THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF SHORT ENGAGEMENTS
It was true. Ione March was engaged to "the beast in spats," as Marcus had so brusquely and uneuphoniously designated Mr. Judd, Jr. How it had come about Ione herself could hardly have told. Almost from childhood she had spent most of her life abroad; hence her ideas upon marriage were essentially different from those of the majority of her countrywomen. Her father had devoted the whole of his ample leisure to her service and pleasuring, ever since she left the Convent of the Angelical Sisters at St. Germains, in which (after her mother's early death) she had been educated. Her name was properly Hermione, but the childish contraction had been retained, probably because it had accorded best with her free and unspoiled nature.
Indeed Ione March had been made much of ever since she could remember. As an American baby of course her mother spoilt her. Her father and numerous bachelor uncles afforded her a choice of knees to ride upon and backs to bestride. Even in the staid and cloistered precincts of the Angelical Sisters a charmingly frank smile and a ringing voice have their privileges, especially when backed by undoubted wealth and the willingness to part with it. So it came about that from the Lady Superior to the lay sweeper in coarse linen and blue flannel, every inmate of the great white barracks petted and spoilt the daughter of the American millionaire. Her pocket-money expressed in francs was the subject of much hand-clasping and eye-upcasting between the Mother Superior and the visiting Father Confessor. It would be disaster intolerable if such means could not be sanctified to the service of Holy Church.
But all this had done Ione no harm. And now, after she had wandered Europe for four years with her father, going whither she would and moving on when the whim took her, the girl remained still frank, thoughtless, careless, thoroughly unspoilt — taking it for granted that all was well and that every one was happy in her presence. But it chanced that Governor March had been compelled, at an unfortunate time of the year, in the depths of a boisterous and stormy winter, to undertake suddenly a business journey to New York, in order to safeguard certain important interests which were threatened by the grasping and omnivorous talons of a gigantic trust. At this time the Judd family — the European representatives of John Cyrus Judd, "the second richest man, sir, in the world" — were wintering at Florence, with some subsequent idea of going further south when, along with the lengthening days, there should arrive even to mid-Italy the strengthening cold of early spring.
It came about in this way that Ione March, being aged twenty years, and the greater part of twenty-one, had been committed to the care of Mrs. John Cyrus Judd, and (generally) admitted to the privileges appertaining to the social branch of that great connection, as well as to the companionship of her daughters Astoria and Idalia.
For some months Ione found it very pleasant to "go around" with these two gay maidens and their complaisant comfortable mother, a lady from the Middle States — who, in the midst of such riches as the world had never seen, maintained her calm level-headed standard of housewifery and her faculty of considering the pennies, the while her lord, in the arid defiles of Wall Street, looked as sharply after the pounds, reckoning these latter, however, usually in terms of millions of dollars.
Nor did the situation become less pleasant for Ione when Kearney Judd arrived from America, having had the beauty, wit, and general eligibility of Ione March dinned into him by his sister Astoria in that cheerful daily cypher-gossip which brother and sister kept up by means of the private cable owned by the Judd combination. So soon as Kearney began to act as convoy and to do general courier duty for the ladies, it was found possible to dispense with the professional services of Signior Antonio Cӕsari di Milano. So that the latter bland gentleman was no longer able to add fifty per cent to all reckonings and shop accounts, and on most occasions to set aside the best room in every hotel for himself.
When Ione's father came over on the first boat by which it was considered safe for him to leave the shores of the Republic, he brought as his companion—who but John Cyrus Judd the Great and Only, Pontifex Maximus of all them that deal in scrip and share. For that potentate had come to the rescue of the endangered interests of Governor March at a most critical moment, and, by throwing his mighty combination into the scale, had easily established the former on a pedestal more dignified and commanding than ever.
It happened that on the night when John Cyrus Judd and Governor March arrived at Lugano there had been a thunderstorm on the lake, during which Mr. Kearney Judd had approven his knightly courtesy, at once by the gallantry of his oarsmanship and yet more by chivalrously casting about the shoulders of Ione the college jacket which had protected her from the sudden downpour. The gallant squire of dames accompanied Ione back to the hotel in dripping flannels, and instinctively seeing his advantage, he promptly developed a chill and a yet more serious and opportune fever.
Ione was at once grateful and full of remorse. For it had been in spite of the repeated warnings of her companion that they had rowed so far out upon the lake.
Nay, even after the first mutterings of the storm had changed to a nearer continuous roll, she had perversely insisted upon proceeding farther from the shore, in order that she might watch the vivid pyrotechnic display over the lake and distant mountains — palest electric blue, brilliant white scribbled as with diamond point across the sky, broad green emerald illumination awash between the mountains, all sharply riven ever and anon by the fiery serpent's tooth of the descending levin bolt. The terror of the storm seemed to increase the young man's claims upon Ione's gratitude, and it needed but her father's urgent entreaties, still fresh from his debt of gratitude to the great Cyrus, the eager and affectionate solicitations of her friends Astoria and Idalia, her own utter indifference, her continental and conventual notions of marriage, and (last and least) the confidential twilight quiet of the garden of the Hotel du Parc where the band played late among the fireflies, for Ione March to awake one morning and remember with dismay that she had definitely affianced herself to Kearney Judd.
Words are weak to express her father's pleasure, and the girl found her reward in that. Though by no means mercenary, this union with the blood royal—as it were — of American finance would put all his future operations on a different basis. It was even an additional anchor out to windward that Kearney's intention should be known. And though Governor March was too kind and too American a father either to bid or to forbid any reasonable banns which Ione might have desired to publish, yet when the culmination came by her own initiative Governor March kissed his daughter with the feeling that life held more of solid satisfaction than it had ever done before.
In fact every one was pleased, so much so that even Ione felt a certain glow of self-sacrificing satisfaction. But the Judd girls were especially jubilant and spent so much time with Ione that Idalia said, "You would think that it was to us you were engaged! But it serves you right for not having a couple of nice brothers to take such detrimentals off your hands."
But whenever Ione was left alone she had no illusions. She liked Kearney Judd well enough. He was polite, presentable, of more than passable exterior, and for the present convenient. That was all.
"It is nice to have a man round to fetch and carry!" she said to herself, as if that settled the matter.
Kearney played his cards well. He never intruded, and was yet always ready to do as she told him, whether it might be to take himself off to the Casino when she and Idalia desired to curl themselves up in hammocks and read novels all the hot afternoon, or to remain behind in the hotel dining-room with his cigar and keep Governor March company, while the girls in wet clacking waterproofs and knitted Tam-o'-Shanters ventured forth, like three wind-blown graces, along the lake-shore in the intervals of the sudden dashing thunder-showers.
"Poor Kearney does not seem to have many privileges, does he?" said Idalia to Ione, a little wistfully, after that young gentleman's fiancée had held out her hand to him with her usual careless grace that he might say "Good-night" over it.
"Why, what privileges ought Kearney to possess that he has not got?" inquired Ione over her shoulder. She was usually a step or two in front as the three walked together.
"Well, Ione March," said Idalia, "you may call yourself an American girl if you like, but it is easy to see that you have spent the bulk of your time considerably east of Sandy Hook. Now, what would you do if Kearney were to arrive in your father's salon at the hour of afternoon tea?"
"Why," said lone, "that's easy as falling off a log. I should get him a nice cup of tea at once — that is, as soon as ever the horrid kettle in the tea-basket could be induced to boil."
"Oh yes," scoffed Idalia, "and very likely you would tell the waiter who showed him up that Mr. Kearney wanted to see Governor March, and to find him if he were in his room or anywhere about!"
"Well," said Ione, looking tranquilly at the bright and piquant face of the brunette, "and suppose I did — what would you do, if you were engaged to Kearney?"
"Hum," said Idalia, turning up her pretty nose; "first off, I shouldn't be engaged to Kearney Judd."
"Idalia!" cried her sister in a horrified tone, "pray do think what you are saying."
For Astoria had sounder views of life and a somewhat less reckless way of expressing them than her irresponsible sister and junior.
"I don't care, 'Storia," answered Idalia, nodding her head determinedly, "you can tell Kearney if you like. I wouldn't be engaged to him — not for three acres of a diamond field. Kearney is too cynical for me. He simply daren't be nice. It isn't good form in his set. You can't be good and own a racing yacht, you know. They'd turn you out of the club. And then the worst of it is that poor Kearney hasn't got sand enough to be out-and-out bad—picturesquely bad, you know — like Bret Harte's people, or the Silver King, or a wicked London Journal baronet. So poor dear Kearney has just to be content to let things drift, and be as bad as he can all his life!"
"Idalia Judd!" cried her sister again, "you know you never were fair to Kearney. He is a good fellow at bottom, and Ione can do anything she likes with him. Why, he worships -"
"The ground I tread on—so he said," cried Ione, catching the contagion of Idalia's levity, "and I told him that in that case some very nasty sticky Swiss mud was the god of his idolatry. But, Idalia, tell me all about being engaged."
"Why," said Idalia, pouting, "I thought you were clever, Ione ; but in some things you are no wiser than a New Jersey coot."
She gave Ione's arm a little tight clutch as they passed a herd of goats shouldering and pushing to get near a goatherd who was feeding them with large crystals of rough salt. Then she continued in a musing reminiscent tone, "I remember when I was engaged to Ralph Harden."
"Idalia!" cried her sister again in a yet more shocked voice; "do, pray, consider what you are saying. You never were engaged to Ralph Harden!"
"It was a pretty good imitation then," retorted Idalia irrepressibly. "It went all right. I was satisfied."
"What will Ione think?" continued Astoria with some show of asperity.
"Why, what should she think?" retorted Idalia promptly. "Except that I had a very good time — which I had, and Ralph too. Yes, 'Storie; don't you be sorry for him one little bit. He doesn't need it. He enjoyed himself right along, and wished for more. I tell you that right now. Why, for six months Ralph Harden couldn't call his soul his own, when I was engaged to him. Let us see — that was three years ago. I've been engaged two — no, three times since that!"
"And did your father approve of your breaking off your engagement?" queried convent-bred Ione, to whom a betrothal was a matter scarcely less solemn than a marriage.
"Approve of my breaking my engagement with Ralph?" said Idalia, with a little warbling trill of gay laughter. "Well, I don't think we troubled my father even with the knowledge that we were engaged! Did we, Astoria? It just didn't occur to us. What had Ralph and poor me to do with the Illinois Central or the latest straddle in wheat? Oh, no, Ione, it wasn't pappa that burst the Harden-Judd combination. It was Billy Pitt that came along — no, I'm forgetting, he came after. It was Harvard Bobbie, such a nice boy I used to ride with — a dear boy. He used to hold my hand by the hour. Yes, he did. But then he held it so nicely, not a bit like Ralph Harden. I always used to have to take off all my rings before I could let Ralph Harden come near me."
"Idalia!" exclaimed her sister, apparently aghast. "If you don't stop, I’ll go right home to mother."
"Oh, do hush, Astoria. I declare you are like the minute gun at sea, with your ' Idalia!' every half-dozen words, as if the sky were going to fall, just because I am trying all I can to give Ione some good pointers on the art of being engaged."
"Idalia Judd!" said Ione, with a dash of sternness in her voice, "how often have you been engaged?"
That too attractive young woman gave an impulsive little skip, like a sportive and innocent lamb in that first season when it goes so well with green peas, "How can you expect me to remember, if you will swing your long legs at such a rate over the ground? Ask me something easier, till I get my breath. Now, that's better. Let me see! There was Billy Pitt, and Sandy Mac — what was his funny Scotch name? But he was so good-looking for all that. Then after that came Jimmy Day, Oliver Haig, Harry Priestly, and that nice curly-headed boy at Newport — what did he call himself, Frank something, wasn't it, Astoria? Or perhaps Fred. It began with F anyway. Then there were half a dozen Transatlantic mixed biscuits — three or four of them, all different colours — two ‘Cities of Paris,' one 'Germanic,' one 'Pacific,' several 'Arizonas,' and oh, such a lot of Cunarders, all ending in 'A'!"
Ione looked at her friend in surprise.
"Yes, indeed; and it was rather like being Cunarders ourselves, Idalia and Astoria, see? Only Astoria isn't half so fast, and I've lost ever so many passengers!"
"You don't mean that you were engaged to the seven seas and the Continent of Europe with several of the Pacific States thrown in for the honour of the flag?" Ione cried, gazing at her friend in surprised horror.
"Well, you see, it was this way," explained Idalia. "'Storia and I cross the pond pretty often. I always go down early to get my cabin all right, tip the stewards, and — well, see the passengers come on board. Then 'Storia and I pick out the best-looking man as he comes up the side and toss for him! The loser to have second choice."
"I never did anything of the sort," protested Astoria, and I think you are simply horrid, Idalia Judd!"
“All right, 'Storie," said Idalia calmly, "I was only giving you a look in. Well then, I pick out the nicest-looking man, tall, generally dark, with a moustache or well-cut beard. He must have something about him, a sort of air as if he were kind of sorry over things and generally low in his mind — as if he didn't care whether he got any breakfast or not."
"Seasick?" suggested Ione, over her shoulder.
"No indeed, this is just when they are corning on board. Oh, no," continued Idalia, pausing to make things clear, "that's just the point. He mustn't get seasick. If he does, he goes on the retired list at once, without a pension too. He must be able to sit in boats and read to me all the time, and carry deck-chairs, and know all about rigging up tarpaulins and things to keep the wind off me. Then, you know, after our first moonlight walk, looking across the weird ocean arm in arm, Astoria and I start in to comfort him and take that sad distressful Silver State look out of his eyes." On this occasion Astoria disdained any disclaimer.
"But the names 'Arizona,' 'Germanic,' and so on, what do they mean?" said Ione, who was curious.
"Why," said Idalia airily, "you see we generally cross by the Cunard, and it sounds silly to call men by the names of ships ending in IA, so we say 'Campania Brown,' 'Arizona Green,' but the silliest of all was the 'Nebraska Salmon'!"
"Why, I declare it's like getting engaged on a train and breaking it off when you come to the terminus!" said Ione, smiling in spite of herself.
"Oh, but I've tried that too," cried Idalia eagerly; "and do you know, it's rather nice, though hurried in parts, and you have to cut a good deal of the best dialogue. Yes, siree; you have got to make them go the pace. It was with a man named Kenneth Early that I tried it first, when father and I were going straight across lots to San Francisco without stopping. All through the Prairie States he told me how he loved me. And you just believe, it passed the time; you can't think. But alas! love's sleepers are no smoother than elsewhere on the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul's! We quarrelled on the platform at Salt Lake, all because he would go mousing after a pretty little Mormoness, pretending all the while he was only posting a letter! Now unfaithfulness is the one thing I can't stand, and I told him so.
"'I did not ask you to love me long, Kenneth,' I said to him, 'only to attend strictly to business while you were about it.'
"However, he was so heartbroken that I forgave him just before we got to Digger City, and at Sacramento I said I'd be his new-found sister. But he said he wasn't annexing any more sisters, and so we parted for ever!"
And as she came to this most pathetic climax, the evil witch Idalia pretended to dry her eyes one after the other with the corner of a dainty lace handkerchief.
"I have never been quite the same since!" she added, looking up with a touchingly innocent expression in her eyes.