Mrs Daffodil is packing up the Family for their annual sea-side jaunt. There are bathing-dresses to be let down and taken up; bathing-caps and shoes to be located and inspected for holes; and a whole host of creams and unguents packed in the first-aid kit for the inevitable sun-burn. Once the Family has been seen off, then it’s on with the muslin loose-covers, the cheese-cloth over the mirrors, pictures, and chandeliers, and out with the carpets, to be taken up, beaten, and aired. In view of this hurly-burly and with the children clamouring for their water-wings, Mrs Daffodil presents a diverting story in two parts, translated, naturally, from the French.
THE NUMBER THIRTEEN MYSTERY.
After All It Was Not What Appearances Indicated.
At Mareville all the bathing-machines are actually alike; they are made of boards, painted yellow, with blue horizontal stripes. The swimming-master and his wife rejoice in the name of Pichard, and have two
Gaston, being accustomed to close his door without locking it, was not surprised to find it open when, after more than an hour in the surf, he came forth, dripping, and blue with cold, and bounded into what he thought he recognized as his own bathing-machine. He closed
the door quickly.
Outside, the sun was blinding; it was half-past four on a warm July afternoon. Gaston’s eyes, dazzled by the glare of the sun and the reflection on the water, could not at first distinguish the details of the interior, but at the end of a minute he could see clearly, and
perceived that he had made a mistake — he was in some fair bather’s dressing-room.
His first idea was to get out again immediately; but the devil, who was watching this little scene out of the corner of his eye, judged that it was time to interfere and to make of this innocent mistake a tragedy which
should set the whole beach by the ears. The devil, then, so managed it that Gaston was seized by an irresistible curiosity and stopped to look about him.
With a furtive and rapid glance, then, he passed in review the garments which hung floating from the wall like so many perfumed clouds. He inspected the dress, with its fluted folds and fantastic buttons; he
took down the dainty sailor hat, with its fish of iridescent enamel floating in a bouquet of green alga; and red actinias ; and he gently stroked a little pair of undressed-kid boots. And then he saw on the shelf a great ivory comb and brush — and no false switches! There were still two or three hairs of the color of molten gold which remained interlaced among the teeth of the comb.
This examination had lasted but four or five minutes at the most, and Gaston, ashamed of his indiscretion, now that his curiosity was satisfied, put his thumb on the latch and opened a slit of the door, glancing out to
see if he could escape without being seen. But he hastily closed the door again; a fair bather was hurrying from the water in the direction of this bathing-machine, at the same time beckoning to the Pichard woman, who was now running to open the door for her.
At the sound of the key entering the lock Gaston felt his knees giving way beneath him. In a few seconds, with the rapidity of lightning, he ran through all the possible schemes to escape. Should he lower his head,
and, dashing out like a bull, scattering the women in his way, spring into the sea and swim to America, never to return? Should he fall on his knees, with protruded chin and the palms of his hands toward the
zenith, and sobbingly demand pardon? Should he lie down at full length and pretend to be dead? Should he conceal himself and await events?
The key turned in the lock, and while the fair bather, her eyes half-blinded by the sun, turned toward the door and closed it, Gaston had gone down on all fours, and, like a dog that has done something he knows he should not do, had squeezed himself under the bench
which ran across the back of the room.
Happily for him. the mirror was hung above the bench, and the brush and comb were on the shelves at right and left, so that the bather, naturally placing herself before the glass, looked at her own face, and
did not see the man at her feet. She began by wiping her face and neck, then she unbuckled a belt of oxydized copper that confined her waist, after which she unfastened her blouse. That done, she disengaged one
arm, then the other, and the discreet light of the dressing-room lighted up the most divine torso that ever nature, in her inexhaustible munificence, lovingly molded for the admiration of the artist or the delight of less gifted men.
But let the ladies reassure themselves, and the gentlemen smooth down their affrighted hair; the modesty of the fair bather ran no risk. The unfortunate Gaston, consumed with fear, did now as does the ostrich in
distress, he concealed his head. He glued his face against the wall, and of the magnificent spectacle being developed in the room he saw nothing.
Having quitted her bathing costume, the lady pushed it with her foot into the corner at the left of the door, threw a towel on the floor, and, having partially dressed herself, sat down on the bench and commenced putting
on her stockings, glancing about meanwhile for her shoes. The left one was at the corner of the door; she picked it up, drew it on, and buttoned it. The other was not to be found. The lady stood up, and with the
tip of her booted foot pushed aside her bathing suit to see if it did not cover the missing shoe. She stooped down and reached under the bench; instead of her shoe she caught hold of the bare foot of a man!
A terrible cry would have burst from her lips, but it could not, and she fainted, walling up with her inanimate body the place of concealment where Gaston was suffering agonies.
Then he turned his head, saw this insentient body, these disheveled strands of hair, these beautiful eyes closed as in death, and delicately pushing aside this charming obstacle, he came forth from beneath the
bench. After a few seconds, which seemed centuries to him, Gaston at last saw those beautiful lids open languidly. She sighed deeply, raised her hand to her head, and murmured: “Where am I?”
Then she saw Gaston, and her face took on an expression of terror.
“In heaven’s name, madame,” said he. “in the name of your honor, do not cry out or you are lost! I am in the depths of despair at what has happened to you through my fault, and I am ready to do anything and
everything to save you. I beg of you to listen to me, and we will try if we can not find some way to get out of this situation.”
[To be continued tomorrow. ]
Mrs Daffodil has previously written about the ideal bathhouse here.
Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,”where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes.