Since Ione left her old life behind her, she had heard with regularity from her father, but during the last month or so there had been a break. After the “cuckoo" fiasco at the offices of the Gopher & Arlington Typewriter, she had only given Governor March the address of the American Exchange. But there she was pretty sure to find a letter from him between the ninth or tenth of every month. On this occasion, however, the date had twice gone by without the arrival of any letter upon the smooth, water-lined American note paper. Ione sadly counted her diminishing stores of money.
"I wish," she said to herself, "that I had all the money I want right now, so that I could run over and see what has got hold of the dear old fellow."
One day, soon after the closing of the International College of Dramatic Art, Ione had again failed to receive any letter from her father. She was sitting looking through the advertisements in an American paper, and reading the description of the brilliant successes of somebody's Cuticura, for the sake of the "homey" feeling it gave her. She did not like to confess, even to herself, that her struggle for independence had turned out to be a less pleasant thing than she had imagined. She was startled out of her day-dream by a bright eager voice at her shoulder, and raising her eyes from a particularly appalling woodcut (a "cut rightly called wooden"), she found to her surprise a tall man bowing to her with the gladdest and kindest of expressions in his eyes. His face was typically American, clean-lined, finely contoured, worn prematurely into delicate crow's-feet about the eyes, and his hair was already taking on a slightly frosty grey at the temples. She recognised the man as having been introduced to her by a chance hotel acquaintance, whom she had met on the street near the Langham Hotel as she was returning from "working the town" on one of her unsuccessful quests for employment. At the time Ione had been annoyed at this rencontre, and very earnestly desired to carry the acquaintance no further. Her old life had long been dead to her, and now, when want of success had come to her, she found herself with less desire than ever to resurrect it.
But a certain wholesome reverberation in the cheerful voice — something frank, friendly, and irresistibly boyish — disarmed her, and she rose with a smile and stretched out her hand. She remembered his name — Mr. Seth Livingston, wasn't it?
"Now that's downright good of you!" said the American enthusiastically. "It is as refreshing as a breath of real Atlantic air off the lighthouse at Marblehead just to speak to somebody from home — some one who isn't either a tourist or a drummer; not that I'm anything else myself but a mixture of both, goodness knows."
Ione smiled at the man's eagerness, and something in the tones of his voice won upon her in spite of herself.
"I'm afraid," she said, "that I'm a poor imitation of the genuine national article. You see, I've lived almost all my life abroad."
Seth Livingston shook his head.
"You're all right, I guess — nothing foreign about you. Scrape the French polish, and you’ll come mighty sudden on the Stars and Stripes! Why, I knew a mile off the other day, up to the Langham, that you were an American. Only an American girl comes along the street looking as fresh as a new chromo, and as chipper as if she owned the town and had just fixed up a Standard Oil trust out of all the business in it!"
Almost involuntarily Ione drew herself up a little stiffly. Was it to be the old story — a repetition of the old silly compliments she had grown so tired of? Mr. Seth Livingston noted the movement.
"Now look here," he said, "you're going to shake me, and it won't be fair if you do. For I want to be friends with you for the sake of a little girl way off in Salem, that is looking out just now for a letter all stuck over with those washed-out English postage stamps, just as you keep eyeing that letter-rack of pigeon holes up there for a five cent picture of President Garfield with your name underneath, all marked in plain figures and no deception!"
Ione hardly knew what to reply. Though the words were bantering, the man's tone was so friendly and genuine that she could not quite reject the kindness of the intention. Yet neither did she desire to be drawn into any acquaintance which might bring her into contact with her former life. So she remained silent. Seth Livingston went on with easily renewed confidence.
"Now I don't know your folks, and my friend who got off your name so slick the other day could not remember where he had met you. But for all that, I knew by the first flutter of your neck frill that I had met some one almighty like you before, and that I owed that girl something like my life. Now I'd like to do a little paying right now if I could — not that the article is high-priced even yet, but it's all I've got to put on the market."
Ione stared at the tall man as if he had suddenly taken leave of his senses.
"You owe me your life!" she said slowly. "Why, I never set eyes on you till I met you the other day near the Langham with Julius Randolph!"
The American nodded and smiled.
"That's all right," he said. "You think so. Well, perhaps it's so. At any rate, I owe it to somebody about your size in frocks, and with her head set on her shoulders just like that. And if it wasn't you, why, then, I'd as lief begin paying you as anybody else. You won't mind my saying that I've been watching you for the last hour, and I've got an idea that you are down on your luck. Now, I've been there myself, you see, and I know. Something's gone wrong with the switch. Somebody has failed to connect, maybe, and I'd like to help fix things if I could. I was considerably lower down the grade when that little girl gave me a hand up - "
"I am sure you are mistaken," said Ione. "But tell me what you mean!"
"Well"—Seth Livingston dropped into the quaint, slow-sounding speech which Ione loved to hear, it was so like her father when he talked reminiscences with his comrades of the war-time — "you've been to 'Frisco — more than two years ago, isn't it? Thought there couldn't be two profiles like that, nor yet two heads screwed on identical! And that, you know, was about all I saw of you. I had been a pretty low-down rolling-stone for a year or two before that. In fact, I had rolled ever since I cut loose from an office stool in Bridgeport, Conn., keeping square enough all the time, but playing in the hardest kind of luck, with never a let-up from start to finish. Just before I met the little girl with the profile, I'd been shovelling coal for two dollars a day in a wretched one-horse town, that had got becalmed and silted up in a back-water near a rushing district out West — and pretty far west at that. Now coal-shovelling is no free lunch with cocktails to follow, I can tell you. So I wanted — I didn't know exactly what I wanted — but to get somewhere else than the place I was in, at any rate."
"Two dollars seem very fair pay for a day's work," said the practical Ione, judging by her recent experiences. "I wish I could get half that just now. You should have saved something out of eight shillings a day—that is, if you took nothing but ice water to the crackers."
Seth Livingston laughed and shook his head.
“I tell you two dollars don't go far in a place where a chunk of bread costs fifty cents, and where they charge you a dollar for only smiling at the blankets in your bunk at Mike Brannigan's boarding-house. Well, I'd got about as much discouraged and disheartened as a man could, without fairly electing to pass in his checks altogether. There was a mining camp booming up on the Divide, but the rates were so high on the railroad that it would have taken me a year to raise even the meanest kind of scalped ticket. All the same, I wanted the worst way to go mining, and I knew that, if I tramped, it would keep me hoofing it till past the middle of winter, I am so inf—, I mean, so dreadfully slow on the pad. Well, at last, when I had thought it out, and got things down to a fine point, I saw that there was nothing for it but to sneak a ride on the cars as a dead-beat."
Ione moved a little restlessly, really because a memory had begun to stir within her. Her colour rose, and she breathed a little faster. Her companion feared lest he had offended her.
"I know," he said sympathetically, "it does not sound very high-toned. But as form of recreation 'ride sneaking' takes rather more sand than a pitched battle with trumpets and guns and things, and a fellow must be pretty desperate before he tries it. You see, the railroad men in the West have orders to chuck a deadbeat off whenever caught, and if a mean cuss lights on you when the train is making up time on a down-grade — well, some coroner draws the dollars from his county treasurer, sure! And you've about done bucking against fate and faro in this wicked world. It was eleven at night, and I'd been waiting since sundown among a pile of clapboards for the train going up the grade to pull out of the water-station. At last, after about a million years, she came along fussing, sneezing, coughing, and pushing a whole Newfoundland fog-bank before her. I tell you, I jumped for the first car like a cat at a birdcage, and crouched down on the dark step of a Pullman. Great Scott, I might just as well have boarded a rattlesnake convention on a sunny ledge! There were about a dozen people on the step already; passengers come out to cool off, I guess. For when these cars get heated, with a full-bred buck nigger doing the stoking to suit himself, I tell you, it just makes the marrow bubble in your bones. Well, anyway, there they were sitting pretty quiet, and a young fellow was telling a story. It was a good story too, so they took no notice of me; indeed, nobody got on to my curves at all except one pretty girl sitting on the top step with her chin on her hand, and her elbows on her knees. She looked down at me. I tell you, I wasn't any nice-looking spectacle these days. There wasn't much first family about me that night — not to look at, there wasn't. No, sir! I wanted to be introduced all over again to such a thing as a bath, and my clothes were not quite the cut of Ward Mac. But the girl on the top landing didn't hitch away any nor yet pull in her skirts to make me feel worse. I knew she was the nicest kind of girl as soon as ever I set eyes on her. Well, in a minute or two she spoke to a man who was sitting beside her, and he glanced once down my way and says loud out, 'A tramp sneaking a ride, I guess. Better call the conductor, and have him put off.'
"Well, I thought that was the end of me. For the train was swinging along down-grade under a rousing head of steam. But just as I was thinking where I'd light, and how many ribs I'd bust, I saw the girl lean over and say something to the man who wanted to have me chucked (I tell you, I could have twisted his neck like a spring chicken's, just then). Well, he listened with his head a little to one side, as if in half a mind to say 'No.' But at last, he shrugged his shoulders and says, 'All right; have it as you like!'
"For in our country men don't often say 'No' when a pretty girl says 'Yes.' And this girl was pretty just all the time, and don't you forget it!
“Then she moved a little along, and pulled her dress so as to make a place between her and the end rail of the car. After that she looked down at me and smiled — well, I'd not been used to smiles like that for some centuries, and it did me good, quick as a long drink on a cold night! Yes, sir! 'You can come up here and sit beside me, if you like,' she whispered; 'perhaps then that conductor will think you belong to us, and won't touch you.'
"'Belong to her!' Fancy a poor devil getting a chance to cool off a couple of hours among them angels! And the one with the nicest halo saying, 'Lie low when the boss comes along, and he’ll think you belong to us!' It looked just about as like it as that. But all the same, you'd better believe I up and did it.
"And there I sat and never slipped a word. But what did me the most good was the touch of that girl's gown and the scent of her dress and hair. Now, I don't want to be irreverent and I ain't a scrap, as mother will tell you. But — well, it was just all they talk about religion and new life to me. I tell you that little girl converted me, as good as an entire camp-meeting and summer picnic convention rolled into one. And as often as the conductor come along, she'd start them off on a chorus, and then he'd think it was the same old gang jollying him, and give them the off track and the go-by. For she set the young fellows to monkeying with that conductor, so that he'd rather 'see' four aces with a bobtailed flush than come near. And she kept them at it for more than a couple of hours, till I had made nigh on a hundred miles up into the mountains, and was thinking of dropping off at the next stopping-place. But the day broke early, and we shipped a conductor with eyes like a mountain-cat and the shoulders of a buffalo. This Sullivan-Corbett fellow got the drop on me and chucked me right there, in spite of the remonstrances of my little girl, and her threats that she'd spend her last cent in having him tried for murder if anything happened to me. Off I had to get at a run! But that girl was a perfect Mascot. For just when the chucker bounced me, the train was climbing and chay-chaying up a 1.25 grade, and the pine trees were just a-crawling past like a funeral procession when they're changing the pall-bearers and the band are dripping the top-note out of their trombones. So I lit good and soft within twenty yards of a quartz mill. Yes, sir! And that mill was wanting a man about my size, who could hold his tot of forty-rod without spilling, and knew how to tend an engine.
"In fact, I struck it rich right from the word 'Go.' And in a year and a half I was able to pull up stakes and come East with four oughts of dollars, and the knowledge of where to get more if I wanted them. So as hotel-keeping seemed to be the thing I knew least about in this world, naturally I got to running a whole syndicate of them, and showing these fool English how to keep boarding-houses where people will want to stay more than a night at a time. There are a lot of rich men about this little island who are willing to put up the chips for any smart American to play with. I guess they are right enough this time, for I've got this business down to a fine point. I'm only sharpening the pencil as yet, but when I get all fixed for 'Full speed ahead, and clear the track,' I mean to let these Londoners see a hotel which they will know again when once they see it. But though the thing's good, and there's dollars in it, and I've no end of a good time in getting there, I catch such home-sick spells that I can't rest till I've got to run in here and see what a good rousing double-leaded scare-line looks like. Then their headachy Underground makes me tired. You never seem to be swinging into Miss Robinson's bedroom or Mr. Jones' dining-room, as you do when you are on a short curve of the 'L,' and the cars are coming round good.
"Now, Miss March, I'm not going to ask you if you know anything about that girl on the upper step of the Pullman; for you mayn't want to give her away, and it ain't my business, anyway. But if you can, tell me for her sake how I can help you. And if I can, I'm going to start right in and do it, both for the sake of that Pullman-car girl, and on account of that other little girl who is keeping the books in a Salem boot-factory, just because she hates doing nothing except buggy-riding and sitting in windows watching the other side of the street!"
Something of the man's heart in the last words, or perhaps the remembrance of her former self on the San Francisco train, suddenly moved Ione, and before she knew what she was doing she found herself telling all her troubles and anxieties to this friendly American, whose handsome, kindly face grew grave and thoughtful as she proceeded.
"Ah," he said, "you should have tried America for your complaint. Girls have ten times more show there. And though, God knows, there are rascals everywhere, there are also heaps of good men over there ready and aching to do the horse-whipping. You would find heaps in every city who would be proud to give you a hand for the sake of their own women folk; yes, and think themselves precious lucky to be thanked with a smile. But over here the place fairly swarms with sharks like Sweel, and never a man's finger itches upon the trigger pull."
"Perhaps over here they haven't all got little girls keeping books in Salem!" suggested Ione mischievously.
Seth Livingston looked up quickly. There was a blush on his cheek, but a sort of proud straight look in his eye.
"Now you're laughing at me," he said, smiling himself; "but I don't care. I'm only sorry for all the other fellows who haven't been to Salem!"
Ione broke into a gay laugh.
"Well," she said, "there's one lucky girl dotting i's in that boot factory. I wonder if there are not two berths over there."
"Now, look here. Miss March," said Seth Livingston, "I hope you won't be offended; but seriously, if you do want a job, I think I can put you into one right away, before this old mud-heap of a city is much older. But first I want you to know my mother. See, she's right over there. I guess she's at that very window now, the second to the right, looking out and laying low for me with a respirator and a bottle of Culpepper's Cough Emulsion, because I went out without my overcoat. That is one of our Syndicate Hotels, and I left her in charge of a sitting-room on the ground floor, with orders to hold on if the sheriff levied for taxes, while I ran over here to wave the star-spangled, and meet the girl who went to 'Frisco two years ago. And I just bet you mother will do it, too. Why, if the sheriff came to attach, she'd offer him pork and beans with brown bread, as they do in Boston on Saturday nights, or do something desperate like that. Will you come over and get to know mother right now? She’ll be just so like your own mother, you’ll never know the difference."
A quick shade of sadness on Ione's face caught Seth Livingston's eye, and the infallible instinct, the incommunicable respect of the world's gentleman for the feelings of others, told him that the girl had been unmothered from her birth.
"Ah," he said softly, "I am sorry. But come, you will see my mother first, and then — why, I just feel it in my bones that you can arrange flowers, by the way you wear those long-stalked roses on your gown. You've got to adorn the tables over at our Syndicate Hotels at half a guinea a performance. Oh, don't thank me," he added, getting up hastily and looking for his hat; "it all comes out of the pockets of these bloated English shareholders — which is hardly less religious than for the chosen people to spoil the Egyptians."
It seemed to Ione that such generous and unselfish confidence demanded more frankness than she had yet shown.
"Before I am introduced to your mother," she said, "I should like to tell you that I am the only daughter of Governor March of Callibraska!"
In an instant the bright smile was stricken from Seth Livingston's face. He gasped and turned away, suddenly pale to the lips — quite unseen, however, by Ione, who was collecting her feminine impedimenta of small parcels, and looking about for her umbrella.
"Of Governor March of Callibraska!" Seth stammered in an altered tone. Ione looked at him curiously.
"Did you know him?" she said. "Most people do over there. There is no one quite like him, they say."
"No, Miss March, I do not know Governor March; but I seem to have heard about him ever since I was born!" he said, lamely enough.
Ione moved swiftly and lightly to the door. Seth Livingston went to the rack where the cablegrams were displayed, as if to look for his own umbrella.
Then he glanced around him to see that the officials were occupied with other matters. All heads were bent down, so with a quick movement he detached a fluttering telegraph "flimsy" from its toothed catch, and thrust it deep into his pocket.
"You will like my mother," he said, as they descended the wide stone stair.
"I am quite prepared to like her," returned Ione. "I like her son very much already —for the sake of the little girl in Salem!"
* * * * *
Now this was what was written on the "flimsy" which Seth Livingston had in his pocket as he went down the stairs by the side of Ione March:
“Millionaire Ex-Governor March is dead. His affairs are in total confusion, and it is said that he has been smashed by the Judd-Peters combination. He was war Governor of Callibraska."
THE INTELLECTUAL MOB
Keith Harford was waiting for Ione when she came down the grimy stairs from the International College. He seemed suddenly to grow exceedingly thoughtful when he heard that she had entered herself as a pupil of Mr. Sweel's, and had paid down thirty pounds in hard cash.
"If anything could make me regret having met you, it is this," he said.
"But are you not one of the professors yourself?" she said, as they walked slowly across the wide Square, where Landseer's lions were basking in misty sunshine, and the spray of the fountain was blowing sideways over the hot pavement.
Keith Harford nodded, but seemed somewhat reticent concerning his own experiences of the afternoon.
"How did your Shakespeare lecture go, and how did the class — I suppose it must have been an advanced class — strike you?"
"To tell the truth, I rather think it was I who struck the class," said Keith, smiling; "and we scarcely could be said to have got the length of Shakespeare, strictly so called. I found that I was turned out upon the fencing-class under contract to teach them the whole mystery of the art in three lessons. So I had, first of all, to prove my authority by engaging the College champion. He retired somewhat battered. The next subject was an unpremeditated lesson in the noble art of self-defence. It had not previously occurred to these agreeable young gentlemen that it was necessary to treat any of their instructors with deference. I suspect I have led several to think differently."
"Then what was the great cheering we heard in the lecture-room?" smiled Ione, delighted to hear of the excellent lesson which her friend had been teaching the male aspirants of the International College.
"Oh, that!" said Keith carelessly; " I suspect that must have been when three of them tried a sort of surprise storming-party."
"How did that happen? Tell me!" asked Ione eagerly.
"Well," said the ex-mountaineer quietly, "as each came on to 'rush' me, something met his eye!"
"And are you going on with your work at the College after such treatment?" Ione continued, while Keith finically satisfied himself that his rather worn tan gloves fitted his small hands without a wrinkle.
"Certainly," he said easily; "I begin to-morrow to lecture on Shakespeare. I do not suppose that I shall have any further trouble with these young gentlemen."
Thus the day which had begun so brightly, ended, so far as her new career was concerned, in a sick feeling of disappointment. Yet somehow, in spite of the loss of her money, Ione's heart was glad. She had found a friend — one, too, who was different from all others; a man of her own class, yet careless of wealth or position; one who cared not a jot whether her father owned one dollar or ten millions of them. It seemed worth all her past disappointments only to have learned to estimate aright the worth of a good man's friendship.
Ione attended the College of International Art with zeal and regularity. She found that the long list of teachers on the prospectus had been reduced to three. These were Mr. Roscoe, an enthusiastically honest little Jew who gave instruction in acting and stage-craft in general; Miss Winnison, who taught elocution and voice production, and taught them very well; and now Keith Harford, who, with immense acceptance and suddenly towering popularity, essayed the other nine or ten subjects; doing his best as each came up, with a grave impartiality and nonchalance which made him the adored of the girls and the envy of the young men.
As for Mr. Sweel, he did nothing but lie in wait for flies in his grimy parlour, and expend in some mysterious manner the guineas so recklessly entrusted to him. Well, that is unfair. He did one thing. He found his pupils a theatrical engagement — temporary in its nature, truly, but still an engagement.
Ione had been about three weeks at the International College, when one morning Mr. Sweel came into Mr. Roscoe's class while the students were working out a scene representing in vivid detail the sorrows of Esther and George D'Alroy. He motioned the enthusiastic little man aside, and, with a dignified wave of his hand, announced that Mr. Joseph Johnson, the eminent tragedian, was to play for a week at the Paragon Theatre, and that, in his forthcoming production of Julius Cӕsar, he had (as Mr. Sweel put it) arranged with the authorities of the International College of Dramatic Art for the services of "an intellectual mob."
Any of the students of Professor Roscoe's class, therefore, who wished for an engagement with Mr. Johnson, were to present themselves at the Paragon Theatre on the following morning.
No salary for the present would be attached to the position, but it was at least a beginning and would accustom the pupils to tread those larger boards on which, he hoped, so many of them would one day shine as luminaries, and do honour to their Alma Mater.
Feeling that for once he had created a genuine sensation, the Director bowed and retired amid general electric tension.
The following day Ione and Lavinia Starr, between whom a strong friendship had sprung up, were at the stage door of the Paragon promptly at ten o'clock. It was Ione's first introduction to the fascinating world of stageland, but its marvels did not look appetising in the dull grey of the morning, with the clammy river fog and the sour smell of an unventilated building combining to kill the most dauntless enthusiasm.
The lights of the Temple of Art were represented by a flaring gas-pipe in the middle of the footlights, shaped like a capital T, an arrangement which only rendered more murky the shadows lurking in the shrouded auditorium, and more despicably commonplace the heterogeneous mass of properties piled at the back of the stage.
Here, for instance, was the couch on which the fair Desdemona had last week yielded up her life. On top of it, where her head had lain pale and pathetic in death, there now reposed the steps of the Roman Forum to be used that day at rehearsal. Sets of furniture of half a dozen periods, rocks, waterfalls, and all manner of odds and ends cumbered the wings. To which was presently added the living débris of the International College and other similar institutions, every youth and maid of them enthusiastically eager for that first chance "to show what they could do" — as the formula of immediate success is written in the bright lexicon of youth.
Ione found herself cast for a vestal virgin, and on a rather rickety temple platform she was set to tend a sacred fire, which gave off a decidedly strong odour of paraffin oil.
The distinguished tragedian had his work cut out for him to make himself heard amid the enthusiastic plaudits of the "populus." While as for poor Mark Antony, he never got even the ghost of a chance over the body of "imperious Cӕsar" — dead, and turned into an excuse for the miscellaneous howlings of an "intellectual mob."
"What," asked Mr. Claud Jenkins — who, in virtue of wearing the longest hair, was looked upon as the most promising student of the College — "is the fun of being a super if you don't get a chance to show that you can act?"
On the first night, so enthusiastic was the mob, that an eye-witness declared that Mark Antony might just as well have been in Hades along with his friend, for all that the audience heard of his oration.
"But then," said Mr. Jenkins, upon being remonstrated with, "of course an intellectual Roman mob would be certain to express its feelings. Men with names like Caius Agrippa and Tarquinius Superbus would never have stood round cooling their heels and taking no interest in the proceedings."
Poor Mark Antony, however, could hardly be expected to view the affair in this light, and, as a matter of fact, he came off the stage in a state bordering upon frenzy. He declared that he would have the life of Mr. Sweel. It was all his fault that these idiotic young asses had killed his best scene. And he stated in superfluous detail what he would be, and where he was prepared to see everybody else, before he would play the part again, unless this most intellectual of mobs was shown with one accord to the door.
* * * * *
But the International College was peaceful and happy that night. Its students could have embraced Mr. Sweel. But, alas! this triumph was a swan-song. Next morning, when Ione and Lavinia Starr went down to the street off Leicester Square, they found the International College of Dramatic Art in the hands of the sheriff's officers. Mr. Sweel was not to be found, though a warrant was out for his arrest; and on the street below they discovered Keith Harford pensively regarding the scene of his labours from the outside.
"And has it come to this," he said, with mock tragedy, when he had shaken hands with them, "after all our exertions we are turned without warning to the door? And, in my own case, without even ten days' salary to comfort me. I suppose I must go now and write something which no one will print, and which, if it is accepted, won't be paid for till Doomsday!"
"Well, never mind," said Ione, speaking as she might to a partner with equal rights; "I have nearly seventeen pounds left, and a good deal of water will run under the bridges before we see the end of that!"
Keith Harford said nothing in reply, but his face lost its expression of bantering irony and became exceedingly grave.
MR. ACTING DIRECTOR SWEEL
In a moment they found themselves, as it were, in the presence of the arbiter of their fates. Ione the independent put it thus to herself, for Keith seemed to her already almost like a brother. She felt in her heart that she could trust him to the outer edge of Time — and beyond. Was he not somehow different from every one else?
The chief director of the International College of Dramatic Art proved to be a tall, thin, scholarly-looking man, with eyes which might have been fine if they had not been concealed by glasses of an aggressively round shape, dark green in colour. As he turned his face towards Ione, his aquiline nose protruded between the circles like a cow-catcher between the twin side-lights of her native locomotive. In another moment, however, she had grown conscious of a particularly cool and keen regard, which pierced her through and through as if to discover whether the sacred fire was alight in her bosom, and exactly in which spot it burned brightest.
"You are an emotional. Miss March!" announced the director, as the result of this prolonged inspection. They were the first words he had spoken after the first words of introduction.
"I — I beg your pardon," said Ione. "I don't think I quite understand. I came here with Mr. Keith Harford. I merely thought of joining the college as a pupil."
The director turned the circles of his green deadlights upon Keith inquiringly. His expression became distinctly less agreeable. He seemed to write off thirty guineas from some mental ledger.
"I think, sir," said Keith, "that you and I have had some correspondence. You engaged me to succeed Mr. Wobbleigh Cavendish in lecturing upon Shakespeare and the classical - "
"My dear Professor Harford — so I did! I have been looking out eagerly for you all the morning. Your class is waiting for you. Pray come this way."
And the director opened a door on the left, through which strange irregular noises had been proceeding. A range of hacked wooden benches was revealed surrounding a kind of circular well, in the midst of which two young gentlemen were having a tremendous combat with wooden broad-swords, while several others were seated on the backs of the benches, or leaned over them as from the gallery of a theatre. These last were smoking cigarettes and encouraging the combatants with shouts of "Well played, Macduff! Wipe the floor with him, Macbeth!"
"The professor of Fence having temporarily resigned," said the director, as soon as he could obtain a hearing, "the pupils were practising till your arrival. I will now deliver them into your capable charge."
But it was the Shakespeare class which I undertook to teach," said Keith, much puzzled.
The director seemed saddened and disappointed, and passed his hand wearily over his brow, as if the vagaries of professors at a pound a week were really too much for him. But he did not give up.
"It is the same thing," he said suavely, "or, at least, may be considered almost identical. This is, if I mistake not, a Shakespearean combat. It represents a well-known scene from — ah! the celebrated play of Macbeth. From your Christian name or prӕnomen, I presume you are a Scotchman. You will therefore be peculiarly fitted for demonstrating that true inwardness of the passage to your class. Gentlemen, let me introduce to you Professor Harford, your new instructor!"
And with that he bowed and got out as quickly as possible, leaving Keith alone with this somewhat casual and exceedingly unceremonious band of "students."
"My dear young lady," said the director, breathing a sigh of relief as soon as he had disposed of Keith, "you wish to join the college. You are, as I said before, an emotional, though you may not be conscious of your mètier. And permit me to say that you could not have come to a better place to develop and prune — yes, prune is the word — the luxuriance of your talent. Without doubt, when you have the rough edges a little rubbed down, when the diamond of your genius is polished and set, if you will permit me so to speak, it will be ready to shine resplendently in its own proper sphere."
He bowed again, and Ione was quite grateful for the momentary relief. It took the full-orbed glare of the green "caution" lights off her for a moment, and turned them blightingly on the carpet — which, however, seemed to have suffered severely from them in former times, to judge by its present mangy and threadbare condition.
"And now, my dear young lady," he continued, fixing her again as the glasses came to the "present," "I do not wish to take your money till you thoroughly understand our position.
"Our staff of instructors is at present most unfortunately somewhat incomplete. But those professors who have left are really of no importance, being only those of a second-class order. Besides, as you know from the recent appointment of your friend, we are as rapidly as possible filling up the vacancies. Still, I tell you this now in order to prevent future disappointment."
Mr. Augustus Clarence Sweel (his name was printed plainly both over the door of the sanctum and in large letters on the prospectus) next handed Ione a paper to fill up, in which she was asked to agree to all manner of rules and restrictions. These she passed over with a glance. If she were going through with the thing at all, she was prepared to put herself under discipline. But a paragraph towards the foot of the paper, printed in strong, black, Clarendon type to attract attention, caught her eye, and she gazed at it with horror. Thus it stood like a five-barred gate across her path to distinction.
"Regulation 17. Every student of the College must, before acceptance and enrolment, be strongly recommended by two prominent citizens, or by one Member of Parliament."
"Some such course," said Mr. Augustus Sweel gravely, "we find most necessary, as the very limited space at our disposal in the college compels us severely to restrict the number of our entrants."
Involuntarily a little sigh escaped Ione.
"Then," she said, "I am afraid it will not be possible for me to become a student with you, because I am a stranger in London, and certainly do not know two prominent citizens, nor yet so much as one Member of Parliament."
Mr. Augustus Sweel looked infinitely distressed.
"It does seem a pity," he mused; "and one so young and talented! But let me see; let me see. Perhaps, if we kept the matter very quiet, it might be managed."
Ione gave him a grateful look, which was stopped point-blank by the green dead-lights. As the College of Dramatic Art seemed shutting its doors upon her, the girl realised how high were the hopes which she had been building upon it.
"At any rate," continued Mr. Sweel, "I will consult our lady superintendent, and see if we cannot arrange the matter without publicity. For I see clearly that if you had a chance, you would do credit both to yourself and to us."
Ione fairly blushed with pleasure, marvelling also at Mr. Sweel's insight into character.
When he left the room she felt that she had already made a great stride towards success in her future profession. But, after five minutes of sobering solitude, she began to wish that she had had the courage to ask Mr. Sweel what were the branches of study which had been closed to her by the premature departure of the instructors.
On her way to the college she had resolved to be so exceedingly business-like, to make such strict inquiries as to the exact course of study to be followed, and the percentage of good and lucrative engagements obtained by graduates at the close of the college term. And lo! here she was, without a single question asked, fairly hanging upon the verdict of Mr. Sweel and upon that of an unknown and probably hostile lady superintendent, while the precious thirty pounds—three-fourths of her whole available resources — were literally burning holes in her pocket.
In ten minutes Mr. Sweel returned and said that he was most happy to inform Miss March that his committee had resolved, upon his initiative, and, he might say, guarantee, to waive the recommendation clause in her favour; but she must on no account allow the fact to leak out in the college or elsewhere, as others less fortunate might consider that an injustice had been done to them by her irregular admission.
With an eager beating heart Ione agreed to everything without a word of question, and in a moment more she had signed half a dozen necessary papers. Her purse was in her hands, out of which she told one by one the thirty golden sovereigns, receiving in return a matriculation card, with the arms of the college printed in gold at the top, and, in addition, a proud internal consciousness that she was already well up the ladder of fame.
"Now," said Mr. Sweel, somewhat moderating his tone of suave flattery as soon as the chinking pieces had changed hands, "we will, if you please, proceed at once to the theatre, and there you may join the class of practical training which is at present going on under Professor Claudius Roscoe. To-morrow I will arrange what course of study it will benefit you most to pursue, and what line of dramatic art you ought to take up."
They passed into a larger room, the upper end of which consisted of a raised platform, on which a couple of youths and two or three girls were countermarching and gesticulating. The girls were dressed with a show of cheap finery. Their hair was so much banged and befrizzled that what remained of it looked as parched and wiry as the bushy parts of a poodle. The young men generally presented a loose-jointed, out-at-elbows appearance, and Ione could not help vaguely wondering whether it was because of the burning of the sacred lamp of genius, or because they could not afford the luxury of a barber, that they wore their hair so particularly long, lank, and turned up at the ends.
In the middle of the platform a stout little man, of a distinctly Jewish cast of features, was standing brandishing a chair and looking wildly excited.
The entrance of Mr. Sweel with Ione prevented the continuance of whatever remarks the little man was about to punctuate with the chair, to the evident relief of the group on the platform.
"Miss March — Professor Roscoe," said the director with a bland smile. "Ladies and gentlemen, Miss March, your latest fellow-student, in whose bosom the sacred - "
But at this moment Mr. Sweel was interrupted by a tremendous burst of applause from the room into which Keith Harford had disappeared. The conclusion of the director's peroration, which, however, was obviously well known to the students, is therefore lost to humanity.
"I leave Miss March in your hands," he went on, as with an obvious lack of ease he edged himself towards the door, "and I am sure one of the ladies will be good enough to take charge of our new friend after the lesson is finished. I have not yet decided what precise direction Miss March's studies are to take."
After Mr. Sweel had vanished, Ione stood looking on, and feeling distinctly forlorn and friendless. But at least it was a comfort to think that Keith Harford was in the next room. Professor Roscoe's interrupted lesson proceeded, and in a little while Ione grew interested and amused to hear the frenzied accents in which one of the towsy-headed girls implored a certain extremely stolid hero to "forgive her," while that Spartan youth leaned in a severely classical and reposeful manner upon a painted mantelpiece. From this his elbow continually slipped as he became every moment more and more nobly unapproachable and unresponsively dignified. On the whole it struck Ione how much more thoroughly the girls were able to forget themselves and throw themselves into their parts than the men, who, without exception, walked and spoke as if operated by hidden clockwork. Yet it was not without a secret thrill of anxiety that she thought how, perhaps in a few minutes, she herself might be called upon to face the critical eyes of her fellow-students.
But for the present she was spared this ordeal. The lesson was, in fact, almost over, and at its close the girls came over to Ione in a body, and with the heartiest good-will in the world, offered to "see her through."
Meanwhile Mr. Roscoe was addressing some final scathing remarks to the young men before departing. These seemed to be to the effect that every man-jack of them might just as well have been blocked out of wood and finished with a face of putty, for all the use he could make of either limbs or features in order to express emotion.
"If there's an ounce of brains divided among this whole class, I'll — I’ll eat my hat!" was his final summing up, as the fiery little professor slammed the door.
"And a very greasy meal you'd have of it," said one of the girls. "No, it's a shame; I won't say a word against him. Little Roscoe's the only decent man about the place. There's a new man here to-day, though — dark, and awfully handsome; but Sweel has turned him on to the Fencing and Shakespeare, instead of old Wobbleigh Cavendish. He may be no end of a swell at explaining the illustrious William, but I doubt if he knows the inside of a theatre when he sees one."
As the girls came forward to talk to Ione, the youths one by one somewhat reluctantly left the room, casting envious glances across at the graceful figure of the new pupil, which certainly contrasted with the frowsy commonplace blonde good looks of her seniors in college standing.
"Now, if you like, I’ll take you round and expound the wiles and deceits of old Green Deadlights," said a dark heavily-built girl, who was addressed as Snowdrop Rogers by her companions, but whose imperious carriage and piercing black eyes were certainly far from suggesting that modest blossom of spring.
"Don't you go with her, Miss March. Oh, what is your first name? We can't be 'Miss'-ing each other all day in this abode of the dead. We've got too much to put up with in other ways. 'Ione'? What a pretty name! Is it a given name or a stage name? Really! Well, don't you get yourself taken round by Snowdrop Rogers. All she wants is to sneak you into a quiet corner and spout Lady Macbeth at you!"
"Oh, but," said Ione cheerfully, "I can do that too, as well as the next man. I would just spout Lady Macbeth back again till she dropped, if she tried that on a stranger. Now, I warn you, Snowdrop Rogers. On your life be it!"
"But you don't look the part, my dear, and I do," objected Snowdrop; "you're much too slim, and your nose - "
"Now then, out of the way, Sairey Siddons!" cried a bright, merry-voiced little girl. "Don't you go gorying and knifing people all over the place! 'Out, hanged spot,' or I’ll fetch some Sunlight Soap to you! How glad I am that I haven't got to weep all over the stage! I'm going to be a soubrette — yes, indeed, every time, deary! And I'm nothing wonderful of a genius, either. There's Lavinia Starr, though — she is one, if you like. Why, she can say the alphabet fit to make a stone cry, or even an actor-manager! Come on — do it for us now, Lavinia!"
"Oh do!" cried Ione, somewhat excited by her strange environments. "I can't a bit think what you mean."
Whereupon Miss Starr, being "boosted" up on to the deserted platform by the willing arms of her sister aspirants, proceeded to address the tables and chairs in soul-moving and harrowing accents. Yet, though she used only the letters of the alphabet in their proper order, Ione began to see a whole domestic tragedy growing out of the idiotic nonsense, and ere she had reached the letter Z for the third time, Lavinia Starr had hushed the noisy group of girls into a kind of wondering silence.
“There isn't another girl in the school can do that," whispered Snowdrop. "But Mr. Sweel doesn't like Lavinia, and always casts her for low comedy servants, and the stupidest character parts, where she looks a fright. Sweel doesn't know enough to come in when it rains, anyway — though he has had the cleverness to rope us all in and get our good money just for nothing. I say, though, what in the world possessed you to join right at the fag end of the term — when there's hardly a decent teacher left, and about all the good you’ll ever get is the liberty of tramping this rickety old stage here?"
"But," faltered Ione, a little buzzing trouble coming into her ears, "the prospectus said — and Mr. Harford - "
"I don't know Mr. Harford," broke in Lavinia Starr sharply; "but the old prospectus is all lies, anyway. It promises a lot, I know — more than you and I will ever see. We've all been pretty well done, that's a fact; but we can't help it, and kicking doesn't do any good. So we just make the best of it, and help each other all we can by working out scenes together."
By this time Ione's heart was in her boots; but she remembered the section about the emulous managers who, at the close of the college session, were positively falling over each other in their anxiety to offer distinguished positions to the graduates of the International College.
Timidly she hazarded a leading question on the subject. The girls unanimously laughed the short, bitter laugh of scorn.
"Well," said one, "you take my word for it, Ione March, when you go on the hunt for an engagement, the more profoundly in the gloom of the background you keep the International College of Dramatic Art, the more likely you are to sign papers. Isn't that so, girls?"
Keith Harford and Ione were left alone, and after the first plunge both took the matter rather calmly. Without thinking much of their surroundings, they walked contentedly together down the wide and busy street, the passers-by seeming somehow no more than idle phantom-shapes about them. Instead of the gloomy trivialities of Buckingham Palace Road they beheld the mural front of the Eiger, with the toothed Wetterhorn and the rosy Jungfrau setting their snowy horns over the sullen cowled Monk.
"Hansom, sir!" called a crawler from the pavement edge.
"Thank you, I have engaged my guides!" replied Keith. Ione laughed a little helplessly, as one might in church.
"How strange!" she said. "I too was thinking about the main street of Grindelwald at that very moment. Why, how pale you are, Mr. Harford!"
"I was about to say the same of you. Miss March! I fear we have both lost our mountain tan!"
They were silent for about a hundred yards, threading their way past a spate of passers-by, till to avoid them they turned almost mechanically into a quieter side street.
"I think that I had better tell you," said Ione at last, controlling her voice, "that I have left my father, and am making my own living — not very successfully as yet, it is true. I am 'out of employment ' at present. Isn't that the English phrase?"
There was pain as well as mirth in the little laugh which accompanied her words.
"I too am as poor as any one needs to be," said Keith Harford, looking down thoughtfully. "I fear I am a careless, improvident fellow at best. When I have money I spend it, or give it away — at any rate it takes to itself wings and does just as the Scriptures say. And then sometimes I can't make any more all in a minute. People print what I write readily enough, but somehow they don't always remember to pay me for it as quickly!"
"Do you ever ask them to pay?" queried practical Ione, swiftly.
"Ask them? No, of course not! How could I ask them?"
There was a look of wonder on Keith's dark and thoughtful face, worn keen and thin during months of disappointment and loneliness.
"People never ask you for money, I suppose?" mused Ione, darting a swift sharp glance at him under her eyelashes.
"Oh, they do, they do," he admitted mournfully; "and sometimes it is very painful when I have got none to give them. But these are mostly trades-people and not - "
"Not university men!" There was the least grain of hard irony in Ione's tone. "What a silly child!" she was saying to herself. "How the man does need to be looked after!"
And her brow grew more and more thoughtful as they walked on.
"But you — did I understand you to say that you needed work. Miss March?"
Keith Harford had not yet taken in the situation.
"Why, yes; that is just what I did say. I've been in two places, one after the other, and I didn't suit one, and the other didn't suit me. So I am thinking of trying the stage. It is, I know, the last refuge of the incompetent — or the last but one, the parapet of Westminster Bridge being the ultimate, I believe."
Happily Keith had heard her first words only.
"The stage," he said; "that is strange. I have just been appointed Lecturer on Shakespeare and the Classic Drama to an International College of Dramatic Art. The salary indeed is a mere pittance, but it may lead somewhere — and besides, beggars cannot be choosers."
A wonderful sense of coincidence came over Ione. This, if not precisely providential, was surely something very like it.
"Let me come with you," she said simply; "that is just the very place I am seeking for."
An eager answering light shone on the face of her companion. He seemed about to say something, then he checked himself and was silent for a moment.
"Better wait," he said, "till I see what the place is like. Could I not call upon you to-morrow, and talk it over?"
But Ione had been accustomed all her life to "rush" things, as she herself would have said.
"Oh no," she pleaded, " do let me come along with you now!"
He would have called a hansom, but Ione with a new pity and comradeship in her heart to see him so pale and discouraged, said, "Unless you are pressed for time, Mr. Harford, why don't we both walk? It will do us good."
Then, as they threaded their way citywards, Keith Harford told how he and Marcus Hardy had parted at the end of the month in Switzerland — Hardy to go to Paris with the Judds, Keith Harford to return to London alone.
"And you," queried Ione, "why did not you also accompany the Judds?"
"Oh, I — well, I had only ten pounds left after paying my guides for the season and - "
"Did your friend know that?" asked Ione with sudden sharpness.
"Hardy? Oh no, certainly not! He knows nothing of my affairs. He has had plenty of money all his life, and so, very naturally, he thinks nothing about it."
Ione was silent a long time. She was walking unevenly, superstitiously avoiding the cracks in the flagstones in a way she had when thinking deeply.
"And yet you have told me?" she said softly.
"That is different," her companion interposed eagerly. "By necessity or choice you are as poor as I. Besides, though I have not known you long, I thought from the very first time I saw you that I should like to call you my friend. May I?"
They were at a street-crossing. Ione was about to trip across in her quick impulsive way, but a huge over-loaded omnibus came thundering down upon them like a toppling car of Juggernaut. Perhaps by instinct, perhaps a little by intention, Keith laid his hand with a light restraint over Ione's gloved fingers as they bent themselves round the top of her umbrella. Ione did not resent the action. Keith and she seemed somehow comrades in one regiment, derelict fragments of the same forlorn hope, both poor and both castaway in the mighty whirl of this London. Presently the crossing cleared and they were at the other side. Ere she knew it, Ione found herself detaching her hand from Keith's arm, which she had involuntarily clutched as a second earthquake on four wheels charged down upon them. These are simple things, in themselves insignificant, yet significant of approaching danger, like the tunnels driven by water rats through the sea dykes of Holland.
"The International College of Dramatic Art ought to be somewhere about here," Keith said, as they turned out of the eternal eddy of Trafalgar Square and the double flood tide of the Strand, into one of the quiet streets which make a left-handed bend north-westwards in the direction of Leicester Square.
Ione was distinctly disappointed with Kersymere Street, in which the college was situated. No magnificent frontage greeted the eye — only the usual submerged tenth of unkempt and grimy domiciles, the same frowsy and greasy shop fronts, the same flourishing public-houses as elsewhere in the district. There must, she thought, surely be some mistake.
They stood before Number 120. It proved to be entered by a lowish and inconceivably dirty doorway, which had had recently painted over it the legend "International College of Dramatic Art" in black capitals which permitted of no further argument.
"It does not look particularly promising," said Keith, "but then these places often do not make a show, and after all the instruction is the thing."
"Certainly," chimed in the hopeful Ione; "and if the principal has had the sense to engage you as a lecturer on Shakespeare, he will doubtless have equally good people to give instruction on other subjects."
"Let's see — I ought to have a prospectus about me somewhere," said Keith, and forthwith pulled a magnificent document out of his breast-pocket. It was printed on vellum-like paper, which of itself suggested respectability and a diploma with seals at the end of the curriculum.
Ione's hand trembled as she unfolded the prospectus. Rosy visions filled her mind. A gateway into a new fairyland seemed to swing suddenly open before her. She thought of the applause of the hotel audiences which had endured seeing her act Rosalind and Lady Macbeth on alternate nights for a whole week in the dead of winter. She had been conscious that some slight training was all she needed, and now it seemed that good fortune and Keith Harford had led her straight to the right place. The staid "long primer" and the abundant "Old English" of the advertisement seemed to dance before her eyes. Crowded and enthusiastic playhouses appeared to rise at her in the very dots of the i's, and every capital T was a signpost pointing the way to fame and fortune with both arms.
When the turmoil in her heart stilled itself a little and Ione could calmly grasp the meaning of what was before her, she began to read the composition aloud. The two stood together in the grimy doorway of the College like a couple of children. Keith was looking over Ione's shoulder as she read, in a comradeship which knew no future and no past, but which somehow seemed to be right, and the only possible relationship between them.
At last, through the discomposing clouds of agitation and excitement, the following facts disentangled themselves from the shaking paper, upon the edge of which Keith had considerately put his hand that he might steady it sufficiently for Ione to read.
It appeared that, for the sum of £30 in sterling unclipped coin, one could obtain a session's instruction from the greatest artists in the metropolitan dramatic profession. For three months Ione could enjoy the advantages of a regularly equipped theatre. There was also a hall for instruction in dancing of the most severely classical sort, skirt-dancing being an extra and serpentine gyration a speciality to be contracted for privately. Elocution, voice production, singing, Shakespeare and the classical drama were all represented in this most comprehensive curriculum. Ione felt it made her an actress only to read the prospectus over.
Her finger ran along the line where Keith's name ought to have stood. It terminated with that of a distinguished literary critic, the infallibility of whose judgment upon all subjects had never been warped by writing anything original upon even one.
"And you are Mr. Wobbleigh Cavendish's successor?" she said, looking with reverence at her companion. Keith bowed a little ironical bow of acknowledgement, looking down at her meantime over her shoulder.
"I have that privilege," he said; "but I am sorry for the great man if I also succeed to his honorarium."
"Oh, I should love to come to your class," Ione went on plaintively; "but I suppose it will be a long time before I am so far advanced as to be permitted."
"Well," said Keith as wistfully, "I don't know. If you will notice, Shakespeare and the Classic Drama are bracketed with the art of Fence as a supernumerary subject at the end. That is perhaps why the pay is only a pound a week."
"A pound a week," cried Ione; "surely you are to get more than that — why, the fees are thirty pounds for a course of three months. Surely they must pay their professors more than a pound a week."
"There are the buildings to keep up and the acting director to provide for, I suppose," said Keith. "I've not seen him yet, but he writes a very good letter. I have one in my pocket, and it is quite poetical. Let us go up. After you have seen the inside of the College, you can decide whether you care to join."
Presently they entered an outer office, which they found in the sole occupation of a grimy and wizened boy. This prematurely aged youth was relaxing himself by vaulting over two chairs placed back to back, propelling himself by means of a large and very ancient floor-brush. He took the two cards with fingers which instantly hall-marked the paste-boards on either side. Then, after he had glanced at these rather doubtfully, he grinned compassionately and forthwith vanished into an inner room.
Keith and Ione looked about them. Certainly the reception-room of the College did not, any more than its exterior, live up to the magnificent prospectus. The floor-brush had not been used for its legitimate purpose during at least a generation. The walls, however, were covered with photographs of professional ladies in all manner of impossible poses and irrelevant costumes. One or two flaring bills of local theatres had been tacked up here and there as a suitable mural adornment.
"Severely classical!" said Keith Harford, looking about him with a smile.
"Shockingly dirty!" snorted Ione, with a disgusted feminine dilation of the nostrils. "If I stay here a single day, I’ll snatch that broom from the boy, and get some tea-leaves to sprinkle over all this!"
"The director will see you," said the grimy boy at this moment, appearing again at the inner door, and looking round for the broom in order to resume his interrupted studies. He watched the door close upon them, and then added in a meditative undertone, "O Lor', cabbage for two!"
“TWO WAIFS OF THE CITY”
In this cataclysmic fashion Ione found herself once more at a loose end. The World's Wisdom Emporium had climaxed like a blown soap-bubble. While it lasted Shillabeer's had indeed afforded her a liberal salary, much more than sufficient for her moderate needs. And of that, together with the money she had brought from Switzerland, there remained just forty pounds, which seemed quite enough to live upon till she should find something else to do. Her little fortune she determined to bank at an American Exchange for safe keeping, and to draw enough for her weekly expenses as occasion demanded.
She mentioned her trouble to Jane Allen, though without telling her the whole of the interview with her late principal.
"No," coincided Jane, somewhat wistfully. "I suppose you couldn't marry him. But it's a pity all the same. Up till now I've always been sorry I'm not as pretty as you: but then on the other hand, people don't fall in love with me, so that I've got to give up a good place to keep out of their way. But what are you going to do, Ione? Secretarying is hard to get, and, besides, you have very likely had enough of it. Have you ever acted?"
"Well, yes - " confessed Ione; "that is, I've often played with amateurs. Many of the big hotels abroad have quite nice theatres."
"What have you acted in?"
Let me see, only the usual things for amateurs — Ophelia, Lady Macbeth, Rosalind, and —well, charades."
Jane Allen cried out with sudden laughter.
"I am afraid the Shakespeare women are no good," she said, when she had recovered, "but the charades might help a little. Anyway, you would look all right on the stage. You are too tall for a soubrette though, but you would do famously for a weeper or a leading juvenile."
"But I have had no training, and - "
"Oh, I’ll find out all about that to-day for you — I know a girl who acts at the 'Sobriety.' I don't believe she had as much training as you've had, and I know she drops her 'aitches'!"
"Who? — Madge Tremont .'' queried Ione.
"Well, not quite. My friend isn't exactly the star yet," smiled Jane Allen. "Indeed, she don't often have anything to say; but once she had to cough and knock down a book when she was a waiting maid, so that Madge Tremont would know that she was there, and not be going on too much with her young man."
"Your friend must be getting on in her profession," said Ione.
"Susie La Vallière, yes — I should just say so. Why, she can whistle better than any girl I ever heard — the treble on one side of her mouth, and the bass at the other, as natural as life. And as soon as there's a whistling part at the 'Sobriety,' they're just bound to give it to her. Then she’ll knock the star all to fits. Madge Tremont won't be in it!"
"What is a whistling part, Jane?"
“Oh, sort of song and dance, you know! Dandy nigger boy from Ole Virginia, Alabama Coon with a big hat and trousers made of the stars and stripes. Niggers are rather off just now, but they're sure to come on again before long. I'II run across and talk to Susie today."
Ione had no great faith in the ability of Miss Susie La Vallière to whistle her into a good place at the "Sobriety." Besides which she felt herself quite unable to compete with a gifted lady who could whistle the treble with one side of her mouth, even without taking into account the bass upon the other. Nevertheless she thanked Jane, and intimated her intention of accompanying her into town. Ione was not the girl to sit down and wait (as her father used to say of a lazy man) "for a million a month job at doing nothing to come along."
That afternoon the two girls started together for the American Exchange, to open the wonderful bank account. At the corner of the common it came on to rain, and they boarded a tramcar into which many nurses and children, who had been enjoying a breath of comparatively fresh air, were crowding. Amongst others who made their way in was a strong, dark-browed, country-looking woman, pushing a little girl before her. The child was in the rudest of health. Her face shone round as the full moon — either apple-cheek deeply stained with red. Her eyes, small, beaded, and black as sloes, were fixed on a basket of cherries, from which she was eating steadily, with the most absolute confidence in her powers of digestion.
Just opposite, upon the knee of a young widow in deep mourning, was perched a child of another mould and world. Slight, pale, dainty, and refined, she sat watching with a certain vague wistfulness the operations of the exuberant gourmand.
Once or twice she whispered something to her mother, but the widow shook her head with querulous impatience at the interruption, and continued to stare abstractedly out of the window through the transparent advertisements of soap-extracts and cut tobaccos.
But presently the mother of the cherry-eater, who was jovially talkative and interested in all her neighbours, caught sight of the little girl seated on her mother's knee.
She stooped down and said something to her own daughter, who however only frowned and went on eating.
"Offer some of your cherries to the little lady," she repeated audibly, delivering the sentence as if it had been an actual box on the side of the head instead of only a forewarning of one.
With the sulkiest and most unwilling of airs, the little girl turned over the contents of her basket. With care and deliberation she selected the very smallest and most unripe of her cherries, which she offered to her dainty vis-à-vis seated opposite.
She was thanked with the most charming of smiles, and an inclination of the head which would have done credit to a court. Then the pale face was turned up to the mother for permission to eat the cherry.
"Thank you very much," she said, when this had been safely accomplished. "It is very good, indeed!"
But from the donor there came no response. Her anguish of mind was extreme. In trembling haste lest her mother should insist on further generosity, she began to cram the remaining cherries into her mouth literally by handfuls, till even Jane Allen grew alarmed.
"That child will for a certainty choke herself on the stones, if she is allowed to go on shovelling the cherries into her mouth like that!" she whispered to Ione.
"Perhaps like your whistling friend, she keeps one side of her mouth for the cherry, and the other for the stone," returned Ione.
"Oh, will you just look?" murmured Jane Allen, in an awed whisper, catching her companion by the wrist. "Ione, it is quite true. She is dropping the stones into her lap as she eats — three or four at a time — what a perfect little pig!"
Just then the epicure reached the bottom of her basket, and it was with an absolute sigh of relief that the last cherry disappeared down her throat. Not one more could possibly be torn from her. And now with all anxieties past she sat eyeing the interloper, as if mentally hoping that the one ravished cherry might disagree with her.
The widow and the little girl made ready to get out at the end of the tramway line. Jane and Ione followed them. As they did so a gentleman came forward and lifted his hat to the widow. It was Keith Harford. A vivid blush rose to Ione's face and she turned sharply round, hoping to escape unnoticed by the other side of the car. But she was too late, Keith Harford had spied her; and with the slightest elevation of eyebrow, he lifted his hat to her also.
"Miss March," he cried, after he had shaken hands with the young widow; "you are not going to run off without speaking to me. I am surprised to see you in this part of London. I did not even know that you were in England."
Ione nodded with some vexation, knowing that the colour was rising to her neck, and would before long be beaconing agitation from her cheeks.
"I came over some months ago," she answered curtly enough.
"Will you allow me to introduce my sister-in-law, Mrs. Vincent Harford," he said, "and also my pet sweetheart, Angel?"
"I like you," cried the pale little girl impulsively, running up and taking hold of Ione's hand. "I loved you in the car, and I'm so glad you are a friend of Uncle Keith's. I like your friend, too!" she added, with instinctive courtesy, anxious not to leave any one out.
She looked after the retreating figure of Jane Allen, who was walking on with infinite dignity in the stiffness of her figure.
"Jane," said Ione, "do come here!"
Very unwillingly Jane stopped, turned, and came slowly back. Ione introduced her, but she suffered rather than responded to the ceremony. A princess in her own right could not have bowed with more of protest in her manner, if in private life she had been introduced to her grocer. Ione was much vexed. She even said to herself that she could have cuffed Jane Allen.
"My friend and I are about to take the train here for Victoria Station, and I fear we must bid you good-bye!" said lone.
"My sister also is going to Victoria," said Keith Harford, smiling pleasantly; "perhaps we might all go together!"
Then Ione could have bitten her tongue out for having spoken so hastily. She could so easily have parted from them at the entrance to the station, and taken a 'bus into the City. Now, however, it was too late, especially as Mrs. Vincent, with an expression on her face not too friendly, was compelled to echo her brother's hope.
Keith Harford asked where they were going, that he might take tickets for them.
"I am very poor these days," he added, smiling, "so they will be third class."
Ione laughed with more pleasure than she had yet shown.
“We are all poor, and the tickets would have been third in any case."
"I can quite well pay for my own ticket, thank you!" said Jane Allen aggressively, at the same time bending down to the wired wicket. "Single to the Temple, please!"
"No, Jane," said Ione, "you know you have to go to Victoria first."
Keith Harford smiled calmly down upon Jane Allen.
"Certainly you can pay me," he said, "but you might at least let me get the ticket for you."
Finally Jane consented to alter her destination to Victoria, but as they passed down the steps, and while Keith was showing the tickets to the gate-keeper, she leaned towards Ione.
"You are making it up with him," she hissed; "and after what you promised, too. I’ll never speak to you again as long as I live!"
Ione stared, bewildered. What could the girl mean, and why did she hold herself as stiff as if she had fastened in Mrs. Adair's kitchen poker along with her stays?
But she had no time for questioning or argument. For till Victoria was reached, it took all her powers of fence to answer satisfactorily the innocent questions of Keith Harford and his sister-in-law. Little Angel, who had taken a child's sudden fancy for Ione, sat stroking her glove and looking fondly up into her face.
As they came out of the station, Keith Harford signalled a hansom and leaned forward to open it for his sister. A little spasm of discontent and dislike passed across her face.
"Come away, Angel!" she said pointedly. "Uncle Keith wishes to get rid of us; we won't keep him from his friends!"
The cab drove off before any one had time to say a word, and Ione turned about to take Jane Allen's arm and coax her into a better frame of mind. Keith was by her side, but Jane Allen had vanished.
"Did you see anything of my friend?" she asked of Harford a little breathlessly.
"She certainly was here a moment ago. Can she have gone into a shop?" said Keith, looking about him however, with no great eagerness or alacrity. But neither in shop nor yet on street did they see any more of Jane Allen that day.
First serialised in 'Woman at Home' as 'The Woman of Fortune' in 1899.