IONE CLEARS THE SLATE
It was a week later when Ione March explained her position to those concerned. It happened at Dijon, in the wide and pleasant garden before the cliff-like wall of the Hotel de la Cloche. The Judd family was again reunited there, and Ione had readily enough acceded to her father's proposal that they should rejoin them. Governor March and his daughter arrived from Pontarlier by the evening train. Her father had talked to her gently and affectionately most of the way; but in the intervals of her somewhat perfunctory replies Ione had been revolving many things, while the train snorted this way and that up the beautiful valleys which lead through the Jura Mountains towards the inquisatorial purgatory of the Pontarlier custom-house.
The pursuit and cultivation of rich idleness had brought her to this (so the girl meditated bitterly), that, with her father's approval, she had come within measurable distance of spending her life with a man like Kearney Judd. Nay, even now she was on her way to rejoin him, as if nothing had happened. Her father had settled himself in the corner of the carriage, and applied himself to his fortnight-old file of American papers. Ione, sitting silently opposite, gazed steadily out of the window, and set herself to construct another world, in which all the old weary things should have become new and beautiful.
It was on the following morning that she explained herself fully to Kearney. That young man since his flight had found means to provide himself with another outfit, and had returned from Paris after three days of varied enjoyment to rejoin his father and sisters, and to spend ten days in the society of his betrothed. As to the little incident just closed at Grindelwald he had no fears and no regrets — save that he had not been able to "even things up" with Keith Harford. This, however, he promised to himself to do some other day, if the tides of the world should ever bring them together again.
This morning Kearney was sauntering about from seat to shady seat along the pleasant boulevard of Dijon, shifting with the sun and waiting for Ione March. His sisters, as was their custom when travelling, lay long abed, and his father had departed for Paris by the early train. The youth was distinctly bored, but, nevertheless, he lounged and twisted cigarettes with an eye on the hotel door. At last he saw Ione issue forth from the Hotel de la Cloche and come directly towards him. He welcomed the girl's appearance with genuine delight. Her step was quick, light, elastic. Kearney specially admired her way of carrying her head. He hastened to meet her, lifting his hat and holding out his hand.
"I am so glad you have come," he began, rather ineffectually; but who in a public place can extemporise an effective lover's greeting?
Ione did not, however, take his outstretched hand, which, after remaining unsupported in the air for a long moment, fell again to his side.
"I have come to tell you," she spoke determinedly, "once for all, what I think of you and your conduct. Do you know that I went alone to that Grindelwald court, and that I heard all that was testified to there?"
"No doubt — sworn to by your friend, Mr. Keith Harford!" retorted Kearney, who was resolved (as he put it delicately to Astoria), "if he had to take it, not to take it lying down."
"By Mr. Harford and his friend," Ione continued calmly, "as well as by the men themselves. You were at the time skulking in the woods, or flying like a coward from the consequences of your dishonesty. To the last I hoped you would return to support your accusations, or accept the consequences. I spoke on your behalf. I settled matters with the men, and now - "
"Bad as you think me, Ione," smiled Kearney, with an air of large tolerance, "I suppose I am solvent enough to see that you do not lose by your quite foolish generosity. But girls never can look at such things reasonably."
Ione went on as if she had not heard him.
"I wish you to understand exactly, and once for all, where you and I stand. First, there is not now, nor ever will be again, any engagement between us. I do not purpose to marry a cur. But I like your sisters. Your mother has been as kind to me as if she had been my own, and for their sakes you are at liberty to speak to me in their presence, but in their presence alone."
Kearney bowed ironically.
"I do not see that I shall lose very much," he said. ''When I had the honour of being engaged to Miss March, that constituted the bulk of my privileges."
Ione continued to look straight at him. She was wondering if any form of words permitted to women would express the loathing with which she regarded this man. He stood carelessly before her, drawing pentagons on the walk with his stick, to the displeasure of the Republican guardian of the park, who contemplated the intruder with a severity of censure which doubtless would have ended in active remonstrance save for the man's national admiration for a pretty woman. He would not disarrange so charming a demoiselle — but wait!
Ione decided that clearer speech would do no good. When you have called a man a cur and he does not resent it, there is no more to be said.
"You can tell your father and sisters exactly what you please," she said; "I do not ask you to humble yourself at all. The main fact — that for the future there can be no talk of marriage between you and me — I shall make sufficiently clear myself."
"I do not doubt it," interjected Kearney, cavalierly flicking the dust off his boot with a switch; "that was always a branch of business in which you excelled. But, if it is agreeable to you" (at this point he motioned her to one of the green-painted seats near the entrance of the gardens), "I should like, before you go, to make my side of the matter a little more obvious to you."
Standing up very erect, Ione interrupted him.
"The time for that was surely in the Presbytery at Grindelwald, in the presence of Christian Schlegel and Peter Jossi," she said.
"And of Mr. Keith Harford, your English milord!" said Kearney, unabashed; "quite so. But I was not referring to the matter of the guides. The simple, and to me sufficient fact, is that I found I had no use for the fellows. So I got rid of them in the easiest way possible — that is, by 'bearing' their market. And if the thing, owing to the interference of certain officious friends of yours, went a little further than I intended, surely that was no fault of mine. But it was rather to this late engagement of ours that I was about to allude."
He paused and contemplated her. Formerly she had always seemed (as he confided to Astoria) to be looking through a fellow and out at the other side; but now the directness and personality of her gaze left nothing to be desired.
"To be frank," he began, "I do not see what I was supposed to get out of it. I might just as well have been Mr. Keith Harford or any one else, who was not (at that time) engaged to Miss March. I never saw you out of the company of my sisters. Now you treat me as an outcast, merely on account of a little matter of business, in which your judgment did not happen to agree with mine. But I think I have been fairly straight, and certainly exceedingly long-suffering where you were concerned."
The girl moved her feet restlessly on the gravel, knitting and unknitting her fingers.
"Have you finished?" she said. "Please say all that you have to say now."
"I will," he replied promptly. "I decline to resign you in this manner, or for a cause so trivial. I do not consider our engagement at an end. One day you will be compelled to reconsider your decision, and if I understand the position of affairs, that day is not far distant. When that time comes, you will find me a pretty decent sort of fellow. Good-bye, Ione."
He lifted his hat and was gone.
Ione stood thinking over his words. What could he mean by the position of affairs? And why the tone of concealed threat in which he had spoken? However, in any case, she had had enough of the life she was leading. She would go directly to her father. She would tell him all that had been in her mind for weeks past — how she was sick to death of this empty, useless life, with no aim or object, save amusement and the killing of time. She wanted to be one of the workers. She would make a niche for herself somewhere. She could not any longer rest content to be simply Governor March's daughter.
But on her way to find her father she encountered Idalia Judd, in an entirely new suit of daintiness, fresh bathed, fresh clad, fresh parasoled, a white dream of lace and fluttering ribbons. Her sunshade was a separate poem. Its solid, protective parts were about three inches in diameter. The rest was composed of a creamy extravagance of lace, through which the dimpled lights and shadows danced and played bo-peep with the ever-varying expressions of the most bewitching face in the world.
At the sight of Ione she gave a little scream of joy.
"You dear! I'm so glad to see you!" she cried; "you are the only girl in the world I prefer to a sweetheart. And I think you like me better than poor Kearney. Have you been very cross with him? Yes, I suppose so; but now you've made it up, haven't you, like good children? That used always to be the nicest part. I wonder if you make up nicely. I do. Billy Pitt — no, Harvard Bobby it was — used always to say that it was worth while to get up a quarrel just for that. But he couldn't have loved me much when he said that, could he? Afterwards he married one of those horrid McEnricks, the pork girls, you know — which proved it!” She added the last sentence reflectively, with a sigh of renunciation.
"Yes," smiled Ione, who never could be quite insensible to the bright irrelevancy of her friend; "but something happened in between, I think. Didn't you refuse him, Idalia?"
Idalia thrust out her short upper lip with a pretty grimace.
"Well, yes, perhaps I did," she admitted slowly and candidly; "you see, it is never any fun unless they propose. Anyway, it is always the quickest way when you get tired. Besides, it is such fun. They all do it so differently. There is the Shy Nice Stupid Boy, whom you have to boost up to the top of the wall, but who shuts his eyes and goes it head-foremost when he does make up his mind. That kind always kisses you unexpected-like, jumping for your cheek the way an East River boy ducks for apples. Boston Bobby was that kind —that is, at first. I was real sorry for Bobby. Then there is the Handsome Condescending. That was Percy Attwood's style — sort of first-family-of-New-England tone about Percy. Been doing it this way for several centuries — generally considered an honour, don't-you-know. That is the very kind of young man who always does have a bad time if a girl has any snap. Did you ever have any one propose to you, Ione?" Idalia hurried on — "except Kearney, of course — being engaged never counts if you mean to stick to it?"
"But I do not mean to stick to it, Idalia," said lone very seriously; "indeed, Mr. Judd and I have agreed that there shall be no more of it. I am not engaged to your brother."
Idalia threw up her hands with a little cry.
"Oh, I am so sorry. Poor, poor Kearney! I know he has behaved so badly. But you won't cast him off, or refuse to see him. That is sure to make him just horrid and unbearable for weeks. At any rate, you might have waited till the day before he sailed. Ione — I didn't think it of you!"
And Idalia's eyes were so tearfully reproachful that they made Ione laugh.
"It won't matter," she said; "I am going away. I think I am going to earn my own living."
Idalia's face became at once a study of wonder, not unmixed with horror, at this bewildering announcement.
"Going to earn your own living!" she cried. "Ione March, what are you talking about? You a shop-girl — though, to be sure," she added, dimpling thoughtfully for a moment, with an air of taking in all sides of the case, "even that might have its advantages. There are such nice-looking clerks in really first-class dry goods stores. Oh, I wish I could go too! Wouldn't we just make things 'hum,' you and I? And then we could pick up such bargains, being in the inside ring, as it were. But no, Ione — you are not in earnest. Besides, your father would never consent to your being a shop-girl. Suppose he went in for a pair of mittens, and you had to serve him. What fun that would be!"
"I was not thinking of going into a store," said Ione. "I have not yet decided what I shall do — only that I am utterly tired of doing nothing!"
"Oh, so am I, heartily!" cried Idalia. "I wish I had gone with papa to Paris. I can't imagine why any one stays in Dijon, can you? It is so dull. Not a soul worth looking at, and the soldiers all such little fellows. Now at Saumur on the Loire, or one of those rivers where father had a chateau once, there was a cavalry school, and quite a lot of nice men. Cavalry are nice anywhere, don't you think so? Only just a little stupid. Perhaps it's the oats and forage they have to know about! And, do you know, I made all the officers learn English. Talking to me quite helped their studies, they said."
Ione smiled more brightly as her companion rattled merrily on her way.
"But where was I — tell me, bright waif?" she cried, clasping Ione's arm; "I've got lost. Oh, yes, I remember; I started in with your sending poor Kearney about his business, and I had got to Saumur where school didn't keep. But seriously, Ione, you will make it up with Kearney, won't you? And if you want badly to earn your living he will get you a sweet little office all to yourself on Twenty-Third Street, where you will be fairly near our house on Fifth Avenue. If I were you, I would set up a typewriting bureau. I am sure, if I were a man, I should be just dying to have you type my things. And you would soon be quite popular, and have a lovely time with authors and dramatists. But dramatic critics are the handsomest — only so conceited. And they are tremendously high-toned, they won't mix with the others; so you would have to run a little branch establishment specially for them. I could manage that, if you liked."
As she made the suggestion Idalia patted her fichu laces into the most bewitching shapes, and smiled at her friend through the interstices of her parasol fringe, as if Ione were a dramatic critic who was in danger of taking his typewriting business to some other office.
First serialised in 'Woman at Home' as 'The Woman of Fortune' in 1899.