MESSRS. EATON AND WEBSTER, CONFIDENTIAL AGENTS
It was not till the third month of Ione's business engagement at the World's Wisdom Emporium that Mr. Shillabeer realised whither he was tending, though most of his employees had long ago realised it for him — and indeed expressed their opinion in terms more or less picturesque. During that time he had grown by daily companionship to find the presence of Ione necessary to him. He formed the habit of prolonging the hours of business, for the sole purpose of keeping near him that which caused such unwonted stirrings in his soul. In the electric air of congenial work and responsibility Ione was not slow to put on fresh bloom and beauty. Her figure developed with the joy of new purpose. A quick and vivid grace flashed abroad in every movement, in which there might yet be traced something of the hectic and feverish flush of the constitutionally delicate. The work in which she was engaged caused a nervous quick-burning joy to beacon in her eyes. It was her new spring-time — the springtime of that second and fuller loveliness which comes to most women when they fall deeply and once for all in love, but which Ione owed to finding at once a purpose and a career. She gave no thought to the permanence of her employment. For not only was the concern an important one, but the proprietor, Mr. Nathaniel Shillabeer, was never tired of telling her how indispensable she had become to him.
And in this way there had arisen a sort of comradeship between secretary and principal, which, from its very simplicity and directness, was a type of the ideas which were dominating the girl's life. Ione accepted certain unconventional things as the necessary concomitants of independence and the earning of her own living. For instance, she went and came into Mr. Shillabeer's business rooms at any hour. But her mind was entirely set upon the half-dozen cylinders of business communications which it was her duty to "take off" the phonograph. She could think of nothing else till she could lay their contents, perfectly transcribed and typewritten, upon the desk of her chief. With all her soul in her work, she nodded abstractedly to any of the clerks who might be in the outer office, and to many of the regular callers who came to do business with the head of the World's Wisdom Emporium. Glances and covert innuendoes, nods, winks, and wreathed smiles, she heeded no more than the noisy chaff of the streets through which she passed daily on her way from her lodging in Battersea.
And if at times the hand of the master rested longer than was necessary beside her own, it affected her no more than if the speaking tube of the official phonograph had fallen momentarily across her arm. Both were exigences of business, accidents of independence, like the new rapidity of toilet she was learning, and the small peasoup-smelling eating-house where she took her meals when she was unable to return to 29 Audley Street for them.
One Sunday evening Ione sat at her desk, tired with that glad-hearted weariness which comes from congenial work perfectly performed. It was not her habit to work on that day, but a heavy mail received late the night before had caused her to make the offer of working it off, if her master would give her the necessary instructions before leaving. To her surprise Mr. Shillabeer said at once that he would meet her at the office at any hour which would be convenient for her. As he spoke, the spark which she had noticed more than once leaped again into his eye. For it did not seem possible that a young woman in the prime of youth and beauty could be so much engrossed in business and the handicraft of clerkship, that of her own accord she would give up her Sunday in order to "extend" letters taken in shorthand, simply that the decks might be clear for another batch on Monday morning.
Meanwhile strange things were stirring in the business-hardened heart of Shillabeer — things of which no member of his huge staff suspected him. Down in the vulgar depths of his being, something not dominated by the multiplication table was swiftly leavening the lump. The love of women, self-sacrifice, comradeship — these had been to Nathaniel Shillabeer mere words invented to put a higher price upon a purchasable article. He understood all about that. It was on his level. In like manner he had no pleasure in a sunset or a sunrise. But he understood that other people had. So he was ready to pay a large price for a picture of a sunset painted by an eminent hand.
And yet at that very moment the flush of sunrise was stealing over his own dark nature. Upon the following morning the deferential clerk was at the offices before him. He was not so clever as H. Chadford Eaton, and hitherto he had not received nearly so much of his master's confidence. But in this matter of his private secretary, and the Sunday work at the office, Nathaniel Shillabeer vaguely felt that he would rather trust the deferential clerk than Mr. Eaton.
So, unheralded and gentle as a cloudless dawn, grace springs up in the soul. H. Chadford Eaton was clever, thought Shillabeer. He received (and earned) a considerable salary. But Ione and he must be kept apart even in thought.
"Good-morning, Miss March," he said as he entered the room. "Do you know, I feel a perfect ogre, depriving you at once of your Sunday's pleasure and of the society of your friends."
Ione smiled calmly and without reserve as she stood up to shake hands. She was still glowing from her walk in the crisp November air from the station of the underground railway by which she had come. The limited Sunday dole of district trains had made her a little late.
"I have no friends in this city," she said. "I went to early service at a little, old, ivy-covered church on the other side of the river; and, for the rest, I am very glad to be at work, Sunday or Saturday. It makes one feel so much less lonely in the midst of all these people."
Mr. Shillabeer did not answer. Words seemed somehow to have flowed away from him. He must get down to something concrete which would grip him and bring him back to himself. He went and sat opposite Ione at the best-lighted end of the great work-table. Here for some hours, with the ease and tireless patience of a true man of business, he proceeded to dictate letters and draft agreements connected with the establishment of a paper, to appear simultaneously in England and America, which was destined to become the official organ of the World's Wisdom Emporium.
In Ione's fingers the swift pencil flew along in curves and dots, while her heart raced gladly after it. She did not much like Mr. Shillabeer, but she was stopping disliking him. She would have preferred certainly to be left alone with the raucous impersonality of the phonograph, to which she could say irreverently, "O shut up, will you!" when it went too fast for the tapping of her fingers on the typewriter, accompanying her words with a petulant "click " as she shut off the wheezy giggle of the needle on the cylinder. Then she would have laughed to herself, purely from excess of pleasure in this new and useful career. But, though she would have preferred the phonograph, yet, for the sole sake of being at work, she was willing to spend the day with Mr. Shillabeer rather than walk in Hyde Park with the possibility of one of her father's friends recognising her, or even remain in her lodgings listening to the chatter and answering the questions of Jane Allen.
At half-past four tea was laid on the table between them by the youth, bland of countenance, who, so far as Shillabeer's was concerned, answered to the name of Webster. Mr. Shillabeer asked Ione to serve the impromptu little meal. The girl, whose loosely bound and unbusinesslike hair had by this time run into a distressful tangle of love-locks, pushed the most irrepressible and intrusive of these back from her brow, and, with her mind balanced between her letter book and the typewriter, obeyed. She proceeded to pour out tea in an abstracted and impersonal manner.
"Do let us put away our work for a little. Miss March, and talk!" said Mr. Shillabeer, reaching over in his decisive way, and clearing away the debris of papers which Ione had made on the corner of her desk.
"Oh, please don't touch them, or I shall never know where to find them again!" cried Ione, laying her hand impulsively upon his wrist. The warm touch of her fingers sent a flush of something altogether unknown through his veins. Ione’s fingers were soft as silk, yet their general effect was akin to dismay.
Mr. Nathaniel Shillabeer returned to his seat feeling, for the first time in his life, bashful. He became conscious all at once of an overpowering want in his life. He looked away from Ione across the dead spaces of the streets. The peculiar empty hush of a city Sunday, the faint hot odour of stables and black-beetles which pervaded everything, seemed to typify his own life.
"What a fool I have been!" thought Shillabeer, as the place on his wrist went on tingling. He looked at it furtively.
"And what a fool you are!" replied the other side of his nature, hard at strife to keep the mastery. "This is your secretary, your paid servant. She is a pretty girl enough, but so are others. Doubtless she wants to catch you, as others have tried. She wants your money. You know you can get anything for money!"
But the dawning soul of Shillabeer would not now be taken in so cheaply. He recognised the arguments as those of (let us say) Mr. Chadford Eaton.
"No," cried the Dawn of Grace, coming nearer to the horizon, "this girl is solely eager for work. She has no designs, no artifice. But there radiates from her clean soul something you want and have not got. Have you a friend in the world? Eaton — Webster — the Honourables who win your money? Tush—friends! You know better, Nathaniel Shillabeer! But this girl — if she loved you, if she would stand shoulder to shoulder with you, life would be a new thing! She understands the poetry of business. Why, she and you would go over the whole earth; you two would animate the world!"
All this (and much more) passed through Shillabeer's mind while Ione was distributing her disturbed papers with a touch, caressing and almost maternal.
Yet, "You are forgetting your tea, Miss March!" was all he said.
Ione smiled, and glanced up gratefully.
"It is a little cold," she said; "not that it matters."
"But it does matter to me," cried Shillabeer. "Let me get you another cup!"
And with prompt and careful hand he was as good as his word. Ione, bent upon her work, took all these attentions as she had been accustomed to take such things, not understanding the revolution which must have come over her master's soul that he should even dream of doing them.
But the deferential Webster understood, or thought he did. For at that moment, opening the door to remove the tray, he saw his master in the act of pouring out Miss March's second cup of tea. He closed the door softly, and went downstairs smiling and muttering to himself. He was not engaged to carry trays for private secretaries, he repeated to himself. But he did not think of saying so much to Mr. Nathaniel Shillabeer, for he knew very certainly the great man's answer to that.
But nevertheless he promised himself some amusement from the business, and in the long run he would take it out of the girl. At that moment Webster, the cunning and deferential, heard a rap at the outer door. It was peculiar and yet unobtrusive.
"Hello, that's Chadford!" he said. "I wonder what's his little game in the City of a Sunday! He ain't ordered to attend on little birds of private secretaries."
He paused and chuckled again.
"Lor', though, how he'll laugh when I tell him — pouring out her tea, he was!"
Webster opened the door, and as he had anticipated, there stood Mr. H. Chadford Eaton, rigged out in his Sunday best, a new tall hat, and the trousers which had not been split by his recent accident.
"Hush!" whispered Webster, expressing the word mostly by a motion of his lips.
"What's up?" signalled Mr. Eaton as cautiously.
"They're upstairs!" Movement of left thumb.
"How many?" Fingers of right hand opened and shut rapidly.
"Two! Himself and the secretary!"
Webster played an imaginary typewriter to indicate Ione, and blew out his cheeks and narrowed his eyes for the Chief of the World's Wisdom Emporium.
"Come outside a moment; I want to speak to you," signalled Mr. Eaton, with his chin.
"Can't! He may want me any moment," replied, with ridged brows, the deferential Webster.
"Then I’ll come in," said H. Chadford, by doing it.
"Well, on your own head be it if he catches you!" replied Webster's eyebrows.
It says something for their respect of Nathaniel Shillabeer that the hearts of both young men beat with great distinctness as they tiptoed their way into a retreat on the basement floor known to themselves, to which it was most unlikely that their master would follow them. Having arrived here, they began to talk more freely and conventionally. The cell-like pantry was occupied at one end by the cooking-stove, on which Webster had heated the water for tea. A vague smell of bad gas pervaded everything. H. Chadford Eaton carefully dusted a chair for himself, and seated himself gingerly on the verge.
"Well?" he said, turning to his friend.
"Lord, he's a won'er!" Webster burst out; "I tell you he's pouring out her tea like as if she was a queen!"
"Who's pouring out who's tea?" queried Eaton.
"Why, Porky and the pretty secretary, of course! I say, it is a game! 'Sunday afternoon in the City'! Ha, ha! It's like a turnover in the Globe. Won't the staff bust itself laughin' to-morrow ? Oh, no!"
"It might, but it won't," said Mr. Eaton, biting the imitation ivory head of his walking-cane.
"What's that?" he said quickly, "not know? Why, I’ll tell them. I wouldn't keep it to myself for a thousand pounds!"
"It may be worth less — perhaps more; anyway, you'll keep it."
Again Webster gazed open-mouthed at his mentor, who sat caressing his moustache with the front angles of the (imitation) ivory handle. As he did not speak, Webster suddenly lost his temper.
"What is this rot, anyway?" he said fiercely. "Don't sit grinning there like a monkey with a harelip! Put a name on your little game. What is it?"
"He is pouring out her tea, you said?"
"I told you so," retorted Webster.
"Don't get shirty," said H. Chadford Eaton calmly.
"Quit your handle-sucking, and speak out, if you've got anything to say!" Webster said "anythink."
"What else was there?" said Mr. Eaton, leaning his chin on the cane handle and looking up.
"She had her hand on his wrist. I saw her!"
Mr. H. Chadford Eaton whistled a long, low, mellow whistle.
"Stash that, for God's sake! You’ll have 'im down!"
"He's too busy," said Mr. Eaton calmly. "Well, Porky shows his usual good judgment, I will say that for him; though, as he don't know who the lady is, it's bound to be instinct."
"Who the lady is?" said Webster slowly. Then his eye lighted up. "Why, is she such a bad 'un? Is she wanted? Has she done 'time'?"
"Done 'time,' you fool!" chuckled H. Chadford.
"Some day you’ll do 'time' for being such an eternal soft. Miss March is a lady, I tell you, and is worth about three millions sterling at the present rate of exchange."
He leaned back and contemplated at his ease the effect of his announcement upon Webster. Unbelief, doubt, uncertainty, calculation, self-interest, vanity, hope, chased each other across that ordinarily inexpressive countenance. For net result, Mr. Webster stepped to a tiny glass fixed between three nails on the sweating wall, and refolded his cravat so as to show the cleanest side.
"You don't mean it!" he said; but the cock of his head as he regarded the cravat showed that he thought otherwise himself.
Mr. Chadford Eaton smiled and nodded.
"Don't be giving yourself taffy, Webby," he said, with intense cryptic meaning. "This isn't your little show— it isn't even mine. There's better in it for us than that!"
"Well?" said Webster, with a grip upon his safety-valve. He recognised the difficulty of hurrying his companion, and waited for him to go on.
"Miss March is the daughter of an American governor — sort of Viceroy or upper Lord Lieutenant, I judge. He has no end of money, and Miss March will get it all, every cent. Lor'! didn't I nearly fetch up on a big rock when I shadowed her out of Battersea that night? Lucky she didn't know me again!"
"And what is she doing here in Ludgate Hill as Porky's secretary, then, if she's a millionairess, I should like to know?" said Webster, with an attempt at a sneer.
"You won't know," retorted H. Chadford Eaton, with sudden truculence, "unless you keep your silly mouth shut — tight shut, from this out, do you hear?"
Mr. Webster preserved entire silence.
"Now listen," continued Mr. Eaton, after a long belligerent pause. "I’ll only tell you once. Miss March was engaged to a bloke her pa wanted her to marry. He was up to some games (he didn't say what) that she didn't cotton to. The usual thing, I suppose. Well, she kicked over the traces, and came off to earn her own living. Now do you understand?"
"And what has all that got to do with us?" said Webster acrimoniously. He was in the Intelligence Department, and resented Mr. Chadford Eaton's tone.
"Nothing to do with you, my friend, nor with any chump like you!" retorted Chadford coolly; "not unless I take you in with me — which I wouldn't do except that I need a pal to work this thing properly. There are two people to be made squeal — maybe three, and it spreads it too much for one man."
Webster said nothing, but waited for his principal to continue.
"Now," said Mr. Eaton, "an heiress doesn't get lost without having people looking after her. So her father is on the trail, also the young man she threw over. He's taken it jolly hard, poor bloke! They're both as rich as the Bank of England, too. And - I know ‘em both!”
"You know them both?" gasped Webster. "How did you come to knock up against a plant like that?"
Mr. Chadford Eaton took off his glossy hat deliberately, blew some dust from the brim with scrupulous care, tried if he could see his face in the top by turning it at different angles, and said, --
"It all comes of keeping good society, dear boy. I am a member of a quiet little sporting club, where various things are done that wouldn't interest you. I meet, shall we say, Mr. Jones from America, there. I find out who he is — I get chummy with him. He hears I am 'confidential' at Shillabeer's, and he asks me if I will help him in a little private matter in which he does not want to appear publicly. I say that I shall be happy, if my X's are O.K. 'Right!' says he, and right it is."
"And what is his little game?" inquired Webster.
"Why, to marry the girl, of course. No, not altogether because she's an heiress, I think. He don't need that, with all that's coming to him. But — well, she's his fancy. She handsomes pretty well, has got a spark in her eye, and — he wants her! That's about it. Now, we must help him to get her — for benefits receivable, of course."
"I am coming to that. In the meantime over and above there's the old man. He is writing and cabling all over the place to find his daughter. He has written to Shillabeer's, even. Now, that's your biz. You must work that particular golden egg, while I’ll attend to love's young dream. Do you catch on?"
Webster nodded somewhat uncertainly.
"What's my share?" he said. "I must be in on the ground floor, mind! No kiddin' with me!"
"My remarkably fresh friend," murmured Eaton, leaning a little nearer him, "you will come in just where and when I let you, if it's in the garret or up on the roof. You can't afford to quarrel with me. So listen. You’ll have your fair half of whatever you can get out of the anxious parent, and ten per cent on all I raise out of skittish beauty and the hymeneal altar! You can have that — or nothing."
Mr. Webster smiled a little sourly, but appeared to prefer "that" to nothing.
"Well," said Mr. Eaton, rising and shaking the legs of his trousers to settle the folds straight down the front, "remember this is only the first act. Porky is playing his own game for all it is worth. By-and-by he’ll give himself away. He simply can't help it. You know Porky as well as I do! Then the lady will be 'insulted,' and fling up her job in a huff. She will be friendless, alone — Beauty in distress at the Adelphi, with the snow coming down as big as half-crowns, and her eyes like willow-pattern saucers. When that happens (as it will) you and I must be on hand. We will bring up the lover — if we can, in time to rescue, in any case to console. We can work it so that she will be mighty glad to see Mr.—Jones, let us call him. After that, why, what's the matter with St. George's, Hanover Square — plus a leetle American cheque to come the way of 'yours obediently, H. Chadford Eaton'?"
"That's all very well for you, Chadford; and from the way things are going up there, you had better have your man on the spot, to be ready for the noble-hero business. But where do I come in? And what's the old man got to do with it?"
"Oh, the anxious parent is an understudy," said Eaton carelessly. "But it's the same old part, revised to date for parents and guardians. He wants her back, don't he? He's our second string. He will pay for private information of her whereabouts. Now, information of that quality is an expensive article. We must set up a little office of our own — 'Eaton & Webster, confidential agents': letters to be addressed to my 'digs.' You will keep track of him if he writes to Department Z; collar his letters as they come in. If necessary, you must go over to America and see him."
"Won't the other fellow give you away? The father wanted them married, didn't he?"
"Yes; but the noble hero won't split. He knows a game worth two of that. He is going to work the 'Live your own life, but give me the right to defend you' racket. So as soon as ever Porky - Hello! What's that?"
"It's him!" whispered Webster, with suddenly whitened face. ''He 's coming. What shall we do? He'll kill us!"
"Go out and meet him," whispered Chadford, pushing his friend to the door. "Keep him from coming in here!"
Deferential Webster, white and scared, hurried out.
"Why did you not come when I called?" demanded Shillabeer fiercely, from the middle of the stairs.
"I did not hear you, sir. I was up all night with toothache, and may have fallen asleep!"
"Go to Cooledge's, and order dinner for two, to be sent in immediately. Serve it yourself when it comes.”
And the chief of Shillabeer's trampled away upstairs again.
Webster returned to his friend, trembling from head to foot.
"Narrow call that time, Webby!" said Mr. Chadford Eaton, to show that he was not afraid. But his companion did not answer. He looked about for a cap, and went hastily out without speaking.
As soon as he was gone, Mr. Eaton laid his glossy hat carefully on a chair, took off his patent leather boots, and stole upstairs on his stocking soles.
It was an extreme step to take, even in the interests of business, but he was abundantly rewarded. For this is what he heard.
At the great table in the office Ione March was still sitting. She had pushed away the piles of correspondence, finished and unfinished, and now sat looking up at Nathaniel Shillabeer with the frank and unembarrassed gaze of an interested companion. The great man paced to and fro, restless as a caged tiger, and declaimed vividly. His subject was the glories of Shillabeer's, and as he spoke his voice trembled, and a shiny top-dressing of perspiration began to appear in beads upon his forehead.
"Miss March, up to this point I have worked it all alone, unaided," he said, gesticulating with his hands as he talked. "No human being has ever suggested, helped, encouraged me in anything. But, though you may not beheve it, Miss Ione, I am a man who needs friendship — who above all others would appreciate help, love, sympathy."
"These things are not so necessary as you suppose," said Ione. "I came out into the world because I had too much of them,"
Shillabeer hardly seemed to notice her words. Like most one-ideaed men, he was not easily turned aside from the metals which he had laid down to carry his purposes. He paused before Ione's chair, and gazed fixedly at her.
"I am glad you consented to wait dinner with me. I have something to say to you — something important."
("It is coming now — lucky I've got my man over there in waiting," chuckled H. Chadford Eaton, on his knees on the mat outside, and his ear glued to the keyhole.)
"Of course I am glad to wait," said Ione. "I think we might finish these specifications to-night, if you don't mind. And besides, I am afraid that I was so happy at the idea of working here all day, that I forgot to order any supper at my lodgings."
("Ah!" murmured Mr. Eaton, wishing that keyholes had been larger, and his ear and eye so arranged that he could have used both at the same time.)
"Miss March," he heard his master say next, "what I have to say may seem extraordinary to you, but I am a man who has found it best to be direct and plain. I have never believed much in 'love,' in the sentimental sense of the word. But you have made me think other things - "
("That's good enough! It is coming. Sharp's the word now — I’ll bring my man over," murmured Mr. Eaton, rising from his knees; "besides, I hear that fool Webby clattering dishes down there. He’ll be up here in a minute with the soup tureen if I don't stop him." And so saying, he stole down to the cockroach-haunted cell where he had left his hat and boots.)
It was nearly an hour after this when the deferential Webster, coming with two cups of coffee towards the door of the inner office in which dinner had been served, almost stumbled over two young men. He checked the exclamation which rose involuntarily to his lips. Then the listeners heard the voice of Ione March, a little moved as if by some crisis of feeling, but presently steadying itself in the act of speech.
"No, Mr. Shillabeer," she said, "I cannot consent to remain in your employment after what has taken place."
"Let me beseech of you," the man's voice came hoarse and tremulous; "this need make no difference between us. I will never refer to it again. I tell you I need companionship, help — "
"It cannot be," said Ione.
"It shall be — it must be! I cannot permit you to go thus. You shall not!"
"Let me go, Mr. Shillabeer!"
Outside on the landing Mr. Eaton signed to the man behind him that the hour was come. He opened the door and stepped back. This is what the three spies saw. Ione stood by the mantelpiece, her gloves on her hands and her satchel over her arm. Papers and plans were scattered in confusion about the floor. In front of her, and barring her way to the door, stood the powerful figure of Nathaniel Shillabeer, his face drawn and whitened with intense feeling, his hand outstretched to take the girl by the shoulder.
Kearney Judd felt that his chance had come. He was certainly in no wise destitute of courage, for he rushed forward instantly and caught Shillabeer by the arm, twisting him round out of Ione's way.
"Miss March, I am here to save you," he cried; "in my presence you have nothing to fear."
Ione and Shillabeer gazed at Kearney in absolute astonishment. Then it struck the girl that her cruelty must have driven the young man mad, and a remorseful wave swept over her that she had so completely forgotten him.
"And pray who may you be?" said Shillabeer, recovering himself, and staring at the intruder.
"I am the representative of Miss March's family," Kearney said valiantly, "and I give you notice that in my presence Miss March is safe from your insults! I am armed, sir!"
And from his tail-pockets he produced a revolver in a manner somewhat undramatic, owing to the fact that he could not locate the pocket-hole till the third attempt.
"Insults? — My insults to Miss March!" said Shillabeer, his eyes widening. He bit his lip, a frown darkened his brow, and his fists began to clench themselves.
"Yes," cried Kearney, encouraged by his own display of armament; "I give you notice that if you do not freely allow Miss March to leave your establishment at once under my protection, I will not hesitate to shoot you like a dog — like a dog, sir!"
Nathaniel Shillabeer turned to Ione with a certain large natural dignity in his carriage, which did away with his equally natural awkwardness.
"Miss March, this young man must certainly be mad," he said; "but in case he has any claims upon you, would you be good enough to inform him what has passed between us?"
"Mr. Shillabeer has done me the favour to ask me to be his wife," said Ione frankly; "an honour which I was forced to decline. Mr. Shillabeer then urged me to remain in his employment notwithstanding what had passed. That was all. Have you anything to object, Mr. Judd?"
Kearney flushed crimson. He felt he had been duped.
"I thought - " he stammered, turning from one to the other. "I wished - Your clerk informed me – ”
He could get no further, but looked about for Mr. Chadford Eaton, who cowered out of sight. Ione regarded him a moment calmly and dispassionately. "Mr. Shillabeer," she said, "will you accompany me for a moment? I can with confidence leave these gentlemen to your care."
Nathaniel Shillabeer offered Ione his arm with instant alacrity, though with a gloomy countenance. And as the girl and he passed down the stair, they caught a glimpse of Mr. Eaton shrinking back against the locked door of Department Z.
"Do not move, gentlemen, till I return," said Shillabeer sternly. "I have something to say to each of you." He did not speak again till he had opened the street door, and Ione held out her hand. A lamp-lighter was lighting the nearest lamp on the pavement. Its beams fell suddenly yellow through the grey gloom on the tense face of Shillabeer.
"Will you not alter your mind?" he said, with a pleading quiver in his voice, strange in so rough a man. Ione shook her head.
"I cannot," she said; "things could never be as before between us. But all the same I shall never forget your kindness to me."
She held out both her hands impulsively, pulling off her gloves to give them to him. He caught her fingers, and crushed them in a strong man's fierce nervous grasp.
"You will not forget," he said, "if you ever need a friend, where you can assuredly find one?"
"I will not forget!" she said, tears coming into her eyes, and a sense of compression hardening to constriction about her throat; "you have been very good to me. I almost wish I could!"
"Don't trouble about it," he said gently; "it will come all right!"
And with an awkward gesture he dropped one of the girl's hands, and lifted the other to his lips for an instant, then he vanished within, locking the door after him.
Ione was left on the step under the pale gas-lights with a sudden sense of loneliness. She drew on her gloves slowly. There was a warm place on her right hand, where the rough, strong man had kissed it, and a warm place also in her heart when she remembered Nathaniel Shillabeer. She smiled a little sadly.
"I couldn't, of course," she murmured; "but I shall not forget him — ever. He loved me for myself alone."
"Get you a 'ansom. Miss!" cried a smart boy, who saw her hesitation. "Show you the way to St. Paul's, Miss— hevenin' service just on!"
"Thank you, I will take a 'bus," said Ione, glancing up for the last time at the beplacarded front of the World's Wisdom Emporium. "I wonder," she added to herself, "if ever I shall be so happy again."
* * * * *
But within other things were happening, which need not be expressed in detail. Sufficient that within half an hour after Ione had caught her Albert Bridge 'bus, three battered and dishevelled young men had reached the pavement — in detachments of one at a time. The first arrival, Mr. Kearney Judd, ensconced himself promptly in a hansom, and was driven to the back entrance of his hotel.
"And what do you think of your precious plan now, Mr. Napoleon, Junior," sneered Webster, " and what are you going to do about getting me into a new crib ?"
The reply of Mr. Chadford Eaton need not be chronicled.
A UNIVERSAL PRIVATE SECRETARY
Shillabeer’s Emporium was already a world-famous establishment, and in their several spheres the smallest office-boy and the most gin-sodden female floor-sweeper put on (as the poet singeth) "eternal side," in consequence. But chiefest of the exhibitors of "side" was H. Chadford Eaton, sometime confidential man and business factotum of Nathaniel Shillabeer. When Ione entered the house this young gentleman was still suffering from the result of an accident which had befallen him some weeks before. He had been late at the office (so it appeared), and when going home he had fallen over the bottom part of the wicket-door opening out of the great gate which alone permitted egress upon the street. His nether lip, though now healing, bore the marks of having been badly cut, and his left eye was much bruised and discoloured.
It was he who received Ione, when next morning she arrived professionally equipped with pen, pencil, india-rubber, note-book, and hand-satchel, to begin her first day's work as private secretary to Shillabeer the Magnificent.
In ways which need not be described at present, Mr. Eaton knew of Ione's advent. He carried in his pocket-book a description of her appearance written out in a flowing and clerkly hand, with wispy floreations and, as it were, "grace-notes." But he received his first official intimation of her proximity from the youth who had laid his hand on Ione's arm at the glass swing door of Department F.
"There's another on 'em coming this morning."
"Gee!" said H. Chadford; "there's too many fillies in this shop! How many hands does this one stand?"
"She wouldn't stand mine yesterday, anyway," answered his friend; "proper high-stepper, I tell you! Regular Newmarket action, and no go as you please. So look out!"
H. Chadford Eaton caressed his moustache tenderly and smiled. It was still a trifle painful from the stumble over the wicket. Then he answered, "Porkie's paddock ain't no sweet place for high-steppers. But in a month she’ll feel her oats less."
Now it is a curious thing that both of these young men could write a very orthodox and admirable business letter in the Queen's English (commercial dialect), beginning, "Dear Sirs, I beg to acknowledge the receipt of your favour of the 9th," and ending, "Yours truly, Shillabeer & Co., Ld., pr. H. C. E."
Nevertheless, H. Chadford and the deferential clerk chose to make all their verbal communications of a private nature in a certain cryptic and sham-sporting shorthand, the result of earnest application to the second-rate sporting papers. As we know, Mr. Eaton also studied pugilism; but more of that anon.
Promptly at ten Ione was at the door of the Private Control Department of the World's Wisdom Emporium. There was a proud look in her eyes which proved exceedingly becoming. She knew she would succeed this time. There is no such word as "fail" in the bright lexicon of a young woman engaged as private secretary to Nathaniel Shillabeer the Great—engaged, too, on her own merits, and whose claim possessed no other visible means of support than a certificate from the manager of the Gopher & Arlington chief office.
To say that Mr. H. Chadford Eaton was astonished when he saw Ione, is so tremendously to understate the case that it is hardly worth writing the word down. There is but one word to express his state of mind, and though the verb is an English one the usage is American.
H. Chadford was paralysed.
"By Jinks" (thus he communed with himself), ''s'help me if this ain't the girl I shadowed the other day to Battersea, that wouldn't be spoke to, and couldn't be spoke to! And here she is walking down my throat all sereno. Wonder I never guessed it when that little slippery geezer downstairs was telling me about her!"
Ione had not troubled her head at all about the young man in the tall hat who had followed Jane Allen and herself. She had scarcely glanced at him in the railway carriage, and she was very far indeed from recognising as his the countenance of H. Chadford Eaton altered, and as it were redecorated, by the knuckles of Tom Adair.
As usual Ione went straight to the point, having learned from her father that business was sacrosanct and must not be dawdled over. For Governor March, like a great many of his countrymen, was the sort of man who could contentedly lounge a week without doing any work harder than lighting a cigar. But if at any moment something cropped up which could be called "business," the cigar would be thrown away, and he would set himself to the task with his own soldierly quickness, and that national alacrity which outflanks the world.
"Mr. Shillabeer has engaged me as his secretary," Ione said, looking at the confidential clerk with a glance straight as the flight of a rifle-ball, fearless as that of a child that has known no wrong. Still wondering, H. Chadford bowed and led the way. He opened a little side door out of the larger inquiry office.
"I had better show you," he said, in his official-letter-paper language, "the private way to Mr. Shillabeer's apartments, so that you may not need to come and go through the office."
Ione found herself once more unexpectedly upon the street amid the rushing traffic and the crying news-boys. Her conductor took her round the corner into a narrow lane, and opening the second door on the left with a key, he showed the way up a staircase, clean and bare, but bearing the marks of infrequent use.
"You can come up this stair yourself," he said; "I will procure you a key for the outer door. But you must wait at this inner door till Mr. Shillabeer opens it. If he tells you to meet him at any particular hour, you can depend upon him to be here before you."
Mr. H. Chadford Eaton stood a long moment with his ear cocked to the crack of the door, listening like a tall ungainly bird. Then he screwed his head round to Ione with a gesture, in which admiration and dislike of the person within were expressed in about equal parts.
"He's in!" whispered H. Chadford, nodding confidentially. Then he knocked, inclining as he did so his head still nearer the keyhole of the door with some appearance of anxiety.
The sound of feet trampling heavily across a carpeted floor was heard. The confidential man retreated a step and stood in an attitude of meditative attention with his head bowed. Ione was still smiling at the quick retrograde movement when the door opened, and Mr. Shillabeer came forward to welcome his new private secretary with suave and deferential courtesy. Simultaneously her guide vanished. He had been, but now he was not. Ione found herself standing alone before the great man whose genius had lately founded, whose nod presently controlled the whole vast fabric of the World's Wisdom Emporium.
"I have been expecting you, Miss March, with a considerable amount of impatience," he said, leading the way into an inner office, carefully and not untastefully fitted with the usual furniture of a drawing-room of the period, as that apartment is conceived of in Tottenham Court Road.
In the centre of the room, however, stood a table plainly covered with red leather. It was piled with books and papers, which, though cleared from either end, had gradually accumulated in the centre till they formed a barricade several feet high.
"This is your place," said Mr. Shillabeer to Ione, pointing to the chair at the table. She had, with a quick business alacrity which pleased him, already divested herself of her jacket, gloves, hat, and veil, as rapidly as a man would dispose of his hat and stick.
It was only after watching Ione March for a long time that one found out how swift were all her motions, combining as they did the free grace of a wild animal with the trained deftness and simplicity of the artist's hand sketching in a picture. If the young girl only walked across a room, the eye followed her movements with a vivid pleasure. But it was not till one had accompanied her along a crowded street, that the deft ease and effortless rapidity of her motions became apparent.
The entire morning's mail had been left just as its contents had been roughly opened by the proprietor's forefinger and thrown down in a heap. And now Mr. Shillabeer's small keen-sighted eyes followed Ione as she took her place before the pile of papers, and began deftly to put them into order with well-accustomed hand. Without appearing to do so, he watched her as she dropped the torn envelopes into the waste-paper basket, folded the receipts, smoothed out the letters to be answered, and presently passed her employer a trim sheaf of docketed papers for his attention, all within five minutes of her entry. She had often amused and delighted her father with similar business-like swiftness and nicety of method. He used to tell her that he never had had so good a clerk, and that in war time it would have added years to his life to have had her at the head of one of the distributing departments.
Upon her first entrance Mr. Shillabeer had flung himself down into a low chair, over the arm of which he threw a casual leg as he watched his new secretary. He had the credit of being a man of mixed motives, of a dubious but powerful strain of blood, of honest and dishonest intentions, all welded into a strong confederation by his deep and over-bearing selfishness. As he himself was accustomed to say, there was but one member of his firm, and in the World's Wisdom Emporium, Ld., he was Nathaniel Shillabeer, Unlimited.
When Ione passed about the table with her swift young Dian grace, to give him the papers of the day which she had arranged, her eye rested with a cool scrutiny upon her employer's attitude. There was no overt disapproval in the look, nevertheless Nathaniel Shillabeer took the leg down. He could not have told in the least why he did so, but the fact made an impression upon him. It was Ione's first victory in the house of Shillabeer. Presently he rose and walked to the window, turning up the end of an intensely black and glossy beard and biting at it abstractedly. Meanwhile, Ione had again seated herself expectantly, and sat glancing up at her employer, with her pencil ready upon the paper. Shillabeer stood a while glooming and gazing at his secretary, holding the docketed sheaf of papers in his hand.
Suddenly he spoke with the sullen and truculent note in his voice which was natural to him when thinking deeply.
"You are not an English girl?" he said.
"I am an American," replied Ione, who though she was not given to waving the stars-and-stripes, knew no reason why she should deny her father's nation and her own.
"But you have no American accent," objected Mr. Shillabeer.
"It is not necessary any more than to have an English one. But I was educated chiefly in Paris," Ione replied, smothering a strong inclination to tell the man that the thickened consonants and mispronounced vowels of his own speech were worse a thousand-fold than the purest Down-Eastern drawl, in which you can hear the Atlantic zephyrs whistle through the noses of Cape Cod.
"Is your father alive?" came the next question.
"Yes," said Ione gravely; "he is at present in America."
She wondered if it were customary for Englishmen employers to catechise all their dependants as stringently.
"You have then, I take it, no relatives or friends on this side of the Atlantic?" continued her interlocutor.
"Not one," said Ione, looking down with a trace of sadness. As she spoke she thought of one to whom, if the Fates had not been cross-grained, she might have given the latter title.
The great man paused a little. Then he went to the fireplace and kicked a piece of coal with his toe in an absent-minded manner. Ione longed to tell him that he was burning the leather of his boot, but, uncertain of his mood, she refrained. Suddenly he turned sharply towards her, and with an awkward gesture he said, "I hope. Miss March, that ere long you will find friends on this side of the Atlantic also."
He paused near her chair, uncertainly fingering a pen between his thick powerful fingers. The door into the outer office opened cautiously, and the head of Mr. H. Chadford Eaton was quietly protruded within. He smiled when he saw his master's position and attitude. Something seemed to jar on Shillabeer's nerves. He turned round sharply and caught sight of his confidential clerk.
The smile dropped like a curtain. "I thought — " began Mr. Eaton, stammeringly.
"Get out!" cried Shillabeer fiercely, with an astonishing volume of sound. And, as if blown away like a leaf by the mere blast of magisterial displeasure, the head vanished. Shillabeer marched to the door into Department E and turned the key. Then he seated himself nearer Ione, and a little behind, so that he could overlook the girl as she worked, and with a sheaf of letters in his hand he began to dictate. There was no mistake about it. Nathaniel Shillabeer was a great business man. He decided the most important questions with a single-mindedness and forcible precision which, accustomed as she was to her father's dependence upon the judgments of others, won Ione's admiration. He gave his decisions or issued his orders in the fewest words. He was at this time arranging for the establishment of a branch of his World's Wisdom Emporium in the City of New York, and many of the dictated letters had reference to that project. But he carried his grasp of affairs easily over the sea, and dictated as rapidly and confidentially concerning involved questions of site and title on Broadway, as he did of the matters under his own eye.
Mr. Nathaniel Shillabeer was what is called in America a magnetic man. Vitality beats high in dark-skinned, crisp-haired men of his type. His arteries ran sluices of red blood. In the Southern States the gloss and "kink" of his hair might have cast quite unfounded suspicion on the purity of his blood. But he was definitely a personality, and his very coming into a room was apt to affect nervous people. Fifty years ago he would have been a medium. Five hundred earlier he would have ended on a throne, as the sainted leader of a crusade, or on the flaming pyre of the wizard.
As it was, he had created and now controlled a vast business by the sheer force of his will and the massive strength of his personality.
People were mostly either strongly attracted or strongly repelled by him. On one occasion, when Nathaniel Shillabeer entered a drawing-room in which a nervous pianist was performing a difficult piece, without looking round the lady threw up her hands and cried, --
"I can play no more — truly I cannot. Some one has come in who drives the music from my mind. I am very sorry, but to-day my fingers will not obey me any more!"
Nor could the hostess persuade the great artiste either to try again or to accept her promised fee.
"It is no use," she said; "another time when you are alone or with other people; but now" (she cast her hands abroad, palms upward) "he has taken it all away from me."
There could be no doubt that to many people Nathaniel Shillabeer was "bad medicine," and that through no fault of his own. But with as many others, and even with men and women of a social position far above his own, he was very successful. Shillabeer was ready, for instance, to lose his money without grumbling so long as this could be done in the society of men and women of whom he approved. He had a limitless store of curious experiences. He told anecdotes of a singularly chequered career with engaging frankness and the quaintest unconvention. So in certain very influential spheres he became the latest attraction, and, had he so desired, might have called himself a gentleman of fashion as well as a man of wealth.
Now, however, in office hours he was more gentle and approachable by Ione, and more careful both of his language and actions in her presence than any one had ever seen him. He occupied himself much in watching the girl and studying her character. He found out easily enough all that could be known about her by means of the deferential clerk and Mr. H. Chadford Eaton. And one day he very much astounded that young man, in whose eyes he had surprised something more than admiration for Ione, with the words, "Remember, sir, you let that girl entirely alone!" Which, being delivered with a certain well-known contraction of the brows, and a low hissing through shut teeth, for some reason or other terrified the reasonable soul out of H. Chadford.
But he made this up to his self-respect (in the absence of his master) by greeting the exits and entrances of Ione with a low whistle meant to reach the ear of the deferential youth, his companion. For which whistle Tom Adair, had he been within hearing, would certainly have beaten his recovered face into a fresher and more complete pulp.
In the days which succeeded, nothing occurred to cause Ione to regret her occupation. Mr. Shillabeer was studiously kind; indeed, at times almost over-considerate. And if Mr. H. Chadford grinned behind her back — well, Ione was much too busy to notice him. With quick natural intuition her master had so well read the character of the girl, as to know that he could in no wise acquire a stronger hold over her mind than by allowing her to drink deep of work and responsibility.
Ione was often retained after all the other clerks had gone, in order that she might extend drafts or manifold confidential instructions for Mr. Shillabeer's managers in the provinces, or for his agents on the other side.
All the while Nathaniel Shillabeer sat near her, and took equal share and share in the girl's work. But Ione remained quite unaffected by the strong vitality of her employer. Few women in a dependent position could have been brought into hourly direct contact with Mr. Nathaniel Shillabeer without being moved either to love or to hatred.
But there was about Ione a clear-eyed straightforwardness, a practicality in which was no trace of sex, a steadiness of purpose added to her national confidence that in any emergency a girl could steer her own course — all which characteristics combined to counteract the effect of Mr. Nathaniel Shillabeer's reputed magnetism.
SHILLABEER’S WORLD’S WISDOM EMPORIUM
When Ione and Jane Allen had bidden farewell to the silent but appreciative Peter at the corner of Ely Street, Battersea, they turned sharply to the left. Then skirting a terrace of small houses, each in exact facsimile of the other, they found themselves in Audley Street, at the upper end of which was the house wherein Ione was to lodge. Over the door upon the glass transom were the figures 29. Underneath glittered a brass plate largely engraved with the name Adair. It was a little house rusty-red as to its bricks, with a mere pocket-handkerchief of garden frontage under the window. In the centre of the pocket-handkerchief a few blades of grass were struggling disconsolately upwards, trying to touch each other occasionally for company. Then came a border of "gardener's garter," "lad's love," and "bachelor's button"; while "London pride" smothered all the borders with its dainty florescence, which in that dreary place showed like sea-foam, dusty with the smoke of its own titular city.
"Eh, Jane, but I'm pleased to see ye," cried Mrs. Adair, their landlady, in a broad Doric never reared amid English brick, but which, even after years of exile, still tasted of "doon-the-watter" and those Clydebank towns, in front of which the screws of the latest productions of Fairfield and Dumbarton turn up the spume and driftage of Glasgow on their way to the measured mile. "Come awa', lassie, I was feared something uncanny had happened to ye. I’ll pour oot your tea this verra minute. We hae gotten a haddock the nicht, and it's fine and tasty."
"Mrs. Adair, this is my friend Miss March," said Jane Allen, performing the introduction ceremoniously enough. Ione went forward to shake hands with an instinctive flush of pleasure. For her heart was drawn at once to this sonsy, freckle-faced, raw-boned Scotch woman, with her capable hands yet moist from the washtub, and her hair escaping in thick grey locks from underneath the white westland "mutch." (This is a linen cap with strings, in which the head is encased in that fashion which is no modern mode de Paris, but which, nevertheless, the Scots owe to the Auld Alliance, and which may be seen to this day in the market-places of Loches and Amboise.)
"Ye are welcome, missie," said Mrs. Adair; "I wish it had been the bonny Clydeside that ye were comin' to bide in awa' doon yonder by Inverkip—wi' the laverocks singin' blithely in the lift, the linties jinking in the whin bushes, and the bonny steamboats on the Clyde gangin' and comin' like the angels ascendin' an' descendin' Jacob's ladder."
In a short time, when Ione had transported her small belongings from the hotel in the Strand, she was made free of the house in Audley Street, and was to every indweller in it as a sister or a daughter. She learned to respect silent, self-contained, taciturn, rigidly upright Hugh Adair, a six-foot Tipperary Prodestan', who with his quiet ways was the very opposite of the shillaleh-twirling, tread-on-the-tail-of-me-coat Irishman of the stage. She learned also to love his hot-tempered and leal-natured wife, whose generosity was such that if her husband had not looked after the finances, she would have beggared herself to feed every lazy lout of a "gaun body," and clothe every barefoot bairn with a Scot's accent that happened to stray into Audley Street.
It is a curious study, this of popular racial head-marks. Doubtless the comic "blandantherin'" Irishman exists, and as certainly so does the close-fisted, bang-went-saxpence Scot. Yet the genius of both races is quite other. The Irish, a high-strung, close-lipped, punctilious race, who as a nation are breeders of great judges, doctors, commanders-in-chiefs, are doomed to misrepresentation on the British stage by jig-dancers and windy orators. On the other hand, the Scot in whom is the true genius of Knox and Burns and Scott, is apt to be generous, vain without conceit, lavish without extravagance, eager to please, prone alike to the greater sins and the severer virtues, with a hatred of meanness which is as natural as his respect for revealed religion. Tom Adair, son of Hugh of that ilk, and already a foreman of the yard in the great engineering works of Jeffray & Company, possessed the characteristics of both father and mother. Like his father he was slow to speak; like his mother he was quick to act, and that always to a generous intent. Men who dwell amid the ceaseless clatter and unresting rush of machinery seldom talk much, and even at home Tom was a silent, bookish lad.
But he was ever anxious to do anything for his mother. It was a sight worth seeing to watch the good son fitting stationary wash-tubs, extending water pipes, or putting up new and improved drying lines across the tiny bricked yard at the back of the house — all with the same fine conscientiousness and attention to detail which at twenty-three had made him foreman of his department, while his father remained still the plain ship's carpenter he had been bred in the city of Belfast forty years before.
Ione counted up her money on the night she went to lodge in 29 Audley Street. She had exactly fifty pounds and three shillings, so that she felt secure for some time at her present rate of expenditure. Nevertheless, it was well that she knew how to economise. For discouragement and disappointment waited upon her endeavours, as indeed they mostly do on all new projects, that these may be tried in the furnace as gold is tried. Day by day Ione went out with a string of new addresses, mostly supplied by Jane Allen, who obtained them from the kind and willing Gopher & Arlington girls.
Perhaps it was the season when authors do not send in their copy, when publishers and literary agents do not require "carbons" to secure foreign rights, when merchants write their own letters — and as few of those as possible. At any rate the market was overstocked. Ione must wait.
At last, one day she heard accidentally of Shillabeer's Information Bureau and World's Wisdom Emporium, and in one glowing moment a new hope took possession of her. The name was new, and the thing also. None of the Gopher & Arlington girls knew anything practical of the concern, but all had heard that there were many openings for talent there. It had only been running a few months, and everybody knew the romantic story of its founder. Mr. Shillabeer had been a commercial traveller in hog-bristles and brushes till he struck this great idea. Then, in four strides he had become famous, and, it was presumed, rich also.
Really he had come into a legacy of considerable value, left him by a distant relative, and with this he set about realising his idea and establishing a great knowledge industry. There was nothing in the world which was to be hid from Nathaniel Shillabeer and his specialists. He had often observed with contemptuous wonder the extreme cheapness of the knowledge market. There was, he argued, no branch of science so abstruse and recondite that it had not been mastered by some waif of ill success, who would be ready to distribute, for a pound a week, the knowledge which had been of such little value to himself.
Again, it was the era of Universal Stores. Even the brush-and-hog-bristle line had been injured by the competition of great establishments which bought at special rates by the thousand gross, and before whose conquering monopoly his smaller customers went down like ninepins. Well, why should not he, Nathaniel Shillabeer, pool the unrelated and useless brains of a nation? He began instinctively to make out his programme. Though not a literary man himself, the phrases of the perfect prospectus flowed from his fingers. The Wisdom Emporium would compose, copy, translate, publish, or introduce to publishers. It would prepare speeches, report them, extend them, typewrite them, correct proof-sheets, illustrate, criticise, or have criticisms inserted in the literary gossip journals — applausive for the books of moneyed clients, or destructive and envenomed for those who were of the enemy. Speeches new and original on any subject for pulpit or platform, banquet or deliberative assembly, could be supplied at current rates. Shillabeer's would also answer all questions, speak all languages, know all knowledge, and find out all secrets, from those of the stars to those of the private detective agency.
Ione found Shillabeer's readily — it was easy enough to do that. Across the front of a great building near Ludgate Circus, the name and style of "Shillabeer's Universal World's Wisdom Emporium" were written up in letters which seemed fitted to be read in Mars. A gilt angel stood on the domed roof blowing a trumpet to the praise and glory of Shillabeer, the Great and Only. While at night an infernal machine seared the eyes of all the neighbourhood by flashing "the Name" on the fronts of the houses opposite, or occupied itself in inditing "Shillabeer" in letters of alternate green and red, beginning laboriously with the letter S and ending by a flourish, in supposed imitation of the signature of the great Napoleon of Ideas.
"Shillabeer's" was patent and palpable, but it was not so easy to find Shillabeer.
First of all Ione stated her business to a young gentleman, of the top of whose head she had a limited but interesting view through a pigeon-hole. But he was busy, and did not even glance at her.
"Apply Department F," he said sharply; whereupon Ione thanked him and went out obediently to seek Department F.
She attracted little attention anywhere now. For the defaulting tailor-made tweed had been exchanged for a black serge of cheap quality, originally constructed for the universal woman without any relation to the particular individual who might be compelled to wear it. But with deft flitting needle Ione had remade it, Jane sitting by in breathless admiration of her friend's skill.
Externally, Department F seemed like all the other departments of Shillabeer's. It had apparently to do with advertisements, and a stream of customers at many windows bargained for so many "appearances" in different papers, or glanced at sample insertions in variously priced journals and magazines. At the pigeonhole marked "General Inquiries," Ione stated her case. A morose, dark-skinned man glanced casually at her, demanded her age and qualifications, and from whom she had brought testimonials. To all of which Ione replied with as much of the professional manner as she had been able to pick up from Jane Allen.
The dark-skinned man grunted, and rising with a tired sigh, he reached down a large book. He consulted an index, turned to a page, and ran his finger down.
"We have," he said, in an impressive tone of voice, "just twelve hundred applications for the same kind of work. You will make 1,201. What is your name? 'Marks,' did you say? — Oh, March. You’ll need to learn to speak more clearly, young lydy. In London we've got no time for making out foreign langwages!"
For the first time Ione's heart sank. She went away from the pigeon-hole and the dark man with an ache in her heart. Evidently there was no place for her here. She stood a moment sadly by a window from which she could see the eternal elbowing push of business on the sidewalk beneath her, and hear the rumble and growl of the heavier waggon traffic along the street centre.
"There is no working place in all this London for me," she said. "I must go back. I am not fit for anything but loafing through this world of busy men and women."
Tears rose in Ione's eyes, and she felt instinctively in her pocket for her handkerchief. As she did so, a door opened at the end of a row of pigeon-holes, through which could be seen a glimpse of a luxurious office beyond. The man who stood looking at Ione was of the dark full-blooded variety, with high cheek-bones, smallish eyes, stiff erect eyebrows, and thick lips habitually pursed — an individuality coarse enough in some respects, but not devoid of a certain large animal handsomeness.
He gazed at Ione with a quick, penetrating look. When Mr. Shillabeer (for it was he) first saw the black dress and the evidence of tears, he had intended simply to request the young woman to be good enough to allow her emotion to overcome her elsewhere than in the Department F of the World's Wisdom Emporium.
Business was business there, if anywhere. Emotions and their sequelӕ were dealt with in the Private Inquiry Office, Department Z.
But a second look at Ione's profile, and yet another into her darkly glorious eyes, now soft as velvet and deep as the sea, caused the great man abruptly to change his mind.
Putting the handkerchief in her pocket, Ione had moved to the outer door, but she had not yet "kindly pulled" (as the painted notice on the ground-glass instructed her to do), when a deferential young man laid a hand on her cuff, and asked her to be good enough to step this way. In the dark of the passage the youth seemed inclined to keep his hand where he had placed it, but with a gesture more businesslike than haughty, Ione disengaged her arm. Whereat the clerk shrugged his shoulders with a knowing air, as if he desired to inform her that such niceties were not good business for applicants at the World's Emporium to indulge themselves in.
"Will you come this way," he said aloud, somewhat constrainedly; "the head will see you!"
It was a luxurious room into which Ione was ushered. The door shut behind the clerk noiselessly. A fire was burning brightly in the grate, and a warm perfume of leather and rich carpets pervaded the place. A tall, small-eyed, heavy-jowled man stood alone by the mantelpiece. At Ione's approach he threw away the cigarette, which indeed he had lighted only the moment before for that very purpose.
"Will you sit down," he said, placing a chair for Ione where the light of the window would fall full on her face and illuminate her eyes. He himself lounged easily against the cushioned arm of a great chair with a swivelled book-rest, and attentively studied his visitor.
"You wish for employment," he went on after a moment's silence, "so at least I am informed by my clerk. It is true that we have many applications — far more than we can possibly find places for — wide as our connection is. That is, of course, in our ordinary employment bureau, which is open to every one. But if you will tell me your name, your circumstances, and your qualifications, I will myself see what can be done."
Ione looked at the man gratefully. It was the first encouraging word she had heard in a long round of disappointments. And when the eyes of Ione March looked all their thankfulness and gratitude upon any son of Adam, something was bound to happen. On this occasion they shone forth with such a soft and sudden splendour — such dreamy depths of heavens opened through the dewy mist of their recent tears — that the man before her stood up with a sharp quiver of the eyelids. Something kindled on his face and beaconed in his eyes like candles being lighted in a darkened room. He breathed faster, and passed his lips one over the other. This was clearly not a man of the stamp of Mr. Kearney Judd.
Ione continued to smile as she detailed her experiences. Mr. Shillabeer did not ask her the length of her stay at the Gopher & Arlington office. To her secret relief he scarcely glanced at the certificate itself.
“Why did you leave?" was his only question, and he shot it at her from his pursed lips as out of a pop-gun.
"The terms of the engagement did not suit me," said Ione as quickly.
"I hope they will suit you better if I make you my private secretary," said Mr. Nathaniel Shillabeer, with discomposing promptness. “ Can you begin work immediately?”
THE PROFESSIONAL ADMIRER
The girls stood about the door that night to bid Ione good-bye. They were genuinely sorry now that she was going, but half consoled when they heard that they would be able to hear of her from Jane Allen, The dark girl Cissy came last.
"Don't you give in or take a penny-piece from one of them!" she said, and pressed Ione's hand.
"She thinks it's your people who have been horrid to you," Jane Allen explained. "I let it go at that — I thought you would not care to have me say anything about him"
Jane Allen and Ione took the Underground Railway at the Mansion House for the station which was nearest to Audley Street, Battersea, where they were to "room" together. At the pigeon-hole they obtained third-class tickets, and went tripping and chattering down the dark steps. Ione had never been on the Underground in her life, but her heart was jubilant within her. On former visits to London she had often seen, from carriage or hansom, white wreaths of spume slowly sifting through occasional blow-holes, or belching suddenly upwards through blackened gratings, mixed with soot-flakes and jets of steam. On these occasions she had been informed by her father that an engine on the Underground was coaling up, and that the Elevated system of passenger carriage used in New York was infinitely to be preferred, being at once healthier, more accessible, cheaper to build, and infinitely more lucrative to those who controlled the stock.
On the platform one or two young men were waiting for west-bound trains. Most of them turned sharply to watch Ione's tall lithe figure and quick grace of movement. But the girl never so much as saw them. She was not even conscious of their presence, still less of their very evident admiration. Her mind was busy with what she would attempt on the morrow, where she would apply for work, and what future amends she would make to Jane Allen for her kindness.
But not a look or a whisper was lost upon Ione's companion. When the train slid alongside the platform, with that purposeful growling rush which characterises all underground trains, one of these young men, dressed in faultless frock-coat and tall glossy hat, followed Jane into the third-class compartment. He sat down opposite Ione, keeping his eyes all the time steadily fixed on her face, even when he pulled on his gloves and crossed his hands on the knob of his umbrella.
Ready anger kindled in the heart of Jane Allen, who in her turn watched him as a dour-hearted bull terrier may watch a bigger dog in order to select the exact spot on the neck for a first hold. A middle-aged, comfortable-looking woman was broadly occupying much of the middle of the opposite seat.
"Ione," said Jane Allen sharply, "you had better sit over there. This side is draughty. Perhaps the lady would be good enough to make room for you beside her."
"Aye, that I will," said the woman, with a broad country accent, "and bless yo' bonny face. I've been at t' market to buy a bit o' fish for my man's breakfast. Eh, but my William's main fond o' flounder — nobbut he can ate cod — aye, or salmon either, when he can get it."
Ione went contentedly over to the corner indicated, where, under cover of William's missus and the basket of flounders, she presently found herself deep in conversation upon the merits of fish as a regular diet for husbands. But Jane Allen moved directly in front of the young man, and stared fiercely and disdainfully back at him.
"There, mister," she seemed to say, "you can't see her you want to see. But you are welcome to stare at me, Jane Allen, as much as ever you like. I know your sort. All the same" (she meditated), "that tailor-made tweed suit of Ione's won't do. We must get her a nice black merino before she is a day older."
"Ah, lady," William's missus was saying meanwhile, all unconscious of Jane's angry by-play, "there's them that likes 'em fresh at nine for a shillin' — and they're welcome to spend 'stravagant if they can afford to fling good money in the fire, as it were. And there's them that likes 'em salted, and I winnot deny but they're tasty so, and go a long way in a family. But then, bein' briny by natur', they stimillates a thirst and sends men to the beer-shop. Not but what my William — bless him! — would scorn to do such a thing, for a more sober man - But, as I was saying, for a downright tasty dish that's as good as any Lord Mayor's banquet, give me a couple o' nice full-flaviered red herrings, with a gloss on them like a peacockses' neck, and done on the tongs over a clear fire. Why, the very smell o' them alone brings William hoppin' up them stairs three at a time as soon as ever it ketches his nose half-way down our street."
When they reached the station at which they were to get out, Ione remained obdurately interested in the merits of red herrings, as expounded by William's missus, and profoundly unconscious of the attractions of the young man who was still sitting opposite to Jane Allen. He had been trying to fascinate Ione, by circumventing with looks of admiration the voluptuous outlines of the lady of the market-basket.
William's missus was still busy at her explanation when it was time for Ione to get out. "And you see, my dear, says I to him, 'Weelum,' says I, 'I ha' been a long-sufferin' woman and a hard-workin' all my days, and I haven't come to this at my time o' life that a cherry-faced traipsin' hussy like Marthy Burton can reproach me for wearin' yellow gum-flowers in my bonnet.’ Ah, good-day to you, lady, and blessings on the sweet young face o' ye!"
For the smile had done its appointed work, and William's missus would have fought a pitched battle with Marthy Burton or any other for Ione March before she had been five minutes beside her. Yet Ione had scarcely spoken twenty words to her.
The young man in the tight frock-coat got out and walked along the platform and up the stairs immediately behind Ione and Jane. The latter kept her eyes straight before her, but, as she said afterwards, her ears were laid back till they grew perfectly stiff with listening for his footsteps. And all the while the unconscious Ione chatted gaily on, her hand on her companion's arm, for the excitement of a new life was upon her. The sounds and scents of this world of hard-working millions were like notes in a song to her. Each little gate and brass plate — they were passing the Battersea model cottages — waked a very pӕan of gladness in her heart. She was in the midst of a fresh burst of wonder and admiration at the flowers and plants which she had seen at one of the windows, when a shadow seemed to fall across them both. The frock-coated young man was at their side with his hat off, and, though his words did not reach Ione, he was apparently inquiring whether he might be permitted to "see the ladies home."
Ione looked him over with a certain cold, disapproving inspection, but she was wholly unprepared for Jane Allen's burst of passion. Left to herself, she would probably have dismissed the youth as she might an intrusive dog, and passed on her serene maiden way without a thought or a tremor. But Jane (as she herself put it) had been saving it up for this young man.
She turned upon him with her hands clenched, and a deep glow of suppressed anger in her eyes.
"You cur!" she almost hissed. "If you dare to utter another word or persist in following us another step, I’ll put this into you."
And she opened a little knife with which she did her pencil-sharpening and erasures in the office. The young man appeared half amused and half intimidated. But apparently he was used to such adventures. For he made the girls a still more profound bow, and, speaking clearly for the first time, began to assure them that, though only his sincere admiration could justify his intrusion, he could not think of their going alone through so dangerous a district, and that he was resolved to see them both safely home.
Jane Allen's teeth glittered and her lip curled with contempt in a way which might have warned any less self-satisfied wooer.
"Oh, you will — will you?" she said. "We will see about that as soon as we meet a policeman. Stand back, I say!" and she poised her arm like a black-skirted St. George getting ready to spit the dragon on a broken-bladed pen-knife.
The young man continued to smile, but now somewhat less assuredly.
"I did not mean to offend you, young lady," he said; "besides, if I may say so without offence, it was your friend's acquaintance I particularly wished to make."
"I dare say," retorted Jane shortly, "Stand out of the way!"
But the young man did not leave them.
Walking abreast, with Jane Allen in the middle, the three now arrived at a lonely, unfrequented place between the bounding walls of a large engineering works. Here the young man thought he saw his chance. Ione's air of having heard nothing alarming deceived him. He came round and walked beside her, trying to look back into her face with his most fascinating smile.
Thus, while Jane became every moment more and more speechless with indignation, they arrived opposite a gate, one half of which stood open. They saw a long array of machinery in all stages of repair and resolution into component parts, whilst a pulsing recurrent throb from somewhere unseen told of a prisoned heart of steam. Jane Allen looked through the gate with anxious eyes. Her face suddenly brightened. A figure in a dingy blue jacket was walking away from them with slow steps.
"Tom!" she cried eagerly — "Tom Adair!"
The figure in dingy blue turned, and seeing the girls, came towards them with ever-quickening steps as he caught the anxiety on Jane's face.
"Tom," she cried, "don't let this fellow follow us. He says he will go home with us, and he won't leave us - All we can do we can't stop him - Oh, I hate him!"
And Jane Allen stamped her foot, and if looks could have killed, the young man in the tall hat would have fallen dead at her feet.
Meanwhile the blue-jerkined figure which had answered to the name of Tom Adair continued to advance rapidly, yet with the same deceitful appearance of leisure. He was grimy and shiny from head to foot. His cap fairly glistened with oil and engine-black. But his eyes were blue, and shone strangely pleasant out of his streaked face. And as he took off his cap with a quick movement of respect, Ione saw that his head was covered with a crisp crop of yellow curls.
"Oh, this kind young gentleman won't let you alone, will he not? — says he is bound to see you home, does he?" said Tom Adair, with his hands in the pockets of his light loose working jacket. "Well, we will see about that."
Tom had by this time insinuated himself between Ione and her too intrusive admirer, and stood close by the gatepost. He touched a knob with his finger. An electric bell rang somewhere in the rear, and a man promptly appeared out of a little cabin like a couple of sentry-boxes placed side by side, with a turnstile in front. There was another turnstile, and a corresponding double sentry-box on the other side. But between them the high gate stood half open. The man who came out of the cabin to the left, in answer to Tom Adair's summons, had also his hands in his side pockets; but he was neatly dressed in brown tweed, and wore a hard round hat upon his head.
"Peter," said Tom Adair, "just walk with these ladies as far as the corner of Ely Street, will you? They will be all right after that. And I'll look after your gate till you get back. The night draft won't be tumbling in for an hour yet, and you’ll be back, and I'll have finished all I have to say to this gentleman, long before that."
The Professional Admirer no doubt wished by this time that he had not come, but he put a bold face on the matter and disclaimed any intention of insulting the ladies. He only wished to see them past a dangerous part of the town.
Tom Adair, standing between Ione and the young man, still kept his hands in his pockets.
"Yes," he agreed, "this part of the town is a little dangerous — for cads like you. Go on, Peter. Goodnight to you, ladies. No, you don't, sir; I have something to say to you first."
"Don't hurt him, Tom. Don't get into trouble yourself, mind!" cried Jane Allen. "He isn't worth it."
The two girls, with the friendly time-keeper of the Riverside Engineering Works in attendance, walking silent and embarrassed by their side as if he were counting their steps and checking their progress by the lampposts, turned the corner and were out of sight in a moment. Then Tom Adair's attitude underwent a sudden alteration. He was probably younger by ten years than his antagonist. Indeed, his whole appearance, in spite of the deforming grime and oil, was singularly boyish.
"Well," he said, coming nearer to the gentleman in the top hat, who stood his ground with a certain sneering confidence which betokened the professional bully, "you would not leave these ladies alone when asked."
"It is no business of yours, young fellow, whether I would or whether I would not," replied the other, putting himself into a posture of defence. "But anyway, I'll teach you to interfere where I am concerned. It will be better for you in future to keep to your smithy, and leave gentlemen alone."
"Oh, don't be in too great a hurry; I'll oblige you in a moment when the ladies are out of hearing!" said Tom Adair composedly.
"Oh—ladies," sneered the other; "that one in the check suit was a lady, was she? And your friend the little milliner was another? Ladies — ha! ha!"
Tom Adair did not answer in words. His chin sank an inch or two, and his elbows took a somewhat sharper angle where they pressed against his sides. But his hands remained easily in the pockets of his working slop. He walked quietly closer to the bully. He glanced keenly up and down the road which passed in front of the engine-shop.
There was no policeman in sight. A stray cur, with his ribs showing outside like hoops on a decrepit barrel, and his tail tucked in between his legs as though kept in place by a strong spring, slunk along the opposite side of the way. It seemed a misnomer to call Tom Adair's adversary a cur. He was well nourished, tall, and a little puffed under the eyes. His arms were in the correct posture, and his hands were clenched. Tom's hands were still in his pockets. Then something happened.
There came a couple of dull, crushing sounds, quite peculiar and indescribable, but not to be forgotten or mistaken when once heard — the impact of knuckles upon bare flesh. Tom's hands were out of his pockets now for the first time since he had lifted his cap to Ione and Jane Allen. Yet they had come so quickly that his adversary had never seen them move, till the tall hat flew one way, the rose in his button-hole went another. He himself sat down in the midst, while Tom Adair stood over him, and with his hands once more in his side pockets, besought him to get up and have some more.
But very naturally and with excellent judgment, the young man declined. Instead, with his elbow raised defensively above his head, he began to cry somewhat half-heartedly for the police.
Tom Adair stepped a little back and contemplated the bloated face, one side of which was now swelling so rapidly that the left eye was almost closed already, while a thin stream of blood and a thickening lip informed Tom where he had got in his left.
"Help! Murder! Police!" shouted the bully, but with somewhat unequal vigour.
Tom drew a whistle from his pocket.
"All right," he said cheerily; "if that is what you want, I can accommodate you in five minutes. We have an officer on the premises, and as I am foreman of the yard I can give you in charge for creating a disturbance. Don't apologise — no trouble at all; it is as easy as hammering in a tintack!"
The rascal rose quickly enough now, and without a single word he went down the road towards the river, holding a handkerchief to his face. Tom Adair looked after him. His muscles twitched with desire to take a running kick at the brute. But he only shrugged his shoulders instead, and muttered, "As Jane said, he ain't worth it! Hillo! here's Peter got back."
Peter nodded without speaking, and would have gone off at once to his sentry-box.
"Well, how did you get on with the girls, Peter?" he asked.
"Oh, so-so," he answered. Then appearing to recollect, he chuckled and said, "We had such a talk."
"Talk, Peter? I didn't know you could talk. What in the world did you talk about?"
Peter appeared to consider deeply. Then he said, "Well, I don't know as I talked much, but I listened like all afire."
Whereat he whistled melodiously and brushed the crown of his round hat with his sleeve with an ostentation of exceeding ease.
"I say, Tom, ain't she a beauty — what?" and Peter winked at his friend meaningly.
"Which?" said Tom stolidly, with a perfectly expressionless face.
Peter looked at him with contempt and incredulity.
"Which!—he asks me which. Garn, don't kid me; you don't know which is the good-looking one! I suppose you wouldn't call the - "
"Shut up, Peter," said Tom Adair suddenly, "if you don't want your nose flattened!"
"No," answered Peter, meditatively feeling that organ, "I dunno as I do, exactly. But what's happened to the fellow I left with you? Had he been up to any monkey tricks with the young ladies?"
"There's all that's left of him," said Tom loftily, pointing to a slight depression on the skirting cinder path, which ran towards the engineering shop, on which lay a desolate rose.
Then without another word he stalked haughtily within and shut the great gates.
"'Ere, Tom," cried Peter; "don't get the hump on you for nothing. I was doing for the best! 'Ow on earth was I to know that the little 'un — I mean the pretty little 'un — was your mash?"
But Tom Adair was too much offended to answer.
Peter winked at the cur dog, which had come back and was apparently on the point of shaking itself to pieces in an attempt to attract his attention. Then quite suddenly he slapped his thigh, whereat the dog, whose nerves were set on hairsprings of well-grounded distrust of all such movements, bounded away and vanished round the corner.
"What a game!" said Peter.
The abandoned rose took the time-keeper's eye. He picked it up, dusted it, and stuck it in his own button-hole. Then he turned his head to this side and that, contemplating with approval the effect upon the brown tweed. This being completed to his satisfaction, he unlocked the turnstile and took down his check-list to be ready for the night shift, whistling softly the while, “'Tis but a little faded flower!"
First serialised in 'Woman at Home' as 'The Woman of Fortune' in 1899.