THE CRŒSUS CLUB
Mr. Kearney Judd was giving a dinner at the Hotel Universal. The primogenital reversion of a hundred millions of money was trysted to be at the table. This consisted generally of rabbit-mouthed, small-moustached young men with prominent owlish eyes. For the worship of Mammon and the life-long pursuit of the elusive gods of script and share do not, somehow or other, conduce to the production of beauty in the second generation.
With these there were young men of the English style of the cult, heavier of body and broader of base, with prominent noses set in the pallid pastiness of their features. There were also several journalists, for the most part correspondents of distinguished financial papers, a stray diplomatist of the more impecunious sort, not perhaps altogether above doing a little diplomacy on his own account when he had the opportunity. In fact, it was a dinner given to the brothers of the celebrated Crœsus Club by their distinguished Prior, Mr. Kearney Judd.
The celebration was to take place in two of the handsomest rooms of the Hotel Universal. The guests assembled in the Salon de la Commune, and the dinner was laid in the Salle de Robespierre. The decorations were of the choicest kind throughout, and no expense was to be spared to make the distinguished gathering worthy both of the host and of that famous hotel-restaurant, which was just then establishing the world-wide reputation, details of which may be seen from the advertisements of any illustrated journal.
As Mr. Kearney Judd was distinguishing the Universal Hotel by making it the place of his residence while in London, it was natural that he should be in the salon of reception in time to receive his guests. Also as the hour of dinner had been fixed early in order to facilitate an adjournment to the "Elysium" Music Hall in time for the principal item on the programme, the smallish purse-mouthed brethren of St. Crœsus, with their buffalo-horn moustaches, arrived with equal alacrity, and were warmly received by their distinguished Prior.
But the control of the Universal Hotel did not look with the same enthusiasm upon the unusually early dinner hour. The chef was in a thumb-biting, shoulder-shrugging state of revolt in the magnificent kitchens at the top of the house. The lady decorator had been disappointed by the late arrival of her flowers. The foreign supplies had not come on in time. And so it chanced that even while the guests were assembling in the Salon de la Commune, in the adjoining Salle deft hands were throwing here and there across the great table sprays of Persian lilac, bleached by rapid forcing in the dark, and subduing to a half light the sparkle of the electric lamps underneath, glowing loops which beamed through the mist of blue and white with suggestions of azure heavens and angelic purity exceedingly appropriate to the Crœsus Club.
Banks of moss were overlaid with the deep unutterable tones of the trumpet gentian, rising from the still rarer sapphire of the smaller Alpine flower. Above shone masses of blue cornflower, snowy ageratum, and noble Swan River daisies. Swiftly and in silence white fingers were showering among these sprays of long-leafed speedwell and creamy spirӕa alternating with smilax and the stiffer stems of innocent forget-me-not, in token of the eternal devotion of the members of the Crœsus Club to each other — so long, that is, as they did not lose their money and their several fathers kept out of the Gazette.
The rooms were only separated from each other by the thinnest of folding doors. In fact, little more than a screen of veneer hung upon a framework of ash divided the Salon de la Commune from that of the Salle de Robespierre. In the momentary lulls and silences of their fast-running talk, the guests could hear the clink of silver on glass, and even see at times the flash of black and white as nimble servitors passed in and out.
Prior Kearney Judd stood by the doorway receiving his guests. It was not a large dinner party, but every one there was somebody — or at least the son of somebody, which is of course the same thing. Furthermore, with the exception of a shy journalist who bore a poet's name, and one or two slim diplomats, there was not a man in the room who willingly referred to his grandfather.
The Prior of the Most Noble Order of the Sons of Crœsus was in high spirits. He had received intelligence that night which warmed the cockles of his heart. He felt that in honour he could not keep the matter long from the company.
"Boys," he cried, "I've something to tell you — you are all interested in the Combination. Or if not, you are all going to be. There's one more of the enemy gone under—and we pocket the loot — one the less to stand in the victorious way of Judd-Peters. 'One more unfortunate weary of breath, rashly un-something-ate, gone to his thingummy.'"
The "boys" hushed to learn Kearney's news, for the Prior seldom spoke articulately without having received abundant "pointers" from the Great-and-Only. Therefore his words were as gold and worth noting. Indeed, most of the members of the Crœsus Club, after a night with their Prior, secretly consulted their shirt cuffs of the evening, and (not always to their advantage) arranged the finances and speculations of the following morning by the light of these words of weighty wisdom.
"He isn't a very big fish; indeed, only a jerky and troublesome one. My old man has been fooling him and playing him for some time — Governor Henry Quincy March, you know!"
"Oh, yes," said the Man-with-a-Grandfather, "I've heard of him — Governor of Callibraska in war time, wasn't he — raised the shekels for the freedom of the nigger — that kind of thing? Enlisted afterwards as a private in the army; very noble; went to Andersonville, ‘cause he wouldn't bow the knee ' — no end of a fellow."
"As you say," nodded Kearney drily, “no end of a fellow. Only — there is an end of him now. But there is more to his record than that, and I know it. He started out in business with the cash he sneaked from the Liberation Bureau. He throve on plunder and carpet-bagging all through the late sixties. This March fellow has been in our way a long time. He's been playing the patriot even more than usual lately, only rather overdoing the part — million dollars to this and that hospital, ten millions to Taskora University, to found a scientific chair for the study of the other side of the moon. All very well when you've got the boodle and want more — no better ad. in the world than astronomy for a philanthropic fraud like March. But when you haven't got the ready, and don't deserve to have it, it gets to be about time for some one to shut down on the fool. So my old man did the shutting, and now - "
"I've seen him," interrupted one of the diplomats, pulling his moustache. "By Jove, I say, hadn't he a daughter of sorts — handsome girl, too? Saw her at Naples or Sorrento!"
"Say, weren't you rather sweet in that quarter, Kearney? Gave you the mitten once, didn't she? Well, I bet she is deuced sorry now!"
These were the cries which greeted Kearney's news.
"I think old March had a daughter," said the Prior, stroking his moustache, also twirling his own particular buffalo-horn; "don't know where she is now. She’ll have to turn out and do something for her living, which will be good for her!"
The folding doors slid noiselessly open. Instinctively, with a relieved apprehension of the announcement of dinner, the whole Crœsus Club turned towards the Salle de Robespierre. And there, set against a background of darkest blue, and backed by a faint shiny mist of electric light from a hundred half-hidden fairy lamps, stood a slender figure in a plain black gown, relieved only by a wide collar of white about her throat. The girl's face was pale as death. Her eyes were hollow and brilliant. Her lips were parted, and showed full geranium scarlet against the ivory whiteness of her skin. Ione's whole attitude expressed such a world of anger and contempt, that the Brothers of Crœsus nearest the folding doors shrank back as if they feared that the girl was about to strike them on the face.
"Yes," she said, her words sounding out clearly and distinctly amid the hush of expectant silence, "Governor March has a daughter. I am that daughter. And I am earning my own living. I have turned out honestly to win my bread. You say that my father has failed in business — that he has been disgraced. Gentlemen, my father cannot be disgraced. His record is written. Before one of you was born he had done his work, and America is to-day what she is because of such men as my father."
There was a murmur and an astonished recoil among the guests. Behind her the waiters clustered and whispered. "Run for the manager!" said one. "Bring Mr. Livingston — the girl's gone mad!" whispered another.
But Ione had more to say before any one could stop her.
"As for that thing there," she pointed an indignant finger at Kearney, who after recovering from his first surprise, stood nonchalantly smiling and stroking his moustache, "it is my life's disgrace that for a few days I wore his ring on my finger, till I learned to know the wretched coward, the despicable liar he is. But tomorrow I will write to Governor March, and as sure as that reptile crawls upon the earth, he shall be punished. My father will require the justification of his words from him to his face, and if he dare not meet him man to man — well, with such as he, there is at least some satisfaction to be got out of a horse-whip."
As Ione spoke out her indignation a stony silence fell upon the company, broken only by an agonised whisper from the diplomat.
"My God — the girl doesn't know!"
Ione March ran her eye over the company — a slow withering glance of infinite disdain.
"You are men, you are gentlemen — most of you are Americans — you would not stand and listen to your own fathers and sisters being belied and insulted behind their backs. Gentlemen, I put it to you, has Governor March deserved ill of his country? He has no son to stand up and vindicate him here — only one feeble girl. I ask you, gentlemen, is there no one who will have the manliness to defend the absent, and to say to that liar and cad the words which I cannot say."
"Yes, by Jove, there just is! I'll take up that contract!" said Seth Livingston, quietly stepping out of the blue dusk of the Salle de Robespierre into the full glare of the Salon de la Commune, and taking up his stand beside the slender pathetic figure in black. "My father knew Governor March, I know his daughter, and no man insults either in my presence, or yet in the Hotel Universal."
"And who might you be?" sneered Kearney Judd, giving a still more pronounced upward turn to his thin moustache.
"I am a man and an American — you are no more and no better. Let that be answer enough for you!" retorted Seth Livingston.
"You may perhaps hear of this to-morrow through your directors," said Kearney Judd, who meantime had recognised the European agent of the Universal Hotel Syndicate.
His opponent nodded grimly.
"That's all right," he said. "You'll find Seth Livingston on hand when the music plays."
But the journalist, touched by the beauty and the pitifulness of the girl, had a word to say.
"I am sure that we all sympathise with Miss March in her bereavement," he began lamely enough. Then the chorus broke indignantly about him.
"Shut up - !" "Hold your tongue, man! Hush—don't you see - ?"
But the heart of the journalist was stirred within him. He merely raised his voice above the turmoil, and held on his way.
"We are men," he said, squaring himself for a deliverance; "we have spoken too freely. De mortuis, you know. Let us all apologise very humbly, as I do to the young lady. Governor March's death clears all back scores!"
There was a confused murmur as if to drown his final words; but it came too late. Ione March had heard.
"Governor March's death - " she gasped; "you say his 'death.' My father dead, and I not told of it — I not with him!"
She stood a moment longer, swaying like a lily in the wind, looking dully from one to the other, as if not understanding why they were all gathered there.
"Is this true, Seth Livingston? Ah, you are silent; you know it. You knew it this afternoon, and you did not tell me! I thank you, sir—I thank you, gentlemen. I ask your pardon. I must go— I must go to find my father. I think — I think he is needing me!
And she fell back into Seth Livingston's arms.
"Gentlemen," said her champion, "you see that it is impossible after this that you can dine here to-night. Be good enough to adjourn elsewhere."
"Very pretty—exceedingly neatly acted," sneered Kearney. "Let's leave the hotel drummer with the girl. Come on, boys; this has been better than any show we are likely to see to-night."
Seth Livingston shifted the unconscious girl into the arms of a sympathetic waiter.
"This may be hanged poor business as business," he muttered; "but I guess I'm going to see it through."
And the next moment something swift as the first upward rush of a rocket struck Kearney Judd between the eyes, and he found himself upon the floor of the Salon de la Commune.
"Take him to his room!" said Seth Livingston. And went to his own to send in his resignation.
Meanwhile Mrs. Livingston was caring for the unconscious girl, and bending over Ione, murmuring little motherly tendernesses.
Ten minutes later Seth came in after knocking gently.
His mother whispered to him,--
"She will do nicely — she is coming to. You did quite right, Seth boy!"
“Thank you, mother," said her son, who knew he had not erred when his mother used his pet name. "I guess you and I will have to go back to Salem now. I can get a berth at three dollars a day in the boot factory, and Mamie must hang on a spell longer at the book-keeping till I break out in a new place."
"And in Salem I will get something fit to eat!" said his mother.
THE FLOWER GIRL
The room in which Ione found herself was not a large one, but it wore an aspect somewhat unfamiliar within a few hundred feet of the murky Tamesis. On the walls were framed engravings — Washington crossing the Delaware occupying the place of honour above the mantlepiece. The Declaration of Independence was being signed on the wall over against the window. Prints of Faneuil Hall and the Old South Meeting-House occupied niches near the fireplace. In one corner there was a sort of shrine composed of American flags, framed and glazed, the Stars glittering on top, and the Stripes descending perpendicularly to the bottom of the frame. Opposite was another glass-case, in which hung an old blue coat with shoulder-straps of rusty gold, together with an officer's sword suspended by a waist-belt.
A thin-faced old lady, with a sedately placid expression and the whitest hair in the world, was knitting by the window, her fingers never resting for a moment as the nimble thread wove out and in. She pulled at the wool ball in her large apron-pocket every minute or two with that automatic hitch which tells of a lifetime of practice.
"Miss March, this is my mother," said Seth Livingston; "she is quite the latest and most satisfactory thing in mothers, too, and always comes home to tea. Mother, this is Miss March, with whom I am permitted to make you acquainted, and she is the daughter of Governor March of Callibraska."
"My dear!" said the old lady, rising and holding out one hand, while she conserved her knitting with the other. "Why, I've heard of your father as much as a million times! Indeed, he got all my spring chickens for two whole years to melt into bullets to help end the dreadful war! — and — and I gave him two of my sons as well."
She cast a look at the blue coat which hung limply opposite the trophy of flags.
"Mother," said Seth, "do give Miss March some tea, before you get talking about the War. There's nothing so thirsty as talking about the War. It's as bad as lunching with three brigadier-generals at the Union Club."
"Don't you mind Seth, Miss March," said the gracious old lady, smiling placidly at her guest; "when you've lived as long as I have with joking men, you’ll know that more than half the time they are the only ones to see their own fun."
"Say it, mother!" said her son provokingly.
"Well, I will, Seth." She nodded a little defiantly at him. "He wants me to say that I wouldn't be as funny as he is for a farm. He says that that makes him feel as if he were right down by Boston Harbour. It seems curious they don't say a simple thing like that over here."
"Yes, mother," he answered; "whenever you get to saying that, I can smell the South Bay and hear the N. Y. express sail through to Matapan just a-whooping!"
By this time the tea was poured out, and the old lady produced from a wall-press sundry cakes and mysterious condiments, which she set on the table with great complacency.
"Do you know, I just can't take to these stiff English afternoon teas. They are no better than the departed spirits of square meals," said Mrs. Livingston vigorously; "and so every morning I go and buy in all the nice American-tasting things I can find, and then Seth and I have them in the afternoon."
"She is a real moral old lady, my mother!" mused Seth, to the electric-light fittings —"teaching me to swindle my own hotel, and bribing me by offering to share the proceeds of the crime. Did you ever happen to read that notice, mother?" He pointed to a card tacked on the wall.
No Meals to be Partaken of
in the Apartments
Without Special Arrangement
with the Direction
of the Syndicate Hotels.
"Well, sonny," said his mother, "aren't you the ‘Direction of the Hotels’? At any rate, you've been telling me nothing else ever since I came over in the Circassia. I wouldn't be as - "
"No, mother, not again quite so soon. Do give Miss March a rest!" said Seth, putting his hands dejectedly into the pockets of his coat. What he felt there made his lip suddenly quiver. He had forgotten the crushing sorrow which was waiting for this girl at the end of their light talk. At any rate, he would get her launched upon her work before she heard the news, and the necessities of her new position might perhaps help her not to break down under the blow which, sooner or later, must fall upon her.
"Mother," he said, "this young lady knows all about Mamie in Salem - "
"I guess you've been telling her yourself, then," cried Mrs. Livingston; "you ought to be ashamed of yourself, Seth. Miss March, he can't keep from telling every one he meets about little Mamie Grove. He generally gets there within ten minutes. How long was he with you? You look so sweet and sympathetic, that I shouldn't blame him if he got to Salem within a minute and a half."
"Mother, you are really the most unscrupulous person. And yet they say that the great American lie is going out! They should just hear my mother abusing and slandering her only son! But the truth is, that with Miss March alongside, most men would forget to mention Salem at all!"
"Well, Seth, if you could be sensible for five minutes, perhaps you would tell us how you propose to attach Miss March to the service of your Hotels?"
"Why, mother. Miss March is already engaged to arrange flowers on the dining-tables at half a guinea for each set-out; and as we have many special dinners, I think she may count on at least three or four in an evening. And of course, as the thing has to be done quickly, we will stand cab fares between the hotels."
"Dear me!" said Ione, smiling gladly; "you are quite a fairy prince with a magic wand. Why, I shall be a millionairess, and have money to burn! But perhaps, after they see me start in to do one table, the Direction will shut down on me, and say, 'Flowers is off; please help lay the cloths — it is all you are good for!'"
"And a very nice thing too," said Mrs. Livingston; "I just ache to show these lazy good-for-nothing German waiters how cloths are laid in New England!"
"I think there is not the least doubt that Miss March will succeed," said Seth. "I'll take her round right now, and introduce her to our Manager. Don't tell him that you haven't had fifty years' experience! Go to the stalls in the court-yard and get what flowers you want. They all belong to the Syndicate. The Manager doesn't know beans about decoration anyway, and the head waiters don't go beyond sticking a score of roses in a glass pail, like so many cigarette spills. So you have carte-blanche and my blessing. You will get your money every night from the cashier, or have your cash made up each Saturday, if that suits you better."
"I don't know how to thank you, Mr. Livingston; I don't know what I can do - " Ione began, a little hard knot coming suddenly in her throat. After all, it was a great thing that this young American was doing for her so lightly.
"You can give my mother a kiss, if you like," laughed Seth; "I know she would like it, and she's just particular nice to kiss. And as for me, why, you can get that car-girl to make room for me beside her again, next time I am down on my luck and riding on the bottom step of a Pullman."
* * * * *
With characteristic readiness to adapt herself to the business in hand, Ione instantly pulled off her gloves and ran out to the nearest ladies' shop to buy a white linen "Squire" collar, such as school-boys and nurses wear, and a pair of white turned-back cuffs to match. These she fitted over her black dress with the old lady's assistance, and in ten minutes she had extemporised a completely suitable costume. In a quarter of an hour Seth Livingston was informed that his new recruit was ready to begin work.
His mother had accompanied the transformation with approving and patriotic murmurs.
"American? Well, I should say so! They don't breed your kind over here, my dear. It comes of generations of huskings and quiltings, and of doing one full share of man's work and taking two shares of man's responsibility."
She paused a little, contemplating the completion of Ione's swift arrangements. "What State did your father come from?" she asked.
"Well, as you know," answered Ione, looking up, "he was Governor of Callibraska during the War, but by birth he was an Ohio man - "
"The step-mother of Presidents," commented Seth from the sitting-room; "she smacked them for their good all the time they were little, and stood around with her hands in her pockets taking the credit of them after they got big!"
His mother looked through the doorway at him as he lounged against the mantelpiece with his hands in his pockets.
"I wouldn't be - "
"Yes, mother, I know; but really, really — that's the third time! But about Ohio, it's the frozen truth, any way."
"Good-bye, my dear," said the white-haired old lady. "I don't know what he means; nor does he, half the time. But run in here and see me often, and tell me how you are getting on. I don't know anything about dressing up tables with flowers, but if I could come and hold the string and the wire fixings for you - "
"Well, mother, you just can't — else you'd be sitting up half the night with your cough. So take your bonnet and go out and see if you can't buy better buckwheat than the second-hand sawdust you got last time in that shop in Regent Street. I can't have two such tearing beauties going about the tables in the restaurant and into the private dining-rooms, disorganising the waiters and reducing the call-boys to more than their ordinary level of drivelling idiocy."
Ione had many a time decorated dinner-tables for her father. It had been one of his greatest pleasures to watch her nimble fingers moving among the rich blooms of the Mediterranean sea-board. But she had no conventions, and her creations were by no means in accordance with the traditions. Her manner was quiet and assured; and even on this first night she achieved some quite remarkable successes.
Her experience, from the point of view of a diner, had informed her that, before all things, people desire to be able to see each other without gazing through a tangled tropical forest of ferns and sprays, or playing bo-peep round a palm. She found also that most of the stands and epergnes were too stiff for the smaller tables; but with yards of trailing smilax and delicately wreathed lilac-blossomed wistaria, she toned down the harshness of their outlines.
Ione endeavoured to treat each table as a distinct picture, making of one an arrangement in rich red tones, culminating in the splendid crimson of the Bolivian sage and the scarlet of that imperial martagon lily to which even King Solomon in all his glory was not like.
"Was the young man who ordered this table dark or fair?" she asked suddenly of the chief steward of the restaurant. That Parisian elegant looked somewhat astonished, but answered, smiling and twirling his moustache, "Mees, he was blonde."
"And the table is ordered for three," mused Ione, with her finger to her cheek; "one will be the gooseberry, the other will be her. And if he is fair, it is about four to one that she will be dark. We will give them the red table."
And so indeed it proved; and with her diamond-lit crown of blue-black hair, Ione's flamboyant royal colour harmonised as never table decorations had done before.
When Ione came back the next night, she found that so far as that hotel was concerned, her reputation was made. She had smiled graciously as the dinner-giver anxiously adjusted her opera-cloak, and whispered something in his ear. Then the lover had turned about to say to the deferential manager, "The young lady desires to congratulate you on your table-decorator!"
It was with joy in her heart that Ione returned to the little house, where Jane Allen was sitting up anxiously awaiting her return.
"Wherever have you been, Ione?" she cried, as soon as she had flown into the narrow passage to clutch her friend round the neck. Mrs. Adair came bustling out, her face red from the oven in which she had been preparing a beefsteak-pie to be carried by Tom Adair and his father to the works on the morrow.
Ione told all her tale of Seth Livingston's kindness, and not the least of her joy was the sight of the unselfish rejoicing of these honest hearts.
"So in a week or two I shall be quite rich, and be able to give you all a treat to the Crystal Palace, or even, if you are very good, to Hampton Court on Sunday. Besides" — she turned and put her hand affectionately on the plump matronly shoulder of Mrs. Adair — "it is high time that I paid my debts. I have been expecting, any time these two weeks, that you would be putting me to the door."
John Adair coughed as if he had been about to speak, while his father moved his feet off the kitchen fender noisily and upset the tongs.
"Eh, lassie!" said Mrs. Adair, holding up her hands in protest; "how can ye speak like that? Ye are just like yin o' oorsels, an' were I ever to speak o' siller to ye, ony yin o' thae twa men sittin' aboot the fire wad gie me my head in my hand and my lugs to play wi'!"
It was with moist eyes and trembling lips, to find herself among such simple loving souls, that Ione moved upstairs to her little bedroom. As she did so, Mrs. Adair called after her.
"Miss March," she said, "there was a gentleman here this afternoon. He would not give any message, nor sae muckle as leave his name; but he gied me a letter for you. You will find it on your bedroom table."
"What was the gentleman like?" asked Ione.
"'Deed, I didna tak' muckle notice o' him, for the girdle was on, and the scones readying fine; and wi' thae wig-ma-leeries o' useless English fire-places, that hae nocht but a bit patlid for the lowe to keek up through, ye need to keep your mind on your scones when they are on. But he was a lang lad, gye white and shilpit, and lookin' as if he had clean forgotten what day o' the week it was."
The description of Keith Harford was too clear to be mistaken. Ione ran up to her bedroom with an eagerness which she did not own even to herself.
On the table lay a plain business envelope sealed with a red seal. With fingers that trembled she tore it open, and half a dozen crisp Bank of England notes fluttered out. A scrap of paper accompanied them, with a few words written upon it.
"Dear Miss March, I cannot allow you to suffer through my fault. Pardon this, and do not be angry.
Tears sprang to Ione's eyes, and she patted her shoe on the scrap of carpet which lay in front of the little looking-glass.
"Oh, he ought not to have done this — I cannot take it! I shall go to-morrow and give it back to him."
Then she remembered that she did not know Keith Harford's address. At this moment Jane Allen came in with eager eyes of inquiry. She pounced at once upon the traces of the tears which Ione had hastily endeavoured to wipe away.
"What did I tell you?" she said reproachfully. "I knew how it would be! You should never have let him speak to you again. Men are all vipers, and whenever you give them an inch they will take an ell!"
"But, Jane," said Ione, smiling in rather April fashion, "this is not the man I was once engaged to. I never saw Mr. Harford till I was in Switzerland a year ago."
Jane Allen's eyes danced with a sudden joyous light.
"Why didn't you tell me so before?" she said. "Here I have been just horrid to you for weeks, all because I thought you were taking him on again — and I knew too well what that meant. But, tell me, is he nice? Do you love him?"
"No," said Ione doubtfully; "I do not love him. How should I, after seeing him only half a dozen times? But I am sorry for him. He is ill and poor, and does not know how to look after himself any more than a baby."
Jane Allen did not say a single word, but rose from the side of the bed whereon she had been sitting. She came swiftly and impulsively over to Ione and kissed her. Then, still without a word, she went into her own room.
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.
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?”
First serialised in 'Woman at Home' as 'The Woman of Fortune' in 1899.