Ice In June by Fred M. White
A Playwright's Story
"That," said Ethel Marsh judicially, "is the least stupid
remark you have made during our five weeks'
"Which means that I am improving," John Chesney
murmured. "There is hope even for me. You cannot
possibly understand how greatly I appreciate——"
The sentence trailed off incoherently as if the effort had
been all too much. It was hard to live up to the mental
brilliance of Ethel Marsh. She had had the advantage,
too, of a couple of seasons in town, whilst Chesney was of the
country palpably. She also had the advantage of being distractingly
Really, she had hoped to make something of Chesney. It
seemed to her that he was fitted for better things than tennis-playing
and riding and the like. It seemed strange that
he should prefer his little cottage to the broader delights of
surveying mankind from China to Peru.
The man had possibilities, too. For instance, he knew
how to dress. There was an air about his flannels, a suggestion
in his Norfolk suits. He had the knack of the tie
so that it sat just right, and his boots.... A clean-cut
face, very tanned; deep, clear gray eyes, very steady. He
was like a dog attached very much to a careless master. The
thing had been going on for five weeks.
Ethel was staying with the Frodshams. They were poor
for their position, albeit given to hospitality—at a price.
Most people call this kind of thing taking in paying guests.
It was a subject delicately veiled. Ethel had come down for
a fortnight, and she had stayed five weeks. Verily the education
of John Chesney was a slow process. Chesney was
a visitor in the neighborhood, too; he had a little furnished
cottage just by the Goldney Park lodge gates, where a house-keeper
did for him. As for the rest he was silent. He was
a very silent man.
It was too hot for tennis, so the two had wandered into
the woods. A tiny trout stream bubbled by, the oak and
beech ferns were wet with the spray of it. Between the trees
lances of light fell, shafts of sunshine on Ethel's hair and
face. It was at this point that Chesney made the original
remark. It slipped from him as naturally as if he had been
accustomed to that kind of thing.
"I am afraid you got that from Mr. John Kennedy," Ethel
said. "I am sure that you have seen Mr. Kennedy's comedy
'Flies in Ointment.' Confess now!"
"Well, I have," Chesney confessed accordingly. "I—I
saw it the night it was produced. On the whole it struck me
as rather a feeble thing."
"Oh, really? We are getting on, Mr. Chesney. Let me
tell you that I think it is the cleverest modern comedy I have
"Yes! In that case you like the part of 'Dorothy Kent?'"
Ethel's dainty color deepened slightly. She glanced suspiciously
at the speaker. But he was gazing solidly, stolidly,
into space—like a man who had just dined on beef. The
idea was too preposterous. The idea of John Chesney chaffing
her, chaffing anybody.
"I thought perhaps you did," Chesney went on. "Mr.
Kent is a bit of a butterfly, a good sort at the bottom, but
decidedly of the species lepidopteræ——"
"Stop!" Ethel cried. "Where did you get that word
from? Whence comes it in the vocabulary of a youth—a
youth? Oh, you know what I mean."
"I believe it is a general name for insects," Chesney said
humbly. "Mrs. Kent is a good sort, but a little conceited.
Apt to fancy herself, you know. Young widows of her type
often do. She is tired of the artificial existence of town, and
goes off into the country, where she leads the simple life. She
meets a young man there, who, well, 'pon my word, is rather
like me. He was a bit of an ass——"
"He was nothing of the kind," Ethel cried indignantly.
"He was splendid. And he made that woman love him, he
made her acknowledge that she had met her match at last.
And he turned out to be one of the most brilliant——"
"My dear Miss Ethel, after all it was only a play. You
remind me of 'Mrs. Kent,' and you say that I remind you of
the hero of the play who——"
"I didn't, Mr. Chesney. I said nothing of the kind. It
is unfair of you——"
"When the likeness is plain enough," Chesney said stubbornly.
"You are 'Mrs. Kent,' and I am the hero of the
comedy. Do you think that there is any possibility that
some day you and—of course not yet, but——"
Miss Marsh sat there questioning the evidence of her coral-pink
ears. She knew that she was furiously angry because
she felt so cool about it. She knew that the more furious one
was, the more calm and self-contained the senses become.
The man meant nothing, either—one could see that by the
respectful expression of his eye. Still——
"You are quite wrong," Ethel said. "You have altogether
misunderstood the motif of the play. I presume you
know what a motif is?"
"I think so," Chesney said humbly. "It is a word they
apply in music when you don't happen to understand what the
composer—especially the modern composer—is driving at."
"Oh, let it pass," Ethel said hopelessly. "You have
misunderstood the gist of the play, then! 'Walter Severn' in
the comedy is a man of singular points. He is a great author.
Instead of being that woman's plaything, he is her merciless
analyst. The great scene in the play comes when she finds
this out. Now, you do not for a moment presume to put
yourself on a level with 'Walter Severn,' do you?"
Chesney was bound to admit the height of his audacity.
His eyes were fixed humbly on his Minerva; he was Telemachus
seated at the feet of the goddess. And even yet he did not
seem really cognizant of the enormity of his offence. He saw
the sunlight on that sweetly serious face, he saw the beams
playing with the golden meshes of her hair. No doubt he
was fully conscious of his own inferiority, for he did not speak
again. It was for him to wait. The silence deepened; in
the heart of the wood a blackbird was piping madly on a
"Before you go away," Chesney hazarded, "I should very
"But I am not going away, at least not yet. Besides, I
have a purpose to serve. I am waiting until those impossible
people leave Goldney Park. I understand that they have
already gone, but on that head I am not sure. I want to go
over the house. The late owner, Mr. Mainbrace, was a great
friend of my family. Before he died he was so good as to
express a wish that the heir to the property should come and
see us and—but that part is altogether too ridiculous. And
as an only daughter——"
"I see," Chesney said reflectively. "The heir and yourself.
It sounds ridiculous. Now, if you had been in the least like
the romantic type of young woman, perhaps——"
"How do you know that I am not? Am I like Byron's
woman: 'Seek roses in December, ice in June'? Well, perhaps
you are right. After all, one doesn't find ice in June. However,
the heir to the Goldney Park estate and myself never
met. He let the place to those awful Gosway people for three
years and went abroad. There was not even the suspicion
of a romance. But I am curious to see the house, all the same."
"Nothing easier, Miss Marsh. Let us go and see it after
luncheon. The Gosways have gone, you may take my word
for that, and only a caretaker is in possession. Will you
come with me this afternoon?"
The prospect was not displeasing. Miss Marsh poised
it in her mind for a few moments. There was Chesney's
education to be thought of as well. On the whole, she decided
that there might be less pleasant ways of spending a hot
"I think I'll come," she said. "I want to see the old
furniture and the pictures. I love old furniture. Perhaps
if the heir to the property had gone on his knees whilst I was
seated on a priceless Chippendale settee, I might——"
"You might, but I don't think you would," Chesney
interrupted. "Whatever your faults may be I am sure you
are not mercenary."
"Really! How good of you! The thing that we are apt to
"Is often another name for the promptings of poor human
Miss Marsh turned and stared at the speaker. Really,
his education was progressing at a most amazing rate. Without
the least sign of mental distress he had delivered himself
of an epigram. There was quite a flavor of Piccadilly about
it. And Chesney did not appear in the least conscious of his
achievement. Ethel rose and shook out the folds of her
dainty muslin dress.
"Isn't it getting late?" she asked. "I'm sure it is lunch
time. You can walk as far as the gate with me, and I will
meet you here at three o'clock."
She passed thoughtfully across the lawn to the house, her
pretty brows knitted in a thoughtful frown. Was she giving
her pupil too much latitude? Certainly he had begun to
show symptoms of an audacious presumption, which in the
earlier days had been conspicuous by its absence. Whereupon
Miss Marsh sighed three times without being in the least
aware of the painful fact.
"This," said Chesney, "is the Norman Tower, built by
John Mainbrace, who was the original founder of the family.
The first two trees in the avenue of oaks that leads up to the
house were planted by Queen Elizabeth. She also slept on
several occasions in the house; indeed, the bedroom she occupied
is intact to this day. The Virgin Queen seemed to pass most
of her time, apart from affairs of state, in occupying bedrooms,
so that the descendants of her courtiers might be able to boast
about it afterward. Those who could not give the royal
lady a shakedown had special bedrooms fitted up and lied
about them. It was an innocent deception."
Miss Marsh eyed her pupil distrustfully. The educational
progress was flattering, and at the same time a little disturbing.
She had never seen Chesney in this gay and frivolous, not to
say excited, mood before. The man was positively glib.
There were distinct flashes of wit in his discourse, too. And
where did he get so close and intimate a knowledge of the
old house from?
He knew every nook and corner. He took her through
the grand old park where the herd of fallow deer were grazing;
he showed her the Dutch and Italian gardens; he knew even
the history of the sundial on the terrace. And yet they had
not been within the house, though the great hall door stood
hospitably open. They moved at length out of the glare of
the sunshine into the grateful shadows. Glint of armor
and gleam of canvas were all there. Ethel walked along in
an ecstasy of quiet enjoyment. Rumor had not lied as to
the artistic beauties of Goldney Park. The Mainbraces must
have been a tasteful family. They had it all here, from the
oaken carvings of the wandering monks down through Grinling
Gibbons and Pugin, and away to Chippendale and Adam,
and other masters of the Georgian era. They came at length
to the chamber sacred to the Virgin Queen; they contemplated
the glorious view from the window in silent appreciation
tinged with rapture.
"It's exquisite," Ethel said in a low voice. "If this were
my house I should be very much tempted to commit an act
of sacrilege. I should want this for my own room. I'm
afraid I could not resist such an opportunity."
"Easily done," said Chesney. "No trouble to discover
from the family archives that a mistake had been made, and
that Elizabeth of blessed memory had not slept in this room.
Being strong-minded she preferred a north aspect, and this
is due south. You would get a reputation for sound historical
knowledge as well."
Certainly the education was progressing. But Ethel let
it pass. She was leaning out of the latticed windows with
the creamy roses about her hair; she was falling unconsciously
under the glamour of the place.
"It is exquisite," she sighed. "If this were only mine!"
"Well, it is not too late. The heir will be here before long,
probably. You have only to introduce the name of Mr.
Mainbrace and say who you are, and then——"
"Oh, no. If I happened to be in love with a man—what
am I saying? Of course, no girl who respects herself could
possibly marry a man for the sake of his position. Even
'Mrs. Dorothy Kent,' to whom you compared me this morning,
was above that kind of thing. She married the man she
loved after all, you know. But I forget—you did not think
much of the comedy."
"I didn't. I thought it was vague and incomplete.
I am certain of it now. This is the real thing; the
other was merely artificial. And when the hero brought
'Dorothy Kent' to the home of his ancestors he already
knew that she loved him. And I am glad to know that
you would never marry a man like that because it gives
"Gives you courage! Whatever for?"
"Why, to make a confession. You laughed at me just now
when I presumed to criticize your favorite modern comedy.
As a matter of fact, I have every right to criticize it. You see,
I happen to be the author. I am 'John Kennedy'! I have
been writing for the stage, or trying to write for the stage, for
years. I got my new idea from that old wish of my uncle's
that you and I should come together. It struck me as a pretty
suggestion for a comedy."
"Stop, stop," Ethel cried. "One thing at a time, if you
please. Positively you overwhelm me with surprise. In one
breath you tell me you are 'John Kennedy,' and then, without
giving a poor girl a chance, you say you are the owner of Goldney
"But I didn't," Chesney protested. "I never said anything
of the kind."
"No, but you inferred it. You say you got the idea from
your uncle—I mean the suggestion that you and I—oh, I
really cannot say it."
"I'm afraid I'm but a poor dramatist after all," Chesney
said lamely. "I intended to keep that confession till after
I had—but no matter. At any rate, there is no getting away
from the fact that my pen name is 'John Kennedy.'"
"And you wrote 'Flies in Ointment'? And you have been
laughing at me all this time? You were amused because I
took you for a simple countryman, you whom men call the
Sheridan of to-day! After all the pains I took with your
Ethel's voice rose hysterically. Points of flame stood out
from the level of her memory of the past five weeks and
scorched her. How this man must have been amused, how
consumedly he must have laughed at her! And she had never
guessed it, never once had she had an inkling of the truth.
"You have behaved disgracefully, cruelly," she said
"I don't think so," Chesney said coolly. "After all is
said and done, we were both posing, you know. You were
playing 'Mrs. Kent' to my hero. It seemed a pity to disturb
so pleasant a pastoral. And no harm has been done."
Ethel was not quite so sure of that. But then for the nonce
she was regarding the matter from a strictly personal point of
"I hardly think you were playing the game," she said.
"Why not? I come down here where nobody knows me.
It is my whim to keep quiet the fact that Goldney Park belongs
to me. As to my dramatic tastes, they don't concern anybody
but myself. I take a cottage down here until those tenants
of mine are ready to go. They are such utter bounders that
I have no desire to disclose my identity to them. And so it
falls about that I meet you. Then I recollect all that my
uncle has said about you. I cultivate your acquaintance. It
wasn't my fault that you took me for a countryman with
no idea beyond riding a horse and shooting a pheasant. Your
patronage was very pretty and pleasing, and I am one of
those men who always laugh or cry inside. It is perhaps
a misfortune that I can always joke with a grave face. But
don't forget that the man who laughs inside is also the man
who bleeds inside, and these feel the worst. Come, Ethel,
you are not going to be angry because you have lost the game
playing with your own weapons."
The education was finished, the schoolmaster was abroad—very
much abroad. In his cool, masterful way Chesney
had taken matters into his own hands. He was none
the less handsome because he looked so stern, so sure
of his ground.
"You are a man and I am a woman," she faltered.
"Of course. How could the comedy proceed otherwise?
Now where shall we move these Elizabethan relics? After
what you said just now they could not possibly remain here.
Among the family archives I dare say——"
Chesney paused; he was conscious of the fact that two large
diamond drops were stealing down Ethel's cheeks. It seemed
the most natural thing in the world for him to cross over and
take her hands in his.
"My dear child, what have I said to pain you," he said.
"I am truly sorry."
"You—you take too much for granted," Ethel sobbed.
"You make me feel so small and silly. And you have no
right to assume that I—I could care for anybody simply
because he happens to possess a p—p—place like Goldney
"But, my darling, I didn't. I was delighted when you said
just now that you would never marry a man you did not care
for, even if he could give you Chippendale for breakfast, so
to speak. I watched your face then. I am sure that you
were speaking from the bottom of your heart. I have been
watching you for the last five weeks, my sweetheart. And
they have been the happiest weeks in my life.
"Laughing at me, I suppose! It's all the same if you do
"No, I don't think I laughed," Chesney said thoughtfully.
"I only know that I have been very much charmed. And
besides, see how useful it has been to me to be in a position
to hear all the weak points in my literary armor. When I
come to write my next comedy, it will be far in advance of
'Flies in Ointment.' I have learned so much of human
nature, you see."
Ethel winked the tears from her lids; her eyes were all the
brighter for the passing shower, like a sky in April, Chesney
thought. A smile was on her face, her lips were parted. As
a lover Chesney was charming. She wondered how she was
playing her part. But she need not have had any anxiety.
There was nothing wanting in the eyes of the man opposite,
and his face said so.
"You are going to put me into it?" she asked.
"Why, of course. There is no other woman so far as I can
see. Why are you pulling my roses to pieces like that? Do
you know that that rose tree was planted a hundred years
ago by Thomas à Becket after the battle of Agincourt? My
dear, I am so happy that I could talk nonsense all day. And
I say, Ethel——"
The girl broke off one of the creamy roses and handed
it shyly to Chesney.
"Væ victis," she said with a flushing smile. "It is yours.
You have conquered."
"Yes, but I want all the fruits of victory. I ask for a hand
and you give me—a rose. Am I not going to have the hand
as well as the rose, dear?"
He had the hand and the rose and the slender waist; he drew
her toward him in his strong, masterful way, and his lips lay
on hers in a lingering pressure. It was a long time before the
girl looked up; then her eyes were full of shy happiness.