in Paris. I wanted to, as we’ll probably never come over again — at least while we’re able to trot about like this. We’re not as young as we were!’
‘Do I have to put down every paper of pins?’ asked Eve. ‘I’ve never traveled alone before, and someone has always done all those silly, unpleasant things for me.’
‘You do, and you don’t,’ said young Van Benthuysen.
‘What do you mean, Mr. Van Benthuysen?’ asked the Stones, in chorus, all attention.
‘I mean, time before last, when I crossed, I put down every solitary thing. The Customs officer complimented me on my declaration — said it was one of the clearest he had ever seen. Last time, I did the very same thing; and the Customs officer — a different one — complained rottenly about it; said, “Why don’t you lump ’em? I don’t want to pore over all those petty details! You ought to say ‘antique weapons’ here, ‘golf suits’ there, ‘leather goods’ here, and so on.”’
‘Oh, dear!’ cried Miss Stone. ‘Have I got to undo all our parcels? We’ve been sending them right to the steamer as fast as we’ve bought things, from the very first! And they all came aboard in one huge package, when we got to Cherbourg! They’re down in the hold. I can’t, go over all those things! I ’ll never get them done up so well again!’
‘I’m afraid you’ll have to, Miss Stone, or get run in for smuggling,’ said Mr. Wright.
‘What a hideous arrangement! I’m not going to open those things! I’ll just put down a lump sum as the price of them — I know it within a dollar or so — and let it go at that.’
‘Don’t run any risks, daughter,’ put in Mrs. Stone anxiously. ‘I should n’t want them to think you were trying to smuggle.’
‘Nonsense, mother! They know who’s smuggling, don’t you worry.’
‘They can’t know till they look, can they?’ said Eve.
‘Indeed they can,’ said Mrs. Yandall ‘Don’t you know, you’re reading of such cases all the time?’
‘Yes, but how can they?’ echoed Mrs. Cater.
‘The long arm of the law is a powerful thing,’ puffed Mr. Yandall, throwing out his chest professionally.
‘They say that the sale of anything over a thousand dollars is reported to the authorities at once, and they are on the lookout for it,’ said Miss Stone. ‘So if you have something valuable and you don’t declare it, naturally they search you.’
‘ Yes, but how can they always tell? Could n’t a thing be so carefully hidden that it could n’t be found?' Eve asked quickly.
‘Not a chance. At least, of course, there is a chance,’ said Van Benthuysen, ‘but the Government has spies everywhere.’
‘I remember reading about a woman who bought something from Cartier’s, and when she got on the ship to come home she took it out of its box and hid it in her handbag, and dropped the box in the wastebasket. Of course the stewardess found it, and reported it— '
‘The stewardess?’ breathed Eve. ‘ How dastardly of her! ’
‘Oh, lots of them do that. That’s part of their business. They get paid for it by the Customs people.’
‘Do you remember that actress who did n’t declare her diamond bracelets last winter?’ said Mrs. Yandall.
‘And the woman whose husband had to pay five thousand dollars to keep her out of jail, about the same time?’ chimed in Mrs. Stone. ‘I forget her name.’
‘But how could a stewardess give away anyone like that?’ persisted Eve, going back to the earlier story.
‘Why, it’s simple enough,’ said Van Benthuysen. ‘They’re only doing their duty as they see it. Then, there’s the reward. That helps. They notice something suspicious about a person. Perhaps it’s a jewel — or some lace or something. Or liquor. Generally the person who is trying to smuggle is nervous; and she responds gladly to the overtures of kindness made by the steward or stewardess, as the case may be. Before she realizes it, the stewardess has her secret.’
‘But how?’ asked Mrs. Cater.
‘Perhaps it’s a ring. The stewardess remarks on the beauty of the ring and says it is a pity to pay such a large amount of duty when the ring must have cost so much — or some such thing. Then, having caught her fish, she plays it. Says she knows ways of eluding the Customs. That she can hide the ring in the lady’s hair in such a way that the inspector can never find it. The upshot is she hides the ring cleverly in the woman’s hair — so cleverly that the inspector himself could never have found it if the stewardess hadn’t sent word just where to look! It’s being done all —’
‘My goodness, Miss Wareham! You’re white as a sheet!’ broke in Miss Stone. ‘Shall I help you out of the dining room?’
Eve had risen suddenly. The room seemed to be receding and advancing by turns. Waves of nausea nearly submerged her.
‘Don’t bother, thank you. It’s just the motion. I think I ’ll go on deck. I’m all right, really.’ And she was gone.
The seven people gazed after her retreating back, blankly.
‘She said she was never seasick,’ said Mr. Wright.
‘She never has been, either, so far,’ said Mrs. Cater. ‘Her deck chair is right by mine, so I know.’
‘How queer! The sea is all calming down again, too!' said Mrs. Stone. ‘Now I wonder whether, perhaps, seasickness couldn’t be retroactive;— like the wash after a boat goes by! Do you suppose it could, perhaps?’
Mr. Van Benthuysen snorted, or came as near it as can one just out of Oxford. His thoughts were following Eve’s white face. He left the table soon and went up on deck to find her. But she was not there.
As a matter of fact, Eve was lying face down on her bed, her hands clenched. Before her tightly shut eyes danced all the careless words about smuggling that had been tossed back and forth across the dinner table. She clasped one hand about her pearl necklace. There it was, still —the awful thing! What on earth should she do with it? How could she have been such a fool as to tell that hideous stewardess it was new! And — just exactly as John Van Benthuysen said — just exactly — the stewardess had promised her she would hide it in the little wad of hair at the nape of her neck where her bob was just long enough to do up! Oh! It was all too fearful!
There was a tap at the door.
‘Who is it?’ the girl asked wearily.
‘Only me, miss,’ answered the sleek voice of the stewardess. ‘I thought you was still at dinner and I came to fix your room for the night. Can I do anything for you?’
Eve opened the door.
‘I don’t feel well,’ she said. ‘I think I ’ll go to bed. Just fix things up for me in a hurry, will you? I want to get my clothes off.’
The stewardess seemed more than usually loquacious, and she drove Eve nearly frantic. At last she was gone, and the girl could lie prone and try to plan.
But no plan would come. Already she saw only Customs officers — disgrace — perhaps jail, she did n’t know. It was her first attempt at smuggling and she was ignorant of just how far the law could go with her.
The pearls had seemed so heavenly when the Paris jeweler had showed them to her! She had always wanted pearls, and these were n’t so frightfully expensive; for, though they were exquisite, they were secondhand. And she had just enough money left, allowing for everything but the duty, to pay for them! It all had seemed so very simple, in the store.
The clerk had said, ‘You’ll wear them in, won’t you?’ and when she had hesitated, ‘You’d be surprised to know how many people do wear them in! ’
She had n’t thought about the duty, until he said that; and though, just for a moment, she had been frightened, she felt that he must know all about such things. He told her not to be nervous, but just to go right ahead and wear them, and no one would be the wiser. So she had bought them. And she had worn them boldly ever since.
Probably, by this time, the jeweler had notified the Customs officer. Whether he had or not, she, like a little fool, had blabbed to the stewardess! Oh, if only — if only she had n’t been so imbecile! What on earth could she do? Let herself be arrested on the pier before all her welcoming family and friends? Should she throw the old pearls into the ocean now — right through the porthole there — and be done with it?
She was strongly tempted to do this. In her excitement she stood up on her bed and pushed the curtain aside, only to be reminded that the window opened on to a deck, not on the ocean.
Should she dress and go aloft and drop the pearls overboard into the black, foamy water?
No! She would n’t! She had bought them! They were hers! She had paid what to her was a small fortune for the pearls. She would n’t give them up until she had to. She set her teeth hard, and vowed to herself that she would find a way to get them in, somehow.
For three days Eve kept her bed; pretending to be seasick — in reality sick with worry. She could hardly bear to have the stewardess bring her her sketchy meals; for now she hated the sight of the woman and she felt that behind the smug face was a triumphant knowledge of the whole situation. Eve always pretended to be asleep when the woman came into the room.
Toward the end of the fifth day out, she got up and dressed. She had a plan, at last. It was a risky plan. It needed careful, quick work. But at least it was better than no plan at all; and it might succeed.
As she made her way to her chair, she found the deck deserted, as she expected, except for one or two somnolent forms. The tea hour was over. Life aboard ship was at a temporary lull. It was not yet time to dress for dinner, or to invite one’s chosen cronies for preprandial cocktails in the smoke room.
Mrs. Cater’s chair, like most of the others, was empty, though her coat and a book gave mute evidence that she was coming back. Eve knew that the black-clad little woman played a solemn game of auction every afternoon at this hour with Mrs. and Miss Stone and Mr. Yandall. Eve had counted on that; and on the fact that Mrs. Cater, with childlike faith, seemed always leaving her coat lying about.
Throwing herself down in her own chair, Eve quickly drew Mrs. Cater’s coat into her lap and snuggled down under it as if she were chilly.
‘Cover you up, miss?’ said the friendly deck steward, appearing from nowhere, as if someone had touched a button. ‘Hope you’re feeling better, miss — ’
‘Oh yes, thank you,’ said Eve. What possessed the man to bob up just then, when every moment counted? When, of all times, she wished most to be alone?
‘I’m all right, now. Just tuck my feet in a bit. That’s all right. I did n’t bring my ulster up on deck, so I’m using Mrs. Cater’s.’
‘C’n I bring you an extra rug, miss?’
‘Oh no, thank you. I’m perfectly all right now.’
After a few remarks on the wonderful calm of the water, and the fineness of the weather, the steward made off, to Eve’s great relief.
With nervous fingers she opened her little vanity bag and took out a tiny blue enamel sewing case, not three inches long. It had been one of her bon voyage presents. In it were tiny scissors, a thimble, and a needle threaded with black thread.
With quick little snips, she ripped the inside of Mrs. Cater’s fur collar just far enough to admit a flat little chamois envelope. Quilted into the envelope, by coarse stitches, lay the pearl necklace. Fastened securely in this way, it could not roll about; nor could it very well be detected through the chamois and the thick fur.
Eve’s fingers trembled as she pulled smooth the buckram stiffening at the back of the collar, sewed the chamois envelope securely to it, and then healed the little gash the scissors had made.
Just as she took the last stitch, Mrs. Cater appeared.
Frantically, Eve bunched the coat up about her mouth, bit off the thread and, her hands hidden under the coat, replaced the little sewing kit in her vanity bag.
She did not attempt to put the coat back.
‘Hello!’ she cried as Mrs. Cater stopped in front of her. ‘I hope you don’t mind my using your coat? I was sleepy and cold, and too lazy to go below for my own coat — ’ She stopped, breathless at her narrow escape.
‘Of course not! Keep it!’ answered Mrs. Cater. ‘I’m so glad to see you up and around again. Are you all right now? Why — you’re shaking! I’m afraid you ’re having a chill! Shall I get you something? You look very ill!’
‘Oh no, thank you! I’m perfectly well,’ Eve answered, through chattering teeth. ‘I’m perfectly well, thank you. I was just utterly tired out, I think. I was on the go so steadily before we sailed. I don’t think I’d have been sick but for that. Here’s your coat. Really I don’t need it any more. Please take it,’ and she laughed with hysterical relief.
‘You must have been pretty sick,’ said Mrs. Cater. ‘ We ’ve all missed you a lot,’ she added, simply. ‘All of us. It’ll be good to see you at the table again. Mr. Van Benthuysen has been quite forlorn.’
From then until the end of the voyage, Eve made it her business carefully to cultivate the precious friendship of Mrs. Cater.
That evening when Eve went down to dress for dinner, she hunted in her trunk for a string of imitation pearls that she had worn in traveling, and until she bought her real ones. Since then they had lain forgotten. The string was a choker, as was the real necklace; and though the imitation pearls were somewhat larger than the real, they were not noticeably different to the untrained observer. From that moment, until she landed, Eve wore them constantly.
The night before the ship was to dock, Eve was locking her trunk preparatory to having it taken out to be piled up with the other luggage. She could hear trunk after trunk bump by on its journey through the corridor and white-sheeted gangway, to the deck.
She was trying not to feel frightened about to-morrow. No one in the world but herself knew where her pearls were. Mrs. Cater had been wearing them about, most innocently, in the back of her fur collar, for two days. Unless Eve herself should go insane and blab, there was no way anyone could find out! Still, when there came a knock at her door, she jumped in spite of herself, though she knew it must be the steward for the trunk — which it was.
In his wake came the stewardess; and as soon as the trunk was out of the way the stewardess shut the door.
‘You ’re not forgetting I promised to hide your pearls for you?’ she said, expectantly.
‘No, thank you,’ Eve forced herself to say calmly, ‘ but I decided to declare them after all. So it won’t be necessary.’
‘Oh,’ said the stewardess blankly. ‘Well, perhaps you’re right; but it seems a pity.’ She waited a moment., still expectantly; but Eve merely gave her an extra-large tip and let it go at that.
‘She does n’t believe me,’ Eve said to herself, ‘but, at any rate, she can’t find the pearls. Nobody can!’
The next day, Eve donned her imitation pearls and walked off the steamer gayly and boldly, though she was sickeningly excited. She quaked.
On the pier people automatically were lining themselves up under their own particular letters, for Customs inspection.
Mrs. Cater, she was relieved to note, would be nearly at the other end of the alphabet from herself, among the C’s. She was thankful she knew no one on the boat whose name began with W, except Mr. Wright. The Yandalls, Mr. Van Benthuysen, and even the Stones were not very far off; but at least they were out of earshot.
How odd it was that no matter how intimate people got, on the voyage, at the end all the little cliques had to disintegrate; all persons had to declare themselves alone — to stand naked, so to speak, in their own corners, awaiting their turns at the judgment seat, to find out what they had to pay.
Was n’t it just a little bit like that, perhaps, when one died, she thought. Just a little? The Voyage; then the waiting, alone, at the end, not knowing quite what one had to pay? How big a sin would smuggling be rated There, she wondered.
For some reason the boat had docked nearly an hour before the advertised time. So no one was waiting for her on the pier. She was profoundly glad of that.
Presently Mrs. Cater went sailing happily by, following her luggage toward the street, the collar of her coat held innocently high. She had the nowdefunct Courtesy of the Port, so her inspection had taken very little time.
She rushed up to Eve and hurriedly kissed her good-bye.
‘Don’t forget you promised to come and see me right away — 969 Park Avenue — it’s on my card! Good-bye again! ’ Then she was gone, and Eve’s pearls with her.
In her relief, Eve waved not only one hand, but both, to Mrs. Cater, as the little black figure disappeared in the crowd.
Eve turned back, to face an inspector.
‘Now let’s see what we’ve got here,’ he said, glancing up and down her declaration.
Then, in an odd voice, he added, ‘We were informed you arc carrying some pearls. You have n’t declared any pearls!' His tone was crisp and accusing.
‘These imitation pearls are the only ones I have about me,’ faltered Eve, ‘ and I bought those in New York before I went over.’
‘Sorry, miss. ’Fraid we’ll have to go into this a little further. Somebody seems to think you’ve got some other pearls! ’
And in spite of Eve’s protestations and those of kindly and distressed Mr. Wright and Mr. Van Benthuysen, who hovered near, the girl was taken into an inner room, and examined from top to toe by a matron. First of all, she was asked to undo the little wad of hair at the back of her neck.
Disheveled, mortified, tearful with nervousness. Eve was allowed finally to go home. She was a wreck — but, she thought to herself, by a miracle she still had her pearls! At least, Mrs. Cater had them, instead of the Government.
At her very first opportunity, Eve called on Mrs. Cater, who was effusively glad to see her.
‘I came so soon, especially, because you have something of mine,’ Eve said, her voice trembling slightly.
‘Something of yours? What do you mean?’ queried Mrs. Cater, looking surprised.
‘Why — I bought some pearls in Paris — and I did n’t know how to — I just smuggled them in, in your — I just sewed them into the lining of your big coat — at the back!’
‘Why — why, Eve! Miss Wareham! Why, how — how amazing! Did it occur to you,’— Mrs. Cater grew very formal, — ‘that they might have been found upon me? I was wearing the coat all the time.’
‘Yes — but they weren’t! You see, you ’re not the sort of person one would search. I —’
‘Well,’ snapped Mrs. Cater, ‘you certainly took a great deal on yourself. I must say I’m awfully surprised.’
‘Oh, do forgive me, please! I would n’t have harmed you for worlds! You know that! It was just that I’d spent all my money for the pearls and I did n’t want to pay the silly old duty! If you take it like that, I’m fearfully sorry. You — you won’t tell, will you?’
‘Of course I won’t tell. I’m not a sneak. But I did n’t dream you were that sort.’
‘Oh—I’m not! I never did it before! But if you’re going to take it like that, please get the coat and let me rip the pearls out, and then I’ll go. You —’
‘It is exceedingly unfortunate, but you will realize the risk you took. I gave the coat to the Salvation Army, with a lot of other things, only yesterday. I send them a bundle every so often. It was an old hack-about coat, and I was just giving it a last wear during —’
‘The coat’s gone?’ gasped Eve.
‘Yes, quite gone, as far as you and I are concerned.’ Mrs. Cater’s voice was firm. There was a ring of finality about it.
And somehow Eve knew, past all doubt, that the slender, gentle, griefstricken little Mrs. Cater was lying.