Meanwhile the two principals held the real centre of the stage. Betty Medill—or was it Betty Parkhurst?—weeping furiously, was surrounded by the plainer girls—the prettier ones were too busy talking about her to pay much attention to her—and over on the other side of the hall stood the camel, still intact except for his head-piece, which dangled pathetically on his chest. Perry was earnestly engaged in making protestations of his innocence to a ring of angry, puzzled men. Every few minutes just as he had apparently proved his case someone would mention the marriage certificate, and the inquisition would begin again.
A girl named Marion Cloud, considered the second best belle of Toledo, changed the gist of the situation by a remark she made to Betty.
“Well,” she said maliciously, “it’ll all blow over, dear. The courts will annul it without question.”
Betty’s tears dried miraculously in her eyes, her lips shut tightly together, and she flashed a withering glance at Marion. Then she rose and scattering her sympathizers right and left walked directly across the room to Perry, who also rose and stood looking at her in terror. Again silence crept down upon the room.
“Will you have the decency,” she said, “to grant me five minutes’ conversation—or wasn’t that included in your plans?”
He nodded, his mouth unable to form words.
Indicating coldly that he was to follow her she walked out into the hall with her chin uptilted and headed for the privacy of one of the little card rooms.
Perry started after her, but was brought to a jerky halt by the failure of his hind legs to function.
“You stay here!” he commanded savagely.
“I can’t,” whined a voice from the hump, “unless you get out first and let me get out.”
Perry hesitated, but the curious crowd was unbearable, and unable any longer to tolerate eyes he muttered a command and with as much dignity as possible the camel moved carefully out on its four legs.
Betty was waiting for him.
“Well,” she began furiously, “you see what you’ve done! You and that crazy license! I told you, you shouldn’t have gotten it! I told you!”
“My dear girl, I——”
“Don’t dear-girl me! Save that for your real wife if you ever get one after this disgraceful performance.”
“And don’t try to pretend it wasn’t all arranged. You know you gave that coloured waiter money! You know you did! Do you mean to say you didn’t try to marry me?”
“No—I mean, yes—of course——”
“Yes, you’d better admit it! You tried it, and now what are you going to do? Do you know my father’s nearly crazy? It’ll serve you right if he tries to kill you. He’ll take his gun and put some cold steel in you. O-o-oh! Even if this marr—this thing can be annulled it’ll hang over me all the rest of my life!”
Perry could not resist quoting softly: “’Oh, camel, wouldn’t you like to belong to the pretty snake charmer for all your——’”