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Graeve, Oscar (ed.) / Delineator
Vol. 118, No. 6 (June, 1931)

Frost, Frances M.
Balloon man,   p. 65 PDF (700.1 KB)


Page 65

JUNE, 1931                                                                 6
THE SHORTEST NIGHT
Continued from page 62
IF YO  U  LIKE
IP E 0 P L E TO
And there would be the gendarmes, and
the Commissaire hanging about the villa,
spoiling even the bathing, and Aunt Lucinda,
well out of it at Balmoral, patronizing them
all, and Lal ...
Perhaps Rosalind would be arriving today,
in time for her brother-in-law's funeral.
Why had Lal said that to Heriot over
the telephone yesterday morning, when he
thought the salon was empty; not realizing
that Nancy was lying supine among the
cushions of the divan? Ought she to have told
Sophia? Was it her duty? No, surely not
her duty, when it would have been to throw
a shadow over Lal. It would be all right, of
course, directly the real murderer were dis-
covered. And lying there on this hot, stuffy
morning of the twenty-first of June, Nancy
vowed passionately that she would use every
energy she possessed of intuition and obser-
vation, till she could present Sophia with a
sum which would add up finally to a name
that was not Lal's.
She slid out of bed, slipped on her yellow
bathing-suit, took up her notebook and went
out into the garden, past the bank of hydran-
geas, round to the front of the villa; and with
rather a cold: "Bonjour, monsieur," to the
conscientious gendarme who made it his busi-
ness to go plodding after them whenever they
went bathing, she continued her way down to
the beach and rocks.
The atmosphere was, if anything, more dis-
agreeable even than yesterday; so heavy that
it seemed to her as though she were breathing
small gray feathers instead of air. More than
ever, Nancy wished that today were over,
and tomorrow were already here. Surely
tomorrow must be better! "And yet suppose
by tomorrow one of us has been arrested?"
Lal! A pang of terror-then her heart gave
a sudden leap as she caught sight of a solitary
silhouette on the rocks; Lal himself, sitting
with his hands clasped round one knee,
looking dreamily eastwards.
Nancy formed a characteristic decision.
She walked over to Lal, and said, standing
behind him, so that he was startled by her
voice: "Look here, Lal, you'd better tell me
exactly what you meant when you said to
Heriot on the phone: 'Nothing's turned out
as we planned!'"
Lal sprang up, his eyes blazing. "Good
Lord!" Then, with a laugh, "I say, you-
frightened me."
"I'm sorry," said Nancy. "You see, I was
in the room first, lying on the divan, before
you rang up. I wasn't listening on purpose."
"Of course you weren't," Lal was speaking
quite coolly now. "Girls never listen on pur-
pose. They just listen."
He shrugged his shoulders. "Com-
ing in for a swim?"
"I'm sorry, Lal, but you can't get
away from it like that. I won't let you."
HE LEANED back motionless, against
the rock. Once more his gaze had
drifted out to sea. Over there, beyond
headland after headland to the east, was
Naples. If she flew from Naples, as the
consul would perhaps advise her . . .
Rosalind, tall, slow-moving, with her
dark tawny hair, and the half-ironic,
half-rueful tenderness of her smile.
"Lal!"
"Oh, don't bother me, Nancy!" he ex-
claimed petulantly. This villa was like
a blooming nursery!
"I'm notbothering you," Nancy spoke
as steadily as she could. "At least, I
am, but I've got to."
"Employed by the French detective
service?"
It was maddening to stand there and
be taunted by Lal. She held her temper
and replied: "Not by the French detec-
tive service, no, but-this is between
ourselves, Lal-take warning: I think
you're in danger from Sophia."
"Sophia?  You've told her, then,
what you heard?"
"No, but Sophia's got the detective
urge. She's on to a lot of clues and
things. Last night she called me into
her room for a consultation, and made
me take notes."
Lal's eyes fell to the small canvas book
she carried. "Got 'em there?"
"Yes, I've got 'em there. I'm sup-
posed to be helping. I'm going to help."
"Good luck," said Lal, becoming more de-
tached and more exasperating every moment.
AND Nancy tumbled out a question so in-
consequent in view of what she was trying
to coerce him to confess to her, that she mar-
veled at herself once it was out: "Have you
been in love with her long?"
Lal punished her for this intrusion on sacred
territory. "Oh, no," he replied lightly. "Just
an attack of green-sickness, what boys get
who don't know their own minds." He al-
tered his tone: "I don't know that it's going
to be of much value to you, Nancy, or if you'll
report it to your criminal investigation com-
mittee, but I've loved Rosalind Poole stead-
ily, without trying or even wanting to con-
quer it, ever since I first saw her. I was six-
teen then. I'm twenty-two and a half, now."
"Six and a half years," whispered Nancy.
No, this was not calf love. It was the ro-
mantic worship of a boy who had grown up
into a man without changing.
Dreamily, as though Nancy were not there
at all, Lal's voice went on with its reverie:
"A quality of strangeness about her, like a
ship that moves across the lagoon at sunset,
dark orange sails bending to the wind, but
not too much. I've seen them in Venice;
gracious with the day behind them and the
lovely, lovely night still to come. Rosa-
lind-"
Suddenly, instead of feeling hopeless as she
should, the girl who had to listen was swept
by a gust of rage against Lal, not for loving
Rosalind, but for daring to stand there and
talk of it like that, to her, to Nancy.
"Never mind about Rosalind," cried this
new Nancy. She flung back the soft, fawn-
gold hair which was molded round her head in
a lacquered halo. "Just attend to what I'm
asking you. You're in a scrape, and you
know it, and you know that I know it. I
can't save you, can I, unless you have decent
manners enough to answer and tell me the
truth about it?"
"I won't be lectured," retorted Lal, who,
from being a lover and a man of the world,
was now rushing backwards into his impetu-
ous 'teens as swiftly as Nancy. "Not by a
scrap like you, so important with your note-
book." He would have seized hold of it, but
Nancy clung on. "Afraid of what I'll see
in it?" he teased her. "Chock-full of evidence
against me? Do you know, I think I'll have
a look whether you mean me to, or not."
And he twitched it away from her grasp.
Nancy immediately flung herself on his
arm, trying with very elementary ju-jutsu, to
shake it out of his hand. (Turn to page 66)
ALLOON MAN
by
FRANCES M. FROST
Those who have love,
Those who have less,
For a song, for a penny,
May possess
A little world,
Scarlet, brave!
Though a penny be all
A man may have,
He may take
A marigold moon
To loose at the edge
Of the darkened dune,
Over a silver
Ruffled sea,
Where the purple tides
Of evening be!
Here is a world,
Here is a sun,
For those who have dreams,
For those who have none!
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65


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