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.
First serialised in 'Woman at Home' as 'The Woman of Fortune' in 1899.