Fiction - A Hero In Spite Of Himself (2)
A HERO IN SPITE OF HIMSELF.
BY ROBERT BUCHANAN,
AUTHOR OF “SHADOW OF THE SWORD,” “A CHILD OF NATURE,”
AND “GOD AND THE MAN.”
THE LADIES’ SCHOOL.
Time, June; scene, a smoothly-shaven lawn attached to a ladies’ college at Sunbury, on the banks of the Thames.
Some dozen young ladies of all complexions, from the flaxen-haired, freckled daughter of the great linen draper who is head of the firm of Purvis and Purvis, to the adipose Miss Schwartz, the half-breed from Demerara, were walking or reclining in various attitudes near the water’s edge.
The garden plots were bright with flowers and flowering trees.
One magnificent chestnut spread its seven-leaved fan and broke to amber foam of waxen blooms over a garden seat, on which two young students in their teens sat apart, reading.
Both of these students were charming. One was rather under the middle height, with blue eyes, and a complexion of delicate pink and white; the other was tall and dark, with large passionate eyes, and a somewhat petulant mouth. The fair girl held a book in her lap, and read in a low voice aloud; the other encircled her with one arm, and held up a richly-laced parasol with the other.
They were so absorbed that they failed to notice the approach of Miss Romney, superintendent of the establishment, a grave elderly lady of portly figure, who had an uncomfortable habit of twitching her eyelids and cheeks as she was speaking, and who, for the rest, was a superb embodiment of all the virtues.
Miss Romney addressed the fairer of the two, with the bland air of moral omniscience which sat so well upon her.
“Hem! Miss Sloane!”
Miss Sloane started, flushed, and acting on a sudden impulse, shut the book and put it beside her, thus concealing, or attempting to conceal, it from the duenna.
Miss Romney smiled suspiciously.
“May I ask, Miss Sloane, what book you are reading—hem!—with so much interest?”
The fair girl flushed more deeply, looked confused, and glanced rather helplessly at her companion, who, being of less angelic temper, shrugged her shoulders a little defiantly.
“The book I was reading, Miss Romney?”
“Yes, and which you have just handed to Miss Raymond. Not, I trust, a novel?”
“No, Miss Romney,” replied the girl quickly; “it is poetry—a volume of poems!”
“Indeed. May I look at it?”
“It—it isn’t mine. It belongs to Miss Raymond!”
“I should like to see it, if Miss Raymond has no objection.”
So saying, Miss Romney looked with an insinuating but persistent smile at the dark beauty, who, after a moment’s hesitation, gave a quick, careless laugh, and handed the book to the schoolmistress. Miss Romney took it, still coldly smiling, and looked at the title page. No sooner had she done so than she uttered a scream of horror, and dropped the volume as if it had been red-hot.
All the young ladies started, and looked towards the spot where Miss Romney was standing. A gay canoeist in flannels, in the act of blowing a kiss to school-world in general as he floated by on the river, nearly capsized his vessel with his sudden start of surprise.
“Dear me, Miss Romney,” said the tall girl haughtily, “what is the matter?”
And as she spoke she stooped to lift the book which had been let fall, but was interrupted with another little scream.
“Miss Raymond, I forbid you! Let the—hem—work lie where it is. I am—hem!—shocked beyond measure!”
Again the dark beauty shrugged her shoulders and laughed curiously.
“Pray, what has shocked you?”
“That book! That dreadful book! Do you know what it is?”
“I believe,” returned Miss Raymond, “that it is Lord Byron’s poems.”
Another little scream from the schoolmistress.
“Isabel—Miss Raymond—I forbid you! I cannot in justice to myself and to those—hem!—who put confidence in me, have such productions even named in this establishment. I trust I am not bigoted or even prudish. To certain works of imagination, though sufficiently frivolous, I have no objection, and I have never exercised a dictatorial supervision— hem!—unnecessarily. But the line of moral demarcation is indeed passed when I find the young ladies of this establishment, who should be sans reproche, studying the profanest and most immoral of unchristian productions.
Miss Raymond’s eyes flashed. She reached up her hand, and seizing one of the fans of the horse chestnut, drew it down with an impatient gesture, so that the loosened blooms rained round her and showered upon the fallen book.
“Pray, Miss Romney,” she asked, “have you read the poems—Lord Byron’s I mean?”
“Miss Raymond, I forbid you! I? I read such works as those?”
The girl laughed again. I am bound to admit that her manner was extremely irritating.
“If you have not read them,” she said dryly, “how do you know they are immoral.”
Miss Romney gasped. She knew the stormy spirit with which she had to deal, having had to reckon with it more than once; but she was not prepared for such open criticism. In her despair she turned to Miss Sloane, who seemed quite startled by the turn affairs had taken, and said, almost sharply:
“At all events, Miss Sloane, I looked for different conduct from you!”
Poor Miss Sloane looked pleadingly up.
“Indeed, Miss Romney, I did not know the book was wicked; and—and what I read seemed very beautiful!”
By this time all the girls were gathered round, and Miss Romney found it necessary to improve the occasion. Placing her hand on the woolly head of Miss Schwartz, whose moral perceptions were about on a level with those of a negro piccaninny, she continued:—
“Let this unseemly discussion end. It is not fit for the ears of young ladies. Miss Sloane, you have been tempted, in a weak moment, into indiscretion by a stronger and more rebellious spirit than your own. Hem! understand then, once and for ever, that works of this kind are forbidden. Poetry of any sort is not of a bracing tendency, morally considered; this poetry was written by a wicked man in arms against society, outraging all decorum, breaking all the laws of morality and religion. He was—hem!—a monster, not to be named in the presence of those who preserve their self-respect.”
“He was not wicked,” cried Miss Raymond; “he was not a monster. He was an eagle, Miss Romney!—yes, an eagle chained to a hencoop, and condemned to the cackle of things that run and peck upon the ground. He came to make the world brighter and better! He bared his poor heart to the cruel world, which did not understand him, and then—and then—”
“Silence, Miss Raymond!” cried the schoolmistress, utterly amazed at the girl’s impetuosity. “I cannot listen! If you remain much longer among us your frightful notions will corrupt the school!”
“Then the sooner I go the better. I’m sure I don’t wish to stay!”
“Oblige me by returning to your room. You have given me a shock, a very great shock, and I must think it over! Miss Sloane,” she added, as that young lady made a movement to follow her friend, “oblige me by remaining here.”
Stooping quickly, Miss Raymond had secured the book which had earned so much opprobrium, and was strolling indolently towards the house. The poor schoolmistress sank with a heavy sigh upon the garden seat. She had scarcely done so, when a large rowing boat, pulled by a professional boatman, ran into the landing-place at the edge of the lawn, and a swarthy gentleman, who wore a light summer suit, with a broad straw hat cocked rakishly over his eyes, and who smoked a very long cheroot, leapt lightly out.
The girls uttered an exclamation, for the place was sacred from male intrusion. Miss Romney rose, still trembling, to her feet.
“Sir,” she cried, “this place is private. What do you want?”
The stranger smiled affably.
“Want? You, ma’am.”
“Bless me, who are you?”
“Don’t be alarmed, my dear,” continued the stranger, sweeping off his hat. “Guess you’re the schoolmistress? If so, let me introduce myself. I’m Colonel Sloane!”
“Father!” cried Miss Sloane, recognising him. “Oh, I’m so glad you’ve come!”
“What, Angy!” he said as she kissed him and clung around him. “Why, how you’ve grown! There, there, don’t excite yourself—that’ll do.”
“Colonel Sloane, is it possible?” exclaimed the schoolmistress. “My most esteemed and practical correspondent. I am pleased, Colonel, to make your acquaintance; but you have quite taken us by surprise. It is so unusual to see persons of the—hem!—other sex in these grounds, and when they do come, they—pardon me!—they do not approach us unceremoniously from the river!”
“I dessay not, ma’am,” answered the Colonel, smiling again. “You see I’ve rowed up from the village, and as I came up I heard these young misses chattering like Virginia doves on a rail, and knew at once, without my boatman’s information, that I had struck the school. Well, here I am at any rate, and I hope I find you well, ma’am; and I hope my little girl has been behaving herself, and is a credit to her schooling?”
At a sign from Miss Romney, the young ladies, who had been clustering round and eagerly listening, fell back, and resumed their occupations in the garden. Then Miss Romney looked at the Colonel’s daughter, not unkindly, and meeting the beseeching light of her eyes, reassured her, first with a look, and then as follows:—
“Angela is one of my favourite pupils, and I have no complaint to make concerning her. I think you will find her greatly improved.”
The Colonel nodded, and looked again at his daughter. They were a curious contrast, father and child! Colonel Sloane was a man between forty and fifty years of age, tanned and grizzled like an old sea-captain, with an air of coarse good humour, which was belied to some extent by his small deep-set eyes and straight-cut, firm-set mouth. His manner, though bluff, was not quite genial, and the expression of his countenance as he eyed his daughter was more critical than affectionate and wanting in sympathetic warmth. Angela, on the other hand, was gentleness and timidity personified; so frail, so shrinking in her delicate beauty, that it was difficult to understand how so soft and tender a blossom had sprung from such a tree. Of this inconsistency, however, the Colonel himself soon volunteered an explanation.
“There, there, Angela, don’t excite yourself,” he said, as the girl, with tears standing in her eyes, lifted his rough hand to her lips and kissed it fondly. “She takes after her mother, ma’am, and is a heap too soft-hearted. You could make her mother cry with a look, you could, and she was that sentimental she pined herself into an early grave. Now, though I don’t look it, I’m a sentimental man myself, but I don’t give way to it—in this world, you see, it don’t do!”
“Do you remain long in England?” asked Miss Romney blandly, with a view of changing the subject.
“I sail for home on August 30th, ma’am, in the Mesopotamia. Till then I shall be running about, sometimes in London (you’ll always hear of me at the American Exchange), sometimes over in Paris, sometimes in Vienna.”
“Our vacation begins in a fortnight,” said the schoolmistress. “Do you propose that Miss Sloane should remain here as usual, or—”
“Jest so,” interrupted the Colonel; “she can’t be better anywhere than here with you. But I guess her education is about completed. If I’m wrong, correct me!”
“You are quite right,” returned Miss Romney. “Miss Sloane is now eighteen, and possesses all the requisite accomplishments. She plays as well as can be desired for a young lady with no particular gift for music, and her French and German are both excellent. Her deportment is still a little unformed, a little wanting in manner, but of that she will doubtless mend when she ‘comes out’ and encounters the necessary moral friction of good society.”
“Humph!” muttered the Colonel, visibly impressed by Miss Romney’s dignified catalogue of accomplishments. “Then, with your permission, ma’am, I’ll take her away with me this fall. Till then, however, I’ll ask you to look after her.”
“Then that’s all right! And now, ma’am, my boat’s waiting, and I’m going back to the hotel at Sunbury to dinner. I should like my little gel to come with me, if you have no objection.”
Miss Romney had no objection, and Angela, radiant at the proposal, was forthwith handed into the boat. Her father joined her in the stern, and took the steering ropes. Then, raising his straw hat politely to the schoolmistress and to the young ladies who came crowding on the bank, he requested the boatman to “go ahead.”
INTRODUCES THE HERO “IN POSSE.”
On entering the house, Miss Raymond, the dark-eyed apologist for the late Lord Byron, hesitated for a moment in the lobby, and then, instead of obeying orders and ascending to her room, passed out at the front door, crossed another lawn leading to the front gate, and found herself in a quiet country road. The sun was shining pleasantly, the air was full of summer scents and sounds, and all things invited her to a stroll in the sweet Sunbury lanes, which she forthwith determined to take.
Turning to the right, she walked slowly along in the shadow of flowering limes and chestnuts, and lilacs and laburnums hanging over the garden walls of villas clustering on the river-side. A stroll of about a mile brought her to green fields, where the villas ceased, and where the road turned inland towards the neighbouring village. But on the right hand of the road was an old-fashioned country stile, and beyond it a foot-path leading through the fields to a quiet piece of pasture land on the banks of the Thames.
She paused at the stile, and looked round her. No human being was visible. Then crossing over, she took the foot- path, and strolled aimlessly along in the full sunshine.
Though all was so bright around her, the brow of this young damsel was cloudy, her eye dreamy; it was, by the way, the deep brown ox-like eye of the ancients, but full of quick agate-like gleams unknown to the yielding orbs of Io. For Miss Isabel Raymond, whose father had been a wealthy planter in South America, and had left his orphan daughter the heiress to an enormous and steadily accumulating fortune, was not altogether happy. Nature had gifted her with great impulses and passionate instincts not yet realised, and she was, moreover, of proud and indomitable disposition. She was sick of being a mere boarding-school miss, a “young lady;” she hated the trammels of mere convention, and had visions in which she figured as a heroine. To prattle prettily in French, to play brilliantly on the piano, to air the other commonplace accomplishments of young ladyism, was child’s play to a person who might have sat for the picture of Gulnare or Haidée, and who thought Lord Byron a mightily ill-used and lovable individual.
Tall, slight, and lissom, with an erect carriage and a springy step, with an oval face of perfect beauty, from the frons minima with its dark braids of hair down to the delicately-rounded yet decided chin, with a complexion clear as alabaster, a skin
Which looked like marble and smelt like myrrh.
Isabel Raymond was as lovely and lovable as young women are ever made, even in the dreams of voluptuous poets. For the rest, she wore light pink muslin decorated with creamy lace, a coquettish hat to match, and she carried a parasol, which matched too. The sunlight followed her as if it loved her, and the birds on the boughs sang loudlier when she approached, as if delighted at her coming. But even this flattery of Nature failed to conciliate her. She was manifestly out of temper, as even angels in their teens are apt to be.
Crossing several fields she came at last on a lonely part of the river-side, just where the silver Thames puts out a secret arm to encircle an island thickly covered with dwarf willows. Here on the banks the grass was deep and long, and so full of splendid buttercups that, in a few moments, the young lady’s little boots were covered with dusty gold. A thick golden haze hung over the fields and the river, and in the distance,
Doubling the heat with sound akin to heat,
a cuckoo was crying.
All at once Miss Raymond’s face brightened, and a faint tinge of rose came into her cheek. Does the reader ask why? This phenomenon, it is well known, generally occurs when the eyes of pretty virginity fall on what is known, technically or literally, as “a young man.”
The young man in question was lying on his back, deep in the meadow grass, fast asleep.
A high white hat was tilted over his forehead, partly shading his face. The rest of his attire was shabby, not to say seedy. He had a well-coloured meerschaum pipe held firmly between his teeth, just as when he had dropped off to slumber. By his side was a piece of paper containing the remains of a sandwich, close to that a pint bottle of champagne (empty), and a small Latin book bound in vellum—the Basia of Johannes Secundus.
Closer inspection would have shown that his face, despite the warmth of the weather, was pale and not too healthy; that it was a very handsome face, with a high square forehead, deep grey eyes, and a full mouth, finely formed but somewhat weak. He wore his hair long, and his cheeks and lips were clean shaven. His figure was slight and elegant, his hands small and white, adorned with several showy rings.
He lay on his back, with one leg crossed over the other, and dangling in the air. This position had a disadvantage; it exposed to full view an exceedingly shabby boot, with a very thin worn sole and a fresh patch on the little toe.
Not far from this young man floated a rowing boat, an outrigger.
The sun was pouring down upon the young man’s face and neck with scorching beams, but he slept heavily, to gentle nasal music. Miss Raymond approached quietly, frowned on seeing the empty champagne bottle, and then gently touched the sleeper with her parasol.
He opened his eyes suddenly and looked at her with a dazed sort of curiosity.
“Mr. Fotheringay!” she repeated. “Excuse me, but are you not afraid of getting a sunstroke?”
Recognising the speaker with a smile, he sat up, and adjusted his hat upon his flushed forehead; then, conquering an impulse to yawn, he said:
“Miss Raymond! You caught me napping. I was—ah—reading, and the warmth of the weather sent me into a doze. Pray let me apologise for the absurdity of my position.”
There was a sort of faded elegance about his manner which harmonised with his handsome but somewhat effeminate face and his general shabby gentility. His blue eyes were beautiful, his smile bewitching.
“Won’t you—ah—sit down?” he continued, motioning to the bank, with the air of one doing the honours of his own establishment.
Miss Raymond laughed, and obeyed. It was clear that they were on a footing of some familiarity with one another.
“You did not meet me yesterday, as arranged?” said the young man softly.
“No, Mr. Fotheringay. There was a music lesson, and I could not get away. Besides, I don’t think I ought to meet you. Miss Romney would be very angry, and—we have never been properly introduced.”
“That is true,” returned Fotheringay lightly. “I am a poor devil, and you are a lady, far above me. It would have been better for me, perhaps, if we had never met.”
He sighed sentimentally, but his sentiment, after all, was mock heroic and theatrical.
“Please don’t be ridiculous,” said Miss Raymond. “I never know really when you are in jest or earnest.”
“Why would it have been better, Mr. Fotheringay?”
“Can you ask, Miss Raymond?” he replied. “Our positions are so different. The world——”
She plucked a buttercup, and threw it from her impatiently.
“I don’t mind the world! I am old enough to judge for myself. Perhaps one reason that I like to meet you is because I know it would annoy people and make them talk! But I am aware that I am very foolish.” And she blushed.
Leaning towards her, and resting on his elbow, Fotheringay regarded her with fearless admiration.
“Miss Raymond,” he cried, “you are not foolish, you are divine.”
“You have only one fault in my eyes—a heinous one—you are rich. I wish to heaven you were poor!”
“How do you know I am rich?” she asked, smiling brightly.
“It is common talk. I am not such a humbug as to pretend ignorance of the fact. You personify dollars; I, impecuniosity. You represent the auriferous stage of civilisation; I, the stage before the invention of precious metals, ‘when alone in woods the noble savage ran,’ his food the roots of the earth, his drink—hum!—” (here his eye fell upon the emptied bottle of champagne, and he added quickly), “in short, I am a Bohemian, without a penny.”
His bold and flippant talk seemed to please and fascinate her, and the sly dog knew it. To a girl fresh from boarding- school, even this shabby fellow, by virtue of his impudence and his handsome face, seemed romantic.
“I wish you would not talk of money,” she cried. “I hate the mention of it. At any rate, I suppose you are a gentleman?”
“Well, yes; and in that phrase you express the absurdity of my position. I should have been a soldier of fortune, an explorer, a handicraftsman, anything but what I am—a poor player, as you are aware. In matter of fact, and in professional parlance, I am a ‘walking gentleman’—nothing more.”
She looked at him thoughtfully.
“But actors, now, are admitted into the best society. Even Miss Romney says that.”
“Quite so,” he replied. “Rogues and vagabonds no longer, they wear purple and fine linen, when they are successful. Now, I am not successful. Even professionally, I am an outsider. I have taken a bachelor’s degree at Cambridge, I paint a little, scribble a little, and act for a living. Successful actors now dress well on and off the stage; I—hum—well, I don’t.”
In his light-hearted depreciation of himself, he was inscrutable to her, and consequently, like all inscrutable things, charming.
“I wish I could make you out!” she said.
“I wish I could make myself out!” he returned carelessly. “Sometimes I feel as if I were intended for great things; my soul expands; I have Napoleonic visions of empires to conquer, crowns to be won; but afterwards I laugh at myself—at the farce of the whole thing. But I feel my unworthiness most when I look at you!”
“Indeed!” exclaimed Miss Raymond, laughing, a little nervously.
“Yes, indeed!” cried the young man with more enthusiasm. “I have only one merit—that of knowing my own inferiority; and even that is no merit, for if I did not know it, I should be an idiot. For the rest, Miss Raymond, I can’t justify my own conduct. I ought to be working hard instead of reflecting on my own idleness. I ought to be at the other end of the earth, instead of here. I ought to fly temptation, yet I seek it. I ought not to let you meet me, yet I glory in our meetings. I ought not to love you, and yet, as you know, I do!”
He had drawn nearer and taken her hand. She freed herself and rose to her feet, when he also rose. Her face was flushed to the temples, but her clear noble eyes met his without any fear.
“Pray don’t talk in that way, Mr. Fotheringay? I don’t like it!”
“Ah, you despise me!”
“Nothing of the kind; but I don’t like to hear you talk nonsense!”
“Nonsense, Miss Raymond?”
“Yes. When a gentleman cares for a lady—very much, I mean—he tries to become better for her sake. He does not run himself down, but endeavours to ennoble himself in her eyes. How can you expect me to respect you,” she continued warmly, “when you do not even respect yourself?”
“I don’t expect it! That’s just the point!”
She turned from him impatiently, almost indignantly.
“Then why do you talk of it—I mean,” she added quickly, “why do you talk of what you yourself consider impossible?”
“Because I am a fool and can’t help it! Oh, Miss Raymond, if I were only a Crœsus!”
“Or a Rothschild!”
“Absurd again, Mr. Fotheringay, when my father was your age, he was as poor as you are. He loved my mother, a rich planter’s daughter. Instead of despising himself, and thinking his love hopeless, he set to work and made a name for himself, so that, before long, he was able to ask my mother’s hand in marriage. He did not make money, but a great name, gained on the battle-field; and when the time came, my mother proudly and gladly laid her fortune at his feet.”
The application of this anecdote was so obvious, that Isabel, who had spoken almost without reflection, became suddenly embarrassed, and blushing scarlet, turned away. With an eager cry he sprang after her, and boldly took her round the waist.
“Miss Raymond! Isabel?”
“Please let me go, sir.”
“Did you mean that? Did you actually mean that if I were different, if I—were a little more deserving, you’d actually look at a fellow like me? Oh. Jupiter, if I thought so!”
She looked round into his face.
“Well, if you thought so?”
“I think it would make another man of me! I’d—I’d—in short, I’d go in for something or other! Do you really mean it?”
She answered him with a radiant look, and upon the spur of the moment he kissed her—for the first time in his life. Disengaging herself, she moved rapidly away; but he followed her, walking at her side.
“When shall I see you again?” he asked eagerly.
“I don’t know—soon, perhaps. Think of what I have said to you.”
“I will! You wish me to become a hero? Consider it done!”
“Seriously. Shall I swear it? No, I wont; but I’ll do it, or drown myself—there!”
She paused at the end of the field, and offered him her hand.
“Don’t come any further, we may be seen!”
“Then good-bye, and God bless you, my darling,” he said, with a passion more genuine than he had yet exhibited.
She tripped away across the meadow without once looking back; for her face was radiant, and she did not care that he should see it. In truth, she was only a child, and was just entering on a new and delicious experience. In her heart she adored Fotheringay for his very faults, and could not have tolerated a more lachrymose or a more respectable lover.
He stood watching her, and muttering to himself the lines of the old dramatist—
Here was she wont to tread! and here! and here!
Just where the daisies, pinks, and violet grow—
Her treading would not bend a blade of grass,
Or shake the downy blowball from its stalk—
But where she went the flowers took thickest root,
As she had sown them with her odorous foot.
Finally, when she had disappeared, he strolled slowly back to the river side.
Standing on the bank, and contemplating his own reflection, he soliloquised:
“So, Fotheringay, my boy, it is decided. You are either to become a hero or to drown! I wonder what is the best way to realise the first alternative? The second, of course, is easy. Well, we shall see!”
He pocketed Johannes Secundus, stepped into the outrigger, and rowed, lazily and thoughtfully, down to the village.
Meanwhile the boat containing the Colonel and his daughter glided swiftly on between the lovely banks of the river. The man at the oars did his work in a mechanical sort of way, and seemed to take no notice of anybody; but his presence had its effects upon the couple seated in the stern; they preserved a dead silence.
The Colonel looked about him in his free off-hand manner, while Angela amused herself by watching him carefully from beneath the shade of her parasol. The Colonel looked round at last and caught her eyes.
“Guess I’ve given you a bit of a surprise to-day, as well as the old woman!” he said. “Don’t believe you knew me at first, Angy!”
“Indeed I did not, papa!” returned Angela—then she added as an apology—“but you must remember it’s three years since I saw you, and if anybody had asked me where you were at that moment I should have said ‘in America.’ What brought you over to England, papa?”
He hesitated for a moment, and then he said:
“Look here, Angy. Take my advice and don’t you get in the habit of asking questions. Suppose I said I came over to see you?”
“I would believe it,” she said; “for I should like to believe it. Papa, I never could understand why I was never allowed to be with my parents as other girls were, but was sent away to be brought up in a foreign school.”
“Meaning at Miss Romney’s establishment. Well, my dear, that wasn’t none o’ my doings, that was your mother’s work, and though I swore a goodish bit at the time, I remember, I’m very glad now she had her way. But here we are in port,” he continued, as he noticed that the boat had come to a standstill. “Now then, skipper,” he added, addressing the boatman, “what’s the damage?”
The man named his charge. The Colonel pulled out of his trouser’s pocket a handful of gold and silver, and tossed some to the man; then he leapt lightly from the boat and handed out Angela.
They ascended a flight of stone steps and found themselves again in a garden. This garden was attached to the hotel at which the Colonel was staying. It was prettily laid out and tolerably well filled with boating people. Angela was for walking about a bit and admiring the flower-beds, but her father was of a different mind. “The innard man craved for sustenance,” he said, so he marshalled her into the inn.
They passed up the stairs into the dining-room which was fresh and clean and bright as sunshine; there were several small tables covered with snowy cloths and set for dinner. The Colonel took no notice of these. The window of the room was wide open, and on the verandah outside another table was spread.
“Come, Angy,” said the Colonel, as he made for this al fresco table.
Following her father, Angela stepped out of the window and found herself in what she believed to be the most delightful spot in the world. There was just breeze enough to flirt with the snowy table-cloth and touch her cheek. This open air dining-place was covered with an awning, and surrounded by an iron balustrade, and a profusion of flowers were arranged about it, while it commanded a fine view of the river with its green banks, its foliage just dipped down to kiss itself in the stream.
Angela was a school girl, unused to luxuries, and her enthusiasm knew no bounds. She took her seat opposite her father, drew off her gloves, tossed off her hat, and prepared to do justice to the dinner. And she did. It was certainly a refection which would have tempted any appetite; several dainty dishes, with a bottle of iced champagne.
During the progress of the meal, the Colonel, who seemed lost in thought, watched his daughter curiously; when it was over he threw himself into one of the wicker chairs which stood about, lit a cigar and said:
“Angy, you’ll find a piano inside, I guess. Give us a tune and a song.”
“Here, papa! at an hotel?”
“Why, of course; now don’t look so scared, but do it—you’ll have to do queerer things than that, I guess, before long.”
She did as she was told. She had rattled off one or two lively airs, and was in the middle of a song, when her father called to her:
“That’ll do, Angy—that’ll do!”
She closed the piano, and rejoined her father on the terrace.
“Didn’t you like it, papa?” she asked, taking a seat beside him.
The Colonel seemed to be thinking again. Suddenly he spoke.
“Look here, Angy,” he said, “I told the old lady this morning I’d take you away in the fall. But I’ve changed my mind since then; I shall take you now!”
“Yes, now; right slick away, and keep you with me till I go back to the States. You’ll be useful to me, and I’m sick of being alone; it’s two years since your mother died and left me to lead a bachelor’s life! Well, I guess I’ve rubbed on well enough, but since I’ve got you—and since I’ve sunk so many dollars on you—I may as well reap some of the benefit of them. Therefore, my dear, I’ll take you back. . . . Well, you don’t seem to be pleased.”
“Oh yes, I am, papa, very pleased!” returned Angela. “When shall you—that is, when shall we go?”
“Can’t say,” returned the Colonel dryly; “my movements are a bit uncertain—I’m here to-day and gone to-morrow. You don’t want much warning, do you?”
“No; only I have been at Miss Romney’s so long, and I like some of the girls so much, I should like to be with them as much as I could if I’m likely to leave so soon.”
“All right,” returned the Colonel dryly. “Perhaps you’d best get back and tell the old lady, and get some of the hugging over, as there’s no saying when we may start.”
Angela took the hint. She put on her hat, drew on her gloves, and stood ready to depart. Suddenly, however, she seemed to become rather conscience-stricken; with a sudden rush of affection she threw her arms round her father’s neck and kissed him.
“Dear papa,” she cried, “I hope we shall be very, very happy!”
The Colonel coolly extricated himself from his daughter’s embrace.
“There’s no doubt o’ that,” he said, “if you’ll only learn to control your feelings. There, don’t cry for God’s sake; if there’s one thing I hate more than another, it’s a scene!”
He lifted his broad straw hat and descended the stairs, followed by Angela. He ordered an open fly, and when that vehicle arrived he put Angela into it and ordered the coachman to drive to Miss Romney’s establishment.
“Oh, by-the-bye,” he added, in a somewhat loud voice, “do you want any money, Angy? Here, I may as well give you fifty dollars.”
He produced a pocket book, well filled with notes; selected one and handed it to his daughter; then he swept off his broad straw hat and smiled affably as the fly rolled away.
When he turned to re-enter the house he found his movements had been watched by a couple of waiters and several young gentlemen in boating flannels who were lounging about the door. Instead of re-ascending the stairs the Colonel went to the bar, ordered drinks of various descriptions, and proceeded to mix himself a “refresher.” When the operation was complete, and he was about to raise the glass to his lips, a hand was laid lightly on his sleeve and a voice said:
“Shares, if it’s all the same to you, governor; and we’ll go odd man out for the next.”
Looking up, the Colonel encountered a pair of impudent eyes. They belonged to none other indeed than our friend Mr. Charles Fotheringay.
At the extremely unceremonious manner of the young man’s address the Colonel frowned; but Fotheringay continued airily:
“Done? very good; couldn’t mix a corpse-reviver to save my life. There, that’s a fair division. Now for the toss up. By Jove, it’s you! Well, I won’t be too hard on a stranger—so au revoir!”
Having tossed off his share of the beverage, Fotheringay strolled airily off and disappeared. The Colonel having regained his power of speech, turned to the barmaid, who had been an amused witness of the little incident.
“Who is that young dude?”
“He is a gentleman,” returned the girl.
“A darn’d impudent one!” returned the Colonel. “He’d get along in the States, he would!”
Having finished off his portion of the beverage, the Colonel lit up another cigar and strolled out into the garden.
It was towards the decline of the afternoon, and the place was now crowded. Young girls in bright summer costumes, and youths in boating flannels, either lounged about carelessly or sat at the little marble topped tables with which the garden abounded. Waiters were rushing hither and thither; corks were popping, and the air was filled with sounds of merry laughter.
The Colonel, hands in pocket and cigar in mouth, strolled carelessly on, thinking of his daughter.
“She ain’t a bad little gel,” he said, “only she’s too much like her mother. I’m glad I said I’d take her back; she’ll be useful, and I’ll soon bring her into good form!”
Musing thus, he wandered on till he came to the end of the garden. He was about to turn and retrace his steps, when his eye fell upon the figure of a man, who was sitting on the bank looking down into the water.
Something in the figure seemed familiar to him; he looked a second time, when he found it was none other than the audacious Britisher with whom he had had that amusing rencontre at the bar.
The Colonel smiled at the recollection of it.
“Darn it all, the young scamp has got cheek enough for a dozen,” he said, as he walked forward and touched him on the shoulder.
Fotheringay turned and faced the Colonel.
“Have a cigar?” said the latter, proffering a richly-embroidered case full of choice havannahs.
The young man hesitated a moment, looked the stranger from head to feet, and then accepted the offer—choosing a cigar and lighting it by the one the Colonel was smoking.
“I’ll wager now,” said Sloane, with an insinuating smile, “I know what you was thinking about. A horse or a gel—one or t’other.”
Fotheringay resumed his seat, and replied with supreme superciliousness:
“Right, Colonel, quite right!”
“What, you know me?” cried the other, a little surprised.
“Not at all; only as all Americans are either colonels or generals, I assume you are one or the other—which is it, pray?”
“Well, then, Colonel, perhaps you can advise me. If your advice is as good as your cigars, you’re the man I want. When you accosted me I was regarding the water, and asking myself which was best—to take a quiet header and become food for fishes, or to remain on terra firma in the hope of becoming a hero, or still better, a millionaire.”
“Hard up?” asked the Colonel, dryly.
“Damnably,” answered the player, not in the least offended.
“I thought so. Yet you’re clever, I guess, smart, and a scholar, as they told me at the bar?”
“Who the deuce are you?”
“My name is Charles Fotheringay. Born of genteel but impecunious parents in the midland counties, I was sent at an early age to a public school, and afterwards to Cambridge; took my degree, then took my hook; tried teaching—failed; tried newspaper work—failed again; in despair, adopted the profession of hard up dukes and earls, and held the mirror —a remarkably cracked one—up to nature; am at present out of an engagement, and likely to remain so. Now you know me! Who the deuce are you!”
The supreme airiness and glib impudence of the young man seemed to tickle the American amazingly, and to awaken his strong admiration. He laughed heartily, then, with tears of merriment standing in his eyes, he cried:
“What’ll you drink? Give it a name!”
“Whatever you please,” returned Fotheringay; “I affect no particular kind of poison.”
“If I may suggest, Colonel—”
“The champagne at this rural hostelry is on the whole inferior to the ginger beer. I can recommend their white sparkling Burgundy, which is a specialty!”
Calling a waiter, the Colonel ordered a bottle of the beverage in question. The two sat down face to face, and drank amicably together.
Gradually, as the wine began to work, Fotheringay became more and more communicative. Beyond hinting, however, at a mysterious attachment, he said nothing about his affection for the heiress. But the Colonel had heard and seen enough to warrant him in making the proposal which follows:
“Come to the States with me, and I’ll make your fortune.”
Fotheringay pushed back his glass, lent back on his tilted garden chair, and regarded the speaker in cool astonishment.
“Eh? Kindly repeat that proposal.”
The Colonel did so, in the same words.
“Accompany you to the States? May I ask in what capacity?”
“As my secretary.”
“Humph!” muttered the player thoughtfully. “The salary would be—”
“Twenty-five dollars a week to begin with; say, squarely five pound.”
“For that princely remuneration, Colonel, what should I have to do?”
“Well, your duties would be light; you see, I ain’t literary—you are. I should want you to touch up my correspondence, draw out my prospectuses, work the press, and ‘par’ me when necessary.”
“I think I understand. My style, you must know, is a little flowery.”
“I guess it is,” returned the American, “and that’s what we like over there. Then, as you’re a showy chap, with a touch of the dude, you could represent me occasionally, and interview swells. You see, young man, I’m full of idees, but I ain’t ornamental. Well say ‘done,’ and if you’re worth your salt, I’ll make a man of you.”
“I must think it over,” said Fotheringay.
“Do; I’ll give you till to-morrow.”
“When you shall have your answer. You think my style of talent would go down in your country?”
The Colonel nodded, laughing. The result of the negotiation was that the two men cracked a second bottle together. Fotheringay grew jubilant, and presently approaching the ‘eternal friendship’ stage of conviviality, almost embraced his new friend. Then the American, finding his pupil apt, talked gloriously of dollars, of fortunes made in a day, of poor men transformed miraculously into millionaires by sheer luck, in the mere waving of a hand. When the young man reeled off to his lodging in the village, he was already a Crœsus in imagination.
The Colonel, whose experience of life was wide, understood his man. He was the very person for whom he had long been looking—clever, scholarly, fluent of speech, and decidedly unprincipled, or so he thought. His infirmity was obvious; he was fond of a bottle. But this fact did not awaken any prejudice, rather the reverse.
“I think I can make him useful,” thought Sloane, on finding himself alone in the inn, where he had taken quarters for the night. “He’s smart and he’s cunning, but he’s a born baby to me. When I’ve done with him, he may drink himself into his grave as soon as he chooses; but till then he’s got to be under my thumb.”
THE NEXT MORNING.
Fotheringay awoke next day with a splitting headache. To do him justice, he was by no means a seasoned toper, and was easily overpowered by strong liquids. Despite this infirmity, he was particularly reckless, and prone to yield to convivial temptations. But the reader who hastily put him down as what is called a habitual drunkard would make a very great mistake.
He woke, I repeat, with a splitting headache, and in the first flush of retrospection, all his interview with Sloane was like a dream. The whole thing seemed utterly absurd. Was it possible that an utter stranger, and that stranger quite a rough sort of diamond, could have seriously proposed to take the impecunious one to his employ, and carry him off to the States?
“As his secretary, too,” soliloquised Fotheringay, sipping a cup of tea in bed. “As far as I remember his appearance, he didn’t resemble a man who had much polite correspondence. No doubt the explanation is simple. He was having a joke at my expense. Never mind, I was having a drink at his!”
But, no sooner had Fotheringay left his lodging, and strolled out in the direction of the hotel, than he came face to face with Colonel Sloane, very resplendently attired in a frock coat, white waistcoat, light trousers, and a tall, white hat. As for jewellery, he literally blazed with it. There were diamond rings on his fingers, a diamond pin in his necktie, and his large watch-chain seemed to have been made out of a solid nugget.
“Ah, here you are!” he cried, cheerfully. “I was coming to look you up.”
Now, Fotheringay was in an irritable mood, and disposed, at that period of the day, to resent the other’s freeness. So he replied with airy hauteur:
“Very good of you, but I was not aware that I had given you my address.”
“No; but they told me up at the bar where I should find you. Well, how are you? You look a little chalky, as if the fizz hadn’t quite agreed with you. Come and have a hair of the dog that bit you.”
So saying the American took him familiarly by the arm, but Fotheringay released himself with comic dignity.
“What’s the matter? You ain’t offended, are you?” cried the Colonel, astonished. “I made you a fair offer yesterday, and I want to know if you are going to take it.”
“Excuse me,” he said, “the joke is a stale one. Oblige me by trying something more facetious.”
“What d’ye mean?”
“I mean, Colonel, or General, or stranger (to use an expression equally admired in your own country, and far better expressive of our relationship), that much as I admire your national humour, I decline—ah— to be its object, and beg to wish you good morning.”
And lifting his hat with airy dignity, he was about to stroll away. But the Colonel followed him up in a moment.
“What! did you think I was chaffing? Not a bit of it. I meant it—there! Don’t you be a fool, and throw away a chance.”
The young man stopped and looked him in the face.
“I believe—ah—you asked me to become your secretary?”
“Yes, my son.”
“Excuse me, are you a member of Congress?”
“Or a person of literary pursuits? or a gentleman engaged in scientific researches? or a legal luminary? Then what are you? What is your locii standi? If I accepted your offer, I should want—ah—references, respectable references. As a good young man beginning the world I couldn’t think of taking you without them.”
The combination of dignity and impudence amused the American hugely.
“Well, you beat everything, you do. But I like your cheek, sonny, I do indeed. References? My references is— dollars!”
As he spoke he drew out a handful of gold and clinked it ostentatiously. Fotheringay drew himself up with a gesture which would have sat admirably on a light comedian.
“The soul of a man, sir, is not to be purchased by filthy lucre, and the simple perspiration on the brow of independence is more precious than any gold. Hem! Tupper! Oblige me by saying which way you are going, and, with your permission I will take the opposite direction.”
“Then you refuse any offer?”
“Certainly. If you will forward to my solicitors a certificate of baptism, with a true statement of your income, and the sources from which it is derived, as well as an affidavit that you have made your will in my favour, I may reconsider my decision—not otherwise. Good morning?”
With these words, lightly and characteristically delivered, Fotheringay sauntered away, leaving Sloane in the midst of a long ejaculation of astonishment. When he had gone a little distance, the young man smiled, well pleased with his own humour.
“I think I had the best of him there,” he reflected. “I don’t think he’ll try it on again in a hurry.”
Lightly and carelessly he strolled along till he passed the door of the river-side hotel. The sun was shining brightly without, but from within came a delicious odour of coolness and cooling refreshments. He hesitated for a moment, smacking his parched lips, then he entered the bar and ordered some seltzer-water— qualified with brandy. Having thus far yielded to temptation, he wandered along the road towards those very fields where he had met Miss Raymond the day before.
It was now past noon, and another golden day. As he approached the stile leading to the meadows, he saw the dark beauty standing close to it, awaiting his approach.
He came up and saluted her gallantly, but saw in a moment that she was pale and agitated.
“I hope nothing is the matter?” he said, as they shook hands. “You seem in trouble?”
“Oh, it is nothing,” cried the girl impatiently. “Only—I am going to leave this place.”
“The sooner the better. Miss Romney is insufferable. Some one—one of her spies—has told her of my meeting yesterday with you, and she has been most impertinent, and threatens to write to my trustees. As if I cared. I am old enough to be my own mistress.”
“I am awfully sorry. It’s my fault—for getting you into trouble.”
Miss Raymond looked at him keenly for some moments, before resuming the conversation. At last she spoke, still searching his face with her bright, fearless eyes.
“Do you know what she says, Mr. Fotheringay? That you are a bad character.”
Fotheringay smiled, a little foolishly.
“Such is the opinion of many other respectable Philistines. Everybody knows here that I am a poor player—voila tout!”
“It is no laughing matter,” said Miss Raymond. “She has spies everywhere, and she knows everything you do. It is horrible. She says you drink.”
The young man coloured, and became suddenly conscious of the refreshment he had already imbibed that morning. But his characteristic insouciance did not fail him.
“Of course I drink,” he replied. “So do the lambs. It is a necessity of nature. But I must say Miss Romney has a very offensive way of putting it!”
“You were drinking all yesterday afternoon at the inn,” continued Miss Raymond, inflexibly, “and in the evening you were seen in the village, obviously intoxicated. So she says. She tried to make me promise not to see you again. I refused, being determined to tell you what was said of you. ‘Then, Miss Raymond,’ she said, ‘since you refuse to obey me, I shall report your conduct to your trustees, with a view to your removal from this establishment.’ And that is just what she means to do.”
Fotheringay reflected. Ne’er-do-well as he was, he had a spark of honour in his heart, and he had the courage of his reckless habits.
“She is right,” he said at last. “I am not a fit acquaintance for you, Miss Raymond. I admit the whole impeachment against me. My friendship compromises you; let us say good-bye.”
He turned on his heel as if to go; then he turned to her again, and there was a moisture in his eyes, like tears.
“Whatever happens, Miss Raymond, I shall preserve the remembrance of our meetings as one of the most sacred and precious memories of my life. I am a bad lot granted; but I would lay down my life for you. You remember the old Scots song?—
Although thou maun never be mine,
Although even hope is denied,
’Tis sweeter for thee despairing,
Than aught in the world beside!
That expresses my feelings perfectly. I have known all along that I was not good enough for you, that my affection for you was only a dream, and must end; but it is a dream that I shall remember all my miserable life.”
She could have fallen on his neck—he looked so handsome; but the remembrance of his offensive habits checked her. She could not speak, her heart being too full, but the warm tears coursed down her cheeks and fell silently.
“Don’t cry! for God’s sake don’t cry!” he exclaimed. “I am not worth such sorrow. I am a shabby fellow, personally and morally, I am indeed.”
She answered in a broken voice:
“Have you forgotten the promise you made yesterday?”
“To distinguish myself, to become a hero. No, I remember it. Heaven willing, I’ll keep it, though at present only Heaven knows how.”
“You can begin by respecting yourself,” she said, “by making it impossible for people to say such dreadful things of you. You are a gentleman by birth and disposition—you should never forget that.”
He looked round quickly, and then, seeing no one nigh, gently took her hand.
“For the future I’ll try to remember it!” he cried. “But you, my darling?”
“In any case I return to America in the fall. I was to have spent the holidays here, but now I shall be sent away. I shall be very glad to leave this place.”
“I don’t know. If I accepted you at your own estimate, I ought to be glad.”
“Ah! In what part of America is your home?”
“With whom are you going to live?”
“With one of my guardians, General Collier, and his wife. They are to bring me out, and I suppose I shall remain with them—until I marry.”
The young man looked at her fondly.
“I am going to ask a rude question, one I have never put before. How old are you?”
“Suppose I were to ask you to promise—but no, I have no right to ask any thing of the kind.”
“Ask me, and I will tell you.”
“Suppose, then, I asked you to give me three years, three long years, and in the meantime not to marry any other fellow?”
“But that would be an engagement!” she said half smiling through her tears.
“Well, I don’t mean that. What I mean is, could you postpone all other matrimonial ideas until you discovered whether I was really good for anything? Three years is a long time. Empires have been lost and won in three years. In three years I shall be twenty-eight, you twenty-one. Oh if you would only wait and see!”
Though he spoke with an assumption of his old lightness, his flushed cheek and sparkling eyes showed that he was in earnest. A third party, secretly witnessing the interview, would certainly have smiled at the situation. For the pair were indeed strangely contrasted; he, to use his own expression, a shabby fellow, out at heel, familiar with ignoble devices, with only the merit of a handsome face, and that face, too, faded not a little with boyish orgies; she, all splendour, lightness, beauty, pure yet passionate to the finger tips, and as ignorant of the world as a baby. But in her eyes, alas! he was an Adonis, and his infirmities rather fascinated than repelled her. Had he been bold enough to propose flight then and there, there is no saying what might have happened, so thoroughly was she in revolt against the querulous virtues of the young ladies’ seminary.
“If I waited,” she said, “what would you do?”
“What I said yesterday. Become a hero, or drown. Give me the chance! Say at any rate that you will try to wait for me.”
She gave him her hand, laughing.
“How absurd! As if I should marry before that time! as if I wanted to marry at all!”
Presently they parted, and Fotheringay, flushed and excited, returned towards the village. Again he had to pass the door of the hotel, but he was firmly conquering the temptation to enter, when a friendly voice hailed him.
That pertinacious Colonel.
“Confound the fellow!” thought Fotheringay. “We shall quarrel!”
But the American, smiling good-humouredly, stepped out from the threshold and walked by his side.
“Have you thought it over yet? I’m in earnest, mind; for I’ve taken a fancy to you, and no mistake. Come back with me to America, and make your fortune!”
To America? Where she was going so soon? A new and eager hope sprang up in the young man’s breast.
“If I thought you really meant it,” he began, eyeing the man of dollars.
“Mean it? Of course I do!”
“I’m to be your secretary?”
“At five pounds a week to begin with, I think you said?”
“I did, and I stick to it!”
“When do you sail for America?”
“In the fall; but I can utilise your services over here before then. Say done, and I take you on at once.”
“Then I do say done. I’m yours, Colonel, body and soul, at five pounds a week.”
He spoke as if he were making a sort of burlesque bargain with the Evil One. The two shook hands.
“Come and wet it,” said the Colonel.
With the view of wetting it, they entered the hotel together.
AT LONG BRANCH: AFTER THREE YEARS.
The scene changes to Long Branch, in the height of the season.
The fashionable New York watering-place was crowded to its utmost capacity, the thermometer registered ninety in the shade, and the Grand Parade every afternoon was very like a genteel pandemonium.
In the smoking-room of the Washington House, or hotel, well shaded from the garish sunlight and as cool as an alcove in the warmest corner of Hades, Colonel Sloane, attired in the lightest of summer clothing, and wearing a Panama hat, was seated in earnest conversation with Mr. Kyrle Melvin, a spare gloomy-looking Irishman, with the heavy eyebrows and powerful jaw of his nation; about thirty years old, yet with grey hairs sown already in his beard and whiskers; slightly bald, too, above the forehead, which was strongly lined. Melvin wore a thin black frock-coat and light grey trousers, had large coarse hands with a diamond ring on the right little finger, and another prodigious diamond in his white neckcloth.
They were alone in the smoking-room, for it was five o’clock, and all the fashion of Long Branch was out on the Grand Parade. Papers were before them, journals and engineering plans, which Melvin was examining with no little interest. As he did so, the Colonel watched him eagerly, cigar in mouth.
“Well, will it do?” he asked, after a pause in the talk.
“It looks promising, Colonel, it does indeed. I don’t like mines in general, and I think the public is rather sick of them; but I see daylight here, and if the company can be floated——”
“It’s as good as done. All I want to know is, whether you go in with us?”
“Sure, that depends,” returned Melvin, smiling. “I’ve helped you before, and am willing to do so again. Only, I must have my price.”
“Of course,” said Sloane, scowling.
“And the price that I am going to ask is one that won’t ruin you and will enrich me. I want—to be your son-in-law!”
The Colonel started, and looked at his companion in surprise.
“What! Marry Angy! Are you joking?”
“Not at all. I have had the greatest admiration for Miss Sloane ever since you brought her over from England, three years ago. You see, Colonel, I’m perfectly frank with you. Our relations already have been close and not unpleasant; why should they not be cemented by a matrimonial relationship?”
“Whew!” exclaimed the Colonel, watching a wreath of smoke as it curled from his mouth towards the ceiling.
There was a long pause. Both the men kept silence and looked at each other. Sloane was the first to renew the conversation.
“Have you spoken to Angy?”
“Not directly. I thought it fairer to sound you first. As an old friend and partner, I wished to do nothing underhand.”
“Well, you’ve taken me by surprise. I’ll have to think it over.”
“Do; and—I’ll think over the prospectus.”
“Oh, I see! Guess you make this marriage a condition?”
Melvin smiled again.
His was not a nice smile, though it exhibited two rows of faultlessly white teeth. I may remark just here that he had one peculiarity—a low soft voice, which is doubtless “an excellent thing in woman,” but which is less admirable when associated with a powerful man. He never raised it, even when greatly excited; on the contrary, its lowness almost reached inaudibility when he was under the influence of passion—and he was of passionate temperament, like most of his race.
“I think we could work more comfortably together,” he continued, “if this affair was settled. Am I right in supposing that Miss Sloane’s affections are not otherwise engaged?”
“Look here, Melvin,” cried the Colonel with sudden frankness, “it isn’t a question of Angy’s affections at all. When she marries, she’ll marry the man I choose for her, you bet.”
“Then it rests with you entirely. So much the better.”
“Yes, it rests with me. My own opinion is that business affairs and family ones are like vinegar and oil, and won’t mix well. I don’t want to run a domestic concern with no one but my own relations on the board. And I never took you for a marrying man, neither! If you want my opinion, you’re better single.”
Melvin did not reply. He saw plainly enough that the Colonel received his proposal with strong dislike, which he had scarcely the politeness to veil; and observing this, his face darkened and his lips and cheeks grew white with secret anger.
At this moment a diversion was effected by the sudden opening of the door, and the appearance of a waiter, showing in with profound respect a tall gentleman attired in the height of fashion, who exclaimed on seeing the Colonel:
“Ah, dear boy, here you are! I’ve been looking for you everywhere!”
The Colonel rose politely, and forthwith introduced the new comer to Melvin.
“Colonel Fotheringay, my friend Mr. Kyrle Melvin.”
Fotheringay, for it was our old friend in new and finer feathers, bowed patronisingly. He was the same, yet different; airy and impudent as ever, but with stronger lines on his handsome face. He had snatched a grace beyond the reach of nature, with the aid of a gold pince-nez and many diamonds. Everything he wore was faultless, his whole appearance splendid; and there was this difference between him and Sloane, that he wore his finery as to the manner born, with a prince-like ease and suavity, while the other, despite his wealth, had never the appearance of a gentleman.
“Of course I knew Colonel Fotheringay by reputation,” said Melvin softly.
“I should think you did,” cried the Colonel. “All the world knows him; there aren’t many good things in which he hasn’t got a finger; and he’s with us in this new business—in fact, he’s the vendor.”
“In that case,” observed Melvin, “the thing is safe, and public confidence is certain.” He added with a sly look, “You are personally acquainted with the claim, Colonel Fotheringay?”
Fotheringay and Sloane exchanged a rapid glance, which was not unobserved by the other.
“Why, certainly,” Fotheringay replied. “I—ah—had a ranch down there for sporting purposes, and explored the entire territory. I saw it had possibilities, and bought it up; dirt cheap, a hundred thousand dollars. By a mere accident, I discovered its true value. Resting one day by the side of the great cañon, watered by the stream with the unpronounceable name, I ordered my faithful henchman, an ex-chief of the Ojibbeways, to bring me some water to drink in a small crystal cup I carried for the purpose. The stream was very low, a thread in fact, and he filled the cup with difficulty. When I held it up in the sunlight, what was my surprise to see it sparkling like the nectar of the gods—with gold, sir, liquid gold! Yes, the very water was auriferous! ‘Upon that hint I spoke,’ to quote the bard; in other words, I prospected, and found that I was standing in acres of solid ore. And there it is, waiting to be dug—gold enough to supply all the charmers of creation with bracelets, or, minted into drachmas, to provide the Bank of England with hecatombs of coin.”
Though he spoke with his old lightness and glibness, there were moments when his face was overshadowed, as if with some secret annoyance; and from time to time he seemed sneering at his own Munchausen-like narration. Melvin listened quietly, without the slightest expression of surprise.
“You are a lucky man, Colonel Fotheringay,” he said as the other concluded; then turning to Sloane he added, “If you don’t mind, I’ll go and see if Miss Sloane is in the drawing-room.”
“Certainly,” replied Sloane, “but remember, not a word about that other matter.”
“Sure, I’ll leave that in your hands,” returned Melvin, and then, with a bow and a smile, he withdrew, closing the door softly behind him.
Left alone, Fotheringay and Sloane looked at each other with curious meaning. Then the former, sinking into a seat, took out an enamelled cigarette-case, and began to smoke. As he did so, the lines of his handsome face grew darker and sadder.
“Colonel,” he said, “guide, philosopher, and friend, and all that sort of thing, we’re getting into deep waters—I don’t like it!”
“You leave that to me,” answered Sloane sharply. “If this thing turns out all right, your fortune’s made as well as mine.”
“And if it turns out all wrong?”
“So much the worse for both of us; but it can’t, with proper management. In the meantime, you’ve the best of the bargain. It takes a precious long purse to keep you going.”
“I have a character to maintain,” cried the young man, laughing. “I must be consistent, artistically, to the smallest detail. By the way, my new tandem cart and mares Lightning and Meteor are at the door—would you like to see them?”
“Oh d—— them!” said Sloane gruffly.
“With all my heart, especially as they’re not yet paid for.”
The Colonel walked over to the table where he had been sitting, and taking up the paper lying there, handed it to Fotheringay.
“Read that, and tell me what you think of it!”
Fotheringay took the paper carelessly, flashing the diamonds on his white hand as he did so, and read as follows.—
“SOUTH SPERANZA GOLD MINES, LIMITED Capital,
500,000 dollars, in 100,000 shares of 5 dollars each,
of which 25,000 shares are issued, fully paid up to
the vendor, and 20,000 shares have already been
applied for by private speculators.
“COLONEL E. S. SLOANE, of Brooklyn, Chairman of
the Roughbespie Central Railway.
“GENERAL CHALKER, U.S.A.
“LORD AUGUSTUS BERRYTON, St. Stephen’s Club, London.
“JAY FARMER (Jay Farmer, Schmidt, and Co., (New York).
“JUDGE BARRETT, of Canaan City, N.Y.
“COLONEL CHARLES FOTHERINGAY, of Fotheringay Hall,
Devonshire, England, and Prospect Mansion, Brooklyn, who, as
vendor, will join the Board on completion of the purchase.
“BANKERS: SCHMIDT BROTHERS AND CO., Wall-street, New York.
“BROKER: EMMANUEL CHALKER, 113, Wall-street.
“ENGINEER AND ASSAYER: KYRLE MELVIN, F.R.G.S., England.
“TEMPORARY OFFICES: 120, Confederation-square.’
Having read thus far, Fotheringay quietly winked at the Colonel; then his face grew grave, and he remarked thoughtfully:
“I don’t like mines, old man. I wish you’d stick to railways.”
“You mind your own business,” growled his companion. “Read on.”
Fotheringay continued, this time aloud.
“DESCRIPTION OF THE MINES.
“The mines are situated at Speranza, in the State of Silverado, and comprise two distinct mines already explored, the South Speranza Mine, and the Belvoir Mine. But the property extends to fully five thousand acres, and the right over the main lode extends for miles.
“As the lode is practically inexhaustible, and the present capital of the company limited in amount, it is only proposed at present to put one mine, the South Speranza, in working order. Concerning this mine, the distinguished engineer, Mr. Kyrle Melvin, who was specially instructed to make a report, writes as follows:
“‘Samples which I broke, and which were assayed by Mr. James Schmidt, gave silver 720 dollars and gold 250 dollars per ton. The average bulk of quartz containing mineral may be set down roughly at an average of 300 dollars per ton—’”
Fotheringay stopped again, and smiled.
“But I thought Melvin had not visited the place yet?—indeed he said so!”
“Then he said wrong,” returned Sloane; adding dryly, “and that’s what he has to report!”
The young man read on:
“With regard to the water supply, it is estimated that the River Ohemsziana, which is directly available, yields close upon 2,000 h.p.
“It is calculated that the South Speranza mine alone will yield between 60 and 70 per cent. on the capital invested; in addition to which must be added the profit of the other mine and the unopened territory, which will be opened up as assets increase and time advances. The price to be paid for this property is only 250,000 dollars, two-thirds of which the vendor, Colonel Fotheringay is willing to receive in fully paid up shares, the other third in cash—in accordance with the rules of the New York Stock Exchange, which will be asked to supply a special quotation for this company:
“Prospectuses, with full details, and forms of application, can be had at the offices of the company, 120, Confederation-square, of the broker, and of the Bankers aforesaid.”
Fotheringay folded up the paper, and handed it back to Colonel Sloane.
“Well?” said the latter, eyeing him keenly.
“It reads prettily. The style is a little flowery, too much so to be your own.”
“It ain’t. I’ll get you to look it through, and touch up the grammar. Now you know what’s going to be done, what do you think of it?”
“I think,” replied Fotheringay, curtly, “that it’s a gigantic swindle.”
“Nonsense. You yourself discovered the mines, and I enabled you to buy them—nominally—dirt cheap. It’s all perfectly simple. I told you I’d make your fortune, and I’ve kept my promise.”
The young man’s brow darkened, and he walked quickly up and down the room several times; finally he paused and faced his friend.
“One-third of 250,000 dollars is about 80,000 dollars, say in pounds sterling, 16,000,” he said. “How much of that am I to receive as my share?”
“Three thousand pounds cash—more by-and-bye.”
“Do you pocket the rest, old man?”
“There are others to square besides myself. Three thousand pounds is a fortune to a beggar like you.”
“True, I am a beggar, but I am—ah—the vendor!”
“Are you? I’ll tell you what you are—you’re Mr. Ornamental, I’m plain Mr. Useful.”
“Arcades ambo, I should say!”
“Precious scamps both, Colonel. I was an innocent child of nature before I met with you. My only idea of a railway was a rapid means of communication purchasable by ticket. My conception of a mine was a dark hole in the earth, where unwashed persons dug up solid gold and diamonds. I am wiser now. I know what a railway really is. Now you’re teaching me the nature of a mine.”
“Don’t be a fool, Fotheringay!”
“A mine, I perceive, is a piece of land in an unknown territory, where once upon a time some foolish men sank a shaft and sought for precious metals, then died despairing, having found about sixpennyworth of tinsel to the square ton.”
“The gold’s there, I tell you,” cried the Colonel; “so’s the silver!”
“So are the bones of the first diggers. Well, there’s no help for it. I’ve gone too far in this business to draw back now. You may issue your prospectus when you please—I’m ready!”
The two men talked together for some minutes, then Fotheringay sallied forth in all his splendour, and mounted his buggy, amid the admiration of numerous bystanders. The Colonel joined his daughter upstairs, and found her in conversation with Mr. Kyrle Melvin.
The next day was the race day at Park. Colonel Sloane and Angela, accompanied by the engineer, drove over in a two-horse carriage, and found all the wealth and fashion of Long Branch assembled on the stand. It would have been a pleasant treat for Angela, had she not been annoyed by the pertinacious admiration of Mr. Melvin, for whom she had a great dislike.
Suddenly, in the midst of the throng, when the excitement was at its highest, she started and uttered an exclamation. Standing up in a carriage, with an elderly gentleman by her side, was a lady fashionably attired in white silk, with hat and parasol to match. At a glance she recognised her old schoolfellow, Isabel Raymond.
Presently their eyes met, but in Isabel’s there was no light of recognition. Angela waved her parasol, but still there was no response.
“Oh, papa! it is Isabel Raymond!”
“Who’s she?” asked the Colonel, rather vacantly, for he had staked heavily on the race then starting, and was eagerly watching the horses.
“She was at Sunbury, papa. If I could only get near to her! but it is impossible through the crowd.”
“Let me try,” suggested Melvin. “I will take her a message—I will tell her you are here.”
“If you would!”
“Sure I will,” answered the Irishman; and the next moment he was working his way towards the carriage.
It was not easy to pass, for everyone was a tip-toe watching the race; but at last Angela saw him get close to her friend, cling on to the side of the vehicle, and address her. Then he pointed towards Angela, and Miss Raymond, following the direction of his finger, met Angela’s eyes and grew radiant with delight.
When the race was over, Melvin worked his way back through the throng.
“She’s staying at the Ocean House. She wants you to call there as soon as you can,” he explained as he rejoined his party.
Angela thanked him, and kissed her hand again and again to her schoolfellow, who smilingly responded.
“Is it Miss Raymond of Baltimore?” asked the Colonel suddenly.
“I think so—I know she is very rich.”
“Why did you never tell me about her, Angy? I didn’t know you were acquainted. Well, never mind; she’s worth knowing, at any rate, and after you’ve called upon her once, I’ll get you to introduce me. She’s not bad-looking neither!” he added, looking at her through his field-glass.
“Oh, papa, she is beautiful!” cried Angela, full of rapturous love and admiration.
Early the next morning Angela walked alone to the Ocean House, and inquired for Miss Raymond. She was shown into one of the great public rooms, where she found her friend at breakfast, in company with General Collier, her guardian, and his wife, an elderly lady in spectacles. The two girls exchanged an affectionate greeting, and Isabel introduced her companions.
After a short general conversation, Isabel and Angela retired upstairs together.
A Hero In Spite Of Himself
continued (Chapter 6 to 13)