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