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