THE CUCKOO LEAVES THE NEST
Next morning Ione was first of all the girls at the office. The manager only was before her. He stood at his desk in the inner office arranging the work for the day, and looking over the pile of letters requiring attention. Ione went up to him with her usual light, quick, decisive step.
"I am obliged to you, sir, for your courtesy to me, and for the attention which you were good enough to pay to my father's wishes," she said; "but you will not be surprised that when I know the facts I cannot continue to accept work on these conditions. I shall have to give up my position here."
The manager was a young man still, though lifelong absorption in a rushing business had aged him before his time.
"Miss March," he said earnestly enough, "I hope you will not do that. Apart altogether from your father's wishes, you do your work very well. Yesterday you read that difficult scientific manuscript, after two others had failed. We cannot afford to do without you."
He smiled and resumed the scrutiny of his letters, as if he considered the matter at an end. But Ione had no intention that it should be settled so easily.
"I am indeed sorry, sir, that I cannot agree with you. You mean it in the kindest way, I know. But by receiving wages on the conditions which my father arranged with you I am keeping some one else out of an excellent position. I am usurping some other girl's place. Be good enough to inform me what notice I must give to the Company, in order that I may make other arrangements."
"I trust you will see things differently and remain with us," said the manager, coming round from his desk, and standing up (as he did to a good customer) with his hand on the ledge of his bureau. "The girls will soon get over any little feeling they may have at present, and I can assure you that you will find yourself better off in a large and well-appointed office than elsewhere."
Ione shook her head and smiled at him.
"I did not propose, when I left home and undertook to earn my living, that my father should pay my wages."
"I assure you, madam," said the manager emphatically, "that, though we were certainly glad to oblige a man so well known and influential as Governor March, we should be sorry to lose your services for their own sake."
"Thank you," said Ione; "but, nevertheless, I should like, if possible, to leave to-night."
The manager was more and more anxious to get back to his correspondence. He had been casting furtive glances at it over the corner of his desk. He had done his best. The daughter of the rich war governor was well enough, but, after all, he had a long and complicated day's work before him. In a few minutes his town travellers upon commission would be upon him, and he did not yet know how many machines he had received from New York ready to be put upon the London market.
"I am indeed sorry," he said, bowing to the girl with an air of finality, "if it is your intention to leave us. But, of course, so far as the Gopher & Arlington Company is concerned, you are at liberty to come and go at your pleasure."
Ione thanked him cordially, and was turning away.
"Miss March," he continued, "if you wish at any time a testimonial from us to enable you to obtain another situation, I shall be glad to be of any service to you. I am sure you will find such a guarantee almost essential."
"I should like to take one now," said practical Ione, smiling upon him.
The manager gasped and started, glancing piteously at the pile of letters still unopened before him.
"Very well," he said; "I shall make a note of the matter and dictate you a certificate in the course of the day."
Ione went to her place. The girls were already passing in, and with business-like quickness arranging their work upon their little tables. One or two of them even glanced distantly in her direction. Jane Allen walked directly up to Ione and shook hands.
"Good-morning," she said. "I am glad to see you. And so will all the other girls be soon. They are coming round."
"It will have to be very soon, then," said Ione, smiling, "for the nest will be empty this evening at six. The 'cuckoo' is going to fly sharp at that hour."
"You are not leaving?" queried the girl, astonished.
Ione smiled and nodded as she inserted more sheets of "scientific" in her copy-holder.
"My dear," she said, "what I told you is true. You believe it, but the girls might not. Besides, when you leave home to earn your own living, you don't want your father to help pay your wages."
There was a flush of reproach on the pale face of Jane Allen.
"You are not going to make it up with him?" she whispered suspiciously, with an accent on the pronoun which showed that she did not refer to Governor March.
This time Ione laughed outright.
"There is no fear of that!" she said, smiling down at the fierce impetuosity of her companion.
"Ah, you never know," said the pale girl, speaking in a low, intense whisper, "when they come excusing and explaining, and coaxing and petting. At first you tell him that you hate the sight of him. But if he catches you round the waist (as he will be sure to do if he knows his business), then sharp little strings begin to tug about your heart that you never knew were there before — why, then there is no saying what you may be fool enough to do."
And again the blue eyes filled with fire, burning with a dry and tearless flame, which lighted up the pale face with a certain fierce dignity.
"Do not be afraid," said Ione gently, putting a hand on her arm; "he will never come back, nor trouble me any more."
At that moment the manager came out of the inner office, and the girls were soon clicking away for dear life. Jane Allen went to her place, and began to rattle faster than any of them, as if to work off some hidden emotion. Only once she leaned over to her neighbour with a paper in her hand, as if to ask a question. When she returned to her work the fluttering sheet had disappeared.
Instantly a leaven of interest and kindliness began to spread about the room, washing unregarded round the window-seat where Ione sat, unconscious of all save her task. Soon the girls no longer avoided the place. One came and asked the loan of the office dictionary, "if Miss March was quite sure she was not using it?" Another took one of two damask roses from her bosom and laid it on Ione's desk as she passed.
“It's rather faded," she whispered, "but it has a nice enough scent, and it will suit your colour of hair."
As Ione thanked her, with the smile which had been as irresistible to women as to men, she became conscious of the new atmosphere which had begun to pervade the large workroom, and of course put the change down to the beneficent influence of Jane Allen.
It was at the dinner-hour that these manifestations reached their climax. As the girls were filing out, the dark, sullen girl whom Ione had dispossessed in passing laid a paper on her desk, and without a word or moving a muscle went her way. Ione opened the note, which was folded in the orthodox manner, and written upon a slightly damaged sheet of office paper. It read thus: --
‘ ‘ Gopher & Arlington Type_Writer Co. ,
‘ ‘ 1005, King William Street,
‘ ‘ We, the girls in this office, are sorry for our rudeness to Miss March, the result of a misunderstanding. We beg to offer sincere apologies. We also join in hoping that Miss March will remain among us.’ ’
Then followed a strange variety of marks, asterisks, double hyphens, broken single letters, twenty or thirty in all, arranged at intervals down the page like a Chinese ideograph.
Beneath these was a note written by hand in the upright civil service handwriting authorised by the direction for the insertion of corrections which could not be typewritten:--
" I don’t mind about the table in the window a little bit. I can see just as well where I am. I hope you will stop.
The tears welled up from deep down in Ione's heart. For the first time since she had discovered the hollowness of her life on the Dijon boulevard she felt inclined to cry. She started up impulsively to follow the dark girl. But there was no one in the room except Jane Allen, who as usual took her dinner interval at a later hour than the others.
Ione went over to her with the paper in her hand.
"You did this!" she said, with a kind of uncertainty in her voice, which in another woman would have been the prelude to hysterics.
The pale girl looked up quickly.
"Now, don't," she said, rising to her feet; "that never does any good—except sometimes when he is near and you have a chance to cry your cry out comfortably."
"But what are all these marks?" asked Ione, with a somewhat strained little laugh, in order to change the subject. For Ione had an idea that in talking to the pale girl she was somehow treading perilously near the verges of a tragedy.
"Oh, the things on the paper," said Jane Allen. "These are the girls' own marks — private signatures, that is. You see, all our machines except yours are old ones, and though they look the same, so that most people can't tell one from the other, there's always something different about every typewriter, so that we can distinguish their work. See that capital F — it has got no fore-serif. It's like one of those long s's in old books. That's the typing signature of the tall fair girl, Milly Nunn, who runs machine number ten over there in the corner. That 'period' below the line is mine, and the dagger with the point broken off so close that it looks like a cross is Cissy's, the girl who gave you the paper."
A warmth ran round Ione's heart.
"They are good, kind girls," she said, softly, meditating to herself. "I shall be sorry to leave!"
"Then you won't go?" said Jane Allen, who misinterpreted the signs of resolution.
"No," said Ione, " I must leave all the same. Only now I shall be sorry to go. That is all the difference."
A flash lit up the face of the pale girl — something hopeful and glorifying, as if sudden sunshine had lighted upon her ruddy hair. For the first time it struck Ione that in health and the elation of hope she must have been very pretty. Her hair was of the richest Venetian red, with golden lights and mahogany shadows in it; and it stood out round her face in a misty aureole, all wisps and streaks like a stormy sunset,
"I say," she said eagerly, "if you mean work really, will you room with me? You are a lady. You've lived in hotels and abroad. You've always had pretty things about you, and you don't know a bit what a single room up Clapham-way means. But with me I think you would be fairly comfortable —at least, till you get something better."
Jane Allen had grown suddenly shy, and Ione's pause of silence disconcerted her. "Of course if you 'd rather not " she began.
Ione put her hands on the girl's thin angular shoulders and looked into her eyes.
"Do you know, Jane," she said, "I feel as if my life were just beginning. You and the girls have melted me more than all my past life put together. I am really quite poor. I am stopping at an hotel, which is much dearer than I can afford. I am leaving my situation. I have a quick temper; but if you will have me, I shall be glad to come with you."
Jane Allen threw her arms about Ione's neck.
"Oh," she cried, "don't be alarmed, we’ll knock it out together right enough. Most of us are a pretty decent lot — as good as you can expect for fifteen shillings a week — and overtime. And as for temper, you will find that there's a good deal of that about in the hot weather. I've got a prime sample of my own. Only I don't keep it to myself, nor put it out to nurse. Oh no; it comes away like snow off a roof, and for five minutes every one gets the benefit of it—first come, first served. But you and I will hit it, so long as we agree never to sulk or bear grudges without speaking out."
"Oh, I’ll tell quick enough," said Ione, with that perilously sweet smile which several times had brought her lips into danger in conservatories and upon moonlight promenades. lone had a way of confiding a smile to a spectator as if it were meant as a personal compliment — which is well enough with women, but may be dangerous with men.
"Do you know, Ione (may I call you that?), I'm going to kiss you just once for keeps, and then stop. You’ll think I'm a great one for kissing. Well, I'm not. I have not kissed any one — since — ah, since ever so long ago!"
She caught her hand to her breast quickly, as though a memory took her by the throat.
"But there's something about you. I don't know what it is; but I'm sure if I were your sweetheart I would kiss you hard — yes, hard and often. And yet you never have been kissed?"
A bright and hearty laugh from Jane Allen's new room-mate destroyed the tension of the situation.
"Oh yes, I have!" she cried, with humorous indignation. "Why do you think I've never been kissed?"
The pale girl had the hectic brightness on her cheek-bones now, and her eyes were dark and dewy, the fire in them all quenched in dreamy retrospection.
"Oh, no — you haven't," she said, smiling softly at Ione; "you know nothing about it. But you will, yes, you will — some day!"
THE CUCKOO IN THE NEST
When Ione came to London to begin life on her own account, she obtained a situation with almost suspicious promptitude. Upon her first arrival, she had applied for work to several prominent typewriting agencies. These had no vacancies, but in every case her name was taken, the rate at which she could write shorthand noted and filed, presumably for reference, together with an impromptu specimen of her by no means discreditable performance upon the nearest machine which happened to be disengaged.
Then it came into her head that in the advertisements of the typewriters which she had always used with her father, the purchase of which had been committed to her, she had observed it stated that typewriting in all its branches was carried on by the company. She found the offices of the Gopher & Arlington Company in a new building near the eastern end of the Embankment. The firm was a dignified and exclusive corporation, and the announcement upon the door without simply intimated the fact that the Gopher & Arlington typewriter might be purchased within. But in the hushed yet busy office a score of clicking machines were being driven along at different rates of speed, each shrilling its own peculiar note of irritation as busy girlish fingers tripped lightly over the keys.
At the first mention of her name, Ione March was shown at once to the manager's room. Her heart sank as she entered. She made certain that she had been mistaken for a customer, and now that she was an applicant for work such a supposition was inauspicious. But yet, on the mere declaration of her needs and capacities, she found herself engaged. At least, she was to be accepted on probation, and the wages were a pound a week. In five minutes Ione found herself with her hat and coat off, seated beside a beautiful new machine, close by one of the largest windows of the wide City office.
Her heart beat quickly as after a draught of wine while she fingered the keys and tried the paces of her machine. Definitely this was life at last, she thought. She stole one glance at the busy girls around her, and observing that not one of them paused to lift their eyes or appeared to observe the new-comer, a strange elation and joy pervaded her whole being.
"At last I too am a worker," she said to herself; "I am on the street level of humanity. I am a unit in the great army of those who earn the bread they eat."
Her meditations were cut short by the appearance at her side of a girl with eyes of a faint and cloudy blue and hair rebelliously wispy, which stood out in auburn tufts about her brow. She set a black japanned structure before Ione and was retreating without a word. Ione looked up inquiringly. The girl with the blue tired eyes surveyed her sternly, but when the bright frankness of Ione's glance encountered hers the hard expression melted a little.
"The manager sends you this copy-holder," she said quietly, and forthwith vanished back towards the upper end of the hall, among cashiers' desks and multitudinous obstructions of polished hardwood.
Ione was at first exceedingly grateful, but after she had finished a sheet or two, and was pausing to read her work over, it struck her that she alone of all those bending and clicking workers possessed such a thing as a copy-holder. It was strange, and Ione strove to fathom the meaning of this especial favour. It seemed a singularly delicate compliment to pay to a new-comer.
But the matter did not long disturb her. She was delighted with her new avocation, and tingled with happiness as she touched the keys of the beautiful machine she had been set to "operate." They went down easily as her slim but capable fingers pressed them, and they rose with a fine crisp insurgence which imparted a feeling of life to the keyboard. A corresponding elation took hold of Ione. She had never, she thought, been so happy before. She felt that she could pass her life amid such surroundings.
"How could my father," she meditated, "know the happiness of work himself, and yet deny it to me, his only daughter?"
Promptly at the stroke of one all the girls rose quietly and went to a little dressing-room in the rear of the main building. From this they presently emerged in straggling groups, silent so long as they were upon the premises tenanted by the Gopher & Arlington Company, but (as Ione was enabled to see through her window) voluble enough so soon as they reached the pavement of the dingy little lateral street, on the side-walk of which they formed a troublous eddy, tossed aside, as it were, by the stream of traffic which poured ceaselessly up and down the great thoroughfare in front.
Ione noticed that not a glance betraying the slightest interest was thrown in her direction — not a smile nor so much as a nod was wasted upon her. This, she thought, might be business etiquette, but it did not at all accord with that good comradeship which she had always heard obtained amongst fellow-workers. She had never doubted her power to make people like her; and now, though she would not own it to herself, she was intensely disappointed. Two girls only were left in the working hall after the general exodus — the girl with the pale clever face shaded by the jagged wisps of ruddy hair above her brow, and a dark silent girl who clicked steadily at her machine in a dusky corner near the door of the manager's room.
Ione took a sheet of her manuscript in her hand, and, for the first time in her life, hungry for recognition and sympathy, started towards the dark girl, resolved to ask her a question. But as she went she saw the girl with the blue eyes watching her as a cat watches a mouse. There was something strangely attractive about the face which was turned to her, something of the keenly defensive look of a frightened wild animal that has been hunted and expects to be hunted again. Ione changed her mind, and went towards her instead of in the direction of the dark girl.
She smiled frankly as she advanced — that trustful smile which had enslaved the Sisters of the Convent, and which had never been crossed by ill-success or any angry word.
"Would you mind telling me, please," she said, "how I should do this note? Ought I to put it at the foot of the page under a line, or place it here in the margin?"
The girl averted her eyes, so that she should not look Ione in the face.
"I am not here to teach other people their work!" she replied brusquely, and forthwith turned to her own machine.
For a moment Ione was stunned. Tears rose involuntarily in her eyes. She was turning away, when it suddenly struck her that there must be a misunderstanding somewhere.
"Do you know, that was not very kindly said," she answered slowly; "I am a new-comer. We would not do that to you if you came to my country."
"Yes, you would," answered the girl defiantly, "if I came to your country as you have come to ours."
"I think there must be some mistake," said Ione, faltering a little; "I am an American girl. I came to London simply to earn my bread."
The girl darted an angry look at her, and not even the anger of dark eyes is so wounding as the steely glitter when kindly blue ones glance suddenly keen as rapiers.
"Earn your bread!" she said scornfully. "Oh, yes; we know all about your bread."
"Indeed," said Ione, in some distress; "then you know more than I do. For it will be a week before I touch a penny of my wages."
The girl with the pale face shook her head angrily, so that the ruddy elf-locks stood out more belligerently than ever. Ione was turning away sadly, but with an instinct for the right word at the right moment, which never deserted her in an emergency, she sent back a Parthian shot over her shoulder.
"I am sorry that you are unkind. I was sure from the first that you would like me!"
The girl looked up quickly, and turned her head very slightly to see whether the dark girl was listening. She was clicking steadily and sullenly, in the dim corner by the manager's door. Then, with the slightest movement of her head, she recalled Ione to her side. And the daughter of the millionaire went with gratitude and joy.
"When you get out, go up the side street out there," she said. "Meet me at the east corner, behind the office, at half-past two, and I will talk to you."
The sullen girl had lifted her head and was looking at them with a peculiar expression on her face. Ione's companion, observing this, shrugged her shoulders and tossed her head.
"I have nothing further to say to you, miss!" she said loudly to Ione, as if she had been answering a question or refusing an appeal.
Whereat, understanding that she was dismissed, Ione returned to her place.
Precisely as the clock struck the hour, the girls began to return in twos and threes. As they entered, they went first to the cloak-room, and then, as directly as a homing bee, each returned to her own work. No one stole a glance in her direction, and Ione understood that this inexplicable lack of interest meant that for some unknown offence she had been sent to the typists' Coventry, for her intrusion upon the offices of the Gopher & Arlington Corporation.
"Never mind," so she comforted herself; "the pale girl will tell me all about it, and I shall know how to make it all right with them. They shall like me before I have done with them."
It was her first rebuff, and it came specially hard upon lone just when her heart yearned wildly to be friendly with all her fellow-workers.
Exactly at half-past two she was at the east corner of the side street so lucidly designated by the girl of the revolutionary love-locks. She was not to be seen. Ione walked two or three times backward and forward, growing gradually conscious of the eyes which followed her from first-floor offices, where young gentlemen with pens in their hands called each other forward to look at her. Just as she was beginning to fear that she might have mistaken the place or gone to the wrong corner, her arm was seized from the dark of a doorway beside a little pork shop, and she was pulled inside. She found herself face to face with the pale girl. Without speaking a word, they went up the stairs to a barren little landing paved with stone flags round which closed and grimy doors frowned at the two girls, as if demanding their business there.
"I am glad you have come," said Ione, without circumlocution; "now tell me, what have I done wrong that the girls do not like me?"
"They think you are a 'cuckoo,' " answered the pale girl promptly.
"'A cuckoo'!" said Ione, bewildered. "Is this a joke?"
"You will find it no joke!" said her companion, nodding somewhat truculently, yet with an obvious effort, and she averted her face as often as she met the honest forth-looking eyes of lone March.
“Why, then, do you call me a 'cuckoo'?" said Ione.
"You want me to tell you — then I will!" burst out the pale girl. "You are a 'cuckoo' because you have been 'planted' upon us. Oh, we know all about it at the Gopher & Arlington. We've been there before. You don't earn your own living. A gentleman came and arranged about you with the manager. He, and not the company, pays your wages. That isn't any pound-a-week dress. These aren't pound-a-week shoes! No, nor what you have got at the end of that gold chain under your dress — that's no pound-a-week locket. I don't ask what it is. Maybe I don't quite blame you as the rest of the girls do. But just the same, you are a 'cuckoo.' If you are square, then you don't need the work. Or else you come to improve, so that you may undersell us, and cut our rates for the sake of a little extra pocket-money. You take the bread out of somebody's mouth—you that don't need it. And you are so good-looking that you’ll be sent to all the fat jobs. You’ll have the nicest letters to write and all the easiest pickings—just as you've got the new machine and a copy-holder. Look here, did you see that girl in the dark corner? Well, she was told to give up her seat near the window to you, and her eyes are weak. Isn't that enough reason why you are a 'cuckoo'?"
The pale girl had grown excited with her oratory. Courage had come to her in the act of speech, as, indeed, it has a trick of doing. Her eyes engaged somewhat fiercely those dark ones of Ione's, over which there was now spreading a surface-mist of unshed tears.
But in a moment Ione had commanded herself.
"There is some mistake," she said quickly. "I came to the Gopher & Arlington quite by chance, after trying several other offices. The manager was very kind. He questioned me and asked my name. As soon as I told him, he engaged me at once. But certainly no one came to arrange about me, for I don't know a soul in London at this moment except yourself and the people at the hotel where I have always stayed!"
The girl still regarded her somewhat suspiciously, but Ione's eyes had their wonted effect, and doubt shrank before the level loyalty which shone out of their depths.
"What is your name?" she asked less aggressively.
"My name is Ione March."
"Mine is Jane Allen," volunteered the girl, tacitly acknowledging the courtesy and speaking with more equality than she had yet shown. "I do like you — and if what you tell me is true - "
Ione's eyes were still upon her, and she could not this time drop hers. Jane Allen moved restively and tapped the grimy flags of the landing with her foot.
"You know that what I say is true!" said Ione quietly.
"But there certainly was a gentleman here. We all saw him — very handsome, with grey hair, and he had a long talk with the manager. He brought him a letter of introduction from the manager of the First National Bank of Chicago. I know because Ruth Menks, who is in the private office (she writes ninety words a minute), found the envelope in the waste-paper basket and showed it me. Then, after the gentleman went, when she was called in again, she got orders that Miss Briggs was to give up her table, that a new machine was to be sent there and the place left vacant. These were all signs. We had seen them before. And so the girls nodded to each other and said 'Cuckoo!' Then you came along, and were engaged like a shot."
A sudden thought struck Ione — a thought which heated her cheek, and yet which made her inclined to laugh.
She took a photograph out of a small leather case she carried in her pocket, and handed it to Miss Jane Allen.
"Was that your handsome grey-haired gentleman?" she said.
The girl looked at Ione with a sudden contemptuous sharpening of her features, expressed by a certain narrowing of the eyes, and a quick droop of the muscles at the corner of the nose. "That's the man," she said in a low voice. "I thought so. The girls were right, after all!"
"Open the case at the back," answered Ione calmly, "and read what is written on it."
The girl touched the catch somewhat contemptuously, and pulled open the little leather flap.
"To Ione March, from her affectionate father, Henry Quincy March," she read aloud.
"Is this your father?" she asked; "and are you really called Ione March?"
"That is true," smiled Ione; "I see it all now. My father wished me to get an easy situation; and in his innocence he thought that he would arrange matters quietly — 'man to man,' as he always says. So he went straight to the manager and, well — arranged them with a vengeance."
"Now look here," said Jane Allen, jerking her head emphatically, "of course you might have written the whole thing yourself. I don't know your handwriting. But all the same I believe you, though I warn you the girls may not. But what made you leave home if your father is as rich as all that — the boss seeing him to the door as if he were the Managing Director, and everything arranged in a minute?"
Ione hesitated. It seemed strange that she should be willing to make the most private explanations on the grimy first landing of a dismal London staircase, to a little cockney girl with pale blue eyes and wispy locks of reddish hair beneath her shilling hat. "There was trouble at home," she said slowly, and looked away through the window.
"Ah," said Jane Allen, with the instinctive sympathy of a fellow-sufferer in her voice. She came very quickly a step nearer, and looked piercingly into Ione's eyes. "It was about your young man, wasn't it? Would they not let you have him?"
"Hardly that," said Ione gravely, wondering how she would put the matter. "I — he, that is - "
"He was not true to you?" questioned the pale girl, a light beginning to burn like a lamp in her eyes and a hectic flush beaconing on her cheek; "he went away, didn't he — cast you off, didn't he ? I know them!"
"Not exactly," said Ione, hesitating. "I was engaged to a young man, and — well, I found him out; that's all!"
And a little throb came into her throat which the pale girl mistook for tears. It was really thankfulness.
Jane Allen's eyes blazed. She breathed quick and short and caught Ione by the wrist.
"Thank God for that, Miss March, if you did it in time!"
"So I left home," continued Ione; "I could not stay any longer there: and I came to London to earn my living."
"Of course you couldn't!" cried Jane Allen. "I know!"
Ione held out her hand, but the pale girl, with a quick and lively joy on her face, threw her arms about her neck and kissed her.
"I'm so glad you found him out," she almost sobbed. "I'm so glad you found him out in time!"
THE CONSENT OF GOVERNOR MARCH
But Ione had still a much more serious ordeal of explanation to face with her father. He had been confined to his room all the morning with a chill, and Ione found him busily working up his arrears of correspondence. When her light knock came to the door of his room Governor March answered with the nervous irritation of a man who has yet much to accomplish.
"May I come in, father?" said a fresh young voice outside, high and clear.
At the first sound of the words Mr. March passed his hand rapidly across his forehead, as though sweeping away some invisible cobwebs. Then he pushed a collection of letters and papers hastily into a table-drawer and turned to open the door to his daughter.
"Why, Ione," he said, "I call this a treat. I am glad to see you. I thought that you had gone off somewhere with the girls and Kearney."
The girl patted her father affectionately and indulgently on the head. Then she rearranged his still abundant hair with a couple of swift finger-passes, seized him determinedly by the chin, brought his head up to a convenient kissing level—and kissed him.
"It was just about Kearney Judd that I was going to speak to you, fatherkin," she said. "I want you to know that I have given him up. I never did care for him, and since that business at Grindelwald I simply could not bear to go on a day longer thinking what such a man might be to me."
Her father's face seemed to grow greyer and older as he listened. His nether lip quivered, but he would not let his daughter see his emotion. He walked to the window and looked out upon the long clean-swept street and at the well-behaved little children in the park, walking two by two, with a white-stringed bonne behind each couple. After a while he spoke.
"But have you thought what this will mean to us all?" he said, a little unevenly. "How can we remain friendly with the Judds if your engagement is broken off, Ione?" He spoke gently; yet the girl felt instinctively that he waited her answer with a certain trepidation. But she resolved not to be more serious than she could help. So she answered lightly enough, --
"I have thought of that, father. Idalia and her mother are all right, and as for the rest, they don't matter a row of pins to us!"
"Perhaps not," replied her father, rising and beginning to pace up and down the room restlessly, as he had a habit of doing when his mind was disturbed; "but the truth is, Ione, I am engaged in very extensive operations with John Cyrus Judd, — operations involving many millions of dollars — and I cannot tell all in a minute how this news may affect me. I am under very deep obligations to Mr. Judd, and - "
Governor March stopped, and looked at his daughter, as if for a moment he meditated some appeal to her. But, instead, he only sighed deeply and was silent.
"I came to tell you something else too, father," she said, laying her clasped hands palm downwards on his shoulders, and looking affectionately up in his face. "I am tired of being no better than a drag and a burden upon you. I do nothing, and I never have done anything, to help you. Let me go out and work for my living, as you did. I have been educated expensively, yet you know I have never earned a penny. My whole life has been swaddled in cotton wool. It is a dead life, a useless life. Father, I would rather sell flowers on the street, I would rather peddle candy on a train, than go on like this. Let me go out and do something. I know French and German well enough to teach a little, I suppose." She smiled. "You yourself made me learn shorthand and the typewriter, like the good old dad that you were. That surely is some outfit. I have good health. I know I have a spirit which will make me go through with things. Let me swim out a bit into the open and feel the need of keeping myself afloat, as you did when you were a young man."
Almost at her first words Governor March had thrust his hands deep in his pockets, and now stood silent, with his legs wide apart, staring down at his daughter as if she had suddenly gone mad.
“Why have you taken it into your head that you must do this wild thing, Ione?" he said, drawing his hand from his pocket and laying it tenderly on Ione's arm. "My girl, you are as innocent of the world as a week-old kitten. And you want to earn your own living! Why, what do you suppose I have been toiling for ever since I buried your mother, but that you might be able to go where the best go, know the best people, and (when you felt like it) marry among the best."
Ione could not resist a little shudder at the idea called up by her father's last words, and a bitter word slipped out before she knew it.
"Mr. Kearney Judd is of the best, I suppose?" she said.
Governor March winced a little, as if he had been smitten lightly on the face with a glove.
"Well," he answered slowly, with the level courage which had carried him through his war-governorship, "Kearney Judd is in one sense of our best. His father represents some of our greatest interests. I think that the young man has behaved very badly in this matter, perhaps. But there may be circumstances which we do not know. There generally are in such cases; and when you are older you will know that the world never listens to more than one side of any controversy. But this wild idea of going out to work for yourself— you do not mean it seriously?"
"But that is just what I do mean, father," she answered, with something of his own grave decision; "I have been thinking of it deeply. I cannot bear to be useless any longer—just a thing to be provided for, petted, coaxed, my slightest tastes consulted, a limitless bank account at my disposal, to be expected to care for nothing but shopping and visiting and entertaining, on the Continent to-day, in England to-morrow, at home the week after next. Such a life may suit many girls, but it would kill me. Besides, you know, if once I had tried the other and satisfied myself, I might be able to settle down to this."
Governor March laid his hand on his daughter's arm, as though touched by the gentle tone of the last words.
"Ione," he said, "I loved your mother. I never spoke a cross word to her in all my life. Neither have I ever refused you anything you have asked me. If your heart is set on this thing — why, Ione, you are of age, you are an American girl, you are my girl. I will not say you nay. But — you must promise me that if you are in any trouble, in the least difficulty out of which I can help you, you will wire or cable me at once, without waiting a moment."
He lifted his hand from her arm and laid it on his brow, pressing the fingers down hard, as if on an aching nerve.
“I do not know what may come out of all this for us, Ione," he said slowly; "but if it be your wish, and you have set your heart on it, I will help you to do it."
The young girl went over to her father. She put her arms about his neck, and drew his head down with loving compulsion.
"My boy," she said, using the name he loved best, because Ione's mother had called him by it, "you are the best friend in all the world, and the soundest-hearted. I am an ungrateful girl to speak of leaving you. But you know you never did give me a chance to do anything, or to earn any money. And you know too that at my age you would not have liked it yourself. And then — who knows? — you might have grown up like Kearney, instead of being as you are, my noble, handsome old sweetheart of a father."
And with her fingers she rumpled the abundant grey hair, which still curled crisp and vigorous about his temples.
"Well, Ione, my little girl," he answered, after he had kissed her cheek with the grace of a cavalier, "you know your father is not the man to forbid you even if he could. What you say, goes. And if you feel a serious call to black boots on the streets of London for a living, you can do it. Only do not quite forget your old dad, who has worked so proudly for you all these years, ever since he took you out of your mother's arms that night. She smiled and said she was glad you were a pretty baby. And so, still smiling, she slipped away, and left behind her — only you — and me!"
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.
BEFORE THE DISTRICT COMMITTEE S. A. C.
The S. A. C. Guides' Committee was in session. The president of the district, in whose hands was the oversight of all high-mountain guides' certificates, was none other than our burly parson. With him were conjoined three or four men, prominent citizens of the commune — Herr Adler, the mountaineering landlord of the principal inn; Oscar Conradia, a dark Italian-looking man, a rich proprietor from the neighbouring valley; the local doctor, and an assessor or legal adviser all the way from Thun, with a wooden gargoyle face, like those which they carve on pipe bowls in that enterprising village.
These men sat on cane chairs in a semicircle, silently waiting for the opening of the court of inquiry. Before them, standing in a down-looking, hang-dog way, like criminals already condemned, were the accused men — great Christian Schlegel, his blonde hair frosted with the grey dryness which comes early to all fair mountaineers, and beside him, fingering his hat-brim awkwardly, little brown Peter. Their Führerbuchs lay open on the table in front of the pastor, ready to be cancelled or restored to them, according to the result of the trial. For to be "drunk upon the mountain" is the only deadly and utterly unpardonable crime in a first-class Swiss guide.
Now Peter and Christian had no confidence in the value of their denials. They knew well enough that their word would go but a small way against the oath of the rich Herr who had accused them; and as for their characters, though they had never been guilty of excess upon duty — well, at other times they were as other men.
Left to themselves, they would simply have listened patiently and without defence to the burden of accusation, and submitted silently to the punishment. Yet this would not have proceeded either from stupidity or indifference. Christian and Peter were men of some local reputation as good men in an emergency, but neither were quite blameless in the matter of occasional brandy. So now, as they stood waiting for their accuser, their eyes turned again and again with eager inquiry towards the door. At last the tall, slight figure of Keith Harford appeared, carrying a certain indolence about its pose which strikingly belied the owner's active habits. At this point Christian Schlegel furtively kicked little Peter behind the table, as he would have done at the chamois hunt when a big buck stood up against the sky-line and he dared not speak.
But, meanwhile, where was the accuser? Justice stood on tiptoe, and Harford was ready to give his testimony. Marcus too ought by this time to have been at the Presbytery. Also where was Marcus?
Alas! beauty in seductive guise had claimed him. On his way to the court he met Idalia Judd, who stayed him in the pleasant gardens about the dependence of the Black Eagle (which her father, returning from Meiringen, had hired for his family), where under the pines the ants were scurrying to and fro with their pine needles, or busily transporting their eggs from point to point.
"You may come and sit down by me — surely it is much too hot a day to break your neck on glaciers," commanded the imperious Idalia, swinging her Japanese fan by one charming finger. Whereat, looking at her, Marcus swung a moment on the apex of temptation, walked solemnly forward, and sat down at Idalia's feet.
"I have to go to the pastor's house on urgent business," thus he salved his conscience. "I can only stay a minute."
"Oh," said Idalia, with a start; "yes, I know — about my brother's guides. Do you know, Mr. Hardy, I am very sorry for these two poor men!"
"Oh, the two poor men are all right," said careless Marcus, nursing his knee and looking up into the blue eyes of Idalia Judd.
Now up to this point only amused mischief had been dancing in those clear orbs, but now, though they still continued to smile, a clever brain was working like yeast behind them.
"You mean," said the girl, apparently as carelessly, "that my brother will do something for their families, or that the fault is too common here to be thought anything of, and they will escape punishment?"
"No," said Marcus, breaking a stick slowly into finger-lengths, and throwing the pieces at a large ant which was packing the dead body of a relation over one shoulder after having unfraternally bitten off his head; " and, do you know, if I were your brother, I would not go down to the court to-day."
"No," said Idalia, leaning nearer to him and speaking a little breathlessly; "and why not?"
Though not, like her sister Astoria, favoured with her brother's confidence, she knew enough of the peculiar talents of Mr. Kearney to feel some apprehension.
"Well," answered Marcus, "ask him if he knows any reason why he had better not appear. And say to him that whatever he knows, other people know just as much!"
"Thank you," said Idalia, smiling and rising; "I shall not forget."
"I tell you this for your sake, not for your brother's!" said the traitor, rising also and looking after her as she moved light foot to the door of the hotel. Idalia nodded gaily over her shoulder and the blue eyes smiled sunnily as ever. But there was trouble in her heart, for though she did not love her brother with any overpowering affection, yet nevertheless, for her mother's sake, she did not wish him to be caught in any snare of his own devising.
So effective were her words, and so active and potent the power of Mr. Kearney Judd's imagination, joined to what remained to him of a never very active conscience, that in five minutes that young man was making his way through the skirting woods by a path which joined the main road to Interlaken some distance below the village. Kearney was hatless and in some disarray, for he had been so startled by Idalia's impressive warning that he had in no wise stood upon the order of his going.
It was early in the season and the full fury of the tourist stream had not yet set in; otherwise the strange spectacle might have been seen of a young man in a neat, London-made tweed suit running hatless down a white Alpine highway. By the bridge of Zweilutchinen he found a return carriage, and, jumping in, bade the driver go as swiftly as possible to the station at Interlaken. At which being arrived, and mounting into one of the little rabbit-hutches on wheels which at that period served as carriages between the lakes, he passed for the present out of our ken.
Meanwhile the court was proceeding with that leisured and headachy dullness which characterises all continental official procedure, legal and semi-legal. Out in the garden of the dependence of the Black Eagle, Marcus the traitor waited and yawned. He sat down again on the plank from which Idalia had risen. He was in hopes that she would come back; but, though that ingenious maiden was not too proud to watch the garden seat from behind her closed green blinds, the eyes of Marcus saw no more than the white front of the house staringly hot in the sun, with its freshly painted shutters closed on account of the noontide heat. After a long pause, the faithless Marcus strayed towards the courtroom.
He arrived just in time to hear the conclusion of his friend's story. Keith Harford gave his evidence in a quiet voice, and at the first sound of his clear, fluent German the faces of the two accused men had turned wonderingly upon him. But as he recounted each incident with concision and a certain grave detachment and dispassion unusual in so young a man, the sullen indifference of the accused was broken up, and they nodded vehemently as point by point the story of the abortive attempt upon the Eiger was told.
No sooner had Keith Harford sat down, after answering the questions put to him by the pastor and several other members of the court, than a tall, slender girl rose and gently requested to be permitted a word. The pastor nodded kindly and with sympathy. "Understand, madam, we do not claim any legal powers," he said; "we are only here to find out the truth. But if you can tell us anything pertinent to the occurrence or reveal anything which may cast light upon the conduct of these two accused men, we shall be very glad to listen."
"I can cast no light upon the circumstances," said lone March.
"Then on whose account do you appear?"
"On behalf of Mr. Kearney Judd," she said firmly, looking past Keith Harford with a certain hard pride in the set of her finely cut features, as if she had a secret shame close to her heart, and were making a conscience of glorying in it.
"Are you Herr Judd's wife?" asked the pastor innocently enough.
"No," she answered, with the same proud look at Keith, in which anger and defiance seemed to mingle; "but I was engaged to be married to him."
The tense of the verb was not lost on Keith Harford. He looked up quickly, and, though she did not appear to be aware of his existence, it seemed to him as though the information that her engagement was a thing of the past had been meant for him alone.
"And why is Herr Judd not here to answer for himself?" asked the president.
The girl went on bravely, the only woman in that silent company of men.
"I do not doubt but that Mr. Judd will be able to set the matter right as soon as he is able to appear. He has many interests and much anxiety. I do not know why he is not here. He may have been summoned hastily away on business. But in the meantime, as his representative, I ask to be allowed to pay these men their wages and board wages for the complete term of their engagement, together with any sum which the court may direct, as compensation for the loss of Mr. Judd's employment."
The pastor smiled and bowed amicably. He was glad to accept a proposal so satisfactory to his compatriots, and which had also the merit of avoiding so gracefully all international complications.
"Madam," he said, "your proposal is such a handsome one that we leave the amount of compensation to your discretion and sense of justice, and postpone the hearing of Herr Judd's explanation of the circumstances to a future occasion. Doubtless if he had not been summoned away by business he would have been able to clear up the discrepancies between his sworn account of the ascent and that given by the men, which has now been so amply corroborated by my friend Herr Keith Harford, of the English Alpine Club. Peter Jossi and Christian Schlegel, I shall ask leave of the court to endorse your certificates on behalf of the S. A. C. with an honourable testimonial of your faithfulness. The court stands adjourned."
And as Ione March passed out of the cool shades of the Presbytery, in which she had taken the burden of another's shame upon her, she looked once at Keith Harford. It was a strange glance whose meaning the young man could not fathom, save that she seemed to see him, as it were, diminished to a point, across an infinite and impassable chasm, and that her eyes were no warmer or more friendly than the frosty winter stars.
PRESBYTERY AND PRESBYTER
The Presbytery at Grindelwald was shining rosy red in the reflected rays of the rising but still unrisen sun when Marcus and Keith stood before it. Already there came a noise of young labour from the yard behind, where in the shade some one was getting through morning duties to an accompaniment of cheerful song. Presently a stripling lad came round the gable with an axe upon his shoulder. A pretty country maiden, short-kirtled, barefooted, was singing over her milking-pails, scouring them with white sand, her elbows showing pink against the green gloom of the pines. At sight of her the youth dropped his axe, and finding the girl's fresh round cheek, as an Irishman would say, "convanient," he helped himself to an almost pardonable kiss. But to this the girl did not tamely submit. The sound of a hearty palm smitten fair upon resounding flesh rang instantly out. Then the young man, divided between the pleasure of achievement and the pain of punishment, snatched up his axe and ran off rapidly down the path, laughing triumphantly back over his shoulder as he went.
The girl stood up, eloquent of tongue — so long, that is, as the aggressor was in sight. Then she also smiled, then grew thoughtful, lifted her apron as if to wipe her cheek, but picked at it instead, and did not for a long minute resume the scouring of her milking-pails. Marcus was delighted with the whole scene. He considered himself something of a connoisseur in these matters.
“Did you notice," he said softly to Harford, "that she was only angry after it was all over? Even then she scolded just so long as she could be heard. You believe me — the next time she will forget to scold at all."
Thus the wise and much-experienced Marcus, who at an early age prided himself on his knowledge of women, and so was laying up wrath against the day of wrath.
But Keith Harford did not smile. His thoughts were, as usual, alike dreamily distant from bold wooers and from maidens, willing or inaccessible, at play among their milking-pails.
Marcus and Harford sat down on a fallen tree and smoked steadily till the door of the Presbytery opened, and the burly, rosy Presbyter himself, clad in an old ecclesiastical garment which was seeing out its last days as a dressing-gown, stumped down the wooden stairs with a towel over his arm. He was going to the little spout of water at the end of the garden to make his morning ablutions —a foreign habit which, in his capacity of mountaineer, he had contracted from the English.
He stopped a moment, aghast at the sight which greeted his eyes, and then came hurrying forward with both hands outstretched to welcome Keith Harford.
"My dear friend," he said, "this is truly unexpected; but then, all accidents are good that bring you to my door. Go in, and I will get you some breakfast after the English mode — the beefsteck, the cole-meat, the ham-negg. I will be with you and dressed in a quick time!"
Marcus and Harford made their way into the Presbytery and sat them down in the little room with shelves of unpainted wood, filled mostly with tattered paper-bound theological books printed in crabbed, eye-destroying German characters. Wide-spaced fiction, of origin obviously Gallic, their lemon-yellow covers carefully torn off, elbowed the theology. Standard English books in stout binding were not wanting; and, indeed, everywhere there was evidence of wide reading and liberal culture. In the corner reclined several ice-axes of the full-shafted, workmanlike Grindelwald type. These stood slanted at various angles, amid a pile of ropes, woven leg-gear of coarse grey wool, wire goggles, and much-enduring straw hats. It was the sanctuary of the mountaineering pastor of Grindelwald, chief of the Swiss Alpine Section, and president of the local commission to which had been given all power in the matter of guides.
Back through the roses and ant-heaps came the pastor to breakfast, loudly exclaiming upon them for not arriving the night before, when he could have given them beds more comfortable than the fallen tree-trunk upon which he had found them. Moreover, he laughed heartily at Marcus Hardy's candles.
"You are a wonderful folk, you English. If in the heaven there is no moon, you invent one, and carry her before you in a cleft stick. If there is no bed, you find a fallen tree, and make yourselves comfortable among the branches. No wonder that you conquer the world and make all the money in it. But what brings you here into my house so early?"
They were sitting in the bare dining-room of the Presbytery, and the maid of the woodman's morning salutation, now demure as any Calvinistic acolyte, had just retired with a lingering glance at Keith.
Briefly and clearly Harford told his tale, the story of the morning at the hostel of Johann Jossi on the Wengern Alp, and of what the shining yellow tube of the telescope had revealed. The pastor, who, upon finding the two young men in trouble, had expected to hear something very different, listened at first with wonderment, and then with a certain grave approbation.
"And why should you care for two poor men of our people?" he said; "it is not expected of your countrymen to show such anxiety as to cause them to undertake a night march to get a couple of village guides out of trouble."
"Well," Harford replied, "it was just because they are two poor men, whose chances of justice seemed somewhat scant, that we did come."
The pastor considered awhile, humming a German hymn, which, even when delivered through the nose, held in it the tramp of armies. After a while he spoke.
"I will call in due order a meeting of the court. I will preside over it myself. We will have this Herr Judd before us to tell his story — how he broke his contract, and why he dismissed his men. Meanwhile, of course, you will not say a word — keeping what you call 'mum.' Then there will a grand mine explode under his very feet, and your so rich man will learn what it is in Switzerland to take away the characters of honest men."
Whereupon the three clasped hands, drinking "scald" to each other in good Vienna beer, and parted — the two Englishmen once more taking the path through the wood, along which, led by Marcus with his moon waning on its stick, they had descended upon Grindelwald in the rosy dawn.
The pastor stood and watched them out of sight. Perhaps I have misjudged the English," he said; “oftentimes they appear stiff and sullen of temper only because they cannot speak a language well, and are too proud to speak it badly. But if they would consent to learn a little kindly folk-speech, take their meals at reasonable hours, and do deeds like this — perhaps one day the rest of the world might even begin to like them."
About the same time, in their pine-built barracks of the night, Marcus was putting a question to Keith Harford. "Now that's all very well; but what are you going to do about it?"
"I think I shall first speak to Governor March," said Harford.
"Nonsense!" said Marcus emphatically. "That is as much as to give away all we know. Let the fellow have it hot, and in a way he will remember to his dying day."
"We must first be sure that he is guilty," suggested Harford.
"Guilty! Why, isn't he guilty? Didn't we see him with our own eyes? What more do you want?" cried Marcus as vehemently as if he were on the eve of committing a personal assault.
"I'm not exactly deaf," pleaded Harford; "and if you can be reasonable for one lucid moment, why should the son of a multi-millionaire take away the character of two poor Swiss guides?"
"If I can be reasonable — Why, man, don't you know? He had engaged them for the entire season at a howling figure. And when he got enough of the high mountains — when he found the south face of the Eiger wasn't any sort of picnic, he wanted badly to get out of his agreement. So, as the easiest way, down he comes and swears till all is blue that his guides were both drunk on the mountain."
Harford shook his head. He could not believe in the possibility of such conduct. Nevertheless, as it proved, the words of Marcus contained a pretty fair statement of the actions and intentions of Mr. Kearney Judd. That hereditary financier knew the value of money, and was perfectly well aware that in this matter his word would be taken before that of a couple of guides, whose self-interest would discount their denial of his statements, and whose silence would be taken for the sullen consciousness of guilt.
"And I’ll tell you what, Harford," Marcus went on. "There's that deuced pretty girl he's engaged to. If we smite the beast hard enough and openly enough, she's not the sort to put up with a sweep like that. If we let him have it good and straight, so that he will think he's struck an avalanche, I bet four to one we smash the March-Judd engagement all to bits."
"That," said Harford exceedingly deliberately, "is the very reason why I cannot interfere."
"Well," said Marcus, "if you are going to be so hanged top-lofty and scrupulous, put on your cap and step down the road. And if in half an hour I don't show you a dozen very excellent reasons why you should interfere — why, I’ll give you my word you can boot me back up the village street right to the top of the hotel steps!"
A moment more and Marcus and Harford, having found their caps, stood in the long white highway, with its thin straggling trees — poplar, beech, birch, and pine — mingling as in a borderland between two climates. It was still a sort of golden dusk, the mountains retaining an after-blush of the rich carmine glow which an hour ago had illuminated their tops and filled the valley with strange luminous haze.
"Come on!" cried Marcus, striking into his quick homing stride, as soon as ever they drew out of the blazing circle of lights and pedestaled glass balls which surrounded the hotel fronts, "pit-a-pat it down the road, me bhoy!"
And so, with the mountains looking down upon them, and the overhanging cornice of a stray snow-crest far aloft glowing a strange, forlorn, amethystine blue (which vaguely reminded Keith Harford of the eyes of Ione March) they made straight into the country, tracking from one rugged pathway to another, climbing low walls, and striding stake-fences as at a steeple-chase.
Most of the chalets were dark. In one or two a light was still flickering, showing where a douce goodwife had not yet finished the preparations for the frugal family supper. But in most the peasants were already asleep, and a gentle gust of snoring wafted out from them like the muffled thunder of a land of dreams.
For it was high summer, when the days are long for labour, and the nights short for rest in the Oberland.
It was quite in keeping that Keith Harford, a man of strong impulses, but much abstraction and reserve of character, should never ask his companion where he was taking him. Presently, however, the two young men stopped at a chalet built by the end of a little wooden bridge which spanned the torrent beneath and rang hollow under their feet as they stepped upon it. The dash of the waters came soothingly up to Keith Harford's ear. He stopped and looked over. He could see the grey-green phosphorescence of the glacier stream glance here and darken there, cabined and tormented between the black rocks. Lower still, a thinly covered tooth of stone jutting up the stream sent out a jet of white spume straight into the air. The noise of the waters in his ears carried away his thoughts. Keith Harford would very contentedly have stood there all night with his arms folded on the slight rail of cloven pine, had Marcus not caught him by the elbow and drawn him away by main force.
Ascending a little flight of roughly hewn wooden steps, they came upon the unmistakable odour of a seasoned Swiss chalet, a perfume compact of ancient wood-fires, smoke-dried rafters, airless rooms, fusty bed-quilts, onion strings, aromatic herbs tied in hour-glass bundles, and, above everything and overwhelming everything, the keen breath of upland pastures, saving, sweetening, and vivifying all. They stumbled noisily in without knocking, the bulk of Marcus the giant taking the breadth of the passage, Keith following more easily in his wake.
Going quickly, like one who knows his way, Marcus dashed open a door to his right, whereupon Keith found himself suddenly in the wide, dusky house-place of an Oberland chalet. Red ashes glowed on the hearth. A girl of eleven, with long hair tossed in gipsy fashion over her neck, was breaking bits of green pine knots and tossing them on the embers. Each fragment hissed, spat, shot up momentarily into a clear spurt of flame, and then died down again to dull red.
"Christian!" cried Marcus, as the gloom of the small-windowed house shut suddenly about them, as it were throttling them after the largeness of the night.
A man who had been sitting upon a low chair, with his head sunk between his palms, raised his face. A larger piece than usual of the girl's pine fuel shed through the house a momentary radiance clear as a lamp.
Keith Harford looked long at the fallen-in cheeks of the guide. Christian Schlegel seemed older and more gaunt than he had ever seen him before. His blonde locks appeared suddenly to have become bleached and grey. His coat was off. His arms, bare to the elbow, lay hairy and corded upon his knees.
“What is the matter, Christian?" said Marcus; "tell me, is all this true?"
For a while Christian did not answer; but his wife, with a babe on her arm, broke instantly into shrill denials and bitter accusations against all foreign Herrs, as being the ruin of the men of the valleys. Stirred by her vehemence the infant awoke and feebly joined its outcries to her denunciations.
The sound appeared to jar upon Christian. He raised his hand and brought it down with thunderous force upon the little "dresser" of clean-scoured pine, on which sundry dishes of green and white ware glistened.
"Be quiet, woman!" he cried. And for very fear and surprise both mother and child instantly fell silent.
Then the man looked long at Marcus, studying his face before speaking. "I think you are a friend," he said at last, in the broad-vowelled German speech of the Oberland valleys; "yes, I do think you are a friend. What have you come to hear? There is nothing good to tell. They have taken away my Führerbuch, my papers, my testimonials. I am fit for nothing now but to go and work with the Italians upon the railways -"
"And he was so good a guide, my Christian, so careful, so strong," cried the wife, again breaking silence, "and only takes drink a very little, even on holidays, never once on the mountains. And that day there was not one drop — not one single drop. For he and Peter had to work hard to drag the Herr up but a little way! Also, we are respectable, and have paid our taxes to the commune regularly for twenty years!"
"Hold your tongue, wife!" cried Christian, but not so harshly as before; “of what use is all this? These gentlemen were not that day upon the Eiger, and there is but Peter's word and mine against that of the rich American Herr."
Then Keith Harford came forward, and laid his hand gently on the guide's shoulder.
"Be of good courage," he said. "For the present say nothing to any one. Do not stir from your house till they send for you to go before the Court of the Alpine Club. And we will be there to see that no harm befall you."
"May God bless you, Herr!" broke in his wife; "they will perhaps listen to you. You will not see them do wrong to my Christian?"
"I promise you they shall not," said Keith very quietly; and somehow the tone of his voice was more comfort to the woman than the gold which Marcus placed in her hand.
"Well," said Marcus, when they found themselves out again in the dusk of the night, "have you had enough, or would you like to go along to the cottage of little Peter? He has nine children."
Keith Harford was silent for full five minutes. "Let us go over to Grindelwald at once," he said. "I have a friend there with whom we ought to consult."
Marcus, ever ready for adventure, caught eagerly at the idea.
"I know a path through the pine woods," he said; "it is difficult to find even in daylight, but if we can hit it, it will cut off a couple of hours."
"It is too dark to see in the wood," said Keith; "we shall lose time."
"Let us buy half a dozen penny dips!" cried Marcus, who scented an experience. And Keith had had too many instances of the practical pioneer character of his companion's expedients when in difficulty to enter a faintest caveat. So, without going back to their inn, the pair struck into the village again, winding their way rapidly among intricate lanes and alleys, till presently they were knocking at the door of the general dealer (not he of the English stores and English prices, but the worthy villager who supplies to native Grindelwald the staples of life and luxury).
The merchant was already in bed, and muttered lusty anathemas at being disturbed. But the cheerful apostrophes of Marcus, and the devil's tattoo he beat on the panels of the door with antiphonal knuckle and toe attracting the attention of the neighbours, the worthy chandler was compelled to arise and come out upon his balcony, clad most unholily all in yellow flannel, and with a red night-cap stuck awry on his head.
"Six candles—devil's nonsense! What do a couple of mad Englishmen want with six candles in the middle of the night? Is it not enough that they run the mountains all day? Must their father, the Evil One, permit them to come rousing honest men out of their beds? But the price shall make up for it! Yes, the price shall make up for it!"
Yet, after all, under the influence of the cheery and irrepressible bonhomie of Marcus, and, perhaps, also owing to Frau Ortmann's opinion of the good looks of his silent and thoughtful companion, the overcharges (or compensation for disturbances) did not amount to more than a couple of small nickel coins. So presently, with a pocket full of candles and three boxes of lucifer matches, Marcus was leading the way into the forest above Meiringen, an alert happiness showing jauntily in every line of his body. For Marcus was a born pioneer. From a child he was ever most happy in planning and carrying out his plans. Keith Harford dreamed, thought, and in general cultivated melancholy like a fine art. To him action was generally secondary, mostly vulgar, and nearly always superfluous. Now, however, he was pushed forward by the shrill misery of the wife of Christian Schlegel, and perhaps as much as anything by the jarred and jangled temper shown by that usually good-tempered Samson of the Hasli Thal.
As they struck into the forest, the trunks of the pines shot up above them far out of their ken, huge and black, striking through the sky; while the path wound circuitously among them. Presently Marcus stubbed his toe against a rock, and, as he stood looking over and nursing it, he saw the lights of the hotel Wilder Mann shining three or four hundred feet beneath them.
"It is time to light up our candles," he said, "if we do not want to fetch up all standing on the roofs of the village, in as many pieces as the twelve-times divided lady in the Bible!"
So he groped for a forked branch, whose extremities he split cunningly open with his knife-of-a-hundred-blades, so that they held a couple of candles commodiously in their notches.
In another cleft lower down he placed a curved piece of bark, so as to shade the flame from his eyes and cast the light full upon the path. There was not a breath of air stirring. The flame of the candle rose straight up in its amphitheatre of barken lantern. The long mossy beards upon the trees hung limp and still. The only sound was the deep diapason of the torrent bringing the latest news from the world of glacier and avalanche overhead. A dog howled fitfully in some upland farm, and was silenced with blows, which changed his long ululatrious baying into short, snapping yelps. Marcus laughed aloud in sympathy with the castigator.
"That is just what we are going to do," he said; "the Beast in Spats bays at honester men. We will make him yelp like a twice-whipped cur."
But Keith Harford was silent. The subject did not amuse him. He was trying to decide whether the eyes of Ione March were sapphire, like the sea, or amethyst, like the depths of the evening sky.
And before them both, as they ascended the darkling forest path, Marcus Hardy's improvised lantern burned like a steady star in the hushed and windless night.
First serialised in 'Woman at Home' as 'The Woman of Fortune' in 1899.