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Title: The Doll's House
Author: Fred M. White
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1200061.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: January 2012
Date most recently updated: January 2012

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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: The Doll's House
Author: Fred M. White

*

Published in The Central Queensland Herald (Rockhampton, Qld.) Thursday
30 January, 1936.

*


It was a very fine establishment indeed, and, when he had time to think,
John Harness was very proud of it. And when he asked his wife what she
meant by calling it a doll's house, she merely smiled, and told him that
he would not understand, though she had hopes that he might find
illumination some day.

Three years ago, and the house at Stanhope Gate had not been thought of.
Three years ago Jack Harness and his wife lived in the country, and the
city and its ways was a sealed book to him. Then somebody came along
with a wonderful formula in the shape of a new dye, and Harness was
invited to put a thousand pounds into it, and incidentally make a huge
fortune wthout interference with his present employment, which in his
case generally meant shooting partridges or playing golf. Within a year
Harness was passing most of his time in the City, where his money was
now involved. He had known the rack of anxious days and sleepless
nights; he had stood more than once on the verge of ruin. And so
gradually his fortunes had gone one step back and two forward till now
he was spoken of as one of the coming men, and the doll's house in
Stanhope Gate was the envy of all Kitty's friends.

"What a pity you let the old place," Kitty said more than once. "I
should just love to go back to it again. Sometimes I wish you would come
to me and tell me that you had lost everything, and that there was just
about enough to keep up the old Grange."

"What a funny girl you are," Harness said irritably. "There are
thousands of women who would only be too glad to change places with you.
And yet you laugh and call this a doll's house. Why?"

He lay back in his chair wearily, for he had had a long and trying day,
and the shadow of the coming trouble was haunting him.

"Well, I will tell you," Kitty said. "It is so dreadfully cold and
formal and artificial. It's all make believe, Jack, just like it used to
be in the old nursery at home when I was giving a doll's tea-party. Now
confess it, my dear old boy, don't you feel horribly lonely sometimes in
this big house? Out of the men that come here can you reckon on one real
friend?"

Harness shrugged his shoulders irritably.

"Do you mean that you are not happy here?" he asked.

"Ah, that is the pathetic part of it," Kitty cried. "You, the new man
created in the City and grown up in three years have taken my other
self--yourself--by the throat and strangled him. I was proud of your
success once, I never realised that you were forging chains that grow
stronger and heavier year by year. Before long you will not have the
strength to break them. And not once since we came here have we been
away together."

"Yes, I could do with a holiday," Harness said thoughtfully. "But I
can't see my way to it just yet. I've got over a hundred thousand pounds
sunk in a new valve. Three months ago I expected to make a million out
of it. I knocked old Carton's concern end-ways. He came to me and asked
me to compromise, but I wouldn't listen to him except on my own terms.
He is a grasping old money grubber and boasts that he hasn't a friend in
the world."

"I am sorry for him," Kitty said. "I wonder if in time to come people
will ever speak of you as Harness the old money grubber?"

"Oh, don't be ridiculous," Harness muttered. "There's no room for
sentiment in the City. What was I saying? I stood out for good terms and
Carton refused them. I wish to goodness I hadn't been quite so firm now.
I met young Edgar Ellis a day or two ago, and he was full of his latest
invention. When I asked him what it was he said it was an improved
valve, and that he was thinking of showing it to Carton. I managed to
get a look at the blue prints, and I saw quite enough to know that if
Carton gets hold of that invention my valve will be a drug on the
market. The old man will fight me to a standstill. Once he gets the whip
hand of me, I am done, Kitty."

Harness' voice dropped to a hoarse whisper, his face was pale now, and a
little bead of moisture had gathered on his forehead.

"Is it as bad as that?" Kitty asked. "But surely, my dear boy, your
course is quite obvious. Edgar Ellis is a most delightful young man, so
clever and straightforward. Now, if I were in your place, I should tell
him exactly how things stand and offer to take him into partnership.
Like most inventors, he is poor, and will jump at the chance."

Harness smiled more or less pityingly.

"My dear child, we don't do things like that in the City. If we did we
should be bankrupt in a week. Of course, my game is to pretend that I
saw nothing in it, and suggest that I might possibly find some way of
using it if we came to terms. I asked Ellis to come round here this
evening, and he may turn up at any moment now. No, I don't mean it to be
exactly a business interview, so there's no reason why you shouldn't sit
here while we talk. Then you'll get some idea of how things are done."

Kitty made no reply. Her thoughts were far enough away, away in the
heart of a pleasant country amongst green fields and shady woodlands,
and in the background a low, rambling house, all white, with black cross
beams and latticed windows peeping out from overhanging eaves. She could
see the sunk rose garden with its grass paths and the battered old
sundial athwart the cedar, where a work-table was laid out and a girl
curiously like herself, was waiting for a man who bore an odd evasive
likeness to that older man who was sitting opposite her in the doll's
house. And everywhere was the air of good health and sweetness and
content and the laughter that seems honour in small things and is
content with the joy of today and the promise of tomorrow. Ah, well!
this was all so different to the cold, artificiality of the doll's
house, with the music of the birds and the bleating of the lambs in
distant pastures was changed for the hoot of the horn and the sullen
roar and rush of the traffic.

To get back to it; oh, to get back to it! Surely there was some way.
There was no lack of money in those days, for the simple reason that so
little was sought for or required. All was peace, contentment, and
happiness, and life was blithe and full as the carol of the blackbird in
the early mornings. They might get back to this, perhaps, someday, but
nothing less than a blessed catastrophe could bring it about. A little
time now and the tenants of the Grange would be on their way to India
again, so that it would be possible to return there and find every stick
and stone as Kitty had tearfully left it. From the bottom of her heart
she was hoping that the proposed combination between greedy old age and
sanguine youth would come about. "How great a fool a clever man can be
sometimes," she said. "When you trusted your fellows you were happy. And
they never played you false. And now you are utterly miserable because
you can trust nobody. You tell me you stand on the verge of ruin. And
even then you are afraid to tell Edgar Ellis the truth, because you are
obsessed with the idea that he will take advantage of you. Now I should
go to him and tell him the truth. I should offer him fair and liberal
terms in the assurance that he will accept them eagerly. Oh, you laugh
at me, but I am only speaking for your sake. If you came to me tomorrow
and told me that you were insolvent, I should be glad. All I ask is
enough saved from the wreck to enble us to go back to the Grange and
knit up the threads of the old life once more. But that I fear will
never be."

The library door opened at that moment and a young man came in. He
looked eagerly from one to the other and smiled.

"Well, you two," he said cheerfully. "I always envy you when I come
here. You always look so happy and comfortable--as if there was no such
thing as the City and its worries."

Harness smiled in spite of himself. He was wondering what Ellis would
say if he only knew the truth and if he could understand why the colour
had flamed into Kitty's cheeks. For this young man held the fortunes of
the doll's house in his hands, and if diplomacy failed, then the whole
structure must collapse like a house of cards. Leaning back in her
chair, with half-closed eyes and a strange fluttering in her heart,
Kitty watched the progress of the fray. Very cleverly and skilfully
Harness led up to that which was foremost in his mind, and Kitty caught
herself wondering if this was the man she had promised to love and obey.

Kitty sat up presently, for down in the hall the telephone bell rang,
and Harness with a gesture, intimated to his wife that she had better
answer the call. A harsh voice asked if Mr. Ellis was there.

"He is in the drawing-room," Kitty said. "Shall I fetch him?"

"No occasion to do that," the harsh voice said. "A message will be quite
sufficient. It is Mr. Carton speaking."

The receiver trembled in Kitty's hand. It was with an effort that she
kept her voice steady. She would give Mr. Ellis a message, of course,
and if Mr. Carton would kindly give it her, she would do her best to
convey it correctly.

The harsh voice cut in without ceremony.

"Much obliged, I am sure. Tell Mr. Ellis I have been away all day and
have only just got back. Say I have gone into the contract and accept
the terms. I have just posted the cheque to the engineers in Manchester,
and if Mr. Ellis will call at my offices tomorrow, at ten o'clock, I
shall be obliged."

There was no more, not even a word of thanks or a good-night. And all
the time that Nero had been fiddling there in the drawing-room, the
doll's house had been fiercely ablaze. No doubt Carton had found out in
some way where Edgar Ellis was, and had taken steps to strengthen his
own position without a moment's delay. Was it too late to save the
situation? Was there yet a last desperate chance of relieving the
garrison? Would anything be gained by the suppression of that pregnant
message?

But Kitty was by no means sure that she wanted to hold the pass. What
she needed more than anything else was her husband back again as she had
known him three years ago. And in any case Ellis was certain to find
out. If there had been any temptation, she put it from her and went back
to the drawing-room. She repeated the message word for word; she seemed
to know it by heart. She saw the light of triumph flash into Ellis's
eyes, and then the shade of regret on his face as he turned to Harness.

"This is a big triumph for me," he said. "I never really expected that
Carton would accept my forms. When I saw him a day or two ago he seemed
disposed to throw cold water on the whole thing. I suppose he heard I
was here this evening and made up his mind to rush it through. Well,
it's done now, and there's an end to it, but I would much rather that it
had been you, Harness. To tell you the truth, I had been hoping for
weeks that you would make me an offer. Your business and mine combined
would have defied the world, especially as your position is so strong in
the United States. But there are some men who like to work alone, and I
feel that you are one of them."

"Is it too late now?" Harness asked.

"You are joking of course. I made Carton a definite offer which he has
not only accepted, but has also backed it with a very large sum of
money. We're going to be rivals now, but I hope we shall be none the
less good friends for that."

Ellis had gone at length, leaving husband and wife facing one another
across the dead ashes of the grate. Harness sat there moodily looking
into the future. He glanced up presently to see that his wife's eyes
were filled with tears.

"Well go on," he said bitterly; "I deserve all your reproaches. You are
a better judge of Ellis than I am, and if I had followed your advice two
hours ago Carton would have been standing in my place at this moment. I
suppose you understand that he means to ruin me. Not that I am going to
take it lying down. I'll put up as big a fight as possible, and I may
come out with any luck with a few pounds to the good. But it won't be
any more."

"Why should I reproach you?" Kitty asked. "I know nothing of your City
ways. But I do know that there are good and honest men in the world,
though you have ceased to think so. And I'm not in the least frightened,
Jack. It will cause me no regret or humiliation to leave this house. Oh,
if you could only understand! And, please God, some day I hope you
will."

It is not to be supposed that the man in the doll's house turned his
face to the wall or shrank from the fray. But the months that followed
were drab and dreary ones, and night by night Harness came back with a
shadow on his face that deepened day by day. There were strange stories
and rumours in the City, and gradually those other women who had come
eagerly at one time to help Kitty to play in the doll's house gradually
relaxed their visits until they came no more. And there was one black
and bitter night when Harness reeled home and collapsed in a chair,
asking weakly for brandy, a thing he had never been known to touch
before. There was no dinner that evening, and no longer was it possible
to conceal from the curious eyes of the domestic staff the fact that
disaster darkened the air.

"It's all over, Kitty," Harness explained. "Those people have beaten me
to a standstill. They are having a certain amount of trouble with the
United States over their patent because there is something in my
specification that blocks the way. I believe that I could have
compromised over that, but Ellis has been in America for months now, and
I can't get at him. I swallowed my pride sufficiently to call on Carton
this morning, but they told me that he had been laid up for days. I was
ready to make pretty well any terms, but my lawyers said that something
must be done today. So I have made an assignment of everything except
the old place in the country. And there will be just enough to pay
everybody. For the next few months we shall have to live on the rent for
the Manor House, and even that will only last till those people go back
to India. Oh, Kitty, Kitty, what a fool I've been."

He stretched out his hands to her and she laid her head upon his breast
and comforted him. The thought of ruin troubled her not at all. The
doll's house had crumbled in the dust, and before long all the pretty
costly toys therein would go to other children of a larger growth who
were eagerly making doll's houses of their own. But it mattered nothing
to Kitty, for the City man was no more, and she had got her husband back
at last.

She shed no tear and no blush of shame rose to her cheek as strange men
pushed their way into the house without ceremony, and proceeded to label
the pictures and the china and tear the velvet-pile carpets from the
floors. It mattered nothing to her that the servants left in a body, and
that she had to get her own simple meals. After all, there was no shadow
of disgrace, and nothing that the gossips in the city could point to.
Then there came another day when the house in Stanhope Street knew them
no more, and they found themselves in dingy lodgings in Bloomsbury.
There was no more than a hideous little sitting-room looking out on a
dreary street, and for the first time in her married life Kitty thanked
heaven that she had no children. It was necessary to look carefully at
every sixpence, for the man who had recently controlled a big business
was thankful now to draw three pounds a week from a house in the City.
And when you've been accustomed to every luxury, it is a terribly
difficult matter to face the problem of existence on sixty shillings
every seven days. But then the cloud had lifted from Harness' brow, the
stoop had gone from his shoulders, and he had learned to laugh again as
he had done in the days which apparently had gone for ever. There were
small pleasures and enjoyments, now at the cost of some rigid economy,
but enjoyed with a wholeheartedness and zest that Kitty had never known
in the gilded hours in Stanhope Street.

And so winter passed away and the spring came round, and down in the
country the primroses and violets were blooming and the commons were
ablaze with the golden glory of the gorse. The Manor House had been
empty a few days now, and it was necessary that the place should be let
without delay. Whether to let it furnished or sell all that beautiful
old furniture was a problem discussed over many hours. Kitty would have
preferred a little house of her own somewhere in the suburbs, but it was
impossible to furnish without money, and so the important problem was
left in abeyance for a moment and then something happened.

"I heard a bit of news today," Harness said as he came home tired and
weary, yet smiling, from the City. "Old Carton is dead. He died at Monte
Carlo over a week ago. I only heard it this morning. His general manager
told me. He said they had cabled to Edgar Ellis, and that he might be
back at any moment. When he comes back I am going to see him, and
perhaps he will give me a good post in his firm. He owes me something,
after all, seeing that his valve was inspired by mine. Ellis was always
a good fellow, and without building up any great hopes, I am
sanguine----"

The grimy maid of all work opened the sitting-room door and brought in a
letter with an American postmark. It had been readdreased more than
once, and Harness was interested to see that it was in the handwriting
of the very man he was talking about. Kitty had noticed it, too, and
together they read the letter.

"My Dear Harness,--I shall be home almost as soon as you get this, but I
feel that I must write to you at once. I have just heard of the death of
Carton by cable, and what is more to the point, I have discovered that
the old man never carried out the promise he made me months ago. When I
got out here I found that your patent was in my way. You claim certain
things in your specification, and until the matter is settled I can do
nothing here, at least I can do nothing definite for years. I proposed
to Carton that we should jointly buy you out with an offer equivalent to
a one quarter holding in our company. He promised me that he would see
to it, and I understand that he has done nothing of the kind. He always
hated you, as you know, and I suppose that was his revenge.

"Well, you have gone down unfortunately, but at the same time we cannot
do without you if we are to reap anything like the volume of business
which is open to us here. I renew the offer with the greatest possible
pleasure. It means a very handsome income now and a large fortune in the
future. With kind regards, and hoping to see you very soon, yours very
sincerely,

"EDGAR ELLIS."

The letter fluttered to the ground. There was silence for a moment, then
Harness caught his wife in his arms and kissed her long and tenderly on
her quivering lips. There was a smile on his face and an eager gleam in
his eye.

"We'll go back to the old place, Kitty," he said. "We'll go back to the
Manor House tomorrow, and never leave it again. Never mind about the big
fortune in future so long as we can have the wholesome country and get
the old friends we could trust and love round us once again. I have had
my lesson, Kit; you were right and I was wrong. And I can see that it
was a mistake for us to come to London at all. Honestly, I've been a
happier man on an office stool than ever I was in Stanhope Street. And
if you can ever find it in your heart to forgive me----"

"Forgive you," Kitty laughed. "Haven't you given me that which I prize
above everything--my husband back again?"


THE END


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