an ebook published by Project Gutenberg Australia
Title: The Escapades of Ann
Author: Edward Dyson
eBook No.: 2300191h.html
Date first posted: 2023
Most recent update: 2023
This eBook was produced by: Walter Moore
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Chapter 1. - The Righted Wrong
Chapter 2. - The Unbidden Guest
Chapter 3. - Some Adventures with a Flapper
Chapter 4. - A Suitor of Ann’s
Chapter 5. - Miss Gaby, Washerlady
Chapter 6. - The Widow’s Jewels
Chapter 7. - The Sobering of the Prodigal
Chapter 8. - Ann as the Blessed Peacemaker
Chapter 9. - The Losing of Jane Gateway
Chapter 10. - Haunted
Chapter 11. - That Bad Mr. Bighill
Chapter 12. - Aiding and Abetting
Chapter 13. - Those Goo-Goo Eyes
Chapter 14. - A Righteous Deception
Chapter 15. - Playing with Fire
Chapter 16. - Amorous Ling Suey
Chapter 17. - A Morning Walk
Chapter 18. - The Marrying of Arty
Ann Quigley, handsome Ann, with golden brown hair and golden brown eyes, and even a hint of gold in her excellent, healthy, “natural born” complexion. Ann was twenty-five, and still much of a tomboy.
But that’s nothing, Ann would be something of a tomboy at fifty-two. If Ann passed on at ninety and entered into her reward, she would be something of a tomboy in Elysium.
Temperaments like Ann’s are irrepressible and unchangeable, but it must not be assumed Ann had no graver moods; she had all moods at her command, and there were people who knew Miss Quigley for many years, and knew her only as a young gentlewoman of sedate bearing and irreproachable manners. These were unfortunate people, the unhappy ones who are cut off from vivifying fun by some perverse order of Fate.
Ann was spending a week with the Cringles, at “The Whim,” the hill-top bungalow that embodied one of Peter Cringle’s whims. Cringle was an artist who took unbounded joy in the vagaries of Ann.
“When my Art enters into her reward.” he told his wife, “and I have eighty thousand a year, I’ll give Ann half of it to employ herself for the entertainment of me and my friends. Meantime, in God’s name let’s have as much of Ann as we can. Smuggle her in. Life is short, but dull hours are interminable, and there are no dull hours within ten miles of fat Ann.”
Really Ann was not fat, she was “comfortable covered,” as Mrs. Cringle put it, but Cringle was irreverent even in the face of high heaven, and Ann expected no better of a mere artist.
“An artist,” said Ann, “is a barbarian entirely surrounded by paint.”
Ann was resident at “The Whim,” Mount Mistake, temporarily, scampering about the bush, wading the waters, swarming the hills, exuberant, inexhaustible, versatile as usual, when she fell in with Miss Honor Steeple.
But I must side-step here to correct the erroneous impression you have, formed. You are utterly mistaken in imagining that because Ann Quigley swarmed, and waded, and scamp’ered, she presented the appearance of the ordinary mad-cap of literary commerce. Miss Quigley had the amazing knack of doing all these things without getting hot and ruffled or looking conspicuously different from any ordinary, handsome young lady, parading her sartorial, millinery, and tonsorial perfections on the Block.
So when Miss Ann Quigley met Miss Honor Steeple, weeping desolately, sitting behind a tall rock in the fragrant bush, the former was a composed and decorously arranged young lady, not an eyelash out of order.
But Miss Steeple—I hate to say it of a pretty girl with those dense, dark Italian blue eyes, peculiar only to the Irish—was distinctly sloppy. It’s a nasty word, “sloppy,” but if a sweet girl of nineteen will weep copiously all over herself for a space of half-an-hour, what can she expect?
“Why, my dear child, whatever is the matter?” said Ann.
Miss Steeple stopped weeping for one moment, looked up with a startled jerk, discovered a handsome, apparently harmless, young woman looking down at her, gulped, and returned to her fluid state.
“Such a place to cry in,” said Ann, “here in the bush at least a mile and a half from anyone. No pretty girl should bother to cry excepting when some one who might be impressed by it, is looking. Come, my dear, tell me what the trouble is.”
The girl gave an impatient movement. “Won’t!” she said.
“Why not? Perhaps I can help you. I’m a demon helper. I’ve never been able to do much for myself, but I succeed amazingly in other people’s affairs.”
“Go ’way!” sobbed the girl.
“That advice about sticking your nose in other people’s business is simply wasted on me. I’m a hopeless sticky-nose. If I didn’t interfere with those things that don’t concern me, my best talents would be wasted.”
“Go ’way!” repeated the girl, petulantly.
“Come, come, dear. If you go on crying like this I shall have to get you a mackintosh.”
Ann noticed the butt of a cigarette on the flat stone beside the weeping girl, she saw the fragments of torn letters on the grass, she observed a man’s tie on a bramble, and recollected stepping behind a tree to screen herself from Dan Burke as he came striding down the track half-a-mile away—and Ann read Honor like a book—the Book of Revelations, for instance.
So this was pretty little Miss Steeple whom Dan Burke had been courting three months or more. Mrs. Cringle had told her of the pair.
“Don’t let the scamp hang so much about your heels, my darling girl,” said the hostess of “The Whim.” “He’s already got Honor Steeple, the prettiest girleen in the district in love with him, a nice, little, affectionate, sentimental, simple girl, just the sort to break her heart over one of these man things. Now he’s hot-foot to tumble in love with you. Ward him off, dodge him, block him, freeze him—anything to send the creature back yelping to his true mate. He’s half a Yahoo, and you know in your heart you’ve no use for him, you she blackguard.”
And here was little Honor crying her eyes out in the lone bush, and below them was Dan Burke, son and heir of Black Down, blundering towards Cringle’s in the hope of wasting a day with Miss Ann Quigley; and here, too, was Miss Quigley herself, sitting by the afflicted lass, the poor, bruised reed, and trying to soothe her sorrows and put some stiffening into her limp bones.
There had been a wild quarrel, Dan had torn her tender letters, and dramatically scattered their fragments at Honor’s little feet; he had pulled from his collar the tie she gave him, and had returned it with appropriate oaths, and they had parted “for ever,” and possibly she, harmless, well-intentioned, motherly, all-embracing Ann Quigley was responsible for the tragedy.
She sat on the flat stone, took Honor’s reluctant, damp hand, and patted it between her own.
“There, there, there, little girl,” she said, “don’t you cry please. I don’t know you, and you don’t know me, but let us like each other. I am sure I can make you happier. Tell me all about it.”
Honor allowed one eye to escape from her waterlogged handkerchief, and she stopped sobbing while that eye investigated the stranger again. Then the eye was withdrawn, and the sobbing was resumed, but Honor allowed herself to lean towards the nice young woman with the dimpled mouth and the kind, golden eyes.
“Come,” said Ann, “I’m sure it will be all right. Let me see.” She opened the little palm in hers, and laid the hand on her knee, tracing the lines with a finger. “I read fortunes in the hands. I am a palmist and devilish clever. I’ll read your fortune.”
The sobbing was suspended again, and again the tear-dimmed left eye escaped from the handkerchief.
“Why, bless my soul!” cried Ann, “a girl with a palm like this should never cry—she shouldn’t shed one tear, she should smile, dance, laugh. Little girl, little girl, you have the luckiest hand in the world.”
“Have I?” gasped Honor.
“My sweet, your hand is full of good things. It overflows with fortune, and you sitting here crying like a fountain. Here’s the line of long life. Look where it runs. Child, are you ever going to die? See the deep color of it. That means happiness, great, glowing happiness. These little lines are lovely babies. That twisting network means riches. You will never want. There’s a dark man loves you.”
“Oh, does he?” said Honor eagerly, “does he really, really love me?”
“Why, of course he does. There may be tiffs and nonsense of that sort, but see, he comes back. He always comes back. He is dark, and medium tall, French perhaps, or, no, Irish.”
“Yes, yes, Irish!”
“Bless us, you’re smiling. Where are all those tears? The sun has dried them. All’s well with the world.” Ann laughed, and kissed the simpleton on a blushing cheek.
“I like you,” said Honor.
“Of course you do,” said Ann. “It wouldn’t be fair if you didn’t. I like you.”
When Ann Quigley returned to Cringle’s that evening, she found Dan Burke awaiting her. For over two hours he had been endeavoring to maintain an exaggerated interest in art, while Peter Cringle lolled behind a huge pipe, and occasionally swiped a canvas with a paint knife, putting slabs of Goat Hill into a landscape, and amusing himself in a lazy way pulling the leg of the distraught native.
“Burke’s become a patron of Australian art, Ann,” said Cringle, as she entered. “He’s going to encourage the poor painter. He’s bought my ‘Old Barn.’ He says he likes the perspective. He thinks he never saw a better perspective, especially the blue part. What do you think?”
“I’m glad Mr. Burke is buying pictures,” Ann replied gravely. “ ‘The Old Barn’ is a charming thing, and he’s right, the perspective is all that could be desired.”
“There,” said Burke, joyously. “I’m right, yeh see. ’Tis ez fine a bit iv perspictiff ez iver was painted, so ’tis, ’n’ I’ll be makin’ a present iv it to Miss Quigley.”
But Ann refused. She could not dream of it, she said. Mr. Burke must keep his presents for those who had greater claims upon him.
Had Honor, seen Ann Quigley with her Dan for the rest of that evening, she would have imagined the good Samaritan of the woods to be a traitress and a base deceiver. Ann was coquetting with Dan openly, audaciously.
“She devil,” said Mrs. Cringle pulling Ann into a bedroom after dinner. “What are you doing with that raw product?”
“I’m entertaining your guest to the best of my ability, Mrs. Cringle,” Ann replied sweetly.
“Entertaining him! Engrossing him, entangling him. And you know what I told you about his ‘ain true love’ the sweet Honor of the hills. Wretch, you are trifling with two lives.”
“Oh, Mrs. Cringle, how cruel you are. Are the natural cravings of woman’s true heart to be trampled out for the sake of this bush hoyden of yours.”
“Natural cravings of pickled pigs’ feet! This Dan Burke is a well enough lad on agricultural and pastoral lines. He suits Honor, and Honor suits him if you are not a meddlesome hussy. He’s a great simple jackanapes born here, but more Irish than the primitives of old Sligo. Why, his brogue’s as thick as his father’s, and he’s as superstitious as his ancient grandmother who once boarded the pigs, and who now nods in the chimney corner over a black pipe, and mumbles of the banshees of her native hills, and is said to be one hundred and two. The fellow’s preparing to make an egregious ass of himself over you, and you’re accelerating the process, you—you, Circe, you!”
“Circe changed them to pigs, I fancy.”
“The modern Circe makes asses of them. But I won’t have it in this case. I’ll bundle you off home first.”
“You’ll bundle me off?” Ann danced away, laughing. “You’ll bundle me off? I’d like to see you do it, Mother Cringle. Who’s boss of the master of this house, you or I?”
Mrs. Cringle threw a pillow at her. “Infamous wretch!” she said, “if I knew where I could get another like you I’d banish you on the spot.”
Ann danced back and kissed her. “Trust in the notorious fat, soft heart and the justly celebrated high principles of Mistress Ann Quigley,” she said.
But Ann’s attentions to Dan were even more marked in the two hours after dinner. Then she said an abrupt good-night, and towed Mrs. Cringle into her room.
“Keep him for another ten minutes,” she said. “For the love you bear me, hold the catiff knave yet awhile.”
Tom Burke said “good-night” to Mrs. and Mr. Cringle at the door, he passed down the garden path and stopped a moment to look back at the house, and sigh deeply. “Sure, was their iver a divil iv a gir-rl a shweeter tormint than that wan!” said he.
He went through the gate, and out on to the bush track, and passed on with his back to the big moon. Suddenly, from behind a patch of sappling scrub, a woman arose and confronted him.
Dan Burke jumped back. “Saints presarve us, all, ’n’ ivery wan,” said he.
“There’s nothin’ in an old woman ye nade be fearin’ at all, Dan Burke,” said the stranger.
“Ye are knowin’ me good name then!” Burke peered at her, keeping his distance. He saw a bent old woman, with disordered hair and large glasses. Her feet and her head were bare. She looked more like a wrinkled Jewess than an Irishwoman, but her brogue was unmistakable and her ugliness hurt him. “Sure, I don’t know ye’, do I this night? ’n’ me knowin’ ivry dacent soul in the disthrict, man, ’n’ woman.”
“Ye know me not, Dan Burke, nor any wan else ayther. I’m Winoora the gypsy iv wild Nephin Beg, ’n’ all the long way I’ve come to tell yer fortchin has blisthered me poor feet ’n’ put the mortal pains in me ould bones. So set out yer hand, Dan Burke, ’n’ I’ll be readin’ the tale iv yer bad life.”
“I will not the like.” Dan put his hands behind him. “I’m not wishful to hear the devil’s folly ’n’ wickedness yid be talkin’, ’n’ you an ould, ould woman should know better.”
“Lave out yer hand, Dan Burke.” Her voice was so awful, she advanced upon him so threateningly, that he threw out his hand and stood trembling as she read.
“Ah, ah. ’tis well I’ve kim this far way,” said the gypsy of wild Nephin Beg, “well for you, Dan Burke. The danger is wid you, great sore thrial will come to you, me man, ’n’ long sorrer ’n’ sore nights ’n’ sufferin’ days do ye not heed me. ’Tis one woman that loves yeh I see here, a wee, shmall gir-rl wid the thrue dark eyes if the good folk iv Clare. She would make happiness ’n’ riches in plenty for yeh t’ the ind of yer days; but another there is will desthroy yeh do yeh yield to the ar-rts ’n’ wiles iv her—a base Sassinach she is wid the bad hear-rt and the fair shkin iv her thribe ’n’ wid fair goold to her hair, too. She’s kim frim far t’ be the roon iv yeh, ’n’ t’ dissipate the land yer good father would lave you, ’n’ t’ waste the flocks ye have ’n’ spend the money all frim yeh, ’n’ lave yeh dislate in yer age, creepin’ be the hollow places iv the hill t’ shleep in. Go, man, go ’n’ lave the wicked tempthress wherever she is?”
“Would she be the gir-rl beyant?” said the horrified Dan throwing his right thumb towards Cringle’s. “A shmart, plump fair wan from the city? Would it be Ann Quigley, yeh thinkin’ of would bring the dire misforchunes iv the divil down on a man?” Dan was quaking with apprehension.
“ ’Tis most like,” said the gyspy. “Yill know her well. Get from her ’n’ hade her no more, fool that ye are.”
Dan fled up the track. The gypsy watched him over the hill, then hobbled to Cringle’s door and knocked. Mrs. Cringle opened to her, and she hobbled into the lighted room unasked, a weird old figure.
“I’ll rade yer fortchin’, kind sir,” she said. “Lave me rade yer fortchin, shwate lady, fer the bit iv bread, ’n’ the Lord love yeh ’n’ reward yeh.”
“Read my fortune,” yelled Cringle. “No, not on your life, but by the living jingo I’ll give five pounds to be permitted to paint you.”
“Done!” said a youthful voice, a shawl was thrown aside, a wisp of hair and a pair of spectacles cast off, and Ann Quigley stood revealed.
Cringle collapsed into a chair. “Merciful heaven!” he cried, “you’ve spoilt the best study of a d——d old witch that was ever conceived. Is there anything you can’t do with that amazing prehensile chiv of yours?”
“I can do it all again,” said Ann, “and you shall paint it. I want the picture for a wedding present for a friend of mine.
When, two months later, Honor Steeple was married to Dan Burke, Ann Quigley sent the bride a fine study in oils of the head of a witch, called the Gypsy of Nephin Beg.
“Did yeh see her, too?” said Dan to Cringle one day, pointing to this picture.
“I did,” the artist replied, “she came to me one night, and insisted on being painted. ‘ ’Twill be a war-rnin’ to Dan Burke all his life,’ she said. Now, what the deuce did she mean?”
“I dunno; I dunno!” said Dan hastily. “How the divil should I? Fer the love iv heaven, man, don’t let me little wife be hearin’ such wild talk.”
Ann Quigley, being a happy woman, her escapades have a way of ending happily.
Ann realised she had kissed a strange man, and a strange man in bed! It was a gritty kiss, a wholly unfamiliar kiss, suggestive of a chaste salute on a superannuated hair-brush.
Realise the situation. Here is an extremely nice-looking, plump, comfortable spinster of twenty-four, of exemplary conduct, standing over the couch of an imperfect stranger after having deposited an affectionate oscillatory caress on his right cheek.
Evidently the imperfect stranger had pondered his scriptures well. “If thine enemy smite thee on the right cheek, turn thou the left.” He made mumbling noises, and turned on his pillow. The left cheek was now available, but Miss Ann Quigley had done all the smiting she cared for, pending inquiry.
The shock of that gritty contact left her much perturbed and dubious. She stood for a moment irresolute, wondering. The next impulse was to run, but Ann Quigley was no ordinary girl; she had a pronounced drift to adventure. Her disposition prompted her to see things through.
This is how. Miss Quigley had just returned from a night at the theatre, and a somewhat belated supper. She had parted with the party at the gate, and tripped across the front of the house towards her side entrance. Here at the south-east corner of “Wattleholm” was an unsuspected little brick adjunct, half-sleeping apartment, half-verandah, open to the seven-and-twenty winds of heaven and the concomitant dust, not to mention mosquitoes, or even larger game—say, a casual intrusive cow.
This was Billy Quigley’s sleeping place when Billy was at home; but Billy was a nomad, with a glib manner and fourteen bags of samples, and his duties led him many ways, and his homecomings were infrequent, and his stays not protracted. At the present minute Billy Quigley should have been in the Albury vicinity with the object of selling profuse softgoods adapted to the requirements of an agricultural population.
Ann had not expected Billy home for a week, but, noticing his bed bulging (Billy had the open-air habit), she rashly assumed that he had returned unexpectedly, and she slipped in to give him a sisterly kiss.
Having deposited the kiss, “My goodness!” said Ann.
It was as if you had arisen at night to take a cooling drink, and had connected with the bottle of methylated spirits by mistake. Billy Quigley’s cheek was notoriously smooth (it had even been called brassy). This one was decidedly stubbly.
Ann started back; Ann pondered perplexedly for a moment. Ann repressed a tendency to squeal. Ann overcame a disposition to run.
“I’ll see who it is if I die for it,” said Ann. Her hand went up to the electric switch, she touched the light on. She touched it off again.
One glance had been enough for Ann. The face on the pillow was that of a sleeping man. Ann had proof of the soundness of his slumbers as she fled tip-toe for the side door. A purling snore followed her.
Miss Quigley arrived in her room greatly perturbed. She dashed for the water jug, and, displaying some temper, washed her lips. She snatched the toothbrush, and, with actual ferocity, cleaned her-teeth. Then, feeling in some measure sanitary again, she stood up and thought.
The man on the open-air bed, of whom she had caught a glimpse in the flash of the electric light, was not her brother Billy; he had not the remotest resemblance to her brother Billy. He was a red-faced man, a little bloated, with thin, tousled hair that looked like a limited quantity of old combings in a dustbin. On his jaws was a thick, dark, stubble of at least a week’s duration, and he had a large, sordid nose, that lay against the white pillow like a mottled toad. Scattered on the cement floor was a litter of garments, not the trim habiliments of a popular and attractive young salesman, but the loose, desultory fragments of a tramp. Ann had not missed even the boots. They looked like two outworn and distorted Gladstone bags.
The solution was plain to Ann. This villainous, unkempt, unlaundried dead-beat had crept into the verandah and taken possession of Billy’s bed. Probably he had often done so before. The verandah was fairly cut off from casual observation from the parts of the house occupied by the family, and any homeless tramp might have used the downy couch regularly by showing circumspection, retiring late and rising early.
And she had kissed him! She had actually kissed the brute—“Cuh-h-h!” Ann Quigley spat, and made loathy grimaces at herself in the glass. “Kissed him? I kissed him! Suppose I catch something. Oh, the beast!”
Another girl would have screamed in the first place. Another girl would have rushed to the family for succour. Ann had small faith in the family methods. Her own schemes usually provided more amusement, and were always more effective.
Ann sat down and thought. After brief thinking Ann arose, and stole out into the garden again. She found the long-handled rake, and, creeping to the door end of the verandah, she, guided by a fitful moon ray, reached in, and raked out the sleeper’s garments, boots and all.
Carrying the objects on the rake, Ann deposited them under some straw in an outhouse. Then Miss Quigley, with no compunction, and not a figment of apprehension, went quietly back to her room, undraped, said her simple prayers, and retired for the night.
Miss Ann Quigley was up very early next day. In fact, it was not yet quite daylight when she stole to Billy’s room, and peeped out from the blind covering the half-glass door. Weary Willie was still abed, sleeping sweetly (at least, quite as sweetly as such an insanitary pagan could sleep), and purring like a sawmill.
Lightly and gaily Ann dressed herself for the day. Ann had a plump girl’s affection for bed, but there are occasions when our softest and dearest desires must be sacrificed to duty. Miss Quigley had a keen sense of duty.
Dressed, Ann went into the yard, and loosed Canute, Canute the Nut, bandy as a barrel, and with a face like the composite picture of seven murderers and the thirteen deadly sins. Canute was a fawn bulldog with pale gold patches, and as amiable a creature as ever bit the leg of a butcher’s assistant, or gathered samples of the pants of hapless postmen.
Ann put one of Weary Willie’s boots in the capacious and capable mouth of Canute the Nut, and went softly round the house under the mulberry trees. There she knelt on the grass, and, drawing the bulldog to her, gave him confidential instructions.
“Sool him!” she said. “Watchim, Canute!” she said. “Watchim, boy!” She spoke in whispers.
The dog seemed undecided for a moment, and capered in a cumbersome, lubberly way. He thought it was a game.
“Watchim, boy!” whispered Ann, and the Nut went forward to inquire further. At the verandah entrance he struck a strange line in scents; his unkindly eye fell on Willie. He stood with the boot in his mouth, and growled. He growled again, keying to a higher note, and throwing in a little more feeling.
Ann heard movements in Billy’s bed round the corner. She crept nearer and listened. A soft, ingratiating voice was saying:
“Good boy! Good boy!” Then the voice lost kindness. “Lie down, yeh bleedin’ swine!” it said.
Miss Quigley hugged herself, and giggled inwardly. “Watchim, Canute!” she whispered.
“Staggerin’ Bob!” came the anguished voice of the unbidden guest, “he’s got me clo’s—he’s pinched me clobber! Here, boy! Here, boy! Good dog!”
Canute’s back hair stiffened like the quills of the fretful porcupine; his growl was deeper, it breathed threats of sudden death. There was a plunge in the bed again. Weary Willie had decided that it would be inadvisable to make further advances at the present moment.
“Watchim, boy—watchim!” whispered Ann.
Canute settled down on his stomach, and levelled his eyes at the stranger in the bed. He was prepared for a long day.
Ann went in and had two hours’ sleep. When she looked from her window at half-past seven Canute was still holding the intruder with his eye. She stole to the glass door and peeped out. Weary William was abed; his eye, full of apprehension, was fixed on Canute; his face had lost much of its ruddy color; even his nose was grey with anxiety.
Ann Quigley had breakfast. She said nothing to her mother. She did not mention matters of any particular interest to her little sister, Violet. She even allowed her father to depart to the duties of the day without enlightenment. John Quigley was a short, round, petulant man, with small sense of humor, and an inveterate habit of spoiling the picture.
“He would just storm in in a condition of outraged respectability, and kick my poor tramp into the road,” mused the dutiful daughter. “I won’t have it. He’s my tramp, I saw him first, and I’m sure I can make him interesting, and give him a good day.”
Ann giggled over her egg, and hugged herself.
“Ann,” said her mother, in admonitory tones, “whatever ails you?”
“Nothing at all, mother. What should ail me? I was thinking of a dream I had last night.”
Half-an-hour later Ann was out in front, watering the lawn. She had never been so determined to water the lawn. While she hosed the grass, she held quite an animated conversation with her sister. Behind the barrier of the verandah front, just high enough to hide the bed, the intruding tramp huddled in the blankets and quaked; round the south-east corner, hidden from the lawn, Canute the Nut lay extended, his gaze fixed upon the bed, every exaggerated tremor of which drew from him an ominous growl.
“You should be ashamed of the way you’ve neglected this lawn, Vi,” said Ann. “It’s not been watered for a week. I’ll set the spray, and leave it for an hour or so.”
She set the spray, and then, flying at Violet, dragged the bewildered girl away, with a palm tight across her lips.
“Do shut up, you silly ass!” hissed Ann, when they were safe out of range.
“But it’s all going into the verandah.”
“I know it is.”
“It’ll wet Billy’s bed through and through.”
“I know it will. Now, don’t you yell, or I’ll pinch your ear clean through. I’ve got a man there.”
“Yes, one male adult. Don’t you fret, the water will do him no harm. He’s sneaked in to sleep in Billy’s bed. I’ve got him fixed. I’m going to make a day of it. Come and see. But not a word to mother. She’d want to give him his breakfast and her blessing, an old suit of clothes, a cure for rheumatism, and pack him off to lead the better life. And it ain’t fair. He’s mine. I’ve got nothing to do to-day, and I want to give Willie an eventful time in case he should want to come back to that bed again.”
The girls stole to the glass door. Each took a corner. Weary Willie, sodden beyond recognition, had got out and got under. Wrapped in a dripping rug he was beneath the couch. The hose was throwing a heavy shower on to the bed. A stream was running under Willie on the cement floor, and Willie lay, drenched, with an apprehensive eye upon Canute, who watched proceedings in a wholly dispassionate way, only growling when Willie’s movements hinted at an advance or a retreat.
Ann dragged Vi into her bedroom, and then she curled herself up into a sort of convulsive knot on the bed, and kicked and gasped.
“It’s lovely! It’s lovely!” she chortled. “I’ll keep him a week. He’s mine, and I’ll keep him a week.”
“The poor wretch will catch his death of cold,” said Violet.
“Not he, and he’ll be a nice, clean boy. The police won’t know him. He ought to be grateful for that. A bed and a bath for nothing! Keep mother away. For the love of goodness, don’t let her spoil this on me! Darling, what a playful sister you’ve got!”
Ann did not keep Weary Willie in his flooded bed a week, but she retained him all morning while she busied herself weeding the front garden. Willie had got back into the bed. It offered the only cover available for him, wet as it was, and he hadn’t a stitch to escape in, even if the detested female singing gentle ditties over the weeds would go, or the loathly bulldog would avert its cold gaze for a moment.
It was just before lunch that an idea for a suitable climax struck Ann, and she had curious convulsive movements on the lawn in inward appreciation of the primitive humor of it.
“I wish you would bring me mother’s old sun-bonnet and that butcher’s blue skirt of mine, Vi,” she called. “I’m getting woefully sunburned, and just spoiling this dress.”
Vi brought the articles, and Ann let them lie on the lawn for awhile, then threw them carelessly into the verandah. “After all, it’s lunch time,” she said.
She led her sister away, and, skipping hastily round the house, called Canute off. The dog responded, and Ann held him under cover of the mulberry trees. “Now, watch,” she whispered ecstatically.
They had hardly two minutes to wait before a quaintly garbed figure in a tattered shirt, and old skirt of butcher’s blue, and a large poke bonnet sprang from the verandah, fled across the lawn, darted through the front gate, and scampered down the sunlit street. Then Miss Ann Quigley sat down on the grass, a raffish object, with tumbled hair, and laughed until her mother came forth in a state of terror, and threatened to apply the rules for the resuscitation of the hysterical.
But Ann’s escapade with the dead-beat did not end there. At about four in the afternoon she heard a clatter in the front street. A large policeman was passing. Behind the policeman followed a long, curious mixed crowd of interested and derisive spectators. The policeman’s grip was on a red-faced object with a profuse dark stubble and a booser’s despicable nose. The object was clad in an ancient poke bonnet of huge dimensions, and a woman’s blue skirt.
It was Ann’s dead-beat under arrest, as she imagined, for impersonation, and being illegally at large in clothes unbecoming to his sex and station.
Miss Quigley headed off the procession. “What has the poor lady been doing!” she asked demurely.
“I dunno yet, Miss,” said the officer, “but she answers to the description iv a dame missin’ from Yarra Bend Asylum. If she’s not that one, I’ll lag her on the vag.”
“Whiskers are no protection to a man nowadays,” was Ann’s unspoken comment.
“Goodness preserve me from the flapper!” said Ann, talking for the edification of a select winter evening gathering. “More especially the Australian flapper—the least tameable and most virulent of the species.”
“Have you noticed how the indigenous flapper falls in love? You haven’t! There’s a conspiracy of silence on this point, otherwise miles of treatises would have to be written on the subject, with a view to enlisting the services of science to modify the symptoms.
“The favorite assumption is that the Australian damsel of fifteen, sixteen or seventeen—they even sprout at fourteen—is a simple, girlish thing, with a penchant for skipping, and a taste for bread-and-butter sandwiches sprinkled with ‘hundreds-and-thousands,’ and whose highest idea of dissipation is the dancing mistress’s semi-annual hop, where she dances with George, aged twelve, a smudgy lout with an impediment in his feet (whose whole intellectual impetus is absorbed in the ravenous consumption of buns).
“How different are the facts! In very truth, the flapper who is a local product (the imported item is tamer, I admit) is an impetuous and irresponsible young thing, with no particular respect for any living being or known law. She thinks her parents archaic, and regards their mild rules for her better government as relics of the Inquisition. She is that hot-headed, she boils the cherries in her hat, and her specialty is falling in love.
“Don’t wag your wise heads, and ‘No, no, no!’ at me—I say, yes. In nine cases out of ten the darling little Lucy whom mamma regards as so fresh, you know—an unspotted flower culled from nature’s garden, and who is to be kept from all knowledge of the world and its ways—is cherishing a secret passion for Binks, her father’s best friend, an unconscious bachelor with soulful eyes and picturesque patches of grey in his abounding hair.
“I have enjoyed the confidence of the flapper for ages. Something in me invites the trust of the adolescent anarchist of fifteen. I don’t respect that trust; but I get it, and I tell you the flapper can fall in love with a readiness that would throw her unsuspecting mamma into a fit, and give her sage papa, if he only knew, moral jim-jams.
“And how the little lass does love, and how she does hate the other creature that absorbs some of the attention of the beloved! Believe me, gentle Annie makes no bones about it when she bestows her virginal affections on a male object. The recipient of her favor becomes a young god; there is no word in the language too good for him, although to the cold, critical eye of the uninspired, he may be a rather commonplace lad, with more than a human allowance of hands and a capacity for being infatuated with nothing of greater spiritual significance than cheap cigarettes.
“Take Betty Parsons, for instance. Betty was not sixteen at the time, when she confessed to me her wonderful love for Harold.
“You don’t know Harold Carr. He was a plump boy about twenty, with a musical soul, and hair enough for the conductor of a Wagnerian orchestra.
“Harold played the fiddle somewhat, and was a nice lad, although he did suffer in one’s elderly estimation from the fact that his parents had done their best to make a wholly unsatisfactory kind of girl of him.
“ ‘Oh, isn’t he a love?’ said breathless Betty. ‘Isn’t he a darling, darling dear?’
“This confidence exuded when a pack of us, loaded in a van, were going for a river side picnic. Harold was at the other end of the conveyance, nursing his fiddle case (he was scarcely permitted to venture abroad without it), and discussing the arts with Jess Mason, then a slip of fifteen.
“ ‘I think he’s just beautiful!’ sighed Betty. ‘Don’t you?’ Such wonderful eyes. And his hair— oh! isn’t it lovely? I think he has such clever hair. Don’t you? Don’t you think his hair’s clever?’ Betty sighed again, and relapsed into half-a-minute’s silence, gazing at the plump Adonis, with soft, sad, soggy, devotional eyes. ‘Isn’t his mouth sweet?’ she said. ‘Just like Cupid’s bow. Wouldn’t you like to kiss him? I’d just love to.’
“Another burst of devotional silence, punctuated with sighs, and then: ‘I’ve been in love with him such a long time—years and years. We met first at a picture show a month ago. We were made for each other. Don’t you think so? I do think he has clever hair. Such an adorable wave in it! He doesn’t care a button for Jess. You don’t think he does, do you?’
“More silence and more sighs, and then: ‘Don’t you think that mole on Jess’s chin looks beastly? She’s nothing, is she? Commonplace. And her eyes! Green they are, and too close together. I’m sure he must see they’re too close together.’
“Silence and sighs, ending with a reflective: ‘Yes, she’s a little beast! No fellow with taste could really love her. Do you think he could? Really, now, do you think he could? Really, really, positively?’
“I said I didn’t think a young man with clever hair could be taken in by Jess’s specious attractions. ‘Not if his hair is really clever,’ I added.
“Betty seemed relieved. ‘Oh, I’m so glad you think so,’ she said. ‘Not that I’m afraid of her. She’s a cat! But men are so easily deceived in girls. You’ll manage to let me have a talk with him at the picnic, won’t you? Keep her away, there’s an old dear. And if you could arrange to have him sit next me riding home, I’ll never, never forget you— never, never ’slong as I live.’
“I promised to do my utmost; but Miss Jess Mason was a cute lass, too. She had her own idea of what should happen, and had all a flapper’s charming disregard for any arrangements that might conflict with her own, coupled with a flapper’s line contempt for general opinion and the censure of her elders.
“Jess practically monopolised the adorable Harold throughout the morning. While she lay in a bed of bush hyacinths, Harold leaned against a tree, and scraped sentimental melody out of his fiddle. Poor Betty was conspicuously miserable when she was not absolutely virulent.
“Once she came to me, concealing something under her skirt. ‘Look,’ she said, revealing the prize. ‘It’s her hat. I sneaked it from among the rest. I hate her. Huh, the wretch!’ She tore out a feather. ‘The beast!’ She tore out another feather. ‘The ugly little minx!’ She tore the rim.
“I rescued the hat before it was wholly demolished, and the ruin was smuggled back; but Betty was a small tempest of wrath.
“ ‘Look at her!’ she cried. ‘Look at her gazing at him with her silly green eyes—and he hates her. I know he hates her. He must. If I had some poison I’d put it in her tea. I would!’
“It was at about half-past four when the catastrophe happened. There arose a great hubbub, and I joined the rush to the river bank. Someone had fallen in, of course.
“Presently a bunch of dark hair came to the surface, a gasping white face was revealed, and I recognised Miss Betty Parsons. Brown, the van man, went in and brought her out. You have read much of the touching gratitude young ladies display towards their saviours in such circumstances. Forget it, and hear.
“Poor Brown was bearing Bet up the bank, when she opened her eyes. The homely face of the man Brown upset her. She grabbed his hair and tore it.
“ ‘You let me go!’ she gasped. She pounded his nose with her two hands. ‘How dare you save me!’ she said. ‘How dare you, you nasty man? I won’t be saved by you. I won’t, I won’t!’
“Poor Bet made home in a composite costume. We all contributed a little to her make-up. She was utterly wretched. The ravishing Harold was at the other end of the van with Miss Mason. He graciously permitted Jess to nurse his head.
“ ‘I don’t care! I’ll kill myself, or something!’ whispered Betty. ‘When I’m dead, he’ll have a broken heart, and serve him right. You said you’d arrange to have him sit next me going home, and you haven’t. I’ll never forgive you.’
“ ‘You should not have fallen in the river, and made yourself unpresentable. You’ve simply got to be stowed away in a corner,’ I explained.
“ ‘Didn’t fall in the river!’ snapped Betty.
“ ‘Oh, didn’t you?’
“ ‘No, I didn’t. I jumped in.’ She commenced to whimper again. ‘I jumped in on purpose. I thought Harold would rush to save me, and that nasty man Brown did it. It’s hateful to be saved by a vulgar, common, working man. I wish I was dead. You don’t think Jess Mason pretty, do you? She isn’t as good-lookiug as I am? You’re sure she hasn’t as nice hair as mine? Are you quite, quite sure and positive? Say you wish you may die if it is.’
“I made an effort to console the little termagant, but was far from successful, and when I left her she was considering rash projects for disposing of her rival, most of them derived from undue familiarity with the plots of melodramatic picture plays.
“But before we parted I made the brat a rash promise. ‘I undertake that Harold will dance with you at least four times at Miss Blue’s fancy dress ball,’ I said, ‘and I promise you on my sacred word of honor Jess Mason won’t be much in your road for that night, at any rate.’
“Betty was enraptured. ‘Oh, will you do that for me—will you, will you?’ she said rapturously. ‘I’ll love you till my dying day if you do.’
“Well, Betty Parsons did get four dances from Harold at the dancing mistress’s, fancy dress ball, and Jess Mason did leave the field free for her with the adolescent fiddler.
“In point of fact I had contrived that Jess should have her whole attention absorbed by a ravishing Romeo, the loveliest Romeo that ever pranced in doublet and hose—a brown-eyed, pink-cheeked, sort of a fellow, with a lily-white hand and billowing curls that were both chestnut and gold, and adorned with the daintiest imaginable little silky black moustache.
“Romeo made a dead set at Jess early in the evening, and in the course of their first dance bore her right off her feet with a battery of such judicious flatteries that from a state of gasping incredulity she rapidly arose into that condition of elation in which a flapper soars when convinced of the reality of her transcendent charms, and she realises that she enjoys the bitter envy of all her friends.
“The porcelain Romeo was a great success with the girls. Even Betty was content to leave her now attentive Harold to step a measure with him; but he was true to Jess Mason, as per arrangement, leaving Betty Parsons in undisturbed possession of Harold Carr, of the clever hair.
“Master Carr, finding himself quite out of it with Miss Mason, who even jilted him of the dances booked to him in order to enjoy them with her Montague, gave Betty all his attention, and Bet should have been happy.
“But, as I say, you never know these flappers. At about a quarter to eleven, when the Shepherdess (Jess) and Romeo Montague, having escaped the vigilant eye of the dancing mistress, were enjoying a tete-a-tete behind a bed of roses, their communings were suddenly confounded by the arrival of a tempestuous Pierette.
“ ‘I hate you, Jess Mason,’ said Pierette without preliminaries. ‘I hate you! I hate you! You’re an ugly little, green-eyed pig, so there!’
“Jess took refuge behind her Romeo. ‘Oh, don’t let her hit me!’ she whimpered.
“But Romeo was not smart enough to ward off the impetuous Pierette, and Betty fastened in Jess’s hair, and did some damage to the coiffure of the Shepherdess, and her Watteau draperies before a separation could be effected.
“The afternoon following the Cinderella, Miss Betty Parsons called to see me. The flapper flapped even more than usual, and her air indicated a settled wretchedness.
“ ‘Well,’ I said, ‘did you enjoy yourself at the ball?’
“ ‘No, I didn’t,’ replied the ingrate angrily. Then she relapsed into tepid sentiment. ‘Oh, I am in love!’ she said. ‘And I want you to help me.’
“ ‘But I did help you,’ I protested. ‘I arranged that you should have Harold pretty well to yourself at the ball. Didn’t my agent keep his promise?’
“ ‘Oh, yes, I suppose he did. I wish you had been there. If you could only have seen him. A darling —a beautiful darling! I love him fit to die!’
“ ‘Meaning Harold?’ I said.
“She was too wrapped up in her devotions to heed me. ‘He’s the loveliest ever, and I want you to help me. If you won’t, I’ll just drown myself, or eat powdered glass, or something, I know I shall. There was never anyone as much in love as I am. I could die of it easy.’
“ ‘Then Harold wasn’t nice to you, after all!’
“ ‘Harold Carr? Pooh, him! Who’d die for him? That podgy fool! I don’t care if I never set eyes on him again, and I’ve told him so. Did you ever see such an idiot with a fiddle? And the way he does his hair—make you sick, wouldn’t it? He’s coarse. I never really cared for him. I didn’t know what love was yesterday.’ She placed her hand on her heart, and sighed deeply, looking far, far away. ‘I wouldn’t have believed a boy could be so beautiful,’ she said. ‘And nobody knows who he is—unless it’s that beast, Jess Mason. You’ll find out for me, won’t you? Get hold of her and pump her. You don’t know how I’ll love you if you do this—and you can, you’re so clever. He had fair hair, and dark-brown eyes, and the nicest mouth ever, and his hands—oh, beautiful! Smaller than yours they were, and whiter.’
“ ‘But who is this paragon?’ I wailed. ‘How am I to ferret him out?’
“ ‘Jess Mason knows. He was a Romeo at the ball.’
“I collapsed. I simply went down on a rug, and laughed till I wept. Here was a pretty ending to my noble plot to give Betty a free field for her adored Harold. She had actually fallen in love with my decoy.
“For fully a month after I continued to have pathetic appeals from Betty concerning the identity of the lost Montague. During the first fortnight I was three times consulted with regard to the most suitable method of ending a love-blighted life.
“But I never unearthed the long-sought Romeo. I couldn’t very well. You see, I was he!”
His name was Springer. He was a quaint little old buck, a study in pink and grey. He had a grey moustache, and grey hair, and his face, shaven miraculously, was the color of the pulp of a ripe water-melon. He dressed rather elaborately in grey, with aggressive white spats.
On a long, thin, black silk ribbon about Henry Springer’s neck, was an eyeglass, with a miraculously thin, golden rim. Henry favored pearl colored gloves of almost impossible newness, and had a penchant for gay little soft felt hats, carefully curled in the rim, artfully tucked in at the crown.
Henry was extremely thin, he had a jerky movement of one leg, which limb was occasionally mutinous, and refused to go the way he wanted it to go. At such moments it seemed to run on the loose, and bend almost any way but the right one. For some time Ann was dubious about that leg, believing it to be a mechanical adjunct built of light woods, and animated by a small electric motor that was disposed to jib.
Later, however, Ann satisfied herself on this point with the aid of a hat pin. The vigor of Henry’s movements and the fervor of his remarks quite satisfied Miss Quigley that she had done the wayward limb an injustice. At any rate it was real.
Mr. Springer may have been seventy. He acted as if under a delusion that he was still thirty-six, and affected a great sprightliness of manner. Ann loved to see him coming down the garden path, hat in hand, well raised above his head, eyeglass home, a bouquet in his other hand, jigging jauntily, and cackling his usual greeting although still thirty yards distant.
“Momin’, mornin’, momin’,—good mornin’, Miss Ann.” Then when he reached her it was: “How, how, how, how, how are you, how are you, how are you?”
This was Henry’s conversational method. It made a little matter go a long way. Ordinary folk make the most of the weather as a theme of discourse, but Henry Springer could get more talk out of a single, simple, astronomical fact than any other person of my acquaintance.
“Fine, fine, fine,” he said, “fine day, Miss Ann, fine day, fine day, fine day. Ah, yes, by jove, fine, fine, fine, fine.”
It is, perhaps, not quite correct to say Ann encouraged Henry as an admirer, but we may as well admit she did nothing in those earlier days of their acquaintance to discourage the old buck.
“I can’t understand you, Ann,” complained her mother fretfully. “Why will you have that silly old man dangling after you?”
“Mother, where’s your worldly wisdom? He’s very rich.”
“Gracious goodness, girl! you don’t mean to marry him?”
“And his motor car is a darling.”
“And the chauffeur’s nice. I love dark-blue eyes in a brown face.”
“Are you ever serious? Can one ever tell what to make of you?”
“Mother, you can’t appreciate Henry Springer, the real bullfinch. No one, I think, but myself, can derive the perfect, almost heavenly, gratification Henry is qualified to bestow.”
“Ann, you’re mad. That wheezy old man. Why, he creaks!”
“So he does, bless his old bones.”
“And he barks.”
“He does, the darling. That’s why I love him. He’s perfect. He’s delicious. I can just sit for an hour, hugging myself over Henry.
“Think now, if he were on the stage in a comedy, with that eccentric and wilful leg of his, that imperishable, if ancient, vivacity, those clothes, that hat, and that explosive gatling-gun conversational method, how the world would laugh itself ill at him.
“Why should it be necessary to put him on a platform, and soak him in limelight to bring out the perfectly delicious comedy of him? Why cannot people enjoy such a duck to the full, in his natural setting?
“Lord! Lord! what the world loses for the lack of a hound’s nose for the truly grotesque. Part with Henry? Never! He’s the joy of life, the salt of the earth. I can sit down on my little lonesome, and laugh by the hour at mere recollections of Henry. Half-an-hour with Henry in the garden, is better than anything in Falstaff—better than Bernard Shaw’s best.”
Ann more than anyone else I have known, could extract the nutriment of humor from old nuts. She would sit by the hour with creatures others had voted intolerable bores, taking keenest delight in their foibles and follies, stowing up their idioms, their quaintnesses of expression, their tricks of limb, the very essence of their dreariness, for future use. At reproducing all such Ann was an artist. She found food for laughter in the most unpromising material, and it was only when she faithfully re-enacted her characters that others were given to see and feel the delight of them.
Ann Quigley had the happy faculty of inward laughter. Humanity was an inexhaustible spiritual feast for her, and a new character a thing more to be desired than jewels and fine gold.
This appreciation of the rich and rare, made Henry Springer very welcome. He was a mine of fun, and Ann worked the vein for every pennyweight.
Henry had been introduced by a merely casual acquaintance, and had attached himself to bounteous Ann, and he followed up the chance with wonderful assiduity in one so old and so creaking.
“Like you, my girl,” he said. “Like you. Like, like, like, like. Yes, ah fine—fine, fine, fine.”
“You are very gallant,” said Ann, masking the twin mischieviousnesses behind her brown eyes.
He stopped in their walk, he screwed his eyeglass hard home, he looked at her through it. It seemed that he was very much impressed, that some observation of very gravest importance was about to be made, but he only said:
“Gallant, gallant, gallant, gallant. Yes, by Jove, gallant. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.”
Then he emitted the queerest cackling sound, such as might be made by shaking a longish thin piece of tin. “Like you,” he said. “Like you, like you.” And he cackled again. “You make me laugh,” he said. “Laugh, laugh, laugh, laugh, laugh.”
That was it, he was laughing! Then there was the leg. Oh, it was a perfectly lovely leg. Henry would be walking along, head up, eyeglass twisted in, gloves dangling, dapper, and smart, making excellent progress, when all of a sudden the wretched left leg would go back on him, pull him up short, and wobble in a most disconcerting way for a second, before resuming ordinary movements.
At such moments Henry displayed exemplary patience; he merely waited for the leg. His air seemed to say: “Don’t let us excite ourselves. On the contrary, let us pretend we do not notice it, and it will be all right.” Then he would emit a “Ah-h-h!” of no particular significance, and resume his march.
Ann Quigley adored that leg. She contrived with long effort to imitate its eccentric reaction, and then her reincarnation of Henry Springer, given as a drawing-room entertainment, became the choicest delight of a score of boon companions for long after the acquaintance with Mr. Springer had ceased.
“Should like to call on you—call, call, call,” said Henry. “Bring motor. Like a spin?”
“Very much indeed, Mr. Springer!” said guileful Ann Quigley.
Mr. Springer did call on Ann, and Ann went for a run in the motor with him. Ann was never selfish; if Henry Springer entertained her, she entertained Henry, and even while she was greedily seizing on the comedy elements of his own absurd character, she was giving him the benefit of her abilities and her humor.
“Good,” said Mr. Springer. “Good, good, good, very good. Yes, good. Yes, yes, yes, yes.”
Henry cackled a great deal. He seemed to be enjoying himself thoroughly.
“Never saw a girl like you,” he said. “Pon me soul never a girl like you. You do see the dem silliness in dem silly people. Yes, ah, ah. Yes, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.”
Henry Springer had been at the house six times, the acquaintance was under three weeks old, when during that nice afternoon on the verandah, with Henry’s usual bouquet of roses on the floor beside Henry’s hat and gloves, he suddenly screwed his eyeglass in with more than usual resolution, and said:
Henry’s head was back, his two arms were akimbo (plucked wings), and he was looking at her like a very old, pert and curious bird.
“Marry!” he repeated. “Marry, marry, marry, marry, marry.”
Then his excitement communicated itself to his defective leg, and it wriggled away to one side, as if seeking to detach itself. Henry let it have its way till the paroxysm was exhausted, then he restored it to its position, said “Ah-h-h!” and continued: “Marry, marry, marry. What say?”
“I—I don’t quite understand you, Mr. Springer,’’ said Ann, with downcast eyes and unimaginable simplicity.
“Marry,” said Henry. “Marry. Dem it, it’s easy. Marry, marry, marry. You will? Yes, yes, yes, yes.”
“This is so sudden, Mr. Springer,” said Ann, “so unexpected. You will have to give me time.”
“Time, time. Certainly, lots of time. Fellow’s still young, fellow’s still hearty.” Again the distressing leg wriggled away, and did a sort of rag on its own responsibility, and again it was restored. “Ah-h-h!” said Henry. “Say a week, a week, a week.”
“Or a fortnight,” said Ann. She saw her delightful acquaintanceship with Henry drawing to a close, and she hated to lose him.
“Right, right, right, a fortnight then, a fortnight. Two weeks, two weeks, weeks, weeks, weeks. Ah-h-h!” He grabbed his leg that time before it could get away on another convulsive excursion. “Ah-h-h! caught you,” he said.
“It’s a beastly shame,” Ann said to her mother that evening. “I know I shall never get another like him. I’ve half a mind to marry him after all.”
“Ann!” gasped her mother. “That old man? Marry him! You can’t possibly care for him.” Mrs. Quigley’s maternal eyes were round with apprehension.
“I don’t positively adore him,” said Ann, with an air of sadness, “but after all is true love everything? I’m sure I could be happy with Henry. I’ve only to look at that twittering leg of his, and my heart sings like a bird. I’m sure a girl could live happy with a leg like that—it’s such a gadabout.”
“Ann, don’t talk utter rubbish.”
“Still, mother, you must admit Mr. Springer offers many inducements. I might wait for ten years, and not get as funny a husband.”
“Bless my soul, girl! what reasonable creature wants a funny husband?”
“I don’t know, but it seems to me marriage would be quite bearable if one’s husband were funny enough. That’s why I’m thinking seriously of Mr. Springer.”
“Well, Ann Quigley, if you marry that wriggly old devil, I’ll never speak to you again.”
Ann had not the remotest idea of marrying Mr. Henry Springer, and Henry’s own intentions will have further light thrown on them, but meanwhile Mr. Springer was the twittering old gallant to the life. He literally embowered Ann in roses; the chocolates he bought were in huge, elaborate boxes, ornate enough to be conspicuous features in a swagger Chinese joss house, or a pantomime transformation scene.
“Fortnight, mind,” said Henry, “fortnight, fortnight. Two weeks, weeks, weeks.”
“I remember Henry,” said Ann demurely.
“Henry!” Mr. Springer exploded, “Henry! Called me Henry, Henry, Henry, Henry. By jove!” He seized her hand, he raised it towards his lips, with his other hand he removed his hat, holding it in a reverent attitude as one does at a burial, then he kissed Ann’s knuckles. It was a most impressive performance.
“Oh, Harry,” said Ann. “You’re a naughty, naughty boy.”
“Boy!” cried Henry. He laughed like the rustling of brown paper for nearly a minute. “Boy,” he cackled, “boy, boy, boy!” Here he was pulled up by an unfortunate spasm in the impertinent leg, and his rhapsody ended in a long-drawn “Ah-h-h!”
“Answer Sunday, Sunday, Sunday,” said Henry on leaving.
“I remember. You must come to dinner,” said Ann.
Henry Springer came on the Sunday evening. He was dressed with the utmost elaborateness, and he had crimped his hair. Never was his hat brim so curled, or his eyeglass so dazzling, or his boots so glittering, or his spats so spotless.
“The day,” he said, wagging a finger at Ann, “the day, the day, day, day, day.”
Ann detained him in the drawing-room for half-an-hour, and then Henry was led into dinner.
In the dining-room were Mr. and Mrs. Quigley, Ann’s sister Violet, and an old shrunken woman who sat nodding at the head of the table. The old woman had been very tall, now she was bent. She had much difficulty in keeping her chin out of her plate, and her head nodded strangely.
Ann took Henry by the hand, and brought him forward. There was some attempt at resistance on Mr. Springer’s part, and he was spluttering in an effort to articulate.
“Papa and Mamma,” said Ann, in affected speech. “Mr. Springer has promised to marry me.”
“Naughty Henry!” croaked the old lady at the head of the table.
“I have considered his proposal. He is a good man, papa. He loves me dearly, mamma. I don’t think I can find it in my heart to refuse him.”
“What’s all this!” stuttered Mr. Springer. “What’s all this, all this, all this, this, this?”
“Henry, I will marry you,” said Ann, and her arms went about Henry’s neck, her weight bore him down.
“No, I say, dem it,” cried Henry. “No, no, no. Not in the presence of one’s wife!”
“Your wife!” cried Ann.
“My wife,” said Henry. “Dem it all, Susan, what’re you doin’ here? What, what, what, what?”
“Good evening, Henry,” croaked the old lady.
“It’s a beastly trap, by jove,” said Henry. “A dooced ungentlemanly thing to do, dooced ungentlemanly, dooced ungentlemanly to introduce a fellow’s wife at such a time, time, time, time.”
“Naughty, naughty boy, Henry!” piped the ancient female.
“I’m going,” said Henry. “It’s a dashed insult. I-I-I-I”
His leg went back on him as he broke for the door, and he hit the jamb with his nose.
Mr. Quigley went after Mr. Springer, and Henry’s exit from the house was most undignified.
Of course it was Ann who had hunted Mrs. Springer’ out, and had arranged this dramatic finish for her two-act comedy. Ann is quite content with the denouement, and the farce has gone into her extensive repertoire.
“Henry is always marrying someone or another,” said the old lady as Ann parted with her that night. “I don’t often interfere with him now.”
Miss Jane Gaby was one of the many joys of Ann’s life. Miss Gaby was a professional lady, who came by the day, hiring out her services as a specialist at the moderate rate of four shillings and sixpence per diem.
Miss Gaby was a wonderful washer. You’d hardly have thought it to look at her, but appearances are proverbially deceitful. The fact is Miss Gaby bestowed so much soap and water and such excess of “elbow grease” upon other people’s goods she had little to spare for her own, consequently this expert cleanser was never quite clean.
I have heard it said that shoemakers’ children are always ill-shod. For the same reason, possibly, washerwomen are often ill-washed. Miss Jane Gaby, washerlady, was invariably ill-washed. She was small, she was sparse—so sparse, in fact, that she hadn’t flesh to spare for the adequate covering of her bones.
“She looks like a collapsed balloon filled with sticks,” said Ann Quigley.
That was fairly descriptive of Jane’s figure. Jane’s face was browned and toughened with much exercise over many copper fires, and by the wear and tear of wind and weather braved in the hanging out of untold washing.
Jane might have been twenty-eight, or forty-five, or anything in between. You realised, at any rate, she was no longer a girl, and you perceived from her ant-like energy when on the job that she was not hopelessly old. The rest was mere conjecture.
Jane Gaby came to “business” dressed up and carrying her working clothes in a string-bag.
“Don’t want ev’rybiddy t’ know yer bizness,” said Jane. “A washer and scrubber’s got ez much right t’ dress like a lydie ez a servinkt has, I sez.”
Ann Quigley applauded the sentiment. “Of course she has, Jane. Don’t let yourself down. Keep up appearances. Why shouldn’t you look elegant?”
Jane Gaby smoothed her little bit of fur. Originally that bit of fur was bear; now it was almost bare. It had been given to her by a generous mistress long, long ago. Jane called it a “tippet,” but it looked like an onion net that had unaccountably grown whiskers. “I thought I’d put on me furs this mornin’,” said Jane.
“Quite right, Jane,” said Ann demurely, her eyes twinkling. “Where’s the sense in keeping smart things stowed away for thieves to steal?”
“Or fer the moths to get at ’em,” said Jane. “Do you think me ’at’s too gay? Dinny sez it’s puttin’ on dorg.”
“Not a bit, Jane. I’d even put a few plums in if I had them.”
“To go with the cherries? Sorry I ain’t got any. I put in all the hartificial grapes an’ cherries I ’ad, an’ Mrs. Rogers gave me this wax happle.”
“All the fruits in season,” said Ann, solemnly,
“Yes, miss. Bein’ ez how fruit’s in, it orter be fash’nible in ’ats.”
Subsequently Miss Ann Quigley made a collection of artificial fruits for the further decoration of that hat. Jane’s hats were an undying delight to Ann. She begged old flowers and feathers from her friends to add to the marvels and mysteries of Miss Gaby’s hats, and Jane, poor simple soul, accepted all with the greatest gratitude, and added the lot to her headwear.
The present hat looked like an ordinary kitchen bowl with a close-curled rim, and Jane had sewn it liberally with mixed fruits, and very stale mixed fruits at that. Jane’s notions of hat trimming were unique in their simplicity. If she were trimming with feathers, she seized all the ill-used feathers in her large collection of “trimmings” and attached them to her tile. So, too, with fruits, flowers, or ribbons. You may gather what Jane’s large assortment of trimmings amounted to from her confidential report.
“I love t’ go scrubbin’ out where there’s bin a shiftin’, Miss Quigley,” she said. “You can get sich heaps iv trimmin’s. People movin’ acts ez if they was never a-goin’ t’ wear ’ats again.”
Ann, hovering in the steam, fishing for Jane’s confidences, preserved a face of preternatural gravity. “Yes,” she said sympathetically, “I’ve noticed you don’t go short of hats. None of my friends, some of them rich people, have such a variety.”
“I make it a pint never t’ go out three times runnin’ in the same ’at,” said Jane. “Why should I? I’m doin’ scrubbin’ fer three ’ouse an’ land agents —that means one empty ’ouse t’ scrub every week sometimes more, an’ every empty ’ouse has its ’at, often two. At one place last month I got three, an’ a ’ole harmful iv trimmin’s.”
“Lucky girl!” said Ann. Ann was externally composed—internally she was simmering with laughter.
“You know that bronze coat with the ostridge hair collar you was admirin’ lars’ Monday, Miss Quigley?” resumed Jane in a burst of confidence. “Well, I got that at a shiftin’. The larst tenant left it ’angin’ behind the kitchen door.”
“Me best boots, too—them pemellers—I got in a hempty ’ouse I ’ad to scrub out. Wonderful the things you can pick up in hempty ’ouses. Dinny sez: ‘Me girl, alwiz keep yer eyes open in a hempty ’ouse. I got him a ’ole new suit in a cupboard in a scrub-out once. ’Twas a bit worn on the edges, but he got five shillin’s fer it et a ’ole close shop.” Dinny was Jane’s young man. Jane had often spoken of him to Ann, and Ann was consumed with eagerness to behold the hero. Many a happy half-hour she had given to the work of pumping Jane for details of the life and adventures of Dinny Smith.
“You know, miss, Mr. Smith’s a gentleman,” said Jane.
“A gentleman?” interrogated Ann, with the expected air of happy surprise.
“Yes. You can’t get Dinny t’ do a single hand’s turn. A perfec’ gentleman, he is.”
“How nice!” said artful Ann. “But how does he live?”
“Oh, there’s alwiz counter lunches,” said Jane, “an’ mostly people is very good to him. He has such takin’ ways, Dinny has, an’ he’s so ’andsome an’ stylish scarcely anyone can refuse him anythink. He took me to the livid pickshers the other night. I wore me noo more-on-tick yer mother give me, an’ me fruit ’at; but ’twas all wasted, coz Dinny, he wouldn’t go in till the lights was out.”
“That was a pity, Jane. I’m sure you would look chic in that gown.”
“Shick, miss? I gi’ you my word, I ’adn’t tasted—”
“No, no, not ’shic’—chic, smart, you know.”
“Oh, I did. But it’s a curious thing Dinny never will go into them livid pickshers till the lights is out. He alwiz sez there’s someone in there might wanter borrer money off him. Dinny’s father was a great politician, you know, miss. Rang the bell at ’lection-eerin’ meetin’s, he did.”
There were many stories of Dinny’s escapades, and often Jane dwelt rapturously on his sheer manly beauty.
“Dresses like a torf, he does,” said Jane; “carries his stick with the best of ’em, and his watch-chain’s almost gold. He ain’t got a watch, but he sez he’ll ’ave one yet, an’ he will, too. Dinny gets everythink he sets his ’eart on.”
“When are you to be married, Jane?” asked Ann one day, as she stood in the steam of the wash-house, while Jane flogged a trough of soapy linen.
“I dunno yet,” Jane replied simply. “We’ve on’y bin engaged five years; but it won’t be long, I think, coz Dinny ’ates long engagements. He’s savin’ up fer it.”
“But if Mr. Smith will not work, how can he be saving up, Jane?”
“Oh, easy, miss—he’s savin’ up my money.”
“How kind of him. He must be a nice man. I wish I could see him.”
“It wouldn’t be no use, miss,” said Jane innocently, grimacing fiendishly over the wringing of a shirt. “There ain’t no woman in the world fer him but me.”
For a long time Ann Quigley had been delighting her friends with little bits of Jane Gaby, washerlady. Jane was one of Ann’s most popular impersonations, and Jane’s revelations, as translated by Ann, were certainly the most piquant comedy.
One day a young man of about twenty-eight, tallish, fairly well dressed and rather good-looking, after the raffish manner of a bookmaker’s amanuensis, entered by the Quigley’s back gate. He came upon Ann in the garden.
“Is Miss Gaby here?” he asked. “Might I see her for a minute?”
Jane and the young man conversed closely under an apple tree, and Ann, the rogue, from good cover, kept an eye on the pair. She saw Jane count some silver into the palm of the stranger, who then kissed the high angle of Jane’s left cheekbone in a perfunctory manner, and went away.
“That was ’im, miss,” said Jane.
“Mr. Dinny Smith—your intended?” exclaimed Ann. She was not able to wholly conceal her surprise this time.
“Yes, miss. Didn’t I tell you he was a gentleman? Oh, it ain’t on’y the lydies what can get a fine gent. Did yeh ever in yer life see anythin’ ’andsomer?”
“He is rather good-looking.”
“Nothing wrong with Dinny, there ain’t, bar that scar by his eye. He got that rescuin’ a fair lydie.”
“A fair lady? How romantic!”
“Yes. He rescued her from a policeman, an’ the cop ’it ’im with ’is stick. The fair lydie was drunk et the time.”
“He’s quite a hero.”
Ann Quigley had now her own suspicions of Mr. Dinny Smith, gentleman, and when she gave this new bit of Jane Gaby—the tale of the rescue of the fair lady, with a vivid description of the hero—Olivia Anderson uttered a cry.
“A scar,” she cried, “here by the eye, shaped like a triangle, a little ruddy brown moustache, black eyes! That’s Alfred Holmes, our Martha’s young man. Martha is our servant, you know. She’s fat and thirty-five. She’s awfully soft on Alfred, and he comes to see her—generally on pay night.”
“We’re getting warm,’’ said Ann. “I must investigate Dinny.”
About a fortnight later Ann had a great tale for her friends.
“I’ve found out all about Mr. Dinny Smith,” she said. “I asked Cooper, the detective, if he knew anything of such a man, and he knew him perfectly. ‘Now, miss, I wouldn’t expect you to have any dealings with a crook like Jessop,’ he said. I explained that I was merely curious about the blackguard. ‘Well,’ said Cooper, ‘he’s known as Genteel Jessop. He’s a cheap spieler. His best play is imposing upon silly women. For three years in Sydney he was kept, and well-kept, too, by a lot of servant girls scattered through the suburbs, to whom he’d engaged himself.
“There must have been twenty or thirty of them, and he bled them to the extent of about 10/- a week a-piece. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was at the same game here. Do you know anything, miss?’ Of course I didn’t. I didn’t want police interference to spoil my play.”
“But he is doing the same here,” cried Olivia. “He’s robbing our Martha, I’m sure.”
“Of course he is. And he is robbing poor old silly Jane; but there is something to be made out of this, and I want you girls to come along on Friday night. I’ve got an idea for a little al-fresco comedy. Olivia, you bring Dick. I shall have Billy Crowther. Meanwhile, keep it dark.”
Mrs. Quigley had engaged Jane’s services for a whole week for a special spring cleaning; but on the Friday evening Jane was unexpectedly liberated at 7 o’clock, and went off in her fruit hat and her bronze coat trimmed with “ostridge hair” to do the pictures.
Ann’s guests all arrived at the appointed time, and Ann, preserving a great mystery, disposed of them all in hiding in the big fruit garden at the back.
‘‘Don’t move, don’t speak,” said Ann. “If you do, you will spoil all.”
Ann left them there, and about ten minutes’ later a whistle was blown at the back gate. It was repeated twice before Jane Gaby appeared. Jane came down the moonlit garden path. There was no mistaking Jane’s peculiar, slip-shod walk, Jane’s peculiar figure caved in from the back, and, above all, Jane’s peculiar hat.
The gate opened, and Mr. Dinny Smith, alias Arthur Holmes, alias Genteel Jessop, went up the path to met her.
“Well, old dear,” he said, “where’s the gonce?”
“Yes not pertickler lovin’ t’night, Dinny, is yer?” said Jane, and there was no mistaking Jane’s quaint enunciation.
“Oh, cut the soft stuff, Skin,” said Mr. Smith. “Take this in passing.” He kissed Jane aimlessly, and it landed on her ear. “And please clean up the dibbs, I’m hasty.”
“I don’t think I orter give you any more money, Dinny.”
“You don’t think! Well, get your thinker going at once, and wish up five dollars or I stand out.”
“Wot! yid turn me down after all I done for yeh, after all the money yiv ’ad! Ev’ry penny I ever earned yiv ’ad, Dinny.”
“Of course I have, and isn’t it hung up where I can get it, safe and sound, accumulating interest. Thirty per cent. I’m getting on that money, and you’d stick it away in an old boot where it wouldn’t earn a bean.”
“I want it all back. I want it now, too. If you don’t gimme it I’ll call the p’lice.” Jane had seized him by the coat.
“I’ll have the cops on yeh. They’re ’andy, waitin’. Gimme me money.”
Mr. Smith was perturbed. “Here Jane, old dear, don’t be a nark,” he said. “I haven’t got a bean on me; but you’ll get your stuff all right.”
“I don’t b’lieve it. I ’eard all about you, Mister Harther ’Olmes, Mr. Genteel Jessop, doin’in poor girls fer their earnin’s. You done me in, an’ I ain’t going t’ let you off too easy. Take that, yeh dirty robber!” Jane produced a pot-stick from under her coat, and it cracked on Mr. Smith’s occiput, Mr. Smith went down. “Take that,” said Jane, “an’ that, an’ that, an’ don’t you never come near again, ’r Mister Detective Cooper ’ll stick you in gaol fer seven years. I’ve torked t’ ’im about you, yeh dirty, loafin’ ’ound! Take that!”
Mr. Dinny Smith was going on hands and knees towards the gate, and Jane was beating him lustily as he went. He tore at the latch under a rain of blows, and as he fled into the right-of-way the pot-stick, thrown with great spirit, took him between the shoulder-blades.
Mr. Dinny Smith had gone out of Jane Gaby’s life for good and all, and Jane, after shrilling a few objurgations in the wake of the villain of the piece, went shuffling back towards the house. Ann’s guests trooped after her; but Jane fled into the apartments temporarily set apart for her, and the others passed on to the drawing-room in silence, respecting her sorrow.
Ann joined her friends a few minutes later. Ann was flushed and breathless, but otherwise undisturbed.
“Well,” she said, “did you enjoy the performance?”
“It was ripping,’ said Billy. “Didn’t the old girl dealt it out to him.”
“She did,” Ann grinned wickedly. “But now we must keep all this from Jane, or she might spoil the good work.”
“Keep it from Jane?” gasped Sylvia. “Why—who—what—”
Ann fell into a Jane attitude—Ann assumed the Jane voice. “With the help of a few properties I was the avenging angel,” she said.
Then the laughter began in earnest. It had not quite died away when the real Jane Gaby returned gaily from the “livid pickshers” nearly two hours later.
“Beautiful!” said Ann. “Lovely,” she said. Oh, and that ruby set! Isn’t it sweet?”
Ann was enraptured as Mrs. Shoppie lifted article after article from the crystal case in which her jewels were contained.
“But, aren’t you afraid of thieves, dear?” said Ann anxiously.
“Not in the least,” replied her friend. “Thieves don’t break into a simple, uncompromising little cottage like mine on spec, and nobody knows about my jewels excepting my friends, none of whom appear to be sufficiently covetous to be tempted to burglary.”
“If I had all these,” said Ann enviously, “I’d want to load myself down with the whole display, and flash myself upon a first-night audience at the theatre—a veritable blaze of glory.”
“Like a Queen of Sheba,” smiled Mrs. Shoppie.
“Or a chandelier,” replied Ann.
“I love jewellery, dear, but I never wear it. I take the interest in nice jewels that a philatelist takes in rare old stamps.”
“That’s funny,” Ann said regretfully. “I would as soon think of collecting oysters, or fricasseed crayfish, or roast pigeons for the pleasure of feasting my eyes on them.”
“If I were in the habit of wearing them I certainly would be fearful of keeping them about the house,” the widow said.
“They must be worth hundreds,” sighed Ann.
“I would not take a thousand pounds for this and its contents.” Mrs. Shoppie held up the crystal casket and its glittering contents in her small plump hands.
Mrs. Shoppie’s hands were her most attractive attribute, neat and white. They were the hands of a girl of sixteen, whereas the widow was forty-five, a little too heavy for her height, her full cheeks a little too red, her dark hair already grained with silver. But there were no rings on her fingers, her full, rather short neck was guiltless of jewels, and her tiny ears were unadorned with gems.
Ann had a sumptuous taste for jewellery. Her own round arms displayed bracelets and bangles, and about her white neck was laced a long chain of round beads, almost gold.
“I’m brummy, and Sis is brummy,” said Ann sadly, in reference to these adornments: “but with industrious polishing I hope to pass the family paste off as the genuine thing, and here are you hoarding up hundreds and hundreds of pounds’ worth of the real goods, just for the satisfaction of feasting your eyes on them once in a way. You are an undeserving wretch; you are unfit to possess these blessings of Providence.”
Mrs. Shoppie held up a string of pearls. “Beware, woman!” said Ann Quigley, scowling in the manner of the dark and lustrous adventuress in the melodrama. “Do not tempt me too far. I could inbrue my hands in gore for less than this!”
The widow Shoppie was a new acquaintance of Ann’s. Our Miss Quigley had an amazing faculty for making friends, especially among women. Ann was unique in this—that, although most men were ready to make love to her, all women were prepared to be friendly with her. Cynics have said it is impossible for women to like the women men love. But women did like Ann, and certainly the masculine elements were always propitious.
There was something in Ann’s humor that appealed most directly to her erring sisters. For the delectation of one woman she could closely imitate all the peculiarities (facial and fanciful) of all her best friends, and with a touch of caricature that made them grotesque. We might dwell on the notion that this manifests the peculiar cattishness of women, were it not for the lamentable fact that man is equally unworthy, and rejoices just as keenly in the misfortunes of his best friend, as enlarged by the caricaturist or the comedian.
Mrs. Shoppie had taken to Ann spontaneously. “You are like champagne, dear,” she said. “I love champagne, but it gives me a deplorable head. You stimulate me, and don’t give me a head. You must come and see me, and do that bit of old Mrs. Crowther all over again just for me. Do, do. I must get even with old Mrs. Crowther. She has bored me to extinction a score of times, and to be able to sit and laugh right out at her as you act her (and you do her to the life, dear), is such a comfort, you really wouldn’t believe.”
Ann was just as ready to make friends, and here she was in the widow’s little home, a free recipient of the widow’s confidences, be-deared, and kissed, and applauded, possessed of the story of the widow’s life —an old and valued bosom friend of fifty-two hours’ standing.
The two had dined together. It was a delightful little dinner Mrs. Shoppie provided.
“I’m more proud of my cooking than I am of my pearls, darling,” she said. “I value these filets de soles above rubies.”
They were very cosy. Over mild cigarettes Ann had re-enacted the more marked idiosyncrasies of their mutual friend, Mrs. Crowther, senr.—a snuff-taking, elderly dame with an ear trumpet like a trombone.
“I’ll tell you what,” said Mrs. Shoppie when the interest of the jewels had passed, “we will go to the picture show up the street. There’s a delightfully rude French film showing.”
They went to the picture show, and enjoyed the Parisian jest at the expense of the usual confiding husband, and then Mrs. Shoppie insisted on deviled oysters and coffee at a small local restaurant that enjoyed her confidence.
They had made a very pleasant night of it; both felt that they were doing the thing quite like women of the world, bless you. They had cigarettes again with the coffee, very mild cigarettes, but as Mrs. Shoppie confessed—
“It isn’t the flavor of the tobacco that matters; it’s the wickedness of doing it, isn’t it, dear?”
At this point it was that Ann started up with a yell, and pointed a tragic finger at the clock.
“My last train!” she cried. She made a frantic excursion into her great coat, and grabbed her bag.
“What of it?” said the widow. “You can stay with me.”
“Impossible!” gasped Ann. “My family expect me. They’d have all the police in Christendom out on my trail if I didn’t land on the domestic doormat to-night. As it is—” Ann did not finish her sentence. She was making for the door.
“You don’t know how parents can fuss over one,” she panted, as they headed, for the railway station. “I can look after myself better than my mother. I’m a dozen times more worldly wise than my father; but let them lose track of me for an hour after 11 p.m., and you’d think all hope was abandoned.”
“I can’t do it, my dear,” panted the widow. “I’m too thick through. And after supper this is too much for my too, too solid flesh. You go on if you must, and good-night, love.”
Ann dashed on. She landed on the dimly-lit suburban platform breathless, her hat in one hand, her boa trailing after her, her gold-brown hair all over the place.
“Last train gone, miss,” said a porter. “Went seven minutes ago.”
“But I must go home,” cried Ann. “The train had no right to go. I have a return ticket.”
“Sorry, miss; but, you see, you didn’t acquaint the Commissioners. Maybe they’d have altered the time tables if you’d on’y let ’em know you was goin’ t’ be late leavin’ this evenin’.”
“I don’t want any of your cheap impudence, and I do want to go home,” said Ann. “I shall go home, I insist.”
“Oh, very well, in that case I suppose I’ll have to whistle up a train fer yeh.” The facetious porter whistled as one beguiles a reluctant terrier.
You can whistle trains from the mighty deep, but will they come? At that moment a locomotive head-light flashed through the darkness far down the line.
“Here’s one! Here’s one!’ cried Ann. “Oh, thank you, porter.”
The porter grinned. “Oh, don’t mention it, miss; a little thing like that. Unfortunately, this is a goods.”
“Is is going through to Melbourne! Does it stop here?”
The porter nodded. “There’s a truck ’r two t’ be ’ooked on ’ere,” he said.
Ann pushed a half-crown into his hand. “Crowd me in somewhere—anywhere!” she said.
The porter in charge found a van into which Ann was smuggled. He swung his lamp round the interior, showing that it contained only about a score of sides of sole leather reared against one end. “You’ll be orl right-o here, miss,” he said; “but you’ll have to take your chance of her stoppin’ at your station. I know she stops at Lee, that’s the station this side o’ yours. P’raps you’d better hop it there. Try an’ do a getaway without bein’ seen. Any’ow, I trusts yeh not t’ peach on a fellerman what’s done yeh a good turn.”
Ann expressed her gratitude, and proceeded to make herself as comfortable as possible, and the long goods train groaned and squeaked and pumped its way heavily and slowly out of the station. It passed under a bridge within fifty yards of the platform, and here Miss Quigley was startled by the thump of a weighty body apparently falling on the roof of the van. A fraction of a second later there came another bump.
Our Miss Quigley’s heart stood still. She crouched down in a corner, and listened, but heard nothing more above the rattling of the train. She had just satisfied herself that all was well, when she saw the sliding door of the van move slowly back, and across the widening aperture, visible against the lighter night, was the arm of a man. A second later a man’s head appeared, and then a man’s figure insinuated itself into the van.
Ann crouched further back, gripping her lips to repress the impulse to scream that rose in her throat. Behind her the sloping pile of leather offered a retreat, and into this refuge, between the pile and the wall, Ann was already worming her backward flight. “It’s all right ’ere, Billo,” croaked the newcomer. “Take the blarsted bag, will yeh?” said a second voice, and a moment later Billo entered.
“Let’s ’ave a squint round,” said the first man. “Got the matches?”
“Got a couple loose. I dropped the blarsted box when the dam dog come at me.”
Billo struck a match, and held it sheltered in his palm, surveying the interior. “All serene,” he said. “My oath, Ned, this is a clean get-erway. Never knew a cleaner.”
“Thort I’d missed me train when I leggo that blighted bridge,” said Ned.
Billo laughed unpleasantly. “If yeh had,” he said, “there’d a’ bin a hinquist on yer remains, an’ the goods was all me own.”
“But yer luck was agin yeh, yeh beaut, an’ ’ere I am fer me full ’arf.”
“Alius was a selfish swine, Ned; you was, alius,” said Billo. “’Owsomdever, there’s a tidy bit fer the pair, I’m thinkin’.”
“Let’s ’ave a cook at it. In the ’urry o’ grabbin’ of it I didn’t trouble t’ get on to the swag. Is it ez good ez the gal cracked it up t’ be?”
“It’s better. ’Ere, ’old the bag. Careful, carn’t yeh? She’s open.”
Billo struck a match, and Ann, peeping in a state of nervous horror from her hiding place, saw in the light of the burning match two heads bent over a brown handbag. She raised herself a little to command a view of the contents of the bag.
Again Ann Quigley had to clutch at her mouth with a resolute hand to repress a cry. The brown bag on the van floor contained Mrs. Shoppie’s jewels. Ann recognised the articles at a glance, and the same instant a thorough comprehension of the situation came to her. While she and the widow were absent at the pictures the thieves had looted Mrs. Shoppie’s cottage. The “gal” referred to was, doubtless, Mrs. Shoppie’s maid, corrupted after long years of faithful service by the knowledge of the little fortune in the crystal casket hidden in a cunningly devised nook in the chimney of the widow’s bedroom.
“Out that light!” snorted Billo. “She’s stoppin’.”
Peeping forth again Ann found the van slightly lit by the rays of a station lamp. Billo was standing at the van door, which he had pushed open an inch or two, peeping out. Ned was at the opposite door on the dark side, which door he had opened to provide a means of hasty retreat should his mate give the warning.
Within easy reach on the floor of the van was the brown bag.
An inspiration flashed upon Ann. She acted upon it without reflection. Creeping forth a few feet she reached for the bag, and stealthily withdrew into her hiding place.
Leaving the bag hidden among the leather, Ann crept along between the sloping sides of the leather and the wall of the van to the exit from her retreat nearest Ned. Here she waited the crucial moment.
The train was starting. Ann stole towards Ned. He was looking into the night. She pushed him in the back—a sudden, determined thrust—and, crouching down, swiftly backed into cover again.
Ned was gone. With a cry he had plunged through the open door into the darkness.
Ann, in hiding with the brown bag under her, waited breathlessly. Her heart was beating like a motor; but she felt no fear, only a great exultation.
She heard Billo’s fierce oath. She heard him feeling about on the van floor, Then came another oath,
“He’s done me!” said Billo. “The swine’s gone with the loot! He’s done me!”
Billo was at the open door. The train was now travelling at a good speed, but Billo was blind to reason. His heart was filled with black rage. He was lusting for revenge against his faithless friend, Edward. He jumped.
Ann did not hear Billo go, but after a few minutes of silence she ventured to look out from her leather lean-to. Both doors were open. The van was empty of men.
The train drew up at Lee. Ann, with the brown bag in her hand, climbed down from the van on to the line. The passenger platform was fifty yards away. There was no one to intercept her. She went up on to the platform, climbed the gate with some difficulty, and went home.
Ann’s family was used to the escapades of Ann; but this seemed the maddest. It was an incoherent, half-frantic tale the late-comer brought home; consequently Mr. Quigley’s story to the police, when he arrived at the local station in a pair of trousers with floating braces, seemed wholly suspicious.
The Law regarded Ann for an hour or so with the gravest doubts. She had the stolen goods; her story was quite beyond reasonable belief. But why work upon the reader’s feelings? Ann did not serve a sentence for stealing Mrs. Shoppie’s jewellery. The finding of poor Billo lying by the railway line, with a broken leg and concussion of the brain, served to corroborate her strange tale. Later, Mrs. Shoppie’s maid confessed the details of her co-operation with the delectable Ned, and the final result was two new faces at Pentridge and a string of pearls for Ann’s handsome neck.
“The reward of valor!” said Mrs. Shoppie.
He was something left over from last night—a wholly irrelevant object, a fleck upon the clean day.
It was about six a.m., and a reddish morning mist was on land and sea. The red sun was rolling over a vague suburb shrouded in vapor, undecided and drowsy still, like something just precipitated from bed, and not yet quite awake. You almost expected the great bleary orb to knuckle his eyes.
Miss Ann Quigley was enjoying the sea. Apparently it had been reserved for her. She was alone in its polished expanse.
Clad in an ample neck-to-knee Canadian two-piece, Miss Quigley fairly wallowed in the grateful brine.
This early morning pickling had become a habit and almost a necessity. Every day the first peep of the sun found her venturing an experimental toe into the deep. This had been going on through a long summer, and so far without interference or comment from unlicensed persons.
There was to be a change this morning. The party left over from last night’s revel, heaven knows where, came swanking along the sands, booming fitfully of a “life on the ocean wave, a home on the rolling deep,” and addressing nature at large in the intervals.
The belated reveller may have been sleeping it off in some nook along the shore. He looked like it. There was sand in his hair, and he was festooned with dry seaweed, and a dead crab clung desperately to the back of his coat.
The sleeping off process had been ill carried out. The reveller had ignored the sage advice of one who knew, “No matter how you go to bed, always get up sober.” The reveller by night was up, and most decidedly he was not sober. He was in full evening dress. His ample white shirt had been pulled rather far out through the front of his vest, the act, no doubt, of some fellow reveller seeking a prop and stay, but otherwise his garments were rightly disposed, and he carried a large umbrella, with which he propped himself as a kangaroo uses its tail, when he apostrophised the sun or the sea.
He came carolling and swanking along the sands, an absurd fleck on the righteous day, an insult to the sober sea, and Ann, thinking to avoid criticism, sank herself as far as possible into the kindly waters, and waited the passing of the Prodigal.
The riotous liver did not pass; he planked himself right opposite, between Ann and Ann’s garments, and, with his gamp dug in the sand behind him, serving as a back stay or pillar, he threw back his head, and bellowed a verse of “Asleep in the Deep.” He seemed to like this particular spot, for, having sung, he proceeded to further entertain the seagulls. He recited Byron.
“Roll on, thou darsh-’n’-deep bl-ocean, roll,” he said. “Ten thoushan fleesh shweep over she in vain,” said he.
He became more declamatory, and, standing with the water rippling over his court shoes, he went right through the three verses; but, neglecting his prop to throw in some eloquent gesticulation, he pitched on his nose in the wet sand. Slowly and awkwardly the reveller arose, uplifting himself like a cow, hind end first, and, missing his balance more than once, he ploughed the sands further with his high-arched, aristocratic nose.
Finally he got himself established, on the right end again. He was hurt. Not bitter, you understand, but gravely hurt.
“Thash too bad!” he said, “I don’ care who you are, thash not the ri’ thing to do. I’m ’fraid you’re (hic), no shennleman. A man’s doin’ his bes’ to ent’ain you, ’n’ you push ’m’ down. Dash rude! Thash wha’ I say, dash rude, whoever y’ are.”
At this point the reveller’s eyes fell upon Ann. He peered with faint surprise. Digging his umbrella in with some emphasis, he steadied himself and looked again.
“Blesh my shoul,” he said. He fingered in his vest, drew out a single eyeglass, and fixed it carefully in his left optic, and looked again long and gravely where Miss Ann Quigley, golden-brown haired, golden-brown eyed, and cherry cheeked, was sitting tucked up in the sea, knees and chin meeting.”
“Well, ’pon my shoul, thash odd!” said the reveller. “A nymph, by jove! A blessed bloomin’ sea nymph, by jingo!” He raised his hat very decorously and bowed. “Goo’ morn’n’,” he said. “Howja do? Ho-hope I shee you well.”
“Will you please go away?” said Ann.
“Firsht time had the pleasure of meeting nymph. Skews me, I’m the (hic!) Prodigal Son.” He raised his hat again. “You’ve heard of me, of coursh. I’m the original Prodigal Son.”
“If you don’t go away at once I shall call out,” said Ann with asperity.
“Itsh mermaid,” said the Prodigal Son, with the air of a man who has made a great discovery and satisfied his last doubt. “By jove! yesh; booful mermaid.”
The Prodigal Son proceeded to adjust his attire. He gave the billowing shirt a petulant push in. He took a small comb from his pocket, and made an attempt to comb back his hair. Then he raked his nose in a fond delusion that he was combing his moustache. “Thash all ri’,” he said.
The Prodigal looked at his hands for some moments, turning them over, seemingly most dubious. He was doubtful about having met them before. He was not sure that, in attaching themselves to him, they were not guilty of a great impertinence. “Ah! yesh,” he said; “my handsh.” He seemed much relieved. He dug out a pair of soiled white gloves, and put them on. Then, leaning in a fine, graceful attitude on his stick, he smiled vaguely at Ann. “Booful mermaid,” he said, “may shennleman be p’mitted ask you to lunch? Never (hic!) had lunch with booful mermaid before, but wharrer devil I care? Lerrum say wha’ they like. Skewsh me, my card.”
The Prodigal Son advanced a few steps, offering his card, and Ann arose and retired with dignity into deeper water.
“I beg pardon,” said the Prodigal Son stiffly. “I’m sure I beg pardon. No fens meant. I say, don’ go way. You’re my booful mermaid, I saw you first. May shennleman be p’mitted humbly ’pologise?” He followed Ann till he was up to his knees in the sea.
Here the Prodigal paused. Looking down he was surprised to find the water there. He was hurt. It was only natural. “Bloomin’ liberty,” he said. “Piece gross ins’lence put shennleman in bath without his consent. ’Fernal audacity!” He turned round, and, discovering his umbrella, gravely put it up. “Fearful rain after the storm,” he said. “Drea’ful wet. Floods. Floods everywhere.” He struck a pose for reciting, “Warrer, warrer everywhere, and norrer drop to drink!” he said.
His eye fell on Ann again. “Ah!” he said, “there you are Booful mermaid.”
He continued wading. The water reached his waist. He persisted, still with his gamp aloft. “Booful mermaid,” he said, “lemme offer you share umbrella. Drea’ful weather we’re ’avin’.”
“Will you go away?” said Ann.
He was hurt again. He was very stiff with her. “Oh, cer’nly, if wish it,” he said. “No wish to intrude ’m sure. Wouldn’t have come in firsht instance if you hadn’t asked me. Only came in out of the rain anyway.” He turned his umbrella aside, looked up curiously at the sky, and put out a hand. “Shtill rainin’” he said. “But, of course if ’m nor welcome—” He turned round, and waded out.
Miss Ann Quigley was always willing to take risks in an adventure that had elements of the comical; but she had not laughed until now. Now, however, she did laugh, and the ripple of it went dancing across the sun-kissed water. The spectacle of this dignified citizen, a little too fat for his length, haughtily wading in the sea in full evening dress, with an umbrella up broke down the ramparts of caution, and Miss Quigley came near drowning in the joyous paroxysm that seized her.
The Prodigal Son (aged 40) stopped, and turned, trying to examine the back of his garments, the first precaution of civilised man, drunk or sober, finding himself laughed at in public.
“Wha’s marrer?” said the Prodigal. “D’liberate insult!” said he.
The Prodigal had sobered a little; the cold water had got in its good work. He went over among the rocks and sat down. As ill luck would have it, he had stumbled on Ann’s dressing room, a sort of small fortress between rocks and washed up tree trunks that offered good cover for the open sea bather in effecting a change of garments. He was actually sitting on some of her most necessary articles of daily wear.
Ann faced the situation and the Prodigal. She stood dripping before him, a plump and pleasing figure in blue woollens.
“You must go away from here,” she said sternly.
The Prodigal retained his eyeglass. He inspected her curiously. “Cer’ainly not,” he said. “Free Country.”
“But you are sitting on my clothes.”
The Prodigal grinned. “Tha’s all ri’,” he said. “Don’ min’ me. Lemme offer you share my umbrella. Sun spoil complexion.”
“You are not so drunk,” said Ann, “that you do not know what you are doing. If I am put to the necessity of appealing for help you will find yourself kicked from here to Brighton.”
“Gimme kiss ’n’ I go,” said the Prodigal Son. “One kiss, my booful mermaid.”
He advanced, and Ann retreated into the water again. It was Miss Quigley’s belief that a woman could always look after herself if she wished to.
It was her proud boast that she had never known her own resourcefulness fail her. She hated the idea of appealing for help now, and the alternative of going home across the flat garbed as she was, was not to be entertained for a moment.
Here an inspiration came to Ann. The Prodigal’s attention was diverted for a moment. His umbrella was between them. Ann darted from the water, and plunged into a cavity in the sand, made by juvenile castle-builders. Hastily she pulled the banked up sand down upon her, completely burying herself. A scrap of newspaper, apparently lying loose on the beach, screened her face.
From under this screen Ann kept one eye on the Prodigal. He was facing the water again. He was examining its surface somewhat anxiously.
“By jove!” he said aloud. “Gone!” He arose, and looked right and left. “Gone, by jove!” he repeated.
The Prodigal came down the sands, and standing within a few feet of Miss Quigley’s hiding place, he scrutinised the bay with obvious anxiety.
“Bless my soul,” he said, “this is getting serious!” The Prodigal’s enunciation was now quite clear, he was walking steadily. He went to the water’s edge, and picked up Ann’s india-rubber bathing hat, and turned it over, in his hand.
“Good Lord!” he said. Then conviction seemed to seize him with a terrific shock. “She’s gone under!” he said. “She’s drowned!” he cried. “Help! Help!”
The Prodigal was running along the sand towards the nearest houses; he was shouting and brandishing the hat as he ran, and for a plump man of forty, just after a bad night, he was making the pace a cracker.
Ann Quigley disinterred herself, and retiring to the retreat among the rocks, dressed in a leisurely way. She was still engaged upon her toilet, when a glance over the rocks revealed the Prodigal Son at the head of a rescue party of three, steaming back along the sands, still shouting, still brandishing the hat.
The rescue brigade consisted of three young men in bathing suits. The Prodigal had discovered them preparing to bathe at a turn in the beach wall.
“There! There! She went down there,” cried the Prodigal Son, pointing excitedly.
“You’re sure?” said one man.
“Sure? Positive! I tell you I saw her sink. A beautiful girl with golden hair.”
“We’d better have a dash at it, anyhow,” said another youth.
The three went in. The Prodigal Son followed, and standing up to his waist, in the water, the crab and the sea weed still clinging to him, his opera hat on his head, and his hands white gloved, he shouted directions to the rescuers. Ann’s fits of laughter at the quaint spectacle, retarded her dressing operations quite five minutes.
When eventually she came forth, she was fully dressed, and looking fresh and unruffled, and the Prodigal, hoarse with shouting, was reduced to a pulpy condition with water, terror, and a sudden access of sobriety.
“For the love of heaven be quick!” he wailed. One of the young men came forth to interview Ann.
“He says a girl sank here,” the youth explained.
“But he seems sort of dippy. Did you see anything of it?”
“No,” said Ann. “No girl was here but myself. I hid because the man in the evening suit was molesting me. It was the only way to get rid of him.”
“Oh,” said the young man meaningly. “This calls for further action.”
He returned to his friends; he offered a few quiet words of explanation. The next three minutes were full of incident for the Prodigal Son. He was seized by the three, and towed about one hundred yards out to sea, and ducked so vigorously and persistently that, when Ann left, the three youths had him on the sand, applying a few of the rules for the resuscitation of the apparently drowned.
“You needn’t mind, Miss,” said one operative; “he’ll be all right when he’s drained.”
And so he was. When Ann Quigley saw him last, he was hiding down between two rocks, a sodden, sanded, deplorable object, in a blighted evening suit, bribing a small boy with half-a-crown to bring him a cab.
At any rate the Prodigal went home sober.
Ann rather liked Maurice Wedderburn. It may be admitted at once that Maurice Wedderburn was a young man of no particular account. True enough, he had a fair variety of talents, and could play a little, paint a little, and write a little. He had even acted a little; but poor Maurice could never do enough of anything to earn his daily bread, not to mention the roast chicken to which he was so partial.
In this extremity, Mr. Maurice Wedderburn had contrived to marry money. That is how the world put it—meaning, of course, Maurice’s small world— but in reality Maurice had only married the woman who had the money, which is a very different matter.
Poor Maurice had sacrificed a good deal in marrying Miss Emma Eddy, Emma being four years and a-half his senior, having a figure a trifle too slim for even a refined taste, where he had a distinct preference for plump figures, and owning a nose tending to the Roman, where Maurice preferred dear little irresponsible Grecian noses slightly tilted at the tip.
“She makes nothing of my—my—well, my concessions,” Maurice complained to Miss Quigley in his wife’s presence.
“Your concessions, indeed!” retorted the injured wife, bitterly. “What had you to concede? You were penniless when I married you. You had nothing, you could do nothing. Concessions—pooh!”
“Yes, concessions,” repeated Maurice, addressing himself to Ann. “I repeat, my concessions, and very important ones they are.”
“For instance?” sneered Mrs. Wedderburn.
“For instance,” said Mr. Wedderburn, still pointedly ignoring Mrs. Wedderburn, “for instance, Ann, Emma is all very well; she has her good points, but she’s not my style. I like ’em plump. You know I like ’em plump, Ann. Well, is it nothing for a fellow who has a marked preference for nice little fat girls to waive the point, and marry a woman with Emma’s figure—or lack of figure?”
“Well, of all the insolence,” ejaculated Mrs. Wedderburn.
“And,” continued Mr. Wedderburn, still addressing Ann, “I am disposed by nature to adore golden hair. There is something warm and sunny about golden hair—it appeals to my love of light and brightness. See for yourself, Emma’s hair is nearly black. Again, I set my personal inclination aside, and I married Emma in spite of her black hair. But I made no concessions—there was no sacrifice on my part, she says. The woman’s utterly unreasonable.”
“I married a worthless man, who does not blush to tell me to my face, and to tell my friends to their faces, that he married me for my money.”
“What I am striving to impress upon you now, Ann, is the fact that, as I gave way on many points, and violated my personal inclinations, I am not wholly unreasonable in expecting Emma to give way on one point.”
“To give away my money to a spendthrift.”
“I ask my wife to make a fair allowance to her husband—the man who is willing to make every allowance for her.”
“Not a penny—not a single penny-piece.”
“Ann, will you argue with the woman? She may listen to you. Point out to her how much better I could have done for myself. Tell her that it is outrageously unfair to expect me to get nothing in return for my great self-sacrifice.”
“Self-sacrifice! I like that. Self-sacrifice!” Mrs. Wedderburn laughed a hollow, mocking laugh, taken over from Nellie Stewart, her favorite stage heroine.
“Yes, Ann, self-sacrifice. If I was to get nothing in return, why should I have married a tailish, thin, Roman-nosed brunette, aged thirty, when I might have married according to my natural inclinations, a small, plump blonde, aged twenty?”
“Miss Kitty Herald!” cried Emma. “It’s a pity you didn’t, though, heaven knows, I wish the poor girl no harm. Well, go to Kitty Herald. Get out of my house, and never let me see your face again. Go!”
“Oh, very well, Ann, tell this utterly unreasonable, selfish and ungrateful woman that I shall be glad to go. Henceforth she is no wife of mine. Tell her that. Say that the woman who is willing to see the man who has abjured so much for her sake go week after week without a penny in his pocket while she rolls in comparative riches is undeserving of the love of an honest man—or words to that effect.” Maurice Wedderburn clapped his hat on his head, and marched out of the room, out of the front door, down the garden path, and into the street, and Mrs. Wedderburn buried her face in her hands, and, sinking upon a seat, wept aloud.
“He’s gone,” she sobbed; “and a good riddance. I was a fool to marry.”
“And I thought you were so happy,” said Ann.
“So we were, as long as I provided him with all the money he wanted.”
“Was he extravagant?”
“Oh, not particularly; but one day when he was short we quarrelled, and he talked like he did just now. Said that he had waived so many personal preferences in marrying me, it was only right and fair I should set aside my natural parsimony out of consideration for him. Of course, I wasn’t going to stand that. I said I hadn’t taken a husband on the hire system. He replied that if I would observe the rules of the game and reciprocate, he was perfectly willing to continue loving and protecting me. He said if I wasn’t miserable with him over money matters, he was sure he could continue living happily with me. Since then we’ve done nothing but bicker, and it’s a good job he’s gone. I’ll never live with him again.”
* * * * * * * * *
The foregoing comprises Chapter 1. of the Wedderburn affair. In the four subsequent chapters Ann saw nothing of Maurice, but a good deal of Emma, quite sufficient to satisfy her that, despite the familiar matrimonial bickerings, Mrs. Wedderburn was much more miserable without Mr. Wedderburn than she had been with him, although her pride would not permit her to say so.
About four months after the separation, our Miss Quigley, sheltered from the summer sun and dust by grateful vines, was seated on the verandah, reading the perverse chatterings of Chesterton, when a voice called “Ann!”
Ann looked up from her book. It was Maurice Wedderburn; but, oh, what a different Maurice. The Maurice of her previous acquaintance had been a fairly fleshy, very slick, neatly-dressed, debonaire young man, always immaculate in the matter of linen, and ever perfectly barbered. This Maurice was a trifle gaunt, he had a five days’ whisker, his fine, rippling brown hair had run into a bunch, his suit was deplorable, and four toes grinned raffishly from his left boot. Finding Ann’s amazed eyes upon him, he made a gesture of abandonment.
“Oh, yes,” he said, “it’s Maurice Wedderburn right enough. There are no visions about. A pretty effective failure—what?”
“How, in the name of goodness, have you come to this? What’s happened to you?” Ann, dropping her book, jumped up, and steadied him into the seat.
“Happened?” he groaned. “Well, a regular absence of meals is one of the things that has happened. Sleeping in a stable is another.”
“You’ve come down to that—sleeping in a stable?”
“Yes, your stable. For a fortnight now I’ve been sleeping in your stable. Because I was acquainted with the dog, I selected your stable. When you’re making surreptitious use of other people’s property in that way it is advisable to be on speaking terms with the dog.”
“But why didn’t you come in? Come in now.” She bustled him into the house, and pushed him into the bathroom. “Do the best you can with soap and hot water,’’ she said. “There’ll be a lunch ready then.”
Fifteen minutes later, while Maurice ate, Ann resumed her catechism. “Why sleep in the stable? Why not come in?”
“Pride,” said Maurice Wedderburn. “While not absolutely famishing, I was too proud to parade my deplorable case before you. I can always retain a certain amount of pride up to a certain stage of hunger—after that my pride goes. It went at noon to-day. When I have finished this meal it will be restored, and I shall be utterly ashamed of myself again.”
“And what have you been doing?”
“Many things—all abominable. Since seeing you last, I’ve failed in five jobs. My last billet was that of potato-peeler at a large eating-house. You’d think any man with hands could be a success as a potato-peeler. You are wrong. I was a conspicuous failure. Because of my utter inability to keep pace with the public’s insatiable demand for potatoes, they discharged me after three days. Never could I have believed there were so many potatoes in the world. For three weeks I have been out of a place.”
“And what have you in mind now?”
“To tell you the truth, I’ve been thinking over the various methods of sudden death, trying to make a choice. Have you any idea how many ways a man can suicide? No, you had no occasion to study the matter. There are hundreds of them.”
“Don’t talk utter rubbish. What of Emma?”
“Emma is out of the question. Yet I can’t earn a living. It’s a simple fact. I am the sort of man who is not fit to live because he can’t make a living. I’ve tried with absolute determination. It is utterly impossible. When I’ve thought I was doing quite well I have been amazed to have the boss say to me after a few days: ‘You’re no good to us. You’ll have to go. A boy of thirteen could wipe the floor with you!’ I’m no earner. I never will be. If you have a few grains of arsenic about the place I’ll take them as a great favor.”
“You’ll not. You’ll go back to your wife. Stay here for awhile. This afternoon I’ll go and see Emma. She’s given up housekeeping—let the place furnished—and is staying at Miss Primm’s, a big, stylish boarding-house in South Yarra. I don’t think she is uproariously happy.”
“Perhaps, after all,” said Maurice, “I’m fit for nothing but a husband, even if there is no remuneration attached to the office.”
Ann called on Emma. She returned flushed. “I’ve sounded her, but she has still that preposterous pride of hers.”
“Ah, yes,” groaned Maurice, “and there’s small chance of her being cured by fasting. Emma was always a good trencher-woman. ”
“I think I know how it can be done,” said Ann, enthusiastically. “I hit on the idea when Miss Primm quarrelled with her boots.”
“Miss Primm quarrelled with her boots? Does the poor, dear lady drink?” A good meal and a change of linen had served to revive the spirits of Mr. Maurice Wedderburn.
“She had a dispute with her boots while I was there. I overheard it. She sent him packing. Go at once, and apply for the job.”
“What, I—boots in my own wife’s house?”
“It’s not your wife’s house; it is Miss Primm’s house. Take the billet, keep out of Emma’s sight as long as possible, make love to her through her boots. You know what pride Emma has in her feet. They are her chief vanity. Clean them beautifully. See that she gets conspicuous attention. Presently she will be interested in the new boots. Then comes the shock of the disclosure. Your confession of your inability to earn your bread in any higher walk than that of boots, your ignorance of the fact of her presence in that house, your subsequent discovery followed by an outburst of tenderness which the poor, despised boots could manifest in no way but in meticulous care of the dear shoes of the wife he had lost for ever. You know Emma, or you ought to. She would think it a romance—it would break her present attitude. There would be open arms for you, and perhaps an allowance.”
“You dancing devil!” said Wedderburn. “You are simply working me into one of your fantastic plots.”
“What of it, if all comes right in the last act?”
“And virtue is rewarded. I’ll try it. In any case, I’ll be glad of the job. Cleaning endless boots isn’t as bad as peeling interminable potatoes.”
Maurice was in time. He got the job. No other boarders had occasion to rejoice over the new acquisition; but from the first Emma was gratified to find that in the place of the usual lick and a promise, her boots were receiving minutest attention.
“They’re always as bright as a new pin,” said Mrs. Wedderburn to Ann a week later; “and, what do you think? this morning there was a red rose in my shoe—a beautiful red rose. Whatever can it mean?”
“The poor fellow has seen you, I suppose, and he’s smitten,” said Ann.
“Smitten—a boots? The impudence of the man.”
“Well, as long as his impudence only expresses itself in devoted service you’ve no occasion to complain,” said Ann. “Poor fellow, he has my deepest sympathy. Think of the case of an admiring Romeo who can address his Juliet only through her boots; who must put all his ardour into the polish of her heels; be content to shine in her eyes only in the sheen on her toes.’’
“Ann Quigley, you’re just having a lark with me.”
“No, Emm, I’m not. I’m envying you. Men often talk of laying their hearts at a woman’s feet; but you’re the first of my friends who has really had an adorer willing to put all his passion into her boots. Emm, he’s what the Americans would call a shine lover,”
A week or so later, when Ann saw Emma Wedderburn dash through her front gate, and come tumbling and tripping across the lawn, her hat askew, and her coat buttoned awry, she knew something had happened.
Emma had no greeting. “I’ve seen him!” she said, and fell into a seat. “I’ve seen the boots. It’s Maurice!”
“Maurice!” cried Ann. “Your husband boots at a boarding-house?”
“Yes,” said Emma, and she began to weep. “I only saw him for a few moments. Oh, and he’s pale and thin. He says he didn’t know I was at Miss Primm’s when he took the place. He says he has found it very hard to earn a living. He says he will go away. And he pup-pup-put roses in my boo-boo-boo-boots! ” Emma broke down, and wept copiously. Ann petted and patted her.
“Don’t you let him go,” she said. “Take him back. After all, he is your husband. Take him back. You’ve never found a better companion—you never will. And, after all, what do a few pounds a week matter to you? Take him back.”
“He won’t come. I’m sure he wo-wo-won’t come.”
“Why are you sure?”
“Bub-bub-because he looked as if he wouldn’t.”
“Shall I bring him?” said Ann.
“Oh, no, no, no!”
“But I will.” And Ann did.
Husband and wife had their interview in Mrs. Quigley’s drawing-room. Emma wept a good deal; and when Ann was admitted there was more than a suspicion of tears in the eyes of Maurice Wedderburn.
“I get an allowance of £3 a week,” said Maurice later, squeezing Ann’s hand. “You have restored a thoroughly undeserving husband to the arms of his wife. Heaven will reward you.”
There’s a little black-eyed, brown-cheeked Wedderburn, aged fourteen months nowadays. Maurice’s allowance has been increased.
Jane Gateway was the best servant the Quigleys ever had. Jane was not picturesque. She was thin, and hard, and drab, and carried with her a certain suggestion of having been constructed of scrap iron. Her hair grew sparsely, she had a bulging head, little, sharp features, and a thin mouth like a crack in an egg.
It was Ann accepted Jane Gateway at the hands of an ecstatic conductress of a suburban registry office, who declared the said Gateway to possess almost superhuman virtues as a domestic.
“Superb washer!” said the diplomat running the registry, with the air of one sampling a very fine wine. “Irons like an angel, an unequalled cook— patient, industrious, and fond of children.”
“She will do,” said Ann, emphatically. “She would do if she couldn’t cook a boiling of carrots. I love her.”
“You’ve got a bargain, I assure you, Miss. Jane won’t attract wretched men around the house. You’ll never find a furtive policeman in your kitchen while Jane’s there.”
Ann accepted that as a fact at any rate. Jane was certainly not the sort of general who is followed by an army. One could conceive a sane man doing anything but dogging after Jane.
Our Miss Quigley led Jane home like a captive specimen of some quaint race. Mrs. Quigley gasped at the freak as it stood in the kitchen, then retreated, still gasping, into the dining-room, dragging Ann with her.
“You vixen!” cried Mrs. Quigley, “you wretched girl—you’ve been and brought another of them.”
“She’s a lovely servant, mother,” protested Ann. “Irons like an angel. She can do everything better than anyone else. She has a bale of first-class references. Three dames in motor cars fought me for her. I’ve brought a prize home, and you treat me as if I’d introduced a fasting crocodile into the kitchen.”
“Don’t tell me, my lady, that you engaged that girl for her domestic qualities,” said Mrs. Quigley, wagging a maternal finger at Ann. “You engaged her because she was an object, just as you engaged that Gaby creature. You’d love to live in a museum of freaks. That’s what you’d convert the house into if you had your way. But I won’t have a weird creature like that about my home.”
Ann protested vehemently. “She’s not a pretty girl, I know, but she’s a beautiful servant, and you know what pretty girls are in a house, upsetting the men folk. I’m sure pa—” Ann was grinning.
“That will do, Miss. I want none of your impudence. You know perfectly well your pa could be trusted with a Mrs. Potiphar and a whole staff of Cleopatras. You engaged that poor woman because of your perfectly imbecile love of queer people.”
“She has no followers,” said Ann weakly. “She’s been with five families in fifteen years, and not one of them ever discovered the faintest suspicion of a follower tracking after Jane—believe me or believe me not.”
Mrs. Quigley knew the irrepressible twinkle of devilry in Ann’s brown eye, and abandoned everything. “Very well,” she said, “the responsibility is on your head. I wash my hands of this, if the house is burned down, or we’re murdered in our beds, don’t blame me. But mark me, my lady, some mischief will surely come to us from your simply idiotic passion for Objects. This is an Object, Jane Gaby was an Object, our last girl was an Object. You engaged her because she stuttered and had the worst squint in the Southern Hemisphere. You know you did.”
Ann grinned again, and stepping back, assumed a limp figure, a vacant expression, crossed her eyes hideously and she said, “Yes, mum, please, mum, there’s that Bankes’s baby bin ’n’ bit another mouthful outer the soap. And the price it is, mum!”
“Get out, you hussy,” cried Mrs. Quigley, and Ann fled to dispose of her new “Object.”
The keeper of the registry office had neglected to mention one trifling drawback in the superlative excellences of Jane Gateway—the simple fact that Jane was mad had slipped her mind probably.
But one may be tolerably mad—one may be daft in several well-defined directions, and still be a very useful general servant. The peculiarity of Jane’s appearance was accompanied by many eccentricities of manner, greatly to the satisfaction of Miss Quigley, who was now making Jane her chief study. One of Jane’s most diverting characteristics was a trick of talking to herself.
By creeping down the passage, and applying your ear to the keyhole of the door connecting with the kitchen, you could enjoy Jane’s confidential opinion on men, women and events. Miss Ann Quigley hated to miss any of these edifying disclosures, and was continually dragging members of her family to listen to Jane’s soliloquies and apostrophies on themselves.
“For heaven’s sake, come quick, mother; she’s going on at you. ‘Oh, wad some power the giftie gi’ us t’ see oursels as ithers see us!’ Now’s your chance, old dear. Jane’s got you down fine.”
Mrs. Quigley allowed herself to be led to position from which the servant’s self-communings could be heard. Jane was cleaning knives, and saying:
“Ah! the old girl’s a nip—a reg’lar nip, that old ’un is. ‘Jane, why haven’t you lit the copper? Jane, sweep the kitchen. Jane, some coal for the grate. Jane! Jane! Jane! Jane! I’d like t’ have the runnin’ of her, I would. Nag, nag, nag! But they’re all alike. Missuses is all alike—devils! That other one’s a sly bit o’ goods—that Miss Ann. A takedown, she is; but she better not give me none of her cheek. I’d dap her jore ez soon ez look et ’er.” Then Jane sang a hymn. When Jane was not talking to herself she was singing hymns.
Jane discussed all the members of the family, and all the visitors. Sometimes her open comments were given in the presence of the victim, but with perfect unconsciousness. In this way John Quigley, Esq., head of the family, came by a refreshing summary of his position in the house.
“Pore ole Quigley,” said Jane over the kneading of a wad of dough. “He’s a ’armless sorter party; but don’t they pull his leg a treat? When Ann’s wantin’ somethin’ she just kids him up a tree; and the missus, lor—well, ’e’s ’enpecked, that’s what he is, ’enpecked. Ordered ’ere and ordered there, an’ scarce let t’ breathe in ’is own ’ouse. But them little, fat, bald-’eaded ones with dimples in their chins is always ’enpecked. Never knew a ’usband with a dimple as wasn’t ’enpecked.”
This summing up of Mr. Quigley was not wholly unfavorable coming from Jane. Jane having a wholesome horror of men.
“I ’ate men,” she told sympathetic Ann. “Wouldn’t have a man on me mind. Wouldn’t trust ’em, neither. No, don’t you never leave me alone in the ’ouse with a man. Never know what they’re ’atchin’, yeh don’t. Wickedness an’ devilment is what men’s for; an’ wickedness an’ devilment is what they’re up to day an’ night.”
“Brutes!” said Ann, fishing feelingly. “I suppose a man has done you a great wrong at some time, Jane!”
“Nothink o’ the sort!” snorted Jane. “I’m too careful of the devils. I look after ’em too close. See ’ere, miss, all you’ve got to do is never to be left alone with one, an’ alwiz look under the bed. Then yer safe. Mind, alwiz look under the bed.”
“Oh, I do, Jane.”
Really, it was quite unnecessary for Ann to look under the bed for the long-expected man; Jane did this for her. Never did Jane fail to look under the bed—not her own bed alone, but every other bed in the house. This was another of Jane’s eccentricities, and her final announcement every night was:
“I’ve locked the doors, mum, an’ looked under all the beds, mum, an’ I’ll say good-night.”
“What do you look under the beds for, Jane?” Miss Ann had asked her.
“Men,” Jane replied. “Men—the devils! That’s what they do—crawl in an’ creep under the beds. They’re doin’ it reg’lar, but they don’t dodge me, the beauties! I’m under the beds with that every night.” She displayed an ordinary garden rake that she kept in a corner of the scullery. She used this rake to facilitate her under-the-bed investigations, raking desperately for a man.
“Suppose you raked one out one of these nights, Jane?” said Ann.
Jane turned deadly pale. She gave a sharp cry. “Oh, don’t, miss! ’Ow can you?” she wailed. “I’d ’ave a quiverin’, fit—a reg’lar, rightdown fit o’ spasms, an’ my blood ’ud be on his ’ead.”
Jane’s passion for looking under beds greatly impaired her success as a general servant. She really was industrious. She was a satisfactory plain cook —plain to homeliness. She was a good laundress, and no followers of hers disturbed the peace of the Quigley household. But her suspicions concerning the man under the bed developed into something of a plague. Not content with looking under before retiring, she would “get out and get under” at all hours. Again and again Ann was awakened by Jane’s stealthy invasion of her room.
“Better look under agin, Miss,” whispered Jane. “I’ve ’eard somethink.”
Satisfied that there was nothing serious under Ann’s bed, Jane would pass on to the room of Mr. and Mrs. Quigley; but Quigley’s door was locked, and when Jane supplicated him through the keyhole to look under the bed, the little man shouted bad words at her, and invited her to go to —. Possibly, however, we had better not pursue that subject.
Jane, greatly distressed, would return to her room, talking to herself.
“Ole fool!” said the servant. “Silly ole idjit, won’t set a body’s mind et rest. No sleep fer me now. Blessed ole fool! Serve ’im right if someone jumped from under the bed an’ stuck ’im one o’ these nights.”
Many times the idea of getting rid of Jane because of her delusion concerning men under the beds had been discussed in the Quigley family. John Quigley thought she should be fired on the spot; but Mrs. Quigley’s respect for a good worker, and Ann’s affection for a freak, prevailed, and Jane remained. But Ann was considering the possibility of breaking her of her dominant delusion, and at the same time adding to the joy of life. Jane was to be made the central figure in another of Miss Quigley’s comedy dramas, and Ann had decided how, and was only waiting to secure the suitable means.
He stopped Ann in the street one day. He was a melancholy, small man, with a large watery eye and a “corf.” He wanted drops for his “corf,” and begged sixpence.
“’Ad it orl winter, Miss,” he said, and coughed twice, as if producing samples. “A ’orrid corf, Miss. It’ll carry me off orl right in the end; but the doctor sez I’ll hang on ez long ez I kin get me corf drops.”
“’I’ll give you sixpence,” Ann said, “and I’ll put you in the way of earning half-a-crown. ”
“Not work, Miss?” said the man, anxiously. “Not work, with this ’orrid corf ’angin’ on a man?”
“No, not work. You’ve just to take part in a joke I’m playing on our servant. She’s always looking under the bed for a man. I’ll steal you in, and you shall hide under her bed, and see if we can’t knock some common sense into her.”
“Good lor!” said the man. “Good gracious me! That’s queer.” He seemed quite amazed.
“Are you willing?” asked Ann.
“Is she a big woman, Miss? What’s her temper like? If a big, strong, angry female was t’ lob on a pore bloke with this corf she might injure him permanent.”
Ann satisfied the man on these points, and he agreed. “Me name’s Alf,” he said—“Halfred Spires, an’ I’ll come fer three bob.”
“Halfred” was engaged, and on the following Thursday night Ann had a small party of admiring young friends in the drawing-room at eleven o’clock, the hour at which Jane did the rounds of the beds. Ann had smuggled her man in, and explained the situation. Expectations ran high. There were differences of opinion with regard to possible developments in Jane Gateway when she made the great discovery. The general opinion was that Jane would supply moral fireworks. Ann, happy in any kind of devilment, was taking raffish delight in her practical joke.
“It will convince her a man under the bed is a matter of no great consequence,” she said, “and we may all live happy ever after.”
At this point, despite their knowledge of what was coming, all were startled by a yell from Jane’s room. It was not a yell of fear or of pain, but of triumph.
There was a rush down the passage. Jane was in her room, the door was open; electric light flooded the scene. On Jane’s floor was kneeling a horrified little man. It was Alfred Spires. Jane had him by the left ear, and was holding on with great determination. In her left hand Jane flourished the rake. Alfred’s expression was one of horror and agony; Jane wore an air of signal triumph.
“I’ve got ’im!” said Jane. “I’ve got ’im!” she squealed.
“Lemme go!” said Alfred. “Lemme go, carn’t yeh?”
“I’ve got ’im! I’ve got ’im! I’ve got ’im!” piped Jane. She almost danced in jubilation. “I knew I’d get ’im if I kep’ on ’untin’. I knew I’d get ’im eventual. It was a narsty ’abit of his, hidin’ under beds, an’ I knoo I’d get ’im eventual.”
At this point Alf’s eye fell on Ann Quigley. A malignant expression came into his mean, little face, and he spat an oath.
“You let me in fer this,” he said. “You put this up on me; but I’ll be even with you. Fer eleven year I’ve dodged ’er, an’ you’ve done me in. I’ll be even with you. ’Struth, I’ll put my mark on you fer this!”
Jane tightened her grip on Alfred’s ear, and shook him. “Quiet, you!” Then she emitted her yell of triumph again. “I knoo I’d get ’im eventual,” she squealed, “if I on’y looked under beds long enough. He was alwiz creepin’ under people’s beds. Mrs. Quigley, I give you notice. I’m goin’ now. I’m takin’ ’im with me. I’ve got ’im at last, an’ I’m never goin’ t’ let go of him agin.”
“But, bless my soul, my poor girl, who is he?” asked Mrs. Quigley. Ann was too thunderstruck to speak.
“‘Oo is he?” said Jane. “‘Oo is he? He’s me long-lost ’usband, ’Ennery Gateway, that’s ’oo he is.”
There and then the Quigleys lost the inestimable services of the incomparable Jane.
“Oh you …,” said Cornelius.
Ann Quigley continued picking the roses and daintily bunching them.
“So you’re there, are you?” said Cornelius. “Oh you…!”
Cornelius had pulled himself to the top of the dividing fence, and was clinging there, peering over at her, one raffish eye visible above the palings.
Miss Quigley utterly ignored the profane old ruffian. With an air of pleased preoccupation she moved among the profuse rose bushes of the old garden. The roses were very fresh and fragrant this morning; so was Ann.
“Squid!” said Cornelius, jeeringly. The epithet had no effect, so he brought his other raffish eye into view and said “Squirt.”
Miss Quigley had never been so insulted in her life, but she would not lower herself even so far as to admit the existence of the vulgar brute next door. She cut another rose, and added it to her bunch.
“Who cooked the cat?” said Cornelius.
It had long been a fond delusion with Cornelius that Miss Ann Quigley had at some time taken unlawful possession of somebody’s cat and had cooked it. There was an evil reflection in all this. Ann understood it perfectly, but although the sneer had been uttered a hundred times within the last month, she had not condescended to explain to Cornelius that she had never at any time cooked anybody’s cat, that in short she had a marked repugnance to cat, especially cooked cat.
“You’re a bright …, you are,” said Cornelius. Cornelius was getting shrill, as he always did when contemptuously ignored. “You’re a pretty …, I don’t think,” he added.
Ann Quigley betrayed a little doubt about a large white rose like a ball of snow. She, in beautiful harmony with the sunlit jewelled morning, seemed most calm and collected. Her brown golden hair had caught the dew from the down leaning boughs, and was quick with diamonds.
“Cockeye!” said Cornelius. “Cockeye! Cockeye!” Then he paused, and waited to note the effect. There was none apparent. “Oh, go to —!” said Cornelius.
Miss Quigley was in reality boiling with indignation. Cornelius was most insulting. No one outside the intimate circle of loving and beloved relations dared to call her such names as Cornelius used freely and openly, and she had given Cornelius no excuse for this gross familiarity. He swore at her with the asperity of a soured grandfather, and so far this morning she had not exchanged two words with the ruffian.
Cornelius had become the bane of Ann’s existence within the last few days. He seemed to experience an internal joy in baiting her, and she found it hard to treat him with studious respect. Certainly, she was not neighborly. She had never at any time shown any desire to be friendly with Cornelius. Possibly that was the reason of his marked resentment. Their arguments in the past had always been markedly hostile.
“You’re a …!” said Cornelius. “A … A … A …!” He made a sort of song of it.
Ann Quigley was not a … Whatever else might be said against her, she was certainly not a … She was a young lady of decent family and orderly conduct. She felt that Cornelius had gone too far. He was still clinging to the top of the close fence, peering over at her, and she picked up small, wooden shovel, a child’s toy, and made some pretence of digging in the soil, moving towards the fence as she did so.
“Ruddy fool!” said Cornelius. “Ruddy fool! Ruddy —”
Ann swooped. The wooden shovel cracked on the head of Cornelius, and he disappeared, striking the earth on the other side with a thud. Instantly there was a clatter of squarks and squeals, and incoherent and irrelevant sentences.
Did I mention that Cornelius was a cockatoo? He was. A very ancient and hopelessly depraved bird was Cornelius. Originally he had been a beautiful white cockatoo, with an elegant, sulphur crest; now he was completely bald, and steeped in iniquity.
Most of the fine feathers Cornelius had originally possessed, had fallen from him with the lapse of time. What remained were unkempt and unclean. Cornelius was reputed to be one hundred and twenty-eight years old, and for one hundred of these years he had not taken a bath. He was amazingly hooknosed, with a long, horny, Hebraic sickle of a proboscis, and queer old bumble feet. He walked like a strangely decayed wandering Jew, crippled with gout, and he talked in a deep, guttural voice like the tones of a worn-out devil.
Cornelius was wicked, utterly wicked. In the course of his one hundred and twenty-eight years, he had accumulated practically all the bad language of the English-speaking peoples, and he seemed to take the malignant delight of a particularly evil old fiend in uttering it.
When Cornelius bumped on the ground on his own side of the fence and set up his splenetic squeaking, there followed the pat, pat of slippered feet of huge dimensions, like eight-foot boards slapping wet soil, and a huge voice roared:
“Did they hit yeh at all, Cornelius?”
“Oh, hell and Tommy!” piped Cornelius, fluttering about foolishly, and flapping the ground like a decapitated hen. “I’m poisoned!” he croaked and flapped again. Cornelius had guile enough to pretend to be very seriously injured indeed. “Oh, hell and Tommy!” he said, faintly.
Ryan gathered the despicable fowl into his arms. “Be the Saints iv Kerry,” he roared, “I’ll smash the face iv the wan hit me bir-r-rd.”
Ryan loomed over the dividing fence. He was a great, terrible man, six feet seven in height, and as wide as a small house. His head, with its shaggy mane, its voluminous eyebrows, and tangle of creeper whiskers, looked like a damaged hair bed.
“Did anny iv yiz assault me bir-rd?” said Ryan, discovering Miss Quigley.
Ann despised Cornelius, she loathed Cornelius’s uncouth proprietor, and now carefully disregarded him. She cut three more roses, and added them to her bouquet, surveying the effect critically with head a little on one side.
“One more white on there,” said Ann, meditatively.
“Becaze!” said Ryan, “the law I’ll have on anny faymale so much as layin’ a finger on me bir-rd, ’n’ anny man darin’ t’ do ut I’ll dale wid incontinent, ’n’ I’m wan shot a man wanst.”
“Oh, you cow!” said Cornelius faintly. “Oh, you cow, to stone a bloke.”
“Send yer father or wan iv yer fam’ly a man can talk wid,” boomed Ryan, “’n’ I’ll put me fut troo his face, I will that.”
Ann had all the roses she needed. She moved towards the house.
“’N’ mark you this, ma’am,” said Ryan, “if ’tis thrue ez I’m sore afraid yiv injured the shpinal column iv me valayibble cockytoo, I’ll sue ye fer the worth iv it, ’n’ more—I will that.”
Ann paused, hovered dubiously over another rose, clipped it, and passed in, humming the refrain of “The Lass with the Delicate Air.”
“Annyway yer a thribe iv poor, crawlin’ mis’rabies, ye are!” yelped Ryan. “A tall grown man cud eat the bunch wid a poor small spoon. Gerrout wid yeh!”
Miss Quigley knew what would happen. At intervals for the rest of the day, Eyan would boom insults on the Quigley family, and drop an occasional threat over the dividing fence, like the growl of summer thunder.
Larry Eyan was a lone, “widdy man,” living in a tumble-down rookery of a house in a half-acre wilderness, littered with decaying lumber, shattered bricks, old iron and riotous shrubs. He was reputed to be rich, and had had this new end of the suburb wholly to himself, but the drift of settlement had come in upon him, and now he found himself pent in, with brand new Queen Ann villas at the back and on the right, and Quigley’s more firmly-established domicile on the left.
Eyan had resented this invasion furiously. He had even gone to the extreme of tearing down with his bare hands, the brick walls of the house on his right, when building operations were going on. But this had led to a case, a fine, and substantial damages, and Eyan had desisted from active resistance, contenting himself with an unrelenting verbal feud against all his neighbors, a crusade in which he was vigorously seconded by his disreputable cockatoo, Cornelius. Everybody was particularly desirous of being rid of the man.
Next day when Ann appeared in the backyard, she heard a fluttering of wings against the fence, and Cornelius appeared hooking himself to the palings with his hideous bill. For a moment his little, wicked eyes peered at her; then he climbed further.
“Top dirty hound!” he said. Ann pretended to busy herself with some clothes on the line. “You cow!” said Cornelius.
The bird of ill omen had climbed to the top, and was ambling along the ridge, walking bumble-footed with his knuckles bent under him. “Who cooked the cat?” he said.
Ann moved towards the house, Cornelius followed, limping like a spavined old-age pensioner along the fence. “You cow, to swipe a bloke!” he squealed. “You dirty cow! Oh, you dirty …!”
“Lave her be, Cornalyis,” said Ryan, from the other side. “Yer wastin’ wor-rds on the like iv thim hathen ’n’ heretics,” he said. “But ’tis well fer thim t’ know blows dealt to a rare talkin’ bir-rd wid the Christyn gift iv spach, is assault ’n’ bathery widin’ the meanin’ iv the law.”
“Oh, you blighted swine!” squealed Cornelius. “And,” said Ryan, “future attacks on me bir-rd will be dealt wid ez attimpted murther ’n’ man-slauther, so mind yeh.”
Ann went in. She could not stand Ryan, but it must be admitted that under all her disgust, she cherished a sneaking delight in Cornelius, and had learnt to imitate him exactly. She could pipe some of his favorite sentences so like him, as to deceive the family, and sometimes in Ryan’s absence she would hold arguments with the cockatoo in his own tongue, and work him into a condition of impotent fury with jibing reiteration of his favorite yelps.
But it was Ann’s brother who supplied the strychnined peanut that finished Cornelius. The young man objected to the looseness of the bird’s language, and put a doctored nut where Cornelius would find-it. Cornelius did find it. He ate it.
“Strike me blind, I’m a stiff!” said Cornelius a little later. It was a favorite expletive of his. “Strike me blind, I’m a stiff!” he repeated drearily. Then he fell off the fence,
That afternoon, watching through a crack, Ann saw Ryan bury Cornelius at the foot of his yard near the big gates. Ryan’s voice was heard for the rest of the day raised in dire threats against his neighbors.
“ ’Tis a dead man he is, the wan killed me bir-rd,” he said.
For twelve months the people of the locality had been trying to shift Ryan. He refused to be shifted. Quigley, senior, had offered him top price for his land. He had told Quigley, senior, to go to the realms of eternal torment.
Ryan was an unmitigated nuisance, his old humpy was an eyesore in a neighborhood that was beginning to rather fancy itself. Ryan’s remaining joy in life was to terrorise and humiliate the locality where he had once been lord of all he surveyed.
Ann had an idea. It was an idea that threatened to be exciting, and offered entertainment. Ann entered with impious zest into the wicked work. She knew Ryan to be a superstitious man. He had faith in banshees and hobgoblins. Again and again he had threatened neighbors with visitations from some particular pixie that had “bin connect wid me fam’ly since the days iv Noah’s self.”
At about one in the morning, the particularly dark morning of the day following the death and burial of Cornelius, Ryan heard a fluttering at the window near the head of his bed.
“Oh, you blighted swine!” said a voice. The voice was the queer, old, raucous voice of Cornelius, deceased.
“Howly mother iv Maloney!” gasped Ryan. “What is ut?”
“Ryan, you swine! I’ll fight you, Ryan!” piped the voice.
“Saints presarve us, ’tis Cornalyis!” said Ryan.
Ryan jumped out of bed. A minute later he appeared in the. yard with a candle. He went straight to the grave of Cornelius and dug there.
“Good Lor-rd!” he gasped. “He’s dead, sore enough.” There was the bony corpse of the cockatoo to demonstrate the fact.
Ryan buried the body deeper. He stamped the earth down hard. He carried a large, flat stone, and placed it on the grave, and then returned to bed.
A quarter of an hour later, the voice of Cornelius wailed at the window.
“Ryan, I’ll fight yeh! Ryan, Ryan, yeh swine, I’ll fight yeh!”
“Blessed saint presarve us!” moaned Ryan.
“Ryan, you swine, I’m stiff!” said the voice.
“I didn’t do ut, Cornalyis,” whispered Ryan. “Haunt them what done it.”
“Oh, you hound!” wailed the spook of Cornelius. “I’m stiff, and it’s your doin’.”
Ryan jumped out of bed, and smashed the window down, but for some time after there was a fluttering at the pane, and Cornelius reproached Ryan in many of his favorite phrases.
On the following night the bird spook again invaded Ryan’s calm, and in the morning Ann saw the man disinter the body of Cornelius, and carry it away. How he disposed of it, she did not know, but Ryan was now a grey-faced, shaking man.
That night the ghost of Cornelius fluttered about Ryan’s house for an hour, calling to him, abusing him in its strange, harsh, evil voice, for one long hour.
Next evening Ryan appeared at Quigley’s front door, a beaten, broken man.
“I’d like a shor-rt wor-rd wid yer gintleman father, Miss Quigley,” said he, mildly.
Ann interviewed her father. “Mind you, he’ll take five pounds a foot!” was her reiterated admonition.
“Good avenin’ to yeh, Mister Quigley, sir,” said Ryan. “’Tis about me bit iv land. I’m thinkin’ iv sellin’ ’n’ lavin’ fer the Ould Counthry.”
“Very good,” Quigley replied. “I’ll give you five pounds a foot for it.”
“Seven ’twas yeh said.” Ryan was almost piteous.
“There’s a drop in real estate.”
“I’ll take six, ’n’ thank yeh kindly.”
Eventually Ryan took £5/10/-, but it was not until he had had another visitation from Cornelius.
When the deposit was paid, and the papers were signed, Ann Quigley slept better of nights. She no longer felt herself called upon to get up at unseemly hours, and give bird imitations at Ryan’s windows.
Ryan is in another suburb now, and his marked detestation of cockatoos is making him a reputation there.
“I was nearly captured once,” said Ann. “He was such a nice man. I don’t think I have seen kinder or more intelligent eyes in a human head. They were almost equal to those of a dog. His name was Bighill, Arthur Hallingford Bighill. He said he owned a hyphen by rights, and Hallingford and Bighill were connected by a single line running east and west; but he dropped it, because Hallingford-Bighill was too large an extension for a man of his simple tastes.
“And Arthur Bighill was a simple man. He was like a big boy, only that he possessed a gravity that was grown-up and distinctly impressive, and already his temples were powdered with grey. I reverence grey temples—don’t you, girls?
“Mr. Bighill was a diamond buyer, but was as secret about it as a German spy. A diamond buyer cannot afford to advertise his business with a big drum and three-ply posters; he’s forced by the aggregate of human wickedness to wear a simple exterior, and tell the casual, curious stranger he is travelling for pig-iron parlour grates and conglomerate fire-irons. I don’t know that I’ve got the big words right, but that’s how it sounded to me.
“If a diamond buyer made more noise than a tree-grub in its death-like imitation of a twig he would have his knuckle bumps aft the occiput sandbagged, or his Adam’s apple squozen flat by affectionate garroters nine times a night. So Mr. Arthur Bighill told me.
“You see, there are always assorted criminals of suspicious respectability in plausible hats and ingratiating kid gloves, hanging about the habitable places, looking for diamond buyers, with felonious intent. If they meet with an approved buyer of diamonds they set all their God-given intellect to the task of devising assignations with him in dark corners, and at the crucial moment they strike, inquest the remains, remove the firm’s diamonds, and go Home to figure as Australian millionaires at all the courts of Europe.
“Mr. Bighill told me he was a diamond buyer because he trusted me. To others he was just a useless American man of means (say forty billion dollars) strolling about the world, looking for an inexpensive wife.
“‘Look here, kid,’ he said, ‘I make a shaving and three spots over ten thousand dollars per an.—that’s two thousand pounds of your junk—and there are prospects of brighter things streaking the horizon over yonder; but I am unsuccessful so far as my quest of a wife who could live, breathe and have a fairly comfortable being within those financial limits. The girleens of this generation, little one, are loath to refrain from having the lead; they can spend money with two hands and both feet, and live well beyond their intake even in their sleep. Hush!’ said he, ‘protest nothing, my child, thou art not thus. This thusness is not attached to you by an innuendo of mine. It is because you differ materially that I invite your confidence.’
“He was a nice man in his conversational moods, and talked with a bland unctuousness like an escape of treacle from a cask. He expounded sheer rot with a quaintness that made him better company than all the Mark Twains rolled into one.
“ ‘Oh, sir,’ I said, ‘if you will repose your trust in me I shall be a proud and happy girl, indeed. But why honor me above my kind?’
“‘Guy me,’ he said, ‘I don’t mind. A little folly now and then is relished by the best of men. And I am he. But, as I hinted previously, I seek the sweet girlish trust of one such as thou. It concerns a serious matter. For instance, I want you to open wide your innocent girlish heart, and tell me without hesitation, subterfuge or supererogation, will you marry me?’
“‘No!’ I said.
“He looked at me in silence for a moment. ‘Commendable directness,’ he said. ‘I desired a terse summin-up and a short sentence, but I did not look to get the desired information with the promptitude of a slung shot. I admit I feel like a man who has invited a bouquet and received a brick. Then you do not like me somewhat?’
“‘Oh, yes, I do,’ I admitted. ‘I like you a good deal. But I don’t think the man who wins me will do so by treating the matter as if it were fit contents for a comic supplement.’
“He was still looking at me in a grave way under thick brows. ‘That’s a hard egg for mine,’ he said. ‘Next time I approach this subject I’ll wear my black gloves, and put a mourning band on my hat. I may broach it again, perhaps?’
“‘Well, yes, you may, if you’ll remember there’s one thing even a girl with a vivid humorous streak takes seriously, and that is a man.’
“‘And if she doesn’t take him seriously?’
“‘Then she doesn’t take him at all.’
“‘I shall remember,’ he said. ‘Next time I shall ask your yea or nay with a seriousness worthy of the subject. Meanwhile, will you auto?’
“He had a natty, little, beetle-backed car that cut its way through the air with a soothing purr like that of a fat kitten drowsing on a hot hearth, and I loved to go sheaving slices out of the night in it. Which means, of course, that I rather liked the man at the wheel. Admitted then, girls, your fat aunt opens the recesses of her soul to you, I did like Arthur Hallingford Bighill. In very truth, I have never met a man who was so likely to make a little silly of me as Arthur was, though I never let the fact quite dawn upon him. He may have discerned hints and symptoms; but, because I did like him better than any, I was most careful not to let my preference get the better of me. We girls are a bit like that; it has lost some of us good husbands; but, on the other hand, this mother caution has saved us from many sad mistakes. I suppose nature has endowed us with an instinctive policy of delay to enable us to examine the aggressor well, and make positively-sure he is really the man of men.
“The truth is, I did not know much about Mr. Bighill, and I found, on instituting judicious enquiries, that the Vernes, at whose house I met him, knew less. Bob Verne had met him somewhere somehow, and, as he seemed a decent devil, and apparently had more money than was good for him, had invited him home. Bob is a good brother—he never forgets that Jean is perilously near thirty, and when he makes the acquaintance of a man whose externals are suitable, he lures him into the firing line, and gives Jean a shot at him.
“Unfortunately, poor Jean is a rotten shot. She did not come within ten yards of the bull’s-eye in Bighill’s case, where I seemed to have hit home with a random shot. When Bob introduced us Arthur took my hand. ‘Say!’ he said. He said it much as a man might seeing Niagara for the first time. ‘I hope you won’t mind me saying it, Miss Quigley, but I reckon you’re fine.’
“‘It is rather abrupt,’ I said, ‘but I’ll forgive you if you don’t say I’m “some girl.”’
“‘I haven’t dreamed it,’ said he. ‘I don’t use conversational canned goods. What remarks I employ I put up for myself, and from now on my chief object in existence is to avoid injuring your susceptibilities, however tender.’
“He had held my hand longer than was absolutely necessary, but had dropped it before expostulation was called for, just as a nice man should. Well, he attached himself to me. He came to the house, and I had him alone in the drawing-room; but he played a progressive game from the jump.
“‘Take me among the folks, will you?’ he said. ‘I want to ring up the old man’s regard, and take a firm hold on the respect of your darling mommer.’
“He did, too. Mother, as you know, is usually a little perverse towards my semi-eligible male friends, regarding them much as though she suspected them of harboring designs on her silver spoons—the ones that were grandmamma’s. Most good mothers want to get their daughters married to good men, but I don’t think they ever quite forgive the good men for doing it.
“But mum’s suspicions of Arthur Bighill soon evaporated. He seemed to have manners and ways expressly designed by providence to propitiate wary matrons, until he started on dad; then it was obvious that his arts and graces were collected solely for the purpose of having cautious fathers discover in half-an-hour that he was a condemned good fellow.
“Mum liked Arthur, dad liked Arthur. Before the acquaintance was a fortnight old Mr. Bighill could stroll into the kitchen, and sit on a corner of the table, and tell mum how his mother used to make those apple pies, and give her hints for the general improvement of her scones. Word of honor, that man did improve mum’s cooking.
“Meanwhile, I had no idea at all how Arthur Bighill was getting along with his large summer stock of Brazilian stones. He never seemed to be doing anything but walking about in good clothes, or drifting up and down the face of nature in his handsome car; but, of course, if a man is a dealer in diamonds you do not expect to see him in boyangs with a shovel over his shoulder.
“Still, if selling diamonds calls for no more energy than Mr. Bighill seemed to put into the business, I fancy I was born for the diamond trade. I met him in town on several occasions by chance, when he was just standing on the kerb looking at some business place in a dreamy sort of way. Once or twice I passed him unobserved, so absorbed was he. But once I spoke.
“‘You strike me as a most pertinacious student of architecture,’ I said. ‘What is it about this Greeko-Roman structure that appeals to the artistic sense?’
“He seemed just a little perturbed, but was himself in a moment. ‘It’s those nifty little gargoyles,’ he said. ‘Look at that one over the door that looks like a composite picture of a monkey and a goat. Well, that’s so like Uncle Amos from the cow-farm that I just love to linger here, and indulge fond remembrances. Uncle Amos was on mommer’s side of the ancestral shrub, and come over with Noah and other archaic zoology. Don’t he look cute. He licked me so often, I feel I could throw a rock at him. Lead me out of temptation, won’t you? I suggest afternoon tea,’
“We had tea together. He was a handsome man, striking anywhere, with a strong, bony frame, and a hint of certainty in all his movements. People turned to look at him. A girl likes that—it satisfies her natural craving for cheap advertisement.
“Another time when I saw him at a distance, standing on the opposite kerb, leaning back on his stick, inspecting public buildings, I took cover in a shop door and watched, but nothing came of it. He just indulged in a feast of contemplation, lasting perhaps five minutes, then sauntered on.
“Since I last mentioned the matter he had again brought up the matrimonial notion; but I had fenced with it, breaking up the fine gravity he now found it necessary to assume, and we got no ‘forrarder’ as lovers, but much more friendly as acquaintances.
“Arthur grew on one. I said, ‘You need not be precipitate—you improve with keeping.’
“‘That so, kid?’ said he. Well, that’s good enough hearin’ for me, and my time’s my own. I’ll just ring you up later.’ He took my hand. ‘May as well know the size, though. If I’m to ring you up, I ought to know your size in rings.’
“I withdrew my hand, gently but firmly. ‘The ring period is remote, if ever,’ I said.
“‘Ann, you’re havin’ a little game with me, ain’t you? It’s a new thing on me. I’m not the toy kind. People don’t play with me for choice.’
“It wasn’t the first gleam of determination I had seen in him, but it sort of scared me. ‘I will be good,’ I said, “trying to keep up the frivolous strain.
“All the same, I was scared. There came into my heart a sort of dim notion that I’d met a master— possibly my master. It’s nice, isn’t it? But, all the same, you funk it. There’s a primitive desire to run and hide in the rocks we girls must have inherited from the habits of our troglodyte mothers when the cave-dwelling Lothario took up his mammoth shin bone club, and went forth in quest of amorous adventure.
“But here I am, Ann Quigley still, and likely to be.” Ann sighed heavily. “Oh, it was a sudden finis, dramatic, too. Wholly unexpected.
“I had been into one of the wholesale houses. I was walking up Flinders Lane, thinking of nothing in particular apart from the suitable material for a blouse to-wear with my brown skirt, when he came up with me quite suddenly.
“He was passing quickly, but changed his mind.
“‘Ann,’ he said, ‘I’m rushed for time. Will you just take a holt of this little bundle for me? I’ll look it up at your house later.’
“He pressed a small flat article covered with a silk handkerchief under my arm, went three yards on, and turned abruptly into a hotel bar.
“I was astonished, of course, but believed he really had some urgent business on, and went my way, wondering a little at his strange lack of ceremony.
“Of course, I was curious about the parcel. Any girl would be. On the train I had a compartment to myself. I took a peep. The handkerchief was wrapped just loosely about the article. My dears, the article was a jewel case; Not a trifling case that might hold a ring or a bangle, but one of those long flat oval cases that could contain a king’s ransom or a princess’s wedding present.
“Did I dare to peep in? I did, and shut the case with a snap. I was frightened. Who wouldn’t be? Almost anybody, certainly any girl, is frightened in the presence of a great many diamonds, and that case was full of them. It was just stuck thick with diamond rings, one of them with three diamonds in it as big as beans. There must have been fifty of them, not one worth less than £40. I came as near fainting at that moment as ever I did in my life.
“Mad conjectures assailed me. Why had he crowded this responsibility upon me? I had one hundred and eighty guesses; but as they were all wrong I won’t trouble you with them.
“He was out at the house, within half-an-hour of my arrival home. I put the parcel into his hands, and my looks gave me away.
“‘Is it all right, kid?’ said he. ‘I guess you’ve made a choice by this. You’re not forgettin’ I promised to ring you up.’ He had opened the case, ‘Which is it to be?’ said he. ‘Which is the lucky one?’
“‘Do you mean to say you gave three thousand pounds’ worth of rings into my keeping that I might select one to wear?’ I fairly stormed at him.
“‘I surely do,’ he said.
“‘You are not quite sane. It was simply an idiotic thing to do. I might have dropped them. I might have been robbed.’
“‘I don’t tremble for my reason so you’d notice it, do I?’ said he. He picked out a ring. It must have been worth a hundred. ‘How’s this to go on with?’ he said.
“I refused it. I refused it with some warmth, and he went away.
“That night’s ‘Herald’ told the story of the audacious robber, wearing a white overcoat, who, in broad daylight, had cut a section out of a big jeweller’s window with some particularly effective cutter, taken a case of rings from the window and walked off. Only when he had gone fifty yards was the theft detected. Then he turned sharply into a hotel, carrying the case wrapped in a black silk handkerchief, reappeared in Flinders Lane, turned into another hotel; but this time without the case, and had then gone into the drifting crowd and been lost.
“Whew! Oh, yes, it was he all right. Imagine my state of mind. Think of my bright blue funk that night when I found he had left the £100 ring, dropped into the silver purse on my chatelaine.
“I nearly died of fright. All on my little alone I put the ring in a box and returned it to the jeweller’s per post, and anonymously, you can bet.
“Next day the papers dwelt upon the mysterious reappearance of one of the stolen rings; but there was no reappearance of Arthur Hallingford Bighill, none whatever. I am glad he passed on and out. Even though he had used me to help him in his robbery, I would have found it bitter hard to hand him over to the law. The motor? Oh, that. He had stolen it, and had it repainted. It belonged to a sportive Hebrew in the fish trade.”
Miss Ann Quigley was staying at “The Retreat,” Peace Hill, for rest and change. “The Retreat” was a cross between a family hotel and a convalescent home—fresh milk daily, baths, piano, and scenic effects.
“The Retreat” was described in its city advertisements as peculiarly restful for weary ones, and exceptionally exhilarating for the hale and hearty. In two days Ann had discovered nothing more exciting than the bite of a bull-ant, and nothing particularly restful apart from a deaf old maid with an ear-trumpet and a fat poodle. The old maid was not gregarious—she did not care for communion with her kind. When she wanted social intercourse she allowed the fat poodle to bark into her ear-trumpet.
Then the Hughes family arrived. The Hughes family consisted of Papa Arthur Hughes, and his trim daughter Amelia.
No girl as pretty as little Miss Hughes should be called Amelia. Amelia is a name for a gaunt spinster.
The lone maiden lady with the corpulent tyke and the ear-trumpet might have been called Amelia, if you like, but her name was Lilian.
Amelia Hughes was small and round as a rosebud, with dark hair, and the largest, loveliest blue-black eyes Ann Quigley had ever beheld.
When the Hughes party motored up, Ann was reclining on the verandah, reading a novel and smoking a surreptitious cigarette, and her interest flared up at once. She scented an incident. Papa Arthur Hughes held his daughter by the wrist as he dismounted from the car. He held her by the wrist up the ten steps to “The Retreat’s front door. Moreover, Miss Amelia’s eyes were red, and her pretty face was stained with weeping. Amelia held back, and papa had to drag her a little.
The situation was rather ludicrously suggestive of a naughty child being led unwillingly to school, and Miss Amelia was twenty-two at least—petite, and sweet and girlish, but certainly twenty-two—and past being towed reluctantly to school.
The motor, dismissed by Papa Hughes, turned and purred back down the long road to the far metropolis, and Ann took another sly draw at her cigarette and wondered. Cigarettes for ladies were barred at “The Retreat,”
“The Retreat” being notorious for its circumspection throughout six States, and having an excellent reputation in Wesleyan lay and clerical circles to maintain.
Ann made an instantaneous inventory of Papa Arthur Hughes. Ann took stock of people much as amateurs take snapshots; but her mental portraits were apt to be much more accurate.
Arthur was a shortish man, portly all over. He had even a fat foot. His head was fat. This even distribution of fatness left his fatness in the midlands inconspicuous. Papa was greying, his face was reddish. Papa liked a little whisky.
Mr. Hughes had not uttered a word, but Ann was satisfied; she knew just how that sort of man would talk. His language would come from him jerkily. He was a man who would have an air of rosy health and hearty cordiality in company; but just now his exuberance was clouded. Obviously, Amelia had been misbehaving—but how?
Ann became so absorbed in speculation that “The Retreat” hall porter—a Wesleyan Methodist of un-deviating rigidity, almost caught her breathing tobacco fumes.
Our Miss Quigley went indoors. The Hughes duo had already been disposed of, and Ann went up to her room to finish her cigarette without compunction. Compunction and cigarettes are distinctly incompatible.
Ann had finished the smoke and another chapter of “The Beloved Vagabond,” when her acute ear was caught by sounds of sobbing in the room on her right. Ann listened, and drew conclusions. The unhappy one was feminine; she was lying with her face in a pillow or cushion; she was very deeply distressed indeed, and the sound floated out through an open window and in through an open window.
Ann stepped out on to the balcony; she left-turned, and sauntered casually.
Has it been hinted in the course of these veracious chronicles that Ann Quigley was curious? If so, no unfaithful impression has been conveyed. Ann was curious. Her curiosity attained the dignity of a passion, to satisfy which she would go to any extremes within the limits of a decent indiscretion. Ann’s interest in humanity being practically unbounded and unbindable, a consuming curiosity was the inevitable corollary.
Miss Quigley had made a clever deduction. Just within the open balcony window of the next room a small female figure lay prone on a mock tiger skin rug, its face buried in its arms, weeping bitterly.
Ann stood for a moment in silent condolence; then she knelt on the window-sill, and touched the weeping figure.
“Can’t I help you?” she said.
The grief-stricken figure recoiled into a sitting attitude—a tear-stained face emerged. It was the little Miss Hughes.
“Please, let me do something for you,” said Ann. “I am so sorry. I can’t bear to hear you cry like that.”
Amelia looked for a moment in some consternation, and then Ann’s heavenly commiseration triumphed; and when the poor girl collapsed again she was in touch with Ann’s ankle. Within three minutes she was weeping against Ann’s knee, and Ann was condoling generously.
“You’re very kuck-kuck-kind,” said Miss Hughes miserably, “but I can never be happy again.”
“Don’t say that,” said Ann.
“But I can’t—I can’t! No matter what, I can never be happy again.”
Ann stroked her hair, and hoped she would bear up; and to encourage her told her how pretty she was, and what lovely eyes she had. “A sweet little woman with eyes as beautiful as yours,” she said, “should never cry.”
Miss Hughes peeped. “Yours are prettier,” she said.
“They’re not one-thousandth part as pretty as yours; but I respect them too highly to ruin them with long fits of crying.”
“But your heart is not broken.”
“Oh, I don’t know. It’s been a bit chipped about. But a woman has to meet trouble with courage, or it makes such a mess of her.”
“How can you talk like that? Sadness is beautiful.”
“Ah, my dear little one”—Ann felt quite fifty— “trouble is our sex’s greatest enemy, because it makes dowds of us. A thoroughly miserable woman has always got a red nose and weak eyes, and is careless about her hair. You should know perfectly well that is not the way to overcome difficulties.”
Amelia looked anxiously towards the mirror, and dabbed her eyes with a tiny handkerchief. “But I do love him,” she said piteously. “I love him with all my heart.”
Ann’s soul stirred within her. She pressed the little girl closer. They were getting warm. Alas! at that moment the door opened, and Papa Arthur Hughes stepped into the room. For a moment he stared at the affecting tableau at the window.
“Well, ’pon my soul!” he said.
“I heard your little girl weeping so bitterly that I could not resist the desire to offer her some little consolation,” said Ann.
“She’s a fool!” said papa. “She’s a deuced little fool! Nothing to cry about. Silly ass!”
“I’m not a silly ass, papa,” said Amelia fiercely. “You’re a silly ass!”
Mr. Hughes looked appealingly at Ann. “There,” he said, “that will tell you. What do you think of the girl who calls her own father a silly ass because he presumes to save her from a life of misery? Disgusting! Infamous!”
“Of course, it is very improper,” said Ann.
“Improper? You’re a girl of sense. Improper? I should just say it was. You have judgment. Shrimps of girls like my daughter here—pah! Harder to get sense into than baby apes. Pish!”
“They are a little difficult to a man, perhaps,” said Ann, and her golden brown eyes rested on papa with a hint of commiseration.
Papa Hughes stood back, and surveyed her with paternal approval. Ann was looking extremely handsome framed in the French window. Papa Hughes was something of a buck in his way. He was agreeably affected.
“By George!” he said, “I’m glad you looked in. Perhaps you’ll stuff some reason into Miss Empty Head. I’m Arthur Hughes, of ‘Blue Gum.’ This is my daughter—my only one, thank God.”
Ann made herself known to her neighbors. “Hope you’ll take lunch with us,” said Papa Hughes. “We’re staying here over night, but must get along home in the morning.”
Ann lunched at the same table with the Hugheses, and prospered well with papa. Arthur was a big land-owner, a widower, and extremely susceptible. He liked Ann Quigley. His disposition was distinctly flirtatious.
Walking towards the creek an hour later, Ann was confronted by a young man who emerged rather suddenly from a clump of saplings.
“Excuse me,” he said, hat in hand. “I’m sorry if I’ve startled you, but I was thinking perhaps you were staying at ‘The Retreat.’”
“I am,” replied Ann.
“And that perhaps you could tell me if Miss Amelia Hughes is there!”
“Miss Hughes is there with her father. They came this morning, and are staying over night.”
The young man half-turned away, faltered, and looked at Ann. He was very young. He was distinctly handsome. His pale face had marked refinement. His melancholy blue eyes quite touched her.
“Could you—would you —” he faltered. “Perhaps you know if Miss Hughes is well?”
“She is quite well, but unhappy, apparently. But if you are an acquaintance, why not call and inquire of Miss Hughes herself?”
“Oh, no, no, I can’t do that. I’m just dying to, but I can’t.” He looked at Ann again. He played with his hat, he looked down, he looked up, he sighed. “Good afternoon!” said Ann.
“Oh, please, don’t go!” His tone was so pathetic that Ann could not resist its appeal. “I am going to take a very great liberty. Would—would you, please, do me and her a great—a very great kindness? Would you take a note from me to her?”
“I’m afraid I cannot do that,” said Ann.
“Please—please do! Do you know what happened? She and I eloped. I love her with all my soul. Her father overtook us at the church door. I have followed them back. I can’t live without seeing her.” He sank upon a stone, and buried his face in his hands.
Never in this world did the true romance have a truer friend than Ann Quigley. She sat by the boy —she put a kind hand on his arm. “Tell me all about it,” she said.
He told her. It was a very usual story—the young lover with hopes, the stern father with heaps, favoring a more elderly suitor, whose worldly hopes were now realisations in the concrete form of land and lucre.
Ann’s heart was won. She took a note from Charley to Amelia, and bore a note back from Amelia to Charley. But at this second meeting with Romeo she had something more than a note to give—she had a plan. Uniting fond lovers was a specialty of Ann’s.
That evening after dinner Ann Quigley walked in the spacious garden of “The Retreat” with Papa Arthur Hughes.
“I’ve seen that wretched girl of mine bestowed for the night,” said Hughes. “Beastly nuisance being left with girls. Need too much looking after. Amelia needs a mother’s care. By George! I ought to marry again.”
“Why not?” asked Ann. “You’re still a comparatively young man.”
“Why not?” reiterated Arthur. “By George! why not? Of course, a fellow’s comparatively young. Gad, I’ll think it over!”
They remained in the garden for about an hour.
Arthur thought it was he suggested the summer-house. Ann was reluctant, but yielding.
“What will people say?” she asked, coquettishly. “What can they say? Summer-house is to sit in. No harm. Come along.”
They sat in the summer-house. Arthur was affectionate in a somewhat deliberate, elderly way, and Ann was reluctant—but not quite final in her denials. Arthur wanted a kiss.
“Just a little one,” he said. Ann wouldn’t hear of it. “It’s years since I kissed a pretty girl,” said Papa Arthur. “Thought I was getting out of the way of it.”
“Now, you mustn’t,” said Ann in quite the suburban manner. “I’ll call out.”
Papa Arthur, gay old dog, insisted. He put an arm about Ann. Ann boxed his ears lightly, and broke away. Papa Arthur pursued her around the summer-house. Ann dashed for the door. It was closed. She shook it. A cry of horror burst from her lips.
“It’s locked!” she said. “How dare you? How dare you?” she hissed. “Unlock this door at once.”
“Tush! Rubbish!” protested Hughes. “The door is not locked. Let me at it. By George! it is locked, though.”
The two faced each other. Ann was apparently in poignant distress of mind. “You’re playing a trick on me,” she said. “You’ve locked the door!”
“’Pon my soul, no!” blurted Papa Hughes. “It’s someone about the place up to their larks. I’ll call out.”
“No, no, no!” Ann almost screamed. Her hand was over his mouth. “If you call out, and bring a crowd here—what of me, what of my reputation?”
“By God!” said Papa Hughes. “What are we going to do then?”
They remained where they were, and for nearly two hours Ann exerted her power for dramatic representation in a brilliant display of the emotions raging from quiet tears to the verge of hysteria. She insisted that Arthur Hughes was playing a dishonorable practical joke, and swore that once free she would never, never, never speak to him again.
Eventually Ann insisted on drastic action. “You might break out,” she said.
Papa tried, but the summer-house was built of gnarled ironbark branches, and Arthur was unequal to the task. He struck a match, seeking a weak spot in the walls, and Ann uttered a cry of rapture.
“The key!” she said.
It lay on the floor just under the door, where the practical joker had thrust it apparently. A moment later Ann was flying for cover in her own room.
Five minutes after that and an uproar broke loose in “The Retreat.” Papa Arthur Hughes was seeking his daughter—His daughter was not anywhere to be found.
“She’s gone with that infernal young villain again,” roared Arthur. He demanded “The Retreat” motor car.
“Impossible,” said the manager. “It is away. It was hired at a quarter to nine by a young fellow who has gone on to Melbourne.”
“That’s the scoundrel—I’ll swear it’s he!” Papa was furious. “The villain locked me in the summer-house, and he’s run off with my daughter.”
Ann left “The Retreat” next morning. About fifteen months later she received a letter:
“Papa has forgiven us. We have the darlingest little baby boy. Are you never coming to see us? We can never forget how you helped us, and we want you to come and see how happy we are.—Your loving Amelia.”
“Dear me!” murmured Ann, “and all the result of my forethought in locking a door.”
They were the eyes of a moon calf. I don’t know precisely what a moon calf is, but the expression is tersely descriptive. There was a certain mooning expression in the eyes, and something of the fatuity of a calf lingered in their watery pallor. They were eyes neither pale grey nor light blue. Their color, to be precise, was that of much-watered Melbourne milk, and in form they were suggestive of full moons, very large and very round.
Ann Quigley first encountered the eyes in a 3d. ’bus. Ann was inside, the eyes were in front with the driver, and Ann encountered them suddenly and unexpectedly, mooning at her through the window in the prow of the motor ’bus.
Miss Quigley did not at once recognise the orbs as human eyes. The first suggestion was of something quaint and original in the way of pastry based on the architecture of the familiar penny tart. The objects were round; they had round centres, but they lacked the robust hue of the jam tart.
The man around the eyes only became visible after a closer investigation, inspired by that conquering curiosity which was a conspicuous feature of the makeup of the estimable Miss Quigley.
It was with quite a shock that Ann presently perceived the two absurd round objects to be features in a face. Then she withdrew her own gaze with a little exclamation of surprise. This seemed to justify criticism from the youth on her left—a well-meaning young man, who had his hat between his knees, and a crayfish in his hat.
“Got a nye like a nockterpus, ain’t he, miss?” said the youth.
Ann, being fearful of further discussion, did not reply, but she smiled, and the youth with the crayfish in his hat, feeling discouraged, addressed the proprietor of the eyes. “Gar-r-rt!” he said with affected loathing. ‘‘Remove them shiny doorknobs, Egbert. Pull off yer bassilisk stare, or a little bloke ’bout my size, will swipe you with a fish.”
The youth turned to Ann again. “If it ’ud be any comfort to you, miss,” he said, “I’ll let him ’ave it.” He poised the lobster, which was wrapped in damp paper, as if about to throw. “Say the word, an’ he has it fair in the hoptic.”
“No, no, no!” said Ann, “not on my account, really.”
“It would be a pity t’ wiste the cry,” said the youth, returning the odorous fish to his hat, “but them pie-melon eyes is gettin’ me down. Hi, moon face, withdraw the slop bowls. Tike, oh, tike them eyes away. Say, conductor, can’t you have that cod-head shifted? It’s hirritatin’ the young lydie.”
“We do seem t’ be runnin’ a bit of an old Collingwood fish shop,” said the conductor. “What right iv you got smellin’ in a decent public conveyance like a Gov’mint trawler?”
“Pigs to you!” replied the proprietor of the crayfish with great amiability. “It ain’t me bit iv a cri’ what’s raisin’ gen’ral disapproval, is it, miss? No one hobjects to the breath iv a lobster. A lobster’s hodor is homely an’ happertisin’, ain’t it, miss? It’s them dead salmon steaks in the winder what’s gettin’ on the lydie’s nerves. ’Struth! look at ’em. On’y look at ’em. They’re glued on the glass. Conductor, you ain’t allowed t’ permit the mashin’ of respectable lydies in yer old parraffn van. The makin’ iv goo-goo eyes is expressly forbid. See Rule 7.”
“Shut yer tripe trap!” said the conductor.
“Not necessary,” replied the youth with the crayfish in his hat. “I’m interferin’ in behalf of the young lydie on me right, which objects strongly t’ them soup-plates a-gloatin’ on her—don’t yer, miss?’’
An opportunity to retire with dignity occurred here, and Ann seized it. She left the ’bus. Our Miss Quigley was not easily perturbed. She was a young woman of unusual resource, and out of her great love of the farcical element, which is even more prevalent than water in the construction of man, could enjoy a situation most people would find excruciating in its agony; but to be the subject of an altercation between a ’bus conductor and a semi-inebriate, with a crayfish in his hat, in the presence of a mixed audience was too much for Ann. She deserted.
The incident served to fix the eyes upon Ann’s memory. She thought a good deal about them, and after a day or so had almost convinced herself they were an optical illusion. After all, they were much too large for human eyes, and much too fatuous for those of a horse. She had been deceived by two large, round, pale buttons on the back of a coat.
Then she saw the eyes again. She was sitting in a railway carriage this time, thinking of nothing definite, when, like twin sick moons riding up over a hill, the eyes swam into her view. She saw them, and gave the same start, the same little voluntary cry of surprise. They were undoubtedly eyes, and they were even more moon-calfish than she had imagined in the ’bus.
The eyes encountered hers, rolled the complete circuit, and were submerged again. All Ann could see now was a copy of the “Herald,” but presently, as she gazed, fascinated, the eyes slowly emerged once more. They came up over the edge of the paper, and gloated upon her for a moment, and disappeared again like revolving lights.
Ann tore her gaze from the paper, and looked out of the window, but some subtle law that was certainly not gravity, dragged her glance back again, and the large, melancholy, morbid eyes were still peering.
They revolved between the top of the paper and the rim of a hat, and their expression was one of dull adoration—supremely fatuous.
Quite a score of times Ann encountered the eyes over the paper, around its edge, or under it, and always they rested on her face a moment with a sort of ardor you would ascribe to an infatuated jelly-fish.
Again Ann went away much perturbed, and with no definite idea of the owner of the eyes. He kept his paper up as a sort of bulwark, and besides the eyes Miss Quigley saw only a fat pair of knees, and two fat, short feet, abruptly in-turned.
She saw the eyes for the third time at a picture show. She discovered them with the shock she had previously experienced. They shone out of the press in front of her, and every time the lights went up they came about furtively, and fixed themselves upon her with the mute appeal of a famished poddy.
Ann never got over the preposterous absurdity of those eyes; the shock of their lugubrious emptiness was so great it was two weeks before she could laugh at them. She found herself practising them before her mirror, but, despite the largeness of her own eyes, and the astonishing mobility of her features, and her exceptional talent as a mimic, she found her efforts hopeless.
“I could make them with two pints of fish jelly,’’ she told her little sister, who stood by, an appreciative critic of the effort, “but I’ll never be able to imitate them on my own. Such eyes Vi—like pale eggs— fried.”
It was a Sunday morning. Ann was sitting in the back garden, reading scandal, and drying her turbulent, brown-gold hair in the sun, when her attention was diverted from her paper by a curious apparition. Dangling between her eyes and the printed page was a large bouquet. Ann uttered a cry and started back. The bouquet followed her. Ann, still perturbed, pushed herself backwards till her chair toppled on its hind legs. The floating bouquet still pursued her. Tossing her chair aside, Ann fled six paces. The bouquet came bobbing through the air in pursuit.
From this view the phenomenon was easily understood. Over the fence from the house on the left projected a long clothes prop; suspended from this on a string bobbed the bouquet.
The bouquet dashed at Ann again, and Ann ducked and took up another position. Several times the bouquet swooped, but each time Miss Quigley avoided it, and now a small straw hat, male, with a narrow rim, rose slowly above the fence, until the two large, pale, moist, circular objects emerged from the palings. They were the eyes.
The eyes rested upon Ann with the bashful ardor of cold veal for a few seconds, and then the bouquet was swung at her again.
“Please don’t be a fool,” said Ann.
The eyes ducked down. They arose once more, cautiously, diffidently, and mooned at Ann.
“How dare you interfere with me in this way?” asked Miss Quigley with marked asperity.
The eyes breathed a great sigh, and the bouquet was withdrawn. Ann discovered the eyes several times in the course of the Sabbath, peering at a hole in the fence dividing “Wattleholm” from “Bay View,” the house on the left.
“Bay View” was a large house, kept by a florid widow, who entertained paying guests with great gentility. Doubtless “Eyes” was a new boarder. Ann carried the news to Violet.
“They’re living next door,” she said—“the eyes. They floated over the fence. They’ve been throwing bouquets at me. Watch for them. If you let them get out without calling me, I’ll drown you in the bath. I’ve never really seen the thing that owns them yet. It’s rumored he’s a man. There are grounds for the suspicion, but I want to be sure.”
It was Ann herself who saw him leaving for business next morning. He was a shortish stoutish young man of perhaps twenty-eight, though his portliness belonged to a later period. He had a large, pale face, a big, pale head, with pale hair; he walked with in-twisted feet, and carried a little black leather bag and an umbrella. His eyes have already been hinted at.
The whole attitude, carriage, expression, and atmosphere of the young man suggested shyness, and when he saw Ann in the garden, he stumbled over his own left foot, dropped his bag, knocked his head against the gate picking it up, dropped his umbrella, and then, in his flurry, shut the gate on his own hand, and tried to walk off with the whole garden fence.
Ann saw a good deal of the eyes after that. She often encountered them, two weak discs glimmering faintly above a newspaper in the tram or train. She saw them at the hole in the fence, she discovered them beaming through the ivy screening the balcony of “Bay View,” and at times came upon them in the street.
When Ann met “Eyes” in the street, he always invariably dropped his bag. When she met him in train or tram, he hastily and tremulously barricaded himself behind an “Age” or a “Herald,” from which cover he would presently chance an eye.
Ann learned that her new admirer was Arthur Anderson Wells, a dress-designer employed by a large city firm, and a young man of most exemplary habits.
Whenever Ann appeared in the garden in the summer evenings following, or on a Saturday afternoon, or on a Sunday, the clothes prop would come over the fence with a bouquet suspended on a string from its end. But as the bouquet was not accepted, a box of chocolates was eventually substituted. Ann ignored the chocolates, and the eyes of Arthur Anderson Wells came up over the fence to rebuke her. Once Arthur tried a bag of fruit. Another time it was a frosted cake of many colors.
“Arthur Anderson Wells is fond of fishing,” said Ann, “I wonder if he’s the first man who tried to catch a wife with a rod and line.”
But, although the fish was a long time biting, Ann’s unconquerable spirit of mischief would not allow of her ignoring the bait when eventually a letter came over on the end of the line. For a moment she lingered dubiously; then she took the note. It read:
“Dear Golden Lady,—This is from one who adores you afar—a poor artist with an abiding love of the beautiful, who lays his heart at the feet of one who embodies all beauty. Sweet woman with the jewelled eyes, do not disdain me because I lack the insolence of common men. Look kindly upon me out of the tenderness of your heart, and give me some token that I am not wholly repugnant to you.—Arthur Anderson Wells.”
“Who would dream that there was all that behind two eyes that look like anaemic custard pies,” said Ann.
The following evening Ann was sitting in the electric tram, when Arthur approached from the train. He stood on the step, his head was in the car, and he saw her. For a moment he stared in dire trepidation; then his bag fell, he stooped to pick it up, and, his foot slipping from the step, he went upon his knees, and slid to the ground, where he sat and watched the tram move off.
Arthur Anderson Wells arose, gathered umbrella, hat, and little black bag, and walked. Arthur was brave enough on paper, but very timorous in the flesh. That evening another note came over the fence. It was a formal declaration, and an appeal for the hand of Miss Ann Quigley in marriage, signed Arthur Anderson Wells, in a bold, round hand.
“It is for your beauty I love you,” said Mr. Wells. “The artist loves the beautiful. He must have it always with him to sustain and inspire him in his work. I must have you, sweet one. Love has made me resolute. R.S.V.P.”
Ann responded. She said that although her heart was not deeply touched, no maiden could fail to be stirred in some measure by the ardor of Mr. Wells’ appeal, and his proposals were not regarded in a wholly unfavorable light. She even inferred that the possibility of her becoming Mrs. Anderson Wells was not very remote.
Ann had visions of “Eyes” for two or three days after that. She detected them at the glass door dividing her compartment in a railway carriage from the next; she saw them over the fence and through the fence, and began to be rather weary of eyes. The joke was playing thin.
It was Sunday morning. Arthur was lurking in the garden at “Bay View,” screened by a creeper-covered summer-house, clothes prop in hand, a fancy box of sweets baiting his line.
Ann Quigley came into the garden, carrying in her hand a mass of dripping golden hair, which she pegged on the line. A gasp came from the other side of the fence.
The gasp was not wholly inexcusable. Ann Quigley was bald—utterly, brazenly, abominably bald. The sun glinted upon a waste of white barren scalp.
Furthermore, Ann was a fright. Her glorious complexion was gone, leaving her face the deplorable hue of an underdone Cornish pasty. There were obtrusive wrinkles in the corners of her eyes, wrinkles seamed her brow, and the wrinkles from nose to mouth almost attained the obtrusiveness of corporation drains.
It was to all appearances beautiful Ann Quigley without her make-up—beautiful Ann in her unadorned condition, slip-shod, bedraggled, dull-eyed, ungainly, hanging out the best of her hair to dry.
The eyes of Arthur Anderson Wells rose above the fence, twin moons again, luminous with amazement.
They, suffused with horrid disillusionment, gazed at Ann.
Ann turned and encountered them. She affected greatest consternation. “Oh Lord!” she cried, and, dashing for a towel hung on the line, she wrapped it about her dilapidated head. She returned to the fence moaning:
“You won’t let this make any difference, will you, Arthur! Say you won’t hate me. It is true I haven’t any hair to speak of, and I paint a little, and I’m a bit padded; but I’m not wholly false, Arthur. My teeth are nearly all my own, and I have no glass eyes. Arthur! Speak, oh, speak to me, Arthur!”
A groan came from the other side of the fence, where Arthur Anderson Wells was thinking of his fallen idol and his great craving for the beautiful and good.
“Arthur!” Ann repeated, “speak to me. Only speak to me, Arthur!”
There came only the sound of running feet. Arthur had fled!
Ann stole indoors. In the secrecy of her own apartment she washed off a loathly make-up, and liberated her delightful and rightful gold brown locks from an old hairless headpiece once used in an amateur theatrical performance, and Ann stood clear again, radiant in her native good looks.
Meanwhile there were aural evidences of excitement in “Bay View.” Within an hour a cab appeared at the front. Arthur Anderson Wells fell over his belongings, several times hustling them into the vehicle, and the lover of beauty took himself out of the suburb for good, a sadly disillusioned man.
“I don’t know what possessed Mr. Wells yesterday,” the proprietress of “Bay View” confided to Miss Quigley next day. “Did you hear the disturbance!”
“I did hear something,” Ann admitted.
“That was him leaving,” said the widow. “Something must have come over him.”
“I shouldn’t wonder,” said innocent Ann Quigley.
Ann only saw Arthur Anderson Wells once again. They came almost face to face in the street. Arthur’s goo-goo eyes rounded in terror; he dropped both bag and umbrella, and turning, fled for his life. When Ann looked back the bag and the brolly still lay on the path. Arthur was nowhere visible.
“I thought I’d ask you,” said Jessie.
“Yes,” replied Ann, “but with no intention in the world of accepting my advice.”
“Ann!” Jessie expostulated.
“There, there, I know you, Miss Jess McIvor. You ask my advice about the selection of a husband as you would about the selection of a piece of dress material, with no intention of accepting the advice, however good, unless it coincides with the conclusion you have already come to.”
“Of course, I’ve made up my mind to marry Dick. What I wanted to talk about more particularly was the elopement.”
“Yes. It’s a dead secret, you know. Dick and I agreed not to tell a living soul.
“And here you are!”
“Oh, but you’re an exception. I tell you because I’ve always told you everything. You see, pa won’t hear of Dick, so we’re going to do without pa’s consent. Dick is bringing a motor at 10 o’clock on Wednesday night, and taking me to his aunt’s at Malvern.
On Thursday we are to be married, and on Thursday evening we leave for Sydney.”
“And you are just dying to have my advice? You told Dick you could not possibly say definitely whether you would or you wouldn’t till you had consulted me.”
“Really, it’s all settled, but I thought I would like to hear what you thought of it, dear.”
“Oh, very well. My advice to those about to elope is—don’t.”
Jessie sighed. “Here, you never did like Dick,” she said composedly.
“I have always been aware of numerous drawbacks to Richard Marsh considered as a husband.”
“But I am going to reform him. He has promised me that he will let me make a new man of him.”
“I’m afraid it’s rather difficult making a new man of old material, Jess, and Dick is old in iniquity.”
“Ann Quigley, how can you? I’m sure Dickie is nothing of the kind. He has drunk a little, and I know all that about the Wester woman, and it’s true he does bet a bit on horses, but you can’t call it iniquity—not real iniquity.”
“Then it’s a marvellous imitation, old girl. Listen to the prophet: If you marry Dick, in six months you’ll think you have made a mistake; in twelve months you will know you have involved yourself in a ghastly misfortune.”
“You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Ann. Dick’s a good fellow. You’re prejudiced against him. You were always laughing at him, and mimicking him. I might have known what you would say. I’m sorry I came.”
“If you came here expecting me to back you up in an act of childish folly, my dear, you were certainly mistaken. I don’t know of a man anywhere less likely to make a successful husband than Dick Marsh. Your father knows that, and your father is right. It is only in muggy fiction and sentimental picture plays that the girl’s old man is always at fault in setting his face against the girl’s young man. ”
“Nothing can part us, Ann—nothing. I shall go on with this just to prove to you that a woman can alter the life of the man she loves.”
“Of course you will. Every young girl in your position thinks she can work this one miracle of raising men from their live selves—a tougher job than raising them from the dead, if you ask me. As a bachelor with no responsibilities, and a decent billet, Marsh has been twice insolvent, and you think you can teach him to keep two or more decently on a salary on which he has failed to keep one indecently. Very well, Jess, have your try, but if I were the good friend you think me I would report all this to your respected papa.”
“It would make no difference, Ann—I mean to marry Dick.”
“Of course you do, and the elopement is a superfluous bit of melodrama. You are of age.”
“I’m running away to save explanations, arguments, scoldings—all the battery of paternal objection.”
“Poor old Daddy Longlegs, I’m sorry for him. If you could get as good a husband as you’ve had a father you’d be a lucky girl, but you’re throwing away your chance.”
“You are positively rude, Ann Quigley. You just hate Dick.”
“You knew perfectly well what opinion I had of Dick before you came to me. I don’t hate him. He’s interesting; but as a husband—heaven help us!”
“Interesting! Yes, you found him interesting to take off to make people laugh.”
Ann laughed joyously, and, standing with feet well apart, and chin well up, plucked at an imaginary moustache, and assuming a masculine voice with a suspicion of a squeak in it, said: “Yes, yes, but who can blame a fellow if a fellow’s the sort of fellow the girls follow? Come, now.”
“Ann!” Jess positively screamed. “If you do that again I’ll—I’ll throw this vase at you. You know that’s just his fun.”
When Miss McIvor had gone Ann just sat in thought for at least fifteen minutes, and then she rang up Charley Willis. “Do you think you could spare me this evening?” she asked.
“Could I!” was the delighted response. “Where? When? What?”
“Here at home. At half-past eight, say. I’ll explain when you come.”
Charley was prompt, as Ann knew he would be. Charley was hers devotedly, and Ann had small compunction about turning a devotion like Charley’s to good account. This time it was a simple matter, it appeared. She merely wanted him to kidnap Dick Marsh.
“But that’s preposterous, Ann,” said Charles. “You are kidding me. How’s it to be done?”
“I’m perfectly serious. I want you to prevent Dick Marsh keeping an appointment in Windsor at ten o’clock on Wednesday night next—that is all.”
“I can get him down and sit on him, of course, but I shall have some difficulty in convincing him it is a friendly act.”
“You can’t work it that way, because I need you. You have to bring a car here for me at ten to ten.”
“Well, Ann, you know I’d do a lot for you, but the line is drawn at miracles. I can’t hold Dick down elsewhere and come here to you at the same time.”
“It isn’t necessary. I’ll throw out a suggestion or two. Dick is partial to whisky.”
“He has a leaning of 45 degrees towards old Scotch.”
“He is supposed to be partial to cards.”
“He would play poker on his grandfather’s coffin.”
“Then is it impossible to lure him on to poker with the able assistance of a little whisky? It’s an evil act, but it’s in a good cause, and a little extra whisky can make small difference to Mr. Marsh. Suppose you get a party of men, and inveigle Dick into it. He may even need a little dragging, as his Wednesday night appointment is rather important.”
“The thing begins to assume an air of possibility,” said Charley.
“Oh, very well, you dear boy. Prevent him keeping that appointment, if you have to hang on to him like a desperate creditor, or knock him on the head, and give him in charge for aggravated assault with battery.”
At half-past nine Ann was rung up. “It’s as good as done,” said the ringer. “Expect me in a few minutes.”
When Charley Willis arrived at Quigley’s at fifteen minutes to ten he found Ann sitting on the verandah in male attire. Ann rose affectedly, strutted across the verandah, brandishing a cigarette, and said:
“I am a bit fast. Everybody says Dick Marsh is fast. What of it? The man that’s slow these days misses everything that’s going. I miss nothing. What-o!”
Charley laughed. “That’s the little devil to a T,” he said.
Seven minutes later Ann knew all about it, and was being bowled in a silent car towards McIvor’s front gate.
“He’s in the hands of three lads who won’t let him go home till morning, till daylight doth appear,” Charley had explained. “But I don’t think he’ll need any further persuasion. He is as full as a tick, and he had won thirty shillings at poker when I left.”
It was Charley Willis stole to McIvor’s verandah, and, hidden among the thick creeper, whistled twice.
Three minutes later Jessie came creeping from the side of the house. “My bags are under the hedge,” she said. “You know where.”
“Please, Miss, it’s the chauffeur,” said Charley, in a hoarse voice. “Mr. Marsh is in the car. He sent me to get the things.”
Jess was helped into the motor, and Charley got a move on before explanation could be offered. Miss McIvor found a masculine figure lounging in the darkened car, and detected a penetrating odor of whisky.
“There y’are, Shess, ole (hic!) girl,” said the voice of Dick Marsh. “I knew you’d come. You’re shport. Yesh yare—you’re shport.”
“Dick!” cried Jess, “you promised me you’d never taste another drop.”
“That wash after sha weddin’, m’ dear. You cou’dn’ ’spect fellar t’ carry off great ’vent, like ’lopement without a bracer. Well, thash all I’ve had —just a bracer.”
“Nonshense—drunk! I’m never drunk—not really drunk—’s long as I can get about, ’n I’m gettin’ ’bout all ri’ now, ain’t I? Give’s a kiss.”
“I will not give you a kiss. You’ve broken my heart.” Jess began to cry.
“Oh, give’s a kiss, m’ love. Feller can’t lope without a kiss.” He hugged Jess and kissed her.
“You, you don’t love me,” wailed Jess, “or you would never have come for me in this condition.”
“Whish condish’? Theresh noshin’ marrer wi’ me. I’m all ri’. Had drop Dush courage. Requires lotter courage t’ ’lope wish a girl. Foun’ I couldn’t do it without dropper whisky. Wouldn’t have come if I hadn’t had dropper whisky. Funked on it, m’ darlin’. Went ’n’ had dropper Scotch, ’n’ came bold as lion. Am bold as lion. Defy anyone shay I’m not bold as lion.”
“Oh, oh, oh!” wailed Jess. “I want to go home.”
“No fear,” said Dick. “‘Won’ go ’ome till mornin’, Won’ go ’ome till mornin’, Won’ go ’ome till mornin’, till daylight dosh appear.’”
“I’m frightened. I’m terrified.’’
“I know, you wanna dropper whisky. Chauffeur, shtop at hotel—lady wants dropper whisky.”
“No, no, no!” cried Jess, piteously. “I don’t want whisky.”
“Must have dropper whisky,’’ insisted Dick. “You shtay here, I go ger dropper whisky. Any lady ’lopin’ needs dropper whisky.”
The car had stopped at an hotel. Jess, looking out, failed to recognise the locality, and abandoned her intention of escaping from the car and returning to her home.
In about five minutes Dick returned. He was perhaps a little drunker. “Drive on!” he said. “Where are you, ole girl. Come an’ kish me. Come an’ kish your lil’ husban’ that ish to be.”
“I won’t. I’ll never kiss you again. You’re a beast, and I hate you.”
“Thash all ri’. I’ll make you love me all ri’ when I’ve had dropper whisky. You’ll excuse me, I’m feelin’ just a lil’ faint-hearted, and faint heart never won fair lady. Must have drop whisky. Chaffer, find hotel!”
The chauffeur found another hotel, and once more Dickie Marsh went in to refresh himself.
“Lo! the bridegroom cometh,” said Dickie on reappearing, and he fell into the car. He lay at her feet. “Drive on!” he cried, and sang a verse of “The Yeoman’s Wedding.”
“Wheresh me bonny bride? Shessie, where art thou?” He found her boot. “Hello!” he said, “wharer you doin’ perched on fence? Come sit beshide me.”
She helped him to the seat, and he sat limply, with one arm about her. “Thash berrer,” he laid. “Say, Betty, where we goin’?”
“I am not Betty.”
“Not Betty! Then, who doosh are you, if you’re not Betty? Shtop, driver, theresh strange lady in car.”
“Hush, hush! Don’t make a show of me. It’s Jess. You know it’s Jess. You are doing this to make me miserable.”
“It’s Shess. Thash all ri’. Drive on, chum, it’s Shess. Where we goin’, Shess? I know—we’re goin’ haver drink. Driver, shtop at hotel—lady wants lil’ refreshment.”
They stopped at another hotel, and again Dick got out. He came back after two minutes and said: “Begger pard’n, Betty, f’got ask you what you’d have. Whisky? Thash ri’. Always have whisky. Nothin’ like whisky.”
He came back again a little later, and climbed in. “Take me home!” wailed Jessie. “I want to go home.”
“Poor Betty!” said Dick, with pathos. “Poor old girl, did he forgerrer whisky? Nev’ min’. Driver! Shtop hotel. Forgot ’freshment for lady.” At the next stop Dicky rolled out. “Where’s hotel?” he said. “Thish ain’t hotel. Who’s gone an’ shifted hotel? Hotel’s lost. Chaffer, wha’er you done wish hotel?”
The chauffeur appeared at the other window of the car. “I’m sorry, Miss,” he said. “This is your house. I clean forgot to get your luggage. I have had to come back for it. Keep him quiet for a minute, and I’ll get the things. Under the hedge, you said, I believe?”
“Stop!” whispered Jess. “Let me out. Let me out quickly!” She was on the footpath in half a second. “Put him in and drive away. Quickly! Quickly! Good-night!” She dashed in at the gate, and stole back to her room—very miserable, but at the same time glad to be home again, and out of a fearful scrape.
By the time the car reached Quigley’s the alleged Dick Marsh was quite sober again.
“That’s remarkably well done,” said Ann. “Now go and pick up the other victim of our wiles, and finish the comedy.”
“Comedy?” gasped Charley Willis. “Howling farce, I think! I wonder she didn’t hear me laughing my ribs loose.”
“Poor girl; it was hard on her, but I couldn’t let her throw her life away on a waster like Dick. Good-night. You’re a good boy.”
Charley took a kiss in full payment, and drove off. At a certain hotel three chums of his helped the real Dicky Marsh into the car, and again Charley drove off. But when a policeman found the motor by the roadside at Brighton two hours after daylight, it was Richard Marsh who was sitting in the driver’s seat, and the car itself was quite empty.
A week passed before Ann saw Jessie again. “I’m going to congratulate you on a change of mind, dear,” said Ann.
“You mean about Dick Marsh. Oh, that was all a joke! You must have known it was a joke.”
“And you didn’t really intend to elope with him?”
“Elope with a drinker and gambler like Dick Marsh? You must think me mad.”
“What a fool I am,” said Ann, keeping her countenance with difficulty. “I thought you meant it.”
“Don’t be absurd!”
“Well, I did think it strange. Did you see he was fined on Thursday for being drunk when in charge of a vehicle?”
“Yes,” said Jess, “I saw that. The beast!”
“Have you seen him since?”
“He came to call on me on Thursday, but I persuaded papa to put him out. You know, dear, I never could stand the man.”
“Oh-h-h!” said Ann Quigley, with the air of one greatly enlightened.
“If you don’t have me, I’ll do dreadful things,’’ said Master Lionel Compton.
“Now, Lionel, if you don’t behave like a good boy with an excellent Wesleyan upbringing, I shall report you to your Aunt Hannah; or it is Aunt Caroline you hold most in dread?”
“There, you’re mocking me again. You think I’m just a kid, don’t you!”
“You are twenty, I believe, and old enough to know better; but if you behave as a bad boy, as a bad boy you must be treated.”
“If I blew my brains out you’d understand me, and admit that I loved you.”
“You are talking utter nonsense. When you sit there, looking like an ill-sustained saint with a touch of toothache, and talk of blowing your brains out, do you know what I feel? Well, I experience a great craving to spank you. People don’t blow out their brains in that tone of voice, let me tell you.”
“Yes, you think a fellow’s an ass just because he was brought up by his old maiden aunts.”
“And a very, very good reason, too. If you had been brought up by two hard, old, smoking, drinking, unregenerate bachelor uncles, you would have had too much common sense to be wasting your time dangling after a woman old enough to be your—your—well, old enough to be your best friend.”
“You will take me seriously. I’ll make you. Yes, I will—I’ll make you.”
“Oh, oh, oh, my little man! Now he is going to make me do things. Bless his wee heart, he’s feeling like a lord of creation—a big, strong, fine man, with a charter to bully a woman or two,”
“I’ll kill myself, and then I’ll kill you.’”
“That’s all right, Lionel. But, for heaven’s sake don’t try to reverse the process.”
“What would you do if I put a pistol to your head!”
“I cannot say whether I should laugh myself ill, or assume the responsibilities Aunts Hannah and Caroline have so shamefully evaded, and give you a sound spanking.”
Lionel Compton arose from his seat. He stamped on the carpet. He strode across the room, and kicked the fender, hurting his toe rather. He stamped back and, taking up an elegant China Venus, prepared to hurl the item on the floor.
Ann Quigley looked up from her fancy work. “Lionel put that down. Put it down at once.” Lionel put it down, and relieved the pangs of defeat by kicking a sofa cushion. “Blowing out brains that are of no particular value, and smashing property are two wholly different things, my boy.”
Lionel became pathetic. “Why can’t you love me, Ann?” he wailed. “I love you madly. You know I’d die for you. I will die for you. I’ll die for you now.”
Master Compton had actually taken a small revolver from his pocket, and was standing in a tragic attitude, with the weapon pointing to the region of his midriff.
Ann set her work aside, and looked at him. She was taking in all the details. Lionel was just twenty. He was very thin, and extremely juvenile, even for twenty. He had sharp, somewhat effeminate features, large eyes, with a goat-like indefiniteness in their dark depths. Lionel’s eyes were misfit eyes, much too large for his small face. Lionel’s head was a little top-heavy, too, the wide, high brow being markedly disproportionate to the pointed chin. In short, Lionel resembled a petulant poet in adolescence.
Ann looked at him with interest. He was sustaining the attitude a little too long, much to Miss Quigley’g amusement, although Ann did not permit her thorough enjoyment of the situation to become apparent.
“Lionel,” she said, “you know you mustn’t shoot yourself. It wouldn’t be proper. You have promised to take me a motor ride.”
“You think I wouldn’t,” said the boy, sulkily. “Well, I would. I bought this revolver to do it if you wouldn’t have me.”
“And a very pretty one it is, too, Lionel.” She took the weapon from him and held it in her hand. “What lovely mother of pearl! And how tiny! How do you work it to make the pencil appear?”
“It isn’t a pencil; it’s a pistol, and you had better be careful. The man told me it would kill a horse at twenty yards.”
“Then I suppose it would be equally fatal to an ass. But that has nothing to do with it, has it?”
Lionel Compton was down on his knees before her, clutching a hand. “Do love me, Miss Quigley? I love you, and I feel ever so old. You know how rich I am to be. I come in for fifty thousand pounds when I am twenty-six. I’d spend it all on you. I adore you.”
“Hush, Lionel; don’t be silly. By the time you are twenty-six, you will have come in for fifty horse power of common sense, and will be mad after some sweet little girl of eighteen.”
“I won’t, I won’t; I swear I won’t, and I can’t bear to hear you say it. I’m serious. I’ll never alter. I will have you.”
Master Lionel Compton was quite peevish. Lionel was a very spoilt boy, accustomed to getting all he wanted, used to having entirely his own way from the day when he yelped to have the new moon to cut his teeth on; and being crossed now in this quest of the thing he believed he desired more than any other object on earth, he became very petulant.
“If you go on like this, my lad,” said Ann, “I’ll show you the way out and you’ll never come back. Now, get up and sit straight in your chair, and learn that it is not always well for small boys to get all they want.”
“I will get you,” said Lionel, with invincible sullenness.
“I think, my boy, you had better run away home, and not come back until you are sent for.”
“You won’t send me away.” Lionel’s large eyes were full of horror. “You—you are not done with me! I can’t bear it! I can’t bear it!” Master Compton was on his knees again.
“Get up—get up, for goodness’ sake, and be sane, or upon my word I’ll bundle you out with my two hands. You are getting tiresome, young man. Not content with keeping me awake for two hours last night, twanging that wretched guitar under my window, you persist now in playing on my nerves till they ring. You are giving me a headache. I won’t have it, I tell you.”
“I will be good,” said Lionel, humbly. He composed himself very erect upon a chair, contrition all over him.
“That’s all right. Remain like that, and you can have some tea.”
“I will. I will. But you do like me a little, don’t you?” Lionel almost whimpered.
“I would like to hammer you into some reasonable condition. Bless me, child, will you never grow up!”
“I am grown up. That’s where you’re mistaken about me, thinking me a fool and a child when I am a serious man.”
Master Compton had some tea, and, saving for a little choking over a scone, and a burst of tears over Ann’s refusal to allow him to announce their engagement in all the weekly papers, he behaved fairly well for the rest of the afternoon.
But that night, or well on in the following morning, Lionel was camped under the mulberry tree below Ann’s window again, carefully picking a Spanish serenade on his guitar—carefully and slowly, till Bannister, the irrascible man in the new house next door, hit him with a full head of water from a 1½ in. garden hose, and then he went home, damp, but not discouraged.
Ann Quigley had known Master Lionel Compton for about a year, and latterly had had a great deal of trouble with him. Ann’s extreme partiality for “characters” had induced her to make much of the spoilt orphan, and Lionel had responded with about the worst case of calf love known to the faculty.
It was her greediness for “originals” that drew Ann to Lionel Compton, for the passionate youth with his gazelle-like orbs, and his sudden disposition to tears, and his peevish emotionalism in love, was wholly unlike anything she had seen before. She took an impish delight in him, and it must be admitted, encouraged him a little in his folly, not realising the possibility of the fact that she was playing with fire. She had yet to learn that fire and water (as typified in tears) are not wholly incompatible.
Lionel Compton was an indefatigable lover. He simply defied Aunts Caroline and Hannah, to have time to haunt Ann’s home. There rebuffs might induce tears, but never despair. Once John Quigley, Ann’s small, portly, pugnacious papa, disgusted with certain homicidal protestations, deliberately kicked Lionel through his front gate. Lionel arose from the dust, tearful but unconquered.
“You think you will keep her from me,” he squealed. “Well, you won’t—you won’t! I’ll kill you, too, if you stand in my way.”
But, despite the threatening attitudes of Lionel, Ann went motoring with him on the evening following the interview with which this story opens. Master Compton had an elegant little car, and he handled it well, and Ann was very partial to a spin through the warm summer evening air.
They went out through Caulfield, and on into the sparse suburbs beyond, and on still through the thinning houses into timbered country, and still on till the thick bush made a black wall right and left of the road, and on till Ann noticed that it was no longer a road they were traversing, but something little better than a wheel track.
“We’ve come too far, Lionel,” she said. “Home!” The driver made no response. The car continued on its course.
“Lionel!” Ann shook his arm, “turn back at once—at once, I tell you!”
“I won’t,” said Master Lionel Compton. “I’m not going back.”
“What’s that you say? Lionel, don’t be a fool! Turn back when I tell you.”
“I will not. I’m not going back to-night.”
“Oh, aren’t you? Then what do you propose doing, may I ask?”
“Eloping? The devil you are!”
“I’m eloping with you.”
Ann seized his arm. He put a little more speed on. The car jumped forward, and the trees flitted past. “You’ll turn back at once, you imp,” said Ann.
“Oh, will I? Well, you’ll see. If you interfere with my driving, we’ll have a holy smash up, and we’ll both be killed.”
“You young devil!”
“Go on, I don’t mind. I’d rather be called a devil than a spoilt kid. I am a devil. I’m going to make you marry me.”
“I’ll pay you for this, my boy.”
“You’re in my power, and I’m desperate. I’m going to keep you out all night. That will compromise you, and you’ll have to marry me.”
“You’ll get a hiding. Do you understand? A sound hiding, like a dirty little boy.”
“Oh, will I? You’ve insisted I was a little boy, and a fool of a nincompoop. I’m going to show you I’m a man. I’m running away with you. I’m carrying you off. I’m a silly kid, am I? I’ll show you. I’ll show everyone. I’m as big a villain as anyone going. We’re eloping, and it’s grand.”
Ann protested, pleaded—she even resorted to a fine affectation of tears, but Master Lionel Compton was not to be diverted from his great endeavor, or to be turned from his fine conception of himself as a strong stern devil. The motor ploughed its way deeper into the desolation of trees.
It was not until an hour after the disclosure of Master Compton’s diabolical intention that Ann grow desperate. Leaning across him, and chancing everything, she threw off the power. They swung to the right, skimmed a tree, lurched into a rut, almost overturned, then butted into a big gum and stopped.
Master Lionel Compton fought desperately, with splenetic, cat-like vehemence, with tears and fierce assertions of his determination to persist in this mad escapade, and Ann did what she had long feared would be necessary—she hit him on the top of the head with a spanner she had found under the seat cushion half an hour earlier, and had reserved as a final arbiter.
Lionel went down out of the car, and Ann got busy. With one half of her long cord girdle she tied Lionel’s hands behind him; with the other half she tied his ankles, and so trussed, Master Compton was bundled into the car. Miss Ann Quigley chauffeured the car home herself.
Ann drove the car right into the yard at the spacious home of his Aunts Caroline and Hannah two hours later, and she had been compelled to do some pretty tall driving to make Melbourne before 2 a.m.
Then Miss Quigley went calmly home to bed. One hour later, at a quarter past three a.m. precisely, Aunts Hannah and Caroline were timidly ringing at Quigley’s door bell. Ann answered them.
“Oh, Miss Quigley, thank God you are safe!” gasped Aunt Hannah. “But where is our Lionel? The car is home, and he is not in his bed. We are distracted.”
“Look under the car seat for your precious boy,” replied Ann sharply. “Good morning!”
Lionel’s aunts found Lionel bestowed under the car seat, tied neck and crop, hand and heel, sulking too fiercely to appeal for aid.
“I want to die here!” he said, “I tell you I will die here!”
But Lionel’s aunts put Lionel to bed, cured, apparently, of his passion for Ann. Two months later he had worked up a dramatic entanglement with a fat widow in a little suburban pub, and once had attempted suicide with an overdose of chlorodyne lozenges, because he was forcibly parted from her. But Ann Quigley was grateful to be free of a character much too ardent for family comfort and present day customs.
Ling Suey provided the Quigley family with “cabagee,” “lettucee,” and other edible vegetation. He was a small, slick Chinese, and apparently very young, if Chinese are ever very young. Ling Suey was not more than five feet high, with a compact figure, a mask-like face of tanned and polished pigskin, a shy manner, and a sweet smile of infantile coyness.
When Suey first came to the back door at “Wattleholm,” he was fresh from his native land, stammering a few words of quaint pidgin English—a novel item who appealed directly to Ann’s uncommon interest in the human animal in unusual aspects.
Ann undertook the dealings with Suey. She was studying Chinese in the original, undiluted state, and Suey was an unsullied sample—it seemed to her.
Ann Quigley did not merely set herself deliberately to investigate eccentric and strange elements of humanity. She was irresistibly drawn to them.
A botanist in quest of extraordinary orchids goes systematically to work; so does a geologist after his illuminating segments of an earlier world; so does an entomologist hunting disagreeable moths or a new item in ants; but Ann, while possessing the enthusiasm and zeal of these investigators, did not investigate novel developments among man and his young with scientific coldness and precision. She did it because it was the joy of her life, and because the whole bent of her character impelled her to the closest contemplation of vagaries of person and character.
Just as your orchid fanatic has his hothouse store of amazing blooms from all the fetid places along the equator, and your entomologist has his glass cases crowded with insignificant flying, crawling, and creeping things, Ann would have had her elaborate museum of human freaks if she could have afforded it.
Ling Suey had an exotic interest—he was excessively boyish; he had wonderful eyes, and little white teeth; his babble of broken English produced unexpected comic effects, and he writhed under Ann’s regard like an ecstatic fox terrier.
Ann treated the Chinaman as a child. In fact, most housewives adopt that attitude towards the “vegetable John,” and the “laundryman,” regarding them as largely irresponsible, and wholly a joke, making a sort of casual plaything of them. Whether this is a sage attitude to assume towards an adult Celestial whose civilisation (that is to say, whose wickedness) is 100,000 years older than ours, is a matter open to grave doubts.
Ann treated Ling Suey with great kindness. She held affecting conversations with him over the delivery of French beans and new potatoes; she assisted him in his arithmetic, the adding up of five pounds of spuds, two pints of gooseberries, and a yard of fresh cucumber being a problem of direst mystery to the fresh-plucked Asiatic.
“Ling Suey make um lil’ mistook—no bling um money li’, Sin Fat take um shilly flom wages,” Suey explained.
“Oh, the beast!” said Ann, in deep sympathy.
“Ess,” said Ling Suey. “Sin Fat him cousin me. Him bling Ling Suey flom China, work belonga him.”
“You mallied?” asked Ann.
Ling Suey smiled his smile of infantile shyness, and wriggled. “No feah me,” he said.
“Go on, John,” said Ann. “You mally when very lillie boy. All lillie boys in China bin marry.”
“No feah me!” said Ling Suey. “Goo’ day, goo’ day, you.” And Ling Suey would back away, smiling and wriggling like a very self-conscious child.
If Ann did not happen to be in attendance when Ling Suey called he was much concerned.
“Where she bin go?” said Ling Suey.
“Oh, Miss Ann is away to-day,” Mrs. Quigley would explain.
“No stay—come soon?” said Ling, anxiously.
“Yes, come home to-night.”
Then Ling Suey would smile happily. “Ess,” he said. “Welly go’. Welly nice, she—ess.”
Ann’s almost insatiable curiosity concerning human things led her to inquire into Ling Suey’s history. Ling Suey’s answers were not instructive. You will find the average Chinaman uncommunicative when questioned about family and birthplace, and Ling Suey’s English was never so despicable as when he was called upon to explain from what part of China he came, and the whys and wherefores of his coming. No doubt Ling Suey had come in on some other Chinaman’s naturalisation papers, and in such circumstances the first wisdom the immigrant must acquire is an idiotic and perplexing ignorance concerning himself and his affairs.
But the Quigley’s vegetable John was always most obliging. His behaviour was excellent; he had rather nice manners, and for the Quigley’s prices were always reasonable, and the measure up to standard. Never was there less than sixteen ounces in a pound of Ling Suey’s pears, and in no case was his dozen of bananas under twelve times one. Sometimes, indeed, a thirteenth would creep in, and often there was a particularly rosy apple, or an especially elegant peach in excess of the strict and lawful quota.
“Welly ni’,” said Ling Suey. “Fo’ you.” Them he would smile and smile, and back away, and writhe in a sort of convulsion of bashfulness.
“Oh, thank you, Suey,” said Ann. “That is most kind of you.”
“No feah me,” said Suey. “Welly kind you.”
One day when Ling Suey’s command of English was sufficiently improved, and when he had become a little more familiar with Australian manners and customs, Ling propounded a question that had long been on his mind. The words did not come till after a spasm of shyness and much preliminary smiling.
“You gotta fella?” said Ling Suey.
“Got a what, John?” said Ann.
Little Ling Suey writhed again, and the Celestial simplicity of his visage was lost in a grin that wrinkled it from chin to brow.
“You gotta fella?” he said.
“A fellow?” gasped Ann.
Ling Suey smiled and nodded vigorously. “Gotta fella?” he said. “You savee fella walk long you, say talk, kissy lot.” Here the excess of Ling Suey’s bashfulness overmastered him; he caught up his small baskets and backed away in painful nervousness, smiling still, tripped down the back verandah steps, and turned and fled to complete his business. But after returning with further esculents and receiving his money he lingered a moment.
“You gotta fella?” he said.
“No, John,” said Ann, shaking her head vigorously. “Me not have young man. Too ugly me.”
“No, no, no!” said Ling Suey. “No feah, ugly you. You welly nice look have got.”
“Not as nice as lil’ Chinee girl, John.”
“More plenty,” said Ling Suey. “More plenty nice look you. Chinee gel like your hair no have!”
“You likee golden hair, John?”
“Me likee. Me likee lot. You a fella no got.” He was breaking away writhing and smiling. He had almost reached the gate. “Me no gotta lil’ gel.” He dashed through the gate, and was gone.
Ann went in and laughed for half a day.
“It’s all right, old Emma,” she said, addressing her mother. “You needn’t fret and worry your poor soul case off over my future now. I’ve had an offer.”
“An offer, Ann?” gasped Mrs. Quigley, dropping a plate. “An offer of marriage?”
“Yes, mother, or the next thing to it. Ling Suey has practically asked me to name the day.” ‘
“Ann Quigley, you ought to be downright ashamed of yourself,” cried Mrs. Quigley, collapsing. “One of my best plates, too!”
After that Ling Suey often came back to the question of Ann’s lack of a permanent “fella,” coupled with his own pathetic deficiency of “lil’ gels,” but Ann treated the matter as a joke, and Ling Suey continued to writhe and grin over it as if he, too, considered it a matter of innocent levity.
As a matter of fact, there was a “fella” in close attendance upon Ann at this time. There usually was one or more, but Ann’s extraordinary sense of humor made serious courtship difficult to the many admirers who, at one time or another, had adventured forth to win her, and her own undue sense of the ridiculous made it a business of extreme difficulty for her to take any ordinary man seriously.
The present “fella” was Adrian Cartright, a budding architect, with a prosperous father behind him, and the unfailing assistance of that father’s elegant 50 h.p. pale blue touring car to assist him in enterprises of this kind.
Ann rather liked young Cartright. He was a handsome boy, rather serious for his years, neatly upholstered, and the car was certainly an advantage.
Ann’s parents lost no opportunity of urging Adrian’s good points upon Ann, and Ann was supposed to have him under consideration.
“At any rate, Emm, I have the refusal of him,” she told her mother, with her accustomed levity. “He says that if I don’t have him he will never marry.”
“And what did you say, you mad wretch?”
“I’ve reserved him for further consideration. He’s to ring me up in seven years.”
“Seven years! You’ve driven that boy away.”
“Oh, no, mother, he’s taking me for a run this evening.”
The run that evening was as far as Beaumaris, and on the home spin they stopped at Brighton, and strolled awhile on the moonlit sands, leaving the car “tethered to the roadside,” as one of our most celebrated authors has put it.
“Wish you’d say yes, Ann, and have done with it,” said Cartright.
“Mummy’s best boy just hates to be denied, doesn’t he? Mummy’s best boy is unused to it,” said Ann, with playful derision. “Mummy’s best boy has been getting everything he crowed for ever since he kicked his pink heels in a basinet. That’s the worst of only boys—they’re hopelessly spoilt.”
“Spoilt or not, I want you, you mischievous she imp.”
“Catch me,” said Ann.
She fled along the sands, and Adrian went in pursuit. It was an easy thing for Adrian. Ann was out of condition for sprinting, and the young man was a footballer. He overtook her within a hundred yards and, having captured her, proceeded to take toll.
“A kiss!” he cried. “It’s a fair do. You are spoil of the chase.”
Ann was no prude. She fought him back, laughing the while, not unwilling to be conquered.
Suddenly his arms fell from her—he staggered away three paces. She caught a vision of his face in the bright moonlight. It had gone deathly pale. A dark line ran from the hair, filled the eye socket with black, and meandered down the cheek to the chin.
“Wha’ for? Wha’ for?”
There was a third person present. Standing between them was the small, strongly-built form of Ling Suey. Ling Suey’s face was clearly lit. It was no longer the coy, smiling, boyish face of the coquetting Celestial—it was grim and hard, like faintly-rusted iron, and it was set in a mould of implacable hate.
“Wha’ for?” snarled Ling Suey, and Ann saw now a big, bright knife blade caught the moon shafts as he moved towards Adrian Cartright. “‘Wha’ for?” said Ling Suey, and he leapt, striking again.
Cartright had braced himself. He caught Suey and flung him aside like a child; but the Chinaman landed on his feet, and darted in again with incredible swiftness, slashing at Adrian. This time the Australian held him, and they fought, and went down. Ann, standing, staring at the battle, felt herself entangled in some weird dream. Her faculties came back upon her like a pent stream that breaks loose, and presently she was running round seeking a weapon.
Ann Quigley came upon a large, loose stone in the sand. She raised it in her two hands, and, with the coldness and precision of a boy playing eyedrop, let the rock fall upon Ling Suey’s shaven skull as the two men writhed on the ground.
Ling Suey fought no more; his arms relaxed, the knife fell from his hand, he lay still on the breast of his opponent. Ann pulled the Chinaman aside, and helped Adrian to his feet. She half dragged him to the car, and within ten minutes had him in a doctor’s den, having the scalp wound sewn and bandaged.
She ascribed the wound to a car accident. When Adrian was in the car again he whispered to Ann: “What of the Chow?”
“He may be dead!” said Ann.
They drove back and explored. The beach was clear. Ling Suey had gone.
Of course, nothing could be said. The idea of figuring in the courts as the heroine of a romance that had a Chinese—and a vegetable John at that— as a hero was too much for Ann.
Ling Suey came as usual on his customary day. His head was thickly bandaged, his complexion was a pale yellow,
“How dare you come here?” said Ann. “Show your face at this door again, and I’ll have you arrested for murder—for murder, you hear?”
Ling Suey smiled a sickly smile. “Him dead?” he said. “Him dead! Welly goo’! That all li’. Now you no gotta fella.”
“Go away!” said Ann.
Finding the door slammed in his face, Ling Suey paused a moment, then he bent to the keyhole.
“All li’,” he said. “You no gotta fella, me no gotta lil’ gel. You getta nodder fella, me sticky him, too. All li’.”
Then Ling Suey went away.
The Quigleys buy their vegetables from a white Australian now, and Ann tells you that it is foolish to conclude that a Chinese boy is a dove, simply because he speaks pidgin English.
Miss Quigley said she would take a walk. The morning was bright, and her steps led her down by the shining sea. Said shining sea was practically deserted. Of course, there were the usual gulls, and the customary “finny denizens,” but so far as man and his young were concerned Ann had the sea to herself.
Miss Quigley rambled on, and still rambled. She was in a reflective state of mind, which presently gave way to a mood of Demosthenes, and she proceeded to recite to the blue bay. She gave the watery waste a taste of her quality as a comedian. Ann could be both actress and audience simultaneously, and happy in both capacities.
Ann was giving the lisping ripples a characteristic specimen of the brogue and peculiar Hibernian quaintness of Mrs. Hennessey, the new washerlady, breaking in on her own performance now and again to laugh in the capacity of audience. Once or twice she applauded herself vociferously.
Naturally, an unheeded spectator would have imagined Ann to be mad. The fact would have given Ann small trouble. With all her good looks, Ann possessed none of the vanity that is labelled selfconsciousness. She had no objection whatever to making a fool of herself, even before an uncongenial spirit.
Ann broke off in the midst of Mrs. Hennessey’s recital of the “shqualid obnoxiousness” of Mr. Hennessey under the influence of bulk beer, and said: “Why, my gracious me! Whatever is the woman doing?”
The woman in question was giving even a more sensational public performance than her own. Midway along a trim jetty stood the woman. She was making actions suggestive of excited supplication at heaven’s gate. Then, as Ann stood watching developments, the lone, lorn creature took off a jacket dating back to 1000 A.D., wrapped it up carefully, and deposited it on the pier. She then took off a bonnet of even earlier vintage, blew on it, arranged the wilted feather, and placed it on the jacket.
For a would-be suicide the lone female was very deliberate. She next sat down, took a piece of paper from her reticule, and started to write. She placed the paper on the bonnet with a large shell to anchor it, and then stood up.
At this point Ann intervened. She had hastened along the rickety jetty, and she laid a hand on the lone one.
“My good woman, you mustn’t do that,” she said, in some agitation. “It isn’t permitted, you know. There are regulations against it. You mustn’t.”
“I will!” said the woman defiantly. “I will! I will! I will!”
The poor creature was a rigid virginal type, very thin, rather tall, with a small head, out of keeping with her long body, and scarcely hair enough or features enough to establish its identity. Her mouth was tiny, her nose was minute, her eyes very small and close.
“But why?” pleaded Ann Quigley. “Why must you?”
“No business of yours,” said the woman. “I’ve made my mind up.” She made a movement towards the water, but Ann hung on.
“I won’t allow it,” said Ann.
“How dare you interfere? What affair is it of yours? It’s something if a pore body what everybody makes miserable can’t end her wretched life without them as it don’t concern interferin’ and pullin’ her back.”
“But suicide’s unlawful. You’re liable to be fined. See, there’s a notice over there forbidding it.”
“Nothin’ of the kind, Miss Impudence—that on’y says ‘Dogs Must Not be Drowned Here.’”
“But suicide is unlawful, I know. You wouldn’t like to be sent to gaol for it, would you, now? Come, be a reasonable woman.”
“I won’t be a reasonable woman. And I don’t care what’s done to me. They can fine me if they like; they can put me in gaol if they like. I don’t care, so long as I get it over.”
“No, no. You really mustn’t.”
“You let me go, see.”
“I will not. I’ll scream for help.”
The woman struggled determinedly, but Ann held on. “Come, come,” she said, “things cannot be as bad as you imagine. Are you in want? I’ll help you.”
“No, I’m not. Me heart’s broke. Can you help a broke heart?”
“Why, of course. All you need is to take something for it. I don’t know what it is, but there are cures. Perhaps a tonic would help you.”
“Don’t want a tonic,” said the woman, sullenly. “I’m teetotal. Won’t take anythin’. I want to die, and die I will.” She fought again, and her skirt was torn in the struggle. “Now look what you’ve done!” she said, indignantly holding up the torn garment. She resumed the fight.
“Help!” cried Ann. She looked anxiously along the sands. There was no help in sight.
“My life’s made mis’rable. I’ve got nothin’ to live for,” wailed the woman. “I’m alone and lonely. No one cares. He don’t care. You let me be, and mind your interferences.”
“How can you say you have nothing to live for on a beautiful morning like this?” said Ann desperately, “with the sun shining and the birds singing?”
“I don’t hear no birds singin’, and I wouldn’t care if I did.”
“What, would you go and desert the canary?” Ann was intensely serious. It had come to her that most lonely spinsters have more or less canaries to which they are attached, and she was floundering after a tender spot in the woman’s soul. “Would you leave the canary alone, unprotected, friendless?” It may read as preposterous, but Ann was urging her point with real feeling. “Oh, do think of the canary,” she said.
“Ain’t got a canary!” gasped the woman.
“Then the cat—the poor cat!” said Ann, desperately.
“Ain’t got a cat!”
“Oh!” said Ann.
“Ain’t got anythin’,” added the woman. “I’m alone, neglected, wretched, and I want to drown myself—and I will.”
She made another effort, tore herself free, jumped into the sea, tottered a little ungracefully, and then stood—a piteous spectacle—in two feet of water!
“Oh, bother!” said the woman. She drew up her skirts, and stood, with bony knees showing, a ludicrous object, staring about her, wondering what to do next.
“There,” said Ann. “A nice mess you’ve made of yourself.”
The woman looked up and started to whimper. “I never thought,” she wined. “I don’t care, I’ll walk out deeper.”
“No, you don’t,” said Ann, and she deftly hooked the would-be suicide with the crook of her umbrella. “You just come out, and talk this matter over like a sensible woman.”
“Won’t! Won’t! Won’t! I’ve got as much right to drown myself as you have.”
She attempted to wade into deeper water, but the crook of Ann’s umbrella was about her thin neck, and she was held fast. “I’ve caught you,” said Ann, “and you are legally mine. You’re hooked.”
“I’ll lay down and drown here,” said the woman with waning force.
“You’ll do nothing of the sort. A pretty sight you’d be, a woman of your figure, drifting miserably home, soddened and with sloppy clothes clinging all about you. You just come out.”
“Won’t. I’ve written down that I’m goin’ to drown, and I’m a good, religious woman, and I can’t go back on my word.”
“Come out,” said Ann peremptorily. “Come out immediately. Do you hear me? Come out this instant, or—or I’ll splash you!”
The woman began to weep. “Somethin’ people can’t leave a pore body alone,” she sobbed. “I never can have my own way. I never done you no ’arm. You let me alone, and I’ll let you alone.”
“I’ll do nothing of the kind,” said Ann, suddenly masterful. “I’ll make you come out, and I’ll see you home; and you can thank your lucky stars if I don’t give you in charge. Come out. March! I’ll stand no more of your nonsense. Wade ashore.”
Walking along the jetty, carrying the woman’s shawl and hat in her left hand, and clinging determinedly to the umbrella with her right, the crook still about the woman’s neck, Ann led her captive towards the shore. The woman had to go with her head on one side and her eyes a bit staring, because the umbrella handle gripped her rather tightly. She still held her skirts above her bony knees. It was an extraordinary absurd situation; but Ann was grave, and Ann was determined, and the rescued spinster had positively no sense of the comic.
Ann landed her captive on the sands, and sat down beside her to read the note the poor wretch had written.
“Now you’ve bin and spoiled me boots!” wailed the woman.
“You spoiled your own boots, you silly woman,” Ann Quigley replied, finding the masterful attitude the most effective, “and all for the sake of some paltry man. There never was a man I’d spoil a good pair of boots over; and this one’s name is Potts. Just fancy drowning oneself for the sake of a creature named Potts! Heavens! Is there no saving salt of humor in you, Sophy Barnes!” That was the name attached to the melancholy note in Ann’s hand.
The woman shook her head, blew her nose, mopped her eyes, and indulged in a fresh burst of grief. “He keeps the grocery,” she wailed, “and he’s one of the leaders of our chapel. He said he’d marry me, and now he won’t.”
“Oh!” retorted Ann. “We shall see about that. Take me to your home, Sophy Barnes, and we’ll talk this matter over. Just let me know what kind of old pot this particular Potts is, and I may deal with him.”
Not more than an hour later Ann Quigley presented herself in the shop of John Thomas Potts. Ann had leisure to observe John Thomas, who was serving a customer. He was a small, thin man with a big stomach; his hair was thin, his whiskers were thin, and his face had curious rosy spots, as if patches of an excellent complexion had triumphed over his marked rustiness here and there.
“Well, Miss, and what can I do for you to-day!” asked Mr. Potts.
Ann squared her shoulders, took a large, blue document from her bag, put up a severe pair of glasses, and examined the paper critically.
“John Thomas Potts,” she said, “widower, grocer and provision merchant, aged fifty-two.”
Potts looked serious. “Is it census, Miss?” he said.
Ann shook her head, and continued to peruse the document. “Acting on behalf of my client, Sophy Barnes, spinster,” she said suddenly, “I have called to consult you with regard to certain matters between you—matters, I may say, vital to the well-being of my client. But perhaps you would have me confer with your solicitor."
Potts gasped. He turned pale. “Solicitor!” he gasped. “Miss Barnes. Good Lord!”
“You may or may not know,” said Ann, with portentous gravity, “that my client attempted suicide this morning.”
“No!” moaned Potts.
“She was dragged from the water in a pitiable condition. She is now ill, but her life is not despaired of. I have been requested by her to act in her interests. Mr. Potts, there is danger of this deplorable matter getting into the hands of the police. The wretched woman wrote a note before jumping into the sea. That note, sir, places you in a very culpable light. If it is published, as it will be if the police are instructed to take action, your friends at the church, your business acquaintances, your customers, will, I imagine, form a different estimate of your character to that they now entertain.”
Potts was pea green. “Oh, Lord!” he said, and mopped his head with his apron.
“There was, I understand, a distinct promise of marriage,” said Ann.
“Was there! Was there!” snorted Potts, with a burst of fictitious valor, “and what has it to do with you, you saucy madam?”
“You may have heard of such a thing as a female solicitor,” said Ann, imperturbably. “However, that is beside the point. We have the promise of marriage in writing—not very legible writing, Mr. Potts, but sufficient. As a result of your refusal to abide by your promise, my client, the said Sophy Barnes, has suffered deep moral, and some considerable material, injury. I may tell you Miss Barnes no longer thinks of marriage with you. Acting upon my advice, she has determined to put right out of her gentle heart the image of a faithless wretch, who could so basely use her. You will understand, then, John Thomas Potts, widower, there is no escape for you in that direction.”
“Wh-wh-what does she want, in the name of heaven?” cried Potts.
“Will you attend to your customers, Mr. Potts? I can wait.”
Another woman had entered. Potts served her with tremulous hands, drops of perspiration oozing from among his thin hair, and, drifting down, to be lost in his whispy whiskers.
“You have asked what my client does want, in the name of heaven,” said Ann, coldly. “She wants reparation in the name of heaven, sir—reparation for her wounded heart, for the slights you have put upon her, the wrongs you have done her. Fifteen hundred pounds is the exact sum mentioned, Mr. Potts:”
“Breach of promise!” said Potts. “It would ruin me!”
“Very possibly, Mr. Potts. But what of the ruin you have wrought—what of the life so nearly cast to the wild waves? You understand the position, sir; but, mind, I warn you to attempt no interference with my client. I have instructed her to refuse a reconciliation, and I think your image is out of her heart, and she is sufficiently awake to your true character to refuse all further intercourse with you. Good day, sir.”
Ann left Potts standing behind his counter, glaring like a man on the verge of a fit, and muttering: “Breach of promise! Fifteen hundred! It’ll ruin me!”
Ann had gathered that Mr. Potts’s business depended almost entirely on the chapel custom. At the chapel he was a shining light. Once the flock lost faith in him as a good and holy man the local Wesleyan Methodist trade would certainly flow from him.
Ann did not go back to poor Miss Barnes. She went straight home. Her adventure, she saw, had occupied just one hour and three-quarters.
Two days later Ann took the same walk. She called at Miss Barnes’ little fancy goods shop. The place of business was closed. Ann went to the emporium of John Thomas Potts. Potts was behind the counter. He ceased weighing up sugar to glare at her.
“Here, you get along out of this!” he yelled. “You’re not wanted here.”
“I have called in the interests of my client, Miss Sophia Barnes,”
“Oh, have you? Well, you can clear out in your own interest. There ain’t any Miss Sophia Barnes.”
“What! Has the poor creature succeeded in drowning herself, after all?”
“No, she hasn’t; but there ain’t any Miss Sophia Barnes. You instructed her not to see me! You knew she’d put my image from her heart! You were sure I couldn’t win her over! Mighty smart, wasn’t you. Miss? But there are others as smart as you. You can go to the deuce with your breach of promise.”
“That is for Miss Barnes to say.”
“There is no Miss Barnes, I tell you. There’s no Miss Barnes. But there is Mrs. John Thomas Potts. I married her yesterday evening, Miss Solicitor, and you can blessed well put that in your pipe and smoke it.”
Ann did not laugh then, but she did laugh all the way along the sands throughout a four miles’ walk.
Potts had married Sophy, just as Ann had assured Sophy he would.
Ann Quigley glanced at the card and gasped. It was a neat white card, and was inscribed “Arthur Donnington-Smythe.
Our Miss Quigley had been doing some discursive amateur gardening at the back, and was far from being presentable to a gentleman who presented the pure white card of a higher life, and spelt his name with a hyphen.
But Ann, for a charming young woman of her day and generation, was peculiarly regardless of appearances. Possibly this indifference was founded on the fact that, however tousled and however bedraggled, Miss Quigley’s especial charm never departed from her.
Miss Quigley went in to Mr. Arthur Donnington-Smythe as she stood. Mr. Donnington-Smythe was sitting in a rigid attitude, nursing a shining bell-topper. Not a hair of Mr. Donnington-Smythe was out of place, with the possible exception of the long white hair growing on the top of the tip of his imperial nose.
Mr. Donnington-Smythe wore glasses. He stared fixedly at the lady as from behind a crystal fortress. Plainly her picturesque disorder displeased the visitor.
“Miss Ann Quigley?” he said.
“Mr. Arthur Donnington hyphen Smythe,” said Ann gravely.
A slightly indignant flush touched Mr. Donnington-Smythe’s temples; he stiffened, and cast compunction to the wind.
“Doubtless you know the reason of my visit, young woman,” said the dignitary.
“I have not the smallest idea,” replied Ann brightly. “But, of course, I shall be delighted te hear.”
“You know my son?”
“I know an Arthur Smythe. The Donnington and the hyphen are total strangers.”
“Young Arthur Donnington-Smythe is my son,” said Donnington-Smythe, senr. “He occasionally calls himself Smythe out of sheer laziness.”
“He regards the Donnington and the hyphen as an unnecessary burden. Arty would.” Ann smiled kindly.
“Miss Quigley, my son Arthur is, I regret to say, a headstrong and self-opinionated boy; but, for all that, I, his father, do not purpose allowing him to go to the deuce.” Mr. Donnington-Smythe ticked at his left thumbnail with the edge of his glasses.
“Certainly not,” said Ann.
“And if he married, contrary to my wishes, and with a—eh!—young person of no means, there would, I am convinced, be no alternative.”
“Dear me!” said Ann.
“Yes, miss, for in that case I would withdraw my countenance.”
Ann surveyed the said countenance somewhat critically. The conclusion she seemed to come to was that the withdrawal of such a countenance from any person could not reasonably be regarded as wholly calamitous. What she said was, “Poor old Artie!”
“It is well you sympathise, Miss Quigley, for I want you thoroughly to understand that if this marriage comes off Arthur Donnington-Smythe, junr., will not get a penny of my money.”
“This marriage!” said Ann, with naive inquisitiveness.
“Yes, young woman, this marriage. It is useless for you to pretend to miss the drift of my remarks. My son has told me all. In a burst of passion he informed me last evening that he intended marrying you whether I liked it or not. In fact, he went so far as to say that if I did not like it I could lump it.”
“That was very naughty of Artie,” said Ann, “and very rude.” Mr. Donnington-Smythe did not know it, but Miss Ann Quigley was holding herself down with a firm hand.
“It was distinctly unfilial; but my mission here is to impress upon you the folly of the marriage you contemplate.”
“Yes, miss. Probably you know my son pretty well. If so, you must recognise that as a—eh!—provider he must be a disastrous failure.”
“And what is it precisely that you ask of me?”
“That you will renounce my son, give up all thought of this marriage. It may—eh—eh—be—eh—worth your while.”
“I suppose,” said Ann calmly, “you would prefer this ‘renunciation’ in writing?”
“It would be—eh—better, perhaps,” said Mr. Donnington-Smythe, somewhat taken back.
“Certainly. Excuse me just a moment.”
Ann went to a table on which were writing materials, and wrote for a few minutes. She handed Mr. Donnington-Smythe the document. He read it, and flushed a deeper pink as he fled from line to line. The missive ran:
“This is to certify, for the perfect satisfaction of Mr. Donnington-Smythe, that I have not the remotest intention of marrying his rapscallion of a son, Arthur Donnington-Smythe, chiefly for the reason that Arthur, junr., bears too close a resemblance to Arthur, senr., to be regarded with any deeper feeling than a sort of amused contempt by a girl with some pretension to taste and judgment.
“(Signed) ANN QUIGLEY.”
“Most insulting,” said Mr. Donnington-Smythe, “but satisfactory. I am glad I have opened your eyes.”
“Your own being open, you cannot fail to notice that I have opened the door,” said Ann.
Arthur Smythe (minus the paternal hyphen) called that evening at “Wattleholm,” and was forbidden the house. Ann would not see him. He lurked for her, and cornered her in the garden that evening.
“You’ve got to listen to me, Ann,” he said. “What the deuce is this paper the old man is throwing at me?”
“It is a circumstantial refusal on my part to marry you in any circumstances whatever. As I have refused you often and with emphasis verbally, there was no harm in putting it in writing for your father’s comfort.”
“The old fool! Why should he meddle in my affairs?”
“That also is your affair. Anyhow, Artie, I don’t like you well enough to care to subject myself to insult from casual members of your family by retaining your acquaintance.”
“You kick me out?”
“Or words to that effect.”
“Oh, very well. I don’t blame you, Ann; it’s that infernal old Blunderbore, who thinks he can run me like a coffee mill. I’ll show him! I’ll let him see some possibilities in the life of the prodigal son. It will be worth your while to watch my dear pa in the course of the next month or two. So long.”
Artie Smythe stormed off, and Ann went her way, feeling just a tinge of apprehension. She knew what Artie was capable of, and she rather liked him, and hoped no serious harm would come his way.
But Donnington-Smythe, junr., lost no time in his effort to convince Donnington-Smythe, senr., of the error of his ways, and the folly of his judgment. Artie was going the pace, and he was not going it alone. The companion of his disreputable excursion was a pink lady, whose golden hair was notorious in three capitals—Nina Yaleen.
Half of Arthur Donnington-Smythe’s respectable friends said he was going to the deuce; the other half that he had gone, and with no return ticket.
Ann read of these things, and heard of them at four o’clock teas, and was greatly perturbed. After all, Artie was not a bad lad—youthful, headstrong, resentful of domination, but with heaps of good in him. Properly and cunningly handled, he might have been an excellent son and a worthy husband. Ann flattered herself that she could have handled him with satisfactory results, and she was far from easy in her mind. She could have let him down easily. If she had taken her own way she would have broken the fall so nicely that the poor lad would not have known he was being let down at all; and, just to satisfy her pique against Donnington-Smythe, senr., she had helped to precipitate this disaster.
Ann made a point of meeting Artie Smythe. Ann had a long heart-to-heart-talk with him. Another week passed, and again Miss Quigley received the card of Mr. Arthur Donnington-Smythe, senr. Ann was not surprised. It had come to her ears of late that Artie’s papa was making inquiries into the character, quality, and standing of the Quigley family.
‘‘You are surprised to see me, Miss Quigley,” he said. Ann gave no reply, and he continued: “I firstly wish to offer you a full and complete apology for my attitude and my language when I first called upon you.”
Ann still gave no reply, and Mr. Donnington Smythe continued: “It was my wife’s—Arthur mother—intention to make this call, but, poor lady she is too ill, brokenhearted by the outrageous conduct of her only son. Miss Quigley, I wish to be brief with you, and I will come to the point, conscious that I deserve any rebuff I may receive at your hands. Dear young lady, will you marry my son— our son—”
Ann turned sharply. “Marry Arthur—I—after what has passed? It is out of the question.”
“Please do not say that. I implore you to give the matter deep consideration! His mother implores you. Perhaps you know what my boy is doing. He tells me now he intends marrying that—that fearful woman. Only you can save him. You have great influence. You could win him back. He has only attached himself to that other out of a spirit of revenge. Save him, dear young lady, I beg of you; his mother begs of you.” Mr. Donnington-Smythe had actually allowed his precious belltopper to roll on the floor, and he was on his knees to Ann. “Don’t, oh, please, don’t remember what is past against me,” he pleaded. “I was a foolish father, anxious for his son’s welfare, little conscious that in renouncing an honest girl, a lady, he was throwing his only boy into the arms of a vile adventuress.”
“Get up, won’t you?” said Ann, “and say no more about the past. I will do what I can for Artie.”
“You will marry him! Say you will marry him!”
“I may even marry him. But you must keep this compact to yourself—it must be a secret. If you tell him anything of my intentions it may spoil all.”
For nearly three months after that Ann busied herself with the fate and future of Master Arthur Smythe.
At the end of the three months Smythe, senr., called to tell of his interview with Nina Valeen. Miss Valeen was threatening a breach of promise action, and talking of recompense to her lacerated heart to the tune of two thousand pounds.
“But I think it will be cheap to get rid of her at that price.” said Mr. Donnington-Smythe.
“Perhaps,” said Ann; “but there are others. Artie will supply a list. Perhaps when she is confronted with these she will modify her demands,”
“Is that true?” said the grateful parent, taking her hand. “I cannot express my feelings and those of Arthur’s mother, or tell you with what joy we shall welcome you into our family.”
“It is only fair to tell you that that can never be,” said Ann.
“But you promised!” cried Mr. Donnington-Smythe in consternation.
“Yes, I promised to marry him, and I have kept my promise. He is married.”
“God bless my soul! My daughter!”
Ann put him back. “Wait a moment,” she said. She left the room, and returned within five minutes, leading a tall girl of about twenty-two by the hand. The girl was handsome and ladylike, with a somewhat masterful face, and strong, dark eyes.
“Mr. Donnington-Smythe,” said Ann, “permit me to introduce your daughter-in-law, Mrs. Arthur Donnington-Smythe, junr.”
Of course, there was a fresh outbreak of consternation in the house of Donnington-Smythe, but the uneasiness lasted only a few days, when the father’s inquiries satisfied him that his new daughter-in-law, an orphan with a decent income of her own, was a very suitable wife for Artie; and some experience of her character convinced him she was the heaven-sent manager for that somewhat wayward young man.
“I’ve kept my promise,” said Ann slyly in an aside to Papa Donnington-Smythe. “Nobody on earth suspects it, but I married him.”
“I’ll never tell him,’ said the fond father.
“It doesn’t matter,” answered Ann; “he wouldn’t believe you if you did.”
Project Gutenberg Australia