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Eden forgot the chiffon scarf. It was queer but in its own way inevitable that after her bags had gone and while the taxi waited she went back for it.
It was a long, gray chiffon scarf—so soft it seemed to have no strength, delicate and clean and smelling faintly of sachet. Altogether inanimate; altogether at her disposal. She took it in her hand, put the two letters in her enormous, flat handbag, looked at herself in the mirror for a long moment and went to the waiting taxi. She held the scarf in her hand all the way to the airport. And in the St. Louis plane, when it flew high and the air was cold, she put the scarf around her throat.
She arrived at St. Louis in time for dinner—that memorable dinner which nevertheless, because of her own preoccupation, it was always impossible to remember in its true perspective.
An hour or so before the plane reached St. Louis, she took the two letters from her handbag and read them again slowly. The first was from Averill Blaine.
"My dear, I'm enclosing tickets and want you to come to my wedding two weeks from this coming Friday, that's June the third. The tickets are for the plane trip to St. Louis. From St. Louis we'll all go together (Uncle Bill has chartered a big plane) to the Bayou Teche place where the wedding is to be. In the little chapel; do you remember it? The man I am marrying is Jim Cady; he's at the plant—so things will work out well that way: he really is brilliant and I'm a lucky girl. He's just finished designing and building a new airplane engine everybody's very excited about; there's to be a trial flight Tuesday; so we hope you can arrive Monday night in time for dinner. Then you can see the flight the next day—it really means a lot to all of us. And we'll leave for the Bayou Teche place that night. Do come, dear; if I were having bridesmaids I would want you; but the wedding's to be quite simple and poetic (I'm wearing ice-blue satin with Grandmother's rose-point veil). Noel sends word he hopes you'll come, too. To think if it hadn't been for you, Noel and I would have been married long ago. I ought to thank you for that, though I don't suppose you took Noel away from me then out of motives of sheer friendliness!—I ought to label that 'joke'; it's so hard to tell in a letter. Wire me when to have you met at the airport. Don't worry about clothes; you looked stunning the last time I saw you. All send love. Creda is here, of course. Now do come. Much love, Averill."
Below was a dashing, hasty but invincibly triumphant postscript. "Darling, wait till you see him."
How little Averill had changed since school days! But then the whole setting and circumstances of her life had not changed—abruptly and completely in 1931—as Eden's had done.
Eden wondered briefly just what those years of job-hunting and of precarious job-holding had done to her, Eden Shore. If she had been trained to a profession it would have been easier. The trouble was that even now the shallow foothold she had won was precarious; she was in no sense irreplaceable. There were too many women, just as able, just as brainy, just as tenacious as Eden Shore.
And she was tired.
She thought back to the time, five years ago now, when simply because she didn't love him and discovered it, she'd refused to marry Noel Carreaux. He'd been rich then; extravagantly rich with houses and yachts and good motors, with polo ponies and unlimited checking accounts. Almost literally unlimited, then. And while life could go on without polo ponies, the bank accounts spelled security. How could she have failed to see that!
Well, she knew better now.
The other note was from Noel himself. He wrote:
"Eden, my lovely: Averill's writing to ask you to her wedding in a little over two weeks. I hope you come. Averill's very happy; Bill Blaine pleased as punch; Creda a little upset at finding herself in any position but that of leading lady. We are all going to fly to the Bayou Teche place—but Averill has told you about it. Do come, darling. Much love, Noel."
When the plane at last circled around the landing field and headed into the wind she adjusted her steel-gray hat, flat and smart with an orange wing upon it, touched her mouth with lipstick and scrutinized her face carefully in the mirror of her compact.
It was a good face, luckily for Eden because it (combined with a really nice figure) had got her her first job as a dress model. She'd had to learn to walk, to stand, to smile infrequently and slowly. Her face had the right planes and shadows; it made up well; her features did not become lost and blurred under the correct fashionable smear of heavy lip paste and elongated eye lines. Her golden-brown hair waved back smoothly from her temples and clung to her head; her eyes were dark gray, well placed and level under slender, thoughtfully arched, black eyebrows.
A sudden, gay spark lighted the gray eyes which stared so earnestly back at her from the tiny mirror.
Picture of a young woman about to do her own matchmaking, she thought, and smiled suddenly and gayly so her whole face changed for an instant as if a ray of sunlight had fallen upon it. Then she was grave again, making quite sure her lipstick had not smeared.
There was of course a certain element of rather wry humor about it; she wasn't at all certain that Noel wanted to marry her.
The plane landed; it was odd that when she walked from the plane, skirt blown tight around her slim legs by the wind from the still whirling propeller, she was carrying the gray chiffon scarf in her hand. And it blew upward against her face suddenly as if it were alive—and putting a warning finger softly, surreptitiously to her lips.
Then she passed the gate and Noel, smiling, was waiting.
He was as spectacularly handsome as ever, his blue eyes blazing so brilliantly from under peaked black eyebrows that it almost startled you. He wore a conventional gray tweed suit with exactly the right shade of blue in his tie and in his handkerchief; he carried a gray Homburg and gray tweed topcoat. And still managed to look somehow daring, audacious, like a gentleman adventurer. It was one of Noel's charms. You always felt as if he would be at his best in balloon-cloth shorts and a sun helmet.
Her heart gave a little pitch of excitement. For that was really the reason she had come: to see Noel.
How did one go about it deliberately to induce a man to propose marriage?
He took both hands and kissed her lightly.
"Hello, my sweet. Lovely as ever, Eden. Come along—the chauffeur will get your bags. Let me have your checks. Two bags, is that all? Like a cocktail or a cup of tea before we start? It's a longish drive out to Forest Park."
He was piloting her through crowds, past the uniformed chauffeur who waited for them and who took the baggage checks, toward a friendly, bright little restaurant near at hand.
There was a table near a window. He ordered quickly; then smiled and regarded her quizzically.
"Well, my dear. How are you? Do you still love your Noel?"
He said it, however, lightly. Too lightly.
Again her whole project struck her as being grimly funny—except the joke was on her.
"Why are you smiling?" said Noel.
"I was thinking about us—years ago."
She put down her bag. And put down at the same time the long, gray chiffon scarf. Soft, veiling its own merciless strength, spotless.
Noel leaned forward, elbows on the table, blue eyes sparkling and speculative. Eden never saw any change in her own face—change is gradual and is not detected day by day; and indeed at twenty-six Eden's face was not much different than it had been at eighteen except it had lost its girlish chubbiness and had become thinner and finer, with its good modeling a little more marked and thus more beautiful. But Noel, she saw with a little shock, had changed. Not much; not markedly. It was only that the lines around his gay, brilliant eyes were a little sharper; there was a faint brush of gray at his temples, a slightly heavier look around his chin and mouth. That was all. And it affected in no way the look Noel always had of being poised on the brink of adventure. About to step upon the deck of an exploring-bent yacht; about to ride forth upon a galloping charger into conquest, into battle, into romance. He said, smiling:
"Darling, what an enticing topic. As a rule you aren't romantically inclined. I remember it all perfectly. Is there anything you'd like to be reminded of? I can tell you ..."
"No," said Eden rather sharply—aware it was exactly what she had just told herself she did want. "I must have been a loathsome child."
"You were an adorable child," said Noel instantly. "I fell madly in love with you. If it hadn't been for you, indeed, Averill and I would probably have been married lo, these many years. She wouldn't take me back, you know, after you jilted me. Hello, here's the waiter." The waiter put down a cocktail for Noel, tea and buns for Eden. Noel took his glass and smiled again.
"Shall we drink to our mutual memories, Eden? Or can you drink a toast in tea?"
"I don't see why not."
"Here we go, then." Noel put his cocktail to his lips. "To you and to me as we once were. How's that, Eden?"
"More than I could expect," said Eden and grinned a little and lifted her tea.
It was unexpectedly hot and she burned her tongue and put the cup down rather hurriedly. But Noel drank half his cocktail, as one might drink water, thirstily, and ordered another. "Now then, Eden," he said, "how's the business world treating you?"
"It's treated me to a vacation," said Eden. "With, however, a certain complacence. I hope it doesn't mean that it's to be a permanent one."
"Gosh, I hope not. That would be tough." Noel was always readily sympathetic. "Let's see, just what rung have you reached on Fortune's ladder? Last time I saw you, you'd worked up to writing advertising copy."
"I'm still doing it; but I'm not one of the heads, Noel. Not even one of the near heads. It's still a pretty low rung."
"How long will you stay on?"
"Till after the wedding, I suppose. I can fly back the night before I go to work again." She realized she wasn't putting her heart into the business of enticing Noel; how, she thought rather despairingly, could she do it with the single-minded purpose and despatch the occasion demanded?
The second cocktail came and Noel drank it promptly and put down the glass.
"Who's the man Averill's to marry?"
"Jim Cady. He's in the plant." Noel paused and said: "Lucky devil."
"Lucky? Because of Averill, of course."
"Averill and—the Blaine plant. We're getting to be enormously successful, you know, with the manufacturing of airplane engines. And Averill's giving him a large block of Blaine stock as a wedding present."
Nice for him, thought Eden.
"Won't that make rather a lot of family in the company, Noel? I mean—you are the only outside stockholder, aren't you?"
"Yes. But it doesn't matter. Bill and Averill, since Averill's father's death, have owned so much of the stock that my voice is purely moral." He stopped there and laughed a little. "How do you like that? My voice being purely moral?"
"Creda owns stock, too, doesn't she?"
"Oh yes. But not enough for much voting power. Anyway she's Bill's wife—difficult as it is for Creda to remember that."
"I don't know Creda much. Tell me about this Jim Cady. What's he like?"
"Jim? Well—he's a tall fellow; blond originally but always brown and sort of—weathered-looking in a nice way. Looks like a soldier somehow but isn't."
"I means what's he like? He sounds a little calculating."
"Well, Jim knows enough to come in out of the rain. He's doing a pretty good job of feathering his own nest. But that's all right. He's an engineer; crazy about airplanes—always has been, I guess. He's been working on this engine for three years. We're going to make a lot of money out of her. That is, if Jim—" He stopped abruptly.
"If Jim what?"
"Oh—if things go right." He frowned, stared into space for a thoughtful moment, shrugged and said: "Putting on your gloves? I suppose we'll have to make a start. You look sweet—what a nice little hat. Are you pulling it at just the right angle for me? I hope so. The car will be this way."CHAPTER 2
It was Averill's car waiting for them—long and black and sleek with the smartly uniformed chauffeur driving it smoothly. It was the kind of car Eden had been accustomed to in her childhood, had taken for granted.
The way from the airport to the Blaine house in Forest Park was new to her, however; years ago, when she'd spent vacations with Averill because Averill's home was so near the school, they had come into the Union Station by train.
It was a longish drive. She remembered the gates into the private road which led, among others, to the Blaine house.
She remembered the house when they reached it: huge, a little gloomy, very ugly but extremely comfortable. Velvet lawns, bordered with shrubs, sloped upward toward its wide terraces.
Averill was waiting for them.
It had been two years since Eden had seen Averill. Involuntarily she touched her hair and straightened her hat and hoped she didn't look as tired as she felt.
And stopped on the threshold, as she perceived that Averill stood there, at the foot of the stairs, waiting.
There was a moment of utter silence while they looked at each other.
It was a long look, measuring, instinctively and deeply guarded.
She's not changed, thought Eden swiftly. She's beautiful and poised and certain of herself. Powerful.
The first thought was followed by another, swift, too, and curiously poignant. Averill's eyes had become a little fixed: her white eyelids lowered—then she came forward, smiling. And she was not glad to see Eden.
She said, "There you are," and put out her hands.
She was already dressed for dinner. To Eden in that first glimpse every detail was as sharp and clear as if it were etched in black and white with a steel point. She was as always almost incredibly small and neat and sleek, with her soft dark hair parted precisely in the middle so you saw the white, regular part and folded demurely and neatly upon her small skull into a smooth roll at the back of her long slender neck. She wasn't pretty but she was indubitably chic and so well articulated physically that every attitude and every motion she made seemed carefully planned, part of a pattern. Her face was slender with the flesh stretched rather tightly over a somewhat prominent and high forehead and cheekbones; sometimes her nose and chin would be angular and a little sharp, now they merely gave her small, extraordinarily demure face a certain character. She was always dressed with extreme smartness, liking styles that set off her long neck and slenderness. She wore that night a gown of white dull silk, with a great splash of scarlet across the front; it was almost arrogant in its simplicity of cut and in its daring of design. Only a woman as perfectly poised and as slender as Averill could have appeared with a great scarlet—lobster, was it? Eden wondered, dragon?—splashed upon her diaphragm.
"Eden, my dear," she said and offered her cheek to Eden. Since Eden offered her own cheek simultaneously, the result was not exactly a gesture of affection. "You were dear to come. I hoped you would. Your room is ready, darling. Celeste will unpack for you—I hate to hurry you but dinner will be in another half-hour or so. I expected you rather sooner."
"She lured me into three cocktails," said Noel. "She's learned bad ways in the city."
"I don't imagine you needed much luring," said Averill. Her eyes were brown—a shallow brown, with gray and amber lights, and remote, even at her most friendly moments.
"I'll come with you, Eden dear. Noel—there isn't much time."
"She means hurry up and get dressed. And sober. I am sober, my sweet." He took Averill's hand and kissed it. "If I must drown my troubles in drink, it's you that have brought me to this, Averill," he said. "All right—all right, don't frown. I'll go. Excuse me, Eden. See you both at dinner. Averill, if Pace hasn't yet agreed to buy the engine, he will when you persuade him in that outfit."
Excerpted from The Chiffon Scarf by Mignon G. Eberhart. Copyright © 1939 Mignon G. Eberhart. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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Posted August 19, 2013