THE REFUGE AMONG THE LEAVES
At this moment there issued from a side door a tall man, apparently built in jointed sections like a fishing-rod, and close behind him a little smooth-faced woman drifted in, with the sharpest and chilliest eyes in the world — the keen acrid blue of a mountain lake when the wind blows fretfully from the north. Abandoning Idalia, Mrs. Forsaker-Hardy ran to them and clasped the tall man about the neck. He bent to receive her embrace with the conscious simper of a spoiled beauty who receives an expected compliment. Then loosening her arms as swiftly, she turned and kissed the woman of the acrid eyes. She, however, only submitted like a sphinx, looking at Ione over Mrs. Forsaker-Hardy's shoulder all the while.
"Oh you loves — you dears," palpitated, at once asthmatically and ecstatically, the Lady Principal of Rayleigh Abbey; "what a blessed time you have given us! Truly the Power was manifested this night!"
The tall man came forward with blandly beaming smile and outstretched hand; but the little woman stood still and fixed her eyes keenly and piercingly upon each of the party in succession. They dwelt longest upon Ione, and it was to her that she spoke first.
"My dear," she said, in the mystical jargon affected on all occasions by the inhabitants of Castle Gimcrack, "have you also come to be cured and anointed? Alas! I fear there is not oil sufficient to heal and sanctify you in all the City of Palm Trees."
Ione took the little chill outstretched hand, but only smiled in answer. The words of the Seeress, though spoken in a singularly quiet and incisive tone, sounded to her not a whit wiser or more connected than the howling of the wild women in the hall.
Mrs. Forsaker-Hardy turned upon her, adjusting her shawl upon her shoulder for the fiftieth time. She observed with indignation Mrs. Howard-Hodge holding Ione's hand.
"You mistake," she said; "that is not my daughter-in-law. Let me introduce to you my de-e-ar daughter, the wife of my only son Marcus, of whom you have heard me speak. Doubtless during your American tours you have met with my daughter's dear, de-e-ar father, Mr. John Cyrus Judd, the great American millionaire!"
Marcus flushed hotly at hearing his own description thus repeated.
"I have never had the great felicity of meeting your father, ma'am," said the tall man to Idalia, speaking for the first time. His wife said nothing, contenting herself with shaking hands with Idalia and Marcus, and immediately turning again to Ione.
"You have suffered," she said softly, keeping the cold blue eyes fixed intently upon her; "you have lost a near relative. And you must yet suffer more. Fate is written large on your face. Even the Power itself could not help you. For in suffering only will you work out your soul's perfection, and come out of the furnace like gold seven times refined."
At that moment Marcus effected a welcome diversion.
"My dear mater" he said, "Idalia and Miss March are tired with their journey. You will let up on them till morning."
“If you mean by such language that you wish to retire to your apartments, I can only kiss my dear daughter and submit," said the lady. "But where Is your friend Keith? I understood he was to be with you!"
She uttered these last words with the first gleam of interest she had shown in anything outside herself and the Cause.
"Oh, Keith - " returned her son, "he is coming the day after to-morrow — that is, if he is well enough to travel. He has been jolly ill for the last six weeks — very nearly croaked, did poor old Keith — would too, but for - "
"Marcus!" interjected his wife suddenly, "if you don't come right now, I shall drop from sheer hunger and thirst!"
"What," shrilled Mrs. Forsaker-Hardy, "Keith Harford has been ill and I have not known! My Guardian Spirit has been strangely remiss. Why have I had no warning — no presentiment? But when once he comes to this blessed tabernacle in the wilderness we will tend him. He will soon receive the POWER. We will organise special services of anointing and healing in the Temple."
"The Temple?" queried Marcus.
"Yes, the Temple of the Universal Healing Power, set up in the wilderness of Hampshire like — like — like a pearl among swine!" said Mrs. Forsaker-Hardy, waving her hands; "when I still sat in darkness and was ignorant of the true potency of curative faith, it was called the 'chapel.' But now it is the First Temple of the New Dispensation — so worthily presided over by our de-e-ar friends, Mr. and Mrs. Howard-Hodge." And she simpered somewhat oozily at the Seer and Seeress, like a butter-cask set in the sun.
"Good-night, mater" cried Marcus; "see you in the morning. Come on, girls!"
"Good-night, then, if it must be!" cried the dark-browed Martyria Evicta, impressively, once more lifting up the recalcitrant shawl from the floor. "Ah, we are about to have such a beautiful After-meeting — restricted to a few saints — to bewail the sins of this age and the inefficiency of ordinary physicians. I am to give the address in person, and the Admiral is going to burn the British Pharmacopӕia — also, what is worse, Squire's Companion! If you only could be persuaded to stay, your souls would assuredly be blessed!"
"But, mother, after all, we must get something to eat, you know!" cried Marcus, stamping cheerily down the stairs after giving his mother a hasty peck on the cheek.
Mrs. Forsaker-Hardy was left speaking with her hands uplifted, a stout and rotund Cassandra of the New Faith.
"Ah, young people, young people," she called after them from the iron girder above, "would that I could make you see of what small avail is the meat which perisheth, in comparison with the POWER which enables us to do without bread, or at least - " (she added the last words, gently swaying her eighteen stone of well-nourished girth to and fro in an ecstasy of devotion), "to prefer the POWER to any pampering of this frail tabernacle of sin."
She rang a bell for the servant, who appeared with ready deference from an ante-room.
"Has Tranter taken the tray and cover up to my bedroom?" she asked.
"I don't know, madam; but I will go and see."
"Thank you," said the lady, "and tell him to make it a quart instead of a pint to-night, and to ice it well — I've been so dreadfully upset!"
"Yes, 'm!" responded the servitor submissively.
Then Mrs. Forsaker-Hardy picked up her red shawl once more, and rearranged it over her shoulders with the meek and ascetic self-abnegation of the accredited martyr of a great Cause.
* * * * *
Meanwhile Marcus was clattering downstairs and racing along passages with the boyishness which only comes to those who have escaped from school. Idalia and Ione hastened after him. He took a key from his pocket and undid a little iron wicket-door, which opened unexpectedly out of a long passage, whitewashed like a prison corridor.
"Now, girls," he said, standing aside for them to pass, "give me your hands. We are going outside a bit, and it's as dark as my hat. I sent Caleb word last week to have the little old Garden House put in order. I used to sleep and take my meals there, whenever things got too blessedly sultry up here in the Abbey. I could not conscientiously approve of more than three changes of religion in a week. It affected my digestion. One end of the cottage is directly over the coach-house, and smells a little of harness through the cracks of the floor. But to square that, nobody can get at us without going a dozen miles round by the garden-gate — and that's always locked, anyway. I see to it myself!"
So, taking hands like children, the three ran across a gloomy paved court. It felt exactly like escaping from prison. Marcus unlocked another door, which as carefully he locked again behind him. Then Ione found herself stumbling through a mat of ivy into a broad garden walk, which led among cucumber-frames and under orchard trees to the creeper-covered gable-end of a long straggling cottage. A range of steps led up apparently into a nest of leaves.
"Oh, this is just lovely," cried Idalia, clapping her hands; "it is like storming an ogre's castle, and being captured, and then in the last chapter escaping from his clutches with the fairy prince. I vote we have a private orgie all to ourselves!"
"Wait here till I open the door and get a lamp," said Marcus. "The steps are not all they should be, but I don't want them repaired. For if I did, some of that vile crew would be sure to come and hang up their hats, if they suspected there was a snug shop of this sort down here. So I've got man-traps and spring-guns all about to keep them away. And those who do get caught, or shot, I fling their bones down the well. Oh, I've thought of everything!"
Ione and Idalia stood hand in hand in the darkness at the foot of the stairs. Marcus went upward and disappeared.
"Oh," cried his wife, suddenly clutching Ione, after a moment of awe-stricken silence, broken only by muttered imprecations from above, where Marcus was struggling with the key, and by the fluttering of bats disturbed among the ivy, "suppose this is a real haunted castle, and he never comes back any more. Marcus, Marcus — I'm coming up after you right now. Do you hear, I'm not going to wait. No, Marcus Hardy — if you think you are going to play with the young affections of Idalia Judd, and then leave her to moulder in a melon-frame, you’ll get left, sure!"
Marcus appeared just in time to catch his wife in his arms at the narrow leaf-surrounded landing-place, from the further side of which the rail had dropped away.
"Idalia, you wicked girl," he exclaimed, more soberly than was his wont, "do you know you might have broken your neck over there. Why couldn't you have waited?"
"Well, I got thinking you weren't ever coming back, and Ione and I were two such lone lorn females down there! Besides, I heard just regular armies of cockroaches creeping and scuttling all about! You might have thought, Marcus! You can't love me a bit — not a little bit. And I think you are horrid. I wish I had married Washington Alston. He wouldn't have teased me so, nor gone and left me all alone up to my knees in fertilizer in the backyard of a lunatic asylum! And, besides, he has a much nicer nose than you."
"Never mind my nose, little woman," said the good-humoured giant; "come inside, and see if you don't think I 've got some good points as well as Mr. Washington Alston. Ione, give me your hand!"
So in a trice the wandering trio found themselves in the sweetest and cleanest little nest of rooms. In the first and largest of these a supper-table was laid, shining with silver and the whiteness of napery. With a pleased smile of anticipation upon his hitherto immobile face, old Caleb stood ready at the door to welcome his master's guests. He was still attired in his coachman's boots and leggings, but his red waistcoat was partly covered by an ancient blue dress-coat with broad brass buttons stamped with an anchor. As the three passed in he saluted each in a stiff manner with his right hand and elbow, as if his fingers still held the butt end of a whip. From the warm-smelling oak-panelled corridor three rooms opened a little further on, and Ione fell into a chair in the first and began to laugh helplessly. Something in the note of her voice brought Idalia flying in from her own bedroom with a smelling bottle.
"What is the matter, Ione? Quick, out with it!" cried Idalia, becoming fiercely peremptory all at once.
"Nothing," said Ione, still half sobbing, half struggling with a wild desire to laugh, “only it seemed so funny to come through the desert of Sahara and the wilds of Colney Hatch, and find your things all arranged neatly on the bed, your dressing case open, and hot water in a tin can in the basin — and if it hasn't got a gardener's watering-rose on the spout! Ha—ha—ha! It is so funny. I can't help it!"
This time Idalia knitted her brows and shook her friend by the shoulder. The case was growing serious.
"If you don't stop, I’ll tell Keith Harford you nursed him — now!"
Ione stopped instantly, the mirth stricken from her face.
"No, you must not!" she said pleadingly.
"Well, you behave then!"
All this while Marcus was rapping steadily on the door. "Can I come in?" he said, his maligned nose peeping through the crack. "Why, what's the matter?"
"Nothing — do go away!" commanded his wife; "or no — be useful for once, and bring a spoonful of brandy."
In a moment Marcus was back with a small glass of Hennessy XO.
"Had too much of it up there, Ione?" he said. "Well, you shan't be troubled with that galvanised-iron Inferno any more. I’ll see to that."
"No," answered Ione, touched by his kindness; "it wasn't that. I've not been quite up to the mark lately, I think — and — and that garden-rose on the hot-water can set me laughing."
Marcus went to the door.
"Caleb, you old fool," he cried, "what on earth made you put these things on the hot-water cans?"
Caleb, with suddenly lengthened face, came to the door, touched his finger half way to his brow for manners, and then after a pause carried it further, till of its own accord it began to rub the side of his grey crop-head in perplexity.
"Well, the way of it was, sir, that I 'ad to ask Larkins the gardener for one or two of his waterin' pots — there not being none in the bloomin' place, not countin' the one your honour busted with throwing at the cat."
"Bless my soul, so I did!" cried the cheery Marcus, contritely. "Well, come on, and let us see if you have forgotten how to cook."
"Supper is served, ladies and your honour!" said Caleb gravely, standing at his usual half-cock salute as they filed past him.
The supper was a high approven success. The sweetbreads were cooked to a turn, and delicately smothered in white sauce.
The mushrooms on toast were a further joy as they grew less hungry, and the game pleased one sense without offending another.
"Why, Caleb," said Idalia, “I declare you cook better than the stuck-up Antoine, my father's cordon bleu!”
"Thank you. Miss!" said Caleb impassively, making once more his curious jerk of his elbow which represented the butt of an imaginary whip.
“Look here, Caleb, you mustn't say 'Miss' to this young lady. I told you before she was my wife," cried Marcus.
"Beg 'ee pardon, sir," said Caleb, saluting as before; "of course she is — if you say so. I’ll endeavour to remember, sir!"
"Caleb is of the world's opinion — that you can't be a man's wife, if your hair curls naturally," laughed Idalia. "But this is the ring, Caleb, and I've got the certificates here in my ulster pocket, if you 'd like to look at them — all stamped and ready fixed for pappa when he pulls alongside with his rights of a father, and all that!"
* * * * *
As Ione laid her head on the pillow that night, the cold blue eyes of the High Priestess of the new religion seemed to search her soul through and through. And more than once she woke with a start, under the belief that Mrs. Arminell Howard-Hodge was standing by her bedside.
THE LADY OF THE RED SHAWL
The hum of humanity now waxed louder and nearer. The scattered lights grew more concentrated, the air became more stifling, and they entered a gallery, long-vistaed like those of a museum. Here many people were waiting about, some in evening dress, others in the ordinary tweeds of unconventional life, one or two in decent black which suggested the respectable Scot in Sunday attire. The majority of these were strolling about like day-trippers on a pier, while a few looked listlessly over a kind of balcony, as from the boxes of a theatre one may look down on a disturbance in the pit. Not a soul took the slightest notice of the travellers or appeared to recognise in the young man the future owner of this strange house.
Marcus went forward to where there was a break in the ranks and looked over the iron rail. Then, after a glance, he beckoned the girls forward.
"Now please just pinch yourselves to make sure that you are alive, and then look!" he said.
Ione came to the balustrade and did as she was bidden. Directly beneath her, where the pit of a theatre would be, there appeared a dusky chapel enveloped in a blue haze of incense smoke, and scantily illuminated by lamps let down from the ceiling, which glimmered, mere points of twinkling fire, here and there in the gloom. The chapel-like ground-floor was shaped like the deck of a ship. The back part of it was filled with pews of the most ordinary design, wherein many people sat crowded together.
The upper end, corresponding pretty closely to the choir of an ordinary church, was dotted all round with little points of light at about mid-way its height, making a complete circle of flame which cast a subdued straw-coloured radiance upon semi-prostrate forms and deep blue hangings.
The figures appeared to be kneeling, and were arranged in a semi-circle as at a communion rail, while two others, clad in priestly robes of spotless white, went to and fro as if administering a rite. Ione fairly gasped, and began to fear, either that her mind must be giving way, or that she had unwittingly set foot in a mad-house. Then her eyes, growing accustomed to the gloom, distinguished two great chairs enthroned on either side of the choir, on which (and directly opposite to each other) sat an elderly lady and gentleman. The lady wore a low-necked evening gown, and held a vinaigrette in one hand, while with the other she continually rearranged a huge red shawl about her head and shoulders, which as persistently managed to slip down again as soon as she had got it to her mind.
Occasionally, when the white-robed figures came near in the performance of the function, this lady nodded and smiled to them in a friendly and encouraging way like a past master familiar with all mysteries. The other throne was occupied by a fine-looking old man in full evening dress, who sat dangling one foot over the other knee, a glimpse of red flowered stocking showing coquettishly on his shrunk shank, and his ten fingers triangled in front of him, precisely in the attitude most affected by the respectable old gentlemen who come down to the House of Peers to support Her Majesty's Government every time the constitution is in danger.
"That's the mater and my uncle the Admiral on the judge's stand down there," whispered Marcus, irreverently; "but I can't make out what these Johnnies in the centre are up to — oiling up, or anointing, or something, it seems to me!"
As he spoke one of the kneeling figures at the rail, immediately on having some liquid dropped on the parting of her hair ("exactly like sweetening a bicycle bearing," said Marcus) leaped up and shouted, "Thank the Lord, I'm cured."
"Praise the Lord — our sinful sister is healed!" rejoined a chorus of twenty or thirty people from the gloom of the chapel, prompt as an echo.
"Stand up and give praise to the Healer," said a deep, stern voice, which proceeded from the taller of the white officiating figures.
The woman who had been anointed rose and began a chant, strange, high, strident — a howl rather than a song — which rose and fell and diminished, and then again took on volume till many of those who had been languidly perambulating the balcony were attracted to the rail of the balustrade.
"Praise the Lord!" Ione heard one white-bearded man say, "she has got IT. Jane Grace Tomlins is speaking with tongues."
Marcus for the first time grew somewhat uneasy.
"This is quite a new dodge," he murmured — "how that woman howls! It is worse than the kennels on a moonlight night. I should just like to go down and stop the noise with a dog-whip."
Then one by one, leaping up unexpectedly here and there, like the hammers of a disfronted piano when you play without watching the keys, men and women rose from the kneeling circle, crying out that they had found "healing" or "grace." Then they joined the horrible swaying medley of discord till the chorus began to affect all in the chapel, while some even among the promenaders on the gallery fell on their knees and showed hysterical symptoms as the wild barbaric chant rose and swelled beneath them. Tears dropped down bearded faces. Apparent strangers clasped one another round the neck, and the torrent of sound rose and swirled dismayingly among the weird iron arches and gaunt, black, cobwebby network of beams overhead, till the roof itself seemed in danger of being rent off by the explosion of pent-up emotion.
"O Marcus, take me away; I cannot stand this! Do you hear? Why did you bring me to such a horrible place?" cried Idalia, suddenly clutching her husband by the arm, "I know I shall scream the next moment, or jump over the edge of the gallery."
Marcus Hardy looked very grim, and took his wife firmly by the wrist.
"This is a game I knew nothing about — quite a fresh deal since my time. But you shan't see it again, little girl! Just wait a moment to shake hands with the mater for decency's sake, and then I’ll take you to more respectable quarters."
Even as he spoke the turmoil stilled itself as if by magic. Ione, perhaps owing to the feeble state of her health, was thoroughly fascinated, and could not take her eyes off the pair of veiled, white, officiating figures. They had retired into the deep blue gloom, and now stood with hands above their heads, illuminated duskily by the circle of pale willow-leaves of fire which flickered in a semi-circle around them.
"All things are possible to them that believe," intoned the slow, stern voice of the taller officiant; "only have faith and your diseases do not exist. Give praise to the Healer and He will heal you. Those to whom He has given power are but instruments in his hands. Praise them not."
The lights went out as on a set scene. The white figures vanished into the darkness behind, and from the body of the chapel there came up the ordinary sounds of an audience dispersing.
"Come on," said Marcus hastily, "let us go and trap the mater before she goes to bed, or else we won't see her till goodness knows when."
And with his wife still clinging distressfully to his arm, and Ione more impressed than she cared to admit even to herself, Marcus Hardy descended a narrow iron winding-stair, which led to a different part of the castle. Ione was growing faint for want of something to eat, while her journey, the drive through the shrewd winterish air, and her strange abrupt entrance upon this place of horrors, mockeries, and incantations had almost deprived her of the powers of thought and speech.
Marcus moved like one who desires to get an unpleasant duty over, and Ione followed him thinking her friend's husband more of a man than ever she had done before.
"Honour thy father and thy mother," she said to herself— "it was never harder to do!"
As the three crossed a dimly-lighted corridor, they saw before them a hall covered with thick Indian matting. The lady and gentleman who had been seated on either side of the choir in the chapel, were walking up and down arm in arm.
"Mother!" said Marcus, going up hastily to the woman of the red shawl.
The lady turned and looked at her son. She was tall, dark, and had been strikingly handsome. Her straight thick eyebrows almost met over her close-set eyes. At this time the lady's weight must have reached eighteen stones. Her nose was prominently hooked, the lower part slightly pendulous, as if her habit of perpetually caressing it with the fingers had given to the point a permanent droop.
"My son!" cried Mrs. Forsaker-Hardy, opening her arms, "you are restored to me — you have returned to Grace. Tranter, see that Master Marcus has a mustard footbath in his room! Prodigal, I welcome you! Why did you not send me word, and I would have come out and - "
"Yes, mother, I know," said Marcus; "fallen on my neck and kissed me — with new effects and dresses, also a brand new fatted calf. But the fact is, I'd rather not — on the station platform at least. But, I say, you're looking pretty fit, mater!"
"I have at last found peace, my son," returned the tall dark lady, impressively, "this time, indeed, undoubtedly so. I have had THE SECRET revealed to me. There is no more left to discover. These blessed angels, Mr. and Mrs. Arminell Howard-Hodge, have completely solved the mystery of life. The Millennium itself has begun at Rayleigh Abbey. Yes, indeed; and it is such a privilege! So precious! We have had such a beauu-tiful meeting — so refreshing, was it not. Admiral? It would have greatly benefited your soul, my poor dear unbelieving boy. But who are these two ladies?"
"One of them is my wife, mother!" said Marcus, abruptly. "Idalia, come and kiss your mother!"
It was somewhat of the suddenest. But the blood of Cyrus Judd was capable of anything. Idalia ran forward with a little gesture of self-renunciation, as if, in her husband's interest, she had been about to fight with all the beasts of Ephesus. As she went she sent one glance up at Marcus which said as plain as print, "See what I am ready to do for your sake!"
But Mrs. Forsaker-Hardy fended her off adroitly with one hand.
"Avaunt, woman!" she said haughtily, her eyebrows raised almost to the roots of her hair, "think not to come near me. My son has doubtless been in the far country, and has been spending his substance - ahem - among the usual sort of people!"
"Mother!" said Marcus warningly.
The lady of the eyebrows stopped. Clearly she had her own reasons for being afraid of her son.
"Well," she continued in a milder tone, "remember, if you are really married you have made your bed, and you must lie on it. And if you and this woman are a pair of paupers, don't come whining to me and thinking that I will do anything for you! As you know, my little money is all embarked in the sacred service of the Cause. You won't get a penny beyond your allowance so long as I am alive! So I warn you!"
And she hitched her red shawl over her head, and glowered, like an elderly Fate of a determined frame of mind, down upon the rash couple.
But Marcus, like Pet Marjorie's duck, was more than usual calm. He knew his mother.
"Mater,'' he said, nonchalantly, "I told you that this was my wife. Her maiden name was Idalia Judd, and she is the daughter of Mr. John Cyrus Judd, the great American millionaire."
It was the first time and the last in his life that Marcus used the substantive and attributive adjectives to describe his father-in-law.
Now on this occasion Mrs. Forsaker-Hardy proved herself a woman of quick capacities and a sympathetic heart. No sooner had she heard the distinguished and world-famous (or, according to the point of view, infamous) name, than she flew towards Idalia, who in her turn submitted with a good grace to be enfolded and temporarily lost to sight in that capacious maternal embrace.
“My beloved daughter!" she cried, with the beautiful impulsiveness born of a lifetime of prescribing mustard and water, "I was prepared to love you from the first moment. One glimpse of your sweet face, and nothing more was needed! It was as if it had been revealed. But who may this be? Your sister? So like you; your very image, indeed! I love and welcome her too for your sake! Such an acquisition as you will both be! We shall hold a thanksgiving service at once. Tranter, go and ask Mr. and Mrs. Arminell Howard-Hodge to come to me!"
"This is Miss March, a friend my wife brought with her as a companion! "interposed Marcus, hastily, just in time to save Ione from sharing the fate of Idalia. He saw from Ione's face that in her present frame of mind, she could not stand that infliction.
"Oh, a companion!" ejaculated Martyria Evicta Lucretia, instantly checking her enthusiasm and promptly losing interest.
She turned to Idalia.
"But tell me about yourself, my love! Is your dear, de-e-ar father with you ? Or your charming mother — your mother, I suppose, is living? They might both be of immense use to us in the Cause, if they could only be brought to see the light. I hope you will be instrumental, my dear!"
"Thank you," said Idalia, "my father and mother are both quite well. They are unfortunately not with us."
Then she added to Marcus in a lower tone unheard by Martyria, "But I bet a bright new dollar they're after us!"
Rayleigh Abbey in the county of Hants, was as a city set on a hill, conspicuous near and far, taking the eye of the wayfarer from sea and plain, by valley and down. Its massive towers apparently betokened reverend age. Its gateways of rough hewn stone were fitted to withstand the battering elements of a thousand years. A square Norman keep rose in the centre, indented dark and solemn against the sky, a cliff-like wall of stone and lime like those of Loches or Threave. Battlements and towers cinctured it about, vast in their proportions, built apparently of overawing and pretentious masonry. Thus shone Rayleigh Abbey from a distance.
A nearer view, however, showed all this magnificence to be but the "insubstantial pageant of a dream."
The massive walls were relatively no thicker than pasteboard, the flanking towers mere shells, the grand square of the lofty keep was iron-framed with windows uncompromising as those of a factory. While from an interior view the great castle, cynosure of travellers' eyes and a landmark from afar, became a mere "Crystal Palace" set-piece, involving only so many thousand square feet of frontage and a wilderness of ungainly props and struts behind. Its future owner, Marcus Hardy, for once happily inspired with words, had named it Castle Gimcrack. In the meantime, it was life-rented by his mother, Mrs. Forsaker-Hardy, and Marcus and his wife were received only as guests, little more favoured indeed than countless others who flocked thither like unclean birds from the four quarters of heaven.
Rayleigh Abbey had been designed, founded, and completed— so far at least as so gaunt a jest in iron and stone can ever be said to be completed — by one Theophrastus Wiseman Hardy, the grandfather of Marcus, and the inventor of the Body-and-Soul Water-and-Mustard-Plaster Mind Cure, applicable to all diseases that flesh is heir to.
Theophrastus Hardy had made a fortune in slave-running from the Gold Coast to the Southern States of America early in the century, and, while yet comparatively a young man, had retired upon an ample competence, an uncomfortable conscience — and a new religion. His only son, Aldebaran January Hardy, had sunk into a too early grave under the unjust burdens of his name and of the wife imposed upon him by his father. Soon after assisting at the preliminary horoscope of his only son Marcus, he laid down the double burden, and became indeed but a name, a bust, and an inscription in carven marble on the chapel wall of Rayleigh Abbey. Thus ran his memorial: --
Here does not lie aught that is mortal of
ALDEBARAN JANUARY HARDY,
only son of
THEOPHRASTUS WISEMAN HARDY
and Beloved Co-partner of
MARTYRIA EVICTA LUCRETIA FORSAKER-HARDY
of Rayleigh Abbey, Hants.
His Ashes, being passed through the Fire, were
Scattered over the Wide Sea.
His Soul, recomposed and reinvested,
as Angel or Jelly-fish,
SOMEWHERE AWAITS THE ETERNAL
No one could deny a certain extraordinary eclectic vigour to Theophrastus Wiseman Hardy, the original inventor of the Body-and-Soul Water-and-Mustard-Plaster Mind Cure, nor yet a striking executive capacity to Martyria Evicta Lucretia, his daughter-in-law and successor in that thriving curative establishment. All creeds had gone to the making of the Psychophysical Regenerative Religion, as, alternatively, its founder delighted to call it. Theophrastus, a white-haired, keen-faced, venerable man, mostly attired sailor-wise in a blue coat and a stemmed officer's cap like that of a mate in the mercantile marine, had long been dead; but he lived on nevertheless in various pictures and engravings generously dispersed throughout almost every room of the Abbey. Theophrastus had been a man without culture, lacking even (to begin with) the elements of an ordinary education. Yet afterwards he had read all manner of books at first hand, without any of that scholastic piloting which polarises their meaning to most of us. Then, with the assistance of scissors and paste, he had selected and arranged from each what seemed best suited to his purpose, as ruthlessly as in his time he had taken the finest buck negroes out of the slave pens of Bonny, in spite of the wailing of forsaken wives and the desperately clinging arms of orphaned children.
Theophrastus Hardy possessed a vast library in the square halls of the keep, stored mostly according to subject, and the marks of his scissors were through them all. Here and there pages had been riven clean out. Further on a paragraph had been neatly snipped away. Blue, red, and yellow underscorings ran across the pages, and radiated in all directions to the desecrated margins, like the railway map of a flat country or Signor Schiaparelli's chart of the Martian canals. One of the most characteristic volumes was a copy of the Christian scriptures, Grangerised, "improved," and spiced to the taste of Theophrastus Hardy by additions from the astrology and black-stone scrying of Dr. Dee, and from the word-cunning, wet-bandaging, and primitive leechdom of the Elizabethan herbalists.
It is said that when searching for a catchword to give some unity and coherence to his olla, Theophrastus hesitated long between Christ and Buddha, and only decided upon the Nazarene on account of the rooted ignorance of a public which (in these pre-Theosophist days) declined to distinguish between Buddha and Confucius, and was apt to take it for granted that all such curious names represented different varieties of tea.
But under the new dispensation of Martyria Evicta Lucretia, the elastic system of the founder had suddenly become mawkishly spiritualistic, and now manifested itself chiefly in the Healing of the Hands of Faith, the Anointing with Oil, the Presence and Manifestations of Spirits good and Spirits evil — and, above all, in the necessity for all mankind to conform to the gospel (as it happened to be at the time) according to Martyria Lucretia, decked in the apocalyptic red shawl, and spiced by an extempore prayer sandwiched between each course at dinner.
All this made the English Mecca of the new eclectic religion a strange place for Ione and Keith to build up their bodies in, and "minister to minds diseased."
But at least the air was pure at Rayleigh Abbey. It stood on the coast at a lonely spot overlooking the waters of the English Channel, set high above the crumbling gravel banks of the southern coast line. Opposite, the purple-grey cliffs of the Needles stood up like shadowy ninepins deserted after a stirring game by dead giants. From the misty water, ten miles away, the Isle of Wight heaved its blue shoulders out of the brine. While to the left the long curlew's beak of Hurst Castle promontory pecked perpetually at the tawny breakers of the Solent.
"You don't need to mind the mater" pleaded Marcus; "there’ll be no end of rum people about, but you can always get a quiet smoke behind the stables."
So with this to look forward to, Ione agreed willingly enough to accompany them, especially as Keith Harford, being now convalescent, was soon to follow; and, in the meanwhile, could very well be left to the motherly care of Mrs. Adair and the tart and caustic encouragements of Jane Allen. For Ione had been insensibly drifting into a condition of constant severe headaches, accompanied by strange lassitude, which often ended in vertigo and chronic dizziness. This had begun so subtly that she could not recall any particular time as the beginning of her illness, the more serious developments of which, however, probably dated from the shock of her father's death.
After Keith Harford's return to consciousness, Ione had but seldom gone into his room, leaving the actual nursing to the capable kindly hands of Mrs. Adair. Indeed, she straitly charged both of her friends that they were on no account to divulge her share in Keith Harford's transference to Audley Street; and both, with the natural alacrity of women to guard each other's secrecies, faithfully promised what she asked.
It was in the dusk of a November evening that Ione and Idalia, with Marcus carrying wraps and dressing bags, found themselves at the little wayside station upon whose platform they had been dropped off the Bournborough express, with an immense pile of buildings looming dimly up above them, and crowning the seaward cliff.
To Ione, looking upward from beneath, Rayleigh Abbey seemed to rise into the very skies. Along the south and west the chill yellow of the sunset still lingered, and as they rumbled dully through the bedraggled woods, the Channel wind drove in their faces in gusts which sent the blood stirring sharper through the veins, and whipped the tingling cheeks of the three voyagers as with tangible thongs of bitter air.
They were driven by an immobile ancient coachman, who had indeed saluted with the well-bred passivity of his race when his young master came out of the station, but who afterwards had devoted himself entirely to watching his horses' ears and to the maintenance of his personal self-respect.
Marcus cast his eye knowingly along the horses' legs from the right front.
"Grey's near fore going rather stiff, Caleb?" he said.
"Yessur — I daresay, sir," returned the coachman with a slight cough of apology. "It's that hold Hadmiral, sir! Well, 'tis a wonder as all the grey's legs ain't broke to flinders — 'im ride to meet!"
"Any more up at the house?"
"Lor', Lor' — such a mixed pack they do be, Master Marcus, begging your pardon! There's two o' them broadcloth gypsies — making so bold, as we calls them 'ere mediums — tellin' fortin's an' a-pourin' oil an' a-holding of their hands afore folk's eyes to make 'em better o' what they never was took ill o'! Just the same old gammon done in a new way, interferin' wi' proper doctors and decent droogists wi' licenses from the Queen — God bless 'er! And some there is, that thinks no more o' theirselves than to pertend they's got a summat the matter wi' their insides, and be took into chapel to get anointed all over wi' a slobber o' hoil. And then they sucks up to the Hadmiral and let's on as how they have got the Healing Blessing! Hup there, will 'ee!"
All this Caleb the coachman delivered with his eyes and his whip directed between his horses' heads, and without a muscle of his face altering or (apparently) his lips moving. He did not so much seem to answer Marcus as to confide the matter in hand to his horses, which all the while stood perfectly well drilled and gently restive, with ears alternately laid back to ascertain Caleb's intentions and set forward to be ready for the wild-whooping, incomprehensible stallions which went ramping past upon the iron way.
"We’ll have a fine time, Ide; Bedlam ain't in it," Marcus said to his wife as he swung after them into the front seat of the open victoria, and the horses settled into their long, clean, eight-mile-an-hour gait. "There's just packs and packs of lunatics up there. You’ll have to learn to smoke, Ide. The back of the stable's the only place I know of."
"Oh, shoot!" cried his wife, turning up her nose, "I guess, if it comes to that, I can smoke just as well as the next man. Why, when I was — I mean, there was once a handsome young Spaniard on board the Aurania who made the most lovely cigarettes - "
Ione turned upon her quickly with inflated nostril.
"And you don't mean to say, Idalia, that the Spaniard was another?"
"No, I don't — not any more than usual, that is," answered Mrs. Marcus Hardy calmly. "I only mean that he taught Astoria to smoke, and — well, I got not to mind it so very much!"
"I see," said Ione, seeing very clearly indeed, for with marriage had come discretion, and the pith of Idalia's remarks lay not so much in what she said as in what she omitted.
Caleb, sitting square and immovable aloft as one of the towers of the Abbey itself, at this moment drove through a great gate across an open space within high bounding walls, and finally stayed the horses within a covered courtyard exactly like a railway terminus with the rails left out.
Glimpses of brilliantly lighted staircases were seen on either hand, but no monk of orders grey or brown came forth to bid welcome to the arriving guests at this curious Abbey.
"So long, Caleb!" cried Marcus; "take our traps round. We’ll be at the garden house for dinner in an hour, and then I’ll get you to coach me as to the particular breed of vampire we are hatching now. You are the only soul in this mad place who has got his head screwed on straight. Lord, won't I just make a clearance here if ever - Ah!"
And Marcus ground his teeth as he looked about him at the ghastly, glass-roofed cave of the winds which served for an entrance hall.
"Well, come on, girls," he cried, affecting a more cheerful tone. "Let's find the mater and get it over!" he said. "There's all the marks of a big carnival on to-night. We're in luck, Idalia. On the first night of our coming to Bedlam, to drop in for a boss A1 Tarantella show of bounding idiots!"
The journey had somehow given Ione little singing pains in her head, and now the feeling that all this huge bulk about her could be no more than a hollow painted masque came over her. There was a curious smell on the staircase and through all the lower corridors which she could not account for — an odour apparently compounded of stale wet straw and paraffin oil. Marcus explained it in one word, which, however, failed to bring any satisfaction to the girls, who after that walked on tiptoe, lifting contumelious skirts.
"Cockroaches! Millions on 'em!" he said unctuously. "Wait till night, though; then they come out in earnest to guard the palace from the enemy. Napoleon himself dare not charge over their prostrate bodies."
Idalia gripped her husband's arm.
"Marcus," she cried in a horrified tone, "I shan't sleep a wink in this place. You must take me away this very instant! I’ll have hysterics on the spot — I feel them coming on — if I so much as catch a sight of one of the horrid beasts."
"They don't come upstairs, Idalia," said Marcus, soothingly; "and in a day or two you won't mind the smell or even think of it, except as the attar of all true Body-and-Soul Water-and-Mustard-Plaster religionaries."
After this explanation Idalia and Ione lifted their skirts yet a little higher, and walked more gingerly and with still more delicate particularity. At the top of the wide iron stairs they came upon a long array of lights in shaded lamps. They heard also the distant sound of voices, but no human beings appeared either to stay or welcome them. They seemed, however, to leave the musty underground smell of wet straw and paraffin altogether beneath them as soon as they reached this upper floor.
"The recreation hall is to the right, the chapel to the left," said Marcus. "I guess, if it's a big 'do,' it will be held in the chapel. Let's draw that cover first."
The walls of the passage were covered with a curious kind of decoration. Patches of paper faintly yellow occupied the centre of the panels. Ione looked narrowly at one. It seemed to be an ordinary print covered with some kind of varnish, and the whole decorated with garish colours, like a child's first attempt at painting.
"That's English history," said Marcus, with the air of a showman. "We are somewhere about the Wars of the Roses here, I think. My grandfather used to stick up pictures like that out of histories issued in sixpenny numbers. The worse the pictures were, the better they pleased him. He used to work at colouring them himself on wet days, and say that the Spirit revealed to him exactly what the people were like. For instance, Warwick the Kingmaker was always dressed in green with a red nose, and Queen Elizabeth habitually came out all over different coloured spots, like those you see when you look too long at the sun. As for Adam and Eve, you should look in the dining-room behind the sofa - "
"Marcus!" cried Idalia, warningly.
The next morning Ione and Jane Allen were again at the door of the dirty house in Tarvit Street. Ione had wished to go first to Mrs. Vincent Harford in order to enlist her aid. But she had not got half through the account of her interview with that lady when Jane Allen shut authoritatively down on that project.
"I wouldn't trust a pet white rat to a toad like that!" was the unscientific but clear and unmistakable formula in which she expressed her dislike of the selfishness of Mrs. Vincent Harford. So Ione pressed the matter no more.
Jane began the day by going to the manager of the Gopher & Arlington Company, who was opening his day's mail in the little mahogany-panelled office in King William Street. She demanded a whole holiday, which the manager willingly accorded to one of his best and most regular workers. Down a long vista of typewriting tables he saw the slim figure of Ione, who was standing looking at an instruction book. With a sudden increase of interest he said to Jane Allen, "Is that your friend Miss March, who left us some time ago? I heard that her father was dead. I wonder if she wouldn't like to come back to us now."
Jane, however, shook her head. She felt that it was not the time to make such a proposition to Ione, and so presently the two girls found themselves stemming the strong morning tide of humanity running eastward and cityward along Fleet Street.
Having arrived at number 9, Tarvit Street, W. C., Ione rang the bell. This produced no effect whatsoever, so with a quick and sure hand she knocked loudly upon the rusty unblacked knocker, so that the echo came back at once from roof and basement.
"How is Mr. Harford to-day?" asked Ione with a quiet aplomb, which was made more stern and determined by the presence of Jane Allen, in whom she felt there resided an invaluable reserve of power and language in case of a first repulse.
It was the same grimy unwashed serving-maid who answered the door.
"Muster Harford, mum? Why, 'e ain't no better."
"Can we see him?"
The serving-maid glanced over her shoulder.
"I think as 'ow I could manage to slip 'e oop when missus goes for the neck of mutton."
She leaned over towards the girls with a grimly confidential look upon her face.
"She's that 'orrid mean — she goes out every day to buy the very cheapest stuff to feed 'em on. She’ll be gone in ten minutes, and she’ll stop a whole hour, nosin' round and cheapenin'. I’ll sneak you up then, mum, an' no one never the wiser."
She nodded to Ione with a knowing twinkle in her eyes. Evidently she had conceived a low opinion of Jane Allen on the spot, for she added, pointing to Ione's companion, "'Er can stop below along o' me!"
But Ione had imbibed a new spirit, which forbade her to be dependent upon the good offices of a lodging-house Abigail.
"Thank you," she said; "you are very kind, and I shall not forget it. But I would like to see Mr. Harford now."
"Bless you, miss," said the girl, "I daren't! 'E goes on just hawful—'E's fairly off is chump — an' 'as bin for three days. And missus, she won't let 'im go because she 'as collared 'is trunk, an' - No, ma'am, I ham sorry that you can't see Mr. 'Arford to-day. 'E is not receiving no visingtors to-day."
The abrupt change in the manner of the servant girl was produced by the appearance of Mrs. Horehound, the landlady of the Tarvit Street mansion at the head of the stairs, with an expression of such fixed and deadly hatred on her face that Ione, left to herself, would have precipitately retired, but for the strong reserve behind her in the shape of Jane Allen.
"No," grated Mrs. Horehound, from her coign of vantage, "and you can't see Mr. Harford, an' you shan't see Mr. Harford. This is a respectable boardin' house for young gentlemen, and I can't be admittin' young women promiscuous-like off the street, as it were."
"But I must see Mr. Harford," said Ione firmly; "I hear he is very ill. He may need to be removed to a hospital."
"He will not be removed till the arrears of his rent is paid in full. Nor yet until a doctor certifies that he is to be moved to a place where he can be better taken care of, than by a humble but respectable person in my sphere in life."
"You have called in a doctor, then?" queried Ione.
"And, pray, what business may that be of yours whether I 'ave or whether I 'aven't? " retorted Mrs. Horehound. "I suppose I am responsible for my own lodgers?"
Then, with her nose in the air, the landlady became exceedingly ironical. "Perhaps, miss, you are the young gentleman's wife or his sister?"
"Neither," returned Ione promptly. "I am only one of his friends."
"His friend — yes — friends often come to see my young men. But I'm not going to be took in by you nor the like of you. I've seen too many o' your sort — minxes!"
Jane Allen stepped to the front.
“We have come to take Mr. Harford away," she said, "and get him into a hospital. Try to stop us at your peril. If he dies you will be taken up for manslaughter, if not murder?"
"Is this another ‘friend’?" sneered the grim-visaged landlady, making a final rally.
"I am what it does not concern you to know. Let us see Mr. Harford, or we will go away and come back with a policeman and the County Council doctor. They’ll see to it that you are prosecuted for having a case of contagious disease in your house without reporting it. You can get two years for that!"
It was an arrow shot at a desperate venture into the air, but the joints of Mrs. Horehound's armour were many and wide.
"I dunno' as 'tis any case of infectious disease," she grumbled, "but perhaps you had better bring a doctor. But mind you, I don't let a thing belonging him pass out of my house till I am paid every penny of my just dues!"
She retreated up the stairs without a word more, and led the way to Keith's room. After the first landing the wax-cloth was worn into holes, and the feet of the girls felt the steps uneven beneath. Up and up they went, turning after turning, and at each the floor grew more uneven and broken, the staircase narrower and meaner. All pretence of wax-cloth ceased at the beginning of the third flight and even the banisters began to show blanks in their serried array.
As they ascended they became conscious of a voice speaking continuously and very fast, while sometimes an ironic laugh, that seemed hardly human, pealed through the house. Again the softest and most moving accents of adoration and entreaty reached their ears, causing Mrs. Horehound to look to either side, to make sure that the doors leading into the lower rooms were tightly closed.
"Ione March — I beg your pardon. Miss March, but you make me forget myself — you know you are so kind to me. You are not going to marry that rascal! I do know him to be a rascal, Marcus. Hold your tongue! You were angry with me in the Court at Grindelwald, Miss March, but you will forgive me now — now — before I die."
There was a pause, and the voice began again when they were almost at the door:
"Marcus, I did not tell you before that I loved that girl; but I do. I loved her from the very first day I ever saw her. With all my heart's heart I loved her. I would die to save her finger from aching. What do you know about it? You've been in love with twenty girls. I never loved but her; yet she will never know it, Marcus. I would not touch her sweet young life with the shadow of my failure. An old-young man and in love — ha, ha! Forty next year, and the grey already running through the black! Well, both will be laid away for repairs among the worms, deep under the roots of the churchyard grass!"
At this point a feeble elricht voice burst into song:
“’John Anderson my jo, John,
When we were first acquent,
Your locks were like the raven,
Your bonny brow was brent;
But noo your brow is beld, John,
Your locks are like the snaw,
But blessings on your frosty pow,
John Anderson my jo."
''Ha! ha! ha! ha!"
A strange cackling laugh, like that of a parrot, rang out as the door was opened.
And there before them, on a dingy London bed, under a common coverlet, lay Keith Harford, his eyes open and brilliant with fever, turning his head slowly from side to side with the wearying iteration of a chained wild animal.
He had been staring fixedly at the ceiling, but he paused a moment and looked fixedly at the incomers.
"Is that you, Mrs. Horehound? No, Bloodhound, I mean — sired by Vulture out of Horseleech! Ha, ha! Good! The top of the morning to you, Mrs. Bloodhound! Did you happen to see my Sylvia pass this way? If you did, I hope you told her to meet me at the churchyard gate."
Then pausing, he sang, still in that dreadful voice:
“’Great King Pandion, he is dead;
All his friends are lapt in lead!’”
Ione bent down and laid her cool ungloved hands upon the pale and burning brow.
"Keith!" she said softly, with her face immediately above his.
He turned upon her eyes that were vacant of all sight. They seemed to look through and beyond and behind her.
"Hush!" he said impressively, raising his hand and pointing upward; "they told me she was dead. But they lied. I knew she would cheat them. She comes to see me when they are all gone. I heard her voice just now. Once she laughed, softly and sweetly. But I wish she would not play bo-peep with Mr. Sweel behind the curtains. I think it is a little unkind, when I am going to die so soon. But still — I am glad to see her in such excellent spirits. Young lady! — You with the smut on your nose and the hair in curl-papers — prithee tell me — did you happen to see my Sylvia pass this way?"
And he smiled as he tirelessly reeled off his wandering sentences; yet he spoke the words themselves as clearly as if he had been delivering a lecture in class.
"They took her money, the scoundrels. But I sent it back. Ha, ha! that was good — eh, Marcus? She could never guess how. And I did not want the books anyway, though the man that bought them was a rogue and cheated me damnably. What should a dying man want with books? But they need not have sent me to prison — for all the time I had to live. I am glad, though, it did not get in the papers; so she will never know. A pauper's funeral! Ha, ha! I say, Marcus, I wrote up one years ago, when I was on the Dispatch. It made all the women cry, so they said. But they never paid me for it, all the same. I nearly cried myself when I was writing it. But I can't cry now, when I'm going to have a pauper's funeral myself. Perhaps some luckier chap will write up mine, and get paid for it! Don't let that woman come near me! (vehemently). I don't want to see her. — Well, if I have to, I’ll go through with it. She has a sweet little girl — too good for such a harpy — and after all she was my brother's wife. I must not forget that. By the way, when I get along There, I must look up old Lyall. He used to mend salmon rods rather well!"
Keith's voice altered again. It grew restrained and conversational.
"My dear sister," he said, "I am so glad to see you. I am sorry I have no money besides the quarter's allowance which I have already sent you. I cannot put you into a better house, I have no money even for myself, nor can I beg from my friend Mr. Hardy, who has gone to America — for the present at any rate."
Ione's steady hand was cooling his brow. She had taken her handkerchief and wetted it at a water-bottle, greasy and green from lack of internal cleaning, which stood on the bare round table by the young man's bed.
Presently he looked up again.
"I do not know who you are," he said softly, his eyes were very large and dark in their deadly purple sockets, "but it was good of you to send her away. That woman wearies me, and I have no more money to give her. That other harpy downstairs — but I will not rant like a fool! Of course the woman takes what is her due. And she can't help it if her name is Horehound. With a headpiece like that to support in respectability she ought to have married an honest man named Smith or Jones. Thomson is good name, too, though more uncommon. What o'clock do they wake a fellow up when they are going to hang him — daybreak, isn't it? Well, if they would only put up the gallows somewhere else than just outside the window, I would not care. The strokes of the hammers ring through my head all the time, and I can't get any sleep. I declare I shall write to the Times upon 'The Rights of Englishmen about to be Hanged.' What a capital subject for the silly season!"
And so without a minute's pause Keith wandered on and on and ever on. Ione looked up to Jane Allen, who stood with clasped hands and anxious brow at the foot of the bed.
"Jane," she said, "we must get him out of this, to a place where he can be properly nursed and cared for."
"Not a foot till my just debts is paid in full!" said Mrs. Horehound, determinedly.
"Let me see your account!" said Ione.
"Don't you do anything of the kind, Ione; she can't help you taking him to an hospital."
"I'm going to take him home to Audley Street if the doctor will allow it," said Ione. "Do you fetch him, and I will settle with the woman."
Jane went swiftly and silently downstairs. She knew where there was the office of an insurance doctor close by. She would bring him if he happened to be in.
"I do not practise in the neighbourhood," said Doctor Spencer Bateson, a tall, stout man, of genial aspect, beaming down upon the anxious girl; "it is not etiquette; but if there is any danger or need, I will go. Is the gentleman a friend of yours?"
"He is a friend of a friend of mine," said Jane. "She is with him now. Come this way at once, please!"
While she spoke the doctor had been getting his hat, and slipping a small case of remedies and another of instruments into his pocket.
They returned together to the high grimy room in Tarvit Street. The landlady was standing on the lower step of the stair with a dazed kind of look on her face. She had emerged signally worsted from her financial conflict with Ione. For that practical young woman had insisted upon her displaying the vouchers for all her alleged extra purchases. While by comparison with other weeks for which the account had been settled, the fact was established that for the last fortnight she had charged her lodger three times the real rent of the room. Driven from post to pillar, Mrs. Horehound had at last written a receipt for the amount of her account after full deductions, and this was now safe in Ione's pocket as she sat calmly beside Keith Harford, waiting for Jane's return.
Doctor Spencer Bateson possessed such a majestic carriage and such a commanding and sonorous voice that, from his first entrance, he fairly appalled Mrs. Horehound.
"Where is your patient, madam?" he demanded, as soon as he came within the outer door. "I hope you have him in a clean and airy room, or else I cannot answer for the consequences."
And he sniffed all the way up the stairs in a most discomposing manner.
Arrived in the room in which Keith lay, he made a hasty diagnosis, stood awhile in thought, then tapped with his pencil on his hand.
"The patient is suffering from congestion of the brain, with marked delirious symptoms. The disease is probably the result of worry and mental strain, which has ended in nervous breakdown. He ought to be moved at once to some place where he can have pure air and ample attention."
"We will take him home and nurse him there!" she said.
The doctor fought a good fight for the public hospital, but something in Ione's eyes mastered him. Besides, he could not help noticing the purposeful and decided way in which she moved about the sick room.
"You have had experience," he said quickly, as she shifted Keith's head a little higher on the pillow.
"A little," said Ione quietly. "I was only three months in training, but I have been through a season's cholera in an Italian city."
The doctor said no more.
"I will bring an ambulance waggon at once," he said, "if you will have the patient ready for removal. I will go down with you myself!"
In this way Keith Harford was taken to 33, Audley Street, Battersea, where he was laid in Ione's own room, and tended daily by Doctor Spencer Bateson — who, curiously enough, found that it was wholly convenient to take Battersea on his way from Hampstead to his office in the Strand.
From the first the symptoms pointed to a somewhat prolonged illness. It was not till the fifth day that Keith began to recover his consciousness. Then the quick over-activity of the brain and the constant and wearying pour of words gave way to a sleepy unconsciousness, from which he only waked at intervals to resume his mental wanderings. Sometimes Ione would go out for a turn in the noble park, the southern entrance of which was within a few minutes' walk of Audley Street, and on these rare occasions she seemed to float light-headed in a new chill world of phantoms and unrealities.
One day as she came rapidly round a corner from the direction opposite to that by which she had gone out, she almost stumbled upon a young man. He seemed to be gazing ardently in the direction of No. 33, while the rest of his body was clapped as close to the brick wall as if he had been crawling along its base like some foul, creeping thing. His attitude suggested that he was exceedingly anxious not to disclose his identity. Something familiar about the hock-bottle slope of the neck and narrow shoulders caused Ione to turn quickly round.
She found herself almost face to face with H. Chadford Eaton, late confidential clerk to Mr. Nathaniel Shillabeer.
The youth, finding that he was recognised, suddenly withdrew his head, and pulling out his cigarette-case, he began with an obvious assumption of careless ease to light up, keeping however his eyes persistently averted from Ione's face. She proceeded slowly to the door of number 33. Tom Adair was just going out to meet Jane Allen — as he had got into the habit of doing, ostensibly because in these days of trouble and sick-nursing Jane generally carried home ice and all manner of dainties and medicaments, which could be more cheaply obtained at Billingsgate or Covent Garden than in the suburbs.
"Tom," cried Ione, eagerly, "the fellow who followed us before is at the corner. I wish you would - "
Ere she had finished her sentence Tom Adair was off. He never paused save to thrust his best new "bowler" more firmly down on the back of his head. But Mr. H. Chadford Eaton knew that the district of Battersea would be warm for him, and as soon as Ione passed he had taken to his heels riverwards.
When Tom reached the first corner he was already disappearing at the end of the street. Tom gave the view hallo, and redoubled his exertions. But H. Chadford knew his pursuer, and did not wish to repeat his experiences of the yard gates.
The confidential clerk ran straight for the nearest underground station. He battered up the long approach to the Albert Bridge. He dived into the intricate maze of small streets and courts which lies to the south of King's Road, and finally just as Tom Adair was close upon him, he ran across an open square and plunged unexpectedly down the steep descent of an underground station. A train passed up the platform at the same moment with a growling creak of brakes and a whirl of escaping steam.
Tom almost had his enemy that time, but H. Chadford was through before him. All ticketless, he burst past the guardian of the gates. Tom was about to follow, but the gate porter was not to be caught twice. Slam came the heavy postern in his face. "Too late, sir! Next train in five minutes!"
And before the words were out of his mouth the guardian was at his work of securing doors, and crying in some unknown tongue the name of the station.
H. Chadford passed slowly opposite his pursuer as the train slid groaning and hissing out. As he did so he made that ancient gesture of contempt and defiance whose origin is lost in solar myth, but whose practise to this day arouses passion and excites language of quite different origin.
"Oh, wait —just wait, young man!" gritted the irate Tom Adair between his teeth, as he slowly remounted the stairs — so angry as to be all unconscious that Jane Allen had arrived by the same train which had borne away his triumphant foe. They mounted almost parallel on the stairs. Jane walked a little behind Tom, complacently smiling. She did not speak till they had almost reached the top.
Then she said, "Oh, Tom, I did not think you could be so mean — to let me carry all these heavy parcels up those long stairs!"
Whereupon neither Tom Adair's remorse nor his profuse explanations and apologies availed him anything.
When Ione went into the sick-room one Sunday Keith Harford looked up at her with a new intelligence raying from his eyes.
"Do you know," he said confidentially, "that you very distinctly remind me of some one who did a great deed of kindness for me. Once, long ago, I was condemned to die, and a girl took my punishment and died instead for me."
“She must have loved you!” said Ione softly.
Keith Harford leaned forward. He was so weak that he could not even raise his hand, but the eager boyishness of his face was accentuated by the pallor of a brow from which the Alpine sunburn had quite faded.
"No," he said, "she did not love me — she could not. But it was her fate, and she could not help it. Don't you think it is mean to live on and to let a girl die for you? Would you like to know her name? It was Ione March!"
And as he spoke Ione felt a chill shadow creep over her as if he had indeed spoken the truth, and she was in reality doomed to die instead of Keith Harford.
And she remembered the words of the epistle she had heard that morning in church.
“Yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die.”
JANE ALLEN’S TRAGEDY
All that night Ione lay awake thinking of Keith Harford alone in the grimy house in Tarvit Street, at the mercy of the hard-featured woman. It weighed on her heart like an oppression, that somehow she had heard his voice call her from behind the dirty curtain of the fourth-storey room. Towards morning she fell into an uneasy slumber, from which she was awakened by Jane Allen bending over her and touching her gently on the shoulder.
"Tell me what is the matter," said the girl. "I can't bear to hear you lying moaning like that! "
"There is nothing the matter at all," said Ione; "I must have been dreaming."
"Was it about him?” queried Jane almost in a whisper.
Ione was silent, for truly her heart was sick and sore within her.
"Let me come in beside you, Ione," said Jane Allen, "and just tell me anything you want to."
After all, there is nothing in the world like human sympathy. By it alone the heart of man, running for even a little way in double harness, is eased of the straining load which sags and lurches behind him over life's uneasy causeway.
Ione did not know that she was in love — certainly at this time she would most vehemently have denied it, even to Jane Allen; but Jane had infinitely more tact than to ask the question point-blank. She only lay quietly, with her hand round her friend's shoulder. And because the hearts of all women are the same, and their comprehension of each other's good and ill greater than that which is granted to man and woman, Ione March was at once soothed and aided by the gentle hand and silent sympathy of the little type-writing girl. At last Ione spoke, very softly and evenly.
"I have a friend," she said, "one who was kind to me — to whom I wish to be kind. He is very ill. I went to see him to-day, but I could not. The landlady was horrid, and would not let me go up. Yet I seemed to hear his voice calling me to come and help him"
"Ione March," said Jane Allen firmly, giving her a fierce little shake, "now you've got to stop this straight away. You and I will go the first thing in the morning, and if there is any frowsy old rent-grabber in London that can keep me from seeing — him as my heart is set on — well I’ll enjoy meeting her, that's all!"
So the two girls lay awake in each other's arms till the grey of the morning reddened to the smoky copper sunrise of Battersea, while the milk-carts, driving Chelseawards towards the spidery tackling of the Albert Bridge, rattled into hearing, grew louder, clattered, passed, and ceased. Then came the hoarse, coughing cry of the early sweep; after him the man with the unknown proclamation, whose voice in these regions can be heard afar in all weathers — a mysterious calling in the dawn which Ione declared sounded like that of Jonah: "Nineveh the Great shall be destroyed — destroyed in three days!" These all went by at their appointed hours, regular as the circling hands of a watch. For the floral clock of the fields — the wakening daisies, the early-closing “Go-to-bed-John,” the turning of the sun-flower upon its stem, are not more regular than the daily calendar of happenings in the streets of a great city — when one stays in the same spot all day and night, and many days one after the other.
And all through the shifting hours Ione told Jane Allen of her friendship for Keith Harford — of her engagement to Kearney Judd, of the meeting in Switzerland at the hotel of Johann Jossi, and her hot brief anger at Meiringen. Then she went on to tell of the meeting in London after many days, the glances left in her heart, meaningless at the time, which, however, had grown great and important during absence and without the utterance of a word. And all the while Jane Allen murmured question, understanding, sympathy. At last in her turn she began to speak to Ione in the same low and even voice — the voice in which women tell each other the secret things of the heart.
"Yes, Ione dear," she said, "that is the beginning — the beginning of true love. No, don't speak any more: just listen! For such a man you would do much, but not yet all. I have done all — all. But I will only tell you part. For when the heart is bitter it is easy to speak, but not easy to speak wisely.
"Ione, five years ago there was a man who swore he loved me. And I loved him! God help me — I love him still. We went to one chapel. We sang in one choir. He was poor and I was poor, but we worked hard for that which would give us a little home together. Three years — that is a long time out of a girl's life! They said I was pretty then — others than he said so; but I never thought of, and never so much as looked at any other. I believed in him, and trusted him in all things. He was to me as God. He travelled in wool and underclothing for Remington & Carter — I mean that was his business; and we had begun to gather little things for the house. See here, Ione!"
And in the growing light of the dawn Jane Allen leaped from the bed and vanished through the door. In a moment she was back again with what looked like a heavy bundle of white fabric. She had been dry-eyed before, and had kept up throughout her narrative that curiously low and even tone. But now, as she looked down at the linen in her hand, strange quick quivers — a woman's premonition of emotional storm — shook her, and there came a slow recurring sob in her throat. Her voice broke, and whistled like the wind among river reeds.
“See, Ione — read what is written there!"
"Jane Broome, High Peak, No. 12”' she read on the corner of the sheet. The marking-ink was black and dense, as if the iron had only just passed over it for the first time.
"Yes; it had gone as far as that. We lived up Derby way then, and he wrote me every post, year out and year in, till there came a time (it is three years ago this spring) I felt his letters grow cold. There was no meaning behind the loving words. May you never know the dreadfulness of seeing such words written and knowing that! Then the letters began to come every other day, then once a week, and soon only one or two in the month. But at first I just told myself how busy he was, and so I kept my heart up, for I loved him. Then, like you, I began to fear that he was ill. So I got a gold sovereign out of the purse I had saved for the little home, and took the train to the station in the country we had so often talked of going to. I got out there and walked along miry roads to his master's works, asking where he lived of all the people I met. And some looked strange at me, and some laughed, but most did not know who it was I meant. However, bit by bit I found he was living in a new cottage near the Matlock Road. His letters had always been sent to the Works — I had sent one there only the day before! He got them quicker that way, he said. And it was about sundown when I came to the house. It was bright and new-appearing, with a shining brass handle to the door, and in the little garden in front there were Canterbury bells and 'None-so-pretty,' all in blossom. These were his favourite flowers. And as I stood and wondered, there came a tall dark girl out of the cottage door, and looked down the road with her hand above her brows. I had never seen her before, but something told me who she was, and I grew all cold as a stone. Some folk might have thought her pretty. I only thought I should die. But I did not faint. I did not cry. I was not even angry. Only I stood farther off behind some bushes by the wayside, hiding like a thief in a little nook where they had once broken stones — broken them with a hammer — as women's hearts are broken!
"And by-and-by round the turn of the white empty road I saw him come. He had a bundle of papers in his hand, and he waved them when he caught sight of the tall girl. I had seen him do that. And then — and then — she gave a little skip upon one foot as if she were glad, and looked over her shoulder to see that no one was watching. Then catching up her skirt in one hand, she ran to him like a three-year-old child. Ah! she loved him, and she was good—but then so did I. If she deserved happiness more than I, well—that was not my fault. I had loved him first, and longest, and most. But I grew ever colder, and my heart ever stiller. It seemed to be turning to stone within me. But I made no sign, and he and she came slowly past the bushes behind which I stood, and they were looking together at the magazines and books he had brought back. His arm was about her; I knew just how firm the clasp was, just where it began and where it ended. There was a proud look in her eyes, too, that came — as I knew also — from a glad heart. As he came past he slipped his hand up over her shoulder and stroked her further cheek. They were too far off for me to hear what he said, when he did it. But I needed no telling.
"'Little Sweetheart!' — that was what he said to her. And it was then that my heart broke. But I waited quite quietly, though I had to catch at the tree to keep from falling. It was a book with bright pictures, all about flowers and greenhouses and seeds and prices that they were looking at together. And when they got near the little door with the brass knocker, she laughed out suddenly, and leaned her head back. He bent down to kiss her, at which she pretended to be angry, and ran in quickly just like a kitten. He followed, smiling, and the door was shut upon them.
"Then a man came by, and I heard a voice saying, not a bit like mine, ‘Whose house might that be? It is a pretty house!' And the man answered, 'Whoy, that's Master Broome's house. Eh! ye may well say 'tis pretty. There's lots of brass i' that house, lady. Whoy, that young man married his maister's daughter ten days agone coom next Saturday.'
"I thanked him, and said that it was a good thing, and that I wished them well. Then I went back to the tree and tried to pray, with my brow hard against the rough bark. But I could not. Yet I used to do it regular before that. He could pray — oh, beautiful! He prayed in a chapel and at meetings, and was a Sunday School teacher. But I never could pray rightly since then. So I stood there and saw the windows of the cottage light up, and never once noticed how fast the night came down. And hours after, still standing and holding to the tree, I saw the light move and darken below, and then flicker and brighten in the windows above. And then — and then — after a while I saw it put out. It rained out there by the tree, and the big broad drops fell on my face. But I did not care, for I fell down and lay all night in the wet like one dead.
"And next day I was taken to the hospital, for it was brain fever I had. And it was eight months and many things had happened before I came out again, the shadow of the girl that walked along that road from the little station, all to see Joseph Broome's wife standing at the door. But when I came home I sent him all the sheets that were not marked and the other things I had got ready. And he took them. But you see these were marked, and so I could not send them. For I heard that her name was Alice."
And all the time Jane Allen knelt by Ione's bedside, holding the linen in her thin fingers, smoothing it and touching it gently as if it had been a dead child, turning the name this way and that as she looked at the pretty neat black lettering. The water was running steadily down her cheeks now, and with the beginning of that the dry sob had ceased. Suddenly, however, the girl threw her face forward, and with her brow sunk on Ione's shoulders, she cried out, -
"Oh, I think I wouldn't have minded if he hadn't stroked her just like he used to do me, on the cheek, I mean, and called her my name — the pet name he called me long before he ever saw her! 'Lil' sweetheart!' he used to say, like that! Oh, he needn't have said that! For he had lots of names girls like to hear. But that was my own — my very own!"
Ione drew the girl to her. She was all trembling now and chill.
"Jane," she said, "get into bed at once!"
"I must put these back," she said, checking her sobs quickly and rising to her feet.
"You will catch cold — I will do that," returned Ione.
So Ione took the linen sheets, and leaving Jane Allen in her warm place, she went into her friend's room. The little bureau was open. On the bed lay a folded dress, of white nun's veiling, with lace and a blue rosette of ribbons upon it at the shoulder — a poor, tawdry, home-made thing. But the same hard woman's sob came into Ione's throat as she gazed, for she knew that she was looking at the wedding-dress of her that should have been Jane Broome. So swiftly and reverently she returned the linen to its place, and nestled the faded white dress tenderly on top. As she pulled it off the bed, a picture lay half revealed underneath the pillow. Ione could not help looking at it by the light of the candle. It represented a very smug-looking young man with short muttonchop whiskers, his abundant hair dressed in a sleek cock's-comb. He was leaning in a self-contented and provincial manner against a pillar which stood alone in a classical landscape. Beside him, and upon a chair, sat the dimpling radiant image of the girl whose pale shadow was to-day Jane Allen. The young man's hand was half raised from her shoulder, as if only the moment before he had stroked her cheek and murmured, "Lil' sweetheart!"
Somehow Ione felt that he did it again as soon as the photographer turned his back to go into his dark room.
She returned to Jane Allen, who silently made room for her; and there, till it was time to rise, did the two girls lie without further spoken word, each comforted and strengthened, their hearts lightened, and the coming day made less dark, because of the tears of the night and the mutual heart-opening of the morning.
Each knew now what the other meant by the pronoun "he." And all real girl friendships are based on that.
THE OPPRESSOR OF THE WIDOW
Before Idalia and Marcus left Audley Street that night they had persuaded Ione to accompany them on their first visit to Rayleigh Abbey, the incubating centre of Mrs. Forsaker-Hardy's bi-monthly new religions.
But before she left London Ione was determined to find Keith Harford and return him the thirty pounds which she knew he could so ill afford. She did not know Keith's address, but on one occasion at his request she had noted down that of his sister-in-law, Mrs. Vincent Harford, with the indefinite intention of calling upon her at some future date. It was a small house in a quiet lane, not far from Audley Street. Ione found it one of a narrow, double row of similar buildings, constructed of the peculiar mealy red brick of South London, and the tenements, though one degree more pretentious than those in Audley Street, were at least ten degrees less comfortable.
Dingy yellow curtains drooping within the small oriel window, marked out the house of Mrs. Vincent Harford from that of her neighbours. Waxen fruitage of brilliant dyspeptic hues inclosed in an oval glass case, was visible where the yellow curtains separated a little the one from the other.
Little Angel, looking infinitely pathetic in a loose faded dress of pale blue, opened the door, and as soon as she recognised the visitor, she flew with a glad cry into Ione's arms.
"I am so glad you've come," she said. "I am all alone in the house, and it is so empty and big. At least, when mother is in bed, and the charwoman won't be back till to-morrow. So I was playing at being the Queen, and cutting off people's heads. Now you can be the Queen, turn and turn about."
"That must be a nice play," said Ione. "But I hope your mother is not seriously ill?"
"Who? Mother? Oh, no, only she always goes to bed when there is nothing else to do. But I’ll tell her, and she’ll be so glad you've come."
And with a skip and a wave of a hand daintily elfish, the quaint neglected child disappeared up the narrow stairs which led to the bedrooms of the little brick house.
A few minutes afterwards, through the thin partitions of the jerry-built house, a querulous voice could be heard asking a question. The low-toned answer was received with the words, "I wonder what has brought her here?"
Presently little Angel came flying back with news.
"Mother's getting up as fast as she can. And I'm to talk to you till she's ready. And oh, I hope it will be such a long time."
So with another shrill cry of joy she caught her friend round the neck.
"You are so pretty, do you know?" she went on, "and ever so much nicer than most pretty people. You don't mind my mussing your things, do you, a bit? When I grow up, I'm going to be very pretty, and have lovely silk dresses. One is to be of sky-blue silk — oh, so thin — and it is to be trimmed with Garibaldi red and to have a broad belt of crimson silk round my waist. Yes, and when I go out people will all say, 'Who is that lovely crea-chure?' Do they say that when you go out? I'm sure they do say it to themselves, for all you have only on an old black frock. I say, though, are you really poor like us, or rich like Uncle Keith? Mamma says that he is ever so rich, and that he ought to let us live in a far nicer place than this."
There was a light, uncertain tread on the ill-built stairs, which, even when Angel flew up them, creaked as under a heavy weight. The little, warped, thin-panelled parlour door opened, and the widow came in. As soon as the child heard her mother coming down the stairs, she sprang down from Ione's knee, passed her fingers through her hair, and tripped over to another chair, on the edge of which she sat with her fingers folded in her lap, and her mouth pursed and prim, looking the very ghost of the child who a moment before had wantoned and chattered in Ione's lap.
"Ah, Miss March," said Mrs. Harford, handing Ione one or two unresponsive fingers, much as if she had been passing her a bunch of bananas. "I remember you. My brother — well, he isn't my brother, thank goodness — my late dear husband's brother, I mean, went away with you after putting me and this poor child into a cab. Of course, he only did that to get rid of us. Keith Harford never has any consideration for any one's feelings but his own."
"Oh, mamma!" said little Angel; "Uncle Keith is very kind, I'm sure. And when he has money he brings me bon-bons; and you know he gave me my own dear dolly."
"When he has money!" cried the widow, with an unpleasant little laugh. "Well, Miss March, I daresay you are a friend of my brother-in-law's, and will go straight and tell him what I say. But I don't care; he knows it already, or ought to. A thousand times I've told him that if he would get a paper to edit, or go on the Stock Exchange, he might easily make enough money to take us all out of this hole. Ah, Lyall Harford, my own dear husband, was so different. You would never have suspected that Keith and he were brothers. It is true that Lyall was most unfortunate, and lost all his money. But then, so long as he had any, or could get any, he spent it like a gentleman — yes, like a gentleman, and not - "
"But," cried Angel anxiously, “Uncle Keith is poor too!"
"Silence, child! What do you know about it? Poor indeed — with his clubs and fine chambers. He keeps us here in this rat-hole, and all the time he is rolling in the lap of luxury himself. Besides which, if he would only ask his friend Hardy for money, he could get all he wanted in a minute. And they say Hardy's mother is just wild to marry him, and he won't. Keith always was so terribly selfish."
Ione could scarcely help smiling during the progress of this diatribe. But she felt that the sooner she got out of the house the more happy she would be.
"I should be glad if you could tell me where to find Mr. Harford," she said at last. "I have some money of his to return to him. He has been very kind to me indeed."
"Oh, I daresay!" cried the widow, tossing her head, and her fingers rap-rapping angrily on the paper before her. "He is just the very man to be angelic to everybody but those he is in duty bound to help — his poor dead brother's wife and child. He'd call up the first crossing sweeper, and stuff his pockets with money. But to me and my child he scarcely allows as much as will keep body and soul together!"
"When I saw Mr. Keith Harford last," said Ione softly, "he certainly was very poor. Don't you think that may be the reason?"
"Poor!" cried Mrs. Vincent Harford; "of course he is poor, and he deserves to be poor, if he is too proud to ask help from the friends he has. And how can he have a spark of consideration for us, and yet refuse to marry a great and good woman like Mrs. Forsaker-Hardy, the advocate of a noble movement — all because, forsooth, she happens to be a little older than himself, and because he pretends that he has not the requisite affection to give her in return. How paltry!"
Ione was glad indeed to get away from the little parlour behind the dingy yellow curtains with Keith Harford's address in her pocket. The palatial apartments to which his sister-in-law so frequently referred turned out to be in a narrow and dingy street leading southward off the Strand, and when Ione reached the place the area of the house suggested that the entire fabric had been reared upon a solid substratum of blackbeetles. Nor was there anything really millionairish about the grimy maid-of-all-work who, after a long interval, answered the bell.
"Mr. Harford, mum? Why, Mr. Harford is ill abed! See him? Well, mum, Mr. Harford has only a bedroom at the top of the house. But, if you like, I’ll go and tell him you are here. Shall I say his sister 'as called?"
At the sound of voices a hard-featured woman came out of some back premises, and stood looking down upon Ione with an air of severe reproach.
"Who is the person, Sarah?" she grated, with the noise of a rotary knife-cleaner when the brushes get a little out of order.
"Friend of Muster Harford's," said Sarah, throwing her voice casually over her shoulder.
"Mr. Harford is in bed, and is not able to see any stranger," said the severe-featured woman; "but I will take care of any message for him, or any letter or package, miss."
She glanced at the envelope in Ione's hand.
"Thank you," said Ione, who had instantly conceived a great dislike for Keith's landlady; "I will not trouble you."
And so walked away. She was resolved not to trust her precious thirty pounds to the care of so evident a harpy. She would either get Marcus Hardy to go with it, or else put her faith in the registration system of H. M. Post Office. As she went slowly away she crossed over to the opposite side of the street, and, casting a glance aloft, she endeavoured to decide which of the small, dirty windows could be that of Keith Harford's room. On the fourth storey one was open nearly half its extent, and the grimy curtain within moved a little as if a breeze were stirring gently up above, though there was not a breath of air in the narrow street where she stood.
MRS. MARCUS HARDY
But Seth Livingston did not lose his post. As he said himself, he stood the "racket." He managed to convince his directors that if he had been wrong-headed and unbusiness-Iike, at least his action had done no great harm — so long, that is, as the knowledge of it was confined to a dozen or so who had the best of reasons for keeping the matter private.
"And thank goodness, there's no Judd-Peters' dollars in this show, or I'd have been done up sure!" said Seth, after he had got outside of the board-room, where, as he admitted, it had taken him "ten blessedly sultry minutes to see the other fellow's bluff, and raise him to the limit."
Ione March remained with his mother all night, and the white-haired old lady alternately nursed and petted her with whispered tenderness and the healing sympathy of silence. Seth himself took a hansom over to Audley Street in the morning, and relieved the anxious minds of Jane Allen and Mrs. Adair. Thence he returned city-ward again accompanying Jane Allen on the top of a bus, talking about Ione "ten-to-the-dozen" the whole time, as Jane afterwards somewhat cryptically affirmed.
In a week or two Ione was able to be out, and even to go back to her work at the tables, but the shock of the night of the Crœsus dinner had told upon her. The old elastic lightness seemed permanently gone from her step. The willowy sway, lissom as the stem of a harebell and yet tense as a steel spring, was missing from her carriage. She moved listlessly, she looked delicate, and when she began her work it was with a grave, pale conscientiousness quite unlike the enthusiasm of her first début as an artist in flowers.
Ione received the first authentic accounts of her father's death from an unexpected source. She was sitting one winter's evening in the early lamplight of the little parlour in Audley Street. She had pulled the shade low, and let her hands fall listlessly on her lap. Ione had obtained a professional substitute for her less important work of the night — a girl whom Seth had found for her, and she was now sitting down to enjoy the luxury of a long rest. Somehow she did not seem to get stronger quickly, and she certainly was much more readily fatigued than of old.
The knocker on the outer door hammered a second loud and insistent reminder, and Ione was wondering indolently how it was that the postman had come so early, and why she had not heard him approaching. For usually Audley Street was so quiet, and the one-brick-thick-standing-on-end Building Society houses were so thin as to their walls, that the postman's double-knock could be heard for at least twenty doors on either side, and over an indefinite area across on the opposite side of the way.
But it was not the postman's quick-step retreat from the small outer port of badly varnished pine-wood which took Ione's ear. There came a murmur of voices — one, a gruff man's voice which propounded an inaudible query; then, breaking through this, a girlish voice, clear, high, and rapid, which made a dozen explanations and asked a dozen questions all in the space of a minute. Ione heard with surprise her own name frequently mentioned. Ensued thereafter the rapid frou-frou of silken skirts along the narrow passage. Delicate drapery brushed against the unsympathetic folds of Hugh Adair's shiny black mackintosh which he wore on stormy days to the yard. The door opened, or, more strictly, was burst open in a highly revolutionary manner, and there rushed in — who but Idalia Judd, her hair of more distracting tangle than ever, her cheeks all cream and rose, her eyes sparkling a thousand scintillations per minute, the dimples coming and going incalculably about the corners of her mouth.
"Oh, Ione," she cried, "don't be angry with me. I wanted so to come to you. I am so sorry. I came right away as soon as I had arrived and we could find out where you were."
She threw her arms lovingly about Ione's neck and began to sob on her shoulder, in the quick, helpless way she had when she was moved.
"It was so sad for you, dear, to be so far away. It came so suddenly, and I know you loved him very much. But I went and stopped with him, and tried to do just what you would have done. And oh — Astoria was so angry, and would not speak to me. But mother behaved like a little brick, and said I could go if I wanted to. And he lay so peacefully at the last, saying all the time how he loved you, and that you would have everything you needed, and stroked my hand thinking it was yours, dear. Then he said, ' God bless you, Ione,' and talked all the time about your mother. I never saw any one die before, and at first I was dreadfully frightened. But now I shan't be afraid about death any more. And I did it just because I wanted to, and so that I could tell you — that you mightn't think he was sad or lonely. He never missed you really — after the stroke, you know. He thought you were there all the time until the end. It wasn't sad a bit, dear. It wasn't, indeed."
Ione had never cried since the news struck her down the night of the dinner. Mrs. Livingston had tried to move her, but in vain. The girl was like stone — her face set and pale, her eyelids unnaturally white and swollen, and the strain showing in every movement and line of her face.
But now at Idalia's words she melted suddenly; her lower lids brimmed, pearled, and overflowed. Then the water ran down her cheeks in a steady flood, as if the fountains of a great deep had been broken up.
Idalia talked on while Ione sobbed, her voice now thrilling with tears, now tremulous on the verge of hysterical laughter — but keeping up a steady, healing stream of talk all the time, while her little, plump, daintily-gloved hands were clasped tightly about her friend's neck.
"Yes, Ione, and they were so horrid to me at home — all except only mother. And I have quarrelled with them all, so now you must help me. I've been counting on that such a lot. Oh, and we will be so poor, and I don't really think I could scrub floors or make puddings. But Marcus says that he doesn't like puddings much any way - "
Ione could not believe her ears.
"Marcus — ?" she said, raising her head, and the welling tears stilling themselves automatically with the surprise.
Idalia nodded her head so vehemently that the bird of paradise feathers on her hat almost broke off short.
"Yes, indeed! I knew you would say so (though Ione had not said anything). Well, it is true — though you won't believe it (she spread abroad her hands tragically). We ran away and got married, and now we are paupers!—Yes, paupers; but I love him — oh, so much. He is the silliest old dear; but he thinks I'll make a lovely pauper! Don't you think so, too?"
"You — have — married — Marcus Hardy?" said Ione, in little checks of speech, as her voice gradually recovered command of itself.
"Yes, I have — at least I think so. We were stood up before the sweetest old clergyman, with the silveriest hair, in the loveliest village in all New Hampshire. And he had such a nice voice, though he did take snuff, and he kissed me and patted me on the cheek. All among the mountains it was, you know — and he is outside now."
"Who, the silvery-haired clergyman?" said Ione, still more astonished.
"No — silly! Marcus, I mean; but of course you couldn't think. How can you care about these things yet? But he is a dear, and I rumple his hair every day. Marcus!" she cried, suddenly raising her voice, "where have you got to? Come in, great lummox! I call him that because he doesn't know what 'lummox' means, and he is as big as a house! Ione, tell me, if you love me — is there any pretty girl in this house? It really is not safe, you know, to let him out of one's sight. He flirts, do you know — well, you wouldn't believe how he flirts. We stayed at the sweetest little nunnery in Germany, away up in the Sigmaringenwald, on our honeymoon, and Marcus made eyes at the nuns all the time, and specially at such a pretty one Sister Theresa. She had the loveliest lashes. . . . Yes, you did, you know you did, Marcus Hardy. Oh, think shame!"
His wife paused just long enough to frown severely at Marcus as he appeared in the doorway.
"Now then, do come in! Don't be bashful. Yes, you may kiss Ione—just this once though, and not in corners or behind the door, and never when I'm not there. Oh, I know you, my man!"
Marcus Hardy entered slowly and bashfully, as if insinuating himself sideways through an aperture that was not big enough for him. He seemed to fill the entire sitting-room. Ione rose to welcome him, and held out her hand. Marcus took it, blushing to the roots of his hair.
"Now do it," cried his wife; "I know you are dying to. Kiss your new sister — brace up like a man! There — that isn't really so bad for a first time, but mind — no dress rehearsals behind my back. Bless you, my children!"
Marcus had bent over and imprinted a chaste kiss on Ione's pale cheek.
"You know, Ione dear, you wouldn't believe what a bad boy he is. Oh, I've been finding out such a lot of things since I was married. Do you know, he 'fesses up to having made love to ever so many other girls before he met me, and one he even asked to marry him! Now he says he didn't mean it. But wasn't it horrid of him? Just fancy if the wretch had said 'Yes'! I don't know how men can do such things, and then have the face to make up to a little innocent thing like me; do you, Ione?"
She looked sternly at Marcus, who listened with a broad tolerant smile.
"Yes, I thought you would agree with me! Now don't say a word, Marcus! I declare I can't hear myself speaking for you. Do you know, he has grown such a chatterbox? I simply can't get beginning to talk to Ione. Oh, just wait till I tell you about our marriage. I had to come down by the hen-house ladder out of our boarding-house window, such a rickety construction — and Marcus could not hold it either, because he was listening at Astoria's window to make sure that she kept on snoring — Astoria snores. Yes, indeed, I will tell now if I like. I don't care. At any rate, Marcus, you can't say that I - "
"Idalia!" cried Ione warningly.
"Well, no more he can! And any way, I can say what I like before him, and so can you. For I am an old married woman, and I can chaperon you all now. Oh, won't that be fun? (Idalia clapped her hands joyously.) When you fall in love, I'll take you up the river, and you and he can punt and read poetry, and look into each other's eyes, and say over all the nice old spoony things you want to!"
"And what will you do, Idalia?" said Ione, smiling more brightly than she had done for weeks, and with the colour beginning to steal back into her pale lips.
"Ione March, what will I do? Oh, I know! I shall sit on the bank with my back to you, out of hearing, you know, and knit stockings for Marcus — such big ones they will have to be, and the heels so difficult to turn. Astoria can knit socks and read Kant both at once! She just loves it — I never could. You should have married Astoria, Marcus, only she'd never have looked at you — no, sir! And then I just could not have done without you, you great big, dear thing!"
And with a sudden bird-like swoop she had perched on the extreme point of the bashful giant's knees, and was rumpling his abundant hair.
"Look at him," she continued, leaning back with a good grip on his forelock, and calling upon Ione for admiration; "isn't he a picnic? Isn't he a transformation scene, a White City all by himself? Don't you wish you had a brother, Marcus, for Ione to fall in love with?"
"So I have a brother — young cub!" growled the blushful bridegroom, uncomfortably moving about on his chair.
"And do you know, we shall be so poor! Church-mice are bloated what-do-you-call-'ems to us. Why, all I shall have (till I get papa by himself, when Astoria is safe out of the way) is only ten thousand dollars a year, and about twelve hundred that Marcus has from his estate and things!"
"That isn't dollars, though," said Marcus, beginning to cheer up and look about him.
"And we are going to have such sweet times in the dearest little cottage, Marcus and I. Of course we can't afford a proper house, or carriages, or servants. O dear, we are to have only one little Biddy-of-all-work! And I'm to do rice puddings, and there’ll be a little boy in nice, shiny buttons to clean the boots and keep it cheerful for the hired help. No, I think we won't wear boots that need to be blacked at all — brown leather is so much nicer anyway, and cheaper too, especially the sloppy kind with canvas tops. They're only half-a-crown a pair at the Stores, if you smile nicely at the clerk who attends to you!"
"We shan't be so poor as all that," ventured Marcus the giant. But his wife swooped down upon him, and snapped him up.
"O yes, we will, nice thing. (Isn't he nice, Ione? It's only the Green-eyed One that makes you not answer.) Of course we shall be poor, and have just nothing a year to live on. I think it is a shame, his mother has a beautiful castle about as big as Windsor all to herself."
"Imitation — all iron girders and cockroaches!" put in Marcus.
His wife rumpled his hair down over his brow, till his blue eyes looked ruefully forth from the tangle like an owl out of an ivy bush.
"It's nice, Ione; just try it! Curls like that over the forehead tickle your hand so cunningly when you stroke them. She won't, horrid thing! Ne-evvv-er mind, then, it's ownest own will do it for it, all it wants, so it shall then!"
"O shame — shame!" said Marcus, blushing more redly than ever out of the overhanging wisp of hair Idalia had stirred up. Then he picked up his wife as easily as a kitten and set her down on a chair.
Idalia rose to her feet, and stamped on the thin carpet.
"O you great, strong, horrid brute — I hate you — abusing your poor little wife! Don't speak to me — you see how I am not allowed to say a single word in my own defence, Ione. All is over between us! Besides, you are looking at Ione twice as often as you look at me, and you said that you liked her better than you liked me at Grindelwald. Yes, you did — you know you did! Now don't argue, Marcus Hardy. You know very well that you have not a single word to say for yourself, and I 'm not going to listen to it anyway, if you had. Thank goodness, I've got something else to do!"
Marcus looked over to Ione for sympathy. She smiled such a smile as had not been on her lips since she listened last to the bright irresponsibility of Idalia, that sweetest of featherheads, and loyalest of friends.
"There you are at it again," she cried, "you are both doing it now. Marcus Hardy, I won't have you flirting with Ione before my very face, if I am an orphan in a strange land. I shan't cry. No, sir! I shall just say, 'Good-bye, Mr. Man — pleased to have met you. You're welcome to the other girl, if you can get her.' Only I don't believe she'd look at you — though some women are such flirts, it's perfectly horrid!"
And so on.
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.
THE FLOWER GIRL
The room in which Ione found herself was not a large one, but it wore an aspect somewhat unfamiliar within a few hundred feet of the murky Tamesis. On the walls were framed engravings — Washington crossing the Delaware occupying the place of honour above the mantlepiece. The Declaration of Independence was being signed on the wall over against the window. Prints of Faneuil Hall and the Old South Meeting-House occupied niches near the fireplace. In one corner there was a sort of shrine composed of American flags, framed and glazed, the Stars glittering on top, and the Stripes descending perpendicularly to the bottom of the frame. Opposite was another glass-case, in which hung an old blue coat with shoulder-straps of rusty gold, together with an officer's sword suspended by a waist-belt.
A thin-faced old lady, with a sedately placid expression and the whitest hair in the world, was knitting by the window, her fingers never resting for a moment as the nimble thread wove out and in. She pulled at the wool ball in her large apron-pocket every minute or two with that automatic hitch which tells of a lifetime of practice.
"Miss March, this is my mother," said Seth Livingston; "she is quite the latest and most satisfactory thing in mothers, too, and always comes home to tea. Mother, this is Miss March, with whom I am permitted to make you acquainted, and she is the daughter of Governor March of Callibraska."
"My dear!" said the old lady, rising and holding out one hand, while she conserved her knitting with the other. "Why, I've heard of your father as much as a million times! Indeed, he got all my spring chickens for two whole years to melt into bullets to help end the dreadful war! — and — and I gave him two of my sons as well."
She cast a look at the blue coat which hung limply opposite the trophy of flags.
"Mother," said Seth, "do give Miss March some tea, before you get talking about the War. There's nothing so thirsty as talking about the War. It's as bad as lunching with three brigadier-generals at the Union Club."
"Don't you mind Seth, Miss March," said the gracious old lady, smiling placidly at her guest; "when you've lived as long as I have with joking men, you’ll know that more than half the time they are the only ones to see their own fun."
"Say it, mother!" said her son provokingly.
"Well, I will, Seth." She nodded a little defiantly at him. "He wants me to say that I wouldn't be as funny as he is for a farm. He says that that makes him feel as if he were right down by Boston Harbour. It seems curious they don't say a simple thing like that over here."
"Yes, mother," he answered; "whenever you get to saying that, I can smell the South Bay and hear the N. Y. express sail through to Matapan just a-whooping!"
By this time the tea was poured out, and the old lady produced from a wall-press sundry cakes and mysterious condiments, which she set on the table with great complacency.
"Do you know, I just can't take to these stiff English afternoon teas. They are no better than the departed spirits of square meals," said Mrs. Livingston vigorously; "and so every morning I go and buy in all the nice American-tasting things I can find, and then Seth and I have them in the afternoon."
"She is a real moral old lady, my mother!" mused Seth, to the electric-light fittings —"teaching me to swindle my own hotel, and bribing me by offering to share the proceeds of the crime. Did you ever happen to read that notice, mother?" He pointed to a card tacked on the wall.
No Meals to be Partaken of
in the Apartments
Without Special Arrangement
with the Direction
of the Syndicate Hotels.
"Well, sonny," said his mother, "aren't you the ‘Direction of the Hotels’? At any rate, you've been telling me nothing else ever since I came over in the Circassia. I wouldn't be as - "
"No, mother, not again quite so soon. Do give Miss March a rest!" said Seth, putting his hands dejectedly into the pockets of his coat. What he felt there made his lip suddenly quiver. He had forgotten the crushing sorrow which was waiting for this girl at the end of their light talk. At any rate, he would get her launched upon her work before she heard the news, and the necessities of her new position might perhaps help her not to break down under the blow which, sooner or later, must fall upon her.
"Mother," he said, "this young lady knows all about Mamie in Salem - "
"I guess you've been telling her yourself, then," cried Mrs. Livingston; "you ought to be ashamed of yourself, Seth. Miss March, he can't keep from telling every one he meets about little Mamie Grove. He generally gets there within ten minutes. How long was he with you? You look so sweet and sympathetic, that I shouldn't blame him if he got to Salem within a minute and a half."
"Mother, you are really the most unscrupulous person. And yet they say that the great American lie is going out! They should just hear my mother abusing and slandering her only son! But the truth is, that with Miss March alongside, most men would forget to mention Salem at all!"
"Well, Seth, if you could be sensible for five minutes, perhaps you would tell us how you propose to attach Miss March to the service of your Hotels?"
"Why, mother. Miss March is already engaged to arrange flowers on the dining-tables at half a guinea for each set-out; and as we have many special dinners, I think she may count on at least three or four in an evening. And of course, as the thing has to be done quickly, we will stand cab fares between the hotels."
"Dear me!" said Ione, smiling gladly; "you are quite a fairy prince with a magic wand. Why, I shall be a millionairess, and have money to burn! But perhaps, after they see me start in to do one table, the Direction will shut down on me, and say, 'Flowers is off; please help lay the cloths — it is all you are good for!'"
"And a very nice thing too," said Mrs. Livingston; "I just ache to show these lazy good-for-nothing German waiters how cloths are laid in New England!"
"I think there is not the least doubt that Miss March will succeed," said Seth. "I'll take her round right now, and introduce her to our Manager. Don't tell him that you haven't had fifty years' experience! Go to the stalls in the court-yard and get what flowers you want. They all belong to the Syndicate. The Manager doesn't know beans about decoration anyway, and the head waiters don't go beyond sticking a score of roses in a glass pail, like so many cigarette spills. So you have carte-blanche and my blessing. You will get your money every night from the cashier, or have your cash made up each Saturday, if that suits you better."
"I don't know how to thank you, Mr. Livingston; I don't know what I can do - " Ione began, a little hard knot coming suddenly in her throat. After all, it was a great thing that this young American was doing for her so lightly.
"You can give my mother a kiss, if you like," laughed Seth; "I know she would like it, and she's just particular nice to kiss. And as for me, why, you can get that car-girl to make room for me beside her again, next time I am down on my luck and riding on the bottom step of a Pullman."
* * * * *
With characteristic readiness to adapt herself to the business in hand, Ione instantly pulled off her gloves and ran out to the nearest ladies' shop to buy a white linen "Squire" collar, such as school-boys and nurses wear, and a pair of white turned-back cuffs to match. These she fitted over her black dress with the old lady's assistance, and in ten minutes she had extemporised a completely suitable costume. In a quarter of an hour Seth Livingston was informed that his new recruit was ready to begin work.
His mother had accompanied the transformation with approving and patriotic murmurs.
"American? Well, I should say so! They don't breed your kind over here, my dear. It comes of generations of huskings and quiltings, and of doing one full share of man's work and taking two shares of man's responsibility."
She paused a little, contemplating the completion of Ione's swift arrangements. "What State did your father come from?" she asked.
"Well, as you know," answered Ione, looking up, "he was Governor of Callibraska during the War, but by birth he was an Ohio man - "
"The step-mother of Presidents," commented Seth from the sitting-room; "she smacked them for their good all the time they were little, and stood around with her hands in her pockets taking the credit of them after they got big!"
His mother looked through the doorway at him as he lounged against the mantelpiece with his hands in his pockets.
"I wouldn't be - "
"Yes, mother, I know; but really, really — that's the third time! But about Ohio, it's the frozen truth, any way."
"Good-bye, my dear," said the white-haired old lady. "I don't know what he means; nor does he, half the time. But run in here and see me often, and tell me how you are getting on. I don't know anything about dressing up tables with flowers, but if I could come and hold the string and the wire fixings for you - "
"Well, mother, you just can't — else you'd be sitting up half the night with your cough. So take your bonnet and go out and see if you can't buy better buckwheat than the second-hand sawdust you got last time in that shop in Regent Street. I can't have two such tearing beauties going about the tables in the restaurant and into the private dining-rooms, disorganising the waiters and reducing the call-boys to more than their ordinary level of drivelling idiocy."
Ione had many a time decorated dinner-tables for her father. It had been one of his greatest pleasures to watch her nimble fingers moving among the rich blooms of the Mediterranean sea-board. But she had no conventions, and her creations were by no means in accordance with the traditions. Her manner was quiet and assured; and even on this first night she achieved some quite remarkable successes.
Her experience, from the point of view of a diner, had informed her that, before all things, people desire to be able to see each other without gazing through a tangled tropical forest of ferns and sprays, or playing bo-peep round a palm. She found also that most of the stands and epergnes were too stiff for the smaller tables; but with yards of trailing smilax and delicately wreathed lilac-blossomed wistaria, she toned down the harshness of their outlines.
Ione endeavoured to treat each table as a distinct picture, making of one an arrangement in rich red tones, culminating in the splendid crimson of the Bolivian sage and the scarlet of that imperial martagon lily to which even King Solomon in all his glory was not like.
"Was the young man who ordered this table dark or fair?" she asked suddenly of the chief steward of the restaurant. That Parisian elegant looked somewhat astonished, but answered, smiling and twirling his moustache, "Mees, he was blonde."
"And the table is ordered for three," mused Ione, with her finger to her cheek; "one will be the gooseberry, the other will be her. And if he is fair, it is about four to one that she will be dark. We will give them the red table."
And so indeed it proved; and with her diamond-lit crown of blue-black hair, Ione's flamboyant royal colour harmonised as never table decorations had done before.
When Ione came back the next night, she found that so far as that hotel was concerned, her reputation was made. She had smiled graciously as the dinner-giver anxiously adjusted her opera-cloak, and whispered something in his ear. Then the lover had turned about to say to the deferential manager, "The young lady desires to congratulate you on your table-decorator!"
It was with joy in her heart that Ione returned to the little house, where Jane Allen was sitting up anxiously awaiting her return.
"Wherever have you been, Ione?" she cried, as soon as she had flown into the narrow passage to clutch her friend round the neck. Mrs. Adair came bustling out, her face red from the oven in which she had been preparing a beefsteak-pie to be carried by Tom Adair and his father to the works on the morrow.
Ione told all her tale of Seth Livingston's kindness, and not the least of her joy was the sight of the unselfish rejoicing of these honest hearts.
"So in a week or two I shall be quite rich, and be able to give you all a treat to the Crystal Palace, or even, if you are very good, to Hampton Court on Sunday. Besides" — she turned and put her hand affectionately on the plump matronly shoulder of Mrs. Adair — "it is high time that I paid my debts. I have been expecting, any time these two weeks, that you would be putting me to the door."
John Adair coughed as if he had been about to speak, while his father moved his feet off the kitchen fender noisily and upset the tongs.
"Eh, lassie!" said Mrs. Adair, holding up her hands in protest; "how can ye speak like that? Ye are just like yin o' oorsels, an' were I ever to speak o' siller to ye, ony yin o' thae twa men sittin' aboot the fire wad gie me my head in my hand and my lugs to play wi'!"
It was with moist eyes and trembling lips, to find herself among such simple loving souls, that Ione moved upstairs to her little bedroom. As she did so, Mrs. Adair called after her.
"Miss March," she said, "there was a gentleman here this afternoon. He would not give any message, nor sae muckle as leave his name; but he gied me a letter for you. You will find it on your bedroom table."
"What was the gentleman like?" asked Ione.
"'Deed, I didna tak' muckle notice o' him, for the girdle was on, and the scones readying fine; and wi' thae wig-ma-leeries o' useless English fire-places, that hae nocht but a bit patlid for the lowe to keek up through, ye need to keep your mind on your scones when they are on. But he was a lang lad, gye white and shilpit, and lookin' as if he had clean forgotten what day o' the week it was."
The description of Keith Harford was too clear to be mistaken. Ione ran up to her bedroom with an eagerness which she did not own even to herself.
On the table lay a plain business envelope sealed with a red seal. With fingers that trembled she tore it open, and half a dozen crisp Bank of England notes fluttered out. A scrap of paper accompanied them, with a few words written upon it.
"Dear Miss March, I cannot allow you to suffer through my fault. Pardon this, and do not be angry.
Tears sprang to Ione's eyes, and she patted her shoe on the scrap of carpet which lay in front of the little looking-glass.
"Oh, he ought not to have done this — I cannot take it! I shall go to-morrow and give it back to him."
Then she remembered that she did not know Keith Harford's address. At this moment Jane Allen came in with eager eyes of inquiry. She pounced at once upon the traces of the tears which Ione had hastily endeavoured to wipe away.
"What did I tell you?" she said reproachfully. "I knew how it would be! You should never have let him speak to you again. Men are all vipers, and whenever you give them an inch they will take an ell!"
"But, Jane," said Ione, smiling in rather April fashion, "this is not the man I was once engaged to. I never saw Mr. Harford till I was in Switzerland a year ago."
Jane Allen's eyes danced with a sudden joyous light.
"Why didn't you tell me so before?" she said. "Here I have been just horrid to you for weeks, all because I thought you were taking him on again — and I knew too well what that meant. But, tell me, is he nice? Do you love him?"
"No," said Ione doubtfully; "I do not love him. How should I, after seeing him only half a dozen times? But I am sorry for him. He is ill and poor, and does not know how to look after himself any more than a baby."
Jane Allen did not say a single word, but rose from the side of the bed whereon she had been sitting. She came swiftly and impulsively over to Ione and kissed her. Then, still without a word, she went into her own room.
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.