THE CONSENT OF GOVERNOR MARCH
But Ione had still a much more serious ordeal of explanation to face with her father. He had been confined to his room all the morning with a chill, and Ione found him busily working up his arrears of correspondence. When her light knock came to the door of his room Governor March answered with the nervous irritation of a man who has yet much to accomplish.
"May I come in, father?" said a fresh young voice outside, high and clear.
At the first sound of the words Mr. March passed his hand rapidly across his forehead, as though sweeping away some invisible cobwebs. Then he pushed a collection of letters and papers hastily into a table-drawer and turned to open the door to his daughter.
"Why, Ione," he said, "I call this a treat. I am glad to see you. I thought that you had gone off somewhere with the girls and Kearney."
The girl patted her father affectionately and indulgently on the head. Then she rearranged his still abundant hair with a couple of swift finger-passes, seized him determinedly by the chin, brought his head up to a convenient kissing level—and kissed him.
"It was just about Kearney Judd that I was going to speak to you, fatherkin," she said. "I want you to know that I have given him up. I never did care for him, and since that business at Grindelwald I simply could not bear to go on a day longer thinking what such a man might be to me."
Her father's face seemed to grow greyer and older as he listened. His nether lip quivered, but he would not let his daughter see his emotion. He walked to the window and looked out upon the long clean-swept street and at the well-behaved little children in the park, walking two by two, with a white-stringed bonne behind each couple. After a while he spoke.
"But have you thought what this will mean to us all?" he said, a little unevenly. "How can we remain friendly with the Judds if your engagement is broken off, Ione?" He spoke gently; yet the girl felt instinctively that he waited her answer with a certain trepidation. But she resolved not to be more serious than she could help. So she answered lightly enough, --
"I have thought of that, father. Idalia and her mother are all right, and as for the rest, they don't matter a row of pins to us!"
"Perhaps not," replied her father, rising and beginning to pace up and down the room restlessly, as he had a habit of doing when his mind was disturbed; "but the truth is, Ione, I am engaged in very extensive operations with John Cyrus Judd, — operations involving many millions of dollars — and I cannot tell all in a minute how this news may affect me. I am under very deep obligations to Mr. Judd, and - "
Governor March stopped, and looked at his daughter, as if for a moment he meditated some appeal to her. But, instead, he only sighed deeply and was silent.
"I came to tell you something else too, father," she said, laying her clasped hands palm downwards on his shoulders, and looking affectionately up in his face. "I am tired of being no better than a drag and a burden upon you. I do nothing, and I never have done anything, to help you. Let me go out and work for my living, as you did. I have been educated expensively, yet you know I have never earned a penny. My whole life has been swaddled in cotton wool. It is a dead life, a useless life. Father, I would rather sell flowers on the street, I would rather peddle candy on a train, than go on like this. Let me go out and do something. I know French and German well enough to teach a little, I suppose." She smiled. "You yourself made me learn shorthand and the typewriter, like the good old dad that you were. That surely is some outfit. I have good health. I know I have a spirit which will make me go through with things. Let me swim out a bit into the open and feel the need of keeping myself afloat, as you did when you were a young man."
Almost at her first words Governor March had thrust his hands deep in his pockets, and now stood silent, with his legs wide apart, staring down at his daughter as if she had suddenly gone mad.
“Why have you taken it into your head that you must do this wild thing, Ione?" he said, drawing his hand from his pocket and laying it tenderly on Ione's arm. "My girl, you are as innocent of the world as a week-old kitten. And you want to earn your own living! Why, what do you suppose I have been toiling for ever since I buried your mother, but that you might be able to go where the best go, know the best people, and (when you felt like it) marry among the best."
Ione could not resist a little shudder at the idea called up by her father's last words, and a bitter word slipped out before she knew it.
"Mr. Kearney Judd is of the best, I suppose?" she said.
Governor March winced a little, as if he had been smitten lightly on the face with a glove.
"Well," he answered slowly, with the level courage which had carried him through his war-governorship, "Kearney Judd is in one sense of our best. His father represents some of our greatest interests. I think that the young man has behaved very badly in this matter, perhaps. But there may be circumstances which we do not know. There generally are in such cases; and when you are older you will know that the world never listens to more than one side of any controversy. But this wild idea of going out to work for yourself— you do not mean it seriously?"
"But that is just what I do mean, father," she answered, with something of his own grave decision; "I have been thinking of it deeply. I cannot bear to be useless any longer—just a thing to be provided for, petted, coaxed, my slightest tastes consulted, a limitless bank account at my disposal, to be expected to care for nothing but shopping and visiting and entertaining, on the Continent to-day, in England to-morrow, at home the week after next. Such a life may suit many girls, but it would kill me. Besides, you know, if once I had tried the other and satisfied myself, I might be able to settle down to this."
Governor March laid his hand on his daughter's arm, as though touched by the gentle tone of the last words.
"Ione," he said, "I loved your mother. I never spoke a cross word to her in all my life. Neither have I ever refused you anything you have asked me. If your heart is set on this thing — why, Ione, you are of age, you are an American girl, you are my girl. I will not say you nay. But — you must promise me that if you are in any trouble, in the least difficulty out of which I can help you, you will wire or cable me at once, without waiting a moment."
He lifted his hand from her arm and laid it on his brow, pressing the fingers down hard, as if on an aching nerve.
“I do not know what may come out of all this for us, Ione," he said slowly; "but if it be your wish, and you have set your heart on it, I will help you to do it."
The young girl went over to her father. She put her arms about his neck, and drew his head down with loving compulsion.
"My boy," she said, using the name he loved best, because Ione's mother had called him by it, "you are the best friend in all the world, and the soundest-hearted. I am an ungrateful girl to speak of leaving you. But you know you never did give me a chance to do anything, or to earn any money. And you know too that at my age you would not have liked it yourself. And then — who knows? — you might have grown up like Kearney, instead of being as you are, my noble, handsome old sweetheart of a father."
And with her fingers she rumpled the abundant grey hair, which still curled crisp and vigorous about his temples.
"Well, Ione, my little girl," he answered, after he had kissed her cheek with the grace of a cavalier, "you know your father is not the man to forbid you even if he could. What you say, goes. And if you feel a serious call to black boots on the streets of London for a living, you can do it. Only do not quite forget your old dad, who has worked so proudly for you all these years, ever since he took you out of your mother's arms that night. She smiled and said she was glad you were a pretty baby. And so, still smiling, she slipped away, and left behind her — only you — and me!"
First serialised in 'Woman at Home' as 'The Woman of Fortune' in 1899.