Fiction - A Hero In Spite Of Himself (3)
ANGELA AND ISABEL.
The moment the two girls found themselves alone, they fell to hugging one another, as is the custom of young ladies; then Angela, being the weaker of the two, began to cry. Her friend looked rather gravely, with those large dark eyes of hers, and kissed away her tears.
“My dearest Angela!” she said, “aren’t you glad to see me?”
“Glad!” echoed Angela reproachfully. “Can you ask it, Isabel? Yesterday, when I couldn’t give you one embrace because all those stupid people were looking, I thought my heart would have broken!”
“But why do you cry, love?”
“Because I’m so happy to be with you again, and—yes—I am overjoyed at being able to say so without the fear of being checked. I am not allowed the luxury of being emotional now, dear. Papa says it’s girlish stupidity. I am afraid,” she added, while the tears welled up in her eyes again, “he only thinks that because he does not care for me as other fathers care for their children.”
“Is he not kind to you?” asked Isabel, frowning.
“Oh yes, dear, he is very, very kind,” said Angela, hastening to excuse him; “he does not understand, that is all. You see I was always away from him, and when he took me away from Miss Romney’s and brought me to America three years ago, we were little better than strangers.”
Thus Angela continued, answering the questions which were cunningly put by her friend, until Isabel was pretty well aware of how matters had progressed with her friend since that time three years before when they had both said farewell to Miss Romney’s seminary.
When the catechising was over, Isabel reviewed matters carefully, and came to these conclusions:
Firstly, that Angela was miserable on account of the want of sympathy between herself and her father; indeed, upon the Colonel Isabel was mentally very severe, for, despite all Angela’s care to shield him, she was quite convinced that he had no love for his daughter, and made no attempt to mince the matter.
Secondly, partly through this lack of love on the father’s part, Angela was to be forced into a marriage of convenience.
Thirdly, the poor child had most assuredly added to her troubles by—falling in love!
“Who is he?” asked Isabel abruptly.
“Yes; that most fortunate, or unfortunate he—the one you would like to marry, dear!”
“He is an artist.”
“I am afraid he is—very!”
“Ah, I thought so. Miss Romney said you were improvident, and she was evidently right. But do you know, Angela dearest, I like you all the better for it. I hate fortune-hunters. I am glad you have made me your confidant, for I mean to help you as much as ever I can.”
“You will? Oh, Isabel!”
“There, don’t thank me, dearest, I am the debtor, not you. I wanted something to do, and I have found it. We will outwit these cowards, and you shall be as happy as your dear little heart can wish!”
Again the girls fell to embracing one another; then Angela’s heart smote her. How selfish she had been! her own troubles had so engrossed her, she had completely forgotten to ask about her dear friend.
“You might be married for all I know,” said Angela, gently.
“No, I am not married,” returned Isabel. In a moment her whole manner changed; all the light of laughter died out of her eyes, and her face became thoughtful and troubled.
“Or likely to be?” pursued Angela. Her friend’s reply was a curious one.
“How long is it since we left Sunbury—three years, isn’t it?”
“Yes, dear; three years this fall. Just fancy you remaining unmarried for three years, and with all your money! Why, I am sure you might have married anybody!”
Isabel laughed carelessly.
“Quite right, dear,” she replied, “my money would have brought me half-a-dozen husbands, but I am afraid they would all have been dear at the price.”
After a little more conversation, the two girls, at Isabel’s suggestion, descended the stairs, passed through a sumptuously-furnished room, and stepped out on to a balcony. It was a good-sized structure, and as sumptuously fitted up as the room, being shaded by an awning, covered with a thick carpet, and furnished with lounge chairs and gipsy tables, bearing vases filled with choice flowers. Isabel threw herself into a low seat, and invited her friend to do the same; then she touched a hand-bell which stood near, and ordered some coffee. When it came the girls sipped it, chatted, and watched the passers-by.
The balcony in which they sat immediately overlooked the Grand Parade, which at that hour was crowded with the elite of Long Branch. Young ladies in faultless costumes, their heads shaded from the scorching heat by daintily-trimmed parasols, paraded up and down the pathway, while every description of vehicle blocked the road. Isabel, whose acquaintance was large, smiled and nodded as her friends passed by.
Suddenly, in the midst of all this, she started, trembled, and grew as white as death.
The explanation of her sudden change of manner was simple. A small but most elegantly built buggy, containing a gentleman and a tiger, and drawn by a pair of thoroughbreds running tandem, made its appearance amongst the vehicles on the Parade.
The gentleman who was driving seemed to be the observed of all observers, and as the buggy passed the balcony where the two girls sat, his eye fell upon Angela. She smiled and bowed; he smiled and lifted his hat; then the buggy had passed on with the stream.
Angela turned to her friend, “Why, Isabel dearest, what is the matter?” she said. “Aren’t you well?”
“Yes, I am quite well,” returned Isabel, making a strong effort to recover herself. “Who was that gentleman you bowed to Angela?”
“A friend of papa’s—don’t you know him?”
“No; that is, I don’t think so. I fancied for a moment I recognised the face, but it cannot be the same. What is his name, dear?”
“Fotheringay?” repeated Isabel. “Is he rich Angela dear?”
“Yes, I think so—immensely.”
“And he is a friend of your father, you say. Tell me more about him, dear!”
“Well, I don’t know very much,” returned Angela. “He has known papa for some time. I fancy they do business together.”
“And has he always been as he is now—rich, I mean?”
“Oh, dear, no; when I first saw him he was quite poor, then he suddenly became what you see. He had a fortune left him, I think, then he went into business with papa, and became richer than ever. You would like him, dear; he is so nice and gay. Why not come and be introduced; he is nearly always at our hotel!”
“No, no,” returned Isabel, hurriedly; “I have had enough of fortune hunting men!”
“But this one has a fortune!”
“Therefore he doesn’t want me. And, Angela, dear, when you see the Colonel again, don’t say anything about my stupid surprise this afternoon. I would rather not have my former friend’s name mentioned, above all to him.”
“Very well, dear, I won’t.”
A promise, alas, very soon to be broken.
A few hours later Angela had taken leave of her friend, and was walking back to her hotel, when whom should she meet but Colonel Fotheringay. He too was walking. As he saw Angela he approached her and politely lifted his hat.
“Good evening, Miss Sloane. May I ask if you are going home?”
Angela replied that she was.
“And without an escort,” continued the Colonel. “Might I have the extreme happiness of walking with you as far as the door of the hotel?”
“Certainly,” replied Angela, “I shall be very pleased.”
The two walked along together. After a little trivial conversation the Colonel remarked airily:
“Rather a pretty girl I saw with you in the balcony this afternoon. Is she a Yankee?”
“No; she is an English girl. We used to be together at Miss Romney’s at Sunbury. Until yesterday I had not seen her for three years!”
“And her name is—?”
“Isabel Raymond. . . She saw you this afternoon as you drove past, and I thought she knew you. Afterwards she said you were very much like a gentleman whom she used to know.”
Then, when it was too late, Angela suddenly remembered her promise and became conscience-stricken.
“Colonel Fotheringay,” she said, “Miss Raymond made me promise not to mention this to you; I hope she will never know —”
“Have no fear,” returned the Colonel, courteously, “Your secret is safe with me!”
“WILL YOU KEEP YOUR PROMISE?”
In the Ocean House, which was patronised by Miss Raymond and her guardians, that young lady had an elegant suite of apartments set aside for her own private use. To these rooms, immediately on the departure of her friend, Miss Raymond repaired; and announced to her maid that she intended remaining alone for the rest of the evening. Having thus secured her solitude, she sat down by the open window and began to think.
“So the three years have come and gone,” she said to herself, “and the waves of fortune have evidently washed some prizes towards him. Immensely rich! and Colonel Fotheringay! Well, he said he would either become a hero or nothing? I wonder if he is a hero?”
Those three years which had come and gone had done as much in their way for Miss Raymond as they had done for Colonel Fotheringay. She was quite shrewd enough to know that, except in romances, a man who has been a drunkard and a ne’er-do-well, does not make an immense fortune and become a distinguished colonel in three years. Still, on the other hand, it might be as Angela had said, he might have inherited his fortune; but to have become a colonel! that was another matter.
Then Isabel’s thoughts took another turn. Where was the use, she asked herself, of thinking about him at all, since he had evidently ceased to think of her? Had it not been so, he would have sought her out long ago, to claim the promise which she had given him in the old days at Sunbury. She had kept her word and waited—from caprice at first, and afterwards from some deeper feeling; for as time passed on and she saw more of men and things, the memory of those days grew dearer to her; and Charles Fotheringay, the out-at-elbow ne’er-do-well, became in her eyes a divinity.
“If he was not exactly a good man then,” she had said to herself again and again, “I am sure he will become one, for my sake!”
Now, alas, the awakening had come, and Isabel, dropping a few tears over the past, acknowledged to herself, sorrowfully and regretfully, that Charles Fotheringay must be dethroned. “Money has changed him,” she said. “Ah! how I begin to hate the very name of it; through it I cannot accept either friendship or love; through it the one bright memory of my life has faded away!”
Meanwhile the object of her reflections was going through a retrospection as troubled as her own.
The sudden knowledge of Miss Raymond’s presence in Long Branch brought to him as much sorrow as joy. Not that he had forgotten his early romance, or had ceased to have a feeling of interest for the young lady who had inspired it. True, during three years which had passed, he, dazed and stupefied by the vortex into which he had been plunged, had practically forgotten that such a person as Isabel Raymond existed, yet there were moments when the picture of her grave, sweet face came back to him, and made him feel the misery and degradation of all he was going through. These thoughts were ephemeral. “After all,” he reflected, “what does it all matter. She knows I am a worthless fellow, and long before the expiration of those three years she will have forgotten me.” But now the awakening had come to him. The three years had come and gone, and she was still Isabel Raymond, waiting, perhaps, for him to keep his word.
“And what am I?” he said; “as unworthy of her now as I was the day that promise was given. Well, there’s one thing I can do and will do. I won’t draw her into the stream. She shall know me for the worthless fellow I am, and avoid me.”
His plan was a simple one. He merely resolved to do nothing, that is, to make no attempt to call upon the lady, or to remind her of the promise which she had given him.
“That will be enough,” he said; “she’ll marry some other fellow, worthy of her; and my conscience will be clear.”
His plans, however, were premature. The next morning, as he was sitting at a late breakfast, Colonel Sloane was announced. He came in radiant, as usual, was obsequiously polite to Fotheringay before the servants; but when they had retired, and he had locked the door, his manner changed.
“Now then, Fotheringay,” he said, “I’ve got some work for you; and if it turns out well it may be the saving of us. I’ve discovered an heiress!”
“Really!” returned Fotheringay; “and what are you going to do with her, Colonel—marry her?”
“Marry her be d——,” said the Colonel, irritated by the other’s lazy manner. “I want her money, not her, and she’s got enough of it, if I’ve heard rightly to make the fortunes of half-a-dozen. She came of age three months ago, and has complete control over every penny. All we have to do, is to get influence over her, and the thing is done!”
“Most profoundly thought out,” returned Fotheringay airily. “Have you reflected how the last part of the programme is to be managed?”
“Nothing easier. She’s a dear friend of Angy’s already. You will be introduced, and she will become a dear friend of yours. You make her believe in you, and then, when the time is ripe, you present your prospectus; and she, seeing you have a large stake in it, takes your word and stakes too. Do you understand?”
“I fancy I do! The lady’s name is—?”
“Miss Isabel Raymond.—She was at school with Angy down at Sunbury, and they renewed their acquaintance yesterday. Of course Angy knows nothing of our affairs, but in this case her innocence makes her all the more useful. Miss Raymond will tell her things she wouldn’t tell us. And I can pump Angy. Now then, when will you make the acquaintance of the lady and begin?”
“Never!” said Fotheringay, with sudden vehemence.
“What the devil do you mean?”
“What I say! don’t agitate yourself, old fellow, it’s all right; I’ve an objection to ladies, that’s all: they affect the nerves and upset the constitution. Give me a man to swindle and I’m with you; but a lady—well, she wouldn’t agree with my moral digestion, Colonel, everything would go wrong!”
The Colonel looked at him keenly. “You take me for a fool, Fotheringay, but I ain’t. There’s a something else in this. Do you know Miss Raymond?”
“I had,” returned Fotheringay, airily, “what is termed a bowing acquaintance with her three years ago!”
“Ah! now we’re coming to it!”
“We met once or twice quite casually on the river bank at Sunbury. Miss Raymond interested me; and without appearing egotistical, I think I may say that the lady was good enough to show some little interest in me. At any rate she gave me some good advice. Afterwards we parted, and have never met since. Voila tout!”
“I see,” observed the Colonel; “it was a love affair!”
“Quite wrong, my dear Colonel. Remember the lady was rich, while I—”
“Were not what you are now, certainly. Well, thanks to me, you can now approach her in a very different spirit; and you shall.”
“What! do you want me to marry her?”
“Certainly, if possible, and the sooner the better. But you can please yourself about the date.”
Fotheringay rose with an air of great determination.
“Colonel,” he said, “understand once and for all that I decline to do anything which will implicate that lady!”
The Colonel looked steadily at him.
“Are you mad or drunk?”
“Neither; it is too early in the day for one, and too early in life for the other.”
“Now, don’t let me have any of your darned impudence. I say I’ve found money which will make us; and you shall be the instrument to get it.”
“And I say I’ll see you d— first!”
For some time there was silence; the Colonel knew his man. He took up his hat and gloves.
“In case you change your mind,” he said, “let me know in the morning. If you don’t write by ten I shall know what to do.”
“And that will be—?”
“Take the affair in hand myself. Since you’ve turned so darn’d sentimental I can put you on to something else. With Angy’s assistance I dare say I shall manage the business!”
Fotheringay seemed about to reply; suddenly he checked himself, and merely said:
“Au revoir, my dear fellow—till to-morrow, then!”
After the Colonel’s departure Fotheringay sat down to reflect. The result of his reflection was that he arrayed himself in his most becoming costume, and actually sallied forth to make a call upon Miss Raymond.
He found her at home. When his card was taken up Isabel was in her private sitting-room, alone. Her first impulse upon reading the name on the card was to repair to other rooms, and to receive him in the presence of her friends; her next to remain where she was. So Fotheringay was received by her alone.
Isabel held out her hand, but did not utter a word. Fotheringay took the hand, bowed over it, and said something which she was too much flurried to understand; then they sat down, and Fotheringay spoke.
“You see, my dear Miss Raymond,” he said, “I am a punctual man. I believe it was on this day three years ago that we parted. I then made you a promise. I have kept that promise, I now ask are you prepared to keep yours?”
“Really! Mr. Fotheringay, I do not understand you.”
“No? Then permit me to make my meaning clearer. If I remember rightly, I promised that in three years I would become a hero or—nothing—that I would, in fact, if I lived, try to become worthy of you! Whether or not I have succeeded I leave you to decide—meantime, I ask you to become my wife!”
There was silence.
“Isabel, what does this mean?—What do you reply?”
“Really, my dear young lady, I do not understand you—you gave me a promise.”
“And I have kept it. In those foolish days to which you allude, I promised, I think, to remain unmarried for three years. That promise I have kept. I did not undertake, if I remember, to marry a man of whose career I know absolutely nothing.”
“Then you refuse me?”
“I neither refuse nor accept you, Colonel Fotheringay. Before doing so I should like to talk to you about those past three years. They tell me you are rich?”
“And can you doubt the truth of the assertion. Look at my diamonds; you have seen my buggy; come, if you will, and inspect my apartments. Yes, I’m a swell!”
“It seems strange to be able to amass such wealth in three years; and with nothing to start from. How did you do it? Remember,” she added, seeing him hesitate, “you have given me a right to question you—you have asked me to become your wife!”
“My dear Miss Raymond,” said Fotheringay, assuming his old high-flown manner, “do not think for a moment that I question your right. How did I become rich? the answer is simple. During my early years an ill-fate pursued me. I met you, and the fact that I had awakened your divine compassion exorcised the evil spirit. From that day forth I became a changed man. I speculated, and always won. Losing my timidity, I passed from small speculations to great ones, and the result is—what you see!”
“And you are Colonel Fotheringay?”
“How did you become a colonel?”
“Eh?—why, ah, my dear Miss Raymond, how do people generally become Colonels?”
“By serving in the army, of course. Then I suppose you have not only found time to make a fortune, but to serve also?”
“Ah, where did you serve?”
For a moment he was taken aback; but he was too clever to be nonplussed.
“Where did I serve? Why, in Canada, in the 27th Canadian Rifles.”
“There is no 27th Canadian Rifles!”
“No?” replied Fotheringay, airily, “then I am mistaken, and it was not the 27th. But since that last engagement my memory for figures has been bad.
Well, suffice it to say, I served; got a quick promotion, and am now a free man. Colonel Fotheringay, whose fortune is placed at your feet. Will you take it—yes or no?”
Isabel looked at him gravely; she was pained and troubled at what she saw and heard. Her grave eyes, which during the interview had been watching him minutely, penetrated beneath that airy manner, and seemed to read the man’s very soul.
“Colonel Fotheringay,” she said quietly, “I must answer you as I did just now. I can neither say ‘yes’ nor ‘no.’ In the meantime, I should be pleased if you will allow me to be your friend.”
She extended her hand, and he took it.
“I may ask you again?”
She shrugged her shoulders.
“That will be as you please. In the meantime, remember I make no promise. I give you no encouragement to hope that we shall ever be more to each other than we are!”
That same evening, on reaching his rooms, Fotheringay wrote on a card “I accept,” and posted the card to Colonel Sloane.
The more Isabel thought of her old lover the less she liked him; or rather, the less she liked the idea of the people with whom he had become associated.
It was very hard for her, of course, to believe ill of the father of her dear friend Angela Sloane, yet it was strange that the mere mention of his name should cause her friends to look uneasy; but it was so. The first time that Isabel noticed this was one day when she sat at lunch with her guardian and his wife, General and Mrs. Collier. In general conversation she happened quite casually to mention Colonel Sloane’s name. Immediately her guardian turned to her and asked:
“Do you know him, Isabel?”
“Not in the least,” returned Isabel; “but I know his daughter. She is a sweet girl. She was at school with me at Sunbury.”
After this Isabel questioned General Collier, but he knew nothing—or professed to know nothing—whatever of Colonel Sloane. Yet for all that, there was an expression of mingled disgust and annoyance on his face whenever the Colonel’s name was mentioned, and he invariably contrived as soon as possible to change the subject.
“Do you know Colonel Fotheringay?” asked Isabel one day; and as she spoke she narrowly watched her guardian’s face. This time it did not change. He merely shook his head.
“Not at all,” he replied; “but he seems to be pretty well known here. They tell me he is a rich Englishman who is so lucky he succeeds in everything.”
After this Isabel pursued her inquiries no further; but she had already succeeded in arousing the curiosity of her friends. They watched her movements, and soon discovered that her most constant visitor was Angela Sloane.
Thereupon Mrs. Collier spoke as follows:
“My dear Isabel,” she said one evening, when the two were alone. “I fancy Colonel Sloane’s daughter comes here rather too often. If I were you I should see as little of that young lady as possible!”
“Why?” asked Isabel. “She is the most charming girl—”
“That may be; but I fancy she is not surrounded by charming people.”
“Indeed, Mrs. Collier, you know nothing about them—the General said as much.”
“Nothing personally; but the General particularly wishes that we shall not get mixed up with that party.”
“Very well,” returned Isabel, “I will not introduce Angela to you. She shall continue to visit me as she has always done, in my own rooms.”
—This compact was the more easily kept, since Angela evinced no desire whatever to be introduced to Isabel’s friends.
“Indeed, I am very glad,” she said one day, when Isabel said something about the General and Mrs. Collier being from home. “I would very much rather be with you alone, Isabel dearest. We can talk now about anything we like, whereas if Mrs. Collier were here, we would have to be so stiff and stupid. Indeed, as far as I am concerned, I hope she will be out pretty often.”
Thus it was very easy for Isabel to keep the promise she had made to her guardian’s wife.
One day, a few days after Isabel’s last conversation with Mrs. Collier, Angela arrived at the hotel, and was shown as usual to her friend’s private rooms.
“Dear Isabel,” she said, rushing into her friend’s arms, “I have got a request; I wonder if you will grant it?”
“Tell me what it is, Angy?”
“I want you to dine with me to-night. Only a family party—papa, Colonel Fotheringay, and Mr. Melvin. Now, Isabel, don’t hesitate. Papa is quite anxious to know you; do say you will come.”
“I—I can’t, dear!”
“I don’t know, I must think of it, that is. I must speak to Mrs. Collier, she may have made other arrangements for to- night. But I will let you know, dear!” she added, feeling very guilty as she looked at her crestfallen friend. Then she began to question Angela a little about her father and Fotheringay, but she soon found that Angela knew as little of the workings of their private life as the veriest stranger whom she might meet upon the road.
She sat for some time reflecting after her friend had left her. Then she sent a note to Colonel Sloane’s hotel.
“DEAREST ANGELA (she wrote)—
“Cannot possibly dine with you to-night. Come
and pay an early visit to your loving friend,
A ROVING ENGLISHMAN.
Simple and ingenuous as Angela Sloane was by disposition she was young woman enough to have a secret—that secret, of course, concerning one of the opposite sex. Residing in Long Branch at that very moment was a certain young Englishman, Jack Kelso by name, whom she had met casually in New York, and concerning whom, for reasons which I could only guess at, she had never spoken to her father.
Now, Jack Kelso would have puzzled any one who saw in him anything more than an exceedingly handsome and attractive young man. He was an Englishman, and had come out to the States, he said, to seek his fortune; but beyond painting a little, apparently for pleasure, he seemed to do no manner of work. Besides being a painter, he was a very clever mineralogist, and fond of collecting specimens, with what view it was not quite clear. He dressed well though rather roughly, and did not seem to want for money, though he earned little or none. In appearance he was like a sailor, bronzed, and weather-beaten, with auburn hair and British beard, and his hands were rough as if with hard work, which might be accounted for perhaps by the fact, of which he duly informed Miss Sloane, that he had worked his passage over before the mast.
But with all this, he was a gentleman, no doubt of that, both in manners and education. Be that as it may, no sooner did Angela set eyes upon his handsome face, than she fell head over ears in love with him; and he, in his bluff sailor-like way, responded.
The two had met frequently at Long Branch, at dances, on the beach, indoors and out, and always, I am bound to say, surreptitiously. The Colonel, as I have said, knew nothing of all this, for Angela hugged her secret with the tenacity so often possessed by such retiring natures.
Two days after the incident narrated in my last chapter, Mr. Jack Kelso was seated on a rock high up on a distant part of the beach, when he saw Angela approaching rapidly along the sands. It was a dark cloudy day, and she walked with her sunshade closed in her hand, her fair face delicately flushed with exercise and the sea breeze.
He ran up to her, holding out both hands.
“At last! I was afraid you were not coming at all.”
“I could not get away,” she replied. “Even when I did, Mr. Melvin, papa’s friend, wanted to accompany me.”
They walked along side by side; the sands were quite lonely at that hour.
“By the way,” said Jack, “I have found something. I wonder if it belongs to your father.”
As he spoke he handed her a piece of printed paper. It was a proof of the prospectus of the South Speranza Gold and Silver Mining Company, with some pencil corrections and remarks written on the margin in pencil. Now, these remarks were curious, being to the following effect: “A mine of wealth; or (?) misery.” “Perfectly simple—is this sweet simplicity shared by the public?” “Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, fifty thousand pounds; fifth for cat’s-paw.” And the extraordinary lines:
“O sæcl’ insipiens! ambo Arcades!
Five hundred thousand ... Geese? No, dollars, please!”
Angela looked at the paper in amazement.
“Oh, Jack, what is it?”
“Upon my word, Angy, I don’t know!”
You see, they had got to the length of “Angy” and “Jack” long before this meeting.
“I think,” suggested Jack, “it belongs to your father. Will you return it to him?”
“Oh, Jack, I can’t. He’d ask me where I found it, and then—”
She paused, blushing crimson.
“You can tell him you picked it up, as I did, on the public road. Are the remarks in the Colonel’s handwriting?”
“But his name, you see, is on the prospectus. I suppose it’s some ‘good thing’ in which he is concerned.”
“Very likely,” returned Angela, carelessly. “He is always in speculations that I know nothing about.”
“Yes,” returned Kelso; “I wish he wasn’t.”
“You wish papa wasn’t in speculations?” said Angela.
“Well, that’s very foolish of you, Jack,” continued Angela, reprovingly, “because it is by speculations that men make money. And I want papa to grow rich—ever so rich,” she added, opening her eyes their widest; “as rich as Miss Raymond the heiress!”
“Why, Angy,” said the young man watching her gravely, “I had no idea you were so fond of money!”
“Ah, but I am though,” said Angela; “ever so fond of it. I don’t like money for money’s sake,” she continued, as if trying to excuse herself; “but it gives one such power, doesn’t it, Jack? With it one can do whatever one likes.”
This time Jack did not reply. He was regarding her very strangely.
Angela too seemed thoughtful. Suddenly she gave a prodigious start, and seized his arm.
“Walk on,” she said hurriedly, “or let me hide. Oh, do, do something, please Jack!”
During their conversation the two had left the beach together, and were now strolling idly along the road. Angela’s eyes had been carelessly fixed before her, when suddenly they had fallen upon the object which caused her such alarm. It was Fotheringay’s splendid buggy, which was advancing rapidly towards them, driven by none other than Colonel Fotheringay himself.
“Jack!” cried Angela in despair, “he must not see me with you; if he does he will be sure to tell papa, and then I don’t know what will happen to me!”
“My dear Angy,” he said, “don’t excite yourself but just drop behind a few yards, or I will. How is he to know we have ever met? Hullo!” he added, “what’s the matter? The buggy doesn’t seem to be coming on!”
And he was right; the buggy, in fact, had very nearly been overturned. Kelso looked, but all he could see was that the two horses, which had been running “tandem,” had, I some mysterious way, got muddled up together; and having taken fright at the novelty of the situation, had commenced kicking, plunging, and rearing, to the imminent danger of the bystanders and of Fotheringay himself, who, white as death, kept his seat, trying in vain to master the restive brutes, while beside him was the small tiger, clinging on to the buggy with all his might, and uttering heartrending cries.
Had the situation been less perilous, Kelso would have laughed. It was very curious to note the utter helplessness both of Fotheringay and his diminutive servant, while the bystanders, who expected every minute to see the buggy overturned and the occupants have their brains dashed out by the restive horses, never made the slightest attempt to go to their assistance.
“Oh, Jack, they’ll be killed!” cried Angela.
In a moment Jack was off; quick as lightning he was through the crowd, and the next moment he had got the leader free; had brought both horses to their normal state of tranquillity, and was quietly buckling the leader to the buggy.
“Don’t disturb yourself,” he said to Fotheringay, who was about to descend; “they are all right now.”
“Thank you, my friend, thank you,” said Fotheringay, grandly, after he had taken a look at the person who had certainly saved his life. “May I—ha—ask your name?”
Fotheringay produced his eye-glass and looked at him again. Kelso’s appearance evidently satisfied him, for he immediately produced a resplendent card-case and handed him a card.
“That, sir,” he said loftily, “is my name and address. If you care to call upon me, I—ha—shall be pleased to see you. If at any time you think I can do you a service, command me. From this day I am your debtor. Good day!”
The buggy drove off, leaving Kelso standing in the road with the card in his hand. He looked at it and read—
At this he gave vent to a long, low whistle, which was interrupted by Angela, who came up panting and very white.
“Oh, Jack!” she cried, “I thought you were killed?”
“Not a bit of it,” he answered, laughing. Then he looked at the card again.
“What did he give you that for?” asked Angela, pointing to the card.
“He asked me to call upon him!”
“And shall you?”
“Yes, I think I shall. He is a man I want very much to know!”
Angela looked uneasy.
“Don’t be afraid, Angy,” he said, noting the look. “I shan’t say anything about our meetings. Perhaps the Colonel may be got to introduce us; who knows?”
The two walked on together for some little distance chatting merrily as they went; then Angela paused and held forth her hand.
“You mustn’t come any further, Jack,” she said. “Good-bye.”
He took her hand, gave it a hearty squeeze, then suddenly he remembered the annotated prospectus which he had found, and produced it from the depth of his waistcoat pocket.
“You had better give this to your father, Angy!”
“Indeed, no, Jack, I can’t. You must keep it. I am a wretchedly bad one at telling a fib, papa would be sure to find out all about us the moment I spoke.”
“All right, then; if he ever does want it, you’ll know where to find it!”
He folded the paper, and returned it to his waistcoat pocket; then he squeezed her hand again, and they started to pursue their different ways.
Suddenly Angela ran back.
“Where do you live?”
“Eh? What a question!”
“What is the name of your ‘shanty,’ as you call it. That is, if I wanted to write a letter to you, what address should I put?”
“But you never do write.”
“It’s never too late to mend, sir. But seriously, Jack, I must know. I may have to write to you. I may want to see you at a moment’s notice; so I want to know where you will be.”
“Why Angy, what’s going to happen?”
“Can’t say, I’m sure,” returned Angela, “but a thousand things might happen, and I want to be prepared. Now give me your address, please; and go!”
He did as he was commanded, and again they separated, Angela nodding and smiling to him from beneath the shade of her parasol as she went along.
Passing through Long Branch, and walking inland, Jack Kelso passed along the banks of the Shrewsbury River, until he came in sight of Pleasure Bay, on the river side. Here, in a small one-storied cottage, standing apart from the hotels, he had taken unpretentious lodgings. The river, covered with yachts, small boats, and fishing cobles, flowed before the door, in front of which there was a piece of green sward and a wooden seat.
‘Twenty minutes’ smart walking brought him to this quiet retreat. The door of the cottage was open, and he walked straight into a large sitting-room, plainly furnished in the manner of amphibious lodging-houses, but containing, in addition to its ordinary furniture, an easel, on which was an unfinished landscape, paints and brushes, a number of books, and divers mineralogical specimens, some in boxes made for the purpose, others on the table and the mantelpiece.
Seated in this room was a young man, reading. He was short, snub-featured, and rather common-looking; indeed, much more like a gentleman’s servant than a gentleman, and more like a country groom than either.
He rose up as Kelso entered, and placed his book down on the table.
“Hullo, Luke!” said Kelso, with a careless nod. “Any letters?”
“No, my lord,” was the curious reply; but no sooner was it uttered than the speaker, stammering, grinning and flushing, added, “Beg pardon, I didn’t mean it, my—Mr. Kelso!”
Kelso walked over to the young man, and took him by the shoulders.
“Now look here! Do you remember our compact? In case you don’t, I’ll remind you. If ever that expression slipped out of your mouth in addressing me, I was to give you a hiding; and if you don’t care, I will!”
“It’s habit, that’s what it is, sir. You came upon me sudden, and I forgot.”
“Very well, take care in future. You are Luke Stafford, I am Jack Kelso. We worked our passage over together, didn’t we?”
“Yes, sir,” answered Luke, rather lugubriously.
“And don’t ‘sir’ me!” thundered Kelso. “Call me Kelso, or Jack!”
“I can’t do it, sir, I can’t, indeed!” cried the other feebly. “It don’t come nateral. I’ll do anything you like—live with you, sit at table with you, though it goes against my stomach; but I can’t be so orful familiar! I wish you wouldn’t ask me!”
“What a mean spirit you have, Luke!” said Kelso, laughing. “Can’t you accept the position I offer you, like a man?”
“I try my best, sir, and you’re very kind.”
“Well, keep a close tongue in your head at any rate, and remember that, for the present, we are friends and companions.” As he spoke, Kelso threw himself on a sofa, and continued, lying at full length, “Now, I’ve got some work for you. There is a certain Colonel Sloane staying at Washington House with his daughter, and a close friend of theirs is a man called Mr. Kyrle Melvin. Make a note of these names. Good. I want you, until further notice, to watch these people, especially Melvin, and to report to me all their doings; what people they meet and are intimate with; how long they are going to stay here; what the hotel servants and hoc genus omne think about them; in short, every thing you can pick up in any quarter. Do you understand?”
“Very well, Mr. Kelso,” said Luke, respectfully. “Am I—to watch the young lady too?”
“No; leave her to me; confine yourself to her father and his friend. Don’t be afraid of spending a few pounds. You are constitutionally stingy, Luke, even with your master’s money.”
Luke smiled; a rather hard, tenacious smile was his, very characteristic of the man. Looked at closely, he was seen to possess close set lips, a sharp determined chin, cheeks somewhat puckered, and small soft eyes. He had a good, though not intellectual forehead, high and narrow. He was about five-and-twenty years of age.
His manner towards Kelso was more than respectful; it might be described as sympathetic. In point of fact, though these two men were widely separated in station, they had been brought up together, in more or less intimate relationship, since boyhood. More than this it would be premature to say concerning them; as my tale advances the reader will be better informed concerning their antecedents.
Luke moved to the door, and stood with his hand on the knob thereof. In this attitude he looked more of a gentleman’s servant, and less of a gentleman than ever.
“When am I to begin, if you please?”
“At once,” replied Kelso; “you had better go over this very afternoon.”
The next morning Jack Kelso called upon his compatriot.
He found him seated in a gorgeous private room overlooking the sea, with a table before him covered with books, papers, and sketches. He wore a resplendent dressing-gown and smoking-cap, and positively sparkled with diamonds, one of which, of great size, blazed in his snowy shirt-front. He looked pale and careworn, but handsome as ever.
He received his new friend very graciously, but with the same air of lofty patronage—which Jack took good humouredly enough.
“You find me busy as usual,” he observed, waving his hand to the table. “Nature meant me for a poet, but cruel Fate has turned me into a financier! But pray sit down and make yourself comfortable. I am delighted to resume our acquaintance, begun so auspiciously—for me.”
“Looks like Lord Byron,” thought Jack, “down to the shirt collar.” He said aloud: “Hope the mare is none the worse, Colonel?”
“I think not—my groom reports favourably. I should not like to lose her—she cost me seven hundred dollars.”
“Dear,” remarked Jack dryly, adding to himself: “A crammer—the mare would be dear at fifty sovereigns;” and from that moment he was on the alert for falsehoods.
“May I ask, if you have been long in America?” said Fotheringay.
“Rather less than a year.”
“A visit of pleasure, I presume?”
“Well, not exactly; I came over to seek my fortune, for you must know I am a very poor man, and an artist by profession.”
“Ah, an artist!” cried the great man loftily, in a tone which plainly implied the unspoken addition, “Poor devil!”
“At the same time, I have a small sum of money which I think of putting into some good investment. Railroads, for example; or mines.”
Fotheringay started. He was thinking of the South Speranza Gold Mining Company.
“And I have been thinking this morning,” Kelso continued, “that you of all men can best advise me as to the investment of my little capital. You yourself have been very fortunate; everything you touch turning into gold. I wish I could discover the secret of your wonderful success.”
“It is simple, my dear sir; the secret is—audacity, indifference to loss. I select a card blindfold, any card; in nine cases out of ten it turns out a trump. Not that I should advise you to adopt my plan. It only does with a man who has nothing to lo—hem—nothing to fear, and who has inexhaustible resources.”
Their eyes met, and Kelso’s eyes twinkled. To tell the truth, he was rather taken, and not a little amused, with my jaunty hero, who, out of sheer high spirits, was often on the brink of a blunder. But he did not fail to notice, either, that the high spirits were somewhat superficial; that the man was nervously alert, morbidly watchful, and somewhat troubled in his mind.
Colonel Fotheringay,” he said, determined to try him further, “I did you a slight service yesterday.”
“A great one! I’m inclined to think you saved my neck from being broken, and—”
“Well, then, in return, counsel me honestly about my little capital.”
Fotheringay shifted uneasily in his chair.
“I wish you wouldn’t ask me. I make a point of—ah—never advising anybody!”
“Isn’t that rather selfish, Colonel? Come now, you must know some good things. Railway securities, for example!”
“Don’t touch them,” cried Fotheringay. “They go up like a rocket, and down like a stick.”
“Mines, my dear boy, should only be touched by people with enormous resources. Gold mines as a rule contain about a penn’orth of ore to the ton of quartz, and silver mines are usually—electro-plated. People talk about a mine of wealth; they should say, of misery. Mines, in fact, exist on the sweet simplicity of the public.”
It was now Kelso’s turn to be surprised; for Fotheringay in one breath had made two quotations from the pencil comments on the prospectus of the Speranza Mining Company, which prospectus he (Kelso) still carried in his pocket.
“Between ourselves, Colonel,” he said quietly, “I have heard whispers of a certain splendid speculation, shortly to be floated, concerning some mines in Silverado, in which you yourself have a direct personal interest. I am afraid you are not quite frank with me, and are reserving all the chances for yourself and dearer friends, such as Colonel Sloane.”
Fotheringay’s uneasiness had greatly increased.
“Do you know Sloane?” he asked eagerly.
“No; but I know somebody who has promised me an introduction. A good fellow, isn’t he, and a man worth consulting?”
“Sloane is a rough diamond,” was the rather ambiguous reply.
“Just so—rough but honest. If you can’t advise me, perhaps he can; so I’ll present my introduction at once.”
Fotheringay was undergoing a violent internal struggle—divided between loyalty to his older friend, and anxiety to save his new acquaintance from that old friend’s clutches. At last conscience gave the victory to honesty, and he said ingenuously:
“Promise me one thing—that you’ll consult me again first, before you try Sloane. I’ll—I’ll do my best for you, but the fact is, I don’t approve of poor men speculating. Why, sir, you might be ruined, if things went wrong!”
“I have implicit confidence,” said Kelso, “in following your lead. Luck never loses! By-the-bye, do you know Miss Sloane?”
“Certainly—a charming girl.”
“Who is that fellow Melvin, whom her father wants her to marry?”
“Melvin, I should say, is an adventurer,” replied Fotheringay, grandly; “a lurching, evil-eyed, soft-spoken rogue, with the soul of a head centre.”
“He’s the engineer of your new company,” said Kelso, smiling.
“Is he? Who told you that?”
“I heard it.”
“Well, he is a very clever engineer,” returned the other, not the least abashed; “but personally, a prig. I’m sure the Colonel would never consent to his having his daughter.”
“People say he’s bent upon the match,” said Kelso, rising to go. “Well, I don’t detain you longer, as you’re so busy.”
They shook hands. To Fotheringay’s astonishment, Kelso held his hand as in a vice, and looked him steadily in the face.
“Colonel Fotheringay, you have been tolerably frank with me—may I return the compliment?”
“Certainly. What is it?”
“You drive spirited horses, and will break your neck some day if you don’t take care.”
“What do you mean?” cried our hero, nervously, for he suspected a metaphor.
“Yesterday you got into trouble. That was a trifle. Some day your horses may bolt, or kick your trap to pieces. Believe me sincere, when I tell you that I should like to be of further assistance to you, for I believe you to be at heart a good fellow, though a reckless driver.”
So saying, Jack Kelso departed, leaving Fotheringay extremely perplexed and troubled. Walking out of the Hotel, John Bull fashion, with his hands in his pockets, Kelso mused as follows:
“The affair is transparent—a rogue’s nest. This fellow Fotheringay was meant for better things, or I’m much mistaken. Poor Angy! I am sorriest of all for her, but I’ll save her if I can. Meantime I must wait a bit, and watch.”
A “HOP” AT THE OCEAN HOUSE.
Charles Fotheringay was by nature and instinct a comedian; in other words, he was somebody in the spirit acting the part of “Charles Fotheringay” in the flesh.
To people of strong common sense, practical, straightforward people, this will be scarcely conceivable, but it is nevertheless true. Now, to pursue the simile, he liked his part, and enjoyed all its humours; its very rascalities seemed a necessity of the business, and he never rightly realised that they were anything but a part of a very clever bit of acting. His cue was to astonish people by sheer impudence; he carried it out in real life as cleverly as the late Mr. Charles Mathews did upon the stage.
The first act of the comedy might have been entitled “Hard-up”; in it we have seen Charles Fotheringay seedy, shabby genteel, but tolerably happy, because he had only sins of omission on his conscience; we have seen him, too, under the influence of an attachment for a charming girl, of whom he was too honourable to take advantage. The second act we have passed over; it was occupied with his gradual progress in the confidence of Colonel Sloane, and his initiation into financial mysteries. The third act, a very important one, occupies us at present; we behold Charles Fotheringay successful, resplendent, audacious, and, at heart, supremely miserable.
For when the day’s performance was over and the actor was all alone, his reflections were not of a reassuring kind. The part “went” very well, but the business was not at all heroic. In his heart he despised money, though he loved its histrionic display; he detested villainy, though the villain’s part was amusing. He looked at himself quite as a spectator might do, laughed at his follies and foibles, and enjoyed his triumphs; but he was uneasy when he felt concerned in anything mean and disreputable.
“The character of a bogus capitalist,” he reflected, “doesn’t altogether suit me. I should feel more at home heading a forlorn hope or rescuing rural virtue from the heavy villain. If this goes on, I shall never become a hero. Far, far better to have remained a shabby walking gentleman, in love with the walking lady; poor but virtuous, and all that sort of thing. I’ve a good mind to chuck up the role altogether.”
This disgust with himself reached its culmination when he met Isabel Raymond again. Her honest truthful eyes abashed him, and he found it difficult to swagger through his part. Had she been a worldly girl, it would have been different; but he knew her to be unchanged—a noble and a pure-souled woman. Nevertheless, her beauty captivated him, and he felt that he could not bear to lose her. Shortly after their first re-meeting he called upon her again, and was introduced to her guardians, who received him with marked coldness. Next day, he met her on the promenade. They walked along side by side, conversing on general topics, and finally sat down on one of the seats. As they rested there, Colonel Sloane passed by, smiled, and lifted his hat.
“Isn’t that Colonel Sloane!” asked Isabel, looking after him. “I thought so. Angela tells me you and he are great friends.”
“Well, yes,” returned Fotheringay. “You see, we are mixed up in business transactions.”
“I have never spoken one word of it to poor Angy, but he doesn’t bear a very good character, does he?”
“He is what they call smart,” said the other with a faint smile. “Smart men abound in America, as you are aware.”
Isabel looked at him quietly, with a cloud upon her pretty face.
“Are you smart too?” she asked. “You must be, to have grown so rich, in so short a time.”
“Pure luck, my dear Isabel.”
“At any rate, you seem to have been fortunate. Are you as happy now as you were in the old days, when you were so poor?”
“I am perfectly happy,” he said, drawing nearer to her side, “when I am with you. For your sake, and for your sake only, I am glad to be as I am. I am not exactly a hero, but I am what is next best, a man of fortune. Once more, then, are you going to keep your promise?”
“I have told you before that my only promise was to wait. I have waited, as you see.”
“You used to care for me,” he said softly. “When I was a poor fellow, you led me to hope. Now that things are changed, are you changed too?”
She replied gently, with her eyes fixed upon the quiet sea:
“I am not changed, and I shall never change; but I am afraid. I think I should be almost better pleased if you were a poor man still.”
“Because I should.”
“A woman’s reason, which is no reason. Isabel, my darling, will you be my wife?”
“I don’t know—I cannot tell you yet. Before I answered I should like to know one thing—how you became rich.”
“Have I not told you?” he replied nervously. “By—ah—speculation. Of course, a young lady does not understand these matters. But being rich, and still adoring you, I place myself at your feet—metaphorically,” he added with a touch of his light comedy manner.
At this moment General Collier appeared in the distance, approaching along the parade.
“There is my guardian. He is looking for me.”
“Isabel, before he comes, one word. You are I know, your own mistress? You can decide, in this matter, for yourself.”
“Yes, and I will; but, as I said, not yet.”
“For God’s sake,” he whispered, “don’t throw me over!”
She looked at him again, with that truthful, penetrating gaze.
“Do you really love me?”
“You know I do! I have loved you all these years!”
“You would not deceive me in any way? You used to be frank and open. Are you so still?”
“Certainly,” he replied, not without hesitation. “I would not deceive you for the world.”
Up came the General, scowling at Fotheringay.
“Ah, here you are!” he cried to Isabel. “I’ve been looking for you. My wife is waiting for you to drive with her.”
“I will come,” replied Isabel. Then shaking hands with Fotheringay, she whispered, “Come to the ball at the Ocean House this evening. I shall be there.”
Fotheringay lifted his hat politely, and stood watching her as she sailed away on the General’s arm. Then his face darkened, and he sat down again, thinking.
“Charles Fotheringay,” he soliloquised silently, “you are a scoundrel. I could forgive you, sir, for humbugging society, but not that angel. How could you succeed in wearing the mask, when she looked into your face and asked if you were a hypocrite or a man of honour? You are positively a reptile. Te odi, et arceo. I have a devilish good mind to give you up!”
A hand was laid upon his shoulder, and looking up, he met the beaming face of his protector.
“That’s right!” cried the Colonel. “You’re getting along. I’m proud of you!”
Fotheringay immediately assumed his air of genteel dignity.
“Colonel,” he said, “I can’t return the compliment. You are a dem’d old Mephistopheles!”
“What’s the matter now?”
“Penitence is the matter; self-contempt is the matter. I was a good young man, once, when you first met me; I had never deceived any one, except my tailor; but now!—Upon my life, if you would order some one to fetch me a revolver, I’d blow my brains out!”
“Don’t you be a fool!” cried the Colonel, good-humouredly. “What you’ve got to do is to marry Miss Raymond, according to our little arrangement. It will be a splendid thing for you—better even (this with a wink) than the Speranza Mine.”
“With your permission,” returned the other coldly, “I will marry whom I please.”
“Certainly; and you please to marry the heiress, don’t you? Come, don’t be a humbug—and don’t put on one side your best friend.”
Fotheringay rose, and the two men walked along the parade side by side. As they proceeded, the Englishman attracted general attention, particularly from the marriageable young ladies; people nudged each other as they passed, and whispered “Colonel Fotheringay, the rich speculator.” I am bound to say that this homage pleased my hero. He slipped into his magnificent role again, and took the parade as if he were taking the stage. The cloud passed from his face. His comedy powers returned in full and fascinating force.
After parting with Colonel Sloane, he strolled to the Ocean House, and procured a ticket for the grand ball to be given in the evening. The office clerk received him with the greatest deference; the waiters whispered his name to each other. He looked and felt like a prince.
Meantime, Isabel Raymond was having a bad quarter of an hour with her guardians. Within the last few days, General Collier had heard things about Fotheringay which excited his suspicions still further, and he roundly denounced him to Isabel as an adventurer. Now, this was precisely the way to precipitate matters with one who was naturally head-strong and impulsive, besides being completely her own mistress. Isabel warmly defended her friend, and insisted on her right to meet him. The General became peppery; Isabel, indignant and haughty. The General’s wife tried to smooth matters over, but increased Isabel’s irritation; not merely by quiet insinuations against Fotheringay, but by reflections on Angela Sloane, whom Isabel adored. The result was, that she went off to her room, where her maid found her, an hour afterwards, hysterically sobbing.
I fear that the study of romantic literature, to which she had been addicted even at a school, made Isabel a little unreasonable. All sincerity herself, but totally inexperienced, she had no notion of the mendacity of the wicked world. She was proud, too, of Fotheringay’s position, though she secretly doubted whether it had been fairly come by. As for his being an “adventurer,” why, after all, there was something delightful in the very sound of the word. She thought of all her heroes of romance; they too, had been adventurers, crying
“Why, then, the world’s mine oyster,
Which I with sword will open!”
She remembered a hundred stories of how glorious men, by sheer genius and enterprise, had conquered society and become Napoleonic. Might not Fotheringay be a hero, too, as grand as any of those?
The ball was given in the great rooms of the hotel, opening on the flower-covered balconies, and looking on the moonlit sea. It was a very grand affair, the first of the season; and all the wealth, beauty, and splendour of Long Branch was there assembled. A fine band discoursed sweet music. Isabel, clad in a low-cut dress of white moire antique, with diamonds sparkling in her hair and on her neck, looked supremely beautiful. Only the boldest and wealthiest men present dared to approach her. She snubbed them all, looking for the man she loved and hanging on her guardian’s trusty arm.
At last she saw him, standing in one of the anterooms, surrounded by several men—minions, who flitted round him with open mouths. He was attired in a faultlessly fitting dress suit, with exquisite boots and a shirt-front dazzling as the sun. Diamonds on his fingers, and in his shirt-front; a gorgeous watch-chain, and a watch set with diamonds; pince-nez in position; shoulders drooping elegantly as he replied languidly to his companions. He had never looked more handsome. His skin was like alabaster, his eyes blue as heaven— these, however, are Isabel’s similes, not mine.
Before she could catch his eye, another gentleman, rather plainly attired, joined the group, and took him by the arm. The next moment they walked off together, in the direction of the refreshment-room.
The newcomer was no other than Jack Kelso.
Now, for some mysterious reason or other, Fotheringay liked bluff Jack, was glad to see him, and quite agreeable when he proposed a friendly glass together.
They strolled into the refreshment-room, which was gaily decorated, and approached the bar. Fotheringay proposed dry champagne; whereat Jack shrugged his shoulders, and said he should prefer a glass of native beer; but the other persisting, and no vulgar liquor being available, champagne was ordered.
“That’s a nice ring, Colonel,” said Jack, eyeing one which sparkled on Fotheringay’s little finger. “An emerald, I think?”
“Yes,” was the reply.
“May I look at it?” proceeded Jack.
Fotheringay hesitated for a moment; then drew the ring off and handed it over to his companion, who examined it with great admiration.
“Humph! a very fine stone indeed,” said Jack, handing it back. “By the way, though, have you seen those new jewels they manufacture in Europe? Wonderfully like the real thing. Of course an expert can tell the difference, but they possess extraordinary brilliance, I assure you.”
Fotheringay coloured and looked uncomfortable.
“Really?” he exclaimed languidly. “I have no interest in such things. This emerald cost me a thousand dollars.”
“Cheap at that, I should think. I never wear jewellery myself; I can’t afford it. Do you know if Miss Sloane is coming here to-night?”
“I believe so.”
They finished their wine and strolled back to the ball-room. Suddenly Kelso caught a glimpse of his divinity, and started off in pursuit. Almost at the same moment Fotheringay saw Isabel, seated in a distant corner, by the side of the General’s wife. Without a moment’s hesitation he walked over, bowed profoundly, and solicited her hand in the next waltz. He saw the old lady look appealingly at her ward, but it was of no use.
The next minute, my hero and Isabel were whirling round the room in each other’s arms. It was the first time Isabel had danced that night, and everybody noticed the fact, with little wonder at her selection. Fotheringay waltzed admirably; it was an accomplishment he had learned in early days, when preparing for the stage. They were the handsomest couple in the room.
The dance over, he led her back to her seat. The old lady had disappeared, searching for the General. But they could only talk platitudes, as people were listening on every side.
Soon afterwards, they were on their feet again. Isabel was flushed with delight; her partner triumphant. At last they paused, and this time Fotheringay, after getting her opera cloak and placing it on her shoulders, led her out on the balcony—where they found a quiet corner and sat down side by side.
The sea was calm as glass, and the moon in all her glory was walking the waters. From the shore came the soft sound, the rhythmic murmur of the waves; from within, the beautiful dance music. The air was balmy and full of the scent of flowers. Isabel’s heart was high, full of the rapture of the dance. The music and the moonlight seemed a part of her soul.
“My darling!” murmured her companion; and his arm stole round her waist. Then he drew her nearer to him, and kissed her.
The moment was auspicious, she kissed again; then hiding her face upon his shoulder, she blushed unseen.
Suddenly she started. A sound, like a low “Hem!” from a masculine throat, had fallen upon her ear. She looked round, but saw no one.
“Let us go back to the ball-room,” she said nervously. But his gentle touch detained her.
“Don’t go yet, Isabel! It is the happiest moment of my life!”
She looked round again. It must have been pure fancy, for no one was visible.
“They will miss me,” she said irresolutely.
“Let them—what does it matter?” he cried, “Isabel my love, before you leave me, you must give me your promise. Do not turn away! Surely, surely, Heaven meant us for each other!”
She raised her eyes to the bright blue sky, and it seemed as if his words were true. She drooped them to his face, and then, with a murmur of acquiescence, drew nearer to his side.
“You love me, my darling?” he whispered.
“Yes, Charles, I love you. I have loved you ever since we first met.”
“And you will marry me?”
“Yes, dear, if you wish it!”
She laughed and rose to her feet. At the same moment she seemed to hear the mysterious sound again, and simultaneously the General’s head appeared at the window. She sprang away and re-entered the ball-room, leaving her lover dizzy with delight; so dizzy and overwhelmed, in fact, that he did no notice a figure which stepped forward from the shadow of some large azalea bushes, and quietly regarded him.
Jack Kelso, with a cigar in his mouth, smoking.
“Have a cigar?” he said dryly.
Fotheringay started and looked up. Then the truth flashed upon him.
“You have been eavesdropping,” he cried. “Do you call this—ha—the conduct of a gentleman?”
“It was quite an accident,” replied Kelso. “I was having a quiet smoke when you came out and sat down close by me. I was afraid of disturbing you; so I didn’t stir. By the way, who’s the lady?”
Fotheringay rose majestically.
“Sir,” he said, “I have been mistaken in you. You are an impertinent puppy. For the future, let us be strangers.”
And with these words he followed Isabel into the ball-room. Kelso continued to smoke his cigar, not in the least disconcerted.
“Yes, I was right,” he muttered. “He’s a plucky fellow, but not fit to drive a thoroughbred. If the worst comes to the worst, I must warn the girl against him. She deserves a better fate than to marry a fellow who wears a sham emerald on his little finger!”
THE GIRLS CONSPIRE.
For several days Jack Kelso saw nothing whatever of his fair inamorata, but he thought about her a good deal. That last conversation of theirs had, he thought, revealed to him Angela in a new light.
“When I first met her,” he said to himself, “I believed that I had come upon what I most longed to find, a straightforward, noble-minded little girl; one who heartily despised the worship of the golden calf, and would be as content to accept either friendship or love from a poor man as a rich one. But, by Jove, my pretty little Angela seems like most of her sisterhood, eager to make wealth, position, power, the prizes to be striven for, and if necessary to let all else go to the wall. Heavens, how her pretty eyes sparkled when she talked of money! Well, things after all may not be so bad but they can be mended. If Angy hasn’t been contaminated too much by the rogues surrounding her, I may yet be able to pull her out of the mire.”
So Kelso went to the trysting-place daily, but got no speech with Angela. He saw her, certainly; twice he caught a glimpse of her driving with her father, and once indeed he came face to face with her when she was walking on the Grand Parade with Melvin. Of course no word or sign of recognition could pass between them, but their eyes met, and Angela blushed deeply. After this meeting Kelso’s anxiety increased, for he saw that she had an anxious look on her face, which had not been there before. He was wondering how to put an end to these cross-purposes, when the difficulty was solved for him in a manner which he by no means liked.
Meanwhile, Angela was having a harder time than Kelso suspected. Melvin, armed with the Colonel’s approbation, was pressing his suit upon Angela with all the pertinacity of his nature. At first she determined to be diplomatic, to be pleasant to Melvin without positively encouraging him; but the man turned out to be so repulsive a lover that poor Angela’s determination gave way, and she shuddered visibly whenever he came near her. Now, if things had been allowed to proceed as they had done before Melvin became the open lover, matters might have turned out very differently; that is to say, if Angela had been permitted to have her morning meetings with Jack Kelso on the sands, she would cheerfully have given her afternoons to Mr. Melvin, and she might have exhibited rather less loathing while he was by her side. But this state of things was put a stop to by none other than Melvin himself. That soft-spoken gentleman had a hawk’s eye. He suspected treachery, and determined to keep himself well au fait of the doings of his mistress.
In this dilemma Angela flew to her dear friend, Isabel Raymond, and poured her sorrows into that young lady’s sympathising ear.
“My dear Isabel,” she said, when she had finished her story, “it is becoming positively dreadful. I am sure Mr. Melvin suspects something, for he is always watching me; he is watching me now—or rather he is watching for me; and when I go out of this hotel I shall be under his eye until I get home. And there is poor Jack waiting day after day, in our old place, and unable to get a word. You promised to help me, Isabel; will you think of something?”
Isabel promised, and Angela went away much comforted. Two days later she again visited her friend; and having procured admittance to her, rushed into her arms in great excitement.
“O Isabel,” she cried, “dear Isabel, such news! I am half dead with joy!”
“My dear Angela, what is the matter?”
“Mr. Melvin is going away!” cried Angela, “going away for two or three weeks to inspect a mine; I heard him arrange it with papa last night. They thought I had gone to bed, but I suspected they were going to arrange something, so I crept down and listened at the door.”
“O Angela! You little eavesdropper!”
“I can’t help it,” said Angela; “If I am mean they have made me so. I was getting desperate. Well, it is all right though, he leaves to-morrow morning.”
“And what are you going to do?”
“Do? Write to Jack, of course, to tell him to meet me immediately after the train has started. I want you to give me some paper, Isabel, and get the note posted for me. I shall never be able to manage it else.”
Isabel did as she was requested, and Angela, all fire and fervour, sat down to write her note.
“My darling Jack,” she wrote, and then she came to a full stop, and looked dubiously at the page before her.
“That won’t do,” she thought.
Then she scratched it out and put “Dear Jack.” Still she looked and was not satisfied.
It was certainly a more difficult task than she had imagined to write a letter to a man whose exact position towards her she could not herself define. Finally she wrote, “Dear Mr. Kelso;” then out of all patience with herself she crumpled up the sheet in her hand.
“What is the matter, Angela?” asked her friend, laughing.
“I don’t know how to address him,” confessed Angela, rather crestfallen. “Have you written a letter—like this?”
Isabel laughed outright.
“I don’t know what this one is to be like yet, and neither, it seems to me, do you. Let us define the position you hold towards one another, Angela, and you will soon write the letter. Is he your accepted lover?”
“I don’t know,” returned Angela. “I call him ‘Jack,’ and he calls me ‘Angy,’ but he has never kissed me!”
Again Isabel laughed.
“Has he asked you to marry him?” she said.
“Oh dear, no!”
“Is he likely to?”
“I really don’t know!”
“Well, my dear, it’s time you discovered. Now then, write this; ‘Meet me, please, to-morrow, in the old place at 2 o’clock.
Angela wrote—the only change she made was in the signature. She wrote “Angy,” instead of Angela Sloane.
“And now, dear,” continued Isabel, “you had better get Mr. Kelso to define to-morrow what your mutual relations are to be. If he is not matrimonially inclined, the sooner these secret meetings cease, the better—for you!”
“I can’t propose to him, Isabel!”
“Does he know Mr. Melvin wants to marry you?” she asked.
“Not that I am aware of!”
“Then I think you had better tell him. Say also, that after Mr. Melvin’s return, you will never be able to see him again!”
The next morning Angela and her father accompanied Mr. Melvin to the railway station, where they took leave of him. Angela, thinking of the blissful interview which she had planned for the afternoon, looked more radiant than she had done for weeks, and thus in a measure played into her enemy’s hands. For Melvin’s quick eyes noted the change in her and divined something of its cause.
“She is sly, but I shall find her out,” he said to himself, as the train moved slowly off.
The Colonel and his daughter returned to the carriage, which stood waiting for them just outside the station, and drove back to their hotel. Angela got down, but the Colonel kept his seat.
“Where are you going, papa?” she asked, when she was safely on the ground.
“I’m going to see Colonel Fotheringay. I shall be back to dinner.”
“Not before, papa?” asked the sly minx, trying to infuse a touch of regret into her tone.
“No, not before,” replied the Colonel, innocently falling into the trap. “You can amuse yourself, can’t you?”
“Oh yes,” she replied eagerly; “don’t worry yourself about me in the least, papa. I’ve ever so much to do!”
And she whipped into the hotel without giving him time to say another word.
Half-an-hour later she was walking demurely along the promenade, and a few minutes later still she was sitting on the sands beside her lover, who had been waiting patiently for more than an hour.
“Was ever a girl so beset!” said Angela, when their conversation had grown somewhat coherent. “Do you know, Jack, this Mr. Melvin is bent on marrying me!”
“Why, what does he want to marry you for?” asked Kelso bluntly.
“Well,” replied Angela, glancing at him slyly from beneath the shade of her parasol, “that is a strange question. Why do people usually wish to marry?”
“Various reasons,” returned Kelso; “sometimes for money, sometimes for family connections.”
“And sometimes for love? Well, Mr. Melvin is in love with me!”
“Oh that’s it, is it?”
“Are you astonished?”
“No—it’s natural, I think, under the circumstances. . . Are you going to marry him, Angy?”
There was a pause, then came a firm:
“No; certainly not.”
“But he is rich, isn’t he?”
“And what if he is? I tell you I hate and loathe him, and I wouldn’t marry him if he possessed all the wealth of the world.”
“Angy!” said Jack, after a long pause.
“What would you say if a poor man asked you to marry him?”
Angela blushed deeply and looked down at the sand.
“It would entirely depend upon who the poor man might be!”
There was another long pause.
“Angy, you know that I am poor.”
“Yes, Jack; of course.”
“That I worked my passage out to America; live in the cottage which your father wouldn’t look at, and earn a meagre livelihood with my brush? You know all this?”
“Yes you’ve often told me.”
“Then if I were to ask you to marry me, what would you say?”
This time she raised her parasol, looked him full in the face, and held out her hand towards him.
“I should say,” she replied in a low, tremulous voice, “that I was the luckiest girl in the world. Do you really wish to marry me, Jack?”
“My darling, if I thought you would share my poverty—”
“Of course I will,” she cried, and then he took a kiss—the first one which he had ever taken; while Angela blushed scarlet.
So absorbed were they in their newly-found happiness that they sat whispering sweet nothings for hours. At length Angela started up.
“I must go now, Jack. Papa will be home soon, and will be wondering where I am.”
“When shall I see you again, my darling?”
“To-morrow. I can meet you every day for the next week or two; then that horrid Melvin will be back, and I shall be watched again. I suppose we had better keep our engagement a secret, Jack?”
“Much better for a little, darling. Don’t trouble yourself, Angy—leave matters to me. I’ll see if we can’t outwit Melvin, and get the game in our own hands. I’m sorry for the poor devil, too!”
“Because he can’t get you if he loves you. By-the-bye, Angy, do you remember the exceedingly mercenary tone of your conversation one day when we were walking along this very road?”
“I remember I said I liked money.”
“You did, and you said it in such an avaricious tone that I thought you would do anything to get it.”
“Then you were wrong, sir. I wished for it—for you!”
“Yes; I knew how poor you were, and I thought how nice it would be for you to have riches.”
“And how was I to get it, pray?”
“By marrying me, of course! How silly you are!”
“Then you had quite made up your mind about me before to-day?”
“Of course. I thought it was all right when you called me ‘Angy,’ and asked me to call you ‘Jack.’ It was Isabel Raymond who said it wasn’t.”
Thereupon Angela related to him the incident of the letter, and of the conversation which followed it. He laughed heartily, and the laughter had not all died from his face when the two parted company and strolled home their different ways.
Angela found means that same evening to leave her father alone again. This time she rushed off with all possible speed to her dear friend Isabel. There, in the quietude of Isabel’s rooms, she cried and laughed and cried again, averring all the time that she was the happiest girl in the world.
And so she was.
The next few days were spent by her in a delicious dream. Her father, occupied with his money-making schemes, was glad enough to find that she had means of amusing herself without troubling him. So she went off every day to meet Jack, into whose arms she was now privileged to fly, and whose kisses rained upon her.
One day he took her out to his cottage and showed her his rooms, in order that she might realise, he said, the kind of life she would have to lead with him. After that visit he asked her again if she was quite sure she could face poverty.
“If not, my darling,” he said, “say so now. It would be much better to be frank now than to repent afterwards.”
But Angela was firm. She had secured her prize, and though it was not a golden one it was equally precious to her.
“I don’t mean to let you go, sir!” she said. “Poor or rich, I mean to marry you, because—I love you!”
But Angela had yet to learn the truth of the old adage—“the course of true love never did run smooth.” True, so far hers had run smoothly enough, but though she had for a time succeeded in laying her evil spirit, she had not exorcised it. One day when she had said “au revoir” to her lover, and was walking demurely along the parade, she was suddenly confronted by Mr. Kyrle Melvin.
At sight of him Angela, who had almost forgotten his existence, started and shrank away in fear. Then by a strong effort, she recovered herself.
“Mr. Melvin,” she stammered, “how you startled me. I did not know you had returned.”
During this time Angela did not look at him; had she done so she would have been appalled by the light in his eyes.
“I trust you have not found the last few days dull Miss Sloane.”
“Not at all,” returned Angela, trying in vain to appear unconcerned.
A horrible fear crept about her heart. Though he said nothing she instinctively felt that he knew her secret, and meant to betray her. Should she throw herself upon his generosity? should she confess and beg for mercy?
“Surely if he knew how impossible it is for me to love him—” thought Angela.
She made a movement as if about to address him; then she paused. “Perhaps,” she reflected, “after all he does not know. He may only suspect! No, I will say nothing—until I have asked Jack.”
But in order to ask Jack it would be necessary to see him; and this Angela was soon to discover was by no means easy now Melvin was once again established in Long Branch.
Without further parley the two reached the hotel. Angela’s heart sank within her, for Melvin asked at once to see Colonel Sloane.
A Hero In Spite Of Himself
continued (Book II: Chapter 1 to 8)