On the eve of her thirtieth birthday, Vergie Whidby feels unwanted and unloved. She has no romantic prospects on the horizon, yet her body and soul cry out for life, love, and desire.
Desperate for a change, Vergie withdraws most her savings from the bank and books a trip to romantic St. Augustine, Florida. There, amid the old world splendor, she splurges on fancy dresses and lacy undergarments, determined to be a different woman than the small-town librarian she has become. But even in the arms of a skilled and handsome lover, Vergie is unable to let go of a lifetime of inhibitions. It will take a case of mistaken identity and the influence of Valerie Ware, reclusive author of such steamy romances as Shameless Sinners and Penthouse Passion, to unleash the burning desires that Vergie has kept locked up for so long.
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By Brett Halliday
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1951 Falcon Books, Inc.
All rights reserved.
SEARCH FOR LOVE
It was very dim and very quiet in the interior of the bookstore and circulating library on the dusty main street of Random, Virginia. Very sedate, and extremely neat. A shaft of sunlight glinted through the narrow front window and accentuated Vergie Whidby's pallor as she sat primly at the desk near the door.
On the desk lay an opened volume from the set of Famous Biographies. Vergie pretended to read the fine print while she impatiently waited for Mrs. Bascom to make her selection and go.
Then she breathed a deep sigh of relief, and turned her eyes back to the book on the desk as Mrs. Bascom came toward her.
"I've had such a time making my selection today." Mrs. Bascom's voice was plaintive. She was very plump, and little beads of perspiration stood out on her round face. "It's so hard to know just what to read these days." She laid two books down gently on the desk.
"It surely is," Vergie agreed. "You've decided on these?" Her slender fingers slipped the publisher's jacket from a heavy volume and replaced it with one of rough gray paper.
"Yes," Mrs. Bascom simpered. "That's for myself, of course. I feel that one simply can't go wrong with something by Mr. Galsworthy. He's so dependable. So ... so ..." Her voice trailed off and she made fluttering motions with her hands.
"Of course," Vergie agreed. The second book was much lighter. With a flambuoyant jacket carrying an arresting vivid title.
"For John," Mrs. Bascom murmured. "He insists on reading these disgustingly risque books. His sense of literary taste is simply deplorable. He enjoys only the most suggestive things. He simply won't look at the good books which I appreciate so truly."
Vergie made a little clucking sound with her tongue as she made a neat entry in her ledger. It was suggestive of sympathy and tolerant understanding. The better citizens of Random respected Vergie for her tolerance. Although she was known to care for only the finest things in literature, she never attempted to force her opinions upon others.
"Of course, you have no idea what some of these modern novels contain," Mrs. Bascom said. "You read only the finest things always. I see you're doing another biography," she went on, peering over Vergie's shoulder.
Vergie smiled self-consciously. "I'm going over the life of Ponce de Leon again. I do find biography stimulating."
"Ponce de Leon?" Mrs. Bascom's voice took on a warmly intimate coloring. From her tone one would have gathered that the old Conquistador had been a former lover of hers.
"Such a wealth of material," she murmured. Mrs. Bascom was vice president of the local Historical Society.
"Such an intriguing life," Vergie amplified. A cautious silence fell between them. Mrs. Bascom knew she had forgotten something. She stared at the door. There was something more she had intended to say. Vergie tried not to glare at her.
Then Mrs. Bascom remembered. "Of course!" she exclaimed. "How stupid of me! You've decided on St. Augustine for your vacation, haven't you? How I should love to go with you. Such an interesting old city! Such a glorious history!"
"I've always wanted to go there to browse around among the ruins," Vergie admitted. "It's the oldest settlement in the United States, you know. Ponce de Leon landed there in his search for the Fountain of Youth. Some say he found it there."
"How I envy you!" Mrs. Bascom exclaimed. "And you've promised to write us a letter each week to read to the Society, haven't you?"
"Yes," Vergie admitted. "I have."
"That will be simply thrilling. When do you leave?"
"Tomorrow? Oh, my dear! I didn't know it was so soon. Time does fly! Tomorrow is the first of June."
"Yes." Vergie's voice remained pleasant by a supreme effort of will.
"I wish you a very pleasant journey. You must drink from the Fountain of Youth. Perhaps it will be ... efficacious ..."
Mrs. Bascom laughed, and gathered up her books. Her face was guileless. Vergie looked at her sharply as she left the implication dangling at the end of the sentence. But Mrs. Bascom nodded and went out into the sunlight.
Vergie bit her underlip as she stared after her. Mrs. Bascom meant well, she reminded herself. She was quite certain that any double-meaning in her last remark had been unintentional. But she despised Mrs. Bascom, she told herself. Why couldn't she admit she was dying to get home to read the sex novel, instead of pretending it was for her husband? This little scene was enacted regularly, twice a week. And Vergie always smiled and acted as though she were taken in by the little ruse.
Why do people have to be hypocritical, she wondered.
She looked down the street to see that no one was approaching the shop. Then she glanced toward the back to assure herself that Miss Henderson was engaged.
The door of her desk creaked as she drew it open. A lurid jacket proclaimed a new book from the pen of Valerie Ware. It had just arrived this morning, though the date of publication was formally announced for June 15th. Vergie had a standing order with the publishers for every new book from her favorite author.
Her eyes gleamed behind the lenses as she gazed at the haunting form of the girl on the cover. Arms outstretched and body offered. A youthful challenge to life. Defiant ... yet wistful, somehow. Capturing the very essence of vibrant longing which only youth can know.
Vergie relaxed as she turned to the first page of Shamless Sinner.
Nancy sipped her frosted drink meditatively, shooting calculating glances across the top of her glass to the tall stranger who lounged carelessly in a deep chair on the opposite side of the luxurious library.
Nancy was eighteen.
Little groups of shooting stars seemed to gather in her mind and explode as she looked at him. The stars made little paths of scintillating ecstasy through her vibrant frame. Tonight she would taste of Life. Tonight this stranger would guide her tenderly along the Glorious Pathway of Fulfillment.
She drank again from the tall glass, and a whimsical spirit of defiance pervaded her soul. Eighteen years had pointed toward this eagerly besought night of attainment. She was impetuously glad it had come to her like this. So easily and so soon.
She shuddered as she thought of Maria. Maria at thirty. The best part of her life behind her. Bedraggled of body and dreary of soul. Sick of life which had brought her only disappointment. Soured and embittered.
Nancy set her glass down sharply. She moved restlessly and knew a wild thrill of exultation as the stranger's eyes travelled covetously down the voluptuous curves of her young body. Her breasts seemed to strain outward through the thin fabric to meet his gaze.
He came toward her in the dim light, and Nancy smiled at him mistily. Now. Now!.....
Vergie looked up from the printed page with indrawn breath. Slowly the vivid picture faded from before her eyes, and she gazed again at the smug interior of the shop. She let the book fall to her lap, and an expression of pain fled across her face.
Subconsciously she noted that it was almost four o'clock. The bank closed at four. She planned to draw a hundred dollars from her savings for expenses on her vacation trip to St. Augustine.
She slipped Valerie Ware's book into a little cloth satchel which she employed to hide such books from curious eyes, and got up from the desk. Miss Henderson came toward her as she hesitated there.
"Are you going now, Miss Whidby?" Miss Henderson's voice was thin and shrill. Like herself.
"I have to go by the bank," Vergie told her. "I'm catching the early morning train, you know."
Still she hesitated. A faint uneasiness seemed to grip her. Miss Henderson squinted at her without understanding. She did not know that Vergie stood upon the brink of the most momentous decision of her life. She did not realize that the bookstore offered security, a safe obscurity from which Vergie almost dared not emerge. She would have snickered could she have read the queer turmoil of half-thoughts which raced through Vergie's mind.
"Yes. I'm going," Vergie said. "You'll take care of everything. Write me in care of the St. Augustine Historical Society if anything untoward comes up." She held out her hand awkwardly. Miss Henderson took it, and mumbled something.
Vergie turned about, and seemed to scurry through the door into the afternoon sunlight. Miss Henderson turned back and went on sorting out books and restoring them to their proper shelves.
Vergie did not look back as she hurried toward the bank. She wore rubber-heeled, serviceable shoes, and dark stockings obscured the trimness of her ankles. A full skirt of dark cheap silk covered her calves, and a loose street jacket concealed a softly rounded figure. Her hat was of faded straw which she had freshened up this spring by changing the band to one of deep purple with a hair-line of orange.
Her face was flushed as she neared the bank. The casual observer would not have noted any change in the Vergie Whidby who had lived the full twenty-nine years of her life in Random. But strange thoughts were seething beneath that faded straw. There lurked a little devil of awakened desire in the depths of her brown eyes which blinked behind her glasses.
She didn't know ... yet ... what she was going to do. But she was aware that she was going to do something. Strange forces played contrariwise through her being. Her first vacation was beginning. Tomorrow a train would carry her away from Random for the first time since she had been born there ... twenty-nine years previously.
She gripped the bag containing Valerie Ware's book a little tighter, and tried to disregard the hurried beating of her heart as she entered the bank.
She went to a desk and drew her savings book from her handbag. Her eyelids fluttered as she ruffled through the book, gazing at the neat amounts which mounted to a substantial sum.
She had decided a hundred dollars should be sufficient for the month's vacation. Her expenses were neatly calculated and assembled. She had selected St. Augustine in the summer because of the cheap rates obtainable.
One hundred dollars would be sufficient. She had decided to buy no new clothes. After all, historical research did not call for new clothes.
She would take only a hundred dollars.
She drew a checkbook toward her, and wrote her own name in the blank. Then her pen poised over the place to set down the amount.
Vergie stared at her fingers in dismay as they set down a one, and followed it with three naughts. Then a period and two more naughts. That, her conscious mind told her, was not the way to write a hundred. Certainly not.
Her conscious mind was fascinated as the pen wrote One thousand in the space below.
She trembled as she approached the counter, and slid the passbook and check beneath the grill.
Mr. Fenton was the cashier. A tired man of fifty. He glanced at the check, then studied it in amazement.
"Whew!" He looked at Vergie with a slow smile. "Seems to me you're splurging, young lady."
Vergie's lips were dry, and she could not answer him.
"What are you trying to do," he went on facetiously, "start a run on the bank?"
Vergie smiled. "I'm going on a vacation," she made herself say solemnly.
"Some vacation," Mr. Fenton murmured. He looked at Vergie with new respect. "You don't want it all in cash," he exposulated.
"Just as you say," Mr. Fenton returned. He counted out the money slowly, and Vergie tucked it into her bag.
She was terrified as she emerged from the bank. What had she done? Almost all her savings! It was preposterous.
Delightfully preposterous, she decided after a moment's thought. She felt giddy.
From the bank she went to the depot where she purchased a ticket. Again a demon took possession of her. For her voice did not say St. Augustine. Her voice told the agent she wanted a ticket to Savannah, Georgia.
Then she hurried to her room to mull over the amazing things she had done this afternoon.
Her room was on the second floor of Aunt Kay's house. She wasn't really Vergie's aunt. A distant relation with an indefatigable passion for regulating other person's affairs. She had arranged Vergie's life since she was thirteen and left an orphan.
Vergie slipped in the front door quietly so Aunt Kay wouldn't hear her. The stairs creaked as she stole up to her room. She barred the door behind her with a feeling of relief, and crossed the large room to stare at the two old suitcases which were packed with the things she planned to take on her trip.
It was very warm in her room. And at least two hours before dinner. Vergie laid her book-satchel and handbag on the bed, then took off her hat. Her heavy brown hair had never been cut. It was caught up in two awkward rolls at the back of her neck. Vergie sat down on the bed and unlaced her sensible shoes. Then she kicked them in the corner, and peeled off her heavy stockings. Then she shook off her jacket, and unbuttoned her blouse. Her fingers trembled as she loosened the skirt and stepped from it. A cotton slip came next. Leaving dark bloomers and a wide, heavy brassiere.
Vergie moved close to the mirror and peered at herself. She blushed at the intimate reflection which peered back at her. Her fingers trembled as she undid her hair and let it fall over her shoulders.
Her body was white and firm. Vergie drew off her bloomers and unfastened the brassiere. Then she sat down on the bed and looked at herself again in the mirror.
She was twenty-nine.
The horn-rimmed glasses looked incongruous. She took them off and tried to remember why she had started wearing glasses. She didn't need them. They bothered her when she read. But they looked intellectual. And long ago she had decided her forte lay in intellectual pursuits.
Why had she decided that? She lay back on the bed and tried to remember. She had been pretty when she ... she caught her breath sharply ... when she was eighteen! Aunt Kay had taught her that boys were disgusting. Aunt Kay had convinced her that physical contact was repulsive. Vergie rubbed her breasts, and remembered how horrified Aunt Kay had been when, at thirteen, they had started to harden and form. Somehow, Aunt Kay had managed to inculcate in her the belief that the human body was something to be ashamed of.
She remembered how she had bound her breasts to hide the shameful swelling, and how miserable she had been when Aunt Kay had intimated that her early adolescence was a sure sign of a sensuous nature ... and had warned her that she must ever be on the watch to repress all normal desires.
Aunt Kay had not regarded them as normal desires, Vergie reminded herself. But, at twenty-nine, Vergie was beginning to question Aunt Kay's wisdom.
Now ... she was an old maid!
Vergie sat upright on the bed, and a tear squeezed itself from each of her brown eyes.
This afternoon was crucial, somehow. This afternoon the warring elements within her had broken into open rebellion.
Mrs. Bascom had started it. Valerie Ware's new book Shameless Sinner had given the rebellion impetus.
Vergie stared at herself in the mirror, and her face hardened. Nancy! Who was determined to seize life and sex at eighteen! What right had an eighteen-year-old girl to find what she had lost?
Next month would see her thirtieth birthday. For a number of years she had been dreading the coming of this birthday. Somehow, thirty was so final. Can one capture illusion after thirty?
Vergie thought not. But she was not yet thirty, she reminded herself. There yet was time. Time for anything.
Her breath came faster as a different Vergie seemed to stare back at her. The outlines of her face dimmed, while an inner vitality seemed to shine forth. She saw herself as she might be seen by strangers. It was a daring thought. In Random, she was Vergie Whidby. Of the Virginia Whidbys. City Librarian at nineteen. Manager and owner of her bookstore at twenty-five.
Vergie Whidby! Sensible. Plain. So intellectual. Such an appreciation of the finer things. Wearing outlandish clothes and pretending she didn't care how she looked. Shunning rouge and all beauty helps because they would be regarded as fast.
God in Heaven! She wanted to be fast! She flung her hands over her head and stared at the ceiling while the surprising truth flowed warmly through her veins.
Excerpted from Virgin's Holiday by Brett Halliday. Copyright © 1951 Falcon Books, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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