THE DRYAD DOOR
It was a horrible day at sea, horrible even on board the new and splendid Monarchic. All the prettiest people had disappeared from the huge dining-saloon. They had turned green, and then faded away, one by one or in hurried groups; and now the very thought of music at meals made them sick, in ragtime.
Peter Rolls was never sick in any time or in any weather, which was his one disagreeable, superior-to-others trick. Most of his qualities were likable, and he was likable, though a queer fellow in some ways, said his best friends—the ones who called him "Petro." When the ship played that she was a hobby-horse or a crab (if that is the creature which shares with elderly Germans a specialty for walking from side to side), also a kangaroo, and occasionally a boomerang, Peter Rolls did not mind.
He was sorry for the men and girls he knew, including his sister, who lay in deck chairs pretending to be rugs, or who went to bed and wished themselves in their peaceful graves. But for himself, the wild turmoil of the waves filled him with sympathetic restlessness. It had never occurred to Peter that he was imaginative, yet he seemed to know what the white-faced storm was saying, and to want to shout an answer.
The second morning out (the morning after the Monarchic had to pass Queenstown without taking on the mails or putting off enraged passengers) Peter thought he would go to the gymnasium and work up an appetite for luncheon. He had looked in the first day, and had seen a thing which could give you all the sensations and benefits of a camel ride across the desert. He had ridden camels in real deserts and liked them. Now he did not see why waves should not answer just as well as dunes, and was looking forward to the experiment; but he must have been absent-minded, for when he opened what ought to have been the gymnasium door, it was not the gymnasium door. It was—good heavens!—what was it?
Peter Rolls, the unimaginative young man, thought that he must be in his berth and dreaming he was here. For this room that he was looking into could not possibly be a room on a ship, not even on the Monarchic, that had all the latest, day-after-to-morrow improvements and luxuries. The very bread was to-morrow's bread; but these marvellous creatures could not be supplied by the management as improvements or luxuries of any kind. Peter seemed to have opened a door into a crystal-walled world peopled entirely by dryads.
He thought of dryads, because in pictures, beings called by that name were taller, slimmer, more graceful, more beautiful, and had longer legs than young females of mortal breed. There were five of them (at least he believed there were five), and though it was eleven o'clock in the morning, they were dressed as if for the prince's ball in the story of "Cinderella." Unless on the stage, Peter had never seen such dresses or such girls.
He heard himself gasp; and afterward, when he and a wave together had banged the door shut, he hoped that he had said: "I beg your pardon." He was so confused, however, that he was not at all sure he had not blurted out "Good Lord!"
For a moment he stood as still as the sea would let him in front of the door, burning to open it again and see if the girls were really there....